The ‘Alchemy’ of poetry

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First Posted: 3/17/2014

John Yamrus is 23 poetry books in – and the 63-year-old shows no signs of stopping.

In fact, he’s set to release his newest collection, “Alchemy,” as part of Third Friday Wilkes-Barre at the Osterhout Library on March 21.

Yamrus, who said poetry was always something he’s done, seems almost baffled at the thought of ever stopping. He looks at each instance of pen to paper (or fingers to keys, as it were) as a chance to grow.

“It’s the opportunity to challenge yourself and write something new,” Yamrus said of how he keeps the creativity flowing.

Over the years, he has found his writing has evolved quite a bit, and it has to do with the amount of words he employs to get his point across.

“My poems are getting shorter and shorter; I’m trying to tighten them up. It’s cutting away everything not necessary in the poem. When I hear people talking about my work, saying, ‘That’s not poetry, I haven’t seen poetry that looks like that,’ I kind of think of that as a victory for me because I’m doing something new.”

Yamrus points to silence as “a great writing tool” and said the spaces between the lines are extremely important to him. This notion is something he actually picked up from famed musician Miles Davis.

“He knew,” Yamrus said of Davis’ songs. “He knew how to use silence.”

For all the simplicity of his works, Yamrus’ musings hold meaning on multiple levels. A three-line poem can mean a plethora of things, depending upon the person reading it.

“A lot of people tend to look at it from the surface, and don’t see what I’m trying to do on a deeper level,” Yamrus said. “For me, the reader is part of the whole process. I’m not talking at them, I’m talking with them, and their involvement is very crucial to me.”

“Alchemy” is a cohesive collection of poems that were written over a year period, a book Yamrus said he intended to be “a novel of sorts.”

“The first and last poems in the book talk about the actual act or purpose of writing. There’s so many people that think of writing, especially poetry, as a game, like a crossword puzzle or something to fill up time. For me, poetry is blood and guts and bone. It’s very vital to me and means a lot to me, and that’s the purpose of this book. There are descriptions of writers, descriptions of people on the edge, people being pushed to the brink, some recurring characters.”

Yamrus is this month’s Featured Artist for Third Friday, something new for the event this year. Other additions to Third Friday for the coming season are different centers of activity, such as displays outdoors in the warmer weather, youth exhibits, and “Third Friday After Eight,” an effort that will work with downtown venues to encourage Third Friday attendees to remain downtown and enjoy the varied businesses that are open after the conclusion of each art walk.