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John Compton: 'My poetry came from the chaos of my life'

A chat with john compton about his poetry collection, ‘melancholy arcadia’ (Small Harbor Publishing, 2024)


How would you describe the collection in one sentence?

a flavorful bouquet of poetry; like an edible arrangement.


How did you decide on the title, and what does it mean to you?

i thought “arcadia” was another word for arcade and i had a cool idea for a cover — but it wasn't an arcade. nonetheless, the two words still went well together. the title doesn't really mean anything to me off hand, i just enjoy coming up with something that catches the eye.


How long did the book take to write?

honestly, i don't know. i stop a manuscript when the last poem feels right to stop at & then open a new file and continue writing to create another manuscript.


How did you structure the collection?

the first poem in the collection was the first poem that i wrote; the last poem is the last poem that i wrote. i don't organise my poetry in any certain way. i feel like the way they were written should be their natural order; it was the way i was feeling when i wrote the poem and the next poem was the way i felt when i wrote it. you cannot rearrange your days, why rearrange your poetry? i never sit and write for a purpose/topic/subject; i don't force a poem. i don’t write a poem because i have to write a poem.

 How did the design for the cover come about?

i have a talented friend, janet lees, who is a brilliant photographer and poet. she was kind and let me use one of her photographs. if you look closely behind the plant, that is her shadowy silhouette in the mirror.


How did you choose a publisher for the collection, and how much editorial input did they have with the book?

i wanted harbor editions to publish a book because i liked the publisher allison blevins, so i asked her if i could email her a manuscript and she obliged.


What has been the reaction to the book? Have there been any individual reactions that have surprised you?

every reaction to any of my books or published poems surprise me.everyone who has read this book said they've loved it. there are 10 ratings thus far and all 10 are 5 stars. i have did three interviews since the publication, and 3 reviews from magazines have been published.

Do you have a favourite poem from the book?

i really don't have a favorite poem in this collection. i enjoy a majority of the poems for different reasons.

What do you feel the primary emotional tone or tones of the book are?

a purge of emotions. i hope to think each poem is a different emotion, a different reaction. i hope my readers are always in suspense, not knowing what type of poem may come next.


How do your family/friends feel about the book?

my immediate family quit caring a long time ago! my husband doesn't read poetry but gets happy for me when i achieve something with it. none of this should be intended in a bad way, my mother has been reading my poetry for 20 years; this is my 14th book.they congratulate me and are happy. they know it is a milestone.


What things tend to inspire your work?

everything inspires my work. other poets, life, surroundings, politics, the darkness, my imagination, mental health, family. my mind is a vast landscape.


I’m interested by the poem ‘rupi kaur’, it feels a bit different to the others in the collection. Can you tell me a little about what led to the writing of it?

rupi kaur is a fraud and fake. she's not a poet, she's a plagiarist. she takes quotes written over the last 30 years and pretends they are her own original thoughts. she scams young people and sad adults who've never read real poetry.


Quite a few of the poems feel confessional in tone and content; how do you feel about the label ‘confessional poet’?

anne sexton and sylvia plath were my idols when i was beginning to write and still are to this day, so i take the term confessional poetry in stride. i am a confessional poet. but i am also a poet who writes what they collect from what happens in the world. most of my poetry is not about me, even though i love putting the “i” in a poem. i use myself as the launchpad. becoming the “i” in the poem makes the writing more natural. i see, feel, hear, touch—

The poet Anne Sexton at her desk
Anne Sexton

Do you need silence to write, or can you do it when you’re ‘out and about’?

i love writing in chaos, my poetry came from the chaos of my life.the loudness of everything: the radio turned up, keeps me focused; it helps me concentrate. with the music, i cannot let my thoughts wander because if they do i'll never be able to catch them, it keeps a preciseness. i also love the outside sounds blaring. we live closely to a railroad track and the trains that blare their horn as they roll by my house jolts everything. though at the same time, half asleep at two in the morning is a perfect time for me to write also. my brain is slowly shutting down from being tired so i am less likely to contradict myself.


How old were you when you started writing?

i began writing poetry at 14, in 2001. i was writing words down the margin of a notebook in class and someone said “oh, you're writing a poem.” it sent me down a wormhole. what was a poem? i started googling poetry and reading everything that i could find. soon after, i began posting on this message board i discovered; it was a shark tank. one person told me that i was a bad poet but at least i was memorable. they said, you could always tell a poem was mine. that board gave me thick skin quickly. i strived to prove these people wrong, that i was a poet. though that place was dreadful, it taught me many things that i carry with me today. and lastly, today i am a poet of significance, and their names are nowhere to be found.


Do you have a particular writing routine?

no. i write whenever and wherever i want. i don't have a pattern or time. i don't have a writing desk. i'm lounging on my couch as i write this.

As well as being a poet, I know you’re also an editor – can you tell me a bit about this?

i love being the poetry editor for ghost city review. i have full control over all the poetry submissions. i get to accept whatever poems i love. i publish 20 poets/poems a month. i make the issues and send the file to kevin bertolero, the publisher, who posts the issue on the website. i am the only reader so i read every poem that is submitted.i also enjoy helping people edit their poetry or next step is to become a critic!

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