Welcome, readers. This is once again David Stegora, Editor-In-Chief of Dark Futures, here with another interview. Today I will be interviewing poet Richard Meyer, who recently released a book of poetry called Orbital Paths with Science Thrillers Media. Orbital Paths is available on Amazon or directly from the publisher in hardcover, paperback, or ebook form.
This interview is particularly exciting for me to do because Richard was my Humanities teacher in my senior year of high school. Thanks for taking the time to do this, Richard.
We like to keep our interviews laid back around here, so we’ll start things off as simple as can be: Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a lifelong resident of Mankato, and I live in my family home — the house my father built, the house I was born into, the house where I was raised with my seven siblings. My roots grow deep here. For 32 years I taught high school English and the humanities, first in New Ulm for 14 years and then in Mankato at East High for another 18 years.
I remember one of the last times we saw each other after I graduated, it must have been summer 2006, you said it was your goal to write one poem a week. As anyone who writes knows, that sort of thing is much easier said than done. How close to that have you come?
I remember that evening and the remark I made. At the time, when I spoke those words about wanting to write a poem a week, I knew it was a foolish wisecrack and mere wishful thinking. Unlike many writers, I don’t set aside a specific period of time each day devoted to writing. I’ve never been able to establish such consistency and discipline in my writing habits. As a result, my creative output is sporadic. I will go for long, long periods without writing anything. At other times, when I’ve started working on a poem, I’ll often spend hours and days and weeks on it. Also, I have bits and pieces and fragments of poems started but never finished. These drafts and false starts reach back many years, even decades, and sometimes I’ll pick through those scraps, choose one, and try to get a completed poem out of it. With poetry composition, at least for me, there’s a delicate balancing act between waiting for inspiration and sitting down with intention to deliberately engage in the act of writing.
Since the release of your book, you’ve been keeping busy with signings, readings, and even appearing in the Mankato Free Press. Has this been enjoyable for you? Do you think it’s helped attract attention to your book? Its sales ranks and reviews on Amazon seem to indicate it’s doing well.
Orbital Paths has been doing very well in sales, both during the pre-order period and since the book’s official release on September 28. On Amazon, the book has been consistently bouncing around at the top of the lists for Hot New Releases or Best Sellers in the poetry category, specifically in the slot for nature poetry.
A few book events have already taken place, and some others are scheduled for future dates. The reading and book signing at Barnes & Noble in Mankato drew a good crowd, and I had a grand time giving my presentation. I’ve also been interviewed by KMSU, the radio station for Minnesota State University. The program aired in early October, but it’s been archived as a podcast and can be accessed at the KMSU site online.
In many ways, and for various reasons, poetry has become rather estranged from the reading public. That’s unfortunate. Perhaps some of the explanation for poetry occupying such a small niche in the publishing world and among the general public lies with poets themselves. Much contemporary poetry seems strange, obscure, unnecessarily difficult, and often written for other poets. I believe poetry should be accessible to the public. A poem can be well-crafted and literary while also being approachable. I think my poems could be taught in high school or college literature classes, but also be understood and appreciated by the general public — farmers, mechanics, truck drivers, lawyers, dentists, plumbers, and so on. This is one reason I enjoy giving readings and talks.
Is there anything else you would like to do on your mini promotional tour for Orbital Paths, or is this pretty much it?
Having a book out in the world is new for me, so I’m letting the current and flow of its publication carry me. I’ll be delighted to make appearances and give readings as long as the run may last.
Were the poems in Orbital Paths written together, always intended to be a book, or is this more of a collection of your work from a certain period of time?
Orbital Paths is a collection of my work covering many decades of writing. Some of the poems were composed nearly 40 years ago, while others were written in recent months. When it came time to organize the contents of the book, I selected those poems that I consider the best of what I’ve written. Then I arranged the poems into chapters or sections according to related themes. And this is a big book as poetry books go. It’s easily twice the size of a typical book of poetry published by a single author.
I’m going to move away from your current book a little now and ask a few other questions before we let you go. First of all, How long have you been writing poetry? Can you identify anything in particular that led to you starting?
I began writing in my late teens, but it’s difficult to isolate a single cause that got me started on writing poetry. Sometimes I tell people that I grew up in a house of words. There were ten people in my family — my two parents and their eight children. In addition, our house tended to be the gathering place for the neighborhood, so many other people were always coming and going. There was always a lot of talking. My mother was one of the greatest talkers I’ve ever known. She was a wonderful storyteller, and her speech was filled with humor and metaphor and colorful language. And my mother (her name was Gert) liked poetry. She had literally hundreds of lines of poems and song lyrics committed to memory, and she would often recite them aloud. Andy, my father, was a machinist and a rather quiet man, but after a couple of beers and a shot of brandy he would talk like a character out of a Mark Twain story, spinning delightful tales in a lively manner. Such verbal influences, I think, gave me an appreciation for the joy and power of language.
Also, I came of age during the 1960s, the period when classic rock and roll was dominating popular music. I enjoyed the song lyrics of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, and dozens of other rock bands. This may have influenced me on my path to writing. When I entered college, I knew I was going to major in English, and my study and love of literature certainly led me further down the road of writing.
Tell us a little about your writing process. Do you set out to write about a specific subject and careful formulate your words to that end? Do you start with the words and allow the meaning to take shape as the come together? Or is it something else?
The process of creative writing has always seemed rather mysterious to me. It’s very difficult to consciously force a piece of writing into being. I think this is especially so with poetry more so than with prose. Sometimes a single word may start me on a poem, or perhaps a line pops up or surfaces in my mind, and that line will get the poem going. That initial inspiration is typically followed by a great deal of writing and rewriting, changing and revising, stopping and starting. Some poems come easily and are finished in rather short order. Others, however, take a long time and much labor and reworking. Often, once a poem starts, I have no idea where it will go or how it will end.
I understand you’ve won a couple of awards for your poetry. Tell us about them and your experience with them.
Although I’ve been writing poetry most of my adult life, I didn’t begin sending my work out for publication until four or five years ago. I’ve been fortunate to have over 40 of my poems published in various literary journals and magazines, both print publications and online venues.
In 2012 my poem “Fieldstone” was selected as the winner of the Robert Frost Farm Prize. That’s a first-rate award, and it brought me some national attention. I traveled to New Hampshire and gave a poetry reading at the Frost Farm near Derry, New Hampshire. The farm is a national historic site, beautifully renovated to the way it was when Frost and his family lived there for about ten years, from 1900 to 1911. Many of his famous poems were written while he lived there.
Then in 2014 I won the String Poet Award. That’s another prominent poetry prize. That award took me to New York in September of 2014 to give a reading. One particularly interesting feature of the String Poet Award is that a professional musical composer was retained to write an original piece of music inspired by my poem. The music, a cello solo, was performed after I gave my reading.