samrasnakeSam Rasnake‘s poetry has appeared recently or will appear in Press 1, FRiGG, OCHO, Shampoo, Oranges & Sardines, BOXCAR Poetry Review, Otoliths, BluePrintReview, The Smoking Poet, and Naugatuck River Review, as well as the anthologies Best of the Web 2009 (Dzanc Books) and Deep River Apartments (The Private Press). His latest collection, Inside a Broken Clock, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press, 2010. Rasnake edits Blue Fifth Review, an online journal of poetry and art.

Q (Meg Pokrass) What story or book do you feel closest to?

My book of choice that I feel closest to would be Geography III by Elizabeth Bishop. The book that has influenced me the most as a writer would be Oku no Hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Interior) by Matsuo Bashō – specifically, Sam Hamill’s translation.

Do you have a mentor? Do you yourself mentor?

As for mentor – I would have to name the community of writers associated with The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, a journal that began operations in Abingdon, Virginia, in the late 1980’s – and specifically the founding editors, Larry Richman, Nell Maiden, and Errol Hess. I don’t really have the words to say how special that magazine is to me – but I will say this … if not for the Sow’s Ear, you probably wouldn’t be interviewing me today. My writing might never have found its river.

I picked up the first issue, and read a poem by Rita Quillen, a devout believer in, instigator of, and authority on – in the best and truest sense – Appalachian literature. And it is vast. Rita and I had known each other through college, and had sparred as friends on the issue of writing as regional vs. universal … so that immediately drew me to the magazine. Sow’s Ear, which moved beyond those Appalachian circles but without losing touch, put me in direct contact with writers such as William Stafford – who has had more impact on me as a writer than anyone else – Amy Clampitt, Lee Smith, Jeff Daniel Marion, W.D. Snodgrass, David Huddle…. I began working with the magazine in different capacities, and have been chapbook editor since 1993.

The Sow’s Ear also gave rise to wonderful writers’ group, including James Owens, Ann Richman, Suzanne Rhodes, Judy Miller, Kristin Zimet, Edison Jennings, Felicia Mitchell, and others. Edison, Felicia, and I continue as a group today. All this has deepened me as a writer and has helped me find my own voice.

In terms of writing, I try to be a help to anyone, any way I can. A clear goal all writers should have is to lend support. That’s crucial. We all need it. We all can give it.

How do you stay creative? What are your tricks to get “unstuck?”

Films and music. No tricks – films and music. I can’t imagine my life without either. If I’m stuck as a writer, I watch works by Krzysztof Kieślowski, Stanley Kubrick, or Akira Kurosawa … I listen to Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams … then I pick up my pen.

What are your favorite websites?

Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Metazen, MiPOesias, Fictionaut, Zoetrope, Fiction Daily

What is happening right now that you would like to share in your writing world?

In December, Finishing Line Press is publishing my chapbook of poems – Inside a Broken Clock. The poems, part of a long series in-progress – Tales of Brave Ulysses, are focused on literature. I’ve recently finished another ms in the series – A Glass That Falls – poems focused on cinema, and will be searching soon for a publisher.

How have community sites like Facebook affected the writing community for you, if they have…

Facebook has opened me to a different world of writers – and that’s been a great experience. I’ve met – in the virtual world – so many who have impacted me. I knew their works before, but had no contact with them. That alone has deepened my view of literature in a very universal sense, because the Internet connects the world. I can only hope I’ve moved others in some way.

Now, I want all my poetry read aloud by Finnegan Flawnt. He may have the best reading voice I’ve ever heard in my life. If not for Facebook or Twitter or Fictionaut, I might not be connected with him. That would be my loss.

Do you listen to music when you write?

I do, quite often. I listen and write. I listen, then write. My approach is the same with film. I watch a film, gather ideas, emotion, awareness of place, sound, people, action – and then I write. Sometimes though, I watch a film while I’m writing. Oddly enough, that process can add layers to what I’m doing. Words drift in, sights, music… For me that all connects. I don’t recommend that to other writers, but the process works well for me.

Do you seek time away from technology, time to unhook so to speak? How important is that?

The time away from technology, telephones, computers … is necessary. For one thing, I don’t write on a computer. That process has to take place in my journal. That’s sacred. My work is mostly finished when I turn on the computer. I can revise, somewhat, on a computer, and can certainly type up my notes or drafts. I can print that off and revise – but the creative has to be pen and paper.

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is an editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and her stories and poems have been published widely. She blogs at

  1. susan

    It’s a treat to get inside the head of a true poet, and Sam’s one of the best. Great interview by Meg here.

  2. Sheldon Lee Compton

    Great interview. Two things…somehow I missed that Sam had an Appalachian connection, and I also would like for Finn to read everything I’ve written aloud to everyone in the world.

    Also, any time someone mentions Townes Van Zandt and it’s not me talking to myself in my car or while walking down the street (i.e., “Townes was the greatest songwriter who ever lived.”) it makes something in me less sad. Thanks for that, Sam.

  3. Johnsie Noel

    I really enjoyed this interview! Sam is a wonderful contributor to the art. I love his thoughts on the internet and the connections writers can make online.

  4. GO

    Really fine interview. Thank you to Sam and to Meg.

  5. Matthew A. Hamilton

    Nice Interview.

    I, too, enjoy Mr. Rasnake’s poetry and have enjoyed all the the one’s on Fictionaut. I am also honored that he takes the time to read some of my stories and poems on Fictionaut. He is always filled with encouragement and great advice.

    Thank you Mr. Rasnake.

    P.S. I agree with Mr. Compton. Mr. Flawnt can read my stuff to the world any time he wants.


  6. Martha

    This was a pleasure to read, I love Sam’s writing – especially ‘A House’ – he’s such a gifted and supportive presence on Fictionaut. And so are Meg and Flawnt. Great post!

  7. Michelle Elvy

    As if Sam’s poetry wasn’t enough, now there’s Waits, Kieślowski, and Lucinda thrown into my image of who he is. And the exploration of regional v. universal — something else to ponder. This is a wonderful interview. As one of the people who’s benefiting from just getting to know Sam, I say Thank You! To Sam, to Meg, and to Flawnt (just wait til he translates and reads it all in German: it will make you drool, and that’s saying something, since German is not usually thought of as the sexiest language around)!!!

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