In the second leg of this Q&A marathon, we take host inside the mind of poet Scott Chalupa, literary throwback and Haiku extraordinaire. Among other things, Chalupa expounds on the writing process, “bad news,” and the Bayou City’s literary scene.
Scott Chalupa is a Co-Editor for Glass Mountain.
GLASS MOUNTAIN: You are a fairly seasoned reader, having participated in more than a handful of public readings thus far. What can we expect for this particular reading? Are the pieces you plan to share related in any way? What value do you find as an artist in public readings, as opposed to the privacy of reading to oneself?
SCOTT CHALUPA: You can expect a little sleaze with a dash of spirituality—hopefully not a slapdash. With only 10-12 minutes I like a little consistency, but a good spread of topics. All the pieces are related in the sense that some are about brokenness, one is about wholeness, and another is about pushing through the distance between those two states. Hopefully, there will be enough of an arc to travel from one point to the next.
Public readings remind me that I don’t write in a vacuum. I’ve always enjoyed a public forum. For several years I attended an open mic at the Mausoleum (now AvantGarden). I hung out on the fringes of the Houston slam scene years ago, where I met Marcell Murphy, another of our readers this month. When I first began reading at open mics, I was reading to myself over a microphone. After some caustic encouragement from a couple writers I admired, I began to read differently. I also began to write with the audience in mind. The energy I encountered in the slams pushed that even further. Through both experiences I learned that poetry exists as a relationship between writer and audience.
GM: In its ambition to become an epicenter of literature, Houston’s literary culture is constantly evolving and redefining its bounds. As a veteran of Glass Mountain and active organizer, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve contributed to that force. How do you feel about your position within the local lit community and how do you see yourself fitting into its maturation?
SC: I’m just an active participant. Sometimes I’m more active than others, and I certainly don’t always have an accurate gauge about how great or small my contribution is. I do know that my involvement is evolving. Years ago, I was very active in attending and hosting readings. I even gave a couple readings at BookStop (rest in peace, old friend). I involved myself in different pockets, from open mics to slams to workshops, but they were all entirely outside the more academic community in which I now find myself. Today, I’m focused on Glass Mountain and its functions at UH and (hopefully) in the greater writing community of Houston. I fit in where I am asked to—I just do what is in front of me to be done.
Houston’s literary community is vibrant, and I don’t know if it wants to or could be an epicenter. There are a few publishing houses working out of Houston, and Inprint brings many key literary figures to town. Perhaps the pockets of the literary community are more disparate than need be, so the maturation process (I’m not sure that’s the correct word) would be one of bringing the pockets together. The nature of “literature,” I think, is rather insular. Dickens was a rock star to the general public. When was the last time you heard of a major “literary” writer selling out performance halls? Maybe “maturation” could be a process of un-defining what is “literary” while bringing as many people to the table as are willing to sit with one another.
GM: It is my biased— and possibly valid—belief that most writers are scattered brained: in our attempts to craft and perfect one piece, we end up with a trove of new ideas for others. This can be both productive and counter–. Can you talk a little about your approach to the writing process?
SC: I often let ideas steep long enough to grow stale. I’m horribly undisciplined—try as I might to change that. I work most intensely with looming deadlines, meaning I work less without them. I usually don’t have a trove of pieces sprouting from the front of one; it’s more like parsing out a swarm of ideas into individual pieces. And sometimes I just have to force myself to write until something’s been said.
I love to write and edit by hand. I love the workshop process. Any time I can get feedback without leaping to defend my creative decisions is a blessed gift from the universe. I especially love it when two or more workshop members have different readings of my work. It affords me the freedom to decide where I want to spell out certain things and where I want to leave space for the reader (I usually prefer the latter).
GM: After writing for some time, it seems that writers eventually come to a conclusion about what works in their writing; somehow, the themes and language most vital to their aims rise to the surface and the rest sinks to the bottom of the page. This weeding out of extraneous elements is no easy process and takes time. Where do you find yourself in that progression and what do you find works in your writing? Are there any particular themes that you find yourself returning to?
SC: I like to let each piece define itself. Especially in poetry, I feel the voice of a work or body of work is best determined by the needs of the writing rather than the needs of the writer. I often find myself letting go of my expectations of a poem so it can breathe on its own. So in the progression of things, I usually find myself trying to get out of the way, trying to facilitate the writing rather than defining or producing it. Experimentation and an open mind are important, too. When I’m open to whatever happens, the poem happens of itself.
That being said, the elements that seem to work best for me are a little grime and wordplay—or playful words, at least. The best work is fun to write. No matter how dark or hopeful a particular piece, when I’m enjoying the craft process (to include perceived “bad news” at a workshop), the best work emerges.
GM: Lastly, and most importantly: if I asked you to write a Haiku in which Mitt Romney’s name appears, what would it look like?
SC: Dressage: flip-flop-clop.
Could a nation be so trained?
Huzzah! King Romney!
Bravo, Scott Chalupu.
Assistant Fiction Editor