Much of your poetry seems to have a political message. Why do you write poetry? Do you feel that your message is being received when your poems get published? Why not write a book instead? Start a radio show? You've done so much, I could see that happening, too. Something must compel you to keep writing poetry -- you return to it again and again. What is that something?
Poetry writes me. I record it and edit it. It is not automatic writing. It is receptivity to a foreign part of my brain that keeps trying to get onto the paper without a proper visa. Then I have to go through all the work of investigating it, qualifying it and rearranging its brain cells so that it makes sense.
I never feel my message is getting received. I am like a suicide bomber strapped to a vest of explosive words. My message is so powerful my bombs are not mere dynamite but nuclear rods. And sometimes my only message is a message that is no message. It is a celebration of its own illogical energy. It's a fuse. It's how I blow up in the Center of Town Square and no one notices. The world is deaf around me. I am not heard in my destruction. Not that I'm a crybaby and care... One day I will be heard. And if I'm not, I'm not. It's enough to have been confronted with my own verbal incendiary capacity. I look at the other meek poets around me like moist July 4th sparklers and I'm glad to be able to detonate with such a propulsive flourish. I am sad when I see other mushy, wussy poems published instead of my hard-faceted diamonds. I have a couple of hundred published poems but thousands of rejections. I feel like I am leading water to the horse but the horse doesn't want to drink.
I have written several novels and a memoir of my boxing career. IMG marketed one of the novels about the fall of my business empire on Wall Street and told me they expected a bidding war on it. It never sold. These works are great and hopefully they will find a publisher. Unfortunately, they were immoral because I did them as a sell out in the hopes of gaining fame and money as opposed to poetry, which I do for love. Poetry is hopeless. I'm almost embarrassed to say I'm a poet. I expect people to say "What do you do for your real job?" or "What are you going to do when you grow up?" I stopped writing novels and screenplays about two years ago when I decided I've lived more than half of my life and expect to be dead in about thirty years. Why sell out any longer? Why not just write poetry full time? I sold out for fame as a novelist and an actor and didn't become famous. If I'm not going to be famous anyhow, I might as well do what I love and write poetry.
A radio show would be fun but it's not serious. It could be a sideline but not my raison d'etre. It's too ephemeral. I'm looking for permanence. If I become a famous poet they will read my works in a hundred years. In a hundred years they probably won't remember who George W. Bush was or the war in Iraq. But if my poems are being read some boy or girl in a schoolroom will turn the pages and say, "That's how I feel too."
I have always written poetry. But I have never had the luxury to write it several hours a day before. It's like a spigot that would go on twenty-four hours a day if I didn't turn it off to give myself a rest. I suppose I write poetry because it puts me directly in touch with my inner voice or soul. I don't direct it with my brain. I find it amongst the cobwebs and dark corners where vowels chuck themselves up out of stale beer mugs and occasional rhymes run naked from behind couches. I sit down next to it in a love seat. I am comforted when I am writing poems. I am whole. (I used to be a rapper. I did three rap albums under the name Awesome Lawrence and The Renegade Jew. Rap is rhyme saturated. Poetry is quiet and not meant to be performed but to burn on the page.) Poetry is also like psychoanalysis where I get into myself; like sex where I get further into myself through another person and like boxing where I touch my own mortality and an atavistic desire to have Mother comfort me when I get punched in the face.
You know I'm going to ask you what you think about things like "Poets Against the War" and all of that. Is this kind of thing genuine, or just a way for poets to feel they belong to a larger group?
"Poets Against the War" is a pose rather than an honest opinion. It is the old lefty cognitive set insulting the war in Iraq just because it is there. It is Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Everest because it is there. It is the protestors, adrenalin shooting through their body, finding another position to attack. Any position, it hardly matters, as long as it's anti-American. It is mental masturbation. Liberals getting off on their own awkward positions. It is an insult to independent logic. It's poets being poetssappy, soft, liberal puppies.
It was right to protest Vietnam. It was a ridiculous war. Iraq is a moral war that makes sense. It's immoral to protest it like it would have been immoral to protest going to war against Germany in WWII. The poets can't shake their vicious habit of protest. Even if they're protesting the wrong thing. Even if they're sustaining the horrors of Iraq's current authoritarian regime and encouraging the Moslem extremists who would surely drop an atom bomb on the infidel Americans if they could develop one. Appeasement is ultimately surrender and surrender at the hands of Moslem extremists is death. Supporters of authoritarian Moslem regimes are traitors to this country. You do not give free speech to traitors. Free speech is a cliched luxury of Revolutionary times. It is more complex now. That De Genova wasn't fired from Columbia University for wishing eighteen million Americans dead in some Mogadishu metaphor is ridiculous. The President of Columbia University is more corrupt than Sam Waksal. He is an insider trader, trading the liberal maxims of his cohorts.
The protestors are the reason the mainstream don't read poetry. They're sick of the dogmatic ritual of malcontents. They are sick of poet's putative humanistic stances where they pretend they have the monopoly on feeling sympathetic and kind towards other human beings. But if you take a look at what the phony poets are saying about Iraq you realize that they are trying to keep a fascistic dictator in power. What about all the Iraquii's suffering in jails and dying? The poets take an isolationist viewpoint and say that's none of our business. That's as much bullshit as Pontius Pilot washing his hands and saying he's not responsible for Christ's death. Another shibboleth that has survived through generations of non-thinkers.
Furthermore, the "Poets Against the War" made negotiation less likely. Saddam Hussein and his flunkies felt comforted by their ideology and that of the French, Germans, and Russians. You can say that the Poets and the weasels were responsible for the deaths in Iraq. If the world would have backed us, Saddam might have not been so willing to fight.
I think what we're getting at here is that poet's are a non-athletic group who would naturally avoid a fight. They've been doing it their whole lives. They're like Niles Crane in Frasier. They've backed themselves into a corner where no one's interested in their weak opinions anymore. I once went to a poetry reading where the poet was dressed in a cape. Give me a break. At least T.S. Eliot dressed as a banker. Why does every poet have to announce that he's a poet by his attire and his lugubrious face? On the opposite end, why do all the young rappers have to consistently say "mother fucker" and "ho?" Or boxers work out without their shirts on to show off their muscles? At least, at least, you'd think the poets would have the independence of mind to step out of themselves and sometimes walk like a rapper, work out like a boxer, be something larger than a flower in a vase.
You could be thought of as the Dennis Miller of contemporary poetry: you're smart, witty, and a self-described former flower child-turned-anti-PC crusader. Miller admittedly used to be left-wing and now has done an about-face and laughs at what he sees as the hypocrisy of his PC colleagues. He makes some people angry, but you always know where he stands. Are you the Dennis Miller of the literary landscape?
I do bear several resemblances to Dennis Miller. Not that I ever thought of it before. But we do share the same history of going from flower child to anti-PC crusader. Only Dennis has a larger audience than me because he is speaking to everyone. Imagine if the television stations were owned by poets. They'd never give him a chance to speak. Unfortunately, my voice is in the poetry journals and the journals are mostly leftist and not only against my positions but afraid to publish them even if the poems are good. They are a monolithic field of unimaginative flowers. They are posies in the Wizard of Oz. They put me to sleep. The one problem that I have with Miller, however, is that he is smug and arrogant. I believe in graciousness. I don't like his tone. It's an "I'm better than you" attitude. If he'd learn a little humility he'd be great. However, he might not be as funny.