Agustus Marcellino-Merwin not only has one of the coolest names of all time, but he's also truly one of the greatest people I've ever met. Always sporting flannel and rocking an impressive beard, Gus looks like a true Wisconsinite.
I first met Gus when we worked at a newspaper together for three years. In that time, I learned that not only does he have the wittiest sense of humor in the world, but he exudes a pure sense of goodness that few individuals possess. I also learned from the very beginning that this guy was a total artist of words.
Inspired by one of his heroes, Tyler Knott Gregson, Gus started to do his own #poemadayproject earlier this year on his Instagram and the results have been nothing short of beautiful. I wanted to interview him for K-Time because I knew he had some inspiring knowledge to share and if you're not following him on Instagram, you need to get on that right now.
How long have you been writing? What was the first thing you ever remember writing?
As long as I’ve been able to read, I’ve been writing. I’ve always loved to read and writing came as sort of a natural progression for me. I think the first thing I ever remember writing was a series of comic strips in third grade.
What made you decide to start doing your #poemaday project?
I started doing #poemadayproject as a way of forcing myself to be a more prolific writer. I love writing, it’s one of my great passions, but I’ve had trouble doing it day in and day out and I know if I want to be any good that’s what it takes. So #poemadayproject began as something I thought would help me jumpstart my creative output.
I think I’ve always secretly loved poetry, I just didn’t really know it until later in my college career. When I was in fifth grade my class did a writing assignment where we had to pick a color and write a poem about it. My teacher ended up submitting mine along with a couple other kids’ to a teacher’s anthology that was being published. So I was technically a published poet since I was 10. In my high school creative writing class we had to write poetry and I made a big deal about not liking it and not wanting to do it because I was an idiot in high school. But I think I secretly liked it then too. It wasn’t until college when I began exploring free verse that I realized that poetry was one of my favorite things in the entire world. You’re able to say more with less in poetry. Oftentimes poetry forces you to be more involved and active as you read because a lot of it can be pretty dense and you have to search for the meaning, so I think poetry also helps make you a better reader and thinker. But poems can be as long or as short as you want them to be. If you can communicate something in a three line haiku, rather than dragging it out over an entire page, why not? I think a lot of kids get stuck thinking that poetry is all a bunch of old dusty language written by people who are long dead and everything has to rhyme and they get turned off. Whenever I substitute teach in an English class and poetry comes up I always show kids newer work from someone who is alive and I preach to them that rhyming is just one technique. I try to kind of break down their preconceived notions of what poetry has to be. Poetry doesn’t have to be anything. It can be whatever you want it to be. Poetry is beautiful above all else, and I enjoy having a small hand in creating some of it.
How do you motivate yourself to write something every day? Motivating myself to take some time and write something every day isn’t necessarily difficult.I write at night a lot of the time so when I’m busy during the day I tell myself I’ll just do it tonight, then sometimes I’ll end up going out to grab a drink with friends or something and I just completely forget. I try to make it a point when that happens to write extra to make up for it. A #poemadayproject doesn’t really work if you don’t write one every day, and I know that. It’s just a matter of getting the discipline down. But discipline and time management and things like that have always been a bit of a struggle for me, but I’d like to think I’m getting better.
Do you ever feel uninspired to write something? How do you overcome that?
I’m starting to get away from the idea of writer’s block being a thing because if I believe it to be real that will only lead me back to being a lazy person who likes to write, but only when he feels like it. I mean, there’s plenty of inspiration in me, in the world, everywhere, and I really don’t think it’s all that tough to find. There are certainly days where my head isn’t in it when I sit down to write something. When that happens sometimes I just start to write things down, string a few words and sentences together. Or I’ll go back and reread some old stuff, or I’ll go online and read another writer’s work that they did today. I’m a big movie fan and I have a select few movies that I’ll watch if I’m looking for a little inspiration to get myself started, so sometimes I’ll watch Casablanca or Field of Dreams or something and that often helps. I’ll catch hold of an old memory and that will elicit a response from me and pretty soon I’ve got words on paper. It’s not much more scientific than that.
What would your advice be to someone who wanted to write, but didn't know where to start?
It feels weird to be offering advice because I feel like I’m the one who needs it. But my advice to someone just starting out would be to think back on all of the things that ever made you full of emotion, good or bad, and try to capture that. When I started really writing seriously I did it as therapy. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings pent up inside of me and I didn’t feel comfortable talking them out, so I wrote them out. Once I was comfortable enough with myself and my issues and feelings then I started sharing what I wrote. I think the extraordinary thing about writers is not that they can write, but they choose to write. They’re regular people with regular emotions, the biggest difference is they pick up a pen. Everyone has a story to tell whether you know it or not. And once you tell your story I guarantee someone will identify with it. You’ll reach someone.
What do you hope to say with your poems?
Sharing is caring. If you are brave enough to put something together and put yourself out there, if you do it right it will be received. I don’t necessarily write to be read, I write for myself a lot of the time. But since I’ve begun putting my work online there’s been a wonderful response. At first it was just my friends and the people that already knew me and knew I liked to write, but soon it was getting noticed by other writers online. There’s a whole community of likeminded people, many of whom have similar experiences and write about similar things so I know when I put something out there it isn’t going to fall on deaf ears. It isn’t just going to sit online and get lost. Writing poetry, reading poetry, it’s a wonderful way to stay connected. Writing doesn’t allow people to be alone, if it’s good enough it forges connections. It forces people to bond, that’s one of the beauties of it.
What's the best thing that you've gained by doing this project? There are a few best things. Number one, it did what it was meant to do. It got me writing on a daily basis. It forces me to think even when I don’t want to. It makes me reflect on my past experiences, my worries, my feelings, my anxieties for the future. It makes me address myself. It’s my therapy. This project also helped me connect to more people, online and in real life. I’ve had quite a few discussions about my writing with people who enjoy it. That’s another best, people are reading what I write, and not only reading but enjoying my work. I try not to completely rely on likes and favorites and retweets for my satisfaction, but it’s a big part of our world now and I can’t help but smile when I get notifications. Call it shallow if you like, but there’s a lot of me in this writing and knowing that it’s stirring people’s emotions and making them think is rewarding. It’s really an amazing feeling.
Is there anything else that you want to say?
I’m just so appreciative of the response that my work has gotten. Often I’m too self-deprecating and have trouble receiving compliments so I try to deflect, but when I see people’s comments online or when I’m talking to someone and they praise me or tell me they loved a certain poem it just makes me want to hug everybody. The people who read and enjoy what I write are a big reason why I get out of bed every day and I love them.