CCCC English instructor Ty Stumpf debuted his first collection of published poetry, Suburban Burn, this month.
Stumpf, of Sanford, will give a reading 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 9 at the ArtStudio (102 S. Steele St., Suite 302) in Sanford. The reading is free and open to the public. You can purchase a copy of Suburban Burn here.
The Rant recently subjected Stumpf to a dizzying inquiry, which he faced with courage and dignity, and which he passed with flying colors. Read the entire exchange below.
How long have you been writing poetry? What made you start?
I wrote poetry at Catawba College, where I received my bachelor’s degree, but I quickly moved to writing prose. I continued to be a prose writer through graduate school. What made me come back was one of my students. A former student of mine asked if I’d read some poems at an event for National Poetry Month (which is every April). I hadn’t written any poems in a decade, so I decided I’d have to write something new to read. From there, I just kept writing.
What is the background for how this book came to be? Were you seeking an outlet for this collection of poems, or were you approached by an interested publisher? Were these poems conceived in a way that connects them, or did you just choose the pieces that you liked the best?
I never began with the intention of writing a book of poems. I just started with three poems at that April poetry event, but from there I kept writing. I was fortunate and got some of the poems published in different literary magazines, and that gave me the confidence to think of my work as having the potential to connect with an audience. Once I had that confidence, I began to think of my poetry overall and decided I should try to make a poetry collection.
I ultimately put together a chapbook (that’s a shorter work of poetry—usually less than 48 pages) that I thought worked well thematically. Then, I began to send that manuscript to different publishers and competitions. I was lucky enough to be a named a finalist for the Cathy Smith Bowers Chapbook Contest, and with that honor came an offer to publish with Main Street Rag Publishing Company. It was a great day to get that email. I excitedly accepted.
It’s been really moving, actually. First, on a personal level, holding a book with my name on it has been exciting and unbelievable. It’s been particularly satisfying to give my children each a copy that I’ve inscribed for their bookshelves. My book is there next to Maurice Sendak and Judy Blume on their shelves. How great is that?
What has also been unexpectedly moving is talking with friends of mine who are not usually poetry readers who have read the book. I firmly believe poetry is for everyone, but I also know that it can be intimidating. When those friends who don’t read poetry religiously give it a chance and want to talk about it with me, that’s the best. Poetry is about connections between reader and writer, and it’s been wonderful to get to talk about those connections with my own readers.
You’ve been published before in smaller poetry journals, and some of those poems appear in Suburban Burn. Why did you choose to include them? Was there a thematic significance, or were they just poems you liked?
In most poetry collections, some of the individual poems have appeared in literary magazines before appearing in the book. Magazines allow for a wider audience and allow readers to discover new (or new-to-them) writers from everywhere. In my case, many of the poems that appear in magazines first are some of my stronger work, and when it came time to build this manuscript, they became foundational pieces. I did choose pieces that work together, which meant some of my poems didn’t make the cut. The two parts I found hardest about getting this collection together were finding the right order for my poems and deciding what to cut. Fortunately, my wife, Bianka, stepped in and helped me find my way. I was too close to the poems I had written, and she’s always been great about giving insightful feedback. She’s my first reader, and her feedback makes my writing better.
Your family seems to appear somewhat frequently in these poems, sometimes even being mentioned by name. Are these poems autobiographical? Do real people sometimes show up in imagined situations or imagined people in real situations? Are there any other big themes the book explores?
I’m a teacher by trade, and I always tell my students that in creative writing the art comes before the truth. With that said, I do write about my family a good bit, but I will confess that I do sometimes trade the truthful for the artistic. There are two poems, however, that are about as close to reality as I can make them. One is entitled “Our Son’s Entrance,” and is about our son, Jude, being born. That’s actually the first poem I wrote when I came back to writing. The second poem is “First Allowance,” which is about my daughter swallowing a coin I gave her and choking. It was the scariest moment of my life, and I felt a need to write what happened. These were both moments I wanted to keep as close to true as possible.
I also see this book as being about finding beauty in reality, the everyday objects that we learn from in life. Many times, these objects (or people or situations) are hard to look at, but there is still an amazing beauty to be found either in the moment itself or in how people try to go on in spite of it. These poems are reminders—to me as much as anyone else—that there is beauty in the world. Sometimes you have to look hard, but it’s there. Having our children has reminded me that I need to find those moments.
Talk about your process. How often do you write? Do your poems come out fully formed, or do you have to make an effort to sit down and work with them until they’re where you want them?
I write in fits and starts. Some writers plug away every day, and I have intentions to, but truthfully, I “steal” time to write. My thefts are not patterned.
The main thrust or idea for my poems usually comes at the first sitting, and I usually write until I come to some sort of conclusion. I don’t like to stop my first draft until it at least looks like a poem. However, I have rarely had a poem come out fully formed. I do a good bit of revising, from deleting entire stanzas to tweaking with single words, line breaks, and punctuation. I can’t tell you the amount of time I’ve spent focused on a single word as I weigh the benefits of one synonym versus another.
Is there a poem in Suburban Burn that’s your favorite?
Is this the part where I say it would be like choosing my favorite child? I’ll say that two are my favorite, “Our Son’s Entrance” and “First Allowance.” These are both autobiographical, so I’m tied to them on an extremely personal level. I have noticed that when I read them in public, I have to read a little more slowly to try not to choke up at certain parts.
You’re an English instructor at CCCC. Is poetry a part of what you teach your students? If so, have you been able to use your own work in your classroom? Are there any lessons your students can take from this collection of poems?
I’ve been fortunate to be at CCCC for almost 16 years now, where I teach English, including creative writing and literature. I absolutely get to talk about poetry, and I will do so at every opportunity.
I have used some of my poems in creative writing; usually, I will bring in one of my poems per semester (without my name on it) the first time we try critiquing exercises. These exercises allow a writer to get feedback from an classmates—where we talk about what works and what still needs work. Once my class has fully critiqued the poem, I usually tell them it’s mine. I hope they will understand that every writer needs feedback and that I am a writer just like they are. My poetry is a work in progress, so I see the direct benefit of what we are doing in class. I hope they will, too.
What’s being done to promote this book? Have you been doing any readings?
Promoting poetry is a job all by itself. Other than the normal avenues of social media and emails, I have had one reading at my alma mater, Catawba College, which was awesome. It’s nice to come back and read at a place where I saw so many great writers and first seriously tried to be one.
I am extremely excited to announce that I will have a reading in Sanford, and everyone is invited. Seriously—bring everyone. The reading will be on Tuesday, May 9 at 7 p.m. at ArtStudio (102 S Steele St. Suite 302). For those that have not been there, this beautiful space is on the 4th floor of the same building as Shops of Steele Street. You simply need to enter under the black awning on Carthage Street.
I also have a website, tystumpf.com, where readers can contact me for a copy of the book (which I will gladly sign) and check up on my readings, other publications, and other news. Lastly, people can also find my book at Main Street Rag’s Bookstore if they prefer it straight from the publisher.
What’s next? Do you expect to start work on another collection anytime soon?
Next up will be some more readings wherever I can find a crowd to stand in front of, including in Charlotte later in May and in Chapel Hill at the end of summer. As for my writing, I get to begin again. I have written some poems and have some ideas for a few more. I even have a loose idea about what the next collection might be about. However, I’ll do things the same way as before—one poem at a time.