Q&A: Ross Robbins
A: In terms of a musical genre, I would be most inclined to compare my poetry to some really self-consciously horny gay indie rock. I don’t intend it to come across that way, but it seems like I talk about my genitals a lot more than most poets.
Q: Did you choose your writing style, or did it choose you? What does your style allow you to do with your poetry, that other styles would not?
A: My voice found me. It’s funny, because I have been working on improving my poetry for years, but I really feel like my true voice found me over the past several months. My style is extremely musical and rhythmical. There are passages I actually sing when I perform, and this style has enabled me to break free of “narrative” or “plot” and approach pure music at times; at other times, I maintain a concrete “meaning” while still injecting a great deal of music, in terms of sonics and a really powerful tempo and...well, you’d really just have to read it and/or watch me perform.
Q: How do you choose what a poem will look like on the page?
A: Unless I’m working with a strict form—sestina, villanelle, and sonnets are favorites—I tend to allow the form of the free verse to dictate its shape. If a poem needs to feel airy or like it has a lot of “space,” then I tend to space it out all over the page. I like for a piece to have a pleasing visual aesthetic. I am often turned off by endless blocks of text, and I think many readers are as well. So I try to avoid that.
Q: How do you choose your punctuation, or lack thereof? Does it have more to do with grammar, visual cues, or auditory/musical cues?
A: Punctuation is...ugh. I love it and I hate it, you know? It has a lot more to do with visual and musical cues than it does with grammar—grammar is always secondary to the appearance and the sound of a poem. If I need for a poem to be riddled with long dashes a la Emily Dickinson, well, that’s what’s going to happen. If I need a poem to look like ee cummings’s wet dreams, well, I will splatter it with random commas and periods and exclamation points galore. But usually it’s a balance between proper grammar and improper grammar. I hate ending lines with commas, but I will if I have no other choice.
...anyhow. The effect is rather nice, I think.
Q: Do you think your poetry gives visual auditory cues to the reader? Do you think the reader hears the way you read your poetry by sight alone? If not, what do you think impedes this transfer of information?
A: There’s no way to transfer exactly how I read a poem via the page—I am an extremely dramatic reader. I sing, I shout, I rant, I wail, I really do make a joyful noise. As far as transmitting that with some few and paltry symbols on a plain white page...well, I do my best.
Q: How do you notate your poetry to make up for the lack of your voice being there? Do you try?
A: I trust that the reader will find their own voice with which to enjoy my poetry. I am confident in the beauty of my creations, and once I put them out into the world I have to trust that they will bring the exact kind of beauty that is required of them.
Q: Do you consider yourself a performer of your poetry, or a reader? How come?
A: I am a performer and a reader—I have a bit of a grudge against a lot of “performance poetry,” unfortunately. I have been to some poetry slams, and while many of the performers are quite talented, I feel that some of them are not poets so much as actors. They are not performing poems so much as they are acting out dramatic monologues. And many of those monologues are riddled with clichés, platitudes, a lot of misogyny and homophobia and blah. I don’t want any part of that.
Q: How would you describe your performance/reading style? Do you think that popular reading styles have shaped the way you read, or have you actively worked against the pull of mainstream performance style?
A: I don’t plan out my sets beforehand. I find that this provides a spontaneity that might be lacking otherwise, and from that spontaneity (most times) flows a sort of magic. I really do consider myself a magical performer, and I don’t mean for that to sound egotistical. It’s really not an ego thing. What it is is this: I approach the microphone with the goal of creating something beautiful—a shared experience of music and joy and words. I am a survivor. I am a recovering heroin addict, I have survived two severe traumas (albeit with some major PTSD, but still) involving finding two bodies—one of them a person who I very much loved. And I have been able to take all that trauma/PTSD stuff, and all that addiction stuff, and I have been able to turn it into something beautiful—something bigger than me. If I can get up in front a roomful of people and make some of them cry and make all of their hearts feel a little bit bigger and create something beautiful, well, hell, that’s bigger than some petty ego bullshit. It’s something worthy and true, and that’s what I always wanted from poetry. The recognition will come with time—for now I’m satisfied to feel like I walked out the other side, and I’m still going, and I’m still rising.
Q: Do you think you’re the best performer/reader of your own work?
A: I am the best one I’ve met so far!
Below is a video of Ross reading from I want to say how I feel and be done with it forever., as well as an excerpt from the chapbook.
Ross Robbins lives and writes in Portland, Oregon. His poems have appeared in BlazeVOX, Pointed Circle, and Alchemy, and his self-published chapbook I want to say how I feel and be done with it forever. is available in store at Powell's Books. More of his work can be found online here.