Terrie Leigh Relf: What types of writing do you do?
John Reinhart: I write poetry. I’ve dabbled in short stories, distantly pondered novels, but I am a poet first and foremost. I am an editor for the Poetry Nook Weekly Contest. I am also a Frequent Contributor at the Songs of Eretz Poetry Review, and a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association.
Relf: What is your area of subject matter expertise? How did you discover this niche? What intrigues you about it?
Reinhart: I have primarily found poetic footing in the so-called speculative realm – sci-fi/fantasy/horror. I once read science-fiction voraciously, probably starting with Jay Williams’s Danny Dunn books. I drifted away and had no idea such a thing as sci-fi poetry even existed until my father-in-law invited me to a writer’s group while I happened to be visiting from across country. One of the writers there suggested one of my poems had a sci-fi tinge to it. I began to explore and I have been published in every issue of Star*Line and Scifaikuest since.
Naturally, I write on other themes. My first chapbook, encircled, is focused on the people who encircle me – my family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, even a rhinoceros at the Denver Zoo. As a collage artist, I am also fascinated with all variety of found poetry.
Reinhart: I write at red lights, on napkins, in blood, whenever my attention is not otherwise occupied and very often when it is, finding those minutes between the seconds that illuminate the corners of existence we cannot see in the neon. I work full-time as an arsonist, which is not all games, but requires a lot of responsibility, too. At home, though, I continue to spark flames in certain corners; I spend most of my time gluing things together. With three children, a plethora of animals, a yard that is mostly flowers and food, balance is a 1,000-foot trapeze act.
Relf: What tips do you have for other writers and/or editors?
Reinhart: Tips are great. They’ll rarely pay the bills. Write because it’s important (it is). There are no other rules than Keats’s reminder that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Relf: What are your thoughts on the creative process in general and your creative process in particular?
Reinhart: The creative process is bollocks. Art is life if life can articulate itself.
Relf: Where do your ideas come from?
Reinhart: In need of a quick distraction while waiting for supper, I whispered in Mattheus’s ear,“Elephants on bicycles,” a silly image, enough to make him smile, forget for a moment his complaining belly. The storm took hold. Family friendly, dinner time fun for everyone, whispering in each other’s ears a variety or two of surreal, absurd, or just plain silly images. I should have invented this long ago to develop prompts. Mattheus devised some doozies, but the one that stood out was when he whispered, “Universe in a toilet.”
Now, if I may borrow a concept from Andrei Codrescu, who in turn attributes it to Romanians waiting in long lines; there are two ways to consider this statement: the universe is already in the toilet and is presumably headed down; or, there is a not-ours universe surprisingly occupying the toilet, and not in the way that Uncle Gino does after meatloaf; though, I suppose the effect is comparable because what would it do to an entire universe if someone thoughtless peed on it? Option 1: uncanny because at times this is exactly what I think, which is why I try not to watch TV or listen to the radio or read the news (however much I would like to add “paper,” I just can’t because the glory days of newsprint are past us however much those journalists do continue to churn out strong stories now and then – I’ll put that time machine on my wish list right after the trolley car) and so it’s as surprising as it is not surprising that this uncanny eldest child of mine should pick such imagery. Lighthearted and deadly serious.
The other option brings pictures unfortunately not of my own making – they might have been had Mattheus been born earlier or Neil Gaiman less creative – but the universe in the toilet conjures TARDIS-like imagery of the “Ocean at the End of the Lane,” the endless possibilities presented by one simple universe lodged in the bowl of my toilet, the same toilet, I might add, I installed by myself, the efficient one that came with a rebate. Does that make me some sort of god? In the eyes of my children, and given the fact that I know almost nothing about plumbing, perhaps a successful toilet installation is enough to gain divine status, and I’ve been to The Plumbing Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts, a veritable shrine to the U-bend, the trap, and sweat. My uncle’s a plumber that I’d sign off to install a statue of him in the park around the corner, though, personally, I’ll wait for my gravestone to give pigeons a perch; anyway, one toilet’s not likely to land me a seat on Olympus, where the gods must look down through the swirling clouds and argue whether the clouds swirl clockwise or counterclockwise depending on which hemisphere you rule.
So we made it to supper without a meltdown, this six-and-a-half-year-old with one loose tooth, the adult Stonehenge creeping in behind, bulbs planted in fall blossom into daffodils, new teeth, real chompers, real excitement for the bees, another time travel wish, the thought brewed behind the scenes, what if there is a universe in our toilet, a portal of potential, or maybe it’s a homeless universe, a down-on-its-lucker far from home without bus fare or struggling uphill against self-destructive tendencies, maybe just looking for a hand out.
Reinhart: Eclectic begins to describe my publications. I orbit the sci-fi world, but have found my work in such publications as the Open Thought Vortex, Moon Pigeon Press, FishFood Magazine, Punchnel’s, Fleurs du Mal, Of/wish Magazine, Zerogreen Magazine, Inwood Indiana, and others.
I always have upcoming work with the Songs of Eretz, Star*Line, Scifaikuest, and a couple anthologies, Starward Tales from Manawaker Studio, and the Nordland Publishing Northlore Myth Anthology. My second chapbook, Horrific Puncuation, is due out from Tiger’s Eye Press later this year.
I have been nominated for Dwarf Stars Award the last two years and was nominated for Rhysling Award this year. I have won the Poetry Nook Weekly Contest seven times (before I joined the contest editorial board). Most recently, I was awarded the Dark Poetry Scholarship from the Horror Writers Association.
Relf: What are you working on now?
Reinhart: I have about five manuscripts of quite varied work that I am polishing and shopping around for publishers. In addition to poetry, I am a collage artist. My work was on display in the historic Santa Fe Drive Arts District in Denver last fall. I am always working on collages, even if that means collecting treasures on walks with my children.
Relf: What challenges have you faced as a writer and/or with a particular project? How did you meet them? What did you learn from these challenges and how did they make you a better writer and/or editor?
Reinhart: People regularly ask me or just ponder how I manage to write anything, let alone submit anything, or have it published. I have three young children, twenty some chickens, two goats, two dogs, two cats, a duck, a full-time job, a farmlette to help manage, and the regular tasks of life: dishes, laundry, lawn, leaky sinks, and so forth. I am ever thankful that my wife carries much of this load with me, and our children are slowly learning to take a productive part in all this activity.
I try to sit down with my notebook every day – even if I just stare at a page. That meditative moment consists of five minutes, maybe. I carry a notebook everywhere, often stuffed in my back pocket as we walk to the park, or just carted out to the street, left on top of the parked car, or simply carried, like some extension of my arm. While I believe strongly in having a focused time devoted to honing my work, I believe more strongly in the constant creative forces knocking on doors I haven’t yet imagined.
Lucien once threw a baseball at me – he was three, and though he has a strong arm, the “threw at me” part sounds more dramatic than it was. The picture of the parallel lines of red stitches that meet to form a sort of unfolded lemniscate settled into my head. The poem came much more slowly, but I worked it over and over in my head until I could write some of it after the kids were all in bed.
I was driving home through downtown, remarking on the society-within-society of homeless folks along the banks of the Cherry Creek. On one street corner, a man with a cardboard sign turned his head, and for a second, I was certain I was looking into the eyes of my cousin. This cousin does not live on the street, though he might could someday. Startled, forgotten images began to surface, settling on my neighbor, and a particular conversation we shared over our cinderblock wall. I began developing a poem, then had to pull over to write it down. I scribbled out a page before my momentum slowed, and then carried the notebook with me for the rest of the evening to capture bits more at odd intervals.
The next morning, I spent half an hour at the emissions station. I wrote the start to half a poem. More exciting, however, was the ten minutes I spent in dictation with Mattheus before I left. He had me write several chapters of a story about a gorilla, the basis of which was my mention of a guerilla poetry performance. In his story, the gorilla arrives at school and eats the students’ poetry. The story became a train of thought based on recent books, all related to autumn in all its varied color. I had to ask him to slow down several times, and I hope I can read what I scribbled, because we covered two pages. If Mattheus really does move toward his mechanical propensities, it will be my joy to have infused his early life with poetry.
The truth is that I don’t have time for any of the artistic work I do. I make collages from junk I collect on the street. I do this in the garage while my children work alongside me, or work in the yard. I write poetry while stuck in traffic, between classes, to procrastinate from grading papers. Submitting for publication is more difficult, and I’m always on the lookout for new places to feature my work. I have a stock list of places I submit to depending on the theme. Submitting usually takes late nights when I can obtain enough coherency to communicate with the outside world.
I’m not sure how I do any of this, really. I look back to my high school years when I played baseball and chess and fiddle and managed to get my homework done. I just did it. I just do it now. Sometimes, when you’re busy, you have to use every minute effectively.
Live with a vengeance, even when some of those are spent dreaming.
Relf: Are you currently, or have you ever, been in a writing group? Your thoughts?
Reinhart: I visited a writing group once. That’s it. I write in a vacuum, which is sometimes dusty, always noisy, and frequently makes it difficult to gain real perspective on my work. I think writing groups can be wonderful, but Sartre reminds me that even on a limited basis, packing a bunch of random people in a room, even without the potential ego issues around sharing art, can be hell.
Relf: I know our readers would love to hear about your networking, marketing, and promotional experiences – including tips.
Reinhart: This is hilarious. I started a Facebook page because after a year plus of being published, I had no web presence. I didn’t even have a cell phone. Editors were trying to contact me using smoke signals, but I proved unreachable over the summers because forest fires confused the messages. I couldn’t understand why they wanted to borrow my toboggan.
I then started a Facebook author page so my fans could find me, especially during the summer which, though everyone tells themselves Colorado has dry heat, are still hot. Out of curiosity, I paid a pittance for one of those ads Facebook is always pushing. Time will tell whether this meant anything, but if Tom Waits is big in Japan, I may be big in Morocco.
I just keep writing, keep finding other interesting people doing the same thing. I buy their books, I read their poetry, I write encouraging notes when I enjoy something. We’re often quick to complain, but encouragement and well wishes mean so much more, especially when someone pours their all into their work. I do not understand how some people feel competitive about writing. I applaud another artist’s achievements. I saw a poet’s bio recently, and she had 30 books to her name. That’s awesome. Someday maybe I’ll have thirty. The best part is getting there.
Relf: Your thoughts on having an agent?
Reinhart: I would love to have someone doing all the leg work to get my poetry published. I also like the idea of someone else in the world understanding what it’s like to be paid peanuts for pouring my guts onto white paper. The reality is that if I literally poured my guts onto white paper, then sprinkled peanuts on top, I might get an agent. As my answer to a previous question may indicate, art and business do not often go hand-in-hand, so if someone can intrigue an agent, that’s at least one more reader, and why not have someone else shouting your praises to random people.
Relf: Your thoughts on self-publishing?
Reinhart: Like chapbooks, self-publishing seems to have come a long way from the days of expensive vanity titles. Besides, what publishers offer to promote, sponsor, pay, and otherwise hawk your wares for you these days? There is a pleasant validation in having an editor say, yeah, I’d like to publish this, rather than laying out your own work. Walt Whitman self-published the first edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855, and there are more recent success stories from self-publishing, so I think anyone who wants it, should go for it. Some small presses utilize self-publishing services and many are print on demand. Good work will speak for itself.
Relf: Anything else you’d like to add?
Reinhart: I have had an interesting trajectory. I started writing poetry ages ago, but only started submitting for publication three years ago. My first submission was on July 23, 2013, a rejection. My second submission, an acceptance was on August 23, 2013. Fourteen months later, I hit acceptance #20. Five months after that, I hit #50. Three months after that, I hit #75, and a year later, I stand at #182.
I often feel like my submissions, acceptances, and work generally progresses slowly. This may have something to do with my other foci taking precedence most of the time. However, when I look at these numbers, I am struck with my consistency and increased acceptances. I do not know, but I would guess that my acceptance percentage has also increased over time.
Over the next year I will get to utilize my Dark Poetry Scholarship to take classes, attend retreats, and engage in the active literary scene around Denver. I am excited to see what surprises that brings.
In five years I plan to read the inauguration poem in Washington, D.C. My postal carrier will have to have an assistant to deliver to my mailbox, which I will have to supersize in order to accommodate all the royalty checks, small press chapbooks to review, and offers to give me small islands where I can relocate and act as poet in residence of my own nation.
Relf: Thank you for creating the time for this interview, John. With everything that you’re up to, I’m amazed you found the time. . .Be sure to check out his bio below – and yes, buy his books!
An arsonist by trade, John Reinhart spends his spare time gluing things together. He lives on an urban farmlette in Colorado with his wife and three children. He is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, lapsed member of the Industrial Workers of the World, and one time member of the Veterans of World War II Club of Northampton. He even joined MySpace when it was cool.