The Real Wonder of Writing is Alchemy

Blog / Produced by The High Calling

David Wheeler is a musician, essayist and now a published poet. His Contingency Plans: Poems was published last month by T.S. Poetry Press, and it’s an extraordinarily fine volume. We caught up with him to ask a few questions about his poetry and writing.

Glynn Young: Contingency Plans. It’s a beautiful volume. Or actually, it’s a volume of beautiful poems. When did you start writing poetry?

David Wheeler: Honestly, poetry started as this ugly, angsty thing I did in junior high and hid in a notebook in my closet. I stopped later in high school, but then started again when I encountered an open-mic poetry community in a Bellingham coffee shop. Poetry Night, of Bellingham, is where poems like "Take Shelter, Take Cover" and "Because I speak on my feet" started; and, you can tell they are the ones that stray a bit more on the page, the ones better recited than committed to print. When I took workshop classes in my undergrad is where I really hit my stride, and it's where professors encouraged me and my classmates to start submitting our pieces to magazines and lit reviews.

GY: You introduce each of the five sections of Contingency Plans with a short, almost prose-poem essay. How did you decide to do that?

DW: That was L.L. Barkat's idea. She liked a couple of the pieces that the High Calling published of mine this summer, and suggested we use those as a way to break up all the poetry, make it more digestible. An old coworker of mine once likened poems to bon-bons, so I think taking too many in all at once can be too much of a good thing. The essays act as chapter breaks. L.L. did a great job arranging each section's poems to cohere with its essay, too.

GY: Your poems also have a strong infusion of your faith, strong but also very subtle. Were you raised in a family of faith?

DY: Certainly. We were at church every Sunday, morning and night, and at least one night during the week.

GY: One of the things that struck me as I read the poems was how you turn simple, everyday things – like shaving -- into something almost mystical. “Shaving” is a good example of that, an extraordinary poem about a simple, everyday act that takes on an almost symbolic meaning. I love that poem. How did it come to be?

DW: "Shaving" is a testament to daily writing. I have a bad habit of waiting until a turn of phrase comes upon me in a momentary epiphany before writing anything. The real wonder of writing is alchemy, and I'm flattered you took so well to the poem. I was at a point where I was forcing myself to write something, anything, everyday, so while standing at the mirror, I started trying to put this mundane activity (one I will admit I dislike very much) into new words, in an attempt to evoke a mystery. As a boy, I sometimes watched Dad shave, so I wanted to return a little bit of that nostalgia to a practice I no longer enjoy or find any wonder in. So, now, when I see the shaving cream and think of a cloud, spreading it along my cheeks reminds me of noted prevailing winds on a map of the world, breaking through the overcast to watch the harvest of a grain field. I get carried away with some analogies.

GT: What’s next? You’re still writing poems, like The Kiss, and I personally consider that a good thing. Where would you like to go with your writing?

DW: Of course I'll always be writing. Publishing a book at all was such a paramount goal of mine, I'm still a bit flummoxed as to what's next. Poetry will be there; and I will continue writing about my personal life (for better or worse). I think the next big thing I'm working toward is something in long-form. Novel. Or memoir. Or epic poem. I don't know. The novel is a fascination of mine, a bittersweet company I run up against now and then. I have ideas I'm pursuing; but, I think time will tell what pans out.

Photo by Kelly Langner Sauer. Used with permission. Interview by Glynn Young.