Lynn Wallace lived in Costa Rica several years as a boy, and after receiving an MA in English-Fiction Writing from the Pennsylvania State University in 1986, he was awarded a Fulbright to Costa Rica for fifteen months, during which he taught at the University of Costa Rica, wandered the backcountry, and worked on several writing projects. One of those works was a memoir, an excerpt of which was translated into Spanish and published in the literary supplement of the daily La Nación, and installments of which have been published in Postcards from Pottersville, Kalliope, and elsewhere. Most recently, some of his poems have appeared in the Atlanta Review.
He is the author of Wound in the Sun (Pottersville Press, 2010) and the novel Los Caminantes (Pottersville Press, 2005), which won a prize in the novel category at the Florida First Coast Writers' Festival in 1992.
In 2002-2003 he served on the fellowship grant review panel in the area of media arts for the Division of Cultural Affairs of Florida, and has been reappointed by The Secretary of State as a grant review panelist in media arts for 2005-2006.
Currently, Lynn Wallace serves as an Associate Professor of English at Gulf Coast Community College, Panama City, FL, where he teaches creative writing, literature and film, among other courses. He serves as the chair of Faculty Council, 2005-2006, and is long-time advisor to the Muslim Student Association. He resides in Marianna, Florida.
Pegasus advisory editor and faculty advisor Jeff Newberry had the distinct pleasure of being one of Wallace's pupils in the early 1990s. Recently, Lynn spoke with Jeff about Wallace's collection of poems, Wound in the Sun. Jeff's questions are in bold.
You are right to think that images have a great deal to do with my poetry. I wonder how it could be otherwise. Poetry without images is akin to a bird without wings. Even flightless birds have wings. Of course, poems can have many kinds of wings, the sonorous, lyrical, lilting, referential qualities, too, but images are surely the best of all flight feathers and articulated bones that comprise wings. Haiku provide a perfect opportunity for a mini-lab in the application of many of the attributes of poetic language. If students can see into the heart of a breath-poem of seventeen or fewer syllables, then they can launch themselves off the tall cliffs over the rocks and surf below in a poetic flight of any length, short or long. I am perfectly aware that among accomplished poets, often an effete snobbery exists, and too many poets in Western culture believe that only more is more; therefore, haiku cannot provide anything serious, they are playthings, they are a triviality, no being brash, and loud, and long . . . a pity. The truth is that an accomplished haiku is a wonder to behold. If students can see the light through the prism of one stunning haiku, then they will look to endow their poems with such effects in a single line, in pairs of line, in stanzas, and in complete 30-line poems, wherein every words serves its purpose and every word counts. I never tire of the miracle of language that is a haiku, providing first-hand instruction in concision, compression, juxtaposition, and in the suggestive power of language.
You’re a teacher as well as a writer. Does one feed off of or inform the other? In what ways (if any) has being a teacher helped your writing? In what ways has being a writer informed your teaching?
If one wants to know a subject well, teach it. Teaching writing continues to hold my feet against the sizzling sides of the furnace. What do you mean? What are you trying to say? What does any of this amount to? For one who teaches, the answers must always be forthcoming and must always be renewed. Teaching writing and especially commenting on the writing of others has made me a careful reader. This acquired skill is useful not only for my students but it is invaluable for me and my own work. I’ve had to become a good editor. Working as a writer has validated my teaching, it seems to me. It has leant me authority and credibility. I don’t know everything about writing—no one does—but I know enough to be a guide for others. I know enough to tell them where the landmines are. I know enough to recognize the place where encouragement slides into indulgence and where criticism becomes so harsh that it wounds. All this is about the subtleties of communication, and those skills, learned one way or another, are also what writing is about.
Putting a collection of poetry together is a daunting task. One has to find the right order, and seeking out that organic order can be challenging. Did you have a particular trajectory in mind when you collected the poems for Wound in the Sun?
Putting together a collection of poetry is daunting. It is not as though there is one and only one sequence of poems, and if the poet labors faithfully enough, then that order will present itself. There are many possibilities. Yes, there can be groups or sub-groups around themes and the like. Honestly, each poem’s voice is primary, and next comes the kind of sparks or contrast or support or flavor that comes from having one poem next to another. Some poems are gestational, so maybe they should come early in the book. Maybe the poems will move from light to dark or vice versa. I have a sequence of poems starting with “A Boy,” then “Boy at One,” from birth to age five or six—whenever it was that I abandoned him. I could have grouped these, but then I thought, no, it’s all right to spread them out; the reader will manage quite nicely; I’ll only keep the Boy poems in chronological order. The only other rough ordering principle had to do with my own “closeness” to certain poems. I felt that the order was something of a history of the experiences behind some of these poems and a history of my engagement with certain ideas, matters of faith, the loss of faith, and the recreation of a different kind of faith, for example. I deliberately dropped a table of contents because I wanted a reader to find his or her way, to find places to rest, really to start and stop wherever he wished, and to have to find his way back to certain places on his own. I didn’t want to provide a road map. Though appearance might suggest that I was restrained, if not deliberately unhelpful, in terms of order and layout, I would underscore that the layout definitely wasn’t random. Layout and order isn’t chaos theory and it isn’t furniture assembly instructions and it certainly isn’t every little jar and canister lined up, label out, in the spice rack. Too much order and control is probably as much to be avoided as no order and control at all.
Who are some writers that you turn to for inspiration?
Poets who continue to inspire me are varied and numerous. A list is going to leave some out, but I have to name certain sure voices: Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Lowell, Randall Jarrell, Philip Levine, Gary Snyder, Charles Collins, Charles Simic, W. S. Merwin, and of course Whitman and Dickinson. I must mention a pantheon of prose writers: Shakespeare, Stern, Conrad, Thoreau, Austin, Faulkner, Hemingway, Camus, Cortazar, Blanchot, and writers nearer our time, like Raymond Carver, Robert Coover, Joyce Carole Oates—many others.
What advice would you give to young poets or writers?
Young poets and writers should be patient. They should be willing to live with the notion of apprenticeship, learning as much as they can about the craft, and continuing to learn as long as they dare write. Really, writers must read a great deal. I’ve never yet met a great writer who wasn’t a great reader. And the last advice is to write regularly and often. I have nothing to say about fame or notoriety. These matters are to a large degree unpredictable, and they should never be our first concern. Writing is a habit of mind, a way of thinking. One must face the blank page and blank screen again and again . . . and feel blessed to have a marvelous opportunity. We write as though we have no choice, and it may very well be that we don’t. After that, everything IS choice, so write.