Richard Pflum
October 2003

 

I am Richard Pflum and was born on July 2, 1932. I’ve been reading and writing poetry since my early twenties. I have a medium sized body of work of about 230 poems. I’ve never sat down and completely counted them. I believe I have close to100 published. When I try to count I end up revising old poems and so my count rate slows down to zero. The new work also still slowly continues. In my earlier life I was more competitive than I am now. I won a fellowship to the MacDowell Colony in 1977. Gave a reading in New York at the Washington Irving Gallery in Greenwich Village with Sandra Hochman. I helped found a small magazine in Bloomington, Indiana called Stoney Lonesome, with Roger Pfingston and David Wade. Some of the publications I’ve appeared in are: Sparrow, Event, Kayak, The Reaper, The Exquisite Corpse, Tears In The Fence, Arts Indiana Literary Supplement, Indiannual, The Flying Island, The Hopewell Review, Ploplop, The New Laurel Review, Glass Works (Pudding House), A New Geography Of Poets (University of Arkansas Press), The Indiana Experience (Indiana University Press), Bear Crossings (The New South Company).

I have two collections and a CD: A Dream of Salt (The Raintree Press,1980 Bloomington, Ind.), A Strange Juxtaposition of Parts (1995, Writers’ Center Press of Indianapolis) and Strange Requests – a CD and pamphlet (The Muse Rules Press, Indianapolis 2002).

I came to words relatively late in my childhood. I did not read well until I was eight. I read slowly and I still do read slowly. I did not think seriously about writing until I was about nineteen after a lot of emotional and intellectual water had gone over the dam. I may be a bit dyslexic, I’m left handed and for many years had a great deal of trouble telling left from right. In the army, after I had been drafted, I was one of those comical soldiers who had problems in drill and would turn the wrong way on a command by the sergeant. I was drafted when I was one course short of getting an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Purdue University. During my basic training I received a packet in the mail which turned out to be my diploma. Some academic committee had met and decided that I met all the requirements for a Baccalaureate in Chemistry

I was a mediocre student, my grades hovering between a B and C in my first three years, my fourth year was a disaster when I flunked out. It seems I suffered what was called, in those days, a nervous breakdown. Today they call it clinical depression. I simply was unable to get out of my bed most days. I also didn’t take many baths and toyed with the idea of suicide. After a semester I was readmitted and was making up most of my failed classes when I was drafted.

During my checkered academic career I did discover I liked reading literature even though I read very slowly. I took a speed reading course which helped for a short time before I regressed into my old habits. I felt a pleasure in reading slow. I always read aloud when I read even if I produce no sound. My lips move and there is activity in my voice box. It was during the disaster part of my life that I thought that I really wanted to be some sort of artist. I had taken piano lessons and could read music. When I heard a mathematics professor playing a Beethoven sonata on a vacant piano in the Union Building I decided I must do something like that. Maybe I could do one thing to earn a living and another to be what I really am… be like Wallace Stevens or Alexander Borodin. I first tried to compose music but found it did not come easily. I did manage to compose a little waltz that sounded like bad Brahms and a song based on Eugene Field’s Little Boy Blue. I was not happy with my music and felt I would always be a better listener. But for me words were different. I found I had a taste for them, that I liked to collect them then try them out. I remember when I first heard the word "tangible" as a child in Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, and the word "cogent" as used by an Englishman, a graduate chemistry instructor at Purdue many years later. If in a quiet room I also felt a kind of humming in the background of my thinking which turned into words if I concentrated hard enough. I began to think that what I was hearing might be close to poetry.

People ask me where I get my material for a poem and I am always a little puzzled by the question and have a desire to say that I have no material. I certainly don’t hoard all the dreck of my life in order to use it in a poem. For me the imagination at large in the physical world is the key to making a truly new thing. In the little bit of teaching that I do I may over stress word choice and metaphor. I have a sympathetic ear for the "language poets" but believe there is more to it than that. The music that is in poetry is very hard to define. Having read and listened to poetry for many years I believe I know it when I hear it. I can only say that there is a certain flow of consonants and vowels that pleases the ear. The way that the flow works seems to be different for every poet and of course in every language. I tell people not to write about what they know but about what they don’t know. That way they’ll learn something. If stuck in writers’ block I say write about the weather, about door knobs, about light on a fall Sunday afternoon at 4 pm. Don’t worry about not getting into your feelings, they will be there. Don’t be a control freak, the poem has a life of its own. Finally allow it to find its own freedom. It will thank you and maybe even take some of your advice later. Allow your poem to retain its mystery. Who wants to be completely understood and who wants to live in a world where you understand everything. Still make the mystery legitimate. Don’t just stop. A truly good poem must lead to the place where it can’t go further.



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