Poet and young-adult novelist Ron Koertge has written dozens of exceptional books of fiction and poetry that have won him lots of awards. His writing is funny and iconoclastic — snarky with a strong dose of pathos.
Yay, he also agreed to let me ask him some questions about writing and stuff. I particularly loved his comment about the "agony of the blank page." Onward ho, writer! Fill 'er up. Blank pages are for the birds.
What started you writing poetry?
I always wrote something, starting in high school. They were lamentable poems, usually about how misunderstood I was. When I went to the University of Illinois, though, I ran into guys who took writing seriously and talked about being writers. So, I hung around with them. In grad school I met the poet Gerald Locklin who was even then writing poems and submitting them to the — as they were called then — little magazines. He turned me on to them and some people our age (we were in our early 20's), and pretty soon writing and publishing were just some things I did regularly.
What sort of thing did you write about when you began?
Gerry led me to Edward Field and his poems about movies and life-in-New York charmed the pants off me. Clearly, I could write about anything and not just so-called serious things. Before there was the word "snarky" I was snarky and irreverent, a good way to be for the 60's. So, I published a lot for a couple of decades before tastes turned more introspective and language-conscious.
What was one of the most surprising elements about your life as a writer?
I'm still surprised I write for kids/teenagers. If I wanted to be a novelist, I imagined it would be for adults. Not adults to be. Someone years ago reminded me I was chronically immature so I should write for 16 year old boys. Turned out they were right.
If you had a soapbox topic about writing (something you're passionate about/something that bugs you), what would it be?
I think prose writers should read more poetry. Out loud. I read a lot of really infelicitous prose: the plot drives the story, the characters are riveting, but sometimes the sentences are so clunky. A discipline of reading poetry out loud would help that.
Is there anything else you would rather have done than write poetry and fiction?
I love the race track and might have enjoyed life-on-the-backstretch. It's a very interesting sub-culture. But, I think I would have also written about it.
What advice do you have for poets and/or fiction writers?
Write a lot and don't be afraid to write badly. Some of the pages I turn out are so embarrassing but my motto is this: what's the gift of this terrible poem? This cringeworthy page? This rough rough rough rough draft? There's always one.
Any other thoughts?
It's a pleasure to be able to write. I've never understood the so-called agony of the blank page. Just fill it up!
Ron Koertge's poetry collections include: the ghazal collection Indigo (2009), Fever (2006), and Making Love to Roget’s Wife (1997). His novels and novels-in-verse for young readers include Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (2006), The Brimstone Journals (2004), and Stoner & Spaz (2004).
Read more of (and about) Ron's poetry and prose at: ronkoertge.com. Or pick up his most recent book of poetry,The Ogre's Wife, and his most recent novel, Coaltown Jesus, published through Red Hen Press and Candlewick Press, respectively.