David earned his B.A. in
English from Colby College. He wrote and directed his original play Warm Angel
senior year and earned the college's drama award. After graduation, he managed
the band Boys Life. He also was the band's chief lyricist, writing with
his brother John, the band's singer, and guitarist. David wrote the lyrics on
"A" side of their two singles and four of the six songs on their celebrated E.P. The
band broke up in 1984; David then earned his teaching certificate and began a 14-year teaching tenure in the Waltham Public
Surette has completed two
novels, Today's Special and Mud Season. Malden is his first chapbook of poetry. He began the book in a summer session of
the Boston Writing Project with the goal to finished it by his twenty- fifth high school reunion and the family gathering
at Thanksgiving 2000, and offered it on his website in the spring of 2001.
He released his second chapbook
Muckers, Grinders, Shapers, Hangers, and Huns in 2002, and published over two dozen poems in various journals and magazines.
He is a regular reader and feature at poetry venues, libraries, and schools throughout New England.
In 2003, he issued his third chapbook
Good Shift which includes the poem Forever and Ever. The poem was nominated
for "Best Love Poem" at the Cambridge Poetry Awards.
David also released the single
poem chapbook Acadie, which was sold at Grande Pré, Nova Scotia to celebrate the 2004 Acadian Reunion. Henri-Dominique Parratte, poet and translator (Anne of Green Gables), translated the poem into French
and published it in Canada.
Koenisha Publications of Michigan
published Young Gentlemen's School in August 2004. The book collects all the poems from David's three chapbooks
plus ten new poems. It is available online at http://www.amazon.com/, www.barnesandnoble.com,
as well as bookstores.
David is the co-host of Poetribe, a poetry group that offers poetry workshops, open mics, featured poets, and
the occasional poetry slam. They meet every other Saturday at the East Bridgewater
Public Library in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He teaches English at East
Bridgewater High School. He is also working on another draft of his new novel,
Dell. He currently resides in southeastern Massachusetts with his wife
and three children. They keep horses, sheep, and poetry under the watchful eyes
of two border collies.
* * *
After hearing the name David R.
Surette bandied about for months at one poetry event after another, and always in the most flattering ways, I pursued Mr.
Surette around the Internet. Liking what I'd read, I pursued him further, traveling
to East Bridgewater, Massachusetts this past weekend to meet him.
Poetribe, the poetry venue that
Surette hosts, was in a state of nervousness. Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Frank
Wright was their featured poet. I had come for Surette. And I was not disappointed.
Before Wright took the podium
at nine p.m., David, with the aid of his co-hosts, Erin Feeney and Vicki Murray, skillfully readied the crowd. With a warm smile that is highly contagious, Surette comforted, teased, coaxed, and joked his poets into
the best open mic performance I have experienced in months.
Will I go back? Count on it—and I expect to see you there, too.
PG: You maintain a demanding appearance schedule; explain the importance of public readings to those of us
who have yet to perform.
DRS: The most obvious reason now for reading out any chance I get is to sell books. I want to do another book when the new poems add up to a collection, and the best reason for my publisher
to do another will be how many books I’ve sold. So far, so good.
It’s not just a matter of
commerce, though. It’s an amazing feeling to sit for a half an hour after
a reading, selling and signing books, people sharing what my poems evoke from their lives.
Sometimes they even hug me. It’s like the poems have four lives:
in my head, on the page, at the mic, then into someone’s home—sometimes in a place of honor: on the coffee table,
by the bed, or in the bathroom.
Before the book, I read out to
make more and better poems. I didn’t want to read the same one to the same
people over and over again so I had to keep writing. The most important element
in my poems is a true voice, my true voice: the sounds and rhythms of my family, hometown, relationships, and ancestry. I can tell from the audience when I hit that.
Hearing other poets also inspire my poems. A good open mic and feature
will inspire one or two new poems to dance in my head all week.
PG: Reading the poems in Malden is like reliving my childhood. Was Malden Massachusetts where you wrote your first poem? How old were you when you wrote your very first poem?
DRS: I wrote three poems between the ages of 12 and 15. One was
about the Marx Brothers, one about Bobby Orr (former hockey player with the Boston Bruins), and a love poem I think I recycled
a couple of times. In my twenties, I wrote songs with my brother John, tried
to write plays and stories.
I didn’t write another
poem until I was 42. I didn’t write about Malden until I moved out after
living there 37 years.
Because of a bet with my older
brother Stephen, I spent a summer writing every story I could remember from birth to 18 years old. A couple years later, I attended the Boston Writing Project’s Summer Institute and mined those stories
PG: You attended a Catholic grammar school; do you find Catholicism creeping into your verse? And if you answer yes, do you wish it wouldn't?
doesn’t creep in; it looms over everything I write. I think it shows
up as either guilt or grace—the two legs I stand on. Plus, Catholic school
makes for great stories. The image of a nun is way more vivid than just any third
PG: Was it a big leap going from lyricist to poet? Which of the
two is a greater passion?
DRS: There was no leap—it was accidental. In the early 80’s,
I managed my younger brother John’s band, Boy’s Life. He complained
he wrote music faster than he could write lyrics, so I started tossing him lyrics at a pretty good rate. I would next hear them in concert, and it was like they weren’t even my words being sung. It was a complete lack of ego or pride or risk. It was cool
that way. He needed lyrics so I wrote them; one day he didn’t need my lyrics
so I never wrote another.
PG: You've taught in Waltham's public schools, which subjects? In
your opinion, what's the most receptive age group to teach?
DRS: I have taught English, ESL, History, Geography, Reading, Drama, and Creative Writing. I've taught grades 1 through 12 in my 19 years of teaching. The
best opportunity we have to get to them is seventh grade. It’s such a dizzy
time for them, so you can get to them when they’re not even looking. It’s
an exhausting age, though. I teach high school now in East Bridgewater, MA.
PG: Your fondness for children is evident in your poetry—share a teaching memory, one where you knew you'd reached the student.
DRS: I don’t know if there’s one in particular. My
proudest teaching moments are when a student is at his or her worst and I still manage to be patient, kind, and forgiving. It always pays off. They become so open
to artistic and academic risks then.
PG: A teaching career, children, horses, sheep, dogs, and poetry—if you could squeeze one more
hour out of the day, how would you spend it?
DRS: With my wife ….
PG: Your single poem chapbook Acadie has been translated
into French; how honored were you to have that happen?
DRS: I love it but I’m also humbled by it. Last year, I traded
letters and books with the great Acadian singer/ poet Zachary Richard, and he was very generous to me, but made it clear that
I had no claim to my Acadian heritage until I was fluent in French. Two generations
ago, my family, out of shame, banned French in their new American home and now I am ashamed I am not fluent in it. It’s on my lists of things to do.
PG: Share your proudest writing moment.
DRS: My friend Al Blanchard called me to tell me that his publisher Koenisha had decided to publish a collection
of my poems even before the publisher informed me. I flipped on the jukebox
in the kitchen, jumped up and down, and pumped my fist like Ray Bourque. Koenisha
had published six of Al’s mystery novels, and we had planned to do a book tour together.
My book came out in September. Al died suddenly last November, giving
greater meaning to what I owe him.
What We Owe
He walked right through me.
Some of him stuck like a snagged
almost long enough to be comic,
but he walked on and he snapped
A week later, I dreamed him again.
He gave me instructions on what
must be done in his absence.
I remembered some of what he said
when I woke,
but I’ve forgotten it all
A week later, his last book came
in the mail,
His voice hurt my heart.
It was good to hear from him so
PG: Of all the books you've published, which one is closest to your heart?
DRS: Malden is closest to my heart because it really is of a piece, and secondly because I wrote it without
any ambition; I was writing for me, my family, and a couple of close friends.
PG: Assuming it still happens to you, how do you handle editorial rejection?
DRS: I think I’m like most writers—I used to get mad and save the rejections so I could have the
last word when I am famous and they had all missed the boat. Now that I’ve
matured, I get mad and save the rejections so I can have the last word when I am famous and they have all missed the boat.
PG: Have you ever gotten a bad review?
DRS: Not in print. But when
I do, I’ll be mad and spend nights dreaming up the letter I’d send the reviewer, skewering him. I will never really write it or send it of course, so I’ll probably put on a Saw Doctors’ CD,
sing along, and be happy again.
PG: Finish this sentence: "The one subject I am uncomfortable writing about is
DRS: contemporary politics." I spend a lot of time yelling at the
TV news and newspapers and none of it’s poetic. I also feel silly trying
to write something erotic. Whenever I try, it ends up a funny poem.
PG: Tell us about Poetribe.
DRS: Poetribe meets
every other Saturday in the Community Room at the East Bridgewater Library. We
have been around almost a decade under various names and in different venues.
I co-host with Vicki Murray and
Erin Feeney. We have a core group of good poets and wonderful people. Everyone is welcome. We offer a poetry workshop, an open mic,
and then a feature. This year our features have included Franz Wright, Fred Marchant,
Regie Gibson, and Frannie Lindsay. We used to do a slam but interest has waned
somewhat; I expect we will have them again.
PG: Having discussed your work with other poets, I've noticed men think of you as a "real Man's poet," and
women simply gush over your "sensitivity." Do you mentally pre-target a specific
gender when writing a poem?
DRS: I think it comes down to Zambonis and horses. Men like Zambonis
and woman like horses. I like 'em both.
Actually, I think in terms
of gender whatever I am doing, but in my writing, more specifically, I often think of certain people. What will my wife think of this? Or Dad? Mom? Will it make my brothers laugh; will my sister? Will Dave Twohig get a kick out of it? Sometimes
I wonder what other specific poets will think. It’s all in there at different
times in different drafts.
PG: Muckers, Grinders, Shapers, Hangers, Hackers, and Huns is my personal
favorite. In it, the poem Christmas
"A guy came to assess my house.
had a yellow tape measure I envied,
and he drew it out and snapped it shut
as he took measure - wrote it all down -
measure of my home … "
Measure your writing career for
us, then assess: are you satisfied? Are there things you would do over, or not
do at all, if given the chance?
DRS: I’ve been way too lucky to be unsatisfied or want any do-overs.
In the beginning, Michael Brown and Valerie Lawson encouraged me by giving my first features at the Cantab Lounge and
the Daily Grind before I even knew those places existed. And I had quick success
getting things published. Peregrine accepted “Basements,” the first
poem that I sent out, a couple dozen followed. Len Geminara turned me into a
co- host of his venue. My good friend Al Blanchard found me a publisher who is
very happy with me so far. This is in four years.
I sometimes wonder when
it will level off—just how far talent and hard work will take me. Do I
have or will I have a handful of good poems that will stick around—one great one when I’m done? Will people buy a second book … a third? Will the poems
keep me busy for years or dry up?
PG: What was the exact moment you knew you'd "made it" as a writer?
DRS: The first time I didn’t giggle when I called myself a poet—oops, I just giggled.
PG: Do you read as much poetry as you write? Name three favorite
DRS: I read poetry every day. I’m usually working through
a couple of poet’s books plus re-reading poems that I love. Right now,
my two favorite poets are Jack McCarthy and Franz Wright. I find myself in both
of their poems. I think because they are so different, these poets pull me in
opposite directions. And maybe at the snapping point I find my poems.
PG: How many writing projects are currently on your back burner?
DRS: I’m carrying a couple poems in my head, have ten done, four in process. I’m just hoping they will add up to a collection by year’s end.
I have six poems in the mail as of last week. And a new one just published
in Wolfmoon Press.
PG: When an idea strikes, do you reach for a pen or a tape recorder?
DRS: I leave it in my head to see if it sticks around. I think
I’ve lost a few good ones this way but vetted out plenty of bad ones. If
it’s still there in a week or so (some take longer to cook), I grab a pen and write on a loose unlined piece of paper,
stick it in my pocket, and carry it around, making sure to take it out before the pants go in the wash. When it has traveled enough in various pairs of pants, I type it and put it back in my pocket take it out
from time to time to read at open mics, scribbling edits all over it.
PG: Personal preference: blue ink or black?
DRS: I don’t think I’ve ever really owned a pen. I
just find them (or steal them my co-host) and stick them in my pockets—beggars can’t be choosy.
PG: Finish this sentence: "I would love nothing better than to take an entire month off
DRS: and go to the west of Ireland to ride horses with my wife. There’d
be music too (I’d bring my bodhran) and pints of Guinness, but mostly horses and my wife."
PG: Give us three words overused in today's poetry.
DRS: If I say which words and you find them in my poems, I’ll look pretty stupid. I’d have to say I was being ironic. I try to never use
a word I don’t use in everyday speech. Poetribe’s workshop guru Michael
McDonough disagrees with me about that, but it keeps me honest.
PG: Choose one of the following: 70's
music: The Eagles or Steely Dan?
DRS: Patti Smith
Beethoven or Rachmaninov?
DRS: The Ramones
Charlie Rose or Bill O' Reilly?
DRS: Red Green “Keep your stick on the ice.”
Form poetry: Occasionally or Fuhgeddaboudit!
DRS: I don’t write in any traditional forms, but structure is very important to me
PG: Before we go, what advice do you have for poets feeling the sting of rejection?
DRS: Buy a heavy bag to hit. Or learn to fish. Or spin wool. Dance.
Skate. Make love. (Don’t
forget to cuddle afterwards.) Then write more poems and send them out.
PG: Sadly, David, you've passed away. What message would you
like to leave on the back of your prayer card for the people you'll leave behind?
DRS: I would want my best poem there; I hope I live a long life so there will be time to write it. And my website, www.davidsurette.com, so people can order the book and my wife will be able to pay for
my lavish funeral.
* * *
© 2005 All rights reserved http://freewebs.com/lilylitreview