Hi guys. I thought I’d interview someone who’s sort of living the dream and post about it on Books for Writers. Here goes the first half of the interview.
BfW: Who are you, what are you, and what do you do?
Nathan Brown: I’m Nathan Brown, and I am a poet, a photographer, and a musician/songwriter. Primarily a poet, but I’ve done music longer, and right now what I do is I travel and I teach creativity workshops, creative writing workshops, and I do musical performances and poetry readings.
BfW: When did you decide to dedicate your life to artistic goals? Specifically poetry, but music as well.
Nathan: Well, musically it is very easy to pinpoint. I was eight years old and I started learning to play the guitar because I wanted to be John Denver. In my teens I started playing in bands, and by the time I was in my 20’s I started writing music. Eventually, in my mid-twenties, I moved out to Nashville and worked as a professional songwriter there, and then I came back here from Nashville because I kind of burned out on music a little bit and I took creative writing at OU (University of Oklahoma). I had a professor there who turned me around, and then a certain poet, Stephen Dunn, who’s one of my favorite poets writing in the English language right now. Stephen Dunn is phenomenal. He had a book of poetry that I read and said “Man, if poetry can do that, sign me up.” I’ve been doing it ever since. I’ve published 8 books of it and it’s now a big part of my life. I travel and read and speak at schools. It’s pretty fun.
BfW: A lot of people would say that in poetry today, the market, the audience isn’t what it used to be. Do you agree or disagree? Also, is there any particular changes you would like to see in contemporary poetry today?
Nathan: I do agree, but I also think it’s somewhat turning around. The crash-course in it, which is completely unquotable—there’s a lot of people who would probably disagree with me—but the bottom line is about fifty or sixty years ago, poetry basically just crawled up in the attic of academia and it never came out. And so nobody understands a single thing that we’re saying, and so nobody cares , and so audiences left; it’s very easy math. When you start doing poetry that basically reads like somebody put a bunch of words into a blanket, shook the blanket up and wrote down how the words fell out and call that a poem—
BfW: Like a found poem?
Nathan:–Yeah! Yeah, and so everybody goes “Whooo” and they think it’s profound and deep. And it’s not. It’s crap. Nobody gets it and the authors don’t even get it. Some of them will pretend like they do, and some of them will give big long lectures pretending like they do, and it’s all just crap. Now that’s my opinion, and a lot of people disagree with it, but not audiences. Audiences hate that stuff and it’s boring as hell.
I write serious poetry, but tonight I read a couple of funnier poems. In performance, people’ve gotta smile. We’re all depressed enough; people don’t need my help to become more depressed. A lot of American poetry over the last sixty years has felt like an inside joke. Nobody gets it, so audiences left. Now, though, we’ve got a crew of American poets who’re coming back, and they’re daring to make sense. They’re daring to try to say something that somebody can understand, but to say it in an artful way. There’s a big movement with that right now, and I think everyone’s pretty much had it with the other thing. I think that’s run its course.
BfW: Care to name any names of those poets?
Nathan Brown: Well, Stephen Dunn, I mentioned earlier. Absolutely Stephen Dunn. Billy Collins I refer to as a gateway poet. For people who got disenfranchised, Billy Collins is sort of a gateway poet for people to come back to it. Sharon Olds is fabulous, a little more hard-hitting. Wonderful nature poetry, cause a lot of nature poetry isn’t—Mary Oliver. Tony Hoagland will turn your head around a couple of times, and so will Bob Hickock. I’m gonna miss a few, but that’s a good list. Another thing that I tell people is, if you ever start taking yourself too seriously, you just need to back off and read some Bukowski. He is the original dirty old man in American letters. I love what he said, “An intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way; an artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way.”…so many people hate him.
The problem is that academia owns all the prizes, so the only way to win the prizes is to sound profound to impress your professors who know the people who judge the prizes. It’s inbred, is what it is. It’s inbreeding, pure and simple.
BfW: That’s a great word for it.
Nathan Brown: (laughs) Oh, well…
I’ll try to post the rest soon. For those of you who are snobby about this (anyone?), Nathan does have a Ph.D. Here’s a link to his site: http://www.brownlines.com/
Very cool guy. I’m having a good time just writing out the interview here, which was totally impromptu, so excuse me if it’s not up to the quality of any Journalism majors.