with Red Shuttleworth
Wolf Shuttleworth: Interview
Q: You're a dog.
Wolf: Irish Wolfhound. Long literary tradition. My kind is known for war and hunting down wolves, but we kept civilization literate during the Dark Ages.
Q: Wolfhound are the largest breed of dog, right? How big are you?
Wolf: I'm pretty breed-specific... 36 1/2 inches at the shoulder, weigh around 150-pounds. As the saying goes, "Gentle when stroked. Fierce when provoked." All in all, I'm a pretty nice guy. The tellers at bank drive-up windows really enjoy handing me dog biscuits. Kids come up to me all the time. They love me. Now... if someone is wary of me, then it's sometimes a signal that they're evil bastards up to no good. Sometimes, if they're wary, it's because they've had a bad dog experience. I can tell the difference right away.
Q: How did you come to collaborate with Red Shuttleworth?
Wolf: He adopted me when I was a young puppy. Started reading certain works to me right away: Trakl, Hemingway, Zarzyski, Heaney, Yeats....
Q: What's the process between you and Red?
Wolf: We're always together, so, as I come up with something Red can write down, I bring it to his attention. We walk about a mile and a half a day... that helps. Good poetry comes from the body. The body never lies. Head poetry is no good at all. The body lives through images and sensations. If you're senseless, then you're in a coma or you're dead. The same goes for poetry: no use of the senses means the poem is dead. Want dead poetry? Then read Rumi. Rumi's about as dead as Millard Fillmore.
Q: You have something of a college background, right?
Wolf: For my first three years, I went to Big Bend Community College... mostly to hang out in Red's office. I'd meet students and listen to their life stories. Pretty grim stuff, really, sometimes. Around the 9th week of instruction, the students' cars would break down, grannies died, protection orders were broken by criminally insane former lovers and spouses. Good stuff for material. But I never went to class. There were a lot of books in the office to chew through, so I read James Wright, John Berryman....
Q: Did you hang around with the college's English faculty?
Wolf: That would've been pointless. Few college English teachers can write. A college would never hire an athletic coach if that person couldn't demonstrate skills in his sport. But colleges hire English teachers who can't or won't write. Happens all the time. The English teachers at Big Bend, save Matt Sullivan, are a doltish lot. They couldn't write a memorable sentence without tracing paper. Naw... I kept away from them.
Q: Should writers have dogs? Like is it a big help to them?
Wolf: Go ask Edward Albee about his Irish Wolfhounds and how they got him a handful of Pulitzer Prizes. A writer without a dog makes no sense. Steinbeck and Charlie. Hemingway and Black Dog. Zarzyski and Zeke. A dog is quintessential to the writing process.
Wolf and Red Shuttleworth
Q: Does being rather obvious, given your size, get in the way of observing what you come across... seeing, feeling, hearing... well, acquiring material for poems?
Wolf: I am always scouting for poems. It's my life's work. Sort of a canine Robert Lowell... if you will. Or a James Dickey.
Q: Have you ever visited an MFA program?
Wolf: One time I went over to look at the Idaho MFA program. My human sister, Ciara, and my human brother, Luke, were giving a reading. Somehow I got stuck at the hotel... so I didn't catch it. But... look, you can't teach writing. Maybe a few tricks or skills. But talent can't be taught. There are over 600 tenured professors of creative writing in America. There are over 20,000 living recipients of the MFA in creative writing. Really, how many are worth reading? These questions tend to make the MFA literati nervous. Most MFA professors are boring. Most MFA students are wasting money.
Q: But Ciara Shuttleworth, who will soon have her MFA from Idaho, has published in The New Yorker.
Wolf: So what? What's the New Yorker? Just another provincial magazine... this one particularly curated-edited for apartment dwellers east of the Hudson River. That's a pretty narrow sensibility. As for Ciara, she's got major league talent. I suppose one could argue that Bob Wrigley has mentored her well. I wouldn't argue that, but Ciara would. The hard truth is that most MFA students are customers... not talented student-writers. How many of the Idaho MFA students will gain significant publication? A few, yes. But most will drift off from writing after a few years, heads down in shame at their inability to write for publication... and they'll get, if lucky, academic jobs... and learn to professor-posture.
Q: At this point, Wolf, you and Red have posted over 500 poems on this blog. What's the goal?
Wolf: We like to write, both Red and me. It's what we do. It's our life's work. Sure... it'd be nice to eventually have written 20,000 poems... like the ancient great, Li Po. Right now we just take it day by day. Walks and writing poems.
Q: Why did you leave facebook recently?
Wolf: Why not chuck facebook? It's going way creepy-invasive... tracking people's computer use. Facebook ought to be regulated like phone companies and TV stations. The constituency for facebook: advertisers. Facebook could give a bark about the people who use it. For me, it became a matter of its banalities. I narrowed the roster for Red down to 139 people... and that still seemed like too large a number.
Q: So facebook was useless to you.
Wolf: Actually, there were some good friends out of it... especially Nuno Santos... a great guy in Portugal who writes poetry and plays and uses facebook to celebrate what's going on, what's truly happening in culture. Yeah, Nuno Santos. He came to America to meet me. We had a heck of a grand time: good food, whiskey, late nights listening to music, driving around the Columbia Basin. But when my friend poet Paul Zarzyski sort of faded from facebook, then I started talking to the old man about leaving. We only have so much time and so much energy. We need to put our hearts and bodies into poetry.
Note: Wolfie Shuttleworth died at the premature age of five and a half years of age on January 4, 2013 at Washington State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital while being unsuccessfully treated for osteosarcoma (bone cancer).