Rebecca Schumejda is the author of Cadillac Men (New York Quarterly Books, 2012); Falling Forward (sunnyoutside, 2009); From Seed to Sin (Bottle of Smoke Press, 2011), The Map of Our Garden (verve bath, 2009); Dream Big, Work Harder (sunnyoutside press 2006); The Tear Duct of the Storm (Green Bean Press, 2001); and the poem "Logic" on a postcard (sunnyoutside).
Rebecca received her MA in Poetics and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and her BA in English and Creative Writing from SUNY New Paltz. She lives in New York’s Hudson Valley with her husband and daughter.
For more information, visit Rebecca at her website and nyqbooks.org.
The following three poems are from Cadillac Men.
Before 6 p.m., the pool hall’s empty
besides the Chicago crew,
who still swear by
Cadillacs, Coltrane, and cheap cigars.
They’re Vikings who look across the table,
their ocean, their starry night,
connecting balls like constellations,
mapping journeys while chalking up.
Every one of them has lost or found
his stroke between sunrise and sunset
in a pool room as dark and lonely
as the back pocket of a worn pair of denims.
At some point, they have all lost to the game:
a wife, a child, a home, friends,
self-respect, heirlooms, retirement, sanity.
They talk about the good ole days,
specific shots and calls made before I was born,
when so-and-so ran x number of balls
in a joint that no longer exists.
They’re dinosaurs like the Cadillacs
they’ve been driving long before The Hustler
exploited the mechanics of the game.
They are Newton, Newman, and Neruda
blending physics, pool and poetry.
Their Cadillacs, as faithful as death,
are always right there waiting for them.
The Regulars at Crazy Eights
There are men who bet
their paychecks on the flip
of a single card;
mortgage their homes
for a roll of the bones;
chance their car keys
on the nine in the side pocket.
Many of these men go
to church on Sundays and pray
for a big win next time,
for their wives to return,
or for their children to be luckier.
Penniless, these men
throw stones in collection plates.
They come to the pool hall
in lieu of confession
and look to my husband
These men troll the tables
with baited smiles.
Their eyes open like hymnals –
so wide, like the holes
in their stories,
that you can fall
and never hit the ground.
The Shadow Cast By His Cue
My father taught me how to play pool
in the back room of some smoky dive
on a Sunday afternoon when I was a teenager:
In between lessons and anecdotes,
he let me take sips from his beer.
Even though, my father’s only hustle
was a hard day’s work, I can’t help but see
his spirit in Wally The Whale –
something about the eyes, deeper than
cartilage and bone, more complex than language.
So when Wally shows me how
to steady my bridge, use the diamonds like maps,
and listen to the table, I hear my father –
something like a whisper, a shadow cast
by his cue, deafening like the memory
of a loved one buried below the surface.
TTQ – What inspired you to start writing poetry?
Rebecca Schumejda – When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher asked the class to write poems and I eagerly complied. A few days later, my parents were called into a meeting at the school where my teacher, the principal, the vice-principal, and the social worker discussed how my assignment was unacceptable and how they were worried about my mental state. After reading the poem, my father sat there for what seemed like forever before he looked right at me and said, 'This is a great poem, Rebecca!' Then he looked at the teacher and said, 'Don't ask your students to write poetry if you don't want to hear their truths.' My father, a hard-working roofer, has always been my inspiration.
TTQ – In your opinion, what constitutes a great poem?
Rebecca Schumejda – A great poem should haunt you like Raymond Carver's “My Daughter and Apple Pie.”
TTQ – Your second full length collection of poetry Cadillac Men (NYQ Books, 2012) explores the pool hall subculture after you and your husband purchase a pool hall, Crazy Eights, in downtown Kingston, New York. What circumstances lead you to taking such a huge risk in purchasing the pool hall and at what point did you decide to write a collection of poetry about your experiences there?
Rebecca Schumejda – Love makes you do crazy things. I met my husband around the pool table in a dive bar that we both frequented. My husband always wanted to own a pool hall and when the opportunity presented itself, I supported him. Crazy Eights is actually a fictitious name for our LLC. I started writing the poems the day we opened the door. I am a fairly regimented writer, so it just made sense to write about the experience. As the body of work took shape, I realized that the stories were less about me and more about the Cadillac Men.
TTQ - Many of the characters you write about in Cadillac Men have strange nicknames like Bobby-Balls-In-Hand, The Butcher and Mikey Meatballs. How close did you allow yourself to get to these characters and to what degree did being around these characters influence your outlook on your own life?
Rebecca Schumejda – I felt an instant connection with many of the men especially Wally the Whale and Aristotle. My life was inundated with their anecdotes and in many ways their stories became a refuge for me and the challenges in my own life. Other characters were my nemesis, and I was compelled to figure out why. I became obsessed with understanding what it was that made them tick. Off the page, the men just reminded me that we are all seeking acceptance and recognition for who we are and what we do.
TTQ – What has become of Crazy Eights and have any of the characters in Cadillac Men read the book, and what were their impressions of it?
Rebecca Schumejda – We had to close the doors. We were in a lease-to-own contract, and when it was time to purchase the actual building, we did not have the money as we had used our savings to stay afloat. The recession changed everything. Besides the Cadillac Men, who in their right minds would choose to play pool over eating or having heat? We tried to renegotiate, to make something work, but the owners of the building were unwilling to flex or extend the lease. We moved the equipment into storage.
As far as I know, none of the Cadillac Men have read the book. I don't see them as men interested in reading poetry, but as men who live poetry.
TTQ – Do you think it's still possible for the average American to live the “American Dream” or is there too much of a price to be paid in achieving that kind of goal in today's world?
Rebecca Schumejda – If you are discussing Steinbeck's American Dream of owning a little land, being your own boss, and maybe having some soft rabbits to pet then yes, I do believe it is possible, even though Steinbeck suggested it is not. I think that it is important to define what the American Dream is. The affluence of the 1990's in America, mirroring that of the 1920's, gave people a false sense of security. The current global economic crisis forces us to redefine our dreams, what is important. Sometimes we forget that sacrifice is essential. What are we willing to give up to achieve our dreams?
I am the product of a working class family. I live my father's mantra “dream big, work harder,” every day. My father taught me to think of every failure as an opportunity and that is exactly what I did with our business. I learned some valuable lessons and translated what I learned into poetry. I firmly believe that the price tag makes the goal, the dream, all the more enticing.
TTQ – What do you hope your readers will take away with them after reading Cadillac Men?
Rebecca Schumejda – I hope that readers enjoy the men and their stories as much as I do. I hope that readers appreciate the “marginalized” characters that I endeavored to pay tribute to.
TTQ - How arduous a task was the editing process for Cadillac Men and did anyone help you with that process?
Rebecca Schumejda – By the time the manuscript got to NYQ, it was in decent shape. I am grateful to David McNamara, from sunnyoutside press, for doing some of the final proofing/editing. I have worked with him in the past and have great respect for his professionalism and keen eye.
TTQ – What’s your relationship been like with the folks at NYQ Books and have you been doing a lot of live readings to promote the book?
Rebecca Schumejda – Raymond Hammond is a great guy to work with and I have great respect for what he does! I have been fortunate to have worked with really great editors and publishers along the way. I am actively reading to promote the book, and am always interested in reading new places. I will be part of the writer's panel at the Red Hook Literary Festival where I will discuss the influence of place on process on April 14th. I will be reading at Nobel Coffee Roasters on May 2nd and at the Mudd Puddle Cafe in New Paltz, New York on December 21st.
TTQ – What’s next for Rebecca Schumejda?
Rebecca Schumejda – Well, I’m currently working on Waiting at the Dead End Diner, which is a narrative collection inspired by years of waitressing, and is written in the same vein as Cadillac Men. Some of these restaurant poems were part of my first graduate thesis that was rejected. My love for making the unworkable work has inspired me to take a second shot and pursue these pieces. I’m also working on a series of “how to poems” that have appeared here and there in print and online. And I am just trying to pay the bills.