29 March 2014

An Interview with Concord, N.C. poet, Justin Chopin

Justin Chopin graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from St. Andrew's Presbyterian College in 2009. He currently lives in Concord, N.C.

Piedmont Poetry Project: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

Justin Chopin: “A more personal goal is that writing poetry helps me to battle OCD, which can make me feel like I am living in a war zone. Writing allows me to take all of the forebodings trapped inside of my head and create pieces of poetry that reflect the mental struggles that I have to face everyday. This routine of writing when I am stressed usually works really well because it allows me to be liberated from the plague of anxiety bringing a great deal of relief and joy knowing that God allows me to express myself through the written word. I would also hope that my poetry would help others with similar struggles to know they are not alone and God is there to help them.”

PPP: What are your earliest recollections of poetry in your life?
JC: “My earliest recollections of poetry in my life are the brilliantly rhyming and witty books of Dr. Seuss.  My Mom would read them over and over to me until I had them memorized.  Later on during middle school, we studied the dramatic and passionate Psalms of David, which became a very profound influence on me. My Bible teacher had the class write a poem in response to a Psalm. I wrote my first poem, “The God of Peace “ which was published in the school newspaper.”   

 PPP: Why, in your opinion, is poetry important in our society?
JC: “Poetry has an immense importance to society both to the writers and readers of poetry.  Writers can express themselves through the many forms of poetry providing a creative outlet for everything inside of them. Poetry benefits the reader because it can speak to us about our problems, joys, and experiences in both a creative and intelligent way that we can appreciate and relate to.  Isn’t it amazing that we can relate to poetry written hundreds of years ago?  Most societal struggles are timeless and so is poetry. “

PPP:  What inspires you to write?
JC: Everything and anything can inspire me to write including but not limited to: God, whatever I am feeling in the moment ranging from happiness to depression, my relationships with my family, friends and other people who are important in shaping the foundations of my life, current events, tragedies, triumphs, rock n roll music and rock n roll musicians, the stupidity and the sheer mindlessness of television, the wickedness of the world we live in, etc. Anything I see or hear can spark an idea or an emotion, and I can’t help but write about it.

PPP: When do you write?
JC: “I write anytime and all the time.  I usually don’t go anywhere without a notebook. I write whenever I feel I have something to say about the condition I have found myself in. Whether it is devotionals, attempting to outline a new story idea, taking notes about a book or a passage of the Bible or developing a piece of poetry, you can usually find me writing whenever I have a chance. Writing is an omnipresent force in my life.”

PPP: Is there a particular place that you like to write? 
JC: I like to be outside when I write.  I usually sit on the front porch swing, which is a good perch as I watch the world go by and observe the awesome marvel of creation. 

PPP: What poets do you read?
JC: I love to read poetry almost as much as I love to write it. I have read an unholy throng of poets: Ezra Pound, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Robert Burns, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, John Keats, Lord Byron, Christina Rossetti, TS Eliot, Edgar Allan Poe, William Carlos Williams, Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, etc.   

Honestly, I admire the Romantic poets more than the Modernistic poets. I believe that the Romantics were much more optimistic about life, love, and all of the other vital aspects of life praising them as a blessing.  They wrote odes to everything they described including their childhood memories in very elegant, lyrical verses. Since I could relate to their longings to go back to the past and live as freely as they did when they were still in their early years, Romantics made my desire to become a poet much greater. 

The Modernistic poets are complete opposites in that I find most of this poetry boring, depressing, and cynical. Modernists tend to have the attitude that society is some kind of sadistic monster that would annihilate all of humanity.  This kind of “grungy” bleakness made me loathe having to study their poetry.  I would rather read and write poetry that is uplifting and encouraging.

PPP: What advice do you have for others who might want to get started writing poetry?
JC: My advice to those who have poetic aspirations would be to just start writing. There are many websites that allow you to write and critique the work of others.  The Internet is also a great source for prompts and contests. 

Beginners may want to take a class in poetry writing. I majored in Creative Writing in college and especially enjoyed my poetry classes.  I would also suggest that they read a variety of poets and notice their different styles, their poetic voice and the messages that they are sending with their compositions. I also think it is important for poets to be open and honest with their feelings about their lives and the world.  This vulnerability is beneficial to the writer by providing an outlet for feelings even if no one else ever reads it.

PPP: Have you noticed any trends or patterns in your writing over the past 5-10 years?
JC: The trends I have noticed during the last five years are actually patterns that I believe my poetry has always had namely a spiritual theme about God and the wonders that He bestows about mankind every day, a rhyme scheme that usually consists of couplets that almost always enhance the quality of the piece I am writing.

The mood of my poems can either be very joyous if I am speaking about the greatness of God or can be very sadistic and cynical if I am lamenting the modern world that we live in. An ever-present narrative voice sets the tone for the majority of my pieces.   

When I was in college, my poems had a very optimistic and spiritual kind of mood and theme to them. I would sit outside near the lake and gaze at the skies, the trees and all of wonderful natural creations that God had fabricated, and I could not help myself but to praise Him.

PPP: Share a comment or two about life, parenthood, nature, teaching, writing, or anything else that you'd like.
JC: After I had graduated from college, I became anxious about my future.  As my anxiety increased, so did my OCD, which can actually be debilitating.  The moods, themes and other aspects of my poetry became darker, moodier, and much more unpleasant.  But writing helped me to get through this dark time and provided a release for my anxiousness.  Even though I am still dealing with OCD, the monster has been quieted and the darkness is not as bleak and neither is my writing. Praise God!

Life to me is a very precious and beautiful gift from God that some people love and some loathe.  Some people wake up everyday with a smiling face hoping to embrace every beautiful aspect of life. Others gaze at life as one long, depressing tragedy that they would rather avoid than be a part of. 

Writing is a process that takes time, patience, and determination. I do not believe that anybody can pick up a pen or pencil and just scribble down some lines and become the next William Shakespeare. It just doesn’t work that way.  Truly wonderful writing comes from an individual who has disciplined himself to persevere through the rejections and disappointments knowing that if he keeps writing and takes the advice that his peers and his critics have given him and makes the most of their critiques, then he will be successful.
If writing has helped to soothe your soul or to comfort another soul, then you are a successful writer.

Read the feature on Justin Chopin and his poetry at Independent Tribune. 

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