Poet Roy J. Adams Proves Its Never Too Late to Start

Don’t fiddle with glitz, reject the quick-/go for the edge, the waltz, the weight.//Its where you’ve sizzled; what’s off your/list, whether or not you’ve felt the mist. – Roy J. Adams*

Using humour, Hamilton-based poet Roy J. Adams once described himself as a literary flop by the time he was 20. Now in his semi-retirement, he’s celebrating the publication of two debut poetry books. I admire this writer’s enthusiasm and the way he uses quick wit to overcome obstacles.

Adams headshot 2018

Poet Roy J. Adams began writing poetry during his semi-retirement as an industrial relations professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Photo by Marilyn Adams

Upon first glance, his roller-coaster life reminds me of Looney Tunes’ Wile E. Coyote, the animated character who always picked himself up despite all the challenging attempts to capture the Road Runner or in his case, his ongoing dreams.

For example, in his poem “High”, he refers to his Jump School training with the U.S. Army: “you tumble” out of a packed plane and “become a ragdoll whirling/in the blast” only to end up “Splat! You’re back, flat, a blacked-out/crash test dummy.”

The next day, he’s back on the plane with even more determination.

He also survived the rejection of his father and stepmother and transformed himself from an 18-year-old university drop-out to an industrial relations professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

In a more recent personal essay posted on a Bloom-site.com blog he wrote “In my seventies, I fell off a mountain into another dimension.”**

That dimension led him to a more serious full-time commitment to poetry and the release of two publications: Bebop From Beau’s Caboose (a 24-page chapbook described by The Ontario Poetry Society president Fran Figge as “a smorgasbord spiced with tasty bites of unusual and invented words”) plus Critical Mass (a 64-page collection that New Westminster Poet Laureate Emerita Candice James promoted as a “nostalgic walk down memory lane”.) Verse Afire Reviewer John Ambury wrote that “Adams is a natural story-teller: a vivid narrator with a talent for the much-abbreviated story arc, relating much but not over-explaining.”

two books by Roy J Adams

Adams is the author of one chapbook printed by Beret Days Press and one trade book published by Silver Bow Publishing.

A few days ago, I chatted with Roy (via e-mail) about his recent books, his writing space, and his plans for the future.

First of all, belated congratulations re: your two poetry books. You’ve been on quite a life-long journey: raised in Philadelphia and eventually settled in Hamilton where you were employed at McMaster University. You’ve also travelled and lived overseas.  Several of your experiences appear in your two books.  Why do you think poetry escaped your radar for so long and what inspired you to focus on poetry during these last few years? 

Initially, when I was a teenager my creative writing ambition was to write short stories and, maybe, novels. Poetry, it seemed to me, was a talent with which one was born like a great singer or great athlete and that wasn’t me. Moreover, like American poet Marianne Moore, I did not like much of the poetry I stumbled upon. Around 2012 a friend of mine, a published poet, suggested I sit in on a workshop conducted by the Tower Poetry Society and I thought, why not? I had a good time and soon was attending regularly and offering my own scribbles for consideration. That led me to get “how to” books out of the library, attend courses at Mac and to seek other learning opportunities such as attending a poetry workshop in San Miguel de Allende (Mexico) for three years. After receiving many rejection slips, I finally published my first poem at age 74 and that encouraged me to work even harder.

Now that you have two books published, what do you hope that the reader will glean from your work?

Bebop from Beau's Caboose - Roy J Adams

Adams’ first poetry chapbook was published in 2018.

I would like them to come away with the feeling they do when they’ve seen a good play or good movie or good art show or rock concert or reading an absorbing novel or story. For any artist, the challenge is to produce work that both critics and casual readers consider worthwhile and that is what I generally shoot for.

Describe your creative writing space.

I live in a three storey house in the Westdale area of Hamilton near McMaster University. The third storey was my elder daughter’s bedroom through her high school years. It is now my office/mancave. I have a desk on which there is a computer, a lamp, a printer and piles of books and papers that I periodically try to sort out and whittle down. To my left as I face the desk is a window that has a view of Sterling Street, one of the main routes into and out of McMaster. During most days, the view is one of houses and trees and of cars and people heading to and from Mac. Back of me is a table with more piles, my calendar, an inbox and critically, a file folder with my ToDo list. To the wall side of my workspace is a cabinet filled with more junk. On top there is a container with pens and pencils. Although I compose on the computer, I create piles and piles of pencil notes.

Also, in the room are bookshelves, a TV that is only lightly used, an easy chair, shelves with boxes in which are stored various memorabilia. In one of them is a journal that I have been maintaining since I was a teenager. In another is a collection of notebooks assembled over the years. Wherever I go, I always have with me a small notebook and have done so for several decades. From clothes hangers hanging from pushpins in the wall along the steps going down to the second floor are tee shirts that I’ve collected from trips around the world. Good memories.  I spend at least four or five hours there every day.

What is your writing process like?

My writing process is pretty chaotic. Deadlines and other tasks on the ToDo list have a lot to do with what I work on in any given day but many days I find myself meandering and, if I am having fun, don’t do much to stop it. Often a poem will pop into my head or I’ll go back and rework one drafted several years ago, or I’ll get an idea from something read online or in a book or periodical.

Fortunately, I learned to type on the qwerty keyboard in high school and refined my use of it as a clerk in the U.S. army. Ideas flow pretty naturally from my head, through my hands to the keyboard. I don’t have to think much about it. I do most of my composing on the computer.

I also have two or more books that I am reading on the go at any given time and lots of others in the queue in a stand next to my bed. I do a lot of reading at night in bed including many “how to” books about writers and writing.

I usually have to do a lot of rewriting and I make good use of on-line thesauruses and rhyming sites. After drafting a poem (or article or whatever), I generally go to a thesaurus and see if I can’t improve on my original choice of words. I subscribe to a few Word a Day services and Poem a Day services and far too many other written and online services.

What other hobbies do you have besides writing? What do you do to relax?

I am a film buff and try to get to see most of the films nominated for awards each year. I also enjoy theatre and classical music concerts. I’m a sports fan and follow both the Blue Jays and Raptors.

roy dismounting elephant

Adams dismounts from an elephant during an adventure in Thailand. A fragment of this trip is captured in his poem “Serenity” published in Critical Mass. Photo courtesy of Roy J. Adams.

I love to travel and, both for my work in comparative industrial relations and for my own pleasure, have seen much of the world. In addition to Canada and the U.S., I’ve been invited to teach or lecture in countries on every continent except Antarctica.

I hike and backpack and climb mountains and scuba dive. Those interests have gotten me around Mt. Blanc in Europe, over the Milford Tract in New Zealand and up Mt. Toubkal in North Africa, Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo, Mt. Fuji in Japan and Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Scuba’s gotten me underwater in the Red Sea, Belize, The Great Barrier Reef and Tobermory.

In Hamilton Ontario, where I live, there is an escarpment and the two levels are connected by a metal stairway of some 330 steps. I climb those steps for 35-45 minutes three or four days a week. That wears me out, but I also find it to be mentally relaxing.

What’s next for Roy J. Adams?

Poetry is a challenging discipline. I don’t know how much room I have to improve but my plan is to continue to work at improving at least as long as I’m still having fun. For now, I read poetry and books about poetry every day. As for specific current projects, The Tower Poetry Society has asked me to put together an historical monograph to coincide with its 70thanniversary in 2021 and I’ll be working on that. I’m also toying with the idea of putting together a prose memoir but, although I have published several books, I find such big projects to be daunting.

Where can readers hear you read?

Roy J Adams in London Aug 2018

Adams shares his work at a reading in London, Ontario, Canada.

I’m a member of the Hamilton Poetry Centre, The Ontario Poetry Society, and the Tower Poetry Society. All the them have public readings scheduled in the up-coming year and I intend to participate. For the past several years, I have participated in Poetry Weekend, an event held on the weekend before Thanksgiving at the University of New Brunswick. I will likely do that again this year. Beyond those occasions, I have nothing yet planned but will be on the lookout for opportunities.

Is there anything else you wish the reader to know?

Yes, this coming year, The Fiddlehead is scheduled to publish a project featuring the journey and work of fifteen poets who published their first full book of poetry over the age of fifty. I was honoured to be selected by Brian Bartlett as one of those included.

That’s great news Roy. I look forward to reading that issue. It’s been nice chatting.

Below is my review of Adams’ chapbook and full collection.

Bebop From Beau’s Caboose by Roy J. Adams Beret Days Press 2019, 24 pages I.S.B.N. 978-1-926495-51-4 

Bebop From Beau’s Caboose (Beret Days Press 2018) is an eclectic collection of 19 poems for Roy J. Adams first chapbook of poetry!

Adams who was a fulltime faculty member for 24 years at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, has written about industrial relations and human rights for some 45 years.

However, as a new poet, he breaks away from business topics to explore and write about more creative frontiers such as love, relationships, ageing, school, music, art, and water.

What impressed me the most was his willingness to experiment and his collection certainly showcases a range of different forms with samples of short three- to five-line poems to a three-page piece mimicking a country-western song.

Roy Adams with chapbook

Adams launched his debut chapbook Bebop From Beau’s Caboose during The Ontario Poetry Society’s members’ reading and open mic late 2018 in Oakville.

He also plays with sound, writes ekphrastic poems (poetry inspired by art) and found poems using out-of-print books, unusual “Words of the Day” plus phrases inspired by other poets.

Other times, he bounces from real life situations to the surreal world of his imagination.

My favourite poem of the collection is “Neighbors” where Adams describes some of the animals and weeds in his yard.

While several of his poems are accessible (displaying signs of wit or elements of narration), a number of poems felt more like academic exercises (exploring more intellectual forms, wordplay, rhyme, sound) and those required extra concentration to appreciate. However, like the special features on a movie DVD, the added “Notes on the Individual Poems” clarified and enhanced the experience.

An impressive start for a writer breaking into the poetry genre. A poet to watch!

Additional information can be found on The Book Band website.

Critical Mass by Roy J. Adams Silver Bow Publishing, 2019, 64 pages  I.S.B.N. 978-1-77403-015-8 (soft cover) e-book 978-1-77403-016-5 (pdf) 

Call it a giant leap, a poetic adventure through one man’s life! What a heart-wrenching journey it has been!

Critical Mass by Roy J Adams

Critical Mass (Silver Bow Publishing 2019) is Adams’ first full collection of poetry.

A quirky and fun book! Adams took his painful memories like broken eggs and served them “sunny-side up” (p. 60) I look forward to his future musings!

Read my full review of this book on Goodreads. 

Information about Critical Mass can be found on the Silver Bow Publishing website!

Additional information on Amazon.

Roy J. Adams, semi-retired professor of Industrial Relations (McMaster University), published his first literary poem at age 74 in 2014. His work has now appeared in litmags in Canada, U.S., Australia, U.K. and Singapore. His first full poetry book, Critical Mass, was published by Silver Bow Publishing in 2019. Additional information can be found on the League of Canadian Poets site and on the members’ page of The Ontario Poetry Society website.

Another feature on Adams written by Jeff Mahoney of the Hamilton Spectator appears here.

*from the poem “Unforeseen” printed in Bebop From Beau’s Caboose (Beret Days Press, 2018) by Roy J. Adams (p. 2). Reprinted with the author’s permission Copyright © 2018 Roy J. Adams.
**from the personal essay “Serendipity at Seventy Plus” by Roy J. Adams published March 19, 2019 on the BLOOM website

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