Adrian M. (Mike) Forrette is a poet and essayist who lives in the Black Hills of South Dakota. His poetry collection,“Pears Tell the Apples,” was published by De Danann Press.
AFTER LONG BUSYNESS: What is it that drives you to write poetry?
ADRIAN M. FORRETTE: You ask a provocative and difficult question, “What drives me to write poetry?” I will attempt to answer the question, but am certain that in the end I will fail because in some ways, it seems to me, that the process of writing, itself, is an attempt to answer that very question re-phrased: “What is it that makes one uniquely human?”
Although fairly popular in school and a fairly good student, a seemingly watershed moment, placed me irrevocably in the position of being an “outsider.” But I imagine that most artists and writers, by default, sooner or later, arrive at a similar estimation of themselves.
At any rate, from that day forward, I’ve kept my dues current, and remain a member in good standing.
I also learned to think for myself at an early age. I have always read and encouraged my mind to go where it needed to go. Of course, the price of all of that is “loneliness” and alienation of a kind. I think my first impulses to write poetry were psychoanalytical in nature, you know my own well designed self-help program … an attempt to deal with sadness and injustice, an attempt to explain myself to myself and the world at large.
Inevitably, a person matures, and somewhere along the line, I internalized the realization that we are all in this “soup” together, and poetry became a way to get at the essence of things. In this sense it closely parallels the quest of science, for which I have always had a passion. (Probably, if I had it to do all over again, I would become a theoretical physicist.)
As you are aware from the writing of your own beautiful poems, if a person can divorce the ego from the writing process, and permit the poem a chance to breathe and live on its own, then something quite miraculous and mysterious occurs. Perhaps, we are always trying to breathe life into a man made of clay … I don’t know. (Or, always trying to return a “rib.” Lord, Eric, I am on shaky ground here.) But at its best, the art of poetry is transcendent and sublime … and once a person experiences that kind of phenomenon, he or she wants to try it again.
Most of my poetry and prose these days is a synthesis of ideas and feelings, experiences, some of them quite disparate. Perhaps, I’ve got a lyric poem or two left in me; we’ll see.
ALB: In the first line of your poem “Please My Country, Do Not Mow the Lawn Today,” you mention Walt Whitman. The poem certainly has a Whitmanesque flavor. Do you consider him to be an influence on your poetry? Who else is?
AF: Eric, Walt Whitman is absolutely an influence. Even if one wanted, I don’t really think an American poet is able to escape Whitman’s influence, for the simple reason that as a fait accompli Leaves of Grass profoundly expresses a quintessential and egalitarian point of view that defines, in my opinion, what is best about America. What poet doesn’t want to be associated with what is the “best in all of us.” What American poet in their right mind would adopt the stance, “Don’t I write well, that makes me just a little better than you.”
Pablo Neruda is a great influence. When I was young, I couldn’t fully envision the nexus of poetry and politics. In the best of worlds, politics and art address the frailty and beauty of the human condition, simultaneously. Neruda was both a consummate poet and politician, and he proved that the two art forms were one and the same, again and again.
When Neruda was campaigning in the Copper mining districts, illiterate miners would recite his poems back to him, as a sign of respect. They loved Neruda the senator who represented them tirelessly in Congress and they loved, Pablo Neruda, the poet, who expressed his love for them in his poetry.
ALB: What are your two favorite poems and why?
AF: Hmmm … I have many favorites. One very favorite poem, in part for sentimental reasons, is Richard Hugo’s “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg.”
If ever there were an argument to be made that poetry is an oral art form, it is probably a Richard Hugo poem; in particular, “Degrees of Gray …” epitomizes this stance. If a person first reads one of Hugo’s poems, and then hears the poet reading the same poem … it’s a little like reading about polar bears, and then seeing one for the first time.
Oh, and I love Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Duino Elegies.” Here’s a couple of lines from “The First Elegy” (I highly recommend the Stephen Mitchell translation): “Yes—the springtimes needed you. Often a star/ was waiting for you to notice it. A wave rolled toward you/ out of the distant past, or as you walked/ under an open window, a violin/ yielded itself to your hearing. …”
Isn’t that quite an observation: “Yes—the springtimes needed you.” You know, secretly, I have always believed that the oceans and mountains loved me, the springtimes of the world, so to speak. I just thought there was something wrong with me to believe such a thing. Then, to have a great poet like Rilke render such an insight poetically … how incredibly life-saving, and life-affirming. And, that’s just two lines from a series of incredible poems.