Wednesday, January 16, 2008

David Surette: A Poet who finds it “Easy to Keep: Hard to Keep In.”

David Surette: A Poet who finds it “Easy to Keep: Hard to Keep In.”

David Surette is the author of the new poetry collection: “ Easy to Keep, Hard to Keep In.” Surette is also the author of the poetry collections titled “Malden,” “Good Shift,” and “Young Gentleman’s School.” Surette, co-hosts the ever successful Poetribe Reading Series in East Bridgewater, Mass. Award-winning poet Frannie Lindsay writes of his new collection: “ David Surette is a steward of humility in its many forms: from his blue collar Arcadian roots to his lowly yet noble farm animals. With charm and affability, yet neither of these at the cost of implicit depth, this collection impresses…” I spoke with Surette on my Somerville Community Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: David, you often write about your Arcadian roots. Can you talk about this ethnic group that many people may not be familiar with?

David Surette: It is interesting that it is such a big secret since it is the second biggest population in the state besides the Irish. Part of it has to do with how we ended up here. Longfellow wrote a very famous poem about us: “ Evangeline.” I don’t know why people don’t put the two together. Longfellow, Arcadians, etc… We were all expelled from Nova Scotia in 1775. The Arcadians had a beautiful life in Nova Scotia. They had beautiful farms and they wanted nothing to do with the English war with France. They just wanted to be. Even when England controlled the area they signed treaties. We were a different people, not loyal to England or France. The English weren’t happy about this and they expelled everyone they could get hold of. They shoved people on slave ships. Three leveled ships. 10,000 people drowned on the way out of Nova Scotia. The rest wound up all the way down the coast from Maine to South America. Most famously New Orleans. They are known as the Cajuns, short for Arcadians. So Longfellow wrote about us, everyone knows the Cajuns, but the Arcadians of New England are not known. Probably because they came here poor and with the French language. They became the “other.” Shame became part of their existence. They just hid. They took jobs, like most immigrants, that no one wanted. I eventually learned to get rid of the shame and to write about it.

DH: You wrote a collection of poems “Malden.” Unlike Paris or Rome you would hardly think that Malden would inspire a book of poetry. (Certainly Somerville would!) But it did. How are you in a Malden frame of mind?

DS: Malden is a place where people think that nothing happens. I think my poetry addresses that. It is about ordinary life, a “ Malden kind of life.” But there is till poetry there. I have to write about where I come from.

DH” In your poem “Smoking Ban,” you write about the patrons of a bar.

“ I watch them believe / that tonight’s the night/ and we never have to wake to/ the morning’s bitter truth.”
The Bar, from Bukowski on has been a sort of stale beer, boilermaker and smoke-ridden muse for many a poet. Why do you think it is so inspiring?

DS: I think it seems like a good idea at first. When you grow up among working people, and you are a working person, it seems like a really good idea. There is music, there are women, there are your friends, and it seems like a natural place to entertain yourself. But there is a line there. In the poem you read, I try to convey that it is one thing to go to the bar, and it is another thing to go home. But there are people who never leave.

Anytime you have two things that don’t seem to fit together, that for me is my poetic moment. I think barrooms have that quality. These are places you go to get away from things. Everyone who goes to a bar brings his or her “stuff” with them. So it makes for a lot of material. In the poem I quote Van Morrison’s “ Brown-eyed Girl.” That’s one of those songs that when you sit down in a bar, you might think, “How can it be better than this?” But I think that it is a pretty false promise.

DH: You are an English teacher on the secondary level. How important is poetry in the “kids” lives?

DS: I am a teacher of English and Creative Writing in East Bridgewater, Mass. It is not an important part of the kids’ lives at all. This is where my job comes in. We read a poem in class everyday and we write everyday. I think the kids are surprised about how much they like poetry. And I will venture to say they are dying to write it. I think everyone in the world wants to write poetry. You don’t want to squelch the kids’ desire to write.

DH: How about your own creative process?

DS: I have a poetic moment when I have something in my head and I can’t get it out. It usually when two things are together that doesn’t fit together. Like hope and a barroom. If it stays in my head for a couple of weeks I write it down. I put it on a scrap of paper and drop it in my pocket. Later I will type it up if I feel it is worth it. I could make up to 30 drafts. Then I have a person I trust, in my case my co host at Poetribe Vicky Murray. She likes my poetry enough to be hard on it.

DH: I know I like to write at the Sherman Café in Union Square, and to a lesser extent Bloc 11 in my hometown of Somerville, Mass. How about you? Where do you write?

DS: I like to write in secret. Usually I write from boredom. I might write during an English faculty meeting. I don’t have a place. I don’t do in front of anybody. I don’t go to a regular workshop.

DH: Any Franco-American, Arcadian writers you really admire?

DS: Mark Strand for one. He was the former Poet/ Laureate of the United States.

No comments:

Post a Comment