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Don Riggs on Writers and Writing

Don Riggs is a poet as well as a professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia. He responds to both “Ma” and “Herr Doktor”; in other words, he holds a doctorate in comparative literature from UNC—Chapel Hill and a masters in the art of creative writing from Temple University.

USK: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

DR: I don’t know that I knew I wanted to “be a writer,” but I started writing poetry – actually, really verse, and that wasn’t very successful from a technical point of view – when I was in sixth grade, and published some of my products in The Pine Cone, which was the “newspaper” of Pine Crest elementary school. I stopped writing for a few years, then one evening when walking to a rehearsal, I was so struck by the full moon rising over the Beltway bridge, that I started composing a poem as I was walking along, and I used that mode of “writing” for years (i.e., working out each line in my head, then going on to the next, so that most of the poems of that period I memorized as I was composing them). Only when I was in graduate school did I discover the “modern poetry” of one generation older – the Beats, Black Mountain School, the Deep Image poets, the New York School – and then I, in self-conscious imitation of 3 of these, starting composing at the typewriter, and sometimes continuing my old mode with the Deep Image poets’ style.

USK: When did you first identify as a writer?

DR: I suppose that was in grad school, when I was trying to deny that I was a graduate student probably headed for a straight academic career. I defined my “true calling” as my writing, and partook of open readings/performances in the 1970s in Chapel Hill, NC.

USK: How do you balance your working life and your writing life?

DR: I write a sonnet (a 14-line decasyllabic-line poem) each morning after breakfast and before my commute to work. My writing life leaks over into occasional columns that I write for an online journal, occasional readings that I give/participate in, and my therapy sessions, when I have a fresh poem that I think has something worth pursuing.

USK: What is your advice to fledgling writers?

DR: Read. Read widely and deeply, both in the works of writers you love and in works of writers you don’t know. Also, write constantly. W.H. Auden once said that good poets write more bad poems than bad poets do, because good poets are always writing, and simply slough off the dross.

USK: How can we access your writing?

If you can figure out how to work this, here’s me reading:


Interesting interview. Best wishes to Don Riggs, a real lord of poetry in these too materialistic times!

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USK: When did you first know you wanted to be a writer and when did you first identify as a writer?
IL: Writing is the only thing I've ever been any good at. Well, the only legal thing. Early on, I realized t…