This week’s Get to Know features poet Susana H. Case. Welcome, Susana!
First, thank you, Daniel, for profiling me on your website. This type of opportunity is probably one of the few ways that someone WANTS to be profiled. Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips is a book of poems inspired by classic rock and roll. There are poems about the origins of rock and the music business, but also about substance abuse and, of course, sex. Where would rock and roll be without sex? Or maybe the question should be: where would sex be without rock and roll?
Where did the idea come from? Why focus on rock music?
I grew up with rock music and so when I think about my own life, there’s a soundtrack to every event. I think that’s true of many people — so, the music is a way to connect with other people’s experiences.
What about poetry appeals to you?
It’s a whole world usually packed into a small amount of space. Every word becomes important. I like that condensation. I like thinking about everything left unsaid in the lines of the poem.
How did you get started in writing?
My father was a writer for radio who became an English teacher. So learning to write was like learning to ride a bicycle. My father “bought” my short stories when I was a child. The first career I aspired to was to be a journalist, writing about the downtrodden. My friends didn’t have career aspirations. They thought I was seriously cuckoo.
What keeps you writing?
As an adult, I became a university professor. That meant I had to learn a different style of writing in order to advance professionally. After a while, though, I returned to creative writing because it had more intrinsic rewards. I tired of academic jargon. When I write a poem that I feel good about, I feel alive.
Please share a writing tip you’ve found helpful.
Read as many other writers as you can. See how they do things. Seriously, I think this is the way that writing improves: read-and practice.
How do your experiences as a behavioral sciences professor influence your writing?
There are a number of social themes threaded through my work. The first collection that I ever had published, a chapbook, was a series of poems about mathematicians trying to live quality lives in prewar Poland as outside events intruded upon their lives. I’ve also written a full-length poetry book based upon the archives of the Salem witchcraft trials and another chapbook based upon a 1940s sexual instruction manual written by a physician. I’m a researcher by training and I like poring over historical documents, looking for the way to make poetry out of artifact.
So who’s better, Elvis Presley or Mick Jagger?
Ha! — this is an easy question to answer quickly and a hard question to answer in depth. This is how I see it. As a child, my plan — and I fully intended to realize it — was to marry Elvis. It wasn’t until my teens that the plan changed. Even as a teenager, I would have said Elvis was better, because what you have to give him credit for, despite the later deterioration in his music, and also in his life, is creating a blend of the sounds of race records and the sounds of pop music, so, in a sense, he was an early figure in the integration of rock and roll and that was important culturally. But looking at it from the present, of course I would have to say Mick Jagger because he’s had an impact on the complexity and sophistication of rock and for that reason, his work will endure. I also admire his ability to still strut his stuff on stage. Elvis, unfortunately, just got dissolute.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read?
This question isn’t fair. Pick only one? That’s hard! Okay, Catcher in the Rye because it was the first time in my life that I read a book and then ran out to get and read everything else I could find by the author. The book spoke to my feelings of alienation and rebelliousness and that experience of needing to read the totality of Salinger’s work was intense. But ask me that question tomorrow and I would pick something else because I don’t really believe it was the best book ever written.
Who is your favorite fictional character? (Any medium)
It’s a good thing I’m not in charge of picking winners for the Academy Awards. I’d never get the names into the envelopes. I will say this: my dog is named after the child in Henry James’ What Maisie Knew. I’m sure my dog considers the adults around her to be totally impossible and their lives to be inexplicably chaotic.
If you could have one super-power, what would it be and why?
I’d rather be a really good singer than be able to fly. I consider a good singing voice to be a super-power. I’m off-key and it frustrates me, although my inner “me” is a cross between early Cyndi Lauper and Joan Jett.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on two manuscripts, going back and forth, depending upon my mood. One is a continuation of my love for rock and roll. I have more poems than can fit into one rock and roll manuscript. The other is a series of poems about copper miners and the early history of unionization attempts. I have a fixation on social injustice and a love of research, so this consolidates a number of my interests.
Where can people learn more about your work?
Eventually, information ends up on my website: http://iris.nyit.edu/~shcase/
Tell us one fun fact about yourself.
It takes me less than an hour to pack a carry-on-sized wheelie with enough stuff to go anywhere in the world for five weeks (and probably about ten percent of the weight is cosmetics).
Thank you, Susana!