Interview of Iowa-born poet and photographer Joseph Randell Sherman—One Light* author
How goes life in Portugal for you and how does one go from living in Iowa to living in tiny but beautiful Portugal?
First of all, thank you, Randall, for this opportunity to share a few things about myself with your readers. To answer your question, I was at a point in my life in 2004 (45 yrs of age) where I was unhappy and I also realized that Life is too short to live it this way. I began to follow my creative dreams and they led me to another person (Alexandra) who shared many of the same passions. I fell in love with Alexandra and decided that I would like to share my life with her. Life in Portugal is wonderful ... the food is great (especially seafood), the people are very kind, and I’m not far from the mountains or the ocean (20 min drive). There’s something about the ocean that seems to call to me. I had lived in Iowa my entire life (which is a long way from any ocean) but had always dreamed of living close to the sea.
Since you first moved abroad, have you changed much?
I believe that, whenever you go abroad, you gain a much richer understanding about your fellow human beings and you discover that people are much more alike than they are different.
Have I changed? I certainly hope so! I believe that when we live life in freedom, we are always evolving. The biggest change is simply that I am now much happier with who I am and where I’m going. I’ve also discovered that I have an affinity for animals, mainly dogs and horses.
You seem to have a thing for brevity in your writing. Is this true ?
Though I would rather not categorize myself, for the most part, it’s true that I take more pleasure in reading and writing short verse. As a writer, I really enjoy the challenge of conveying as much as possible to the reader in as few words as possible. That’s what attracted me to haiku and my first book, “Echoes from within”, is entirely of this form though some may argue it is in a “loose” way. I also enjoy writing single quatrains. My love of short-verse poetry even inspired me to create some forms of my own. In the last year or so I created “Tres Linhas”, “Linhas de Oito”, “AmeriKu”, and “XuxaKu”. I am pleased that other AD authors have tried their hand at all of these forms, some with amazing results. And some poets have even combined my forms with others, creating a new form of their own.
What kind of reading appeals to you most nowadays?
LOL! I am not what one would call an “avid” reader, especially if a book has very many pages so you generally won’t find me reading novels. I am a slow reader and tend to get sleepy if I’m reading something very lengthy. I prefer reading poetry and short stories. I also really enjoy children’s stories. Other than that, I love to read works by some of the following people I admire most: Thoreau, Emerson, Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Dalai-Lama. I guess these readings might all be classified as spiritual in nature.
Which innovations in your writing would you like to see in the next few years?
Well, generally, I like to “go with the flow”. But, however the muse inspires me in the creative moment is how I write. I like to think of it as “writing from the heart”. Sometimes it rhymes, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I write in strict forms, such as haiku, and other times I write in free verse. I have truly enjoyed “inventing” my own forms of short-verse over the past year and hope that I will be blessed with the ability to create even more forms in the future. One thing that I’ve put off for a few years and wish to take up again is writing for children. I have an epic poem called “Albion”, which is a fantasy story told in a series of 12 poems, that I will pursue publication for within the next year.
What exactly does ‘wholeness’ mean to you?
This is not any easy question to answer because it appears to me in so many dimensions. For brevity’s sake, I will share just a few of my thoughts here. First of all, I believe that “wholeness” is achieved when one’s body, mind and spirit are all in tune and in the same rhythm with each other. Secondly, I believe that “wholeness” can only be achieved in an environment where one feels free to evolve. Finally, I believe that the natural evolution of “wholeness” occurs when we go beyond the self and realize how all things are connected and that we are all a part of something greater than ourselves.
Which came first—photography or writing?
I still remember the very first poem I wrote. It goes like this:
”Outside the door, the bare tree stands
And catches snowflakes in its hands
And holds them well and holds them high
Until a puffing wind comes by.”
I seriously can’t remember the first photo I took, but I’m sure it was later than when I wrote my first poem (3rd or 4th grade). Photography began to blossom for me in 2004 when I finally had the time and resources to immerse myself into it.
What are one or two of your book publishing experiences and which book has done best?
I only have three books published at present. The first one was “Echoes from within”, the haiku book I mentioned earlier. The second was “Songs of Love”, which is a book of romatic verse. Both of these books were published by PublishAmerica. I believe that PublishAmerica is a great way for an author to get their words into print but is not a good way to get your work out to the public. The most successful book and the one I am most proud of is “Universes Beyond the Visible”. This is a collaboration of my photography and poetry written by me and Alexandra, in both English and Portuguese. The book has already won a national award here in Portugal as well as an international prize. This book was self-published. “Albion” is my next project and I am considering BookSurge as the publisher.
Have you taught while living abroad?
No, I am not qualified to be a teacher.
Why restrict the Ameriku, which you created, to only two themes?
Simply because Nature and Spirit are the closest to my heart and I would love to see a lot more poetry based on these two themes. Please don’t get me wrong. Aside from creating a form, which has certain parameters, I do not endorse “restrictions” in poetry or any other form of creative art but do believe that we should follow the “rules” of a certain form if we endeavor to create “within” that specific form.
What intrigued you originally about the haiku?
I think it’s the whole idea of doing so much with so little. To create an entire story or image out of just 3 lines with 17 syllables is, to me, a great accomplishment. It’s like an orchard within a seed.
How long have you been aware ‘politically’?
I’ve been “aware” for a long time but really didn’t pay a whole lot of attention until Bill Clinton and Al Gore came along. It was my impression that these two offered a positive vision for America that the country had not seen for a while. Were they perfect? No, of course not, but who is? Did they accomplish everything they wanted? Again, no, but they did achieve more great things than most previous administrations in my humble opinion. One of those things was the creation of a budget surplus for the United States. Unfortunately, it’s now all been squandered away by the Bush Administration and the nation is three trillion dollars in debt.
Personally and professionally, I had my best years during the Clinton administration and everything seemed to go to hell once Bush took office. Now our country seems to be facing crises on all levels in ways we have never before seen or imagined. One of the most terrible is the blatant disregard that the Bush Administration has for the U.S. Constitution. I’m really surprised that we don’t see millions of Americans demonstrating in the streets all across the nation. Perhaps the majority are uninformed or misinformed. Perhaps people have just become too complacent and are not willing to face the stark reality of the present situation.
Traditionally, where has your inspiration come from?
My inspiration stems from a love for all the creative arts. I consider myself fortunate for having been involved in music, dance and theatre during my formative years. For me, the mediums I’m involved in now (writing and photography) are a natural progression in my pursuit of creative passions. I feel that my previous experience in other creative arts has a positive influence on the work I do now.
What about ‘Tres Linhas’? Will there be more of them?
Yes, there will definitely be more Tres Linhas. I am not one who can sit down and say to myself “I’m going to write a Tres Linhas today”. No, whatever the gifts my muse brings me are the ones that I open. I hope to one day have created enough Tres Linhas that I could publish a book of this form. Another thought I entertain is to publish a book that includes all four of the following forms I’ve created so far: Tres Linhas, Linhas de Oito, AmeriKu & XuxaKu.
Has any specific accomplishment been made or goal reached so far this year that you can share with our readers?
I am currently working on many projects, none of which has yet come to full fruition. Perhaps later this year, or early in 2008, I’ll have more exciting news to share regarding both my poetry and photography.
What is a strategy or two you could recommend to someone who is interested in writing poetry and is just starting out?
To me, it’s like a baby learning to walk or talk. You have to take things slowly, one step at a time. Read as many poets and forms of poetry as you can and try to learn at least one thing from each that will help you along your path. Hopefully, you have people around you who love you, who support and encourage what you’re trying to accomplish. Then, the most important thing is to write from the heart with a full & boundless imagination and with joy and passion. The more you write, the more confident you’ll become in your abilities. The more confident you are in your writing, the better writer you’ll be. The other thing is to realize that not everything you write will be good but a few of your works will stand out for you and/or your readers. Finally, don’t expect to become rich and famous. Most artists don’t achieve any notoriety until after they’ve passed from this earthly life to the next life that waits. There is a certain pleasure in knowing that your words will live beyond you and that someone will read and appreciate them. It’s like leaving a gift for someone whom you’ve never met.
May I ask what Alexandra’s ‘magic’ consists of?
Alexandra’s magic is in her eyes and in her smile. It’s in her positive thoughts, words and actions toward all of Creation. It’s in the light that shines from her loving heart and soul. It’s in the creative passion with which she expresses herself.
You mention your ‘best years’ during the Clinton Administration. Did you own a business?
No, I never owned my own business, although I would have liked to. During this time, I was working as a manager for a large telecommunications company. These were prosperous times for middle income Americans. Under the Bush administration, it is only the wealthiest citizens who have had any kind of prosperity and the middle-class has all but been destroyed.