His poetry has been published in the University of San Francisco’s The Ignation Literary Magazine, Every Writer and The GinoskoLiterary Journal. Rick R. Richardson, M.A., RPA is not only a poet, but a professional archaeologist, avid reader, dog lover and father. We are grateful to have come into contact with Rick and hope you will enjoy this splendid interview as much as we did.
Poet Interviews, by Arts of Thought
Alec Holmes: Where are you from, and what do you do for a living?
Rick Richardson: I am from the mountains of East Tennessee in a small valley referred to as Stoney Creek. I have lived on the coast of North Carolina for the last 17 years in an unincorporated fishing village.
I have been a professional archaeologist since 1989. I currently work for the Department of Defense as an archaeologist for the United States Marine Corps.
AH: How do you typically spend your free time?
RR: Other than writing poetry, I leave for work at 0530 and get home at 1630 Mon-Friday, so that doesn’t leave a lot of free time. When I get home from work, I walk my sweet hound Daisy, eat, watch the evening news and get ready for the next day. I try to read myself to sleep.
I am a huge John Le Carre fan (and of the genre) and am currently reading his memoirs. I have a 22 year old son who lives not far away with his lady friend, so I try to bug him to come visit me as often as his busy schedule allows. I also love watching historical series such as Vikings, The Last Kingdom, The Tudors, etc. As for poetry, for several years, I tried to write one per evening. I’m lucky if I get two decent ones per week these days. Still looking for that publisher that wants an archaeologist poet with an MA without the friggin’ F in the middle. I have a pretty decent couple of manuscripts ready and waiting of about 70 poems, 80 pages, and a stack of rejection letters I’d gladly provide, as well.
AH: Do you remember what first got you started writing poetry?
RR: To be honest, in high school and university, I wasn’t that into poetry. I did not like formal styles and wasn’t very good at them. I was interested in music and writing lyrics. Unfortunately, my musical IQ was that of a rock, and I couldn’t give away my lyrics. So, a friend who was familiar with my lyric writing introduced me to Hello Poetry. I made up my own brand, though the use of imagery and minimalism plays heavily into my work.
AH: Do you believe your upbringing has influenced your poetry?
RR: Most definitely. I grew up in the mountains of East Tennessee, one of seven children. My father was a good man, but a hard man. He worked full time at a factory, farmed, raised tobacco, and livestock. Of his four sons, he expected a lot of us in terms of chores. Most importantly, though, the folklore and fatalistic approach to life, love, and death shaped much of my thinking until I attended university for two years, dropped out and joined the military, then back to undergrad school and onto to graduate school where I completed my MA in Anthropology with a focus on prehistoric archaeology. Skeletal analysis was my area of expertise.
Since finishing my MA in 1988, I have worked as an archaeologist to this day.
As for the influence of my upbringing, I think the close reader can see the fatalism in my writing, the closeness of me to my family, and the mountains where most lived below the poverty line, were evangelical in their religious beliefs, but ultimately, good and real people. As the middle child of seven, I always felt somewhat isolated from my siblings. I loved my family dearly, and coming from a large family, there is no room for jealousy. You won’t find regret or hard feelings in my writing towards my family and my upbringing in the mountains. With the several gardens, the livestock, Dad’s job, and extra money from growing tobacco, we lived better than many of our neighbors, but still did without what most children in the USA take for granted today.
Most of all, though, I was exposed to a lot of death in my friends, neighbors, and my own family from disease, violence, and general despair with all of the vices that come along with that. Death does play a large role in my poetry. As does love, I like to think. Mostly, the fatalistic approach to life that I was brought up within has influenced my writing the most, I think. I hope some of this makes sense and can be found in my writing.
AH: What inspires you most to write poetry?
RR: I read a lot of fiction and non-fiction biographies, anthropology and archaeological journals, but really not a lot of poetry. Sometimes all it takes is the turn of a phrase in a book that I happen to be reading to kick-off a poem. Sometimes speaking to my siblings about the past brings a poem into being.
My memories as a somewhat quiet but quick to temper boy and young man plays into my work, though I think I’ve gotten over the temper part pretty much. When I drank to get drunk, I was either happy or sad, but not a mean drunk.
I hold very strong political beliefs, more liberal than folks I grew up with, so politics can really bring the old temper out. Especially today under our current ruling idiotic party. I don’t drink to get drunk these days, and I try to keep away from politics if I am drinking. I do enjoy a nice wine, to relax. Wine has a way of inspiring me, as well. :) Especially any romantic poetry I write.
AH: Who are some of your favorite poets, who are you most inspired by?
RR: As I said, I really don’t read a lot of poetry, except maybe on Hello Poetry. I enjoy a good novel or biography best. But to answer your question, I would have to say that William Carlos Williams is one of my favorite poets and inspires me.
The early War Poets and the imagist poets inspire me much. Poets such as: Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg, Rupert Brooke and Robert Graves, though Wilf Owen was probably my favorite. I’m not sure why I am so attracted to these early war poets. My father served in both WWII and Korea. His father and my mother’s both served in WWI. Neither of whom survived. My father expected all of his sons to serve. Only two of us did, but he didn’t push the other two who remained close to home and helped take care of the farm and my mother.
As for the imagist poets who inspire me most: W. Carlos Williams, as I mentioned, Ezra Pound, Hilda Doolittle, T.E. Hulme, to name a few. I like to fill my words with as much meaning as possible while using as few as needed, and to paint the picture for the reader. If I can’t make you see a white cat, a black dog, the blue sea in a woman’s eyes, or the moon as an empty plate when I write it, then I fail.
One reason I find the imagist so appealing is that in High School and undergrad college, it was all about writing in metronome or rhyming. I was terrible at both. I wanted the lyrical, but short, sweet (or not) and straight to the point. Not that I don’t use rhyme, but I like to place it wherever I want in the piece and let you set the pace. I also prefer sentence breaks over punctuation so that the reader can take the more than one meaning implied in a line. I like the use of eye rhyme, too. I never did well in poetry classes in school because 1) I was lazy; 2) I hated the poets my instructors loved; and 3) My instructors hated my poetry. You can smile here.
AH: If you could achieve two things with your poetry, what would they be?
RR: Get Trump out of office, and get Trump out of office. Just kidding. That’s a tough question. First, I want the reader to FEEL and SEE exactly what I mean, what I’m saying, what I’m seeing. Secondly, I would hope that even if I never publish a volume, my friends and my son will read my poetry and really get it.
AH: Is there any wisdom, or philosophy that you like to live by?
RR: Another tough one. As an anthropologist/archaeologist and political activist, I want people to learn from the past, to put that learning to use and make this a better, safer, healthier and peaceful world. I guess that’s it in a nutshell.
AH: Do you have any advice for new poets? If so what would you tell them?
RR: Read other poets, discard what doesn’t turn you on, find what does, and stick to it. Don’t give up just because you have a stack of rejection letters from publishers. Sometimes it’s their loss. I feel that there is too much bias towards those poets who get published because they have an MFA than those who don’t. I have a MA minus the friggin’ F in the middle. I think some of my poetry, a lot of it actually, is better than much of the poetry I read in journals and volumes. I’ve had maybe five or six poems published in reputable journals out of more than 100 that I have submitted. Every manuscript of 70-80 poems that I have submitted has been rejected. I’ve kept every rejection letter for motivation. I’ve written over 1000 poems, but have only submitted maybe 100 that I feel were my best.
See Rick’s Arts of Thought Featured Poem, Here.