Friday, November 17, 2017

WOLFGANG CARSTENS 2

Wolfgang Carstens is the author of numerous poetry collections, publisher at Epic Rites Press, and organizer and host of Poets Underground, a poetry show that celebrates and showcases the best and brightest authors currently working the marrow of contemporary poetry. He lives in Canada with his wife, five kids, grandson, mortgage and death.  His poetry is printed on the backs of unpaid bills.  More information at www.wolfgangcarstens.com.



Firstly, I feel very fortunate to have been given a peek at your latest collection of poems, Hell and High Water. They are sexy, funny and feel deeply authentic. Each poem is like a short story that leaves the reader wanting more. Being only familiar with this selection of your poetry, I can only wonder whether humor has always been a part of your oeuvre. It lends the whole a kind of lightness--I would hesitate to say, levity. Is the humor, that is often dark, unique to all your work, or just this batch? And from where do you feel it comes? Please expound.

I am the most obnoxious person—the guy who always has a witty retort, a sarcastic comment, and a joke about everything. That being said, my first two books Crudely Mistaken For Life and The Abyss Gazes Also are two of the darkest books on the planet. There isn’t much humor to found in those pages. These books were written during a period when Death was working overtime to snuff out everyone I knew. My grandmother, whom I loved dearly, had recently died. My friends were dropping like flies. A family member had been murdered. I had been pallbearer at six funerals in ten months. It was absolute brutality. Hell, I almost died myself. That was the background for my first two books. Death had become so commonplace in my house that even my seven-year-old son had started asking questions.

“where was i before i was born?”

my son asks.
“you were a part of me,”
i answer.

“where will i go when i die?”

“you will again become a part of me.
we’ve always been together—
we’ll always be together.”

“will you bring me back to life
when i die?” my son asks.
“yes,” i answer,

“i’ll always bring you back to life.”

“and if you die,” he says,
“i’ll bring you back to life.”
“then you will be my daddy,” i say.

“yes,” he says,
happy in this thought.

“wonderful,” i say,
thankful that the serious questions
have passed.

as my son runs back outside to play
this question of nothingness
surfaces like an ugly, unseen monster
and i think:
if only it were that simple.

            —from The Abyss Gazes Also

By the time Factory Reject rolled around, things were starting to get back to normal. The poems in Factory Reject, although still quite dark, have an edge of humor to them. As the poem “listening” illustrates:

listening

to the old ideas CD
in the Chevy,

Raven asks,
“is this that guy
who likes to talk
instead of sing?”

“yes,” i say “his name
is Leonard Cohen.”

“he sounds ancient,”
she says, “how old
is he?”

“he’s turning seventy-nine
this year,” i say.
“that’s really old,”
she says, “he’s gonna die soon.”

“well, then every birthday
must be pretty special for him,” i say.
“what would you write
on his birthday card?”

Raven thinks for a minute,
then says “happy birthday Leonard.
don’t look into the light.”
            
            —from Factory Reject

Every book from Factory Reject onward incorporates humor in some way to make the poems work.

You've made several references to Bukowski in your work. What do you love most about his writing? Any reservations where his work is concerned? Who, besides Bukowski, has impressed you as a poet?

I have never read Bukowski. Not a poem, story, or a single book. I simply have no desire to read his work. I did create a poem in Hell and High Water from a Bukowski quote a friend shared with me—but, in my entire body of work, I have never referenced Bukowski. Funny, when my first book Crudely Mistaken For Life came out, one reviewer wrote that he “could clearly see the influence that Bukowski had on my work.” I wrote him back asking “Who the fuck is Bukowski?” I had no idea who he was. I had to Google him. Now, while I could expound upon the reasons why I have no desire to read Bukowski, my efforts are better spent talking about authors who have inspired me. The list is very small—three authors, in fact: Rob Plath, John Yamrus, and Henry Denander.

I was introduced to the poetry of Rob Plath in 2008 and it revolutionized the way I looked at poetry. Prior to reading Plath, I believed poetry was reserved for lofty ideas and emotions. Plath, however, not only encouraged writers to reach into the marrow of their bones and write about their darkest beings, he also encouraged writers to write like an ogre was banging on their door. Plath taught that life was short, urgency was paramount, and that nobody should go to their graves with songs still trapped inside them. That was 2008. I have been writing like a maniac ever since. Plath also taught me about writing in everyday, ordinary language—about how to write poems like 911 calls—“pared down, to the point and urgent.” The analogy here is that you would never use rhyme and meter when you phoned 911 for help—nor should you in poetry.

Now, to fully understand the importance of reading Plath and the impact his work had on me, you need to understand that I cut my teeth on 19th century French surrealist poets like Baudelaire, Mallarme, Verlaine, etc., the British Romantic poets like Wordsworth, Coleridge, Blake and Keats, etc., and on Edgar Allan Poe. Prior to being exposed to the work of Rob Plath, I was writing sonnets! It wasn’t until I started reading Plath that I started writing free verse.

John Yamrus, in turn, taught me four important lessons. The first was to eliminate titles from my poetry. Titles, as Yamrus put it to me, are unnecessary additions to the poem that only serve to treat readers like idiots—which, clearly they are not. If the title doesn’t add something necessary to the understanding of the poem (meaning, context, etc.), it has no business being there. It took me a few years to come around to Yamrus’s way of thinking—but by my third book Factory Reject, I had abandoned titles completely. In my newest book Hell and High Water, only two poems have titles: “Slave Lake, 2014” and “caught watching porn”—both of which serve to add context to the poems. As my poem “Slave Lake, 2014,” reprinted below illustrates:

Slave Lake, 2014

we were on vacation.

my wife was mad at me.
she’s always mad at me
about one thing or another.

we were at the beach.
she wanted to leave
and i wanted to fish.

she made her stand on the shore
with the kids and the dog.
i dragged my lawn chair
twenty feet in the water
and sat down.

come hell or high water,
i wasn’t leaving.

i got both.

hell
and high water.

—from Hell and High Water

The work of John Yamrus also taught me some of the most important lessons about writing. It has taught me about the importance of economy in language—about cutting extraneous words from the poem—about cutting everything away until you reach bone.

It has taught me about line breaks and how to use the negative space to create flow and tension in my work. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, how to get the reader involved in the poem and make them a willing participant in the interpretation. When I look back to my first books, they seem wordy to me. The poems are constructed like furniture, with every screw, hook, and fastener in place. They are sturdy. When you reach Factory Reject, however, the poems start getting shorter, more economical, more “choppy,” and I start taking greater risks with the material. This is especially true in my newest book Hell and High Water, as the poem “Len” illustrates. Here, success or failure, depends entirely on the reader to “get” the joke:

Len

always thought
the iwantmycarpetcleaned.com van
that he’d seen
driving around town
was fucking hilarious.

that is,
until the day
he came home
early from work
and found it
parked
in his driveway.

—from Hell and High Water

Finally, the work of Henry Denander had a profound impact on me. The first book of his that I read was The Accidental Navigator, released through Lummox Press. Denander’s blue collar, everyday style of writing immediately hooked me and his courage to poke fun at himself in these poems was a revelation. I found myself writing poem after poem while reading his book. Factory Reject, in fact, was inspired by reading Denander. I have since purchased copies of all Denander’s books and he has become my favorite poet to read.

As for Bukowski—I don’t know his work from a hole in the ground. I prefer to keep it that way. I do, however, encourage readers to search out books by Rob Plath, John Yamrus, and Henry Denander. If you want to put your finger on the pulse on what’s happening in underground literature, this is a great place to start.

Is poetry your main genre as a writer? Have you written flash, or thought of expanding some of your poetic ideas into different kinds of narratives? 

Poetry is my main genre, although I have written flash fiction, short stories, screenplays, philosophical essays, book reviews, and am presently working on a book of non-fiction. The way it works for me is ideas have particular forms—or perhaps better put, the ideas choose their own vehicles. Some are poems; some are stories; others become essays. I have three short stories coming out in print soon in Brenton Booth’s print magazine The Asylum Floor. I strongly encourage readers to check it out. Keep your eye on my website www.wolfgangcarstens.com for more information and ordering details.

In what ways do you envision expanding as a poet in the future? 

One of the main goals in my work is to hammer home the idea that readers should “Live today because tomorrow never comes.” Don’t take tomorrow for granted. It may never come. So, while it’s easy to put items on a bucket list and be content that you will accomplish these things when you have more time, when your kids are grown, when you retire, you need to be aware that Death always has his hand on your shoulder—and He loves to ruin your carefully laid plans. Live ferociously!

i bought

Clare’s unfinished watercolor landscape
(the one she always said she’d finish “tomorrow”)
for two bucks at the estate sale.

it was a running joke between us
for over half a decade.
whenever we’d run into each other
at the bank or the grocery store
i’d ask, “how’s my landscape coming?”

“almost finished,” she’d say,
“maybe tomorrow.”

when i brought it home,
i took a black sharpie
and printed “Live today!
Tomorrow never comes!”
in the white space
where the mountains should’ve been.

i always knew the landscape
was meant to be mine.
i just never guessed
i would be the one to finish it.

            —from Factory Reject

I mention this because, as a writer, you never want to keep writing the same book. That is, my Crudely Mistaken for Life, The Abyss Gazes Also, and Bulletproof are—for all intents and purposes, the same book. They all scream my “Live today” message. And that’s fine—but it’s also important to stretch your wings and write books that are completely different. I have done this with my Rented Mule, released through NightBallet Press. It’s a collection of “working” poems; with my Enjoy Oblivion, a collection of poems about my father; with my Savage Love, a collection of poems that explore the “size matters” phenomena; with my books Only the Dead and Raising the Dead, released through Svensk Apache Press, and are fully illustrated by Janne Karlsson; with my newest book Hell and High Water, released through Six Ft. Swells Press, which is a collection of “relationship” poems; and next year my From Dusk to Sandra Dawn, a collection of poems about my disastrous first marriage, will be released through Bareback Press. As a writer of poetry, I want to keep bringing new and different collections to my readers. Beyond that, I want my poems to keep getting more economical—I want to keep cutting until I hit bone. Also, I want to keep getting better at promoting my work. I owe everything to my publishers—without their support and hard work, my books would not exist—so it’s always important to me to bring home a winner for them.







Friday, November 10, 2017

MANKH

Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) writes, edits, and is a small press publisher; his spiritual path feeds his creativity. He is resident poet and essay contributor at www.axisoflogic.com and the author-editor of 17 books and has helped produce more than 70, plus an annual Haiku Calendar. Mankh enjoys music, meditation, munchies, and more. www.allbook-books.com. His most recent book is photo albums of the heart-mind. You may purchase it, read reviews and a sample here: http://www.allbook-books.com/html/photo_albums_of_the_heart-mind.htm.




Your work as a poet, writer, editor and publisher seems endowed with a sense of mission. Has your mission changed at all throughout the years? If so, how?

First of all, thanks for doing this, for giving artists another place to “speak.” As the website states: “Allbook Books was started in 2002 for the publishing of poetry and other writings that encourage one-world consciousness and respect for various cultures, lifestyles and spiritual traditions.” Doesn’t seem like that will ever change. It’s a guideline, so I’m open to the mission adapting to what’s needed, what can help people and to world conditions, and to simply fascinating literature that enhances the life experience or maybe simply articulates something in a way that hasn’t been read much before. My writings adapt and evolve somewhat beyond my control. After about 14 years of writing poetry and essays, suddenly they merged so that my previous book and new book, Photo Albums of the Heart-Mind, are a blend, yet the mission, the purpose is essentially the same.

When did you first become aware that the planet/Mother Earth was endangered? What are some of the projects you've been part of in an effort to transform our awareness and relationship to the planet?

I looked up the etymology of “(en)danger”: “from Latin dominus, lord, master, from domus house.” So, MotherEarth has been “endangered” ever since the system of domination and power hungry ego-maniacs, 2000-plus years at least. Modern “house” has little kings and queens in their castles, that’s the isolated American Dream which, if you consider the hardware store shelves lined with Monsanto Roundup weed killer, is a nightmare.

But it’s not some all of a sudden anomaly; boom-time capitalism has to bust so it is “suddenly” spinning its wheels in the mud. Personally, I’m not sure of any specific time. However, around 10-12 years ago, after reading lots of world news and assessing the situations, it occurred to me that issues related with the environment/Mother Earth and Native-Indigenous Peoples would need to/would become a focus for change. And that’s happening. I think each of us is aware at some level, even in childhoods of the 20th century, that some things were awry, and nowadays even more so. And all that became more of a focus for my writings and activities.

While having coffee with a friend this year, we spontaneously came up with a phrase that prompted doing a poetry reading series. So far we’ve done three and are open to doing more. The phrase/title: “disruptinG thE climatE changE statuS quO.” Some of what that means is: if you think recycling your plastics is going to “save us,” think again.

Also, as regards the phrase “greenwashing”... There are corporations and countries eager to sell “green” products which may improve things but if we just go along with that without changing the culture, if we just consume “green” but don’t give a damn about the overall process, it becomes a veneer. A Long Island deli has biodegradable to-go containers. Hey, that’s cool, but then the town doesn’t do specific recycling so probably the containers are going to the landfill. So that’s an improvement, but what we are not discussing enough is, what if the landfill becomes piled high with biodegradable containers?

The subtitle of the poetry series is a quote from Chief Arvol Looking Horse, the spiritual leader of the Lakota, Dakota, Nakota Peoples aka Great Sioux Nation. Standing Rock helped bring about more of a global consciousness and if you read any other news than corporate, you need a notebook to keep track of all the pipelines, protests, and such like: “Everywhere is Standing Rock.”

Congratulations on your latest book, photo albums of the heart-mind (Book 2 of The Musings Series), which you describe as "nonfiction with a poetic touch" that is a "cry to wake up from technological transfixation and work with Mother Earth and each other." How does your book propose humans do this at this juncture?

Thanks, Arya. The flip (the pages) answer is, read the book. But since you asked : ), Photo Albums of the Heart-Mind proposes that people enhance their off-the-radar abilities, i.e. dreams, visions, intuitions, whisperings in the ear, heartfelt ways of being, etc.

Staying unified with the energy and rhythms of Nature is essential. People are Online at the expense of Circle and Spiral. The book explores the power of vision and image, showing people there’s a choice as to how they see the world and that they can actually see the world instead of just what’s on a screen, and of how one must continually look beneath the surface to get at truths.

Also the book encourages that people see within, which is mysticism and meditation and so forth... Essentially it’s about balance, whether technology or even meditation-- are you gonna just stare at the screen or your navel while those who are plotting to build another power plant or pipeline are importing the machinery parts from another country using slave labor and tearing-up and polluting Mother Earth?

We are separated by so much--space, language, ideas. Technology can serve to bring us closer, as for example your wonderful video readings, "Arise and Bow Down to All Nations" in Central Park. YouTube can be a great teaching and sharing tool. Does technology have to be completely excluded as a positive vehicle that can work for us?

Thank for mentioning that poem, which by the way was written in about three hours while walking through the park. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncS_Vuu4Zic Again, balance is needed.

Technology is wonderful in many ways, I spend a lot of time reading and researching online and watching Youtube videos, news, documentaries, comedy, music, etc. Yet as mentioned in the book: “Before the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, many animals and Indigenous Peoples saw and/or felt the signs and moved to higher ground ― and survived.”

Now with dramatic weather and terror vibes pumped into the atmosphere, I feel it is imperative to tune-in to Nature and Spirit energies. What good is a 100-percent sustainable energy house if it gets blown away by a hurricane? Of course sustainable is part of the solution to get off the fossil fuel and other addictions. Yet if it’s not done with consciousness...

I think of how cobalt is mined with child slave labor from the Congo because it’s used for lithium-ion batteries that power gadgets from cellphones to electric cars. The other night with the rain and windstorm, I stood outside and was wowed by the intensity. I communed with the wind, and the message I received was that I (and probably a lot of people) need to pay more attention to breathing and feeling-listening to all of Nature; the hyperization of society has people running to yoga classes to slow down and breathe deeply. That’s good but more of that slow deep breathing is needed in everyday life. The word “spirit” has breath in it.

What are your present aims as a publisher? As regards literature, what would you like to see more of? Less of?

Specifically, to get the projects am working on published and out there. Generally, to keep publishing good quality works that offer a fresh and/or ancient perspective. More investigative journalism, works that challenge, reveal,  and allow unheard voices to speak. Less corporate media, as they are one of the biggest swayers of popular opinion, one of the biggest distractions from truth and empathy in human history.

Lastly, despite all you know, are you hopeful about the planet? In what ways?

One can get depressed yet because of the good stuff I know, I am optimistic. The word “hope” is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it expresses a feeling that conditions will improve, so don’t give up; for some people in dire circumstances it’s an emotional opening. I have two friends who do great work with children for organizations with the word “Hope” in it. On the other hand, Hope can get stuck in wishful thinking for the future without action or participation.

As I learned it from Tiokasin Ghosthorse (Lakota) — he hosts First Voices Radio, an excellent show: Hope is in Pandora’s Box so you don’t want to mess with it. As the story goes, Hope stayed in the Box, so Hope is a form of in-the-box thinking.

If I’m hopeful, it means I’m relying on someone else, so I prefer at least to send some good energy or pray, because that way I’m participating in some form. Also worth noting is that there is no word for “domination” in Lakota and probably many Native/Indigenous languages, so now we know which sector of humanity is doing the “endangering” and the reason that the masses are ”hoping” for breadcrumbs.

All in all, I see this as a time of great change... people working together... also sometimes seems like so many are reacting out of fear or tuning-out anything uncomfortable... One of my greatest optimistic views is mentioned in the book: “Since around the time of the millennium and then the Mayan prophecy of 2012 (a positive wake-up call), the words “apocalypse” and “armageddon” have become more prominent, conjuring images of End Times. But this traveler prefers to see it as the End Times of human stupidities, mistreatments, ignorances, disrespecting Mother Nature.” 

These are intense times and there’s a lot of misery, yet also it is a time of wonder and deep changes, an opportunity to stop the havoc of institutional systems so we can make evolutionary leaps; what an honor and huge response-ability to, as Ram Dass reminds us, “be here now – remember”... and do something!



                                                                     MANKH