Richard King Perkins II: Sticking the Landing

Read Richard's "Toys"  here ,  "Postspawn Mortality"  here .

Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He has a wife, Vickie and a daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart nominee and a Best of the Net nominee whose work has appeared in hundreds of publications including Poetry Salzburg Review, Bluestem, Emrys Journal, Sierra Nevada Review, Two Thirds North, The Red Cedar Review and December Magazine. He has poems forthcoming in Broad River Review, The William and Mary Review and The Louisiana Review.

His two poems, Toys at the Edge of the Room and Postspawn Mortality, appear in the 2015 edition of the Roanoke Review, a part of the first series of prose and poetry to be published on the Review's new on-line site. Stephanie Spector speaks with Richard on becoming a writer and the speculative nature of poetry below.

How did you become a writer?

The key moment that comes to mind is sometime in 1993. I had just watched the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me video by David Lynch. I was inspired by the surreal, provocative, brutal and esoteric mix of the movie. I knew I wasn’t going to be a filmmaker but I thought I might be able to create a similar feeling with poetry. I went to the library and checked out a couple of poetry books, got further inspired, and began writing.

Whose writing has influenced your own?

Lawrence Raab and e.e. cummings were the first two. From there, it was Auden, Plath, Sexton, Hughes, Neruda, Cavafy and many more. And Edgar Allen Poe from the time I was seven or eight. And in the speculative fiction world, definitely Michael Moorcock. Roger Zelazny, too. From the musical lyricists, it would be Michael Stipe and James Mercer. 

How long did it take you to complete Postspawn Mortality and Toys at the Edge of the Room? How do you know when you’re totally finished writing a poem?

In actually writing down a poem, it usually doesn’t take me more than an hour once I’ve started. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t time put in organizing the thoughts and impulses that generate the poem. For me, it’s a very mystical and amazing process as a poem comes together. I begin to feel a coalescence of experiences, words, images and meaning, and time seems to slow for me in relation to the world. I look at the work, and typically wonder where it came from and then look at the clock and realize what seemed like ten minutes was actually an hour.                  

As far as knowing when a poem is finished, I know I’m done when I don’t have any reservations or unease about any portion of it. It sits right with me. Or I get that “mission accomplished” feeling—when you know that something very extraordinary just happened here.

I enjoy your poems most because of the way you land them — on poignant feelings and images. I think specifically to Toys at the Edge of the Room: “...watching discreetly as the father builds a cemetery inside an amusement park.” Do you know where you’re going to land a poem before you begin writing it? What do you think is the trick to landing a poem well?

I sometimes know where I’m going to land a poem. For Toys at the Edge of the Room, I definitely had that ending in mind, although it went through a few iterations before it felt right.

You know where that particular ending came from? My wife and I had our GPS programmed to tell us whenever we were coming up to amusement parks. We have a ten-year old daughter, so if we’re driving up near one, we want to know about it. The GPS kept saying amusement park in 500 yards and we could never see it. Our daughter finally figured it out. “Daddy,” she said, “it always comes up to the cemetery!” That was two years ago. But the weird transposition always stayed with me.

As far as the trick in landing a poem well, it’s more a combination of fortune and intent. Sometimes, you have a clear idea of where you want to go and all you need to do is find the cleverest way to get there. Other times, you’re sort of meandering without an obvious destination, and through luck or inspiration, you find the right word or phrase to “bring it home,” which is the term I usually think of when trying to close a poem with a satisfying conclusion. I do think the reader and the poem itself deserve the poet’s most sincere effort in this regard. I find it extremely frustrating to read a piece that is very promising but which falls flat in the end and makes the reader feel their time and effort was poorly invested.

In your author biography for the Front Porch Review, you say that “poetry is much more closely related to speculative fiction than classical literature.” I’m curious to hear you say more about that. What made you come to that conclusion?

I said that because it’s about the illimitable choices that each genre offers. The world of poetry is a place without borders, without laws, where imagination rules; and although no one speaks the same language, the most extraordinary, intimate communication is entirely possible. I see the world of speculative fiction in much the same way.

What are you working on now?

I’m always jotting down ideas, phrases for potential poems. I’m writing more poetry now and some speculative micro-fiction. I’d love to write a novel but it doesn’t appear I have the bearing for it.

What question have you always wanted to be asked as a writer?

Why is it important to be a good writer?

Writing is a fundamental form of communication. That’s essentially what we spend our entire lives doing; trying to effectively communicate with other human beings. That’s the main reason people need nearly two decades of schooling—we’re defined by how well we communicate.

I think many people are confused as to what the purpose of education is. They may feel it’s about acquiring a skill, learning a profession, becoming a better-rounded individual or even becoming a creative, free-thinking person. But those are simply side benefits. The purpose of education is for a person to learn how to effectively communicate to others that they have something of value to offer the community. In keeping with that, we want to feel like we belong in some way to that community. Good writing skills are the foundation of effective communication. A person who cannot effectively communicate will receive less opportunity, less respect and less just treatment. That’s a reality I see play out every day.