Paul Sacksteder’s background is diverse like, that of many in academia. His undergraduate degree is in Biology with a minor in Chemistry, from Maryville College in Tennessee. He worked with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy after his Baccalaureate, inspiring him to attend law school, at the University of Utah, where he focused primarily on Environmental and Constitutional Law. Law school was inspirational, and on his way to graduating, he discovered a desire to pursue a MFA. He wound up at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas with Claudia Keelan, where he finished a manuscript and a book of translation of the Uruguayan writer Rafeal Courtoisie. Paul finds the life and career of Charles Reznikoff, who practiced law and wrote poems, a helpful model, but is pretty happy teaching.
The following interview occurred in July of 2013 via email.
We really enjoyed “State of Motion.” It uses sound and imagery interestingly, and I’d say sensuously. One of its other striking features is how the last stanza “looks” different from the first two. I’m sure every reader has a different interpretation of what that might mean, but what does it signify for you?
The first two stanzas have divergent instincts from the final stanza. On one hand, I wanted the early lines to feel isolated, especially in the second stanza. The rhythm relies on these short but mostly complete lines that create this staccato syncopation. On the other hand, I wanted the lines to wash into one another, so there’s no punctuation as well as an odd fluidity between lines. The last stanza is more typical of how I write. This section is sentimental in nature. It represents a certain type of faith. So, the writing is more lyrical, but I also wanted to undermine this, just a bit. The fragmented sentences within lines help me achieve that and create a confident hesitancy to the last stanza.
What inspires you to write poetry? / Why is poetry important to you?
Poetry provides connection for me. It takes the disparate and brings it together. There might not be a cohesive whole, but it puts them into relation in a way that you can learn. On a personal note, it’s the one thing in my life that has allowed all of my interests to converge.
When you’re writing poetry is there something in particular you’re trying to achieve?
What I love about poetry and writing is that it’s a chance to work through disparate elements of an idea, both intellectually and emotionally. I gather a bunch of different threads, pull them together, and see what I get at the end. The poem is a tool that I use to engage in the world.
How / When / Why did you begin writing poetry?
I imagine I started like most people: scribbling down really earnest lyrics in the margins of my chemistry notebook in high school. Later in college, when I was exposed to Allen Ginsberg, T.S. Eliot, and William Carlos Williams, I started to write a little more seriously. I would make chapbooks for my friends. I did this for about five years before I realized that I should just go ahead and give myself the time to take it more seriously. That’s how I ended up in an MFA program, which was one of the more gratifying things I’ve ever done.
Do you have a daily / weekly writing routine? Can you tell us about it?
I used to have a routine. Those were the good days. Now, I’m a stay-at-home dad for my 2-year old daughter and teach part-time, so I write when I have time. My daughter is actually making it hard to finish this interview right at this moment. I’m typing with a Tinkerbell ring on my pinkie finger. My process has become a collection of snippets. When I have more time, I then go back and look at the snippets and see what I can construct from it. I edit. Fill in blanks. It generally takes me a long time to finish a poem, but I manage to keep writing in a period of my life when I don’t have much time.
When and / or why did you first consider yourself a successful poet?
It’s an odd question…I don’t honestly feel successful at this point. I’ve had quite a few publications, but I don’t think I’ll feel successful until I get a book published, which may not ever happen. On the other hand, I don’t write for that reason. I don’t have expectations of success (this may or may not be a hindrance to success; it remains to be seen). I write because it’s something that I have invested myself into. I want to continue to grow and learn, and for me, poetry is the perfect conduit for that. In that regard, I suppose, I’m perfectly successful.
What else do you have in print and where can our readers find your work?
Hawaii Review was my first publication. I think they have a thing for Sacksteders though because the very next issue they published a poem by Joe Sacksteder too. Recently, I’ve had work appear in Barnstorm, Sun Skeleton, and Seven Stamps. Here’s a link to the piece in Barnstorm: http://barnstormjournal.org/poetry/a-list-of-mistakes-made-in-building-the-house-2/
Do you have any writing projects that you are currently working on?
Most of my poems these days are about Las Vegas, where I have lived for the last eight years. I’m looking at Las Vegas as an ecosystem and questioning our assumptions of the natural. I’m trying to explore the assumptions we make about nature by looking at a city that many people view as the most fabricated place in the world. Ultimately, the poems are trying to make an argument for conservation, but by going pretty much in the opposite direction. We’ll see where it goes.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
One of my absolute favorites is Lisa Jarnot. She’s both fiercely angry and hilarious at the same time. Recently, I’ve enjoyed Rae Armentraut’s latest book Just Saying, also Slow Lightning by Eduardo Corral, which won the Yale Younger Poets Prize two years ago, and a collected works by Octavio Paz that I found in the public library.
What advice do you have for aspiring poets?
Send your work out into the world. Unabashedly and fearlessly. I have a database of all of my submissions. It’s pretty much all rejections. The poem that I’m most proud of has been rejected over and over and over. The process is often arbitrary, so I don’t take it personally. You shouldn’t either.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Not particularly! I would like to thank Four Ties. Not just for the interview and the publication, but for embracing the online journal format. Innovation is a great way of providing a broader audience for poetry. The print journals are invaluable, but the access to them is far more limited. So three cheers for your good work!