Raymond Soulard, Jr: Interview and Sampling of Poetry
Part 1. An Interview with Ray
Raymond publishes the Cenacle, a very fine literary magazine; acts as editor and publisher for Scriptor Press, an institution that offers fine literature as well as publishing new writers and has freely distributed books annually at Burningman Arts festival in Black Rock City Nevada.
Raymond also hosts SpiritPlants Radio, offering a platform for djs of all spheres, from all over the world. He hosts Jellicle Literary Guild Meetings –an opportunity for poets to read their work, both live and via youtube, skype and google chat.
I wanted to find out more about this unique generous mind, and so I put together a few questions.
Full Name: Raymond Edmond Soulard, Jr
Birthplace: Hartford, Connecticut, USA
Present Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Favorite childhood memory: Can I give you two? One was living in a town, a suburb and I was in the family house and I was in the grass out front and I was looking out at clouds, and it was very peaceful, it was the first time I’d looked up at clouds and found them very pacific. The other one was we used to play football in this empty lot, the kids in the neighborhood I lived in, but sometimes we just played in the street, cause it wasn’t a much travelled street. I got to play quarterback a lot and my hero was a quarterback. There was one moment where I dropped back to throw a pass and I threw it really really long and the guy I threw it too, it kind of arced over his shoulder and it fell right into his hands and it felt for a moment like I was on a real pro football field doing that same thing. It had the same quality of perfection that I’d seen on TV. So when I think of childhood memories –things that just stick, things I thought about so many times that probably the original doesn’t resemble what I remember right at this moment, I think of these things.
Judih: How would you describe yourself as a poet?
Ray: I don’t really think of myself as a poet per se, but I will say to you that about ten fifteen years ago, I got up on a new years day, living by myself in an apt near Boston, and I sat down at my desk and I decided after so many years of not calling myself anything to call myself an artist.
J: Is there one word you’d use to describe yourself?
J: How did you get started?
R: Well, it was mostly because when I was a kid in the 70s there wasn’t much entertainment for kids but television and playing outside. None of the families had much money so we pretty much made up our own games and things, our parents didn’t like us inside watching TV all day, so we were compelled to run in gangs in the streets –not city streets, these were reasonably nice suburban streets. My family didn’t really have any money for clubs or activities or paying for me to do anything so I turned to the one thing that I did have on hand and that was the many books my grandmother brought over from the Thrift Store where she was working. That got me interested in reading and then my mom, an English major in college, would give me binders and notebook paper and that’s what I did to entertain myself. I wrote.
So it was mostly being bored and not having other things
J: How old were you –
R: I started my journal when I was about 10. I’d say that was my first writing project: a journal. I read a kid’s book about a kid keeping a journal, so I said, okay I’ll keep one too. That was back in 1974.
J: Do you have a favorite spot for writing?
R: I usually end up at coffee houses or fast food places or bus stations. I know that most people who write like a quiet little sanctuary in their house, a room with peace, no distractions, but when I was growing up I was from a large family living in a fairly small house, and I spent a lot of time babysitting, so that when I was able to get away and be on my own, I greatly valued it. So eventually, I combined my time when I was free of obligations with writing and I found that I having a certain amount of noise around me was actually stimulating.
Each city I lived in I’ve had a clique of places, I’d say half a dozen places where I go over and over again and I also like writing in city buses.
J: Do you prefer to write longhand or by computer?
R: If I’d been born 20 years later, if I were in my 20s now, I’d probably compose everything by computer, but I started writing before computers and that became my habit. I don’t consider anything I do on computer as writing – because in my own mind, writing is done with a pen but that’s just a personal preference I’m not judging anyone else.
It’s not the method – it’s the result and as importantly the experience of it.
I don’t think of someone doing a blog as anything doing anything lesser – they just have their own way.
J: Do you have a method to your writing that you could share?
R: Do you mean in terms of setting? Or in terms of how something’s composed.
J: I was thinking if you have a way of getting into the mood.
R: Alright. Sure. I tend to listen to music on headphones when I’m writing. I usually have a soda nearby. I try my best to have carved out a fair chunk of time – ideally at least a couple of hours. I do my best to have some notion of what I’m going to do. At least some jumping off point.
J: Do you find it easy to sit down and concentrate?
R: Most of the time. Most of the time since I have other obligations, I can figure out in advance when my periods of writing are going to come and so I do my best to arrive at that stretch of time with a decent frame of mind. It doesn’t always work, but it works most of the time. I also find that because I write different kinds of things and most of the things I don’t write for publication, I just write for my own almost like, such as a journal just for thoughts – that sometimes helps me to warm up and get into the mood. One thing I’ve learned over time is that if you give yourself a stretch of time with a fairly comfortable location, and if you just start, even if you don’t start with an organized set of thought s it’s kinda like being an athlete – gotta stretch, warm up but eventually your mind and body will get into the task if you just let them.
J: Do you listen to music while you work? If so, who or what kind?
R: Mostly I listen to rock music. Some jazz. Some electronica. Last Saturday I’ve been meaning to mention this group to you – Swedish jazz E.S.T. – I listened to the whole album while I was writing – it was the most lovely experience. The thing about listening to music is that you can find that you’re almost collaborating with the rhythms and melodies that you’re listening to. It softens your mind, like getting a mental massage so that your mind is able to focus on the task and clarify. That was a really wonderful experience.
J: Who has inspired you over the years?
R: In terms of writing?
J: It could be anything; who’s inspired you to be an artist.
R: A lot of my heroes are heroes from my youth. When I was a teenager and very unhappy in high school, I read a lot of John Steinbeck – he was one my earliest literary heroes. The writer who inspired me early on in terms of poetry was Rilke, he established for me the idea of being an artist as either a holy, necessary mission or something you shouldn’t bother with. Another hero is the painter Claude Monet because artists like him they show you that it is possible to use traditional materials, to see uniquely. He painted in oil and paint brushes and regular stretch canvases but there isn’t an artist on the face of the planet who did what he did.
Also a lot of musicians: I think the ones that I’d single out would be: The Beatles, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.
J: an interesting mixture.
R: Well you know it’s either 3 or 3hundred. You understand.
J: At this point, I’d love for you to read one of your favourite poetry pieces. Can you offer it here?
This poem is untitled. It’s a recent poem and it’s an example of the challenge of writing good poetry at any length. I like this poem of mine so I’ve chosen it to read it to you.
If I believed in god, he would look like a tree
& sing forever.
..Click link for audio.. Untitled
About Writing Workshops
J: Have you ever been involved in writing workshops? Either as a participant or as a teacher? Can you say a few words…
R: Yes, I have. I was in a MFA Creative Writing program some years ago in Emerson College in Boston. I was in a fiction workshop and a poetry workshop.
J: And can you share something of your experience?
R: Well I would preface by saying that a writing workshop is dependent on who’s running it, their approach and also the people who are taking it and their expectations. So, the experience I had was that of a classroom setting and at the end of the semester there were grades and the students were in their 20s mostly – and I think their expectations were that they were there to learn how to write. I had a different set of expectations – I thought of myself of being there to experience other writers and how they approach their writing – but it seemed like the classes were more geared to helping people finish off their pieces.
J: So you were disappointed
R: I was disappointed but that’s because my expectations were not aligned with what those workshops were about. I’d like to think that some of those people in those classes probably had good experiences.
J: Okay, but it was a personal question, I wanted to know how you felt.
R: With those particular experiences, it was disappointing because I felt at odds with everyone else. I didn’t want someone else finishing my writing or telling me how to write. I was more interested in a dialogue in which I would wanna know – why they wrote what they wrote – what they were going for and how they did and the end result being gaining and offering insights into their own art.
It seemed rather that people would tell you whether they liked something or not. The thing about college writing workshops in the U.S. are geared for publishing – so when you’re in a writing workshop here, it’s kind of a focus group – whereby you’re getting an audience to read your work and tell you whether or not they’d buy it. If they wouldn’t, they’d tell you why.
If you accept that premise, you’ll probably get something out of the experience and if you don’t then you’ll be at odds.
Like everything else here in the U.S., writing is treated as commerce, as product.
J: Yes, I see. Yes. That’s how my experience was when I was in University working with Margaret Atwood. I brought her my delicious fresh from my heart work and she looked at it strictly from the point of view of whether or not it was publishable and that was devastating to me, at that time.
R: Yes it’s frustrating, unless you accept the premise. If your goal is to publish and you really want to audition your work in front of an audience, then you might really have some good experiences, you might learn valuable things, your skin thickens up at bit, because you learn to take criticism and figure out how to use some of it. It can be valuable if that’s your purpose.
J: Would you run a workshop? Whether it’s internet or face to face, something along the lines of what you yourself would have wanted.
R: It would depend on the setting, If it were in college, then someone else would be determining the rules, what students would get out of it, then I’d have to agree with those rules. someone else’s rules – someone else
J: If it were your rules, your location, would you run a workshop?
R: Maybe. I think that what you can give to someone else in terms of writing is that you can give them a certain amount of guidance, a certain amount of support, but really they have to do the work. They have to live their lives meaningfully, they have to read a lot of books, they have to experience art in all its different forms, many more than just the literary form. They have to soak up the world and try to understand how they fit into it or don’t fit into it. Then they have to sit down day after day, week after week, year after year and write. And if that person did all that and then sat with me and said here’s some stuff I wrote and then ask me to look at their stuff, then I’d be glad to.
The problem I have with workshops is …I’ll tell you a story that encapsulates my experience that I was talking about earlier.
There was a day when I ran into a fellow student at a local coffee house. We had shared a class together and he said to me: “What are you going to do this weekend?” I said I’d probably spend a lot of it writing. He said: “I really have to force myself to sit down and do some writing, also.” I thought to myself: if you have to force yourself to sit down and do it, then why are the hell are you doing it?
The thing about a workshop, if it’s just part of a whole range of things that they’re doing to enjoy and make more meaningful art then it will be a valuable thing. If they’re showing up at the workshop not already living the life or not wanting to learn how to live the life –then it won’t provide those answers.
Some years ago I studied the tarot and the I ching – this is what I learned from them, and it’s something you can learn from other things as well: you get as much as you give. If you decided to devote yourself to the study of the tarot or the I ching over the course of many years, you read many books, you talked to many practitioners, you’ve had many experiences, over the course of time, you would find your life, your way of thinking imbued with the wisdom and the way of approaching the world that those disciplines offer. If you just show up at a tarot reader’s house one day and she does a reading for you and gives you some commentary based upon the cards, and then you walk away – you will have had your single experience and maybe it was valuable but it’s not going to formulate the base of your life thereon.
I believe that some people are predisposed, they have the gift of artistic expression in some form or other and it’s just a matter if they pursue it, and I think others don’t: their gifts lie elsewhere.
Ray, at this point, could you read another piece?
R: Yes, I’d like to read “Circulation Salves Distress”.
It is a poem that is part of my recent efforts to write poetry that uses materials from my dreams, not entirely but in part. That uses dreams, interesting dreams, the ones that I write down in the morning, that stay with me as part of a larger poetic exploration. It’s hard to explain sometimes to people who don’t really pay attention. The ones that do get it pretty simply. But it’s hard to explain to the others that it’s not a dream poem, it’s not that I wrote down my poem and broke it into lines and gave it a musical flourish and there it is. It’s not that easy. Dreams don’t work like that, at least my dreams don’t work like that in terms of how I write poetry. I simply can’t write them down most of the time, I have to work them with other thoughts and lines from other poems. What emerges is a poem even if one of its ingredients is material from a dream.
Circulation Salves Distress
I met him at a party at a dilapidation
near the city of scholars & beggars. We were
both long homeless then. The party was for
travellers like us, at crossroads & tired.
The game going on as I arrived was a favorite,
simply called Chains, a reminder of
what happens when you stop moving.
The dilapidation had no roof to comfort,
or conceal, to lie that every soul tonight
slept warm & caged. There were the heady
local periodicals on plastic tables, dense
erudition made to capture a melodic fancy
& dissect a fang to its meaning. Amongst the periodicals
were squat jars of the dreaming juice.
You could tell its heavier drinkers by
their whispered song, “sometimes I am me,
sometimes I’m not, sometimes I’m arriving,
sometimes passing through.”
He noticed to me the rhythm of the place,
its restive hum, how nothing here abided
agreeably in time. We huddled with others
near the wall & laughed at the film
about the crazy dog from the future,
never quite arrived. It learned, in time,
to croon its wish to land in music or despair.
When the soldiers came to stifle the
open-air sexcries that worried the preachers
& their nests on nearby streets, my buddy & I
left to travel on together awhile.
The morning was quiet, not yet sunrise,
between breaths of wind a silence.
We left the city of scholars & beggars
to its thousand-year decay, to what men
will think when none need crawl a thick tome
for answers, nor any need wish pages made better food.
Click for audio Circulation Salves Distress
J: You’ve published The Cenacle for 16 years now. Are there moments in publishing The Cenacle that stand out? Could you mention an unbelievably interesting one, a project that surprised you, an abysmal let-down,…
R: Sure. Publishing The Cenacle. It was as much as a result as a project in itself. It was a culmination of other things. As a kid, I wrote because there wasn’t much So when I was a kid and I was first writing. There were two kinds of writing I did as a kid – and I’ll mention them briefly as a starting off point. I wrote my own novels. I started 2 newspapers that I wrote out longhand with pencil and paper.
So, my point is that from when I was a kid I’ve always been fascinated with publishing and when I got into college, I joined the college newspaper and the college literary magazine and the other literary college magazine and that was a lot of fun, and I met a lot friends who also wrote and we started doing our own ‘zines,’ I would call them at that point..
The thing to remember is that back then, there was no internet. What you had at the time was whoever and whatever was close by, so unless you were very worldly and well-travelled, you were pretty much confined to whatever your local talent had to offer.
The Cenacle came about because I decided that I’d rather self-publish my work and also publish other people’s work than attempt to sell it.
I had tried to submit my writing to magazines and had gotten very poor, indifferent responses, and I knew a lot of people who wrote and I thought I might as well just do it myself. I had been kind of doing it myself all along anyway. Karl Marx said the important thing in life is to “seize the means of production.” And it was the one line from Karl Marx that I really held dear to my heart. He was basically saying that whoever owns the means to production is going to run the roost.
I’ve found that to be true across the board. Whatever else he said, right or wrong, I valued that piece of thinking greatly.
One of the happiest moments in all the years I’ve done The Cenacle was pretty much the beginning when I purchased for $500 a Canon desktop photocopier – very primitive compared to what you can purchase nowadays but it was the first time that in my own house I could publish something.
I can only liken it to probably how the Soviet dissidents must have felt when they were using the mimeograph machines in secret – the sense of power of writing something and duplicating it as many times as you want is intoxicating. So that was when I started The Cenacle. I finally didn’t have to go to a copier place to make publications.
That was a moment that was very triumphant – at the beginning.
One of the most delightful projects I was involved with over the course of the years publishing The Cenacle was working with Christopher Patrick Gose to publish his journal “World’s Window” about his travels in Peru. He travelled down to Peru to experience drinking ayahuasca and he kept an online journal about it. I’m online friends with him and he pointed out his journal to me one day. I read it and thought with a little cleaning up this could be a publishable work. Over the course of 4 issues of The Cenacle, I took his online journal and the pictures that he associated with the journal and turned it into a serialized story and followed that up by editing it down a little bit more, cleaning it up and turning it into a publishable book, which my press then published. That was a great experience.
I don’t think I’ve had any abysmal let-downs –I mean there have been people that I wanted to work with or pieces people promised me which didn’t actually appear, but there isn’t anything that fell apart. I think I’ve learned that until I have a piece in hand, not to get my hopes too high.
J: Okay, having said that I think we should mention what a marvelous magazine it is and consistently so –it’s an experience just to hold it and read it. Not to mention having instant online access to it. The quality is always right up there.
R: As a matter of fact we’re working full out on the 16th Anniversary Issue– and it’s chock full of goodness. It’s got almost all of the regular contributors from the past few years offering up something. So it’s always exciting to be working on a new one
J: So we’ll stay tuned. When do you think it’ll be ready?
R: It’ll be out in about two and a half weeks
R: I’m working on it this morning, later and Kassi (Kassandra Soulard) is working on a really good colour cover. When it first started out it was going to be 8 issues a year, but it proved to be too much to do it well, so eventually it became quarterly and I made my peace with the fact that a quarterly journal can have immediacy if you just work hard enough on making it immediate.
Go to Part 2 in which we discuss Spoken Word, the Internet and Speaking Out.
or jump ahead to Part 3