Inter-Verses #3: RC Weslowski
RC Weslowski, 2012 Canadian Individual Poetry Slam winner, is interviewed by Miguel Burr.
Inter-Verses #3: Why Are All My Heroes Assholes?
(An Interview with the Big Weslowski)
by Miguel Burr
It bears mention that this interview with RC Weslowski was conducted about a week before Christmas, 2012; on that day, snow shut down much of Vancouver in the pitiful way that makes Easterners think we’re all a bunch of West Coast wimps. That evening I trudged and splashed through the sludge down Main St. to meet the venerable poet at Our Town coffee shop. Before turning on the recorder, we shifted venues to Guys and Dolls pool hall. As we began, the only background noise was the rhythmic smack and clack of billiard balls being racked and broken behind our backs. It also bears mention that this interview is heavily cut down for the purposes of clarity and readability. Our conversation stretched on for another couple rounds, an hour or more after the recorder was turned off, but those words, unrecorded, escaped into the ether like most words do…Here are the words that didn’t get away:
Miguel Burr: I’m here with RC Weslowski, Vancouver poet and organizer. You’re involved with VanSlam, Youth Slam, Hullabaloo, Verses Festival of Words, Mashed Poetics, Wax-Poetic on CO-OP Radio, the Under the Bed reading series, you do fringe festival shows, you tour as a feature, you work a full-time day-job at a radio station and I suspect there are probably other projects I just don’t know about. How do you do all this?
RC Weslowski: Well, I’m not involved with Verses other than competing in the Canadian Indies last year. And actually I only organized the Youth Slam as part of VanSlam. That’s still a long list of stuff… As soon as you say it, I say ‘Wow! That is a lot of stuff.’ I don’t think of it like that.
MB: Do you feel busy?
RC: Yeah. Sometimes I feel like it’s just too busy. I want to step away and not do anything for a while… I did a show last week in Victoria and that was the first feature I had in about a month and a half. I needed to focus… I felt it. I wanted to be interior, I just want to write. So I just stepped away from everything…mostly. But how I find time? I don’t know, I just do it. I find stuff that I want to do.
MB: Why are you driven to do all this stuff?
RC: (laughs) Um…yeah, I don’t know…The performing, part of it is wanting to be seen. You want to be heard, you want to make a connection. I have a deep, deep thing inside me that is just literally wanting to make a connection with people, especially performing in front of an audience. For organizing, I want to put on shows that I don’t see happening. If I wasn’t involved with it, I would want to go and see that show. So instead I go and do that show.
MB: Are you addicted to the feeling of being in front of a lot of people? Is there something…
RC: Yeah, I think there’s something inside me that wants to connect… the balance is something like 90% connection and maybe like 10% ‘Well, okaaay, I like to get my ego stroked a little bit here and there.’ But really, it’s mostly that I’m searching for a way to connect with people, and to have people connect together …even if they don’t know that they’re doing that. I believe the audience is an equal participant in the creation of whatever’s happening at a show. If I’m featuring, or if I’m organizing, I want them to GET that. I want them to know that they’re not just there by themselves—it can be hard if you’re an audience member, cuz you think, ‘Okay, I’m just going to sit and watch.’ You’re separated from everybody else and you’re separated from the performer and…
MB: Trying to…
RC: Remind us, or make it actually manifest, that…Whoa! There is something cool going on here because we’re feeling a little different!
MB: I hear a lot of talk about that. You’ve heard talk about the collective subconscious…or we’re all fragments of the godhead…you can draw it out to very abstract or philosophical levels…it seems like you’re just saying that on a much more localized kind of…
RC: Yeah. I’ve read a lot of that stuff…the Jung stuff and what not…and the whole…that cliché ‘We’re all connected.’ But I really find it physically…It’s a physical thing that I’m trying to have…for myself to experience too, it’s not just…I’m doing it for my benefit as well. I want us all to feel this way…
MB: If it feels physical… is it like sex?
RC: No. (shakes head slowly)
MB: No? (laughs) Okay.
RC: (laughs) No.
MB: Okay, absolutely not! Have you always done this?
MB: Been this busy?
RC: It’s grown. Before I was doing any quote-unquote-Spoken Word, I was organizing shows. I went to theatre school and I studied some clown for a few years. When I realized that I wasn’t going to get auditions, I decided to put on cabarets. I would book a venue and some performers and we’d do a show. Fifteen people would show up, but we’d do OUR show and it was fun.
MB: Was this pre-poetry?
RC: Yeah, this would have been ’95…well, I guess ’97, ’98…
MB: What were you doing if it wasn’t poetry?
RC: Taboos, Beer and Mayhem was the name of the cabaret. It was basically a clown cabaret or sketch comedy. It was really sort of surreal and Dada-esque…I did this one piece as the ‘Box-Robot’. I was in a box with a tape recorder that I was playing. I had pre-taped this whole thing and I kept playing it repeating the same thing over and over again until I drove the audience mad. They started throwing stuff at me. It culminated with somebody being so upset that they dumped a whole bowl of peanuts all over me and I figured, ‘Okay. That’s the end of my performance.’ It was that sort of stuff. Exploring connections, I guess. I was looking not to be antagonistic, but be provocative, and to see where borders and audience patience ended. Also, I was exploring my patience with it, and how long I could handle it…
MB: It sound Andy-Kaufmann-esque?
MB: Like you were still searching for that connection…but in a more primal way…
MB: So you went to clown school…was it hard to get in?
RC: It wasn’t really like a clown college or school. I was studying acting at the William Davis Centre, and the movement instructor, David McMurray Smith, was also a clown instructor. He came out of a modern dance background and then studied clown with a fellow by the name of Richard Pochinko, who is now passed away. Basically, it was a modernization of clown, mixing native traditions of the trickster and the European style of clown with the nose… not a new-age-y way, but with modern thinking about how to approach an audience. That’s where I get my philosophy that the audience is an equal participant in the show. The first day of the class we made a ritual of wearing but then taking off the red nose, because he felt that was a mask we didn’t need. It was more like creating characters that interacted with the audience. The basic premise behind it was that I know that you know, as the audience, that I know. So we’re playing together. For instance, I’m going to pretend to chop up this watermelon and this watermelon is my son…but this is just us playing…but we’re going to go where that primal thing takes us…and if it gets too much we’ll stop. I know that you know that I know that we’re just playing, right? Okay good, now we can really ENJOY this! Let’s chop up our children!
MB: (laughs) Wow.
RC: Or whatever…we don’t really want to chop up your children. But if you’re a parent… you’re a new parent…maybe there’s moments where you feel…you get that thing in the head…(pantomimes being angry with a baby) ‘Oh God… just shut up! Shut up!’
MB: Yeah, I see what you mean. Did you guys ever study Gallagher?
RC: The guy who smashes watermelons?
MB: You mentioned watermelons.
RC: No… that’s just ‘cause one thing I did included a watermelon. The clowning became part of the acting I was doing. I asked if I could study it, and the school said ‘Yeah.’ When I finished the two years of acting school, I continued doing follow-up stuff with David. He was just starting his practice in Vancouver at that time (it would have been ’95, ’96). So there weren’t a lot of other people taking his classes. A core group of us kept coming back to do follow up over the years, and we almost got one-on-one kind of training. Now he’s doing really well.
MB: He’s still around?
RC: His thing is Fantastic Space Enterprises…Last year when I did the fringe festival in Vancouver, there were probably half a dozen shows by people who had trained with him. So now there’s a good clown culture in Vancouver.
MB: He sounds like a bit of a guru…
RC: Yeah, in the sense that he was like the first one, but he probably wouldn’t think of himself that way. A really great guy. I totally recommend to anybody, Fantastic Space Enterprises.
MB: Who are your heroes, if any?
RC: In what realm?
MB: Well, we already talked about your clown guru…I was going to say literary heroes or any heroes, really…if any…
RC: I don’t know if I necessarily thought that at the time, but if I look back now, I realize that maybe people I read or listened to when I was growing up were influencing me. Mostly science fiction…Harlan Ellison…I was a huge science fiction fan growing up.
MB: Dangerous Visions.
RC: He was the editor. I’ve got almost all of his books. And he did essays on television …I think it was the LA Weekly he was writing for in the early ‘70s. I loved it. It was great, insightful, free-ranging stuff. But thinking about him, and then Orson Welles and a couple of other people, I realized that these are the guys I really like creatively and I thought, ‘Fuck, so many people think they’re assholes. Why are all my heroes assholes?’
RC: Some of them, it’s probably ‘cause they are, and maybe ‘cause other people are jealous of them, because they were pushing the envelope. They were going outside of regular channels or pushing people. I don’t have an answer to why a lot of them are considered assholes, but those are the guys that I like. I love Orson Welles and Harlan Ellison, and that sort of stuff, and music… heavy metal. You’re a heavy metal fan.
RC: Or a hard rock fan. That was the stuff that I listened to. Especially the late ‘70s and the ‘80s…rock’n’roll helped keep me alive when I was a kid.
MB: Did you ever witness any rock’n’roll history?
RC: I don’t know what you mean…
MB: Okay…You probably went to a lot of shows… did you see Black Sabbath play?
RC: And I just missed seeing Randy Rhoads with Ozzy Osbourne. He died like six months before. He did the Bark At the Moon tour…Blizzard of Oz was the third album…so the second album he was touring with, Diary of a Madman, is what I saw. I think Randy Rhoads played on that but he was dead by time they were touring it, so I didn’t get to see him.
MB: Once as a kid, I was with my dad at the Alamo, and we saw Tiny Tim.
RC: (laughs) Was he playing or just wandering around?
MB: He was looking at postcards. (laughter)
RC: This all jogs my memory… I work at a rock radio station, so I’ve met some of the guys from Arcade Fire and Gaslight Anthem when we’re having them record a song or coming in to do an interview. I have to record it so I get to meet them a little bit.
MB: You’re the engineer then?
RC: Yeah, or the interviewer. I met Alice Cooper a few weeks ago.
MB: Did you really meet him?
RC: He wasn’t covered in blood. On Facebook I said that…
MB: (laughs) I saw that. What was the deal?
RC: One of the stations I work for is Classic Rock 101 and they have a show called The Electric Lunch, which is even more specialized classic rock. Alice Cooper came in that afternoon to co-host the show and promote his concert. I went down to the control room to say hi, but there were already a bunch of people in there, and I didn’t want to be the guy who’s like (affects nasally voice) ‘Hey there, Mr. Cooper how are you?’
MB: Yeah, you don’t want to be that guy.
RC: So I just said ‘whatever’. If-it-happens-it-happens kind of thing, but I’m not going to go track down somebody, or get their autograph.
MB: You’re not Plaster Caster.
RC: Yeah, and I don’t want an autograph. But I was kind of listening and timing it, so when I knew it was ending I printed something off on the computer and ran over to the printer…which is a hallway away from where I am…
MB: You just happened to be there…
RC: They were waiting at the elevator, so I just popped in and said, “Hey! Mr. Cooper nice to meet ya, Randy Jacobs/R.C. Weslowski!” Shook his hand and that was it.
MB: You told him both names?
RC: I think I just said Randy Jacobs, but I’m saying R.C. Weslowski now.
MB: Got it.
RC: He had a big head for his body.
MB: I’ll bet.
RC: No, physically it was a large head.
MB: Do you think he had some hydrocephalia going on there?
RC: No, it’s just that the rest of him is really skinny. He had big hair too… so that might have just made it seem larger.
MB: Did you go see his show that night?
RC: No. I saw him the last time he was in town. He was co-headlining with Rob Zombie and they were flipping back and forth on each night who would open…I was lucky that it was Alice Cooper.
MB: (laughs) You didn’t get stuck watching Rob Zombie…
RC: I used to like Rob Zombie quite a bit. But I’d never seen Alice Cooper before and I thought, ‘Wow, that was great!’ I stayed for like 20 minutes of Rob Zombie and it was basically watching Alice Cooper but a modernized sort of shtick.
MB: It’s like Alice with dreads.
RC: But I thought, ‘Weeell, ah, I’m not diggin’ it,’ so I left. I don’t usually leave. It wasn’t baaad, but it wasn’t connecting with me.
MB: Right. Hmmm…
RC: We could just talk about music all night…
MB: I could! We could go on and on…I love it too. And we will, but first if you were a comic book character, what would your origin be?
RC: I don’t know what my origin would be, but when I was a kid the comic book character that I most identified with was Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth.
MB: The Jack Kirby…
RC: That was a Jack Kirby, he came over to DC and created the Fourth World mythology with the New Gods, Mr. Miracle and Orion and Omac. I don’t think they had a plan to tie it in, but eventually he became Omac’s great godson or something like that…
MB: The last boy on Earth.
RC: He was the last human…the last boy on Earth… I guess that just resonated with me ‘cause that’s how I felt as a kid…alone and the last whatever…so that was my favorite.
MB: Love Jack Kirby. I worked in comics too. I interned at Marvel.
RC: Doing what?
RC: What would that mean?
MB: I would get the ashcans and go through ‘em and say, ‘This hand looks like a flipper.’
RC: Did you ever meet Stan Lee?
MB: Funny story… one time Stan came in, ‘cause he lives on the West Coast…
MB: I’d equate it with when the Emperor visited the Death Star… everyone was like, ‘Stan’s coming… Stan’s coming!’ Old man flies in. Everyone’s hush hush… interns weren’t there. They bring him into the board room, they have a big meeting, and later on I asked them, ‘What did Stan talk about?’ Apparently he pulled out an issue of The Silver Surfer, which is one of the books I worked on, and he was like, ‘Why does he look fuckin’ blue? He’s the SILVER fuckin’ surfer!’
RC: (laughs) Do you like Howard Chaykin at all?
MB: Yeah, I like Howard Chaykin…I’m familiar with him. I love that era… Marvel had an imprint called Epic…that was my favorite. My favorite comic was Alien Legion. I loved it.
RC: I liked Soloman Grundy, all those really old-school characters. And then the ‘90s, when I mentioned Howard Chaykin, it was ‘cause of American Flagg on First Comics…and then Cerebus the Aardvark, which was written by a Canadian and drawn by Dave Sim…
MB: He took that out to such a conclusion too…
RC: 300 issues! That was what it was going to be from the start. I used to have the first hundred, but in the late ‘90s, I sold a bunch of comics for rent…
MB: It’s painful to look back on…
RC: Not really, I’ve got a whole bunch…there’s a bag of comics here on the table. I keep buying them…and when I have time I’ll read half of ‘em…I’ve got them on my floor as more of a sentimental thing…
MB: The excitement…do you have a box at the comic book store?
RC: No, I don’t. I used to. I used to live in Abbotsford. When I got my driver’s license, once or twice a month, I’d come into Vancouver, to the old Comic Shop at 4th Avenue and Arbutus. I had a subscription box there. I would tick off everything…and every time I’d go in I’d have a stack of sixty comics…at that time it would be sixty dollars, ‘cause they were a buck a piece.
MB: I had to scramble to keep up with my subscriptions.
RC: Keeping up reading them too…it’s just too much. And now that I’m organizing all these things, I don’t have time to read most of this stuff. Sunday I was sick so I stayed home, and I was like, ‘What am I gonna do? Comic book day!’ I read a bunch of stuff for three hours and it was great. But that is rare.
MB: I’m going to shift gears a little bit. I’m always impressed by your ability to memorize your poems. Is there a trick or a system?
RC: I don’t think there’s a trick. I’ve noticed that it has become easier to memorize. I read somewhere that it’s like a muscle in your mind, your brain. Some people are able to memorize their stuff right away… write it down, boom, it’s in their head. I think Shane Koyczan is one of those guys.
MB: He must be.
RC: Way back when we were doing stuff together, I asked him about that. He said, ‘I don’t know, I’m just able to memorize it right after I write it.’ But it wasn’t like that for me. I’ll often run stuff in my head before I put it down to paper, then I’ll write it by hand in a notebook, and then I’ll type it. Then I’ll say it out loud and I’ll edit it, and I’ll say it out loud, and by the time I’m ready to memorize it, I’ve already got two thirds of it down. Then it’s just getting the words in my head… And then it’s like doing it in front of an audience once or twice and seeing what works and what doesn’t work…‘Okay, I’m going to take that out, take that out, take that out…’
MB: It’s part of the editing process…
RC: Yup. I can’t remember a line over and over, it’s not supposed to be in the poem.
MB: It’s a sign…
RC: Yeah, I’ll just dump it. And then there are some pieces that are just innately in me. I don’t have to think about it. There’s a bunch of poems I can just go and say. I don’t feel like I’m remembering them. It’s like you and I talking, like telling a story…and others I’m feeling and I can sort of see the words on the page and that reminds me and that’s what I’ll say…for me the goal is to get them all to that point…I can just draw them up and then they’re there.
MB: Second nature.
RC: I do all sorts of…I walk around…walk and talk and do it that way. Say it out loud and get it in my body. I feel like I’m getting it in me, so if I’m performing it live and there’s a distraction, I can go back to it and it’s still in me, it’s not entirely reliant on the rhythm of it…
MB: You don’t get set off track and then it derails you…
RC: Yeah, and then you can go back a little bit.
MB: A lot of your pieces have zany noise-making components…what are your rehearsals like, and have you ever freaked out your neighbors?
RC: Maybe. I bumped into a neighbor about a month ago. She’s an actor, and she said, ‘If we ever get too loud doing our lines, let us know.’ Then she said, ‘You’re a performer too, right? Cause we can occasionally hear you doing stuff.’ I don’t think I’ve freaked them out, but they can HEAR me. But usually I go for a walk and do it in a park, and then if somebody’s walking by with their dog, they might get freaked out …
MB: You’re in the Downtown Eastside…
RC: Well, Strathcona…
MB: They see that all the time! There’s Dancing Guy…you know Dancing Guy? He walks around like every step has to be a dance…there’s a couple of different characters around there. I’ve heard people say that you are pioneering a whole new style of Dada-Surrealist poetry…
RC: Why would they say that?
MB: (laughs) Okay, what should it be called?
RC: I have no idea…I don’t…
MB: What’re they crazy? They shouldn’t say that?
RC: Yeah, they shouldn’t say that.
MB: Chris Gilpin said it!
MB: I’m going to nark him out.
RC: Sometimes it’s subconscious and sometimes it’s conscious… like the clown thing we were talking about when I did the box robot…that would be a conscious attempt…even though at that time I probably didn’t know about Dadaism or Surrealism in a formal sense. For me, this is just the way I need to communicate my subconscious…or my subconscious need to communicate that in that fashion. It’s sometimes frustrating, because although I do feel like I have a connection, this odd articulation of sounds and word juxtapositions can get in the way of that attempt. It sends people to a place of ‘What the fuck’s going on?’ and ‘I have no idea!’ That’s frustrating. I’m not attempting to do anything other than express things in the most honest way I can, and a lot of times that’s in a very surreal, absurd fashion. Maybe I like that ‘cause it creates a tension in me…‘cause like I said, I want to make this connection with you, the audience, but this is the only way…this is the most common way I have of expressing myself; it feels the most honest and authentic way. Doing it in ways that people call ‘weird’ or ‘absurd’. When I talk with you now it’s not like that, we’re just talking. I don’t know if it’s the writing form of it, going interior, that side of the brain working and writing…
RC: Yeah. Absolutely.
MB: On his first solo album…he’s got a line in that first song… (sings) ‘I’m just another one-percenter, my mind is like an ocean…’(ed. the song and lyric are actually: Ten Percenter) Remember that song?
RC: No, I don’t.
MB: He’s talking about the subconscious like it’s an ocean inside your head. How do you see your subconscious?
RC: That would be a good analogy. I haven’t metaphor-ized it in that way. I don’t have a description for it, but it’s powerful and I think it’s there. I don’t think it’s a made up thing… I don’t think it’s an attempt…psychology’s created this thing called the Jung[ian] subconscious…
MB: The collective subconscious…
RC: I don’t think those are made-up things, even if there is no factual evidence for them.
MB: I don’t think you would find yourself alone in thinking that, it’s pretty well accepted. Do you have a vision?
RC: Yeah, but I can’t articulate it, ‘cause it’s in that subconscious zone. I think I have more of a vision when I’m performing of what I want the performance to be. It’s that connection thing. It’s really important to me to feel like I’m being really honest, even when I’m lying…making stuff up, I still feel like I want the audience to feel like I’m being honest with you.
RC: It’s the clown thing too…if I feel like I’m making something up…a story within a poem or whatever…I know that you know that I know that I’m making this up, but I’m telling the truth. We’re going to play this game of ‘Okay, we’re making this up together. We’re going to go on this pretend thing, but it’s a real thing, but we know it’s not.
MB: If you were going to give me an example of something that does NOT do that…
RC: Of me?
MB: No, not you. In mainstream culture. What would be a counter-point? What fails to do what you’re trying to do?
RC: I think a lot of…well I’d go with music, television. The whole idea that we’re there to watch somebody, and they’re just going to do something and we’re just going to watch and we’re just there to receive it and the only way we get back is by cheering and applauding and stuff like that.
MB: It’s kind of dead.
RC: Yeah, I don’t think it’s alive. I mean, Bruce Springsteen, musically does THAT [connection]. It’s back and forth, the audience is there. It’s the show. It’s together. It is ‘We’re watching him.’ But it is together.
MB: Did you see him a couple of weeks ago?
RC: I didn’t. I’ve seen him a few times, but I didn’t see that show. Television is like that; it’s dead. Especially laugh-tracks. There’s no spontaneity. It’s put out there. Film is like that too, but it can bridge the gap a little bit more, for whatever reason.
MB: I’ve got a physical problem watching CGI. I actually fall asleep…like Transformers or some of these big CGI blockbusters…I want to like it, I’ll go, but the bigger and crazier and faster the action sequences move, I can’t stay awake anymore. I stopped going to a lot of movies because I’m paying for a nap.
RC: I get bored by a lot of it too, ‘cause they use it to be a spectacle rather to invite you in. ‘Watch us,’ rather than ‘Come with us.’
MB: Is it possible for poets to have a tangible effect on the world around them?
RC: It’s funny…I was thinking about that just before we started…it popped in my head, for whatever reason. I think less in the sense of ‘bringing’ down a government’ and all that, and more on one-on-one. Somebody hearing your work, reading your work, and being moved by it and comforted by it. Or inspired…then yeah, absolutely it can and does. It does. I’ve had enough people tell me that things I’ve written have really helped them and comforted them, and they used it as an anchor of some sort. So I think so, definitely.
MB: On the counter-point, I heard a good quote…there’s a guy named David Berman, with a band called the Silver Jews, great band from the States, but he put out a volume of poetry that’s excellent also. In an interview I read, they asked him about how it was doing and was there much response, and he said, ‘Publishing a volume of poetry and expecting to hear a response is like throwing a feather into the Grand Canyon and expecting to hear it land.’
RC: It depends. I live in the world of performance poetry and quote-unquote spoken-word, so I’m generally getting immediate reactions to things. Maybe it’s fifty people in a café one night, it’s a hundred and fifty the next night, or three people at a show the next night, but then they’re there and you can see them or they talk to you afterward. I don’t know him and I can’t speak for him, but I think he’s probably talking about the publishing world. People probably aren’t buying volumes of poetry at Chapters that often, and when does somebody write an author and say ‘Hey!’ I find that a lot of people who are publishing are not necessarily interested in their audience interaction. I was speaking today with Fred Wah, who is the Canadian poet laureate and he was saying that he felt uncomfortable with being accessible. He felt like a lot of his writing was designed for academics expecting something experimental. And now that he’s poet laureate, he felt like he had to change that a little bit to be more accessible. But he welcomed the challenge; he wasn’t opposed to being accessible. His dynamic prior to that was to just try and play with language and write something that wasn’t straight forward per say, and I’m kind of paraphrasing what he was saying a bit now…so I think that was what that fellow was talking about. Fred was telling me that, ‘I put out a book and it’s read by a certain segment of the population and it just goes there.
MB: That’s where it belongs…
RC: Well, I don’t know if that’s where it belongs, but that’s where it is.
MB: That doesn’t seem like what you’re after.
RC: That’s not what I’m after at all. Even when I’m being sometimes obscure, that’s where the tension is… I still wanna hook up…connect with you.
MB: Do you publish any of your work?
RC: I did a few chapbooks and stuff like that, just got bored with it.
MB: It seems like your work’s not really suited for print.
RC: I don’t know, but I’m doing spoken word so I’d probably do a CD…you listen to it and you experience it aurally. But I’ve had seven or eight poems published in magazines. That isn’t something I’ve pursued. For me it’s the immediacy of the live thing, if you’re here tonight you’ll experience it, if you’re not, you don’t and the next night something else and the next night, something else. I have recorded some stuff.
MB: It sounds more like performance than writing.
RC: It’s live. But I wonder how people would read it. I don’t know, ‘cause there’s a lot of word-play in my stuff. With its tons of strange, odd metaphors, the opportunity to sit down with it and figure out what the hell was going on and digest it that way might be an interesting experience.
MB: Time to get busy…
RC: I need to think about it, ‘cause it would provide opportunities to go other places, writers’ festivals…I’ve done the Vancouver Writers’ Festival, but they do generally require a book.
MB: What effect would you like to have on the world?
RC: It’s less the world than people coming to a show and knowing that they’re not alone, at least for the moment that you’ve come to the show. We’re going to part ways after this, you’re gonna go your way and I’m gonna go mine, but you can at least look back on that moment.
MB: Are you a political poet?
RC: Not overtly. I think I want to say ‘Yes.’ But then people will go, ‘Awww…I doubt that.’ I think just in the sense again, this attempt at connection and not feeling alone. I think the more isolated, and I’m speaking from my own experience, the more isolated you are, the more opportunity there is to mistrust and to hate and to be angry at everything else out there in the world. Because all you do is spend time in your mind, and that can be a dangerous place…
MB: Your poetry is almost like an outreach…
RC: Yes, I guess, but not overtly…I wouldn’t… I’m resistant to labels.
MB: Maybe I’m mis-characterizing it…
RC: Well, when it comes to politics, just connecting is a political statement. So much of our culture is asking us to not do that. Stay alone and we’re going to provide you comfort with this TV show that’s ultra-violent. We’re going to provide you comfort by giving you the next best video game or the next best TV monitor to watch it on or play it on…
MB: Do you feel like you’re a force against that?
RC: Yes. I’d say absolutely. I want to be. I try to be.
MB: Are you a pacifist?
RC: I think I have been. Then again…maybe…
MB: When was the last time you were in a brawl?
RC: The last time I was in a physical fight was almost twenty years ago and it was a random thing. I was in a parking lot of a restaurant with my brother and a couple of his friends. These guys drove up and almost hit one of the guys we were with. And I thought only somebody who was a friend of theirs would jokingly try to do that. But they were these assholes, they came out and I don’t know if they knew one of the guys already and were all like, ‘We’re going to fuck this person up.’ But they came in and they did that and then somebody said, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ and they popped out of the car and started fighting. I won’t say that I ran away, but I definitely pulled back and was like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ My primary instinct was to find my brother and get him out of the way.
MB: Younger brother?
RC: Yeah. I didn’t want to fight. I didn’t want to do anything, I just wanted to get him out of the way and hide him. It just sort of happened and then they got back in the car and fucked off. They took off. It was probably a ten minute thing maybe, at the most. So that was the last thing. I don’t know if violence is the only way, but sometimes you want to feel good or you get a feeling of, I don’t know if it’s more for guys or not, but it’s like, ‘Okay, I solved the problem by punchin’ that guy out for lippin’ off.’ Does it really do anything? I don’t think it does. It solves the problem momentarily.
MB: It’s an expedient. It changes things very quickly.
RC: And we were letting it build until the person was beaten up and it becomes something else. I don’t want to resolve any conflict violently, but maybe there are times when it’s useful…
MB: If I was Stephen Harper, sitting here with you right now, what would you say to me?
RC: If you were him right now, today? I’d say, ‘Go see Theresa Spence.’ She’s a mile away from the fuckin’ parliament building. She’s having a hunger strike for you…she’s the chief of the…I can’t pronounce the name of the town… last year it was around the world headlines…
RC: Attawapiskat…she’s the chief of that tribe, that town. She’s doing a hunger strike…she’s in her ninth day today, right now. Why won’t you go see her? Just go talk to her. You don’t have to commit to policy. Go talk to her. She’s obviously really upset. The country is… take a look around. The problem…aboriginal culture is fucked up. We’ve gotta start listening to them and helping them and doing what they would like. Go listen! Go listen! Why are you ignoring her?! Really, I just read a thing, you just said you pray every day…does your god tell you to ignore this woman who’s on a hunger strike? What does your god tell you about that? What is he saying right now if you asked? Look within your heart and your soul to your god. Is he saying, ‘Look upon this woman and ignore her?’
MB: (laughs) I don’t know what he’d say. I’d like to hear what he would say to that.
RC: That’s what I would ask him. And I understand his position; he can’t go there and promise her anything ‘cause then there’s so much fuckin’ bullshit that he’s gotta go through. But I think he should actually go and sit down with her; stay away from the media. Just those two, sit down and talk to her and see what the fuck’s the problem, ‘cause obviously the problem hasn’t improved in the community since a year ago. Go talk to her.
MB: I asked that question because of your Stephen Harper poem.
RC: Yeah, I’m ashamed that he’s my prime minister. I didn’t vote for him. Janet Murray Rogers, who’s the poet laureate of Victoria right now, has a poem where she refers to Stephen Harper as the ‘Crime Minister of Canada’. I asked her if I could use it, and she said, ‘Sure, use it, run with it, do whatever you want with it.’ So I’d like to refer to him as the ‘Crime Minister of Canada’. I don’t know what the fuck is driving that policy that they are doing, the Conservative Government is so anti-environmental, so anti-real-social-programs…
MB: You can’t even blame it on the Bush Administration anymore!
RC: I think that we’re worse…aside from the fact that we don’t have a military to attack other countries. If we did he’d probably be doing that for whatever reason. But I think he’s worse than George Bush ever was. So that would be the first think I’d ask him about…
MB: You have a poem entitled ’10,000 Lighters at a Whitesnake Concert’. We had a little disagreement on Facebook over whether Whitesnake was ‘Heavy Metal’ or not. I said ‘not’… I didn’t explain it, but it’s because I consider them to be in the lesser category of ‘Cock Rock’.
RC: Yeah. They are cock-rock…
MB: Due to the unfortunate combination of spandex, teased hair and cheesy love ballads on every album…but you claim many people would disagree. Do you disagree? Is Whitesnake ‘Heavy Metal’?
RC: I would probably say they’re ‘Hard Rock’ if anything. I don’t think a metal band should do power-ballads.
MB: Thank you. I appreciate that.
MB: What’s the last word?
(ed.The Verses Festival edition of Mashed Poetics will feature the songs of Aretha Franklin sung by Chelsea D.E. Johnson and the Mashed Poetics Band with corresponding song-inspired poems read by festival authors)