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 (Epic Rites Press, 84pp) is his newest book. His website is: http://www.johnyamrus.com and his books can be found on Amazon.com.
You were quoted very recently in a review of As Real As Rain, your latest collection of poetry published by Epic Rites Press, as saying that your audience “isn’t sitting at table 4 at the reading in the coffee house; it’s in the back, cooking the food or waiting to clear the table.” Can you say more about that and how it relates to your own background? Where did the impetus come from to write to that segment?
i didn’t write it. i felt it. i feel it. it’s always been a part of what i am and who i am. from the very beginning of my life as a writer, i’ve always had a big dislike for people who treated poetry like it was something special, and by contact, so were they. it’s that sense of elitism that’s killed poetry. it’s that same elitism that eventually gave rise to guys like Ginsberg and Bukowski, who sensed very deeply that poetry is at its best when it kneels in the gutter and looks up at the stars.
shoot, maybe that’s why i can never think of myself as a poet...the word...the very THOUGHT of the word...takes me back to being 17, when everyone around me in my little group of aspiring writers, thought and talked of themselves as being poets and therefore special and different from everyone else.
i never wanted that.
i’m a coal miner’s son. i still remember my grandfather talking about the mules who spent their entire lives underground at the mines. i grew up with iron-on patches on my knees. we never had a new car. how could somebody who grew up like that ever want to be a poet? to feel elite? i just wanted to lay out in the grass at night and feel i was part of a whole.
How would you describe As Real As Rain, in terms of its being a collaboration? You’ve written nearly 30 books. Have others been collaborative efforts? What makes this one unique?
this one really IS unique. i never collaborated before. what Janne and i did with this book was built up over time. it took a lot of time to establish the mutual trust that had us doing a book of this size and scope and really laying everything on the line.
it didn’t start out as something we planned. we first worked together on my book Alchemy. it’s a big book...it clocks in at right around 200 pages. huge, for a book of all new poems. at the suggestion of my publisher, Wolf Carstens (and don’t get me started, i could talk about that guy forever...this IS, after all, my 9th book with Epic Rites Press...by far the longest and most productive association i’ve EVER had in my 47 years as a working writer)...at Wolf’s suggestion we asked Janne to do some illustrations for Alchemy. he ended up doing 8. and they worked. right from the get-go i could see that he brought something to the mix that added a little extra twist to the poems. real attitude.
eventually, we did a full book of poems together...Burn. it was published in Sweden with limited distribution and not a lot of people got to see it.
then, going on three years ago (and this is a long story, but put up with me, okay?), i did a reading in Edmonton, Canada, that started it all. it was a wild night. with the beer and tequila...the shouts and the hoots. people talked.
people who weren’t there that night, heard about it...and they talked.
time passed and i put out two more books...Alchemy and I Admit Nothing...but, every now and then someone would ask about that night and what went on and what it was like to be there. so, we came up with this idea...me and Wolf...we re-created pretty much every poem i read that night...in the order that i read them...and we challenged Janne to come up with stuff that gave the feeling of what it was like to be in that room. everybody has some nights in their life that kinda shine a little bit brighter than the others. that was one of them for me.
fortunately, Janne (with his art) was able to bring just the right amount of crazy...and smooth and sublime.
is this book poetry? i don’t really know. i hope not. what i DO hope is that you don’t need a magic key to help you figure it out. i do hope that maybe you can read a page in the couple of seconds that you get while you’re waiting to clear the table or cook the food.
How do you view the poetry scene today? And how do you see yourself in relation to it?
the poetry scene today? if you look at the numbers, it’s very active. it’s filled with iambs and dactyls and rhyme. it’s filled with a hundred thousand Bukowski clones and wannabe’s. it’s filled with any number of people who call themselves poets and wrap themselves up in the image and dream and have absolutely no clue whatsoever, and wouldn’t know real poetry if it snuck up behind them and bit them in the ass.
i think the biggest thing about them (and there are always certain exceptions) is that they’re afraid to fail. they’re afraid to take chances. they write what they already know is thought of as poetry. it’s safe. they’re poets. it makes them feel good. and it’s a monumental waste of time.
will i write another book like As Real As Rain? no. been there. done that.
i’d be bored.
i’m 66 years old. i don’t have time to be a poet. i can’t do the same thing over and over again. i gotta try something new. so...how do i see myself in relation to the current poetry scene? i don’t. i’m just passing through.
Pencil sketch by Henry Denander