An interview with Carl “Papa” Palmer
Originally from Ridgeway, Virginia, Carl Palmer now resides in the west coast town of University Place, Washington. After a successful career in the military and work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), he is now retired and able to enjoy, in his words, ‘long weekends forever’. He is the author of several books of flash fiction and poetry including ‘Telling Stories’, ‘Family Matters’ and ‘New Beginnings’ and he is also a Pushcart Prize and Micro Award nominee.-
Carl, when did you start writing and what motivated you to do so?
In my working years with the government I authored many job-related papers, documents and reports, however nothing personal or poetic until both my parents died 15 days apart in 2000. Several years prior, their house completely burned taking their very existence, nothing material showing they were even here. My mission became writing memoirs, my autobiography of sorts, in one page stories of poetry and prose from growing up on Old Mill Road in Ridgeway Virginia, of family stateside and Germany, friends, military, community, church, hospice and home along the way, showing we were here, that I was here.
When you write your flash fiction and your poems, where do your ideas come from?
“That reminds me of” instances, maybe from a movie, book or reminiscing old times with a friend, needing to be written or else forgotten. These stories most always make it into my poetry. Many can be seen if you Google: Carl “Papa” Palmer or on my author showcase page, https://www.facebook.com/carlpapa.palmer.1
Some of your poems are very humorous. I’m thinking here of poems such as ‘A Dog named SEX’, ‘Dear Editor’ and the clever ‘Elementary Abecedarian’ which, when recited out loud spells all the letters of the alphabet. Do you regard it as important to strike a balance between seriousness and humor in your writing?
In my service as a Franciscan Hospice volunteer I am a story-catcher, making video end-of-life conversations for the family. These recordings are certainly serious and solemn, yet the tone always ends upbeat, a funny story for the family to laugh about rather than cry. What a way to be remembered! End it with a smile.
In your short bio, you say that you are a ‘professional hobbyist’. What are your main hobbies and how do they play into your writing?
Being Papa to my grand descendants is my greatest pleasure. Commitment, obligation, duties and job requirements in the military kept me away, caused many missed moments with my daughter and son in their younger lives. Now I’m living what I missed with my grandchildren. Both my grandfathers were gone before I knew them, so I am blessed with the opportunity to be present and will always be there for them (actually it’s for me). Samuel 1:27. My two grand-girls and three grand-boys are stars in many of my poems.
My daughter has two daughters
both names begin with A
Alexis and Aundrea
My son has three sons
their names all start with B
Brady, Beckett and Brett
They are my poetry, my poems, they make me a poet.
(I also whittle walking sticks).
Poems such as ‘Bonus Beatitude’ and ‘Coffee Shop’ offer up some delightful vignettes that are well-observed. Your work as a Hospice volunteer must also provide you with a considerable degree of insight into other people’s lives. To what extent, if any, do you shape your fictional characters on these experiences?
My time with those on Hospice is spent basically being there, listening, sometimes they have no one else, only me to hear their story, and everyone has a story. Their story soon becomes our story for me to write my story with them becoming my character, nothing fiction, only their name. But a lot of my stories do end up fictional:
truth be told
My story will most always contain elastic, truth stretched a bit
to add interest for any who may have heard my story before.
I’ll tell it three different ways before I’d ever tell a lie about it.
In poems such as ‘Back from Iraq 4/04’ written in 2018, you show us the other side of your writing. To what extent would you say that your own military experience and that of your son’s has played a part in shaping what you write about?
I was in the Army for twenty years, but never in harm’s way. My son retired from the Air Force with multiple missions in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, frequently in danger. My grand-girl, an Air Force nurse, spent her first two years at civilian and military hospital bedsides treating COVID-19 followed with an immediate assignment to evacuate refugees from Afghanistan. So she has already been more at risk than me or my son. Some of my military-related poems are published with Zero Dark Thirty, Voices in Wartime, Proud To Be and in the AVTT Traveling Vietnam Wall Poetry Anthology.
Your Origami micro-chap, ‘Covid Shopping’ documents succinctly the experience of living through the pandemic. The light-touch with which you approach the subject is to be commended. While it does not detract from the seriousness of the situation it somehow manages to strike the right balance. How far is this positive approach a part of your own coping mechanism?
Late night television hosts lighten heavy headlines broadcast all day by bringing a needed spin of comic relief and are intended to be taken that way, as is my quickie conversation of a nasal swab test result via iPhone:
U R NEGATIVE
R U CERTAIN
I M POSITIVE
Reading your pantoum ‘green card soldier’ prompts me to ask if you enjoy the challenge of writing poems in different forms.
Traditional fixed form poems have a specific numbers of lines, syllables, rhythms and rhymes compared to open and free verse. I like to follow these guidelines, yet push the limits without breaking the rules.
You mentioned my poem, Dear Editor. Here’s the back story: I received a cookie cutter letter of rejection from the editor in my SASE for someone else's poem. That someone else sent me the acceptance letter she received for my poem in her SASE. My poetic response: this seventeen syllable "precursory curse" villanelle appearing in the February 2020 edition of Quill and Parchment. Take another look and count the beats.
What are you reading at the moment and who are the authors you most admire?
Every morning I discover a new favorite poet from articles and newsletters I read and subscribe to on my laptop. Your Daily Poem.com is my favorite with a new poem by a new poet to admire each day with their bio-sketch and links to other poems and places they are published.
Do you feel positive about the future of poetry in the present age?
Watch Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet to ever read at a U.S. presidential inauguration on YouTube, “The Hill We Climb” and you’ll be positive about the future of poetry, too.
Thank you, Neil, for allowing me to share my writing adventures and ventures. I’ll conclude with my poem of a 90-year-old veteran confined during the pandemic in an assisted living facility on hospice diagnosed with debilitating dementia and complex PTSD.
~ 2022 Winner of the Sally-Sue Hughes Memorial Award, Veterans Voices Writing Project
His Limbo Soliloquy
Actually, I like lockdown. I already was before COVID anyway,
but now I’ve got my privacy. No family feeling forced to visit
or hold vigil in my netherworld, he confides through the phone.
Both of us former Army soldiers placing us on common ground
made introductions easier with the usual “where were we when”
comparisons of duty assignments all military members embrace.
Though sharing multiple telephone calls these past seven months
since my assignment to be his companion as a hospice volunteer,
I have yet to meet him face-to-face due to pandemic restrictions.
Using his bedside number at the nursing home I can call anytime,
not worry about visiting hours. I ask if he’s busy, got time to talk.
His answer’s most always the same, Just busy here being alone,
too close to death to complain. Clicking me to speaker he begins
what he calls “me-memories from a time when when was when.”
Mostly musing of being anywhere but there, lost in an actual place,
blurring “what was with what is” behind and in front of his shadow,
recalling dreams as a younger man, of a future in past perfect tense.
And times talking of present times from his no man’s land outpost,
All days end as they begin in purgatory, today recopying yesterday,
cared for by hosts of faceless masked angels not letting me die alone.
Forgive me only thinking of myself, I just need you to hear I’m here.
Inside I’m your age, the two of us sharing a brew at the NCO club,
years ago and oceans away, comrades-in-arms talking of our day.
To me he’s the sergeant with permanent change of station orders
in transition for his final mission, ending his time on active service,
in hopes his God is religious and his terminal assignment is good.