Monday, April 24, 2023

Q&A with James C. Morehead


Photo by Kristin Cofer



James C. Morehead is the author of the new poetry collection The Plague Doctor. His other poetry collections include canvas. He is the poet laureate of Dublin, California, and the host of The Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the poems in your new collection?


A: The Plague Doctor started with the title poem, which I wrote two years ago. The poem was a departure from the poetry of my first two books, canvas and portraits of red and gray, eerie and unsettling. I wrote a series of poems that built on that style and, over two years, built up the poems that are included in the book.

Q: How was the collection's title--also the title of the first poem--chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: "The Plague Doctor" was the natural title of the book from the beginning, it so effectively captured the vibe of the book. I also knew that "The Plague Doctor" would inspire a striking cover design.


The poem, like many poems in the book, was inspired by a striking image, in this case, a photograph of a friend in an elaborate Halloween costume. I have been told that my strength is creating vivid images through verse and this book leans into that strength.


Q: The collection also includes art and images--how do you see their relationship to the text?


A: I love the interplay between art forms, between poetry and art/photography, between poetry and music, between poetry and film.


I've had the good fortune to collaborate with artists, musicians, and filmmakers through the poetry in this book and as a result there is additional content connected to the book on the web (video content showing how the poems have been reimagined by other artists).

Q: How did you decide on the order in which the poems would appear in the collection?


A: That is always a stressful exercise for a poet!


I view the ordering of poems in a collection as a poem in itself, the pacing and transitions, in this case splitting the book into three acts, each act with an equal number of poems. The acts have an underlying theme, and there is a subtle visual difference in the second act that I'll be curious to see if readers catch.


In practical terms I printed out all of the candidate poems for the book and laid them out on my family room floor so I could see the entire manuscript at once. I moved the poems physically around on the floor, and grouped them in different ways. I've found that many poets use this same basic technique.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I'm about halfway through writing a book inspired by museums in the San Francisco Bay Area; think of it as an ekphrastic tour of San Francisco Bay Area museums. I'm thoroughly enjoying going to every museum in the area and looking for poetic inspiration.

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I also host the Viewless Wings Poetry Podcast, in its third season, and have had the privilege of interviewing wonderful poets and artists including Dana Gioia, Kristina Marie Darling, Olivia Gatwood, A.E. Stallings, Yanyi, Safia Elhillo, and more.


Hosting the podcast and authoring interview questions requires that I close read a diverse collection of poetic styles, which has benefited my poetry.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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