Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Five Minutes with San Francisco Poet Jerry Ratch

Here in the Twin Ports one becomes quickly aware that the visual arts scene and poetry scene bleed into one another in a variety of ways. The art supply store Pineapple Arts hosts poetry readings. Similarly Beaners Central displays the works of local artists and hosts a weekly "open mic" on Wednesday nights and monthly poetry readings on the third Thursday.

So it was not a surprise to find that Sherry Karver, whom I interviewed in September, is married to an author/poet. Jerry Ratch has generated an extensive body of work since his Puppet X was published in 1973. His novel Wild Dreams of Reality gained a favorable acknowledgement from Richard Ford. And of one of his books, Lawrence Ferlinghetti wrote, "A gritty and valiant story... I would be glad to recommend it."

For the past few weeks I've been dipping into two of his recent volumes of poetry, A Bend in the Road and How the Other Half Lives, seeking diversion but finding a few morsels I thought could be shared here. I've selected a piece titled "Everybody Needs A Soul" which you will find interesting.

EN: It's been said that more people write poetry than read it. Why do poets write poetry when the audience is so narrow?

Jerry Ratch: We keep writing poems, maybe, because we can’t help it. There certainly isn’t much of a paycheck involved in it. Also, we have high hopes, yes, high hopes, that someday someone will wake up to it, and be positively impacted by it. Or maybe we all just have a good sense of humor. Or worse, none at all, and keep writing out of a deep-seated mistrust of things out in the world. Things like politicos, etc.

EN: When did you discover or choose to become serious about your poetry?

JR: I began writing out of a desperate need to save my own life, after being dumped by my first love. I discovered I had been naïve about everything. I was 20 and started writing when I began “hearing and seeing” for the first time as an adult. Then it took about five or six years before I achieved my own voice, and wrote my own first real poem, no longer influenced by Dylan Thomas. I also started writing prose as well as poetry about 25 years ago, when I met my second wife, the artist Sherry Karver. So far I’ve written 16 books of poetry and six books of prose. Most are available for practically nothing as Amazon Kindle books for download to any computer.

EN: The poet Pablo Neruda was an ambassador to France. Robert Frost was a farmer and then a teacher. What's been your career path while producing your many volumes of poetry and assorted books?

JR: For the past 35 years I’ve been selling real estate in the San Francisco Bay Area. I write between appointments. I just have learned how to “switch hats,” as it were, without thinking about it too much.

But in the past before that I did the following jobs: Gas station jockey, pizza delivery, teacher for a year, cart wrangler at a discount store, paint store clerk, paint factory worker, warehouse packager.

I did what I had to do to stay alive and feed people. I guess you have to have an MFA in Writing to get these kinds of jobs. The teaching just didn’t work out at all.

* * * *

The following originally appeared in The Bend in the Road, Any Puppet Press, copyright 2014.

Everybody Needs a Soul

They are running the bulls in Pamplona
this afternoon and they have no idea
how to do this and they are
way too old for this
and they want to relive their youth
and run with the bulls

They want to drink like Ernest Hemingway
and run the bulls with his crowd
and live raw and wild
as if they were young again
and see life as though for the first time
and be alive again

Running with the bulls within inches
of their frail lives in the heat
of the afternoon in Pamplona
And they have no idea how they
will do this but they will do it
anyway because they are afraid
of being old and weary and run
down by life

* * * *

To read more of Jerry Ratch, visit

Writing about poetry makes me want to share my own. You'll find a few of these at my original website on these pages here.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Get into it.

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