The Colorado Poet, #22, Spring 2013

Interview: Stewart Warren

Here There Is Also Burning (Mercury HeartLink, 2012)

Bob King: Tony Moffeit wrote the afterword for your book. He was interviewed in #19 of The Colorado Poet (http://www.coloradopoetscenter. org/eWords/issue19/TonyMoffeit.html) about what’s called the Outlaw Poets, or outlaw movement. He says “…outlaw poetry begins with the outlaw poet. A separate, sometimes marginal individual, whose independent way of life transfers over into an electricity of language and, the other side of the coin, a ghost language.” How do you think you fit into that group, or do you?

Stewart Warren: First of all, it was a big honor for me to have Tony write the afterword for that book.  He’s the real thing, you know.  We connected immediately at a gathering of poets at John Macker’s roadhouse along the Old Santa Fe Trail south of Las Vegas, New Mexico.  We call one another “Chicken Brother.”  It has something to do with Voodoo, something to do with shaman style performance poetry and something to do with the blues; but mostly, it’s an endearment and the recognition of wounded souls staking themselves out in raw moonlight to plumb the depths of the human heart.  It’s just the way we say hello to one another.

That term, Outlaw Poet, pertains to a lineage of fine bards, most of whom have now climbed the Milky Way to poke at embers in a bigger fire.  I circle that camp and once in awhile they call me in, toss me a scrap.  One of them is up in Lafayette, Colorado, right now writing some of the best lines of his life.  But to answer your question, I think Jack Mueller came closest when he called me a drifter.

BK: Outlaw or not, in “American Poet,” you begin by saying “I don’t want to be a poet anymore, / not an American poet / with those American microphones, / American scorecards…”  What’s your take on being a poet in America these days?

Man, it’s hard to avoid the pull of specialness in this culture. That’s my take on it—distractions everywhere.

SW: Man, it’s hard to avoid the pull of specialness in this culture.  That’s my take on it—distractions everywhere.  In “American Poet” I’m not so much taking a shot at the vehicles of social media as I’m voicing a concern that priorities seem to be shifting.  We used to make art, primarily, because the wheel turned, the keys fell in place, and something we’ll call life lit the fuse somewhere so deep within us that no amount of shame or fear could extinguish it.  Nowadays the maw of consumerism has found a way to make a haul selling “poet” identities.   If you’re going to walk in the world you’ve got to learn how to slip in and out of it, be invisible at times, take joy in the poem scribbled in sidewalk chalk.   So I think maybe it’s a good idea to ask yourself, “Why do I write poetry?”  If your answer is that you can’t not do it, then we’re on a similar road and we’ll surely cross paths further up the line.

B K: Your book, which I’d call “sizeable” at 149 pages of poetry, is divided into six sections. What was the organization and decision process for you in putting this book together?

When I put one of my own collections together I sketch up categories…then I start dealing out poems like cards.

SW: When I put one of my own collections together I sketch up categories like: social commentary, personal angst, nature and place, mysticism—stuff like that—then I start dealing out poems like cards.  I let them fall loosely.  Anything too contrived ultimately fails.  It’s not academics, it’s nature.  There’s justice and perfection in nature, but rarely the way we think it is.  I fuss with the order of poems for a while, then I go to bed and I don’t look back.  I trust the process—I trust the reader.  People will bring their own sensibilities to the work.  If  I’ve done a reasonable job of contacting universal archetypes, being authentic and weaving with one hand on the wheel of fortune, then it’ll work itself out somehow.  The sections and the table of contents is just a larger poem.

BK: You seem to use a thought-unit free verse in your writing. An example from “Where the Gulls Sleep”: “Bougainvilleas twine/ high enough to see the sea, / its bank of unpredictable fog, / its song of restless heaving. ‘ A single crow, urgent and alone, / caws out of habit  / for all the moons / that have come and gone.” Of course, you also use line-breaks to good effect (“A sandy, wide river / drains the Rockies, sways / across the plains….” What would you call your ‘rhythmic style” and how did you develop it?

SW: Well, I listened to a lot of earlier Dylan (and his latest stuff, by the way, rocks the house).  Riffs like: “Yes to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free, silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands with all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves; let me forget about today until tomorrow.”   Wow, just the cadence and the location of those words is rhythmically tribal.  Bob said a poem is a song that can walk by itself.  I try to make those kind of poems.  Sometimes my body sways when I write.  Pattern is everywhere.  It’s true, I’ve gone beyond enjambment.

SETH in Denver taught me many things, but one thing he showed me as a writer and performer is to line the poem the way you deliver it on stage.  There are other things involved, of course, but I’m having a conversation with my readers and I’m playing instruments.   It’s somewhere between Motown and the quantum way stars are born.  We’re dancing; I’m following.  Talk to me!

BK: Landscape, whether in Oklahoma, California, or New Mexico seems to draw responses from you in poetry. One could say “nature,” but it seems more than that, or not only that, as people and gas stations are part of a landscape as well. What is there about a local landscape that calls forth a response?

I love life! And like it or not, everything is part of it. Every oil slick and torn beetle wing is the Divide Presence in 3D.

SW: I love life!  And like it or not, everything is part of it.  Every oil slick and torn beetle wing is the Divine Presence in 3D (or 4 or 6 if you prefer).  I ran away at 13 and worked the carnival in Galveston.  I turned 18 in the state penitentiary of Oklahoma.  I hitchhiked back and forth to the west coast on Route 66 while they were still putting in the Interstate.  I paid my respects at the old Guthrie homestead in Okemah, Oklahoma where I saw the words of poets scrawled in charcoal on the bare walls of Woody’s abandoned home.  Families of six living in singlewides the size of SUVs shared their last pan of cornbread with me.  I tried to drink myself to death.  I get nostalgic about the smell of automotive solvents in a West Texas garage with both doors open on summer day.

Simply, this world has been good to me and when I quit pushing it away with my small mind I’m intrigued with the dynamic uniqueness of each moment.  I didn’t say I liked all of it; I said I loved it.  Okay, so what calls forth a response is that I’ve been given chance after chance and it’s my great privilege to show up with my witnessing and honor whatever’s beating our hearts.  We’ll just go with that for now.

BK: In several of your poems, there’s a sense of an interplay, maybe I should say ‘unity,’ between outer and inner, nature and self, etc. In one: “Flies drift slow in the in between;  squash and melons crown in my field. / I am here, close to myself, a song / all around me, naked silence poised / with everything to say.” Another example, from “Santa Barbara Canyon in Autumn Rain”: “I move on moist air. / I’m a secret tree detached, travelling among friends. / They greet me as a spirit.” So this is not the poet obsessing about his problems or a third person POV local-color painting. What is it to you?

SW: It’s God godding into the next moment.  It’s you.

BK: You’re responsible for Mercury HeartLink Press which, the press’s response says, emerged from a “family systems counseling practice” and the sponsoring of “healing events.” What are your ideas on the uses of poetry for individual and community benefit?

SW: Art (poetics), as you demonstrate so well, Bob, is not an object, and yet it is still more than an event.  Let’s begin with this: life solves problems; that’s what it does.  We are that.  It transcends itself in this moment to be another awesome expression in the next.  There is a tendency toward “healing,” which sometimes looks like death, the great regenerator.  Something wants us to live.  Poetry can be the affirmation of that incessant yearning.  Celebration, individual and communal, is the natural and evolved state of our humanity.  Let’s be fully human.