Poet, PDX Native, Master of Metaphor
Can I have two favorite things about Art? One of my favorite things about art—which also happens in nature—is that art is something that has the ability, when you see it for just an instant, to move you in a dramatic way, to take your breath away. I think that’s wild.
My other favorite thing is that whether you are making it or just engaging with it, it is our inner life trying to be made sense of by the artist, whether it is a poem or a sculpture. And to make that or to see that is crazy.
In terms of poetry, you can go backwards in time to understand that thing that poetry can be. I come from a movement that believes that poetry comes from prayer and prayer comes from incantations and that incantation comes from just a rhythmic thumping sound to tell the person in the cave 5 millions years ago that they are not alone. It is interesting to me that poetry comes from a time before history was ever conceived to us. It comes from a time of, I imagine, of pure mysticism and survival and violence. And now, you can just go to a bookstore and buy it. It’s crazy to me. It’s like flying. A comedian (Louis C.K) once said that, you are 35,000 miles in the air, eating peanuts and if you are a little uncomfortable, so what? It’s magic! I think that way about a poem. Whether it is a good poem or bad poem, it is coming from this long line of not being alone and trying to understand the self.
I think art can be made out of anything inside the human spectrum of emotion. It can come from ecstatic joy, anger, jealousy. I think that it can come from love– all these places. I think the only place art cannot come out of, or if it has, it can not sustain itself, is if it comes out of meanness. I think that is the only time art isn’t able to survive itself.
I worked at this little, well, on the surface it looked like a Ma & Pa hippie store. But really, it was owned by millionaires who made most of their money selling 40 oz. of liquor and tobacco. In their wine section, they had this really smart advertising. They made these signs they had posted all over the wine section that said, “What bottle of wine is a good bottle of wine? Whatever you like!” Well, that’s not true. Let’s have some self-awareness! I mean, I like eating a Hostess Cherry Hand Pie. Do I think that’s good pastry? No, of course it’s not good pastry! It’s awful. There is stuff in there they make bombs out of, I’m sure. That’s not good food. Do I like it? Yeah, sure, I’m an idiot. Of course, I like it. I like other things, too. I know what they are. I think it’s like Hollywood, where I think it is a place where the art of the middle is made. There is a laziness to it. Well, probably more likely, there is no laziness, there is actually a lot of work being done to create an art form that will apply to a vast array of people. It will only move them for a moment and will do nothing for the culture, that will never become part of a movement or an ideology. I don’t know if people in visual arts are doing that, because there seems to be so little money in the arts, compared to the rest of the world. It seems like if you endeavored to make art for the middle, as an artist or poet, that seems insane to me.
There is something else, though. There is the heart of the hustler. I mean if Hallmark called me and said, “You’re a poet, will you do these 20 Christmas cards and we will pay you X amount of money?” I know other poets that would be like “There is no way I would do that. It would be crossing some imaginary line as an artist.” I would do that shit in a second! You bet! Get paid. Have that money to make the art I want to make? Absolutely.
People talk about audience and who your audience might be. They do this in writing all the time. I always thought that it is this amazing thing to try to figure out and probably a path to insanity. It’s very different than marketing something or selling something—making a product as opposed to when you are talking about fine art. It’s like, if I were to have 100 strangers over to dinner and I never talked to them about what they like, how am I going to make a meal that everyone will be happy with? I will either dumb it down to the extent where everyone will be okay with it or the majority of them will be. I’d have to get rid of a bunch of stuff they might be allergic to. Or I could just turn on the Talking Heads, open up a beer and cook a dinner I have fun cooking and when those 100 people show up – if they show up—if some of them don’t like it, then that’s alright, someone else is making dinner next door.
I think you should be more concerned with the experience you are having making art, whatever that art is. If the experience has these great human things in it—joy and anguish, frustration, happiness and humor—if that is all involved and the act of making art for you is interesting, then I think you are doing great. We all want to be successful—whatever that means. I think the idea of success changes for people based on where they are at. I think the act of making art is almost more important than the success. I think it is important and amazing for art to get out there of course, and to be experienced by others. But, I mean if you get hit by a bus—God, that old bus is always hitting people—but if you get hit by a bus and you are thinking about art when you die, and not the people you love, I doubt you’ll be thinking “Those people really liked that painting”, or “I’m so glad my book got published by a big publishing house.” I think you’ll be thinking of standing in a room looking at an empty piece of paper and making something. Or looking at a canvas and the magic of a mark made on a canvas that engages you in your life. What am I going to make out of this moment?
I was told about this guy who would attend Robert Bly’s “Great Mother, New Father” Conference. And this guy was on his death-bed and moments before be dies, he opens his eyes and he lifts both of his arms up and touches his chest, and his face and his arms and he says, “Thank you, my animal.” And that is so awesome! This moment of clarity. And it is moving and I think this story, to me, while it’s not art, holds a lot of the same things that art does.
I think when you look back on your past work and cringe, I think you should cringe with love. I look back at journals of mine, early poems I wrote for people and I love that idiot! I’m like “Good try, tiger! You’re doing all the right things. You’re failing and it’s awesome!”