James Scruton is the author of four collections of poetry, including the award-winning chapbooks Galileo’s House (Finishing Line Press, 2005) and Exotics and Accidentals (Grayson Books, 2009). He lives in the country outside McKenzie, Tennessee.
James: “Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary” is a way to consider, in a fanciful, snapshot sort of way, the mindset of Samuel Johnson at about the time he was putting together what was then the authoritative dictionary of the English language.
Amoskeag: In developing your main and supporting characters, how do you see them losing or finding themselves?
James: So much of ourselves, of our identities, is made up of words, and of course Johnson would have been conscious of his own linguistic biases, his limitations, as well as the influence such a dictionary might have. I wondered what might have been on his mind at the time.
Amoskeag: What is the one line, the one sentence in your piece that for you sums up the meaning of “identity?”
James: Probably “he showed with each edition / how indefinable things could be…” Identity, like other elements of reality, can be elusive and ineffable. A poem is a hopeful partaking of–and bulwark against–the sense of impermanence or flux.
Amoskeag: How do you identify yourself as a writer — how did you get here? Who/what made you so? Where have you come from? What have you gone through?
James: I came to poetry–or it caught up with me–when I was in graduate school, taking seminars in Dickinson and Yeats and Stevens and so on. I never took a creative writing class, but I read every contemporary poet I could find, and everything those poets had said in interviews or written in prose, too. After a few years, with some poems published and an award or two under my belt, I was given creative writing classes to teach, and so I thought it would be a good idea to take some workshops and go to some conferences for teaching ideas. I was able to learn more about my own writing at the same time. I think poems come from everywhere–where we live, what we see on our way to work, the headlines in the news, a phrase overheard on the bus, a line from a novel; I try to show my students just how much of the daily world is waiting to be noticed, explored, partaken of and bulwarked against, one could say.
Amoskeag: What lies ahead for you?
James: I have a chapbook due out this year from Puddinghouse Press as well as two other manuscripts about to make the rounds. Other than that, some individual poems will be appearing in various places in the next few months.
To view an excerpt of James’ poem “Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary,” click here.