Q&A with Jake Stratman about ‘What I Have I Offer With Two Hands’

When did you begin to write poetry?

I was a teenager, but it’s not something I told many people about. What was really important to me at the time was being an athlete. Usually on sports teams, that’s not a thing, so you just kind of keep that to yourself. I had these little journals that I would keep and write in sometimes. They were always emotional, you know, more diaries than poems. 

Why do you like poetry?

I like small things—I like small cars, I like small houses—There’s something compact about a poem that I like. I know poetry can be long, but the poetry that usually attracts me is more compact. I like the way words sound, and when I tried to write short stories or something longer, I felt like I was losing touch with the language. And that’s just me. I don’t think novelists lose touch with the language, but I think I did. With poems I feel more in control because I have 50 words or 75 words or fewer.

What does the process of writing poetry look like?

I keep a journal. I don’t write every day. Maybe I should, but I don’t. When an idea comes to me, I have a journal where I’ll write lines or sentences or ideas. I’ll write them in there, and then they’ll sit there for a while because they kind of scare me. And then when I’m ready I’ll type them on the computer, but I’ll type them in a paragraph form. I’ll type them up and maybe change words or fashion things the way I like, but it’s always in paragraph form. Then I leave it for a while—I mean, this could be weeks, months, maybe longer—and then when I go back to it, that’s when I start to change more words but also shape it. I try to pay attention to what the shape should look like: how long are the lines, how short are the lines, if I see sounds that are more important, if rhyme might be a part of this. Then once I do that, I put it away for a while. Then I just tinker with it until I like it.

What are some of your biggest inspirations when writing poetry?

I really like that poetry can come from the everydayness, just the mundane parts of our lives. How that intersects with something supernatural or divine is really interesting to me. So looking at the trees, or watching my kids play soccer, or something normal when it’s a window to something beyond itself—that’s fun. [The book is] about being a person in this world who finds himself a parent and a person of faith and someone who spends a lot of time looking at trees and birds. And they all come together.

What was the process of getting the book published?

Well it’s just years of rejection. It’s sending individual poems out to journals for publication and getting constant rejections. After amassing kind of a collection of acceptances, I contacted an editor for a poetry series, and he welcomed me sending him some. And so I sent him some, and he asked for more, and he said, ‘Alright; let’s do this.’ It doesn’t always work that way, but that’s how it worked for this book.

What advice would you give to college students or young people who want to be poets?

Well, I have lots of things to say about that. I said I started writing when I was 13 or 15 or whenever it was. I stopped at 25 because I thought I was a failure. No one told me that the writing life is a life of rejection. You just get lots and lots of no’s. So, I thought after a few rejections—really just a handful of rejections—that that meant I’m not any good at this. So I stopped. Around 25 or 26 I was done. And I didn’t start again until my 40th birthday, which was just four years ago. That’s a long time to stop. What helped me though is that I didn’t stop reading [poetry]. And that’s my best advice: that as any writer—I don’t care if you’re writing plays, novels, Westerns, science fiction, romance—you have to be a reader of the genre. You have to read—and read a lot. And then, when you start writing and you start submitting, if that’s what you choose, then you thicken your skin for a lot of rejection. Because the end goal isn’t the publication, the end goal is the product that you’ve produced and the process of writing.