My name is David Booth. I am a high school humanities teacher and a poet. I live with my wife Ingrid Hawkinson in San Francisco, California. I began my teaching career mentoring children in the context of social services here in the city. Later, I worked at the Poetry Center & American Poetry Archives at San Francisco State University, where I earned an M.F.A. in creative writing. I eventually became a writing instructor at the University of San Francisco, before shifting my focus to teach teenagers.
Imaginative writing has enchanted me since I was a child. I remember reading the novel Scarlet Sails, by the Russian writer Alexander Green (Alexander Stepanovich Grinyevsky), when I was nine. His protagonist Arthur Grey proclaims, “I believe that the ancient concept of the beautiful, the unattainable, is in essence just as attainable and possible as a walk in the country.” This was a mystery to me when I was a boy, and it is now. But I get a sense of it when I read or write something small and resonant.
My most memorable academic introduction to ‘writing small’ happened in my twenties. Enrolled in a creative writing class at San Francisco State, I discovered Terrence Des Pres’ book of essays Praises & Dispraises: Poetry and Politics, the 20th Century. Using Creon and Antigone to ground his readers in an ancient tradition of resistance writing, he leaps into the twentieth century to explicate the agency and praxis of the poets William Butler Yeats, Bertolt Brecht, Breyten Breytenbach, and Adrienne Rich. The politics of these poets and the poetry it engendered was eye opening because, as a young man raised right of center, I had little sense of the concept of writing as a tactic for social justice.
If I wanted to be a poet at that point, and I’m not sure I knew what one was, I lacked a confident sense of line. Where do you break them? How do you make them? Once I understood that I could transfer my speech to the page to make short prose, I grew more comfortable writing stories as poems. (Jackson Mac Low writes of his “poems in prose” in Pieces o’ Six, “Even the pieces that are storylike or essaylike are poems.”) Experiencing the literary serendipity I’ve heard so many writers describe, I soon encountered the prose poems, vignettes, and small fictions of Russell Edson (The Very Thing That Happens), Bessie Head (Tales of Tenderness and Power); Harry Matthews (20 Lines a Day); and Diane Williams (Romancer Erector).
One more influence on my own writing, even if it isn’t always detectable in my output, is the place and practices and boldness of experimental writing. This means indeterminate poetics and new ways of doing narrative. This means semiotics and such familiar techniques in poetry writing as collage. Imagining a lineage that begins with Gertrude Stein (Tender Buttons), who grew up in Oakland, it was easy to locate an avant-garde in the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the years, I’ve been emboldened by such books as Lyn Hejinian’s My Life and Michael Palmer’s Company of Moths.