It’s Thursday, & time for Writers Talk! I’m most gratified that we can include Jack Varnell, AKA The Emotional Orphan, in this series. His poems are memorable: flashes of emotion & image, & are very direct, a characteristic he shares with one of my own favorite poets, Kenneth Patchen. Here’s a brief writerly bio:
Jack Varnell is a contemporary prose poet & writer living in the suburbs of Atlanta, Ga. USA
Usually writing under the pseudonym "The Emotional Orphan", & predominantly an online writer, he has been published at Culture Sandwich, The Literary Burlesque, Verses In Motion, Undead Poets Society, Sick Of 'Em, Pigeonbike Poetry, & Red Fez.
Print Selections include Guerilla Pamphlets 7, & due this spring from Popshot Magazine, & All The King's Horses-Volume 3 in the 'Expression of Depression' anthology series from LittleEpisodes/Little Brown Book Group in the UK
Jack's blog is Emotional Orphan.
His RedRoom author page is at this link.
Please be sure to check out Jack Varnell’s poem “Wolves at Bay” over at the Writers Talk blog—& now, on to the interview!
When did you first realize your identity as a writer?
I began writing at a very young age. I wrote a short story called “Freddy the Rat” at around age six. It was around the same time my mother held a figurative gun to my head in order to encourage me to play the piano rather than concern myself with silly games like baseball. I had seen “Ben” with Michael Jackson, and “Willard” - those cheesy 70’s movies about the rats, and decided the theme from Ben needed to be the song I did in my recital. “Freddy the Rat” was homage to him. Ben. Not Michael.
Since I never really attended school successfully, I really didn’t write too much in my teens and early twenties. My imagination was always on spin cycle, and I was more concerned with living the stories that eventually become poems. I read all the time, and developed a keen taste for some of the masters like Hermann Hesse, Sartre, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche and the likes, but missed a bunch of the more familiar contemporary authors, and studied few contemporary poets. I tended to lean more towards a spiritual, philosophical, or even utopian or dystopian type of write, so when I did pick up a pen it was usually something flavored by those writers. My writing output was limited, with the exception of sappy, silly love letters, legal briefs, letters to the Parole Board asking for leniency, and Writs of Habeas Corpus for my hoodlum buddies.
I am a recovering addict, clean for seventeen years now. In rehab I was told I was told I was an “emotional orphan”, and that I needed to learn how to get in touch with my feelings at a deeper level. Journaling on a daily basis was the tool they used to have me learn that, and I discovered that it worked, and more importantly offered a way to express myself in a truthful and creative manner. I rarely do fiction, and have been writing essays, stories, shorts and poetry since then. Much of my work is under the pseudonym “The Emotional Orphan” for that very reason.
Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.
Most all of my poetry follows a similar pattern, and it is a little different than most poets I have known or read about. I generally am focused on the actual who, what, where, when, and why of my own life experiences. I don’t usually shy away from topics that are not that easy to swallow because that is how a lot of my life has been. I have had a colorful and exciting life with exposure to things most have only seen on television or read in books. Anything I may be exposed to may end up on the page at some point. Some have notebooks of stories, poems, etcetera. I have phrases, anecdotes, half finished pieces, observations and random thoughts.
My writing usually includes two important factors. The first is honesty. I cannot succeed if I am afraid of telling the truth, or with too much concern of how it will be interpreted. Secondly, my experiences are the key piece of evidence in my crimes against poetry or literature.
Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process? (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)
At this point, my relationship with the publishing process is a bit like two teenagers at a school dance. She is the homecoming queen, cheerleader - too pure for any car backseat. I am the acne scarred guy, leaning against the wall staring lustfully at her from across the room. The secret weapon is poetry, not beer.
I have been writing, and refraining from doing submissions for about two years, and simply focusing on the art, and the mechanics involved. I also want my voice to be heard so I read any and all journals, lit mags, and different publishers with the intent of learning where that voice might get heard. I did a little self publishing test online to evaluate the potential, and timing for a chapbook or larger collection.
I’ve been experimenting with Broadsides, and simply writing to build an arsenal of poems ready to be …somewhere.
Having a sales and marketing background, I have also been somewhat a student of the changes in the publishing world and who is responsible for the success of a writer. The reality is that ultimately the writer controls his own fate. Branding has been important to me with the Emotional Orphan Blog, and twitter, tumblr, posterous, and many other social media outlets, blogs, and writing / arts communities. So, if you look at your business card and the words Penguin, Copper Canyon, or something similar is attached to the company you work for, I have done half the work already.
How has being a writer affected your relationships?
Although writing is a solitary exercise, I have been given so much from the writing community from across all genres, and forms. My real world relationships may have been minimized a bit.They have been replaced by a strong core group of creative and talented friends who support each other and offer critique and feedback, from an honest perspective with the intention of perfecting their craft. Writers like Caroline Hagood, Laura Mercurio Ebohon, Fran Lock, and Jodi MacArthur, whose writing styles are completely different, have been particularly gracious and instrumental in sharing words of wisdom and making sure to pay attention to my work that gets “out there”
Besides them, there are possibly hundreds of writers online that I read as often as I can, and many others who lend support through Facebook and other social media outlets. Daily, I am embarrassed by running across someone that I meant to keep up with that I have neglected to read.
How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any? This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.
I have some long time friends and writers who I try to interact with regularly. I also float in and out of various groups designed to support, enlighten and critique each others work. The HIGHdra Syndicate is an outstanding group of young writers and poets who study at the feet of the masters from the Outlaw Poetry Movement. We are pretty headstrong about making some noise, and a difference in the publishing world, and the reception and recognition of poetry at large. Outlaw poetry, as described by the incomparable S.A Griffin just last night, is not picking up guns, robbing banks and going on the lam, it is about having a finger on the pulse of society and having the courage to shake things up a little in order to wake up the masses. Poets like S.A., A.Razor, Rafael F.J.Fajardo, Scott Wannberg, John Dorsey, and infinite others have been doing it for a long time. There are many others like Frankie Metropolis, Edaurdo Jones, Diana Rose, Murphy Clamrod, Jason Hardung, High Jack Flash, Jack Shaw, Christian Alvarez, Yossarian Hunter, Newamba Flamingo, Sean Hogan, and a host of others are making some noise. Publishers like Epic Rites Press, and Wolfgang Carstens are giving an outlet for the voices of writers like Rob Plath, John Yamrus, Jack Henry, and Karl Koweski, while keeping alive the words of Todd Moore, one of the original Outlaws and a master no longer with us …in the physical. We believe pretty strongly in the power of both the spoken and written word and make use of any and all tools available to connect with the masses. These tools include everything from banged up antique typewriters, to iPhones, and our internet radio channel on BlogTalk Radio.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the community of artists and writers at Little Episodes. Primarily based in the UK, LE has a stated mission of “Dispelling the notion that art is a corporate commodity-Giving the artistic industries back to the artist- Promoting the arts as a platform to incite empathy and understanding.“ It is an incredible community of support, and talent that has proven to be an indispensible place to give and take in order to grow as an artist.
What are your future goals in terms of writing?
For now, my intention is to keep writing, and submitting. I have had some success, but I don’t necessarily measure that in number of books or poems published. It is more about gleaning all I can from those more educated, and experienced, and following the proven method of getting the words out there. I tend to be a little analytical about it all. The words of my fellow writers are more powerful to me than how often I have been published, the rejections with critique more valuable than the acceptance letters.
I think finding a cure for my aversion to apostrophes and extreme addiction to ellipses may be equally as important, and I do have a secret desire to actually finish an English class one day. Hopefully royalties from my first book may provide the means to actually go to college. For a while, at least.
Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?
Let me clarify, would a machete be considered a musical instrument?
Seriously, I think my Mother’s statement many years ago about how I would one day regret that I didn’t pursue the piano with a little more dedication holds true. I believe a piano would accomplish what I would like to with my writing. It has the potential to offer intense and powerful music, while also having the ability to calmly tickle the imagination and take it to places unseen. There is a journey to be enjoyed, and if you just close your eyes it can take you almost anywhere through the good, the bad and the ugly. For the bad and ugly, it offers a solution and some peace. You can find a home there.