I first became acquainted with Nate Graziano through the now defunct literary magazine Lucid Moon, founded by the late Ralph Haselmann Jr., and the magazine Graziano published the Brown Bottle. Over the years I have reviewed a few of his poetry books including Honey, I’m Home, from Somerville’s independent press sunnyoutside. His work has been published in a number of magazines including Chiron Review, Poesy, Heeltap, Ibbetson Street, Nerve Cowboy, and others. He also has a number of fiction titles out. Graziano resides in the hinterlands of New Hampshire and teaches at the Pembroke Academy, in Pembroke, New Hampshire. He is a part time graduate student in fiction writing at the University of New Hampshire. I talked with him on my Somerville Community Access TV Show: Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.
You are best known as a poet… at least by me. You are studying fiction writing—why not poetry? Which genre do you feel more comfortable with?
I THINK I ALWAYS HAD A PROBLEM PUTTING MY WRITING INTO A SPECIFIC GENRE. I like to think I just write. I consider myself primarily a fiction writer. Most of my poetry is very narrative. Poetry is more accessible in regards to publishing, as opposed to the short story market. Finding places to publish my short fiction has been very difficult. I have ideas and I fit them in whatever form that’s best in that space.
Poetry tends to occupy smaller spaces. Some of your poems are scatological and make generous use of humor. Do you think humor cheapens a poem?
I’VE BEEN MOVING AWAY FROM THE SCATOLOGICAL with my recent work. I think a lot of that had to do with my fascination with Charles Bukowski. You start to see how repetitive his work is, and the craft wasn’t always there. Bukowski was more iconic than anything else. As I get older I try to avoid the scatological, but not the humor. The scatological is used for shock value. I think that wears thin after awhile. I think it does cheapen your work to some extent—not that it doesn’t have its place.
Can you talk about the literary magazine you started Brown Bottle some years ago?
I STARTED IT WITH A FRIEND OF MINE, Brad Edam. When I moved back to New Hampshire from Las Vegas I took it over. I ran it for 2 or 3 years then I burned out.
Is editing a small press ‘zine a good way to cut your teeth as a writer?
ONE OF THE GOOD THINGS ABOUT IT, is that you get to see how truly subjective the editorial process is. For young writers one of the most disheartening things can be the rejection letter. When you are sending out that letter you see how subjective that process is. For me, it was realizing that editors are not gods.
What do you think editors really want?
THEY WANT A WRITER WHO KNOWS HIS MARKET. Blindly submitting to a magazine because you want to see your name in print is not going to help your pursuit on any level. You need to know what that magazine is publishing—you need to know whether the work you are writing is going to fit in.
Some writers go to New York, Paris, San Francisco, etc… You went to Las Vegas. why?
A JOB. I went there to teach high school. I was right out of college. My next poetry collection is about my experiences teaching high school. There was a romanticized idea of what I was going to do out there. I would experience vice first hand and tackle the tough life issues head on. But that’s like the cabin-in-the-woods myth. Everything you do, if you are a keen observer, whether you are in Las Vegas or Union Square, Somerville is valuable material. There is a universal quality to the human experience.
How does teaching fit with your writing?
JOHN GARDNER POINTED OUT IN “BECOMING A NOVELIST” that the worst job you could choose, if you want to be a novelist, is high school teaching. This is because of the hours it demands and the emotional impact of working with adolescents. I always believed in the old Hemingway adage that “writer’s write.” If writing is something you are truly driven to do and your motives are pure—you are going to make time for it. I have to do the majority of my writing at night. I may forgo two or three hours of sleep, and I may be a bit lethargic in the morning, but anyone who is going to write is going to find the time. For me there is a guilt factor. It may be the fact of having eighteen years of Catholicism shoved down my throat. If I don’t write for a long time I start to feel guilty.
In your poem, Reading Whitman to My Daughter, your gay uncle asks, if you are worried that your daughter will become gay if you read Walt Whitman’s work to her. Do you believe in literature’s power of transformation?
IT HAS TO BE A SYMBOLIC PROCESS. If you open yourself and allow yourself to be transformed by literature, than you can be transformed. Anyone who is a reader has had a writer who has a profound effect on him or her. Depending where you are in your life literature has the ability to transform. When I was younger Jack Kerouac had that effect on me. But now going back and rereading him, I’m not as mesmerized. There has to be a give and take process where the reader is opened to be transformed.
You are an accessible poet I think. Do ‘difficult” poets like Wallace Stevens interest you?
IT’S FUNNY BECAUSE I DO HAVE A POEM in my new collection, “Wrestling With Wallace Stevens.” There was a point where I read his Emperor of Ice Cream for days on end. I tried to unravel that poem. There is a sense of satisfaction doing this, like trying to solve a riddle. Stevens would not be the first poet I would go to for recreation. I like poets a little more accessible than that. I try to make my work accessible. I think poetry has to find a way to reach wider audiences and wake them up.
You have been published by suunyoutside of Somerville, Mass. How did you meet Dave McNamara the founder?
DAVID AND I GO BACK to Brown Bottle days. He sent me some poems and we struck up a correspondence. Dave and I have been in contact ever since.
You are working on an MFA degree. What do you plan to do with it?
MAYBE MANAGE A MCDONALD’S (laughs). I am not sure. College teaching jobs are hard to get. The reason why I entered the program was to learn more about the novel. And I have.