Word warrior …
Thank God Jim Warner isn’t a salesman because I’m sure I would have coughed up most of my paycheck buying whatever products he was looking to unload. He talks about his life and his writing with such excitement and vigor, it’s all too easy just to sit back, watch his hands cut through the air and listen to the words roll off his tongue. The 36-year-old Danville native is the assistant director of the Wilkes University Graduate Creative Writing Program, has published two books, travels around the country performing poetry readings and also co-hosts a local poetry event with bookmarks columnist Amye Archer, Prose in Pubs, held at Jack’s Draft House in Scranton. He has been an adjunct professor at several schools: “Basically, wherever there was a text book and a student refusing to read English, I was there,” he said. And he’ll be in Chicago at the end of February hosting the slam night at The Association of Writers and Writing Programs Awards. He’s still weighing the pros and cons between Transformers vs. Gobots and hoping he never has to part ways with his ridiculously massive music collection. Claiming “it’s really hard to be dark and jaded when you’re rocking around in a ‘99 Buick Century.” Meet Jim Warner…
How did you develop such a passion for creative writing and poetry?
Poetry and music came together for me at the same time. I was obsessed with the music of Roy Orbison, Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. I got into writing because I knew that I couldn’t really sing. I played drums and knew I wasn’t a very good drummer either. I knew I wasn’t going to be Charlie Watts or Buddy Rich. I got my arm caught in an escalator in Washington, D.C. when I was 12. (Warner rolls up his sleeve with pride and shows off a serious scar). It broke my arm and I had two steel plates put in the top and bottom. At the time, the doctor said that I should do something to keep my arm and wrist active, so I started writing. My parents would leave the radio on at night and I remember waking up and hearing Orbison’s “Running Scared.” Just hearing this swell of emotion coming through the speakers, I remember the hair on the back of my neck standing up. I didn’t know what it was, but it was talking to a part of me I wanted to engage. It was something I needed to explore.
What’s the oddest piece you have written?
There was recently a symposium for judges at Lackawanna College and they wanted me to write a poem for the occasion. So, yeah, I was writing poetry for judges.
What stands out to you as a funny piece of your work?
There’s a poem called “Spring of 90” which is basically about how my mom used to drop me off at my bus stop because it was a 2-mile walk from my house. One day, for some reason, I thought it would be really funny if I hit the side of her mini-van and rolled into the neighbor’s yard like she had struck me. She stopped the car and freaked out. She got out of the car, realized that I was all right and kicked my ass as the school bus was pulling up to the bus stop. I guess that’s how life goes.
What stands out as a not-so-funny piece of your work?
That would be my second book, Social Studies. I wrote it at a time when I was really big into my sense, of who I am as a Filipino American. I never really talked about it growing up in a small town. It was just part of my life that I didn’t think about. But as I grew older, it became an active part of my life. I never really wrote about it until I did my thesis, a poetry cycle on autism. Toi Derricotte (an American poet and a professor of writing at University of Pittsburgh) said “this is good poetry, but let’s actually talk about you. You’re not present in these poems. Let’s make you present.” She really pulled that part out of me. In our writing program, we talk about having permission to write and giving yourself permission to write.
What are you working on now?
I just had a poem accepted in the North American Review (the oldest literary magazine in the U.S.) which I am very excited about. I also have two collections that I’m currently shopping around.
Tell us what artists inspire you.
As far as poetry goes, Toi Derricotte is at the top of my list. She is of mixed race and has this poem called “Passing,” which talks about her being able to pass as a white woman even though she is African American. To read her work in college and then have her turn around and say she wanted to work with me on my thesis was crazy. She has had such a huge influence on my writing in the past several years. Musicians like Paul Westerberg from The Replacements and Tom Waits were the first poets for me. I get inspiration from film and comic books as well. For me, those things have equal footing. I think you should be able to have a conversation with good poetry and art.
Tell me about Prose in Pubs.
I really like the idea of reading poetry in a bar. Good art needs to be out there in venues that aren’t your typical day to day venues. Having it in a place like Jack’s Draft House (in Scranton), which already has a great vibe to begin with, really helps us showcase local talent, but also draw talent from out of the area. It’s exposing poetry to a public that wouldn’t otherwise get it because they are not actively pursuing it. Good poetry performed is engaging and good poets are going to want to be there. Writing the poems is kind of the means to an end. Going out and doing the readings, that’s what it’s about.
Do you have any advice for new writers?
Give yourself the permission to write. Allow yourself to write whatever you need to write and not worry about editing it or what other people will say about the work. Get it out. Write what it is you need to get out.
— tom graham