Howard Altmann: Three Poems

By Gayil Nalls
Published on October 22, 2014

GN       Your poems have tremendous atmosphere. What shapes them?

HA       I’d like to think the voice that imagines them into being.

GN       What do you do when you’re not writing?

HA       If a cloud were to follow me during the course of a day, it would run for cover.

GN       Have you ever been really hungry? 

HA       As metaphor, always. As food-deprived, never.

GN       Is being a human at this time in the world a burden or a blessing?

HA       I’m not sure I like the question. Being human is always a blessing. The burdens that come with being human are part of that blessing––I think. As hard as it is to believe, supposedly this is the least violent period in our evolution. But never has so much information traveled so fast and been available to so many.

GN       I really like your answer…  however maybe it depends on where one enters the world.

When you read or watch the news what tries your patience, weighs you down or makes you emotional? Does it transfer to your writing as texture or reality?

HA       For many years now, the news, television news, has been more ‘entertainment’ than ‘news,’ and most of it is unwatchable. The talking heads have become caricatures. A mere glimpse is enough to send one running to the window like in that classic scene from Network. ‘The Situation Rooms’ don’t really enter. In terms of the hard news emanating from the dark corners of the world that arrive without sound-bite or high octane graphic, in terms of the staggering decline in biodiversity that keeps coming to light, I believe it is hard for one’s consciousness not to be affected. And if consciousness is affected, writing is affected.

GN       What do you think would help us cooperate?

HA       That’s either a simple answer – do unto others as you would others do unto you, or a complex answer – do unto others as you would others do unto you.

GN       Have you ever attended an event like a protest, a march, or the like?

HA       Mark Strand once said that writing poetry is a political act. I’m not sure if I totally agree, but I agree enough.

GN       What do you trust most in life?

HA       Nature.

GN       Me too…

What work of literature do you think would make the world a better place if everyone read it?

HA       The Missing Piece by Shel Silverstein.

GN       What makes us modern?

HA       Our ability to go back in time.

GN       Is there something about any of these three poems you want to share that you haven't before made public?

HA       The Chess Player was the first poem I ever read at the first reading I ever had. I was so nervous my leg shook violently and I was sure the puppeteer was going to let go of the strings. That I remained standing through the end of it, looking back, it feels like it was some kind of high-wire act. 

Howard Altmann is the author of In This House (Turtle Point Press, 2010). He lives in New York City.