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Twenty Four Poems: An Interview with Author John Yamrus

A Good Book To End The Day had the pleasure of speaking with John Yamrus, a prominent member of the poetry community for more than five decades, last year. His work, which is regarded as a masterwork of minimalism, celebrates the beauty of everyday life. Now, he has returned to talk about his most recent book, Twenty Four Poems.

To learn more about the story behind the story, read A Good Book To End The Day’s interview with the author below.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

JY: that’s easy...girls. when i found out that i could write something that girls found interesting...attractive...i latched onto it. ya gotta understand, i was a little guy, short and skinny with no athletic ability...no money...no car. i had nothing and WAS nothing...until i discovered i could write.

Tell us about Twenty Four Poems and the inspiration behind the collection.

JY: inspiration had nothing to do with it. i’m not big on inspiration...i’m big on doing the work you’re meant to be doing. and, my SELECTED POEMS: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT was out and doing surprisingly well for a 542-page retrospective monster. i had always wanted to have a book that brought together some of “the best” of my stuff from my 52 years as a working writer. anyway, i was still doing the poems every morning and there was some really good stuff coming out on the page and it somehow kinda all fit together. i had wanted for my next book to be small and all of a sudden, there it was, staring me right in the face!

Do you have a favorite poem from the book? If so, which one is it, and why?

JY: the one that seems to be getting the most attention is the one about the last time my mother combed my hair. i was a little kid, and...well, the story’s in the poem...but, i can still remember the look of that room...the yellow walls and the sun coming in thru the window. that’s a good one. it’s hard and it hurts, but it’s a good one.

Do you have any other projects in the works at this time?

JY: i’m always looking ahead to the next book. the books, just like the poems, tell me when they’re ready. i really don’t plan anything ahead...i try to stay open and let things tell ME what’s the next move. it’s like my little memoir MEMORY LANE. for some reason i was writing prose...really odd for me...but, it fit. i was writing about the street where i grew up...and the people on the street. i was writing fast, from the gut and not from the head (that’s what seems to work for me...like i said, i try not to think...i just let stuff happen)...anyway, i was writing fast and starting to get the idea that this was looking to be a book, and i started thinking that with maybe another 50-60 pages it would be really really good...and i shouldn’t have been thinking, because that same morning i wrote the scene where the family down the road was getting ready for a party and they had this pig and after it got loose and ran all around the neighborhood and us kids chased it and brought it back only to see the grandfather of the family wrap his arms around the pig, pull out a knife and cut its throat. i knew right then and there that the book was done and all the thinking in the world wasn’t gonna make it any better than that.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

JY: it’s not a moment...it’s a realization. the plan always was (as a writer) to do something every day...and, for the most part, i’ve managed to stick to that plan. i was never one of those guys who wanted to wait for inspiration...i could tell you a ton of stories to make the point, but i’ll just say that the biggest thing a writer has to keep in mind is to sit down in front of the desk and do the job.

What do most well-written poems have in common?

JY: truth.

Who are some of your favorite authors/poets that you feel were influential in your work? What impact have they had on your writing?

JY: i always liked the simple guys...writers who didn’t mess around...who got right to the point. prose writers like Hemingway and Stephen King (yeah, Stephen King). Allen Ginsberg had a big influence on me. he never minced words. and Willie Mays and Groucho Marx and Miles Davis...they influenced my writing a lot because they taught me about joy...and truth (there’s that word again)...and keeping it simple and real. Miles Davis (probably more than anyone) taught me that what you DON’T say is maybe more important than what you do. most writers (or aspiring writers) tend to over-explain...to say too much. Miles Davis made it clear to me that silence can often be more powerful and eloquent than anything me or you or she or him or it can ever say.

What advice would you give to aspiring poets?

JY: do the job. stop thinking and acting like you’re special and appointed by the gods. shut up and do your job. keep your head down and do the job. i get a kick out of these people who write to me...send me something or put something to me on Facebook...the first thing out of their mouth or the first thing i see is that they’re a poet. for some reason that bothers me...i know it’s wrong, but it bothers me. i’ve been doing this for 52 years and i can’t remember a time when i thought of calling myself a poet. i’ve had aspirations, sure, but i never felt or feel that i got there yet. i mean, Poe and Whitman and Mayakovsky and Pound...they’re poets. i’m just a schlubb who gets up in the morning and has his coffee and lets out the dog and coughs and farts and blows his nose.

How can readers keep in touch with you?

JY: i’m on Facebook (like i said) and so’s my publisher, Meat For Tea...you can do that...and i’ll try to answer. i really DO try. i know that actions have consequences...i remember when i was a kid...i was just starting out as a writer...maybe i hadn’t even had anything published at the time...and i wrote to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, c/o City Lights Books, asking him how a person gets to be a writer (remember, i said i was a kid, okay?) and he wrote back to me...just a postcard, but i can still remember what he said...he said: “Dear John; You asked me how to become a writer...I have no answers.”

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: yesterday i was out getting the mail, and the neighbor was out getting his, and he says to me: “that was a really neat article they had about you in the paper Sunday...i’ll cut it out for you if you want it. but, i gotta ask...what the hell is neo-noir?” i didn’t know how to answer that, so i smiled at him, grabbed the mail, went inside...walked into the kitchen, opened the back door and let the dog back in.

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