The Art of Creativity: Nolcha Fox interviews John Yamrus

In a career spanning more than 50 years as a working writer, John Yamrus has published 35 books (29 volumes of poetry, 2 novels, 3 volumes of non-fiction, and a children’s book). He has also had nearly 3,000 poems published in magazines and anthologies around the world. A book of his Selected Poems was just released in Albania, translated into that language by Fadil Bajraj, who is best known for his translations of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bukowski, Ginsberg, Pound, and others.

His most recent book is Twenty Four Poems, published by Meat for Tea Press:

NF: Why do you write?

JY: Why do I write NOW? I’m 73 and I don’t know any better. Why did I START writing? It was pretty much the only way to meet girls. That, and the fact that I’m pretty much a loner and when I was a kid, when I wasn’t reading, it was something to do, and (like I said) it was a way to meet girls and I found out I was pretty good at it and you always take the easy road, don’t you? Least resistance?

NF: When do you write (set schedule, or as the ideas come)?

JY: I don’t know if it’s really a set schedule, but I’m down here – my writing room is in the basement, just off my library, which is where I should be writing, but I don’t. That room is floor-to-ceiling shelves of books on all four walls and really cool…there’s even a desk in there, but for some reason, I do my writing in the room next to it, where I have another desk and everything I need…so, to answer your question, I’m down here every morning, usually around 6:30 or 7, and maybe I’m not writing all the time, but at least I’m down here giving it a shot.

NF: I rely heavily on prompts to write poetry every day. What do you use?

JY: It used to be merlot and then for a couple of years it was tequila, but now it’s whatever it is that has me pissed off or has my attention in some kinda way. If you think about it, I guess that’s a kind of a prompt, but I really feel uncomfortable about doing things to order. I had an old folk-singer friend (who’s dead now) who used to say about himself ‘I ain’t no jukebox.’ His name was Bill James and he was a really good guy. He fell asleep in his car once. I don’t remember if he was drunk or high, but he was coming back from the market and he pulled over, and he spilled a quart of milk in the car and never cleaned it up, and the car stunk like crazy all that summer, and whenever he’d want to take us somewhere we’d always turn him down because that car smelled so bad. He was a good guy and a good singer, though. And he wasn’t ‘no jukebox’ and I guess I’m not either.

NF: You’ve told me, that to be successful, it’s important to do one thing every day. What is your list of things to do, and what is the priority of each?

JY: Regarding the writing? Of course, it’s to try and get something done…but I’m always trying to get the word out. I found out a long time ago that for some crazy reason publishers really do like writers who try and sell their books…who aren’t afraid to do some marketing…I know that sounds awful and inartistic and against all the things an artiste is supposed to be about, but it’s true…if you don’t get the books seen and talked about, you don’t get them sold, and if they’re not being sold, they’re not being read, and if that’s the case, you might as well give it up and go back to merlot and tequila and call it a day.

NF: You’re known (especially in recent years) for the brevity of your poems and the economy of your words. Do you care to elaborate?

JY: On the question or the poems? If you mean the poems, they’re probably gonna get even simpler and shorter as time goes on. I mean, poetry (by definition) is pretty much about saying as much as you can in as few words as possible. I never was a big explainer in my poems…I’ve always respected my reader in knowing that he or she or whatever pronoun I need to use is smart enough to figure out what I’m saying…there’s really no need for me to spell things out for the reader. In fact, bringing the reader into the poem, making them part of the process has made the writing so much easier and the final result so much better. Here’s an example…something I wrote just the other day:





Do you see what I’m saying? I could easily do a whole great big story in there, but it’s so much more effective if the reader gets to fill in the blanks.

NF: It seems you’ve been blessed with a series of fortunate events during your career, such as your Albanian connection. Please talk about how they came about, and how they impacted you.

JY: You’re talking about my new book that just came out this week in Albania…Poezite Qe Kullojne Gjak…I think the loose translation is something like Poems in Blood, which is not a bad title for a book…and I don’t even remember how that whole thing started. I don’t remember what brought me and Fadil (the translator) together. This is the second book of mine he’s translated and maybe we got together from some people I knew in Sweden or England…I don’t really remember and it doesn’t really matter…what DOES matter is that he’s a good guy and I trust him to take good care of the poems and do what he has to do to get them seen and read.

NF: Please talk about your greatest challenges.

JY: I’m 73 now and I don’t really have any challenges…maybe keeping myself motivated, but so far that hasn’t been a problem. I always worried that maybe I’d run out of things to write, but I was wrong about that. Right now, it seems that there’s so much stuff to write about that I gotta make myself stop writing just so I could get on with everything else I gotta do in the day.

NF: What are you writing now?

JY: More poems. There are always more poems. And like I said, I don’t need prompts, because they’re always just there and all I gotta do is make sure I’m sitting down somewhere, someplace so I can grab them out of the air when they come floating by.

NF: Do you have any new projects in mind, and if so, what are they?

JY: Well, later this morning I gotta put together a piece of lawn furniture we just got, and after that, I have to get rid of the dog poop in the yard, but I guess you’re talking about writing projects, and the next writing project is pulling together my next book of poems which is set for release somewhere around November 15th, but that’s down the road, and even though I work on that every day, right now I’m also trying to get the word out on my latest book, which is Twenty Four Poems, from Meat For Tea Press, and don’t ask me how they came up with that name for the press, cuz I forget and it doesn’t matter. What does matter is they’re good people and they believe in me and what I’m doing and that’s good. What’s also good is me getting to talk to you because you’re fun and different and in the few years that I’ve known you, I’ve seen that you’re one of the ones who gets it…you know how to write and you know what it’s about and you know how to get the job done. So, if you ever want to do this again…just me and you talking…all you gotta do is ask. Just say the word and I’m there.