August 28, 2017
How did you come to write poetry?
When I was nine and eleven, I wanted to be like John Lennon, but most of my lyrics had a simple drumbeat and no melody. I think I realized I was actually writing poems at the age of twenty-three. I guess it’s always been in there.
What was your first poem?
There are a few I don’t remember too well, from my high school years. Just segments. The one that stands out as the significant first is “I climbed because I wished to fly.” That one came out of me like a soaring gaze. That’s when I knew I was a poet. Wow, come to think of it, that’s the first poem I ever performed. I remember poet Harvey Taylor smiling at me, watching the birth, at the 19th Street Coffee House in Milwaukee.
What’s it about? I mean, what does it mean?
It’s hard to say. Poet Jerome Schroeder once told me, I’d probably be discovering that the rest of my life.
Do you think of it as autobiographical?
In a way. It’s like, turning inside out. But more than that. I was going through what San Juan de la Cruz called the “Dark Night of the Soul.” The first night. Have you read that poem and treatise?
Yes — wait, I’m supposed to be the one asking questions.
(laughs) Yeah. Well, I’d read that, and I was studying philosophy and reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling. Are you familiar with that?
And I’d met my soul mate whom I wasn’t intended to marry.
You didn’t marry your soul mate?
No, I married my true love, Guy Hoffman.
The Violent Femmes and BoDeans drummer?
That’s so cool. He’s a rock star!
You were saying, about Kierkegaard —
Right. Dread, the leap of faith, standing naked before the Absolute. Powerful stuff. I think my poetry was born out of that.
In a previous interview, you responded to the question, “Did you always believe in God?” by saying, “Not so much believe, I’ve simply had experiences that I cannot deny.” How do you feel about that? Has anything changed?
I’d say that relationship, and my other relationships, have grown deeper. So much beauty. I’m more in love than I’ve ever been.
Your poetry seems to run the gamut of religion, politics, history, feminism, humor —
A journalist once referred to my work as “stand up comedy in meter.” I like writing about things that move me, fascinate me. I especially like giving a voice to women.
Like “Helen,” from your poetry collection, beautiful terrible & true. And “Yenta Mary.” Oh, and your “Sluts” poem.
It’s my most requested one. Would you like me to do it?
(laughs) Maybe later, thanks. How did you become a professional poet?
An incredible poet named Geo Kiesow invited me to perform at the Y-Not II in Milwaukee, my hometown. He ran the [poetry] slams there. And Marc Smith, the founder of poetry slam, in Chicago, was really supportive. It led to meeting poets like Matt Cook, Sean McNally, Jen Benka and Jennifer L. Knox. Then I performed at Lollapalooza and it kinda took off from there.
I understand that you’ve performed in, like, over twenty-five cities in five or more countries.
(nodding) I’m very blessed.
You’ve written songs, a novel, children’s books, plays and screenplays, too.
And I act, produce and direct motion picture. I’m an herbalist, too. And a mean amateur spoons player.
Is that why you moved to L.A.?
Yes. To make movies. Especially “Breath of God” about Hildegard von Bingen. There’s an incredible poetry community here, too. My first performance, which was at the Onyx in Hollywood, was great. Everyone was so welcoming.
It sounds like poets really support each other.
We’re a unique breed. I think it’s necessary for our survival. Mentoring is vital, too.
Do you have any advice for young poets?
Keep writing. Don’t be discouraged. Read as much as you can get your hands on. Take risks. Don’t give up. Don’t believe in any concept so much that it keeps you from being with other people.
Do you think there are more opportunities for young poets today?
In many ways, yes. The Internet has made publishing more accessible. Also, it’s a great tool for research, and booking show and tours.
What’s your favorite thing about the Internet?
What’s your least favorite thing about the Internet?
Popularity contests. And stalking.
(laughs) You’re right.
Who’s your favorite poet?
Who are some other poets whose work you like?
Far too many to say them all. Stephanie Strickland, William Blake, Dylan Thomas, James Tate, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Parker, Sandra Cisneros, Jerome Schroeder, Ryokan, Rilke, Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Matt Cook, Charles Bukowski, Rabia al Adawiyya, Hafiz, Rumi…
What inspires you to keep writing?
Would you expand on that a little?
It keeps coming. As long as that’s happening, I won’t stop. I‘ve heard the call. I think it’s important to share it. That gift is there for a reason. One of the most incredible things is that we’re in this time when poets can be introverted extroverts. We can dive into our own hearts and emerge with something that brings us closer to each other. It’s alive. It can be academic, personal, unstructured. There’s a freedom in it.
Thank you so much for doing this interview.
You’re very welcome.