THINGS WE’RE DYING TO KNOW…
Let’s start with the book’s title and your cover image. How did you choose each? And, if I asked you to describe or sum up your chapbook, what three words immediately come to mind?
The cover is a scribbled version of The Tower tarot card. When I was younger, I read tarot cards for my friends, nothing too complex, mainly just the past, present and future. I’ve always been interested in reading about mystical things, whether it be the occult or biblical in nature--just trying to learn more from outside the mainstream ways of thinking. When it came to deciding on a cover for the collection, I knew I wanted something related to the tarot because, even though I don’t read cards anymore, I’ve always liked the images of the cards. So I called my friend, Ms. Julia, and said, “You know The Tower tarot card? Can you draw that, but scribble?” And that’s what she came up with.
I really wanted to title the collection The Tower but I couldn’t because Yeats already used that title for one of his anthologies. After a few weeks of thinking about it, I settled on The Belltower since bells come up as a recurring motif throughout the collection as a signal for death, whether acknowledging or honoring the dead. My day job is working in a cemetery, so that has changed my writing a bit. The cliche is that poets write in cemeteries for inspiration, but not many poets are required to be there 40 hours a week doing actual work.
If I had to choose three words to sum up the collection, I’d say “keep moving forward.”
What were you trying to achieve with your book? Tell us about the world you were trying to create, and who lives in it.
As a human, I tend to think about death, probably more than others given the profession. With this collection, I sought to think about and parse my own feelings on that topic--and my feelings on relationships in general. As I worked on it and talked to my friends about it, I realized that I wasn’t the only person who thought about these somewhat heavier topics. I wanted a book that would show how I felt and hopefully someone would read it and think. “Hey! I’m not the only one!”
In the context of the collection, I wanted the poems to tell a story with some recurring characters (besides the main speaker) who would show up and make sense contextually, their roles explained through their actions within the confines of the limited space of the poem.
Can you describe your writing practice or process for this collection? Do you have a favorite revision strategy?
A majority of these poems were written before I went to bed. That’s my favorite time to write because I’m tired and I’m in a different mindset than the rest of the day. A lot of writers I’ve talked to like to write in the morning, which I guess is like writing at night (especially before morning coffee), but I don’t have time to do that. I also think about the poem I want to write most of the day. I tend to daydream a lot and I try to think of what the visuals would look like for the poem. If I were going to shoot a film based on the poem, what would it look like? Once I’ve settled on that, then I start writing.
When it comes to revision, I value flow over almost every other aspect. Even if the poem is intentionally choppy, I want a reader to be able to get through it because if they get too caught up the first time, most people won’t reread it. I usually read the poem out loud during my revisions and then have someone else read the poem to see if they get caught up somewhere. Sometimes I get a third or fourth opinion if something seems too choppy. Once a poem is edited, I put it down for a few days and come back to it before I decide if it’s working or not.
How did you order the poems in the collection? Do you have a specific method for arranging your poems or is it sort of haphazard, like you lay the pages out on the floor and see what order you pick them back up in?
In the first few drafts of the collection, the poems were arranged quite randomly. I used the method of putting all the poems out on a table and putting them in some sort of order. But as I edited the individual poems, I realized that there were three definitive arcs so I rearranged them and gave them titles. The poems were ultimately arranged to tell a somewhat cliche story of a boy who meets a girl and what happens with that. It doesn’t end too well for them, but he comes out of the story a whole new person.
What do you love to find in a poem you read, or love to craft into a poem you’re writing?
I like to reread poems and say, “Huh. Didn’t notice that before.” I like poems like I like my horror movies: rich in subtext. I want multiple readings of a poem to yield different views and outcomes. When I’m writing my own poetry, I want to employ the same tactics through use of subtlety and double entendre. To me, a good poem is one that merits multiple readings; if the reader “gets” the poem on the first read, I haven’t done my job because there isn’t a reason for that writer go back.
You employ rhyme, alliteration and word repetition in your poems. Talk more about your prosody. Do you deliberately employ these techniques? How do you create music and texture in your poems?
Music plays a big role in my writing. I've played the bass guitar for the same band since high school. Because I think a great band defies genre labeling, I listen to a lot of different types of music (rock, rap, metal, electronic, etc.) and try to incorporate varying styles, especially ones that normally don’t go well together. If I can fit a line that doesn’t seem like it would belong, it lends itself to the overall musicality of the song.
Because of that mindset, coupled with the rhythm of the bass, and my want for flow, I tend to be drawn to internal rhymes, alliteration and word repetition. I want a reader to be able to look at the piece and wonder why a certain phrase or word is repeated. That gets them thinking critically about the piece and gets them to reread it. Alliteration is especially important to me because I think it’s a great way to make a piece flow. I specifically like to employ internal rhymes because a lot of poets, generally when they're just starting out, use end rhyme, thinking that that’s just the way that it is. They read the same poets in their high school English class and just assume that’s all that poetry is and end rhyme (not all of the time but most) feels forced and doesn’t sound too good.
Your poems are complex and live on a few levels–this earth, a fairy tale realm, in memory and in death. What do they teach us about our experience on earth and our relationships with others?
My hope is that people read this collection and can connect with it on one of these levels, especially if they were having a trouble articulating their feelings beforehand. That these complex thoughts, whether they be negative or positive, can and will be worked through. And, I want people to realize that our time here is short, a lot shorter than most people realize so make the best out of the time you have here and keep going. The world may seem like a terrible place, rampant with all sorts of negativity, but if you take the time to stop and really look at the world around you, you’ll see art and beauty and it’s damn near magical. And now I’m off my soapbox.
Can you share an excerpt from your book? And tell us why you chose this poem for us to read–did it galvanize the writing of the rest of the collection? Is it your book’s heart? Is it the first or last poem you wrote for the book?
Excerpt from "Wednesday"
Rapunzel and I escape to streets, where we hear footsteps mingle
with the sounds of a furious night, where people
run on the sidewalk, living like they’re
going to be dead by thirty. The street is alive
so no one opts to check its pulse. The energy
tastes like sweet mint in the air, draped
in urine and smoke. With our hearts
on strings, we glide like invulnerable ghosts.
We stop at a tavern where young adventurers
are looking for the next fix of sex, drugs, or techno
because rock and roll is dead in the city. Rapunzel
tells me the heavyhearted history of her-
self, how she came to the tower, and how
she thinks about a possible escape. Her eyes,
though relaying messages of defeat,
shoot glints of change, perseverance
through repetition. She has given up,
but she will never give up again.
"Wednesday" is definitely the heart of the collection. It’s the longest piece and it gives the most story for our main character and his love interest and acts as the turning point for his overall arc. It’s the moment when a reader should be weary that something isn’t going right in this universe.
If you had to convince someone walking by you in the park to read your book right then and there, what would you say?
“Have you ever been in a relationship that hasn’t worked out? Yes? Then you should probably read this.”
For you, what is it to be a poet? What scares you most about being a writer? Gives you the most pleasure?
Poetry is one of the outlets I have for when I can’t articulate directly to someone what I’m thinking. So, to be a poet is to be someone who is trying to figure out as much as possible about themselves and the world around them before they're no longer a functioning part of it.
There are two scary aspects about being a writer. First is that I won’t be remembered. It’s a recurring trope of poets that no one becomes well known until after they are dead. But I just want to be remembered as someone who tried their best to be one of the best. If someone reads one of my poems and starts to view something about their own life differently, then I feel like I’ve done my part. Second is that I won’t get out of my own way to write the things I want to write. I feel like I have the creator’s curse from time to time, where I come up with ideas but I’m so bogged down in whatever’s going on that they never come to fruition. Too many ideas, not enough action.
The thing that gives me the most pleasure when it comes to writing is when I finally put a poem together, edit it, give it a few days, go back, read it out loud, and say, “Yeah, this will work.”
Are there other types of writing (dictionaries, romance novels, comics, science textbooks, etc.) that help you to write poetry?
I don’t tend to read novels (sorry, my English degree friends!), but I read and am inspired by comics and graphic novels. The stranger the comic, the more stock I put into it--and it starts to move the brain gears. I actually am more inspired by visual arts, mainly video games and movies. I watch a lot of movies and study the more technical aspects, such as framing and choreography. I want to be as intricate and subtle as some of my favorite directors, like David Lynch or Darren Aronofsky.
I also find myself doing lots of extra research. If I want to use a word or phrase that I’m not well versed in, I research it for hours. Some short poems can take hours for me to finish.
What are you working on now?
I'm currently working on a sequel to The Belltower. It’s only in the planning stages, but I’m hoping to write all the poems for it by spring of next year. I'm also working on coming out with a collaborative collection with a bunch of poets but that is also in the planning stages.
The band, The Galactic Perimeter (where I help with lyric writing), recently came out with a three-song demo.
I’m trying to keep busy!
What book are you reading that we should also be reading?
I’m a little late to the party but I recently started reading the comic book, Saga, and I highly recommend it!
Without stopping to think, write a list of five poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least write in permanent marker on your clothing, to take with you at all times.
Ai, Robert Creeley, W.H. Auden, John Mulrooney and Sherman Alexie.
Josh Savory published The Belltower through 48h Books this year. To purchase a copy, email him directly; soon it will be available at Amazon.com. Check his blog or Facebook page for updated information.
Josh Savory is a poet, writer, bassist human from the Boston area. He graduated from Bridgewater State University and will forever be working on his Master’s in English with a Creative Writing concentration. His work can be found in The Bridge and hopefully other places soon. He also bands with The Galactic Perimeter. Learn more at: https://joshsavory.wordpress.com.
Nicole Rollender is a poet, editor and seeker.