David Arthur Humphreys (March 24, 1951 - July 28, 2008) Poets’ Espresso newsletter So Long--September-November 2005 Z Gamma—June-July 2006 Back-lit Purple Raspberry Neon—August-September 2006 What’s Not There—February-March 2007 Day The Sun Didn’t Rise—December 2007-January 2008 Award in Literary Arts from Stockton Arts Commission 2008.
I. Biography David Humphreys is an accomplished poet in the Stockton area. He has been published in many literary magazines and has a collection of poems called My Shepherd , a large compilation of his works spanning over almost 30 years. As the title suggests, many of his poems are about religion and God. Another prevailing topic is his family; he often finds inspiration in them. David himself attributes his inspiration to his experiences at the time of writing. Hence, two major parts of his life show up most often in his early poetry, his family and God. David’s poems often have concise visual images and deep meanings and emotions set to a jazz beat -- this was referred to by another Stockton poet and instructor, Paula Sheil.
David Humphreys was born in Morristown, New Jersey in March of 1951. He lived a pretty normal childhood. During his teenage life, he switched high schools frequently. His first year in high school was spent at a prep school called Claire de Lac. He then went to Woodside High School. During his senior year, his stepfather received a job offer in Spain. He and his family moved there for a year. It was there that he took a correspondence course from the University of Nebraska. That was where he graduated and started his love of poetry. The books that he used in his correspondence course really caught his attention. It was there, in Spain, that he started poetry with a pen and journal. Writing was a talent that continued with him after he discovered it during his high school years.
David continued his education by attending Colorado Mountain College. Colorado Mountain College was a community college near Aspen. It was there that he wrote for the literary paper that was put out by the school. Besides getting an AA degree there, it strengthened his love for writing. He proceeded to obtain a bachelor’s degree by moving to Boulder, Colorado in order to attend the University of Colorado. He studied anthropology there. During these years, he decided poetry was what he wanted to pursue. At the age of 21, he had committed himself to poetry; he directed his actions in life to it.
Humphreys came to Stockton by sheer coincidence. He moved here because of his wife whom he met in Mountain View. She had received a Ph.D. in geology from UC Santa Barbara and got a teaching job offer from the University of the Pacific. Therefore, they left the Santa Barbara area for Stockton. Stockton has since become the setting for all of this poet’s dreams and thoughts; it is a place of beauty and inspiration for him. He thoroughly enjoys the trees and sky, along with the summer heat and the fall and winter fog.
David Humphreys writes poetry, but he has also been a carpenter and building contractor. For 20 years he practiced the art of carpentry. This suddenly ended in 1993. Two major strokes took his ability to be a carpenter. David went through rehabilitation and recovered quite well. During his rehabilitation, he followed his passion for poetry. It was then that he met Gilbert Schedler and Catherine Webster, two major influences on his work. Professor Schedler is a recently retired Pacific professor of Religious Studies and English; it was his dual interests in religion and poetry that interested Humphreys. Catherine Webster ran a workshop that he joined in the early nineties; it led him to focus more seriously on his work. She also taught him to channel his thoughts into poetry by using a graphic title. This process helped David write great poetry over and over again.
Due to the two strokes that he experienced, God and his family have been seriously focused in his life. David had his family’s support throughout his health trouble. The incidents also made him very contemplative on the subjects of religion and God. Therefore his poems from this time dealt frequently with these subjects, for his poems are inspired mostly by life. It is his life experiences that give him subject matter. Even the little things can inspire him into writing a great poem. For example, one of his poems came directly from one of his three children’s thoughts that a kangaroo was a dinosaur. That became a title of a poem just from that single image. It is the title that often gets him started writing. "A title has the power to collect all my thoughts," David said. It is these revelations that are the part of writing that David enjoys the most. "My favorite experience in writing is when it sort of falls out of the sky. It’s magical, you become a medium for some other force. You can’t reason it out in any way... Well, if I were to describe a God experience, that would be as close to it, I think, as one could possibly be," he said.
David Humphreys has played a major role in the community of Stockton. He hasorganized the talent of the area in a group called The Poet’s Corner. They have given readings at cafes and bookstores around the area. He has also hosted the Poet’s Corner web page at www.poetscornerpress.com and also worked with KUOP studios along with several other poets in the area to record poetry albums. Part 1 of the series can be previewed at the Poet’s Corner web page. Part 2 was just recorded in January of 1999. David has also worked with the Sacramento Poet Center. He has often found very talented poets there to work with. Together, all the poets seem to have had a very closely-knit society. They have worked together and supported each other for the betterment of the poetic community. It is a great thing to see a man like David Humphreys participating in such a thing. David continues to work on new works for us to enjoy, and at the same time maintains his web page and works with poets in the area.
II. Literary Works: My Shepherd 1997 Our Father Who 2000 Art In Heaven 2004 Delta Pastel Dawn 2005 Delta Pastel Dusk 2005
III. Stockton and Humphreys Stockton, although an influence on Mr. Humphreys’ work, is more like a home for the poet. As is any home, it is an influence on a person, and Stockton is David’s home. It is the place where all the experiences he writes about take place. It is where his friends are, where his family is, and where life takes place. Therefore, Stockton is an influence on Humphreys’ work but not in any special way. Any place that could be a home for David would have an influence on his poetic works. Stockton is just a place for David; the real influence lies within Stockton. It is the people, the atmosphere, and the beauty he sees here. It is important to realize that, for I feel David would say the same. It is not the place that makes a great poet, it is the writing of the poet and his or her subject matter.
Many of David’s poems deal with the influence of Stockton. Not all that many poems actually talk about Stockton’s influence as a city, but the influence of experiences in Stockton. One of the best references of Stockton as a city is in David Humphreys’ poem "Hat Trick." It speaks of the beauty pointed out to him by a fellow churchgoer named Norma Yeoman. He writes about the Stockton beauty in its brick buildings and trees. They remind him of upstate New York. Another poem, "I-5", makes reference to the highway which passes through Stockton, but the poem itself seems to be more about the way I-5 once was through the Sierras.
David Humphreys would be a talented and gifted poet no matter where he chose to live. The fact is, David has chosen to live in Stockton. Stockton is noted for its crime and ugliness, but David has chosen to find the inner beauty of the people and atmosphere of Stockton. The majority of people often overlook this part of Stockton. This ability of David’s is what makes him a very talented poet.
IV. Transcript of Interview with David Humphreys This interview took place on Valentine’s Day of 1999 at the Barnes and Noble Cafe in Stockton, California. Jonathan Wong conducted the interview with special thanks to David Humphreys for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this interview.
Basic Biography Jonathan: Where were you born and when?
David:Morristown, New Jersey in the March of 1951.
Jonathan: Where did you go to school?
David:I went to a number of different high schools, but I graduated from the University of Nebraska’s extension division. I was in Spain at the time and they had a really outstanding correspondence course that I took. That’s where I graduated. The freshman year I was at a little prep school called Claire de Lac, which has since folded- it’s no longer there. That was a lot of fun. My third year I went to Woodside High School which was another fine school. My stepfather had a business opportunity in Spain so we went there for a year. After which I returned and entered this community college near Aspen called Colorado Mountain College. I got an AA degree there and then went down to Boulder -- the University of Colorado. I went into the anthropology department there.
Jonathan: When did you know that you wanted to become a poet?
David:I think I started writing poetry while I was in high school, especially when I was in Spain. The textbooks that were part of that correspondence course that I mentioned werel fine quality and it just caught my attention. I started at about that time. I started in a journal with a pen, which is very different from the way I write now. The pen and the journal -- that kind of thing -- that is how I started.
Jonathan: Was it a class that you did that for? I know, like my sophomore year, we had a journal that we wrote poetry and entries in. Is that how you started?
David:Yes, very similar. Then in the community college, I continued to write and I also contributed to the literary paper of the school. I enjoyed it very much. Writing is something that has stayed with me ever since -- for about 30 years. There have been times when I didn’t write, but it always stayed in the back of my mind. I did it pretty continuously.
Jonathan: Did you always know that you wanted to be a poet, like it was your "calling" kind of thing -- something you always wanted to do?
David:When I was about 21, I think I really committed myself to it. I decided it was something that I wanted to do consistently. I really wanted to direct my life to it.
Jonathan: Is there anything else you would like to add to this basic biography?
David:Well, I was a carpenter for close to 20 years of my life. But, in 1993, I experienced two very serious strokes that took my ability to be a carpenter away from me. In the period of time since then, I’ve directed myself to writing poetry. When I met Gilbert Schedler at the University of the Pacific who is in religious studies and English creative writing he directed me to contact Catherine Webster. She ran a workshop that I joined and I’ve been writing pretty seriously ever since then. I was very interested in the twin interests that Schedler held, religious studies and poetry.
David as a Poet Jonathan: Was there anyone or anything that really inspired your work? I know you write a lot about God and your family, are they your major inspiration?
David:I think most of my inspiration came from my life experiences during the time that I was writing. It was the best method from me to express my feelings and my thoughts about my experiences at a particular moment. Sometimes I would hear something; I would hear an interesting expression from my children that would act as an epiphany that would open the musical process. I would just start into it. It is very much a musical experience, as well as an intellectual exercise. It was something that I just had to do because it was like singing to a song. Other things also inspire me, like the flight of a bird or in one of my poems, a dinosaur is a kangaroo and that came directly from one of my children. That kicked everything in to gear so I used that as the title of my poem. Down in the family room there is a chair and I was sitting in the chair and they just swarmed on top of me. I have three children and they just swarmed on top of me (laughs) in their play. It was something that I had to work on, so I’m working on that poem.
Jonathan: When you were saying musical, in your introduction to My Shepherd you refer to that music as a type jazz beat. Is jazz a heavy influence on your poetry?
David:Music influences my work to a great degree and that interpretation kind of left me with- well my experience with poetry is coupled with the people in community and Paula Shiel mentioned it one time. She was doing a reading series at the Sacramento Baking Company, this was several years ago, and she just picked up on the rhythms that I was using in my delivery and plugged it in as jazz. But as far as music, jazz comes closest to the way it is, but it is not a conscious decision to be jazz. I enjoy rock and roll as much as, or more I think than jazz. Rock and roll is more of what I experienced growing up. It’s the Beatles, Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin that I have always really liked..
Jonathan: Yeah, the Beatles are really good. I listen to them quite a bit and they aren’t even from my generation. Well, do you write any other types of works beside just poetry?
David:Yeah, I started in my college days after I left school. I went into short stories. I think my hero, everyone’s hero, was Mr. Hemmingway. I thought his stories were really fine and also Jack London’s, so I wrote three or four of them. But then I just left that. As I have studied other poets like Philip Levine, I found that his method of writing is called narrative poetry. Narrative poetry tells a story, it has a story line, and a lot of the very fine poetry is just a micro story. Philip Levine, I think, is probably the premier example of that style, for he is up riding a crest of the wave. Over the last couple of months he’s been in New York over and over again, he has something going. I would like to bring your attention to the website of the Academy of American Poets at www.poets.org where you can find the work of all the major poets of national stature such as Robert Bly or Gerald Stern, for instance or Kim Addonizio, who is an absolute master of narrative poetry, Rita Dove and Louise Gluck among many others.
Jonathan: Most writers have a special place or a ritual to their writing to get the "flow going." Is there any special place or thing you do?
David:I would like to say that the very best way to start the writing process is to read fine poetry from the past or currently in fine magazines like Poetry of Chicago. Also, going back to Catherine Webster and her influence, she pointed something out to me. I was writing at the time -- I had noticed E.E. Cummings, the way he didn’t use titles or capitalization -- so I wrote a number of poems without titles. Catherine suggested that I make a title, and I started doing that. Now, I always start a poem with a title. It collects all my thoughts. My most recent poem that I just finished the other day is called "Candelabra" and I just start with that image, that photographic image. Another title I have is "For Every Action" which comes out of the Third Law of Newton, The Third Law of Thermodynamics. It states, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." The "Candelabra" is a very visual image, and by starting with that, everything just came right out. My favorite experience in writing is when it sort of falls out of the sky. It’s just magical, you become a medium for some other force almost. You can’t reason it out in any way.
Jonathan: I know exactly what you mean, sometimes its like "gosh, I really don’t know what to write." Other times you start writing and you just can’t seem to stop, and it just seems to work so well.
David:Right, Well, if I were to describe a God experience, that would be as close to it, I think, as one could possibly be. It is a communion with something beyond a conscious reasoning. It is a special connection of some sort.
Jonathan: Is there anything else you would like to add about being a poet?
David:That I love it! More than any other thing that I could do, except perhaps experience beautiful people and the world.
Jonathan: And that gives you something to write poems about.
The Stockton Area Jonathan: Why did you decide to come here to Stockton?
David:Well, my wife. We met in Mountain View where she was working with a geological survey, and she wanted to go and get a higher degree. So we both moved down to Santa Barbara, she was after a Ph.D. in geology. We moved down there, and after she completed that she got a job offer as a professor at UOP. That is why we moved back up here, it was also to return to the Bay Area where I grew up.
Jonathan: Do you feel like the Stockton area offers some sort of influence on your work?
David:Yeah, that is a good question. Yes I think it does. It’s the setting to all my thoughts and all my dreams. As a subject matter, as an immediate subject matter, most of my work fits in and takes place here. I focus on how I have experienced my family or my thoughts about religion. For a good while during the time that I was having my health trouble I was wondering and considering. When I was a child I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, but I had not really thought about it very much. I went through the frame of confirmation but I had not focused on it very much. I didn’t really understand it. After the strokes, I started wondering, Why did this happen? Why at this time of my life? Right when I started my brand new young family? My twin daughters were born just three months before I had my most serious attack. That is my explanation for why I have directed a lot of my poetry to figuring out what is God? Why would God do this? Just trying to understand why this happened.
Jonathan: I know you do the Poet’s Corner and you play a major role in that. Do you find it difficult to do that in such a small area like Stockton?
David:I have discovered myself to have been isolated or ignorant of development in the outside world. Just yesterday I discovered there is another Poet’s Corner on the Internet, which is extremely detailed and well drafted. It’s a huge site with over 4000 poems with over 500 poets on their site. I was unaware that somebody had concentrated on so many great poets. I was a little disappointed by the small number of poems by Wallace Stevens, but it is a really minor detail. It is a really nice place to visit. I think what I would like to do since I just made my website, the Poet’s Corner website, I’m going to put a link to this other site.
Jonathan: You were working on Part 2 of your thing at KUOP studios.
David:Yes. That turned out pretty well. We made a CD and cassettes, and the engineer put them into a very nice order. So it is a pretty cool program. I have a reading at the Sacramento Poet Center. That is one of our immediate avenues to great talent. Sacramento Poet Center has a lot of poets and it is only an hour away. Luke Breit, the president (at the time of this interview) of the non-profit organization, has done a real fine job in promoting the local talent. That is (still) a great resource for readers and poets. In May,(1999) our Poet’s Corner reader here (Barnes and Noble) will be Melanie Bishop, (now Melanie Sievers) I just met her back in January while seeing Susan Kelly-DeWitt, one of the featured poets in the part 1 series. She gave a reading there and I went up and met Melanie, who is (was) a brand-new board member up there. There is just a lot of great talent there. If you visit their website, you may visit the Sonoma County link of Lane Russell. Every event and cafe in the bay area have been listed there. You could probably wake up on Monday morning and just go from one cafe to another around the country, then you just might find out the meaning of infinity. It is quite extensive.
Jonathan: Is there anything else you would like to add about the area itself?
David:One of my poems in the My Shepherd book is called "Hat Trick." It deals exactly with Stockton and how at my church Norma who is a professor of mathematics at Delta (a local community college) loves Stockton. She says Stockton is a beautiful place. It surprised me; I had grown up in a different area. But I found that the beauty of Stockton is the trees, the agriculture and the surrounding agricultural communities, the sky and the flat land and the heat. I’ve become acclimated to the heat, so that I really look forward to it. The fog, the fog has its own beauty. On part 1 of the series, there is a poem about fog called "To the Valley Fog" by Don Campbell. You might have run into it on my website. It’s just a lovely place. In the "Hat Trick" poem, it mentions that upstate New York has brick buildings and that the trees change in the fall. It is almost exactly the same in Stockton, although there are hills. It is the trees and the brick buildings, and the atmosphere.
Jonathan: Is there anything else you would like to talk about?
David:No thank you, I appreciate very much your having called.
Jonathan: No problem. I really enjoyed doing this. Thank you very much for doing this.