Samuel is the author of two books of poetry: Bright Soil, Dark Sun (2019) and The God of Happiness (2016). A Best of the Net nominee, he resides in Bloomington, Indiana, where he enjoys making useful things out of wood scraps and losing staring contests to his cats.
Thanks for doing this interview Samuel, glad to have you.
#1 Where did you grow up? How has it impacted your life and writing?
“I grew up in a small town in central Indiana, pretty much where rural meets urban. Cornfields for miles, and the landscape so pancake-flat you could see Indianapolis on a clear day—even though it was about 40-ish miles down the highway. We lived in a big limestone house that was built in the late 1800s and which had been a funeral home at some point early on. We had a good-sized vegetable garden, and a lot of fruit trees and vines in the backyard—persimmons, apples, plums, peaches, paw-paws, blackberries, raspberries, grapes. There was a very real and present connection to the natural world, and I think a lot of my writing grows out of that. Even if whatever I’m working on isn’t directly about nature, I find that just looking at trees or windy grass is one of the best ways to break writer’s block.”
#2 When did you first start reading poetry? What got you into the literary world?
“I was a bit of a bookworm as a kid, but I never read serious poetry beyond what we read in school—Poe, Shakespeare, probably some Whitman thrown in there. All good stuff, but nothing that really resonated with me. When I was a teenager, I started writing fiction—short stories I’d type out and save on a floppy disk (remember those?). And, yes, they were horrible, though I probably didn’t think so at the time.”
“I honestly didn’t think about poetry that much until one night in 2005. I was listening to the radio in my room, and the DJ said the next song was the new Bruce Springsteen single, “Devils and Dust.” Now, at this point, I was passably familiar with who Bruce Springsteen was—I knew he was a musician whose vinyl you could reliably find in many dads’ record collections (mine included), and I was pretty sure I could pick one or two of his radio hits out of a line-up. I was a little intrigued that he had a new song out in 2005—after all, this is someone whose music I associated with the ‘70s and ‘80s—so I turned up the volume, and within about 10 seconds, I had chills running down my spine. The lyrics were unlike anything I’d listened to before. So, the next day after school, I raided my dad’s vinyl collection, found his copy of Born to Run, and had my mind blown for the next 40 minutes. The music was phenomenal, but the words were even better—I followed along, line by line, on the lyrics sheet.”
“Cut forward to 2021, and I have no idea how to play a guitar intelligently (I gravitated towards drums), but I’m fairly certain that my continuing enthusiasm for writing poetry came in part from reading Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics that afternoon.”
#3 When did you publish your first book, what was it, and what was the reaction?
“My first book, The God of Happiness, was published in 2016. The reaction among my friends, family, and some poetry-minded colleagues was positive, but beyond that—zilch. Which is probably how many first books of poetry go.”
“Importantly, though, I took strong note of my own reaction. Once I had the finished book in my hands, I was nervous about what I’d find once I opened it. Typos? Bad enjambment? Endings I now wished I’d written differently? There is so much possibility when writing a manuscript, but a final, published book is unchangeable—for better or worse, it’s out there as-is. I had been so excited to get a book published that I think it became more of a rush than a journey, and the nervousness I was feeling was a result of that. As it is, The God of Happiness isn’t bad (I am, of course, more than a little biased)—but I think I could have done a better job in some respects. I’ve omitted some lines while doing readings, not because they’re poorly done, but because, if I’d written those poems now, they wouldn’t have made the final cut. And the title, of course, can lead one to believe the book is about religion, which it isn’t.”
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned from that experience, it’s this: if you think your project is ready to publish, put it aside and forget about it for a couple of months, and then come back to it. Don’t rush it.”
#4 What has been the most interesting part of your journey?
“I used to think that in order to become a successful writer, I had to somehow convince a publisher to pay me gobs of money upfront, or I had to work in a certain field, like academics or journalism. And I worked toward that goal for a time—I have an MA in English, and briefly worked as a university instructor. It took me a while to realize two important things about being a successful writer.”
“First, “successful” is a highly subjective term.”
“Second, there’s only one thing you must do in order to be a writer: you must write. The subject and style don’t matter as much as you might think.”
“I currently work at a pharmaceutical manufacturing facility. Before that, I worked at an e-learning / training company. Neither of these employers are at the heart of poetry or traditional academics (though the e-learning field is getting closer and closer all the time). However, my roles in these companies have required large amounts of daily writing—much of it technical, but all of it necessarily clear, concise, and well thought-out. It doesn’t matter that I’m writing about pharmaceutical or manufacturing-oriented subjects—I’m still writing, and flexing those writing muscles at work all day has improved my poetry and fiction.”
#5 What is something people don’t know about you?
“About five years ago, I discovered the recipe for the perfect sandwich. You ready? Here it is: two slices of wheat bread, crunchy peanut butter, and a thick slice of sweet, yellow onion. I’m not joking. Go try it right now.”
#6 Who is your favorite poet/author you look up to?
“I love the poetry of Seamus Heaney and the fiction of Cormac McCarthy for a similar reason—both authors’ immense vocabularies manifest in ways that are profound, startling and playful (“playful” is not a word I ever thought I’d apply to Cormac McCarthy’s writing, but it’s true). I enjoy reading Heaney’s “Eelworks” for this reason, and it took me a couple of reads to get through McCarthy’s Blood Meridian without being constantly floored by the amazing breadth of language.”
“Ted Kooser and Wallace Stevens are poets I hold in high regard not only for their writing (which is outstanding), but because both cultivated prominent careers in poetry while also cultivating prominent careers in fields that have absolutely nothing to do with poetry. This is no small feat, and proof that it doesn’t take an MFA to write a good line.”
#7 Where do you see yourself in the future? What are your goals?
“I’ve never really known how to answer these types of questions. Goals, needs, wants, general situations change all the time, so I’ll answer as simply as possible:”
“In the future, I’m still writing, and I’m still happy.”
Thank you once again Samuel, I greatly enjoyed this and I hope that my readers check out your work.
Samuel’s Website is here.
His book “The God of Happiness” is available for purchase here.
His book “Bright Soil, Dark Sun” is available to purchase on Amazon here.
Check out some of my other thought provoking articles here. Get my new full length collection Blood Stained Mahogany here. Check out my twitter here. If you enjoyed this content consider subscribing to get a notification of a new post. Leave a comment below!
© Philosophical Rambler 2021