KELL ROBERTSON INTERVIEW -- "Wild Dog of Poetry"
(Editor's note: I have been aware of Kell Robertson for a few years. The idea for this interview came from my visit, in April, with Todd Moore, in fact it was Todd's suggestion. So let's all give Todd a round of applause.)
RD: You are a COWBOY POET. A teller of tales and singer of old songs, right? What does that really mean? Was there a single point/event that inspired you to take up this life, or was it a slow process of transition?
KR: I am not, and never have been, a cowboy poet.
KR: I don't know why Lawrence called me that on the blurb for my book. When I was a kid I worked on ranches but I did a lot of other things to make a living too. How about a dishwasher poet? A carnival poet? A tramp-poet? How about just a guy with an eighth grade education who fell in love with poetry and music out on a highway somewhere poet? I hate these categories anyway.
Mostly I guess, according to my close friends, I am an outlaw. That'll do.
RD: How did you get started and how long have you been pursuing the craft of poetry? Were you inspired /encouraged by any one person to pursue this craft?
KR: When I was a kid in Louisiana my mother took me to see Hank Williams at the Louisiana Hayride. He was drunk and he knocked over the microphone but when he actually started to sing, he just reached out and laid all that loneliness on everybody. I decided right then, I wanted to do something like that.
It was my mother who turned me on to reading. She was a farm girl who married a sax player named Kell Robertson, Sr. He ran off and left her when I was maybe two years old. He played with a couple of swing bands and gave up music entirely when he joined the army. Anyway. Mama had two sets of books in the house. The Collected Works of Zane Grey and The Collected Works of William Shakespeare. That, and a dictionary, was my early education. Of course I got a lot of things wrong but that was ok. Anyway, she married a gambler and a rounder who pretty much hated my guts. He hated the fact that I actually read books and loved school. They were on the road a lot so I don't remember going to any one school more than three months at a time. They dropped me off at Grandad's farm a couple of times and I went to school there for two years, the sixth grade and the eight grade. Graduating from the eighth grade was a big thing in the Kansas of the time. Most kids went to work and never went on to high school. I was a freak. I loved books. I loved the very process of learning. Jesus, I wanted to explore everything. They thought I was crazy. I was obsessed with things that most folks around me never to even think about.
Upshot of all this is I was thrown out at 13 in New Orleans LA by my step dad because he figured it was time I get away from all that book learning, get a job and be on my own.
Looking back on it all, I ain't sure how I got through those years.
If it hadn't been for the creative arts I wouldn't have. "The only defense against life is the creative act." Dylan Thomas said something like that. So did Charlie Parker. And Faulkner said, "I write to say no to death." All I can say is it's kept me alive for a lot of years through a lot of shit.
RD: People often expect a writer to be authentic, that is to say, they expect you to "live the life" that you portray in your work. How much of what you write is based on factual experience and how much is based on empathetic experience?
KR: All of what I write is based on my life and the perceptions I have of other folks, and what's happening on this planet. There are poems based on ideas but they generally come from life as I see it. I read a great deal. Everything except self-help books. I am fascinated by the various ways that people approach things in their writings. I love science fiction, fantasy, philosophy, mysteries, historical books, first person accounts of events, essays on anything, good poetry (which is rare these days) and just about anything that rattles my cage, makes me want to sing or laugh or cry or tells me something I already knew.
RD: When you sit down to write a poem, do you have a topic in mind? Or is it more evolutionary? Sheer dumb luck? Describe this process.
KR: I write every day. Keep a journal of daily drivel. Once in a while a good line comes out of it. It often takes a long time to get a poem the way I want it. I revise a lot. Readings help some. I often change poems when I read them aloud. I was a performer, a folk singer for a long time, so that influences how the final draft of a poem comes about. A balance of what appears on the page and the way it's sung.
RD: Everybody has their own way of doing things... their own routine. Tell me about your own creative process. Does the way it works ever surprise you? Do you find that it's easier or harder to "seize the moment" when creativity strikes? How do you capture and retain these inspirations?
KR: I am always astonished when a poem comes out right. I look back at some of the songs and poems I've written and wonder at the guy who wrote it. Sometimes it's fine and sometimes it's shit, but I do wonder if it was me at times.
RD: From what little I know about you, it sounds like you've been kicking around the mythic landscapes of the American West for a long time. Has it been worth it... do you feel like you've gotten the respect you deserve?
KR: Yeah. I've been around a long time and I've been in some crazy scenes. A loner, I never cared much about being a member of anything except maybe, the human race, which I can't help. I realize that I am a part of a group of folks across the world who care about more than the usual trades of man. A map of friends as my old friend Ken Irby used to say.
I remember my last trip to the east coast with my friends we stopped in this little town in Kansas. Bumfuck Kansas from the outside, yes. Met this cat in a bar and showed him my book. Great guy. Invited us over to his house. Wife, kids, tractor, farm machinery and a fine old house and inside, pictures of Woody Guthrie, Billie Holliday, Jesse James, and Emiliano Zapata on the walls. Little statue of Buddha sitting on the edge of an ashtray. Beer and homemade apple pie his wife made. Books on the shelf from Kerouac to William Butler Yeats with Robert Service and Dostoevsky in between. A TV with dust on it. Records. No CDs. Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Webb Pierce, Lady Day, John Coltrane, The Grateful Dead, Lightnin' Hopkins, Woody, Slim Whitman (yes), Kerouac reading with Steve Allen on piano, Bill Monroe, etc etc... In the middle of Republican bible belt Kansas. His wife a waitress, he a farmer, and an old house full of stuff that would blow your mind there.
The thing is. Folks like that still exist. A quiet and loving revolution out there. I got respect from them. That will do.
RD: Recently, Thunders Mouth Press published The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, a hefty tome that was portrayed as a definitive representation of the "State of the Art." Yet, there were many notable exceptions (and some questionable inclusions). You were not among the Outlaws, yet your writing/life style is very much "of the life." Is this a typical response to your poetic wanderings, to be ignored? Or do you always, as a loner, by definition, travel down a lonely trail?
KR: Yeah. I heard about the Thunder's Mouth Outlaw Bible of American Poetry thing. Like all anthologies it is certainly not a definitive representation of the "state of the art." They wouldn't know an out law if he came up and bit 'em in the ass. As an old friend might say, real outlaws don't advertise. They certainly don't go around telling the posse where to find them. It's a silly thing and so are my remarks I guess.
It [Outlaw Bible] was at the library down here. I thumbed through it. A few of the people in there are folks I know so I'm always curious. But then I gently put it back in the shelf.
I'd hoped for something better.
Was I sorry that I hadn't been asked to contribute? Maybe a little. Hell, I wrote this stuff of mine to be read so I want to get it out there where folk can find it. Will I let it bother me? Years ago I would have. But if I start worrying about that old shit, I'll be cringing in the corner and never get any work done.
Hell, maybe they read my stuff and figured it didn't qualify.
That's alright. I know a bar-maid in Texas who has memorized most of my poems. That'll do.
RD: Do you think that creativity is something that needs to be addressed in the new century? Do you think that it is part of a healthy mental balance, to have a solid creative foundation on which to work, and more importantly, is it an issue that is being addressed sufficiently by the American people? (I know this is a big question, but it's important).
KR: The big question, as you put it. Yes it is. You also use words like "a healthy mental balance." Jesus! What the hell is that? Without creativity we're all dead. Put us on a microchip and file us away. Society has always fought the creative impulse.
Creativity is always dangerous. Always will be. But without it we'd be truly dead in our hearts and souls. We'd live in a dead place with other zombies.
Which is what most of society here in America seems to want to do.
Old amigo, now gone alas, Jack Micheline used to sing in desperation: "It's the dead, it's the dead, it's the goddamn dead that rule this world!"
Build another McDonalds on the corner along with a Burger King and a Walmart. Put another piece of merchandising shit on the Internet. Put profit and loss up as what is the most important thing in life.
Of course the creative spirit is going to go mad in such a world.
If anything this society tries to smother the true creative spirit. Always has.
Einstein was a creative spirit. Look what they did with his theories. Built devices that could burn the world down. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, monuments to "freedom and democracy."
But somehow, the creative spirits always stumble through. It's harder these days maybe but those traces of magic they laid on the world still hum in the corner of that room full of vapid machines.
I rave on. You ask questions, my friend, that would take centuries to answer.
RD: Have you made a living (modest) from your chosen brand of artistic expression? Or have you had to rely on outside jobs to get by? If you had it to do over again, would you "live the poet's life," or would you look in another direction?
KR: I have not made a "living" at this stuff I do. I made a few bucks when I was a country western singer (which is basically what I've always been) and I got paid for a few readings. I sold a few books. Traded them for a meal, a beer, a kiss, a smile, a song, a place to lay down, a poem, some friendly time with a lady, and now and then even a few bucks.
Since I have no degree and few skills, I've always worked at menial jobs to get by. Lady's on food stamps. Uh huh. Bartender, farm worker, laborer, carnival jointy, card dealer, magician, coyote, and maybe quite a few things the government frowns on to get by. On the edge. What Gino Clays called "the wild dogs of poetry." I am one of those I guess.
Thing is man, I couldn't live any other way. It's what I am.
Would I change if I could? Of course not. For what?
No matter where I'm at under a bridge or in a fancy cocktail lounge, I can hear Hank Williams, Beethoven, Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, Woody Guthrie, my first lady standing barefoot in a ditch in Kansas smiling like an angel, my child in my hands from between her thighs.
To me, it's all been one amazing gift.
I see things, do things, become involved in things that most folks just drive by on the freeway. I am glad I'm here and have been given the chance to do all these things.
In my movie, Lassie always comes home - but she's always hungry.
RD: What do you think about the current rise in interest in poetry in this country and beyond? It seems like everyone wants to become the next Bukowski or make a million bucks doing poetry on MTV.
KR: "The current interest in POETRY in this country."
It's a magic word and a magic thing and it's been overused, abused. I hate seeing the word to describe a bunch of shallow shit or a raving diatribe by some fool who has no idea how to construct a line so it sings. I mean, you've got these folks who have learned the technique of verse, who write little poems about abstract crap about nothing and these folks who just yell and scream anything that comes to mind, some of them skilled as stand up comics and somewhere, somebody is reading Shelley for the first time.
It's become a group thing.
My god man, there are thousands of people who join a group and call themselves poets. They have readings which are essentially circle jerks. I guess that's alright.
It's just something I've given my life to. I don't like to see it denigrated.
Bukowski. Hmm. There are actually people who want to be another Bukowski? Get on MTV? Be stars? What the hell has that got to do with poetry?
RD: What the fuck is going on in NM?
KR: Well, we have mountains and sky and a stark hard-edged beauty. Some people can take it, some people can't. I intend to die here.
Aside from that, Taos has a poetry circus every year. Albuquerque has a big poetry slam scene. There are a lot of good writers here but they keep to themselves mostly. There's a great jazz scene that lots of folks don't know about. It's a beautiful place. Lots of outlaws in the hills.
RD: What about the Internet? Sites like PoetrySuperHighway (and others), Amazon.com, MP3.com and bulk electronic mail are making it possible for writers/ poets and musicians to reach literally thousands of potential fans/buyers with the click of a button...do you see this as "boom or bust"? What about you, do you have a site or webpage on the net that our readers can visit?
KR: The Internet? Well, I'm not on it. No webpage, no dotcom bullshit here.
Like most "technological advances" it's been touted as some sort of amazing thing that will put pull us all together in a world wide family at peace at last.
And you won't have to go to the store anymore. Just push a key and by God you can buy anything. Whoa! I like to go to the store. I like to walk around libraries and bookstores. I like to sit in a cafe or a bar and meet people. Talk to them face to face. Shake their hands.
Sure, you can get information quickly on the Internet. But WHAT information? "Information is not knowledge" (Elliot, I think).
There are a lot of things the computer could do for me as a writer but I love doing things for myself. Writing it out longhand, revising and revising again, on my portable manual typewriter. Thinking it through again and again. It's lovely hard work.
Aside from that, most of the people I know can't afford the stuff you need to get on the Internet. Hell, many of them don't even have phones.
I suppose I sound like an old codger. That's alright. I am. I don't have a credit card or a bank account. But I like it over here.
I ain't saying it's a bad thing, all of this high tech gimmickry, and if folks want to put my poems or songs on the Internet, what the hell, go ahead. But I like this world of mine. It's real. Not virtual.
RD: Who do you draw inspiration from these days? Got any new projects planned?
KR: After almost seven decades on this planet I think maybe I'm beginning to realize how amazing it all is. All the stuff I've taken for granted all these years begins to come into focus.
I've got a new collection of poems that some people in Oregon are putting out. I'm working on a play I started 20 years ago and may never finish. Huge hunks of unpublished prose. A friend and I are putting together an evening of work by Thomas Hornsby Ferril for the local theatre. Ferril was a great unrecognized poet of the twenties and thirties. Lived to be 90 something. Fine work. I have some gigs coming up in Colorado (June) and I write all the time. Play my guitar. Have a garden and some chickens. I rarely have any money. But I'm still riding and I know how to shoot.
It's all a vast mystery. I'm still trying to learn.
Sometime we'll get a twelve pack of beer and sit down and talk about it all. Maybe burn some beans and cowboy coffee and really talk about it all.
B. Z. NIDITCH INTERVIEW
B.Z. Niditch is a poet and playwright. His work has been widely published. Among the magazines and journals he has appeared in are The Literary Review, Le Guepard (France), Prism International, Lummox Journal and Jejune (Czech Republic). Most recent works include, The Inside-out World of BZ Niditch (Lummox Press, 1999, poetry, fiction & a short play) and Nine Pieces for Theatre, a collection of his plays. His book of Poetry, Crucifixion Times, was published by Aegina Press in 1998. He is the artistic director of The Original Theatre, a non-profit experimental theatre company in Boston. When he's not writing, B.Z. enjoys playing jazz violin. His book of Maxims is due very soon from Lummox Press.
RD: How did you get started writing? Was it an evolutionary process or a moment of inspiration?
BZ: In an unforgettable visit to a park when I was five years old I needed to feel the earth and soil, saw some rose bushes and needed to scent them. I didn't let on to my friends but I felt my first epiphany. I knew I was different that I felt some things so deeply, as with conversation between people, going out to the sea, listening to jazz, playing soccer, talking to actresses and girls, mountain climbing.
I wanted to go home and write about them. It was like breathing or snorkeling; language and expression became a part of my very being as a human. I started to write stories and poems and make up plays when I was very young.
When I heard Tennessee Williams was starring on Broadway in his own play, "Small Craft Warnings" I took all my money out of the bank and went personally to see him. He told me, "We are different, B.Z., have courage." His words have never left me. I felt Tennessee understood me even though it was a brief encounter, still it inspires me and I realized a poet and playwright will have a tough road to travel.
RD: How does that influence your work now?
BZ: I arrive at what I am doing now by listening to what moves me at the moment and writing about those ideas and feelings.
RD: How does this manifest itself in your writing?
BZ: I feel a subject deeply, sometimes it is a subconscious feeling and yet the process of creation is a mystery to me. The joy is that others can relate to my plays, fiction and poems. The surprise of achieving a moving play with its characters and plots dramatizes my own struggles in life even though I am in each of the characters. When I get involved in a subject close to me, I will feel compelled to write about it or write notes concerning it. My great fear is to forget my ideas, but I feel that it will always be retained in some subconscious compartmentalized region.
RD: Since you write plays, you must project yourself into the characters to make them believable. Does this require you to be an actor as well, or are you primarily a writer?
BZ: I think of myself as a writer and only think about how the actor will play with my words, but like Tennessee Williams told me, "A poet should never direct." I see an actor as carrying out the director's instructions but it is always a revelation for me to see the actors put together what my words can produce on the stage. The distinction became apparent as I saw rehearsals of my plays.
A poet can be an actor in life, in the ways which we have interior monologues, whether it's within a dream or social reality. It's fascinating to me how our remembrances become assimilated in a play or a poem's symbolism, always meaningful to our own personal authenticity.
RD: Do you see yourself as part of the 'mainstream' or on the fringe?
BZ: I always felt I was on the margin and fringe of society.
RD: Does that help or hinder your writing process?
BZ: It is quite lonely but in that way aloneness gives me the time to portray the words and action very close to me. I like to work with psychological and political issues of gender, class and race in the context of universal and human values.
RD: This is a dumb question, but how important is creativity to you?
BZ: The creative process is very important to me. Anyone who cannot appreciate plays, poems or fiction must not have much of a foundation, for in every culture, in every century artists have emerged to energize ideas.
RD: Do you think that this energizing of ideas is important for the arts?
BZ: I think the arts increase a healthy mental outlook giving a catharsis to the audience who should be with the characters. When I give a poetry reading I can feel the audience with me and that makes us all feel better, healthier, excited by life, experiencing together the same struggles.
RD: As an artistic director, I'm assuming that you make a living (albeit a modest one), even though you are, as you've said, living in an avant-garde slice of the artistic world. Do you think it's possible for most artists to make such a living...or is it more a reality of working two jobs, but getting paid for one?
BZ: I think it is difficult to make a great living in the avant-garde arena. But the point of living for a writer is to get to have an audience of like seekers. That is why the small press is so important. But in this "megahit" entertainment industry and the popular culture mentality, the writer will always be offbeat... off - off Broadway.
RD: There are artists collectives & theater companies springing up all over the place... these are touted as the next wave of free expression. What do you think about this?
BZ: I completely agree that artistic collectives and theater companies are the wave of the future. They will take place in lofts, in churches, in cafes for it will allow a free expression of ideas.
RD: How do you think the internet will impact this?
BZ: I am currently working on my web site so my work and ideas (maxims, plays, fiction and poetry) will reach others and the potential audience of thousands of fans and friends can initially write to me and exchange their opinions on my work. It will be a socially conscious expression away from the business of the world -- which is making business. Art is different, its concerns, its echoes, its very poetry and soul is in another area of concentration.
RD: Who inspires you?
BZ: I draw inspiration with the poets of our century like Pasternak or Anna Akhmatova in Russia, Lorca in Spain, modern Latin American poets like Neruda and Vallejo, the avant-garde who objectified a reality in an abstract way.
BZ: I'm working on poetry to be turned into songs, plays to turn into operas, and fiction to be turned into truth.
CLIVE MATSON INTERVIEW "We're all Crazy Children. We're only pretending to be adults," a woman participant at one of Clive's workshops.
Clive Matson publishes an occasional digest called Let The Crazy Child Write, which is also the title of his new book, published in 1998 by New World Library . He has been doing workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area for over twenty years, developing a school of thought regarding the harnessing of the creative "mind". Judging by his schedule, I'd say he's doing pretty well. This interview was conducted via email.
RD: How did you come to this concept of the Crazy Child and how does it tie into your writing?
CM: At fourteen I was in Robert A. Olson's English class in Vista, the northern San Diego County town, when it was small, 2,000 or so people, truck farmers and citrus and avocado ranchers and some Marines from Pendleton and retired people.
This teacher was a wild man. He would throw blackboard erasers and chalk at us if we misbehaved, and he was equally forthright with his praise. He was a World War II vet, and had been badly shot up; he had about half of his stomach left. He'd come to class hunched over, growling and cross, or with a gentle smile flickering inexplicably at his lips.
He asked us to write a poem, and the experience took me over. I was writing for a couple of weeks, it seems, though maybe it was only an afternoon. The delicious feeling of rolling words over in my mind is what I remember. Honey and ambrosia, heroin and ecstasy, a warm pillow and sex in the morning. I had joined a magical process; words and perceptions seemed blessed. The feeling was so powerful I've followed it the rest of my life.
RD: What do you mean?
CM: The poem was about the wind through the chaparral that grew in the hills behind my family's avocado ranch. A simple matter, on the surface. It wasn't until the mid-1980s, when I entered a twelve-step program for Adult Children of Alcoholics, that I realized what was going on. I had been a good boy, doing the farm work and school work and acting nice around a father who was violently angry, constantly, under the surface. My sisters and bothers and I had to avoid his disfavor, which would erupt without warning into rage. I had no chance to be who I was. I didn't know who I was. I was one of the workers for the family's survival.
RD: So, from your experiences in life, this workshop was born? How so?
CM: Olson let me know I could be real with him. That's what his example told me, and my guts responded. As slight as my poem was, it wasn't trying to make the family or my father look good. It was real. At the time all I knew of this was the pleasure of writing the poem, mostly the pleasure of being myself. It had been hiding for fourteen years, waiting for some key to unlock it.
[Carl] Jung's statement that the most personal is the most universal seems eminently true. It's not only that many people have similar childhoods directing their present. There's something profoundly off in what's happening in the United States today: you're supposed to look so good, slim and muscular, and think so fast, operating very complicated machines - computers and cars and remotes and VCRs and you name it. What is happening to the human spirit underneath this technology?
Will a raging father go postal if you aren't competent - which would fit my childhood exactly? Probably not. Is there a tapestry of people and jobs and money and prizes that doesn't happen if you aren't approving? Yes, without a doubt. The tapestry is held together by like-mindedness, and that is parallel to my background. I didn't fit with my father. I don't fit with that mainstream. And I'm not alone.
RD: OK. Please describe the Crazy Child concept.
CM: The Crazy Child is another name for the creative unconscious. It's the itch in our bodies that wants to come out. Wants to write something, hand someone a rose, throw rocks, give someone shit, say how things really are. I should say it's an "itch" in my experience; for you it might be different. One writer gets a sensation of color going up her arm. Another feels a buzz when he lets himself into the world of the Crazy Child.
Many people have no image for the process. It could be difficult to recognize what's happening in our bodies when we're in the rush of creating. Why? On one hand, our culture doesn't focus awareness inward. On the other hand, creativity is overwhelming, and we're likely to be caught up, consciously working hard, sorting and ordering and writing the words down. We might not have any awareness left for what's in our bodies.
Jung, when challenged, described the inner child as everything that's not conscious. In his embodied philosophy, George Lakeoff calls it the "cognitive unconscious." What's common in these definitions is that the Crazy Child has its own mind. You might want to do something different. You might try, but the Crazy Child has the power to nix or twist or color things how it wants. Color with the hue of what's going on at our core. Easily.
RD: So it's not just a mental exercise?
CM: Writing is a physical process. You capture words in your head and send them down your arm and out your fingertips onto paper or onto a keyboard. That's the last thing that happens; when you do that, you've written at least a draft. The Crazy Child is what happens before those words land in your head.
Someone in a workshop last year exclaimed that when the Crazy Child was talking, she felt a great surge of mysterious joy. That might be the ultimate truth: joy could be the bottom feeling in the creative process. Joy that you can say what you really feel, can respond with your best, strongest, biggest words. It's like being given an audience with the Goddess, or with God, and suddenly you are the one emissary from this world.
The concept of the Crazy Child began with an exercise which David Wagoner took from Transactional Analysis, where the psyche is divided into Parent, Adult, and Child. Wagoner gave them different names: Editor, Writer, and Child. In his exercise, the Editor and Writer leave the room, and you write from the Child.
I learned the exercise in 1978 when I was touring the Northwest on a shoestring, giving poetry readings. I was asked to lead a class. My host must not have minded that I had no classroom experience, or that I dressed at a local gas station out of a suitcase thrown in the back of my battered '55 Chevy. I asked what to teach, and he described Wagoner's exercise.
I gave the exercise to twenty earnest students the next afternoon, and every one of our comments suddenly had an identity. One of those three voices, Editor, Writer, or Child, was speaking at every moment. We could hear those roles and their influence on each other - on the spot. We could also recognize whether a comment was helpful to the writing or not helpful.
RD: I heard about you from the friend of a friend. He said your workshop had been very helpful for him in understanding himself better. Is this a common response?
CM: I'm sure the workshops foster understanding in a variety of ways, but it's outside my province. I mostly keep holding the frame of mind that supports the primary impulse of the writing - the Crazy Child. That impulse can be fragile, especially for beginning writers. The negative voices are huge and powerful and have a way of shutting the creative unconscious right down.
Writers in the workshops tap into their own creativity freely and well. Simply said, what happens for the participants is they get to explore and feel the power of their own creative unconscious, without their Editor or Writer taking it away. That's it, in a nutshell. And that's all.
RD: Your workshops often help people, not just as a writer, but as a person, right? So, are you a writer, teacher, therapist or what?
CM: For myself, I believe the Crazy Child is the most real part of me. What does the Crazy Child teach? That what's going on inside my skin is far stronger and far stranger than I imagine. That I need to keep giving attention to those surreal and vulnerable and honest parts. Broken ship hulls, flowers, childhood teddies, digital wires floating around are essential, sanguine things to me. And maybe to us all.
RD: A little of all, then. What was the evolution of the Crazy Child? How'd you get there?
CM: I tried encouraging the unconscious voice to express more depth by calling it the "inner child," and that worked until the inner child began receiving a lot of attention from the public. The workshops became more about releasing emotions than about writing. "Wild child" gave interesting results, but got too safe. The same attractive young people kept running freely over beautiful landscapes with their hair blowing in the wind.
I named it the "crazy person" and got more edge, definitely, but that term puts people off. Too close to mental institutions, straight jackets, Thorazin and Prozac. In its favor it gives the creative unconscious a scary quality. The "id," the parallel voice to the Crazy Child, is used by some German families as the bogeyman: "You better not go out, because the `id' is roaming around in the dark, eating people."
Why evoke a scary quality? Because these powerful parts of our psyche are generally banned from everyday life; psychologists recognize the creative unconscious as part of the "excluded self." When that self appears, the conscious mind wants to reject it, often by calling it "crazy."
When we honor it, instead, and give it the name "Crazy Child" as praise, we reverse that judgment. Over the years, this phrase elicits the most varied and energetic responses. "Let the Crazy Child Write!" is an invitation for whatever real stuff has been brewing inside - all the passion and joy and vulnerability and anger and gripping insight - to come out and make itself known.
RD: Tell me about your own creative process. Does it ever surprise you? How do you capture and retain your inspirations & ideas?
CM: It always surprises me. I'm now able to remember those lines that come flying through, in the middle of the night, on the bus, driving, sometimes even after days. What was that thought? I feel only emptiness at first, and a minute or two later the line pops up again. And having bragged, I'll probably forget the next lines, and go back to my old habit of carrying pen and paper or a notebook. As I advise workshop people to do.
RD: Do you have a schedule?
CM: Having a regular time to write is crucial. I get four mornings a week, when my two-year-old is at daycare. And I love having several things to write, I go to my second choice if the first is stuck. Giving the creative unconscious a regular time to come out is quite a help. Like with other bodily processes.
When I was doing research for LET THE CRAZY CHILD WRITE! I anticipated having trouble finding quotes from major authors about the power of the creative unconscious. The surprise is not just that quotes abound, but that writers display its power in how they design their lives. They plan spaces and times to allow that unconscious to come out. Hemingway sequestered himself six to eight hours a day, and had his wife slide his lunch through a slot in the door. Alice Walker let THE COLOR PURPLE take over her house, and she'd walk around and visit rooms where her characters dwelled, and listen to them tell her what to write next.
RD: With the recent success of your book, do you find it helps or hinders your creative process to be a "name"?
CM: Since LET THE CRAZY CHILD WRITE! came out, a few things have changed. There are more opportunities to teach people I haven't worked with before, but a couple of times my audience has simply not understood what I'm driving at. Those blank faces plague me. One group decided letting the Crazy Child write was the same as writing from the gut, and they already knew how to do that. Nothing I said could change that belief.
I've learned to challenge my audiences, especially if they are experienced. Beginners somehow have an easier time understanding the Crazy Child model; experienced writers, like me, develop an approach to writing. You could say we have a writing apparatus. I tell people right away that letting the Crazy Child write is about dismantling the apparatus - it has a way of keeping us from the more exciting, vital material. But if you like your apparatus, take the part that's not working so well, and instead of refining it, throw it out. Go through the hole [that] that produces and walk into the creative unconscious. That's where the energy is, at your frontier.
(For more info on Clive's work go to http://matson-ford.com)
TONY MOFFEIT INTERVIEW
RD: You have been called a blues poet. Are you also a blues musician? TM: My first heroes were bluesmen. When I was a kid, growing up in Claremore, Oklahoma, I'd stay up late at night, listening to blues stations from the South. I was totally startled by the blues. Robert Johnson, Leadbelly, Charlie Patton, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin' Hopkins, Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf. They were my Zen masters. They were my shamans. They were my gurus. Of a new religion. The religion of the blues. The voodoo of Robert Johnson. The huge persona, the all-encompassing personality of Leadbelly. The magic of the blues. The sensuality of the blues. The weird rhythms of the blues. Jimmy Reed was like a Picasso of the blues, painting lowdown sounds. Charlie Patton's vocals were slurred and barely understandable, but the feeling was there. But mainly, to me, the bluesmen were extreme individualists, extreme prophets. I wanted to absorb their language, absorb their rhythms, absorb their wisdom, absorb their symbols, absorb their voodoo, absorb their metaphors, absorb their transmuting pain into a rocking boogie. I wanted to be a bluesman. But mainly with words. I am a blues musician also. This year i put out a CD on mp3 and have an mp3 website where you can play my songs: www.mp3.com/outlawblues. One of my songs, "Voodoo Snake Woman Blues," has been played a lot over the Internet and has been on the mp3 Acoustic Blues top ten for much of the year. But being a musician is secondary. Being a blues poet is foremost. I am a blues poet. I am a Southwest poet. I am a voodoo poet. I am an outlaw poet.
RD: What does that mean?
TM: What does being a blues poet mean? It means utilizing the ghost language of the blues and fusing it with the ghost language of poetry. It means, first of all, creating a language that has the mystery, the feeling, the sensuality, the strange rhythms, the individuality of the blues. Secondly, it means shouting the blues, moaning the blues, groaning the blues, it means performing the blues, both in terms of poetry and in terms of song. The blues is a feeling. The blues is a language. The blues is a rhythm. The blues is magic. The blues is something to be felt. The blues is something which transforms you. The blues transforms the agony of existence into the joy of passion, the joy of song, the joy of spirit, the joy of dance. The blues poet is a wave of energy. The blues poet has the magic of voodoo. The blues poet is transformed and obsessed. The blues poet feels the blues.
RD: How did you get started and how long have you been pursuing the craft of poetry?
TM: The blues for me goes hand-in-hand with writing, with poetry. The blues is a ghost language, a phantom language. As a kid, I loved the blues and I loved poetry. Poetry was the only thing that spoke to me with the same ghost language of the blues. Dylan Thomas. "And Death Shall Have No Dominion." "In My Craft and Sullen Art." That same mysterious ghost language of the blues. Something phantom-like, indefinable. But who else? No one. A void. No one else spoke the ghost language to me. So I hunted. I searched. I stalked poetry and found nothing. Until one day I came across an anthology called The Beats with a poem by Jack Micheline, "streetcall new orleans." Dylan Thomas and one poem by Jack Micheline. The only things for me which had the essence of the blues, the essence of the ghost language. It was years and years before I read more poetry by Micheline, saw him read, experienced his mad genius. But I knew his genius through that one poem. I continued to search. I found d. a. levy. d. a. levy spoke the ghost language. I continued to hunt. And I found more Zen masters: Ray Bremser, James Koller, Charles Plymell, Bob Kaufman.
RD: Were you inspired/encouraged by any one person to pursue this craft?
TM: All this time I was writing. I was the son of a used car dealer and salvage yard owner in Claremore, Oklahoma, the Mad Man. Mad Man Moffeit was a wild, crazy, joke-telling, wheeling-dealing, larger-than-life madman. he had a salvage yard where I hung out. I lived in this boneyard of old cars, writing my poems among the dust and weeds and banged-up metal and cracked glass and split windshields and busted axles and flat tires and torn upholstery and the ghosts of the dead. I was writing my own brand of blues. When I was a little older, I sneaked out on weekends to go to a nightclub in Tulsa, Oklahoma, called the Casa Del. I was good friends with the bouncer, Gibbo, a 300-pound buddy who let me in although I was underage so I could dance and drink and experience the blues first-hand.
RD: Was there a single point/event that inspired you to take up this life, or was it a slow process of transition?
TM: Events/people who inspired me to take up my craft? Other Zen masters: James Dean: he sacrificed everything for his art. He was all-consumed, obsessed, and that's how you reach the ghost language, the phantom art. Look at his life and you see the life of the artist. Committed, focused, intense. Billy the Kid: like James Dean he was totally focused on what he was. He burned on the edge. He was totally what he was. He didn't know anything else. That's what the artist is all about. Both James Dean and Billy the Kid were ready to risk their lives for who they were. That's what the artist is all about. More Zen masters: Neal Cassady: he burned, burned, burned. There was no turning back. He had only one gear: high gear. He was non-stop. That's what the artist is all about. John Coltrane: he slept with his saxophone he was so obsessed, would awake and begin blowing. Exploring. Constant innovation. He was the essence of improvisation. A religious search. A search for self. That's what the artist is all about.
Perhaps the most significant experience of inspiration: my first trip to New Orleans. From the airport, Tyrone, the shuttle bus driver, when I asked him if he knew anything about voodoo, wheeled the shuttle bus to St. Louis Cemetery #1 and the grave of Marie Laveau. I was ecstatic. He made everyone get out and pay homage to the Voodoo Queen. I was ecstatic. Everyone else was grumbling about how they needed to get to their hotels and constantly looked at their watches. I was ecstatic. He showed me the secret ceremony of pulling the magic from the grave. I was ecstatic. I was hypnotized. I was experiencing the ghost life. I didn't think it could get any better. But it did.
Walking down Bourbon Street I noticed a huge sign: Chickenman's House of Voodoo. I walked inside. A young woman asked me if she could help me. I told her, "I'm looking for voodoo." She replied, "You came to the right place. This is the Chickenman's House of Voodoo." I asked, "Who is the Chickenman?" She answered, "My God, man, you don't know who the Chickenman is? He's only the oldest and the greatest of the Voodoo Kings." I asked if I could meet the Chickenman. She said "of course" and went to the backroom to get the voodoo king. Chickenman emerged from the backroom in all his splendor: wearing a big hat of chicken feathers that was covered with magical charms. he looked at me with blazing black eyes and exclaimed, "I'm Chickenman. Prince Keeyama. The Voodoo King of New Orleans. The people of the city gave me that name." I replied, "Hello, Chickenman. I'm Tony Moffeit. Blues Poet of Pueblo, Colorado. The people of the city gave me that name." And bang! There was an immediate meeting of minds. Because there's not much difference between a voodoo king and a blues poet. Both are looking for those secret energies in the universe. We talked for hours and became friends. Whenever I would give a reading in New Orleans, he would provide me with drummers and dancers from his voodoo troupe to back me. I wrote books for him. I wrote songs for him. She sold my books about him in his voodoo shop. We were chicken brothers.
RD: People often expect a writer to be authentic, that is to say, they expect you to "live the life" that you portray in your work. How much of what you write is based on factual experience and how much is based on empathetic experience?
TM: Well, I think there are two major ways of transferring your persona. One is through performance. The external manifestation of the internal world. Jack Micheline might be a good example of this. He was probably better in performance than he was on the page. And he was awfully good on the page. But the magic of his identity came through in performance. He transferred the inner world into a universal magic. He authentically transferred his being, his experiences, his prophecies through performance.
The other way is through passionately living the internal life to such an extent that it comes through in your words. For me, the poet's external life is not much different than anyone else's. The authenticity comes about through the internal life of the poet. Externally, the poet is no different from anyone else. Internally, he is a revolutionary. Internally, he is a creator of new laws, his own laws. Internally, he is an outlaw. d. a. levy is a good example of this. You never had to hear or see him perform to know his genius. You just had to read his words. The remarkable prophesy of the revolutionary of the spirit is here.
So, both of these ways are ghost ways. How to transfer the phantom reality is what I feel the artist is all about. It is an overflow of intensified life experience. But as much dream experience as factual experience. Authenticity has as much to do with the dream world as it does the factual world. Has as much to do with the inner world as it does the external.
RD: When you sit down to write a poem, do you have a topic in mind? Or is it more evolutionary? Sheer dumb luck? Describe the process.
TM: The process is this: 1. The artist must tap into the ghost energy. This can be done in a number of ways. You can listen to a moody song. Or a rhythmic song. Or a ballad. You can read poems that touch the phantom language. You can turn off the lights. Sometimes, you don't have to do anything. Somehow, you need to get in touch with the spirits. 2. You must allow the ghost energy to let you work on many levels, many dimensions. You must see the mystical in the physical, the spiritual in the object, the passionate in detachment. You must reach a point of connecting with everything and being able to turn your poem inside out. You must stretch the language, reach another dimension. And you must do this without pretense. You must do this with the simplicity of language, reaching the most complex ideas with a simple but evocative language. 3. You must reach a point where you sing. Where the language takes over and sings you. The individual becomes universal.
RD: Everybody has their own way of doing things...their own routine. Tell me about your creative process.
TM: I'm going to talk about who the poet is. I feel that creativity has a lot more to do with who the poet is than some routine. The poet is that individual who through creating one's own life touches universal truths which can be shared through language. The poet is a unique and independent individual. And almost everything he does, almost everything he experiences has the potential for poetry. Because he is constantly creating oneself. The first truth of the poet is: I am who I create myself to be. The poet enters the inner universe to create who and what one desires to be. The second truth of the poet is: the creative will of the individual is superior to the external world. The poet must create one's own laws, one's own language, one's own way of life. But when the poet goes deeper, experiences his own internal power, amazingly he touches a universality of ghost energy, sharing that phantom language with other creators of life, artists of language, poetic spirits. And, all this has to do with internal power and internal surrender. Control and spontaneity. Will and dance. You must learn to discipline yourself and you must learn to let go.
RD: How has the role of the poet changed over the years? Do you think you are getting your "due" or the respect you deserve? Elaborate on this.
TM: Externally, the role of the poet has changed over the years. Internally, the role remains the same. My favorite poets are the outcasts, the outlaws, the supreme individualists, the passionate singers, the loners, the lovers. Ikkyu, the great Japanese Zen poet. Walt Whitman, the solitary singer. Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher-poet, extreme individualist, who turned the world of philosophy upside-down. The French Surrealists: Andre Breton, Robert Desnos, Pierre Reverdy: a whole revolution of language and revolution of the spirit. The Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca and his philosophy of the duende. Arthur Rimbaud and d. a. levy gave us the youthful outlaw, the wild unbridled poetry of rebellion. Jack Micheline and Ray Bremser gave us an improvisational jazz poetry. With all of these, the role of the poet was akin to the role of the religious teacher, the role of the prophet, the role of the mystic, the role of the sage, the role of the guru.
The role of the poet has changed. There is no longer an outlaw landscape. At least, not externally. The role of the poet has changed from the poet being a religious teacher to the poet being a professor or instructor. Or a leader of workshops. And there is a whole world of difference between a poet being a prophet and a poet being a tutor or mentor or teacher.
Do I get the respect I deserve? I think so. There are the prizes: the 1986 Jack Kerouac Award from Cherry Valley Editions and the publication of the award winning Pueblo Blues. The NEA in poetry in 1993. The Thomas Hornsby Ferril Poetry Prize in 1997. A lot of full-length books. A lot of superb chapbooks. A lot of receptive audiences for my performances. I think I am happy with how I am perceived, my persona as a lone drifter, blues outlaw, voodoo poet.
RD: Recently, Thunders Mouth Press published the Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, a hefty tome that was portrayed as a definitive representation of the "State of the Art." Yet, there were many notable exceptions (and some questionable inclusions). What is your opinion about attempts such as this to cash in on "Pop Culture"?
TM: I have heard about this work but I have not seen it. So, I don't know the emphasis of the work. I do know, however, that there are a lot of legitimate "outlaw bibles" out there. For instance, Water Row Press' The Conquerors, a book of poetry by Ray Bremser, published in 1998. A recent work for anyone who wants a bible of the outlaw. Or another recent "outlaw bible," The Buddhist Third Class Junkmail Oracle: The Art and Poetry of d. a. levy edited with an investigative essay by Mike Golden and published by Seven Stories Press in 1999. Or Jack Micheline's Sixty-Seven Poems for Downtrodden Saints published in 1997 by FMSBW. These are three recent legitimate "bibles of the outlaw." I would hope The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry would be as definitive as these three works. I'm looking forward to seeing it.
RD: Do you think that creativity is something that needs to be addressed in the new century, and more importantly, is it an issue that is being addressed sufficiently by educators and the government?
TM: Well, I've always felt that art lives in a ghost world, a phantom world, a world in which the artist is a law unto oneself. Awards and rewards are good. They help with the external. But, really, the true poet is about the internal. It has very little to do with educators and the government. It has to do with the spirit of the individual artist. That spirit can conquer anything. That spirit can overcome anything. The internal world of the poet is superior to the external world. That internal world of the poet is phenomenal. About the only thing you can compare it to is love. It is a love affair with life. It is experiencing miracles on a daily basis. It's not that educators and the government are bad. They serve their purpose. It's just that they are superfluous in comparison with the individual spirit, the creative will of the artist.
#1 - Donna Cartelli // #2 - Tony Moffeit // #3 - Harry Northup // #4 - Holly Prado // #5 - A.D. Winnans // #6 - Todd Moore (Lummox of the Year 2000)
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