Subtlety, subtext and surprises: Poet Derrick Brown talks about odd jobs, unusual venues and assorted weirdness
for The Oklahoman / NewsOK.com
Poet Derrick Brown is a writer and storyteller and president of Write Bloody Publishing, a celebrated independent press that has printed more than 100 titles, including his latest collection, “Our Poison Horse.” His resume also includes stints as a paratrooper, Venetian gondolier and contestant on “The Dating Game.” He currently is touring with actress and poet Amber Tamblyn (“Joan of Arcadia”) and will perform at District House Saturday.
Q: Where are you from and where do you live now?
A: I am from Long Beach, California, and I live in Elgin, Texas. I’ve been in Texas for the last four years.
Q: What is the first poem you remember reading? And when did you write your first poem?
A: All my firsts were ugly experiences. My first poems I found were confusing, and for years I thought poetry was only for the elite citizens and was lost on my working-class fuzz.
Q: When was the first time that the idea of poetry as a career manifested itself?
A: When you are an artist, you do whatever you can to hit your bill due dates, have a few beers and squeeze in time to create. I never thought I could do it full-time and am pretty sure the rug could be pulled out at any minute. So, never.
Q: I’ve seen so many things that discuss all the jobs and kind of odd experiences you’ve had (paratrooper, gondolier, weatherman, “Dating Game”). What’s the single weirdest thing that you’ve ever done or that’s ever happened to you?
A: A few things. One, someone asked if they could come back to my hotel room and bring a friend. Hubba hubba? No. The friend was a 6-month-old baby. A fan said they would make love to me post-reading if I would give my heart to the Lord — the lord of all Mormons. The comedian David Cross once told me, to my surprise, to let his dog out for a walk twice a day and leave the light on. I forgot to leave the light on, and the dog tore up the laundry room. I now know the exact size of the actor Ben Foster’s butt cheeks, (learned) during a tequila fight in Los Angeles. Let’s just say, if you can palm a basketball, you’re there. I shot a bottle rocket into the face and arm of Alexis Bledel on accident. She did not cry and said she doesn’t know how to cry.
Q: People are saying “Our Poison Horse” is more vulnerable/autobiographical than your previous books. Do you agree with that assessment?
A: It is the most personal, but I don’t know if that holds more value than surreal or fantastical.
Q: Does the autobiographical content of your work ever give you pause when you’re putting it “out there” for consumption?
A: No. I am still a nobody in this world. If Blake Lively put out a book of poems where she was keeping track of the foods that made her fart the hardest at night, that could be a job-killer for the many people she employs, so the stakes are high for her and very low for me.
Q: The concept of authors doing readings and book signings isn’t new, but Write Bloody seems more structured, like the authors are bands. Why does that approach work better for you?
A: Well, Amber Tamblyn wanted to be at Barnes and Noble because she is big on fluorescent lighting and loud announcements about calendars on sale when you’re in the middle of a cancer poem. I try and put on shows in venues different than traditional venues because poetry has had so many bullets shot through it, and all the life has fallen out. I love turning the tables and shoving life into those holes. All those holes.
Q: I think writing poetry in general is kind of viewed as a solitary thing, thanks to a long list of famously depressed and isolated poets, but you’ve dedicated a lot of time to making it interactive, not just in your own readings, but curating, making records, organizing tours, etc. Why do you think the performance, the actual hearing of the literature, is so critical?
A: It’s not critical to the life of poetry, but it is critical to moving an audience. No good writer writes poetry for the audience, but a great writer knows how to make a set depending on the temperature of the audience that night. Too many poets do not care about the relationship between reader and listener, so folks are expecting a drone-fest. Or they expect a bunch of fake actors, fake crying or yelling about politics without a sense of nuance. I sing “hoorah” subtlety — hooray subtext, hurrah surprises.