First Cut: Interview with Steve Lambert

The ninth book in the First Cut Poetry series, The Shamble by Steve Lambert, was released one year ago. To celebrate, I’ve had a chat with Steve about his brilliant poetry collection, what he’s been up to since The Shamble was released, and his future literary plans.

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HLR: Steve, tell us all about The Shamble. Where did the title come from?

SL: I’ve always enjoyed the words shamble, shambles and shambolic. To shamble means to stumble or shuffle about. A shambles, in modern usage, means a mess. But, in researching, I found that one of the probable roots of both words is shambol—in archaic English, the name for a three-legged stool used by butchers. It was unsteady, as it only had three legs. The word shambles became sort of emblematic of butchery (the butcher sections of a town or village in the UK were even once referred to as Shambles).

The book’s title poem is a poetic shamble / shambles. It is a shuffle and a mess. I like messes. I’m a fan of digression and associative leaps, too. Also, the book has both explicit and implicit connections to the UK.

HLR: Can you sum up the main themes in your collection in 10 words or less?

SL: Most of my work deals with the same stuff—nostalgia, often of things and places I’ve never even encountered. Alienation. Misgivings about religion and how that relates to death. The relationship between place and identity.

HLR: What are your favourite poem(s) in the collection and why?

SL: Probably the title poem [‘The Shamble’]. I think it’s the most ambitious poem I’ve ever written.

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HLR: What are your writing habits like?

SL: My writing habits are erratic. I have no routine. I work full-time, am married, and have a nineteen-year-old daughter, a college sophomore. One writes when one can. That said, I am useless, in terms of writing, after noontime. If I’m going to write, it has to be in the morning. Ideally, I’d write every day from around eight to noon. But I can manage that only on the weekends, and not every weekend. So I have to fit the writing in however and whenever I can. I’m sure this is fairly typical.

HLR: Name 3 books: 1 book from your childhood, 1 you’re currently reading, and 1 you’re looking forward to reading.

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SL: The Arnold Lobel Frog and Toad books had a huge impact on me. My mom was good about reading to me when I was very young and those books have stuck with me, the aesthetic in particular, and the simplicity of the stories.

I’m currently on book five (of six) of Knausgaard’s My Struggle. Fascinating experiment, these books. I admire their scope and readability.

I’d like to read Alasdair Gray’s novel Poor Things next, once I’m done with the Knausgaard books.

HLR: What’s one poem you wish you’d written?

SL: Robert Hayden’s ‘Those Winter Sundays‘ is the closest anyone has ever come to writing a perfect lyric poem, so I’d probably pick that one.

HLR: Tell us about your future writing plans? What’s next for you?

SL: I’m currently working on a long, digressive novel, titled Dutch Ears. It’s a messy, ranty, digressive, baggy thing, and it will probably take me a few more years to finish. I’m also working on a third poetry collection, tentatively titled, Lies About the Weather. It’s close to being ready to submit.

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About the Poet

Steve Lambert was born in Louisiana and grew up in Florida. His writing has appeared in Saw Palm, Chiron Review, New World Writing, The Pinch, Broad River Review, Longleaf Review, Emrys Journal, BULL Fiction, Into the Void, Cortland Review, and many other places. In 2015 he won third-place in Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction contest and in 2018 he won Emrys Journal’s Nancy Dew Taylor Poetry Prize. He is the recipient of four Pushcart Prize nominations and was a Rash Award in Fiction finalist. He is the author of the poetry collections Heat Seekers (2017) and The Shamble (2021), the chapbook In Eynsham (2020), and the fiction collection The Patron Saint of Birds (2020). His novel, Philisteens, was released in 2021. The collaborative fiction text, Mortality Birds, written with Timothy Dodd, came out earlier this year, and is the first title from Southernmost Books. He and his wife live in Northeast Florida where he is a media specialist at a middle school.

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Follow HLR on Twitter: @HLRwriter

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