After flunking out of Mechanical Engineering, he studied Rhetoric at UC Berkeley, taking mandatory classes on The Rhetoric of Poetry for 2 semesters with “a Professor who wore robes to class, and might easily have been a court jester in the Middle Ages, or taught at Hogwarts”, he says.
Allow me to introduce you to Michael, known among us as Grapeling, he lives in Laguna Beach with his girlfriend and sons, and he kindly agreed to answer a few questions for The Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.
(Photo taken by Patricia O'Driscoll)
Kenia Cris: The first post ever made to your blog is a Buddha’s quote I particularly like very much: “The problem is you think you have time.” What is it you wish you had more time for?
Michael: Ahh. Yes. I had something very smart thought up in response to your question, then forgot to write it down. Damnable conceptual art habits are difficult to shake. There’s a saying - youth is wasted on the young. And a line from the Pink Floyd song, Time - "one day you find ten years have got behind you, no one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun."
So it’s not so much I wish I had more time for anything… but that… time is the only currency that truly matters. Money is a derivative of time. Some might say time is fungible, but I don’t believe so. ‘Time is money’ is a metaphor, but it’s not a truth. It can’t be traded for more time. We look everywhere for symmetry - in faces, in dualities - left/right, up/down, back/front. We see two faces on every coin. But time uniquely is not symmetrical. It goes only … forward, science fiction notwithstanding. The problem is, you think you have time. But you don’t. Not to be trite or contrarian, but time has you.
KC: I’m borrowing some of Isaac Asimov’s words to make this a better second question: “I don’t like anything that’s got to be. I want to know why.” I want to know why you seem to often describe yourself as an uninteresting person/poet.
Michael: I Am Robot. Foundation and the trilogy are one of my favorite reads from teen-hood.
I suppose I’m more interested in other people. I deflect. Likely a result of being spotlighted when very young, of being told I had ‘potential’. A damning word, to me. I spent puberty and my adult life attempting to blend in, to be accepted, to not stand out. Perhaps it’s false modesty. Perhaps it’s a cry for attention, not meant to be taken literally, but as a challenge. Maybe it’s a way of setting low expectations, so that I need not excel. Or that I can over-deliver, having under-promised. Or, perhaps, I’m just not that interesting. Occam’s Razor… (he smiles)
I was going to write a catalog of all the poets I admire but didn’t want to leave anyone out. Suffice to say, I find my words inadequate to convey my appreciation for what I read daily, and then find my own offerings pale, or pedantic, or trite. Or worse - boring, unreadable. But still I continue. Sometimes a phrase catches me, and I have no choice but to pen it. But I’ve been told I’m my own worst critic.
KC: Do you have a particular place in the house to write in? Do you ever handwrite your poems before typing them?
Michael: On my laptop. At my prior apartment, at my dining room table. Now, on the couch. Never hand write. My scrawl compares unfavorably to an arthritic chicken. I can’t even read it sometimes, moments after having “written”. It’s atrocious. I shoulda been a doctor.
KC: Maybe it’s because I can barely count (because I hate Mathematics and it hates me back), I noticed you’ve written quite a number of Fibonacci poems. Is your job connected with numbers?
Michael: Yes. Finance. Also, Hedgewitch posted a challenge in the garden last year the same week as one at dVerse, and I got infected with Fib fever. It’s terminal, I’m afraid.
KC: How much of your poetry is autobiographical and how much is fiction?
Michael: It’s factional. So, there’s poetic license, right? As it turns out, I believe that since language is a construct, and has rules and accepted conventions, and, that there are hundreds of languages, that the human conceit that ‘thought’ can be ‘true’ is also a derivative. In this case, a derivative of perceived reality, which itself is a derivative of actual reality. So language is a 2nd derivative of reality. Then it gets edited or censored to suit some ill- or well-conceived desires. Consequently anything I write, you write, any of us write, is maybe a 3rd or 4th generation approximation of ‘truth’. Ever see a photocopy of a copy of a copy of a copy? How the lines blur, and faces blotch to unrecognizable? That’s my view of writing, and especially, of poetry, compared to ‘life’ as it were. So is it autobiographical? Certainly… inasmuch as any simulacrum of a pseudonym can be. But I’m being obtuse. Some is, some is fictionalized but has ‘true’ roots, and some is flat out fabricated.
KC: Which dead poet would you like to have been friends with and why?
Michael: Wouldn’t that mean I’m also dead?
Rumi? Neruda. Rilke. Except I don’t think they’d have been friends with me. They understood subterfuge and eschewed pomposity. They were genuine, authentic, inquisitive. They gave us as close to 1st order approximations of reality as language can get. Poetry is that razor that by subverting convention and the orders of language enables us to see the mechanism, as it were, or rather, unmask the curtains that hide the fires that stoke us.
The longing in your poetry, for instance - its rawness, clarity, the unflinching and candid reveal - that is genuine. Glad you’re alive and I get to know you, if a bit, though. (he smiles)
KC: If you could not express your feelings & thoughts through the medium of poetry, what other medium would you choose?
Michael: I think silence is an excellent medium.
Music? No, that’s poetry integrated with sound, sometimes substituted for by sound. Painting? I have several friends who are artists. Brilliant stuff. I wish I had their talent. Engineering. I’d like to be able to build stuff. My younger son has a desire to build. I encourage it assiduously.
KC: Is there an unread poem in your blog you wished more people would have put eyes on?
KC: You said in another interview you grew up reading lots of science fiction because your mother and uncles did. Does your choice of reading today have any influence on your children’s choice? Do they read poetry because you write it?
Michael: Laughing. No. I hardly read anymore, after having been a sponge as a child, and am continually astonished and subdued at how erudite Hedgewitch, Brendan, Kerry, ManicDDaily, Jane Hewitt, and others are in their commentary, and at the breadth and depth of talent both in the garden and other sites I frequent. I have tomes of Neruda, Rilke, Oliver, Rumi, Hafiz in a box waiting for me to unpack, having told myself I need to read or reread them. I learn of new (old) poets all the time, often in the commentary of other poets (nodding towards Hedgewitch and Brendan). Sometimes I wonder if I fear reading the best poets because it would reveal me as the hack I actually am. So ignorance is bliss.
My boys like what they like. I’ve tried to foist Sherlock Holmes without success. But they like the John Carter of Mars series (despite the horrific movie). My younger son reads voraciously, including Discover and Popular Science and Nat Geo magazines as well as lots of fiction. My elder son reads on his Kindle, recently Game of Thrones I believe. They’ve been cool to Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Robinson, Herbert, Harrison, et al, but that’s OK. So long as they read something... They don’t read poetry, and certainly not mine. Maybe I’ll let them know that I write, someday. (he smiles)
KC: You present the reader with questions in many of your poems (which always reminds me of Neruda’s The book of questions), some are rhetorical, some are meant for them, some are meant for yourself. So, to finish this interview, what I ask of you is that, other than a piece of advice, you leave us a question.
Michael: I’ll leave it to a much better writer and human than me - Mary Oliver, since I pretty much cribbed the ‘ask a question’ format from her anyways - in her astonishing poem, The Summer Day:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
KC: Thank you for your time and attention Michael. It was a pleasure to talk to you.
You're all invited to answer Michael's/Mary Oliver's question.
There are 34 pages (today) on Grapeling’s blog, I suggest you to go and discover the man written on the pages before the first poem you’ve read there. Here are my personal 10 favorite poems of his, pick a number and enjoy it.