Friday, March 04, 2011

Poetic Profile: Leonard Gontarek

1) How would you describe your poetry?

I am a surrealist, by way of Zen, with East European ancestry. There is
no such school of poetry, but I show up to class every day, nevertheless.

2) How does poetry fit into your everyday life?

There was a point, after much practice and commitment, I knew I had become a poet.
And so, poetry fits into my life thoroughly. Before that, I wondered a good deal
what place the poet had. I became, I suppose, an inhabitant of earth who wrote poetry.

3) What poets and/or authors inspire you?

It is always, of course, difficult to narrow down such a list. I’ll make it a top-ten:

Ten: Kenneth Koch
Nine: Charles Wright
Eight: Jean Follain
Seven: Carole Maso
Six: Alice Fulton
Five: W. S. Merwin
Four: Yves Bonnefoy
Three: Evan S. Connell
Two: Shunryu Suzuki
One: … Julio Cortazar

4) How does the community of Philadelphia play a part in your poetry?

I have organized poetry readings in the Philadelphia area for twenty years.
I judged a City Paper poetry contest. I co-edited a Philadelphia supplement
of The American Poetry Review. I have published local poets. I conduct poetry
workshops. I edit manuscripts of local poets. Hard not to feel part of an extended
Philadelphia poetry family. I’ll add this about Philly poets: they are brilliant,
visionary, honest and awfully talented. The other part of the community – the cafes,
galleries, bookstores, and the Philadelphia audience – all have been gracious and
supportive of poetry. I moved here from Vermont. In the first year, mountains still
appeared in my poems. Now I think I write Philadelphia poems. And that is how it
should be. Philadelphia is a terrific city. A beautiful cityscape. Home to me.

5) What is the last book you have read that you enjoyed? Tell our Big Blue Marble community a little about it.

Winter’s Journey by Stephen Dobyns. A book of only fourteen poems. Here are some
of the titles of poems, to give you an idea: Mourning Doves, Rabbits, Balance, Werewolf, Looking for the Dog, Chainsaws, Spring, Lost. Each are like small novellas. Meditations really. A man taking a walk talking to the dark, himself, God, and we are close behind and able to listen in. What distinguishes it from other prose-poetry is the intimacy of the voice (the poems seem like they are being spoken to you) and the immediacy of its content – what it is like to be alive in the twenty-first century, today, in the falling snow here, while the bombs fall there. They are poems of beauty, revelation, big and small truths, and good humor. But I’ll let Stephen Dobyns pitch his own poems.
Here is the conclusion to Looking for the Dog:

But thoughts like these, if I don’t bring them to a halt,
make my doubts pile up, and the world looks so brief,
so fragile that I start poking my finger through its walls,
its seeming substantiality, as if through a wet tissue;
and if I don’t repair my fabric of opinion and belief,
my illusion of truth, I’ll drop like a rock from a roof,
falling, falling till I come to an abrupt stop. Like this.

Leonard Gontarek is the author of St. Genevieve Watching

Over Paris, Van Morrison Can’t Find His Feet,

Zen For Beginners, and Déjà Vu Diner.

His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review,

Fence, Field, Pool, Poetry Northwest, Verse, Hanging Loose.

His work appears in the anthologies The Best American Poetry,

Joyful Noise! American Spiritual Poetry, The Working Poet,

Dwarf Stars Science Fiction Poetry Anthology.

He has been nominated five times for the Pushcart Prize

and twice received Poetry Fellowships from the Pennsylvania

Council On The Arts. He has been a cabdriver, movie- projectionist,

teacher and bookseller. He coordinates The Green Line Poetry Series

and teaches poetry workshops at the Moonstone Arts Center.

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