As a prominent figure of the poetry community, John Yamrus’ work is full of honesty, insight, and innovative minimalism. With 35 books and nearly 3,000 poems published worldwide, his work has inspired and captivated countless readers. Selected Poems: The Director's Cut, his most recent release, features an extensive selection of poems from his career spanning more than 50 years.
To learn more about the story behind the story, read A Good Book To End The Day’s interview with the author below.
What sparked your initial love of poetry?
JY: it was selfish, really...just a clever way for me to meet girls. i was never much of an athlete...didn’t have any money...and certainly wasn’t what you’d call good looking...so, it was my way to get some attention.
Even though Selected Poems: The Director's Cut is a large collection, how does one choose their favorite poems from five decades of writing?
JY: yeah, i HAVE been doing this a long time...my first book came out in the middle of the mimeo revolution, where small presses were starting up on practically every corner and guys like Bukowski and Locklin set the tone and the pace for young writers, showing that the way to do the thing was to be prolific and consistent and since that time (1970) i’ve published 35 books and had nearly 3,000 poems published in magazines all over the place, so, yeah, it was a big task...but, i didn’t wanna pick the poems...i wanted to look at the poems thru the eyes of the reader, so my publisher (Heath Brougher of Concrete Mist Press) tapped a college professor (Eileen Murphy) and a small press lit critic (George Anderson to do the selection...naturally, i kinda kept a power of veto and added maybe 3 or 4 of my own favorites, but for the most part, all 542 pages of the book were chosen by the editors. it’s their book as much as mine.
What do you find most informs your current writing?
JY: since day one...since i was a kid...i always wanted to write about “moments in time”...those little things that happen to people that make up a life. i never really wanted to write the one, big, great poem. i always looked at my poems as being just individual bricks in the wall. one stitch here or there isn’t very important...it’s the whole cloth that matters to me.
You've had a long and successful career spanning decades. Has your perception of what poetry is evolved since you began writing poems?
JY: again, poetry (for me) is monolithic...poetry is, and always has been, just one person sitting in a corner and staring into a mirror...it’s not magic and it certainly isn’t golden. there’s no big secret about it. it’s just the truth, written over and over and over again.
What does literary success look like to you?
JY: i really don’t know how to answer that one...after 52 years as a “working” writer, i’m finally having a certain amount of success...my stuff’s being taught in more than a few colleges and books are starting to come out in translation...most recently, a book of my poems was published in Albanian, translated into that language by a man who’s best known for his translations of people like Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti and a whole lot more...so, just being in some way connected to that crowd is a kind of success for me...but, at the end of the day, the real success is being able to look into that mirror...dig deep...and see something interesting, new and real.
Do you have any other projects in the works at this time?
JY: there’s always something new coming along...if you do the work and keep steady at it, opportunities will always come around...right now, my main focus is making sure the word gets out about SELECTED POEMS: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT. the book means a lot to me and my publisher invested a lot of time (not to mention a lot of money) into bringing this book out and other than coming down here to this room where i write (this basement “office” of mine) and writing every day, every day, every day, my total focus is on this book and making sure it gets seen and read. i was never one of those guys who writes a book and walks away and leaves everything in the lap of a publisher...that (to me) is a cop-out...poetry is about communication and if people aren’t buying the books and reading the poems, you’re not communicating...you’re failing at the most basic part of your job.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
JY: i don’t have a website...but if people want to find me, i’m not that hard to reach. i mean, you and i are talking, aren’t we? and i’m always curious to hear what people have to say about the books...i could pretend that i’m not interested...that i’m “above” all that...but, i’m not. it means a lot to me to hear what people have to say. it’s not going to influence me or change my direction, but i am curious.
Thanks so much for being part of the A Good Book To End The Day family! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
JY: sure! this was fun...this interview. i hope you don’t mind my answers being as short as they are...i never really understood writers who liked talking in any detail about their work or their life...explaining their poems and their books...that’s not me. back in the days when i used to go to readings, i always got a kick out of those writers who took twenty minutes to explain the whys and wherefores of some poem they were about to read...that didn’t make any sense to me. it kinda felt like they thought the audience (the reader) was too dumb to figure anything out for themselves. i respect the audience too much for that. i remember when i was a kid someone asked Willie Mays (who was my favorite baseball player) what he thought was the greatest catch he ever made...and Willie looked at the guy and said “I don’t rate ‘em, I just catch ‘em.” and that’s me. after this interview is over i’ll be back at my desk working on the poems...or maybe (more certainly) out in the yard, cleaning up poop from the dog.