Interview conducted with Gregg Shapiro for the "Windy City Times" in Chicago
as it appeared in print on April 24, 2002
Poetic Passage: Gerard Wozek
The winner for the Gival Press Poetry Award, Gerard Wozek's collection, "Dervish"
(Gival Press, Arlington, VA, 2001, $15) is a poetic travelogue that takes the readers
on a journey through time and across various landscapes. Wozek, who is an educator,
as well as a writer, uses sensual language to convey the dizzying highs of gay youth
and love. The poems in "Dervish" create a sense of nostalgia and a quest for home.
"Dervish" is a well-traveled passage.
Gregg Shapiro: In what part of the city were you born?
Gerard Wozek: I'm adopted. I was given up to the Catholic Charities orphanage
on LaSalle Street in Chicago. I'm not sure what hospital I was born in.
GS: In which suburb did you grow up?
GS: How long have you been teaching at Robert Morris College in Chicago
and do you like teaching there?
GW: I've been there around ten years. I love it. It's really very nurturing for me.
It's something that I've always wanted to do. It started as a secretarial college
but they've expanded. The college now offers degree programs in business and
health studies. They're trying to shake the old image.
GS: I kept thinking about you teaching writing at a technical college. It's just not
your usual undergraduate arrangement.
GW: It's not like Columbia College in Chicago where students go to get an MFA
or to study journalism or writing. Sometimes it can be a bit of a hard sell.
GS: When you are teaching, do you find that you are making connections with
students, that you wouldn't expect to, or who actually enjoy writing?
GW: I think that's the real reason I've stayed so long at the college. Seeing
students who didn't think that had any talent to write, get excited about writing--that's
very motivating and very exciting to me.
GS: Did you study theatre?
GW: My master's degree from Northeastern Illinois University is in Dramatic
Theory. That's sort of how I got into writing poetry. For my thesis, I had to write
a verse play. It was my first play--"The Changeling's Exile"--that was produced by
a Chicago gay theatre company, Lionheart Theater.
GS: You are also very active in the video poetry scene.
GW: For the past six years, I have worked with my collaborator, Mary Russell,
who is also a full-time teacher at Robert Morris College. We have had our work
screened internationally and all over the country. One of our pieces, "Elemental Reels,"
is playing currently on "Planet-Out.com." Kurt Heintz also screened it at the last
Geo-Conference. I was so delighted to meet Kurt, because I've been a big fan
of his. His video, "Chinese Cucumbers" was a groundbreaking piece for me. I love
Patricia Smith and to see what he did with her words is really miraculous.
GS: In addition to publishing poetry, you've also had your fiction and erotica published
in a variety of anthologies. Do you have a preference for one genre?
GW: That's a really good question. I sometimes think of myself as being sexually
frustrated and perhaps that's why I'm writing so much erotica. I prefer writing poetry
and I prefer wrestling with the muse in terms of writing verse. I love to read literary
erotica however. I enjoy the work of Anais Nin and Milan Kundera. Writing erotica feels like
something I have to get out of my system.
GS: Do you have a novel in you?
GW: I have a memoir in me. I think one thing that has really informed my work is the fact
that I'm adopted. All I know of my real mother is that she named me "Michaelangelo."
All I possess of her is my name written in calligraphy. She was Irish and unwed and she
gave me up to the Catholic Charities. Like many people who are adopted, I have
invented a mythology. At times I feel I have no real desire to meet her face to face
because the mythology is so rich. I'm writing a memoir piece--letters I've written
to her from the time of my adolescence and I've been refining them since.
GS: What was the process of assembling work for your debut collection, "Dervish,"
like for you?
GW: It was difficult. I felt like I had a much longer piece in me. For the parameters of
Gival Press, it had to be a bit shorter. I wanted the pieces I chose to be informed by the
metaphor of the dervish. The word "dervish" literally means "doorway." I wanted to really tell
a coming-of-age story, the poet's voice seeking redemption. There is a lot of strife
and struggle with promiscuity and identity and failed relationships in the book.
Still, I wanted to have all of that grounded in a kind of spirituality.
GS: The spirituality is very present. The idea of the "doorway" is fitting because a
majority of the poems are this great wandering throughout geographical locations.
GW: I wanted each piece to have a unique flavor. As the dervish turns, so does the
poet--changing consciousness as well as physical proximity. I wanted to tell the tale of
movement. What stays constant when one changes locale or age or relationships
or as one enters different passages of life? There is a constant. Something that seems to be
intrinsic to everyone. I was looking to divine that.
GS: My favorite section of the book, which contains a group of poems that I call your
"disco era poems," does a stunning job of capturing a particular period.
GW: It's good to have survived that, isn't it? Don't you feel like you're valuable to
This interview was conducted by Gregg Shapiro for Lambda Publications, Inc., 2002,
for the Chicago "Windy City Times" Newspaper. For more information link over to the:
Windy City Times Online Edition