Justin Evans–Poet, etc.

Okay, finally I’m posting my interview with JUSTIN EVANS. Among other books, he has written a fine chapbook called Gathering up the Scattered Leaves. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I admire anyone who’s great at their craft and as you will see from this interview with Justin, his poetry is worth reading and his thoughts about writing are worth reading about.  Please leave questions and comments for Justin and be sure to buy his book–it’s linked above–and visit his website at Untalented Writer. And as you’ll see at his blog, he’s a fantastic photographer as well.

I adore your chapbook called Gathering up the Scattered Leaves. Part of the reason I like it so much is that it feels accessible to me. I hope that’s not an insulting statement—to say that I think your work is easy to understand (I feel like poets want us to be confused or have to break out the aspirin to get through a poem) but that’s what I love about your poems—I feel like I’m there with you. I guess my question is—what is a poet’s goal in writing? Is it just to have beautiful words flow off the tongue—to push us to consider life more deeply—or is it simply the way you see the world?


A really good question, so I hope you don’t take my time in answering it.  First, I am flattered that you enjoy my poetry so much.  It means a lot to me.  It certainly isn’t an insult to call my poetry accessible.
Certainly, it is part of a poet’s goal to have you ‘with us’ as you read our poems.  Another goal is to actually get our poetry out there to be read.  I know a lot of people, mostly students, who want to be anonymous with their poetry.  They want the feeling of safety which comes with being out of the range of criticism.  I think anyone really serious about writing poetry wants to put it out there.   A poet wants to share, connect, and be a part of the human experience.  So many people, and poets are guilty of this as well, want to separate poets from the larger part of society, but this is a recent development.  It used to be much easier to have poetry published and read.  This also ties into the accessibility issue as well, because beginning with the Moderns (Pound, Eliot, Woolf, Joyce, Beckett, etc) the goals of writing, rather than just the strategy, shifted somewhat.  

What we are left with is a group of people who walked willingly into a whole list of stereotypes.  Poets drink expensive coffee, wear turtlenecks and berets,

We write with odd line breaks
and that makes us
And our poems
are poems
because we say they are. 
If you can’t see that, then that’s
your fault
and you should
at least pretend you understand.


I think it’s a shame that poets have been pigeon-holed such, and I think it’s a shame so many people interested  in writing poetry these days feel they have to be vague and confusing if they are going to be poets.  The whole point of poetry is to be as precise as you can be.  I don’t want to push anyone to believe anything or consider life in any particular way.  I want to show the world this is how I feel, what I am thinking.  I want to share.

When did you first consider yourself a poet?

Tough question.  I first began experimenting with poetry when I was about 15.  I wrote these little 4 line quatrain style poems, which rhymed ‘abab’  and gave them to girls I wanted to impress.  I did that for about a year or so, but I began to write for myself a bit more.  I started to experiment with cut-up technique and expanding my writing.  By the time I was 20, I was submitting my poetry to journals and getting some pretty strong hate mail from editors.  At the age of 20, I was certain it was a matter of nly a few years before I would have my first book of poetry written and be poetry’s new little darling.  Then I did something revolutionary.  I started to read.  Up till about the age of 20, I was too busy writing poetry to ever think I needed to read it.  One of the biggest mistakes I have ever made with my poetry was not reading for ten years before I wrote a single poem.  

A much easier question to answer is when I became serious about my poetry.  I think it happened in Cedar City, at SUU.  I owe that to Dave Lee.  In fact I owe so much to him as a poet I can’t imagine I would still be writing if it wasn’t for his influence.  I think I would have had too much of the wrong idea abot poetry and would have given up.

To answer your question in a straight forward manner, I sometimes think myself a poet, and at other times simply a guy who happens to write poetry.  I still struggle with that question to this day.

What is your writing process like?

I don’t write nearly as much as I should.  Good poetry, bad poetry, it’s all the same when it comes to the writing process.  I simply don’t write enough.  I still get hung up on writing ‘good’ poetry every time out of the gate, when I should let happen what needs to happen. 

I will write a lot at once, and then go months with a mere trickle.  For example, I wrote at least one poem a day for the month of April.  It’s August now, and I have written maybe two or three poems (and it is very likely that none of them will see the light of day) since I did all that writing for National Poetry Month.

I have been fortunate that a lot of my poems come to me almost entirely complete.  I am able to draft most of my poems in one sitting.  After that, I can let them sit a while and wait for me to return and work them.   The idea will simply strike like lightning and I either write it down right away and get working, or I keep it going in my head until I get a chance to get going.  It really can add up to be an inconvenience to the people around me.

I like to type out my poems because I have such horrible handwriting I have a difficult time reading it myself.  I also have this obsessive-compulsive thing about clean paper, so I can simply cut or delete stuff that isn’t working and I don’t feel guilty about wasting paper.

How do you fit writing into your teaching and family life?

I am actually a more productive poet when I am busy.  I have no idea why that is, but I have actually written some of my favorite poems at awkwardly busy moments.  I will be completely occupied with something else, and a poem will hit me.  I have to stop everything to get it down in a form I can return to later on.  Being married and being a teacher really don’t play into my being a poet.  I think they flavor the kind of poems I write at times.  I mean if I wasn’t married, I wouldn’t write about my boys or Becky.

What do you like most about being a poet?

I love the act of creation.  I wish there was some other, edgier answer than that, because that would make me sound really cool.  The truth is, poetry has a high failure rate.  On the one hand, not everyone can do this.  I don’t say that to be cruel or defensive of poets, just realistic.  I mean, I would like to play guitar or saxophone, but I can’t.  My cousin was an amazing pitcher and quarterback in high school.  I would have loved to have had his talent, but I don’t and never did.  I have poetry.  On the other hand, you are constantly being rejected by editors and other poets who do not like what you write.  I lie that this is something at which I can occasionally succeed.  With poetry, I feel as if I have something to bring to the world and contribute.


Did you set out to write the particular set of poems that make up Gathering up the Scattered Leaves and then write them, or did you just find that you’d written around a particular theme and decide it was time for a Chapbook?

I set out to write this book.  I wanted to write about my home town and make the town itself the principal character.  The process was completely different from any I was used to.  Before, with my first chapbook, I came to the concept about midway through the process.  The same with the full length book I have, and the third chapbook I completed—all written and then shaped.  With this particular book, I wanted to do it and set out to write the poems.  That’s why so few of the poems were previously published.  They weren’t meant to stand alone.

What are you working on now?

I am working on getting my full length book ready for another round of submissions.  I have two presses I will send it to, and if it doesn’t get picked up by either ( a very real possibility) I think I will have to shelve the whole thing, as it isn’t the sort of book most any press would be interested in publishing. 

Other than that, I am just trying to get back into the swing of writing.  I’ve been reading a lot of poetry I would not normally consider, which is a lot of fun.   But no, I don’t have any projects going on right now.  Well, nothing past the ‘that would be sooooo cool’ point.

Is it as much fun to live with the witty and brutally honest Becky the Absent-Minded Housewife as I imagine it would be? She never fails to make me laugh with her posts and creativity.

Becky is without a doubt the smarter one.  One of the reasons she is so great on her blog is that she is an artist.  She has the ability of abstract thought and can make those connections.  Where I will occasionally come up with something witty to say on my blog, Becky looks at the blog as a constant medium.  I look at my on-line diary writing as a means to be connected with the poetry community, and reflects as much, but it doesn’t make for the kind of dynamic event Becky created with all of her posts.

We are constantly arguing about who has the best sense of humor.  It’s an argument she is losing constantly, and I feel sorry for her at times.  But the fact is, Becky is my first reader, and she’s a pretty good one at that.  She has a great sense of what works and what doesn’t, and I need her honesty to help me be a better writer.

Thanks so much, Justin. If there’s anything you want to talk about that I didn’t ask, just plug it in and I’ll add it. Thanks again for doing this, you’ll be adding a layer of class and scholarlyness to the old blog.

Thank you for this.  It’s a really important part of the process of a poet to continually re-evaluate one’s position and ideas as a poet. 
Here is a link to some of Justin’s poetry from April…he indicates that he can’t be held to the quality as these aren’t finished products…but they sure are good…
 Becky the Absentminded Housewife,  


Pre-Dawn:  Three Sisters

I am awake hours before the sun,                                                                                         

looking at the dark shadow                                                                                                            

that is my mountain.  It’s hulking curve                                                                                

lumbers and shifts slightly                                                                                                             

with my every breath.

Whenever I come back to this place 

After years of absence, it is the mountains                                                                                     

that startle me the most, their size                                                                                                 

always shrinking in my mind                                                                                                           

like the old memory of a broken arm.

Though the minutes pass slow                                                                                                      

it is time well spent, waiting                                                                                                          

with the world as it shakes off the night,                                                                                    

small details quietly gathering                                                                                                     beneath the shirt tails of morning.


3 thoughts on “Justin Evans–Poet, etc.

  1. It’s good to have you back, Kathie!

    What Justin Evans wrote about expensive poets being into coffee, berets and turtlenecks made me smile; I would add funny little cigarettes. These were de rigeur for would-be poets back when I was at university — Indonesian, I think they were, flavored with cloves and other spices. And boy, did they ever stink.

    I also appreciate what he wrote about (inferior) poets expecting their poetry to resonate whether it makes sense or not. Poetry ought to be accessible without being over-the-top obvious, and there is nothing that smacks more of exclusive bull than a poet ranting about insensitive readers who fail to understand his/her art. I will look up Evans’ ‘Untalented Writer’ site.

  2. Yes, Jennifer, I am…check Justin’s work out.
    Mary, I liked what Justin had to say about understanding poetry, too. I went to a critique conference this summer and was in a session with a poet who also wrote very acessible and beautiful poetry. The entire time (most of us non poets) we kept saying, “well, we aren’t poets, but that line is great.” and the poet would say “well, my critique group at home thinks I’m too transparent…” and so it went. We loved it, but her prior feedback was in a totally different direction. Maybe it’s about considering the audience. Do you want to sell something beautiful and understandable to the masses or something beautiful to three people. Or maybe none of that’s the point…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.