National Poetry Month Celebration
Joseph Ross is the author of two poetry collections: Gospel of Dust (2013) and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poems appear in many anthologies and literary journals including Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review and Drumvoices Revue. He has received three Pushcart Prize nominations and is the winner of the 2012 Pratt Library / Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize. He teaches English at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C. and writes regularly at www.JosephRoss.net.
Where do you draw your inspiration from to write poetry?
I try to observe the world as closely and carefully as I can. Whether it’s the world of my own feelings, the world of my relationships, my neighbors down the street, or the world across oceans from me, I try to watch and understand what people go through. When I do this, an abundance of ideas and images capture my attention. My experience teaches me that when one watches the world, especially when one watches the places where people suffer, ideas and inspiration come. I make a deliberate choice to write about the injustices in the world. I make a purposeful choice to try to understand where, how, and why people suffer, and then to write about it. To paraphrase Langston Hughes, I am not really a poet of sunshine and flowers. I make a different choice, to write from a different perspective. It’s intentional.
What advice do you have for someone that is threatened by poetry?
Poetry requires us to slow down. This is a challenge because for most of us, in American culture, our pace is fast and full. Poetry makes us slow our pace, to take a few words at a time. If one lives most moments at a neck-breaking pace, poetry will be hard and it might feel threatening. But poetry is worth the challenge. Slowing down offers us a chance to encounter ideas we might not otherwise encounter if we kept our usual pace.
What is an interesting fact about you?
I don’t know how interesting this fact is but I’ve been moving eastward my whole life. I was born in Los Angeles, lived for many years at Notre Dame, Indiana, and then fourteen years ago moved to my adopted hometown, Washington, D.C. I’m here to stay.
Where are you from/ Where do you live?
I was born and raised in Pomona, California, a town about twenty-five miles east of Los Angeles. I had hardworking and generous parents who valued reading. Also, they took us camping and we learned to appreciate the world around us. I grew up in a neighborhood with lots of kids. I loved living in Southern California but I now call Washington, D.C. my adopted hometown.
Who is your favorite poet?
This is a very tough question so I’ll dodge it and name a few poets whose work matters to me. Naomi Shihab Nye writes with a kind of compassionate humanity that touches me. Martin Espada’s poems describe life from the bottom up and that inspires me. Kevin Young’s work often revolves around grieving and his choices move me. The poetry of Jericho Brown matters to me and challenges me. Since I was in high school, the poetry of William Butler Yeats and Emily Dickinson has meant a great deal to me. I don’t get too far from any of those poets.