Today, we’re pleased to introduce Doug Ramspeck, whose poem, “Unblessing,” appears in MAR 35.1. Ramspeck is the author of four poetry books. His most recent collection, Original Bodies, was selected for the Michael Waters Poetry Prize and is published by Southern Indiana Review Press. Two earlier books also received awards: Mechanical Fireflies (Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize), and Black Tupelo Country (John Ciardi Prize). Individual poems have appeared in journals that include The Kenyon Review, Slate, The Southern Review, and The Georgia Review. He is an associate professor at The Ohio State University at Lima, where he teaches creative writing.
He also apparently plays tic-tac-toe with chickens. Read on to learn more!
Quick! Summarize your poem in 10 words or fewer.
Cut-up-for-pieces poem (this needs explaining).
What can you share about this piece prior to its MAR publication?
One of my favorite methods of producing a poem is to take, at random, four or five poems from my “Failed-Poem Folder,” cut them up for pieces, then combine them into what I hope will be a coherent whole. That is how “Unblessing” was produced. Each time I try this approach, I am amazed by how, when I am done, I am able to convince (delude?) myself into imagining that the pieces longed to be together all along, and my role was as simple matchmaker.
What was your reaction upon receiving your MAR acceptance?
My wife likes to claim that my response to acceptance by any journal is akin to the Groucho Marx quotation: “I don’t care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.” In other words, she claims that my evaluation of the journal’s prestige is reduced in my mind because I received the acceptance notice. In truth, though, I was delighted to be included.
You’re at a family reunion and some long-lost relative asks about your writing. What do you say?
I like to tell the story about when my first book of poems was published, and I told my daughter about the royalty payment I would receive for each copy that was sold. She did some quick calculations in her head, and said, “That means that if you sell a million copies, you will make _____!” I didn’t have the heart to explain just how many zeroes she was off in that estimate.
What do you consider your biggest writing-related success?
After I had a poem published in Poetry Salzburg Review, I was contacted by a student who was writing a long essay about the poem. She sent me the paper when it was completed, and it was a very nicely-written piece. Of course, it had almost nothing to do with anything I had thought about when writing the poem, which I took to mean that my child was now making its way independently into the world, and didn’t need my guidance any longer. There was something both very gratifying and a little lonely in that. My actual daughter is teaching 9th grade in Micronesia this year, and I feel exactly the same way about her.
Your biggest writing-related regret?
I suffered from horrible and self-inflicted writer’s block as a fiction writer from about age thirty to age fifty, when I began writing poetry.
Tell us one strange thing about yourself that does not involve writing.
When I tell the story about how my wife once lost at tic-tac-toe to a chicken in San Marcos, Texas, I seem to think that I come off better in the story because I explain that I was able to tie the chicken.
Tell us one strange thing about yourself that does involve writing.
I don’t like to imagine that I actually write anything I produce. I simply listen to the voices in my head and write down what they say. I am, in short, an amanuensis. This way, it seems to me, I take neither credit nor blame for the work that my fingers transcribe.
Do you have another favorite piece of writing in this MAR issue? If so, name it and tell us why.
I am a sucker for a beautiful death poem, and “Stillborn Lamb,” by Sarah Burke, is about as beautiful as they come.
Thanks for the interview, Doug!
Laura Maylene Walter, Fiction Editor