interviewed by Tricia Louvar | photos by Rob Kerr
Carl Adamshick admits that he isn’t the best at interviews. He’s a poet, belonging to a camp of non-rambling words. His words unpack themselves, sometimes in short lines. Brevity belongs in his stanzas. Critics have labeled his poems introspective and conversational in tone. In “Layover” the poem starts: “They keep paging Kenneth Koch at the airport. /Someone should let the announcer know/he is dead, that there is no city he can go to,/ that no one is expecting him.” Adamshick’s work is approachable, grounded and humble, evidence of his Midwestern roots.
The Oregon Book Awards awarded Adamshick the Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry for his collection, Saint Friend (McSweeney’s). He’s the editor and publisher of Tavern Books, a recipient of the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for his collection Curses and Wishes (Louisiana State University Press), winner of the Literary Arts Oregon Literary Fellowship and published in many literary journals.
So, a writer and a poet walk into a bar
… And the bartender says, “Two narcissists coming right up.”
At what age did you write your first bad poem? And when did you realize it was bad?
I guess I would have been 21. I knew it was bad, almost immediately. Creativity and the process of making get me high. It’s not until the initial elation wears off that I can have a clear, sober view of what I have created. Then I look, hear and gauge its value. That’s all to say … twenty minutes … it took about twenty minutes to come down off the creative high and realize the poem I’d written was, at best, uninteresting.
What happened between the time you wrote that bad poem and when you wrote a poem that convinced you to keep writing poetry?
I don’t really know how this works. I didn’t really need convincing. I just liked writing. I enjoyed the practice. I still enjoy a pen and the prospect of covering a piece of paper with a bunch of marks.
Did a poem choose you, or did you choose it?
Tough to say. I think I stumbled upon poetry and then chose it. Every day, for years now, I’ve said ‘yes’ to its magnificence.
You come from the writing school of grit. Why did you opt out of the usual Master’s of Fine Arts road to creative writing?
I have a long history of not really liking or getting along with school—certainly my fault, not its.
When you’re walking down the street, what turns on your poet’s voice? Or do you operate in poetics at all times?
I like to think poet mode is actually reading and writing; that poet mode is actually working and crafting … not so much a lifestyle.
How do you know when you’re done writing a poem?
I don’t know how to answer that question. I guess, at some point, there just isn’t anything to do.
You left the Midwest for the West Coast. What keeps you in Portland; what is Portland doing right?
Describe the Oregon poetry scene now?
Pretty awesome. It spans generations—all publishing on a national level.
What are some ways we can all preserve book culture?
Stop watching sports. Stop watching shows that analyze sports.
What’s next for you? Working on another collection? Or …
Yep. My next collection is called Birches. It’s seventy pages of poetry about my mother’s time of dying.