We had the pleasure to chat with John Yamrus, poet, who is proud to introduce us to “Small Talk”, his latest collection of poems. “I think this is the best collection I’ve ever done” – he said to us – “the book is published by Concrete Mist Press who also recently published my little memoir Five Dogs, which is a love letter to the 5 dogs I’ve loved over the years. Concrete Mist Press will also be releasing later this year a large volume of my Selected Poems as for approaching 70, I hit that landmark in 3 weeks.”
John Yamrus. actually, John, Jr., named after my father who was a coal miner in Pennsylvania. he died when he was 45, from what was commonly known as Black Lung, a coal miner’s disease…as did his father before him.
I’ll be turning 70 in a couple of days. when i was a kid i wrote a fan letter to the great classicist poet Robert Graves who was in his mid-70s at the time and he said that he was still young enough to defend himself if he had to, and maybe I can do the same.
How long have you been writing? Do you play an instrument as well?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, and publishing for more than 50 years. My first book came out in 1970 and my 33rd (I think it is) came out just a couple of weeks ago. And you ask if I play an instrument and I sure as hell don’t, but I’ve always been obsessed with music and love everything from the jazz of Miles Davis to the smoke of Etta James and the classical compositions of people like Darius Milhaud and Erik Satie.
Do you have a specific writing style? Hobbies?
I guess music would have to be my hobby, but it’s certainly stronger and bigger than that, and as for my “writing style” I don’t know what you would call it except for maybe fast and confessional and (hopefully) true…true in the sense of being real and right and emotionally correct.
Do you write full-time?
I certainly don’t write eight hours a day but I DO make time each and every day to get some writing done but then there’s also other things that need to be done like going out in the yard and cleaning up after my dog, the important things. But, yes, I do write every day, so if that’s what you call full time, then that’s what I do.
What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as a writer?
What I just said: writing every day. I get to talk to a lot of young writers…aspiring writers…kids who ask me for advice and for tips and the only thing I can ever tell them…the best advice I can ever give… is to tell them to do the writing thing each and every day of their lives… don’t sit back and wait for “inspiration” because that’s really a load of crap. Inspiration’s for fools and amateurs. At the end of the day, writing’s still a job just like any other and you’ve got to treat it with the love and care and respect that it deserves and if you do it every day and if you do it right… maybe every now and then you’ll get lucky and get inspired, but you still got to do it every day.
What is your greatest challenge as a writer?
That’s a tough question… I think in many ways the challenge for me at 70 is pretty much the same as it was when I was in my twenties… getting down here (my desk is in the basement) and writing every day. I never had any trouble in finding things to write about and the older I get, the more I find I have to say or at least write about. Writing is just like any other skill…like muscle activity…the more you do it, the easier it gets… the challenge is keeping yourself motivated and active and interested and I always felt that if I didn’t have the fire and the love, I wouldn’t still be doing it. I really am lucky… at an age when people are walking away from things and packing it in, I still look forward to doing whatever it is I do and I have no intention to stop.
What projects of yours have been recently published? Books or Magazines?
In the last few months I’ve been lucky to have published two new books… just before Christmas I published my Five Dogs, which is a slim little memoir about the dogs that I’ve been lucky enough to love over the years, and just last month i published a new book of poems, Small Talk, which I really do think might be the strongest, most consistent book of poems I’ve ever brought out, and if you had asked me to describe the “style” I wouldn’t have any kind of an answer for you. I was just talking about this with someone the other day… when I write a poem I don’t go into it with any ideas or goals in mind… or even any kind of a form… I kinda let the poem speak for itself… speak to me… tell me what the form of the poem needs to be. It kinda happens all at once, right in the middle of things. it’s really a very exciting and interesting process, like jazz, or a neat conversation, where one things feeds off another and you may not end up where you think you should, but it’s almost always real and right and true… and fun. If you’re not having fun at something, pack it in and find something else.
Where can we find your work?
I guess the easiest place to find my stuff right now… at least the newer books… is on Amazon. You certainly wouldn’t find me in many book stores… certainly not in any of the chains… but, any book store you go into (if they’re worth anything, that is) could find a way to order my books. But, yeah, Amazon is probably the easiest way to find my books or maybe go to my website and start there.
How do you react to rejections?
At this point in my “career” rejection doesn’t really bother me and even though it happens a whole lot less than it did when I was a kid, starting out, it still happens, but I’ve always looked on objections as just something that needs to be overlooked or overcome or worked around. Objections are just obstacles put in our way to weed out the unwilling. Me? I’m just one of the willing.
What is your favorite book?
There’s a couple of books that I read all the time… or at least come back to again and again… I’ve always loved Proust… I’ve been reading him pretty much constantly since I was a kid… I’ll come to the end of the 7 books and take a few months or a year off, but then I come back and start reading him all over again. Sure, he’s a tough read and very much an acquired taste, but once you figure out the code, it’s a very rewarding thing. If you’ve got the patience for it and are willing to look past the fact that Proust can be frustrating as hell, he’s just an incredible fantastic writer and you can learn a whole world of things. I also re-read War and Peace and Grapes of Wrath and Dracula… don’t laugh, Dracula’s a fantastic book… scary as anything and it can teach an aspiring writer everything he or she needs to know about atmosphere and mood.
What is the greatest occupational hazard for a writer?
I touched on that a little earlier in this interview… the thing a writer has to avoid at all costs is getting comfortable or complacent. Do whatever you can to keep the fire. There are days when maybe I don’t feel like coming down here, but I do it anyway, because that’s what I do and some days nothing comes out or I write like shit, but that’s okay, because it’s all part of the game and you just work your way around it and carry on.
Cats or Dogs?
I’ve always been a dog guy. Read my book Bark (my book of poems about dogs…and more) or my book Five Dogs… and you really don’t understand dogs until you’ve got them around you… they’re like jazz or Bob Dylan… Joan Baez once said about Dylan that not everyone understands Dylan, but when you do, you get him deep, and that’s just the way it is with dogs. I don’t trust or like anybody that doesn’t like dogs.
The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Jimi Hendrix or Frank Sinatra? Shakespeare or Bukowski?
All of the above and there’s really no comparison or scale or chart for people like that… and you gotta add to the list people like Nina Simone and Muddy Waters… Dexter Gordon and Howlin’ Wolf… Nelson Algren and Stephen King and Whitman and D.A. Levy and Lennie Tristano and don’t forget Dion and The Belmonts and if you don’t know who they are you’d better look them up and learn.
Ramingo’s Porch Staff:
Elena Bello (Milan, Italy)
Mendes Biondo (Mantua, Italy)
John D Robinson (East Sussex, United Kingdom)
Catfish McDaris (West Allis, Wisconsin USA)
point in the game,
i’m supposed to
be writing things like:
“sands at 70”;
“the end is near”;
and; “ode to my lost
and misspent youth”…
i get the feeling
that i ain’t done yet.
not by a long shot.
what you got.
i double-dog dare you.
to Cole Porter
playing quiet in the room,
singing outside the window.
In a career spanning more than 50 years as a working writer, John Yamrus has published 27 volumes of poetry, 2 novels, 3 volumes of non-fiction and a children’s book. He has also had more than 2,000 poems published in magazines and anthologies around the world. Selections of his work have been translated into several languages, including Spanish, Swedish, French, Japanese, Italian, Romanian, Albanian, Estonian and Bengali. His poetry is taught in numerous colleges and universities. His website is: http://www.johnyamrus.com
Small Talk is available here: https://amzn.to/2Pdj4hv