Travis Blair Poet Introduction

Travis Blair talks about poetry Ashvamegh JournalTravis Blair lives down the road from the University of Texas campus in Arlington where he earned his BA in English Lit. After a lengthy career in the movie business, he took up writing poetry. Author of three books, Train to Chihuahua, Little Sandwiches, and Hazy Red and Diesel Grey, his poems have appeared in literary journals throughout the United States, England, South Africa, and Australia. He received a 2015 Pushcart Prize nomination. The former President of Dallas Poets Community and member of the Writers League of Texas now teaches ESL to adult immigrants for the Fort Worth Independent School District. He has two daughters, five grandchildren, and hides from them frequently in Manhattan and Mazatlán.

Read the interview below


Travis Blair Interview with Alok Mishra, Poet & Editor-in-Chief at Ashvamegh

Alok Mishra: Sir, to start the interview, my first question to you is about the perception of poetry. Do you think there is a difference between a literature student’s perception about poetry and someone from another field of study?

Travis Blair: Depends on what exactly you mean. I was a literary student – earned my Bachelor’s degree in English literature from the University of Texas at Arlington – and I don’t see my perception of poetry as being different from non-literary students. Anyone can enjoy good poetry. You may not know what the words alliteration, enjambment, spondee, or tercet mean, and you may not recognize a villanelle, but you will know when a poem really gets to you or touches you. You’ll know a good poem when you read it or hear it, whether you are a literary student or not. And I don’t think a poem has to be “academic” to be an excellent poem. I’ve read poems written by little kids who were just having fun expressing themselves that were killer poems!

Alok Mishra: Study of English literature that you took up in graduation, how much influence you feel now writing in old age today, looking around the changing world?

Travis Blair: The world has gotten quite technical and complicated. Educated, well-trained people are now running it. But I think my life-long exposure to the arts, including movies, has allowed me to appreciate and feel life in a way that I might not if I hadn’t fallen in love with literature and words and artistic endeavors. I don’t regret majoring in English literature at all. I only wish I had gone further – gotten a Masters or Doctors degree – so I’d have more opportunity to teach it and share it with eager, hungry minds. I think good literature stills impacts people’s lives.

Alok Mishra: As a poet, what responsibilities do you think you have when you sit to write poetry? Is it for your sake or you have certain goals behind your writing?

Travis Blair: I wouldn’t say I have goals when I write. I write to express my thoughts and feelings and to share them with readers or listeners. A poem is a sort of performance and each one has its own meaning or value. I have a responsibility to express what needs to be said, a responsibility to be honest about it, courageous, clear so I can be understood. And I have a responsibility to myself to say or write what I want to express, to articulate it in a way that allows people to get something from reading it. Sometimes I have the goal of putting together a collection of poems, of making a statement about specific subjects. I suppose I have a goal of leaving behind a legacy of writing, a valued body of work. But that’s getting rather lofty, isn’t it?

Alok Mishra: Which poets have influenced you the most? What are the qualities in them that inspire you the most?

Travis Blair: Many poets have influenced me at different times in my life and throughout my writing career. When I was first learning to enjoy and write poetry, I was influenced by William Carlos Williams, Philip Larkin, Pablo Neruda, T.S. Eliot, Federico Garcia Lorca, Charles Bukowski, even a fairly unknown internet poet named Wendy Hammond. Their styles, the way they expressed themselves really grabbed me; how they crafted words made me want to write like them. Later I came to love Billy Collins, Ted Kooser, Larry D. Thomas, Kim Addonizio, Sharon Olds, Karla K. Morton. And I have always thought the greatest American poet ever, and certainly the most courageous and influential on my generation, is Bob Dylan. I believe the more great poetry you read by excellent poets, the better writer and poet you become yourself. You learn how to write good poetry by reading good poetry. It’s that simple and important!

Alok Mishra: It might sound personal but do you think the purpose of poetry is to make music or to deliver a meaningful message? The classic question – rhyme versus the message, what personally do you like?

Travis Blair: There are two purposes of poetry that I practice. I like to “make music” – tell a story or paint a picture that captures the reader with its word-crafting. You hear an expression and think “Wow! I wish I had said it like that!” And I like to deliver a meaningful message that grabs your feelings and says something to you. Powerfully! But I don’t believe a poem always has to do both. Sometimes a poem can just be a poem. An expression. It doesn’t always have to mean something profoundly important. But it must always be accessible, obtainable, understandable.

Alok Mishra: Now tell me about your writing and books you have published. And of course the favorite stanza from your book that you always remember.

Travis Blair: I’ve written three books that have been published. I didn’t set out to write any of them; I was just writing poems. And when I had written enough poems that had the same theme or location or subject matter, I just made collections out of them that were publishable in book form. None of the books seemed like work. That’s because the work was done when I originally wrote the poems. The majority of poems in my books were first published online or in poetry magazines or literary journals. I had fun putting the books together!

When I first started writing poetry, many of my poems were set in Mexico. I’ve traveled extensively in Mexico throughout my life and written many poems about my adventures there. I once mentioned that I had enough poems written in and about Mexico that I could fill a book with them. Publisher/poet Rudy Thomas read that remark and told me that if I put them in a manuscript and sent them to him, he would publish the book for me. So I created the collection entitled Train to Chihuahua. It is 50 poems, and a wonderful poet friend of mine named Anna Donovan volunteered to translate three of them into Spanish and allow me to publish them alongside my English versions. The book was published at the end of 2008 by Old Seventy Creek Press, Rudy Thomas’ small company in Kentucky. It’s been a very popular collection.

My second book is entitled Little Sandwiches. I put it together in 2013. My favorite subject, and my favorite creatures on earth, is WOMEN. This is a collection of 60 poems I’ve written about women. Some of these poems are love poems, some are simply poems about women I’ve known or met. And some of these poems are pure erotica. Texas Poet Laureate Larry D. Thomas wrote: “Although the poems in this fine collection are without a doubt among the most tastefully erotic pieces I have been privileged to read, they are also a paean to all the senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing…concise and skillfully devoid the excesses of tedious modifiers; and his carefully hewn poetic craft sparkles on every page.” Again Rudy Thomas took a chance on me and his Old Seventy Creek Press published this risqué collection.

My third book is entitled Hazy Red and Diesel Grey. It was published near the end of 2014. It contains 55 poems all set in urban Texas locations. I am a native Texan, but not one of those stereotypical cowboys raised on a ranch filled with tales about horses and cattle and wild-west shootouts. I am a big-city-boy. These poems take place mostly in Dallas, Austin, the Tex-Mex border, Gulf of Mexico beach towns, a few West Texas hole-in-the-wall hangouts, and on trains, in fast cars, and on hotel beds. Originally I was going to call this collectionGrowing Up in West Dallas, the title of one of the poems it contains. But Larry D. Thomas told me that was a weak title and I should take a line from that poem (“Some evenings when the sun sets all hazy red and diesel grey…”) and create the book’s title from that. Who am I to ignore advice from a Texas Poet Laureate?! I went with it. I’m told this is my best book so far, and the opening poem, “Black & White Photo of Mom, 1942,” earned me my first Pushcart Prize nomination this year. I’m quite proud of this collection.

My favorite stanza I’ve written can be found in my Train to Chihuahua collection. It’s from the poem “Seals of Cortez.” Ten years ago I suffered a stroke. I have a friend who owns a beach house in Mexico and she offered to let me stay there while I was healing. This poem came out of that experience. It’s about the process of recovery. The poem closes with these lines:

Finally one morning

I swallow my fears

wade in, swim

out to the seals.

They watch me,

clap their flippers,

bark their delight

when I circle them.

I climb onto the rocks,

bow to their applause

as they slowly float away.

And, pleased with myself,

I swim back to shore

with slow steady strokes

and begin the work

of mending my poem.

Alok Mishra: At last, about our effort to promote literature, what do you want to say? We have noticed a decline in interest towards the art of words. Do you also feel the same? What can be done to rekindle it?

Travis Blair: Any decline in interest toward the art of words, poetry in particular, I blame on those writers who do not write accessible poetry or literature. They get too intellectual, too flowery, too academic, too far out there where the buses don’t run. They want to impress everyone by expressing themselves in a manner that is above the reader’s ability to grasp and understand what they are saying. I’m the opposite. I want to express myself in a way that allows the reader to see and feel exactly what I write as if they are watching it in a movie or they are actually present because my words are so vividly clear that I take them there. You have to bring the reader into the scene if you want to capture his or her imagination, attention, and interest. You have to allow your readers to want to stay with you.

Alok Mishra: Many thanks for your time, sir. I wish you all the best for your writings and future projects. It was nice talking to you.

Travis Blair: Thank you, Alok, for allowing me to offer my thoughts about poetry, my great passion in life! This has been both an honour and a pleasure.