Robert Milby, of Florida, NY has been reading his poetry in the Hudson Valley and beyond since March, 1995. He hosts 3 Hudson Valley poetry series: Florida Library Poetry Café in Florida, NY, Noble Coffee Roasters in Campbell Hall, NY and Mudd Poets Poetry series at Mudd Puddle Café, New Paltz, NY. He has been published widely in several dozen magazines and 12 anthologies. He and Carl Welden are the poetry and Theremin duo, Theremin Ghosts! haunting the Hudson Valley each October since 2003. Robert wrote the column Poets Comitatus: Dead Poets of the Hudson Valley, for Heyday Magazine. He was also co-founder and a board member of the Northeast Poetry Center’s College of Poetry workshop series at Seligmann Estate in Sugar Loaf, NY. Robert’s first book of poetry is Ophelia’s Offspring (FoothillsPublishing, 2007). His 2nd book, Victorian House: Ghosts and Gothic Poems—publication…still… pending. He is the author of several chapbooks and cds. Most recent chapbook: Crow Weather (Fierce Grace Press, 2009). http://www.robertmilby.com/
Interview with g emil reutter
GER: Will Nixon has said you are the hardest working poet in the Hudson Valley. Tell us about the Hudson Valley poetry scene and how you find the time to host and read at its many venues?
RM: The Hudson Valley poetry scene stretches, from Westchester County, up past Albany, NY. This is excluding the NYC poetry circuit (is far too large and diverse to discuss here). Albany’s poetry scene is massive as well, but I am more familiar with it.
There is a strange absence of younger poets today. I began reading my poems and the works of the greats, in public, back in March, 1995, when I was turning 25. I sought out readings all over the Valley, and found that there was a great variety of poets, yet, there tended to be large and consistent groups of of high school, college, grad students, and in general, young poets in addition to the prevalent middle-aged and elders.
After 6 months of reading at as many poetry open mics as I could(in galleries, coffeehouses, cafes, bookstores, libraries, bars) I began hosting a poetry series with a group of young poets at The Beatnik Hollow in Wappingers Falls, NY. My travelling group (poets I had met around the Valley in spring and summer of ’95), Omniscient Omnibus, gradually became well-known as an official group of poets with aims of publication and featured readings. We decided to look for venues to host readings at. I found The Beatnik Hollow, having heard about on a radio broadcast.
The poetry scene itself was rich and exciting in the pre-Internet, and cell phone days. The ‘Net was relatively new back in 1995–many did not have access to it in my region. We drew up fliers by hand; folks did them on computers, and we hung them around the region. There were not as many poetry readings back then in the mid-lower Hudson, but those well-attended readings, were solid. These days, we have more readings in the Hudson Valley–many are excellent, but often, there are no young poets, whatsoever. This is not only unsettling, but also serving to be a problem now, and a crisis in the future. Without the freshness, innovation, intellect, and passion of the young, poetry readings become too relaxing and dry up. Not to say that older poets are not or can’t be exciting. But often, in the Hudson Valley region, there is a lack of intensity that is crucial for poetry readings to thrive. That lack is due to the absence of young poets.
I have hosted 26 poetry series since September, 1995; 27 if I count my current co-hosting of the venerable Calling All Poets series at the Howland Center in Beacon, NY. 4 years ago I was hosting 8 regular series. No young poets were–only middle-aged and geriatric poets. Currently, I host 3, and I co-host the Calling all Poets series. I have the time because I do freelance during the day, and interview people for a small, local arts paper; teach workshops, in addition to hosting readings and setting up readings for myself and many others, all over the Hudson Valley, NYC, and beyond.
I am a grass-roots poet. I “hold” a library card. I buy used books at book sales. New books at indie bookstores, when able. I do not have a Bachelor’s Degree. Younger poets need to put in their biography which poets have stirred their hearts and minds, taught them how to see the world; venerate Freedom and Love; not where they got the MA, MFA , or PhD, in English.
Why does it matter, when a poet is pouring out her or his heart on stage, which degree they “hold,” or where they went to college to buy the expensive degree(s)? Degrees are more important in secret societies or some job interviews, not to determine a poets’ credibility–only they can do that, by sharing their work in public and with publishers.
GER: You grew up on Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Matthew Arnold and Alfred Lord Tennyson. How have they influenced you?
RM: The Romantics (English, French, German Russian, Italian) and the Victorians, and Pre-Raphaelites are my chief influences for poetry.
I respect the Dadaists, Avant-Guard, Surrealists, the Beats, the New York School, but do not rely on them, nor do I return that often to them.
Modern poets such as Teasdale, Yeats(who was a late Victorian then, a modernist) Millay, Wallace Stevens, Vachel Lindsay, DH Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Maxwell Bodenheim, Amy Lowell, Robinson Jeffers, Hilda Doolittle, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Heaney, McGuckian, Paul Durcan, Michael Longley, Carl Sandburg, Hart Crane, Harry Crosby, Rilke, TS Eliot, Spender, Milosz Frost, Ransom, C. Day-Lewis, MacLeish, Merrill Moore, Anne Sexton, Lorca, Gottfried Benn, Robert Lowell, Philip Larkin, Fernando Pessoa, Theodore Roethke, Randall Jarrell, WC Williams, Delmore Schwartz, Maire Brennan, Harry Chapin, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and others.
Novelists: Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins, the Brontes, Anthony Trollope, Jane Austen, George Elliot, Victor Hugo, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and others of the late 18th, and entire 19th century are my chief novelist interests.
Modern Novelists: Ian McEwan, Arturo Perez Reverte, Hesse, Kafka, Umberto Eco, Tracy Chevalier, Steinbeck, Agatha Christie, Caleb Carr.
GER: There was a recent article asking where the poets have gone on social issues. You consider yourself a political and social writer of social consciousness. Where do you fit in the modern poetry scene and are poets addressing social issues ?
RM: I began, when I started writing poetry ( June, 1987) and remain a political and social-conscious poet. I feel that my political poetry is effective and often a vanguard for younger poets to heed. No. There are not enough poets writing political and socially-relevant work. Public schooling, main stream mass-media, and electronics are the reason younger people/poets do not engage. How ironic!
GER: Your first full book of poetry Ophelia’s Offspring was released in 2007. Share with us how the collection developed?
RM:Ophelia’s Offspring(Foothills Publishing, June 2007) is a sampling of my diverse interests(Literature, politics, social consciousness, ecology, male-female relationships, family, gothic, ghosts, life and death matters. I did not write specifically for that manuscript, per se; rather, I compiled older and newer poems, such as one written when Clinton was in his 2nd term, several penned as a result of US politics during and after 9/11, Katrina, a near fatal car accident I suffered while rushing to host a poetry reading series back in November, 1995, a few about ex-girlfriends, one about an ex-fiancé, etc.)
GER: You have said you see a decided lack of originality in a lot of modern poetry. Please expand on this?
RM: I see a lack of originality in modern poetry for one reason and one reason only: Younger and older poets are not reading the Classics and contemporary poets to the degree that I hoped they would. A poet needs to study the classics, and explore contemporary poets.to shape their own vox as a writer.
GER: As a poet who performs frequently in the Hudson Valley scene and who tours other states what value do you place on performance?
RM: I enjoy reading in states outside of my home state, New York. Performance is vital. To paraphrase the great Harry Chapin: “You must seduce the audience over and over.” It is important to keep the crowds’ interest. A poet can connect with his or her audience in many ways. It is up to the novice and/or younger poet to go to readings and study the poet onstage. Take notes if need be.
GER: Please share with us your experience as a touring poet?
RM:My experiences as a touring poet, whether each October with Thereminist, Carl Welden performing as Theremin Ghosts! Visiting colleges such as Vassar, SUNY Oneonta, SUNY Oswego, etc. An alternative community in upstate VT, Boston, Cambridge, Lennox, Mass. Sites in CT, NJ, NYC, Saratoga Springs, Long Island, Northeastern PA, have all enriched my writing, mind, and purpose as a poet–to show that poetry is crucial to the human condition, now more than ever in America.
Tell us about the collaboration that brought about the book Ghost Prints?
RM: Ghost Prints. I am friends with Hudson Valley horror novelist, Jason Gehlert. I have had him as a featured reader on several occasions headlining my poetry venues, interviewed him for the Delaware and Hudson CANVAS(Bloomingburg, NY) and he thanked me by inviting me to contribute some of my ghost and gothic poems and prose poems to Ghost Prints(Black Bedsheet Books, Antelope, California, 2010)
GER: You currently lead the Northeast Poetry Center’s College of Poetry Workshop. What do you learn as a workshop leader and what are the benefits to poets who attend?
RM: The Northeast Poetry Center’s College of Poetry workshop and readings series was founded in early 2009 by poet William Seaton, poet and bookstore owner Steven Calitri, and myself, to further the development and celebration of the written and spoken word in the Hudson Valley, NY. We operated out of Calitri’s then-successful/now defunct indie bookstore, Baby Grand Books in downtown Warwick, NY. One of our Board members and major supporter–was peformance poet, educator, fiction writer (and good friend of Musician/Singer-Songwriter, Patti Smith) Janet Hamill. We had a successful run of workshops, famous guest poets such as Ed Sanders(of the Fugs), academic Robert Kelly, Beat and Beat-influenced poet the late Janine Pommy-Vega, poet and owner of the Bowery Poetry Club, Bob Holman, Irish poet, Eamon Grennan, The NPC/College of Poetry has served its purpose and is coming to an end in early December, 2014, after a 5 year run.
Not every poet would enjoy workshops, but I find, after leading many of them since the late 1990’s, that they can be a great resource, inspiration, and motivation for novice and younger poets to develope their crafts, enjoy supportive feedback, and find their voice as a poet. Older poets who may need some brushing up on skills, outreach, and credibility will find this at good workshops. A successful poetry workshops inspires, teaches, and helps to discover courage and encourage freedom in the young, novice, and older poets.
GER: What current poets have influenced you and why?
RM: Current poets: Seamus Heaney(recently deceased) WS Merwin, and several others of international reknown. Currrent and former NY state poets who consistently inspire and influence: Skip Leon, Ken Van Rensselear, Carl Welden, Arthur Joseph Kushner, Steve Hirsch, Bonnie Law, William Seaton, Guy Reed, Janet Hamill, Christopher Wheeling, Adrianna Delgado, Barbara Adams, Irene O’Garden, Christopher P. Gazeent, Ken Holland, Chris Wood, Rebecca Schumejda, Mona Toscano, Haigan Smith, Dominic Melita, Mauro Parisi, Mike Jurkovic, Jim Kenny, Glen River, Jim Eve, Glenn Werner, Raphael Kosek, Will Nixon, Frank Boyer, Marina Mati, Gordon Riggs, Roberta Gould, Teresa Costa, Donald Lev(of Home Planet News), David Kime, Walter Worden, Cheryl Rice, Wynn Klosky, Led Klosky, Ted Gill, Franklin Schneider, John Douglas. These local poets and the aforementioned famous poets inspire me with their humanity and courage.
GER: What projects are you currently working on?
RM: Current projects: Theremin Ghosts! Poetry and Theremin performance with Carl Welden, who plays Theremin, to support my ghost poems, and Christopher Wheeling–Geist host. We are on the 12th Annual Hudson Valley, NY Tour, October, 2014. I read the ghost poems, Welden plays Theremin in front of crowds of all sizes.
Working with Calling All Poets, Inc. as a poetry series co-host and Board Member. The CAPs poetry series, one of the oldest in the Hudson Valley, meets 8pm on First Fridays at Howland Center, Main St. Beacon, NY. We are over 15 years old, and host at a popular reading site in the Valley, Howland Center (historic landmark, 1872).
Also, I am working on a novel about French poet, Baudelaire. Hosting my three, regular poetry series at Mudd Puddle Cafe, in New Paltz, NY, The Florida Public Library in Florida, NY, and Noble Coffee Roasters, in Campbell Hall, NY. And daily writing: journal, poems, fiction.
The poetry of Robert Milby is forthcoming in the Autumn 2014 edition of The Fox Chase Review
-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA) http://gereutter.wordpress.com/