“A Strange Sort of Periscope”: John Freeman on Poetry and Politics

Angela Stubbs interviews John Freeman in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

PhpThumb_generated_thumbnailJOHN FREEMAN IS a word slayer, known for his keen editorial eye. But he is just as keen to illuminate the stories of people in all lands. In the past several weeks, Freeman has released his debut book of poems, Maps, an anthology of essays titled Tales Of Two Americas: Stories of Inequality in a Divided Nation, and the fourth issue of Freeman’s, his literary journal. All his literary endeavors are meditations on memory and love, which feel like guideposts on a search for authentic self-knowledge. In his poems, Freeman manages to offer an antidote to suffering, chaos, and pain by illuminating the loneliest, darkest places in each of us. His work is its own form of cognitive behavioral therapy for the reader. Instead of probing at the root cause of pain, his poems ask us to acknowledge and appreciate the journey, rethinking our attitude toward it. I emailed with John over the past month to discuss politics, poetry, and why imagination is at the heart of all our experiences.

ANGELA STUBBS: How did the writing of Maps help you unravel the internal maps you’d made over the years? How difficult was it to revisit some of these memories in order to write these poems?

JOHN FREEMAN: Writing poetry has always been a largely instinctual thing for me, something I do only when I feel like it, often very quickly at night or in transit. Scribble, scribble. My internal editor needs a lot of distraction to shut off. For the last 20 years, as a journalist and editor, I have been a human deadline, bouncing from one assignment or production date to the next. Poetry was a way to unplug and return to a deeper mode of thinking, and not direct my mind at a task but into a space. I’ve always felt the unconscious mind maps things far more interestingly than our rational, waking mind, so making this book was for me an attempt to try to be guided by that principle, to see what lived in there — for me — in the possibility of a poem. I’m so glad it wasn’t just filled up by muscle cars and Tom Petty tunes.

More here.