Jon Riccio, "(I Write) The Questions That Ponder the Artist" October 18, 2016


One of the biggest carry-overs from my days as a fundraising professional is the concept of donor stewardship. This is accomplished by being as gracious and transparent as possible regarding the impact of their gift and how it moves the organization that much closer to meeting its objectives. Stewardship operates under the basic principle of advancing a cause for which you are a passionate caretaker. Substitute “author” for “cause” and you find an abundance of opportunities to promote the writers whose work holds a vested meaning to you. Of the platforms that spring to mindpublication, book reviews, and interviewsI find the last aspect an endeavor as equally rewarding to the stewardship recipient as it is to me.   

Since 2014, I’ve interviewed more than two dozen poets for Fairy Tale Review, The Volta Blog, Sonora Review, and CutBank Online. Three of these journal “homes” came about simply because I expressed my interest. Here was my chancethrough a series of well-thought discoursesto steward poets who advocated equality, dazzled linguistically, and broadened my understanding of image and form.

The vast majority of writers want their insights disseminated; the social-media verbs share and retweet confirm this. As such, the goal of any good interview is to engage your responders in ways that let them express the facets unique to their work, often discovering new windows into generative and revisioning processes alike. The stronger your questions, the more thorough your finished product, which serves as an excellent marketing tool for the writer and journal, while giving you a publication credit as well.

I usually come up with ten questions, the bulk of them based on close reading of the text, leaving room for additional inquiries culled from the poet’s bio and/or artistic statement, should the journal ask for one, as is the case at Fairy Tale Review. Sometimes I work with a word limit or a specific set of expectations to highlight components X, Y, and Z. A quick touch-base with my publisher (and conveyance of such guidelines to the poet) determines the appropriate route. 

An interview’s biggest pay-off? Formulating the questions that allow me to be as creative as I want, these volleys akin to sharing a seesaw with my favorite writer-of-the-moment, their depth stewarding my improvement as a poet.

A college friend said I’d make a good talk show host, what with my curiosity and tendency as the loudest cheerer of our classmates, qualities I now apply to the interview canvas. The poetry universe is really one huge beach with room for enough sandcastles so that everyone can find a home. Whether they choose the drawbridge, cornerstone, or turret is up to them. Interviewing sees me as their door-to-door steward, constantly visiting poets far from my aesthetic base, helping them achieve the larger readership they deserve.

Jon Riccio is a PhD candidate at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Center for Writers. His work appears in apt, Bird’s Thumb, Booth, Cleaver, CutBank Online, Hawai’i Review, and Redivider, among others. A 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee, he received his MFA from the University of Arizona. 

Read Jon's poem, Speaking in Calendars.