Behind the Words: Paul Hostovsky

Posted by on May 23, 2014 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Paul Hostovsky

Paul Hostovsky

After the many interviews I’ve done with creative nonfiction and fiction writers, this is serendipitously my first poetry interview. How does that make you feel?

It makes me feel like reading “The Three Princes of Serendip,” or giving Sir Horace Walpole a kiss on the mouth, or giving you a kiss on the mouth.


Do you often go around mouth-kissing strangers?

No, never. In my head, all the time.


It doesn’t seem as though poetry needs to identify itself as either fiction or creative nonfiction. In fact, poets could lend themselves to either side, or play in the middle ground taking the best from both. Do you find your writing leaning toward one side?
“Tell the truth but tell it slant,” as Emily famously said. My poems are fiction. That being said, they’re all true.


Define “creativity”
Creativity is like your cavity; it’s like your new dentist in the process of filling your cavity when he suddenly notices the beautiful and perfect crown your old dentist (who has since retired or died) made for you years ago on a neighboring tooth, and he taps it with his tiny round mirror as if to wake himself from this dream of impossible beauty and perfection as you sit there with your mouth open and he stands there with his mouth open, incredulous, impressed, and more than a little jealous of the great works of your old or superannuated or dead dentist who was a great artist and it makes you feel like a museum of fine arts of sorts with twenty years of gilded masterpieces filling your walls.

Where did the idea for “The Girl at Petco” spring from?
It sprang from a visit to Petco with my stepson Josh who wanted a turtle and we were standing there in the space between the reptiles and the rodents staring down at a turtle in a tank when a girl in a Petco shirt came over to us and rolled her eyes like the fish in the exotic fish tank looking for the way out, and said: It’s not a turtle; it’s a tortoise; a Russian tortoise. With proper care, they can easily outlive their owners.


What, if anything, did you leave Petco with that day?
A beta fish, some tropical medley fish food, some cat litter, and the seed for a new poem.


Is poetry the main genre that you write in? What about reading–do you read in one genre more than another?
I write poetry exclusively. But deep down, I wish I were a fiction writer. The trouble is, the line break. I’m addicted to the line break. And to compression. So I write only poems. Though I read mostly fiction.

What does your workspace look like?
My workspace is a pocket. A pocket with the poem I’m working on folded up inside it. I take the poem out on the train, in traffic, at work, in line at the grocery store, wherever, and I pick at it, stretch it, scratch it, nip, tuck, tweak, snip, snip, slurp, squeeze, primp, plump, plop, voila!
Your writer website is so impressive. It is from the site that I learned that many of your poems have been read on NPR by Garrison Keillor. How cool! What was that like for you? How did it feel to hear someone else read your poetry?
Garrison Keillor has read my poems 8 times on NPR. I love that he likes my work, and I love the honor of being featured, and I love the hundred bucks per poem, and I love his voice, but I hate how he reads my poems. He tends to rush through them like they’re prose, ignoring the line breaks that I’ve agonized over, pausing where he shouldn’t, hurrying onward where he should have paused. But don’t tell him I told you that. He might take offense and stop reading my poems just to spite me.


Now that you’ve heard someone else read your work, who if anyone would you actually request to hear read your work?
Scarlett Johansson. And when she’s done reading, I would like to kiss her on the mouth.

Is there anyone whose work you would love to read aloud?
Well, as W.H. Auden said, we love the smell of our own farts best. He really did say that. It’s in his book of essays, The Dyer’s Hand. If you don’t believe me, go and read it yourself. And it’s the same with the poems: I’d rather read my own poems aloud, thank you very much, preferably to a very receptive audience of poetry lovers who love my poems and laugh at all the right places and line up afterwards to buy the book. Failing that, I like reading Whitman aloud, and some poems by Frost, and even Auden. And one or two by Gary Miranda, Galway Kinnell, Donald Justice, William Matthews. Also some by Tony Hoagland, Mark Halliday, Stephen Dunn, Marie Howe, Thomas Lux, Stephen Dobyns. Gee, I guess the list goes on and on. I don’t have a favorite poet. Just lots and lots of favorite poems.
I love this blurb for your poetry collection A Little in Love a Lot: “Paul Hostovsky always finds a way to make me happy. I hope in the next life I come back as him.” —Scott Owens”  Who makes you so happy that you’d like to come back as them in your next life?
In the next life I’d like to come back as my dog Maddy. It’s a good life: eat, sleep, urinate, defecate. No pretenses. No poems. No interviews. Just going up to people and sniffing their crotches. And not getting slapped for it.


Erin A. Corriveau is an emotional archeologist who graduated from Fairfield University’s MFA program with a concentration in creative nonfiction. Her writing has been published in (em): A Review of Text and Image, Revolution House, Lunch Ticket, Paper Tape, Shoreline Literary Arts Magazine, The Fall River Spirit, and RedFez. She is the co-founder and editor of Spry Literary Journal. Her blog, Reinventing Erin, is her outlet for ruminating on the minutiae of everyday life.

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