I first starting trying to write as an 11-year-old, wanting to work in the movies. My first screenplay was ten handwritten pages inspired (quite heavily) by the Denzel Washington movie, Fallen. I’d like to think I’ve outgrown this, but influences have a funny way of working their ways into my writing.

The act of storytelling was hypnotic and I couldn’t get enough. Eventually, screenplays turned into short stories, and those turned into novels, which evolved into essays, and now I find myself dabbling in poetry. I don’t know if I would refer to myself as a poet because I don’t think I’m smart enough. Seriously, all the smartest people I know are poets.

I recently did a reading, and afterward was talking to a friend about my book. I’ve always called it creative-nonfiction or experimental-memoir. But John said he wasn’t sure if it was poetry as prose or maybe fragmented memoir. I’m happy to hear there is ambiguity because the book was written from a place of confusion. I wasn’t necessarily trying to tell a story with Learn to Swim, but wanted to transfer a wealth of feelings with which I didn’t know what to do. Poetry, to me, transcends storytelling in its attempt to get to the root of emotion. I was thrilled to hear someone call my book poetry because it made me feel like I’d achieved whatever it was I set out to do in the first place.

When I first started writing I wanted to tell stories to entertain people. This hasn’t actually gone away (as evidenced in When I Am a Famous Person), but there is another force driving me to reach past that. I don’t only want people to be entertained, but also for them to feel something. And the fastest way to do that is through poetry; you are framing a feeling and passing it on, even if it’s only for a brief moment.


Joseph Edwin Haeger is the author of ‘Learn to Swim’ (University of Hell Press, 2015), ‘When I am a Famous Person’ (Optography Press, 2016), and ‘On My Brother: Two Essays’ (Optography Press, 2018). His work has appeared in The Spokesman-Review, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, and more. He lives in Spokane, WA with his wife and sons.


  1. Nathan says:

    Great story! Thanks!

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