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IQ: Was there a particular process you undertook in the writing of this book of poems? Seeing as they stretch over time, what initially made you create it?
SL: I knew from the day I started writing I would write three books of poetry. My first poem was published when I was 22, so ten years ago, and I was paid $50 for it. From then on, I kept three separate folders and put each new poem I wrote into whichever one’s collection I thought it vibe best with. Some of the poems in Camp Winapooka were the first poems I’d ever written, of course, I’ve heavily edited them since then, but I saw, in the beginning, they were the ones that could complete the story.
IQ: Do you have any advice for students who wish to become published poets?
SL: I think poetry is like anything else. If you want to be a basketball player you have to stand in front of a hoop and practice shooting at it. Anyone can put their work on social media, and sometimes thousands of people will look at it. But if you want to see your name in print, or get archived in University libraries, etc. you just have to practice. There are no shortcuts. Also, don’t write like anyone else. You are beautiful and one of a kind; if you can figure out how to show that to the world, someone will notice.
IQ: Was the public response to the publication of Camp Winapooka different from that of your previous books?
SL: It’s amazing how much nothing changes. When my first book was published there were no social media. No one cared about poetry. Then a literary scene called “alt-lit” popped up and everyone tried to mimic it. By the time my second book came out “alt-lit” had disappeared completely, and no one cared about poetry again. Now social media is the only thing anyone cares about, but no one is writing poetry. There are lots of people writing single sentences and calling them poems, but no one is reading any actual poetry. Now that Instagram is declining, I’d guess it’s just a matter of time before the fad fades then no one will care about poetry (or self-help-quotes) again for a few years. The response to Camp Winapooka has been about the same as the others; a few hundred people buy it and it makes me grateful enough that I write another book.
IQ: I noticed that you used an imaginary place as the title of your book of poems. Could you expand a bit on how you came up with the name?
SL: I wanted to create something that could exist in its own world like Disney World, MTV or something. My poems and titles are always getting plagiarized by insta-poets with huge followings, so I wanted something that was undeniably mine. I did peyote on a Navajo Reservation about a decade ago and thought I was writing feverishly while I was on it, but when I looked in my notebook a few days later the only word I’d written was WINAPOOKA. I’ve kept that name close ever since.
IQ: One of the first things that Camp Winapooka made me think about, was the thought of Native Americans. It’s not only the sound of the title, but also the mention of Window Rock, which is the capital of the Navajo Nation, and ‘our tribe’. I was wondering if you could go into detail about this aspect.
SL: I guess it’s natural for someone fascinated by the concept of “America” to want to go west. I remember thinking when I was a teenager that the secret truth of the Universe must be hidden somewhere in the American desert. Eventually, my friend and I drove out to New Mexico and Arizona and hunted for Peyote. Many spiritual things happened, but the most amazing thing was spending a week living in a trailer with a Navajo family while their grandfather, a respected “Roadman”, decided if we were worthy of Peyote. The family eventually accepted us into their community. Basically, they taught us about a “one-ness” that encompasses everyone on earth, even the people we despise.
IQ: Do you have any favourite poems in Camp Winapooka? What was your favourite aspect of the writing process?
SL: I feel like it brought everything I’d been writing about full circle. I’m a man in control of my future now. I was a scared kid when my first book came out and the poems in it read that way. I’ve accepted that I’ll probably end up homeless or living in a motel someday. I’m not concerned with destiny or things I can’t control anymore. Camp Winapooka is about final acceptance. The poems about appreciating where I’m from and not just where I’m going are my favourite.
IQ: It seems that themes such as nostalgia, regret, past experiences, and relationships are prevalent in your writing. Do you find yourself being primarily influenced by such ideas during your writing process?
SL: I do, but I’m writing about them as a way to exorcise whatever sickness they’ve left in me. I was always running away in search of some kind of new baptism, a way to wipe the slate clean. On long nights I comb back over the things that have shaped my impressions, and once I pull them out and put them down on paper, I can leave them there. They’re a testament to a past I don’t want to have to pollute my future, good or bad.
IQ: Are there any ideas or themes that you have not yet tackled, that you are interested in writing about in any of your future work?
SL: Yes. So far, I have basically reworked one trick. I will not feel accomplished personally until I write something that requires research and involves characters and a plot that has nothing to do with me. This could be a detective story or a forgotten battle from the War of 1812. My best friend [and writer] Thom Young always says, “Anyone can write poetry. Real writing requires commitment”. His words are a motto I live by.
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