Interview: Chas Holden

We talk to Chas Holden about his poems in Neon #32, and his background in photography and journalism.

Your three poems seem to share a common theme. Were they all written together, or inspired by the same thing? Do you feel as though they tie in with each other, or is each separate from the others?

Well, they were all written in the same week, so I suppose you could say I was in a similar state-of-mind when composing them – i.e. obsessed with, and influenced by, the same ideas and artworks. I had not necessarily intended these three poems to be a series when I was first conceiving of them; however, I was definitely interested in writing with a singular portentous tone during this time. I think it is this tone that ties them together so nicely. Of course, they could be read as a series, as a loose narrative even, of one person’s survival by way of tempering the hot idealism of youth with cold experience. Still, I hope there’s enough substance to these poems that they are able to stand on their own as well.

What is it about a dystopian / post-apocalyptic setting that appeals to you? Is this something that is reflected in a lot of your writing and reading?

It seems to me that musing on the end of days is a very human activity. I suppose that every culture has its own rendition of the apocalypse, each version specific to the world-view that birthed it. And yet, imagining the end seems to unite our species across time and space. There are enough catastrophes – both natural and man-made – in human history for practically every generation to wonder if it will be the last. Moreover, eschatology interests both the secular and religious mind, from Nietzsche’s depiction of the last man to John the Apostle’s revelation. I believe there’s so much poetic potential to be found in the imagined end-times. Such a setting permits us to see humanity simultaneously at its best and worst, as both messianic and satanic figures fill this imagined space.

Actually, this subject matter is new to my writing. In much of my previous work, I am something of a nature poet and an imagist, drawing largely from the concise works of ancient Japanese poets like those found in the Kokinshu or the Manyoshu. For me, these poems were as much an experiment in subject as the prose poem was an experiment in form. Indeed, I found the prose poem to be the most fitting for this content, the way it can accommodate more absurdity and mania. Dystopia / post-apocalyptia is something I read a lot in prose (e.g. Vonnegut, Huxley, Orwell, and Bradbury) but not so much in poetry. Sure, there is Eliot’s The Waste Land, but it feels like in verse this subject has not gained the wide purchase it enjoys in prose.

In your bio you mention photography and journalism. How do these disciplines feed into your writing?

I think this background has given me an interest in directness of speech and visual appeals. I am a very visual person, so I have no problem following William Carlos Williams’ charge of “No ideas but in things.” A number of my poems are “pictures” that I could not capture with something so clumsy as a camera. Due to this training, I also find myself in the camp of “Poets who want to be understood,” as Robert Frost put it. Interestingly, both the journalist and the poet need to have an intimate understanding of metaphor. Metaphor allows the poet to make wild leaps of the imagination, while the journalist can employ metaphor to help the reader understand a complex process or idea. For example, many abstract scientific principles are best related to the uninitiated by way of a concrete metaphor.

Having started out as a journalist, what originally drew you towards writing poetry?

On one level, I was seeking a challenge. Journalism and poetry seem to lie on opposite ends of the writing spectrum, so composing verse was like learning how to write all over again. I found that writing solely to communicate left me feeling somewhat unfulfilled. I think William Carlos Williams said it best: “It is difficult / to get the news from poems / yet men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found there.” As a reporter, I envied poets for a couple of reasons. I think it is far easier for poets to handle truth than journalists. The truths of poetry soar unbound by facts and reality, while the journalist must always build factual fortifications to protect the jewel of truth. Additionally, it seems like poets have a much stronger relationship to their words than a journalist is allowed to have. As Richard Hugo puts it, “I caution against communication because once language exists only to convey information, it is dying.” I am a lover of language, and I sometimes chafe at the antiseptic language designed exclusively to communicate. I hungered for the kind of delight only found in “play” with language.

Do you have a website, or a link where readers can find out more about you?

I don’t have a website. I need to make one. For now, people can follow me on twitter @littlwing where I post short-form poems.

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Chas Holden is a freelance writer/photographer and struggling poet/grad-student working on an MFA at Eastern Washington University. Originally trained as a journalist, he is currently a disciple of poetry. His work has appeared in 5×5, a handful of stones, unFold, Belletrist Coterie, and the Poets for Living Waters project.