Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Occupation that Won't Let Go of Me: INTERVIEW with Darryl Price

Sheldon Lee Compton: So glad you had some time to have a chat with me, Darryl.  I've been eager to talk with you for some time.  The first thing that comes to mind when I think of you and your work is how generous you are.  I'm always happy to receive your "gift poems" as I've come to refer to them.  You write, it seems more than most anyone I know, to share in that way than for any other reason.  If there were no more journals and no more publishing, I can see you still writing and sending your work to others for no other reason than to share something beautiful that comes from your heart.  These gifts I, and no doubt others have received from you, always have that feel about them - this was a moment, a feeling, you wanted to give to another.  Care to talk a little about your tendency to do that?

Darryl Price: I''ve always said that we are responsible caretakers of the world. The words we choose to use and manifest in our daily lives will insert themselves into the architecture of our beings,into all being, and they don't want to come out again in the same way. They become what we are made of. In that sense I'd like to add some few chosen words that I think might build something a little more caring all around us. This has to do with freedom of choice as much as it does with cocreating a better world. Philosophers have thoughtfully mentioned this fact for centuries. We make the world appear to be as it is as we speak it and name it so. Since everyone is doing this, both consciously and unconsciously, the world is constantly mutating around us. I just figure I might as well add my own poetic two cents worth to the mix. Ever go to a great music concert and wonder why the world doesn't instantly change right before your very eyes from the powerful words being embraced together by so many at once? Well, it does,it actually does, it's just subtle,not invisible so much as everywhere and in everyone and gets carried off into the night in many more pieces.It's the miracle of the fishes and loaves. How does everyone get fed? The Beatles were experts at enlisting words to do this special kind of work to the planet as a whole, but they couldn't keep it up, not to that sort of intensity. Still it worked beautifully, for a little while. That's the nature of the beast. It still has to be fed again the next day. So I bake up a few of my own poems here and there and feed whatever hungry mouths I can.It's the least I can do. A little beauty here. A little flash of truth here. Forgiveness. Mercy. Tenderness.Generosity. Kindness. The words for these things matter and manifest as well and as quickly as the more hateful and fearful ones. It's a question of balance, not of overcoming. It's flowers not bullets.That's all.

SLC: I like that a lot - caretakers of the world.  And the concept of creating works that feed the hungry.  It seems people are still hungry for words, even in this day of short attention spans.  You're one of the most frequent writers to contribute and offer feedback at Fictionaut, a online community for readers and writers and, in fact, the place where I first had the pleasure of coming across your work.  How is this type of community important to writers these days?  And, of course, with the vast number of pieces you have available to read at Fictionaut.  You have plenty enough to bring the world a fine book of your work.  Any plans for that in the future?

DP: People are always hungry for the connection that art provides. Creativity with words attracts all of our senses. It thrills us, inspires us,comforts us. It opens up pathways to both dreaming and doing. I think short attention spans have more to do with boredom and maybe fear than a lack of education, or a lack of understanding, or a lack of feeling. People can go deep, but they have to want to. Poetry opens the door, but it doesn't kick you in. As far as Fictionaut and its type of community they couldn't be more important for the present age if you ask me. The world is different now. The new social media has seeped into everything. It can never go back to what it was.That romance is dead. It's time we started flirting with the new one. It must be embraced and faced and come to terms with. We don't know exactly what it will bring about in our brains yet, but we do know we still want to read and write new things for it. A short story of mine,SPY VS.PARK,was picked up recently by ThriceFiction magazine. They had like two thousand hits for a free download of the issue in less than a week's time! That's simply amazing to me.If I thought I could sell 3.000 copies of anything I'd be in heaven! Speaking of books, did you know I've published 33 chapbooks of poetry in my lifetime so far, but again that was in a different world, 100 copies at the most? Well it's true. I've been at this game since I was five. I'd love to put together a really good Darryl Price reader, but no editors have approached me with the same idea yet. I'm very much these days into the book as object. I want it to be lovely to look at, lovely to hold, to give, to share, to own. I think any book of poetry right now should be a piece of art in and of itself.It's not enough just to print one up.Every now and then I put a free chapbook on Fictionaut just to see if there's any interest out there, but so far it's been minimal. And right now I have an e-book,SAFETY FIRST, over at the Camel Saloon.

SLC: Much to think about, for sure.  I especially connect with this statement of yours: "People can go deep, but they have to want to.  Poetry opens the door, but it doesn't kick you in."  That sums it up perfectly, I think.  I knew you had published books, but I was not aware 33 of your chaps were out there.  I'll be looking for them to be sure.  There's so many romantic notions about the act of creating works of poetry or stories or novels or any form of writing.  It's refreshing to hear of someone who writes with sharing in mind, rather than directing attention to themselves in sort of an exclusive way.  On that note, is it difficult for you to both write and keep creativity as a pure thing while at the same time having little choice but to promote and more or less represent yourself to the masses?

DP: All those little chaps of mine,some no bigger than a pocketbook for change, were limited editions, or most of them, done with fellow young artist types of the time, but that's not so important to me now. There's a Beach Boys song called, HANG ON TO YOUR EGO, off of PET SOUNDS,which I've always dearly loved--because I believe it's the best advice. Getting rid of your ego is suicide. The problem is to determine exactly how much of it you might actually need at any given time in the creative process to keep things real--a little dash will do ya! Pepper in a soup or a stew can add just the right amount of kick to the flavoring, but too much can ruin the whole meal, so to speak.So,yes,to answer your question at long last,it is always somewhat difficult to keep the creativity at a place where I am truly happy with it and to also keep an eye out for its intrinsic entertainment values at the same time. I want people to like my stuff. I don't write it to shove it in a drawer and hope for a miracle resurrection to take place while I am sleeping. It's hard work, and it can be lonely,frustrating work as well. I'd love for people to want to share it with others. That's happened to me a few times already,where someone has asked my permission to copy and paste something of mine onto a Facebook account. I always say yes.The more the merrier. There are a million writers and a million more being born every day. That's where I think a site like Fictionaut becomes very helpful to those of us who use words to express ourselves, it lets you stay in the game.It gives you forum,purpose, and media. But it doesn't do the writing or the thinking or the editing or the shaping of the art for you. You have to ring that bell all by yourself. And if someone else hears your song and smiles or hums along or adds to it in anyway because of its unique tone,and it means something to them, then you my friend are one very lucky person in the universe.

SLC: I can only speak for myself, but talking about the writing process has always been something I struggle with each time it's required of me.  Rather than ask about the details of your process, let me inquire as to when you knew you could write - I mean the year during which you said: Okay, I'm likely a better writer than the average person and maybe I can do something with this.  And how, if at all, did that alter the course of your life, your goals, your confidence?

DP: It was very early on--in school I think, I always loved English and generally aced any exam I was given. I was always amazed when my friends struggled with writing. I couldn't understand it. It seemed natural and easy. Then friends would explain how it baffled them--putting one word after the other--and it humbled me. I realized it was a gift that not everyone had received equally. This made me more aware of its potential to harm or to help, to be a weapon or a kind of spiritual medicine. The problem is you can't help but misuse these words eventually because you are feeling grouchy one day or sad the next or lonely or left out or whatever. You can't beat yourself up over this.It's probably pretty human. The goal is to keep trying to get it right, or to accept the inspiration when it comes and give it the proper respect it deserves from you.There have been many times when a hazy line will start unfolding in my mind and it won't stop creating more stuff out of itself until I get up and write it down. This can happen at any time during the day or the night. The problem being of course that it can just as easily blow away and disappear from you if you refuse to pay it any attention. It knocks, you answer, or you fall back asleep and it goes away.This always makes me mad at myself.Why didn't I just get up and receive that hug from the Muse? You know how much she means to me.Why would I treat her this way?What's wrong with me? Nothing. You're okay. Just tired. She'll be back with any luck because she already likes you.

SLC: I once tried to stop writing all together, possibly because of the very strain of keeping up you just mentioned.  I made it about six months and that was it.  Have you ever made a similar effort?  If so, care to explain?  If not, I'd love to hear about that, as well.

DP: When I was laid off from my job as a book buyer, things became very dire around my house. We still had lots of bills to pay, a kid getting ready to go off to college. For a long time I couldn't justify the time or the energy spent on making my art. It felt like something I just didn't rightfully deserve anymore, that I had been reckless with. It didn't bring one red cent into my family to help us along financially. It didn't feed us. It only fed me, and only spiritually,emotionally, even if it did wonders for others. I was still getting letters and notes from around the world from people telling me how much my work meant to them. But it felt selfish to continue, so I put it down, but this made me extremely unhappy. I felt utterly lost, useless. I realized I needed it to remind me of who I am, even if it didn't pan out in gold, it gave me a sense of belonging in the world, so gradually I began to write again, to post again, to hope again, to dream again. There have been two other times,not having to do with money,where I lost faith in myself, in my writing. I just couldn't seem to come up with an original thought, I was trying too hard to please others instead of being real. I put it down then, too,knowing that it just wasn't me, but inspiration strikes you and you answer the call, which is what I did. The poetry wasn't done with me yet, even if I was tired and getting older, or even a lot sadder.It's what I do. I'm a poet. A writer.I fashion things out of words. Sometimes these little things of mine mean something to someone else. This gives me a profound joy. I try to share that feeling and be brave about the occupation that won't let go of me.


  1. This is a wonderful interview, it'll up there in my pantheon of interviews I'll come back to when I need a boost or when the road's got so dusty that I need an inspiring fork. Both Darryl's and your own work, Sheldon, carries that capability in almost every word: to inspire and make us stop to think & feel; an important mission without being missionary; you both don't shy away from the task of true shaping, but you stay close to the ground, feet firmly planted in the fertile mud. I especially loved Sheldon’s questions on the early call to write and on giving up writing. Darryl’s answers resonated with me strongly. And to think that I've never met either of you in person! But I'm not giving up on that one. Thanks for this, poet-pal Darryl and storm-seeker Sheldon.

  2. I'm glad you read this, Marcus, and doubly glad you took something perhaps useful from it. I'm sure I'll often return to Darryl's words in this interview again and again as a reminder that putting down words and giving them to folks is a means of staying alive in the most active way a person can possibly do so.

  3. The questions here are as interesting as the answers -- something that makes this interview stand out in a genre that seems to be growing in its literary impact. Indeed, I just read an interesting article about how the interview is being used more and more in historical studies, how interviews are being included now as a legit means of understanding the past and present (and why this intersection between past and present is of course important). I think the same could be said about this interview, for it is a conversation between two individuals but it goes far beyond that, exploring larger ideas of how the poet is, as Darryl puts it "responsible caretakers of the world". The perspective provided here -- not only about writing but about the world we live in and our desire to seek connection and to feel creative -- is really nourishing. Thanks to both of you for this.

  4. Nicely done. Enjoyed the exchanges here.

  5. Thanks, Michelle and Sam. It was a pleasure to have Darryl share even a small bit of his time talking with me.

  6. Wonderful interview, deep in a way many aren't. Put two artists together and see what beauty gets wrought. And yes, DP, thank you for being honest and saying sometimes it is too hard to keep writing in the face of adversity, but then finding the grace in the act, the process, if not the end. Peace...

  7. Darryl, you have a heart of gold and I am so glad to know you thanks to Fictionaut! Great interview and insights into those wonderful gift poems. Keep writing Darryl and I'll keep reading. Reading this interview has definitely put some pep in my step today. :O)

  8. Thanks so much for reading, Linda and Roberto!

  9. What a wonderful interview with intelligent questions and very insightful, heartfelt and honest answers. I've been a big fan of Darryl's for as long as I've been on Fictionaut. His poetry rocks, I always feel he is talking directly to my soul.
    Off to check out DP's e-book.


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