By Melisa Valenzuela
East Los Angeles College professor Bill Cushing is getting a book of poetry published called “A Former Life.”
Cushing teaches English 103 and has been at ELAC for 19 years. Last year, he sent the manuscript for the upcoming book to Finishing Line Press and is now working on getting pre-orders filled. The book contains about 56 poems and is 62 pages long.
The poems are “an overview of the past 60 years” through Cushing’s eyes.
He was born in Virginia and raised in New York. After an unsuccessful first attempt at college, he joined the Navy and became an engineer.
He fought in the Vietnam War and when it was over, he worked a couple of jobs, including one at a shipyard.
Cushing nearly died in a ship explosion, but was saved because he had to go to the bathrom and was not in the blast radius.
After this, he decided to go back to college to pursue a degree in history.
Things didn’t turn out that way, however.
While attending the University of Central Florida, he met a professor who roped him back to writing and he ended up graduating with a degree in both literature and creative writing.
His wife at the time was diagnosed with breast cancer and the couple moved to Puerto Rico to be close to her family. She passed away and he stayed in Puerto Rico unil meeting his second wife.
He then moved to California where he has been for the last 24 years with his wife and their son.
“I divided [the book] into three things: people, places and things. The people is mostly family; there’s poems in there about my son, about both the late wife and my current wife, my parents and people I’ve met along the way,” Cushing said.
Cushing said he also draws inspiration for his poems from the different places he has lived in and visited. “My wife now is Peruvian so I’ve got a couple of poems about Peru, some poems about Puerto Rico, obviously New York and L.A. figure into it,” he said.
Before embarking on the poetry book, Cushing had started two other novels and has had other works published in several journals, newspapers and magazines.
The first novel is based on his life working at a shipyard.
He was forced to stop working on it after the death of his first wife. He then decided to write a memoir for her called “Counting Down the Breaths.”
“(The book) chronicles the dual lives of me and my late wife, our subsequent relationship, her battle with cancer and as indicated by the title, the event of her death,” said Cushing.
The memoir is still a work in progress which he hopes to get back to soon.
Cushing drew inspiriation for the cover of his book from the energy of youth. “The other thing I loved about the picture is the exuberance and coiled energy seen in the children, something we lose with age, thus ‘a former life,’” Cushing said.
In addition to writing, Cushing enjoys expressing his poems through music. He participates in the “Drop the Mic” event at ELAC where he and his childhood friend and guitar player, Chuck Corbisiero, put on a multi-artistic performance. “I improvise jazz guitar while Bill does his poetry,” says Corbisiero.
The duo is called “Notes and Letters” and they also perform at a coffee shop in Eagle Rock and other places.
Corbisiero said their performances help the audience create a visual between poetry and music. Samples of their work are available via their YouTube channel also called “Notes and Letters.”
The same poems he uses for these performances can be found in his new book.
Students can visit the Finishing Line Press website to reserve a copy.