Lit Riot Press Interviews Paul David Adkins

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Lit Riot Press Interviews Paul David Adkins

Paul David Adkins attended Mercer University and Washington University. He then joined the US Army, serving for over 21 years. He toured Afghanistan once, as well as Iraq three times. Upon returning from Afghanistan, he began writing to process his war-time experiences. He enlisted the assistance of poet Kelli Russell Agodon, allowing him to better share his war-related work. Lit Riot Press published his debut collection La Doña, la Llorona in 2016, in 2017 Flying over Baghdad With Sylvia Plath and Operational Terms and Graphics, and a new anthology book October 2018 Dispatches from the FOB with all new poetry.

Adkins’ Chapbooks include Stick Up (Blood Pudding Press), The Great Crochet Question (Kind of a Hurricane Press), and The Upside Down House (Yellow Jacket Press). He works as a transition counselor and instructor within the SUNY University system, and has taught in a state penitentiary. He lives with his wife Melanie and children Lily and Malachi in New York. 

Lit Riot Press interviewed Paul David Adkins on writing as a part of daily life, authors and books, and the role of the writer in society.

On Authors and their Books

Lit Riot Press (LRP): Do you have a favorite author?

Paul David Adkins (PDA): It depends on specific time periods. When I began writing/reading poetry in high school in 1980, I read work by Weldon Kees and Amiri Baraka, both of whom unsettled and electrified my imagination, as to what could be subject matter. As I entered college, I expanded into reading authors like Adrienne RichMyra SklarewSusan Wood, and Jane Kenyon. In grad school, I was taken apart and rebuilt by the poetry of Lucia Maria PerilloChristianne Balk, and Lynn Butler. Currently, I’m humbled and honored to read Margaret Bashaar’s Hyacinth Girl Press chapbook releases, including those composed by Susan SlavieroSarah Kain Gutowski, and Sally Rosen Kindred. I would also be remiss if I did not mention the fires set inside my muse by the glorious work of Rebecca DunhamMartha Collins, Shelley PuhakCate Marvin and Rachel Contreni Flynn.

LRP: Is there one author who has influenced your writing more than any others?

PDA: As you ask for one author, I would have to list my editor Kelli Russell Agodon, out of Seattle. She took the hot garbage I plopped in her inbox, refocused it, and really showed me, “THIS is how to write a poem.” She also encouraged me to write reviews, conduct interviews, build a website, etc.; all the po-biz aspects I had never considered. Too bad I didn’t pay more attention in grad school to my excellent professors Eric PankeyDonald Finkel, and John Morris . . .

LRP: Do you think the relationships between authors and readers are changing?

PDA: In poetry, the readers and authors tend to be one and the same. I’m pretty sure we’re all just sitting around being amazed or appalled by each other’s work.

LRP: Have you noticed any difference in your own relationships with your readers?

PDA: What readers? Seriously, not really.

LRP: If you could express one thought to all your readers what would it be?

PDA: Don’t mistake me for the speaker. The muse speaks, I record, and then I wonder afterwards, how did she conjure all this poetry?

On Writing as Part of Daily Life

LRP: When do you write? Do you have a routine?

PDA: My routine is when I have time, normally between 9 pm and 1 am. It varies on weekends, of course, but weeknights it can be pretty late.

LRP: How do you begin a writing project?

PDA: By obsessing over it, investigating the subject matter, posting photos of it on Facebook and Twitter, writing others with similar interests, and, all the while, writing.

LRP: Do you keep notebooks? Use special paper?

PDA:  I have a really nifty, ergonomically-designed keyboard.

LRP: Do you listen to music when you write?

PDA: Not during the initial draft, but depending on the piece, I may listen while I edit to add a certain feel, sound or rhythm to the work. For instance, I played “Up, Up, and Away” by The Fifth Dimension approximately thirty straight times while editing a poem regarding the juxtaposition of the song while also hearing of the downing of B52s during the Vietnam War. By the way, the poem is still unpublished.

LRP: Do you share your writing while you are still writing or wait until you have a draft?

PDA: I usually write pretty intensely during the initial phases, so I compose and draft simultaneously, with the intent being that, by the end of the composition, I have something I can show or submit pretty much immediately. I am no stranger to rejection, so the negative responses are no big deal, usually.

LRP: What book or chapter of a book are you most proud of writing?

PDA: The latest one, always.

LRP: What cultural value do you see in writing/reading/storytelling/etc.?

PDA: For me, I’m a storyteller, primarily. How else to connect with an audience than to tell them something engaging, riveting, relatable? When I was serving in Iraq in 2004, I decided my primary responsibility as poet would be to chronicle my experiences there and present them as best as I could to my audience, hopefully a segment of Americans moved or motivated enough to effect changes against the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower advised us to shun and reject.

On The Role of the Writer in Society

LRP: What does it mean to be a writer in troubled times?

PDA: With the recent hostile takeover of one of our political parties, I think I have a responsibility to reconsider the effects of language on everyday events, from the monosyllabic utterances and gruntings of Donald Trump, to the eloquence of Barbara Jordan. As a wordsmith, I must speak on what moves me, what I consider important.

LRP:  How is your writing connected to present day events?

PDA: While I concentrate a great deal on events of the past (La Llorona, the Attica Prison Rebellion, the U-Boat offensive against the United States, the assassination of Congo president Patrice Lumumba), I attempt to make them pertinent to today. Many of these events I can link through memory to my parents, which makes their relevance even more pronounced. Even in 1966, 24 years after my mother witnessed a U-Boat sinking a tanker off Fort Lauderdale, I sensed the gravity of the event, forgotten by all but her, and yet, a pivotal, cathartic moment in her long life and, consequently, mine.

PDA: If you wrote a book about the future  — the way you imagine it will be — what kind of book would you write?

PDA: One where my descendants are pursuing the same sense of social justice my own parents and grandparents imperfectly yet permanently instilled in me.