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George W. Shuster, Jr.


The author of "Rib Cage" in ISSUE 03 and his thoughts on environmental connectivity, binge writing, and gaps that enact holes in memory. 

What are you reading these days? Do you love/hate/feel neutral about it, and why?


I have an interest in early 20th century children’s fiction, in the vein of the Arthur Ransome Swallows and Amazons series but including lesser-known authors and titles. Some of these books are difficult to penetrate with a 21st century adult mind, and some of the content is dissonant to the modern ear and sensibility. But as these stories fade into a certain obscurity—and more so for the ones that were never very popular in their own time—I see them as a sort of secret window into finite, private, formative moments of readers who have since grown up, died, and left us with the legacy of the world we inhabit today. Going back into those stories gives me hope that we can reconstruct from them a different pathway forward.


When you are working on a piece, what inspirations do you draw from?


I nearly always start with some element of nature that fascinates me. That could be the shape of a burr shed by a plant, a detail of cetacean evolution, or the smell of the bay when the wind shifts to a southerly sea breeze on a summer afternoon. Whatever detail that is, it often triggers a connection to my personal experience, whether with loss or love or ambition or, many times, with confusion. My poems build on those juxtapositions, sometimes drifting far from them but usually circling back to an underlying message of environmental connectivity.


What craft elements are you most interested in/attached to within your writing?


I am a student of form. I use form as a way to start poems when I have a tough time getting started, and I use form as a way to edit a poem that seems to have a good central premise but needs more of a reason to be. I like to write in form and then destroy the form in editing too—maybe leaving just enough of a vestige of form to cast a shadow over the end result.


Who/what are some of your writing obsessions, and why?


I adore a short poem with a simple idea. I have never been great at memorizing poems. I am the type of person who misremembers song lyrics and comes up with different, equally wrong renditions every time I try to sing a verse. So I find longer poems harder to carry around with me in my head. And if I can’t carry a poem around in my head, it’s hard for me to have a conversation with the poem that endures my travels through the geography and timeline of life. I value, “The apparition of these faces in a crowd; Petals on a wet black bough." (“In a Station of the Metro” by Ezra Pound).


What are some ways in which you remain productive/find time to be a writer? 


I have been writing poems for a long time—close to 40 years—and you can’t do that by writing poems literally every morning over coffee. If I have not written for a few months, I feel that. Then for a few days I will get a lot of content out, an exorcism of a type. That content becomes the base for later editing—sometimes months or years later. Much of what I write in these fits and starts is appallingly bad. But I smile when I look back and find something worthwhile, and those bits drive me to write more. Call it binge writing, I guess—perhaps healthier than other binges, maybe compelled by similar impulses.


Tell us what your writing space look like.


It’s wherever I am. I don’t really associate my act of writing with any place to put my body, but my mind is often on the mucky shore of the Providence River when I write.


What are some ways in which you get through a block in your creative work?

Honestly, I don’t. I don’t fight it. I just wait. Life is long.


How do you navigate the experience of submissions/rejections/acceptances?


With low expectations and joy in serendipity. 


Regarding your piece in Issue 03, what does it mean for/to you?


The characters in "Rib Cage" are myself, my girlfriend, my mother, and time. I had the thought to tie the preciousness of time in a knot of two contexts. One is when I was a young kid, say 10 years old. Those last few dusky moments of summer evening, before I had to go inside for the night, seemed so valuable. They were so valuable. The other is when I was a teenager and first in love. Every minute alone with my girlfriend seemed a minute stolen away. There is a big shift in tone between those contexts, of course, but the value of time and the different cadences by which time can pass are constant between them. There is also the shadow of my mother over the poem, a woman whom my father left pregnant with my little sister and who raised three kids alone under tough conditions. The poem started longer and wordier. As an exercise, the finished piece is about subtraction as much as anything; I wanted to create visual and emotional gaps that enact holes in memory.


What is something you would like to share with other writers out there?

My piece in Issue 03 is my first published poem, after scores of submissions over decades. It is hard to overstate how rewarding it was to be accepted into The Champagne Room Journal. But also, writing poems is its own reward.  

George W. Shuster, Jr. is the fourth generation of his family to live on the west shore of upper Narragansett bay in Rhode Island, and his ancestors have touched Narragansett Bay in one way or another for nearly 400 years. His poems often draw on natural and especially marine metaphors. He is drawn to themes of loss, quiet resilience, and golden ages that never were. He is a lawyer by trade, has studied poetry at Columbia University and the University of Virginia, and has been writing poems for four decades.

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