Since both the Virtual Poetorium interviews with James R. Scrimgeour and Jonathan Andersen, which I previously reblogged here on this blog, seemed to be fairly popular with readers, I am following them up today with a more recent interview I did with the poet & novelist Robert Eugene Perry that originally appeared just a few months ago in the February 22, 2022 edition of the Virtual Poetorium (I hope you will enjoy reading it)…
Robert Eugene Perry is a native of Massachusetts. Both a talented novelist and poet, his first novel Where the Journey Takes You, a spiritual allegory combining poetry and prose, was published in 2007. This was followed by three collections of poetry The Sacred Dance: Poetry to Nourish the Spirit in 2008, If Only I Were a Mystic, This Would All Come So Easy in 2011, and Surrendering to the Path released by Human Error Publishing in 2020. His latest book Earthsongs, also published by Human Error Publishing in March 2022 (a month after this interview) is a collection of 50 of his poems as well as 50 companion black and white sketches by his artist friend Ferol Anne Smith (All his books can be purchased online via links found on his website: https://roberteugeneperry.myportfolio.com) Perry hosted a poetry group for disabled individuals at the former New England Dream Center in Worcester MA, and has emceed the monthly Open Mic at Booklovers’ Gourmet in Webster MA since May 2017. Three poems were included in NatureCulture/ Human Error Publishing 2021 anthology Honoring Nature. Two of Perry’s poems were published in Poetica Magazine’s 2020 Mizmor anthology. He has had several poems published in Worcester Magazine, and his short story “In The Company of Trees” was published by WordPeace journal in 2021. A metaphysical poet, he draws inspiration from nature endeavoring to reveal connections between our higher selves and the natural world. He is a devoted husband and father of two grown boys.
A Virtual Poetorium Interview With Poet Robert Eugene Perry
PAUL: Good evening, Bob! My first question for you tonight is who or what first inspired you to start writing poetry?
BOB: I was 12, seventh grade English class writing assignment. We had just finished reading some famous poems by Frost, Dickinson, and William Carlos Williams. I especially remember “This Is Just To Say”, I had never heard anything like it.
The first poem I wrote was called “Night”. It went something like: “Night is calling/ the bats are hunting/ the owls are hooting/ something is moving/ is it man or beast?/ I’ll never know/ it’s going away.” My teacher loved it. Everyone else gave me a hard time because it didn’t rhyme.
PAUL: Who are some of your favorite poets and can you tell us why you like them?
BOB: So I will start with my two favorite poets, both of which I was fortunate enough to do Dead Poets segments at the live Poetorium in Southbridge: Mary Oliver and T.S. Eliot.
On the surface, their poetry may seem to be disparate. Upon closer examination, they both write about faith, connection, and our place in the universe. I discovered Eliot in High School, where I took on The Waste Land out of hubris (the most difficult choice given) and waited until the last minute to start it. My professor gave me a D, which was actually more than it deserved. Through the years I have read & reread most of his other works, and found a depth, unlike any other poetry, especially in Four Quartets.
I came late to the Mary Oliver party, only discovering her in the last decade. Her connection to Creation and ability to use language to describe it is beyond compare. These are the only two poets that I have multiple volumes and return to again and again.
I am very fond of poetry anthologies for two reasons: discovering poets who resonate with me, and also hearing many voices not only broadens my perception of the universe, but it also keeps me from trying to emulate anyone else’s style. I am grateful to have poems included in two anthologies over the past couple years: Poetica magazine’s 2020 Mizmor Anthology: Spirituality in Nature and the NatureCulture/ Human Error Publishing 2021 anthology Honoring Nature.
I also receive two daily emails and one monthly to keep up on current poetry: poets.org, Writer’s Almanac, and Gratefulness.org. Poems that move me I will share to Facebook, and so encourage others to discover modern poets.
PAUL: How has your writing style changed and progressed throughout the years?
BOB: As I mentioned earlier, the first poem I wrote did not rhyme. I spent the next ten years or so working on rhyme scheme, meter, and cadence until I reached what I felt was the apex in Cold Seasons of Self. The next decade was honing narrative, finding the cadence in blank verse, finding the correct words to express what was going on inside me. I would define these two decades as my intellectual quest for expression and connection.
My poetry mirrored my faith journey, which moved from Agnostic to Pentecostal (at age 21) to Non-Denominational to Catholic to Episcopalian to Who Gives A Damn About A Label (my current home).
My first two chapbooks were more religious in nature, as that was the way I expressed myself at the time. I have used the term metaphysical poet for the last few years as it most adequately describes the place where I am coming from: trying to see how the divine manifests in creation, and express that through whatever means possible – generally using allusions, symbols, and metaphors from nature.
PAUL: How would you personally define “Poetry” and for you what do you feel are its most important aspects (imagery, rhythm, word choice, etc.)?
BOB: To define a thing is to try and put it in a box. Some things should be left wild & free to develop in whatever way they grow. I know that you are an aficionado of poetry forms, so I hope that does not rub you the wrong way!
For me, it is always about the message first. No matter how well crafted, or true to poetic form, if I cannot understand what the poet is saying (on some level) then it will leave me cold. The message does not have to be obvious, but it has to be there.
The next in importance is cadence, it has to have some type of flow to move it along. Imagery is wonderful for getting immersed into the poem itself. A rightly placed word is like finding a gem along the path.
PAUL: How would you describe the poetry you are currently writing?
BOB: I just sent a new manuscript off to Human Error Publishing, called Earthsongs. It is a collection of 50 poems and 50 black and white sketches with my artist friend Ferol Anne Smith. This was an extraordinary venture, because it caused both of us to view our art through the eyes of one another.
The majority of the poems are nature-themed, so certain images naturally presented themselves. She used many of my photos from my weekly walks in the woods as springboards, but some were intuitively grasped from the message of the poem.
It was absolutely a labor of love, we would confer about the sketches and we found that we were in sync in almost every instance. I am in awe of her gift, and it moved me as a poet to see how the message came across and translated into the image.
PAUL: Do you recall the first poem you ever had published? Could you tell us where it appeared, and if possible, share it with us now?
BOB: The first poem that won an award was published in an International internet forum called the Poets of Mars. The poem is called Quest, and was the January 2019 winner…
Restlessness aside, this day is all I own
to try and piece the mystery
of all that’s right in front of me
the passion and calamity
each single heart has known.
Preposterous indeed, to attempt to understand
the music of the spheres
and if god interferes
when the verdict of the years
lies beyond my mortal span.
Indescribable, this joy, that masquerades as pain
the veil of this uncertainty
longing for eternity
deep and wide as any sea
the risk could all be vain.
Ineffable, this grace, which launched a foolish quest
to seek out a connection
between each path’s direction
towards the divine reflection
and find my soul at rest.
—Robert Eugene Perry (originally published on the Poets of Mars internet forum)
PAUL: Have you developed a regular writing routine, and if so, can you describe it to us?
BOB: I sit by the French River every day after work, listening to the river flow. I do that in all four seasons, each season has its own beauty and voice. In fine weather I will walk in the woods after work or on the weekends.
Some days a poem will come, some days it will not. I always have pen & paper. I never worry. If I am in the mood to write, I will write even if it does not seem particularly good. Those words are sometimes the inspiration for another poem down the line.
PAUL: What is your actual writing process like, and how do you go about starting and shaping a poem?
BOB: Almost always the title of a poem will suggest itself to me with a basic idea of what I want to write. Sometimes these come out of meditation, walking in the forest, sitting at the beach, or a situation in my daily life.
I write the title down, and if there is a start to the poem I will include that. Most times it is just the title, and writing it down makes a concrete intention to create something. When I was younger, the most important thing was to express that which was deep inside. Now when I write, connecting with others is paramount.
The poem itself takes its shape and form as it is being created. I never start out saying I am going to use this form or that style. The poem has a life & voice of its own, and when it is released into the Universe it will affect people differently according to where they are in their own journey.
For the final edit (and also along the way) nothing is more important than reading the poem out loud. I will catch errors, inconsistencies and rhythm/meter problems easier that way. It is also great practice for reading out at open mics & such.
PAUL: How important do you feel revision is in writing poetry, and how do you know when a poem is finished?
BOB: I know some poets who never revise, and others who edit to the point of distraction. I had one friend who spend so much time on a particular poem she said she thought she “edited all the goodness out of it”!
I think once the poem finds its voice, it is important to edit the structure and cadence so as to reveal the intonation of the poem in the written form. When a person reads it, they should be able to hear the way I would read it out loud in their head.
PAUL: Could you tell us about any poetry or writing projects you are currently working on?
BOB: I mentioned Earthsongs has been sent to the publisher, I anticipate the book being available sometime in March 2022. I have scheduled a book launch party at Booklovers’ Gourmet in Webster MA for April 2nd. We will have two sessions 1-2 and 3-4 PM so promote a more intimate atmosphere and to provide smaller crowds. It will be multimedia, with Ferol showing her sketches on a large screen while I read.
The next book of poems I am working on are more confessional in nature, a little more edgy. I think it is important to look for different ways of expressing myself and making that connection with others.
PAUL: What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning to write poetry?
BOB: Read everything you can. Anthologies are wonderful, because you are exposed to so many different voices. If you are just starting out, write every day. Keep a journal, oftentimes your thoughts will turn into poems. Also, when keeping a journal you are less likely to throw away poems that you think are no good.
I used to throw away tons of poems before I came to my current way of doing things. Find your own way of doing things. Crossing things out is a wonderful way of helping the poem to evolve, you can see your progress that way. If you crumple it up and throw it out it is gone forever.
PAUL: My final question of the evening is there any question that you would like to answer about your life, or poetry, or anything else that I have failed to ask you during this interview? If so, please answer it for us…
BOB: Nothing is ever wasted. Every single life experience, no matter how painful or humiliating can be used to help another along the path. Poetry is art, and all art is meant to be expressed and shared with another. We absolutely need each other.