“This is an essay question”: An Interview with Alan Catlin


We had the privilege of publishing Alan Catlin’s poem, “My Dream Date with Diane Arbus.” Alan is retired and working on what he calls his “fictional memoirs.” We sent him some questions. Here are his answers.

If a ten-year-old kid came up to you and told you she wanted to be a writer, what would you say to her?

Run away and join the circus. If, in ten years, you still want to write, you’ll have something to write about.

When you write, do you consider your audience?  If so, how?

The quick answer is yes. And no. As I write in so many different styles and on so many different subjects, it depends upon which I chose and who I am sending it to. If I am writing about my misbegotten career in the bar business, the yes answer applies most often. I have  specific persona/styles and I write appropriately then send it (or present it) some place where that style and subject matter is expected. If I am writing about something esoteric, say Art, I could care less what people think of it. It is what it is. I know what I am doing but if the audience doesn’t, that’s their problem.

How does your poem, “My Dream Date with Diane Arbus,” represent the type of artist you are?

This is an essay question. The least complicated answer is, I share an affinity with Diane Arbus on several levels. After, say, 34 years in the bar business. you begin to see  humanity as a kind of floating world, a human freak show. Freaks were her milieu (and one of my favorite movies, Freaks, that is).  So there is an obvious connection there.  That’s the simple part.

The answer starts getting more complicated when you factor in that I wrote over 60 poems in a sequence of “dream dates” with doomed women. The whole collection is called, My Dream Date with Sylvia Plath. On one level it is a kind of tongue-in-cheek insertion of narrative voice inside the lives and work of the women. On another, it is an appreciation of their works and why they became doomed. Maybe even an identification, as much as a man can identify with a woman.  Certainly the poems are meant to be an act of empathy, the narrator an empathetic companion to these women.

I would like to think that when the original Star Trek opened with the statement “….to bravely go where no man has gone before” they were speaking of what I attempt to be as an artist.

Who do you think we should be reading right now, and why?

This is another essay question.  So many books, so little time. Okay: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited, for his insights into the psychology and science of oppression. George Orwell 1984  and Collected Essays for his insight into the politics and the language of oppression.  (So he was off a couple of years but essentially everything he predicted is happening now or has happened already.) Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage for the philosophy and literature of the culture (of oppression). Jeffrey Sharlet’s The Family for his insights into the mechanics of those who are behind the culture and politics of oppression in this country, and The Complete Works of Franz Kafka for his worldview.

Tell us something about you we might be surprised to hear.

My alter ego is a shy, retiring Chaucer scholar.

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