Behind the Words: Ricky Garni

Posted by on Aug 19, 2015 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

RG3Ricky Garni’s poem “Bluebirds,” featured in issue 03 of Spry, takes readers down an often contradictory narrative; nonetheless, the speaker’s charm and transparency keeps us hooked. It is wonderful to see that this same charm and openness continues as Garni discusses his writing process, insights in the arts, and upcoming projects.  
Laura Bernstein: Talk to me about the revision process of “Bluebirds.” How did it start? What surprised you through the revision process?

Ricky Garni: My revision process doesn’t vary too much – like most of my poems, I wrote BLUEBIRDS in the computer as straight prose without line breaks.  I tend to write quite quickly initially and I consider the work of the poem – giving it shape and sound – secondary to its content. Once I have written a first draft, I tend to consider the real estate of the page – and of the lines. At first that tends to be a distraction. I prefer the initial mass to be present before I really do anything with it.

I probably revised BLUEBIRDS nine or ten times. That’s not unusual for me. In fact, I often keep revising even after a poem has gone to print.

In revision, I always follow the same process, which is to read it aloud, giving particular emphasis to the line breaks to see if that follows the rhythm that I heard in my head when I wrote it. Of course there is also the question of the limitations of the page – a line can only be so long! I admit that I have – and this is probably not a good thing to do – changed line breaks because I didn’t like the appearance of the poem on the page. This is perhaps the ugly side of being a graphic designer who also writes (or vice versa.)

What surprised me about BLUEBIRDS was the source of the inspiration. I imagine many writers know what moves them to write before they put their fingers on a pen – for me it’s a more gradual process, sometimes it only occurs to me months or years later! In the case of this poem, I realized – and this is only when prompted to consider it – that this was really a gesture of appreciation to an old EB White essay I read years ago, perhaps in my early twenties. In the essay, as I recall, White was audited by the IRS – rather than be defensive or concerned, he invited them to his house for cookies. This gesture made an impression on me – the notion of responding to an institution with the courtesy of own’s humanity – of recognizing the community that we are all a part of (human, fish, fowl, woodland creatures.) I believe somewhere in the back of my head I saw the silhouette of the scissors on a tax envelope that way – “My, how thoughtful – not scissors, not a tax form – a sweet raven flying over a white sky.” And it was a comforting image to me. Some might find the bluebird more of that than the raven, but on a person level, my sweetheart used to take care of fallen ravens in her backyard. And They loved her and she loved them. Few often do (I know her neighbors did not!) But knowing her, it was hard not to.

LB: The rambling tone of the speaker seems emphasized by your beautiful line breaks. Do you have a particular goal when you choose to break a line? Does the goal change with every poem? 

RG: Thank you for that. I do have several goals, the most obvious being that it contains a good rhythm. Often, though, I hope that the reader stops at the end of the line and considers it as a whole thought, only to be guided to reconsider by the following line (a good example here would be “someday will be white as blackbirds in paper” [line break] “snow.”) I always prefer a line, or a work, that is founded in an essential reality, and then strays a little bit, but not too far. I feel that it is important to abstract, but to hold fast to the source of your abstraction.

LB: I noticed in my brief Internet search that you are a musician and graphic designer. Do these identities ever inform each other or merge together? How so? 

RG: My interest in music and art precedes my interest in writing – I started playing classical piano at four, drawing at three, writing as a teenager. I returned to music and composition two years ago, after suffering a great loss – I felt as though there was a large space in life that I needed to fill. Art (in any form) can do that, but frankly, I am not sure that I would recommend it! Beyond the aspects of time management, thinking as a designer and as a musician, or as a musician and as a writer, are truly different things, and occupy different parts of your creative core. Oddly enough, the greatest struggle I have now is writing lyrics for music – it is truly a different enterprise than writing poetry or prose, and to my mind, much more difficult to do well.

On a positive note, there have been times when I have been unable to write, and so I begin to draw, and I feel as though it gives me the capability to ambush my writing, and let it emerge from writing. Sometimes doing something as simple as giving a drawing a title – two pages later, I have written an awful lot, but no title. I recommend WHY I AM NOT A PAINTER by Frank O’Hara for more on that subject for anyone who hasn’t read it – but I can’t imagine by this point there is anyone who hasn’t! A wonderful piece, and it strikes the center of this as process.

I do believe that most artists can express themselves in any medium, often with varying degrees of skill, but in such a way that it is identifiable as the work of the artist – in fact, I would say that we would probably use the same adjectives to describe an artist’s painting that we would their writing or music or dance. We all have fingerprints that way. Don Van Vliet (the departed Captain Beefheart) comes right to mind.

LB: What are your current writing goals? 

RG: I have become fonder of simple, unadorned chronicling lately – this might be the provence of the aging! But something as simple as Li Po, or in a more modern vein, Blaise Cendrars or Ron Padgett – really appeals to me these days. I love the idea of transcribing, in a very unvarnished way, the experience of a day, of a moment, an event, a place in a very specific time.

What I tended to do in the past was to write a book a year of general short pieces – I am up to thirty or so now! It’s gotten a little out of hand. Whenever I can, I try to collect a shorter work each year that is project-based – one that is shaped around a specific idea or concept, which can be very challenging. Recent ones included TELEFRICASSEE (a poetry roux based upon sitcom synopses dating from the ’50’s to the ’90’s), INFAMOUS PHOTOS OF FAMOUS PEOPLE (short pieces based upon celebrities in unusual moments), BEE STINGS (essays based upon explicable entries in a 1893 Encyclopedia Britannica.) If anything, and this is a little boring,  and far away from my intention to chronicle, is that I would like to finish INFAMOUS this year – I would like original artwork to represent the photos – but that requires a real commitment from someone other than myself as a gift to me! This is a very difficult thing to ask for from loved ones or strangers! (Especially for a book whose working title was HITLER WASN’T EVEN A CUTE BABY.)

LB: What is one online essay/poem/story/YouTube video that you think Spry readers should check out? 

RG: Oh, how I hate the number one! Can’t I give you ten or a billion or something?

But you asked for one, so I will give you the very first that came to mind: Nina Katchadourian. I am uncertain how familiar she is to people (I tend to be somewhat isolated from the art world) but to my mind, this is a woman who is pure art, art incarnate. In fact, she has so much art in her soul, that I am not even certain she is incarnate anymore – she might just be pure ether at this point. What she can do with shark teeth from a Mystic gift shop, tropical birds and a car horn or talking popcorn – not to be missed. I discovered her through her “Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style” and that is probably a good place to start. She’s so good, she will make you stop calling yourself an artist for years to come. I know I no longer do. But I think it’s worth it. I can just sit and watch what she does instead. Check it out here.


Laura Bernstein‘s work has been featured in The Normal School, Tupelo Quarterly, and Passages North, among others. Bernstein lives in Bucks County, PA with her husband and daughter, and she teaches at Penn State Abington.

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