The BTS Interview: Erren Geraud Kelly

poetry magazine, Erren Geraud Kelly, interview, Paris, Siene

About the Ads you see for Kelly Writers House and Poem Talk: Two years ago I took a free class on Coursera called Modern Poetry from the University of Pennsylvania's Al Filries. Since then, I have been a Community TA. I credit Al and ModPo with recreating my need to publish again. When we first started, I thought it would look better with a few advertisements, so I asked Al if I could run a couple of free ads and he said yes.

poetry magazine, Poem Talk
poetry magazine, Erren Geraud Kelly, interview, coffee house

     BTS: Your Othello has a lyrical quality, and I don’t mean exactly Lyric poetry, but actual song lyrics. Do you write songs as well as poetry?

     Erren Geraud KellyI read all kinds of poets, I like Baraka, I like Claudia Rankine, Daurianne Laux and Ai, interest me a lot…slam poetry especially Sarah Kay and Taylor Mali and Saul Williams are also my go-to guys…I’ve only written one song in my life, when I was in college. I wrote the words, a friend of mine named Steve,  who took choir with me played guitar and wrote the music. I do like to read song lyrics, just to see what poetic devices songwriters use. Jimi Hendrix was a songwriter who could have easily been a poet, as was Curtis Mayfield.... Bob Dylan, of course, is a poet, whether he sings or not. I played a trombone in middle school and high school ( 7 years ) and I took three years of voice lessons. It has been my “ Bucket list,” dream to learn guitar and play, but fear always gets in the way…but I’m going to conquer it!  But I think a poet is a musician, regardless….

     BTS: I have a poetry professor who says the form is the message. I notice your longer poems and your shorter poems have a distinctly different feel. Do you think form guides the message, or do you choose the form to fit your message, or do you not see any real difference?

     Erren Geraud Kelly: When I write something, I focus on the content…I’m just trying to get something down on the page…lately, I’ve been writing poems on my smartphone, which has become easier, but I miss the old way of pulling out my journal and just writing it down…I don’t think about a “ sonnet,” or a “ political poem,” or a “ love poem,” I just get down the idea…the poem about “ Othello,” came from watching a version of the play,  that was presented in Virtual Reality ! I just wanted to tell the story through the lens of the information/internet age.  Once I get the idea ( what I want to say down on the page } then I’ll go back and give it its form, shape it and mold it. It’s probably harder to write a shorter poem than it is to write a longer poem; a longer poem lets you expand further on the idea and really expand on your creativity…but magazines love publishing shorter poems Jcos this is the 8 second attention span/ youtube age. 

     BTS: You once told me you have a soft spot for subjects and people who are not in the mainstream. What is the mainstream in Los Angeles these days?

     Erren Geraud Kelly: Brentwood, Malibu, and 

Hollywood… Echo Park and Silverlake  are  being overrun by Hipsters. Beverly Hills is interesting, though I rarely walk through it; the cops will follow me around.  ( laughs )  I like Pasadena…Boyle Heights…South Central has inspired a few poems….

     BTS: I notice one of the pictures we are using for this interview is you standing in the middle of Paris. I have to confess I spent less than 48 hours in that city, but honestly think I could live I there? How much of Europe have you seen? How has it impacted you and your poetry?

     Erren Geraud KellyI went to France in 2002, seeking construction work in the South of France, through an ad on Craigslist. The job didn’t quite pan out, but I still wanted to see Paris, so I took the little money I had and stayed there  a month; I did it on the cheap…I couched-surfed, I stayed in hostels, I eat sparingly, but it was worth it!  I was in a city that guys like  Hemingway, James Baldwin and William Faulkner lived….I went to The Lourve, I saw The Gardens Of Luxembourg, I sat in Shakespeare and Company bookstore, where people like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein hung out, I made sure I got more than one picture of the Eiffel Tower…People wonder why me, being a black man, would be such a Francophile? After the First and Second World Wars, when black soldiers helped liberated the French, France opened its arms to them and accepted them…Miles Davis spent time their and became well acquainted with Jean Paul-Sartre and Pablo Picasso; Black Musicians and Artists journeys to Paris, cos they knew they would be treated with respect and their creativity and intellect would be valued. The French accepted them !

     I try to read French poetry, whenever I can find it; I like Rimbaud and Baudelaire…I’ve read a couple of books by an Italian writer named Italo Calvino, whom I fancy; his work has a dreamy magical realism quality to it; Pablo Neruda and Federico Garcia Lorca, are two of my favorite Spanish poets…I’ve read quite a few British Writers; David Lodge is one of my favorites…My Sis In Law, Camelia, turned me on to Doystoyevsky…I don’t limit myself when it comes to literature or art; my dad travelled a lot around the world and saw things; my brother, Kevin saw the world, by way of the military…their influences rubbed of on me…I don’t think an artist or writer should contain their world or voice to a single place. The world is getting smaller, but I want my art to encompass the entire world !

     BTS: Where did you start writing? Who were/are your biggest influence on your poetry? On your life?

    Erren Geraud Kelly: College..but even back as far as high school, people told me I could write…Coach Wesley  Harris, my Tenth grade civics teacher and father figure told me I had a flar for it; Dude saved my life..he would keep me after class a lot and we would have meaningful intellectual, father and son like talks…Coach Harris, was also an entrepreneur, he owned several properties, and I would help him repair them, mow the lawns, paint the apartments, move furniture..; Coach Harris was also the  track and field/ junior varisty football coach and he was working on a Ph.d. He tried out for the New Orleans Saints. He took the time to be with me and listen to me,  when no one else did..it blew my mind that a black man could be so successful!  A couple of years ago, I saw the movie “ Mr. Hollands opus,” and I was nearly crying by the end, because I thought so much about Coach and the impact that he had on my life…it was disturbing how much influence he had on me. Ms.  Susan Ourso, my 9th and 12th grade English teach was another: she predicted I would become a poet. She tried to get me to go to a magnet high school and get more involved into writing, but I was halfway into high school and even though, I didn’t like high school very much and had few friends , I toughed it out and stayed, I had marching band, I had books, and I was just discovering writing, so I gutted it out and I finished it…Ms. Ourso, made me read “ The catcher in the rye,” when I was in the 12th grade…I wanted to read “Hamlet,” and write a paper on it, but Ms. Ourso insisted that I read “Cather In the Rye,” so I did. Many years later, after I had graduated from high school,  I wrote her a thank you letter for  turning me on to that book. When she told me she predicted that I would write poetry, It freaked me out… When my book “Disturbing The Peace”  came out, I made sure she got a copy. When my next book is published, she will get a copy also.

     BTS: How does Louisiana, and especially your hometown effect your poetry?

     Erren Geraud Kelly: Southerners love to tell stories. Black people have been telling stories,like,  forever, going back to the African Griots. We like to show you our  heritage. We are about music and rhythm;  we are about culture…we definitely love to eat !…we are about community and struggle and persevering  over struggle…we are not afraid to laugh in the face of adversity…I remember when I went  home a year after Hurricane Katrina, there was a billboard in the Ninth ward in New Orleans  that said “ Blown by Katrina ? “ and right under the quote,  was advertising for construction work and roofing…Southerners get knocked down a lot, but we get up and we keep going!…I went to a lot of readings at LSU  and around the Tigertown area and in New Orleans, and there is a rich poetic, literary tradition there…check out Mona Lisa Saloy or Kalaamu ya Salaam, two excellent New Orleans poets…Pinkie Gordon Lane, who was from Baton Rouge, was the Poet Laureate of Louisiana and a Pulitzer Prize nominee; Ava Leavell Haymon is a another fine poet …Rodger Kamenetz is another good Louisiana poet…LSU has always been a top 20  MFA English program, so we have a lot to be proud of…

       BTS: How has California changed you, as a writer and as a person?

      Erren Geraud Kelly: I guess I still see L.A. as an “Entertainment town” …every other person I meet here is either an actor or working on their screenplay, or a musician or singer or a model. I’ve met very few poets…I’ve been checking out different scenes…there was a writer’s workshop in Venice Beach that I was sitting in on, and it was pretty cool. There is an open mike called the  Da poetry lounge,”  that takes place every Tuesday at Fairfax High School…and “The World Stage,” in Leimert Park,  is famous for their workshops and poetry slams…I think the biggest California influences on my poetry were Wanda Coleman, whom I read in College and Charles Bukowski;  he had a way of taking something complicated and making it simple…recently,  I read a upstate New York Poet named Rebbeca Schumejda,  who just published a book called  “ Waiting at the Dead End Diner,” and it was like in some of her poems, bukowski’s dna ran through them…. 

     BTS: I am not sure it is possible to be a poet of color and race not figure into your work, maybe it isn’t possible for any poet to not have race influence their poetry. How do you see social issues, race and otherwise in your writing?

     Erren Geraud KellyLike I said, earlier, just because I write about social issues, don’t  always  expect me to always be political, just because I write about other things, I shouldn’t be expected to be bound by those categorizes,  either….i believe that artists have the responsibility to witness and report, but by no means, should  one expect them to be a savior; nor should they be! When I was younger, this dilemma confused me because I was still trying to figure out where I wanted to be in the literary spectrum. I love Amiri Baraka, he is the reason why I became a poet, but I don’t necessary agree with everything he stood for! (I don’t believe in communism; I still have a faint hope that Capitalism still  can work in America)  I don’t think every poem I write has to be a" black " poem…Why can’t I just write about hanging out with my peeps or about a girl I saw on the train?…Even when an artist doesn’t make a statement, he is making a statement; Bob Dylan was notorious for that…But on the other end of the spectrum, I don’t want to be Billy Collins. I am not a safe poet...

 Coffeehouse Poem # 160

 

The girl in

The porkpie hat

Takes my mind off

The fight, i nearly

Got into earlier

Her british accent

Makes her lovely

I wish L.A. was baptised

In an English

Rain

 

 

 Coffeehouse Poem #155

 

 

She wears tattoos

On her forearms like

Wonder woman bracelets

As she walks always

The melody of clicking boots

Seduces me like

A red cape

A Prayer For My Hometown

 

 

Lord, please one day to

render guns as obsolete

as  a nuclear bomb

that rednecks and swag

will be as pointless

as a fish on a bicycle

and that black and white

will be as indistinguishable

as the blood oozing from

my fingers

" it might not be so bad, if i never went home again..." Gill Scott-Heron, from " Home is where the hatred is."

  Othello: The Remix

 

I want to break down the fourth wall

And touch you

Your skin glows, real or imagined

 

White skin white noise white girl

People say my reality

Is just dreams

But my feelings are not

Schemes

 

My life is real

My life is real

My life is real

 

As your image rolls on

A film reel

In my head

You lie on a bed

In a white slip

I made a Freudian slip

Of the tongue

 

If I could break down

The fourth wall and

Slip my tongue

Into your

Mouth

Like I could slip

My hands against

Your white

Slip my hands underneath

Your slip and stroke it against your

White skin

 

I feel the lashes

Of the whip against

My back

A virtual inevitability, a

Freudian slip of the tongue

 

If I could break down

The fourth wall

And slip my tongue

Into your mouth

Like I could slip my hands

Against your white slip

My hands underneath your slip and stroke

It against your white

Skin

 

A whip against my back

Becomes my reality

 

White skin white breast white girl

 

Girls fill my reality

Girls fill my reality

Girls fill my reality

 

Making me virtually

Love sick

 

White girls

Real and imagined

Dominate my

Reality

 

Marilyn Jennifer Sandra Amy

Julia Angelina Erin

 

I see you and there is

No error in my

Vision

 

You look like a bowl

Of ice cream, you scream, they

All scream

When they see us together

 

My hand in yours, a yin/yang

Of balance

 

But my heart is unbalanced between

Heaven and hell

 

You’re such a lovely belle

 

But no, wait, youre a California

Girl

 

California girls

Are supposed to rock

My world

Whether real or imagined

 

White girl white world white noise

 

Erupts from your mouth

As you lie with me in spendor

 

White noise in a low moan

Like a kitten sweet and

Tender

 

White noise white world

White girl

                                             

                                                                    Brianna

 

Everything was fine until

The rabbit died

 

I met her at a pearl jam concert

She was in town from

 Grad school working on an

Mfa

 She liked books more than

Movies

her silicone nipples were

raisins between

My teeth

I loved her ice cream scoop size

Tits, her legs taut from

Years of playing soccer

 

I couldnt keep my hands off

Her tight, compacted ass

The french quarter became our

playpen

She told me after grad school

She wanted to go

Paris

There, we would help each other

Write poems

 

Her morning blow jobs were

Welcomed like the bacon

And eggs she cooked

Her screams filled the room

Like her guitar playing

I opened her legs and the

 Cut was smooth

Leaving the only hole that

Mattered

But she ran into

 An old roommate who knew her

When she was brian

And im left in a sidewalk

Cafe

To finish this poem

 

There was no rabbit

She couldnt have kids                   

                                                                               

 

 A   Riddle

 

what's black and white

and red all

over?

 

          America.

 

“ Can We All Just Get Along ? “ Rodney King

         Walking On The Grafitti Bridge

 

 

I time traveled and i didnt

need a delorian or scotty  to

beam me up

i just put  1999 in  my

cassette player

And i was 15 again, practicing on my

trombone, wondering could i make

it through another day

i saw visions of graffiti bridge

in my head

i thought about asking alicia bethley

out, didnt care if her brother

charles could kick my

ass,  love can make you

crazy and brave

a  little red corvette sped down plank

road

i was dreaming when i wrote this

forgive me if it goes astray

as i  waited for the bus

 

my white friends loved

r and b,  and rap,

though ac/dc and

def leppared boomed out of

their cars

 

i made out with girls, waited

for the muse to give

me poems

and laughed everytime my

mama called prince  a freak

 

minimum wage was slavery then

and still is today

but money never matter to

me and  money wont matter tonight

young kids die looking for salvation

in purple drink;

theyd be better off dancing  in

the dawn  in the purple rain

but youth is wasted on the

young

 

i know why bible thumpers hate

rock music: rap and r and b

can control

minds and

if you can control minds

you can control the world

 

even if judgement day came tomorrow

and the clocks hit 2000 zero zero

death can  have me, i'll be

Happily dancing,  in the purple rain

poetry magazine, Erren Geraud Kelly, interview, Eiffel Tower