Elizabeth Gunto, staff writer
MFA graduate Richard Garcia will read at Sage Café on April 5 at 8 p.m. He has published several books of poetry, including The Flying Garcias. Among many other awards, Garcia has won the Pushcart Prize and a fellowship for the National Endowment for the Arts. He was the Poet-in-Residence for the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for twelve years. In 1994, he graduated from Warren Wilson College Writer’s Program.
Elizabeth Gunto: What was your MFA experience like?
Richard Garcia: It was great. Warren Wilson College has the reputation as being one of the best, which is probably true. It has the highest turn-down rate. People who go to low-residency programs are people who are more independently minded, people who don’t fit the (usual) structure.
When I went there, I was fifty; it didn’t change my writing a lot.
The residency is, “go, go, go” with work, and then you have a dance! Tony and I had a dance to “Bad to the Bone.” At any college, at any age, you make long-lasting friends.
EG: What are your feelings about Warren Wilson?
RG: It will be my first time being back. It’s been about fifteen years. I had never been to the south before [coming to Warren Wilson]. The environment is fun, seeing piggies. It was just a little bit more primitive than it is now. Dorms didn’t have heating. People would try to heat their rooms with hairdryers.
EG: How would you describe your poetry?
RG: I’ve been called a magic realist and surrealist. I use a combination of serious and humorous in the work, and I’ve used formal and informal. It takes both to be more imaginative. I also write a lot of prose poetry.
EG: What are your thoughts on traditional poetry versus spoken word poetry? Where do you see contemporary American poetry going? What genres do you think are going to become popular?
RG: It’s never going to go away. There’s a movement called New Formalism, but all poetry is formal. You can’t write a grocery list without it having a form. People are always coming up with new forms. Like Ginsberg said, the mind is a shapely thing. Even with spoken word poets, they’re creating structures.
Contemporary poetry is going everywhere. There is no one type. Spoken word seems to be getting popular right now. Also one kind, I hear from good sources, is actually quite lucrative: novels in verse for young adults. One major mode I am not crazy about is creative non-fiction disguised as poetry. What you might call “the essay poem.”
EG: What do you think of the newer genres of writing?
RG: [There are] a lot of new things we don’t have names for. There are short-shorts, prose that doesn’t fit a category.
Also, a lot of new stories you could call tales. More mythic or fairy tales. [For example,] Willow’s Web Review has prose poems, memoirs with a lot of myths.
EG: What advice do you have for people about to graduate with a Creative Writing Degree?
RG: Get a job. It was Faulkner who said that habit is more powerful than talent or imagination. A lot of good writing is from habit. Routine can result in some of your best writing. Also, a lot of reading. A lot of my students aren’t well-read. Read and write. Stay in shape.
With fiction, more so because it’s a longer form. It takes more time.
EG: Which do you prefer, poetry or prose?
RG: I enjoy both. I don’t think about how they compare. I think about their origin, like Aesop’s Fables.
You might write poems and not know it. Dennis Johnson is a great poet and sonnet writer, even though he’s known for his novels. A lot of my students say that they don’t like sonnets [and then they] read something and love it and don’t even know that they were reading sonnets.
EG: Do you recommend an MFA program for aspiring writers?
RG: The MFA program has raised the bar for poets. I think poetry is more competitive now, in that there are many more good writers getting into it. I am not talking about raw talent, but just plain skill. But in most cases, talent is a concentrated substance: you only need a little bit. I have seen some very talented people blow it, and some people not quite so blessed get pretty far with hard work and good choices.
EG: What has your experience been working with publishers and trying to get your work out?
RG: I have a good publisher. It is hard to say. On one level it is easy to get published, on another level, it can be difficult. There are so many publishers on the web that it is actually easy for someone starting out to get published. But the trick is to get a good poem published in a journal you can be proud of. One thing I try to show my students is that publishing is marketing. So you have to be smart and methodical about it.