Our “How I Write” series asks writers from the University of Louisville community and beyond to respond to five questions that provide insight into their writing processes and offer advice to other writers. Through this series, we promote the idea that learning to write is an ongoing, life-long process and that all writers, from first-year students to career professionals, benefit from discussing and collaborating on their work with thoughtful and respectful readers.
“I have long admired Ron Whitehead. He is crazy as nine loons, and his poetry is a dazzling mix of folk wisdom and pure mathematics.” – Hunter S. Thompson
Ron Whitehead is a poet, writer, editor, publisher, scholar, professor, and activist. He grew up on a farm in Kentucky and later attended The University of Louisville and the University of Oxford.
First recipient ever of The English Speaking Union’s Joshua B. Everett Scholar Award to study at the University of Oxford’s International Graduate School. As poet and writer he is the recipient of numerous state, national, and international awards and prizes including The All Kentucky Poetry Prize, Ariel/Triton College Poetry Prize (Judge, Lisel Mueller), The Yeats Club of Oxford’s Prize for Poetry, and many others. In 2006 Dr. John Rocco (NYC) nominated Ron for The Nobel Prize in Literature. He was inducted into his high school’s (Ohio County High) Hall of Fame, representing his 1968 graduating class. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer recently presented Ron witha City of Louisville Proclamation thanking for him for his lifetime of work in and support of the arts.
Ron has edited and published the works of such luminaries as His Holiness The Dalai Lama, President Jimmy Carter, Hunter S. Thompson, Thomas Merton, Jack Kerouac, Seamus Heaney, John Updike, Wendell Berry, Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono, BONO, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Rita Dove, Douglas Brinkley, Robert Hunter,
Amiri Baraka, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and hundreds more.
Location: Louisville, KY & Clarksville, IN.
Current projects: March 1st: THE DANCE by Ron Whitehead & The Glass Eye Ensemble featuring Sheri Streeter (sonaBLAST! Records & Howard & Nancy Wilson release), 10 tracks, online & CD, full art, music, film, photography, live performance Installation at The Tim Faulkner Gallery.
July 16th & 20th: WHIRLPOOL by Ron Whitehead & The Storm Generation Band and Shakespeare’s Monkey featuring Dean McClain (possible sonaBLAST! Records), online & CD, release concerts on 7/16 at The Bokeh Lounge/Evansville and 7/20 at Gonzofest/Louisville Free Public Library.
July 20th: RIDING WITH REBEL JESUS by Ron Whitehead & The Storm Generation Band featuring Sheri Streeter (possible sonaBLAST! Records), 7-track EP, online & CD, live performance at Gonzofest/Louisville Free Public Library. Album cover art by Somerset folk artist Jeremy Das Scrimager.
Last weekend of July: THE VIEW FROM LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI’S BATHROOM WINDOW: Beat Poems & Stories by Ron Whitehead (Underground Books/NYC), Ron will be UB’s featured poet at annual New York City Poetry Festival, Governor’s Island/NYC.
September/October: David Amram & Ron Whitehead, KENTUCKY BOUND: The Cabin Sessions, produced by Vince Emmett and Stephen W. Brown, online & CD, more info to come.
Currently reading: Volume 2 of Winston Graham’s Poldark Series plus several other titles.
1. What type(s) of writing do you regularly engage in?
Poetry and prose.
2. When/where/how do you write?
Two writing studios: one my wife created for me at our home in historic Clarksville, the other at my writing hermitage, 919 Cherokee Road, which was built for me by Howard and Nancy Bruner Wilson eight years ago. I write an equal amount at both
locations plus I write wherever I am. I travel often, near and far.
3. What are your writing necessities—tools, accessories, music, spaces?
Pen, paper, tablet.
4. What is your best tip for getting started and/or for revision, (5). and what
is the best writing advice you’ve received?
Young folks (of all ages) often ask what they should do to become better poets and writers:
14 Suggestions for Aspiring Poets and Writers
1) Join a writing group. Outgrow it as soon as possible.
2) Dig deep into your childhood. Write the best and the worst memories. Embrace your past. You’ll find your voice by fully embracing your past. Be an autodidact. Teach yourself. The School of Hard Knocks is The Best School of All! Learn everything you can about everything you’re interested in. Learn things you don’t even want to learn things that are uninteresting but are related to your poem your story. Read everything you can get your hands on.
3) Take classes classes classes on literature, poetry, prose, and on writing.
4) Master grammar and scansion, the terrible mechanics of prose and poetry.
5) Be a master skeptic. Doubt and question yourself and everyone else.
6) Be a master believer. Believe in yourself and nearly everyone else.
7) Submit submit submit your work to every publication under the sun and moon.
8) You’re gonna get rejected. A million times. Get used to it. Suck it up. Develop your will power. Quit whining. Be strong!
9) Gather your poems and stories into book manuscripts and send them to publishers and when you’re rejected publish your own work.
10) Read read read your work out loud in private in public at open mics read read read your work out loud to dogs cats birds people to anyone and everyone.
11) Entertainment is central! Captivate your audience! Do you want to be bored by someone reading their poem their story?! Put all the energy you have into your reading. Sing your work. Even if you can’t carry a tune sing your work out loud. Listen for the rhythm. Get rhythm. Build music into your poem your story. Poems and stories are dancing songs.
12) Listen. Listening is the greatest art of all. We’re all dirty potatoes floating in the same tub of polluted water. The more we bang into each other by openly honestly sharing the stories of our lives the more we come clean. By listening to others and to yourself as you read your work out loud you will become a better writer a better editor.
13) On the darkest stormiest night of the year take everything you’ve learned and get in a car and drive as fast as you can along the coastline with a deep cliff falling down to the pounding ocean and throw everything you’ve learned out the window while screaming as loud as you can “Farewell!” “Goodbye!” then go your own way and start anew. Be your own original voice.
14) Language is an experiment. Always has been. Always will be. Have fun. Never give up!
Ron Whitehead’s official website is http://www.tappingmyownphone.com