Holstad interview ~ Lisa Zaran

Posted On November 19, 2006

Filed under adult, Arty Stuff, Beat, books, poetry, review, short stories

Comments Dropped 36 responses

lisa zaranscott holstad

It was such a privilege for me to interview and pick the brain of Scott Holstad, a writer I’ve known for many years.  Though we’ve never met, we’ve been in some sort of contact, usually through blogging or email.

Boston born, Scott has lived all over the continent including Tempe, Arizona where I also lived, though not at the same time.  So, I know Scott is familiar with the Mill Avenue scene and Changing Hands bookstore as I am.

A poet, technical writer, English professor and over-educated man, Holstad holds degrees from three Universities.

Most current book is a full length poetry collection entitled Cells.  Confessions, his latest is due for release soon.

You recently celebrated your 40th birthday isn’t that right?  Happy birthday.
Yes, I did.  In September.  It was shocking!  I can’t believe I’m that old, you know?  But it was a nice birthday.  We had a little party and 40 of my friends came to celebrate with me.  It was fun.
Throughout the nineties you released 13 books, one of which, Places  (1996) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  Since then you’ve written three more books of poetry, Artifacts, Cells and Confessions due out sometime this Fall.
That was a massive output for one decade, referring back to 1991 through 1999.  Do you feel that you’ve slowed down creatively or is it simply a matter of time and opportunity?
For you especially, based off your past history, most people spend years creating one book.
Oh, I have definitely slowed down!  Imagine, five poetry collections in 1999 alone!  That’s astonishing output.  But I had so much to get out of my system.  It simply welled up within me and I had to get it out, or I’d go insane.  Actually, I did go insane, now that I think about it.  (Laughs.)
I don’t think most people can keep that type of pace up.  I do know several who can pump out books:  my buddy, Gerald Locklin over in Long Beach, CA has published nearly 100 by now.  Bukowski called him L.A.’s best writer.  And, of course, Lyn Lifshin is well over the 100 book mark too.  She’s amazing!

But to put out 13 books of poems in an eight year span – that was hard work!  I seriously put some time andeffort into my writing.  I know you do too, so you can relate to that.
My last two projects, Cells and Confessions, have taken a really long time to get published.  Cells was was such a big book (over 200 pages) that many publishers were afraid to take it on.  After all, most poetry books lose money.  That’s why most poetry books are around 72 pages in length. I signed the contract with my publisher for Confessions in very early 2005, but the book is still not out.  It’s also going to be a big book, about 180 pages.  My biggest book before Cells was under 100 pages, so it was easier for publishers to produce those collections.
But, like I said, I’ve really slowed over the past year in my writing.
I first discovered you sometime in the mid-nineties.  I was just a fledgling then, barely getting my feet wet in the poetic world.  You were very gracious at that time, offering advice and sharing some of your history.  I remember I couldn’t visit any magazine or web based journal without finding your name.  Are you still a regular contributor to ezines, journals, and small press magazines?
No, not really.  I’m now out of the loop.  There are magazines and webzines that solicit my work, but I rarely submit anymore.  I used to be a regular with SO many magazines, especially during the 1990s.  It seemed very different to me 15 years ago.  Bukowski was still pumping out material, and it felt wonderful to get published alongside him in Cokefish and other mags like Caffeine.  I used to make regular appearances in Cokefish, Sivullinen over in Finland, Pearl in Long Beach, Saturday Afternoon Journal in Hollywood, Caffeine in L.A., Shockbox, Chiron Review and so many others.  More recently, The Awakenings Review, published by the University of Chicago, has published many of my poems.
At my peak, I would have hundreds of poems out under consideration at over 100 magazines at any given point.  Even as recently as two years ago, I was still maintaining submissions out at about 75 magazines.
By the way, thank you for your kind words about me being gracious to you when you were starting out.  That’s good, I’m glad I was!
Your work has been likened to that of Charles Bukowski, whom I happen to know you are a big fan of.  Does the comparison irritate you at all or do you feel you’ve made your own distinction?

Many of my poems from certain years, particularly the early to mid-nineties, were definitely influenced by Bukowski.  But I’ve also been influenced by Ferlinghetti and Gerry Locklin and Bill Shields and several others.  Like many writers, I’ve gone through what one might call “stages” or phases in my writing.  I guess, ultimately, I feel like I’ve made a distinction.  Sure, I’ve written about women and sex and madhouses, just like Bukowski did, but I’ve also written about many other topics, often utilizing other stylistic methods in doing so.  Bukowski would probably have been annoyed with the rambling tone of my poems in Cells.
Still, I was able to appear in many magazines with Buk, and that was exciting.  In fact, he and I appeared on the cover of a Finnish magazine back in the day.  We were both very popular in Finland, and this magazine did a big piece on the two of us.  It was a lot of fun.  Fortunately, I had a Finnish friend in Los Angeles who translated it for me.  They said nice things.  Heh.
I remember you told me you met Lawrence Ferlinghetti once.  Refresh my memory, didn’t you just happen to run into him along the boardwalk in San Francisco?
It was in January of 1994 in his bookstore, City Lights, up in San Francisco.  It was widely known at the time that he didn’t come into the store that often anymore, that he stayed home and painted and wrote.  I found myself in the poetry section upstairs in the store, all by myself.  And I found several doors, most closed.  But one was cracked open and I peeked in, and there he was!  I knocked and entered and we spoke for quite a while.  Definitely one of the highlights of my life!  At the time, I was seriously considering going somewhere to do a Ph.D.  On Ferlinghetti and other San Francisco poets, such as Rexroth and Duncan and Spicer.  He advised me, I remember, to look into UC Santa Cruz, that they might be open to such an endeavor.  Strangely, a year or so later, I did decide to go to the University of New Mexico to do this with a scholar there who specialized in west coast poetics, only to have my now-ex-wife tell me she’d leave me if I did it.  So I backed down, and have always regretted that.
Who else do you admire as writers, poets, artists and the like?
There aren’t too many, frankly.  I used to love Bill Shields, published by Henry Rollins’ press, 2.13.61.  However, his work and his background have been discredited to a degree and he’s disappeared from public.  Henry told me this himself in an email early this year.
Gerald Locklin is another, as I’ve mentioned.  Oh, Edward Field and Edward Dorn.  And I love old Kenneth Patchen’s work!  You already know about Bukowski and Ferlinghetti.
Those were primarily poets.  Writers I like include Camus, Sartre, Kafka, Martin Amis and a few others.  Edward Lee and Poppy Z. Brite have written a few good horror novels.
As far as artists go, I’m really into H.R. Giger.
You’ve struggled with varying degrees of psychological illness most of your life and many of your poems reflect what you have been through and are going through.
For example, in Cloudy, But Who Cares from The Napalmed Soul (Chiron Review Press, 1999) you write:
I’ve been cutting for months –
it’s addictive.  I like the blood,
the flow, the look, feel, taste –
it soothes, comforts, controls.
My wife thinks I want to be
proclaimed a schizo.  Actually,
the people who usually do this
are Borderlines, but why make
a distinction in this case?  She
thinks I enjoy the drama of
it all.
I think I knife myself to keep
from knifing everyone else
I run into…
Yeah.  I love that book.  And so many other people find it a tough read.  It’s primarily about cutting, which is something I did to deal with severe emotional and mental pain … for quite some time.  I still have scars.  I love that book because I lived it and I made it through alive and I’m better off for it.
Yes, I’m Bipolar and I have Social Anxiety Disorder, and I’ve also officially been diagnosed ADD and OCD, but I’ve never been treated for either of those.
It’s been a tough ride.  I went through a rough period, about three years, as you know.  It cost me my marriage and a great job, as well as, perhaps, some friends too.
You’ve been on many different medications, been placed in hospitals.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever been arrested.  Can you elaborate on any of  this, perhaps your age when you felt that something was not right, the feelings you had at certain points in your life, did you ever contemplate suicide/attempt suicide, and any words on your recovery. Do you still try to balance your mental health and your life with medicine?
One whole section of Cells is about jail, is actually titled “Jail,” so I guess that answers that part of it.  Heh.
I felt something was not right at age eight, and it became more pronounced by age 12, when I first attempted to cut my wrists.  I did a poor job of it.  I was sent to shrinks, but not medicated.  This would have been back in the mid-seventies, and psychiatrists weren’t as … popular (?) as they are now.
I had strange teen years and then went absolutely wild in college and through my 20s.  However, I did not
really notice anything wrong with me.  It was other people – wife, doctors, etc. – who urged me to seek treatment as I neared age 30.  This was before I had a severe nervous breakdown and tried to hang myself in a mental hospital.  My last suicide attempt occurred in 1999, when I swallowed a bottle of Xanax and a bottle of Ambien.  I severely OD’d, but survived.  I was “found” and rushed to the hospital and got to stay in a psych ward for the fourth time in two years.  Memories….
Yes, I’m medicated.  I’ve been on a good prescription “cocktail” for several years now, thank goodness!  And it’s really helped.  I’ve been stable for a long time now.
Is freedom from drugs an option for you at all or do you believe you’ll need to take them for the rest of your life?
I’m taking them forever.  Freedom isn’t an option.  I – and others – have seen what happens when I’m not properly medicated.
Your chapbook, Artifacts (Sick Puppy Press) opens with two stanzas from a poem I’d written about you.  In the poem I write:
…it’s he who carries
a storm in his head,
carries wind, carries rain,
carries the thought
that every breath
is a dangerous decision.
At the time, I truly believed that.  Is every breath still a dangerous decision?
I guess I’d have to say no.  So many of my poems and books written between 1998 and 2002 were about insanity, depression, jail, suicide, death, etc.  For a long while, it did seem that every breath was a dangerous decision.  But like I just mentioned, I’ve been stable for about four years now and I intend to remain that way.  I think it’s evened me out.  Have I lost my edge?  Perhaps.  Has it been worth it?  Yep.
In the books closing poem, Anticipation, you state that you are Bipolar.  The final stanza reads:
I’ve wanted to die for a
long time, and one day,
I’m going out like a
Texas lightening storm –
big, bold, beautiful,
deadly, dead, and
done with.
What is a normal day for you?
That’s tough to answer.  You know, I’ve attended six universities, getting three degrees in the process, for a total of about 13 years.  So, much of my life has been about school.  Then, there’s a normal “work” day, which I guess is similar to most everyone else’s work day.  I have not worked much over the past few years, concentrating on other things, such as my books, my new marriage, another academic degree, etc.  So, I get up, do the online thing for a bit, run errands, read/write/do chores, help my wife with her work, work on dinner, play a little Playstation 2 or do TiVo with the wife and hit the sack.  Not too exciting, to be honest.
You are a technical writer too, correct?  And do you also write textbooks or am I remembering incorrectly, perhaps you edit them.  Are these college textbooks?  How do you like that type of work?  Is it rewarding, tedious, challenging?
I’ve done technical writing off and on for years, for several companies, most prominently, EarthLink Network in Pasadena.  And I’ve been working recently on my own textbook – at least, it’s designed to be a textbook – of literary criticism.  Critical essays, all of which have been published in various journals.  I greatly love writing those things, although, like poetry, there aren’t too many readers.  I find it very rewarding.  In fact, I recently had an essay on Carl Sandburg published in the Best of the Asheville Poetry Review.  Quite enjoyable.

How many hours would you say you spend each day writing?  Is it something you consider a discipline or do you write mainly when the creative imagination to do so takes over?

These days, not so many.  I USED to spend two to three hours a day writing and at least an hour a day submitting material to magazines and publishers.  But that has slowed dramatically.

Anything new in the works?

I’ve put together a collection of essays – literary criticism – boring, academic stuff which probably only I find exciting.  I’ve been trying it out with the university presses.  One, Ohio State University Press, looked like they were going to take it on, but did not ultimately.  Otherwise, the reaction has been disappointing.  I keep getting told from these presses that they are no longer putting out essay collections by one author!  That seems to be a major distraction for them.  Strange.
I’m also trying to put together a collection of my early works.  So many recent and current readers never got to read my early stuff, which is quite different in tone and style and subject matter to my later stuff.  I think that will be fun.
Something I’ve had going on for a long time, but need to finish is a small book on getting your poetry published.  It’s about 50-60% complete, and I simply need to take the time to finish it.

People have been asking me for years now to write my memoirs.  I’ve been meaning to, but I want to get all of this other stuff of my plate first, you know?

Something I meant to ask you earlier, favorite musicians?  Favorite bands?  Music is a large part of my life and I know it is a large part of yours as well.  Who are you currently spinning?

Current:  Collide, Rhea’s Obsession, Android Lust, Frank Sinatra.
Favorites:  Dead Can Dance, Skinny Puppy, Lovespirals, Faith and the Muse

Faith and the Muse, sounds like it could be a theme for your life.  Thank you Scott for your willingness to participate in an interview I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  Peace and stability.

-To find out more about Scott C. Holstad and his work visit:


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