20 Questions with... Jeffrey Spahr-Summers
Updated: Dec 12, 2022
Jeffrey Spahr-Summers is a native of Colorado. He began exploring art mediums as a teenager while in South Africa during the 1970’s, quickly settling on photography and poetry. A commercial photographer in Chicago in the early 1990’s, he was active in the saloon poetry and publishing scene. Jeff’s poetry and photos have appeared in numerous print, online magazines and anthologies. He is the former publisher of Poetry Victims (2004 – 2014) and Snapping Twig (2013 – 2015) online magazines. He has published 19 books. He currently writes and publishes poetry, flash fiction, memoirs, and historical articles. Jeff is the founder of Cherry Publications in Boulder.
Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? What was your life like growing up?
I am a poet, writer, photographer, and publisher. I was born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but have lived in many places. As children, my sisters and I lived on a ranch in the mountains outside of Denver, all Summer every year, with my father and stepmother. The rest of the year we lived in various places with my mother and stepfather. When I was 11 years old, we moved to South Africa, where we lived for 6 years. My life growing up was filled with extensive world travel.
Did you always want to be a writer? If you also work, what do you/did you do?
At least since I was a teenager. Always an avid reader, I took an interest in writing at an early age. I can say the same thing about photography. I worked as a Commercial Photographer in Chicago for a few years and was also responsible for a photo plant on the night shift in Tulsa, Oklahoma. My mother and I also ran a used bookstore in Tulsa for several years. But mostly, I have worked in the hotel industry for over 45 years, on and off, in all areas. Currently, I am a hotel accountant.
Tell us about your most recently published work in a sentence.
Photography and poetry, old and new.
What are you working on right now?
I am editing and preparing to publish a new print poetry journal. This inaugural issue will have 50 poets and some of my photographs.
Do you have a writing routine, and if so, what is it?
No, I am a lazy writer, I will just write whenever it strikes me. I do take photographs every day.
Where do you write- always in the same place, or a different place ‘on the move’?
I always carry and write in Steno pads, then I go to my laptop. I would guess that about half of what I write is on the go, the rest is mostly written in my favorite comfy chair.
What advice do you have for other writers who are starting out? What is the best advice you've heard?
“Write about what you know. is the best advice I have heard. I would also add... as you grow as a person, your writing grows. Hang out with other writers.
Do you enjoy doing live readings or are they a necessary ever- or somewhere in between?
I suppose somewhere in between. I enjoyed live readings for many years, but strangely they started becoming necessary evils. I still enjoy live readings, but as a rule I would rather hear ‘other’ people read.
Are there recurring themes in your work? Where do you think these emanate from if so?
Family, musical, historical, memoir, social.
Should writers have a moral purpose? What is the purpose of a writer in today’s society?
I think everyone should have a moral purpose, no matter who they are, or what they do. In point, those small decisions of morality that we all make every day do matter. As writers and artists, we have convenient ready-made platforms by nature of what we do. It is a shame to waste such opportunities. But you cannot tell artists what to create, or what to say, or how to say it, otherwise the originality is lost. Writers and artists respond to various things that inspire them personally. If one has a moral purpose in life, it shows in the art one produces. I think the purpose of writers in any society is to share their own experiences and truth.
Do you write between genres or not?
I write poetry, flash-fiction, memoir, and historical commentary.
Which living writers do you admire?
Questions like this always stump me, there are so many. Erica Jong, Carolyn Forche, and a slew of other poets. Pattie Smith. Bob Dylan. Alexandra Fuller. There are also a lot of good historians out there.
Which dead writers do you most admire?
William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Brautigan, Raymond Carver, Gwendolyn Brooks, Fyodor Dostoevsky, J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Frost, Jean-Paul Sarte.
What’s the book you wish you’d written?
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight? by Alexandra Fuller.
What other external influences do you have: nature/place, music etc.?
Music, art, and history are huge influences for me. Nature is also an enormous influence, but from a photography standpoint.
Do you suffer from ‘writer’s block’? And how do you overcome it if so?
Yes, I do. But I do not let it get to me like it used to. I find that I have seen significant growth in my writing after bouts of writer’s block. Exposure to other writers, being involved in writing groups helps. Reading is important for inspiration.
What’s been your favorite reaction to your writing?
When my writing encourages aspiring writers to write or perform.
How do your family and friends feel about your writing?
People like being written about. But sometimes it is difficult with family and friends because memories often conflict with each other’s perspectives. Sometimes feelings are hurt, or someone is embarrassed by your portrayal of them or others. I think, mostly, that my family and friends feel good about my writing. Many of my friends are writers and artists who share a love of creating.
Do you have a favorite bookshop?
My favorite bookstore, Innisfree Poetry Bookstore, closed a couple of years ago. I like the Boulder Bookstore. I am also a part-time online bookseller, so I have thousands of books in my home at any given time. I have plenty of books at hand to peak my interests, so I do not go to bookstores much anymore.
How do you see the future of writing? Will we become more or less dependent on Amazon?
As writers, we are already dependent on Amazon, the market is just too big to avoid. World literature is alive and well and more diverse than ever.