Sunday, January 17, 2021

Interview with Chris Rice Cooper, Poet/Writer/Artist

 

1. What inspired you to become a writer, and to write what you do?

     I never remember a time that I did NOT want to be a writer.  I think for encouragement my mother was my greatest encourager because for as far back as I can remember she would buy me THE BIG INDIAN CHIEF notebooks every payday (every two weeks).  I never ran out of paper or pencils or pens because of her and I was always prolific even though most of the stuff was no good – it was still such a relief, a way of expression.   I always had a journal everywhere I went – literally everywhere – and would spend most of recesses and lunch breaks writing in class (if the teacher let me stay there) or writing outside or in the library.

     Growing up the one thing that inspired me most was watching The Waltons and I had the biggest crush on John-Boy Walton (portrayed by Richard Thomas who has published two books of poetry).  My favorite scene was watching him at night, writing at his desk with the window open and the breeze coming in.  It was like a writing adrenaline rush for me. 

     Another thing that inspired me was to read – I’ve always been a voracious reader and once again I’m grateful to my parents for letting me read whatever I wanted (literally). 

     At first I only wrote fiction – which I found to be so easy at the time.  But later (in high school and college and especially in my 30s) I fell hopelessly in love with poetry in such a way that it changed everything about me all good ways.  I was able to express myself in every way imaginable and feel exposed and vulnerable but yet safe all at the same time.   

     The first poet I remember being so enamored by was Sylvia Plath and I learned about her when we watched 1979 film THE BELL JAR movie with Marilyn Haslett as Esther – but only when it showed on the local television station.  I don’t remember much but that I related to Esther – her sense of mental breakdown and her need to be a writer.

I then knew about Sylvia Plath and my greatest encouragement was from my mother when she bought me THE NEW YORKER issue of Sylvia Plath’s poetry.  In high school I felt free to write poetry about the darkness I felt from within me and outside of me.  My first poem was “THE RED APPLE OF CHANGE” which deals with mental illness but never good enough to publish.

     Most what I write now is poetry and feature stories in what I like to call victimology writing – where I write for the benefit of the victim.  I always had a fascination with crime, the criminal justice system and the Constitution,  but my heart always went out to the victim.  Most of my poetry is dedicated to these voices and can be deemed violent.

    Also, I have a deep Christian faith not in a church or people but in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Most of my most intimate compelling poetry (at least in my opinion) somehow involves Jesus.  I love to focus on the human aspect of this God in the flesh and it so healing and so intimate and yet a love song I sing to Him.

     Recently my writing of poetry has been focused on what I like to call the Orange Man in the White House and the betrayal I feel by the far-right Christian community and the far-right Republican Party  for not taking what I view as a necessary Constitutional stand against this unlawful man.  

 

2. You write in several genres, and also express yourself in other artistic ways? Shed some light on how that happened, and how the multigene/-media influence you? I am a poet/writer, and that's all there is to me. Working with/knowing people like you leaves me in awe.

 

     I think when it comes to being published the most successful (when it comes to being paid and having the most readers) are my feature stories or newspaper articles.  I’ve been writing feature stories now for over 30 years.  My major was Criminology but I always wanted to write.

     I think the most profound genre happened in April of 2013, when my husband and I were stationed in Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.  It was a miserable time.  And I was going through so many bouts of mental illness.  My publisher died in a car crash the previous year in Los Angeles, so I lost my writing job and honestly have not been paid for writing since them.  But this despair led me to start my blog where I do feature stories on all individuals – it’s like a magazine of feature stories really.  Lately, I’ve been focusing on fiction writers and especially poets, my most passionate love.

 

3. Which artists/writers inspired you?

     There are so many writers I admire.  It’s too many to count so I’ll focus on books – To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and so dear to my heart The Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene - that book – still affects me to this day and I still have the same copy I purchased when I was in the 6th grade from the bookstore at the Houston Mall in Warner Robins, Georgia.  It is now wrapped in a rubber band.

     Other books that touched me deeply is Sophie’s Choice by William Styron, Lancelot by Walker Percy, and The Sunflower Forest by Torey Hayden.

     The writers I admire I will limit to writers that I will buy their books the moment they come out in hardback – Wally Lamb (all of his – and each book gets better), Donna Tartt, and Martha Hall Kelly.

     And I love non-fiction – particularly focused on some aspect of crime – one of which is Say Nothing:  A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe.  I went to Barnes and Nobel and passed this book and I swear to God this book was calling out my name and I had to get it.

     Another book that called out my name is Deep River by Karl Marlantes that called out my name and I purchased it right away.  I swear to you this is not a natural occurrence but these two books reached out to me and I devoured them- writing features on my blog about these works. 

    The one poet I admire the most is Carolyn Forche – I did my analysis on her and her works while I was working on my Master’s in Creative Wring.  I devour her work and have her memoir (though yet to read it) and believe she is a champion for social justice.   To be honest there are so many poets and poems that affect me so deeply – I’m even hesitant to mention her name but want to bring a poet into this response.

 

4.  How and where did you develop your skills?

     I think I practice my skill by doing it –writing and sketching.  And I love to read which is vital in order to be an effective writer. 

     When it comes to artwork recently I can’t really say who I admire as of late because I’m so focused on the artwork that I don’t always see the name.  The one artist that I love though is Frieda Kahlo – she had such deep dark struggles, such intense pain all of her life, and she painted how affected all parts of her life, especially her body.

     I think one way to develop one’s skill is to read biographies (by journalists and not some Hollywood columnist) about the works of people you admire.  If you want to learn how to paint – find a painter you admire and read about them; the same with writing.

     The most vivid and literally the thing that saved my sanity and I mean this literally happened in the fall of 2013 – we had moved from a small house on the base to a bigger one and I was still miserable.  It was a horrible time and I decided I needed to do something desperate.  I needed to try a new art form I never tried before to save my brain, literally my mind.  I took a course sketching drawing course – mixed media art – and I felt some sense of relief from this darkness.  I was immediately compelled to focus on sketching faces,  

Then In 2016, I took a course called LET’s FACE IT 2016 with Kara Bullock (https://karabullockart.com) and it changed my life.  I’ve been sketching and painting ever since. 

 

5. The concept of place is central to what I write. We share St. Louis in common. Does that city/region figure in what you produce?

     I am embarrassed to say that place is not central to what I write – not as much as I like to.  I’m terrible when it comes to narrative poetry and narrative fiction and I’m working on a novel now where I’m focusing the story in St. Louis area where I reside.  I’m hoping this exercise will teach me to appreciate place more.

 

6. Is there anything else you wish to add? Thanks so much!

     Thanks so much for this opportunity and a fantastic way to connect! People can read my blog at https://chrisricecooper.blogspot.com Or email me at caccoop@aol.com



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