James Brush is a writer and poet whose work I’ve admired for some time. That he has become a friend is an added bonus. James has a new book of poetry that was recently published. It’s called Birds Nobody Loves: A Book of Vultures and Grackles (I posted a short review recently). James has kindly answered a series of questions to kick off this new series of interviews here on Aggaspletch. I invite you to check out all James links, and to take a look at his poetry collection. My thanks to James for taking the time to answer these questions. With that, enough blather from me…
Without naming it, describe for me your favorite beverage?
My favorite beverage consists of ice cold hydrogen atoms joined in a 2:1 ratio with a crisp pure oxygen atom. This beverage is best served over the solid state form of itself. For variety, pour it through ground and roasted coffee beans or let it absorb the flavor of tea bags, chill and serve over its pure solid state form. When feeling especially adventurous, mix it with malted barley and hops, boil it for an hour, let it cool and toss in some yeast. A few weeks later, it’ll be pretty tasty.
Do you believe in Writer’s Block? Why or why not.
I don’t know. It’s never happened to me. I have had stretches where I didn’t think I had much to write about or I felt uninspired. Often I write anyway, especially if I’m in the middle of a novel or something that requires real sustained commitment. Other times, I find it useful to find some old piece to revise or tinker with. Doing writerly things keeps me from feeling like I have writer’s block. I try to write something every day or barring that do something creative. The creative impulse never goes away. Writing is one way I satisfy that impulse, so if the writing isn’t working maybe I try something else… photography, cooking, or even making guitars .
Do you carry a notebook?
Yes. It lives in my bag, but my bag isn’t always with me. I have an iPhone and often use the Notes feature to jot things down. Many of my small stones and even a few poems are first drafted on my phone and then revised on the computer. I prefer drafting on paper, but sometimes tapping things out on the phone is the quickest way to get something down.
Why birds and when did this start?
I’ve always loved birds . I had parakeets when I was in high school and for a while, my dad was breeding canaries and finches. I think the love of birds came from my parents, especially my dad. I started really trying to learn about birds back in 2007 when I tried to identify all the birds that came to our feeders. I was astounded by the number species I saw just around my yard and in the neighborhood. I started keeping lists and learning not just the names, but also the behavior and life histories of the birds I see around me every day. My eyes opened to the world in new ways by actively trying to know just this one piece of it. I became a huge fan of Rylander’s The Behavior of Texas Birds and Sibley’s Guide to Birds of North America and Guide to Bird Life & Behavior . In 2009, I kept weekly counts of the birds in my neighborhood and was amazed to discover 67 species within a mile or so of my house. I also got to know the trees, butterflies, mammals and other life in our little corner of northwest Austin.
Eventually, it was only natural that birds would show up in and in many cases become the focus of some of my poems. Writing small stones, and longer poems too, I noticed I was writing about grackles and vultures a lot, two ubiquitous species in the these parts. As the poems accumulated , I thought of the idea of a collection and so back in 2009, I began to make a conscious effort to write about these birds, thus leading to Birds Nobody Loves .
What are you afraid of?
The end of nature. Extinction. A world in which my son can only imagine the wonders we have now but are letting slip away.
What makes you laugh and how do you write about it?
Coen brothers movies.
Most of what makes me laugh is situational stuff. Things that happen while I go about my life… my wife’s jokes, the cat and dogs’ antics, my son’s adventures, things my students say. I don’t tend to write much about what makes me laugh. Things that upset me make it into my poems more often, though I tend to find a little humor.
And this video of a Shakespearean version of Three Little Pigs. The performance is as funny as the writing.
What is more rewarding for you, the finished product or the writing process?
When I finish something, I tend to be proud of the product. But then it gets stuck on a shelf or disappears into the blog archives or into my stomach (when I’m cooking). The things I learned in the process stay with me. The enjoyment of the doing, whether it’s learning about vultures, revising something until it clicks, planting things in the garden, sanding down the neck of a guitar or walking through the woods looking for something to write about lasts far longer and resonates deeper than the thing you make. Process is where life is lived and discoveries are made and ultimately, that’s the more rewarding part for me.
How can your art change the world where you live?
l don’t know. I’ve had a few people tell me they think about grackles differently after reading my book. Don’t hate them quite so much. Maybe learning not to hate a kind of wild animal that’s just trying to do what it does can make the world better. Others have told me my book got them seeing and paying attention to the ordinary wonders all around. I think that can make the world a better place. Don’t you?
James Brush is a high school English teacher. His poems have appeared in various journals online and in print. He keeps a full list of publications at his blog Coyote Mercury . He really does like vultures and grackles, which is lucky since he lives in central Texas.
Again, my thanks to James Brush for answering these questions. I’ve got a few more people lined up for interviews, so please come back. And thanks for reading.