Joe and Chenelle Milford Interview

Creative Artists Commnity



Joseph Victor Milford was born in Alabama near the banks of the Chattahoochee River. After growing up in the south, he attended The University of West Georgia, where he earned a degree in English and Philosophy and studied with poet Donald Platt. He then attended The Iowa Writers' Workshop, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry. At The Iowa Writers' Workshop he studied with literary luminaries Forrest Gander, C.D. Wright, Jorie Graham, Marvin Bell, Dean Young, and James Galvin.

Joe currently resides in balmy rural Georgia with his beautiful wife Chenelle, daughter, and step-daughter. He teaches full-time at Georgia Military College. His writing has been published, or is pending publication, in the following literary journals and magazines: The Canary, The Eclectic, Blaze/VOX, The Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, First Intensity, 360 Degrees, Shampoo, The Wisconsin Review, The Brooklyn Review, Action Yes, Offbeat Pulp, O! Tempora, The Kennesaw Review, Can We Have Our Ball Back, Mud Luscious, The Wild Goose Review, and other literary publications.

Joe’s collected works, Cracked Altimeter, Volumes I, II, and III: Collected and Selected Poems, 1990 - 2005, has recently been published by BlazeVox Press. He is currently writing a manuscript about the surreal South.

Chenelle C. Milford, a native Californian and poet, is the manager, web-designer, consultant, all-around aficionado, and archivist of the Joe Milford Poetry Show. Additionally, she is a film-maker, writer, humanist, and a wonderful wife and mother. Together, Joe and Chenelle are compiling an extensive online sonic archive, a library of archived materials that can be accessed, which share writing and impressive interviews of many of today's established and up-and-coming poets.

February 2009 Interview

Q: Welcome! Please tell us, how you got started as a writer?

Joe: When I was around sixteen, I was given a copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. My father had always listened to a lot of rock music, and I think that listening to lyric-based bands as a child and reading a lot infused me with a hunger for the lyric. I did not seriously start writing my own compositions, which were conscious attempts at poems, until I read Whitman. He awoke the disease in me, and I have been afflicted ever since.

Chenelle: In fourth grade, I was nine, and we were required to do at least an hour of silent writing everyday as part of our regular curriculum. I began to enjoy writing chapter books, at first. It was during that year that I wrote my first poem in a journal at home. The education system in California focused a great deal of energy and time on reading and writing, specifically by utilizing the Accelerated Reader Program. This was reinforced by the encouragement my family gave me as they instilled a value and love of education.

Q: Have you always been interested in writing?

Joe: To a degree, yes. I was always encouraged by my grandparents to be an avid reader as a child, and I remember receiving books as gifts. I was especially fond of The Chronicles of Narnia boxed set, and relatives had to replace it for me several times because of how beat up it would get. Reading, naturally, led me to writing as it awoke my imagination, specifically in reference to the language. So, I guess the answer to your question is yes, since the age of about eight—yes.

Chenelle: I will echo Joe’s answer here, as I feel it is imperative to emphasize the importance of reading, literacy, and the necessity of parent involvement from the child’s youngest years. Reading can spark ingenuity in everybody, not only writers.

Q: How do you keep your creative juices flowing?

Joe: Some of it is out of my control, of course. Sometimes, a poem or idea will broadside me, and I have to try to get it down before I forget it. In general, reading contemporary poets and doing my radio show keeps me charged-up for the next poem. I am also a fan of obsessive editing—probably to a fault—but many times I go back to an old poem and find something new to explore. That also helps.

Q: Do you have any projects you’d like to tell us about?

Joe: Our Joe Milford Poetry Show (our radio show) and website is ongoing, of course. I am also finishing up a manuscript of poetry entitled Halcyon Scythe, which I am very excited about. I have enough poems from the out-takes of that manuscript and some new poems, largely based on fatherhood and being in my thirties, which I will begin working with soon. I am prolific, luckily, and love to write. I also publish a collection of poetry with my students once a year in the creative writing class I teach. Other than that, the only other project I am working on is my marriage and my eight-month-old daughter.

Chenelle: The project I am most proud of is the website for The Joe Milford Poetry Show. Although it is still in the beginning stages, and will most likely be under construction almost all of the time, I am proud to say I built it. The best part about this project is being able to work with someone I admire so much. My husband’s ambition and intellect inspire me, and it feels good to be successful together.

Q: What is something you wish other creative artists understood?

Joe: Publishing is not everything. Having a long-term relationship with your craft—a relationship spanning decades—that is of the utmost importance. Also, and this applies to myself as well, being a genius is no excuse for being an asshole all the time.

Chenelle: Whatever happens in life, whatever hindrances you encounter to understanding, remember to make time for yourself. You are important, and you can always benefit from remaining teachable.

Q: What are some of the challenges and obstacles you faced during your career?

Joe: Financial ones, but that goes for everyone in the arts. Focus—staying disciplined and finding time to read and edit and send poems out. I am pretty slack about submitting my work to journals, and I kick myself for that a lot. For years I have struggled to teach and pay the bills—this is a continual challenge and probably always will be. Such is the academic and artistic life. Right?

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?

Joe: Finishing a poem and feeling that great moment of satisfaction before the analytical and critical Joe comes in and ransacks it. Knowing that I taught well that day and interacting with students who really care. Knowing that I will always be able to grow in the areas of writing and teaching—I will die before I ever become the best I can be in these two arenas.

Chenelle: Being a stay-at-home mom, a wife, a student, and a writer, in that order. The most rewarding aspect of my life is when my children do something new. My six-year-old is reading and writing new words every day, and my infant is learning to talk, mimic, and give kisses.

Q: What inspires you?

Joe: My wife. My daughter. My colleagues. My radio show. My grandfather. My guitar. My wife. My daughter. My teachers. Poets I know alive or dead. Armadillos. Artichokes. Salmon. Ants. Mosses. Quiet gods. Music. Music of the Spheres. The occult. Ancient things. The smell of wet stones. The smell of sweat after manual labor. Old horses. Living in the South. Survivors of hard lives. My wife. My daughter.

Chenelle: Being a wife inspires a whole lot of material. Being a mother makes me want to write a book. Other than that, being a woman with a past that may not have been ideal tends to be a running theme in my poetry.

Q: How do you manage your time when you are working on more than one project?

Joe: I don’t manage it well. I tend to just tear through doing a little of each project at the time. I have yet to develop a good system here—any suggestion y’all?

Chenelle: I manage my time very poorly. Somehow, I make most of my deadlines, but I am definitely a procrastinator of the worst kind.

Q: What do you do to relax and to just have fun?

Joe: Drink beer and play my guitar or bass. Watch the Food Network. Walk a few miles.

Chenelle: I love to utilize my suspension of disbelief to relieve my brain of the troubles from the day. Shows about British people making over businesses, wacky way-too-happy people improving your home, and The Real Housewives of Orange County are pretty good opportunities for this healthy type of disassociation.

Q: What is the number one thing you would like to tell new writers?

Joe: Do not let life, hardships, love affairs, education, workshops, poets (alive or dead), competition, fear, rejection, boredom, or apathy keep you from isolating and cultivating the garden that is your voice—your own particular sound—you will know it when you hear it—you will want to run from it—it is hard to live with—you will think it is not good enough—you will try to imitate others or to destroy it—remember to nurture it, like the most delicate orchid—over time, it will extend its roots into every part of your life—it can and will become your grace and purpose—but you must work at it every damn day of your life.

Chenelle: Write poems or stories or plays or screenplays or letters or eulogies or ballads or textbooks or country western songs or novels or one word at a time…. Just write. All the time. Write.

Q: Do you have a support system?

Joe: My wife is my backbone and heart. I could not do it without her. I do have some colleagues who are sounding boards for me, but my wife is my strength. She is much stronger than me.

Chenelle: My husband is stronger than he knows. I am not whole without him. He builds me up and encourages me to bring out the best I have inside. I have a couple good friends and a few great siblings, but it is my husband who supports me on a daily basis.

Q: If, at the age you are today, you could spend a day with you at age seven, what would you take back in time, what would you say, what would you do?

Joe: I would simply allow seven-year-old me to laugh as much as possible and to feel safe and loved. That would be enough—he has time for the rest. He has, as I type this, at least 29 more years for the rest. I would talk as little as possible. I would listen a lot to him.

Chenelle: I would tell her to keep that fire burning in the pit of her gut. It is hers, she started it all on her own, and no one can take it from her.

Q: When you feel creatively blocked, what do you do to get yourself back into the creative flow? When your muse is napping what do you do to wake him/her up?

Joe: Well, I have come to the conclusion that my muse never really sleeps or awakes. The muse is more of a machine that you have to activate. It needs tinkering with. I do not personify him or her. Writing is a job—you must write every day. It does not have to be a mystical thing—it can be—but for me, as I mature as a writer, I know I need to force myself to write even when the muse-machine is missing some parts. When it wants to fly me into the stratosphere and dump me into Elysium, that’s fine, but a lot of times the muse-machine just needs to be there when I am taking a shower or shit or washing dishes.

Q: How do you recharge your creativity?

Joe: Killing imaginary mastodons while masturbating demons and writhing in a tempest. Firing fried ice cream meteors at terrorists. You know, the usual.

Q: What is your greatest inspiration?

Joe: Fearless writing. I love confident writers who balance talent with intellect and discipline. I love reading a strong voice. One that challenges me. One that makes me jealous. One that could kick my ass in an alley. One that sends me to my notebook and keyboard. I get so jealous of another talent sometimes that I get pissed off enough about it to write. I like that feeling a lot.

Chenelle: Lately, the inauguration of our new president has brought me to hopeful tears. All the talk about change makes me want to be a better person, and it makes me feel like I can truly be one.

Q: What makes you smile?

Joe: When my daughter, Cezanne, smiles or laughs, especially when she first wakes up from a nap or in the morning.

Chenelle: My daughters are brilliant, and my husband makes me laugh every day.

Q: What advice can you offer to a creative artist who is struggling with their inner critic?

Joe: There will be plenty of people to criticize your work, yourself included. You are not going to help anyone by not getting the words down, especially not yourself. Write freely, but read constantly—reading is the guide, the tutor, to healthy editing. It is not enough to simply prefer certain poets over others—know why you do—study their methods and theories—then, run your own poems through their sieves—see what you can live with and edit what you think you should. Your inner editor will develop his muscles alongside your inner writer. They are, by no means, enemies. They are necessary for each other.

Chenelle: If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a valuable possession in the changing fortunes of time.

From Desiderata by Max Ehrmann:

“Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”

“Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, It is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”

Q: Many artistic people struggle to develop a routine that allows them time for their creative work. What advice can you give that will help them create a balance between work and social life?

Joe: Social life? What social life? Huh?

Chenelle: Just do the best you can to return phone calls. Do so, even if you only have a minute to talk. Stay connected in any possible way.

Q: What creative individuals do you admire?

Joe: This is a terribly long list. Whitman, Rimbaud, Artaud, Baudelaire, Blake, Ginsberg, Proust, Huidobro, Cesaire, Borges, Valéry, Cendrars, Appollinaire, Neruda, Lorca, Camus, Heidegger—this is ridiculous—I can’t continue—it will go on forever. I’m well-read and very in awe of all who have pursued this craft so well—before I came here into it, while I am here—those who come after me. All of them. I hope I still get to read in the afterlife.

Chenelle: My husband encourages me to find new artists online, and I have found some kindred spirits who have what I want. My favorite poet, the one I know I will never compare to but will always wish to emulate, is Joseph V. Milford.

Q: Are you listening to music as you answer these questions? If yes, what are you listening to?

Joe: I am listening to John Cougar play Small Town with Elvis Costello, Kris Kristofferson, Norah Jones, and Roseanne Cash on Elvis Costello’s show “Spectacle” via my cable TV. Not bad at all.

Chenelle: I am watching MSNBC and the baby is fussy.

Q: If you only had one more day to live what would you do with the 24 hours?

Joe: Hold my wife and children in silent knowing and reverb.

Chenelle: Shower my husband with the affection he deserves, and tell everyone I love how much they really do mean to me.

Q: What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have as compared to people who are not creative?

Joe: A painful and fearless sensitivity to the terrifying journeys we embark upon between the physical and metaphysical worlds. An unflinching bravery in the decision to dive into the hell-pit and emerge wounded and evolved with the one spark to be created, written, adorned, and explored. Is this too melodramatic?

Q: Who is the most creative person that you have ever known?

Joe: There are many creative people I admire and watch in awe from afar; however, the most creative person I have ever known, and when I say this I mean I know him well, is Sean Gilbert. He is a friend of mine from college—it is in his blood: drawing and writing comics, poems, short stories, novels, fantasy books, fairy tales, etc. He also sings in a band and makes movies and publishes a journal. He’s pretty-much a "bad-ass."

Chenelle: Jami Seib: Photographer, artist, superchick extraordinaire. Oh yeah. That’s what I’m talkin’ about. She also has the best singing voice I have ever heard.

Q: Can you see your finished project before you start it?

Joe: No. Not really. I feel an echo of it resounding—but I am sure that by the time I get to the end of it that it has changed because of me, and I have changed because of it. I believe more in the process than the product anyway. Always have.

Chenelle: I generally try to see the finished product so I have something to build toward. I like to build things.

Q: Do you feel that you chose your passion, or did it choose you?

Joe: It chose me first—I have had, several times, probably, the option of walking away from it—so I’d like to think in those times, when I felt divorced from this “passion,” that I chose it back again. Still, I feel that writing, for me, is an obsessive compulsion.

Chenelle: It chose me, but it has had to be reawakened more than once.

Q: What book are you reading right now?

Joe: The Grindstone of Rapport: A Clayton Eshleman Reader

Q: What is the last movie you watched?

Joe: Iron Man (2008)

Chenelle: I woke up at three in the morning to write a poem, and Clear and Present Danger was on the television. I couldn’t go back to sleep. The last movie I remember watching all the way through was Reservation Road. It is not for the light-hearted.

Q: What is the favorite question you were ever asked and what was your answer?

Joe: Do you want to get married? I said yes.

Chenelle: He also asked me if I would marry him. More than once. I always said yes.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given?

Joe: Use condoms and don’t drink and drive.

Chenelle: Take care of yourself first.

Q: Your famous last words, will you share with us a piece of advice, a favorite quote, a tip, whatever you wish?

Joe: Never under-estimate your dark side. It knowingly estimates you.

Chenelle: “Nothing real can be threatened; nothing unreal exists. Therein lies the peace of God.”

From A Course in Miracles by Dr. Helen Schucman and Dr. William Thetford.

Creative Artists Commnity