Richard Brautigan was definitely my first biggest poetic influence. His straightforward language, and sometimes absurd and funny style really spoke to my existing sensibilities and informed the development of my own style. I also love Jeffrey McDaniel for his sometimes dark humor and intense imagery and of course Brendan Constantine for his overall genius. I think all experiences inform one's artistic sensibility...whether it's travel, media, or conversation. Other writers I've enjoyed, outside of poetry but who still I'd count as influences are Douglas Adams, Douglas Coupland, Harlan Ellison and the collected output of Monty Python.
• You host the Cobalt readings every Tuesday night, who have been some of your favorite featured poets?
Wow...hard to pick...or even to remember for that matter...I've been hosting the reading since 1994 and there have been hundreds of people who've graced the stage in the featured reader spot. I'm afraid if I started listing people here I'd end up leaving someone out. Check out the broadsides we've published for all of our featured poets here: http://poetrysuperhighway.com/cobalt/broadsides.html Just about everyone who I picked to read is someone who I felt deserved the opportunity to put together a full featured set...plus I've given away the picking of the featured poet spot to many individuals and organizations to help expose as many people to as many other people's poetry as possible eliminating my own sensibility in who is picked to read.
• In your opinion, what makes a great performer in regard to poets in the LA community? What do the audiences best resonate with?
Someone who is in tune with the audience...who isn't flipping through their work trying to decide what to read in the middle of their set...someone who knows how to read their work in a way that emphasizes their words and images, almost like an actor would to best connect emotionally with the listeners...humor is always a winner...someone who is prepared, knowing how much time their set will take and doesn't go much longer (or longer at all) than the allotted time-slot they've been given. The strongest performer has what my college speech teacher called "the X factor"....this is someone who is so engaging when they are reading, people forget about the time limit and are drawn in to their words.
• How would you describe the poetry community in Los Angeles as a whole?
Disparate, eclectic, strong, non-existent. There are so many pockets of communities in L.A...sometimes they interconnect and often they don't. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses and styles, and there are a handful of people who might make their way between them...it makes it difficult to give a single description to the 'community' as one can easily argue that there isn't a community...rather a lot of separate communities located near each other that sometimes cross over.
• You have been a strong part of the poetry scene for nearly 20 years, how has the poetry community changed/remained the same since 1990? (2 questions)
The main way it has stayed the same is that it still exists. Readings come and go; new poets come and go; magazines and publications come and go...but there are always venues, poets and places to publish poetry. Beyond Baroque in Venice has been an important mainstay and, I think, centerpiece of poetry in L.A. since long before I was a part of it. Poetry in Orange County and Long Beach are going strong. Of course the Cobalt has been a mainstay in the Valley since before any of us existed. Mainly, the players and venues sometimes change but, for better or for worse, the community stays the same. Or I'm completely wrong and it's very different. I'll have to consult my oracle.
• When you aren’t writing, working or volunteering what other activities or hobbies do you enjoy? How is this reflected in your work?
I love to travel...having a day off is nice...but it's not until I'm completely removed from my normal element do I really feel my eyes are wide open and able to take it all in. This is why most of my books are poetic travelogues of sort. I write a good amount of poetry throughout the year, but never more than when I'm in a new place with no responsibilities other than feeding myself. I'm also very involved in the Jewish community in L.A....particularly through music...most of my most cherished memories and experiences revolve around Jewish music in some way or another. (Not that seeing Jane's Addiction playing in a bar in downtown L.A. a couple years ago didn't have me floating above L.A.'s skyline for a few days...) I also love food. I've been making homemade pizza the last few months on Sundays. (dough from scratch and all). I'm not sure it is reflected in my work, but on the other hand if the word "yeast" accidentally appears in a poem, you'll know why.
• You have over a dozen books published, do you have any advice for writers who are just starting out and want to succeed publishing books of their own?
Step 1: write good poetry. Anyone with even a little bit of skill can design a nice looking book and take advantage of the many on-demand/self publishing houses to get their book out there...but if the content is not good, it is not worthwhile. Attend poetry readings and read your poetry in the open readings. You'll get to know your own work better and be able to gauge from how it comes out of your mouth, as well as the audiences immediate reaction and after-the-fact feedback what works and what doesn't. Try poetry workshops...not every workshop teacher is the right one for every poet, but there will be one out there that will help you generate good work as well as help you make your existing work the best it can be. Try submitting work to online publications and print journals. Getting some poems published before putting a collection together is helpful to understand what, of your work, works outside of your own sensibility.
Don't be afraid to self-publish a collection. Many people seek the validation of someone accepting a body of work but in the end, unless you're fortunate enough to be one of the very small group of poets being published by major publishing houses, with just a little bit of marketing savvy, your book will be at least as successful with you at the helm as it would be coming out on a small press. (The marketing savvy is key here.)
Look at other books you like for examples on how a book should look, what should be included besides your poetry, and how to put together the actual poetry...the order of the poems...what to include and not include etc.
• What would you like to share with readers about upcoming events in the poetry community?
Of course I host a weekly reading at the Cobalt on Tuesday nights at 9:00 pm. The most up to date information about this series (including who the featured readers are) can be found here: http://PoetrySuperHighway.com/cobalt/calendar.html
The most up to date info on where I am reading (besides the Cobalt) can be found on my website here: http://poetrysuperhighway.com/rick/upcoming-readings/
The most comprehensive listing of readings throughout Southern California, updated every month can be found here: http://www.poetix.net/calendar.htm If you run a reading and you are not listed here, email email@example.com with info about your reading.
• What are some recommendations offering resources for poets?
Poetix.net is a great source of information about poetry in Southern California...especially their calendar section. Subscribe to the Poetry Super Highway Newsletter ( http://PoetrySuperHighway.com/PoetLinks.html ) for a weekly listing of new links to poetry websites. A subsciption to Poets and Writers Magazine (or read it for free in the Library) is one of the best global resources for poets with contest listings, articles and more. http://www.winningwritiers.com/ also is a great resource (including their newsletter) for those looking for contests to enter or publications to submit to.
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