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Interview with Michael Paul Ladanyi

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Lily - An Online Literary Review

Volume 2, Issue 1, December 2004

 

Color Him Poet...
An Interview with Michael Paul Ladanyi

By Patricia Gomes

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Author and publisher, Michael Paul Ladanyi, originally from Detroit, MI, lives in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains with his wife and two daughters. He was born during the war of Vietnam, while his father serving there. Since he was a child, he has always created words in one form or another.  It was not until the sudden death of his youngest brother in 1997 that a life dominated by hard lessons and many unanswered questions pushed him to take the craft of poetry seriously.  
 
Ladanyi's poetry, reviews and interviews have appeared in hundreds of print and online journals in the US and abroad. He is the author of the poetry collection Humming Riddles in Naked Seasons, Sun Rising Books 2004.  He is also the author of the chapbooks Palm Shadows, Purple Rose Publications 2002, Spelling Crows of Winter, Pudding House Publications 2003, Chicken Bones, Little Poem Press 2004, All Your Picasso Trees, Sun Rising Books 2004, Art of the Dog, Little Poem Press 2004, and the Simple Truths and Coughing Things, Little Poem Press 2004, co-written with the poet and author Patricia Gomes.

Ladanyi is currently finishing work on a chapbook co-written with poet, author, and visual artist Donna Kuhn, and has just completed work on his poetry collection Raindogs in the Sun.  He is the founder, publisher, and editor of the online poetry magazine Adagio Verse Quarterly, and served on the editorial boards of the magazines Write-away-poetry!  and Rustlings of the Wind.

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MPL: Thank you for asking me to do this interview, I am happy to be here. First, it needs to be said that your questions are direct and personal, and I respect that. I will answer them in that same manner. 

PG: Happy you agreed—especially considering the first question. Let's get to that right at the top: what was it about your brother's death that made you turn to poetry, and how did he die? 
 
MPL: It was not only my brother's death that pushed me to begin writing poetry. It was also abusive, and many times incomprehensible situations related to drugs and violence that were constant realities of my childhood. A combination of these things led me to begin writing poetry. My brother's death was the final reality that made me understand I must write—if for no other reason than to comprehend the many things I had seen as a child.  

In June1997, my youngest brother shot himself in the head with a rifle while his wife watched, taking his own life. He was 26 years of age. The details and motives leading up to this tragedy shall remain with him. An hour after his death, at 1 A.M., I woke to my remaining brother knocking on the door of my home. When I answered he said, "It's just me and you now, brother." A short time later, I began writing poetry earnestly, though I did not begin to pursue publication of my work seriously until 2000. 

PG: And your family's reaction to your poetry? 

MPL: I've received little reaction or support from my family concerning my poetry. As poetry is many times a solitary thing, I suppose this is the way it should be.  
 
PG: Have any of them asked you not to write about them? 

MPL: Yes. 
 
PG: How did your father's tour of duty in Nam affect your relationship with him and what effect has the ensuing relationship had on your poetry? 

MPL: Since my early childhood, my father's tour in Vietnam played an enormous part in how I perceive the world, my immediate surroundings, and those close to me. My father and I never had a close relationship, although I believe there were times when that was possible.  Sadly, childhood abuse and its anger and mental isolation prevented the possibility from becoming a reality. My father died in 2000 from cancer related to Agent Orange exposure while in Vietnam, with me sitting beside his bed telling him it was okay to go. I will never forget this—it is a haunting. The effects of our relationship, all its strained and bitter lessons, and the many questions left unanswered, are part of what influences my writing today. 

PG: Your war poetry takes us from Viet Nam to present day Iraq - compare the two and tell us why you believe that war is not the answer. 

MPL: Yes, at times I write war poetry. It is one way that I hold on to hope for our world. So far as comparing the Vietnam and Iraq wars, one has only to watch any news show for a day and see the house to house fighting, dead bodies in dusty streets, including children and women, fear in the eyes of families that are asked to divulge the location of family members suspected in connection to insurgents, or the burning vehicles left on roadsides as a result of booby traps and car bombs, to understand that both of these wars share many similarities. Many die, more appear to replace them, and so it continues until enough of one side or the other has been killed. War is never the answer, and these are the reasons why. 

Here is the major difference that I see when comparing the Iraq and Vietnam wars: North Vietnam invaded South Vietnam in the late 1950's, in an attempt to take over the government, and in 1963, succeeding in overthrowing and executing President Diem of South Vietnam. We decided to intervene in a larger role than we had before that time, fearing a communist take over of the entire region, and began contributing large amounts of American troops to the war effort. Iraq was a sovereign country when we declared war on it (even though we refer now to the main portion of fighters in Iraq as insurgents) and was not threatening us nor any other country at the time we declared war.  
 
Yes, there were many atrocities being committed upon the people of Iraq by its own government, just as there are injustices and wrongs being committed at this time by the governments of every nation in every part of our world. What we must remember is that when we, as Americans, sought to be free of Britain and those oppressive laws and wrongs opposed upon us at that time, we enlisted the help of Native Americans, France, Spain, other European countries, as well as anyone else that would stand with us, to bring an end to our oppression. In August 1775, King George the third, in a proclamation, said that Americans were, "dangerous and ill designing men, and forgetting the allegiance which they owe to the power that has protected and supported them..." and also, "after various disorderly acts committed in disturbance of the public peace, to the obstruction of lawful commerce, and to the oppression of our loyal subjects carrying on the same; have at length proceeded to open an avowed rebellion, by arraying themselves in a hostile manner." Were Americans fighting for freedom from British oppression also insurgents? I suppose it depends on how you look at it. I don't believe so. 

Here is the reality concerning war that does not stem from the defense of a country or nation: A culture cannot be freed from its beliefs and customs, however barbaric and cruel they may seem to you, me, or anyone else. My fear is that with the reasons for war being as dishonest, in my view, as they have been over the last 50 years or so, will we eventually reach a point where a given country completely wipes out a culture if it refuses to be freed? If so, will we then feed on the remaining resources until they are gone, before beginning anew elsewhere? Is America, as well as other nations, carrying on this type of war now? 

Ask those people killed, maimed or forced into homelessness so they can be given the gift of freedom what they think. I believe that not one person asked would say, "Thank you for destroying my home, job, loved ones, culture, arms, legs, eyes, face and/or mind; I now have a better understanding of the reasons for war." If it were possible to ask the 110,000 civilians killed in Iraq, or the two million total troop and civilian casualties that occurred as a result of the Vietnam War, if they believe war is the answer, what do you think would be their response?  

War is the act of a people that cannot reason without fear. It is the inability of humanity to understand itself. If you kick a dog, it may not bite you at that moment, fearing you will injure it further, but some time later, when your back is turned, it just might. War is waged in this way. It is the perpetuation of fear rooted in what one thinks someone may do to them if given the chance, and let's face it, it is also based on the profit that may be gained in the end, regardless of loss of human life, calculated or otherwise, and the systematic desolation of our world as a whole. To defend ones way of life in the face of an enemy is the right of all people, but that right must not be mutated nor warped into a misuse of fear. 

PG: You have a neurological condition called Synesthesia; in layman's terms explain this involuntary condition. 

MPL: Synesthesia is the crossing of one's senses. For example, someone that experiences Synesthesia may realize the feel of something touched with the fingers, but may experience a color or sound that appears before their eyes at the same time. For some, words, letters, or numbers can be heard or seen as colors; the actual words heard are seen before the eyes as colors. Others taste colors. An apple may taste blue, while salt may taste red.  
 
Each individual that experiences Synesthesia may not do so in the same way. Some experience it with several of their senses, though this is rarer, while others do so with only one or two senses. In my case, I see whole words as colors, sometimes as several different hues, while other letters appear to me as normal black and white text when read, or when I hear them, just as anyone else experiences. As an example, the word "sand" appears green when I hear or read it, while the world "night" appears orange to me. The letter M is brown, the letter B is yellow. I hear/see the colors of the words and letters as if they were in front of my eyes. Hearing the word or letter is the real sensation, while seeing their corresponding colors is a crossing of the senses. But both experiences seem real to me. An argument or long conversation can be a confusing experience at times. 
 
PG: .Do you consider your Synesthesia affliction to be a boon or a curse for your writing?  

MPL: First, I do not consider Synesthia to be an affliction. It is a harmless condition, aside from the temporary confusion I sometimes experience as stated in my last answer. I have experienced Synesthesia as long as I can remember. I believe it to be a gift, and it impacts my writing greatly. Color and sound play a large part in my work. 

PG: Music is very important to you (lyricists are poets, after all), alternative music in particular; which lyricist(s) influences or has influenced your poetry?  

MPL: There are hundreds I could chose from, but to take one from my early childhood and one from recent memory, I would have to say Neil Young and Shannon Hoon (late vocalist of the band Blind Melon), as their lyrics are/were derived from real life experiences that I can relate to. 
 
PG: This has been the subject of much debate: Most insightful lyricist: Kurt Cobain or Jim Morrison?  

MPL: Both. The lyrics found in both Jim and Kurt's songs are amazing and soulful outcries directed toward society, toward all of us, written with compassion and hope, and with layers of image that only a poet could pen. I value both of them equally.  

PG: Greatest living poet today (only one) and why do you think so?  

MPL: I cannot chose one, as I believe there is no single living poet that deserves this title, at least not one I have the right to select. I will say that if there were such a thing, among many, many others, Robert Creeley, Virgil Suarez and Duane Locke would be candidates for this honor. 

PG: In your opinion, why is it that America, as a whole, does not embrace its poets?  

MPL: Sadly, America has reached a state where it cannot embrace what forces its collective eyes open, forces it to see, for this would cause it to view itself with humility and honesty. At times, this is something none of us enjoy doing. Americans seemingly cannot spare time to embrace their poets. Poetry is the study of time and events, with all their amazing imagistic reflections. For America to embrace its poets, those same poets would need to be able to dunk a basketball, rush 100 yards a game and golf a 65 on any given day, all at the same time, while holding a bible in one hand and the phone number of someone they just met in a bar in the other.  
 
Poets are not profitable, therefore, and sadly, they hold no real value in American culture. They are not given lucrative advertising deals with major shoe and carmakers. You will never find their pictures, faces bright and smiling, on a box of cereal. I believe Americans find it hard to visualize worded image without an underpaid someone drawing it on a blackboard for them and pointing out all the important meanings. Americans no longer value what makes them think, what makes them feel, reason, hear and understand their world, and more importantly, the world outside their own. We must remember, there is a world outside of what flashes rapidly on the average 3.1 TV screens per US household. 

PG: Share your daily writing schedule with us. 

MPL: I wake at 6:30 a.m., get my two daughters off to school, and wake my wife for work at eight. At 9 a.m. or so, I locate a good cd or two, pop them in the surround sound system, and hopefully write a poem or two until around noon. The rest of the day is spent catching up on emails, book projects, interviews, reviews, submitting my poetry to magazines and spending time with family. 
 
PG: Poem you are most proud of having written? 

MPL: There is a poem that I wrote five years ago titled Feast On the Leaner Words, that holds a special meaning for me. I suppose I am proud of it. 

PG: Tell me the title of a poem you wrote that embarrasses you now. 

MPL: I'm An Asshole, Part Deux.  
 
PG: One book you wish you'd written? 

MPL: Virginia Woolf's, Mrs. Dalloway
 
PG: Pretend you're part of a poetry reading at some Ivy League College. Name the one poet you would not want to follow on stage. 

MPL: Without giving a name, that would be any poet that can use the words war, orange, dog, thimble, bird and '62 Lincoln together in a short, well written sentence.  
 
PG: How many irons do you have in the fire today?  

MPL: Let me clear the cinders off my keyboard. There, that's better. I am finishing a very successful two-year run of my magazine Adagio Verse Quarterly, which will officially be taken offline in Jan 2005, sadly, to make room for various book and writing projects. I have just seen my full poetry collection Humming Riddles in Naked Seasons, and my chapbook All Your Picasso Trees published by Sun Rising Books, and am in the process of promoting both, and am about to see my chapbooks Art of the Dog and Simple Truths and Coughing Things (the later co-written with you, which has been a wonderful process by the way) published by Little Poem Press, am currently finishing work on a poetry slash visual art chapbook with the poet and visual artist Donna Kuhn, and will see my full poetry collection Raindogs in the Sun published by Sun Rising Books in 2005. And I write … daily! 

PG: What do you see yourself writing five years from now? 

MPL: Hopefully a few pieces of good poetry. 

PG: Choose one: 
a. Upside down or right side up? 
b. Beatles or the Stones? 
c. Narrative or Conversational?  
d. Rich or famous…and why? 

MPL: a.) Upside down, b.) The Beatles, c.) Narrative, and d.) Famous. When I began writing poetry, it was to answer questions about my life. Soon, I began hoping to reach as many people as possible by sharing common experiences; I still hope to do so. 

PG: There's a lot of bad poetry on the Internet, my friend. Speaking with your wisest editorial voice, what is it that young poets are doing wrong? 

MPL: Having been an editor of my own magazine for two years, and having worked on the staff of two very different magazines before that, I have read a lot of poetry that is written with the best of intentions, but which has no real depth of language or poetic device.  
 
As I write free verse myself, that term being subjective, it is the form of poetry I have published most. What I find in much of the work I see from younger poets is a lack of color and sound combined with stifling amounts of metaphor, with no regard for alliteration, personification, onomatopoeia, assonance, and meter. Without these fundamental elements of craft, poetry becomes so many half-written words thrown on paper.  
 
Metaphor is wonderful when used well and to reach a startling conclusion, but metaphor just for the sake of it is sad. Also, ax the rhyming, unless you are a Robert Frost, etc. 

PG: Any advice for burgeoning poets? 

MPL: Find every book written by every past and current poet you enjoy, and many you don't, then read them all many, many times. Each read will yield a new understanding regarding the craft of poetry, and at the same time further your skill. This is the best advice I can give any poet. 

PG: Lastly, do you have any writing regrets? 

MPL: Not a one. 

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Lily 2004 All rights reserved.  http://freewebs.com/lilylitreview


 

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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.

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