Contributor Spotlight: Ross Losapio
I’ve been told that love poems and funny poems are the most difficult variety to write. I’d add travel poems to that list, as well. Let me start over.
For many, the pursuit of a career in writing is quite literally that. Pursuit. One that has taken (and continues to take) me from state to state, school to school, and job to job, following barely visible tracks and trails. A mentor here, a workshop community there. A published poem here, a note of encouragement there. Sacrifices have to be made and things tend to get complicated when a second person enters the picture, especially if that person is also a writer.
Toward the end of my senior year at Loyola University Maryland, I met my wife-to-be, the poet Raina Fields. I like to think that I won her heart with my writing, and she’s been kind enough thus far to not disabuse me of that notion. We dated for a few weeks before finishing our undergraduate careers, and it would have made perfect logistical sense for us to end our relationship there—a brief, fond memory—but we both felt something special, something that we didn’t want to end just yet. She moved back to Philadelphia and I returned to central New Jersey, and the two of us embarked on the dreaded long-distance relationship.
We each made the one-and-a-half hour drive for weekend visits as often as we could, while working day jobs and nurturing our writing. After a stint in the “real world” we both decided that a return to academia was in order and applied to a smattering of MFA programs. Raina was accepted into Virginia Tech’s program a year ahead of me (briefly stretching our relationship out to 8+ hours and generally limiting us to phone calls and video chats). The following year, I enrolled in the poetry program at Virginia Commonwealth University (shrinking it back down to a roughly three-and-a-half hour drive).
I spent days and days driving back and forth across nearly the entire width of Virginia, mostly cruising along lonely and monotonous highways. In the vast space between Richmond and Blacksburg, the radio was little comfort, and my mind often wandered—quietly absorbing the swirl of hasty asphalt patch jobs, the crumpled monuments of deer corpses, and the horizon’s distant shimmer. I knew that I wanted to write about this experience, but I wasn’t sure how to approach the project without sounding treacly or cliché. I was, after all, talking about love poetry.
About this time, I was introduced to Robert Byron’s seminal travelogue The Road to Oxiana, which detailed the author’s journey throughout the 1930s Middle East. This granddaddy of all travel writing enthralled me. And, suddenly, it clicked. I could use Byron’s romantic landscapes and utterly unique observations as a foil to set beside my own writing. As I narrowed my choice of excerpts, I found that disparate elements began bouncing off one another in really interesting ways that propelled me into a series of Oxiana-inspired poems, one of which I am thrilled to have appear in this issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review. A handful of others can be found in the most recent issue of Superstition Review.
It’s very difficult to write a love poem that isn’t trite. It’s just as difficult to write a travel poem that doesn’t sound like a tourist’s superficial observations. By conceptually combining them, though, I found an unorthodox but sincere means to my ends.
Ross Losapio is a graduate of the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he served as Lead Associate Editor for Blackbird. He is the recipient of the 2013 Catherine and Joan Byrne Poetry Prize and his poetry appears in Copper Nickel, Superstition Review, the minnesota review, The Emerson Review, and elsewhere. He is married to the poet Raina Fields. His poem "The air is composed of mud refined into a gas" can be found in HFR54.