Do you remember a distinct moment in time while you were still in your youth when the written word, written composition and/or poetry went from being something foreign to something familiar?
I can’t admit that I recall a singular and distinct moment, if that’s what you mean. But I do recall being approximately 12 or 13 and feeling spiritually strapped to the idea that words when glued together in a certain order had the innate power to convey amazing things about the human experience. And I wanted in that club at all costs. But as far as my own early attempts at written composition, at poetry in particular, they were often disastrously sophomoric and often humorously teenager-esque and, therefore, could come across, innocently enough, as dramatic. Although, to my humble credit, the ideas, the concepts themselves were there, good and intact. There was proof of concept, as they say, but it was formally suggested in ways that looking back should have been more edited, more consistent, more crafted, more honest.
Do you still have any of those early poems?
I do still have some of those poems. I used to carry this nano-notebook with me at all times in case a vocabulary twitching fever of inspiration would strike. Ha ha! I liked to think I was being artistically dedicated by never forgetting to bring it with me wherever I went. Or smart. Or efficient. Or something. It served its purpose, I suppose… I was able to get all the kinks out much more quickly.
And those early poems, do you feel as if their proposed ideas and executions are present today, informing your current work?
I would have to say yes. The proposals set forth by those early poems, in particular their hopes for capturing and presenting a surgically authentic social, spiritual and cultural commentary, are very much embedded in my current work. Take for example these lines from a poem that I wrote when I was 16: we walked along the cordial beach / our feet warped deep into the sand. I was trying to sum up what it meant to navigate through a healthy working class town’s cultural edges, where to us everything was beautiful and fresh and honest and alive. And also how much we, the teenagers of that town, simultaneously felt cleansed and pillared and also used and drowned. It often felt like a trap had been set by objectively unknown forces and we were partially expected to waltz directly into it at our leisure. So, while “the beach” (a place defined by water meeting land, movement meeting the immovable, change meeting the stagnant) was “cordial” (the social mores of the time dictated as such) we were sinking in “the sand” (that which constitutes the physical and therefore very real result of water meeting land). And it’s that kind of conceptual precision, vivid simplicity and commentary that still lingers, albeit in likely a more advanced or mature manner, in my more current work.
What would be a more current example of commentary along those lines?
In a piece titled Maybe, Maybe Not I examined a similar time period in the lives of teenagers whose local culture includes things like school-sanctioned social functions. And in this particular poem I explored the formal school dance through the lens of the group experience itself, focusing on the textural minutiae (the “chaperone’s view”) that no teenager could really ever grasp as fully, as poetically or as gently as someone in, say, their 30s or 40s looking back on those years would be capable of doing. Here is an appropriate section, I feel, regarding those textures: marathons of boiling fantasy / and undimmable urges / we, fat eyed and strideless / we, gorgeous and lost / scoring deep the frosty path / quiver sealing steps /with an anxious howl / it is the summer of our satisfaction / and we’ve eaten the snowman’s carrot nose.
Both microcosm and macrocosm of the given scenario as it relates to their larger community context?
Exactly. I was trying to be as culturally and spiritually inclusive with the visual cues as I thought the concept would support. Which is, for me anyway, the process of editing each word as it relates to the ones around it with a focus on the degree to which it all comes across as reasonable and connected. For example: in order to truly convey a sense of rebellion I felt it would be interesting to embed that sensibility directly into the poem. So, something like the classic phrase “the winter of our discontent” would have as its rebellious counterpart “the summer of our satisfaction,” and in so doing would speak of their attraction to one another while attending the formal dance, but also their innate spiritual purpose as “testers” of contemporary culture.
In your experience what is the key to good writing… poetry, prose or otherwise?
Precision how exactly?
In the concept, the overall tone as it relates to the concept, the word choices, the rhythm and the intellectual athleticism required to keep up with it, the visual cues, the pace of those visual cues, the honesty of the underlying meanings embedded in them, the artistic risks, the length, the format, everything. Within precision, the idea of it, the dedication to it, is a priori a respect for craft, for the idea of it, the dedication to it, the importance of it. Much like a woodcarver going through the cyclical process of conceptualization, visualization, execution and self-critique, I pass through those same phases as each piece takes shape .
Do you find that you receive inspiration for your writing from one source more than any other?
The nuances of the human condition are a huge inspiration for me. But as are things like the evolution of youth, Nature and its countless lessons and Humanist philosophy. So, no, I suppose I’m not necessarily moved by one source more than any other. Unless you want to include in that set the act of attempting to responsibly contribute to the history of poetry itself by taking part in the conscious making of it. I don’t feel that that is what you are asking, though. Or is it?
No, I wasn’t thinking of those more fundamental layers. Those would apply too broadly. I meant more the literal inspirations.
I’ll go ahead and say the nuances of the human condition then. All things considered, that likely is the most robust source.
Would you like to share a selected piece and maybe talk a little about its intent?
Sure. Here’s a fun one written in 2009. It’s titled Are We There Yet?. In it I try to present a visceral depiction of moment-to-moment experiences whose pace and color I feel most cleanly mirrors what it is like to digest everyday events through a hyper-creative lens, a 2-stanza micro-glimpse into the endless metaphors and existential strata around us. I tried to pack as many dynamic visual twists into it as I felt it could handle, and as much brightness and sensuality as well. Its title is a reference to the ubiquitous childhood phrase (most often expelled from the rear seats of minivans, if I’m not mistaken, at an average rate of once every 2.5 hours) and also to the notion that there really is no “there” as we’d like to believe there is. It simply does not exist as a single place, rather as another extended pause as we continually navigate through our lives. However, within this hyper-creative lens can also be seen myriad basic natural elements, pedestrian elements, grounded in their context, caught off-guard as would be an innocent bystander at the scene of a bank robbery. They just kind of hang out in the poem, keeping the more wild aspects glued to something stable. I feel this gives the piece a sense of governed movement, a never-ending yet contained breeziness that I intended to have contribute to the poem’s overall tone and artistic flavor. And, finally, I wanted the poem to exude an antiqued sepia tone-like complexion, therefore placing itself firmly in a specific time period, setting and even time of year.
Are We There Yet?
Crushed in between a ranch dressing mistake
and the shoeless gypsy jangle
of a single just picked peach
snuggled with veins of baseball fantasies
and canned penguin-like players
caught vaporless in the blossoming bosom
with tailored cotton fences
lining the avenues of your chest
forced as molars chew on freedom’s cud
and fingers swallow the heat
and the heat swallows the bark
and the bark swallows time
and time, panting and out of shape,
has decided to slip into a matinee
and sit this bar fight of a slow dance out.
Tickled by the mystical histories of orangutans
and the portability of cloneable dirt
pushed into antique wooden caves
where virtual chinese water torture
and titanium tortillas
walk blindfolded around the ring
shoved amongst boisterous laborers
and plucked featherless by nature’s gritty game
your stride a molasses calm
your calm a hand-stitched heaven
your heaven a midday beverage
on a memory-carved porch swing
and your swing, weathered and hoarse,
has chosen to stand magnificent
and honor its ancestors with one final opus.
Wow… that’s almost psychedelic it’s so vivid. Was that intentional?
Not specifically. But I can absolutely see why you’d say that. The truth is that very often what someone experiences through a hyper-creative lens and what we have come to accept as “psychedelic” are pretty similar, maybe even two sides of the same coin, as they say. At its core it’s about seeing something not only exactly for what it is, but doing so in a sensitive and holistic fashion that, for me anyway, helps me to construct poems like this.
And how long does it take to write something with this variety of description and implied narrative?
I think Are We There Yet? took around six or seven months from beginning to end. However, I wouldn’t want to suggest in any way that I locked myself in a room in some remote coastal village and did nothing but sleep, eat, meditate and work on this poem. The exact opposite perhaps. But when I do begin a piece, I do tend to work on it on a regular basis. A lot of that work constitutes me thinking about ideas, words, the way I’d maybe like to puzzle them together, what underlying narrative I’d like to introduce/build/climax/decay, the degree to which the piece will have a certain length due to its inherent concept and, simply enough, why I feel it’s worth writing. And when the words come, I let them.
And when you do begin a piece, does it tend to transpire similarly?
As in do I always tend to have the same sort of initial impulse from the same sort of experience?
Poetry, if I can get a little esoteric for a minute, is everywhere. And by poetry I more pristinely mean existence itself, events unfolding, relationships evolving, elements crashing together or splitting apart, physical decay, spiritual ascension, color, light, form, movement, communication… it’s all part of a larger narrative, real or imagined, that inherently is poetic in nature. So, from where in all that do those initial sparks come from for each of my writings? Anywhere and everywhere. Literally.
And when it hits you does it come in a single word, a feeling, a phrase, all at once, none of the above?
It most often either comes in a short phrase that for one reason or another encapsulates an entire idea or it comes in the form of a theater-like vision of an idea or situation. Such as the phrase “we are the guilt in the dune at the bottom of the hourglass” which I leaned on to construct the poem Again and Again. The following is the work in its entirety.
Again and Again
dusted with alibis
peppered with control
in a cool breeze
in the pinch
of a disconnected paradise
we are the guilt
in the dune
at the bottom
of the hourglass
and it’s neither broken
spoiled nor special
if fibers tore
I’d still be you
and you’d still be me
billowed with accents
littered with determination.
In this piece I was trying, through the vectored framing of a distilled personal relationship of mine, to call attention to the very simple idea that regardless of what we do in our lives, regardless of how much we experientially layer on top of pre-existing layers already having been heaped on top of and woven in with still other pre-existing layers, that those layers still exist within and around us… their individual presence, their influence, waxing and waning constantly. Is it in the falling or the rising that we eventually come to willingly define ourselves, though? Is it in the poverty or the riches? The ingenuity or the apathy? Or is it, more perfectly, in all of it simultaneously? And because we are addressing this all the time I felt as if it was worth documenting.
How about we wrap this up with one more piece, commentary on it being optional.
This is a poem titled Thank You. It is based on a true story, a friend’s experience with the passing of her mother. It is written in the first person, but from the vantage point and from the mind of the just-passed mother, not the mourning daughter. I thought this would give it a visceral feeling, of it taking place in the absolute present, everything still very fresh and foggy. I wrote it as a gift to my friend, a way for her to maybe try to begin to heal and to always know that her mother would remain nearby. The hint of repetition was infused as a gentle nod to a sense of infinity, cycles, etc.