Monday, May 20, 2013

Poet Tim Suermondt: A Headhunter on Wall Street: A Word Chaser in Somerville

Poet Tim Suermondt: A Headhunter on Wall Street: A Word Chaser in Somerville

Tim Suermondt is the author of two full-length collections: TRYING TO HELP THE
ELEPHANT MAN DANCE ( The Backwaters Press, 2007 ) and JUST BEAUTIFUL from
New York Quarterly Books, 2010. He has published poems in Poetry, The Georgia Review,
Blackbird, Able Muse, Prairie Schooner, PANK, Bellevue Literary Review and Stand Magazine
(U.K.) and has poems forthcoming in Gargoyle, A Narrow Fellow and DMQ Review among others. After many years in Queens and Brooklyn, he has moved to Cambridge with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.

 I had the pleasure to interview him on my Somerville Community Access TV show " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer"

Interview with Doug Holder

Doug Holder: For many years you were a headhunter on Wall Street. For the last 17 you were a partner in your own firm. Basically you had to sell people…you had to have a pitch. Words were important. Did your other life as a poet help you in that regard?

Tim Suermondt: I definitely think it did. Sometimes you are groping for a word and you can throw one in much easier. This is because you are constantly dealing with words and writing.

DH: Did your years of working on Wall Street ever enter into your poetry?

TS: I wish I could say yes, but no, just on the periphery. This probably is because it was my job and I wanted to get away, do my poems, and be free. My poems are fairly grounded though. So when I am away from business I put on another hat more or less.

DH: The poet Wallace Stevens was an insurance executive. He was hesitant to tell people at work that he was a poet. He thought it might create doubt about his abilities. Was this a problem for you in your line of work?

TS:  No, that wasn’t a problem. I didn’t feel like I had to hide it.  My partner knew I was a poet.

DH: You moved from Brooklyn, N.Y. to Cambridge, Mass. with your wife. What was the impetus for this move?

TS:  Well, we have lived there so long.  I lived in NYC for over 30 years. We wanted to make a change. At first we thought maybe another part of NYC. But a lot of that was prohibitive. We thought of running away to Paris. But we decided on a base here. We found a nice apartment in East Cambridge and here we are. Recently we attended a Cervena Barva Press reading in the Arts Armory in Somerville. We are getting acquainted with the area.

 DH: Your wife Pu Ying is an accomplished poet.  Do you have a competitive relationship?

TS:  You would think so. But I don’t think of it as trying to outdo one another. But if Pu likes something I write I usually think:  “I got something there.” If she doesn’t like it more often than not she is right. I would like to think I can do the same with her—but her work is so good lately that I don’t have much room for commentary.

DH: How did you guys meet?

TS: We met at a master class, at Poets House in NYC at the old Spring St. location. The workshop was run by Jane Hirschfield.

DH: I read in an interview where you describe yourself as an outsider. Many poets feel this way. Why do you feel this way?

TS: I am not part of any MFA program. I more or less read a lot of poetry—I have read the poets who have stood the test of time. I thought to myself that I would love to do this. I knew what I wanted to write but I had to work my way through it all. I listened to many voices, but then I found my own. I am not going to be in a Paris Review interview, but I like what I am doing with my writing. I have a new collection out "Just Beautiful"     published by the New York Quarterly Books.

DH: Compare the NYC poetry scene with that of Boston.

TS: New York is monstrous …it is so huge. Boston compared to NYC is almost a town. In Boston you feel there is an end here. NY keeps going—we haven’t explored the poetry scene extensively yet—we are just getting started in Boston.

DH: You said in an interview that oddities in writing bring more clarity. Can you talk about this?

TS: I look for the quirks in a poet’s works. When I come across something unusual, I think: “I’ve never thought of it that way.” Oddities make you stop and think—they change your perspective. I like poets who have quirks. There are poets who have the blueprint down, but their work often seems a little cold or dead. I hope I have some quirks in my poetry.

DH: You wrote a poem “A Donut and the Great Beauty of the World.” You use a donut—with sprinkles mind you—to examine the theme of the beauty of the moment.

TS: I think we need to appreciate the moment especially when it is going well. I understand that a lot of poetry is a bit down, and that is understandable. If you live long enough you will have enough downers. In terms of appreciating when things go well—you must realize these things won’t last so appreciate it even more. There are so many tragedies—why not appreciate the good things? A lot of poets say “I don’t want to talk about walking with my loved one on a beautiful summer day.” They want to save the whales—they want to comment on something larger. Whatever the poet writes about is great—no subject is off limits.


I try not eating the chocolate one with sprinkles
and I don’t succeed—my pledge to my diet dies,

but the taste validates my backsliding, the fine
smudge on my lips beautiful as lipstick on a woman.

Someone wrote “the great beauty of the world”—
maybe I did, I can’t be sure—and I believe the words.

I remember the ugly of the past and I know the worst
of the future is already gearing up to make its visit—

I finish the doughnut, clean away the evidence
and head back to the couch to finish a book I love.

---Tim Suermondt

1 comment:

  1. Such an interesting interview with one of the good-guy poets, Tim Suermondt, whose work I admire very much.