Martina Newberry, new work

When life seems to offer its most unpoetic, its agonies and travesties, a good dose of Martina Newberry smooths and soothes.

Martina was filmed by Brian Newberry as she reads four of her newest pieces. Take a listen, and get ready to read her in the new Cenacle, about to be published. I’ll post the link when it’s official.

“Until Sleep Pulls Us Under”



Poet as Hermit

It’s not because I’m not thinking of you. It’s more because all of the poets I want to interview are not speaking.

So, to offer something up during this interlude, this:

poet as hermit 

cobwebs cement hinges of doors unopened
poet as hermit
etched by etchings
pencil stubs sub for friendship
no reason to mend torn gloves
sockless in sobriety
all thought golden
left unsaid
audio recordings track upon track
symphonies of voices
fly under radar
treasure troves gone with a click of ‘delete’
no one the wiser
but poet, the hermit,
snickers at elusive human attachment
from birth to death
all looks, aloof, alleviated by sleep
a latched door away
until stretchers slide silently
into unmarked graves

note: i wrote this on June 18th, but it takes on new force with the death of Amy Winehouse

judih fear, 2003

july 30, 2011

David Jones – 2 spoken word pieces

David Jones as remedy.

David Jones

Some male voices participate in my immediate environment. There’s the neighbour who once more is yelling at his kids for whatever reason. He’s got a voice that needs no mic, and manages to infiltrate my space.

There’s the google OS guru who speaks of the new operating system that i might try

There’s the doctor who speaks of female genitalia as if they were hamburgers.


David Jones.

Here are two links: Why I don’t write


I’m a man

listen! Be cured! Now!


After Reading “What We Can’t Forgive” by Martina Newberry

What We Can’t Forgive, Martina Newberry

After reading What We Can’t Forgive, i find myself deeply emerged in swamplands of feelings. The connections made in poetry are often connections that work faster than words have a right to do. And here i am, after reading, and quite helpless to ignore music that happens to seep into my soundscape, or even dismiss the fact that it, too, is eerily in key with the poems I’ve just read.

What I Can’t Forgive is, you see, written by Martina Newberry, and if you know her work, there’s no real reason for me to elaborate. But if you haven’t read her, then maybe i should mention that she pulls traditional associations and re-wires them to new brain cells and body pulses. New synapses at work. And new synapses have huge quantities of energy that all seem to resonate at once.

Maybe here’s a good place to post one of her pieces. Like this one for example, At Night


All day,

I thought of the city,

of freeways and

overpasses and

tunnels long enough

that you might be afraid

there is no end to them.

When late afternoon came,

it came with

a  pissy attitude and

solar temper.

I closed my eyes

tight like gritted teeth.

Every night we are

newly dead and

every morning, newly born.

That alone should make me happy, but it doesn’t.

What does?

The thought of my good bed,

My dreams of concrete clouds,

Air that smells like old clothes,

The eccentric lamplight on sputtering streets,

The ominous openings of alleys.

Now it’s late.

My neighbor’s vodka

has numbed my tongue

but not my heart

which is holding a grudge.

Perhaps I should meditate.

Or take drugs.

The choice between Shiva and Seroquel

is not always a wise one.

Tonight may be one of those nights

when sleep is a joke I tell myself.

Tonight may be one of those nights

when holding on

to the mattress

is as close as I’ll ever get

to Nirvana.

“When late afternoon came, it came with a pissy attitude…” – you know what that is. Don’t we all know that pissy attitude that shows up, uninvited, and if we’re good hosts, we let it stay.

So, that’s my mind, right now – lost to focus on anything else but What We Can’t Forgive, Martina Newberry. Here it is on amazon.

And now i’m off to investigate this late afternoon and how attitudes come and go.

Martina Newberry speaks out about new book and poetry reading!

Martina Newberry

This interview comes to you in two parts. Part 1: In which I speak to Martina Newberry about her recent poetry reading, “The Language We Dare Not Speak” held in the Espresso Cielo Cafe in Palm Springs, California, on April 27th. And Part 2 in which I find out about her recent book, What We Can’t Forgive.


And now Part 1, including a 12 minute clip of the reading.

Judih: Martina! How are you?

Martina: I’m fine. How are you.

J: I’m fine and excited to talk to you. Today is Martina Day. I’d like to ask you about your poetry reading on the 27th of April. Was it for “Late Night Radio”? What was it for?

M: Actually it was a general reading. I picked something from each book to read. It was delightful for me.

J: How did it go?

M: I had never read here in my new home of Palm Springs and I had no idea of my audience. I picked something from each book and I didn’t know– I’m used to reading to students and other poets. In the coffee shops in L.A., everyone has been a writer at one time. I just didn’t have any idea what kind of audience they’d be and they were wonderful.

J: Excellent.

M: Yes, they were attentive and seemed to enjoy the work and I was just real real pleased. Cause I was nervous about it. You don’t know who they’re going to be. It was lovely. It went beautifully.

J: Did they ask anything or make comments? Were there certain poems that rang above the others.

M: Yes, one of the poems was received just amazingly well. I was very surprised. It was a poem that I don’t often read because it’s kind of long. It was called Beautiful. And I finished the reading with it and several people asked to know which book it came from because they wanted to get that book.

It’s never happened to me before that someone asked for a specific book because of a certain poem. It was really fun for me.

J: Wow, that’s great. Are you going to make this a regular thing, are you going to be going back?

M: I sure hope so. A couple of people asked after the reading if I was coming back or if I’m going to be reading anywhere else.  And I said I’d like to but I don’t know. The usual thing because I wasn’t sure if Espresso Cielo Café was planning on inviting me back, and I didn’t really know what to say. So I always say that I’d like to.

J: Were there other poets in the audience?

M: No. It was a one-person reading. And the coffee shop went all out. They had invitations made up and they sent them out to the community. They had an article in the local paper and posters up. I was floored.  It was like the biggest marketing thing I’ve ever seen for one of my readings. It was a small town and I guess that kind of thing is appreciated, and they paid for it all. It was great. I felt like a star –superstar me!

Martina and fan (courtesy of Espresso Cielo Cafe)

J: That’s amazing and that’s how it should have been all along. Of course. Are any of the posters on line, I’d love to see them.

M: Here, I can show you one here.

M: The Language We Dare Not Speak. J: Beautiful.

M: It’s Brian’s graphic and that was the theme of the reading actually: The Language We Dare Not Speak  and I had that logo on all the little tote bags and little shopping bags and that kind of stuff. Yes it was nice.

J: Great.

And before we move on to talk, let’s revisit the reading at the Espresso Cielo Cafe, Palm Springs (clips filmed by Brian Newberry)

Click for Part 2 of our talk in which Martina offers us two new poems and speaks about her latest book, What We Can’t Forgive.   Part 2

Martina Newberry speaks out about new book! (Part 2)

Martina Newberry

This is part 2 of  an interview with Martina Newberry, in which she offers us two new poems and speaks about her recent book, What We Can’t Forgive.

J: Great. Okay, now I’ve got some questions that I’d like to ask you. First, I’d like to ask about your recent pieces. Are there any favourites that you’d consider reading now?

M: Absolutely. I just finished a poem that I’ve been working on for weeks, it just wouldn’t come right. So finally I put it away and thought finally this is going under “failed poetry”. But I picked it back up because a title came to me. When I got the title I thought I could fix this poem.

Anyway, I found a title for this poem and it brought the whole poem into focus. It’s called Guerilla Whining.


This poem is pounding on the door of your perceptions,
groveling at the knees of your conscience.
I offer you the precarious kiss of reality:
the work of the homeless—to survive one more night,
the limiting nature of nuclear incident,
the criminality of our prejudices,
the arrogance of our wealth.

The monsters of commerce call to us and we respond,
choking on $12.95 wine and caraway crackers.
The whites of the world’s eyes
are blushing with exhaustion.
Good people have calloused lips from sucking the blame
out of the tall, frosted glasses
held by congressmen and princes.

We want to be dauntless in an era that begs us to forget,
to ignore Iraq, Abu Grahib, New Orleans.
The fragile white palm of a politician’s hand,
forever urging the bloody adventures onward,
waving as the world’s warring stride off to meet,
is the palm no one touches.  We only imagine it and still it
pushes, directs, encourages and waves “goodbye.”

Larry Levis says that “terror is a complete state of
understanding.”  I get that.  I agree with that.
Politics is a meaningless famine;  it gives us
the necessary vocabulary to discuss our new myths.
It is compensatory collateral that makes of us
sheep children, floating in nameless liquid,
in clear glass jars on the shelves of freaking hell.


J: I see.

M: Yes. (laughter). I’m perennially angry about America’s politicians and I was trying to write about that and I couldn’t verbalize it and then came the title and I thought:  Oh yes, I know what I want to say.

J: Amazing it just focused the energy for you, yeah? And helped you with the phrasing?

M: Yes, it did. And that happens to me. I usually start poems as untitled. I call them Untitled.  It seems as if once I can title it, I make little changes and the poem just comes to life for me.

J: Interesting. I remember that at one point I had a title. A title came to me.  I had nothing else but a title and I knew I wanted to write a book with that title.

M: I love it. What was the title?

J: Thistles and Marigolds.

M: Oh, I love it. Definitely deserves a book.

J: I did one, a chapbook a long time ago. But first I had the title. At the same time, a friend of mine said that she wanted to write a book but she only had a cover picture. Neither of us had content. I thought we could take my title, her cover page and steal content from the internet. No one would know.  Kidding!

M: No one would know (laughter)  

ed.note – We both take our poetry very seriously and the idea of plagiarism would never occur to us. Only we can express what we want to say, so that’s why the laughter.

J: In the end, nothing was stolen! But suddenly things come to birth of their own volition.

M: They do, in their own way.

J: Yeah, and each one’s different. The last book that you just came out with. What’s it called?
M: it’s called What We Can’t Forgive.

J: Yes and how did that come into being?

M: Because I tend to get very impatient or angry with the injustice of things and I also try to think of ways to forgive. I think about forgiveness a lot. I try to read what wise people have written about forgiving and about how we can and what we can’t forgive. And very often it comes to me.

I saw this movie called Magnolia. And in the movie the director, at the beginning or at the end,  says that it’s all about what you can’t forgive.  And in thinking about that and in the nature of forgiveness I was struck by how often I think of things I can’t forgive rather than what I can forgive. It’s very simple for me to forgive nice people and people who don’t mean to do the wrong thing, but reaching for forgiveness in somebody you know meant to do a bad thing is a difficult concept. And I thought I bet it’s difficult for a lot of people and so some poems came of that and finally a book.

J: I see.

M: Do you find forgiveness easy or simple for you.

J: Oh, God, lately this kind of question makes me very embarrassed. I’ve been studying now in a course of NLP in which people talk about the problems they’re dealing with and I’m embarrassed that at this time of my life, I don’t really have any problems and I’m almost afraid to say it. I don’t feel I have forgiveness to do. I’m off the chart these days for these kind of questions.

M: Oh, that’s great. I’m just interested in what you thought about it.

J: The only traumatic events I’ve had in my life,  I kind of dealt with them at the time so much that there wasn’t really a lingering issue.

M: Okay. I understand.

J: Yeah, but that’s another discussion.

M: Yes it is.

J: I wanted to know if while writing your  book,  some of these things came to a head. Did you go through a process while writing?

M: Well, yeah. I did actually. As I said, my immediate reaction was well, that’s just the way I am. But what I found was that  in thinking about these kind of things, the longer I addressed them, the easier it was for me to say maybe I can forgive or if not able to completely forgive it at least I could put it away or at least revisit it less often. It was a really good process for me. And I asked friends: what is there that you can’t forgive; is there anything you can’t forgive?  I got insights from them. And I found that most people are really very forgiving. They’re very  willing to live and let live. And to say well, we’re all just working guys trying to get along. I was very surprised at that. I thought because of our economy,  I’d meet or hear a lot of complaints or anger and impatience, but instead, most people were very: “Well, it’s a lot of people’s faults, not just one and it’s just something we’re going to have to work through.” So I thought, either they’re very forgiving or they’re just exhausted. One or the other.

J and M: (laughter)

J: Or they’re used to it. They found a way to deal.

M: They’re used to it. Exactly

J: And after you wrote the book did you feel a sense of completion? Did you feel you’d attained another level of digestion?

M: Yes, I did. I felt as if pondering it, exploring it was the right thing to do. That looking into it, rather than just saying that ‘that’s the way I am’ that looking into it actually was a mellowing experience. That it was a way to digest it, like you said.

J: Okay. Would you consider reading one of the pieces from the book?

M: Absolutely. Here’s the book.

What We Can't Forgive

The cover’s from a quilt. I like to use people’s quilt designs. Oddly enough the name of this poem is Untitled, Unfinished.


The darkness resonates with neon.

You guys,

it says,

we could all escape this planet at the same time, rise up as quietly 

as anemones open, and stare up to where we are going, driven into 

the beautiful dark. 


Imagine it:  a herd of the nicest people in the world, floating upward, 

whistling, humming, laughing, knowing it’s all a magic trick, 

enjoying the drift.  There will be questions and conversations:


            Am I still tripping on the mescaline

            I took at that gas station restroom in Poway?


            Did I go into a coma when I slipped and fell on my head at

            that ice skating rink in Merced?


We’ll hear a resounding NO



It says,

we will rise until we engage ourselves,

until death all around us folds

like a fan, only to open again

                                   when chaos rearranges us.


J: Oh Wow, ‘when Chaos rearranges us’ that’s a good one.

M: (laughter) Talk about feeling powerless.

J: No, no But you claim, you wait, you know Chaos is gonna do it. There’s something of power there.

M: Yes, it is. You know it’s gonna get you.

J: I was reading something that Iyanla Vanzant wrote. She said that one of our tasks in life is just to clean up the mess in life when we can. To just clean up the messes in life and to accept it.

M: I love that: “just to clean up the mess in life when we can. ” I love that.  I’m so glad you told me that. I think that’s really great.

J: But you’re saying the opposite. You said the mess will rearrange us.

M: Yes, but she says the duty is just to go back and clean it up again.

J: Yeah,  It’s a pendulum

M: It is that.


J: I wanted to ask you about digital books. I saw a wonderful talk on TED talks this morning about a digital book where you  could actually play with the flat screen and pick out pictures, fold them, move them. You tap on it and you get audio as well. You can move it down to the bottom menu and read while you’re  listening. Here’s the link: Mike Matas at TED talks.

So I wanted to know, would you consider putting out your books digitally or getting into it?

M: Yeah. Three of my books are on digital now available for Kindle. And I think I’m glad anyway if anyone’s going to read poetry. If it means that someone’s going to actually pick up a poem and read it and think, hey I don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand this.  If Kindle means that more people can do that, then yay, I’m happy for that.

The best experience at the reading the other night  – a young man came up afterwards and said to me: “I’d never been to a poetry reading, I’ve never read poetry, and I’m going to buy my first book of poetry right now.” And I thought, somebody was introduced to poetry and I thought how wonderful because if he likes that he will explore other poets. So digital’s okay, it’s alright, if it means that people are going to read.

Personally I like a book. I like the pages. I like the way it smells, it feels. But you know, if people wanna read it that way, then…

J: I’m the same way. I agree with you though. There’s almost something underground about wanting to maintain paper.

M: Yes, there is. Can I use that in a poem? Underground… I like that

J: Yes, take it, take it.

M: There’s something exclusive about wanting our nice covers and turning the pages and fold one down, or write on them. There’s something about that.

J: I’m even thinking of mimeographed copies like back in the day and having one volume of your work and mail it to one another around the world, so as not to cut down too many trees. There just should be one.

M: Yes, exactly.

What’s New

J: Now, what else. What’s new in life that’s grabbing your imagination these days?

M. Oh, a couple of interesting things. We made a new friend whose partner is deaf and I started trying to learn signing. And it’s so much fun. I’m not very good at it. But it’s so much fun trying to learn and trying to memorize the different signs for things. So whenever I see him I I try to practice some new signing on him. And it’s been really exciting for me and a lot of fun.

J: It’s a new language. In Israel, the signing is different than in America.

M: Yes, I know.

J: I was once part of a puppet show called Kids on the Block that worked with blind puppets, retarded puppets, deaf puppets and I had to learn sign language.  And I kept trying to do my homework by looking at my English sources, but  I could never find the right signs because in English it’s not what it is in Hebrew. So, I never quite made it..

M: That was something was very interesting to me. I sort of had the idea that all signing was universal, but it isn’t. It’s very different. So they still have to learn a new language, either way.

J: and dialect

M: But I’m really trying to learn it. I’m having a lot of fun with it. If I never get past How are you and I love you, then I’ll be alright.

J: How do you say I love you?
M: (signs with pinky and index fingers up.) And I learned you’re handsome or you’re beautiful.

I love you

J: Nice.

M: So I’ve learned a couple of things. It’s fun. I’m having a good time with it.

J: It’s kinesthetic. It’s another way of using your brain. It’s brilliant

M: It feels like dancing. I love watching two people signing. It’s just like watching a dance, it’s the most delightful thing. I love it.

J: I remember watching two people signing in a bus on either side of the aisle.

M: Yes, I love watching it and it’s fast, I love watching the fingers flying.

Idiocy and how to deal with it

J: Okay, here I have a question: What’s your favourite way, Martina, of dealing with idiocy?

M: These days, I’m more impatient with idiocy; however, I am more apt to not call attention to it. I think I deal more with idiocy now by writing about it. I didn’t used to. I used to leave that concept out of my writing. Now I think I deal with it by writing about it, because as the years go by and I meet more and more idiots, it seems less likely that my saying anything is going to help. (laughter) So I just sit down and write something about it.

I very seldom call it to anybody’s attention. I can come home angry about something and say to Brian “That guy’s an idiot!”  But other than that, I think I deal with it with my writing, and the things that I consider most idiotic go into a poem because I just don’t have a whole lot to say about it anymore to the person.

J: Yeah, I know what you mean.

M: I used to think that if you called it, if you said to a person You’re being an idiot. That maybe that would do something, that maybe they’d stop and consider what they’d said. But never. I don’t think that’s happened once in my life yet.  I think every time I said it, the person just got mad, so….I held off saying it. I don’t do it much anymore.

J: There has to be a way, there really has to be a way to make someone realize,  to stop dead in their tracks, evaluate their entire life and switch on a dime. I’m sure there’s a technique.

M: Yes! I love it. There’s got to be some way to do that. I just haven’t found it yet. But I’m gonna keep looking for it.

J: Yes, meanwhile.

New Book Venture

So what else? Are you thinking about any more books. What do you see for yourself.

M: Oh yes, I’ve started a new book.

J: Oh wow!

M: Well yes. It’s funny. I work on poems all the time, and what I try to do at the end of the week or at the end of the month I look to see if a theme presents itself in any way and sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. But I have a few poems that I’ve just started and I want to try working in some forms that I haven’t worked in before. I think I’ve written 3 sonnets in my life. I just wrote my very first ghazal.

J: Yes, I loved that. It was so wonderful. You invited us to participate. (ed.note – Martina posted her Unfit Ghazal in the Open Mic forum of Arcanum Cafe here)

M: It was the first time ever that I’d written one and I had such a neat time with the discipline. So this new book that I’m working with I’m going to experiment with some forms and some things I haven’t done before. And just see if a book comes out of that. I think it will but it’s new for me and I like taking my work to new places and see where I’m weak and where I’m strong, and can I get what’s in my heart out on paper in a more disciplined form than I’m used to.  Make the brain work.

J: Good. Okay. Thanks, Martina. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

M: Yes, I have a question for you

J: Okay – let’s continue off the record!

Martina’s latest book: What We Can’t Forgive – available here, or here or here

Martina’s Blog: Roll With the Changes

Martina’s Blog on wordpress

Martina in big hat

Go to Part 1

Raymond Soulard, Jr Speaks Out! Part 3

Part 3 in which Ray discusses Poetry as therapy, in education, its popularity and his future plans

Ray Soulard, Jr


J: Talking a more personal sphere, let’s talk about therapy. Is poetry a tool for therapy in your own life?

R: It’s one of the primary ones.

J: Could you offer a poem that you felt cleansed an especially raw node?

R: Yes. This longer poem may seem like it comes out of left field, but I don’t think so. I think it tells a story that I wanted to tell and it tells it in poetic form which is sometimes, in fact often, a form I’ved used toward seeking understanding of myself and the world or the relation of some kind. This poem has stuck with me as something I’m glad I wrote. Something I feel proud of. Something I feel good I wrote. Proud in the sense of I pulled all of my faculties together, sat down with pen and paper and something good came out. It’s called “Memory and Prelude” something I wrote last summer, soon after Kassie and I moved from the West Coast.

Memory & Prelude

I woke this morning, early, writhing,

a dream’s lingering claws, stroked,

squeezed, & no more sleep, not even close

what was it? Not a woman, known or stranger,

nor a man, animal, god. A memory, old one,

released last night when I found a high school

essay. In a pile, a glance, a nod, none else.

But enough. A teacher I don’t remember but

he liked me. Those years weren’t pretty. He graded

me high, smiled, taught me with a worn man’s

hope that someone listened. All I wanted to do

was fuck a cheerleader. Or the poet girl

I adored. Or quite a few others. No why

in it. The rest of my grades made nobody

proud, nobody smile, hope. I skipped school

for the library, to write a paper on my

favorite books, the ones with no money &

a laughing kindess for all. I wrote & I wrote,

then typed & typed. He smiled, hoped, gave me

the best grade he could but knew it wasn’t

good enough. I wanted to fuck her, & fuck her,

& fuck her. Skipped school, hid, read,

wrote. Then one day came & suddenly I

remembered. This morning, no more sleep.

I had a friend, his name was John,

he was a rough piece of work. He liked me

too, & it mattered more. Here’s why. One day

he saw me getting pushed around &

stepped in. I didn’t have many friends,

none like him. His act, his word, protected

me. I didn’t know how to fight any more

than  I knew how to fuck. Nobody had

taught me. I knew how to hide, elude, get

through the day, keep my thoughts my

own, close. I don’t know why he liked me,

or stepped in. I had nothing to offer me.

He could have taught me how to fight & fuck,

maybe, I would return & ask: “How do

you do it? Use your body’s power, its want,

its will? Show me.” Maybe he would have.

What did I have for him? It was another day’s

answer & maybe this is what wouldn’t

let me sleep this morning, what drove me

from bedroom to living room couch.

Is this a lesson, something like that?

I don’t think so. Or a lesson thus spoke:

shit happens. All the time. Maybe something

else. You see, he asked me a question,

this friend, John. And I answered because

I had no friends like him & no cheerleader pussy

& no skills to fight, make way in the world.

He was in the hallway, taking a make-up

test in the class where I’d given the teacher

hope. I came out to go to the bathroom

& he asked me to help him. The teacher

called it cheating later, when he caught me.

I suppose so. The teacher’s heart broke

& he crushed my grade down low. Probably

my friend outright failed. I went to college

& he probably didn’t. We were different kinds

of failures. I could contrive a sentence &

write it out. He could beat up a fellow &

then lay his cheerleader girlfriend

out smooth, give it to her twice hard, make

her moan, writhe, cheer, forget awhile.

And what was all this for? Maybe all these

years later I simply look back & wonder

how little connection any of us made then,

& how this not-much truth is so often true.

That hour, helping, cheating, hoping, breaking,

it passed, passed long, long ago. Nobody

left from it. Just an old sheaf of typed pages

I found yesterday, what was called onion

skin back then. A grade scrawled over it,

the dead bones of a gone pride. A breakable

certainty in me about the world years back

replaced by a working doubt. The universal

flow collects it all, whatever its seeming worth



Now let me answer the question in more detail. There have been times when my life was not very good. At least some of the time by my own doing and I would turn to the writing of poetry to focus myself on what it is that was going on. I would not be so much interested necessarily in the external details but more the inner strife – in other words -not the smoke, but the fire. What was driving me to harm myself, what was driving me to harm others, what was driving me to not do well, or what was being done to me externally that was causing me to suffer.

I don’t always write poetry for that reason, but in terms of therapy I would want to understand and I would want to find precise and potent language to express what was going on with me.

J: I like the way you say that: “potent language.” Okay, do you have something you’d like to add to that?

R: When I was younger, before I was married and I was moving from one failed love romance to the next, poetry was one way I measured how I was doing – well or poorly.

There was a time when I was living in the city on my own and I wasn’t doing very well in a lot of ways and I wrote more poems during that time than I can hardly believe now. I kept returning to the poetic form over and over again trying to distill from what wasn’t a very pretty life, something meaningful. I was trying to squeeze the value out of the suffering and the darkness. I wanted the poems to be valuable not simply as expressions of the moment. I wanted them to have resonance beyond the moment.  I wanted them to live beyond the times in which they were composed. That was my entire goal – I wanted something good to come from that period – and the area of control that I most held, at least in my own mind, was writing. Nobody could tell me how to do that. It gave me focus, it gave me meaning, and it made me feel like at least in one corner of my life I was not a complete failure.

Therapy is about helping you to realize that you’re not a powerless person – and if you can start to regain that sense of yourself, of control and power, then you can expand it to more places of your life where you feel powerless. So poetry was a place that I started. Other people start elsewhere.

Poetry in Education

J: In general, are you in favor of teaching poetry in schools?  If so, are there any poets you’d personally select for young teenagers?

R: Yes I’m in favor of teaching poetry in schools. The challenge is who’s teaching it and what they’re teaching. There are teachers who end up teaching poetry who don’t have a poetic bone in their bodies – and they may simply be teaching the wrong subject. They may have some other subject they’d be much better at.  If you don’t have a poetic bone in your body and you’re teaching poetry, then it’s probably not going to come across very well to your students – they’re going to resist it because they’re resisting you.

What I would do in terms of the poets would be to try to show a range – I think that’s what some teachers do. They will teach a little Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and then they’ll throw in some Bob Dylan – and maybe, since he’s kind of old school now, they may throw in a rapper guy who’s particularly good with words. They’ll say, okay, there’s the formal Elizabethan way of writing poetry, but then if you range on down, you’ve got this guy you’ve heard on the radio and you could call his lyrics poetry.

That’s probably about the best you can do to show that there’s  a range of poets. I’d want to make sure that some of the poems are funny. Because you’d want to emphasize that poems can be serious dark and cosmic and they can be silly And there’s validity to all of that. And I would encourage all students as an assignment to try writing a poem.

Beyond that –it’s just a matter of who takes to the idea and who doesn’t. But me, I wouldn’t want to do that. I wouldn’t want to be the person doing all that.

J: So my next question about the idea of running a poetry workshop in schools, would that interest you? Let’s say we’re talking about a two-week workshop. Would you consider it?

R: I’d only consider it if the students in the classroom had signed up for it voluntarily. If you’ve got a bunch of kids who got there because it was an assignment, or just required to do it, no.  There are teachers who would take that on and happily. I’m just saying that I’m not one of them.  I don’t have the frame of mind to try to convince people that poetry is valuable.

But if it were a group of students who had signed up, they were interested, had some kind of positive or curious idea about the whole thing to begin with, then sure that would be fun. It might be fun. You know how I’d start it? If I had 10 students  who’d signed up, I’d communicate with all of them beforehand, that on the first day of the class, I’d want them to show up with a poem that they admire that they’ve read which shows why they’re sitting in that classroom, because that poem is an example of why poetry interests them. That would be kind of neat.

J: Yes, very interesting.

R: Yeah. That’s all I have on that one. 

Popularity of Poetry

J: Okay, about the popularity of poetry. Do you think that poetry has become more popular over the years?

R: I don’t know. Do you mean commercially?

J: I mean if people are more widely read – more fluent, more exposed to poetry.

R: I would say it’s hard to measure that except by things like: is it taught in schools, bookstore sales, can you glean if there are more poets giving readings out in the world and are the audiences getting bigger or smaller. It probably waxes and wanes like a fad. There are probably periods of time when poetry is more popular because of a movie or because some well-liked famous guy comes out and it turns out that he not only puts out great records but that he is also a really good poet – or maybe some kind of internet thing happens – where everybody’s getting inspired to write poetry.

I think it’s always present and at any time there’s a little more present and a little less but in terms of a waxing popularity over the course of time, all we have to do is think how about a century and a half ago, there was no such thing as recorded music – there were no records, there was no television, no films. All people had were books and libraries, so poetry was probably more widely read then, by a smaller populace that was actually literate.

So it’s all numbers. I’m not giving you a good answer because it’s all numbers. If 90% of the population’s literate, it doesn’t mean they’re all reading poetry. If 40% of the population is literate but they don’t have all those other kinds of options, then they’re probably reading more poetry but in terms of the exact number of people, who knows.

I’m just saying the optimistic answer is ‘Yes’ because everything has become much more popular because it’s more widely available. But in terms of if it’s more socially important then I don’t know.

You know there was a movie some years ago called ‘The Postmanand it prominently featured poems by Pablo Neruda. It was a very popular movie, so popular that Pablo Neruda, who’s always been kind of a well-known poet, had a brief period of time when his books were selling crazily because people went to the movie, heard his poetry and rushed to the bookstore to get a book of his poems for themselves. So I think that’s an example of a momentary spike in popularity.

But one thing disturbing me about American schools is that Bush instituted this thing called “No child left behind”. The idea was that more children would get through to High School and hopefully to college. So they set up standardized tests to get people from grade to grade, but the problem was they didn’t fund it. So you ended up with schools that had to show that they were getting more students graduating by these standardized tests but they weren’t being given adequate funding to really give the students an education that would result in passing the tests. So instead of that all happening, students were simply driven to take the tests, practice them over and over again. Pass the test, the school gets the funding.

What you ended up with was a lot of students getting High School diplomas who really didn’t have a good education.

J: Okay, and you’re tying this into the popularity of poetry…

R: Well because the tests, I’m fairly certain, are standardized tests that were much more geared toward science and linguistics and mechanical things that you can test more easily than poetry. So, poetry and art and music and things were de-funded. So then Obama comes in and Obama is very much an education President. He’s probably the most pro-education President this country has had in many years and he’s always talking about that. I mean he’s ‘walking that walk ‘ whatever people think of him otherwise. He’s always pushing for more money and that we have to get more people to graduate with a good education, we’ve got to give more students money to go to college. I mean he’s no bullshit about that and so I have no doubt that with the additional money he’s giving to the schools, the schools are then going to parse out to English teachers and to music teachers and art teachers. So, more people will be exposed to art and literature and music.

It’s not poetry in itself; it’s just funding and attention.

The Future

J: Okay, let’s move on to the last question. This is about the future.

I find you a very inspiring energetic force in the world of poetry and self-expression. You’ve created a radio station, a magazine, ScriptorPress, and the Jellicle Literary Guild.  Do you have any more plans for the future you can share?

R: Well, the first thing that I’ll say is that keeping all that stuff going is very a fulltime effort – so I don’t plan starting any new projects any time soon – I think I finally have a full plate of projects  where nothing’s missing. The only thing I don’t have a hand in is video or television – and I don’t have any interest in that.

But I’ll give you something more solid.

I moved back to Boston after not living here for 8 years – I lived out west, in Portland and Seattle for those years. And when I moved back to this place where I’d lived for many years prior to moving out west,  I vowed that I was going to have a much more meaningful relationship with the Boston area – I was going to invest in it more. I was going to both make people more aware of my projects and also learn of other people’s projects and perhaps foster collaboration.

So the answer is in terms of additional plans, I want to take all the things I’ve learned about connecting with people on the internet and apply some of them to connecting with people in real life. Because I think developing a balance between the two is a really good idea.

At this point, since I haven’t been here very long it’s still the beginning of a work in progress.

But I will say on a note of hope that The Cenacle has published already several Boston area writers, some of whom I’ve met only in the past few months.

J: And they’re marvelous, also.

R: I think you have to start somewhere. And I’ll elaborate on this to one more level. I had this notion that I’d love to be part of something similar to what was going on in the sixties, here and elsewhere – a kind of an underground media existed at that time– it was a pre-internet time, so the underground media was print journals, it wasn’t electronic form. But I’ve always thought it would be neat if I could distribute my publications in other places and then as a return, help people in other places distribute in Boston.

That’s been a long standing wish of mine.

J: Okay. Is there anything else you wanna add?

R: Anyone can do what I’m doing or rather they can find their own equivalent. The door to making art and to disseminating it far and wide is open to everybody – whoever has a desire to do so and the willingness to put in the time and effort.

J: Okay, it’s a great final comment. Offering the gesture opening and asking people to listen to you and then start their own movement.

R: I’d rather that someone after having listened for all that time, ended up by listening to themselves at the end. To think wow, listen to this guy doing all this stuff and I can, too. That’s always the deal. The more people we have doing this kind of stuff, Jude, the less people we have planning wars and making bombs.

J: Even though that sounds like so much fun the way you say it. ..(laughter) So thanks, Ray.

R: Okay, thanks, Jude. This was lots of fun. We breach the geography between us by these collaborations.

J: Even with technical glitches.

R: Even with technical glitches. Speak to you soon.

Ray Soulard, at our first meeting 2004

Ray Soulard, Jr can be read at Scriptor Press

and heard at “Within’s Within: Scenes from the Psychedelic Revolution with DJ Soulard”

For those in the Boston area, stay tuned for future developments.

Click here for Part 1  and Part 2 of Raymond Soulard, Jr Speaks Out!

Raymond Soulard, Jr Speaks Out! part 2

Raymond & pirate friend

Raymond Soulard, Jr Speaks Out! Part 2

About Spoken Word

J: Ray, what are your experiences in Spoken Word? Do you enjoy being on stage? Do you record yourself for online shows?

R: Currently there’s an open mic that I go to in the Boston area – run by two of  The Cenacle contributors, which is why I go.  It’s called Out Loud Open Mic and it’s in Melrose, Massachusetts.  It’s a very friendly event, it’s held at a mansion, so it’s a nice venue. People who attend are, for the most part, friendly and talented and I always sign up to read because I feel in a participatory event you should participate. It encourages everybody else to.

J: Would you like to elaborate about your experience?

R: I don’t know if I really enjoy being on stage per se.

J: Why’s that?

R: I don’t know. What I enjoy is if the context is one of congeniality and learning then I like it better– if it’s one where people are sharing their works and their works are pretty good.  If the person up there on stage has some wisdom to share and you’re there to learn it, that’s fine. If it’s turns into a judgement, a talent contest, or trying to tell people how to do what they do but do it how you like it more, then no, not really. When I’m at a spoken word event, and someone goes up on stage, I’m assuming they have something valuable to offer – something they value that they want to share. Not simply share, period, but something valuable, something that is worked on, something that they care about and something that adds to your understanding of who they are and how they see the world. If that’s the general condition of an event, then I’m all about it. If it’s a contest, then I’m not interested.

I’m not giving you a very good answer to this, Jude.

J: No, you are giving a good answer.  Because you’re sharing your experience which is very valuable. It’s your experience. You’ve seen both sides of the coin: whether it’s a contest or something more legitimate that you’ve enjoyed. That’s why I’m asking. I want to know your personal experience. So this is excellent.

R: Well let me tell you a story that will tell you the far opposite of what I like. There’s an event that’s been running in the Boston area for many years now, it’s called a poetry slam. Have you heard of poetry slams, Jude?

J: I certainly have and I hate them.

R: I went once with a friend of mine and essentially people get up on stage and they get rated like a talent contest. Some of them really get out of hand. If someone gets up and reads something that people don’t like, they start booing and honestly all I can say in defense of that kind of thing is if that’s what you enjoy- then do it, but you won’t find me there. There’s nothing wrong with it, I just don’t enjoy it.

J: Do you record yourself for sharing online?

R: Yes, in two primary ways. One – when I do my radio show every week, I read from my fiction and poetry during it and those shows are archived online and two- I record the Jellicle Literary Guild meetings – those are essentially my two venues for reading my work. And I go to the open mic because my friend runs it – it’s an excuse to see him

J: Is the Open Mic recorded?

R: You know, they don’t record it and they don’t take pictures. They’re not techno-wizzes. So I don’t think it occurs to them that everything has to be recorded and filmed and put on youtube. They just don’t do it.  And you know the funny thing about that, Jude, is on the one hand it means that only the people there are experiencing it, but on the other hand there’s no machinery present. There’s no camera, no recorder. It’s live and when it’s over it’s done. All you have is  your memory of it.

J: Yes, that’s beautiful

R: So there’s a good and bad to that. I think that this event is so good at times that I wish that it was on youtube on a regular basis so that other people could enjoy it, but on the other hand it’s kinda old-fashioned. So there’s good and bad to everything, I suppose.


J: How has the internet affected your own growth as a poet, publisher, radio host?

R: Well the internet means that whoever you are and wherever you are if you have access to a computer and a connection, the whole world is potentially at your feet. The internet allows for anyone in any locale to reach out to people they might never meet in person and connect meaningfully, bust the boundaries of physical geography and makes it so we’re not beholden to major centers of media.

I think it’s a great thing. Personally, I’ve been able to promote my projects much farther and wider than I ever would’ve been able to. And because of that, I’ve developed my skills with desktop publishing and audio tools to a far greater extent than I would have. Because if your projects are going to be seen all over the world, you’re going to want them to be the best you could possibly make them. That’s why the Cenacle is like it is because  I can look at the statistics for people viewing it and I see they’re from all over the world download it and  I want to make sure that these people that I’m never going to meet in person are getting something that’s worth their time.

The Cenacle, No 72, April 2010

Speaking out

J: For many years, you’ve published your open letters to various members of the government, like Obama, for instance.  Have you in fact felt that your letters have been read?

R: Well they’ve been read by the people who read The Cenacle. I don’t think they were ever read by the people they were written toward. I don’t know, but I don’t think so.

Obama gets hundreds of letters every day. And I wouldn’t expect to him to sit there reading them, I wouldn’t want him to. The purpose of those letters is for me to express my opinions coherently to myself and others and to inspire others to do the same. And frankly my letters to Obama have sparked more conversations than I would’ve had otherwise about his policies and about him as President.

What’s happened over the course of the past several years, in brief, is that he went from being kind of a phenomenon who came out of nowhere to being the guy that people love to hate. So the fact that I write to him and give respect to his office and him occupying it is something that’s caused me a lot of criticism, but I kind of like it. Because, you know, it’s not so much that I want people to agree with me as it is that I want people to think their own thoughts and not just mouth what they’re hearing on the TV and the radio and a lot of people do that a lot of the time. So if someone sees me writing a letter to Obama and putting down all these specific points that are important to me, they know that if they want to talk to me about it, they’re going to have to have their own specific points, they can’t just say: Oh, he’s a Kenyan Muslim from Hawaii, or something.  They’re going to have to talk to me on the level I’m talking and that causes them to think their thoughts a little more clearly.

J: So you’re in a good head about writing these letters and I imagine you will not be stopping in the near future.

R: No, I’ve decided that I’m going to write to Obama at least once a year through the rest of his time in office – a kind of yearly assessment from a concerned citizen as it were. It’s fun. I think of him as the powerful friend I’ll never meet – to whom I’m giving a yearly feedback.

Letter to Obama, Oct 2010

J: Which subjects in your life stir you – which social issues do you feel are most urgent to deal with?

R: Well I think of human society as being built upon two valid points – the fact that humans are mortal and that we don’t understand and agree upon our purpose. Somehow over the course of time, this has led to the many inequities that we see around us. We see people with too much, we see people with too little. We see people brainwashed into holding prejudices against others based upon skin colours, sexual identity, social choices, political choices, religious choices, and this being encouraged by those in power. Because what I think it comes down to in many ways is that those in power have an interest in keeping their power, and some of the way you do that is by making sure that those below you never consolidate, agree upon something and turn and look at you with dissatisfaction.

As long as the little guys are fighting each other they’ll never be able to accomplish anything more than barely getting by. The worst is that when a certain number of the little guys get to be big guys there’s no agreed upon set of rules about how to be a big guy, how to run things. Wielding power one person over another is something that I don’t think people do very well.

And all of us are put into the position of doing this all the time, at our jobs, in our relationships. We value one thing over another. We’re constantly having to make decisions that form a hierarchy, whether it be a hierarchy of our own thoughts and values or a hierarchy of people, social institutions.  Humans are basically constantly guessing and hoping for the best.

J: Okay. I see. Are you going to carry on?

R: No, no.

J: No?

R: No, I can’t talk any more about it.

J: What do you mean no?

R: That sums it up. It sums it up.

J: No, it doesn’t

R: Okay, social issues. Too many people are sick, needlessly. Too many people are alone, needlessly. Too many people die, isolated and in despair. Too many young people walk around with no clue as to the nature and potency of their bodies, what to do with them, how to develop their minds for both function in society and to think some original thoughts as well.

Too many people enter into situations where they becomes leaders of companies, leaders of governments and various institutions and their good intentions fly out the door very quickly because they realize that there’s a wide  vested interest not in making things right but in keeping things going..

And I think this is why we don’t treat the earth well because we don’t treat each other well.

The worst of it is..

J: Now we’re getting down to the heart of it

R: The worst of it is that there are no easy answers. There are bookstores and libraries filled with proposals for how to fix the world and if you laid out all these books end to end and try to figure out if they had any common thread – you’d probably find they didn’t.

J: I always think that if you go back far enough, you’ll find that there is a common thread. You have to go to the first book from each of the various sects, not the things written afterwards, but the very first books. I think the thread is fairly simple, but it’s not very popular.

R: No. Well, you know fixing things is always hard. It’s hard and it takes a long time. And it’s often imperfect and you don’t know if you’re going to succeed.

J: Yes.

Do you think poets have the ability to shake up people’s minds?

R: Uh – well yes, I think they do and they have. Although it’s said that poetry is one of a million different kind of things that shake up people’s minds all the time, so the effects are not always going to be very observable.

J: I see

R: If a person devotes some of their time and thinking to reading poetry, then its going to affect them, and poetry certainly occupies a valued place among other societies, in all societies.

J: Can you think of an example?  either anecdotal or a poem that you know has shaken up an audience.

R: Well, let’s see- the easy one to think about is Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl. It’s a good case study because you can talk about how it was written about a man coming to terms with his own sexuality at a time when that was a very dangerous thing to do. And his book was banned as being pornographic and it had to stand trial in court because booksellers were arrested. The court case brought many well known writers and scholars into public to speak their minds regarding freedom of expression and when in the end the book was allowed to be published – it set a precedent for other books.

The important thing about it was that literature was brought into the realm of the courts and so the question the courts were answering was could the type of lit that howl represents be argued validly to be protected by the U.S. constitution – that was the question: did it constitute valid freedom of expression or was simply freedom of expression itself something that made Howl justified to be published and when the ruling came out in howl’s favour – it meant those that would shape freedom of expression to their own particular ends were defeated.

This opened up the doors to a lot of other kinds of works that followed. A lot of other cases were decided. So it was a landmark court case, a landmark social case, a case for what a person can speak and write and publish in this country and be allowed to do. I would even say that Howl, as one instance, led to things very unlike Howl in nature – the fact that people can say a lot of the hateful things they do, angry hateful things they do can be traced back to a decision that this gay poet could write about his gay desires. So what you end up with is the gay folks can speak out on what they care about and the ku Klux Klansmen can speak out about what they care about, and so on and so forth.

In other words it’s not monolithic – it was an acknowledgement that there are all different kinds of people and they all have a right to speak their minds in public either aloud or in the form of writing.

J: Okay. I think that’s an excellent example.

R: It’s a solid one, I think

 Back to Part 1 or Continue to Part 3

April 2010 - 15th Anniversary Issue

Raymond Soulard, Jr Speaks Out!

Raymond Soulard, Jr: Interview and Sampling of Poetry

Part 1. An Interview with Ray

Raymond Soulard, jr

Raymond Soulard is a marvelous poet who writes deeply lyrical harmonious ruminations. He can riff off paintings, love affairs, the intricacies of inner conundrums.

Raymond publishes the Cenacle, a very fine literary magazine; acts as editor and publisher for Scriptor Press, an institution that offers fine literature as well as publishing new writers and has freely distributed books annually at Burningman Arts festival in Black Rock City Nevada.

Raymond also hosts SpiritPlants Radiooffering a platform for djs of all spheres, from all over the world. He hosts Jellicle Literary Guild Meetings –an opportunity for poets to read their work, both live and via youtube, skype and google chat.

I wanted to find out more about this unique generous mind, and so I put together a few questions.

Full Name: Raymond Edmond Soulard, Jr

Birthplace: Hartford, Connecticut, USA

Present Location: Arlington, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Arlington, Mass, USA

Favorite childhood memory: Can I give you two? One was living in a town, a suburb and I was in the family house and I was in the grass out front and I was looking out at clouds, and it was very peaceful, it was the first time I’d looked up at clouds and found them very pacific. The other one was we used to play football in this empty lot, the kids in the neighborhood I lived in, but sometimes we just played in the street, cause it wasn’t a much travelled street. I got to play quarterback a lot and my hero was a quarterback. There was one moment where I dropped back to throw a pass and I threw it really really long and the guy I threw it too, it kind of arced over his shoulder and it fell right into his hands and it felt for a moment like I was on a real pro football field doing that same thing. It had the same quality of perfection that I’d seen on TV. So when I think of childhood memories –things that just stick, things I thought about so many times that probably the original doesn’t resemble what I remember right at this moment, I think of these things.

Judih:  How would you describe yourself as a poet?

Ray: I don’t really think of myself as a poet per se, but I will say to you that about ten fifteen years ago, I got up on a new years day, living by myself in an apt near Boston, and I sat down at my desk and I decided after so many years of not calling myself anything to call myself an artist.

J: Is there one word you’d use to describe yourself?

R: Obsessed

J: How did you get started?

R: Well, it was mostly because when I was a kid in the 70s there wasn’t much entertainment for kids but television and playing outside. None of the families had much money so we pretty much made up our own games and things, our parents didn’t like us inside watching TV all day, so we were compelled to run in gangs in the streets –not city streets, these were reasonably nice suburban streets. My family didn’t really have any money for clubs or activities or paying for me to do anything so I turned to the one thing that I did have on hand and that was the many books my grandmother brought over from the Thrift Store where she was working. That got me interested in reading and then my mom, an English major in college, would give me binders and notebook paper and that’s what I did to entertain myself. I wrote.

So it was mostly being bored and not having other things

J: How old were you –

R: I started my journal when I was about 10. I’d say that was my first writing project: a journal. I read a kid’s book about a kid keeping a journal, so I said, okay I’ll keep one too. That was back in 1974.

J: Do you have a favorite spot for writing?

R: I usually end up at coffee houses or fast food places or bus stations. I know that most people who write like a quiet little sanctuary in their house, a room with peace, no distractions, but when I was growing up I was from a large family living in a fairly small house, and I spent a lot of time babysitting, so that when I was able to get away and be on my own, I greatly valued it. So eventually, I combined my time when I was free of obligations with writing and I found that I having a certain amount of noise around me was actually stimulating.

Each city I lived in I’ve had a clique of places, I’d say half a dozen places where I go over and over again and I also like writing in city buses.

J: Do you prefer to write longhand or by computer?

R: If I’d been born 20 years later, if I were in my 20s now, I’d probably compose everything by computer, but I started writing before computers and that became my habit. I don’t consider anything I do on computer as writing – because in my own mind, writing is done with a pen but that’s just a personal preference I’m not judging anyone else.

It’s not the method – it’s the result and as importantly the experience of it.

I don’t think of someone doing a blog as anything doing anything lesser – they just have their own way.

J: Do you have a method to your writing that you could share?

R: Do you mean in terms of setting? Or in terms of how something’s composed.

J: I was thinking if you have a way of getting into the mood.

R: Alright. Sure. I tend to listen to music on headphones when I’m writing. I usually have a soda nearby. I try my best to have carved out a fair chunk of time – ideally at least a couple of hours. I do my best to have some notion of what I’m going to do. At least some jumping off point.

J: Do you find it easy to sit down and concentrate?

R: Most of the time. Most of the time since I have other obligations, I can figure out in advance when my periods of writing are going to come and so I do my best to arrive at  that stretch of time with a decent frame of mind. It doesn’t always work, but it works most of the time.  I also find that because I write different kinds of things and most of the things I don’t write for publication, I just write for my own almost like, such as a journal just for thoughts – that sometimes helps me to warm up and get into the mood. One thing I’ve learned over time is that if you give yourself a stretch of time with a fairly comfortable location, and if you just start, even if you don’t start with an organized set of thought s it’s kinda like being an athlete – gotta stretch, warm up but eventually your mind and body will get into the task if you just let them.

J: Do you listen to music while you work? If so, who or what kind?

R: Mostly I listen to rock music. Some jazz. Some electronica. Last Saturday I’ve been meaning to mention this group to you – Swedish jazz E.S.T. – I listened to the whole album while I was writing – it was the most lovely experience. The thing about listening to music is that you can find that you’re almost collaborating with the rhythms and melodies that you’re listening to. It softens your mind, like getting a mental massage so that your mind is able to focus on the task and clarify. That was a really wonderful experience.

J: Who has inspired you over the years?

R: In terms of writing?

J: It could be anything; who’s inspired you to be an artist.

R: A lot of my heroes are heroes from my youth. When I was a teenager and very unhappy in high school, I read a lot of John Steinbeck – he was one my earliest literary heroes. The writer who inspired me early on in terms of poetry was Rilke, he established for me the idea of being an artist as either a holy, necessary mission or something you shouldn’t bother with. Another hero is the painter Claude Monet because artists like him they show you that it is possible to use traditional materials, to see uniquely. He painted in oil and paint brushes and regular stretch canvases but there isn’t an artist on the face of the planet who did what he did.

Also a lot of musicians: I think the ones that I’d single out would be: The Beatles, Miles Davis and John Coltrane.

J: an interesting mixture.

R: Well you know it’s either 3 or 3hundred. You understand.

J: At this point, I’d love for you to read one of your favourite poetry pieces. Can you offer it here?

This poem is untitled. It’s a recent poem and it’s an example of the challenge of writing good poetry at any length. I like this poem of mine so I’ve chosen it to read it to you.


If I believed in god, he would look like a tree

& sing forever.

..Click link for audio.. Untitled

About Writing Workshops

J: Have you ever been involved in writing workshops? Either as a participant or as a teacher? Can you say a few words…

R: Yes, I have. I was in a MFA Creative Writing program some years ago in Emerson College in Boston. I was in a fiction workshop and a poetry workshop.

J: And can you share something of your experience?

R: Well I would preface by saying that a writing workshop is dependent on who’s running it, their approach and also the people who are taking it and their expectations. So, the experience I had was that of a classroom setting and at the end of the semester there were grades and the students were in their 20s mostly – and I think their expectations were that they were there to learn how to write. I had a different set of expectations – I thought of myself of being there to experience other writers and how they approach their writing – but it seemed like the classes were more geared to helping people finish off their pieces.

J: So you were disappointed

R: I was disappointed but that’s because my expectations were not aligned with what those workshops were about. I’d like to think that some of those people in those classes probably had good experiences.

J: Okay, but it was a personal question, I wanted to know how you felt.

R: With those particular experiences, it was disappointing because I felt at odds with everyone else. I didn’t want someone else finishing my writing or telling me how to write. I was more interested in a dialogue in which I would wanna know – why they wrote what they wrote – what they were going for and how they did and the end result being gaining and offering insights into their own art.

It seemed rather that people would tell you whether they liked something or not. The thing about college writing workshops in the U.S. are geared for publishing – so when you’re in a writing workshop here, it’s kind of a focus group – whereby you’re getting an audience to read your work and tell you whether or not they’d buy it. If they wouldn’t, they’d tell you why.

If you accept that premise, you’ll probably get something out of the experience and if you don’t then you’ll be at odds.

Like everything else here in the U.S., writing is treated as commerce, as product.

J: Yes, I see. Yes. That’s how my experience was when I was in University working with Margaret Atwood. I brought her my delicious fresh from my heart work and she looked at it strictly from the point of view of whether or not it was publishable and that was devastating to me, at that time.

R: Yes it’s frustrating, unless you accept the premise. If your goal is to publish and you really want to audition your work in front of an audience, then you might really have some good experiences, you might learn valuable things, your skin thickens up at bit, because you learn to take criticism and figure out how to use some of it. It can be valuable if that’s your purpose.

J: Would you run a workshop? Whether it’s internet or face to face, something along the lines of what you yourself would have wanted.

R: It would depend on the setting, If it were in college, then someone else would be determining the rules, what students would get out of it, then I’d have to agree with those rules. someone else’s rules – someone else

J: If it were your rules, your location, would you run a workshop?

R: Maybe. I think that what you can give to someone else in terms of writing is that you can give them a certain amount of guidance, a certain amount of support, but really they have to do the work. They have to live their lives meaningfully, they have to read a lot of books, they have to experience art in all its different forms, many more than just the literary form. They have to soak up the world and try to understand how they fit into it or don’t fit into it. Then they have to sit down day after day, week after week, year after year and write. And if that person did all that and then sat with me and said here’s some stuff I wrote and then ask me to look at their stuff, then I’d be glad to.

The problem I have with workshops is …I’ll tell you a story that encapsulates my experience that I was talking about earlier.

There was a day when I ran into a fellow student at a local coffee house. We had shared a class together and he said to me: “What are you going to do this weekend?” I said I’d probably spend a lot of it writing. He said: “I really have to force myself to sit down and do some writing, also.” I thought to myself: if you have to force yourself to sit down and do it, then why are the hell are you doing it?

The thing about a workshop, if it’s just part of a whole range of things that they’re doing to enjoy and make more meaningful art then it will be a valuable thing. If they’re showing up at the workshop not already living the life or not wanting to learn how to live the life –then it won’t provide those answers.

Some years ago I studied the tarot and the I ching – this is what I learned from them, and it’s something you can learn from other things as well: you get as much as you give. If you decided to devote yourself to the study of the tarot or the I ching over the course of many years, you read many books, you talked to many practitioners, you’ve had many experiences, over the course of time, you would find your life, your way of thinking imbued with the wisdom and the way of approaching the world that those disciplines offer. If you just show up at a tarot reader’s house one day and she does a reading for you and gives you some commentary based upon the cards, and then you walk away – you will have had your single experience and maybe it was valuable but it’s not going to formulate the base of your life thereon.

I believe that some people are predisposed, they have the gift of artistic expression in some form or other and it’s just a matter if they pursue it, and I think others don’t: their gifts lie elsewhere.

J: Right.

Ray, at this point, could you read another piece?

R: Yes, I’d like to read “Circulation Salves Distress”.

It is a poem that is part of my recent efforts to write poetry that uses materials from my dreams, not entirely but in part. That uses dreams, interesting dreams, the ones that I write down in the morning, that stay with me as part of a larger poetic exploration. It’s hard to explain sometimes to people who don’t really pay attention. The ones that do get it pretty simply. But it’s hard to explain to the others that it’s not a dream poem, it’s not that I wrote down my poem and broke it into lines and gave it a musical flourish and there it is. It’s not that easy. Dreams don’t work like that, at least my dreams don’t work like that in terms of how I write poetry. I simply can’t write them down most of the time, I have to work them with other thoughts and lines from other poems. What emerges is a poem even if one of its ingredients is material from a dream.

Circulation Salves Distress

I met him at a party at a dilapidation
near the city of scholars & beggars. We were
both long homeless then. The party was for
travellers like us, at crossroads & tired.
The game going on as I arrived was a favorite,
simply called Chains, a reminder of
what happens when you stop moving.

The dilapidation had no roof to comfort,
or conceal, to lie that every soul tonight
slept warm & caged. There were the heady
local periodicals on plastic tables, dense
erudition made to capture a melodic fancy
& dissect a fang to its meaning. Amongst the periodicals
were squat jars of the dreaming juice.
You could tell its heavier drinkers by
their whispered song, “sometimes I am me,
sometimes I’m not, sometimes I’m arriving,
sometimes passing through.”

He noticed to me the rhythm of the place,
its restive hum, how nothing here abided
agreeably in time. We huddled with others
near the wall & laughed at the film
about the crazy dog from the future,
never quite arrived. It learned, in time,
to croon its wish to land in music or despair.

When the soldiers came to stifle the
open-air sexcries that worried the preachers
& their nests on nearby streets, my buddy & I
left to travel on together awhile.
The morning was quiet, not yet sunrise,
between breaths of wind a silence.
We left the city of scholars & beggars
to its thousand-year decay, to what men
will think when none need crawl a thick tome
for answers, nor any need wish pages made better food.

Click for audio Circulation Salves Distress

The Cenacle

The Cenacle, No 76, Dec 2010

J: You’ve published The Cenacle for 16 years now.  Are there moments in publishing The Cenacle that stand out? Could you mention an unbelievably interesting one, a project that surprised you, an abysmal let-down,…

R: Sure. Publishing The Cenacle. It was as much as a result as a project in itself. It was a culmination of other things. As a kid, I wrote because there wasn’t much So when I was a kid and I was first writing. There were two kinds of writing I did as a kid – and I’ll mention them briefly as a starting off point. I wrote my own novels. I started 2 newspapers that I wrote out longhand with pencil and paper.

So, my point is that from when I was a kid I’ve always been fascinated with publishing and when I got into college, I joined the college newspaper and the college literary magazine and the other literary college magazine and that was a lot of fun, and I met a lot friends who also wrote and we started doing our own ‘zines,’ I would call them at that point..

The thing to remember is that back then, there was no internet. What you had at the time was whoever and whatever was close by, so unless you were very worldly and well-travelled, you were pretty much confined to whatever your local talent had to offer.

The Cenacle came about because I decided that I’d rather self-publish my work and also publish other people’s work than attempt to sell it.

I had tried to submit my writing to magazines and had gotten very poor, indifferent responses, and I knew a lot of people who wrote and I thought I might as well just do it myself.  I had been kind of doing it myself all along anyway. Karl Marx said the important thing in life is to “seize the means of production.” And it was the one line from Karl Marx that I really held dear to my heart. He was basically saying that whoever owns the means to production is going to run the roost.

I’ve found that to be true across the board. Whatever else he said, right or wrong, I valued that piece of thinking greatly.

One of the happiest moments in all the years I’ve done The Cenacle was pretty much the beginning when I purchased for $500 a Canon desktop photocopier – very primitive compared to what you can purchase nowadays but it was the first time that in my own house I could publish something.

I can only liken it to probably how the Soviet dissidents must have felt when they were using the mimeograph machines in secret – the sense of power of writing something and duplicating it as many times as you want is intoxicating. So that was when I started The Cenacle. I finally didn’t have to go to a copier place to make publications.

That was a moment that was very triumphant – at the beginning.

One of the most delightful projects I was involved with over the course of the years publishing The Cenacle was working with Christopher Patrick Gose to publish his journal “World’s Window” about his travels in Peru. He travelled down to Peru to experience drinking ayahuasca and he kept an online journal about it. I’m online friends with him and he pointed out his journal to me one day. I read it and thought with a little cleaning up this could be a publishable work. Over the course of 4 issues of The Cenacle, I took his online journal and the pictures that he associated  with the journal and turned it into a serialized story and followed that up by editing it down a little bit more, cleaning it up and turning it into a publishable book, which my press then published. That was a great experience.

I don’t think I’ve had any abysmal let-downs –I mean there have been people that I wanted to work with  or pieces people promised me which didn’t actually appear, but there isn’t anything that fell apart. I think I’ve learned that until I have a piece in hand, not to get my hopes too high.

J: Okay, having said that I think we should mention what a marvelous magazine it is and consistently so –it’s  an experience just to hold it and read it. Not to mention having instant online access to it.  The quality is always right up there.

R: As a matter of fact we’re working full out on the 16th Anniversary Issue– and it’s chock full of goodness.  It’s got almost all of the regular contributors from the past few years offering up something. So it’s always exciting to be working on a new one

J: So we’ll stay tuned. When do you think it’ll be ready?

R: It’ll be out in about two and a half weeks

J: Wonderful.

R: I’m working on it this morning, later and Kassi (Kassandra Soulard) is working on a really good colour cover. When it first started out it was going to be 8 issues a year, but it proved to be too much to do it well, so eventually it became quarterly and I made my peace with the fact that a quarterly journal can have immediacy if you just work hard enough on making it immediate.

Go to Part 2 in which we discuss Spoken Word, the Internet and Speaking Out.

or jump ahead to Part 3