Edwin Romond’s most recent book is Dream Teaching (Grayson Books.) His work has appeared in The Sun, Aethlon: The Journal of Sports Literature, Barrow Street, The Rockhurst Review, New Letters, English Journal, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Zone 3, Poet Lore, and others. Romond has been awarded poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and from both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Councils on the Arts.
Before retiring in 2003. Romond was a public school English teacher for 32 years in Wisconsin and New Jersey. He now lives in Wind Gap, PA with his wife, Mary, and their 12 year old son, Liam.
by Russell Bittner
Interview with Edwin Romond
How did I find Edwin Romond? BJ Ward – December’s poet. You may remember that BJ called Ed “a fine poet and a terrific teacher.” While I can’t vouch for Ed’s talents as a teacher, I couldn’t agree more with BJ’s assessment of him as a poet. In any case, you’ll see directly below (with “To Future English Teachers”) that this is a clear case of mutual admiration. Guilty as charged.
Before we get started, a bit of Ed’s background:
RRB:Ed, thirty-two years in the trenches – if you’ll allow the hyperbole – is no small accomplishment. Especially if, unlike so many who returned from the trenches of WWI, you managed to emerge with your wits and integrity intact. How’d you manage to do it?
ER:I was very fortunate right from the start. I did my student teaching in Wisconsin under the supervision of Donna Tartagni, an extraordinary teacher of teachers. My good luck continued in my first high school job because I was able to continue growing with the guidance of my English department chairperson, Frances Stevens, a gifted educator. These two experiences gave me a solid foundation in the craft of teaching and helped me throughout my career. After I had taught for about ten years, I began to write poetry – and this gave me some comfort and consolation if I became discouraged with the results of my classroom teaching. Finally, I feel very lucky that I worked with dedicated colleagues who supported me both personally and professionally, and I’m grateful I had the chance to spend my life with young people and classic literature.
RRB:Perhaps, Ed – like BJ – you’re one of the lucky ones. Still, I think it takes an extraordinary degree of patience and dedication to maintain one’s enthusiasm for the profession (or the “craft,” if you prefer) over the long haul.
Your next piece, I assume, is the direct result of observation (unless, of course, there’s a previous wife you didn’t mention in your bio). Please tell us how it came about.
Many of us have found ourselves in this situation; few of us have turned it into poetry.
ER:My son is twelve and has been active in community sports such as baseball, soccer, and basketball since he was four. My wife and I spend a lot of time watching his games, and it’s something we enjoy—although my stomach rattles when Liam is up at bat with the bases loaded. This poem about two divorced parents watching their son play baseball was in the making for years after observing this scene so many times. My first drafts were long, inflated ramblings about the sadness of divorce when children are involved. I eventually realized that the better way to address this topic was by doing so in as few words as possible and letting the enormous pathos of the boy (literally and figuratively being in the middle) pretty much speak for itself.
RRB:Good choice, Ed. As always: less is more.
Your next piece could easily fit into something we might call “scrapbook” or “nostalgia,” and yet you skirt the maudlin quite effectively. Give us the history on this one if you will.
ER:I had already written an elegy for my mother some years before I wrote “Peanut Butter Cookies,” so I didn’t set out to write a poem that would serve that purpose yet again. When I first began this poem, the main idea was the uniqueness of the peanut butter cookies she made. I’ve never been able to find any that tasted as good as hers. My early drafts of this poem emphasized this but, as time went on, I began to realize that the poem really was about the beginnings of farewell to someone I loved deeply. My father, at the age of fifty-three, died suddenly and without warning when I was thirteen. My mother, however, lived to the age of eighty-two and had a gradual decline in her later years. Hers was a much longer goodbye. A major indication for me of the reality of her failing health was when she forgot her one-of-a-kind peanut butter cookie recipe following a stroke. It was also so indicative of her consideration for me that she tried to substitute a commercial recipe for her own cookies that I loved so much. In this poem, I wanted these cookies to be a metaphor for her generous, loving presence in my life as well as for the beginning or “first taste” of grief when I realized she was beginning to slip away. I also wanted to convey my attempt at denial that this was happening.
RRB:An excellent poem, Ed—made still more excellent by your exegesis.
Your final contribution sounds like something out of another anthology entirely. As much as you appreciate the singer—and it’s clear that you do—this is rather a paean to a celebrity than a tribute to a loved one. Tell us, please, what brought you to this state of affairs with Mr. Cash.
ER:Johnny Cash was a big favorite in my family. While growing up, I listened to those wonderful, bare bones Sun recordings that he did with The Tennessee Three as well as those he made for Columbia years later. Even though I went on to appreciate other singers such as Dylan and the Beatles, I never stopped listening to Cash, especially his Live at Folsom Prison album, which I deem a classic. It’s this album that I consider a microcosm of all that I find fascinating about him because it is filled with contradictions. In the title tune, he sings of murdering someone “just to watch him die,” then there are several love songs such as “I Still Miss Someone,” plus a song about cocaine use, and then the album concludes with a spiritual, “Greystone Chapel.”
Cash’s personal life was also very much one of contradictions, for his struggles with narcotics and alcohol are well known. And yet, he speaks in his autobiography of his lifelong journey to God. When I finally saw Cash in concert a few years before his death, I was quite taken with the contrasting extremes of his presence on stage: that dark, almost frightening appearance was softened with a beautiful tenderness. For example, he stunned the audience that night by following a song about a man on death row with his heart-wrenching recitation (from memory) of an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem. Johnny Cash was a man of great contradictions and inner turmoil (who else would record a three CD box set titled, Songs of Love, God, and Murder ?) I tried to address those conflicting traits in my poem.
RRB:And I’d have to say, Ed, you pulled it off marvelously. My congratulations.
I never for an instant doubted BJ’s assessment of you as a mentor, a teacher and a poet. I just didn’t know how right he was. This interview has provided ample proof, and I thank you for the privilege.