Patricia Gomes: poetry, fiction, freelancing

Interview with David Surette
Home
Publishing Credits
Poems
The Octologue
ANTI-HERO, Robert W. Howington
Interview with Beverly Jackson
Interview with Gypsy Pashn
Interview with Michael Paul Ladanyi
Interview with David Surette
Interview with C.E. Laine
Interview with Lewis B. Lehrman
Links Page
Stories
Reviews by Gomes

Lily - An Online Literary Review

Volume 2, Issue 5, April 2005

davidsurette.jpg

 

David earned his B.A. in English from Colby College.  He wrote and directed his original play Warm Angel senior year and earned the college's drama award.  After graduation, he managed the band Boys Life.  He also was the band's chief lyricist, writing with his brother John, the band's singer, and guitarist.  David wrote the lyrics on "A" side of their two singles and four of the six songs on their celebrated E.P.  The band broke up in 1984; David then earned his teaching certificate and began a 14-year teaching tenure in the Waltham Public Schools. 
 

Surette has completed two novels, Today's Special and Mud Season.  Malden is his first chapbook of poetry.  He began the book in a summer session of the Boston Writing Project with the goal to finished it by his twenty- fifth high school reunion and the family gathering at Thanksgiving 2000, and offered it on his website in the spring of 2001. 

 

He released his second chapbook Muckers, Grinders, Shapers, Hangers, and Huns in 2002, and published over two dozen poems in various journals and magazines.  He is a regular reader and feature at poetry venues, libraries, and schools throughout New England.
 

In 2003, he issued his third chapbook Good Shift which includes the poem Forever and Ever.  The poem was nominated for "Best Love Poem" at the Cambridge Poetry Awards.

David also released the single poem chapbook Acadie, which was sold at Grande Pré, Nova Scotia to celebrate the 2004 Acadian Reunion.  Henri-Dominique Parratte, poet and translator (Anne of Green Gables), translated the poem into French and published it in Canada.

 

Koenisha Publications of Michigan published Young Gentlemen's School in August 2004.  The book collects all the poems from David's three chapbooks plus ten new poems.  It is available online at http://www.amazon.com/, www.barnesandnoble.com, as well as bookstores. 

 

David is the co-host of Poetribe, a poetry group that offers poetry workshops, open mics, featured poets, and the occasional poetry slam.  They meet every other Saturday at the East Bridgewater Public Library in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts.  He teaches English at East Bridgewater High School.  He is also working on another draft of his new novel, Dell.  He currently resides in southeastern Massachusetts with his wife and three children.  They keep horses, sheep, and poetry under the watchful eyes of two border collies.

 

 * * *

 

After hearing the name David R. Surette bandied about for months at one poetry event after another, and always in the most flattering ways, I pursued Mr. Surette around the Internet.  Liking what I'd read, I pursued him further, traveling to East Bridgewater, Massachusetts this past weekend to meet him.

 

Poetribe, the poetry venue that Surette hosts, was in a state of nervousness.  Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Frank Wright was their featured poet.  I had come for Surette.  And I was not disappointed.

 

Before Wright took the podium at nine p.m., David, with the aid of his co-hosts, Erin Feeney and Vicki Murray, skillfully readied the crowd.  With a warm smile that is highly contagious, Surette comforted, teased, coaxed, and joked his poets into the best open mic performance I have experienced in months. 

 

Will I go back?  Count on it—and I expect to see you there, too.

 

* * *

 

PG:  You maintain a demanding appearance schedule; explain the importance of public readings to those of us who have yet to perform.

 

DRS:  The most obvious reason now for reading out any chance I get is to sell books.  I want to do another book when the new poems add up to a collection, and the best reason for my publisher to do another will be how many books I’ve sold.  So far, so good.

 

It’s not just a matter of commerce, though.  It’s an amazing feeling to sit for a half an hour after a reading, selling and signing books, people sharing what my poems evoke from their lives.  Sometimes they even hug me.  It’s like the poems have four lives: in my head, on the page, at the mic, then into someone’s home—sometimes in a place of honor: on the coffee table, by the bed, or in the bathroom.

 

Before the book, I read out to make more and better poems.  I didn’t want to read the same one to the same people over and over again so I had to keep writing.  The most important element in my poems is a true voice, my true voice: the sounds and rhythms of my family, hometown, relationships, and ancestry.  I can tell from the audience when I hit that.  Hearing other poets also inspire my poems.  A good open mic and feature will inspire one or two new poems to dance in my head all week.

 

PG:  Reading the poems in Malden is like reliving my childhood.  Was Malden Massachusetts where you wrote your first poem?  How old were you when you wrote your very first poem?

 

DRS:  I wrote three poems between the ages of 12 and 15.  One was about the Marx Brothers, one about Bobby Orr (former hockey player with the Boston Bruins), and a love poem I think I recycled a couple of times.  In my twenties, I wrote songs with my brother John, tried to write plays and stories.

 

I didn’t write another poem until I was 42.  I didn’t write about Malden until I moved out after living there 37 years. 

 

Because of a bet with my older brother Stephen, I spent a summer writing every story I could remember from birth to 18 years old.  A couple years later, I attended the Boston Writing Project’s Summer Institute and mined those stories for poems.

 

PG:  You attended a Catholic grammar school; do you find Catholicism creeping into your verse?  And if you answer yes, do you wish it wouldn't?

 

DRS: Catholicism doesn’t creep in; it looms over everything I write.  I think it shows up as either guilt or grace—the two legs I stand on.  Plus, Catholic school makes for great stories.  The image of a nun is way more vivid than just any third grade teacher.

 

PG:  Was it a big leap going from lyricist to poet?  Which of the two is a greater passion?

 

DRS:  There was no leap—it was accidental.  In the early 80’s, I managed my younger brother John’s band, Boy’s Life.  He complained he wrote music faster than he could write lyrics, so I started tossing him lyrics at a pretty good rate.  I would next hear them in concert, and it was like they weren’t even my words being sung.  It was a complete lack of ego or pride or risk.  It was cool that way.  He needed lyrics so I wrote them; one day he didn’t need my lyrics so I never wrote another.

 

The poems come the same way as the lyrics used to—like they swim into a net.  The difference is I don’t have to write in verses and choruses, or in 4/4 time.  I let the poem seek out its form and rhythm and length.  

 

PG:  You've taught in Waltham's public schools, which subjects?  In your opinion, what's the most receptive age group to teach?

 

DRS:  I have taught English, ESL, History, Geography, Reading, Drama, and Creative Writing.  I've taught grades 1 through 12 in my 19 years of teaching.  The best opportunity we have to get to them is seventh grade.  It’s such a dizzy time for them, so you can get to them when they’re not even looking.  It’s an exhausting age, though.  I teach high school now in East Bridgewater, MA.

 

PG:  Your fondness for children is evident in your poetry—share a teaching memory, one where you knew you'd reached the student.

 

DRS:  I don’t know if there’s one in particular.  My proudest teaching moments are when a student is at his or her worst and I still manage to be patient, kind, and forgiving.  It always pays off.  They become so open to artistic and academic risks then. 

 

PG:   A teaching career, children, horses, sheep, dogs, and poetry—if you could squeeze one more hour out of the day, how would you spend it?

 

DRS:  With my wife ….

 

PG:   Your single poem chapbook Acadie has been translated into French; how honored were you to have that happen?

 

DRS:  I love it but I’m also humbled by it.  Last year, I traded letters and books with the great Acadian singer/ poet Zachary Richard, and he was very generous to me, but made it clear that I had no claim to my Acadian heritage until I was fluent in French.  Two generations ago, my family, out of shame, banned French in their new American home and now I am ashamed I am not fluent in it.  It’s on my lists of things to do.

 

PG:  Share your proudest writing moment.

 

DRS:  My friend Al Blanchard called me to tell me that his publisher Koenisha had decided to publish a collection of my poems even before the publisher informed me.  I flipped on the jukebox in the kitchen, jumped up and down, and pumped my fist like Ray Bourque.  Koenisha had published six of Al’s mystery novels, and we had planned to do a book tour together.  My book came out in September.  Al died suddenly last November, giving greater meaning to what I owe him.  

 

What We Owe

            for Al Blanchard

 

He walked right through me.

Some of him stuck like a snagged fishhook,

almost long enough to be comic,

but he walked on and he snapped back whole.

 

A week later, I dreamed him again.

He gave me instructions on what must be done in his absence.

I remembered some of what he said when I woke,

but I’ve forgotten it all since.

 

A week later, his last book came in the mail,

unsigned.

His voice hurt my heart.

It was good to hear from him so soon after.

 

PG:  Of all the books you've published, which one is closest to your heart? 

 

DRS:  Malden is closest to my heart because it really is of a piece, and secondly because I wrote it without any ambition; I was writing for me, my family, and a couple of close friends. 

 

PG:  Assuming it still happens to you, how do you handle editorial rejection?

 

DRS:  I think I’m like most writers—I used to get mad and save the rejections so I could have the last word when I am famous and they had all missed the boat.  Now that I’ve matured, I get mad and save the rejections so I can have the last word when I am famous and they have all missed the boat.

 

PG:  Have you ever gotten a bad review? 

 

DRS:  Not in print.  But when I do, I’ll be mad and spend nights dreaming up the letter I’d send the reviewer, skewering him.  I will never really write it or send it of course, so I’ll probably put on a Saw Doctors’ CD, sing along, and be happy again.

 

PG:  Finish this sentence: "The one subject I am uncomfortable writing about is

 

DRS:  contemporary politics."  I spend a lot of time yelling at the TV news and newspapers and none of it’s poetic.  I also feel silly trying to write something erotic.  Whenever I try, it ends up a funny poem.

 

PG:  Tell us about Poetribe.

 

DRS:  Poetribe meets every other Saturday in the Community Room at the East Bridgewater Library.  We have been around almost a decade under various names and in different venues. 

I co-host with Vicki Murray and Erin Feeney.  We have a core group of good poets and wonderful people.  Everyone is welcome.  We offer a poetry workshop, an open mic, and then a feature.  This year our features have included Franz Wright, Fred Marchant, Regie Gibson, and Frannie Lindsay.  We used to do a slam but interest has waned somewhat; I expect we will have them again.

 

PG:  Having discussed your work with other poets, I've noticed men think of you as a "real Man's poet," and women simply gush over your "sensitivity."  Do you mentally pre-target a specific gender when writing a poem?

 

DRS:  I think it comes down to Zambonis and horses.  Men like Zambonis and woman like horses.  I like 'em both.

 

Actually, I think in terms of gender whatever I am doing, but in my writing, more specifically, I often think of certain people.  What will my wife think of this?  Or Dad?  Mom?  Will it make my brothers laugh; will my sister?  Will Dave Twohig get a kick out of it?  Sometimes I wonder what other specific poets will think.  It’s all in there at different times in different drafts. 

 

PG:  Muckers, Grinders, Shapers, Hangers, Hackers, and Huns is my personal favorite.  In it, the poem Christmas begins:

 

"A guy came to assess my house.
He had a yellow tape measure I envied,
and he drew it out and snapped it shut
as he took measure - wrote it all down -
the measure of my home … "

 

Measure your writing career for us, then assess: are you satisfied?  Are there things you would do over, or not do at all, if given the chance?


DRS:  I’ve been way too lucky to be unsatisfied or want any do-overs.  In the beginning, Michael Brown and Valerie Lawson encouraged me by giving my first features at the Cantab Lounge and the Daily Grind before I even knew those places existed.  And I had quick success getting things published.  Peregrine accepted “Basements,” the first poem that I sent out, a couple dozen followed.  Len Geminara turned me into a co- host of his venue.  My good friend Al Blanchard found me a publisher who is very happy with me so far.  This is in four years.

 

I sometimes wonder when it will level off—just how far talent and hard work will take me.  Do I have or will I have a handful of good poems that will stick around—one great one when I’m done?  Will people buy a second book … a third?  Will the poems keep me busy for years or dry up?  

 

PG:   What was the exact moment you knew you'd "made it" as a writer? 

 

DRS:  The first time I didn’t giggle when I called myself a poet—oops, I just giggled.

 

PG:  Do you read as much poetry as you write?  Name three favorite poets.

 

DRS:  I read poetry every day.  I’m usually working through a couple of poet’s books plus re-reading poems that I love.  Right now, my two favorite poets are Jack McCarthy and Franz Wright.  I find myself in both of their poems.  I think because they are so different, these poets pull me in opposite directions.  And maybe at the snapping point I find my poems.

 

PG:  How many writing projects are currently on your back burner?

 

DRS:  I’m carrying a couple poems in my head, have ten done, four in process.  I’m just hoping they will add up to a collection by year’s end.  I have six poems in the mail as of last week.  And a new one just published in Wolfmoon Press. 

 

PG:  When an idea strikes, do you reach for a pen or a tape recorder?

 

DRS:  I leave it in my head to see if it sticks around.  I think I’ve lost a few good ones this way but vetted out plenty of bad ones.  If it’s still there in a week or so (some take longer to cook), I grab a pen and write on a loose unlined piece of paper, stick it in my pocket, and carry it around, making sure to take it out before the pants go in the wash.  When it has traveled enough in various pairs of pants, I type it and put it back in my pocket take it out from time to time to read at open mics, scribbling edits all over it. 

 

PG:  Personal preference: blue ink or black? 

 

DRS:  I don’t think I’ve ever really owned a pen.  I just find them (or steal them my co-host) and stick them in my pockets—beggars can’t be choosy. 

 

PG:  Finish this sentence: "I would love nothing better than to take an entire month off

 

DRS:  and go to the west of Ireland to ride horses with my wife.  There’d be music too (I’d bring my bodhran) and pints of Guinness, but mostly horses and my wife."

 

PG:  Give us three words overused in today's poetry.

 

DRS:  If I say which words and you find them in my poems, I’ll look pretty stupid.  I’d have to say I was being ironic.  I try to never use a word I don’t use in everyday speech.  Poetribe’s workshop guru Michael McDonough disagrees with me about that, but it keeps me honest. 

 

PG:  Choose one of the following:  70's music:  The Eagles or Steely Dan? 

 

DRS:  Patti Smith

 

PG:  Beethoven or Rachmaninov?

 

DRS:  The Ramones

 

PG:  Charlie Rose or Bill O' Reilly?

 

DRS:  Red Green “Keep your stick on the ice.”

 

PG: Form poetry: Occasionally or Fuhgeddaboudit! 

  

DRS:  I don’t write in any traditional forms, but structure is very important to me

 

PG:  Before we go, what advice do you have for poets feeling the sting of rejection?

 

DRS:  Buy a heavy bag to hit.  Or learn to fish.  Or spin wool.  Dance.  Skate.  Make love.  (Don’t forget to cuddle afterwards.)  Then write more poems and send them out.

 

PG:  Sadly, David, you've passed away.  What message would you like to leave on the back of your prayer card for the people you'll leave behind? 

 

DRS:  I would want my best poem there; I hope I live a long life so there will be time to write it.  And my website, www.davidsurette.com, so people can order the book and my wife will be able to pay for my lavish funeral.

 

* * *

 

Lily © 2005 All rights reserved  http://freewebs.com/lilylitreview

ball7.gif

To read interviews with Janice Kelley, Jeffrey Spahr-Summers, Donna Kuhn, and others, or to read book reviews, go to the Publishing Credits page and click on the appropriate links.

Free Tell A Friend from
                                    Bravenet.com Free Tell A Friend from Bravenet.com

.