James Quinton from Open Wide Magazine interviews Bradley Mason Hamlin

OPEN WIDE MAGAZINE: When did you first start playing with the poem?

HAMLIN: That’s very much like playing with yourself, isn’t it? Well, I know I started writing poetry in the spring of 1988 because I just recently found one of my poems from a course I took at Sacramento City College. I was a psychology major in college and had worked at a lock-down facility for crazy people. I was on the path to becoming a psychiatrist but was having my doubts … so I took a “creative writing” course. The only thing that class really taught me was to get over my grammatical fears. It’s strange, but many creative people grow up hating both mathematics and grammar, so being an English major had not occurred to me. My first assignment in class was to write a love poem, so I wrote about a guy having an affair with a blind girl. I liked the apparent lack of rules of the poem and was hooked right away.

OPEN WIDE: When do you find is the best time to try and nail down a poem?

HAMLIN: Most likely the best time to nail anything is when you have the passion to do so.

OPEN WIDE: Which poets/writers did you grow up reading?

HAMLIN: Absolutely nobody. Poetry was something totally foreign to my experience. If I read any poems at all they were forced upon me in school and they left no impression whatsoever. I did always have a deep passion for music, so I believe my poets or poetry influences—growing up—would have been Brian Wilson, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Dee Dee Ramone, people like that, pop culture influences, but I was and still am an avid comic book reader, so that would be a heavy influence as well; Jack Cole, Chester Gould, all the wild and wonderful writers of DC Comics in the 60s & 70s, and of course Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

OPEN WIDE: Were they an influence on your work?

HAMLIN: Everything you experience is an influence on your work. I guess that’s a pretty obvious statement but nevertheless true. Stephen King often talks about people asking him where he gets his ideas. It’s the same type of thing. Ideas, influences, and impulses come from the sum total of who you are. If a writer doesn’t know what to write about, he or she needs to get out there and have an adventure.

OPEN WIDE: Where did you first get published?

HAMLIN: My first published poem was in a literary journal published by Sacramento City College called: The Literary Humanist. The poem: “When I See You,” about my mother drinking herself to death by the time I was fifteen.

OPEN WIDE: You seem to be one of those rare breeds of poets who can seemly pull a great poem out of thin air on demand. How do you do it?

HAMLIN: Poets have told me that they simply cannot write on demand or on a given topic, that they have to wait for the inspiration or a tickling of the balls by some invisible amusement. I think this may be the difference between poets and working writers. A poet usually writes from an artistic space or the mystically influenced space and therefore most likely lies the genesis of why poet’s think so highly of themselves and their precious creations, but a writer, a wordsmith, is someone who has worked the craft just as hard as any other person learning any other trade, be it plumbing or air traffic control. Mickey Spillane made the interesting distinction that he is not an author, not a creator of Art with a capital “A.” He’s a writer. He does the job. And whether or not you like his once popular type of fiction, he did the job well. I would put his first novel I, The Jury in the top ten works of detective fiction ever written, the greatest example of premise I’ve ever read.

OPEN WIDE: How did your site, the excellent Mystery Island, come to being and where did the name and concept come from?

HAMLIN: I owned a retail store that sold collectible books, comics, pulps, TV memorabilia, cool toys, etc. When business was slow I developed a web version of the store idea. Ebay killed sales for the local weirdo shops. So the logical thing to do was to join ‘em--because we sure the hell couldn’t beat ‘em. The name Mystery Island comes from my love of the mystery and high adventure genres associated with comic books and pulp fiction.

OPEN WIDE: Which poets are you enjoying at the moment?

HAMLIN: I’ve been working with Tom Russell, Gerald Nicosia, and Hugh Fox lately. They’re from the last vanguard of the older folks doing this crazy thing we do, and each of them has a much different flavor than what’s generally out there. I believe these guys fall into the better aspect of the art with a capital “A” and it really doesn’t matter if they write on demand or not. They have each created a body of work that is unique and a genuine positive contribution to the world of words. I’m working on a book of poetry by singer-songwriter Tom Russell. He’s turned into a fine folk/narrative poet, and his book includes letters and interviews with Charles Bukowski.


The poets of the larger publishing houses are so watered down it’s like chewing on a box of sleeping pills. Of course there are exceptions. Random House did a good job with their latest Bukowski book, but Hank came from the small presses. People bitch that his post-death books aren’t as good, but any fat volume of poetry is going to have hit and miss stuff, and that was certainly true of Bukowski when he lived.

OPEN WIDE: Have you any advice for those just beginning to write poetry?

HAMLIN: Listen to Rachmaninov.

OPEN WIDE: What do you think about the state of the small press world?

HAMLIN: It’s like an over-fished pond. I would like to see each magazine or poetry on-line venue do at least one key thing that nobody else is doing. Everybody claims they’re publishing the greatest writers, and I guess that’s true, because everybody’s publishing from the same pool. In general, poets need to be forced to raise the bar on their talent. I mean, why stay small on purpose? It’s like Alice never eating the cookie to grow big again. You can hide in Wonderland forever or try to gain the cajones to access enough true grit to fight the monsters of the upper mountains.

OPEN WIDE: What is your earliest childhood memory?

HAMLIN: This is a good question. My earliest memory, or at least one of them, is of playing with Gumby on the carpet of an apartment or house where my family at least temporarily lived. Gumby fed Pokey a piece of oatmeal cookie and the piece of cookie disappeared. I was totally blown away by that. There has always been magic in my life.

OPEN WIDE: What have you got planned for the future?


1) Sex with Nicky.
2) Continuing the metaphysical battle against mind control.
3) Publishing my novel: Nobody Surfs Forever.

OPEN WIDE: Which literary figure alive or dead would you most like to buy a drink for?

HAMLIN: Myself. Who else?

Originally published in Open Wide Magazine Issue No. 8 (2003).
Reprinted by Mystery Island Publications: 10/01/05.