Amy Susan Wilson Interviews William Bernhardt, Author of “The Ocean’s Edge”

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ASW: Just yesterday I was reading The White Bird and now I’m finding myself engaged with your second and just-released poetry collection, The Ocean’s Edge.  Your weaving of themes that tie to family, and self identity, dovetail flawlessly alongside the weaving of popular culture and classical allusions in these poems. Collectively, these elements create quite a rich tapestry. Were these poems’ allusions intended or inherently organic to your drafting process?

WB: I don’t think I’ve ever started from a literary allusion, but sometimes they emerge in the writing. I’ve never been a snob. When I was a kid, the librarians at my neighborhood library told me to seek out the best of everything, and I still do. That’s probably why you find a blend of popular culture—all that I loved most when I was young—and classical literature—all that I learned to love later. Almost every poem I’ve written is a love song of one sort or another.

ASW: Certainly, I hear echoes of e.e. cummings and William Carlos Williams, and Emily Dickinson in the prosody of The Ocean’s Edge. Talk to me about these influences.

WB: I think it’s enormously flattering that anyone would mention Williams or Dickinson in the same breath as me, and I’m not at all sure it’s merited. Though enormously gratifying. I discovered both of those poets when I was young, Dickinson in high school, Williams a little after. So I’m not entirely surprised to hear their influence has crept into my work.

William Bernhardt

ASW: You are also an established novelist, the latest of which is Challengers of the Dust. What are a few of the common denominators or contrasts in drafting poetry versus prose for you?

WB: I think both literary forms are about saying more with less, though you can cram 100,000 words or so into a novel, whereas a poem might have a hundred or two. I never want to spell everything out. I think the best writers suggest, not ambiguously, but lightly enough that readers can have the pleasure of making their won discoveries.

ASW: How do you decide if a work of yours will become poetry or a prose piece?

WB: Or a song, because I write those too, and occasionally nonfiction. And on at least one occasion, I took an idea I couldn’t make work as a poem and used it as the theme for a crossword puzzle. I have no idea why things work in one form and not another. But my current practice is to start writing poetry in the morning, then take a break, then try to write prose later in the day. It seems to be working, and allows me to pursue both of my literary passions.

ASW: For the aspiring scribes, what writing advice would you give this subset of the population?

BW: You can do anything you want to do, so don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Writing is hard, but you can get there. Just sit down, start writing, and don’t expect it to happen overnight. Don’t be afraid to seek help and advice from those with experience.

ASW: You are one of the most prolific authors of the contemporary landscape; no doubt, you have news to share about what’s forthcoming on your literary horizon?

WB: Am I really? I’ve been writing for over thirty years, so I’ve got a long list of credits, but I know many writers who have produced more. I particularly like to let poems marinate for awhile. It’s usually several years after conception before I publish, and then only after much re-thought and revision. I’m currently writing a novel about a poet (fictional), so this may be the ultimate in cross-pollinating my passions.

Amy Susan Wilson

ASW: My goodness, it is always good to hear about your work. As always, thanks so much for taking the time to sit down and visit about your work at hand.

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