The Poetic Persistence of Alan Proctor: The Flapper Press Poetry Café
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Poetry Café features the work of poets from around the world. This week, we highlight the work of Alan Proctor.
Alan Proctor is a former humor columnist, poetry editor, tree surgeon, university vice president, and classical guitarist. Alan Proctor’s poetry, fiction, and/or creative non-fiction have appeared in New Letters, I-70 Review, Chautauqua, The Laurel Review, and Kansas City Voices, among other journals. His memoir, which he co-authored with his late brother, Bruce, was chosen by the Kansas City Star as a “Best Read” for 2015 and received a featured Kirkus Review. His novel, Adirondack Summer, 1969, was published by Westphalia Press in 2018.
Meet Alan Proctor!
AN: Welcome, Alan, to the Flapper Press Poetry Café. The Johnson County Public Library in Kansas City asked this question of you first, but you have given me your permission to share it with our Flapper Press audience. I loved your answer, so please, Alan, tell us about yourself. How did you get started writing?
AP: I wrote my first poem when I was eight years old. It was a sing-song and plodding piece to convince my mother to stop smoking. Mom loved the poem, but kept puffing away. My mother read aloud to me from an early age, and I suppose those stories peaked my interest in writing. My fifth-grade teacher broke her hip and was replaced by a young author who, at the end of every school day, read to us from a children’s book she had written about two Paleolithic children, Lok and Fa. I still remember their tale set during the ice age thousands of years ago. I knew. by the end of fifth grade that I wanted to write, to create my own stories.
AN: In that same article, you shared the best writing advice that you have ever received. Can you repeat that advice?
AP: Two things: first, unless you’re a student just learning the craft, write what you want to write, not what others or the markets say you should write; and second, keep going, never lose hope of publishing.
AN: Alan, you invited me into a class that met at your home with Kansas State Poet Laureate Denise Low after we met at a Kansas City Voices' reception. This opportunity created a huge spark in my writing development. I will never forget your kindness to a "newbie." Why is it important to share resources and other opportunities with poets and writers?
AP: Sharing one's writing with a group not only challenges you to create, it can inspire or teach you to rework what you thought was finished. If you're not driven to re-write, you will probably never get published—and being published is the prize, the recognition from esteemed peers. In college I remember re-writing poems after criticism from other students and then finally getting them published. Not appreciating criticism expands what could become a creative vacuum. Also, when you get published—the endorsement (blurbs) from others who are established in the field can really help.
AN: How many years were you on the board for the Writers Place in Kansas City? Can you tell us what you learned from that experience?
AP: I believe I was on the Writers Place board for four years, a typical "term." I was recruited to help with fundraising. What I learned was that the Writers Place lacked aggressive fundraising. I made some suggestions, which were mostly honored. But more importantly, I befriended some of the most dedicated writers in KC, who mentored me in my writing career and came to appreciate my work through public readings.
AN: You have moved from Kansas City to North Carolina to be with your grandchildren and family. Has your writing and poetry helped in connecting you with your new community?
AP: When I left KC to be with family in North Carolina, I had not realized how much of the KC writing community I was, unfortunately, losing. Writing here has been hard. The move (and the pandemic) have forced me to reestablish priorities, like fixing up the yard, the house, the kitchen, etc. In November, I finally did attend a writer's conference in nearby Raleigh, and although I made a few acquaintances, I missed the many writers I knew from Missouri conferences. Most of the connections I have made with this new community have been through selling or giving my books to them!
AN: Reading your poem on your brother reminded me that you have also written a successful memoir on him. Might you share how one goes about writing about one who they love and has passed? Does the writing help you work through the pain of loss?
AP: When a good friend or loved one dies, for me love is the impetus for writing. Although it took decades to pull The Sweden File: Memoir of an American Expatriate together, I published it soon after my brother's passing. I loved him, and I wanted to share his remarkable story. Another poem, "Scree," was inspired after losing my best friend. I have written poems to virtually everyone who was a special memory for me. And yes, that eases the pain.
AN: I'd like to ask you to share some of your poems with us now. Perhaps you could begin with "Lure," the poem that you just mentioned about your brother. Also, we like to ask the poets who enter the Flapper Press Poetry Café to share a backstory on each poem with our readers.
AP: Annie, thanks for suggesting I write notes about the poems I selected. I’ve never done that, and it was fun! I’ve chosen five poems with a theme that is more-or-less autobiographical. I am happy to start with "Lure."
AN: Thank you so much for visiting with us today, Alan. You are welcome back any time to our Flapper Press Poetry Café.
AP: Thank you, Annie. So happy for your invitation to stop by.
“Lure” was previously published in New Letters. My late brother, Bruce, wanted to be Secretary of State. By age 25, he was on his way, working with the Defense Intelligence Agency with top-secret clearance. His clearance allowed him to learn about U.S. lies and illegal maneuvers during the Vietnam War. This little-known knowledge horrified him. He told the DIA he was quitting. “You can’t just quit,” they told him. “It will take six months to debrief you.” Nonetheless, he left that week, which caused a furor in the Pentagon, and soon thereafter went absent without leave (AWOL) to Sweden. The Sweden File: Memoir of an American Expatriate is a hybrid memoir that Bruce and I wrote that recounts Bruce’s horrific (and sometimes dangerous) life in Stockholm from 1968–1972.
I remove the hook gently
as if your mouth
were caught in a lie.
You must have wondered what rare cloud
bellied out into your world,
the smooth dinghy bottom deceiving.
I cut you open for bait,
work along the stripes in your side
for meat that clings to the hook.
The waters flesh light and dark, a cold morning.
My next-door neighbor died in the war,
my brother deserted its horror.
I fish like a crazed sea dog
until the sun disappears,
clouds slice their wrists.
Forgive us, fish, for luring you here.
How can we explain the pride
our lives require?
“Six Plants in Brooklyn,” previously published in The Red Book (Clamshell Press), was written nearly 40 years ago after my wife, Susan, and I moved from Oklahoma to Brooklyn, NY. To visualize the plants, readers may need to reacquaint themselves with them. The person mentioned in “No.5.” identified as “Paco” (Francisco) was a good friend and marvelous NYC artist. He and Willem de Kooning were buddies. “No. 5” tips its unknown hat to the late Paco Francisco Sainz, known as the mask maker of NYC on his 50th birthday. In the attached Happy New Year’s card from 1993, Paco reclines under a few of his many masks.
Six Plants in Brooklyn
The remnant of a tooth-
pick (first dark weeks
in water), still sprouts
from your seed like a half-
buried harpoon rusting
the hump of Ahab’s whale.
Two crooked trunks are emerging,
thick as my green thumb.
Since I bought you
at Walmart, it is fitting
that I replant you
in a pot I found at the dump,
that you should grow
with a vengeance.
3. Prayer Plant
Candelabrum: the blood flame
sways unseen at night,
flairs at stalk’s end
into a single flicker.
You seek the moon
with cobra tongue
reared in prayer,
poised above the wicker.
4. Wandering Jew
My friend the rock
singer gave me
a shoot, said each clipped
end would root.
You’re vying for dirt
with cousin ivy, so
I’m clipping you again
to give to my friend
5. Unidentified Plant from Food Lion
The unfurling green
and white leaves,
licking the seam
of a smoke.
It’s all in the fingers,
he tells me, family trait.
Today above the watering can
I thought of Ulysses
thinking of home,
of the white-haired woman
in her Oklahoma hot house,
a cutting of broadswords
for the limp dollar bill.
You’ve come 2,000 miles
to settle in Prospect Hill.
Late in life, nearly all of us receive unwanted mail, which we burn or throw in the recycle bin. Many of us also spend hours by the fireplace. Pareidolia lurk there: fish shadows; goddess faces with smoldering orange eyes. Daydreams are also a product of fire watching, as this poem demonstrates. Grandpa’s diary, by the way, now resides under glass at the Beinecke Rare Book Library at Yale University.
I have been invited to a free luncheon
at Chop Suey Palace to discuss my golden
years. Also, a complimentary steak dinner
and tour of Summer Lake Village,
retirement Mecca for active, older adults.