Finding forever in the middle of the night: an interview with #poet Gary Hotham

April is National Poetry Month. In years past I have highlighted favorite poets like Charles Simic and Jane Hirshfield. This time I am focusing on Gary Hotham. My copy of his book “Breath Marks” is well-worn and highlighted.

What is it that makes his poetry special? First off, it’s tiny. His poems are compact little gems. Hotham is mostly known in haiku circles.  There’s no room for error in his modern works of art. And yet somehow he manages to pack his poems with an expansive sense of eternity.

wind spins


half a dozen footprints

the wave didn't spoil

Saturday night rain, puzzle pieces, flower petals, sea shells, footprints and stars in one pile and waves, beaches, shadows and wind in another pile.

Daily life’s ordinary things are found in bits and pieces and contrasted with wide-open skies. Maybe there’s nothing new under the sun, but the essence of things revealed in his poems show how deeply he knows what he is doing.

Q: When you have time for yourself, what do you spend most of your time thinking about?

A: I might like to think otherwise but probably most of my time is spent thinking about myself.  It would be interesting to have an accurate measure for the topics of our thoughts.  I'm sure God knows.  Does Big Data?  I suspect Google and Yahoo have a good handle on our thought topics also - especially the ones the advertisers pay good money for!  Those money makers.

Q: What compels you to write?

A: The wonder or wonders of life.  And the words that go with them.  I suspect that many times it is putting words down or putting words together that the wonders emerge although we might think that the wonders cause or bring out the words. Chicken or egg first kind of riddle.

 Q: What do you hope readers might get from your poems?

A: A vision for a vast universe along with a sense of their place or a reason for their place in it.  It is the wonder of why did God create such an overwhelming place for our senses  and then why me or why us for such a small place in it.  It is a brain rattler.  One hopes to recover by looking at one's feet.  But then there is question of why there is earth for our feet and why the toes and why the ankle bone is connected to...

T.S. Eliot said there would be days like that:

"Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question. . ."

Q. Who are your favorite poets?

A: There are many, many poets I like to read.  Too many. And the great thing about poetry is that the lines are written by the good poets so that one can read them more than once.  This is just a partial list of  some of the dead poets I have enjoyed over the many years and still enjoy:  William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Lorine Niedecker, William Stafford, E.E. Cummings, Philip Booth, Cid Corman, Frank Samperi, Ted Enslin, George Oppen...  There are many others still alive.  And there are dead and living ones who I don't really enjoy but read anyway.

And then there is a whole host of dead and living haiku writers who I greatly appreciate.  That  list would become very long.  Somebody is now going to comment that I have no standards!  But there is a great richness in the number of poets and their poetry that reminds me of the old comic book scene of Scrooge McDuck swimming in his piles of money:  I see that scene a reader surrounded by many  books of poetry to choose from and for which an earthly lifetime would not exhaust.  This image won't work well as e-book readers become more and more the norm.

Although Hotham doesn’t go out of his way to observe National Poetry Month – he is a poet year-round after all —  he does have a tip for anyone who is interested in the big topics explored in his little poems.  

“I do think T.S. Eliot has the voice to go for such themes and his 'Four Quartets' is a good example. Certainly for a Jew or a Christian the Psalms are excellent examples of those themes.”

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