Interview with S. Preston Chase

When did you first start writing?
In 1978. I decided it was time to tell the story of my experience in the Mormon church. I had all my resource materials laid out in stacks on the living room floor. There was a lot of organizing to consider. By the summer of '79 I considered I needed complete seclusion to fully focus of the book. I drove up Chowchilla Mtn. Rd. (a back road into Yosemite, Wawona) and headed down an old logging road to where I could get down to a spot I knew on the South Fork of the Merced River. Actually my camp was on Iron Creek just up from where it entered the South Fork. good water. beautiful spot. I packed in a car-camping tent, a large wooden crate for my writing table, my 9th grade typewriter... I hung strips of cloth from high tree branches. I spent the summer there and I wrote. In the fall a bear tore up my tent and it was time to go. The story of writing the book would make quite a good book itself. The tale of my strange, exalted and tragic time in the LDS church is titled 'Predicated Upon Sacrifice.' I quickly wrapped it up in the summer of 1980 to get on with the real world as I had just become a father. (while living in that tent on Iron Creek). I printed a few xerox copies for friends and shelved it.

In 2008 I was working Inflight for Alaska Airlines and I felt the call to pull the old thing out. I was reading through it, working upfront, when, between Kotzebue and Nome the Northern Lights suddenly flare-up "like to pull the plane out of the sky," and I felt I had to rework it and put it up for publication. It's been sixteen or eighteen edits, I've lost track, and it needs one more. "Only one more," I tell myself. Only one more. And I have let it ferment for a year now. So when I get back to it it should be with a fresh eye.

Meanwhile, "back at the ranch," I fell under the influence of Venus and the new crescent moon on July 4th, 1989, up on the Marin Headlands, and that led me into the wilds of writing poetry, a slow building process that picked-up freight speed. And which has occupied much of my time ever since. A great part of the sixteen or eighteen edits of 'Predicated' over the past seven years has been to teach myself how to write something like understandable prose, instead of free verse.
What's the story behind your latest book?
It's a love story. And it's a book of poems. It's called '20 Love ;poems, and a Song of MudHead.' The title lifted from Pablo Neruda's '20 Love Poems and a Song of Despair,' one of my favorite books of poetry, probably my favorite book of romantic love poetry (as contrasted to Rabindranath Tagore, who's poems are all couched in divine love, manifested in human form.) And the book tells a story. The old story of love found and lost, but much more than that. There are actual stories in the book, tales from behind the scenes. A bit of personal involvement in a political situation or two of the time. Some telling of the inspiration behind the poems. Dreams. Some life stories that provide background into our entwined couple. A cameo appearance of a poem written for the author (me) by the author Suzan Still in 1999. And it all flows.

I love a book that plays like a symphony, a flow of movements that all tie together. Though it need not be linear. More like an expanding spiral that throws one out of the book at the end. That's what this book does, or, at least does in my unbiased opinion. I picked it to be my first published work because I knew it had that quality. I have many collections of poems that are just collections of poems. This collection is a beautiful bouquet, not just a line-up of flowers. It almost has fragrance. For me, this collection will probably last as the most meaningful thing I will ever put in print. For me, it is more than reminiscent of magic.
Describe your desk
I've had a few different desks. From sitting on the ground in front of that first large packing crate in the woods to the current use of a drafting table where I'm perched up on a high stool. For the greater part of the last seven years my desk has been my bed. And not because I'm bed-ridden. But because I've spent most of that time living in a 52 sq. ft. hard-sided pop-up travel trailer and it's either the table or the bed and I got tired of putting the one up and taking the one down every day. With that desk I find paperclips and pencils under the covers. One advantage is that one's laptop is always right at hand. Have a thought in the middle of the night and you don't even need to turn on a light. Just open the laptop and log-in. Write. The disadvantage is in the placement of the feet. I have one small shelf I built on the wall next to the bed that must contain the needed paraphernalia as well as it can.

But my favorite desk is the four foot diameter round table I built living in Alaska. I put it into a corner of my room with a window on either side. Now that was an excellent desk. just the right size. Plenty of room for everything, like a feast perfectly spread out. Sitting down to that desk was entering the writing world, a portal. I love that round table. the way it arcs off on either side, like the wings of a bird. No restriction to the legs. No filing cabinets either side of your feet. Open. Inviting. ready to fly. Boy, I love that table-desk. Decorated like a work of art. I've liked moving around in my little trailer, the changing landscape, but I think it's time to get that round table out of storage.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy is finding out what's out there. Being as I have the memoir, 'Predicated Upon Sacrifice,' which is simply telling the true story of that time, and the experience of the time, as my only prose work; and then a lot of poetry, I don't start with the outline of a story. Which is good, because I don't think that way. No. Telling the story of 'Predicated' just as it happened is interesting in seeing how events connect up, the magic in the moment, the underlying synchronicity that just was. And flushing that out is a great joy. But poetry-- now that's different. I never go looking for a poem. They have to come to me. Tap me on the shoulder. Say, "Write me." And I can't ignore them. For to turn the Muse away from one's door is to see her come around less and less often.

The greatest joy in writing for me is that first step out the door, the Muse calling. It starts with that first connection, something links up. 'This' is connected to 'that.' Point A to point B. (And it often starts with a metaphor) (though it might be a semaphore).) And then there is the wordplay, like that.

It's like a walk in the woods. And sometimes it's a short walk. And sometimes it's like it will never end. Sometimes it all comes back to where it started, your own front door. And sometimes it ends far, far from home. Like arriving at the shore of the sea or the edge of the Grand Canyon. And it's either swim, fly or go home, backtracking through the snow. Following a poem where it leads is like hiking through a wilderness you have never seen. It's all about discovery, just following the signs. And the signs either point the direction or, sometimes unexpectedly, say 'STOP.'
Published 2015-10-31.
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