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.