THE UNIVERSAL POEM
BM: You’ve always talked about a certain poem you keep striving for…can you explain that?
PT: I wish I knew what it was. Robert Frost and “The Road Less Traveled” is so well known it’s stupid to use it as an example, but still it’s such a great, universal poem. I actually have it memorized. It’s like you’re there, on that little trail and the feelings of doubt and everything that go with making that kind of choice are so clear in the poem. It works for everybody. Sometimes I think I’m striving in vain, very rarely does anything come out that is clear enough. Sometimes I like what I write, but that one poem I’m looking for, who knows, maybe I wrote it already. Maybe it’s “Mr. Gardener.” It’s about the man who realizes he’s failed in life. ‘Mr. Gardener was 51 when he finally knew his big plans were all just dreams/he would never be a star/he kept going though/working weekdays/kicking back on the weekends/it was difficult and it took awhile/ when looking in the mirror to see himself as a middle-aged man/with a wild past/he still knew all his old songs/ the guitar hanging near his bed still looked important and valuable/but if he sat down in the evening to play them/ it made him feel foolish/and he would shake his head sadly.’ There’s also “Bob,” a poem about sleeping with the Muse under the River St. Bridge. That’s also about the establishment poets, demanding the presence of the Muse, but sorry the Muse is busy, she’s with Bob!
CR: I think your poem “Prayer,” is pretty universal: ‘Oh Great God, what are we to do? Those of us who are stupid? We don’t love money nor do we drive expensive cars/We barely earn our way….’
PT: One of my heroes is Kenneth Patchen. There is this poem about him and his wife; they were lovers all through their marriage. I don’t think they were ever bored with each other. They were on a camping trip in Europe. It’s essentially about the intense beauty of their relationship. I copied that poem syllable per syllable and built a poem “Johanna”, of my own around it, based exactly on the syllable structure. That’s the only time I’ve ever done that. “Johanna” is about a girl that I knew when I was learning about “monkey bites,” fifteen years old, out behind the church.
‘IT’S HARD TO BE FRIENDS WITH A MERCY KILLER’
‘This dangerous man/was filled with sympathy for homeless bums/he bought bullets/and put them in his gun/then wandered down to skid row’ (“Mercy Killer”) (I had grabbed this poem from his table, to take home and publish —CR)
PT: That’s an awful poem, I’m almost afraid to have that one published. The FBI would come running. But I knew this guy, he was so crazy…it’s totally out of my imagination, but I knew someone who was crazy enough to be that guy, and he did live on skid row in L.A. around the same time that it happened.
WHICH COMES FIRST, POETRY OR WINE?
‘I hate sobriety/it’s a waste of my time/it’s a waste of love.’ (“Sobriety”)
PT: My conclusion is that sobriety is overrated. Though I’m not sure it’s true in every case, because I know what you’ve been through, Christopher, isn’t the same as what I’ve been through; if I’d gone through the same things maybe I’d be sober too. But it doesn’t work for me. I did it for six and a half years and I was bored. The physical part is real, it can cause damage, and the legal part, I can’t drive, as you know…I need a ride to and from sometimes, but on the other hand… it’s like having a door I need to find a locksmith for every time I want to go through it. Wine for me, is the key that opens that door. I used to go to Mr. Toots Coffeehouse and order a double Cappuccino, then run down the stairs and go to the Fog Bank and drink a liter of White Chablis as fast as I could, then run back up and try to get there before my Cappuccino was served. I loved that combination. I don’t do illegal drugs at all. I used to smoke pot by the carload, but I don’t anymore. I’m too delicately balanced mentally to handle it anymore.
THE WEDDING OF POETRY AND MUSIC
PT: Leonard Cohen is one of my heroes. He’s a poet, essentially, a very complicated poet, but the music plays such a big part in his poetry. I think the two go together just by virtue of the fact that language has movement and feeling and rhythm to it, and music does too, not always…some is so chaotic. It’s not that easy to put poetry and music together, it doesn’t always work, in fact, it usually doesn’t work.
CR: how many CDs have you made?
PT: Between seventy and a hundred. One of the best music and poetry weddings I experienced was a poem by Sarah Teasedale, called “I Am Not Yours,” the poem by itself had a rhythm to it that was just so nice, and at the time I just happened to be working on a guitar composition that just fit, almost word for note, it was so great. (Pablo has a small recording studio in his cabin).
BM: So you try and match up the rhythm of the poem with the rhythm of the music?
PT: I think it’s more the feeling of the poem to the feeling of the music. Because if the feeling of the music is different than the poem, then it sort of screws the poem up, but it’s harder to do with other people than it is to do by myself. I’ve tried with five or so other poets, including you, Brian, which turned out pretty well. (“Electric Love”).
BM: Yeah, you read that one, actually, and I read “Tone Deaf.”
PT: Then I recorded one of yours too, Christopher, and that was very strange. (“Chatroom Fuck”).
BM: You probably have to take poets out of their element, away from their reading style?
PT: It’s like somebody doing a cover of a popular song. Why do it exactly the same way in the first place, how could you?
CR: I really like the line from one of the poems (“Sweet Forgiveness”) that you put to music: ‘throw a brick through the TV and kiss the idiot that loves you,’ care to elaborate?
PT: That’s my advice to everyone that wants to be happy. Throw a brick through your TV. I did it once. It wasn’t on. I’ve always wanted to do it to one that was on. It was still really nice, the implosion, because of the vacuum tubes, a cool noise. My fantasy is to go into a major department store that has rows and rows of televisions with a machine gun.
THE LYN LIFSHIN APPROACH TO SMALL PRESS PUBLISHING
(Pablo interviews Lifshin in the latest issue of Poesy).
BM: I’ve never had a sexy cover for Poesy before. Lifshin will be the first.
PT: I really like her poetry. Some of her poems about men are really scathing.
BM: I wish I could send work out like she does.
PT: I just sent twelve drawings for a calendar in Petaluma. I hope something materializes. I need to be more like her. I spent all of my Lyn Lifshin energy just getting those drawings out. It seems like all it really requires is the addresses, the determination and the postage. Plus a trip to Kinko’s to photocopy the drawings, this complicated thing… if you were going to do it right, you’d buy 500 dollars worth of stamps and mailers and have your supplies all ready…
CR: Plus who can afford all those stamps? I have the envelopes but never the stamps. It seems so much more complicated than actually writing poetry, at least for me.
PT: But if you don’t do it, nothing is published, except what I do myself. I get the feeling that Lyn Lifshin’s life is poetry. I see her as a lovely maniac. I can’t even get it together to use her SASE, to return all the poems she sent me, (because I’m not an editor). Plus I move around so much…I’ll probably be hauling my own water, in the woods for a couple months this summer. That’s when you see what a shower is really worth; when you hang a Tupperware pan from a tree and pour two gallons of hot water in it and stand underneath it. It’s really nice.
CR: Most of my correspondence is through the mail. Whenever I’ve tried to make the transition from snail mail to email, I lose friends. They don’t send me funny cards anymore, colorful things…it loses the intimacy.
BM: my best memories are when I was fourteen, running home to look in the mailbox, for a letter from someone in Virginia.
PT: I remember that feeling too, stopping at the Post Office Box after school and seeing a letter from my girlfriend, Ginger…opening that letter, pulling it out and smelling it…. what a treasure.
CR: at my grandmother’s house in Nevada, we used to tape ten cents on an envelope and leave it in the box and the mailman would mail it.
BM: that’s what we used to do in New Hampshire. I tried to do that when I first moved out here, and my roommate just laughed. He’s like, ‘what are you talking about, they’re not going to put a fucking stamp on it for you.’ I asked him, how come my money’s still in the mailbox? He’s like, ‘what are you doing?’
PT: When I was a kid in Felton, if you used the payphone, you paid after you made the call. One time, I didn’t have enough money and the operator said, “Please deposit ten cents.” I said, “I don’t have it.” They wrote a letter to my folks and sent a bill for ten cents.
BOSTON POETS VS WEST COAST POETS
BM: Back east there is a different mindset; everything’s stuffy and academic. It’s different out here. In L.A. and San Francisco your mind is just free. Back east they write poetry to impress, to show how smart they are. I couldn’t write poetry there. I think the small press, and the street poets, put their heart and soul into everything, and the academics are there to prove something; that they’re intellectual. I don’t agree with work-shopping poems, I think you workshop poems with your friends; you don’t go to a fuckin class.
PT: I would never do it. I’d be insulted right away; I’d end up walking out mad.
BM: In college I took three years of Creative Writing and thought it was a waste of time. The way I get feedback is from reviews and other poets.
PT: I read a book called “Poetry for Poets,” which was all about the theoretical aspect of poetry and it confused me so badly it actually screwed me up for a month or two. I kept trying to figure it out…
CR: What’s there to figure out?
PT: There’s a lot of stuff to figure out if you have that kind of a brain. It’s not that their brain is better than my brain, they think with a different part of it. All that stuff to me is bullshit. On the other hand, some of the poets who write that way are amazing; Edwin Muir (sp?), a British poet, he wrote in a very formal way, about the Middle Ages. For instance, one about a knight dying in the forest, he’s mortally wounded and he can’t move because his armor’s too heavy and he’s laying in the forest… it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read.
THE POETRY GENE
BM: Your daughter, Bliss, (fifteen), likes to write poetry, how do you help her? Did her love for poetry come naturally or…?
PT: She learned it like you would learn a language, if your family spoke that language. Her mother is also a poet, so she grew up with it. She had one experience that was pivotal for her. I wish I could remember this poet’s name, she was from UCSC, she read at the Atelier Gallery. She was a militant lesbian and a very good poet. At the Open Mic afterwards, Bliss, who was around twelve at the time, even though she’d already done one radio program when she was six (as a guest), she got up to read her poem and suddenly lost her nerve; and this lady poet said “go ahead, you can do it, you can do it, we’re into it, we wanna hear it!” and because of that encouragement she overcame the fear people so often have, when they want to perform. I suffered from that for years. I can’t remember the woman’s name but I’m thankful to her. Bliss writes constantly now.
(Pablo will be sleeping with the Muse in a camper in the woods this summer. He would like to hear from you! Requests for drawings or his CDs can be care of Christopher Robin to P.O. Box 1611, Santa Cruz, CA 95061.
(Pablo is also featured on a CD released by Bathtub Gin, which includes the work of Kell Roberts, Normal, Jack Norton, Mark Terrill, Seth Barkan, Dan Sicoli, Joe Kerschbaum, and Mark Sonnenfeld. Pathwise Press/Bathtub Gin, P.O. Box 2392, Bloomington, IN 47402. Bathtub Gin is moving to Erie, PA in August 2005, so check their website: http://home.bluemarble.net/~charter/btgin.htm for updates.)
Pablo Teasdale, Christopher Robin, and Brian Morrisey are all members of the Santa Cruz poetry scene.