Welcome to the Tea Interviews.
I've seldom met an artist, particularly a writer, who didn't tend to gab or spill opinions or offer musings on his/her own work and worldview. Therefore I'm tapping into this common tendency.
(Most of the questions are tailored toward the featured interviewee.)
Tea Interview with Collin Kelley (2005)
Well, I interviewed you quite some time ago, so we're due for an updated
exchange. You've experienced and accomplished a lot since the initial
interview. Beyond Better
To Travel: a spoken-word CD, increased publication repertoire,
various live performances, staged readings of your short play (The
Dark Horse), a Pushcart nomination, and your own internet
radio program. Add this to your day job and the usual and unusual rocks
and rolls of life, and I wonder: Do you ever feel cramped? Do
you need to crash and just simmer sometimes?
not sure if cramped is the right word...more like exhausted. I kind of got a
taste of what it's like to be a musician or traveling poet who constantly
tours. I don't know how they do it. I put myself through a fairly punishing
performance schedule in 2004 and it's spilled over into 2005. However, for all
the exhaustion, the travel, the hell that is America's airports post Sept. 11,
shitty hotels and the low pay, it's been a life-altering experience. And I
mean that in a good way. I have met so many incredible people on this poetry
journey. It has fed my creativity...made me a better poet. I think 2004 was my
most creative year as poet since about 1995-96. The words were just flowing out
of me. And while that was happening, I was becoming a more disciplined writer -
learning that the first draft of a poem is exactly that...a first draft and that
the final work will be significantly different. I took a number of workshops
(including a couple with the amazing Cecilia Woloch -- who is also a good
friend, but a total taskmaster when it comes to hammering out better poems). I
also got incredible support and feedback from Tania Rochelle and Cherryl
Floyd-Miller on the new poetry that is slowly taking shape for the next
collection. As for the need to crash and simmer, after I feature at the Austin
International Poetry Festival in April, I'm going to take some time off to
finish putting the next book together. I've already had numerous invitations
for the fall, so I think keeping a low profile over the summer will do me good.
Let's begin with HalfLife
Crisis, your spoken-word CD. I dig the basic layout, the
choice of pieces (" Why I Want To Be Pam Grier" is one cool mutha of a
poem - and "Battersea" is my fave), and Denton Perry's musical intro/interlude.
(Chris Snell, who is also featured on the CD, has a lovely voice, by the
way.) Give us the skinny on HalfLifes'
conception, production, and recording.
think I said in the last interview we did that a spoken word CD might happen,
and sure enough it did. Denton and Jennifer Perry are incredible friends and
artists. Working with them brings me such joy. I worked with the Jennifer Perry
Combo when Better To Travel was
released...we created an evening of poetry, song and music that remains some of
my favorite memories of the release of the book. We had a standing room only
crowd of more than 200 people at the release party for Better
To Travel and our work together was the definition of synergy. It was
a year after Better To Travel's release,
I thought the time was right to do the CD and have a mix of work from the book
as well as new work. Denton offered to record and mix the CD for free! Now that
is love. And the bonus is having Denton's incredible music as part of HalfLife
Crisis...it totally takes the CD to another level. I called up my friend
Chris Snell and told her we were doing this CD and I wanted her voice reading
some of my poems. We used to perform spoken word shows together back in the
mid-90s, so having her on the CD was truly a full-circle moment.
actual recording was done on a Saturday afternoon in one long take. Denton set
up a microphone on a table between Chris and I and we proceeded to have a
conversation about the poetry, punctuated with readings of the work. We did it
in one long take, and only one of the poems was recorded again. The sound of the
CD is very organic. Denton's mix allowed some of the conversation to remain
(and even a few of the flubs) and it flows so smoothly from piece to piece and
Denton's musical cues. I've never heard another CD quite like this one. It
was a total experiment. The poem "Why I Want To Be Pam Grier" is a live cut
recorded by Steve Ramirez at the Ugly Mug in Orange, California during my
reading there in 2004. It's become my signature poem. The hosts have started
introducing me as "the Pam Grier of poetry." It tickles the hell out of
me...because I adore Pam Grier. I would like to be her!
have a regular gig on Leisure Talk Radio with your Business Of
Words show. Let us in on the main details of this
Jana Oliver and her husband Harold Buehl have a studio in their home near Atlanta and had been producing Internet radio network, which suddenly went belly up in early 2004. Jana hosted a show called "The Do-It-Yourself Author Show" and I was one of her first guests after Better To Travel was published. When the station shut down, Jana and Harold said, "what the hell...let's start our own Internet radio station." That's how Leisure Talk Radio Network (www.leisuretalk.net) was born. Jana called me and asked me if I would be interested in hosting a show. I thought she was insane. I don't really have a "radio voice," but she disagreed and said I should do something with poetry. All of my travels and hosting open mics here in Atlanta have been put me in contact with so many incredible poets across the country, so I decided to give it a go. It's been a great success. I tape about three shows a month, and the guest list has been impressive if I do say so myself: Maureen Seaton, Jackie Sheeler, Sholeh Wolpe, Kodac Harrison, Cecilia Woloch, John Amen, Kate Gale and the list goes on. Jana and Harold said they have noticed a spike in listeners when my show comes on and we've heard from people as far away as Germany and Poland who listen regularly. The Internet, for all its spam and viruses, is an amazing thing.
Did you have a favorite G.I. Joe figure when you were a lad?
If so, who was he/she? I was a Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow cat,
myself. (Mind you, this is an amusing question meant to provide
mirth before plunging into the following few questions.)
For those who don't know, David brings this up because on the title poem of the CD, I list toys I used to have as a child and a G.I. Joe doll was one of them. This was the old-school G.I. Joe, the big plastic doll one with fatigues and a fuzzy crewcut and beard. I had him and this giant helicopter you could put him in. I graduated from G.I. Joe to the Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman and then to Star Wars action figures. I was a total 70s child. But I smashed most of this stuff, because I was a destructive little bastard. I broke so many of my toys that there is literally nothing in my parents' attic but scraps and shards. When I think of how much money that stuff is worth now, it makes me sick. I actually went on a little binge last year and found a Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman still in their boxes on eBay. Had to have them...paid a small fortune. I was totally obsessed with Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers as a kid...I SO wanted to be bionic, run in slow motion, hear things a mile away and open tin cans with my fingernail. I found out last month that Universal is finally going to release both shows on DVD this year. I nearly cried with joy. I started running in slow motion all around my house.
BOOM. Subject change! Give us a brief but honest spiel on the (disconcerting
and frustrating) U.S. perpetual war policy that doesn't seem to be abating.
I'll refrain from offering my own opinions, for the sake of cats
who don't like temper tantrums.
lord...I could rant on this for ages. My blog is full of tirades against Bush
and his band of merry warmongers. I'm glad Iraq is finally liberated...it
should have been done back during the first Gulf War, but Daddy Bush didn't
have the balls to finish the job and take Saddam Hussein out of the picture
then. It would have saved us so much trouble. Now, we've had an election in
Iraq, and yet there's still no exit strategy to get our troops out. Iraq has
no army, it can't be left on its own at this point, so we are stuck there to
clean up. But what is REALLY frightening is that Bush is starting his little war
dance again and it seems Iran is the next target. He and Condoleeza are ramping
up the propaganda against Iran, and Bush called the country "the largest
supporter of terrorism in the world" during his state of the disunion address
in February. Then Condi went to Britain to try and get everyone behind the US to
stand against Iran. It's the same lead up we had to invading Iraq. There is no
way in hell we can invade Iran, clean up the mess in Iraq and continue to search
for Osama bin Laden (remember him!?) without having a draft. I wonder what
happened to tracking down Al-Qaida and Osama...the ones who flew planes into the
World Trade Center and Pentagon and killed thousands on September 11? Is Osama
hiding in Iran? I don't think so.
course while all this is going on, Bush continues to push religion and morals
down our throats. He's allowed the fundamentalist Christians to hijack the
legislative process. Roe v. Wade is under threat, gays and lesbians are facing
more oppression than ever before, and the Christian right is trying to outlaw
the teaching of evolution again. America seems to be regressing back to a very
scary place. Bush was put back in office because Americans are still scared
after Sept. 11. A writer (who's name I have totally forgotten) said America
had a psychotic break after the terrorist attacks and has not recovered. It was
a perfect analogy. Keep the population frightened and they are easy to control
and manipulate. The Democrats have got to find a more centrist candidate and get
him in the public eye soon. Kerry, Dean, Hilary...don't even bother me with
those names. We need new blood with a new plan. The Republicans have painted
Democrats as unpatriotic loonies, and it's going to take the next four years
to alter that perception. I've added political activist to my resume.
Somerset Maugham wrote in The Moon And Sixpence:
"...the writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of
his work and in release from the burden of his thought; and, indifferent to
aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success." And
later in the same book: "'I wonder if I could write on a
desert island, with the certainty that no eyes but mine would ever see what I
writing (and making art in general) intrinsically worthy? Should an artist
be satisfied with just his/her own knowledge of his/her art? Or is art's
worth/power contingent on society - on other witnesses, an audience?
is contradicting himself. He says the writer should be happy with just the act
of writing it all down, but then questions whether he could do this and never
have any kind of recognition. Obviously, he decided that publication was the
best course of action for him.
my writing, some of it is just for me and some of it is for public
consumption...although lately, those lines have seemed to blur a bit. My poetry
has become more personal, more provocative, more hardcore...and I do mean
sexually. I am writing work today that just a few years ago I could never had
stood on a stage and read to a room of people. Hell, it took me weeks to work up
the nerve to read a couple of my newest pieces because I was a bit embarrassed
about putting so much of myself and my sex life out there. That said, the
reaction to these pieces was overwhelming...they touched a nerve. Several people
have told me these fairly explicit poems of my coming out, and of sexual
politics in general, gave voice to things they were feeling, but could never put
into words, write down on paper, or divulge to a room full of people. I am by
nature a "giver" -- I want to write poetry (or plays or novels) that take
my experiences and offer some kind of perspective to others. Maybe it opens
their mind to new ideas, or makes them reconsider their bigotry, or their
politics. Once the poems hit the page, they scream to be read, even if they
embarrass the hell out of me.
would never be satisfied with just writing and never giving it an airing. I know
others who write just for themselves as a form of therapy or to keep a journal,
but I've moved beyond that. My life and my writing are so intrinsically linked
that one cannot survive without the other. Is writing and art worthy?
Absolutely. It's never been more important. Whether it's writing, art,
theatre or music, we need this expression now more than ever. I think it saves
us from the dark places, and there are so many of those these days.
D: Author/philosopher Ayn Rand saw Art as metaphysics concretely expressed. The sicker one's metaphysical esteem, the sicker one's art. She wrote: "If you see obscene, dismembered monstrosities leering at you from today's esthetic mirrors - aborted creations of mediocrity, irrationality, and panic - you are seeing the embodied, concretized reality of the philosophical premises that dominate today's culture."
She also emphasized: "[D]isintegration is the preface of death to the human mind. Disintegration is the keynote and goal of modern art - the disintegration of man's conceptual faculty, and the retrogression of an adult mind to the state of a mewling infant." I agree with her for the most part, seeing obsession with non-human subjects, extremely distorted perception, and vulgar - even ugly - focus as bad art. Your reaction/thoughts on Rand's statements?
I sort of agree with Rand's first statement. Ayn died in 1982, so she totally missed the boat on reality television, 24 hour news channels, etc. She'd be catatonic in a corner. What America has elevated to an esthetic these days is monstrous. I was flipping the channels the other day and stopped on MTV and found myself watching a show about kids planning their Sweet 16 parties. The producers have found the richest kids in the country to focus on, so that every child is beautiful, wearing $10,000 dresses, getting brand new BMWs and having their daddy book the hottest rock band. Then in the next half hour, it's a show about rescuing some nerd and transforming him into one of the "beautiful people." It sends such a horrible message about our culture and alienates teenagers even more because the majority will never be able to live these outrageous lifestyles. We have elevated body image, wealth, materialism and popularity to such heights, it's no wonder kids walk into schools and blow everybody's brains out. The other day, an acquaintance of mine asked me what I was listening to on my iPod. When I told him I didn't have one, he looked at me like I was from another planet. And for about 20 minutes, I was online trying to find a cheap iPod to buy because suddenly I felt alienated from the Zeitgeist. Then I snapped back to my senses, came home and put on an old Joni Mitchell album on the turntable (That's a vinyl record, kids) and "Hejira" brought me back to down to earth.
for Rand calling modern art "disintegration," I would flip that coin and
says it's disintegration of the norm, the banal and the expected to create
something totally new. For example, British artist Tracey Emin's work would
make Ayn Rand run screaming into the night. She did an installation at the Tate
a few years back called "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With" where she sewed
all the names of her lovers into the fabric of a tent. Brilliant. Another of her
most controversial pieces was "My Bed," which was an ordinary bed with
stains on the sheets, empty condom packets, cigarette butts, etc. I don't see
a mewling infant in that work. I see a strong, opinionated artist who is not
afraid to expose herself. If that's disintegration, I say bring it on.
D: Ok. Back to fluff. You deserve a break. If you could create and realize a reality TV show, what would it be about - and what would it be called?
would probably something along the lines of Kirstie Alley's new show, Fat
Actress, or Curb Your Enthusiasm -- a mix of reality and fiction. I love shows
where the characters are essentially playing themselves and are unafraid to poke
fun at their image, size, sexuality, etc. Showtime should come put a camera on
me and follow me around to some of the poetry readings I go to. Now THAT would
be bizarre television. I have met some characters who make the nutcases on
reality TV look sane. Of course, if I had to be on
a reality show it would be Amazing Race. I'm totally obsessed with it. My
friend Malory and I always say we're going to sign up, but then we watch the
mountain climbing, 17 hour train rides while you're groped by old men,
drinking cups of blood and say...no fucking way are we EVER going on Amazing
D: Forgive the goofiness of this next question, but I'm compelled. Have you ever been what C.S. Lewis called "surprised by Joy" - experienced an instant or a few moments of inexplicable, unprovoked bliss and euphoric love, contentment and complete absence of anger and fear? This happens to me once in a while, to the point of even wanting to embrace and comfort enemies and human monsters, tell them they were born with purpose and worth, wash away their anguish and hatred.
Yeah, I get those moments about once every five years, and I usually wind up forgiving some dumbass boyfriend who dicked me over. I'm so benevolent. Joking aside, I've found many moments of joy in the last couple of years -- most of those with friends at great poetry readings, or lingering over long dinners discussing everything under the sun or just walking down a street in London after seeing a great film or play. As exhausting as my schedule has been, sometimes just coming home and vegging out on the couch can bring indescribable bliss.
D: In your honest, honest poem, "Credentials", you indict the blowhard art "elite" for their cowardly, blind insistence on a so-called legitimate resume instead of genuine care for potentially worthy work. Their nostrils prefer the "scent of academia and cliques". You wisely mention Whitman and other revered writers who relied on self-publishing to kick off their art. In the rather touching conclusion you write: "You have the nerve to ask for my credentials when I am sitting here before you. Alive." This is a direct address to the shortsighted ones you've faced in your struggle to realize your poetry - ironically, you're treating them more as humans than they treat so-called "unknowns". Very cool.
One rejecting editor said of Nabakov's Lolita: "I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years." Another said that Rand's Atlas Shrugged was "unsaleable and unpublishable". DUH! Montaigne wrote in "Of The Art Of Conversing": "Honors, offices, are of necessity conferred more by fortune than through merit." Do you think this can be one fault of such elitism? Share your general thoughts about this, just for the record.
It all comes to down to subjectivity. Some people are just not going to like what you write or what you say. That's a hard pill to swallow when you're young and starting out, because you desperately want to please everyone. There is always going to be bastards in positions of power who will try to knock you down because your work -- whether it's poetry, fiction, song -- doesn't live up to some "standard" or because they are frightened or jealous. It's the way of the world. The goal these days is to find the editor or publisher who is forward thinking, willing to take a chance and not come up with that stale, "we love it, we just don't know how to market it" bullshit. Horrible films, books and pop stars who can't sing a note are forced down our throats on a daily basis. If you promote it hard enough, put it before enough eyes, put the right spin on it, you can "sell" anything. Good poetry and literature seems to fall by the wayside more and more often because publishers don't want to take a chance on a risky storyline or trying to launch a name into the mainstream. It costs money and time. That's why the industry is shaking in its boots about authors who are now self-publishing and doing very well. Getting a traditional publishing contract is akin to playing the lottery these days. It is all a mater of luck, but I still believe that the author has to believe in himself before anyone else will. The work will find its audience eventually.
D: I'm not very fond of funereal ritual, expense, and morbidity (return me to ashes), but...what would you like to be written on your tomb stone?
Oh, I already know this. It's in my will. It will be my name, date of birth, date of death and these lines from the Kate Bush song, "Running Up That Hill":
I only could, I'd make a deal with God
I'd get him to swap our places,
be running up that road,
running up that hill,
That said, I've asked to be cremated and scattered in England at a private location, so maybe whoever's in charge of my final repose can scatter some and leave some for a gravesite. I suppose I do need a place where adoring fans can come to worship, write graffiti and get stoned. Maybe Jim Morrison would let me move in next to him in Pere LaChaise.
© 2005 SubtleTea Productions All Rights Reserved