…with Lee Busby

Ariana:

5th Generation Immigrant embodies a monumental journey of one narrator whom experiences ambivalence and growth. The narrator leaves home, travels the east coast only to return to where he started. How much of Lee is in the collection?

Lee:

The answer is two-fold: all of the collection is me and none of the collection is me. Most all of my poems here are first person narratives informed by my own life and experiences, yet none of them are truly me. But, after saying that, I think the reverse is also true: all of these poems are more me than I’ve ever been in my life. What’s most important to me is being moved by the emotional truth of a poem, not the historical facts behind it. So, yes, I’m from the Missouri Ozarks, I love to travel to New York City and Key West, and some of the characters that show up in my poems are real, and some are just there because I needed them to be alive at that moment in my life.

Ariana:

I’ve always felt there’s a hint of Bob Dylan in this collection. What impact has Dylan made in your writing.

Lee:

Bob Dylan has been playing in the background since I wrote my first poem. While growing up, I’d always been moved more by the words to my favorite songs than the music, but it wasn’t until I found Dylan that I knew what it was to get totally lost in story and cadence, songs about real people, not just abstractions. Dylan’s sort of plain-speech approach to song writing made it more accessible and friendly, and that was what I wanted in my own writing. Poetry has, in the past, had a reputation of being stuffy and erudite, but I’ve always felt it should be more like Dylan, welcoming and empowering.

Ariana:

Tom or Jerry? Why?

Lee:

I would say Tom. Jerry was a little too smug for me, and he always walked around like he owned the joint, and maybe he did own the joint, but I always felt bad for Tom. I often wondered why he never struck out on his own, found himself in a nice small town down in the Keys, sipping mojitos with rat tail chasers, but, hey, guess that classy cat couldn’t have it all.

Ariana:

You run a writer’s retreat, River Pretty, twice a year. What motivated you to take this project on? What is one of the best moments you’ve experienced there?

Lee:

I’ve always enjoyed the special energy and feeling of community that happens when a group of writers, or any artists for that matter, come together to work and inspire each other. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a few workshops, but had to travel quite far from Missouri to do so. Once I finished my MFA, I then had the time and the resources to start a writing retreat in my own back yard. So, with a couple of my talented writer friends, Chaz Miller and Steve Rucker, we set out to create an educational and fun writing community in southern Missouri. We meet twice a year, in the fall and the spring at Dawt Mill, a beautiful canoeing and camping resort on the White River. I would say the greatest moments at the retreat are seeing writers have breakthroughs right in front of you, seeing them as they create poems and stories on the spot, and then get up and share those writings. It’s a truly enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Ariana:

Has running River Pretty impacted your writing?

Lee:

Any time you meet regularly with a group of talented writers, it’s going to change you, make you question the way you write, and strengthen your resolve in what you are doing correctly. We do a lot of readings at River Pretty, in the workshops and out, as well, and I believe just getting the chance to regularly share your work out loud helps your writing quite a bit. The retreat also gives me a deadline, which I need in my post-graduate life. That, my friends, is priceless.

Ariana:

Who wins in a battle to the death, Batman or Superman?

Lee:

Here’s what happens: Batman is trying to get close to Superman. Superman turns, and for some unbeknownst reason, accidently sneezes, and blows Batman through a wall, through a car, through a bank, through a warehouse, and out into the middle of the Ohio River, where he, now unconscious, sinks to the bottom. But then Superman would fly down and save him, apologizing the whole time for the sneeze.

Seriously, it’s a fantastic and fun conversation to have, but I prefer to see the two as friends, as two opposites, the light and the dark, that somehow, despite their differences, still compliment each other. It’s an important dichotomy to have.

Ariana:

Do you think writing will ever be obsolete?

Lee:

I hope not. I owe too much in student loans for writing to be obsolete. But, also, writing, or story-telling in any case, is the center of our entertainment industry. One way or the other, people need writers. I fancy words on a page the most, a page I can hold in my hand. I hope that never goes away.

Ariana:

Why this story?

Lee:

Because it’s me. And it’s not me. It’s the things I’ve always said, and the things I never wanted to say out loud. It’s me living nine different lives at once that already exist inside of me. It’s also more than me, it’s the people we meet everyday. It’s our heroes. But, mostly, I just like to write ‘I’ over and over, I’ve found.

Ariana:

What is your favorite poem in the collection? Why?

Lee:

I can say which poem I’m still closest too at the moment, but I can’t pick a favorite. Right now, I’m still most partial to the poem “View of a Lighthouse Overlooking Hemingway’s House, Key West.” I’m also partial to long titles. This poem for was a culmination of a two week long writing binge in Key West in early 2013, where I met a lot of great and wonderful people, and got to spend some time wrestling and coming to terms with Hemingway’s ghost, or at least what I always wanted Hemingway’s ghost to be. It’s where I could literally stand the closest to him, right outside his old house, and become even more intimate with him on the page. I’m not finished with him though. I plan on going back to see him again soon.

Ariana:

Do you feel either your work or your style is similar to any other writer or work?

Lee:

I’ve always enjoyed the poetry of Ted Kooser, John Berryman, James Schuyler, and have felt closest to poets like B.H. Fairchild and Michael Burns, who write a little closer to home for me, and who use their Midwest colloquial vernaculars to construct brilliant, funny, and heartbreaking poems. Michael Burns, who passed too soon, was my very first poetry mentor, and I strived for the longest time to write exactly like him, to imitate him. I would handwrite his poems in my college notebook trying to figure out how he constructed a line. He was my biggest influence as I started out, but it wasn’t until I started to write like Lee Busby and less like Michael Burns that I was able to begin to write my own poetry. To boil it down, I tend toward a writer with a strong narrative voice, and I’d like to think that’s where I fit in as well.

Ariana:

Give us one interesting fact about writing 5th Generation Immigrant.

Lee:

My dog, Lex, was right by my side, if not on top of me, while the majority of these poems were being written, so I put him in the poems so he could live a plethora of different lives too.

Ariana:

If you were a spy, what would your alias be?

Lee:

Hank, a travel writer who’s a romantic and always on the lookout for falling asteroids.

Ariana:

What childish things do you still do as an adult?

Lee:

Nothing. I only do adult things. Now, excuse me, while I go play with my action figures.

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