Gerry Lafemina is known in and around the Frostburg State University campus as The Poetry Teacher, but he is clearly more than that. He is a father, a musician, a poet, an editor, but most importantly Mr. Lafemina is an activist in the education system fighting for students to strive to become better artist themselves. For years he has pushed his students to grow and to write far better than most others. He has won awards from the University System of Maryland Board of Regents and the Bordighera Foundation as well as a Pushcart Prize. Robert Hingham sat down with Gerry to find out more about his poetry and investment in the Frostburg community.
Robert Hingham: How do you feel about Bitter Sweet magazine as a whole?
Gerry Lafemina: I think it’s great, you know. I worked on and was published in the Center Laurence Magazine when I was a Center Laurence student, and I think it’s great. I wish it were bigger and I wish more students participated in it, I wish they could have more fiction, longer fiction. I think it’s important to have a literary magazine for the students. I think it’s great what J has continued to do with the magazine which was to think of it as a brand and something that could get students interested and not just something that’s just put together.
RH: What is your biggest inspiration right now?
GL: The thing that influences me most is one of three things, good writing. Good writing inspires me a lot. I like excellences. I’m also interested in people. I’m not big into the belief of needing to have the bolt of lightning to strike before I can make art. I guess what really inspires me is a desire to never be bored.
RH: What would you say is your biggest accomplishment thus far?
GL: You know I’ve been blessed and very lucky. I think what I’m probably proudest of, other than my son, is in the text book Thirty-something American Thirty-something Poets, which is years of work and years of trying things in the classroom to come with a setup that works. I don’t like to be too proud of past accomplishments because it sounds like your sitting on your laurels. There are poems that I am really amazed that wow I really wrote that, and live up to what I want it to be, but I’m much more interested in the poems I don’t yet know how to write and the poems I’m working on.
RH: Any closing remarks you would like to give to newer artists in your field of work?
GL: Here is my advice, be patient, be tough on yourself, and love it. If you don’t love what you are doing you won’t do the work, and if you’re not willing to do the work then you don’t love it. You have to give it attention, write more, read a lot more. No chief ever said “I don’t like to eat food I might be influenced by something else.” Love it, don’t use excuses. Excuses are easy, and they are the greatest fiction anyone can write.