Getting to Know David Surette And His New Book Malden
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover you wanted to write poems?
I remember A Child's Garden of Verses: A Little Golden Book by Robert Louis Stevenson. It kept great company with the Poky Little Puppy and The Little Red Caboose, all books I loved as a child. In junior high, I remember reading The Emperor of Ice Cream by Wallace Stevens, wishing it was more about ice cream. I also had a friend named Harry who wrote about his friends in rhyming couplets which we thought was great. In high school, my English teacher Ms. Picillo gave me The Voice That Is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century as a graduation gift and I still cherish it. Song lyrics were also very important to me; they helped shaped my life. Ray Davies writing about working class folk especially thrilled me.
In my thirties, I attended the Boston Writing Project, and I had to produce a piece of writing daily for our writers’ groups. I had written a memoir which lived in a desk drawer so I was going to just steal from it. It felt like cheating, but as I read, moments began to make sense as poems. When I brought the first poem to the group they really seemed moved by it. So I wrote another than another. And I haven’t stopped yet.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
Mostly, I carry an idea for a poem in my head and when I feel like I might lose it, I write it down on a random piece of paper and stuff it in a drawer. I have been lucky to always have someone interested in publishing my books so when a couple of years pass since I released a book, I get nervous, gathered up all these poem-like scribbles, and spend the month getting enough poems written to fill a book. Then it’s a year of revision. It helps to go to open mics to test the poems too.
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
Usually it’s an idea from a moment or memory where two opposing things exist together, something unresolved. The idea will bug me so much I need to write about it.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
First four that pop in my head: Robert Frost. Yeats. Whitman. James Wright. Since I began writing seriously, Jack McCarthy Tom Lux and Brigit Kelly’s poems and encouragement meant the world to me. I miss all three. I could list a couple dozen living writers I admire but I am afraid to leave anyone out. There are lots of good poems and poets out there.
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?
All of my books begin with poems about growing up in Malden. In the year of my retirement, it made sense to me to gather all those poems into a collection. I like that Malden sounds like Walden, maybe the upside down of it. [For themes] . . . I’d rather the reader tell me. I tried to make the poems follow my life – birth to eighteen - though some poems time travel.
Read an excerpt from his book here:
My Great-Aunt Mabel claimed when she held me
as an infant, I looked into her soul.
I know gas can shape a newborn’s smile,
but what kind of baby bellyache
made me gaze into my great-aunt’s soul, for God’s sake?
As a boy, I waited for the call,
but heaven was silent. My mom blames
it on girls, and the day Joanne Breen grew
breasts under her uniform’s bib knocked
against my heart surely as hard as He
could tap a shoulder.
She had red hair, for God’s sakes.
My high school English teacher told my dad
that she, almost thirty years ago, looked right
into me and knew I was special.
My dad said, “He’s good with a hockey stick.”
I had nothing to say.
What does a guy say to that, for God’s sakes?
I don’t look into people’s souls anymore.
I gave that up in infancy.
I’m still one woman away from the priesthood,
and no one has called me special lately.
I see shadows in my peripheral vision
like I used to see Matty Marden skating
in late in the slot. I didn’t turn
to look then and I don’t now. It’s enough
to feather the pass and go to the net
for a rebound.
The rebound, for God’s sake.