Thursday, June 1, 2017

Heath Brougher responds

Heath Brougher: I was born and raised in York, PA and attended Temple University. Although I am 36 years old and have been writing my entire life, I did not begin to submit my work for publication until a little over 2 years ago so I feel like I have a lot of catching up to do. I tend to like the more edgy and experimental kind of poetry and have discovered some astonishingly talented writers over the past 2 years. I am the poetry editor of Five 2 One Magazine, which was always one of my favorite journals before being asked to become a part of their team. I read blind and believe very strongly that all journals should read blind in order to make sure new and up-and-coming voices get a fair chance to be heard. I am the author of the chapbooks "A Curmudgeon Is Born" which was published by the amazing Yellow Chair Press, and "Digging for Fire" published by the equally amazing Stay Weird and Keep Writing Publishing Co. I was recently nominated for The Best of the Net thanks to Walking Is Still Honest Press, which I am extremely grateful for. I am also the judge of Into the Void Magazine's Annual Poetry Competition this year. My writing has appeared in both print and online venues in 10 countries. I plan to keep moving forward in order to see what brilliant writer I will come across next and just how far I can go myself in the literary world.

DV: If you've been writing all your life, what took you so long to get started? Do you have a large backlog of work just ready to spring on an unsuspecting world?
HB: I didn't begin submitting until a little over 2 years ago, at the age of 34. I had been writing my whole life and began to keep my first notebook at age 14. Up until my first acceptance letter, which came about 4 months after I started submitting, literally not a single person in this world knew that I wrote poetry or philosophy or ANYTHING. Not even my family or closest of friends had any idea. I don't know why I hid it from everyone. I didn't have a very good time in middle/high school as far as how I was treated by my classmates and my self-esteem was extremely low. Every day of school was just another day of humiliation. I guess I was afraid of letting people into my deepest thoughts and having them laugh at me or ridicule me in some way. As far as having a backlog, I have literally 20 years' worth of notebooks and various pieces and little scraps of paper (which back in my teens I would try to mostly write on because they were easier to hide than notebooks). Eventually it got to a point where I had to start putting my notebooks, etc. in duffel bags and then literally bury them in my closet. I counted one time, just off the top of my head, how many books I had written and came up with the number 37. But the more I search through these old notebooks I'm finding other entire books within them that I completely forgot about. That's been one of my main problems: getting all this stuff typed up. I have over 1,000 pages worth of poetry and other writings typed up and I've barely made a dent in the notebooks. Just a few days ago I was going through my bags of notebooks and found one of the smaller sized booklets that was 200 pages long, titled and everything, just waiting to be typed up, which I had completely forgotten about. Typing up my work is something I've begun to spend a lot more time on lately. Its pathetic that out of these books I've written presently only one of them is fully typed up, edited, and ready to be submitted to the presses. The problem is that I continue to write and tend to copy those onto the computer first just to get the typing out of the way. Still though, I write the vast majority of my work in notebooks. I do have 2 full-lengths and 4 chapbooks that I've written completely on the computer but they all need severe editing and really are not the books I'd prefer to submit. So, sorry to get off on such a tangent, but when you ask if I'm backlogged, the answer is a resounding "More than you could ever imagine!"   

DV: Indeed! I'm somewhat reminded of Emily Dickenson, who churned out at least 1,776 unusual poems in about half a decade, but she was not much interested in publication. And typing (one of my personal banes) wasn't invented yet! She also did not have a youthful backlog, and didn't do much writing after the surge was over. You certainly have a monumental task before you. Get plenty of sleep and try to have a consistent schedule. Meanwhile, now that the genie's out of the bottle, what are your goals? What intentions do you have regarding your writing?

HB: Some of my goals include leveling the playing field and lessening the amount of cronyism that currently runs amok in the literary world. I would like to do what I can so that certain journals will judge a submission by the actual work instead of the submiter's bio.This will allow new voices to be heard, as they should. As far as my own writing, I would like to use it to help people notice the rampant corruption in this world and start to, as I call it, "cultivate their Intellect" so that they are judging this world with their own eyes and not just blindly believing everything they hear. To use one of my favorite Lawrence Ferlinghetti quotes, I would like to see people begin to "question everything and everyone, including Socrates, who questioned everything."

DV: Do you see your own poetry as "questioning poems"? In what way? (I see them more as "affirmation poems" in that they make a point.)

HB: I actually see them as both. Some are "questioning poems" and others are "affirmation poems." Out of all the poems I've written one of my favorites is titled "Personification of the Dog" and you could say that it's both a "questioning poem" and an "affirmation poem." One thing I never want to do is become pigeonholed in my writing. I'm always hearing people say that poets need to "find their voice" but to me that pretty much equates to caging oneself and only writing in one specific style. I want to always be able to have the freedom to explore and go as "far out there" as possible with all of my writings in general.

DV: Would you minding sharing "Personification of the Dog" with us and showing us how it works in both capacities?

HB: Sure. I wrote this poem when I was nineteen years old during my freshman year of college (when I should have been studying) and it has always been one of my favorites. It was the first poem I ever submitted when I began to submit a little over 2 years ago. So this poem spends most of the time with the dog (hmmm.... what's that word spelled backwards?) yelling certainties at the person (me, anyone) walking down the street. The reason I think of this as simultaneously being a "questioning poem" and an "affirmative poem" is because I'm hoping to cause the reader to question certain things. And truthfully, not just the reader, but myself. That's what I love about writing. It allows you to explore your own thoughts and come across new ways of perceiving this world. Although the poem itself is definitely much more of an "affirmative poem" it's content is meant to cause the reader to question what is being said within it so in that aspect I've always seen it as a "questioning poem" as well. Although I've never used either of those particular terms when describing it before. I've always just thought of it as a "thinking poem." This poem sometimes takes more than one read to fully "get." For instance the line "usefully unknowing of anything" instead of "uselessly unknowing of anything" is made to hint that there is the possibility of some form of Pantheistic life after death and that in death we serve this Universe on some different, yet still Sentient level.

Personification of the Dog

“There is no such thing as no such thing,”
came fast in the wind spoken through razor-sharp teeth.
“Our world is a transient organism
in the midst of a greater cluster.
One day we’ll be mystified and less sentient than ever
and float around usefully unknowing of almost anything,”
spun a web of thought through dark red-orange eyes 
shimmering within a skull bearing potent nostrils.

Forcing a smile, I tried not to notice and kept on walking.
“I am nothing but what I perceive.
I am nothing more or less than a Sense,”
emitted from dog-fangs that could tear a mailman
to shreds. "There is no such thing
as what you call ‘Reality’” brushed against my ears as I looked
toward the yard and saw him propped upon a picket fence
standing on his hind legs inquisitively staring right back at me.
“Reality is nothing more than an arrangement of atoms
producing an effect just as oxygen feeds fire”
stung my mind as I looked arrogantly away,
and continued on, not wanting to waste my time
listening to such impossibility.

And as I left I heard in the distance as his conclusion,
“There is no such thing as no such thing,
for no such thing is such a thing, in a Sense”
slipped eloquent and barkless from his mouth.

DV:  I wonder if you couldn't equally as well say, "There's no such thing as such as a thing."  I understand that philosophers have long asserted that only the material world exists or that the entire material world is just an illusion (or argued for some some dualistic compromise between the two positions). On what grounds are you convinced that sentient existence persists after the death of the body? Or is the poem only a hypothetical expression that doesn't necessarily reflect your final thoughts on the matter?

HB: I pretty much wanted to say "there is no such thing as no such thing, in a Sense." To me the "in a Sense" part is what the poem is about. Different angles of perception. As humans we know of five senses, or five forms of perception. Even though I don't like to label myself, when pressed on what I "believe" (a very dangerous word) I've always just kind of uttered that I'm an Agnostic Pantheist. Who knows what other kinds of senses, or perceptions, could have evolved on some other planet out there in the Universe? As far as my thoughts on sentient existence after the body dies, I actually lean more toward thinking there is some kind of different level of Sentience. I say this because I have a cyst on my brain behind my left eye which has caused me to have seizures throughout my life and I have experienced some very strange states of being during the moments before a seizure. For instance one time before going into a seizure, after the aura phase, I had an experience of living in three different realities simultaneously. That's pretty far out there, right? But I also know how the human brain is actually very easily tricked. And possibly more easily tricked by what it sees than any of the other senses we have. For instance there is a therapy for people who have lost a leg in which they will just set a mirror where the lost leg should be so when they look down and see the reflection of the other leg in the mirror it takes away their feeling of a phantom limb. It literally tricks the brain into believing they have two legs. So I guess I'll end by saying what my dad always said to me when it comes to religion or the idea of life after death, and that is: "The one thing I do know is that I don't know and neither do you."

DV: How do you define Agnostic Pantheism?

HB: I know it sounds a bit like a contradiction. Basically I take it to mean that I admit don't know the answers to whether there's life after death or a God but I think, through science, the answers to these questions could possibly be found. That's why I'm always saying that we don't need to get rid of all religion, we just need to extract the literal interpretation of them and turn them into philosophies or a code of ethics. I think that everyone needs to get behind science (which has proven all these religions to be wrong) because that is where we will find the REAL answers to these questions. I also am always saying that the human race is flat out faced in the wrong direction. The literal interpretation of these religions is holding back the entire human race. The human race cannot move forward if we still have people believing, literally, that a woman was carved out of a man's rib. So Agnostic Pantheism, to me, means that I don't know the answers myself but I think they can be found through the exploration of the Universe.

DV: Have you always felt the same way? Or has there been a clear evolution of your thought? Does any of your early poetry reflect the stages of your belief?
HB: Yes, there's been a progression as far as the content. For instance, when I go back through my old notebooks, I'll often come across writings in which I'll see how I've slowly come to certain conclusions about my current view of the world. It's kind of like discovering when certain thoughts began to pop into my head. It's actually kind of fun to leaf through my old notebooks and see what my thoughts were on any given subject back in 2005 or 1998 and how they've either slightly changed or manifested into what they currently exist as.

DV: Do you have some illustrative examples to show us?

OK. I've just gone back and searched through my oldest writings. I found a poem I wrote at age 14 (which I know because it was written in pencil on a little piece of paper and I have been writing with a pen since age 15) which is similar in concept to the poem "Personification of the Dog,' which was written at age 19. It's not necessarily on the same subject as "Personification of the Dog" but I think it shows where certain thoughts began to sprout. This horrendous poem is titled "They Their Them" and I sincerely apologize for unleashing this atrocity upon the world. But, hey, at least I've got another poem typed up! Though this would need a MASSIVE amount of editing to make it anything worthwhile. The similarities that I see are the theme of being the "outsider" and observing and questioning the way of life of the masses, just as the dog did in the first poem. 

"They Their Them"

Their minds dusty with unuse ...
their thoughts obsolete, existing in someone else's words...
their eyes search for contemporary bliss...
their minds are the consumer society...
their selves are conformity...
their laughs echo simultaneously...
their cries resonate within the mass...
their tears taste different...
that is if they ever cried.
Their everything consists of petty grudges...
and unquestioned living...
all awaiting their natural death...
they walk upon the plain of conformity...
while I hike through rugged mountains of freedom...
that is only rugged because of their presence.
They sign deeds of selfishness...
except on their holy holidays...
when they follow the tradition of a specific time's selflessness...
they cut me down with a sigh...
they look down on me...
they love their blandness they don't even see.

DV: So we have a progression from young adolescence to late adolescence. What about your mature thought? Do you have anything that reflects your current attitude?
HB: I probably should have given you this poem to begin with since I have come to some different conclusions as far as my philosophy and thoughts about the world are concerned. I was trying to show you similarities in response to your last question. Since that time I have become a virtual recluse, other than the readings I do, though I admit I've really been slacking off on those because I just don't have the time right now due to the massive amount of submissions I have to read for the Into the Void contest as well as Five 2 One. For the past 11 years I've lived in virtual seclusion and I think it really helped me come to some of my most important conclusions. I tried to disconnect myself from what I call "the Mainstream Thought" because, as I said earlier, humans tend to mirror their surroundings (the whole "monkey see monkey do" thing) and I wanted to mirror only myself. I believe that living this way has made me a stronger individual. As far as my more recent writings I think my poem that was nominated for the Best of the Net is a really good example of my "current attitude" as you asked. This poem is titled "Curriculums" and shows in a very short poem many of my newer conclusions or philosophies about life in general.


I am always alwaysing my way through life
            turnstiling through these days
made of illusion and lies

the hamster wheel spinneth eternal

…fan rotation and so on… 

until I
unlatch from this loop
to see that circular paths are false

for the Truth lives within the Spiral.

to unsnag the grindstone endlessly turning

one must disconnect oneself
in order to stop this massively insane friction.

DV:  You mention doing readings. When I lived in Seoul I did a lot of them, in various venues. It was a good way to test audience reaction to my material, rather than just relying on my own private judgment, and one of the few ways most poets can experience any ego gratification. As a self-described recluse, how did you ever get involved in publicly reading your poems? How would you describe your experience?

HB: I began doing readings on a weekly basis when my first chapbook was published in June of this year. Though I had done a few before that, even one in Topeka, Kansas of all places, when one of my poems which is my mom's all-time favorite won an Editor's Choice Award I pretty much had to go there and do the reading when they invited me. The main reason I started doing weekly readings was that I really wanted to thank Sarah Frances Moran for publishing my first chapbook and the least I could do was get out there and sell some copies for her and Yellow Chair Press. One thing I am is very loyal to the presses that publish my work, whether it's a chapbook or a little one poem fold out. York is pretty much devoid of places to read except for two of them (pathetic isn't it?) though I have recently discovered a few new places on the outskirts of town I never thought to look, which I plan to check out after the contest I'm currently judging. It was  my first chapbook so I expanded to other cities like Lancaster, Harrisburg, Reading, Baltimore, and elsewhere. You happen to be asking me this question at a time during which I've had to slack off on doing readings and attending a workshop held by Mike Salgado I really enjoy because I'm so busy reading these submissions pouring in for the Into the Void Poetry Competition on top off the submissions I already read for 
Five 2 One Magazine. One thing I've learned is that living so hermetically will really weaken a person's vocal cords since there are times I'll go days without talking to anyone other than the few sentences I may speak to the checkout clerk at the grocery store. The first couple readings I did my voice would kind of "give out" at certain points which sounded similar to a trembling or like I was nervous, even if I was bursting with confidence at the time. So one thing I do now 
while driving to a reading (and yes I know this sounds silly but it actually works) is what I call my" screaming treatments." I do these "treatments" in my car on the way to a reading where I'll spend about a minute or two literally 
screaming as loud as I can. You would think this would hurt most people's vocal cords but since mine are so weak it actually helps strengthen them. Another thing I've learned is that it's always good to REHEARSE a poem you're going to read before you read it. I had to learn that the hard way. Though now there's some poems I can read and pretty much don't even have to look at the book or paper in order to recite them. I would describe the experience very simply: the more readings you do the better you get. Evolution once again plainly in sight yet still some people deny it even as they experience it on a daily basis. 
DV: What about all this judging you're doing? It seems to take up a lot of your time. What do you think that you get out of it?
HB: I'm judging a poetry contest for this amazing new publication from Ireland called Into the Void Magazine. Their editor, Philip Elliott, asked me to be the judge of the first annual competition and I figured why not? Then, a few days later, Poets & Writers Magazine did a 2 page spread on "The 9 New Journals of 2016 You MUST Read" and listed Into the Void Magazine as one of them. I've enjoyed judging this contest very much. The winner receives 150 Euros, 2nd Place receives 50 Euros, 3rd Place receives 25 Euros, and 4th, 5th, and 6th place receive a free copy of my first chapbook "A Curmudgeon Is Born." On top of that Philip Elliott is an amazing person, poet, writer, editor, and a really good new friend. As far as what I've gotten out of it, I think it has made me a better editor. When you know that people have paid their hard-earned money in order to submit you make sure to go over each submission with a fine toothed comb. At Five 2 One I usually read each poem twice just to be sure that I'm making the right recommendation, though with Into the Void's Contest I've been reading each poem 3 times before making a decision on where it goes. I'm even keeping my own chart where I rate each poem on a scale of 1-10 so I'll know which poems to go back and reread, although I do plan on rereading every poem that has received a thumbs up once the competition is over.

DV: But, as a poet, does the process of judging have any role in your own insight into the process?

HB: I wouldn't say that judging has really played much of a role as far as my insight into "the process." I've always said that I actually don't really like being "inspired" by other poets as far as having it impact my own writing. I've always wanted to simply mirror myself. That doesn't mean I'm against inspiration. I live for those amazing moments of truth or astounding imagery within a poem. I know on a conscious level I will try not to be influenced by something I've recently read, though on a subconscious level I'm sure that many poems I've read have worked their influence into some of my own poems.
DV: What was it that 1) inspired you to start writing poetry and 2) finally seek its publication?
HB: As far as what inspired me to start writing, I have no idea. I've just been writing my entire life. As far back as at least 2nd grade. Maybe life itself inspired me. I guess it just served as some kind of catharsis. What brought me to finally begin submitting my life's work at the age of 34, for the first time in my life, I couldn't see anything in the future for me. It was just a void. I had always been able to see some flicker of a future, but at age 34 I couldn't see a thing. I'd always wanted to be a writer, but as I've said before, I always hid it from everyone. I remember at one point in my early 20s I almost threw away all of my writings. I'm extremely thankful now that I never ended up doing that. So I was 34 years old and couldn't see any kind of future ahead of me, I figured why not start submitting my writings? Luckily Geoffrey Gatza accepted a submission after almost 4 months of nothing but rejection letters and also right when I was about to give up on submitting. That acceptance letter gave me the jump start I needed to realize that there was in fact value to my writings and I've pretty much just gone forward ever since.

DV: When I was a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman the rule of thumb was that we needed to knock on a hundred doors a night in order to give three full sales pitches, of which one would result in a sale. A friend of mine in Seoul used to chat up local girls on the subway and give them his business card, with similar results. So, in "normal" times when you aren't preoccupied with judging, how many submissions do you think you make per week? How many get accepted?

HB: Under normal circumstances I try to send out at least 1 submission per day, though there have been a few times I've sent out as many 5 submissions in one day. Then, of course, there are days when I don't send out any because I'm more focused on typing up work from my notebooks or working on editing a book that I've typed up. Though I do admit to wasting my time with a lot of pointless submissions by submitting to places like Ploughshares or Subtropics which wouldn't accept one of my poems even if I sent them the 5 poems that would appear as the first 5 poems of their next issue because I'm "not established enough." As far as how many get accepted, I just looked at the pieces of notebook paper where I keep track of my submissions and see that out of the 35 lines of places I have submitted to I usually average about 10 acceptances per paper so that would mean about a third of my overall submissions end up getting accepted. I need to stop submitting to those corrupt journals and start submitting to places where I'll actually have a chance and hopefully those acceptance numbers will go up.

DV: I hope you continue to keep duanespoetree in mind. Also, I want to thank you for your proselytizing on behalf of the blog -- I don't suppose Phillip Elliott or Felino A. Soriano would have ever found the site and submitted to it without your advocacy. Without the three of you, it would be a less-rich place. I know that this is a bad time for you, due to the judging responsibilities you took on, so I also want to thank you, on behalf of the readers, for agreeing to answer my questions. Good luck with your career in literature!

HB: Thank you so much for taking the time to interview me. I think this is the most unique interview I've ever done as far as the questions that you asked and how you really dug deeply into my writings and philosophies. Most interviewers don't get that in depth and I'm very appreciative you took the time to understand my progression and current state as a writer. Also, to end on some good news, I just had another 
chapbook accepted yesterday titled "Your Noisy Eyes" which is due for publication in 2017. Thank you again for this amazing interview. And as long as duanespoetree is open for business I will always keep it in mind for submissions.


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