Meet the author: Doug Sutton-Ramspeck
A conversation with Doug Sutton-Ramspeck
How does your work typically develop?
I write quickly without much planning. My experience as a writer has been that the more time I take planning a work, and the longer time I spend laboring over the writing, the less effective the final result will be. The more I give over conscious control of the direction of the work, and the more I write as quickly as I can whatever words appear in my thoughts, the stronger the writing becomes.
How did you come back to creative writing and poetry?
I received an MFA in creative writing in 1978 from the University of California at Irvine. Not long after that, I settled into decades of writer’s block and didn’t find my way back to writing until I turned fifty. What made the difference? Over the years I would often write a page or two of a novel or a short story, then stop in despair (I didn’t think it was good enough). One day I realized, however, that if I wrote poetry the work would be completed after that page or two, and I could send it out and hope for publication. This made all the difference. Since then, I have done my best to make up for lost time, and I now write both poetry and fiction.
How does being a teacher of creative writing influence your own work?
One of the things that amazes me is how quickly students can improve in creative writing classes. In literature and composition courses, progress is generally more gradual, but poetry or fiction students often discover something one day and then, from that day forward, complete work that is astonishingly better than anything they were writing before. This offers hope that any writer (including me) can suddenly make another leap in quality.
What do you most enjoy about being in the classroom?
I enjoy seeing students sharing their short stories and poems with each other, all of them offering encouragement and suggestions for how to lift the quality of each piece. There can be a sense of community in creative writing classes that is gratifying. We work together to help students create something impressive.
What surprises you most about your own work?
The focus of much of my poetry has been on animism. I am not superstitious, yet my speakers often see auguries and omens in crows and clouds and blood moons and deer prints in the snow. I have written many poems and short stories, for example, based on a possum skull my daughter found in the woods behind our house some years ago.
What do you most enjoy about the creative process?
A character in a Peter De Vries novel (Reuben, Reuben) suggests that what he dislikes most about being a writer is the paperwork. Of course, that’s pretty much the whole thing, so it’s important to find ways to enjoy it. Usually I jump back and forth between several projects at once, making sure that everything feels fresh to me. I write what inspires me. I don’t force myself into projects that don’t hold my interest.
What are you working on now?
I have nearly completed a new books of poems entitled comes like a thief. The work is a darkly satiric and apocalyptic take on issues connected to climate change. I am also at work on a new short story collection entitled A Map of Years.
What are you reading?
I just finished The Testaments, the Margaret Atwood sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. I listened to the audio book while driving to and from campus. It made for a bleak but beautiful road companion.
What advice would you give aspiring poets and creative writers?
J. D. Salinger suggests (in Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction) that writers should figure out what they would most like to read, then shamelessly write it. I think that’s just about right.
Doug Sutton-Ramspeck is a professor of English at The Ohio State University at Lima, where he teaches creative writing. He is the author of seven poetry collections and one collection of short stories. His most recent book, Black Flowers (2018), is published by LSU Press. Five books have received awards: Distant Fires (Grayson Books Poetry Prize), The Owl That Carries Us Away (G. S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction), Original Bodies (Michael Waters Poetry Prize), Mechanical Fireflies (Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize), and Black Tupelo Country (John Ciardi Prize for Poetry). Individual poems and stories have appeared in journals that include The Southern Review, The Kenyon Review, Slate and The Georgia Review. His short story, “Balloon,” was listed as a Distinguished Story of 2018 in The Best American Short Stories. Sutton-Ramspeck is a two-time recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award.
Distant Fires, which combines poetry and short fiction and a brief play, will be published in 2020 by Grayson Books. The story chronicles the struggles of two brothers and their difficult father. One brother serves two lengthy prison sentences. To find out more about Doug Sutton-Ramspeck's writing, visit his website at dougramspeck.com