Sunday, October 26, 2003

Christopher Howell - Spokane, WA

Christopher Howell is a quiet man with a studied nature, and my visit to his lovely home in Spokane is pleasant and much too short.

We walk through his kitchen and into his office that looks over his back yard. The room is small, but well lit and we sit across a heavy wooden desk to talk while drinking coffee. As I do in all of these interviews, I start with the principal question: "Does place impact your work?" Howell answers that in complete and precise sentences. He works the phrases slowly, but they are elegant and well wrought.

I move through some other questions, and I can tell instantly whether or not they're good questions. Howell's face tells me instantly. A good question elicits a solid nod, an intake of breath, and the beginning of an answer. A question not quite as good brings a wrinkled brow. Howell can take an okay question and draw from it an angle that's interesting and far more in line with what I really wanted.

He's so good, in fact, that I try a new question, one I've not tried out on any poet yet. It sounds garbled as I sell it, but Howell sees an area of light in it. He gives me an answer I'll be able to simply type into the book. No edits. Sentences with punctuation. Terrific.

We finish chatting as the tape recorder clicks off. It's a sign.

The light has gone down quickly outside. It's only 5 pm, but it looks like 8 or 9 anywhere else. We go out into the bricked patio area off the back door of his house and we shoot some photos. We talk a bit about a new book of his coming out. He walks me through the house, out into the front yard to look for my wife. I see the lights of Winnie Cooper (the new name for the big beast) and wave back at Howell through the window.