POET OF THE MONTH: September 2016 – Gabriel Ricard
Let’s kick off Poet of the Month in style.
We were supposed to launch this new series a few months back, but you know how life is. But now it’s here to stay and we couldn’t be happier – giving recognition to poets is something that isn’t done in many other places, so we’re happy to shine a spotlight on some of the talent we love.
First off, it’s our favourite Canadian, Gabriel Ricard.
Hi Gabriel, how does it feel to be the very first Poet of the Month at Cultured Vultures?
Pretty nifty. There’s always that temptation to think “Jesus, it must be a slow month”, but I’m trying to get away from thinking like that. It’s an ongoing project. Like twenty-five years ongoing, but I’m still honored.
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I’ve been trying to get around my own prejudice with being called a poet, or being known for poetry more than anything else. There is a serious perception problem with poetry. People hate it as a general concept, even though I’m not sure why. Writers hate to be known as poets, because large pockets of our planet have decided that poets are frivolous weirdoes who are actively and gleefully wasting their lives. That might be true for some, and I’ll forever make the case that there isn’t a damn thing wrong with being a weirdo, but we need to get away from that negativity that a lot of people put on poets and poetry. Starting with the poets themselves. I do write a lot of other things, including two monthly columns, but if people respond to my poetry the most frequently, why should that bother me? I ask myself that a lot, and I’m finding that when I do, I realize it’s stupid.
If I can write something, anything, and people get behind it, that’s a good goddamn day.
And if you only write poetry? That’s awesome, too. Poetry fucking rocks.
If there’s a point to the fact that I’m already rambling in this interview, it’s that Poet of the Month is an awesome distinction. Any literary magazine or website that does poetry deserves more attention and respect.
There’s this weird public dislike with poetry. Yet it endures. And I’d say it’s doing that on the backs of more than just a frenzied few. A lot more people like poetry than they’re willing to let on. I’d really like to see that change.
Can you tell us some more about yourself and what poetry means to you?
Careful. I only have, like, twenty good stories. After that, we’re all out, and I’ll have to start making shit up. “Tell us about yourself” is one of those questions that always gives me a little anxiety. I’m not complaining. I just get weirded out sometimes by extremely open-ended questions. We have to break this down into trivia, since that lasts longer than anecdotes.
I’m already verbose as hell to begin with, so I feel like asking a question like that is like giving a cokehead a garbage bag with their favorite party favor, and saying “Can you help me enjoy this cocaine?” Everyone’s doomed.
Let’s see. I’ve been a writer for eighteen years. I watch a lot of movies. I probably shouldn’t have drank so much in my 20s. I saw George Wendt in a hotel lobby a few months ago. I’ve only been arrested once. I was born in Canada. I’d like to do more acting. I’ve probably
And I could run through useless trivia like that for ages and miles, you know? “Tell us some more about yourself” always makes me think I need to cover as much as possible in a relatively short amount of time. It’s also pretty close to impossible to arrive at a logical conclusion to that question. At least, for me.
Poetry means the world to me. Connecting to my ideas. Coming up with something that makes me think I haven’t wasted the past couple of decades. Reading great work. Watching it performed. I like everything about writing, and poetry nails all of those essentials to why I’m still here, still doing this nonsense.
Is there a particular theme or style you stick to most with your poetry?
I’ve mentioned this a few times, certainly in past interviews, but no one ever seems to notice or care. I have no idea what I’m doing. That’s not bragging. I’m embarrassed. I’ve read with some of the best writers and performers in the world, and I never get to relax, because I’m pretty sure their psychic abilities have already indicated that I am a hopeless, grotesque fraud.
I read a lot of poetry, but in terms of identifying styles, I’m always lost. I don’t know the first thing about writing poetry that is technically sound on any level.
But people seem to be okay with that, so maybe, I should get over it.
In terms of themes, I like dark humor, eccentrics, weird, endless cities. If you’re trying to bury a thousand landscapes from a thousand insane nightmares in a fish bowl, I’m down. I’m fascinated by other people trying to work through their madness through art, not just writing, and I look for any opportunity to be humbled by someone who has chosen to share something they feel is profound.
I like a lot of stuff, I guess. Everything I just said doesn’t cover everything I enjoy, especially when we start talking about themes, but it’s the stuff I come back to again and again.
What’s the best poem you think you’ve written and why?
The downside to being somewhat prolific is that I tend to forget a lot of stuff I’ve written. I only ever go back to stuff when I’m looking for work to submit, or if I’m putting together another manuscript.
And it’s a clichéd thought, but I actually don’t think I’ve written my best poem yet.
Still, I think “Brutal Hills and Shitty Bodies”, which I wrote as a tribute of sorts to my fiancé Cara, is probably the best thing I’ve written so far. I have a dumb fondness for love poems, but I rarely write one that I actually like. This was a pretty substantial exception. I read it at a Kleft Jaw/Drunk Monkeys reading in California last year, and I was surprised by how much people liked and related to it.
That’s not a requirement for a personal best, but it’s nice when you write something personal, and people take their own strong impressions from it:
If my voodoo doll is still in that nickel and dime
heart clinic/strip club in Raleigh, North Carolina,
then some fat kid with six fingers on each hand
is going to kill me, as I’m walking up and past
the temples of table rock and Shakespeare
of Ashland, Oregon.
Dying in your arms would be mean-spirited
by accident, and completely unreasonable on purpose.
I don’t want to put you through that, lovey,
but it’s not like I can let you go,
when it’s five o’clock,
and I’m as sure that you’re happy to see me
as I am of anything else that’s in front of my open hands.
These hills are quaint San Francisco tributes.
I am a quaint tribute to the man I used to be.
I am a shining, troubled disappointment to the man I thought I’d be.
If you’re disappointed,
then you’ve left the faces you might make
with someone else.
Walking up brutal hills for shitty bodies is worth it.
You’re a good thing that translates to hope,
even when you’re asleep, at the top of the hill,
or so angry, you can’t even stand to splash my face with water.
You’re a great year in each of the thirty seconds I talk to you.
It’s a slow crawl to those houses you work in.
My posture is not designed for quaint tributes.
I don’t mind. I don’t want to have greater and greater
distances from your hand on my face for no particular reason.
I don’t want to miss Date Night by minutes or years.
Nothing is better than getting ready to see you again.
Quaint tributes are fine. The science of square hearts
beating drums that look like concrete mountains
and being pushed up against the wall by someone,
who kisses and makes all those songs underage liars,
is something else entirely.
And I’m ready to love that field of study,
more often than not.
And the worst? Are there any you look back on and they make you wince?
Oh, probably every poem I wrote between 2001, which is roughly when I started writing poems, and 2008. Strictly in terms of poetry, I don’t think I really hit my stride until about eight years ago, although I’m sure I have some poems from before that which I would still say are pretty good. I hold on to everything I’ve ever written, which I sometimes regret.
I always think I’ll get a bottle of bourbon, sit down, and go through everything I wrote over the early years of my career. But I don’t. I’m honestly terrified of cringing so hard, I have some kind of stroke, and I’m stuck looking like some half-melted ice sculpture of Mickey Rourke in the present for the rest of my life.
Do you have any advice for new poets?
Get over the poet label. It’s not a bad thing. Any miserable piece of shit who tries to tell you that poems or poetry are lesser things should be slapped hard, repeatedly, and with some cuss words thrown in for good measure. If you can’t do that, then just write a poem about skydiving pigs shitting in their mouth.
Or whatever works for you.
Write a lot. Read a lot. That’s a very old adage, and it’s true. If you can travel, try to get some miles on you. If you can’t travel, it’s okay. It’s not a requirement, but it can prove useful. And god knows it can be fun, even when it completely goes to hell.
Read fiction. Read non-fiction. Read Black authors. Asian authors. LGBTQ+ authors. Cover as much of the landscape of possibility as you can. Go to readings. Consider a mentor, preferably, a living one.
Where should we be searching to find out more about poetry? Are there any groups or websites we should be aware of?
You can roll your eyes if you want, but I actually find a lot of good poetry on Tumblr. Not only in terms of stuff people are writing and sharing, but also in terms of the stuff they’re sharing from poets who have inspired them. It’s a really cool emphasis on this loose community of people who are a hell of a lot more important and formidable than they sometimes get credit for being.
In terms of websites, I’d just start hitting the pavement on literary magazines. Entropy has a great list. You have to be a little proactive, I guess. Or I just like the idea of having to read good stuff, bad stuff, or just work that hangs over your head in a weirdly soothing way for the rest of the afternoon.
I’m weird about poetry groups and websites. I know their value. I think I’m part of at least a couple of groups on Facebook. But I hung around this one website for over a decade. I wish I hadn’t. I read and met some great poets, but I also wasted a lot of my time on writing for a really small audience. I know a lot of people can move in and out of groups, getting more good than bad. I wish I could do that. But I can’t stick around communities for very long. I start to resent them after a while, which isn’t really fair to anyone.
And this sounds like a plug, but I really do love the poetry that comes out of Drunk Monkeys and Kleft Jaw.
Any other poets we should be looking at?
Always and forever. Nate Maxson is about as good as it gets. I’m also in love with Steven Dunn, Ryder Collins, Damian Rucci, Rachel Poetry, Frankie Met, Dustin Holland, William Seward Bonnie, Kevin Ridgeway, Makayla Shadae, Chelsea Palermo. It goes on for a long goddamn time.
And finally, what’s your favourite poem?
Anne Sexton’s “Frenzy”, which I liked so much, I pretentiously memorized it. I’m not smart enough to pretend to be able to analyze it. But I do feel like it’s a slow, steady effort to soothe the frenzy, the madness. I guess the success of trying to do that varies. It didn’t work out for Anne. I’m optimistic enough that it will work out for me for a few more decades.