1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
I’m a child of the enlightenment. I believe in science, rational thought, and the value of knowledge. At the same time, I’m fascinated by philosophical questions that stubbornly reside outside the sphere of scientific truth: the phenomenon of consciousness; the origin of the universe; the nature of time; and the formation of the first living cell. In my later years, the limitations of logic and reasoning have left me more receptive to the numinous in our world — a novice in the realm of spirituality. Above all, I strive to perceive beauty wherever it may exist.
I began writing independently of schoolwork when I was nine. As was true for many children of my generation, I was introduced to the world of poetry through the work of Theodor Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss. His book “Yertle the Turtle” was a particularly strong influence (though I had no idea at the time that the story was allegorical, a satire of Adolf Hitler). Not surprisingly, all of the poems I scribbled on shirt cardboard rhymed.
In my sophomore year of high school, I maintained a poetry notebook as part of the curriculum. But my interest in poetry really blossomed at Amherst College where, as a biology major on the pre-medical track, I took four rigorous poetry courses. During the last of these, in what I like to describe as an act of love masquerading as mania, I stopped attending classes, isolated myself from friends, ate and slept reluctantly, and spent five straight weeks writing a metaphysical poem on the theme of subjective versus objective reality. This represented my first serious attempt to write poetry.
2) What inspired you to write your book?
Most of the poems that appear in Exits were written between 2003 and 2021 without a book in mind. It wasn’t until two years ago that I decided to incorporate what I considered to be my best work into a book entitled Line Drawings. However,
during the process of reviewing my modest oeuvre, I noticed that a significant number of the poems were related to one or more aspects of mortality. This led me to curate a more concise, themed collection of poems, and Exits was born.
One might wonder where the focus on life’s transience derives from. In retrospect, I can identify three sources. First, I was raised without any religious training, so from a very young age, I was left on my own to ponder the enormity of the universe, time and eternity, and the meaning of existence. My fear of death was such that I often fought against falling asleep, which to me resembled nothing so much as a rehearsal. Second, as a physician and neuro-ophthalmologist, I’ve cared for numerous patients with serious and/or life-threatening diseases. And third, since 1999, I’ve had to deal with the spinal cord variant of multiple sclerosis and the ramifications of that disease for life expectancy.
3) What theme or message do you hope readers will take away from your book?
Death is an integral part of life. It exerts a profound influence on how we think about the limited time granted to us and the meaning we attach to it.
Exits will resonate with different people in different ways. Some readers will gravitate to the visual imagery and nature metaphors. Others will enjoy the wordplay. Still others will find satisfaction in the resurrection of formal elements.
It’s important to keep in mind that we live in a time of great uncertainty. War, climate disasters, and a recent pandemic have led many to contemplate the prospect of their own demise. Exits speaks to this anxiety and angst. It also may provide fresh perspective on mortality, the cycles of life, and the possibility of renewal.
4) What drew you into this particular genre?
My mom, now deceased, deserves a great deal of credit in this regard. A lifelong visual artist, she made it a point to instill in her young son a deep appreciation for
art. I recall sitting on her lap at age four or five as she paged through artbook after artbook. As a result, I could distinguish a Monet from a Cezanne before I could read!
Over the course of my life, I’ve written in multiple genres, including: engineering and technology (U.S. Patent 4,477,158); clinical research articles published in medical journals; chapters in neuro-ophthalmology textbooks; business papers; short fiction; and poetry.
My attraction to poetry is multifaceted:
The thrill of creating art with words
Permission to access the subconscious
The marriage of sound and sense
The fact that anything can appear in a poem
The fact that anything can happen in a poem
The surreal, dreamlike, associative way that poems move the mind
The surprising connections and juxtapositions
Fun with form
The paradoxical precision of poetic ambiguity
Metaphor and the multilayering of meaning
The sonic extravaganza of rhyme, alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia, meter, and non-metrical rhythms
The potential to enlighten
The potential to console
Oblique routes to ineffable truths
5) What social media site has been the most helpful in developing your readership?
None! I’ve never had an account on any social media platform. The lone survivor of the Jurassic Period, I tend to use long-forgotten methods of communication, mainly face-to-face chats, telephone calls, and handwritten letters.
6) What advice would you give to aspiring or just starting authors out there?
Write poems that represent your unique aesthetic sensibilities. Try not to be overly influenced by prevailing trends or by contemporary poetic styles.
Edit mercilessly over an extended period. Satisfying first drafts often begin to show their flaws only after sufficient time has elapsed to afford an objective assessment.
Begin your foray into publication by submitting poems to literary journals. This will help you determine which of your poems resonate with experienced reviewers. Before each submission, make sure that your poem is a good fit for the journal.
7) What does the future hold in store for you? Any new books/projects on the horizon?
Given my age, history of MS, and undisciplined writing process, I’m doubtful that any additional books are forthcoming. But you never know…
About the Author
Stephen C. Pollock is a recipient of the Rolfe Humphries Poetry Prize and a former associate professor at Duke University. His poems have appeared in a wide variety of literary journals, including “Blue Unicorn,” “The Road Not Taken,” “Live Canon Anthology,” “Pinesong,” “Coffin Bell,” and “Buddhist Poetry Review.” “Exits” is his first book.
Available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3p1Asbm