Friday, April 30, 2010

6 questions with Daniel Collins, the 3rd feature on May 7th

Daniel Collins will be the third performer/poet at the May 7th Poetry Lab event at the Soundry in Vienna, VA

here's our 6 question mini-interview :

1) For you, which came first: the words or the music?

I was a writer first, I suppose. I remember writing stories and poems as soon as I was old enough to hold a pen (though I’m told I used to belt out a mean version of “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen when I was still in the crib). But I began approaching music and writing seriously at about the same time, and for the same reason, to try to decipher the overwhelming madness, joy, hope and desperation that come along with being a teenager. My first band was a punk-rock group when I was about 13 years old. I started my first poetry journal around that same time. Music and poetry were essential to me in order to discover my own identity, and gain the courage to explore the world both internally and externally. They still are.

2) Can you briefly discuss how all the elements of the “artistic Daniel Collins” work together; film and poetry and music? Has there be a determined approach on your part to merge the three into a single expression of your work?

I do them all pretty much every day, and yet I approach them all differently. In one sense, I may film a performance of a song that I’ve written for online distribution, and I’m using all three art forms at once. But I have different artistic processes for each medium. I write songs differently than poetry, and filmmaking feels like more of a skill than an art much of the time. I also work as a filmmaker, I’m paid to do it, and discipline is essential to my success. I can approach the music and poetry in a different way. But I’m really drawn to the idea that film has the ability to bring other forms of expression to a wider audience, and in that sense I’d like to use film much more effectively as a way to share my own work and the work of others with the world.

3) Do you feel that the Philly area is your “home” now, or do your feet still get itchy for travel?

I’ve got a great network of friends and fellow artists in Philadelphia, and I’m comfortable here in a lot of ways. I’ve been gigging and reading poetry here for years, so there’s a comfort level there. And it’s a great location. I can do a show in New York City on a Wednesday night and be at work the next morning. I can come to D.C. for a reading and still be back in time for a show in Philly the next night. But I travel every chance I get. Traveling is the most inspiring thing in my life. I try to leave the country a couple of times a year to get some perspective and get out of the grind. Living in the Northeast is like being in a rat trap sometimes. The traffic alone is enough to make you insane. Sooner than later I’d like to leave Philly for a while and spend some time living far away from all of the routines, customs and habits that I’ve become used to.

4) Can you tell the story of how you have become friends with John Sinclair?

John is one of many amazing people I’ve met through a wonderful non-profit organization called Common Ground on the Hill. It’s a two-week summer program at McDaniel College in Maryland that combines studies of traditional arts and social justice. I began attending as a volunteer and student in the late 90s, and now I’m part of the faculty there, teaching a course about documentary film as a tool for social change. I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a life changing experience!
Anyway, I think it was in 1999 that I met John. He was pointed out to me by some musician friends, and I honestly knew next to nothing about his life and work. My friend and fellow poet/musician Josh McCardle was with me and we started in with John about our ideas regarding poetry, music, and the like – we discussed a mutual love of roots blues music, revolutionary writers, and that kind of thing. The first thing he said to us was “Daaaaaaaamn! I been waiting 25 years to meet some young cats like you!”
So we’ve done a few shows together over the years in Philly, including a few great nights at the Tritone club. In 2001, we asked a local musician friend to get together a house band for the poetry performance, and next thing we knew we had a super-group made up out of members of Calvin Weston’s Big Tree and the Sun Ra Arkestra. It was a hell of a night for a young poet to get up on stage with a crew like that!
But John’s writing is often overshadowed by his political activities. He’s a blues scholar, much of his poetry is almost documentary in a sense. Dig into his book “Fattening Frogs for Snakes” and you have an oral history of the greatest bluesmen who ever lived. He’s a big inspiration.

5) What was the first book of poetry that you ever bought?

I can’t remember the first book that I bought. But I distinctly remember a few that had a major impact on my life. When I was about 16 I stumbled across a book (I think I stole it from an ex girlfriend) called “A Day in the Life: Tales from the Lower East”. It was a collection of poems from New York’s lower east side. It had Ted Berrigan, Emily XYZ, Allen Ginsberg, and a bunch of other writers. I’d never heard of any of them. That book took my mind out of rural Maine and plopped it in the middle of alphabet city. I made up my mind on the spot that I’d move to New York as soon as I got a chance. I’ve been chasing the images I discovered in that book for years. Around that same time, I came across a copy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Pictures of the Gone World”; soon after I discovered Gary Snyder’s “Earth House Hold”. Those two writers have had the greatest influence on my poetic voice, I think.

6) In some of your bios given around the time of the publication of of go and why you mentioned that “chasing the muse” is one of your pursuits, have you ever caught that muse? Or is the thrill in the chase?

Its funny, I dedicated that book to the “one & only & everpresent muse”, and a lot of people have taken that to be a specific person, a woman or man that I love, a friend that’s dead, an aesthetic I aspire to, a memory I hold onto, a specific artistic inspiration, etc. To me the muse is all of those things and more, and I’ve been chasing it since I can remember. What is it that wakes me up at 3 a.m. to stumble out to the dark table and have a poem appear fully on the page in a single minute? What is it that keeps me out until dawn strolling down empty streets following the blinking of streetlights or the path of the moon? It’s the muse. It often causes me more trouble than happiness, and sometimes it stays away for days, weeks, or months on end. But I always know when it’s calling, and I always follow. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been absolutely sure of in my entire life.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

6 questions with Tony Mancus

1) When did you begin to write poetry?

Well, let's see...I think I started in high school. I had this green 5 subject notebook that i supposedly used for class stuff and somewhere around 10th grade I got onto this big time Jim Morrison kick and thought that "American Prayer" was the coolest thing ever--so back in Archbald, in my Dad's garage there's a box with this notebook in it with all of this awkward teenage posturing and opaque rhyming nonsense. It doesn't look like I've actually made it too far from there, all things considered. Maybe a bit less rhyme-y. But for some reason the fiddling with words stuck. I remember this one party I was at a few years later and there was this guy who was in school studying writing--a real writer, you know. And I asked him what I should do to get good and he said to start small--to write about an electrical outlet, and then go from there. For some reason that stuck and I can't stop seeing things in outlets, even now. I wouldn't revise stuff then. I think through college and such, I started to figure out that revision was where the game was. I'd say that was when it really became writing, or at least I took it seriously as something of a craft. In a couple of months I've got to go and clean out that garage. It's going to be mortifying and hilarious!

2) What led you to move into the realm of publishing?

In Pittsburgh a bunch of kids I knew there were trying to get an arts collective started and it kind of worked for a bit--we had a small magazine, called Magazino. I did some editorial stuff with them, but nothing too terribly serious. Most of what we did was readings and performances. There were a few other people who were doing some really neat stuff--Ally Malinenko started up this little zine called Avenues, I think and Jerome Crooks was doing his damndest to get a press together, well before all of the small press stuff really took off. Speed and Briscoe--he published short runs of a bunch of the kids in the writing program at the time. This was late '90s and he stuck around the burgh and has continued to publish some stellar writers. FGP happened a good bit later--post grad school and started out of a conversation. I can't really pinpoint when and where it was though. Sommer Browning and I decided that we'd like to try our hands at making some books and we started off with a friend's manuscript. Melissa Koosman. Stellar writer. She's in South Africa now. But anyway, we'd decided we'd try to publish people who we admired and whose work we admired and that's pretty much where it started. When we first started we were talking about some weird and interesting publishing things, like sending people clods of dirt with grass in it and a poem, or a book published wholly on a roll of toilet paper. But for Mel's book we got some linocut materials and the idea of a bird. I cut my fingers up pretty ridiculously, but the cover wound up turning out alright and we've not really looked back since. A lot of sideways glances, but never any backwards ones.

3) Has being a publisher changed the way you, as a poet, viewed things?

My short answer is maybe. Since beginning to work with layouts a bit, I've come to find that I like really sparse work because it lends to all kinds of fun possibilities. Publishing and being introduced to other people who make books also has come to affect my idea of what a book is or what it could be. Like before I'd seen Pilot Press's books, I'd never thought about making a hinged metal cover or dealing with different types of translucent paper. They've made some terribly gorgeous things. So maybe that conversation about toilette paper and grass clumps Sommer and I had will eventually yield something, who knows. But I have come to find that my own writing is getting a bit more clipped and I'm working in smaller spaces. I can't say if this is because of publishing stuff, or what I'm reading, or if it's just the reasonable aftereffects of time and not wholly losing one's mind and finding littler compartments to hold things in.

4) Can you explain the naming of your Press (Flying Guillotine Press), it’s a uniquely named Press, btw

Unfortunately, for this I can't take much credit. Sommer is a big fan of "The Master of the Flying Guillotine" and we were tossing name ideas around and she suggested that name and we were both like, yes. Yes. And afterwards someone said that it reminded them of the Emily Dickinson quote about good poetry--that it's supposed to lift off the top of your head--or something to that effect. So it's almost literary. So close. If it were a horseshoe it might explode.

5) Has your change of locations : from North-East Pa to Pittsburgh to Brooklyn to Northern VA impacted your work?

Yeah. I think fairly significantly. There was a spot of the desert thrown in there before NY and though I've never lived in Brooklyn, I visited quite frequently. I lived in Queens--Sunnyside and Astoria. And now here I am in Rosslyn. I never thought I'd be a southerner, but I guess it's better than Jersey! Actually, I really do like it here quite a bit and when I was in college my mom went to a psychic and she'd said that I'd eventually end up in Virginia. But that might just be because I was born in September. The woman was a card reader--she read playing cards. I never had the chance to go talk to her. And I'm just jokingly badmouthing Jersey. There are some lovely places in that poorly stereotyped state. I guess each place has left its mark on me. I mean, I'm always going to be a kid from a small town in coal country--or what was left over after the coal had been removed. Pittsburgh showed me what artistic community was/is/could be and it was college and crazy. Tucson was very very very warm and the land there wants to kill everyone who enters but the monsoons and the mornings and the people were all amazing--there are colors about that place I miss, and the smells--the orange blossoms, jeez. And what is there to say about New York that hasn't already been said by a thousand people who burn all their dreams and find them crinkled and black in the sink the next morning? As for how that's affected my writing, I'd guess its the same as all of the other chosen and unchosen variables--it seems each place has its own pace and that somehow works its way into my work. It may not be while I'm there though. My head lags. So the short clipped lines might have to do with the constriction I felt in NY and the breadth of the lines I'd been writing in NY may have had something to do with the openness of the landscape in Arizona. I can't rightly say, but I don't think that people are ultimately human if they're unaffected by place on some level.

6) You are reading on May 7, 2010 at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry in Vienna, VA with your college buddy Paul Siegell. What have been your impressions of the Poetry Lab to date, and how might the event with Paul go? Do you have any surprises up your sleeves for that night?

So far, for me, every event has been different at the Lab. It's one of the most welcoming, non-postured spaces I've ever been to and lord knows poetry events can get very well postured. You're doing something that needs to be done and I'm very happy to be invited and involved. For this, I must say thank you. And thank you, too, for letting Paul and I do this reading together. I'm really excited to hang out with him again. It's been too long. A decade. That doesn't seem right at all. It's going to be great to fill in the years some. And I read in his interview that bit about Columbine. Man what a weird friggin day that was. I bet Paul will knock all the socks off at this reading. I mean he's been this rocketship for the past few years and rightfully so, and righteously so. I actually can't wait to hear how he reads some of the more concrete pieces. It's going to get awesome! As of now, there's no big surprise plan, but I'll try to get my gears running. It's late as I'm typing this, so i apologize for any undue tangents. Thanks again, Steven for doing what you do and I hope that I can hold up my end of the stick on the 7th.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

an interview with Paul Siegell, one of the May 2010 features

1. When did it occur to you that writing was an itch you couldn’t scratch?

Sometime senior year at the University of Pittsburgh I was in Jan Beatty’s poetry workshop and I remember saying something like, What the hell are we all doing? (I must have been going through a thing that week or something.) The class laughed and then I explained myself with: What’s the point of writing poetry? After a few minutes of discussion I told the class, my friends, that there was no way I was gonna stop writing poetry, but that I was just questioning it. It’s purpose. It’s value. I remember even saying, “I’m not like a crack baby about it or anything, but I’m not gonna stop unless poetry wants me to.” Class laughed again. To answer your question, I’m gonna say about two years before that night at workshop, when I was 19 and had just written my first real’ish poem.

2. As you realized your own poetic style, who were your influences along with way? (I understand that Phish is one of them)

A Clockwork Orange (“What’s it gonna be then, eh?”), Tender Buttons, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (“That’s good thinking there, Cool Breeze.”), On the Road (“I first met Dean Moriarty after my wife and I split up.”), HOWL, Kaddish, Leaves of Grass, GASOLINE, and when Mrs. Rajkowski assigned Emerson and Thoreau to us in 7th grade. Washington Irving, too. Reading cereal boxes and the comics section while my dad read the New York Newsday during breakfast before school. Playing with my legos and hearing classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Dylan and the Grateful Dead coming through the wall from my oldest sister’s room. Later playing Nintendo like Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda and hearing new wave bands like The Cure, Erasure, Depeche Mode and Alphaville coming through the wall from my other sister’s room. My mom watching Wheel of Fortune and This Old House, and my dad watching the news. She cried when Family Ties ended. He went nuts when the ‘86 Mets won. Cubism, Picasso, Cezanne. Kandinsky. All the museums my dad took me to on birthdays. PITT poetry pros Jeff Oaks, Jan Beatty and Lynn Emanuel. Billboards and road signs along the highway. Thot it was so funny when Sal Paradise raised the flag upside down. Lyricists like Robert Hunter, John Barlow, Tom Marshall, Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon. Traveling. My friends. Reading tons and tons of poetry being written and published by tons and tons of amazing poets right this very second. Stuff like that.

3. Can you explain your “concrete or visual poetry” development? What was your first piece? Which came first the image or the poem?

Fifth grade, Mrs. Grossman’s class. We where doing a poetry section for a week or so and at the end everyone had to write a poem. My 10-year-old head had nothing. Everyone else was scribbling away, acrostics and whatnot, and I was sitting there waiting for recess. Mrs. Grossman came over and asked me to name an animal. Last name’s Siegell so I said a bird. She said: Great, fill the page with the outline of a bird. I drew a bird. Then she goes, Write in as many types of birds as you can think of all the way around along the outline. So I did. When I was done she said, now erase the line. Boom.

4. What has your experience in Philadelphia been like?

I get mine wiz wit. Plus hot peppers.

5. What was the first book of poetry you ever bought?

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. Then HOWL.

6. You are reading at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry in Vienna, VA on May 7th. I understand this is going to be a “reunion” reading. Care to explain?

Tony Mancus and I were in a few poetry classes together at the University of Pittsburgh. One thing I’ll never forget was the break between classes that he, myself and another poet in our group, Jerome Crooks, shared on 04/20/99, day of the Columbine killings. The three of us sat on a bench outside the Cathedral of Learning, did what we did and sat there, stunned. Sharing our thoughts on what we couldn’t believe.

We’ve stayed in touch over the years via email, as a nice handful of that group of poets have, but other than his incredible, true-hearted poems all over the Internet, I haven’t sEEn Tony since graduation, 2000. I am very much looking forward to catching up with him in person, meeting his fiancee and introducing him to mine.

Thanks again for putting us together, Steven! It’s going to be a great night for poetry and friends, new and old.


Paul Siegell is the author of three books of poetry: wild life rifle fire (Otoliths Books, 2010), jambandbootleg (A-Head Publishing, 2009) and Poemergency Room (Otoliths Books, 2008). He is an editor at Painted Bride Quarterly, and has contributed to The American Poetry Review, Coconut, Rattle and many other fine journals. He has also been featured in two national music and culture magazines, Paste and Relix, as well as elsewhere exciting. Kindly find more of Paul's work (poems, poemics, reviews) at ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 2, 2010 Poetry Lab

Joseph Kerschbaum and Tony Brewer visited the Poetry Lab on April 2, 2010 as part of their Bottomless Cheetah Blood Tourette (mini-tour). Each has a new chapbook out from Plan B Press; Kerschbaum's is Your Casual Survival and Brewer's is Little Glove in a Big Hand. Together they comprise half of the Indiana-based Reservoir Dogwoods. It was their first time east and they were amazing.

In addition to these two fabulous poets were Tony Mancus reading from two chapbooks off his Flying Guillotine Press, C L Bledsoe and his wife Jillian did a tag-team reading, and I did an audience participation piece called "Squonk". It's a piece that I wrote in 1998 in response to the disconnect I experienced between some academic poets and "uninformed" audiences. The piece was recorded on the 1999 limited release CD Soundbytes from the Millenium.

The developing vibe comes directly from the poets, from the Soundry itself, from the space. I had the good fortune to find the space earlier than others. First in, as it were. As things progress, one will be able to sense the presence of John Cage and the Living Theatre, Bertolt Brecht and what C L Bledsoe has called "punk house for poets".