getting to know christopher reilley and his new book breathing for clouds

Now Available from Amazon.com

Christopher Reilley is the current poet laureate for Dedham, MA, founder of the Dedham Poet Society and author of Grief Tattoos–Poems of Rage and Redemption. He is a contributing editor at Acoustic Ink. His poems have appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Word Salad Poetry, Carpe Articulum, Frog Croon Compendium, and several other collections. His work can also be found as part of Hot Summer Nights, Moondancers, Blood Rush, and other anthologies.

Christopher Reilley is the current poet laureate for Dedham, MA, founder of the Dedham Poet Society and author of Grief Tattoos–Poems of Rage and Redemption. He is a contributing editor at Acoustic Ink. His poems have appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, Word Salad Poetry, Carpe Articulum, Frog Croon Compendium, and several other collections. His work can also be found as part of Hot Summer Nights, Moondancers, Blood Rush, and other anthologies.

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

I first encountered poetry in high school, but like most guys I knew, I thought it was for girls. I thought poetry was unwashed beatniks in front of a brick wall shouting odd word combinations for effect, or teenage girls writing their emotional outbursts in composition notebooks, or lace-wristed sissies in love with their own voice waiting for someone to ask them to recite so they could be admired. After my divorce, I was a blocked painter who could not create. I was frustrated, angry, and emotional as all hell when I discovered Charles Bukowski online. Here was a poet who was a drunken, lewd misogynist, the last thing I ever expected from poetry. Suddenly I realized that poetry was as unique and individual as those who were writing it. With that attitude shift, I began reading poetry, and I have always been a voracious reader, who loved language and words and ideas. Poetry proved to be the most potent distilled form of what I had always loved about reading. It did not take long before I decided to try it myself, and since I have always been into puzzles, I tackled poetry forms first, progressing from Haiku and Villanelles to Sonnets and Ghazals, Terza Rima, Pantoum and so on. I enjoy well done-rhyme, and strive to promote it wherever possible.

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

I write every day, no matter what, either lunchtime or after dinner, one or the other, every single day. I am always churning, editing, tweaking, cobbling together previously stored scraps of ideas, or reading a current work in progress out loud to make sure it sounds right, or has the right rhythm. I work a day job from home so my office is in the living room, this allows me to hang out with the family while I write. My kids are my harshest critics.

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

I strive to be eclectic, to not repeat myself in terms of style, process or method. If my last poem was rhyming quatrains, my next would be a prose poem or free verse. If I had just written a poem based on a great title or image, I would work to come up with something from the news, or based on a snippet from the thoughtlets scrap pile. I always try to follow drama with humor, or pain with a love poem. I like ekphrastic writing, based on the feelings I get from a great song, or painting, and then the next poem would come from wordplay, or fitted and crafted into a poetic form. I call it “word wrestling.”

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

Shel Silverstein, Jeffrey Deaver, Samuel Peralta, Charles Bukowski, Gwendolyn Brooks, X. J. Kennedy, Doug Holder, Craig Chaffin, Maggie Estep, Sam Cornish, Spike Milligan, Natasha Trethewey, Chris Jones, and many, many more. My favorite poet is the next one, the one I have yet to discover.

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 is a project book? etc.

The title poem, Breathing for Clouds, is about being a poet in the first place, saying that we do what we do because we must, and the hope that someday, somewhere, somehow, our words will connect with someone who needs to hear them or read them, and we will get to have a communication across time and space. There really is no thematic connection between the poems, other than a deliberate attempt to be eclectic, to balance rhyme with prose, story with stanzas, funny with drama. One never really knows what words will be needed someday. The poems themselves were culled and debated with the help of other members of the Dedham Poet Society, who I thank mightily for their assistance and feedback.

Read a sample poem by Christopher from Breathing for Clouds

Window to the West

If I had a window that opened upon the West,
I would open it every dusk,
tether my will to the fading sun,
and allow it to pull me -
drag me across the studded curvature of the Earth,
bouncing me along topography and Time
like a tin can behind a wedding car.

I'd savor the tastes of the middle of my land,
smell sweet corn in fields ten miles wide,
taste the dust of deserts becoming mud under my tongue,
scrape myself along asphalt and tarmac,
viewing my country up close and personal
until I had the sense of coral and brine
on the coast farthest from my home.

If I had a window to the Western skies
I would spend the time to understand
how the pale blue of a day can
find the power to become cobalt of night
by passing through the fires of red.

I would thrust myself skyward at every chance,
a superhero who saves nothing but memories,
finding silken threads of gossamer
left behind by the death of the stars.
And before I returned to my window
I would scatter what I know of true Love
leaving it behind for others to find
as they look out into their own skies.