Q&A with Poetry Contributor Bill Neumire

Bill Neumire's first book, Estrus, was a semifinalist for the 42 Miles Press Award, and his second manuscript is almost ready.

Bill’s poem “Getting Trashed” will appear in the Winter 2019 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, January 13, for special savings.

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“Getting Trashed” makes a statement about humans and our care of the environment. Could you comment on your environmental slant in poetry?

I think that’s accurate, though I’m a little uncomfortable with “statement” since I hope it doesn’t come across as pedantic and/or self-righteous. I’m probably in the cynical minority right now in that I don’t think poetry has much political or environmental impact: In large part, the “statements” poems can make on these subjects hit an audience that is already concerned, so plenty of preaching to the choir, as they say.

That said, I think if there is a statement here, it’s about our personal choices now that we’re in a time of environmental catastrophe: We need a balance, on a personal level, between the stress and responsibility of recognizing the problems we’ve inherited and created on the one hand (the will to do what we can about it), but on the other hand we also need to be drunkenly tuned out sometimes in order to survive that kind of anxiety. It’s like the way we know we’re mortal, but we need to suppress that knowledge most times in order to make a life. The poem ends with a famous line from Hamlet, which is hopefully a reminder that whether the world ends in fire or ice, it’s going to end, and what matters most is how ready one is to face that truth.

Describe your process for creating this poem. Was it a typical rendering? What inspired this?

The poem was a baking of a combination of events, as is often the case. I had been teaching Hamlet to my high school students, and they were trying to memorize quintessential quotes in the text. “The readiness is all” was one that had been resonating with me quite strongly. Meanwhile, I had also been reading about these awful massive floating islands of plastic waste in the oceans, “gyres” of waste, the worst of which is actually known as “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch.” And then my wife and I took a trip into Manhattan and were sipping overpriced but delicious drinks called “Sing Sing”s and joyously ignoring all the world’s problems, which felt like it “should” induce a kind of guilt, but instead felt exactly therapeutic and necessary. The poem on a more simple level started with the silly sounding “sing sing” and was originally a longer list of drink names that churned around until it found some more material.

I notice you are also an editor of the online literary journal, Verdad. How has being an editor impacted you as a writer? And vice-versa?

First, I should say that Bonnie Bolling created Verdad and runs the show wonderfully. A few years ago I started helping out in reading submissions, writing reviews, and making selections.

It definitely impacts my writing. For me I get to see a lot of poems that are probably being submitted to a number of journals, and so I can tell when something I’m writing might be white noise at a certain moment, or hopefully, when something is distinct. It’s also a terrific reminder of how subjective much of the poetry publishing business is, and thus a salve against feeling too down about rejection, and a humility about feeling too inflated by publication.

As for the other way, I wonder these days if there are poetry editors who aren’t already writers? I suppose being a writer makes me a more patient and sympathetic editor, but that might just be unfounded optimism. I do, though, think that my own attempts at writing make me more appreciative of poems that achieve effects, sentiments, images that I know from practice are difficult to achieve.