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THE POET'S CORNER – April, 2009
Featured Poet:  David Woodruff

No fool, he, my selection for April’s “Poet’s Challenge” is David Woodruff.  As is the case with both James Zerndt in February and Jessica Snyder in March, I became familiar with David’s poetry through Zoetrope (  N. B.  I clearly need to get out more often.

By day, David is just David – a denizen of New Jersey who labors in the health care industry.  With what’s happening on Wall Street just across the Hudson these days, I suspect David has his hands full when many of those chickens come home to roost in NJ.  In order to keep his own mind and body safe, sane and thriving, David spends his nights writing – and occasionally sleeping.  If he’s lucky enough to get published (“talented enough” is a given), he publishes under the nom de plume ‘Kyle Hemmings.’  Don’t ask him why; he, himself, doesn’t know.  My suspicion is that he’s nursing a grudge – a grudge to get out from under.

“Out from under” for David/Kyle would ideally be the ability to play surf guitar like Dick Dale and sing like Brian Wilson. Then he could be called ‘Dale Wilson.’ He also wishes he could draw like Robert Crumb. On some mornings, he sings in the shower.  He has work published in Apple Valley Review, Arsenic Lobster, Word Riot, Poor Mojo's Review, and work upcoming in The Smoking Poet.

RRB:Kyle, do you mind if I call you ‘David?’  For purposes of this interview, I’d prefer to deal with the person rather than with the persona.  Tell us a bit, please, about how and when you first came to writing.  Health care and word care are certainly not unrelated; they’re just rare in my experience.

DW:By all means, please call me David.  Okay, about nine years ago, an old college buddy sent me a letter inviting me to come over and catch up on old times. While I was there, he showed me a novel he’d just published. Then, remembering from the classes we’d taken together how I liked to write, he suggested I start writing. He also suggested I spend some time with online journals.

         After that, I took some online classes at Gotham and Writers College, where I had some very good instructors. Terri Brown-Davidson comes immediately to mind. Later, I finished an online MFA in creative writing at National University.

RRB:Is it fair to say, then, that you’ve honed your craft exclusively as an online student? 

DW:Yes, for the most part. But I have to pay my respects to the authors from whose work I’ve drawn inspiration, whether consciously or unconsciously. Also, I wouldn't say that I've honed my craft – at least not to perfection. I'm still learning this craft, trying to reach new ground.  Meanwhile, my bad days outnumber my good ones.

RRB:No doubt, David – as is the case for all of us.  Honing one’s craft is a life-long endeavor.  You only stop honing the day you die – or cease trying to express yourself through your craft, whatever craft that might be.

Why don’t you show us a piece and tell us a little bit about how it came about.

DW:  Okay, here’s one I think is reasonably finished.

DW:This piece is about as blatantly autobiographical a poem as I can write. I’m not a night porter, but I’m now working in a children’s rehab center. One night, a boy on a ventilator asked me to load a CD into his player. And, yes, some folks on ventilators can talk. It really hit me how much we take our bodily functions for granted. It also hit me that this was a kid who should’ve been outside playing baseball or something. And there was another boy, who, when he became angry, would hold his breath to the point of passing out. I combined these two characters into one for purposes of this poem.

I tried to convey the narrator’s sense of helplessness to change the outcome of these patients’ conditions. At the end, when he’s done with his shift, he faces the hard edge of reality. And yet, in a way, the little things he does – like wiping saliva from somebody’s face – are very important. The night porter here, hardly noticeable to outsiders, is a kind of unsung hero.

RRB:Yes, David, I see what you mean.  You accomplished a great deal in a very small space – which is, for me at least, the essence of good poetry.

Does your day job inform most of what you write, or this piece an exception?  If it’s not an exception, can we look at something from outside your work life?

DW:No, this piece was an exception. I rarely use my workplace as the basis for my stories and poems. Here’s one I published in Apple Valley in 2007. It’s called "Urban Fairy Tale #1.” Actually, I wrote a couple of poems titled “Urban Fairy Tale No. such and such.”  The city – often New York City – informs the background in much of my work.

Here, the reality as depicted in the scratchboard picture mirrors the reality taking place between the male and female viewers. One may be influencing the other. There’s an element of danger. The man says he’ll save the girl, but can we trust him? The girl is carrying some heavy baggage from the past. The piece reminded me of that painting by Edvard Munch – “The Scream.”

RRB:Yes, that painting came immediately to mind as I was reading your poem.  However, there would also seem to be a Daliesque element to it (if you don’t mind my saying).  Something a tad surreal – which, I suppose, you could also say of Munch’s painting, though not in quite the same way.

Anyway, let’s now look at a third piece. Do you have anything joyful, optimistic, a little upbeat way down deep in your ditty bag?

DW:As a matter of fact, I do. The next and last piece is something very uncharacteristic of my poetry – a poem with a happy ending. It’s very simple and sugary.  In fact, it reminds me of pastry. I think the poem is fairly self-explanatory. What inspired this piece were my frequent walks past the pastry shops and bistros in NYC and the smells coming from those places – smells that made me feel lighter than air.

RRB:Good job, David!  This piece – as do your others, by the way – combines the material with the ethereal.  To my way of thinking, this combination is the hallmark of good poetry:  i.e., show me (your reader) something I can immediately identify, then use it to illustrate (or illuminate, if that’s not too strong a word here) a larger truth.  That truth may be strictly yours under the circumstances.  But if I can understand and identify with it, you make it mine.

David, it’s been a pleasure.  Thanks for participating.

DW:And I thank you, Russell.  The pleasure has been all mine.

The Night Shift

In this hospital of non-refundable lives,
limbs useless as rusted bottle caps,
I work the night shift,
wax the floors,
buff the silence,
wipe the saliva from a child's mouth,
only one or two in this whole ward
of bleach and Botox and pretty bows
can verbalize.
“Hey Mister,” one says,
luring me in with a slacker smile
“put in that Scoobie Doo CD for me
would ya?”
“Sure,” I say, and I carry his
frozen eyes around with me
for days.
Somebody pissed him off,
and he held his breath,
turned blue and stiff as some plastic flower.
If I had this magic formula –
a secret machine that could recycle life,
could free these children
(prisoners of corrugated tubing
and synchronous breathing modes) –
a life sustained
within the beep and blare
of high and low pressure limits,
I would, I would.
But I'm only the night porter,
at the end of my shift,
I close the doors,
inhale their last collective gasp,
cut my feet
on the Formica-hard edge of morning.

Urban Fairy Tale #1

They meet at the gallery near Mott:
he, looking so cool in leather,
a helmet tucked under one arm;
she, in pumps and tight tunic,
tilting her head to catch
an aerial perspective,
studying this post-modern work
of The Artist formerly known
as ‘Go.’
The picture – done on scratchboard –
shows a girl falling past
a skyscraper, her arms reaching out,
her mouth a round vortex of terror,
people on the sidewalks looking up,
their eyes and mouths way too large.
Motorcycle guy turns to post-modern girl,
sticks out his gloved hand,
says “I can save you.”
She studies him,
suddenly feels very frightened
and small, so small,
like the times she rode elevators
with her father in midtown,
cables whining, the car shaking,
“How?” she says.
La première fois

I never figured into anyone's dreams
of heroes and villains,
never had a Swiftian wit
or a body chiseled by Jake.
Always felt like a crossed-out item
on last week's shopping list –
until I met Sally Jasanewski
serving pastry at the bakery
on 14th and 3rd.
I held an incredibly rich
jelly donut between my fingers
and poked the middle
until the jelly dribbled,
plopped, and Rorschach-streaked
across a freshly-mopped floor.
I watched Sally's wide eyes
dance and her lips drool.
Right then, I knew
there was going to be something
between us.
I could taste it like a flaky Ladylike.
It was going to be something
cannoli-consuming and deep-fry hot.