I’ll be the first to admit that without Eric Scott Sutherland, there might not be a Bianca Spriggs, as we all know her today. Eric gave me my first ever feature performance when he hosted a reading series at the Bluegrass Baking Company. I like to say that Eric, who is a trained arborist, has the “growing hand” when it comes to the Kentucky literary community. Dozens of newly published and veteran authors alike have graced the Al’s Bar stage during his six year tenure as host and organizer of “Holler Poets Series,” a free monthly literary event which features one of the best open mics in the state, two feature readers, and a musical act.
Check out what Eric had to say about his new title, pendulum (Accents Publishing) and the writing life below, as well as a poem excerpt!
Eric Scott Sutherland is the author of two chapbooks and two full length collections: incommunicado and his latest, pendulum. He is the creator and host of Holler Poets Series, a monthly celebration of literature and music since 2008. The Poet Laureate of Al’s Bar, Eric makes his home in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky.
Tell us some about pendulum.
Pendulum is a gritty tale set in Central, a mythologized city library, where an array of characters are caught in a daily struggle to hold onto the light in a world overrun by darkness. It is based on my experience running a café in Lexington’s Central Library. In the story, I am the gatekeeper.
When was the moment you knew this was a collection?
I knew long before most of it was written. It occurred in a workshop being run by Rebecca Gayle Howell. I brought in three of the first polished poems that would be included in pendulum for feedback. She heard a new voice from me in them and expressed a desire to see more. There was such a genuine enthusiasm in her voice it gave me the feeling these poems were going to be special.
Did any particular research go into the collection or aspects of the poems? What was your favorite research-related discovery while writing?
All of the material comes from my personal experience in a certain place over many years. The research, if you can call it that, was hands on, day-to-day, and very informal. However, I did discover the real story behind the character in the poem, “vitriolage.” The information I found about her helped me finish writing the poem beyond the interpersonal details I already had.
Which poem is the oldest?
These writings span a period of eight years so it’s hard to say which is the oldest. However, “the gatekeeper” is the oldest in the sense of being the one I first introduced into a workshop setting. It became the cornerstone of the book.
Where can we buy your book?
My book is available from all fine local bookstores in Lexington. It is available online at the publisher’s website and from yours truly, if you are looking for a personalized copy.
What does your writing process look like? Any rituals that ensure literary gold?
I write when inspiration strikes, always carrying a pen and journal. From there, I expand upon what initial ideas I got down. Sometimes I get a few lines, while other times I may get a nearly complete poem. Every month or so, I take the raw material from my journal and transcribe it to word. Every year has a file. There I can edit efficiently and in a somewhat orderly fashion. I do not have a specified writing time. I try not to force the process in that way.
Do you work towards a collection or does a collection manifest after you’ve written for a few years?
They tend to manifest themselves. My projects tend to coalesce from the material I’m working on at the time. I usually have a manuscript in queue by the time I get around to publishing one.
What is your favorite part of the publishing process? Least favorite?
Beyond getting accepted for publication, my favorite part of the process is the sharing of the finished product. I love the oral part of poetry, so to be able to tour and share a collection I’ve labored over for years is an invaluable reward. And no matter how beneficial it is (I learned quite a bit during this phase), my least favorite part of the process is editing. The peaks and valleys in writing confidence are very energy demanding. It takes fierce belief in your vision and writing to stay focused on fighting through the moments when you lose a little faith.
Favorite writing utensil?
Pen with black ink
How hard is it these days to start and maintain a career as a poet?
You have to have stamina and determination. But most importantly inspiration. I always think about what James Baker Hall used to say. In summary, the gist was you call yourself a writer? Come see me in ten years. I tend to agree. I think to have any “success” (which can be defined many ways) you have to love what you are doing and continue exploring the depths of that love for a lifetime.
What are you currently working on?
I have been mostly working on promoting the book, touring as much as possible throughout the region. As far as new writing, I am cleaning up a manuscript I’ve been working on for a few years with hopes of finding it a home in the near future. It was my main focus when pendulum was picked up for publication.
is always a dirty
a hand not washed
in who knows how long.
a hand stained by soil
and cigarette resin, the filth
permanent under fingernails.
a hand sprouting long claws
the color of skin, camouflaged,
each one a hook, a tool to dig.
a hand counting out
eighty pennies for a soda.