The following interview appeared in Poets/Artists Magazine (#36, 2012).
P/A- Dogs or cats?
PF- Although I’m allergic to both, I’d chose canines for sure. I don’t own
one (for selfish reasons), but we always had dogs around when I was
growing up and my parents and siblings all have dogs. I even learned
to walk from our golden retriever. She had one of those hitchable
tails, fluffy and inviting.
P/A- If you had to give advice to a poet just starting out what would it be?
PF- I’d dish some of the same advice I received. Read everything you can
get your mitts on and work first on your own writing. Muse it. Hone
it. Trash it. Begin again. When you’ve crafted something others want
to read they’ll let you know by publishing it. But don’t waste your
time or energy seeking approval. The limelight is mostly flicker and
flame. How many prize winners of yore are we still reading today? How
many artists like Van Gogh went unappreciated during their time?
Above all else, remember there are a thousand paths and all require
P/A- How would you describe the ambiance of your work space?
PF- My brain is naturally distracted, so I can’t work in public spaces. I
see those places as the outside, the scribbling-notes zone, the
organic matter I carry back to craft creatures in the silence. So my
writing space is quiet, with bright light, and a squeak-free table and
chair. Right now I work in a basement with no windows, but I’d prefer
a loft and a view, as long as the space isn’t too hot. I’m obsessed
with sounds, which makes me one of those talkers, muttering or
exclaiming aloud as I write or read lines (like this one). This kind
of behavior would likely get me curbed from cafés, libraries, churches
and the like. But it can make for good company.
P/A- What’s the biggest mistake/regret you’ve ever made/had?
PF- When I was in graduate school, I was granted an interview with the
writer Jim Harrison. It was back before he wrote his memoir and not
many people had access to him. I’m from the small town of Cadillac in
northern Michigan and Harrison grew up nearby. When I met him at his
cabin in the Upper Peninsula, he chuckled and said he’d granted me an
interview to see what the hell kind of poet could come from Cadillac.
Anyway, we spent more than an hour doing the interview and several
more hours talking about everything from flies to daggers to wolves to
dreams. I took notes and recorded the interview on my new MiniDisc
recorder. When I reached my friend’s house in Boulder, we both thought
it would be a good idea to back up the voice file on his computer. But
something sinister happened in the transition and sections of the
interview vanished. I tried to salvage what I could from my notes, but
they didn’t do justice to Harrison’s way of speaking to and around.
Although my original goal was to use the interview exclusively for my
thesis, I regret being unable to publish all the engaging material
Harrison so generously provided.
P/A- If you opened your refrigerator right now what would we see?
PF- Two bottles of local whole milk (cream on top)
Two bottles of breast milk (cream on top)
Green curry paste
Red curry paste
Bag of Michigan apples
Head of local lettuce
Michigan cherry hot sauce
Corn, black bean, and red pepper salsa
Container of local chicken, shredded
Loaf of sprouted wheat bread
Carton of local eggs
Dulce de leche
Dulce de leche con chocolate
Sprouted pumpkin seeds
Leftover peas and lima beans
Pitcher of water
Stone ground brown mustard
Bag of lemons
P/A- When did you realize you wanted to write seriously?
PF- When I was in high school I wrote some serious drivel. By college I
had advanced to higher forms of hogwash. By grad school I became
intensely engaged in the art of poppycock but have since left that all
behind in the name of seriousness.
P/A- Who are your biggest creative influences?
Where to start? Italo Calvino, Amy Hempel, Gary Snyder, Julio
Cortazar, Elizabeth Bishop, Charles Simic, James Galvin, Margaret
Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Kenneth Patchen, Jack Gilbert, Franz Kafka…
P/A- If you could choose one person in your life that you feel understands
your work and supports you more than anyone, who would that be?
PF- My wife (Honor) is brutally honest about what works in my writing. She
always has ideas to help me transform weeds into honey.
P/A- As a poet how would you define success?
PF- At the end of the day if I’ve written something that someone else
wants to read, re-read, and recommend to a stranger, then I’ve been
P/A- What’s your biggest fear?
PF- I’m not a fast writer. Although I spontaneously create many pieces, I
tend to obsess over specific words, lines, or sentences for months or
even years. I often have several unfinished manuscripts and projects
in the works, but I’m slow to complete them without external nudging.
I often wonder if they’ll ever shape into form. I also dislike rats. Who doesn’t?
I wrote this piece several years ago when I tutored with America Reads in an elementary school. One day a student I was working with proclaimed something about dogs and bones and dinosaurs, which got me buzzing about my recent trip to the Natural History Museum at the University of Michigan. When I visited the museum, a ‘birds of prey’ exhibit was flying. Although awed by the snowy white owl, I couldn’t quite work it into the piece.