In conversation with Bob King

Our readers would like to know your inspiration (or story, if any) behind Rules are Rules—Until Necessity Intercedes.

First, thank you for the publication AND the nomination. I’m honored & humbled. Your support of authors is amazing & sincerely appreciated. Rules Are Rules—Until Necessity Intercedes, like a lot of my work lately, has come out of reading/listening to any books I can get my hands on. Simon Winchester’s book, Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 (2005), in particular, inspired this poem… along with some fuel from Philip Roth’s Operation Shylock: A Confession (1993), Saturday Night Live, & ideas about how we all seem so certain about what we know, until we realize we don’t know what we think we know… how too frequently think we’re masters of Earth, until Earth or the universe cracks open & reminds us we’re not. We set up all these rules for living based on this presumed knowledge, & then something happens, maybe something cracks open & we realize those rules aren’t at all helpful & we need to learn how to approach a new issue in a new way. Like how do we go about preserving & conserving this strange piece of rock flying through space at thousands of miles per hour? How do we get others to care? I swear, it’s about the hardest thing sometimes, getting people to empathize. (And oh, everyone should read & LISTEN to Winchester’s books. He’s brilliant & has the perfect voice to convey his own written words.)  

Tell us more about your creative process in general.

I read & listen to a lot of books while commuting, jogging, walking… history, philosophy, biographies, science, art (& of course poetry & fiction). All that grist for the mill, combined with my personal & random experiences, tends to flow out in surprising ways—sometimes when I sit down with the intention of writing—but more often than not, it spills out in an unplanned manner when a line from a book or an image or experience becomes the trigger (thank you, Richard Hugo) for some delightful poetic trip. Mostly, I’m as surprised as anyone about where a poem ends up traveling. Travel rather than destination; process more than result. And oh, I don’t mind not making sense—so much of my life experience doesn’t always make sense to me, at least at first, & as I’ve aged, I’ve grown a lot more comfortable with absurdity & the search (process) for/of making sense, rather than actually making sense.

Do you have any creative influences? What do you like the most about their work? Does it have a discernible effect on your writing?

Likely, it’s lame to say that I’m influenced by almost everyone I read, so my heaviest influences probably begin with the Spanish & French Surrealists—their sometimes-frenetic leaping from image to image or thought to thought. Certainly, the playfulness of people like Frank O’Hara & Kenneth Koch factor in, but also the vulnerability & smartness of Sexton & Plath. And oh wait, I need to go back to the Romantics. Gosh, I love the Romantics. And the absurdity of Sam Sheperd’s plays or great comedians’ films. The Talking Heads, REM, or Smashing Pumpkins. But the single biggest influence on my work (beyond awesome living contemporary writers like Sharon Olds & Ellen Bass & Mary Ruefle) though, has to be my mentor Dean Young. When Dean taught me, it was like he could articulate how my brain worked—before I could articulate such myself. Dean passed in 2022. I hope he knew how grateful to him I am.

Are there any creative genres, forms, themes, techniques etc. you wish you could employ in your writing which you haven’t yet?

While I prefer a free-association, free-wheeling approach most of the time, I do have a number of sonnets, sestinas, & pantoums in my files. I’m just not as comfortable working in form, but there have been a few successes in the form department—where the content that wants to explode into association is kept in check, making things combustible, if not a little cleaner/clearer. I keep meaning to return to form, but then… something else cracks open.

What are you looking forward to in your creative career?

In August 2024, my poetry collection, And & And, will be released from Finishing Line Press. I’m really looking forward to sharing that experience with my wife & daughters & parents & siblings & extended family & friends.  

Bob King is an Associate Professor of English at Kent State University at Stark. His poetry collection And & And is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Narrative Magazine, & Olney Magazine. He lives in Fairview Park, Ohio, with his wife & daughters.