Interview with Ray Holmes, by Emily Grise

Published: Vol. I, Issue IV
Date of Interview: July 15th, 2014

Could you describe your artistic/creative process?

For me, writing is slow work. I’m not one of those people who sit down every day to diligently type a set amount of words or pages; my poems come out in clumps, in frenzies. I tend to jot notes/images/lines into notebooks or blank Word documents as I think of them, or spend a long time thinking about a certain topic before I try to tackle it. After a while I try to solidify my thinking through drafting. After some revision, I will often walk away from a set of poems for at least a couple weeks, returning to them later with fresh eyes for more work. Once I feel good about a poem, I’ll solicit some feedback from a trusted reader or start submitting to journals. But the revisions never really stop. As I work on growing my manuscript, I tend to rewrite poems to draw them together under a similar thread or idea, to develop a sense of cohesion.

Where do you like to write? What kind of space do you find conducive to your creative work?

Ideally, I will do my writing on a computer. It’s more conducive to getting the words out as I think of them, plus my handwriting’s horrible to transcribe later if I start in a notebook. With that I prefer to write in my home office, where there’s a window and shelves and stacks of books surrounding me. My desk is usually clean and distraction-free, but I like being able to pause my work, swivel around, and grab a book off of the nearest shelf to refuel if needed. I can’t work with music playing, but I love to have the window open. Letting the sounds of birds and traffic enter the room seems to remind me that I’m still a part of the world, even when pacing and muttering revised phrases aloud to my cats.

The poets workspace.

How did education play a role in your development?

Education played a massive role in my growth as a writer. Aside from introducing me to countless new authors and works to feast on, my experiences in both undergrad and the MFA program helped me to develop a thicker skin when revising my work and a sharper eye when reading the work of others. The MFA program I attended was especially helpful. While there I became part of a strong community of local writers who were not only comrades in the trenches of our craft but also genuinely great people. Even after graduation we still offer feedback on each other’s work—such support is rare and delicious once you’re out of academia, working a day job, and spending most of your hours with non-writers.

Who influenced you as an artist/writer?

Certainly I’ve been influenced by teachers who have been very hands-on with my poems, who are also great poets in their own right, like Steve Schreiner and James D'Agostino. Other writers who consistently get my heart pounding are William Carlos Williams, Dean Young, Elizabeth Bishop, and Mary Ruefle. I also find that films are a great source of inspiration, especially those that make strong use of imagery. Filmmakers like Sofia Coppola and Jim Jarmusch come to mind.

Whose work interests you currently? What artists/poets/presses put out work that you find exciting?

New poets who’ve really seized my eye lately are Matt Hart and Carrie Fountain. Both Hart’s Debacle Debacle and Fountain’s Burn Lake take on ideas of domesticity, family, memory, and place (things I often try to work with) with sharper clarity and sparkle than I can manage. Those have become guidepost collections for me. I’m also in love with novelist David Mitchell’s work, especially his last novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. Mitchell’s a master storyteller with a poet’s tongue.

Where do you see American poetry headed right now?

It seems to me that a lot of contemporary poets are looking for ways to engage the non-poets of the world. As a medium, poetry doesn’t appear to hold the same universal appeal as prose writing, so many writers today are trying to change this perception. I see this in my hometown of St. Louis, where groups of artists and poets are working together to implant poetry in public spaces in physically beautiful ways. I think projects like these help people who are typically turned off or intimidated by poetry to see the form in a new, very natural light.

What advice would you give artists/writers starting out?

Make friends with people who support what you’re creating/writing, but who will also challenge it. Find those critics in your life who will encourage you while prodding you further with a stick. These people were hugely important when I began writing poetry in earnest. Along with this comes remaining open to suggestions and critiques, while not revising your own work strictly to please others. This is how you grow as an artist/writer. Sometimes it hurts, but it’s worth it down the road.

If you could rewrite the infamous brawl between Wallace Stevens and Ernest Hemingway, what would you change, if anything? Why?

While I don’t feel particularly qualified to rewrite history, especially a story as rich with machismo as this, I would probably have preluded the first fist with a detailed, chart-laden exposition of the times Stevens pushed Hemingway’s buttons. Possible title: “The Dirty Three: How a No-Man Called Me a No-Man in Front of My Sister, and Two Other Offenses.”