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Poetry for others

Minnesota writer William Reichard talks about focusing his work
and saving stray animals. Brighthorse Books will publish
his sixth book of poetry in 2018. Intern Kailyn Hill broke bread with the poet at Nina’s Coffee Café in St. Paul.

'I want readers to find something for themselves in my work. I want it to help you and not me, if that makes sense. When I’m a reader, when I can identify with what I’m reading, I can delve so much more deeply into that work, so as a writer, that’s always a goal.' –William Reichard

Interview by Kailyn Hill​, Bethel University

Photography by Sierra Smith, Bethel University

When did you start writing poetry?

“Actually not until grad school. I always wrote, from the time I learned to write, but I focused primarily on fiction and short fiction, and did most of my master’s work in fiction. My thesis was a collection of short stories. But I had to take a course outside my genre, and there was a poetry class. I went in and never came back out again. It just sort of snowballed. I wasn’t happy with the fiction I was writing anyway, and when I tried poetry, I realized why I hadn’t been happy.”

I’ve had a chance to read some of the poems in The Night Horse, I really loved it.


“Thank you! It’s a new and selected book. I went through the past books and tried to pluck out 25 pages from each book, and then the new work.

“They’re not all my favorites. I mean, I like all of the poems I’ve included, but some of my favorites are very long pieces. Since I knew I’d only be selecting 25 pages from each book, I knew couldn’t take up ten pages with one poem. If I could make the book longer, then I might have included more long poems. The poems I’ve selected represent me well, I hope.”

It seems like a very intimate, personal collection. How have you reconciled exposing so much of yourself, was that hard for you?

“Initially, yes. I was fortunate, in that one of my poetry teachers called me out on my reluctance to be honest in my work. He said one day, “why don’t you cut all the bullshit?” I felt as if I had been hit by lightning, but he was right. I think that’s why I was so shocked, because he called it out in such simple terms. After that, I decided I wouldn’t write anything I didn’t care about.”


In some of your poems, you reference very specific locations. Was there a reason for that?

“Landscape has a lot to do with who I am, I think. Every time I travel, the landscape changes and it really impacts my work. Different geographies bring out different emotions, and different senses of wonder. There’s just so much to discover.”

“A Widow’s Song” is a poem that touches on death and loss, is it easier to write about death because everyone experiences it to some degree or is it difficult because it’s such an intense emotion?


“I can only write about it because I’ve dealt with it. There had been several deaths in my family, six people in my immediate family in a year and a half. At the same time, friends of mine were getting sick and dying of AIDS. It was before the current treatments, so you could only watch people get sick. You’d visit them every day, and suddenly they were gone. If I had never experienced any of these losses, I would feel like a hypocrite. I would have been writing about death as an abstraction.

“I want readers to find something for themselves in my work. I want it to help you and not me, if that makes sense. When I’m a reader, when I can identify with what I’m reading, I can delve so much more deeply into that work, so as a writer, that’s always a goal.”

You seem to discuss lovers and stars together. Is that an association that came naturally to you or is there a reason behind it?


“It came pretty naturally to me. I’m not a science person, but I’m fascinated by space, stars, the notion of time and how it exists, and the time it takes to travel when you measure distance in lightyears. The light that we see from stars, those stars aren’t there anymore, they died millions of years before.”

When trying to decide what gets put into the book, what is your determining factor that says this is going in, this is not?

“I want to achieve an overall sense of balance. It’s about representing and finding balance between the subject matter and style. It’s a gut thing also, a sense of which poems work well together.”

Many of the poems have very specific spacing or layouts, is that something you do when you’re writing?

“In the first draft, I do everything longhand, then I type it into the computer. Part of the revision process is taking it from the handwritten version and typing it into the computer.  I begin to revise the work then, and continue to revise it until I feel it’s complete.”

Do you find that you’re critical of your own work?


“Yes, I edit constantly. Even after a book comes out, if I’m doing a reading I sometimes continue to edit and I read my edited version rather than what’s in the book.”

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of getting a book published?


“I really love the publication process. If I could do anything and had unlimited money, I would probably start a press. I love working with designers as they design books, and I’m very picky about fonts.”

What are you hoping for readers to get out of this collection?

“With the new work, a sense of what I’m doing now. Some of the new work is more overtly political, in reaction to current times. A lot of my poems are political because of the subject matter, but they’re political in a personal way. The new poems are written out of a sense of fear, of not knowing what’s coming next.”

Do you feel like that helps you cope?

“Yes, I think it’s a coping mechanism, but it doesn’t change anything. I have a lot of poems that don’t see the light of day because they are just me venting. One of the things I try to teach students in my creative writing classes is the difference between personal and public writing.”

You mention cats in some of your poems. Are you a cat or a dog person?

“I’m a cat person. I have five cats. I didn’t intend to have that many, but the neighborhood I live in is full of strays. I feel horrible when I see cats without safe homes, so when I moved into my neighborhood, I started feeding the stray and feral cats. In the winter, I leave the side garage door open, and I bought these little houses that have heating elements in their floors, that warm up to the cat’s body temperature. Suddenly I had all these cats living in my garage. I worked with a local animal rescue organization to neuter all of the strrays, and to find homes for many of them. There are still three living in the backyard, but they have their houses in the garage.”

Contact poet William Reichard.

Edited by Kailyn Hill​, Bethel University.

Portrait by Sierra Smith.
Reichard's sixth book of poetry will be released by Brighthorse in 2018. Image from
Kailyn Hill interviews William Reichard at Nina's Coffee Cafe in St. Paul. Photo by Sierra Smith.
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