The interviewer is Stan Burfield, the organizer of
London Open Mic Poetry Night.
Stan: When did you begin writing poetry and what got you into it?
RLR: I remember writing stories as a kid. Then for a while, I didn’t write a thing. It began in earnest during my university years; that’s when I started writing poetry. I was published in a few journals. I wrote, but not really seriously. Then I went dark for a few years when I graduated. It’s only the last 4 or 5 years that I’ve really jumped back in headlong, having a considerable output, and considerable publication credits. For the first time, I truly think I’ve started figuring out my own personal voice.
RLR: This is a great tie-in to voice. When you are university, you are polluted by concepts like writing ‘style’ and different ‘schools’ of thought. You unwittingly identify with one or another, and that’s what you start to sound like. But, once you get out, start living, start forgetting the rules, then you can start developing your ‘you-ness.’ Over the years I’ve shed most of the big words, the big concepts, and I’ve learned to not try too hard. If you ‘try’ to write poetry, you’ll probably fail. Personally, I’d rather boil it down, pare off the fat, and tell a good story. That’s it. Don’t get me wrong: the rules you did learn are important, and they do form you in certain ways. You just need to learn how to make them work for your writing, not the other way around.
Stan: The poems in ‘Half Myths & Quarter Legends’ are mostly narratives, stories, but very few of them are the kind people normally think of as stories. When you encounter a situation, do you see it as a story right off, or are you carrying with you some deeper idea that it happens to fit into?
RLR: One word that could be used to represent my style is definitely ‘narrative.’ But, like you mention, the poems aren’t just straightforward narratives. I liken my
stuff to snapshots – pieces of life, glimpses, just enough to give the reader a base, never too much to fill in all the details. Someone said my writing was like taking a novel, smashing it against the wall and then collecting bits and fragments. I think that’s a perfect description.
Stan: There are so many people and situations described with such perfect, vibrant details that it feels like you must have actually been there, closely observing them. Did most of these situations happen to people you’re close to?
RLR: There are some true experiences, some embellishments, and some all out fabrications. Like any fiction, the poems have a base, be it lived or invented. Everything has a genesis in some fact. This said, I tend to make up a lot of stuff. As long as the lies ring true, I’ve done my job.
Stan: Did you get your obviously very realistic feeling for different ages and for both sexes from being part of a large family?
RLR: I am quite anti-autobiographical. What difference does my family status make to the reading of a poem? What if I am an only child? middle child? seventh son of a seventh son? It all taints the reader’s perspective, and that perspective is the only one that matters. To avoid all that, I just write, and readers should just read. Nothing should stand in the way of the recipient’s interpretation. A lot of people ask me “Are you the guy in that poem? Is that one about your kid?” The answer is always the same: doesn’t matter.
Stan: The poems in this book give the impression that you put a good deal of effort into trying to see beyond the more superficial ideas of life we normally live with. Is that so?
RLR: Yes, very much so. Even if many of the poems feel simple, there are often complex frameworks, ideas, themes. I’ll give you an example. In HM&QL the poem “Stations of Jim” seems to paint a touching, sad portrait of a dying man, his family’s reaction, snippets from his life. But the underlying structure is anything but simple. The structure is rigidly based on the Station of the Cross in Catholicism. It is a faithful retelling. Readers have often commented on that poem, touched by the sadness, one part of the story or another, how they felt. Only one has asked me about the connection to the church. Connection? It’s a remix! So, a regular reader reads the superficial level, and it works. A catholic may read yet another level, and it works. But you can dig even deeper, if you want. That’s the goal.
Stan: Would it be correct to say that most of these poems are looking at what is left when we scrape away the half myths we live by and the quarter legends we think we are?
RLR: We really only have myths and legends. All our histories, our theories, our beliefs, our views, all of them are fabrications. If I could strip away the artifice, I’d be left with the pure fundamentals of mathematics and science. I’d have figured out the history of the universe. Luckily, I don’t think we’ll ever get to that point. So we invent – from gods and monsters to string theory and multiverses. For me, I’ll just keep telling my versions of the life-myth.
Stan: Beyond the more comforting myths and legends, many of your poems find, beautifully described, a dark world of fear and death. Do you think we as a people need the myths and legends to help us avoid these?
RLR: Fear? Not sure on that point. Death certainly. The reaper tends to peek his head around the corner every now and then. But there is also hope, that concept of immortality. Think of the man on his deathbed, scribbling the stories of his life; the grandmother living on in her recipes; the everlasting name on a headstone. Those interactions between death and permanence, hope and, yes, fear to a degree, all of them add nuances to the book.
Stan: Do you see a possibility for some positive alternative to myths and legends?
RLR: All I can say is that we all believe our own myths – bad or good. We can’t understand the ‘truth,’ so we create. Those out there that lay claim to ‘truth’ are manically insane. Run away when you meet anyone like that.
Stan: Can you tell us anything about your next book?
RLR: I am toying with a long poem, a really long one. Hybrid poem/novella. I am trying my hand at adding more flesh and muscle to this one. We’ll see how it goes. I don’t think I could pull it off with a straight prose piece. I need my white space, word placement, the occasional device, and the creative tools poetry offers me. Don’t worry, it’ll be Raymonesque for sure. Just longer, and maybe a little fatter.
From two early reviews:
"In Half Myths & Quarter Legends, R L Raymond draws upon all five senses to explore unsettling situations, real and imagined, to create an atmosphere of horror—where the threat of being ripped asunder by sharp teeth becomes as terrifying as the act itself. Half Myths & Quarter Legends will tease your psyche in the way that scary movies frighten children. Don't be surprised if this new work by R L Raymond has you looking under your bed before you turn out the lights."—Wolfgang Carstens
"R L Raymond's
Half Myths & Quarter Legends is a collection of poems that will destroy your preconceptions of how stories are told and redefine what visceral literature is. Raymond wields words like brass knuckles and comes out swinging; aiming to drop jaws, steal heartbeats, and leave you gasping for more."—Lawrence Gladeview
R L Raymond is a writer from London, Ontario. By blurring the line between poetry and short fiction, he produces narratives that can engage anyone. Published in dozens of literature and underground journals around the world, with three collections under his belt, Raymond just wants to break down the walls and tell his stories.
His Fall 2012 interview in The Beat Magazine, including poems (on page 8 in the PDF):