Interview from the Clear Blue
1/28/16 Interviewed by Fiona Mcvie.
Name: Jack Scott
Where are you from?
I was born in Virginia, then moved to Milford, Delaware where I remained until I went away to college. I attended U. of Delaware, U. of S. Carolina, Morgan State College and took a couple of courses at Johns Hopkins. I was an English major, theater minor, specializing in bullshit and beer. I do not have a degree. Since college, I have lived in Baltimore, Maryland.
Fiona: Tell us a little about yourself, i.e. your education, family life, etc.
Until I was six we lived in a boarding house between the post office and the bank in a small town astraddle an imaginary North/South line. The other boarders were school teachers who doted on me. My mother read to me constantly and played wonderful music, mostly classical. I could read and write long before going to school. I did not socialize well with other children my age and became a loner very early. I had a perfect childhood until I was dragged kicking and screaming to first grade. School was hell and I became a problem child. They (my parents and teachers) didn’t know what to do with me. My mother patiently took me to all kinds of psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors and therapists, all to no avail. I became one of the first two people to be skipped a grade (the eighth) in the Delaware school system. I left my early friends behind and was not well accepted in the later grades. I had an extremely high I.Q. and I was bipolar, although it was years before anyone figured that out, much less have any idea how to treat it.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Actually, this interview is my latest news. My recent news is my beginning to post my poetry on Facebook. My best news is the completion of my website: poemystic.com, The Poetry of Jack Scott. My old news reborn is the publication of my poetic lifework. It has been nearly fifty years since I last submitted poetry for publication or given a public reading.
Fiona: Why have you kept your poetry to yourself for so long?
Because I’m not good at multitasking. I’ve had a very busy life. I have been self-employed most of my life working at a wild variety of things to make ends meet. I’ve never been a hippy, but I suppose I’ve resembled one in some of my habits. I would work until I got a little money ahead and then withdraw and write until broke again and then go back to work. I could never justify diluting my precious writing time with the self-promotion and merchandising involved in the submission/rejection cycle. Plus, I’m thin-skinned enough to be easily wounded by repetitive disappointment.
My life has been a succession of compelling passions. I tried to cultivate and then killed more varieties of orchids than most people have ever heard of. Ditto: cactus and succulents. I was a ceramics prodigy; my teachers said that I could do things with clay that can’t be done with clay. I taught ceramic sculpture. Then I lost interest and moved on to fulfill and then abandon yet another passion. I have been married four times. I have never known whether the nature of my lifelong behavior has been the result of my choices- reasoned or rash -or the influence of the chemical imbalance in my brain. A combination of the two, I would think.
The cycles of mania followed by depression, ad infinitum are very varied; you can have long cycles and short staccato cycles simultaneously. Bipolarity is a constant barrage of imperatives. Although it is incurable, it can be stabilized somewhat with medication, if you can luck into something with tolerable side effects. There is free will to a degree, a variable ability to make reasonable choices and to nominally accept responsibility for their outcome. BUT the pressure to be carried along by a turbulent flow of irregular behavior is relentless; it never stops and is diabolically clever at camouflage.
During a period when I and my employees were restoring a Chestnut library in a mansion I developed peripheral neuropathy in my legs. I had “foot lock”, an inflexible ankle, and was forced to walk with a cane. The neurologist told me I would likely be in a wheelchair within a year and would never get out. To make a long story short, I said “Bullshit!” and was able to perform spontaneously what I believe was an energy healing on myself. At any rate, I quickly had a complete remission. My search for the energy that healed me led me to a Reiki Clinic, where after treatment and instruction, I was attuned as a Reiki Master Teacher. I practiced there for several years until they closed, then went on to work at another local clinic, ending up in charge of it. After that clinic closed I stayed active in Reiki circles for a few years, but less and less frequently. Recently, I’ve more or less left Reiki behind. I’ve worked on more than 2000 clients. I never did find out for sure what healed my legs.
I’m 80 years old. I have grown accustomed to gradually letting go of things that have come to be no further use to me- my fishing tackle, tools, garden and so on, but I do have one regret, one lingering sadness, and that is if I don’t make an active attempt to publish the best of my poetry, no one else will, because no one else has read or heard it, and it will end up in an attic or dumpster (as opposed to going out of print). Posterity and other vanities are not on my mind. My poetry is my best accomplishment. I want to give it a fair chance to be read while I am still living.
To that end, my son gave me the most welcome gift I have ever received: a website, poemystic.com, Poetry of Jack Scott. I knew what I wanted, something simple and elegant with nothing to distract from the poetry itself. His best friend, a professional website designer, came up with exactly what I’d specified.
The problem now became how to draw readers to my site. I was told that in order to attract the search engines, my site must be altered into something I would not like. They suggested that I use social networks to get the attention I wanted. I had little experience with this, so I joined a few of the sites, then decided to focus my efforts on Facebook. After a difficult learning period, my navigation became gradually easier and easier, although I’m destined to remain a perpetual amateur.
I didn’t know what to expect regarding acceptance of my poetry. Once the website actually materialized I became ill at ease with self-doubt. Now that I got what I had wanted for so long, I had little confidence that my art was good enough to present to the public. Although I liked my work, I wasn’t sure others would. That’s one effect that solitude without feedback can have.
After little more than a month I feel that I have finally found my niche. My work is gaining a warm reception and a wider and wider audience. I’m being invited to increasing possibilities of publishing. I know I’m trying to earn the reputation of a lifetime in a very short period and realize at the same time that it can’t be done. Nonetheless I want to give it my best shot. My website, after all, contains poems spanning about sixty years just now being unwrapped, instead of being parceled out over those years.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
My mother was my loving storyteller and I wanted to emulate her. I think I believed that she was making up what she was reading to me, improvising it as she went on. I wanted to be like her, do what she did. I first considered myself to be a writer probably even before I had fully learned to write.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Books. All of the wonderful books that were read to me and, later, those that I read myself were the inspiration for my first and every book thereafter. My initial problem was that I fixated on becoming a novelist and wrote the beginnings of many novels only to discover that I was absolutely no good at it. I never finished a one. That left a vacuum in me, a void that cried for fulfillment. I suppose by default, I began to write bad poetry. I wrote a LOT of very bad poetry which I have since mercifully shredded, deleted or cremated. But I had to keep writing, so I kept making poetry until it gradually became better.
I also tried to keep a diary or journal and filled a lot of notebooks, but I don’t feel that they counted as writing. Also this writing to myself had a way of digging itself into the ground and becoming very depressing. Scanning through the many years of records that I have kept I find them to be depressing, without relief. That’s their only message: I am depressed, over and over with depressing monotony. It seems I wrote mostly when I was down, and when I was trying to get up. I did write quite a bit, however, from the manic side of things. I never did much writing when I was really feeling good. It’s only been over the past few years that I have been able to write from the perspective of the middle, from moderation. That’s when most of the rewriting got done.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
Styles: Intense. I like to think my style is innovative, colorful, detailed, concrete. I have a dry sense of humor and am naturally sarcastic. I love the language and love to paint pictures with it. The work I now present was written over a sixty-some year period, so I am sure there are some fluctuations in style to be found.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
From wherever comes lightning came an unexpected offer by the wife of a fellow poet to convert the poetic content of my website into an Amazon/Kindle book. This manna-from-heaven undertaking is being undertaken as we speak. She asked me what the title should be. Without knowing what I was going to say, I said: Spes phthisica. I don’t remember where I came across it, but I understood its meaning to be: “A frenzy of creativity in the face of extinction”. She said, “Perfect”. And sobeit.
Fiona: Is there a message in your book-to-be that you want readers to grasp?
Definitely. I read it in a Snapple bottle cap, to wit: “The secret of life is that there is no secret.” (In another Snapple cap I once read: “Nostradamus predicted this.”) In my own terms, I would put it this way, there is no purpose to life, but without a sense of purpose we are lost. Therein lies the necessity of illusion. The human race is in its infancy. We could not bear the truth.
Fiona: How much of your poetry is realistic ?
All of it. It is also fantastic, that is, partaking of fantasy, illusion. And completely metaphorical.
Fiona: Are the experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Yes, but it must be understood that I am acquainted with many people, entities and events from my dream life and visionary worlds in addition to this knock-on-wood existence. If asked if all of them come from within my head, I would have to ask where else would they come from. If asked if they come from my imagination, I would have to wonder where my imagination got them.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? A mentor?
Oh, so many. At one time I kept a special book case dedicated to those books I called “keepers”, books that I felt had changed the course of my life: fiction, non-fiction, poetry . . . My plan was based upon knowing in advance how long I expected to live. When my finale got down to six months or a year I would reread all of that wonderful literature. But life intervenes, shit happens. I remember a concept from Playwriting 101 called “the illusion of the first time.” That illusion is like a balloon; once it is pierced there is no recall. I remember reading The Little Prince, by Antoine de St. Exupery in college. Loved it, loved all of his books. When I reread it many years later I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about; the book had gone flat, the soap bubble had burst. Life flows one way through time. Memory, however, can go in all directions. The memory of a perfect first time should be left undisturbed.
All of my best friends are dead writers, poets, musicians. One live writer whom I love stands out; that is John Irving. His books live. I’m sure there are a few others, but they don’t now come to mind.
I’ve never had a mentor, singular, since high school where I did have a wonderful English teacher named Florence Williams. She took me under her wing, worked me hard and actually taught me some things I’ve never forgotten, skills that have endured and served me well. Otherwise, mentors and teachers have passed by like the seasons. I’ve tripped on a lot of clay feet. There are, however, people I have admired and respected, some I have perhaps even honored. Mostly, from a distance.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
Northspur, by Richard Wilson Moss, a fellow poet whom I met recently on Facebook. He was the first poet I encountered there whose work I greatly admired. He did me the honor of inviting me to join his Facebook Poetry Group. We have since become good friends on several levels: as Facebook “friends”, as poets and peers and on a personal basis. His wife, Sandy, and I have also become friends. She is the angel who is transcribing my website poetry into book form. We have not yet met in person, but plan a visit come Spring.
His book is a keeper of the first order. I’m a speedy reader, usually reading too fast, no doubt an aspect of my bipolarity. I’m savoring this book, however, reading it slowly with as many dimensions of comprehension as I can bring to bear on it. Why? Because it is an unabashedly honest book. Painfully so, because I cannot avoid the realization that, by comparison, I am not nearly as honest as I thought I was. This is the autobiography of a humble man, a gifted poet who in no way pretends to come across as anything, but what he nakedly is: a man. He simply doesn’t have any bells and whistles, no smoke or mirrors, no falsado, to coin a word.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
Nope. Nor musicians. I’m just not up on any of the newbies. (Oh, wait a minute, I had a thing for the novels of Max Allen Collins recently, went through all 50 or so like they were cashews.) I’ve probably read a book a day for much of my life. That is one hell of a great big compost heap of book memories spaded into my brain.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
Writing more prose content for my website, especially Automythology. Writing poetry. But those things have largely been left by the wayside as almost all of my time and energy have been focused on posting my poetry on Facebook and elsewhere, a full-time job. Facebook is ravenous; if you don’t feed it poems every day your efforts are as water poured into sand. I picture a nest of baby birds with their beaks wide open.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
Myself. I believe I am a poet. I believe that writing is something I can not not do, like breathing. There is a French saying that if you desert your art for one day, she will desert you for three. I have gone through many fallow, barren times when I felt worthless, unable to work. Manic depression is something that is incomprehensible to the unaffected. The mania can be like rocket fuel; it can fire you to heights you normally would not believe possible. It is absolutely linked to creativity, not always in a good way. There was a song called Is the Going Up Worth the Coming Down to which I, for many, many years, replied, “Hell, yes!” Couple this with the fact that I self-medicated with alcohol and the picture starts to take shape. I am an alcoholic.
I think I can safely say that, without the manic depression and the alcohol, my poetry would not have been written. At least not as it is now. The distance between mania and exuberance is about the thickness of a hair; the practical difference is one of control. My aging has mellowed some control into effect. I’m currently having conversations with bipolars on Facebook, in which their common complaint is one that I have always faced, namely that all too often the taking of prescription medications cuts the throat of one’s creativity. Skip the meds, and you’re faced with the agony and the ecstasy. Take them and you’re dead meat. A real bind to an artist.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
At present it is my career. I’ve retired from everything else.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your work?
I’d like to say I would have attempted to publish earlier in my life, but I don’t know if that would have been realistic. For one thing, until fairly recently, a good bit of my poetry was unfinished. As I’m somewhat of a speed reader, I am also often a speed writer. Many of my early poems were unfinished, written perhaps in manic haste, or just hurriedly. In some cases all I had were the notes for a poem-to-be. Sometimes, upon rewriting, a long poem would have babies, turn out to be two or three shorter ones
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
My current work is impossible to demonstrate because it yields no product. It is equally hard to describe, but I’ll try. I am suddenly involved for the first time in my life, outside of my previous haunt, the Mount Royal Tavern, with becoming a member of a broad, highly diverse community. With all due respect to the individuality of my new friends and fellow poets, I am also carrying on a dialog with me on one side and a multitude on the other. It is like a normal conversation between two people, but one of the conversants is single, the other, plural, which is to say I am speaking with the many as if they were one. One of the topics under discussion is the nature of poetry, what is it? What generalities can one derive about it?
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in this exploration?
Indeed, it’s all challenging. What I’m finding is that realizing what poetry is generally, is like the realization of a specific poem. The more I’m open the more I discover that although I can feel it, sense it, intuit it, almost understand it, almost touch it I couldn’t begin to tell you what it is. People ask me to “explain” some of my poems to them and I honestly try to add a dimension for them, paint a bit more of the picture. In the end it’s between them and the poem as it was between me and the poem in the beginning. I am patient. I appreciate the time and attention they have given to my work. Archibald McLeish nailed it: “A poem should not mean, but be.” I’m still learning how to read poetry.
I think that everyone can create some kind of poetry, whether written, oral or through some other medium. Without contorting language, I believe that sculpture is or can be poetry. Music is certainly poetry, and much poetry is musical. Nature is poetic in its inspiration. When I roam through Facebook Poetry Groups I scan thousands of poems, read hundreds, focus on dozens and retain a few. I am allergic to “love” poems generally; after exposure to so many, it comes down to when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Likewise, the god and Jesus references. Whenever I see those words, I stop reading. Nature poems, on the other hand, can be done with excellence, but are among the most difficult to write about successfully. I mean let’s face it, folks, there is a limitless universe out there with an infinite assortment of interesting things to write poems about. Loosen up. Stretch.
Generally, I find that most so-called poets busy themselves rotely copying what everyone around them is writing and patting each other’s (and their own) backs. So much of what is posted would be therapeutically or otherwise valid in one’s private diary or journal, but perhaps should not be so blindly inflicted on the public as finished work. I daresay that half of these scribes believe that God dictated their first draft to them, and consider it sacrosanct. They have no idea how much hard work goes into writing good poetry. There are excellent poets out there and I make it my business and pleasure to seek out and find them.
There is one variety of amateur poem that has great validity: that which is an honest, deeply felt expression of genuine thought and/or emotion. There’s room for love here if it’s not the cookie cutter kind. Although deeply spiritual, I’m an atheist who is sick and tired of lip service to this or that deity. But, in all fairness, I am not compelled to read or listen to it; I can turn away and maintain my distance. And I am not deaf, dumb or blind in the face of genuine spirituality. What I look for most in a poem, I think, is authenticity. I hope you know what I mean by that, because I’m not sure I can explain it. In this category lie the expressions of the mentally ill, temporary or permanent, chronic or acute, among others. This is often an outpouring of pain. I have conversation from time to time with someone who didn’t take their meds because of the deadening effect they can have on one’s creativity. Genuine outcries for help should not be ignored. Usually all you can do is listen, and all they want of you is to be listened to. Consideration is a renewable personal resource; we can afford to share it. Being bipolar means I can give some understanding to some of their wild rants. It makes me feel really good to make someone else feel really good. I try to listen, hear and understand. However, in clashes with trolls, I take no shit or prisoners. So, being a poet might have some practical use after all, eh?
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
Living author: John Irving. I have recently much enjoyed about fifty books by Max Allen Collins. Those two authors are my bookends, so to speak. They have in common that they both do a thorough, exhaustive, impeccable, awesome volume of research, internal and external. While John is thoughtful and deep, even profound, Max can draw you out of your depression if you surrender to the fast, escapist, pace of his creations. You can grow to love and feel much empathy for John’s characters, to the extent that you would bet the farm that John himself is a good man, a very good man. Max simply has the ability to completely hold your attention as long as that book is open, but once you shut it it’s like a Chinese meal.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your work?
Imaginatively, astrally, in my dreams and in my visions, yes, but I have been limited on this planet to and through forty some states, twice to Canada and Mexico, once to Costa Rica.
I would like to indulge myself and tell one travel story. On my first trip to Mexico, at the age of 38, I hitchhiked. The trip lasted one month, two weeks of which were spent visiting my sister who lived in Mexico City. The rest of the time, on the road, I hitchhiked 14,000 miles in 14 days. I’m not sure I could still track it on a map, but basically it was Baltimore to Yuma, Arizona, to Mexico City to Matamoros/Laredo, to Big Sur and San Francisco, to Las Vegas, to Chicago, to Baltimore. My luck was magical; as soon as I got out of one car the next ride picked me up. My self-appointed duty was to take over the driving, as relief, so my host couldn’t drive a hundred miles an hour. Ironically, five miles from home I couldn’t get a ride and had to hoof it. I could write a book about that trip, but won’t here. ‘Nuff said. On the second trip, I drove to Mexico with my third wife, Betsy, in our 1966 Ford Mustang convertible.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your poetry?
Leaving it in the drawer for so many years as it accumulated.
“A few have touched the Magic String
And noisy Fame was glad to win them.
Alas for those who never sing
And die with all their music in them.”
-from The Voiceless by Oliver Wendell Holmes.
I am a very visceral writer, active even; I squirm a lot. And, as in active dreaming, I think my muscles get a good workout when I am in the throes of writing. Hard? Or just good exercise? Also I write my poetry to be spoken, read, so I silently speak all of it as it comes into being. It’s sort of an active process.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from your writing and what was it?
That poems are as divergent as the people who write them and the people who read them. “No two people read the same book.”
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other poets?
Most poems are not written; they are rewritten. It is difficult for me to reread any of my poems without the urge to tweak them just once more. Although some poems just “click” into place, many, perhaps even most, are never really finished. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. “Kill your darlings” whenever necessary. You can’t proofread too much.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Thank you for the time and attention you have given my work. You have made me feel very good. You have validated me.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
No. It’s hard enough remembering the last.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
There are few things incapable of making you laugh under the right (or wrong) circumstances. Laughter has many faces. I have little patience with those who force a veneer of insincere positivity over all things equally, censoring laughter, forbidding joy. Some things, like lovers parting, must be sad. Joy can make me cry, as can sadness. Some things, like cruelty, demand a cruel reaction.
Fiona: Is there one person past or present you would meet and why?
I would just once like to have a meaningful conversation with my late father. He might tell me that I did something right. Maybe I would read him some of my poetry and he would listen, just listen.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why ?
When breathing fails and I am dead,
Stone words will stand above my head.
May I, before my friends are led
to lofty lines of praise for me,
choose with thought, not sympathy,
my epitaph, “Why Wasn’t He?”
52 ®Copyright 1956 Jack Scott. All rights reserved.
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
My passions include reading, writing, the English language, making art, making love, movies, theater, thinking, meditation, conversation, fishing, bodies of water, mountains, mystery, the Universe and looking at things, feeling the beauty of them. A sense of beauty is at the core of all of my delights. I find myself thinking in poetry much of the time.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I haven’t watched TV in more than fifteen years. I love movies. My taste is quite broad, but I have no more tolerance for a bad movie than I would have for a bad book. General (rubber) rule: if a movie (or a book) doesn’t make me weep, there must be something wrong with it. I can do with a good laugh, too.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music?
I love lobster and all other seafood, and goopy dessert. I like rainbows. I like all kinds of music, except rap and rap-like noise. I don’t listen to much music, though, because, for me, music is treacherous. I listen to even a little of it and it gets stuck in my head.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
Been a rich fisherman who traveled and read a lot. Met my soulmate.
Fiona: Do you have a blog/website? If so what is it?
Poemystic.com, The Poetry of Jack Scott.
In closing, let me say that I have been smoking and drinking for more than sixty years. When I got my website, I quit both the same day. That’s been two or three months ago, I didn’t keep track. I don’t miss drinking, but I would kill or die for a cigarette. Who would you kill, you might ask. Someone who wants to die, I would reply.