An Interview with Terry Persun
Writing a good poem. Poetry is not a high-income format in many countries. So, what a poet must focus on is the poem itself, the words, the line endings, the stanza breaks, as well as the theme and images, metaphors or similes. As a poet, the only person that really matters is me and if I can sense or feel that the poem is working. I do have other poets read my work and offer suggestions, but ultimately, I’m responsible for the poem to turn out the way I want it to.
An Interview with Terry Persun
In conversation with Karunesh Kumar Agarwal, Managing Editor, Cyberwit.net, Terry Persun tells us about his success as an international poet.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Tell us about you and your background.
Ah, this question alone could take pages. But I’ll keep it as brief as I can. I was born in the countryside of Pennsylvania and spent a lot of time outdoors and in nature, which is why I often write about nature in my poems. As I grew up, I had multiple jobs: major appliance repair, airborne navigation repair (six years in the US Air Force), design engineering, electronics and physics instructor, magazine editor, and marketing services. There are a lot of details and different jobs between all these, but that gives you an idea of my general background when it comes to work. I’ve also been married more than once and have three children, two boys and a girl (who is also a writer). I’m a lifelong learner and have continued to take classes in all sorts of subjects, including writing and publishing, marketing, printmaking, pottery, painting, and much more. I’ve been writing poetry, short stories, and novels for over forty years. It’s what I love to do. I started publishing regularly in the 1970s.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Do you write every single day?
Yes, I get up early, grab a cup of coffee (decaf these days), and head directly to my office where I sit down and write for several hours. I try to get in about 1000+ words per day. First, though, I reread what I wrote the previous day or days and make minor repairs, then I continue forward. I consider this what I call a rolling edit and it helps me to stay current on what I’m writing but also allows me to polish the work as I go along.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: What is the measure of success as a poet?
Writing a good poem. Poetry is not a high-income format in many countries. So, what a poet must focus on is the poem itself, the words, the line endings, the stanza breaks, as well as the theme and images, metaphors or similes. As a poet, the only person that really matters is me and if I can sense or feel that the poem is working. I do have other poets read my work and offer suggestions, but ultimately, I’m responsible for the poem to turn out the way I want it to. This probably sounds as though there are no standards, but the standards are high when you consider your own needs for perfection. Poets, like other writers, are their own worst critics.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Which is easier to write, fiction or non-fiction?
For me, nonfiction. I say that because it takes less creativity. Nonfiction includes a lot of information and if you translate that information so that a lot of people can understand it and use it, then you’re probably doing a good job. In the magazine business, you are educating your reader, which means you just have to know what it is you’re talking about. With fiction, you have to set a scene, draw people into the character’s life, create an entire world that the reader often isn’t familiar with, whether that is another planet, the inside workings of a police station, or your local bake shop. The reader must feel like they are a part of the story.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Your experience of writing the book Balancing Act. Any specific reason for choosing title Balancing Act.
The process of pulling a book together has more to do with the organization than the writing of the poems. Most cases, poems are not written together for a specific book. At least that’s not how it works for me. I write poems over months and years and continually go back to see if there are connections between them, poems that really work well together. And then I select those poems I think would fit into a certain volume and read them through and cull poems out. Then I arrange and rearrange the poems, continuing to read them through over and over again until I feel as though there is something moving through them together that didn’t move through the single poems. With Balancing Act I found this grouping of stories that worked together as a whole as well. The book is about the balancing act we all perform going through life. There are different stages along the way, each having their own beginning, middle, and end, but it all leads to a single life. I have to say, that is one of my favorite books. I like the way the poems move between concrete and abstract to create an emotion.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: I see you have received the Star of Washington Award. Please share your feelings on winning and few words about this award.
The Star of Washington award was special to me because it was presented through our local Barnes & Noble bookstore. It was one of my very first book awards, which also makes it special. That award honored my novel, Wolf’s Rite. Since that time, I’ve gone on to win nearly a dozen other awards for a variety of books across a number of genres.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Which contemporary poets do you personally believe will be remembered in the coming years and why?
I’ll mention some of my favorites: Ted Kooser for his depth and ability to bring our everyday world into clear view. Tom Hennen for his plain talk and attention to the details. Jim Harrison because he’s just an amazing writer no matter what he tackles. Cornelius Eady for his bravery and wit. And many, more. There are so many great poets writing today, that it’s hard to narrow things down.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: What inspired you to write the poem Last Walk.
One last march
around the neighborhood
before the mountain
swallows the sun whole
and leaves me walking
through the coolness
of a lovely summer evening.
Wow, it’s difficult to remember why I wrote any individual poem. Poems come to me like small gifts. Then I rewrite them over and over again until they feel just right. When I read the poem, I think of that person who is out for a walk around the block and is about to reach his home again and finds that he doesn’t want to return home. Not yet. Something in the evening has grabbed him, perhaps the silence, the distance from responsibility, the sense that one more day is about to end. It reminds me that there are times when being alone is important—especially on "a lovely summer evening.”
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poems?
Poetry is a moving target and should be. It has to incorporate the whole world as well as just your world. Both of these shift with time, experience, age. My ideas of line endings have shifted, of stanza breaks. Poems are meant to express more than the sum of its parts, so paying attention to every word and every comma, every blank space or pause matters.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Your thoughts on writing Haiku.
I am not a Haiku expert by any means, but have written quite a few of them. In a Haiku, I search for the perfect image and the perfect place where that image can transform into something different and hint at something more abstract. For example, in the Haiku below, the rain clouds magically transform into the gray eyes of the coyote that, I hope, indicates the connection of sadness within all aspects of the natural world.
approaching rain clouds
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: What is your motivation for writing more?
It is my soul. If that sounds weird, then so be it. I believe that my soul is here to write and that writing is what feeds my life. Writing has been a part of me for so long that I can’t imagine a life without it any longer. Even when I try to skip a day of writing, I often find myself looking for paper to write down an idea for later.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Do you have any advice for new poets?
I always liked the simple advice of write, write, write, and read, read, read. But to add to that, I would say care about what you’re doing, love it, nurture it. And never give up on it.
Karunesh Kumar Agarwal: Thank you very much.
It was my pleasure. I am amazed at how insightful your questions were and how they seemed to bring out things that I might not have thought to say on my own. Thank you.
Terry Persun has been writing and publishing nonfiction, poetry, short stories and novels since the early 1970s. He is regularly published in consumer and trade magazines, as well as literary journals. He is the recipient of seven awards for his novels and poetry collections—in several different genres—most notably the Star of Washington Award, a Silver IPPY Award, and a Book Excellence Award. He is also a respected keynoter and speaker at libraries, writers’ groups, writers’ conferences, and universities across the country. Terry has a Bachelor of Science and an MA in creative writing.