An Interview with Robert VanderMolen

Andrew De Haan:

First off, what is it that initially inspired you to write poetry, and what has kept you writing after all these years?

Robert VanderMolen:

Once I learned to read well (in the 2nd grade), I thought wouldn't it be great to give people such pleasure. So I decided early on to try to become a writer. I didn't seriously begin writing poetry until I was 15. Indeed, my plan had been to write fiction; and I had written small awful stories for years. I think I turned to poetry because I was pressed for time: school work, sports, a girlfriend, church activities. Short poems didn't take much time. It became a habit, writing poems. And, I suspect, over the years, an addiction (I don't feel well when I haven't written in a while)

Andrew De Haan:
What poets would you say you draw or have drawn inspiration from the most?

Robert Vander Molen:

I've been influenced by a good number of poets, but to winnow the list to a few:
 
Walt Whitman
Emily Dickinson
Ezra Pound
Lorine Niedecker
Frank O'Hara
Paul Blackburn
John Ashbery

Andrew De Haan:

Some of your earlier poems, like “1947” and “Fishing” from Circumstances, portray a real sense of longing and adventure, whereas poems from 2000's Breath, like “The Snakes” and “Up North” have a sense of the realization of how life is, and how our desires might betray us. While this seems evident to me, how would you say your poetry has changed with you over the course of your life?

Robert Vander Molen:

I think you hit it correctly with your 3rd question. I was a bit of an adventurous sort when younger, but when I married and had children, a daily job, bought a house etc. my life changed a great deal--traveling from little responsibility to having a good amount of it. And I was aware of my writing changing too--I think to the better. On the other hand, I didn't have much choice.
 
I do recall struggling with the new environment (that is, the sphere I write in, as distinct from the world I live in). I know I began writing fewer pieces in the 1st person.

Andrew De Haan:

Here in Grand Rapids, the first ArtPrize event, where the general public votes to determine which piece wins, is going to be wrapping up soon. In light of this, what do you think the role of contemporary poetry is in terms of the general public? Is it different than that of its role in private life?

Robert Vander Molen:

I'm not sure how to answer the 4th query. I see reading and writing as being primarily private. There are, of course, public readings on a regular basis, but I think the audience is there either as fans of a particular author or wanting to hear a sample inorder to decide whether to buy a specific author's writings.

Andrew De Haan:

Several of your poems, like “New Neighbors” from Breath, make mention of specific people. How much do you think names add depth to a poem? And how would you say the people around you (friends, family, acquaintances, strangers) shape your writing?

Robert Vander Molen:

I use names in writing to make the work more interesting. I rarely employ real names. I steal words, ideas, phrases and stories from everyone.

Andrew De Haan:

Which brings me to ask, have you ever dabbled in fiction or non-fiction?

Robert Vander Molen:

As I mentioned earlier I wrote stories through elementary school and middle school. I kept writing the occasional story through high school and college. But I never felt I was as successful
in fiction as I was in poetry. Despite that, I have as an adult written 3 or 4 novels--I can't remember how many anymore, one was a novella. But I'm not much good with plot. Perhaps I don't have the patience. But I did try. I've also written a few essays, some book reviews, also a short memoir.
 
I should probably point out that my poetry is primarily fiction. I had a friend at college who published a poem about himself and his wife driving through Pennsylvania. I said, how can you write that. You've never been married. He said, who cares. As long as the emotion is honest. I took that to heart. Just about everything in my work is fabricated. I take bits from all over and try to shove them into small narratives. Or, at least, sketches. I make up characters and events, even historical events. It can be a great deal of fun when it is going well.

Andrew De Haan:

Your poems sometimes slide to the side and hit me out of nowhere, stirring up some unexplainable feeling. Stylistically speaking, how do you go about forming your poems?

Robert Vander Molen:

I don't know. It just happens. I do, as a rule, extensive rewriting-- so quite often the first draft is radically different than a final one, that is, with more twists and turns. My first drafts tend to be fairly straight forward.

Andrew De Haan:

As someone who resides in Michigan, is there anything about this area that really excites or catalyzes your writing?

Robert Vander Molen:

I've always had the feeling that Michigan has never been written about as well as other places. I tend to see everything around me as virgin territory. Well, I guess I mean, in depth--many writers only scratch the surface of a place, using their surroundings primarily as backdrop.

Andrew De Haan:

What advice or resources would like to pass on to younger poets?

Robert Vander Molen:

There's no money in it.


Works by Robert VanderMolen

Through the 3rd Eye was supported in its inception by the Grand Rapids Humanities Council and is currently made possible by continued volunteer effort and private support. Copyright 2013.