Credit: William James and Nathan Say
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Poets of the Week: William James and Nathan Say

"Poetry empowered me to champion the good in where I come from."

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This begins another month of poetry and interviews. To view last month's articles, check out my profile. Also, congrats to Cal Harris and Ashley August for being the most shared article last month with 190 shares!

This week I sat down and talked to William James, author of "Rebel Hearts & Restless Ghosts" and train enthusiast, and Nathan Say, a disability consultant and Las Vegas poet! Here's what they had to say on changing the world, social issues, empowerment, and more!


Q: What is the first thing that people learn about you from your poetry?

William James: I suppose everyone potentially learns something different about me depending on what poem they're in conversation with, how well they already know me, and countless other variables, so I can't say for sure what The One Thing People Learn would be. I hope that anyone who reads or listens to my poems comes away knowing that I care deeply about things, even more deeply about people, and am not hesitant to seek out the value in that which our society has declared valueless.


Nathan Say: That my disability, queerness and otherness are fully incorporated parts of my body. I think there are lots of people with disabilities that try to ignore their disability and try to “integrate.” I spent a lot of years trying to not get in people’s ways instead of demanding the space (both physically and culturally) that I (and everyone else) deserves, and I hope my poetry can show the “others” of the world that its OK to exist in the world as they are.

Q: If your life were made into a movie, what actor would you want to play you?

William James: Have you ever seen that movie American Splendor? It's an indie flick from the early 2000's about the life of the comic artist Harvey Pekar. Paul Giamatti played Harvey, and absolutely nailed the character... so I think I'd want my dude Paul to play me in the unlikely event that anyone ever found my life interesting enough to turn into a movie.


Nathan Say: Josh Blue-- He’s a comedian with Cerebral Palsy.

Q: Right now, what is the most important social issue in your world?

William James: I don't like the idea of attempting to assign a hierarchy to social issues; especially as a straight white cis man, it's not for me to try and define one social issue as the "most important" because so few of the battles currently being fought in the name of social justice apply to my day to day life. I can say that the ones that affect me the most directly are mental health awareness & suicide prevention advocacy, and working class struggle. I identify strongly with the working class. I'm someone with several-generations-long lineage of blue-collar, working class roots. My father has worked in a factory for as long as I can remember. My maternal grandfather worked for years on a farm, my paternal grandfather worked for the Farm Bureau, then as a truck driver. My great-grandparents also labored on the farms. I've had extended family members who have, at various points, been janitors, housekeepers, personal care aides, etc. Nobody in my family has ever held what society would consider a "glamorous" job. There's been lifetimes of hard work for low wages in my bloodline, and as I've started using poetry as a means to explore the ways I self-identify, that past has become important to me. So, that's the issue that is most prominent in my own solipsistic world... but is it the Most Important Issue? Not for me to say.

Nathan Say: Centering male sexual assault occurrences, specifically letting people know how frequently it occurs and how often it occurs. 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced rape or physical assault in their lifetime, according to the National Domestic Violence website.


Q: If you could go back in time and meet 1 poet, who would you meet, where would you meet, and why?

William James: Hands down, I would want to meet Philip Levine. Specifically, before he became the poet laureate, when he was still working in the factory. I'd love to have the chance to see that factory floor with him, to see how that shaped his sense of poetics first hand. Until someone showed me a copy of "What Work Is," I never knew that there existed someone who was both unapologetically working class AND proudly a poet.


Nathan Say: Dinner with Anne Sexton. I think “Wanting to Die” was one of the pivotal pieces that really unlocked a desire to explore all the things in my life that I’m afraid of.


Q: How has poetry empowered you? In what ways?

William James: Coming from a blue collar family, living in a small town (population 480 as of the 2010 census) where anything literary or artistic was viewed as frivolous & a waste of good resources, poetry first empowered me to simply break away from that utilitarian point of view, and appreciate things for the sheer beauty of their existence. I lived for most of my life in what is always derisively referred to as "flyover country," that place the people from the Big City say is worthless & a drain on the system. Poetry empowered me to champion the good in where I come from.


Nathan Say: I move through the world very quickly and frightened generally. So when I come to the page to write or go to the stage to perform I use the blank page as this really expansive place where I can explore what is in my mind and heart, and that sounds fairly foofie doofie, but I feel the truth of that. And also, it helps me find a community.


Q: Where do you call home?

William James: Everywhere & nowhere. Sometimes home is a chair by a campfire, sometimes it's in the pit at a hardcore show, sometimes it's a poetry slam or open mic. I am most at home when I'm riding in the cafe car or the sightseeing lounge of a passenger train bound for literally anywhere. But really, home is wherever I can go to be among people who agree with me that I deserve to exist.


Nathan Say: Las Vegas, NV


Q: If you could change 1 thing in the poetry community, what would you change?

William James: I am tired, more than anything, of the internal rating system that we have established, where we've decided that the technical skill of a person's poem is equal to that person's inherent value to the community. I truly believe that the kid reading on the open mic for the very first time ever is exactly as valuable to the community as the rock star poet with the million views on YouTube. My first year at the National Poetry Slam, I overheard a Very Important & Well Known Poet saying that you could "tell how good a city's poets were by how tall their buildings are." I hate everything about that mentality (refer to my home town being called "worthless flyover country" so many times). If I could change anything, it would be that we, ALL OF US, champion the unpolished, the raw, the (dare I say it) "less talented" members of our communities as much as we champion the shining stars.


Nathan Say: We really need to work on being more inclusive. There is a lot of ableism, homophobia and transphobia that we need to address in a very real way.


Q: Any plans for the future?

William James: I've just started sending out the manuscript for my second poetry book out to publishers to see if I can find a home for it. Simultaneously, I'm working on two other collections - one, a series of deconstruction poems written using only words that appeared in the lyrics to some of my favorite albums (links to examples of these poems can be found on my website); the other a narrative poetry collection chronicling the events of a flash flood my family survived back in 1996. I recently founded an online poetry journal called Beech Street Review, which will be dropping its second issue in November. I'm going to try to keep my head down and do The Work.


Nathan Say: Working on my MFA right now at Pacific University, while also working on a manuscript, it is always perpetually almost finished.


Q: Anything else? (Comments, links, poems, etc?)

William James: Beech Street Review is always open for submissions - send us something! Also, I still have some copies of my first collection available, so buy one from me maybe, I guess.


Nathan Say: Thank you. I’ve included a link to one of my signature pieces.


Next Week: Christopher Michael and Malt Schlitzmann

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