Saturday, November 18, 2023

Interview with Author Stephen C. Pollock




1. What inspired you to write this book?

Nearly all of the poems in Exits were written between 2003 and 2021, before the idea of authoring a book ever came to mind.  About two years ago, I decided to incorporate what I considered to be my best work into a book tentatively entitled Line Drawings.  However, during the process of selecting poems, I noticed that a substantial number were related to various aspects of human mortality.  This led me to curate a more concise, themed collection, and Exits was born.


2. What exactly is it about and who is it written for?

The poems in Exits explore the theme of mortality from a variety of perspectives — disease and decline, death and remembrance.  Many of the metaphors are drawn from nature.


During the writing process, the intended audience was always me, or to be more precise, the facsimile of me that constantly looks over my shoulder and critiques every line I draft.  The word ecstasy comes to mind.  It captures the elation I feel when a line finally comes together, but it derives from the Greek ek-stasis ― to stand outside of oneself.


There’s certainly nothing wrong with writing for a defined audience, or respecting the conventions of a particular genre, or exploring themes and issues that currently are in the public eye.  My approach happens to be different.  What matters most to me are the words on the page, how they sound in air, and meeting the aesthetic standards I set for myself.


3. What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?

I hope that readers will experience one or more of the following:


1)      enjoyment of the poems

2)      a renewed interest in poetic craft and form, and

3)      a deepened appreciation of the cycles of life, the potential for renewal, and how the inevitability of our demise can paradoxically confer meaning on our lives.


4. How did you decide on your book’s title and cover design?

An exit is a departure, an act of leaving.  It also can be a passageway from one place to      another.  The title is plural because the poems in the collection address a wide range of endings.  (In fact, the title of the poem “Leaves” is a double entendre that plays on this idea of ending and departing).


Designing the cover posed an enormous challenge but ultimately was very gratifying.  I hope that your readers will draw something of value from my admittedly lengthy summary of the design process.


The first step was to select a photo.  I knew I wanted a black-and-white image, so I reviewed hundreds of stock photos filtered by terms such as “mortality” and “death.”  Most of the options consisted of skulls or illustrations of the grim reaper, which seemed more appropriate for decorating a Halloween party.  However, when I came across this image of a bare tree against a threatening sky, I immediately gravitated toward its ambiguity.  Is the tree dead, or is it merely dormant?  Do the ominous clouds portend a storm?  I also loved how the main trunk contrasts with the lightest part of the sky.


The next step was to crop the photo for a 6" x 9" format, which I did in a way that preserved the visibility of both trunks but didn’t allow the tips of the branches to extend to the cover margins.


I then selected Adobe Caslon Pro as the font for the title.  (This is a contemporary version of the font originally designed by William Caslon, an eighteenth-century English typographer).  Consistent with all of the headings in the book, the title was rendered in all caps, with the first letter larger than the rest.  Note how the serif of the uppermost arm of the “E” points directly toward the serif of the adjacent “X.”


To the casual observer, all of the letters of the title are white.  But that’s an illusion.  All are shades of light gray, and each letter is a different shade.  My objective was to maintain consistent contrast across the title.  However, because the clouds become darker from left to right, the letters of the title had to do the same if they were to appear similar to an observer. 

The letters of the author’s name also employ a range of light grays in order to achieve the same effect.


Other features of the cover that required decision-making included:  the position of the title; the font sizes of the title (66 pt / 46 pt); the position, font style, and font size of the author name; and the distance between letters.  Regarding the latter, the “X” and the “I” in the title had to be separated by an additional 2 pt in order to keep their serifs from touching.


5. What advice or words of wisdom do you have for fellow writers – other than run!?

Write poems that represent your unique aesthetic sensibilities.  Try not to be overly influenced by prevailing trends or by contemporary poetic styles.


Edit mercilessly over an extended period.  Satisfying first drafts often begin to show their flaws only after sufficient time has elapsed to afford an objective assessment.


Begin your foray into publication by submitting poems to literary journals.  This will help you determine which of your poems resonate with experienced reviewers.  Before each submission, make sure that your poem is a good fit for the journal.


6. What trends in the book world do you see -- and where do you think the book publishing industry is heading? 

It’s no secret that the number of books published per year has been increasing.  With the rise in popularity of self-publishing and hybrid publishing, I see this upward trend continuing.  The positive consequences are that more writers have the opportunity to become published authors, and readers have more reading options than ever before.  The downside is that the industry has become more competitive, which translates to fewer average sales per book.


7. Were there experiences in your personal life or career that came in handy when writing this book? 

I can think of three experiences that, in the aggregate, almost certainly led to my focus on human frailty and the prospect of death.  First, I was raised without any religious training, so from a very young age, I was left on my own to ponder the enormity of the universe, time and eternity, and the meaning of existence.  Second, as a physician and neuro-ophthalmologist, I’ve cared for numerous patients with life-threatening and/or fatal diseases.  And third, since 1999, I’ve had to deal with the spinal cord variant of multiple sclerosis and the ramifications of that disease for life expectancy.


8. How would you describe your writing style?  Which writers or books is your writing similar to?

When I look back over my poetry oeuvre, I don’t perceive a single writing style.  On the contrary, the poems I’ve written run the gamut from received forms to invented forms to free verse to hybrid variants.  Accordingly, Exits isn’t reminiscent of books written by other poets.


One might reasonably assume that my influences would include certain historical and contemporary poets, along with their books of poems.  However, upon reflection, I realize that I’ve always been more interested in great poems than in the poets who wrote them.  Furthermore, only a limited number of poems comprise my list of “favorites,” and I suspect that it’s these works that have embedded themselves in my subconscious and constitute an eclectic influence on my writing:


The Weed                                                                 Elizabeth Bishop

The Man-Moth                                                         Elizabeth Bishop


The Second Coming                                                 W. B. Yeats


Design                                                                      Robert Frost

Stopping by Woods                                                  Robert Frost

A Patch of Old Snow                                               Robert Frost

The Road Not Taken                                                Robert Frost


Hope is the Thing with Feathers                              Emily Dickinson

I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died                             Emily Dickinson

I Felt A Funeral in My Brain                                   Emily Dickinson


Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird                Wallace Stevens


Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock                              T. S. Eliot


Viking Dublin:  Trial Pieces                                    Seamus Heaney


The Force That Through the Green Fuse                 Dylan Thomas

          Drives the Flower

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night                Dylan Thomas

Fern Hill                                                                   Dylan Thomas


Nick and the Candlestick                                         Sylvia Plath

The Moon and the Yew Tree                                    Sylvia Plath

The Applicant                                                           Sylvia Plath

Cut                                                                            Sylvia Plath


Song                                                                         Muriel Rukeyser


Convergence of the Twain                                       Thomas Hardy


The Flea                                                                    John Donne

A Valediction Forbidding Mourning                       John Donne


To His Coy Mistress                                                 Andrew Marvell


                      You, Andrew Marvell                         Archibald MacLeish

Ars Poetica                                                               Archibald MacLeish


Wish                                                                         Caitlin Doyle


Sonnet Nabokov                                                       Daniel Bosch


Whale Bone                                                              Steven Brown


9. What challenges did you overcome in the writing of this book?

The first hurdle was completion of the editing process, which I would describe as merciless.  As mentioned above, I’ve learned from experience that a satisfying first draft almost always begins to exhibit its flaws after sufficient time has elapsed to afford an objective assessment.  For example, the eight-line poem “(eclipse)” underwent nineteen revisions over nineteen years.  Most of the other poems in Exits were also revised over intervals of months to years.


The second major challenge ― one I hadn’t expected ― was the amount of time required to:  select the poems that would be included in the book; determine the order of poems; select the artwork; design the front and back covers; draft the “front material” (title page, copyright page, table of contents, and preface); select the font style and font sizes; and format the book’s interior.  Getting to the final product involved twenty-one print runs over a twelve-month period.


10. If people can buy or read one book this week or month, why should it be yours?

Exits will resonate with different people in different ways.  Some readers will gravitate to the visual imagery and nature metaphors.  Others will enjoy the wordplay.  Still others will find satisfaction in the resurrection of formal elements. Exits also speaks to the anxiety and angst of our present time.  It may provide some readers with fresh perspectives on human mortality, the cycles of life, and the possibility of renewal.

About The Author: Stephen C. Pollock is a recipient of the Rolfe Humphries Poetry Prize and a former associate professor at Duke University.  His poems have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals, including Blue Unicorn, The Road Not Taken, Live Canon Anthology, Pinesong, Coffin Bell, and Buddhist Poetry Review.  His poetry collection Exits (Windtree Press) received the Gold Medal for poetry in the Readers’ Favorite 2023 International Book Awards. For more information, please see:

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