Tell me what’s it’s like when you sit down to write, what compels you?
Well, that’s a bit tricky. There’s a kind of restlessness that builds up first in my mind, then in my guts and when it gets to the point that I can’t bear it anymore, I usually sit down in front of the typewriter. There is a stack of blank paper on the left side and I just, you know….feed the machine and when the sheets get full of words, I stack those on the right. That usually goes on for about three or four hours and then, the restlessness is gone and I can relax. Also, it might be worth mentioning that I rarely read what I’ve written when I’m done. The poems just go in a drawer until I have a reading to do or a manuscript to get together. It’s kind of like masturbating, once you’re done….you just want to walk away and forget it ever happened. I don’t need to relive it.
What were you early influences? How or why did you begin writing. Or to put it another way: What the fuck happened to you?
Well, I had begun experimenting with hallucinogens in high school, mostly LSD and Mescaline, and it really opened up my mind to new ideas and kind of helped crystalize vague thoughts that had started to form. I was really into horror books at the time and was reading a lot of Stephen Kind and H.P. Lovecraft and I felt like my identitiy was really starting to form…I was really into heavy music, Black Sabbath and Slayer, stuff like that….and I remember this one day…riding the schoolbus home…I was on acid and starting to freak out a bit, when some kid put some pink floyd on his radio…and the music and lyrics just soothed me in a way I hadn’t experienced before…I never forgot it but it was fleeting you know and there was a lot of anger I was dealilng with…so that little moment was very difficult to hold on to and it didn’t repeat and soon I was getting into punk rock and doing a lot of speed and just…really getting self destructive…I was drinking heavily and had become this rage filled punker with no friends and really started to believe that this would be my life. Then came my 21st birthday. My girlfriend at the time had thrown me this terrible party with a bunch of drunken headbangers I didn’t know. You know the type, late eighties fucking leather jackets and all Metallica all the time. I really hated metallica and I was not having a good time. I had just begun getting real drunk and angry when my best friend Reggie shows up with four hits of acid: two for him, two for me. Well, as you can imagine….that really turned that party around…and the next thing I knew, Reggie had managed to slip in this mix tape of the doors, and mind you…this was no ordinary mix tape. Reggie was kind of a wizard when it came to his tapes, and this one….well…..i can tell you it literally changed my life. He had all this poetry stuff from AN AMERICAN PRAYER..spliced in with bits of songs and half songs and fucking sound effects…and as corny as it might sound….i really experienced poetry for the first time. I remember thinking: this is how I can articulate all those stirrings in my chest that have been pulling at me all my life. This is how I can reign in all those intangible ideas I had been forming and perhaps then, I might get a better understanding of what it was I was starting to believe. I had always felt like and outsider and I felt like I had discovered a way to understand why I felt so different. And…well….i guess hearing all those beautiful words really made me feel like I wasn’t as alone as I always believed myself to be. You can imagine the kind of hallucinations all those words were creating in my mind…I mean lines like: “the music was new, black polished chrome and came over the summer like liquid night…” I fucking saw that….i related to that…..it was me he was talking about, MY life, MY experiences…I was sure of it. I felt like I had been waiting all my life for that one night….and my eyes didn’t just open…they fucking exploded…and I was never the same. I began writing poetry the very next day……and I never stopped. When I look back on it now….
it seems so cheesy you know….but I wouldn’t change a thing. Of course, that was just the beginning….
after that….i became this voracious reader…filling myself up with everything I could find….and my friend Reggie…he was just a godsend….he just kept dropping me books: William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Ken Kesey, Tom Wolfe, Gregory Corso, Ferlinghetti, Anais Nin, Henry Miller, Herman Hesse, Aldous Huxley, Dostoevsky and Hemingway…all that stuff really shaped me and altered the course of my life and of course…there was music: Pink Floyd, Tom Waits, Bauhaus, Fear, Bad Brains…everything at that time was just fuel for the fire……when I first heard Jane’s Addiction…I was sure I was on to something…something big….i knew that all the big questions could only really be dealt with through the arts…and not just poetry….but playing my guitar, and drawing and shooting pictures….it was all just this avalanche of expression and I fed off of it…..you know….reading Salvador Dali’s diaries and reading Burroughs’ Junky for the first time…..it was just…..life saving. I never looked back….and to this day…I just consume as much art as I can get in me….and then try to push just as much out of me. It’s this necessary catharsis that I repeat daily. It keeps me alive and out of the darkness.
What, if anything, do you hope to accomplish with your writng?
Well, I’ve always just hoped that something I’ve written might resonate inside someone in trouble. Someone out there that’s just at the end of their rope and running out of hope. It’s a really fucked up world out there, kids get beaten, abandoned…molested…fucking incest …all that. It happened to me and poetry, along with the rest of the arts, really fucking saved me. Maybe one day…something I’ve written can do that for someone else. I really feel like I have a responsibility to try. I mean, if Bukowski had given up….what would have become of myself and others like me? We might not have made it. I know I wouldn’t have. That’s why I named my son Henry (after Bukowski’s ‘Henry Chinaski’). So I’ll never forget the reason I survived long enough to even have a son. So I’ll never forget that some of us don’t get to have fathers in the traditional sense….but the heroes are out there….waiting to be discovered. All we have to do is look.
Tell me about the time you were kissed by Gregory Corso.
That’s actually a pretty good story. The house I was renting at the time belonged to an artist named Brett Goldstone and he was married to this writer ( I forget her name now) who was working on Corso’s biography. I had mentioned to her that I was a poet and would love to meet him one day but she just blew me off and I just, you know…never brought it up again. Of course months later I get this call from Brett, saying, “hey Dennis, buddy….you know Gregory is in town and I thought maybe I would bring him by so you could meet him.” and I was so surprised thinking: “man, Brett’s wife really came through…how nice of her!” but then he goes on to say: “ … here’s the thing…..Gregory….well….he just didn’t bring enough heroin and he’s getting pretty sick…and I just didn’t know who else to call…..so I was just wondering if you might know where to get him some stuff?” I remember thinking, it’s not writing poetry that is bringing me and Corso together…it’s living life that is. So he came by and signed my copy of HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO DEATH, and we got drunk on tequila with a few friends, including Reggie who of course turned me on to all that shit so many years before and it was pretty cool. So a few shots later, Corso and I hopped in a van, drove downtown to 6th and Main and I scored him 5 balloons of cheap mexican heroin. He was really greatful even though, after he got done shooting up in Reggie’s bathroom he said: “fuck this cheap mexican stepped on heroin”. But I’ll never forget, on the ride over….he says to me: “ Dennis, you’re a fucking poet, I want to ask you something, why do you write.” I didn’t know what to say so I just shrugged and kept driving….and he starts yelling: “Tell me why you fucking do it, TELL ME WHY? LOOK AT ME IN THE EYES AND FUCKING TELL ME!!!” and i’m mumbling some shit or another and he keeps yelling: “look in my eyes and tell me!” and I say: “I can’t look in your eyes! I’ll crash the fucking van! I’m fucking drunk!” and he says: “ I don’t care if we both die tonight on this fucking street, you are going to tell me why you do it!” so I get fed up and scream back: “ I don’t know why I fucking do it, I just have to!” and then he very calmy looks over and says to me: “that’s why you’re going to make it. Because you have no choice. Because you don’t pretend to know anything, you just do it. And even though I haven’t read your poetry, I know it’s good. I can tell by talking to you, your stuff is good and don’t ever let anyone tell you different.” and that night, when I drove him back to his hotel room, he started to cry and when I dropped him off he walked around the front of the van, leaned into the window, kissed me on the lips and said goodbye. I never forgot that, and I never will. The thing that stays with me after all these years is that it’s never been the poetry that got me anywhere, it’s been having the balls to live my life the way I’ve always wanted to. To have the courage to be different in a passive and predictable world full of stupidity, banality, and rampant conformity. Gregory Corso taught me that and so did my friend Reggie. And I’ll always owe the both of them for that.
what advice do you have for young poets just starting out?
Never ask people to read your poems, wait until they ask you. If you write well enough, for long enough, someone will.
Now that you’ve got your first volume of poetry published, what’s next for Dennis Cruz?