Getting to Know James b. nicola and his new book wind in the cave

Available now on James B. Nicola's website

  James B. Nicola's  poems have appeared in the  Antioch ,  Southwest  and  Atlanta Reviews ,  Rattle ,  Tar River , and  Poetry East . His nonfiction book  Playing the Audience  won a  Choice  award. His first full-length poetry collection is  Manhattan Plaza  (2014); his second,  Stage to Page: Poems from the Theater  (June 2016). A Yale graduate, James was born in Worcester and is a proud graduate of Wachusett Regional High School in Holden, where he was honored to give the senior class’s commencement/senior-day speech this past June.

James B. Nicola's poems have appeared in the Antioch, Southwest and Atlanta Reviews, Rattle, Tar River, and Poetry East. His nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice award. His first full-length poetry collection is Manhattan Plaza (2014); his second, Stage to Page: Poems from the Theater (June 2016). A Yale graduate, James was born in Worcester and is a proud graduate of Wachusett Regional High School in Holden, where he was honored to give the senior class’s commencement/senior-day speech this past June.

When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover you wanted to write poems?

The first poem I wrote was an occasional verse, in support of the city of Worcester (my birth place) acquiring a zoo. I was in the second grade. The Worcester Telegram and Evening Gazette published the poem, and I was hooked. So it was my love of animals and nature that got me started writing poetry.

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?

I love waking up hours before dawn and having an hour or two of quiet time to write. I don’t set an alarm, but wake up with an idea pressing me to pick up pad and pen and proceed to my 45th floor terrace. In recent years I have started to write at other times of the day, particularly in new places. Ideas come on the subway, in cafés, or on my morning walks. On one of these walks in Weston (Mass.) the street names were so provocative—and appropriate to my wandering thoughts of the moment—that they inspired the poem which serves as the finale to Wind in the Cave.

Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?

A poetic idea for me is born from having a fresh look at something—physical (scene, object, nature, story, situation) or metaphysical (the magic of existence, the invisible bonds that unite us). It usually involves both a look outward and one inward, with the heart and mind as well as the eyes. The fillip for this examination is often a phrase I’ve jotted in my journal the previous day, month, or even year.

Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?

I have spent the most time with Shakespeare, directing about a third of his plays and developing performance techniques for verse (revealed in my book Playing the Audience). Coaching actors to interpret each line ending, punctuation mark, or figurative phrase has made me acutely conscious of the same in other verse forms, including the non-metric and unrhymed. Turning poetic device into performance choice—and vice versa—fulfills the promise of literary forebears and instills the hope of maybe, one day, joining them.

My second collection, Stage to Page, features a few poems inspired directly by The Bard. I have also written homages to Dickinson, Frost, Yeats, and Cummings—the modern metaphysical poets, coincidentally.

Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? Are there over-arching themes? What was the process of assembling it? Was it a project book?

The title Wind in the Cave is inspired by Theodore Roethke’s line “My desire’s a wind trapped in a cave.” But I use it to describe that twang in your gut in all sorts of situations: when you’ve just said something hurtful unwittingly; when you have an alcoholic in the family; when you notice the first signs of cellulite. . . . The Cave contains poems of passion, too, of course—but they are love poems with a twist!

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Read an excerpt from the new book:

Weston

I turned left onto Love,
which runs half-parallel to Pine,
with Highland the connecting link,
on a morning walk of mine,
 
and thought of those whom I have loved
and those for whom I'd pined.
Then I thought, “I've walked the High Land,”
and I felt that I felt fine
 
because the light was low and cool
and sweetened so the day:
and every road, including Love,
had taken me this way.