We are excited to introduce you to James Alan Riley, author of Broken Frequencies, a book of poems, which is now available for pre-order from Shadelandhouse Modern Press and is scheduled to be released in March 2019.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press: We are excited to be working with you, James. Thank you for sharing your time with us. Could you please tell us a bit about yourself that is not available in your author bio, including when you first began writing poetry and what inspired you to become a poet?
JR: I’ve spent most of my adult life writing, but I’ve mostly been focused on longer work. I began to write poetry seriously a couple of years ago when a friend of mine, a visual artist, approached me about putting a show together that involved the relationship between language and 3-dimensional space.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press: Do you have a writing routine and schedule?
JR: I like working in the morning before the day’s obligations intrude, but my writing schedule is flexible. The most difficult part, of course, is finding uninterrupted time. Finding several hours to work each day without interruption is a difficult task.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press: How would you describe your writing process?
JR: My writing process is more about revision than it is about drafting a manuscript. I can rough draft a manuscript fairly quickly, but then the fun’s over and the work begins. When I’m writing, I’m mostly rewriting, sometimes endlessly.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press: Do you have a favorite place to write?
JR: I can dictate language and lines of poetry on my phone, but I work in my study at home on a roll top desk my father left me. I can’t imagine working anywhere else.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press: Please tell us about some of your favorite books and writers who have inspired you and influenced your writing.
JR: I have to say, Charles Wright has always been one of my favorites. The Other Side of the River, Southern Cross, when I read his work, it never fails to inspire my own desire to use language that well. I recently read Mary Ann Taylor-Hall’s Out of Nowhere, and it was like meeting an old friend.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press: Let’s turn to your forthcoming book of poetry, Broken Frequencies. How would you describe Broken Frequencies? What is it about?
JR: I’ve given this question a lot of thought because when I’m writing a poem, I’m focused on the individual piece, the larger picture of what statement these different fragments make as a whole isn’t a consideration. As a collection, though, I think Broken Frequencies confronts the disconnect between the present and the past in our personal lives. Each poem is a search for meaning in an otherwise random sequence of events which lean always toward the relationships which lend significance to our lives, the connections between those we love and those we have lost, as well as the many possible futures each moment implies.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press:Did any special or unusual circumstances or incidents play a role in your conception or writing this book?
JR: As I mentioned earlier, I began—a couple of years ago—to put an exhibition together with a few friends who happen to be visual artists, a photographer, a painter, a sculptor. We collaborated on what eventually became a 15,000 word, twenty-five piece gallery exhibition titled The Pfeilstorch Incident and Other Conspiracies. I would write the language, often poems but occasionally short fiction or mere fragments of narrative, depending on the piece. The show was presented in the University of Pikeville Weber Gallery in 2017. Many of the poems in Broken Frequencies were written specifically for that project.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press: Why did you choose Broken Frequencies as the title poem for the collection?
JR: I think the title poem addresses the central theme of the collection. The ghost in the room from “Broken Frequencies” is the effect of time passing and the hope, against the strange sadness of that resignation, that our lives have meaning and purpose.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press: What makes this book unique?
JR: What I find most interesting in Broken Frequencies is the quiet tone of resignation. Many of the poems in the book address the nature of loss and the relationship between absence and what it is that gives our lives significance, meaning the people in our lives who we love and care most about. The images are personal, the narratives broken in to structures that suggest there is some meaning between the lines or perhaps from beyond the page, but ultimately, they are all searching for hope, some faith that there is meaning in spite of what we often find in the world around us. Hope seems to me a rare commodity these days.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press: What are the common themes and key concepts among the various poems?
JR: As I noted, many of the poems deal with mutability, the effects of time passing. I have a favorite quote from Charles Wright: Time is the villain in most tales. I believe that to be true, the relationship between the present, the past, and the future, the recognition that it is those we love who provide meaning to our lives, and the understanding that loss is inevitable. As we get older, I think most of us come to realize that hope is our only salvation, the hope that there is some meaning beyond what we can hold in our hands, our physical selves.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press: What knowledge, insights or new understandings might one gain from this collection?
JR: Loss is the lesson life teaches each of us, slowly and sometimes not so slowly, but always inevitably. I think the elegiac tone of these poems is an attempt to see beyond that reality. One of my favorite lines from the book comes from “The Weight of Gravity and Great Distance:”
What comfort there is in this world
is the comfort of hope.
Shadelandhouse Modern Press: Thank you, James for sharing your time with us to discuss your new book of poems, Broken Frequencies. It has been a pleasure working with you to bring Broken Frequencies to life and to readers.
Broken Frequencies is now available for preorder. You may read more about Broken Frequencies, including advance praise from authors Chris Holbrook (Upheaval and Hell and Ohio), Rhonda Pettit (Riding the Wave Train), Mary Ann Taylor-Hall (Out of Nowhere and Come and Go, Molly Snow), and Audrey Naffziger (Desire to Stay).
Read a selection from Broken Frequencies.
Broken Frequencies confronts the disconnect between the present and the past in our personal lives. Each poem is a search for meaning in an otherwise random sequence of events which lean always toward the relationships which lend significance to our lives, the connections between those we love and those we have lost, and the many possible futures each moment implies. From “The Heart’s Sad Music,” there is no escaping the realization that We are surrounded by the ghosts of those we love.
James Alan Riley is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, two Al Smith Fellowships from the Kentucky Arts Council, and an Individual Artist’s Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council. His work has appeared in The Louisville Review, Kentucky Monthly, The Journal of Kentucky Studies, Appalachian Heritage, The Connecticut Review, The Greensboro Review, The Pikeville Review, and a number of other literary magazines. He edited Kentucky Voices: A Collection of Contemporary Kentucky Short Stories (PC Press, 1999). He received a Ph.d. in Modern British and American Literature from Ohio University in Athens and a M.A. in English from the University of Arkansas. He is currently the English Program Coordinator and a Professor of English at the University of Pikeville in Pikeville, Kentucky.