Jim Dissette Interview
What was it like winning the 4th Sophie Kerr Prize? What did it mean back then?
From its inception, I thought the Prize was an amazing offering. It was a lot of money, of course, but more importantly, and I mean this—at least for me—I realized that there were a majority of people on the committee who felt my manuscript had some merit. More than anything, writers want to connect with a reader. For a 21 year-old, to have a group of professors you respected, worked with, sometimes failed with, decide that you had potential….I think the it meant the same as it does today.
What did you do after graduation?
After a year as a caretaker on a farm in Centreville I trained as a commercial diver in California, took a left turn and ended up working for a Foundation in Boston whose mission was to set up day camps, nursing stations and schools along the Labrador Coast. I also attended graduate school at Suffolk University and Boston University because poets like George Starbuck were around.
What was the first book you read and loved?
Hmmm. I think it was Wind in the Willows. But the first book that blew my mind was Nevil Shute’s On the Beach. I think I was about 12.
What is your favorite memory of your time at Washington College?
I really can’t tell you—he College might want its prize back. One memory is about 1969, I think, the year the Berkeley and Columbia campuses blew up and the students were shutting down the administrative offices. There was an impromptu meeting in the WC dining room addressing the possibility of “shutting down” the Administration. Someone asked where would all go if the school shut down? That pretty much ended our revolutionary moment. Besides, President Gibson was one of the most progressive WC presidents to have come along. Baseball with Ed Athey and Coach Kibler was always great. Norman James reciting Yeats on a spring day was a fairly religious experience. The infamous production of MacBeth still lingers.
Who is your favorite author and why?
For poetry it would be Jack Gilbert. If poetry is to make you feel, Gilbert take me to the core of relating experience to feeling. No bells and whistles, no “cats with jewelry” as Mary Karr would say. Michael Palmer is wonderful—he likes to unravel the language, even to go outside of it. I go to different writers for different reasons. J. M. Coetzee rocks my boat.
Please describe the work you are doing at the Chester River Press.
Currently I’m in the middle of printing a chapbook by Pulitzer poet Franz Wright. After that, we will be working on s series of maritime broadsides with the artist, Marc Castelli, and this Fall, hopefully, we will be publishing the very eccentric novella, The Machine Stops, by E.M. Forster. On the side I’m designing an installation size assemblage of Kenneth Koch’s “One Train May Hide Another,” a wonderful poem that should be on the side of a building somewhere.