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Q&A with Poet Bill Campana

Written by Leah LeMoine Category: Q&A Issue: June 2016
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Photo by Jia Oak Baker / Courtesy Bill CampanaHis author bio begins: “Bill Campana made his debut on December 8, 1955. Disappointed with his early attempts at life, he abandoned his native Bedford, Ohio, for Phoenix, Arizona.”

Boy, are we glad he did. To call Campana a giant of the local poetry community is an understatement – he's helmed poetry readings and events around the Valley and won international championships with his own work – yet he maintains a wisecracking humility, seemingly amused by it all. To wit: His frequent offers to sell event attendees his books out of the trunk of his car.

We caught up with Campana just after the publication of his third collection of poetry, Poems from Deep South Scottsdale, and chatted about his writing process, performing and the perfect marinara.

 

How does this book feel compared to your others? If they were all your children, how would you describe each of them?

Oddly, even though the poems are newer, it feels like an older book. Possibly because I am older. The second book (The Ragtime of Modern Living) contains the oldest poems. Those were written from 2005 trough 2008 while I was transitioning from slam poetry, and even though most of my slam stuff was well under three minutes, I was looking for more concise poems. Some of those poems I would read at slams. Although they didn't score as well as the three-minute bombs (with the exception of a few of the poems at the end of the book) they held their own. It is the difficult child of the group. The brat. The deviant words. The first book (Said Beauty to the Blues) featured poems from 2009 through 2013. These were written while I was hosting an open mic in the Arcadia district called Sound Effects, and then reading primarily for the Caffeine Corridor before I joined Jack Evans and Shawnte Orion as the third host. I had separated myself from pure performance poetry but still had fun reading them. But the book (Poems from Deep South Scottsdale) seems like the responsible child. The serious is more serious and the funny is deeper.

 

How would you describe the space – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – you were in when you wrote these poems? How did those things change – or not – as you worked on the collection?

I was unemployed for the first time in 29 years. I was 58 years old and contemplated retiring. I was on a strict writing regimen in the mornings, and at times I felt liberated from the workforce. Other times I felt confined, so I dug deeper into the poems to justify a seven-month vacation. While the manuscript was being finalized I had gone back to work and felt more relaxed with the project. I was able to step back and see it almost from the eyes of somebody else. Not to mention that I had handed the book over to Four Chambers Press, specifically Jared Duran, and they made the rest happen.

 

What is your writing process like?

I take notes. I have small scraps of paper in my pockets filled with ideas. I also keep a running journal on my laptop and work on completing poems whenever I have the time. Late at night during the week, and early mornings on the weekend. Coffee, 4 a.m., some stimulating music, read a poem or two for the invisible camaraderie of the poetry community, breakfast, writing, editing and then a nap. Once in a while a poem just forces itself on me and I have to stop what I'm doing and get it on paper.

 

Poems From Deep South Scottsdale / Design by Janell Huges, cover photo by Bill CampanaI know picking a favorite poem is impossible, but which one is on your mind right now? Or, which one brings you the greatest joy to read?

“The Big Fish Trilogy” is a hoot to perform. It is about as ridiculous as it gets, and when I read it, the words come out as I am throwing darts at the audience. Old slam habits are hard to break. Gimmicks, off-the-wall craziness, I see nothing wrong with having fun at a poetry event. Also the poem about Mona Lisa's little sister is right up there. A nice string of 10 to 20 sharp haiku always gets a great response.

 

I particularly enjoyed the Italian poems. Can you speak a bit about their inspiration and the role your heritage plays in your work and in your life in general? And what is your ideal Italian meal?

I'm sure I've barely scratched the surface with the Italian poems. My paternal grandparents played a major role in my life as well as the lives of my cousins. Whenever we get together the conversations generally flow in their direction. There is a Fellini film (Amarcord – I Remember), when I watch this I feel submerged in that culture. When my daughter is with me and I make a basic pasta and meatballs and a big pot of sauce, I sometimes tell her how proud we should be and how lucky we are to be Italian and have access to that food and wine.

 

Can you explain the title of the book and the choice of cover art? What was the day like that you took that photo?

Poems from Deep South Scottsdale. The border of north Tempe and south Scottsdale. It's where all the poems were written. In fact, the poems from all three books came from the same location. The cover is a photo I took on the Tempe side of the street looking at Scottsdale on the other side. The burned-out car sat there for a week. One morning on my way to work I stopped to take some pictures. I'd never seen a car in that condition. It was eerie. I have one shot of the interior of the car that sits on my desk at work. Nobody can figure out what it is. When I got home that evening the car was gone.

 

Where can people hear you read next? Where can they purchase the book?

I am always at the Caffeine Corridor on second Fridays at {9} The Gallery on Grand Avenue. I kick off the open mic with a few new poems and I have been fortunate enough to close out each December with what I consider to be the best of the year. December 2016 will be the ninth consecutive year. The book will be sold at Changing Hands (both locations), and at all Four Chambers Press events. To buy the book online just go to the Four Chambers website. At some point I will have a few copies in the trunk of my car. Poems from Deep South Scottsdale – ask for it by name.