This is one of an ongoing series of interviews with contributors to The 3288 Review.
John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Perceptions and Sanskrit with work upcoming in South Carolina Review, Gargoyle, Owen Wister Review and Louisiana Literature. His poems “And the Answer Is…” and “Carolyn Drowned” appeared in the Autumn 2015 issue of The 3288 Review.
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3288 Review: How and when did you start writing? Was there a specific event or moment which sparked your interest in the written word?
John Grey: I started scribbling words on blanks pieces of paper (and some not so blank) from as far back as I remember. And my interest in the written word (by others at least) stems from the first time I started reading. My birthdays and Christmas, from the beginning, were more about accumulating books than toys. i did start trying to write poems and songs and even a few small plays in my teens and then by my twenties became much more serious about it.
3288 Review: You bill yourself as an “Australian poet, U.S. resident” Do you see differences between United States poetry and Australian poetry, either in subject or tone, or “the poetry scene”? And how has your own poetry changed or evolved since moving to the U.S.?
John Grey: To answer the second question first, the main difference between the poetry I wrote in Australia and that in the US is that the former ended up in a drawer and with the latter I’ve felt confident enough to submit to various publications and web-sites. My poetry has certainly improved with both more life experience and exposure to the poetry world in general. And I’m much more knowledgeable when it comes to markets than I ever did in my home country. So, to double back and answer the first question, in my early writing years, I exist in somewhat of a vacuum so I never really became conversant with the Australian poetry scene.
3288 Review: What does your poetry-writing process look like? Do you set out with the intent to write specific poems, or do let them come to you as life happens? And at what point do you consider a poem ready to be released into the world?
John Grey: My analogy for the poem writing process is that it’s like wandering off into the woods, immersing myself in the surroundings but then suddenly reaching a point where I realize I’m totally lost and need to find my way back. The first draft of a poem is complete when I somehow find myself back in familiar territory.
My aim is always for that first draft to be, as realistically as possible, the end poem and that further revisions be more for correcting obvious mistakes, fine tuning here and there with a more apt word i.e. anything that doesn’t affect the feel and rhythm.
Of course, this can be wishful thinking at times. Some poems just do come out damn ugly. But I never give up hope on a poem. In fact, I almost never abandon a poem once I’ve written the first one or two lines. Poems that, no matter how much I tamper with them, still don’t work for me go into my enormous slush pile. I revisit them maybe months later and sometimes see a way to make the poem work and sometimes not. And it’s back to the slush pile for the latter.
I do occasionally set out with the intent of writing a poem with a specific theme. Many magazines do either have a permanent theme or change it from issue to issue.
As far as letting poems come to me as life happens, that was certainly the case in my younger days. But now, living a reasonably content and secure life, I most often have to resort to the old standby – my imagination.
3288 Review: You are predominantly known as a poet, but you also write short fiction. Tell us something about this. What do you write? Where have you been published? And who are your influences?
John Grey: My approach to writing short fiction differs from how I write poetry. I have no problem beginning a poem while having no clue in which direction I’m going to take it. With a short story however, I prefer to have a rough idea of how the finished product will look before I even start. Not that I necessarily have the story planned scene for scene, incident for incident, but certainly I want to have a sense of where it’s going and how it will end. Of course, I could be halfway through and decide on a different path and a better ending but, at least, I didn’t go into the story totally blind.
Much of the prose I’ve written has been in the fields of horror and scifi or the weird tale in general. To me this was the obvious way to go because I knew the market through my poetry and, wanting to feel like a professional writer at least in my own mind, a lot of them pay. Not much I grant you but enough to help pay for writing expenses.
My stories have been published in magazines like Bloodbond and Flapperhouse and anthologies such as The Kennedy Curse; Attack Of The B Movie Monsters; A Robot, A Cyborg, A Martian Walk Into A Space Bar; Strangely Funny 2 ½; Amok and Bones.
My influences are many. They hark back to the classic horror writers I read in my youth such as M.R. James, Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen as well as many French and Russian writers and even crime novelists like Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler. Oh and I’m also a huge fan of English humorist P.G. Wodehouse. And throw in, for good measure, the early Mad magazine cartoonists like Kurtzman and Elder. (One of my prized possessions is a copy of Mad magazine # 1.)
3288 Review: Several of your poems hint at creative pursuits outside of poetry and fiction, such as music and wood carving. What do you do when you are not writing, and how do you balance the creative life with the day-to-day routine?
John Grey: I am currently in a position where the balance between creative life and day-to-day routine can be easily maintained. In the past, I’ve had to work around a full time job but that no longer applies. Now writing is my nine to five job which I’ve been able to successfully maintain except for the occasional bout of lawn-mowing or snow shoveling.
When I’m not writing, I’m typically spending time with my wife. This could include eating out, theater or concert and especially travel, all of which pursuits I enjoy tremendously. Of course, this might also involve watching a movie on television.
Though I still find the time to strum my guitar occasionally, any reference to wood-carving was strictly poetic license. I have been told more than once, sometimes by myself, that I am totally useless when it comes to doing creative things with my hands.
3288 Review: Of your published pieces, which is your favorite? Which one was best received by readers? And which was the most fun to write?
John Grey: With so many pieces published, it’s hard to name a favorite. However, as far as readers are concerned, a poem of mine entitled “The Guy You work With”, originally published
in Smartish Pace, somehow got picked up by various schools for study. Thus brought me into communication with various students throughout the country who seemed to enjoy the work. As for the most fun to write, that would go to the more humorous pieces, whether poems or short stories.
3288 Review: Do you have any projects in the works right now? Anything which will be released to the public this year?
John Grey: I’m constantly writing. Apart from the usual poetry and short stories, I’ve almost done with the first draft of a novel. Whether it ever sees the light of day is up to the publishers out there.