The ShatterColors Standard Interview -- Author Version: Lee Passarella

(Interview consists of 15 pre-set questions. Authors have published at least one novel or short story/poetry collection.)

1) Why did you begin writing, and how long have you been doing so?

I found that I was much more articulate as a writer than as a speaker, and my teachers thought I had a gift for writing. Writing seemed, early on, a natural mode of communication for me. I started writing seriously--imitating other writers' styles and plot lines, that sort of thing--in junior year of high school, though I had been writing stories since elementary school. I even wrote a little cycle of stories in, I
think, the third or fourth grade.

2) What does your writing routine consist of?

With poetry writing, I almost always wait for the muse to visit. My "occasional" verses, or poems I might write for a contest or other themed issue of a magazine, are usually lesser efforts for sure. Ditto verse that I produce as studies of form--villanelle, sonnet, etc. Once the inspiration comes, I accumulate possible images and phrases in my head before committing them to paper. Then I produce the entire poem, usually at a sitting. Now the hard work begins. I revise, revise, revise for days, perhaps a week, often going through as many as ten or more separate revisions. During the course of this activity, what started out as free verse poetry may end up in some form that I deem better suited to the material. Or that may happen at a much later date. Usually, after the poem has been revised--and this might take several days or as much as a week--I set it aside and let it cool. Future revisions are fewer but often quite substantive in their nature. They will come whenever some new idea springs to mind that seems like a solution to a problem the poem posed in the first place.

3) Have specific events ever flung you into an extended and productive period of creativity?

Probably not extended periods, no. I'm often stimulated by reading an individual poem, by some news event or editorial treatment of the news, or by a memory--most often that, I guess--but such inspirations are often good for a single poem, not a series.

4) What are common sources of inspiration?

I find that reading a poem by a good poet often stimulates me. This happens when I read a number of poems, as when I'm proofreading an edition of the poetry magazines I work for. An individual poem will set me off, and I'll say, "I'd like to try something in that vein," though there is always a significant difference between my poem and the poem that inspired me. I'm past the point of slavish imitation, but all poets are flattered by being the inspiration of another poet. And I have a lot of debts, and there are lots of poets who should feel flattered.

5) What does a book need to do to get you to read it from beginning to end?

I guess it needs to have characters that I can relate to in one way or another and care about pretty deeply. I want to know what is going to happen to them, so I read on. But the language itself must be stimulating. There must be enough of the unexpected turn of the phrase--that phrase wherein you see the writer's mental wheels turning--to make me want to experience more of the beauties and mysteries of the writer's style. So language and character are clearly the two most important elements. Incident is, well, incidental.

6) Who are some of the authors you most admire?

Among poets, I truly find Elizabeth Bishop a great inspiration. Her poetry and her serious approach to it are both an inspiration. Supposedly, she would tack a poem to her wall with "holes" in it where the right word should go. And then she would wait, maybe months, for those right words to come to her. When at last then came, the holes were filled, and not until then was the poem complete. That is dedication to one's craft! Among the classics, Shakespeare can't fail to amaze repeatedly, and so with his contemporaries and near contemporaries John Donne and George Herbert. They've taught me much about "spiritualizing" my poetry, and how that doesn't mean it needs to be spiritual drivel. Keats among later poets. He was able to write a philosophically tinged poetry without getting up on any soapboxes. Among novelists and story writers, Hawthorne, Conrad, and more recently Walker Percy are authors who stimulate me to read as much as I can of their work.

7) How familiar are you with the literary canon?

Pretty familiar, having taught English for a number of years. I think the canon makes a certain amount of sense, but there is always the fascinating writer well outside the canon--say, Weldon Keyes--who can open your eyes enough to make one stray outside the canon, even for teaching purposes.

8) What's your take on politics and literary endeavor?

Most of the politically inspired poetry that I see is truly occasional verse. It will die with the cause or sentiment that inspired it. Most poetry that is political in nature becomes terribly preachy and pedantic. It is hard to be quiet about politics, and most of the good poetry I know is quiet in its sharing of great profundities. Even important writers whose work could be seen as polemical have enough subtlety in their craft to make it a matter of art first, and politics a distant second. Take Sylvia Plath, for instance--what could be more political, or noisy, than a poetry with so much man-hating and concomitant self-hating in it? At least it's a poetry guaranteed to be embraced by those with a political agenda. And yet the craft of Plath's verse raises it to a level well beyond the purely political.

9) What are your feelings about formal vs. free verse?

I write mostly free verse. Sometimes a poem I write wants to be formal, so I put it in that guise. And sometimes, usually with limited success, I start off writing a formal piece because the poem seems to want to go that way from the beginning. Thus I was interested to learn that in a poll of readers of poetry on the Internet, I ranked with those who were favorites among formalist poets. Funny, I don't think of myself that way....

10) Do you feel "flash" fiction (300 words or less) is a viable form, or nothing more than a writing exercise?

It is viable. Anything with a readership is viable, and there is a fairly large readership for it. I don't know if the readership is others who do or want to try their hand at flash fiction, but anyway, it gets read. I'm not a fan, however.

11) When not writing, what do you do for amusement?

Listen to music and read, oftentimes together. I'm a classical music maven, and my CD collection, which keeps growing, has been a major bone of contention in my family.

12) What's one of the most annoying things you can think of?

Aggressive drivers, of which we have many in the Atlanta metro area. Aggressive drivers on cell phones. And certain particularly nagging cell phone ringtones. Otherwise, I'm happy.

13) Briefly describe what you consider to be one of your standout childhood pranks.

Come on! I was a model child. Actually, it's not much of a prank, but I taught a less with-it friend of mine how to write spelling words on his desktop before a spelling test and then erase them quickly afterward. He forgot the bit about erasing the words and so was exposed. A good prisoner of war, he gave only his name, rank, and serial number, thus saving me from interrogation. I have never forgotten this gesture or what it said about my less quick-witted but loyal friend.

14) What are your upcoming projects/works in progress?

I have a full-length poetry manuscript that I keep working on, though it is substantially complete. I also have a young-person's Civil War novel manuscript now languishing with a small local publisher, and I'm thinking about turning it into a series--with or without an enthusiastic response to the first book.

15) Care to conclude with a sweeping philosophical statement?

Sure. The world is too much with us. Old Willy Wordsworth got it right about 170 years ago, give or take, and the truth he observed gets only truer. I think most Americans need to spiritualize their lives more, and that doesn't necessarily mean accepting an organized--or even disorganized--religion. It just means going inside oneself rather than outside, to the material world, for inspiration. I can't, or won't, be any more specific than that.


The ShatterColors Standard Interview -- Author Version
© 2006 by Robert Scott Leyse

Lee Passarella Responses
© 2007 by Lee Passarella


About the Author

Lee Passarella acts as senior literary editor for Atlanta Review magazine and as associate editor for the new literary journal FutureCycle Poetry.

Passarella's poetry has appeared in many periodicals and ezines. Swallowed up in Victory, his long narrative poem based on the American Civil War, was published by White Mane Books in 2002. It has been praised by poet Andrew Hudgins as a work that is "compelling and engrossing as a novel." Passarella's poetry collection The Geometry of Loneliness (David Robert Books) appeared in 2006. His poetry chapbook Sight-Reading Schumann will be published by Pudding House Publications later this year.

Lee Passarella's website:


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