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Jim Bennett

Talks to Sam Silva

Sam Silva lives in Fayetteville N.C.. USA, and over many years has been published in poetry magazines around the world.  I have been a fan of his poetry since a friend introduced me to it some years ago.  It is often issue led and he is not afraid to court controversy with his biting rhetoric.  I understand that he seldom gives interviews and therefore I was extremely pleased when he agreed to talk to Poetry Kit Magazine.


Will you tell us something about yourself?

I was born in Washington DC in 1954. My Father, Ernest Silva, was a kind of political analyst for the CIA and the year I was born was being investigated as a suspected Communist. He had been something of a radical during the thirties and forties, but so were most intellectuals of that period and actually he was somewhat suspicious of Stalin and wrote things to that effect at the time. He never actually joined the communist party but people were trying to get him to do that quite a bit during that period. The same people were Republicans during the fifties and my father had become by then a Stevenson Democrat. So they pointed the finger at him. A friend of the family intervened with Allan Dulles and the FBI said that his lie detector tests were “inconclusive.” He was allowed to stay on but did not receive many promotions after that.

We lived in Washington DC till 1957 when my father was assigned to the bureau on Okinawa. My first memories are of that island...and I remember everything there as being simple and beautiful. Back in DC in 1959 I can remember looking at an Original Audabon print which my my mother owned and wishing (because of its elegant simplicity) that we were still in the East.
We stayed in DC the second time until 1962 when my father was assigned to England. My father worked at the BBC office in London, but we lived in Berkshire, first in Wokingham and later Soning Common. So I was In UK when the Liverpool sound arrived, and went back to Washington DC the year the Beatles came to the US which was 1965. Of course turmoil and euphoria of the sixties arrived full blast. I was thirteen years old when I turned against the War and my parents fallowed suit about a year later. My older sister, Carmen had always been apposed.
 To further radicalize my point of view politically on our next assignment in Puerto Rico my father would keep me up nights arguing with me about what the CIA was or wasn't doing in Latin America...I had to read things just to know what he was talking about and it became clear after awhile that he was really arguing with himself.
 I went through Highschool at one of the military base schools for dependents there, graduated and finished my freshman year in College at Inter American University came back to the states with my girl friend (at the time) and became permanently mentally ill.
Now I live with Rachel Davis in Fayetteville N.C.. Rachel is a visual artist who has a pretty good portfolio including and undergraduate degree in Art and a masters in art education with a painting emphasis.   I love her work and it always inspires me....I would have been a visual artist if I could have myself.

How and when did you start writing?

I really started writing in earnest after my mental illness. I loved the visual arts but had long ago discovered that I had no ability in them. People had always encouraged me with my writing, especially my poetry. When I began doing this to get a spiritual focus my father was rather negative and said that what i wrote was mumbo jumbo. I can remember thinking that it's either this or staring at a TV set, as I knew that I couldn't work. When I began getting things published in decent literary magazines it just made him worse. He had always wanted to be a writer himself though.

Was there anything that particularly influenced you?

I loved reading Orwell's prose but of course, that was years later. The first poem I fell in love with was The Lake Isle of Innosfree...that was as a child. Then as an adolescent I found Whitman Intriguing and imagistically rich. But given my penchant for historical things and my bizarre metaphysical relationship to the world, T.S. Elliot, and William Blake are probably what I most read and re-read.

Do you have any strong influences on your writing now?

Beyond what I read on the internet now I don't really read that much. Of course I still read all of the Modernist, Beat, and Confessional poets....which is to say individual poems...from time to time.

How do you write? Do you have any particular method for writing? 

The thing about writing poetry, is that I've simply done so much of it over the years, and gotten used to editing my work so much, that it no longer seems to take that much time. I think that my schizophrenia also encourages a kind of relationship with the muse.
Does your mental illness affect the way you write?
Yes, my mental illness definitely affects the way I write, in part because my personal history has been so strongly influenced by it, and in part because it causes me to experience things with more visceral and emotional depth. I'm sure that there are other things involved even beyond that.
Do you make much use of the internet?

Yes I definitely make use of the internet. I use Poetry Kit and Poetry Superhighway primarily to research online markets for my work. I do not use any online workshops. But I think that the ezines have been of immense help to poets by increasing and broadening readership. I don't think that the internet is a replacement for print magazines, but it is much more than a supplement, rather a way of expanding interest in serious and original work.
For me a lot of your writing appears to be issue led, in that respect do you see poetry as a political tool?

I don't think of poetry as a political tool. I think that poetry fishes spiritual depths in terms of truths which are at once subjective and universal, and in order for it to do this it often must engage political truths and political fact.

Why poetry?
Poetry is the most natural means of expression for me....more natural for me even than other forms of writing.

Poems by Sam Silva - Two other poems appear in the magazine section at 1 and 2

Oh God in Heaven!
Deep blue proverb
extended up toward the pit of space.
We are upside down in your burning grace!
We are lamb's wool woven
in our sweaters that hide
in the cave's air-cool
...the room inside
like a swimming pool of flickering computer light.
While summer burns outside
...the bombs, the wars, the awful pride
of our western world and it's pettiness
in the numb streak of our awful grace
...unbearably hot! God's face.
Rather than the heights
of yesterday's ambition
in some rendition
where the swilled
and swilling
audience in silence
at the words for which they're paying
...all alone a dim apartment room
and an aria for the crystal glass
to shatter
on the high note
of the tired redundant matter
all day
while the computer radio is playing
and the summer wind at dusk
kisses the grass
silently outside.
The poet's self so erudite and loftily refined
is none the less quite satisfied
by cigarettes and beer
in place of long forgone
and long forgotten pride.
Paranoid and rotten is the song
of shivering Adam inch away from God
but lingering
in an ancient passion here.
It is a matter of passion!
Are the oceans of the world
becoming stale?
Nymphs of the waters
evoke their tears and terror!
The fish fall to disease
and curl in a pail.
...and the earth dries up as well.
in a garden I keep
a great art looks upon me
...the soul of many waters
cool and steady in desire.
Do the elements discern their fate
as only
death and fire?


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