The following is an email interview, a conversation of sorts between Aubrey Gerhardt and Paul Siegell. Siegell will be the featured poet at World Above: Free Poetry Night on Wed Feb 27 beginning at 7pm.
How has poetry influenced your life?
It’s taken over as much as the rest of me has let it. I’m surrounded by books I’ve read and haven’t, surrounded by links to the delicious writings of others, surrounded by this big mythconsciousnesslifehistory of poetry about which I know nothing. Gimme more poetry!
What poets inspire you?
What? Poets inspire! You?
What is your impression of Atlantic City?
OK, here we go: Last time I was in Atlantic City we had taken an early morning hungover busride from my sister’s 40th birthday in NYC to one of the casinos. Taj I think. And of course Greyhound broke down. That killed an hour on some highway headed south. Replacement bus finally got us to the shore and I’m still on the bus with a bottle of water and my free $25 voucher ready to be validated when I hear my mother screaming my name from outside. I throw the bottle, run down the stairs of the bus and there’s my father, face down on the concrete, gushing blood.
Now, mind you, I had a ticket to the big Phish show that night over at Bader Field. The weekend was supposed to go like this: NYC 40th > AC Father’s Day > PHiSH. He looked so helpless. Do you have chest pains? He mumbled “No” through a few red wet tissues. Do you have pain in your arm or your back? “No.” There was so much blood, but his heart was good. I pulled out my phone and took a picture. Twisted. My sister and her boyfriend, his daughter and her friend, my mom. All too real. He’d misread the curb outside the bus and couldn’t break the fall. Mom rode in the ambulance. I gotta cab to AtlantiCare and paced around the waiting room until they let me back to his bed. Broken-down Greyhound to a broken-nosed Father’s Day hospital holy moly. Nice nurses tho. I could still make it, right? It was still early. I texted my friends over in the parking lots. Didn’t look good.
Finally around 4PM, the doctor released my pops with some stitches and bandages and some painkillers and humor. Mom was not laughing. Taxis back to the Taj. Jingle jangle jackpots and roulette wheels spinning. We hit a casino restaurant. First time all seven of us were together since the bus. He was doing good and tried not to sneeze. Eating usually does that to him, makes him sneeze. Never made sense to me, but that’s just one of the things that make him him. Either way, my mom, dad and sister all said I should still go to the show. By then it was after 5 so I told them all I loved them and then bolted up to the room to change and pull myself together. Elevator up! While we were at the hospital, the girls had checked us all in and got the bags brought up to the rooms. Good work. Texted friends I’m on my way. From out the 26th floor’s floor-to-ceiling windows, soft sky sliding toward sunset over madness Atlantic City.
Elevator down. Through hallway connecting the buildings, headed to escalator to lobby and out, but a security guard was blocking the escalators. “You have to take the other elevator,” he said. What? Mmkay. Elevator down one more. Running in excitement so close to show and favorite band, I pass the bottom of the escalator that I wasn’t allowed down and, OHHHHH NOOOOOOO. There they all were. Dad already in a wheelchair. Bleeding all over again. Security, my family, guys in suits and shiny nameplates. Still dopey from the drugs they gave him, my family was going up the escalator and he was pulling his rolling suitcase and again misread reality and the suitcase caught on the thing and he lost his balance and fell backwards onto his suitcase but the suitcase cushioned his fall and the whole scene was making its way up the escalator as he was falling down the escalator. C’monnnnnn!!!
Over an hour later, with everyone’s permission once again, I finally got into a cab, drained. Bader Field. “You’re a little late,” the driver said. Yep. They were already seven songs in. Window down I came in during “Wilson.” He got me as close as he could. I jumped out to Trey singing, “CAN YOU STILL HAVE FUNNNNNN!!!???”
How do you feel about being a part of a free, public poetry night in AC?
I just hope Donald Trump doesn’t show. Dude ruins everything.
What do you believe, if any, is the role/responsibility of a poet within the community? You know, I’m still tryna figure that out. I think it depends on the poems. Are they quiet? Unassuming? Are they “let me out loud”? Grab you by the grab-ables? Poets are torchbearers. We shed light. We cast shadows. We start fires.
In your opinion, does poetry suffer from capitalism?
I think it’s more that capitalism suffers poetry.
What I mean to ask is do you think a poet can stay true to his or herself while at the same time making a profit off poetry? America has a corporate culture saturated in greeting cards and jingles, what influence if any do you think capitalism has on the art form of poetry? I’ve been spinning in these questions since faced with the task of asking poets to speak their art for free. I can’t help but to feel as though some poets have sold out when we should, in fact, be offering our poetry to the community for free to regain society as a champion of verse.
Unless I win some outlandish award when I’m 56 or 74 or something when I’m far balder than I am right now, I don’t think I’ll ever make a financial profit from poetry. I’m not doing it for the money. I’m doing it for the harmony. My inner self. I can say that, without a doubt, I am 100% staying true to myself. Poems, editing, revising, rewriting, doing readings, making book trailers for youtube, hawking concrete poetry t-shirts, exploring visual poetry, crafting broadsides, typing up goofy facebook posts, sending out submissions, receiving rejection slips, signing a book for someone after a reading, etc. We have hands, but we also have fingers extending from those hands.
What can we do as poets to bridge the chasm between the academic (some would say elitist) realm of published poets and the sphere of unrecognized poets who are distributing poetry in zines, chapbooks, etc? (the have and the have-nots of poetry).
Let’s all just keep writing poems. You keep writing poems. And I’ll keep writing poems. And our friends will keep writing poems. And as long as we all just keep writing Poetry, everything should be alright and right to write MORE POETRY.