Philip Kobylarz is a teacher and writer of fiction, poetry, book reviews, and essays. He has worked as a journalist and film critic for newspapers in Memphis, TN. His work appears in such publications as Paris Review, Poetry, and The Best American Poetry series. The author of a book of poems concerning life in the south of France, he has a collection of short fiction and a book-length essay forthcoming.
In this interview with editor Dariel Suarez, Philip talks about his experience as a teacher, about writing in different genres and styles, and about the importance of being an avid, critical reader.
Dariel Suarez: The credits in your bio are quite impressive (Paris Review, Poetry, Best American Poetry anthology, etc). What advice can you give young writers looking to one day join these ranks?
Philip Kobylarz: I advise young writers to not think about trying to get into the "big venues"; rather, write obsessively and send out the work as obsessively. That is the formula. Eventually, one will convince an editor if the work is apt and consistent. More than anything, my tiny contributions to the impressive magazines comes from persistence and the insane belief that one day they would actually consider my work.
DS: How has your work as a teacher impacted your own writing?
PK: For me, teaching is similar to doing readings many times a week. Engaging the crowd is what writing is all about. Teaching is writing's paramour; it keeps the writer going, it inspires, it is addictive; it gives one the outlet to try new material. I cannot imagine an existence of writing without teaching as teaching provides a live audience and the act of writing itself is tantamount to a prisoner in isolation desperately seeking a sharp object to somehow record the passion of his or her feelings.
DS: You mention that you have worked as a journalist and film critic. Do these mediums influence your poetry and fiction?
PK: Writers must constantly read outside of their chosen genres and incorporate other styles. If not, boredom ensues. Criticism and journalism are the workhorses of creative writing and are as complex as poetry and fiction. Sometimes I view the different types of writing as separate but oddly they are beginning to seem like hyperdistinctive rivulets flowing from one huge creative source: the need to express the weirdness of being.
DS: As a book reviewer and essayist, how important do you think it is for young writers to not only read a lot, but to do so critically?
PK: When I went to school to study writing, our teachers said this: "Go to the library, read every book there. Not the whole book, but enough of it to get it. Never stop reading and wondering what each text is trying to create." Many complain about the amounts of subpar writing; there is actually much more great writing; we need 12 lifetimes to even experience a percentage of it.
DS: Can you tell us about your upcoming books? What can readers expect?
PK: My forthcoming book is a collection of short stories titled "Now Leaving Nowheresville". It is my attempt to become an American Kafka highly influenced by road movies and the expansive idea of the West (as opposed to the concept of "back East").
DS: What inspires you to write poetry in general, and more specifically, what led you to write the poems featured in Middle Gray?
PK: Language, its complexity, the richness of this thing we call English, my secret desire to be a lounge singer, and pure, naturally occurring ecstasy all provide my inspiration to contribute to a magazine much hipper than those mentioned in question 1!