December 16, 2019
What does it most often look like around you when you write? Do you have a zone?
I like a big desk and a bulletin board. I decorate my writing space with earthly treasures and many different notes that help guide me through my process. I also like to have space to get up and dance while I work because moving my body makes it all better. I like to be in complete solitude while I write. The best is a room with a view of nothing but landscape and a nearby wall that I can tape paper and images to. I’ve been lucky enough to conjure this at various times in my life and am in awe of the privilege. I seek out solo retreats in Joshua Tree and Humboldt County. The natural world, as opposed to the urban, is a consistent part of my practice.
When you do poem store, have there been any bizarre occurrences? Can you describe what poem store is?
The idea for Poem Store came from my friend Zachary Houston. I met Zachary in Oakland, CA in 2009 while traveling around the country on a self-guided permaculture tour. He’d been typing poems on the street for a few years in the Bay Area. He asked me to join him one day at a festival in downtown Oakland. I’d just purchased my first manual typewriter a few days before at the Rose Bowl flea market in Pasadena. It seemed like fate and I was giddy to try my hand at spontaneous poetry. A grand experiment. Zachary and I sat side-by-side typing poems and I knew immediately that this project would change my life. It’s been my only job ever since, writing poems on-demand for strangers, and it’s been just as wacky and wonderful as that sounds. I’ve heard every type of human story. I’ve saved a few lives, I’ve written a poem for Oprah, I’ve held space for many many tears, and I got invited to the Obama White House through my work with Turnaround Arts. I’ve created over forty thousand poems on my typewriter for people around the world and this pays my rent…that seems very bizarre to me to say the least.
In your new collection, Help, what surprised you as you dug into trauma and love?
I was surprised by how quickly it all came out. I thought I might have to labor over these poems for months and months, but the truth was that I couldn’t stop writing. Throughout the process of creating the book, I’d wake up at 3am with ideas and go to my desk, delirious, nearly dreaming, with full poems pouring out. I was amazed by the rapid nature of the words that seemed to come out so easily, even though the subject matter was truly brutal.
Most people don’t feel like they’d understand poetry. What three poets would you suggest that would give people access? Specific books?
- Mary Oliver. She’s the most accessible, my favorite poet, and such a good guide into the world of poetry. Her words shine a light on what it is to be human and pay attention to the beauty of the world.
- Walt Whitman. Everyone should read Leaves of Grass. His work is the gateway to poetic self-expression. Whitman unlocks an important, observational and celebratory language like no other poet.
- Ada Limón. As I delve into the world of contemporary poets, Limón is one who I keep coming back to. Her work is universal in a way, but also wholly unique in imagery, and she evokes a sense of place that I really respond to. I recently read Bright Dead Things and am left with a feeling of kinship, understanding and heartache.
I assume some shows are good and some are not as good. What does it feel like when you feel a connection with an audience when you do live readings?
I’ve been piecing together and booking my own tours since I was a young punk traveling with bands and a performance art crew. There’s no such thing as a bad show. Touring is often weird, but it isn’t about an outcome. It’s about connecting with people in their place, bringing them your art and in exchange having an experience that can only happen then and there. With poetry readings, I love the moment when I feel the audience sink into a trance with me. It always happens, sometimes it takes a few beats longer than others, but we typically get there together after a few poems. It’s as if everyone just settles into the rhythm of my voice and they’re hooked, they lean in, they nod and sometimes even moan. I can feel the hush of the room and then I know we’re traveling through the images together, we’re feeling it all in unison.
Has there ever been a point in your life where you felt the most inspired in a scenic setting, where you felt magic pouring out of the place? Can you tell us specifically where?
My third book, The Edge of the Continent Volume One – The Forest, is about my time up in Humboldt County. That area of California is a spiritual home for me. The ancient redwoods, the roaring Pacific, the fog, the feeling is without comparison. But I love all open land, the places where my eyes can see nothing but earth, no human interference. I’m an ecstatic earth worshiper, so I seek out this type of beauty, these places of magical solitude are the most healing and inspiring for me. Joshua Tree is another, Whidbey Island, and the woods of northern Florida.
Are you a person who looks forward to love? What is the most Scorpio thing about you?
I used to look forward to falling in love. Now I need a break. I feel like I’ve finally moved beyond the youthful idealism of romance and I’m excited to spend time feeling that feeling, along with all of my other feelings. I’m going to rebuild my needs around love. As for the most Scorpio thing about me, I have a spitfire tongue. I’m very blunt, sometimes a harsh jerk, and I don’t allow for much small talk. The surface level is not where I like to live.
Name your top 5 places to hear a poetry show.
Skylight Books and Stories Books & Café in Los Angeles, Beyond Baroque in Venice, Berl’s Poetry Shop in New York, Northtown Books in Arcata, and this old bar called The Warehouse in Tallahassee Florida. I also adore a good old fashion house show reading. On this last tour, I read at my friend’s barn in Vermont and it was so perfectly intimate.
Do you have traditions that you follow as a creative person, or superstitions before you open up to create?
I have so many rituals and traditions. When I’m writing a book, these are full on, and the worth of it all is the rhythm that ritual creates. Every morning and every night without fail, even when I’m traveling, I sit down at an altar, light a candle, burn some sacred plants and set myself straight. I pray, I conjure, I sing, I align myself with my purpose and it looks different every time but the intention remains: focus, root into being alive, drench myself in gratitude and remember who I am and what it is that I’m doing in this world. None of it is rigid, it’s all a helpful tool that gets my mind clear and open for creative process.
What spooks you out the most?
Greed and men with guns.