CoCoPoPro: Richard Lemm on War, History, and Heroes

April 26, 2013

As a young man of 19, Richard Lemm made the decision to move from the United States to Canada rather than fight in the Vietnam War. Burning House (Wolsak and Wynn, 2010) is a "portrait-gallery" of poems that details Lemm's considerations in his search for understanding, in his own decision not to fight as well as the experiences of soldiers and heroes throughout history who have fought.

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As a young man of 19, Richard Lemm made the decision to move from the United States to Canada rather than fight in the Vietnam War. Burning House (Wolsak and Wynn, 2010) is a “portrait-gallery” of poems that details Lemm’s considerations in his search for understanding, in his own decision not to fight as well as the experiences of soldiers and heroes throughout history who have fought.

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Q&A with Richard Lemm

If you wrote a memoir what would it be called? 

"Ballad of an Ex-Gunslinger" -- I'm actually working on a collection of personal essays about growing up an all-American boy in a patriotic, war-veteran family in the 1950s-1960s, and my draft-dodging transformation into a devoted Canadian with strong American roots.   

Why should people read poetry? 
First, poetry makes us see things out of the corners of our eyes, which, when we're enticed and compelled to turn our heads, take centre place in our vision. Second, we should read poetry for the very reasons non-poetry readers find poetry "difficult": poems make us slow down, dwell, be patient, grope toward understanding, and open our focus the way a scuba diver explores a coral reef, rather than the way a swimmer plows to and from shore. Third, most of the world is trying to sell us something. Poems just want to go for a walk, sit on a drift log, or dance to unfashionable music.  

What's one poem everyone should read?
I start the first meetings of my poetry and creative writing classes Alden Nowlan's "He Sits Down on the Floor of a School for Retarded" (written before that last word became verboten). It does so much of what fine poems do, and evokes so much of what it is to be human. 

What's your guilty pleasure (when it comes to reading)?
Excellent fantasy, such as Guy Gavriel Kay, and speculative fiction such as China Mieville.  

When did your interest in reading/writing poetry start?
In 12th grade. I began the school year with a primary obsession: to be a starter on the football team. Contrary to stereotypes, many of my teammates were serious readers, from Plato to Dostoyevsky to Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti. Add to my teammates' example the influence of two superb English teachers and a fine creative writing teacher, and I began reading and writing poetry, and vowed to have poems published in The New Yorker by my twenty-first birthday or I'd quit writing. I quit writing, for six years, then came to my poetic senses.  

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Richard Lemm is an award-winning author, and a professor of literature and creative writing at the University of Prince Edward Island. Born in Seattle, he immigrated to Canada in 1967, and moved to Atlantic Canada in 1979. His previous published work includes a collection of short stories, The Shape of Things to Come (Acorn Press, 2009), and the poetry collection, Four ways of dealing with bullies (Wolsak and Wynn, 2000)

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Edited from the original post, published on the LPG blog


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