Ask the Writer: Patrick T. Reardon
Author, Reporter, Grandpa, and Unleash Poet
Patrick T. Reardon is the author of fourteen books, including the poetry collections Requiem for David (Silver Birch), Darkness on the Face of the Deep (Kelsay), The Lost Tribes (Grey Book), Let the Baby Sleep (In Case of Emergency) and Salt of the Earth: Doubts and Faith (Kelsay). His memoir in prose poems Puddin’: The Autobiography of a Baby was published by Third World Press with an introduction by Haki Madhubuti. For 32 years, Reardon was a Chicago Tribune reporter. His history book The Loop: The “L” Tracks That Shaped and Saved Chicago was published by Southern Illinois University Press.
Patrick Reardon (PR): I’ve been a published writer for more than sixty years, scoring my first byline in June 1962, at the age of 12, when my Father’s Day essay was published in the neighborhood newspaper on the West Side of Chicago. For 32 years, I was a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, specializing in urban affairs and the book industry. Since leaving the Tribune in 2009, I’ve written a lot of essays and book reviews for a wide array of publications, and I wrote a book about the history of an important aspect of my hometown: The Loop: The “L” Tracks That Shaped and Saved Chicago. Much more, though, I have been writing poetry — for dozens of journals and in six published collections, including two that came out this summer Let the Baby Sleep from the Australian publisher In Case of Emergency and Salt of the Earth: Doubts and Faith from the Utah publisher Kelsay Books.
JK: What is the best piece of advice you've received as a creative person?
PR: I was in New York in the 1990s to research a story for the Tribune, and I turned on the hotel room TV just to kill time. What popped up was one of the Bill Moyers interviews with Joseph Campbell, the expert on myths. It was a rerun. There were six of these interviews that, I learned later, had been recorded just before Campbell’s death in 1987. I was only half paying attention when Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.” I don’t know what question Moyers had asked, but I had the sense that Campbell was giving his insight into how to live a full and fulfilled life. Ever since, I have kept that advice in mind — to choose to do those things and to choose to be around those people that give me bliss. This isn’t happiness for the sake of happiness. Indeed, there is often a lot of work involved and a lot of angst. It’s about wanting to be with people and to do things that resonate with my core as a human. This has been great advice for living as a person, and for living as an artist. In my writing, particularly in my poetry, I’m wanting to write stuff that gets at the deepest part of me — the most mysterious — in a way that feels right, that feels apt, that feels true.
JK: Thanks for that insight, Pat. Can you share with us a few lines or works that inspire you?
PR: I’ve always loved the opening lines of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” There is a gravitas to these lines and a regalness and a profound sense of the unknown. I especially like “darkness was upon the face of the deep” which I borrowed for the title of my collection Darkness on the Face of the Deep — and which Bob Dylan borrowed for his song “Spirit on the Water.”
I find Shakespeare’s King Lear hugely moving and challenging. Early in the play, Edmund, the rotten son of Gloucester, addresses the audience to talk about all the rotten things he is planning. Unlike his father, he is clear-eyed, not looking to the stars or the planets to explain why he does what he does, and he says: “My father compounded with my mother under the dragon’s tail; and my nativity was under Ursa Major; so that it follows, I am rough and lecherous. Tut, I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.” I would not be surprised if no one before Shakespeare had ever used the word “maidenliest.” It’s clear, of course, what the word means and how absolutely contrary to Edmund’s nature it is.
As for my own stuff, here’s a verse that I’ve always liked from my poem “Let me tell you” in Let the Baby Sleep in which two guys, Plug Nickel and One Cent, are talking to a young teenage boy on the front steps of his home, down the street from a church: “He looked up at the two men,/vaguely priestly, vaguely outlawed,/said: “I’m looking to flee captivity/for the sin I don’t recall committing.” That idea of a sin that he or I or you are atoning for that we “don’t recall committing” seems to capture a deep feeling in living — that things happen to us beyond our control. The two men and the boy then go to Stations of the Cross at the church and, borrowing from the Gospels, I write that, after the ceremony, they “split up/and went home by a different path.”
JK: When did you first think of yourself as a writer?
PR: That Father’s Day essay I mentioned in the first answer — I wrote that as a school assignment. One of the nuns sent it into the newspaper, and the paper decided to publish it. I doubt that I’d thought of myself, before then, as a writer.
JK: Thanks for taking the time, Pat. What are you working on next?
PR: I have been creating a cast of interconnected characters and writing poems about them as individuals and as couples and larger groups. There is even an element of plot to it. In fact, four of the poems that Unleash Lit is publishing are from this project.