Simon Perchik: I began in 6th grade, public school. Also, in high school. Then the other students at NYU wrote poetry and so I thought I’d give it a try again.
LJ: According to your website, your father was a silk weaver until the Great Depression, in which he then became involved in the grocery business. Has living through the Depression, as well as serving as a pilot in the Army Air Corps during WWII, still influence your writing today? In what ways?
SP: Yes, both poverty and WWII have a great influence on what I write about. Many images are from the service. Fear of the ordinary is a common theme in my work. And yes, it’s almost 70 years ago and I still can’t shake that experience. Am still trying to write my way out. Poetry may do much for the reader but it does more for the poet.
LJ: How many rejections did you experience before publishing your first poem? Where was your first poem published?
SP: Not sure about the rejections. Must have been many, but I wasn’t writing all that much or sending out that much. My first poem was published in a magazine called Golden Goose. It was a rather important magazine at the time, and it was a bit heady for me as a beginner. WCW published there, as well as other big names.
LJ: Your poetry is beautifully abstract and ignites a sense of nostalgic emotion in the reader, sometimes warm and sometimes somber; how do you integrate so much emotion in your writing? From where do you find your inspiration? Additionally, what is it that draws you to this style of poetry?
SP: Thanks for the kind words. What draws me to abstract the work is that by doing so I can create more powerful poems. If a writer can bring a reader to tears though the reader can find nothing on the page to explain why the tears, that’s powerful.
LJ: Your poems are usually without titles. Why?
SP: I’m not sure how that happened but since year one I’ve never titled a poem. I think it’s because I like to think there are many facets to my work and that a title might direct the reader to one to the detriment of the others. Hey, if Nelly Sachs can pick up the Nobel without any titles, I can’t be too far amiss.
LJ: What is your writing process like? Is there a certain formula you follow when writing poetry?
SP: Thought you would never ask. I have a great process which others may find helpful. I start with nothing on my mind, not a thought. I find a photograph and describe it: this is a photo of a horse, a man holding reins, etc, etc, until I have described everything in the photo. Then I read something on myth or on science, and as I’m reading I keep asking myself what has the myth/science got to do with the photo. The images in the photo and the images from myth/science are seemingly disparate and contradictory, but if I keep at it after 40, 50 pages they have everything to do with each other. Brutal way of going about this work, but it works and I’m willing to pay that price. I go into this in more detail in my essay Magic,Illusion and Other Realities on my site www.simonperchik.com.
LJ: How long does it typically take you to complete one poem?
SP: I write 2 to 4 hours every day. I average 50 poems a year.
LJ: Your poems have appeared in many reputable publications, including The New Yorker, The Partisan Review, and The Nation. How many attempts did it take before finally receiving an acceptance letter from such publications? What advice would you give poets who are currently trying to break into any of these magazines?
SP: For the New Yorker I have been trying there since 1980. Three, four times a year sending 3 poems and a return envelope. Nothing. Then, 20 years later and I get a phone call asking if they could use the first line for a title instead of the asterisk. The moral is to treat submissions as an unemotional, ministerial act that means nothing. Otherwise you get into a bind and think your work is not worthwhile. Did I mention it helps to live long?