Howie Good on intersection of poetry, journalism



Howie Good


While Good was working at newspapers in the 1970s and ’80s, he was scribbling verse on the side. He dropped the poetry when he turned to academic writing, but about 10 years ago he gave it another try. Now poetry is basically all he writes. Good, who is also a journalism professor at the State University of New York at New Paltz, has released four full poetry collections (with a fifth, “Cryptic Endearments,” coming soon) and about 40 shorter chapbooks. He will read at the Out of the Blue Gallery in Cambridge Friday as part of the Dire Literary Series.

Q. What inspired you to pick up poetry again?


A. I’d played out my research interests in journalism scholarship and I wanted to do things that were more, I guess, free and personal. A lot of my scholarly writing I tried to infuse with a personal style, which goes against the whole grain of academe. It often left people kind of puzzled. I was always a poet trapped in academic gown.

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Q. How has your work in journalism influenced your poetry?

A. It has a lot to do with my use of language. Journalism has an emphasis on compression, clarity, urgency — all values that I’ve carried into my poetry, but I’ve transformed within the framework of a poem. . . . Those values get refracted through my personal sensibility and experience.

Q. Does your experience in a field that stresses clarity make you wary of writing heavily metaphorical poetry?

A. As much as my journalistic background has grouped me a certain way, I’m also in rebellion against it. I’ve been so indoctrinated in clarity and incisiveness that it can be frustrating. I try to liberate myself from that and derange my senses.


Q. How about the opposite direction? How does poetry influence your journalism?

A. I can’t separate which way the influence is flowing. I think there’s a knot, a tie there. Often my subjects, the things I actually write about, are crossroads of personal and political, the private and historical. I think that’s the result of poetry and journalism flowing together.

Q. Reading your poems, there’s a sort of despondency to your style.

A. To the extent I’m known anywhere, [my work] is looked at as being sort of dark or shadowy, and somewhat surreal.

Q. Do you agree with that view?


A. In many of the poems — well, at least in some of them — there’s an opportunity for redemption through love. And when things are really bad, sex. [Laughs]

‘Often my subjects . . . are crossroads of personal and political, the private and historical. I think that’s the result of poetry and journalism flowing together.’

Q. Tell me about your last release, “Dreaming in Red.”

A. The title is a good summary of what the poems are about. You can find refuge in a dream, but our own reality is more dreamlike than substantial. Red can be looked at in a lot of different ways: blood and violence, but also something brilliant and entrancing. It’s published by Right Hand Pointing. The proceeds are going to The Crisis Center in Birmingham, Ala., [a facility that] counsels suicide risks and troubled teens.

Q. What drew you to give to an Alabama-based organization?

A. Dale [Wisely, editor of Right Hand Pointing,] is on the board. This is one of the things that’s really amazing about writing poetry today. There’s this whole community online. I don’t know Tim Gager [who runs at the Dire Literary Series at the Out of the Blue Gallery], but he knows me through the Internet. . . . I met Dale the same way.

Q. You haven’t had a journalism job since the 1980s. How do you approach teaching it?

A. Even if I had been in journalism for a while longer, I would still be presented with enormous challenges. The last five years, the whole profession has been turned upside down. In some ways it’s been an advantage. The longer I’ve been away from it the more detached and dispassionate I’ve been about it, and I’m able to see the mechanisms of journalism as a professional and cultural artifact. But it does help to have been in a newsroom. . . . What ends up happening, you understand how it works from the inside but you’re not emotionally involved. You can be a lot more incisive with your critique and you don’t feel your status or your ego is at risk.

Andrew Doerfler

Interview has been condensed and edited. Andrew Doerfler can be reached at [email protected]