*Interview between Steve Abee, his 14 year-old daughter, Penelope, and his wife, Cat. Conducted in the kitchen, January 8th, 2010, the day before his birthday, around 9pm.
Cat: Hello Steve, how are feeling?
Steve: Fine. Thank you.
Cat: How was your New Year?
Steve: It was great. You were there. You don’t remember?
Cat: I’m just asking questions. Don’t be an asshole.
Penelope: That’s my question. Why are you an asshole? (asked with love)
Steve: (Ignoring daughter) New Year’s was cool. I lit a fire in the backyard, I liked that. We said some prayers for the New Year and watched and listened as the neighborhood exploded with fireworks, gunfire and good disco cheer. It was beautiful. The thing about New Year is the distance, the space between things, seems altered, like all the parties and the people, and all that we were looking at, seemed like it was with us, inside us even, and at the same time really far away.
Penelope: That doesn’t make any sense. Don’t ignore me old man. Answer my question: why are you an asshole?
Steve: There’s a poem in my book, “The Asshole Poem.” Read it.
Penelope: I have. I also heard you read it. Remember?
Steve: The truth is I have no answer for that question. It’s just nature. I am an asshole. Sorry. I try not to be, but I am. I mean, it’s fear. A person is an asshole because they’re afraid of something, discomfort, misery, their wife rummaging through her purse, stupid shit, they just can’t feel what they’re feeling so they say and do mean things. It’s fear.
Cat: Is the rhythm in which you write, a decision or is it something that just happens?
Steve: It just happens. I mean, I hear the words in a certain rhythm and I move them around to fit that rhythm, so it just happens, but I decide when something isn’t fitting into the flow or the movement of the piece. But I don’t plan the movements. I try and listen for them and often I don’t even know when it’s happening until it’s already happened.
The music just comes out with the words, comes out of me, because that is where the words are from. You see, the poem is me. I don’t mean anything special, just that the poem is us, any of us, all of us. Our words are us, we speak them. They make us. They are us as much as our limbs are. They’re another organ, the one we play to connect to the invisible forever. Invisible us right now?
Penelope: That’s great, but do you really consider yourself an asshole?
Steve: No, of course not. That is the nature of any true asshole. They think they are great and gifted and things like that. I think I’m great but you know it’s a delusion. I can see that.
Cat: Steve, this is really depressing. Are you really going to publish this? Why?
Penelope: What’s your favorite fruit? There, that’s a nice question for the old guy.
Steve: It has to be the Navel Orange. 1. The peel is amazing, thick and fragrant. 2. When you peel it, the fragrance erupts in your face. 3. The fruit divides into pieces, like small pieces of a planet. And the veins and fibers and juice– it’s so alive.
Penelope: Cool. Why do you explain so much? I don’t mean…
Cat: You know, Steve, what I have always wondered is why you reveal so much about yourself in your writing?
Steve: Oh, oh, oh, yeah, why do I do that? Let me think. First of all, these are the things that I am given to write. They just ring in my mind and I write them down. I don’t even think about them being too much until it’s too late. And that is because, somewhere inside, way down there, in the words beneath the words, I believe that’s the only reason to write anything, to write any kind of poetry— to reveal yourself. The reason for poetry, poetry’s reason, is revelation, personal revelation, to bring the light of art into the shadow love places. It’s the only way up.
Should I play games? Should I write about things that don’t mean anything, or didn’t happen? Or just the comfortable and acceptable? Why live? Why make art? What’s the point? To play games? To keep things hidden? I mean real things. I talk about my failures and fuck ups and fears because they trouble me and I don’t want to hide them. That’s where the answers and joy come from. That’s where we come from. It is us. We are the uncomfortable and the wounded and the beautiful and all that. It’s what Papa Walt teaches us in his poetry. Walt Whitman. It is American to revel in revelation, big and ridiculous, full of love and trouble.
I love this life, the act of life, living and I have to sing it like it happens. I don’t want to live in shadows. I realize it’s too much information and strange and I probably wouldn’t like it if you did it or someone else, but that’s not true, when someone’s doing that, and getting deep with it, really turning their life inside out for the sake of the common art, undressing the truth and giving it away, that’s the healing, the unity that we long for, that we live in search of. That’s what it’s all about.
Cat: That leads to my next question: Do you know what you want to reveal or does the poem reveal it to you in the end.
Steve: Man, I love you. I really do (smiles all around, kid rolls eyes). I do not know what I am doing or what I am going to write about. It comes out. It is in there. It could be from a conversation or from something that happened. I really want to reconcile and understand, that is the main impulse– to reconcile and understand.
I never know where a piece is going. I may have ideas or images but then pieces take off and have their own lives. “Art is God is Love.” Wallace Berman said that, I believe, and that means mysterious what the fuck soul stirring dismembered word sense making sense, careening through the body, uninhibited, uninhabited, the silence of word making, like suns blooming a million years old on the night horizon, all in the mind, manifesting on the page, like waves coming and going, birth beginning, suns ending.
(Pause. Thinking.) Another thing is I like it, am inspired by it, the revelation and the discomfort. Art is a rough love. Creation is messed up, bloody, disgusting, that’s what the work should be, about making life. The truth is I can’t help it. Sometimes I wish I could. That’s just the way it comes out. Every time I put out a book I get scared because of what’s in there. What’s the point if your work doesn’t frighten you, doesn’t make people feel things. You know? Anyway. I don’t do this to hide. We don’t make art to hide. We do it to be like the sun. All of us.
Cat: Thanks, Steve.
Penelope: That was deep, old man. Tell me this: what’s the meaning of life?
Steve: Naked navel oranges, kid. Naked navel oranges.