David Herrle SubtleTea Interview with Mikel K
From high-school English teacher David "Coach" Boyd to Mikel K: "Mikel, I started reading your book [The Delivery Guy] at 11:40 pm and did not stop until 1:15 am. My intention, initially, was just to read a few pages, but once I started the journey of the delivery guy I could not stop. First of all, you have a great story to tell, and you have found the perfect voice in the sometimes angry, sometimes philosophical, sometimes funny and witty and always brutally honest delivery guy. Mark Twain chose Huck Finn to tell his greatest story. That was Twain's gift to literary America. You have found your storyteller."
D: Mikel, I've little tolerance for poetry, but I tend to dig brief poems more than long ones and kick ass or lovely lines over entire pieces. This is why I appreciate your work. You stand at the peak of your game with your briefest spiels. Your shortest winds are your mightiest. You don’t pretend to be a guru or a scholar, but profundity often kicks from your poems whether you like it or not. In other words, you're sharpest when you're blunt.
Tell us your writing routine, if you have one. Are you an "I'm sitting down to write" or an "I have to sit down and write" kind of guy? Do you meander to a poem's end or plan it out?
M: David, I am an "I'm sitting down to write" and "I have to sit down and write" kind of guy. For years, I carried a notebook and pens with me everywhere I went and wrote on the run, so to speak. I wrote on the bus, at the train stations, at coffee shops, in line at the grocery store, everywhere that I wound up on my daily travels.
For the past two and a half years, I have been getting up in the morning and writing for the first two hours or so that I am awake. This habit developed because, for almost three years, I had a car. I am carless again, but where I live now is convenient to everything that I need: grocery store, yoga studio, my daughter's high school and the bookstore that I work at, and I have, with all this about, stuck with the habit of being an early-morning poet.
I still carry a notebook with me everywhere I go, but pull it out less often, finding that I have said all that I have to say poetically in my two-hour morning session. I'm a meanderer for the most part, I believe. The first line or two is usually given to me, and the rest of the poem kind of finds itself from that. I have to write. I am not an accountant, a doctor, a lawyer, a carpenter; I am a writer, and, as a writer, I have to write. It is what fulfills me; it is what gets me high.
D: "Look at the Bums" may be my favorite K poem (for now, at least). Its focus on classist snobbery reminds me of Peggy Noonan's observations on "how [homelessness] corrupts the people who walk by, making believe that they don't see, making believe that they don't hear what is being said to them..."
I'm with Victor Hugo in recognizing both the "evil poor" as well as the "evil rich". Whether it's robin hooding the rich or ignoring the poor, I think the fundamental problem is lack of mercy, the stolidity of the collective letter of the law over individual spirit, defensive dehumanization, and the fear of what could be. Just as a poor snob (another type of classist) often damns the CEO because he secretly knows that he would be just as - if not more - snobbish and rotten if given the luxury (see Monty Python's Dennis Moore sketch), your careerist snob snubs out of the unconscious knowledge that he is expendable in the corporate jungle and can end up as a jobless "bum". This is a humbling and wise poem, Mikel. The conclusion is right on.
Share your thoughts on economic and social disparity. What do you think of rich, pampered, bred politicians swinging their long, hard "egalitarianism" before our faces?
M: I think that politicians are wealthy men and women who use lots of money to get themselves elected to a country club of sorts where they don't look out for you and me: they look out for themselves. They already have millions of dollars, yet they get high salaries, posh gyms to work out in, the best insurance in America – and on and on – while many Americans die because they don't have health insurance. (“Well, fuck ‘em: they were poor…”)
They’re in cahoots with wealthy lobbyists to make laws beneficial to making overpriced and unnecessary weapons, pills that cost too much but that many of us need to stay alive, or, at least, maintain a decent standard of living. They suck, basically, is my thought - and please prove me wrong. In order to share my thoughts on economic and social disparity, I would like to share some poems [here].
D: What are your deepest regrets and deepest blessings?
M: My deepest blessing is to wake up in the morning. My children are a deep, deep blessing, even though they have gotten "old" and don't need me in the manner that they used to! I have a grandson for that. Now if I can just pry him out of his parents' hands! I am blessed to have two great dogs, two great cats, and two great turtles in my life. I am blessed to have a passion that drives me in my life: my writing.
And, today, I have been blessed to do this interview with you, David, Mr. Subtle Tea, and I thank you for the opportunity.
I have no regrets.
image by DuaneArt
D: Your favorite works of art (books, music, film, etc.).
M: My favorite music is Tom Petty and The Doors, my favorite songs being "American Girl" and "Riders On The Storm." Black Flag, Sex Pistols, Stones, The Outlaws, Blackberry Smoke, R.E.M, Dylan, Bee Gees, Janis, Nirvana, Josef Islam, Carole King, Pink Steel, The Nightporters, Chapter 13, (The Mikel K Band), Clark Vreeland, The Wallflowers, Guns N Roses, Space Seed, Palomar, Prince, The Allman Brothers, Jane's Addiction, John Lennon, Harry Chapin, Rev Rebel are just several more that come to mind.
I'm the kind of person that can't stand to see books get thrown out, so when I find books on the side of the street, I pick them up and take them home, so I have all these books on my shelves that I will never read. When I go to the shelf and reach for the books that I most stay in touch with, the ones that come to my fingers are, in no particular order: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter Thompson, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, Walking Distance by Debra Allbery, White Apples and the Taste of Stone by Donald Hall, You Get So Alone At Times That It Just Makes Sense by Charles Bukowski, The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Vagrant Grace by David Bottoms, Spot in the Dark by Beth Gylys, Selected Poems by Carl Sandburg, The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll, Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller, Sonny Liston Was A Friend Of Mine by Thom Jones, Jelly Roll by Kevin Young, Ariel by Sylvia Plath
I recently reread a large portion of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and the book still held up for me like it did twenty years ago when I first read it. Thompson's cynicism, somehow, still seemed real and relevant today. The last time that I read The Catcher in the Rye, which was within the last couple of years, it depressed me quite a bit. I remember closing the book, and feeling that that was not right to leave someone feeling that way at the end of a book. I want to read it again soon, to see if it does that to me again.
Walking Distance by Debra Allbery might be the best book of poems that I have ever read, if for no other reason that I related to them so much and didn't have trouble reading them. No weird line breaks, no hidden meanings. Just straight in-your-face story telling. David Bottoms and Beth Gylys are two of my favorites poets. They are dynamic poets, accessible, with some really interesting off-the-beaten path stories to tell. Books that I have recently liked are City of Thieves, The Shack, and The Art of Racing in the Rain. I could go on and on about each of these books, and each of these authors, but I don't think that even Subtle Tea has that much room in cyberspace. If you really want my views on any book, people, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I don't go to the movies much. I am economically isolated from them at my current income level, and I am totally hooked on the Internet and can't see spending ninety minutes to two hours away from it during my free time. If that sounds like addictive behavior, well, let me tell you that "my name is Mikel K, and I am addicted to the Internet."
Out of all the movies that I have seen, the one that sticks out is The Way We Were. Isn't that sick? I mean, I am sure that I am supposed to be way hipper than that, but the song “The Way We Were” still gets to me in the gut every time I hear it and practically makes me cry. I'm a sucker for both a good love song and a good love movie, and I think that The Way We Were was a GREAT love movie.
Filmmaker Dave Scott Barron did a 16mm film of me doing my poetry that I am also partial to. It is called Mikel K: Outspoken Word. He is in the process of getting it onto DVD. Barron is also finishing a film called, Hair Today Gone Tomorrow, which documents the Atlanta music scene over the past three decades. (And, yes, I am in that one too: me, me, me!)
D: "People R Defective" is another one of your best poems. I think it's true. Everyone's F-ed up in one way or another. And we know this because it's self-evident and because we've a sense of the lofty and beautiful. We can tell how high and wonderful we are by how far we can fall and how diabolical we can be. Life is in origami, Christmas lights and ice cream; death haunts the office cubicle, the throne, the clockwork orange of external programs. What are your thoughts on common defectiveness - and potential hope?
M: Either we're all fucked or there is hope for all of us, and it all boils down to our attitude. I used to write poems to rally the masses. There was going to be A Revolution, and I was going to lead it, but you know what, people are too busy being people and living their lives to worry about Revolution. And who the fuck am I anyway? Some guy who is lucky to be alive, lucky that he didn't get beat over the head and killed by a pissed off jail guard on one of those lost and lonely nights when he was in a blackout so many years ago.
At work, I often say to my customers, "How are you, today?" They answer, and then many of them ask me how I am doing. I always say that I am doing "great" because I am if I say I am. If I say that I am doing lousy, then I will be doing lousy. Is this too simple? I was a whiner for years. Nobody wants to hear it. What we all have in common is that we all have our issues, we all have our problems; and what we also have in common is that nobody wants to hear about your problems or your issues because they have their own problems and issues that they are working on. The Revolution will not be televised; there will be no Revolution. The masses of men and women are too busy trying to keep their head above the water to try and even conceive of getting to higher ground. Does that make sense?
D: You've taken advantage of the free and vast forum of the World Wide Web, through My Space, Facebook, blogs. Despite all the bourgeois trappings of such social-networking sites, they've potential for valuable discussion and cultural exposure - not to mention sharing of art. You seem to have established a notable online following and fellowship. Tell us about the feasts and famines of Internetworking.
M: I worked really hard, when I was on My Space to add folks. I had over 5,000 "friends," most of them in Europe. I was trying to build a European following for my writing, mainly the poems. It was a real thrill when someone from Turkey or Ireland or Costa Rica would make a comment to me about my work or send me an email or – even better yet – put a letter in the mail to me. I have a letter framed on my wall over my desk from a young lady in the Netherlands calling me, "The Great American Poet." She sent along a copy of Siddhartha (by Herman Hesse) for me with the letter. I mean that is just such a high compliment for the work, to think that she went to all that trouble to say thank you for the writing.
I post most of what I write to Facebook and OpenSalon.com each day, shortly after writing it. I have come to view it as "writing live." The work doesn't sit in a note book or a computer for days, weeks, months, years. It gets right out there, and it reaches thousands of people immediately. I've never really understood the thrill writers have of bragging that their writing has appeared in a such and such publication. Nobody reads most of those publications, and most of the people that do are reading them because they want their writing in them. I get people to read me on the internet who would never buy a copy of Poetry or The Paris Review. I get people to read me on the internet who would never read poetry, period, and they come to see that poetry does not have to be boring and inaccessible and only for people with PhDs in poetry who are writing poetry for other people with PhDs in poetry. I like when people read what I write; it's part of why I write it, and I like the feedback that the Internet provides that lets me know that people are reading what I write.
Also, in relying solely on publications to get your work out, you are usually at the mercy of one person who decides if your work is going to get in their magazine or 'zine. When I go directly to the Internet, I don't have anyone picking my poem, censoring me, in a sense, if they don't pick me, pick me, pick me. I'm not like a seal at the zoo waiting for the man or woman to throw me a fish. I control my own destiny, I feel, by going to the Internet, than by going to the old-fashioned way of doing it.
D: Do you fear death?
M: "This is the end, my only friend, the end." - The Dead Door I don't fear death, but I am in no hurry for it to come. The older I get, the more I like living. Even with the physical challenges that come with my aging process: arthritis and diabetes, among others. I find that I embrace living more and more strongly every day. I think that it has something to do with me knowing how to live life better than I did when I was younger. As a kid and as a young adult, I usually was trying to live by somebody else's rules and regulations (a teacher's, my father's, my peer group’s) and now I live life on my terms, given the parameters of having to eat and pay the bills and rent (which also can be severe parameters!).
I also had a bad drinking problem which kicked in when I was 14 that made life a lot more difficult than it had to be up to the age of 34. I'm lucky to be alive really. There were several years that I lived in blackouts way more than is healthy, if living in even one blackout can be considered healthy.
D: I'm very pleased to have become acquainted with you over the last several years, and I know that others realize your importance and love. So, of course, I wish you blessings on your path; any closing words for readers/fans?
M: I wish you blessings on you path, David, great success with your relationship, great success with your new book of poems, great success with Subtle Tea, and, most of all, great success with this thing called life. Join me on Facebook and read The Daily K Poems. Also, check out my spoken-word work with artist Clark Vreeland and here. And read my memoir, The Delivery Guy, which chronicles that part of my life where I go from an LSD-soaked, booze-addled Poet/Rockstar-Wanna-Be seeking the cover of "The Stoned Roller", to a Sober Father sitting in the Little League Bleachers watching his son grow up as he runs the bases.
Clark has just been diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer. We are
going to try to record together as much as is possible given the time
constraints of his life. Here I am whining about my diabetes and my arthritis,
and something like this - far worse than my condition - comes along and hits
someone who I love and deeply respect. Why doesn't God take the bad ones?
Visit his site. Read his poetry. Dig him at Alternative Reel.
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