What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?
I wrote “Breakfast in a Thin Land” during my sabbatical in Valparaiso, Chile. It lyrically recounts the breakfasts my stepson, Scott, and I had immediately following the sixth worst earthquake ever seismographically registered.
Trying to keep things normal—literally on even keel—we’d hunker down each morning on my veranda overlooking the port to plates of the world’s best paltas (Hass avocados) and local eggs (bought at feed stores). In the background, though: tsunami fear.
Tell us about your writing life.
I’ve been hammering at this thing called poetry for nearly forty years now. Like Frost, many of my poems are rooted in nature, but are occasioned by a wider psychic wrestling. Others are lyrical attempts at processing idiosyncratic family curses and blessings. My father’s disease and departure occupied lots of early page real estate, for instance. Later: marriage, fatherhood, traveling abroad. Now it is so much about music—that urge the body has to hum itself into worthwhile notice.
Which non-writing aspect(s) of your life most influences your writing?
Living in other parts of the world has most influenced my writing, I suppose.
What writing advice has stayed with you?
My mentor, Tony Piccione, forced me to write on one side of 3 x 5″ index cards—singing the great praise of concision and le mot juste. While my poems have grown—some nearly ten pages—I still feel the pressure to own every word in that way.
What is your favorite book (or essay, poem, short story)? Favorite writer(s)?
Back in the day, that was easy: Robert Bly’s Silence in the Snowy Fields; James Wright’s Two Citizens; Philip Levine’s They Feed They Lion; Charles Simic’s Return to a Place Lit by a Glass of Milk.
These days, not so easy to say—but mostly world fiction: Adiga, Mistry, Lahiri, Desai, Tarquin Hall.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Michael Frayn’s Headlong and Lars Kepler’s Fire Witness.
What project(s) are you working on now, or next?
I’m working on a series of poems about living on Eagle Lake, outside of Arcadipone, MI. Got E. B. White in my head; so, I’m thinking of it as my lyrical “Once More to the Lake.”
Anything else our readers might want to know about you?
“What’s beautiful is broken
And grace is just the measure of a fall”
JEFF SCHIFF is the author of That hum to go by (Mammoth Books, 2012), Mixed Diction, Burro Heart, The Rats of Patzcuaro, The Homily of Infinitude, and Anywhere in this Country. His work has appeared internationally in more than eighty periodicals, including The Alembic, Grand Street, The Ohio Review, Poet & Critic, The Louisville Review, Tendril, Pembroke Magazine, Carolina Review, Chicago Review, Hawaii Review, Southern Humanities Review, River City, Indiana Review, Willow Springs, and The Southwest Review. He has been a member of the English faculty at Columbia College Chicago since 1987.