Showcase Spotlight #7: John Yamrus

Since 1970 John Yamrus has published 25 volumes of poetry and 2 novels. He has also had more than 1,800 poems published in print magazines around the world. Selections of his poetry have been translated into several languages, including Spanish, Swedish, French, Japanese, Italian, Romanian, Albanian and Bengali. His poetry is taught in a number of colleges and universities. AS REAL AS RAIN is his newest book. 

John Yamrus - As Real As Rain

As Real As Rain
Poetry by John Yamrus
Illustrated by Janne Karlsson
8.27″ x 11.69″
80 pages, perfect bound
$15 plus shipping
ISBN: 978-1-926860-59-6

Copies of As Real As Rain can be ordered at either of these links via Epic Rites Press or at the website of John Yamrus.

Scott Thomas Outlar: First off, John, thank you for taking some of your time to do this interview at 17Numa. Hell, let’s cut to the chase and dive right in. You have a new book, As Real As Rain, set to fly off the presses in July. How does this collection feel at the moment while coursing through your veins, still being fresh and active in the blood?

John Yamrus: it’s like with any new project – kinda scary, if you want to tell the truth.  a bit of a relief to be done with it, and looking ahead.  i’ve been doing this a really long time and the feeling fortunately never gets old and never goes away.  it’s like that second right after jumping off a diving board where you’re waiting to feel the hit of the water.

STO: When you start working on a new book, do you set out an overall theme to guide the ship toward? Or are you taking a ride with the muse’s whims wherever they might happen to lead you day-to-day?

JY: no.  i never start out with a firm idea.  i wait until i have what feels like enough material for the book – or, the RIGHT material – for a book, and then i start pulling it together, looking at it to see exactly what it’s trying to say to me, then i start putting things into an order that has meaning and flow – a very real beginning, middle and end.

STO: You’ve been with Epic Rites Press now for several years. Can you talk a bit about how your relationship with the publisher, Wolfgang Carstens, began? How has it evolved over time?

JY: this’ll be my 9th book with Epic Rites Press, and, like i said, i’ve been doing this a long time…nearly 50 years…and hooking on with Epic Rites has been the best move i ever made.  Wolf and i hit it off right from the start…even before i started working with him.  i almost feel like we’re this couple of oddly separated brothers.  he’s the young crazy one, and i’m the older one who wishes he was crazy.  he’s certainly by far the best editor i’ve ever encountered.  he’s got a great eye for what works and what doesn’t…what’s good and what’s bad.  he’s got an eye for detail like nobody else around.  through sheer force of will and work and personality he’s turned Epic Rites Press into THE place to be.

STO: You’ve teamed up again with illustrator Janne Karlsson for this new collection. How does the collaborative process work between the two of you? Is he creating his art based off your finished poems? Or is there a back-and-forth of ideas that takes place? How do you feel his craft compliments yours?

JY: boy, i really hate to be the one to take the mystery and romance out of it, but it’s a whole lot simpler than that, and maybe because of that it’s a whole lot more complex to figure out or understand.  certainly, it’s more subtle.  for this particular project, we had this idea for the book, which works contrary to my usual process, but we had this idea and we had the poems and we really do have a great mutual trust and joy…from both of us, because he really has a blast experiencing the poems on their own and i have maybe an even bigger blast seeing what else he can mine from the ore.  we wanted this book to take the whole idea of POEMS, and explode it.  we wanted to have a book that people can read and keep and save and maybe at the same time want to rip apart and frame and hang on their wall.  we really wanted MORE.

STO: In reading past books of yours such as Alchemy and I Admit Nothing, there’s definitely a sense that you’re working with an objective to create just the right amount of bone on each poem where the reader still has to bring their own mind to flesh out the full body. There will be no further physiology references in this question, I promise. When did you truly find your groove with this sort of style? How conscious of the audience’s possible reactions to a particular poem are you while it’s taking shape?

JY: i almost don’t want to answer this one because i wouldn’t want to give you the impression that i hate many of my early books, but that’s just not the case.  even though there’s very little in them that i like, especially the VERY early ones, each and every one of them still managed to teach me a lot about the process of writing, being a writer and REALLY reaching across to the reader.  you mentioned ALCHEMY and I ADMIT NOTHING as examples of my “to the bone” style of writing…really, all 9 of my Epic Rites books work toward that end.  it’s really about getting the reader involved.  that was a hard thing for me to learn.  and, learning what NOT to say was and is absolutely the hardest.  it’s an ongoing thing.  there’s a poem in the new book that explains it:

John Yamrus - poem graphic

STO: When does the high come? When first sitting down to write? During the actual process itself? After it’s been completed? How long does the satisfaction last?

JY: that’s an odd question for me.  certainly a tough one to answer.  while i never feel the “high” as you call it, i DO feel it’s absence when i’m away from it.  does that make any sense? 

STO: I’ve heard you speak before about the necessity of putting in the work every day in order to make sure the job gets done. I’m paraphrasing, but something to that extent. Have you always had that surefire drive of dedication? Or was there some stage you hit along the way that hammered the lesson home?

JY: that’s the one thing i was always crystal clear and perfectly sure about.  it’s not fancy or smart or elite.  it’s not some holy thing.  it’s not sitting around, waiting for inspiration.  for every day of my life as long as i thought of being a writer it has always been about waking up and getting the job done.  maybe it’s the way i grew up.  we were coal miners.  the whole family.  the whole town.  no matter what it was that you did in life you just got up, got out and got the job done.  no magic.  no mystery.  just good, hard work.  and, because of that, i always felt myself to be – and prided myself in becoming – a lunch pail kind of writer who never made any big deal about the process, who just tucked his head down, lowered his shoulder and pushed ahead and got it done.  it DID take me a long time to figure out i wasn’t going to write the “great poem”…but, it eventually became clear to me that the great poem wasn’t in just one single poem…it was in the complete day after day, year after year, body of work.  that, for me, was and is the great poem.

STO: When a reader sets down their copy of As Real As Rain, what are a couple of thoughts you hope they might have floating around inside their head?

JY: god, that’s never crossed my mind!  i mean, i hope they don’t feel they’ve wasted their money or an hour of their time.  i hope to god they feel good about the book…maybe a little bit shaken or disturbed or even inspired.  maybe i’d even feel good about them ripping a page out and putting it up on the refrigerator or next to their morning mirror.  i think the greatest compliment would be having them thinking about sharing it with a friend or giving it as a gift.  that’d feel really really good.

STO: When you’re not writing, what other types of hobbies and activities do you get a kick out of?

JY: well, since i AM one of those writers whose only real subject is himself, that should be pretty obvious from reading my books, but, i read a hell of a lot…i love my wife, my dog, old movies and books. 

STO: Congratulations on the new book, John, and thank you again for your time. If there’s anything else you’d like to add that my questions missed the mark on or failed to broach altogether, please feel free to elaborate now. The floor belongs to you.

JY: no, thank YOU.  interviews like this are almost always a lot of fun, especially when someone takes the time (like you) to come up with interesting and challenging questions.  it gives me a chance to pretend that i know what i’m talking about.  at the end of the day i’m a pretty lucky guy.  i get to do things like this…every year or so i get to have my name on a book…and every night i get to fall asleep between clean sheets.  all things considered, that’s pretty damn good, don’t you think?

what else would i like?  i’d like to hear from readers.  on my website there’s a “contact” tab…people can write and tell me what they think of the work.  it won’t ever change me or my direction, but it’ll give people a chance to vent and tell me what worked and what didn’t.  what moved them or just fell flat.  like i said earlier, this book’s a real experiment.  it may work…and it may not…that (really) doesn’t matter.  what matters is trying.   what matters most is giving it a shot…saying this is me…now, what do you think of that?


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