An Interview with Ross Vassilev

Can you tell us something about your background? Are you from Bulgaria? When did you come to the US? What are Bulgarian folks like? What is the national dish? Famous writers?

Yes, I was born in Bulgaria (hold the applause). I came to America when I was 4, just like the guy in West Side Story. As for Bulgarians….Let’s just say I’m glad I don’t live there anymore. I will say that Bulgarian food is awesome. Try the feta cheese–just make sure you desalinate it in water for 24 hours. As for famous Bulgarian writers, there was Ivan Vazov, though I haven’t read any of his work. I’ve read some poems by Hristo Botev, the country’s most famous poet. They’re rather pompous, like most 19th century art and literature. Nothing to write home about.

What is the poetry scene like in Bulgaria?

I’ve read some stuff by contemporary Bulgarian poets. They like to experiment nowadays. A lot of crazy free verse and a Bulgarian iteration of haiku called “nava.” None of it stands out, though.

You are one of Chris’ and I’s favorite poets. Who are some of your favorite poets and writers?

Well, the first real poetry I ever read was, of course, Bukowski. I’m also a big fan of nila northSun, who’s a Native American poet. And I’m also a huge fan of Emily Dickinson. She wrote about death as though she’d already been there and back. No one else ever wrote about death like she did.

In your view what makes for a good poem?

I guess a poem has to be honest, first of all. Second, a poem has to be exciting, with interesting turns of phrase. It has to catch the reader off guard. There’s nothing worse than a poem that’s what the reader expects a poem to be. The rest is just intangible. Try dissecting any good poem to find out why it’s good and you’ll see that it’s impossible.

You are the former editor of Asphodel Madness, and Opium Poetry, can you give our readers your impressions of being editor of a poetry magazine? What is the most rewarding/fun/best part of being an editor? Negative experiences?

I loved reading everyone’s submissions for 2 years. I discovered ideas and ways of looking at the world that were totally new to me. It’s amazing how some people can, in the words of nila northSun, “make something out of nothing.” As for bad experiences editing those zines for 2 years, I’m pleased to say that I really can’t think of any.

What inspires you to write? Can you give us an idea of how you write a poem? Your writing technique if you have one? When do you write? How often?

I guess what inspires me to write is that I would go insane if I didn’t. This world is so insane you gotta find some sort of artistic expression to stay sane, whether it’s poetry, art, or music. You gotta just write whenever the mood hits you. Just sit down and write whatever falls outta your brain, like Bukowski said. You can spend some time rewriting but not too much. And keep all your poems, even the bad ones. But most of your poems will be bad. Poetry, like all art, is hit or miss, mostly miss. That’s just how it is.

What advice would you give to beginning writers or poets? Hemingway said stay healthy and keep writing.

Read as much as you can–books, print zines, netzines, everything. Internalize everything you read that you like and then write about your own experiences. Remember, write about your own experiences. You are you, not anyone else. Not even Bukowski.

What books do you recommend people read?

I would certainly recommend all the poetry books of Bukowski. Also, “Last House In America” by Jack Micheline. That book is Micheline at his best. All the books by nila northSun. And also Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, which is one crazy-ass if somewhat difficult novel. And all the plays of Eugene O’Neill except The Iceman Cometh.

Anything else you would like to say to our readers?

Just to keep writing and not give up. And keep starting new zines for people to read and submit to. People write cuz they have to. It’s a mad compulsion but it’s a great one! So keep writing and maybe one day when the American empire collapses all those poems will really make a difference in the future world.

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