Reading your poems, I felt as if I were reading the work of someone who has been writing a long time, but this is your first book. How long have you been writing? Can you talk a little bit about your evolution as a poet?
I came late to poetry actually. I had written some poems but my interests had been primarily in fiction and drama before 2000. I went to Farleigh Dickinson in 2001 to get an MFA in Fiction and met a bunch of poets. These friendships led to weekend poetry retreats in New Jersey where my interest in poetry really grew.
I would love to hear about your writing habits. Do you have any particular rituals or disciplines that you practice?
I love coffee shops. There is something about writing with the mild chatter of folks around me. It makes the experience seem not so solitary. I also read my work out loud all the time (at home, not in the coffee shop). I write, read out loud, make corrections, and repeat that way. I think if it sounds okay to my ear, chances are it’s working on the page.
I particularly enjoyed the poem, “The Road Narrows,” in which Jesus is sitting on a hill in East Boston, contemplating human logic and suffering. I wonder what role religion plays in your poetic imagination?
I was raised a Catholic in a church going family. There are a few things I like about what the church does, mostly the legacy of service with the poor and underprivileged. But as I’ve grown older I’ve seem too much hypocrisy with the church and their politics to feel too much of a connection. When I explore religion in my poems I’m always pulled in those opposite directions, wishing for the mysticism I’m not really sure is there.
What writers and poets have inspired and influenced you?
The list is long, but the first poet who really got me writing was Phillip Levine. I remember the poem, “Starlight.” I liked it’s narrative style and it reminded me of my father. Then there’s Ruth Stone, Charles Simic, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, and the beat poets. James Baldwin has always been my favorite fiction writer, it’s the velvety prose I think.
I am wondering if there is one poem from this collection you are most apt to open with at a public reading? Or if not, is there one poem which is a personal favorite? Could you paste it below and maybe say a few words about it?
I’m always tempted to start with the title poem, “The One Fifteen To Penn Station.” The other thing I would consider is one of the Revere Beach Poems. I lived many years of my life there and a lot of what I write about is rooted in that place.
Once they charged to see a train wreck on side
beach, watched horses diving thirty feet into a pool,
paid five cents to look at premature babies
in incubators. As a teenager I saw the last
remnants of the arcades, one wooden
roller coaster they tried ten times to burn
to the ground, and the rotating neon line
of barrooms – The Ebb Tide, The Mickey Mouse,
Sammy’s Patio, the rock and roll, the disco,
the punk, the bikers, the strippers, the wise
I worked this beach, played this beach,
passed out drunk and bleeding on this beach,
in the shadow of the gray Boston skyline,
at the foot of the General Edwards Bridge,
where we crossed as kids to sit on the fence
of the drive-in and smoke weed and run from
the cops through the marsh, where my friend
Donny got hit by a runaway tire from a Ford
Mustang. We jumped off that bridge when
the tide was high, three stories into the cold Atlantic,
until the cops chased us from there too.
When I was eighteen they built a disco on the
other side, Jacob’s Ladder. They lined up in tight
white pants and starched hair and dropped black
beauties to the thick base beats I could hear from
my bedroom window. Now I walk my dog here
when I come to visit my mother, see the fresh
graffiti that covers our own, see the shopping carts
knee-deep in the low tide mud and the condos,
where a school yard used to be, where I played
basketball with no shirt and smoked cigarettes
and stole pieces of pipe from the monkey bars
to make my chopper bicycle, where the guys
played Acey-Deucey on the school yard steps,
and the girls who came to visit for the summer
found eager young boys like a pack of dogs, waiting.
I’m rooted to this place, like the forgotten dance hall
pier, sea-soaked and splintered with each new tide,
this place, once a dumping ground for mob hits,
a revolving door of immigrants, home to the madness
that comes from hot summers and too much booze
and never ending traffic cruising the three mile beach
front boulevard at night.
But once when I was six years old I walked
with my father at low tide, the Nahant beach causeway
on one side, the staggered Boston buildings on the other,
a plane flying low to Logan Airport. We held hands and stepped
over the rigged mounds of packed sand, the scattered
strands of seaweed brushing my ankles, the salt air,
the smell of sun tan lotion, the sea gulls. We walked
to the edge of the channel, the boats an arms length away,
the neighborhood behind us in the distance. I remember it was late
in the day, the sun hazy and starting down. We stood
looking back at the tiny houses, the neat lined streets
until the water rose slowly around our legs,
the small cool waves pushing us home, and somewhere out of
sight I heard the faint chimes of an ice cream truck.
This book feels so intensely autobiographical, I could almost imagine a series of photographs accompanying the book. Could you talk a little about the autobiographical nature of your work?
I know my poems are mostly about my experience. It’s really the only poems I know how to write. A friend of mine once said, “I may not be much but I’m all I think about.” What interests me are the people I knew, the places I lived, the mistakes I’ve made, some of the awareness that comes with age, some of the regrets, and some of the victories.
To purchase The One Fifteen To Penn Station click here