There Will Be No Quality Democracy As Long As There Is No Ethics in Politics

René Ramírez, National Secretary of Higher Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, interviewed by Orlando Perez

Translated from El Telefrago by Ariel Sheen

For the academic, 2016 “can be read as the year of the end of the long 20th century in historical terms”. He adds that Brexit, the victory of Donald Trump in the United States and the death of Fidel Castro symbolically mark a turning point in the correlation of forces worldwide, both political and economic. Álvaro García Linera points out that it is the end of globalization.

What is your new book called?

The Great Transition: In Search of New Common Senses‘.

Why the great transition?

In reference to the book by Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation. I locate what happened in Ecuador in this decade in the framework of the political dispute, of the neoliberal background that marked two decades lost for the country and Latin America. There is a historical absurdity of wanting to point out that 10 years is enough to make a structural transformation, as some politicians like María Paula Romo and Guillermo Lasso have mentioned. That is to have no idea of ​​history, neither Ecuadorian nor global. That is impossible, even more so when institutions created to generate an oligarchic society had to be dismantled and, after destroying it, to rebuild another that seeks the common good of the great majorities. If someone is being dragged by the current in the direction of a waterfall, the first thing to do is to steer the boat to take another direction. These ten years have allowed us to re-direct the ship, sailing against the current of world power relations and generate enough social energy to go towards peaceful waters and be able to anchor in a good port. Part of the great transition involves having redirected the ship, while improving the welfare of its passengers.

Does this mean that there is not a decade won?

Of course there is a decade won. And we have another decade ahead of us to win, but it is first a decade to contest. However, we must make a historical reading of the decade gained. Beyond the social results, which are clearly positive. Ppoverty has been reduced, consumption levels have improved, income levels, universal access to education and health, among others. There is a decade gained in political terms justly because the possibility of continuing to dispute a transformation of social structures to build a new social order: the construction of a sustainable human democracy is alive; that is, the society of good living.

What are the historical conditions identified in this transition that make the great transformation viable?

That there has been a dismissal / constituent moment, where the citizenry manifests the need to sign a new social covenant pact that generates a new social order; that the new social pact allows a structural transformation and that the political decisions that accompany the new pact have been structuring actions that allow us to configure the conditions of possibility of being able to dispute the great transformation.

The dismissal / constituent moment is clear, but does the new social pact make a new social order possible?

I have absolutely no doubt it does. The horizon of meaning is embodied in the new constitutional text. There are multiple paths for transformation. For example, we must pass:

1) from anthropocentrism to biocentrism;
2) from colonialism and patriarchalism to the pluridiverse society (plurinational and intercultural);
3) from exclusively representative democracy (which is consubstantial to capitalism) to sustainable human democracy, based on social participation and deliberation;
4) from market capitalism (social de-commodification) to the social and solidarity economy and, 5) from the mercantilist corporate state to the popular sovereign state guaranteeing rights.

Europe raised the construction of the Welfare State and that has been the last proposal for the construction of a new social order (after the failure of the offers of society made by the Soviet bloc). Now it seems that the right begins to dismantle it. In this framework, the road was based, among other aspects, on recognizing the equality of citizens with respect to social rights based on representative democracy. Undoubtedly, the constitutional proposals of South America are moving in that direction and the progressive governments have made rapid progress in reducing poverty, inequality and democratization of rights. But in the world that we live that is insufficient. The “new modernity”, if the term fits, goes through the construction of plurinational societies. This is what the Constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia, which without a doubt are in the vanguard in these terms. While this was raised in the South, in Europe last week in two days, 340 migrants died trying to reach their land. In fact, in 2016 the record number of 4,300 deaths in the Mediterranean was reached with three times fewer arrivals of migrants by sea than in 2015.

Europe is now synonymous with obscurantism and barbarism. Equality has to live with diversity and recognize the diversity of identities that exist in the world. In this framework, the vanguard is to recognize universal citizenship and the recognition that unitary Plurinational States can be built respecting the pluriculturality of identities and nations that coexist in each territory. In Polanyi’s diagnosis of the rise of fascism in the mid-twentieth century, he shows how xenophobic nationalism was a reaction against the enormous inequality caused by the free market. It was a social defense mechanism. In our days, in it’s own unique way, it seems that history repeats itself.

In the economic sphere, what are the transitions that make the transformation viable?

Globally, you might think that 2016 can be read as the year of the end of the long 20th century in historical terms. The Brexit, the victory of Trump and the death of Fidel symbolically mark a watershed in the correlation of forces worldwide, both political and economic. Only the rejection of Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific treaties and the exit of the EU from Great Britain configure another scenario in the world panorama. García Linera points out that it is the end of globalization. Personally I think it is the beginning of another globalization. Ecuador must think about that framework.

In these 10 years has been able to walk disputing the sense of the barbarism of what is capitalism but obviously within capitalism. The autistic left believes that it was viable to do it from another system. Impossible! Sometimes I feel that this left doesn’t understand what power means, while the right has a great understanding not only of its meaning but also how to exercise it.

In summary terms, I can point out that in the book I argue that in this decade there have been three actions (at different speeds) that are essential to continue disputing a great transformation:

1) a great deconcentration of capital;
2) a new original socio-ecological accumulation;
3) a large accumulation of physical capital.

It remains a task of the vanguard to build a form of productive organization where redistribution is produced and produced by distributing. We propose the construction of a social economy of knowledge built from a collaborative logic.

In these processes, other common meanings must be configured to break the hegemony of the exchange value and a new social value-based appropriation based on life and use value. We must break with the society that knows the price of everything, but knows the value of very few things. The construction and appropriation of such a sensibility is the urgent task of the second transition now in dispute.

Does the left that you call autistic point out that the big winners are the capitalists? What do you think about this assertion?

The decade is won because the whole society won. The difference is that in comparison with the preceding decade, these ten years before had a deliberate priority: the poor and the workers.

In my book I show how the growth during these 10 years went largely to the poor and working class. Participation in the pie (which, incidentally, doubled) decreased by 10% for the capitalists and was distributed among the workers and in that so-called mixed economy (for example, popular economy, cooperatives, etc.). In these ten years, decisions were made that disputed a de-accumulation of capitalist logic; that is, that it passes from hands -either in stock or in future flows- of the capitalists towards society, either directly or indirectly through the State.

Here are some examples: the compensation of the two biggest social robberies in the history of the country. With the audit of the external debt and the recovery of the bank bailout of 2000; the social recovery of oil revenues; the financing of the doubling of the human development bonus destined to the poorest financed with the profits of the private banks are examples of this deconcentration of capital.

In structural terms, we must be vigilant that the trade agreement does not entail a re-concentration of the accumulation in transnational capital and that the original accumulation produced in this decade will not serve to generate accumulation elsewhere, but will produce a larger concentration of wealth where the economy it is produced. This develops a domestic pattern of economic diversification and specialization.

Likewise, there has been a new accumulation of socio-ecological capital and a democratization of access to programs which enhance human capacities. Access to education, health care, social security. Avoiding the emission of 6.3 tons / year of CO2 as a consequence of the change in the matrix energy, etc. Is it not amazing that the average life of Ecuadorians has increased 5.5 years in the past decade?!

In this transition, it is important to develop non-speculative physical capital to make another types of accumulation viable: roads, hydroelectric plants, ports, airports, etc.

What we must have clear about is that in the current scenario there has been an accumulation that did not exist before. The right is rubbing his hands over this. After this wealth that did not exist before was created, the Right seeks to concentrate the benefits in a few hands on national and / or transnational capitalists. They want to freeze the increase in social spending for 20 year and, impose the elimination of the state’s obligation to guarantee initial and secondary education made public and free by Temer. They want a reduction of the government investment in Science and Technology a la Macri. Then there’s Lasso’s proposal to privatize social security so that each “one chooses” its provider in the name of freedom.

it is clear evidence of a new accumulation that the great capitals in our continent intend to do or are already doing after the social decade won by the progressive governments. The proposal of the right: the appropriation of human capacities and institutions of common interest. We must realize that in Argentina, and Brazil, for example, the dispute over transformation has become very opaque.

What should be the strategy?

In the contest to constitutionalize Ecuadorian society, we must be clear about the meaning of the history we are currently experiencing. A free flow of goods and services does not necessarily place us in the nexus of the world economy. As I point out in my book, it seems that 2017 will be the beginning of the 21st century.

That strategy is of the last century and would plunge us into the worst dependency in history. When I talk about the great transition in the book, I also point out that it is not a single transition, but two: the one that Ecuadorians sign and that is embodied in the constitutional text and the one that happens on a world scale: the transition from industrial capitalism to cognitive capitalism based both on processes of speculative financialization of the economy.

The new commercial policy will be directed towards the management of intellectual property. This strategy must then be linked to intelligent inclusion in the powerful circuits of generation of knowledge, technology and innovation. And all this within a framework that addresses the needs and potential of our peoples.

Unfortunately, I see very little debate about what is the role of science in social transformation and what strategy of technological development ought be followed in Ecuador’s coming decades. Ecuador will not get out of the development traps previous set unless it has a clear strategy of how to break the technological and cognitive dependence it has. And it must know how to defend the biodiversity that it has.

It is not fortuitous that in world treaties countries are forced to put in penal codes randing from sanctions to imprisonment when copyright or property rights are undermined. Yet nothing is done when the biodiversity of our countries is stolen! This is biopiracy!

In my book I proposed that the new geopolitics is already contesting this knowledge-biodiversity relationship. That is why, the strategy I propose is for bio-knowledge for the good living of our peoples and nationalities. Thank God we have oil, but we must also be clear that only through deliberate social collective action can we be a tertiary exporting country of knowledge and technology. Thank God we have Galapagos, but thanks to the will of the Ecuadorians we are building Innopolis.

What do you mean when you point to the little debate that takes place on these issues in the electoral process?

It is very sad to see how we have fallen into the democracy of the “encuestología”, that the government opposition consists simply in opposing everything the government has done according to their surveys. That is no proposal for how the future should be goverened. Not only that, if one analyzes what the candidates say, the country would fail sooner rather than later. Ecuador has no monetary policy towards the dollar, so trade policy may be cut for obvious reasons. This is heard in the proposals of the candidates who say they will lower taxes, will remove the tax at the exit of foreign currency or the advance of income tax, etc.

When the government put up safeguards, among other reasons, to defend dollarization, the right immediately went out to attack it. It wants to guarantee quality rights as in the ‘first world’, with a fourth world tax system. This is unfeasible! If such actions take place, Ecuador will soon have to exit dollarization (if the price of a barrel of oil changes radically upwards). I think we are in a very serious debate in the economic field in the electoral process.

One more point: the repressed past is being disputed. The right says: the government spent too much, now it is necessary to amend through sacrifice. It is punitive morality which seeks to induce fear and solve it by pointing to a scapegoat. In all the opposition speeches a negative messiah is announced and the pitiful tone of Ash Wednesday of the revolutionary carnival is heard. The left must continue to dispute the future, to hope, to embody the conviction that it is possible for all of us to live well, here, today and in this land called Ecuador. Let hope overcome fear!

What role do the media play in this dispute?

The media are the main tool of power used by the right to produce disenchantment and despair. The news, the newspapers try to build the society of fear, of suspicion, of distrust. The news that grows most in audience are the ones with the most blood. To this is added the social networks. This new public sphere allows anonymous trolls to defame without any public responsibility.

Their strategy of pyramidalization (I think this means reinforcing hegemony) when trying to generate the news of the week is clear: they use the massive media and the big ‘influencers’ who have many followers in their social network accounts. Not those who are random private media journalists. Therefore, one of the main principles that must be challenged in tofay’s democracy is truth and defense of the public sphere.

As a citizen I would expect that any candidate for the Presidency of my country will always be attached to the truth and have the courage, in case of being wrong, to clarify and ask for public apology for the mistake they made. Not that lying ought be used as a deliberate strategy to win votes. That is the strategy of a right without morals. We must be clear that there will be no quality democracy as long as there is no ethics in politics and as long as the truth does not reign in the public sphere.

There is a left that indicates that it has been a wasted decade. What do you think?

I agree with the point made by Emir Sader: for those that see is as wasteful decade, it is because they wasted the decade. The question asked by the Brazilian sociologist is pertinent: if governments like the Citizen Revolution are responsible for the return of the right, as these groups usually affirm, then why is this ‘ultra left’ not strengthened? Because they have not taken advantage of the weakening of progressive governments and thus taken their place? No. It is simple. It is because they have no popular base and their arguments have not penetrated any sector of the population.

This left should learn that they are also responsible for their actions or non-actions. Unfortunately, the right has been much more astute and efficient in political terms than this left. It is no coincidence that this left in the next elections has no direct spokesperson as a presidential candidate. A left without a town, it is not a left. In this sense, it seems that the left noun remained large. Yes, they have wasted this decade!

What is the role of politics in this regard?

Perhaps as important as the viability of the contest is that the same described transition has been made within a democratic and peaceful framework. The process of social reconfiguration, having these characteristics, has allowed us to recover the trust in the other and above all the capacity of citizen astonishment in the face of social injustice – which has allowed people to move from indignant anger to the hope of a mindful citizen hope. The right is astute in pointing out that institutional confidence, citizen’s hope in and the recovery of politics are the main weapons that progressive processes have to move forward.

In this context, it is vital for the right to disenchant, to despair of citizenship and to dismantle the image of politics as a space to create a just social order. In this framework, it is necessary to understand political action as a means but also as an end to the process of change. In this way, political action must create a virtuous circle, based on actors that support and push change, and that the change they sustain and support strengthens them. Faced with the society of mistrust and fear that the right seeks to establish as a common sense, one of the main challenges that Lenín Moreno has is to restrain the citizenry – as he does- in order to continue with the hopeful spirit we have had in these 10 years, which implies generating another aesthetic in politics.

Reflections on a Former Lover’s Suicide in the Context of #MeToo

Recently I learned that a former significant other of mine committed suicide. While fifteen years had passed since we were an item and in that time we’d drifted apart, I still found myself profoundly affected by this news. Especially so as something that to a large extent defined and lead to the destruction of our relationship suddenly became something that wasn’t taboo to discuss.

Given the aims of #metoo and it’s importance for helping to initiate conversations that lead to policy solutions which stop the culture of rape in America, I decided to write a memoriam that would add to the conversation. Lest it seem I’m taking liberties with someone else story, I’ll point out I’m only speaking with the same openness that Krystal modeled in the descriptions of her struggles with mental and physical health and substance usage for years on her blog (NSFW) and on her social media accounts. What follows is thus a long format rendition of her #metoo story, from my perspective, that I hope will not only give evidence for the need for more action to be taken to prevent rape and give appropriate support to those that have been assaulted.

Shade Going Through the Field of Time

*

The first time I heard Krystal say the phase Beauty is pain was to explain something to me was when we were getting ready to go out to a goth club.

We were together in her bedroom at her parent’s house. The door was open. I was 18, she 16. I helped her tie up a black, lacy imitation-whalebone corset. She said that in the context of explaining how my concern over drawing the strings tight that she have difficulty breathing was unnecessary. “Beauty is pain,” she half gasped half said due to the pressure, “and I want my bust to look it’s best for you tonight. Tighten it more. So I can barely breathe, that’s fine. My boobs will look banging.”

We’d then only been dating a few weeks, so at the time I thought that Beauty is Pain was merely a witty comment of hers. Krystal was quick, perceptive and had a way with words. But during our brief relationship I came to realize that there was something more to this phrase. She’d repeat it in a number of different contexts, like it was a mantra, like it was a logic ever present in making itself felt in human existence. That night, however, I didn’t pick up the fullness of what all she meant by it.

I was reminded of this all a few days after I’d learned of the news of her suicide. I tried logging into an old email account I hadn’t used in ages and, sure enough, was granted access. I re-read the pages and pages of emails – something that now seems strange to say in this texting age – and a flood of memories came back from when we were teenagers. Most of our epistles concerns the  stereotypical topics you’d expect of adolescents, but there was another current beyond the banal and the flowery phrases of adoration exchanged in the first stages of infatuation.

Silk, from personal notebook #3 2001

In those sections where we outlined the way we understood Spirit; the shapes of our fears and how to deal with them; the outlines of the larger things we longed for; all these showed the divide between our world-views. Krystal reflections about life seemed raw and dark. Bitter. For me, while always open to admit that that murk that exists, I always tried to aim for light. I’m not saying I knew then she would take her own life, merely that there was a difficult to negotiate divide and her penchant for darkness extended beyond fashion style.

Because of her appearance – my freshman-year college roommates told me with more than a hint of envy in their voice how she looked like a goth Victoria’s Secret model. That night that I tied her up and we went out? She wasn’t even carded by the same bouncer that closely scrutinized the one legal ID, mine.

We danced together and socialized. I wanted her to get to know my friends so didn’t dominate her presence. Whenever she wasn’t directly next to me in our small group, however, male strangers would try to talk to her. She was respectful, but when conversation turned to flirtation she would quickly quit them and come over to stand close to me to show who she was with. Feeling juvenile pride at their rejection and her selection of me, I fawned over her. One person in particular – a long blond haired older man (which for me at the time meant late 20s)  – caused her to draw me in especially close. Uncomfortably so. The pressure around my ribs didn’t make me worried they break, but the crush of bone against bone was no pleasant sensation.

At first I thought this might be an ex that I was unaware of. A little tipsy, I mentally prepared for a fight, but he just smiled and continued to walk on. I looked down at her face and saw an expression that I did not then and do not now know fully what it was, other than that it haunted me. I whispered in her ear “Who was that?” and she responded “No one, I’ll explain later.” When we got home, she shared her story with me.

Portrait 2012

Several weeks before her and I started dating, she’d been raped by that man. At a party that he’d drove her too, he’d drugged her drink, cornered her and then forced himself upon her. The way she described it, she was in a murky haze due to whatever he’d dosed her with. She could see what was happening, but couldn’t get her body to move in the way her brain wanted. She willed it, yet couldn’t fend him off. This was why she was so affected when we were out together – she’d just seen that man that literally stole her virginity.

I’d later learn that this same person had tried the same thing with two of my female friends. In my novel Unraveling the very graphic, violent scene towards such a person with similar physical features as her rapist is a variant of the recurring fantasy that I had towards this person at this time.

Already prone to depression before, she explained, the traumatic experience had significant effects. She had recurring nightmares, felt anxious when around other people, took to cutting and became averse to most of her male friends. Beauty is pain, she explained, as it causes such strong desires in others that many people are willing to do unethical or immoral things to obtain or experience the object of their desires. She didn’t wholly despise her attractive visage, but felt it was like something that she didn’t entirely want either. It was a burden. A flood of what she was struggling with continued out and she ended it all with, ” …and you’re the first person that I shared this all with”.

I felt pride that she trusted me so much. I knew that our relationship and the disclosures she’d made implied a clear duty on my part. But how exactly to help her? Well, that I didn’t know. And it bothered me. A lot. So much that I thought about ending the relationship. It wasn’t because she’d been raped. No, I didn’t think that she was somehow tainted to her core as a result of her assault. No, it was learning the extent which she had suppressed so much of her emotional life that made me question whether or not a healthy relationship was possible going forward.

Portrait of Ariel Sheen

If this sounds shitty, it is, but full disclosure I’d already started to lose the initial enthusiasm I had for our partnership. Even before she told me this I’d picked up that something wasn’t “right”. I told myself, however, that it was the height of inhumanity to leave her side after she’d opened up to me like that as it’d likely lead either to her further close off from others or take her own life, something I learned that night we talked that she’d already tried before. I decided that I’d stay in order to try and do the best that I could to help break her out of the consciousness that kept pulling her back to the trauma’s she’d experienced.

At first, it worked. The bad dreams lost their frequency and intensity. She stopped cutting as often, but communicated to me that she’d only stopped as I’d asked her to.  Beauty is pain and sometimes in order to keep it alive you must make sacrifices. However the lessening or disappearance of each particular symptom didn’t mean that she’d overcome the effects the event had had on her. New ones started popped up or came back. Like the panic attacks. Hearing her describe the horror she felt being around people made my heart go out to her. But on the practical side it meant that each time I’d want us to go out, I had to mind a dangerous mine field that was our communication. I didn’t want to be selfish, but I wasn’t enjoying being wholly selfless either.

As our relationship continued I felt that our time was increasingly being occupied with issues related to her handling her rape trauma. It affected nearly every area of her thinking  and I started to resent our relationship. I told myself at the time that I stayed as I was optimistic. She was, after all, making steps to move past it so that she was less reactive to the many things which triggered her. Enough time has passed, however, that I don’t now think that that’s true. For one how she helped herself seemed to me to be a form of slow self-annihilation. As for why I stayed, it was more  aversion to shame for leaving someone for being raped in a bad place. It was a good intention, but the execution of which meant for an unstable relationship foundation.

“I’d Love To Break Your Heart”

To help “heal herself” Krystal illicitly obtained anti-anxiety meds like Xanax. While she was pleased with the way they made her feel vacant, to me that was exactly why she shouldn’t take it. The drugs shut up some the darker angels of her nature, but didn’t provide genuine relief from the underlying issues. She needed to come into her own, not numb herself.  Beauty is pain, she said with a face that was both vacant and bitter, you got what you wanted and now you don’t want it anymore but something else. 

My not knowing how to properly address the impact of the trauma was a major reason I ended our romance. At the time I hated myself for such a rationale. Now, however, I accept it as my having acted the best way I knew how. In fact, I should have ended it way sooner rather than let it drag on like a slowly removed band-aid as there was no way for her to have had a foundation for an romantic interpersonal relationship until she had a foundation for a healthy interpersonal relationship.

“Discarded Broken Dreams”

Krystal later tried therapy to help with the myriad issues she struggled with. During one of our intermittent talks she expressed aversion to talk therapy. In her blog you can read of her talking about her struggles with depression and antipathy towards the psychiatrists that labeled her bipolar. The dynamic she protested then matched the dynamic that has so previously scarred her: a male older someone handing out drugs that impact the mind to deaden the senses.

Whether or not this affected treatment, it seems to me that repetition compulsion in part explains the intermittent changes in medication and categorical disdain for the people she had to talk to in order for her to be provided with meds. After I completed my training at FICAM in 2013, she sent me an email expressing interest in doing bioenergetic therapy with me. I was happy at the thought of it as I was confident I could help her make some major inroads in releasing the energies she’d internalized, later proven true, but as she lived across the country this never happened.

Self-Portrait 2008

I know she knew this too at the time because things between us afterwards were amicable. For years after our split we socialized amongst mutual friends on a not-so irregular basis and wrote each other intermittently. After I got engaged, she even sent a nice note saying she felt happy for me as she’d not ever seen me appear so consistently joyful in pictures.

“Faithful Only She”

Lest it seem like I’m turning a whole life into the effect of a single traumatic experience let me be clear: These memories aren’t the only things that I remember about Krystal. In fact it is far from the thing that defines her in my and other’s mind. Krystal was kind and smart and creative and an amazingly talented photographer with hustle. Hearing her talk with the passion that she had about the arts that she practiced always impressed and inspired me.

Her self-made zine was an impressively put together outlet she curated from the creatives that were drawn to her. Her dark humor made some laugh and others squirm. She was an all around awesome girl and young woman. I’m detailing the long-lasting effects of the trauma as while I can’t honestly draw a straight line from that trauma to her choosing to kill herself, I also feel that had she not been drugged and sexually assaulted at 15 then she would likely still be alive.

“Creatures”

And it’s because of the fact that is far from an isolated incident, that with social effort could become less prevalent, that I focus on Krystal’s rape when memorializing her art and life following her death. I’m writing this not just to exposit on depression, trauma and their impact on romantic relationships – but as a base for action.

Those of you that read this that own her prints of Krystal/Cannibalized’s work, I’d ask that you please send me high-rendition scans of them along with typical archival info (name/date/etc/). I’d like to curate a collection of her photos and sell the prints in a hardbound book with the profits going to RAINN. If I can help fund one of their programs for someone that needs help like Krystal did, then I’d feel the work that I’ll put into it would be worth it.

Self-Portrait 2011

 

Interview with Danielle Bregoli

I first met Boynton Beaches Danielle Bregoli outside of CJ’s Island Grill in Lake Worth during their annual Street Painting Festival. This was before she was involved in some fisticuffs at the adjacent location. A friend of mine that was bartending, Nicole Abelove, had just denied her request for service. I spoke to Danielle and her handler briefly about my project of interviewing. The former wasn’t interested, but the latter took down my contact info.

Fast forward seven months later and I get an unknown number calling me. I pick up and it’s someone (named John, or James, Jared, or something else that was short and began with a J) introduced themselves as part of Danielle’s team.

I was rather surprised to be contacted by Danielle’s handlers. After all, I’m no major media outlet. I said as such to them, secretly wondering if this was a joke. But then he explained that he felt the interviews that she’d done with Maxim and Vice were purposefully shortened and edited to make her look bad and after reading the interviews I’d done with other South Florida musicians and artists (such as Kimmy Drake, Adam Sheetz, Niina Pollari) they felt that I would be a good person to sit down with Danielle and help “bring out a more thoughtful side” and give some context to music she was soon going to be releasing. Hearing about this “thoughtful side” of Bregoli was intriguing, as I’d honestly not seen anything that would make me think she had that, so I agreed to meet her to talk about her deal with Atlantic records and the controversy surrounding her being made into a star.

We met at one of my favorite coffee shops, SubCulture Delray Beach, and spoke there. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

*

Ariel Sheen

Hello there.

Danielle Bregoli

Sup?

Ariel Sheen

So should I call you Danielle or Bhad Bhabie?

Danielle Bregoli

You can call me Danielle. Bhad Bhabie’s who I be when I’m behind a microphone.

Ariel Sheen

Got it, Danielle. So would you say that Bhad Bhabie is more of a stage persona then?

Danielle Bregoli

It’s more like me being me but put to a beat. Ya know? It adds layers to me, like lasagna.

Ariel Sheen

Gotcha. So, you just dropped some music yesterday. This is your first time appearing as a rapper – you want to tell me a little bit about it?

Danielle Bregoli

Well, after my appearance on Dr. Phil I had so many people trying to get a piece of me just because of who I am and how I am it was crazy. I’m more than just a meme, and this is my chance to show that.

Ariel Sheen

I bet you had a lot of people trying to get a piece of your shine! I saw quite a lot of memes related to you online after that show. People I knew that are nowhere near your normal demographic were quoting you and talking about you.

Danielle Bregoli

Not surprised, I got a lot of haters.

Ariel Sheen

Why do you think that you have so many haters?

Danielle

Culture wars, man. Old people think I should be acting some way and are pissed that I’m not. Young people know that most of the old people telling them what to do and how to act are full of shit. They either relate or hate because I’m doing better than them without following the high school, college, career path that they think will get them what they want.

Ariel Sheen

I agree with you to an extent, but as someone who’s worked for several years a teacher I know how detrimental such an attitude can be to oneself and others when at your age when your primary responsibility is schooling. I think of the beginning of XXXtentacion’s song Look At Me as a prime example of such irresponsible thinking and behavior. I’ve seen enough kids that went through my classroom to know that those that idolize such anti-social behavior don’t make it to where they think they will in life.

Danielle Bregoli

You honestly going to sit here and tell me that learning about the technological developments around the Fertile Crescent are going to be useful to any part of my life?

Ariel Sheen

Like I said, I agree with you to an extent. That’s a good example you gave and a point I am sympathetic to. Can you give me a little more detail about what you mean? This sounds like something you’ve thought a lot about.

Danielle Bregoli

Yeah, sure. Well, I’m home-schooled. Since I’ve been doing that I’ve been able to learn a lot more. The way I see it the one-size fits all approach to education is bullshit. I know that’s not how things are supposed to be, and yet I’ve seen how this imperative to differentiate curriculum for students wears out teachers. Look at Florida’s retention rates, it’s ridiculous!

Ariel Sheen

I’m still with you.

Danielle Bregoli

Well you’re told that if you do good in school you’ll go to a good college, but that’s not always true either. Legacies have a much better chance of getting into the colleges that will give you the connections you need to really succeed. Plus those who come from wealthier families can help their kids out by supporting them through an unpaid internship and can help them buy houses – a foundational requirement for growing personal wealth.

Ariel Sheen

I think you’re making a fair point there – but I’m not sure that alone merits the kind of wholescale rejection of the system that you seem to now be proposing.

Danielle Bregoli

Well the same goes for a lot of other things. Journalists are supposed to tell the truth about things, but you can’t trust them because they’re either owned by big corporations or are dependent upon them for advertising or need to follow the government line lest they lose the ability to get information and quotes. Look at the contrasting coverage on what’s going on in Catalonia now compared to Venezuela?! Or compare how media covers black compared to white crime and how that affects sentencing.

Ariel Sheen

It sounds like you have a lot to say about things that upset you about America, why aren’t you using the following you’ve created on social media to bring awareness to these things?

Danielle Bregoli

Cause I don’t want to deal with the FBI or CIA watching over me like they have so many other rappers. We know cause of Edward Snowden that they already have operations designed to surveil kids going on and thanks to some good reporting we know that local police departments would like to do the same.

Ariel Sheen

I mean, I get that, but do you really think they’d target you specifically?

Danielle Bregoli

The FBI and the CIA? Yeah, of course! They’re like the sheep dogs of American culture. They work to ensure that no author, artist or musician develops values outside the narrative that they’ve established – a narrative that perpetuates elite cultural values that helps engender antipathy towards lower class people in general and African Americans in particular – and if they do that they’re not commercially successful. If some artist does step outside those lines, well, they either allow the wolves to get them, put them down themselves or get involved in their life to somehow harm them from continuing to produce such music.

 Ariel Sheen

That’s a perspective that has been voiced by other rappers in the past. Do you have any evidence to back that up, or have you been approached by people?

Danielle Bregoli

That’s a small question with a big answer. I think it best to approach it not necessarily by looking at history.

It’s well documented that the CIA was formed by anti-communists who held white supremacist views. Their bloody, sordid history in other countries is well known but people often forget they’ve operated domestically, contrary to legality, in a variety of ways.

During the Cold War, for instance, they sought to enlist American students in the crusade against communism. This, however, was just one of many intellectual and cultural fronts for the CIA. They actively engaged in the world of arts and letters, as well collaborating, funding and even help distributing television series and films that aligned with the world view that they wanted to be hegemonic.

Given their history of significant assistance to artists, intellectuals, and musicians in the past and the lack of government transparency in domestic affairs and its history I don’t think it’s that far-fetched. Now is it just them? No, I don’t think so.-There’s lots of political and economic affinities that draw people together to the message the government seeks to amplify about parts of the populace and profit off it.

I think this in part explains why myself, Kodak Black, XXXTentaction and Stitches and a number of others have been able to achieve a modicum of success despite having negligible talent and personal lives that leads people with positive social values to be repulsed by us. They ain’t the sole supporters, but they help behind the scenes.

Ariel Sheen

Wait, are you admitting that you, Kodak Black, XXXTentaction and Stitches are all supported, in part, by the FBI and CIA?!

Danielle Bregoli

I mean, I don’t have any definitive proof to provide, but I’d wager that in the future after certain documents are made public we’ll see that was the case. It is unusual, don’t you think, that my dad’s a police officer and so is Stitches step-father?

Ariel Sheen

It is, but I don’t know… It still seems a bit far-fetched.

Danielle Bregoli

Fair enough, let me give you an example. Have you seen Cardi B’s video for Bodak Yellow?

Ariel Sheen

Can’t say that I have.

Danielle Bregoli

Well first of all let me just say this. Cardi B looks like trash and raps like trash. Trust me, you know how people say real recognizes real? Well trash recognizes trash when they see it. I can’t imagine all the dicks she had to take in order to make it to where she at right now.

Anyway, putting aside that her lyrics are either banal or senseless, in the video Cardi B is, like, wearing this anarchist symbol along with all these punk rock symbols in one part of the video. Yet at the same time singing in the song: “I’m a boss, you a worker, bitch, I make bloody moves.” Like, think about that. Despite the fact that a lot of people were involved in her becoming famous she disregards their contribution and claims all fame for herself.

Then there’s Rihanna’s song Work, Brittney Spears song Work Bitch, Iggy Azelea’s song Work, Fifth Harmony’s song Work from Home… Compare all these songs that normalize work, praise the power of the lone individual over the collective and help perpetuate the American Dream myth with Nina Simone’s Work Song, and it’s world apart. Work there isn’t just some means to obtaining status symbols but a dreary enterprise force by economic necessity that has a social dimension, which if realized by the workers can be changed.

Ariel Sheen

Well I’ll be damned! So there’s a purposeful encouragement of an individualistic mindset whose hegemony benefits the ownership class because people see their struggles as personal rather than collective and their deprivation as a cause of insufficient energy exertion in the right manner rather than a symptom of American capitalism’s formation of economic and social institutions.

Danielle Bregoli

Precisely.

Ariel Sheen

I can understand now why your team wanted to have this interview with me – you have a much greater grasp of the relationships between music and society than I thought.

Danielle Bregoli

YUP! I might not be the best spokesperson for the undirected resentment for the establishment that most of the today’s youth feels – but that’s the point. Like Killer Mike says, you have to look at the man behind the man behind the man behind the throne… Once you’ve recognized that then you can see how everything else falls in to place. So long as what I say in one way or another helps prop up that order, I know I’m going to bank.

Ariel Sheen

Knowing all this, why do you still want to contribute through your behavior to the alienation of people that follow you?

Danielle Bregoli

Yo, the whole point is I’m getting fucking paid! I don’t give a fuck about anybody unless they giving me money – and even then I only care about them cause they giving me money. I don’t care how I gets it so long as how I gets it. My possibilities for upward mobility in this country outside of what I’m doing now are incredibly limited, so I want to sell out and make as much as possible.

Ariel Sheen

Is that why you are looking to get a reality T.V. show?

Danielle Bregoli

Yup! It’s something that people without talent, like me, can do to make money. It’s cultural schadenfreude.

***

*

If you enjoyed this entirely fictional interview, check out my equally insightful 2015 interview with Stitches.

Interview with Ariel Voyager

I began interviewing artists and writers from or based in South Florida about two years ago as I felt that there weren’t enough outlets to showcase and promote creatives and their projects that I felt were worthy of a larger audience. The idea was, in part, that through our conversations those works could take on a clearer relationship to the artists and their views which would, hopefully, engage people intellectually in a way other than the art form of choice and hopefully bring them some patronage.

Since I just self-published a book of poetry, I decided that I would take an hour and interview myself for the same end. In order to do this I’ve decided to name the author of the poetry book Ariel Voyager whereas the interviewer will be Ariel Sheen. This is to allow me the ability to have some humorous back and forth as well as for some somber reasons that will become apparent in the interview. I took an hour to write this, and it should take no more than 10 minutes to read.

*

Ariel Sheen
So when were you first introduced to poetry?

Ariel Voyager
I guess you could say at birth. My namesake comes from the British poet Percy Shelley. There’s a biography of Shelley by the same name that my father had read while in England studying with L. Ron Hubbard. Shelley signed the bottom of his correspondence Ariel, a character from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest because he so resonated with that character.

Ariel Sheen
Poet from birth then, eh?

Ariel Voyager
Something like that. When I first started to write regularly I was 16. I became involved in the West Palm Beach Poetry Slam community and for several years participated in performance poetry competitions.

Ariel Sheen
I presume you know that your collection of poetry basically has the same title as Pablo Neruda’s most renowned collection. What was the reason for that?

Ariel Voyager
Being coy I’d respond that it’s just a simplistic thematic description of what’s inside… Being candid I’d say the contemporary poetry market is something that’s ultra-niche and that if name recognition is enough to encourage someone to buy my book then so be it. The artists of today are always re-working the content of the past based on the needs of the present, so to me there’s nothing wrong with this.

Ariel Sheen
So over how long a period did you build this collection of poems?

Ariel Voyager
About 15 years. I think it shows too. You can definitely see some growth both emotionally and aesthetically in them.

Ariel Sheen
And were these all “real love poems?”

Ariel Voyager
What you do you mean by “real love poems?”

Ariel Sheen
Well excepting the ones that seem to be more about social issues related to love – like Dowry Street and Hipster Pedagogue – were most of these poems that you wrote for someone, you know, while you were in love with them?

Ariel Voyager
I’d say that most of them were written with someone that I was involved with in mind, but despite the title of the collection whether or not I was in love with them is a different story.

Ariel Sheen
What do you mean?

Ariel Voyager
Well I’d just mentioned emotional growth on my work. The majority of these poems are from my early twenties. Now being in my early thirties I would define this as a period of my life when I was emotionally stunted.

Ariel Sheen
How so? And if that’s the case, then why share them?

Ariel Voyager
I wanted to share them because though the sentiment behind some of them aren’t always “loving” in the sense of adoration and appreciation they’re still compelling as writing.

Ariel Sheen
And how has love changed its meaning to you over time?

Ariel Voyager
A lot…

Ariel Sheen
Care to go into specifics?

Ariel Voyager
Well. It’s just that that’s a big question. Do I start talking about how as a child, the period of life when most people have that modeled for them, by saying that I had no standard presented to me as to what romantic love was?

Do I start during my pre-to-late teens, when the relationships both my parents were in weren’t based on what I would call a robust feeling of love but resignation to responsibility and desire for security? Or do I begin in my early twenties, when I set my mind on being a writer and then devoured the works of Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski, Milan Kundera, and Friedrich Nietzsche? Do I detail how I felt intoxicated by the ideas and narratives they presented and how it had deleterious effects on my romantic relationships, my perceptions of what love is, what it could be and its relationship those seeking to pursue a life centered around the Belles Lettres?

Do I open in my late twenties, when the accumulated pain from that world view was pushing me to read psychology and counselling books so I could have a new view of love? That doesn’t seem appropriate either as it took a while for that to really seep in. Perhaps I should commence from more or less the past year, when those vacillations between the adolescent and mature world views finally stopped because I can say that I have a mature understanding of the term based upon reading and experience? I don’t know…

A page from my early 20s notebook

 

Ariel Sheen
Well, that certainly gives me an idea of how your views have changed. I’d asked as I noticed drastically divergent perspectives on love in poems like A Simple Request and the Ode poem compared with ones like Those Skeletons and Silk.

Ariel Voyager
Yes, well, those were all for different people at different times in my life. The latter two from when I was a teenager and was obsessed with the British Romantics. The former I wrote when in my early twenties and believed that selfish, amoral behavior was the manner in which to embody love for oneself (thanks Nietzsche!) and also up the quality of adventures that would be grist for future creative works.

Ariel Sheen
So then Menagerie, which is clearly about your ex-wife… Was that one of your mature poems about love?

Ariel Voyager
Heh, not really. I wrote Menagerie two plus years after our divorce while single. Towards the end of our relationship I’d been reading a lot of books on communication skills for couples, how to overcome fear of vulnerability, how to forgive, how to develop emotional intelligence. You know, the things that schools don’t always do because parents are supposed to but don’t always do. With this in mind I decided to write what I wanted the relationship to be like since the actuality of our life together was so divergent from what’s expressed therein.

Ariel Sheen
That’s, well, kind of sad.

Ariel Voyager
What happened, yes. But it was my fault for marrying someone that didn’t genuinely love me in a mature sense, let alone herself. To be fair I don’t think that she was alone in that. I certainly was dealing with some issues then that deserved correction. After all, we were engaged after two months of dating and two months later moved to Barcelona on a whim.

As for the poem, a couple of my friends expressed similar sentiments so I get it. But I think at this point in my life that it’s important to really understand the workings behind such an attraction and unraveling as it helps people to process the experience and guard from it’s recurrence. I’ve known far too many people that have found themselves suddenly single and broken mentally and emotionally and seem unable to move on. It was just a coping mechanism.

Ariel Sheen
Interesting. So you writing as an exercise in catharsis.

Ariel Voyager
Not just me, but scientists as well. Writing and other forms of creative outlets have a purgative effect of the negative energies we feel.

Ariel Sheen
True. Which is a good transition for the next poems I want to ask you about slash check if my periodization of your poems is correct. That means your last two poems Un/Binding and The Ascent of Icarus…

Ariel Voyager
Are the only genuinely recent poems in the collection. They are in part about my refutation of the character/caricature I’d adopted by identifying with such literary masters.

Ariel Sheen
I knew it! So you still think of them as masters?

Ariel Voyager
Absolutely. I can appreciate their craft while being critical of their content. They informed my world view at a deep level for a long time in a way that I can’t deny.

Ariel Sheen
Can you tell me a little bit more about those poems? They’re the only ones that seem to exist as a pair, they speak with the greatest urgency, they seem to display the maturity you’ve been talking about and they’re the only poems that have an element of time in them – excepting what’s clearly an addendum on Notes.

Ariel Sheen
Well, I re-connected with a former lover from my early twenties about two months ago. My muse from that period of my life. More than that, really, as I’ve not had another one since and despite several “serious” relationships. She was the only one that I felt truly understood me on a spiritual level – which speaks rather poorly to my choices for romantic companions as they were chosen more for presentation rather than personality.

Anyway, we’d first met when I’d started to fall under the spell of those writers that I talked about before. Yet despite this she elicited in me a willingness to be vulnerable – a quality I’ve struggled to embody as it makes me feel uncomfortable – and we shared what I felt to be a profound intimacy. I’m normally very intense and high energy, but when I was with her she calmed me down and I felt at ease. It wasn’t just that we had some similar issues in our upbringing, but where all of my other lovers have sought to make me their project – a lawyer, a professor, a therapist, a politician – but she just accepted me as an aspiring artist on a journey.

Which is ironic as after graduating from FAU and I sought adventures like those I’d read about in On The Road, Off The Map, The Thief’s Journal, Journey to the End of the Night, You Can’t Win, Tropic of Cancer, Sexus and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I traveled abroad in Europe for a long while and in the mean time she moved several hours by car to pursue a new career.

Ariel Sheen
So that’s the story behind the line “I proffered naught but hope a decade plus ago/That when we next see each other again it’d be like it was”

Ariel Voyager
Yeah. I’ve since looked at my journals from the time so know for sure that I rationalized my breaking off contact with her as a combination of “I’m doing her/us a favor as the distance between Jacksonville to Fort Lauderdale makes this unsustainable” and as I was hurt I was no longer able to see her. I thought I was being mature at the time and moreover realize now that then I started to shut off those parts of myself down that I’d later see as necessary for a healthy relationship to work. For a long while self-sabotage, unfortunately, was a bad habit of mine when dealing with emotions I didn’t know how to properly process.

Through some form of Facebook magic (Thanks Zuckerberg!) she popped up on my “People You May Know” feed. I liked one of her photos and we started talking again that evening, making plans to see each other two days later.

In the lead up to seeing her I was more nervous than a drug mule at a pat-down check point at the border. Over and after lunch all was great between us and the day after next, as I did not do so in person, I confessed my shame over my behavior on the phone and told her that she’d grew into the woman that I always thought she would – which was true.

She said something to me that cut me to the core. She said that the way I treated her years ago made her believe that she was “just another girl” to me. I told her there and then she was wrong, but didn’t go into the details about it that I have here. Instead I wrote those two poems with hopes of getting to know her again.

Ariel Sheen
It sounds like you still love her.

Ariel Voyager
I mean, yeah. I do. Shortly after the new year I even found myself going through old notes to find a passage I’d copied from a book I’d read not too long ago that touched on what I was feeling:

“Romantic love offers not just the excitement of the moment but the possibility for dramatic change in the self. It is in fact an agent of change… Romantic love takes on meaning and provides a subjective sense of liberation only insofar as it creates a flexibility in personality that allows a break-through of internal psychological barriers and taboos… It creates a flux in personality, the possibility for change, and the impetus to begin new phases of life and undertake new endeavors. As such, it can be seen as a paradigm for any significant realignment of personality and values.”

But I’m also aware enough of my thoughts now to recognize that an element of this attraction is my idealizing of our past, wanting to make amends and, most importantly, that her interpretation of what we shared has a very different emotional inflection than my own.

Ariel Sheen
So what do you think will come of it?

Ariel Voyager
Oh I’m doubtful anything will other than a gradual falling off. Were any of my former lovers to contact to me with such a story as the one I’ve told above I couldn’t honestly see myself giving them the opportunity to demonstrate they’ve changed. Now there’s major, major differences between them and her and of course, and the phrase “Sometimes second chances work out better than the first because you’ve learned from your mistakes” certainly comes to my mind, but I can’t downplay the truth of how hard it is for someone to shake away a negative view that’s been accepted as true for so many years. That’s brain chemistry. Years of specific neuropathic associations. I may be forgiven, as she’s told me that I am, but those make my desire to test the waters have to work extra hard against that well worn track. Plus, our physical distance makes an easy re-acquaintance impossible. I may be willing to make the effort to see and be with her, but whereas ten some years ago that was what was wanted I feel that now it just comes off as, well, weird despite my having no real desire to stay in South Florida and have because of the uniqueness of my job the ability to move wherever I’d like. Ironic when you think about it…

Ariel Sheen
Finding irony amusing instead of fighting for what you want? That doesn’t sound like you. It sounds like you’ve given up! Isn’t love worth fighting for?

Ariel Voyager
I think love conquers all, yes. But that’s not what we have now. Maybe there’s some mutual fondness over long past memories and pleasure in conversation, but beyond that I’m can’t honestly say there’s more to it. I’m a romantic, for sure! But I’m also a realist that can see that while something more would make for a great story, it is, however, unlikely.

Ariel Sheen
How does that make you feel?

Ariel Voyager
There was a time when I would have fixated on it and felt pain for not getting what I want. But I know that this would lead to another round of depression and self-medication and I’m so over that cycle so I’ll take a longer view and take comfort in the memories and the unforgettable reminder not to lower my standards as to the qualities that I should be seeking in a partner that fits my particularities.

Ariel Sheen
Ok. Interesting. Look at you Mr. Mature. Let’s move on to some other poems. I was wondering about the poem The Hipster Professor, The Leftist Demagogue and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. That poem, which has many of the qualities of a short story, seems so be referring to real people rather than placeholders for common academic stereotypes. Am I right?

Ariel Voyager
Yes, those are real people! The Leftist Professor was Simon Critchley and the Hipster Demagogue was Micah White, who would later be one of the two co-founders of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. I met them both at an academic conference at SUNY Binghamton several years ago.

Ariel Sheen
Besides being critical of them, you seem to be somewhat critical of yourself there.

Ariel Voyager
Yes, well, that’s because I was. I’d wrote a draft for that poem years ago and when coming back to it was of a very different mindset. That said I still think their politics are shit.

Ariel Sheen
How do you think that love ought to operate on a social level?

Ariel Voyager
That’s a bigger question than one I’m ready to answer now. For now I’ll say that I think love relates not just to the people you choose and who choose you as a romantic partner but is evident in social values as well. In Heaven’s Mansions I try to show how selfish it is to build beautiful spaces meant to be enjoyed and wall them off. In Dowry Street I try and point out the absurdity of a society that keeps so many people close to poverty that they’re willing to turn a sacred ceremony into a means of supporting themselves. These are aspects of love, at a larger scale than exists between two people, that I think are worthy of recognition and discussion. I write about this in more detail in some of my more explicitly political poems.

Ariel Sheen
Do you have any other creative projects in the works right now?

Ariel Voyager
No, because after all of the above came to your awareness in a manner that you couldn’t avoid, you killed me.

Ariel Sheen
True. Though you have to admit it was a long time coming…

Ariel Voyager
True. So at the end of this interview let me then ask you, do you have any other creative projects in the works right now?

Ariel Sheen
In deed I do! I’m taking a break from the serial novel project I’ve been spending the past year or so doing character and historical research on to work on a comedic screenplay in hopes of it being adapted to film one day. Golden age of film and all.

Ariel Voyager
A comedy? Wow. That’s quite a divergence from your rather serial novel project.

Ariel Sheen
Yeah, well, I need a change from working on what I hope will be as impactful as Atlas Shrugged and I’ve had enough people tell me I’m funny that I think I might be able to get paid real money should I get it in the right hands.

Ariel Voyager
Well, I wish you, and thus me, the best of luck in your endeavor.

Ariel Sheen
We are not the same, but I thank you nonetheless! Bye Felica!

Interview with Niina Pollari

311625_346479362095924_817264665_n
Niina Pollari

Ariel: So, tell me about Dead Horse.

Niina: Well, the form or the function or some other aspect of it?

Ariel: Surprise me.

Niina: Well, do you know Dead Horse Bay, the place?

Ariel: No.

Niina: Okay, so there is this weird place in Brooklyn called Dead Horse Bay, which is down in South Brooklyn kind of near the Verrazano Bridge. The reason for its name was that it used to be surrounded by glue factories, where the carriage horses would go get processed.

Ariel: Oh, wow.

Niina: Yeah, it is kinda grim. Especially after the automobile took over New York City, the carriage horse thing was no longer lucrative, so they made it a dump. Even better, right? And, so, it went from a glue factory to a dump. But then they were like, oh crap, we shouldn’t have a dump this close to the city. So they capped it and sealed it, and then the cap at some point later burst. So, now when you go to Dead Horse Bay, you find horse bone shards and fifties-era garbage, like weird bottles and shoes and things. And so it’s a very weird experience to go there. Like, you can actually take the bus and disembark and go through some hedges and then you’re on the beach filled with garbage. It smells weird, like chemicals. At low tide you find horseshoe crab corpses and it feels very much like, not a part of New York City. While, definitely very much being a part of New York City.

Ariel: Still goth and somewhat obsessed with death after all these years! [laughter] I love it!

Niina: Yeah, I know. I almost like to talk about it, because once I find a place that talks to me, I kind of think of it as mine. You know?

Ariel: Yeah.

Niina: But of course, thousands of people go there all the time. It’s not a beautiful beach, but if you’re into the decay of cities, it’s a really cool place to visit. And so, and then there’s of course, like the idea of beating a dead horse and how much that kind of sounds like it’s about the body. As you know there’s a lot about the body in the collection, so that title seemed fitting. Plus my editor pointed out that I use a lot of single-syllable, elemental words, and the title is just like that. You know, the thing down to its essence, basically.

Ariel: So, Carl Phillips has said that poetry is more of a transformation of experience, rather than a transcription of it. What do you think about that?

Niina: I think all good literature is a transformation of experience. Poetry can perhaps be more obviously that because people expect poetry to take certain cognitive leaps. It’s not as specifically straightforward as an art form. As the sort of the weird cousin of prose, it doesn’t always make sense. So, in that way it allows you to be very transformative. You can hop from one thing to another, subject matter-wise, a lot faster and with greater ease that you could in prose. With prose you’re almost forced to explain your thought process and connections more. I think readers of poetry allow themselves to make connections more intuitively. In poetry, readers don’t necessarily expect you to do that, so that’s the great part.

At the same time, though, I’ve gotten a lot of comments about being very clear and straightforward in my own poetics, in terms of like what I write. People are always coming up to me and saying “Oh I’m not usually a poetry person, but…” and then they go on to say that they enjoyed it, or got something out of it, or bought my book. I think that is really cool too. But although I try to keep my language clear and essential, I still expect my readers to get weird with me.

Ariel: Speaking of clarity, I wanted to ask you how important accessibility of meaning is to poetry? Put another way, should one have to work hard to solve a poem?

Niina: Of course it’s wonderful if a poem talks to a lot of people. And when I edit, I really want things to be clear. But a poem takes its own life once it’s out in the world. It gathers its own momentum and it doesn’t always do what you meant for it to do. I think if your poem’s meaning is accessible to people, that’s amazing. But if you’re trying to intentionally obscure or hide your meaning, or make yourself seem smarter by being needlessly complicated, I think that’s where poetry really gets a bad rep. I can’t stand overly academic writing, period. That goes for poetry and prose and everything in between. I just think that you should know what you’re saying. Have enough control over your language to guide the reader, but leave some room for them to be surprised.

Ariel: Oh, I agree wholeheartedly. I can’t stand obtuse poetry. When I took poetry workshops with Susan Mitchell at FAU she had us read a lot of language poets, because that’s what she was into and I just couldn’t stand it. And then there’s what’s published in, say, the New Yorker, which for me is sometimes hit, mostly miss.

Niina: Yeah, language poetry is not necessarily for me either. I need to have something tangible in the world. I need to be grounded in reality, at least part of the way. Even when some of your content is impossible or implausible or surreal, there needs to be something that keeps you oriented or grounded within the framework of the poem. In that book, for me, the tangible thing was often a sense of place.

Ariel: Oh, yeah, I agree and I think Dead Horse does exactly that. I even said in my review there was only one part that I found myself, like unsure of, and the rest I was like, yeah I get this. This is, this is comprehensible and that was great.

Niina: When you’re reading something and you understand the location or the premise or you understand something fundamental about it, it allows you to get at the subtleties of it and that that allows the complicated stuff to sneak up on you. Then you’re not flailing to understand the mechanics of it.

Ariel: Yeah, once you get the, have the general focus, you can start looking at the little pieces and maybe like, play around with them.

Niina: Exactly.

Ariel: Okay, tell me a little bit about Kiss Me in the Boring Rain project as I too am somewhat obsessed with Lana Del Rey.

Niina: Oh yeah. So, I found myself listening to Born To Die and thinking a lot about it and not quite being able to grasp why I liked it so much. Some of the lyrics are kind of basic and it’s not that’s it’s musically that complicated. The album wasn’t even that well produced in some parts. But something about the persona that she adopted – the absolute certainty with which she talks about her devotion to the darkness of love, made it rattle around in my brain. And so, I slowly wrote the poems while listening to particular songs, like on repeat, until I got some lines down. There is something about her that I can’t get over, but that project helped me a lot with my obsession around that album. It helped me put the album away a little bit.

Ariel: I know how you feel. She’s easily one of my most listened to artists in the past five years. When I saw her play live a few months ago I didn’t even care about the lackluster stage show just because I was so caught up in the lyrics music. Anyway. Shift of topic. I know you attend a lot of poetry readings and even host your own, Popsickle. I’m curious how has the Internet informed and contributed to the well-being of poetry in your mind?

Niina: Quite a lot. It makes sense to poets. I think poetry benefits from the immediacy of Internet because it reduces the turnaround time on publishing in journals, or in any form of print really, and I feel that poetry works best when it’s reactive to the zeitgeist. When there’s a faster cycle between writing and publishing it, it’s good for the medium. It’s also easier to reach more people than a print subscription to a journal would. Not that print is not valuable, of course it is, but it’s just like more, it’s got a wider reach and more tentacles, you know.

tumblr_nir7h6n6zx1rpk21wo2_1280
Niina at a poetry reading accompanied by violin.

Ariel: Cool. What books in print are you reading right now?

Niina: Right now I’m reading Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair, and Green Girl by Kate Zambreno.

Ariel: I’m reading a history of Miami’s segregationist housing policy. It’s academic history, but written in an accessible way and I find the subject fascinating.

Niina: Actually that sounds extremely interesting. I’m working on a little bit of prose which takes place in Florida. So I was just reading about Everglades draining, which is another smart idea Florida had.

Ariel: Yeah, Florida’s land developers haven’t always been bright, but they’ve always known how to sell the idea of a potential that on closer observation is detrimental to everything that made it in the first place. I took a Florida History class at FAU and the professor had said about how it’s this underserved niche in the field.

Niina: I think Florida’s a really interesting state because of it’s heterogeneity in population and it’s proximity to different areas of the Americas and of the world. And because, it’s the place sketchy people go to disappear for many reasons.

Ariel: Yeah.

Niina: There’s also its various environmental issues. There’s just so much to say about it, and it should be taken seriously, but like, Florida’s sort of the crazy bitch of America, right? Everyone’s like, “Oh Florida, there it goes again!”

Ariel: “Florida man does something unusual and awful again.”

Niina: Exactly. I wanted to start a Twitter account for like heroic Florida Man stories that were like “Good job Florida man!”, or something. That stuff happens too it just doesn’t get as much circulation.

Ariel: Yeah. We’re not all dying from eating too many roaches.

Niina: Yeah, we’re not all like throwing an alligator into a Wendy’s.

Ariel: Haha! And of course that happens in my hometown of Jupiter, way to go Florida Man!

Niina: I know! That made me laugh so much when I read it.

Ariel: Yeah, all my friends were sharing that too. Almost as a counterweight to that kind of notion I’ve been reading a lot of works by Florida authors lately. I just finished a collection of short stories by Jennine Capó Crucet about like Cuban life in Hialeah. Then there’s Paul Kwiatkowski, who wrote Every Day Was Overcast. Weird coincidence, but after I interviewed him a couple of months ago, I’ve since found out that I have three mutual friends with him.

Niina: That’s awesome. Karen Russell and Kent Russell both write about Florida too.  And Sarah Gerard is publishing a collection of essays about Florida next year with Harper Perennial.

Ariel: Karen Russell wrote Swamplandia!, right? My eleventh grade students are reading that in their English class right now.

Niina: That’s awesome. Yeah, I love her. Her short story collection is really good.

Ariel: Yeah I want to read Swamplandia! too, but, like, I need to stop buying books for a little bit and finish reading all of what I have, so I don’t.

So now that we’re talking about all these books, I wonder how did your MFA influence your creative process?

Niina: If I could go back in time I would do a lot more research about MFA programs. The program I attended maybe wasn’t the one for me, because it was super narrative, and about as literal as poetry can be. But, the main way it influenced me was getting me to New York and, so you know, hooking me up with an initial community of people who were my first readers and all that stuff. And I still stay in touch with like a couple of the people and they’re critical in my process. So, that part, that part mostly, community I guess.

Ariel: I read this article in Jezebel that touches on some of the subject we’ve been talking about – the internet, reactivity and poetry communities – and was wondering if there was any overlaps with your experience.

Niina:  I attended one of the schools where this particular “inappropriate literary man” taught, and although my personal experiences were different than the ones this article touches upon, I felt that the program’s atmosphere was very male somehow. Maybe it has to do with some old-school notion of the MFA program, but in retrospect it’s especially confusing to me at that school because the program was mostly non-men. That was ten years ago; it does feel like there’s a change in the air now. Voices that might have stayed silent even as recently as then aren’t staying silent anymore, and that’s a good thing.

10854378_10152567078932293_1827545056150246777_o

*

Make sure to read my review of Dead Horse and then buy it of course! You can follow Niina’s website by going here. Also, as a special Halloween treat, dear reader, feast your eyes on this collaborative poem that Niina and I wrote when babies for duo-poetry performance: I present to you Degothalizer 2000!

 

Interview with Adam Sheetz

headshot

I’ve been acquainted with South Florida based artist Adam Sheetz for almost a decade now. I met him first at FAU, watching him perform in an anti-war folk duo he lead. After being taken in by the combination of high talent and humility I was further impressed as we spoke on current political issues. Since then I’ve seen his talents contribute to other worthy musical endeavors in numerous local spaces and also seen his graphic art work at a number of venues. While a fan from the beginning, I’ve also noticed that at each new encounter with his work that his artistry has improved – something noticed not just by me but also by those that voted for him and got him the award of New Times Best Visual Artist of 2015.

I met with Adam Sheetz at his house in West Palm Beach. After he showed me around his house filled with unique, carnivalesque art and guitars I chatted with his wife Lindsey for a bit we made our way to his studio. After I looked over the canvases that were in the room and perused some of the books in his library, many of which I also had in mine, we had a shot of whiskey in homage to our shared appreciation of Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson then cracked open beers and started talking about a number of things. As the interview was three hours and forty-five minutes, or 38 pages transcribed, it had been edited for readability and concision. Enjoy!

*

Ariel: So what are you setting up on the easel right now?

Adam: I thought of a Trump piece last night. I’m going to do Trump now in a big diaper crashing through D.C.

Ariel: One of the things that I’ve noticed in the content of you work is a negation of the dominant tropes and narrative of American society – be they politicians, police or religious figures. A negation of that negation, as it were.

Adam: Well I try and leap for the most exaggerated, most grotesque forms of what is actually out there. I really want to be objective for this show. I don’t really want to be supporting any particular candidate. I just want to put the shit out there. I’m not in the business to make people look pretty, I’m in the business to expose people for what they are. If I can elevate the negative to a level that is so farfetched from what it actually is, but within that there are still tenants of a deeper truth, well than that is exactly the kind of attention that they deserve and need. I’m not saying exaggeration is the only way to arrive at a real truth, if you are just telling it like it is, few people are going to pay attention. If you throw in some tits or a politician jacking off or something, people are more likely to look. I mean, why shouldn’t artists use the same methods of big business advertising and culture. Sex sells.

Ariel: That’s precisely why my second book has so much sex in it.

Adam: There you go.

Ariel: So I really like your Animal Farm series. I’m curious to see what thoughts you have that words and qualities associated with being an animal, apart from being a tiger in bed and or hung like an elephant, are typically negative. Do you think that this type of objectification influences the way that people treat the environment?

Adam: I actually wasn’t even going for it in that sense, but I like the connection.

Ariel: You can use that if you like.

Adam: [Laughs] Yeah, I will. With that piece, you know one thing that I have been struggling with in my art, especially taking as a subject something so explicitly that is thematically socio-political, you know the easy way out would be to do each politician as they are. You know do their portrait in some way, but you know that’s only going to last for 2-4 years before it is irrelevant. But the problems are always the same.

Ariel: That’s a really good formulation.

Adam: So my struggle is you know, how do I attack these people by attacking the problems that they are creating? I’ve found very often that the best way to do that is through animals. There are so many parallels to different personality types in the animal world. Not just that, but the symbolism that animals hold in the Bible. I feel that I do a better service to the issues by not putting the people in there. I think if you put people and faces that are recognisable, it gives them more credit than they deserve. It then makes the piece about them, and I think if you make it about them you ultimately miss the bigger structural issues at hand. It makes my art more universal.

I don’t want to be thought of as a cartoonist. I want my low-brow shit to be infiltrating the high-brow world. I want to just flip it on its ass. I think animals are just the best way to represent people at the end of the day [laughs]. With that series, you know each animal represents a different aspect of society

Ariel: Walk me through it?

Adam: Sure. Rather than an eagle, my take on the national bird is the vultures – that’s why it’s displayed with the flag in the background. It’s the first piece in the series and it’s meant to orient people so they know the theme is America politics. Then there’s the saturated pink and green pig. The green background because money and the pig is the businessman. Then there’s the yellow cowardly sheep, which is basically the general population being shepherded around. Then there is the peacock, which is your glitz and glam reality TV culture. The peacock and the sheep go hand in hand because you get to the point of being a peacock and only concern yourself with exterior appearance and keeping up with the Joneses and the status quo. I think ultimately it evolves you to being rolled in with the sheep.

Ariel: Interesting. I took it to represent bourgeois intellectuals.

PH44art800Adam: The peacock?

Ariel: Yeah.

Adam: That wasn’t my intention. The peacock is the animal representing one of the seven deadly sins, so that was my thought behind it. But I always enjoy hearing what people take away from it, especially if it is not what I intended because now I could have a whole new narrative. Tell me more what you mean.

Ariel: So for me it’s the smile that makes it what I said. Peacocks represent the regal, the rich, but they are not it. To mix bird metaphors here, they parrot the rhetorical positions of “jobs creators”, and get well kept for it, like birds in a menagerie. I don’t know, maybe it’s just something about that smile that makes me think of William Buckley.

Adam: The thing I love about art is when I do a piece, by the time I am done the narrative has changed and I find things that I draw that I wouldn’t call forced symbolism but triggers “that means that” even though at the time it wasn’t what I intended. See

Ariel: Counter to what we have been talking about, I have a question about The Death of Marat. This piece, is there at particular face that was supposed to be on there?a548ee_3773a08a57914005ad0d1ab8eba68102.jpg

Adam: No. There was no particular face. I was reinterpreting the well know piece by David. That is actually one of my favorite pieces of David’s. I wrote one of my finals in college on him, basically paralleling him to Fox News and other major news networks because at the end of the day they only report what they are paid to report. If whoever owns the company, like Murdoch, doesn’t like something they are not going to report on it. David was a patron of whoever was in power at the time. Whatever direction the revolution was going and whoever paid him the most, that was who he painted for. So I kind of equated him to a news network of that time. The French revolutionary epoch is so fascinating. It paved the way for so many things, politically, socially and artistically. I’m glad you asked about that piece.

Ariel: Well, I wanted to bring it up as even though your style has changed since then I see within it, almost all of your work really, the same radical, emancipatory spirit that inspired the art of that period.

Adam: Thank you! I’m getting goosebumps. That is a very kind compliment.

Ariel: Yeah, it’s why I like you work so much – it speaks to my head and to my gut.

Adam: Good! I want my work to cause a visceral reaction like that. I want people to walk out of my show feeling unsettled. I don’t claim to have all the solutions to addressing the social grotesqueries that have become banal and commonplace and thus accepted. I want my art to put a question mark in my audience’s head that encourages them to seek some sort of answer. I don’t expect that my work will change the world, but god damn it if it isn’t my hope.

Ariel: Well, if it’s any consolation I can’t stand most of the art that I consume at galleries or museums and yet yours speaks to me.

Adam: Thank you. I mean yeah, as it is conceived today, I am a shitty contemporary artist because I don’t pay attention to what is happening in the world. I mean it’s the commercialised world in this day and age. For the most part, that or you’re a “crafter”. You know? For as pompous as I sounded saying that, I don’t mean to. I’m probably one of the most humble guys. You know?

Ariel: Yeah, I mean, I’ve known you for a long time and you definitely are.

Ariel: Yeah, I get it. I’ve been trying to get into contemporary writers. I mean, it’s hard. They write about bullshit I don’t care about. I mean you can only read so many “troubled home” stories before it’s like… okay. I get it. You had a shitty home life. Now find something other to talk about that’s bigger than you.

Adam: Exactly! All art is really just regurgitation at this point. A lot of what I have seen in contemporary art basically just tries to match the formula of what sold last year. There are handfuls of artists that are doing something real, though fuck if I know who they are. I know they are out there, they have to be, I’m also not going to wade through a bunch of mire just to fin them. I mean, that’s part of the reason I try not to pay attention to “what’s hot”. I don’t want to be inadvertently influenced by anything like that, for better or worse. If I want to be influenced I go back to my heroes like Goya, Basquiat, Deschamps and of course Stedman and Picasso. And speaking of Picasso, actually, his work has a style I’ve been trying to figure out lately how to do. I’ve been trying to do a 2D painting of 3D, by mixing and matching the planes. I always thought that was such an interesting concept – but I want to take it a step further, like paint something illustrating the detritus of our current socio-political climate. You know, where there’s not just one problem but all these different angles. I think a cubist representation of that would be a very honest.

Ariel: But what would that look like? I mean, the way you describe it makes me think of Balzac’s the Unknown Masterpiece, which ends with a brief description of this painting that’s clearly aligned with the Zeitgeist and yet nearly indescribable as a language has yet to come together to structure it’s meaning.

Adam: Honestly, I have no idea yet. I couldn’t even say what the subject would be at the moment but I’ll get there. I use liberty a lot as my subject. So just thinking off the top of my head I imagine it might relate to her. But if I were to do a cubist piece I think it would be, maybe something along the lines of the three bathers painting. Something like I did with the “Now and Then” series with Liberty, Justice and Nature. I would probably do those three women in a cubist style and try and fit as many planes of conflict as I could in there. That may be my project for next year, though I’m not sure.

JusticeThenNOW800MotherNatureThenNOW800

Ariel: I like the concept and am glad you brought up your “Now and Then” series depicting Nature, Justice and Liberty. I thought was great visually, but I’m honestly a bit wary of the politics of nostalgia. Could you speak on your intentions with it, as the implies something that, say, “Ideal and Actual” does not.

Adam: It never existed fully, no, though at the same time you could say that the pre-Colombian people’s here had something closer. I mean, if you look at all of the social injustices from the start of our country, we’ve never been a fully equal society and a fully just society. With the exception of nature, I don’t think there was ever a truly ideal “Then” for any of the subjects that was fully representative of what we all would love them to be.

As far as liberty goes, I’d also say that was significantly more prevalent prior to the kind of techno-surveillance culture we have not. Not for everybody, slavery, obviously, but I feel that liberty has taken a turn for the worse and I guess that was really the turning point between the then and now.

Ariel: So I’m glad to hear that you feel the “Then” never existed, and is just a rhetorical trope as I was going to get on your case about that. After all, it’s a variant of Donald’s “Make America Great Again”.

Adam: [Laughs] Glad you were ready to call me out. I don’t make art for people to tell me it’s good. I expect to be challenged. I’m actually glad you brought that up because you’re absolutely right and I agree with you 100%. But for the sake of the piece it’s the starting point of a narrative. One that starts out as a fairy tale – this utopia that never existed – and we arrive at this gross truth of what it actually is. I think with this view the “then” is exists as hope as something that we can return to, rather something that we can arrive at for the first time.

Ariel: I like that. It evokes the idea of a return to paradise almost, even thought the then is something that we would be arriving at for the first time. Which all makes me think of a desire armed to return there. Considering that Lake Worth is the home of the Earth First  Journal and your works contains a number of radical political themes I was wondering if there has been any sort of exchange between you and them.

Adam: Actually, yes. Earth First has contacted me a few times. Unfortunately we have never really lined up on some of the stuff I have versus what they needed. That’s actually a good reminder for me to reach back out them because now I have a few pieces that might be interesting for them. I love Earth First. I love everything they are doing. Somebody needs to do it.

You know and early on at FAU, like ’07-08, right before I met Cecil and you, I played in an anti-war folk band. I had a percussionist and me on acoustic guitar. I used to play at protests against the Iraq war. I was a member of A.N.S.W.R. Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. I went to Washington DC with them in September when Petraeus was coming out with his new budget report and asking for more money for Iraq. There was big protests going on – not on the news, of course – and we took a van to D.C. We marched to the capital, some friends got arrested. One of the organizers was one of the first men on the ground. His name was Mike and he had a video which went viral. Although there is not much time for it now. I still feel like I am doing my part with painting, because somebody has to.

[We break to have a cigarette outside]

Ariel: Now that I see it in your garage, in front of me, one of the questions I had for you was for you to walk me through The Persistence of Reality. The picture on your website is small, but it is such a huge piece.

Persistance of Reality

Adam: It is so far my best attempt at paying homage to Hieronymus Bosch.  This piece basically maps the terrain a barren kind of cultural landscape. The only thing that looks lush and fertile is the facade. This quest for visibility and 15 minutes of fame – reality TV culture – I think is dragging us through the mud as a culture.

So you have here these people lining up to go down to watch framed in a manner that alludes to Bosch’s work, “The Cure of Folly”. Back in the day people used to think that people who did bad things had something in their brain and called the Folly Stone. Because of this belief they, logicially, originated the practice of lobotomies originated. They would take out a piece of the brain thinking that would cure them of evil, which is why there are medieval tools in the picture. Up here you have the US Capital Building, the Whitehouse and the flames with this big monster. You have the Hollywood spotlights going. Nobody is paying attention. These are two of my favorite figures that I have come up with. You basically notice that the eyeball around it looks a lot like a vagina. The tear duct is like a clit. So I kind of flipped around, stuck an eyeball in there and created this kind of Uncle Sam foyer figures. You know, kind of representative of the NSA.

Adam: The lush fertile area is just a backdrop. The stiletto wearing vultures. It’s the transformation of what was once the sacred feminine, into this profane “women are bitches and whores”. It’s just a fuckfest down here.

Ariel: Considering that we’ve been talking about animal’s relationship to your work, I like the animal masks that you have them wearing.

Adam: You could chalk it up to the laziness of not wanting to paint a bunch of faces.

[laughter]

Ariel: Did you go to school for art? Or are you self-taught?

Adam: A little bit of both. I went to school for studio arts/graphic design but I still haven’t technically graduated FAU. I learned a lot, but basically I kept going to get access to materials. There’s a number of professors there who have helped shape the seriousness with which I do my work. Of all my art training, what I took the most from was my art history classes, more than the practical application and the studio classes. The studio classes were a chance for me to exercise what I had already been doing, but with new tools.

Ariel: So how do you think your art has changed over time?

Adam: One of the things that I struggled with earlier on in my career was arriving at my own style that was separate from my influences. That was the struggle. I think where I am now compared to where I was 10 years ago and it’s a whole different world. To go deeper, there was a point where I had to break down what I was doing and rebuild it. This is no small task, you know, a whole new world had to be built upon the old. I adhere to that concept in a lot of aspects in life. I think that it’s the most productive way to go about anything at the end of the day – something’s not working, you tear it down and build upon it. Now, for me to pick up the pen and the brush and have it be fulfilling, I really have to be saying something. If I’m not saying anything, it’s a waste of my time… unless I’m getting paid [laughs]. I’ve got a little one to feed. I’m not going to be the one to paint a still-life with a bowl of fruit in it.

Ariel: Or like just a nude.

Adam: Right. I mean it’s not saying anything.

Ariel: Right?! I mean love women. I will ogle and appreciate and blah, blah, blah. But when it comes to my taste in art, however, I need to have some kind of more redeeming, edifying element. I want my naked women to be leading the people.

Adam: Exactly, like Lady Liberty Leading the People. That’s one of my favorites. I actually got to see that one in person at the Louvre.

Ariel: Oh. So on the about you section on your website, you say that you frame your work as portraits of beauty by means of crude exaggeration. Do you think that the anti-septic nature of current socio-political discourse is detrimental.

Adam: Yeah, everything today has got to be so prim and proper and clean and the choice of what people emphasize as being important is just so askew. A lot of times nobody can tell it like it is because so many people have become over-sensitive cry-babies. I mean we live in a culture where you get a trophy just for fucking showing up. That’s what it’s become.

I don’t know when it happened, but I think my generation was when that shift happened. I’m 27 and I can remember my senior class was the first class ever at Cardinal Newman where no one that graduated received senior superlatives in the yearbooks. Too many mothers complained that their son or daughter wasn’t picked for something, so they stopped doing it. I don’t know why this generation has stopped knowing what it was to earn something. I also went to a private Catholic school so a lot of the children were privileged too.

Ariel: I knew a few girls there from when I was in high school, so I know what you mean.

Adam: Haha, yeah… So I was the bottom bracket of the kids at that school. Which I enjoyed because you know, I could be my own person. But I think that the societal discourse of giving trophies just for showing up-

Ariel: We are going to talk about some adult things, “trigger warning”.

Adam: Yeah, and I don’t see how sugar-coating everything and being so politically correct that there is not an ounce of truth in what you are saying, none of that s anything that can help bring us forward. Nobody wants to hear the truth, nobody wants to hear the bad stuff. I’m not saying that foul language etc should be a part… that’s not what we are talking about. Being PC all the time doesn’t get us anywhere though. You can’t have a positive and a positive and expect a reaction at the end of the day. If you break it down to physics.

Ariel: Well I mean, I think at least from the developmental sense. Everybody fails at some point.

Adam: You have to fail and you need to learn how to deal with it. It’s a given that I want the best for my son, that I want him to succeed. But I don’t want him to succeed without failing first on his own. I don’t want him to be destitute, living in a gutter. Failure is a part of life, it is how you grow. Sometimes you run into those walls in your life where you just have to make a decision and hope it pans out. Hopefully you come out smelling like a rose. It’s a practice of to keeping your wits about you, you know?

Relating this to my art, I think about when I stopped drawing with a pencil and started drawing with a pen. I was forced not to throw the piece away, and make something out of the mistake. That’s been something that I live my life by. I think everybody is expecting to go through life with their own personal filter when what they really need is to grow a thicker skin. Nothing is the end of the world.

Ariel: Except global climactic change.

Adam: This is true [laughs]. But even that, I think the anti-septic nature with which that political message is delivered may be doing a social disservice. Treat the public like they can handle how many billions invested in housing and infrastructure will be lost due to catastrophe and maybe something more substantive can be done about it. Instead of the honesty we have fucking Rick Scott preventing state workers from even using the phrase “climate change”. What a sad joke! It’s reasons like that which is why you can’t have an honest debate. It’s just arguing feelings.

Ariel: Yeah, totally! Like I was saying outside, I’m increasingly tired of trying to have real discussions with people online. I don’t talk about things I don’t know about but nobody else seems to think that this matters. They want what that guy [I point to the illustrations of Donald Trump] gives them, they want feelings rather than a complex, nuanced historically based perspective.

Adam: Or they want a sound board where they can bounce their shit off and hear themselves talk, or hear it regurgitated back to them in an agreeable manner. It’s all bullshit and just adds to the veil that is clouding our perception of what reality is. Not everybody is going to get along. That’s just a fucking fact. Find out your differences. Agree to disagree and if it don’t really matter then move the fuck on. Don’t get so butt-hurt if shit doesn’t go your way. If shit doesn’t go your way, maybe you should figure out a way to make it so that shit does go your way. Not in a negative sense though.

Ariel: You frame it in a way that I am wholly in accord with. One some of these important issues lets relate to each other on the actions that need be taken together as a community and through that we’ll heal some of our own issues.

Adam: Exactly.

Ariel: I love how you are all about doing something creatively, that I do as well in my writing, which is openly assimilating forms and styles from other places. A couple of other artists I know are so caught up in trying to be completely original that I think it hinders their ability to compose something great.

Adam: You can’t be original now. We’re just reshaping the past in a way so that the present can understand it. If I was so focused on creating something new, I would be wasting so much energy that I would end up with nothing. What I am creating is original enough, but it’s also an amalgamation of many things past – as all art is. History isn’t some thing, it’s what is happening now. And there are always smart, talented people who have said and done better than we can currently dream of creating.

Ariel: Heroes.

Adam: Exactly, and my heroes have always been those people who said it better. So I think by thinking that you can do it better in your own way is awfully arrogant.

Ariel: And neurotic.

Adam: Yeah. That’s the thing as well, seeking that kind of false comforting thought means that there is no drive to better oneself. Why try any harder in a format that other people have already mastered? Because there is the easy way and the hard way and it’s only in the latter time you really learn who you are.

If I can be vulnerable right now, that is one of the reasons I try to be so serious about the outside things that I tap into for my work. Whether that is historical subjects or different artists. I research because I enjoy and love learning and research. I write different notes and ideas down. I have a little pad that I sketch the ideas and inspirations for my bigger pieces. It’s a juvenile approach.

Kind of like throwing a bunch of shit against the wall and seeing what sticks. It often starts when I am trying to fall asleep. In order to do that I try to use ideating sleep rituals, it helps create a pattern of creative thought. Hopefully I remember it when I wake up. Some I do, some I don’t. I feel like the ones I don’t remember weren’t meant to be created. And anyway I don’t have the time to do every idea. The ones I do remember end up being fairly successful and what I want them to be. So I basically start with a general idea that begins with me trying to fall asleep and then when Thursday-Friday comes around I get the opportunity to put pen to paper. For pieces there is a lot of research involved whether it is researching history or artists or different composition styles, or researching different design clips that I can use. More often than not it is body parts or mechanical things. I’ll print them out and see what kinds of shapes I can make and how it can work. Sometimes I scrap it, but a lot of times I’ll just lay the stuff out, stick it on the paper and force it to dictate the piece to me, based on what sticks out to me at the time. It’s a push and pull. A lot of times, what I find out during the process will tell me something different to what I started with and I’ll end up meeting in the middle. Then all of the vibrancy, perversity, saturation – everything in my work – has to speak to something. Nothing is arbitrary. If it’s a line somewhere, it’s for a reason.

The way I see it’s like, good art is a psychic weapon that attacks things. This is my spell casting book.

Ariel: Then you must be like Hermoine, I see that you’re constantly making new works and it’s all so great. You are much more disciplined than I am as well. It looks great though.

Adam: I try to maintain discipline. Gonzo style. With everything around the house, being a new dad, I put in at least 10-15 hours a week on my own work. It’s a habit. Heh. The things around the house I need to write down, keep a schedule for work. Not for my own stuff though, I don’t want it to feel like work but second nature. It took discipline to get to this point, but I knew if it didn’t I wouldn’t get to this point. If I have a goal, I will work non-stop. If I don’t have some big project at the end of the line, it’s harder. So thankfully, I’ve got this show coming up. It will definitely be something they have never seen before.

Did I tell you one of my marketing tactics I’m going to do is campaign signs and the name of the show is going to be called “Nobody is safe” and it’s going to be put all throughout Cleveland. Super bright posters. Red, white and blue. It’s where we are right now.

Ariel: After this series, do you have anything you were thinking about next.

Adam: I was thinking of doing a show out west in California next summer. The Dead Kennedy’s are a huge influence on me and what I say and do in my work. They are the first band that I feel has the same velocity and crassness but still poignant at the same time. I feel like it is what a want to achieve with my work. A juvenile yet sensitive rejection of authority.

So my idea of a follow up show would be doing a series on Dead Kennedy’s and hopefully getting Jello, if not the whole band involved somehow.

Ariel: Who knows, maybe he’ll end up reading this and be as taken in with your art as I have been so he’ll reach out to you.

*

If you’re in the area, make sure to check out Adam’s upcoming showing, information below.

13225006_1021922514545078_623418571_o

Also visit his website to purchase prints and follow him on Facebook and Instagram to stay up to date with what he’s working on!

In Memory of Matt Mahady

Matt MahadyA good friend of mine, Matt Mahady (1972-2016), recently died of a heart attack in Hodinin, Czech Republic. Upon hearing the news I was immediately shocked. I found it hard to find succor talking to anyone that didn’t know him and over the next three days I intermittently broke down crying.

I first met Matt when I was 16. I’d driven from Jupiter with my then girlfriend Niina Pollari at a poetry slam in downtown West Palm Beach held at the Underground Coffeehouse. Though we were younger by some eight to ten years, Niina and I were welcomed warmly and all quickly became friends with a number of the talented performers as well as competitors on the poetry slam circuit. After Underground closed down, we’d meet in Delray where the estimable Marya now hosted the event.

The teenager years are a formative and heady time for everyone. It’s when we start to assert ourselves, to push our boundaries to find out what is acceptable, what causes aches, what brings us satisfaction. It’s when we start developing our taste for culture. Long an avid reader, my early development oriented towards les Belles-lettres. Before, after and in between performance poetry rounds, we’d discuss literature, artistic performance and politics. The youngest male in the group, Matt and Andrew seemed to take me under their wings. Andrew encouraged me to broaden my teenage radicalism, then under the influence of Crimethinc, and would even later be my professor in a Riots to Revolutions sociology class at FAU. Matt praised me for my taste for classic literature and introduced me to the Beats and their ilk. After a long yet thrilling discourse on the themes, motifs and values of them I asked him who was the person of this group that I should read. Bukowski, he said. Over a several month period after he’d suggested I read The Last Night of the Earth Poems I devoured all of the works that were available at the Books-A-Million I worked at as well as a few from the nearby Barnes and Nobles. My appreciation for Bukowski has since grown more complicated than the fawning amazement that I felt when reading his work at that age and it was made all the more so being able to talk to such a clearly talented singer, musician and poet while chain-smoking cigarettes on the couches outside DaDa.

Over the years we became closer friends. After I moved back from Orlando from an academically disappointing freshman year of college at UCF, we would hang out for drinks at places in Lake Worth that didn’t card, kick it at Boca Raton open mics, meet up for protests outside Burger Kings across the tri-county area to help the C.I.W. workers gain more attention for their protests in aims to achieving a living wage. Into my last year of college I started to find the allure of slam poetry less pulling. I became more cynical about the competitive nature of the event and found that the restrictions I’d once found no issue with more problematic. I’d once read and believed a certain quote by Shelley, the person after which I was named, which said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Attune to the turns of history and armed with greater perspective I simply didn’t feel that way anymore. It didn’t stop me from writing or taking long treks to see my idols such as Saul Williams and Taylor Mali, but I lost the passion for it that Matt exuded.

Once I moved to Fort Lauderdale for work Matt and I, let alone the rest of the Slamily, didn’t see each other as much. We would still made the effort to meet up for New Years or other occasional get togethers though. Be at Havana Hideout or some other local dive, I still loved to see him sing, play music and talk over intoxicants. As I still felt passionately committed about politics, I even invited the C.I.W. that Matt had introduced me to to speak there.

Matt always had his demons that would sometimes lead him to a poor state, but once he was talking about his passions – literature and politics – he would light up. That light, however, left him after his son Sage killed himself. I visited him a few times after this and found trying to bring him up from this wreckage impossible. Not only is consoling someone for such a loss a Herculean task, at that time I was going through what was at the time the most traumatic experience of my life – the separation of my fiancé and I. So low myself, I certainly didn’t have the fortitude to preach hope and promise a closure that may never come. One night though I remember that we emptied a twelver at the Lake Worth Gold Course than continued to walk and talk about women, art and everything else until the sun came up on Bryant Park. We stumbled to his home and crashed. Even though I’d heard some news from him that night that hurt me a little, I felt a little less alone and a little better. Matt never told me if he did as well, but I’d like to think that he did. I left for NYU shortly after this and he left for a brief period out West before then going to Czech Republic.

Matt and I exchanged emails from time to time, but I’m notoriously bad at keeping up friendships when someone isn’t within distance of a two hours drive. He’d ask me if I was still dealing poorly after my breakup. I’d lie and said I wasn’t. I’d ask him how Czech was, and he’d start paeans to it. Knowing my wanderlust and love of Prague, he encouraged me to come out and move to Czech. I’d tell him I’d think about it, which was true, but I never did anything. Shortly before I graduated he’d asked me to review a funding proposal for a NGO in the Czech Republic that helped Roma-people. Given his previous work with the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lake Worth, this was so Matt. I was ecstatic. Him asking for my thoughts on such a matter made me feel as if I’d achieved something, like I’d finally come of age. It so lifted me that I later sent him the first draft of my novel. Had he praised it it would have been enough, but that he was working on something similar made me feel even better.

The last time that I met Matt was shortly after my divorce had been finalized. He’d come back to the States due to issues with his Czech Visa and we made plans to go to one of our old haunts, Havana Hideout, to catch up over some beers. The time before I’d seen him in person he’d been in one of his down states. Now, well, this was a different person. He’d put on some weight, but considering how he looked when last I saw him this was a good thing.  As he narrated the drama of being placed in custody and dealing with immigration agents he spoke with greater peace and equanimity about such a stressful and unnerving experience than I had ever seen him before. He even cracked jokes about he had formed a bond with one of the guards there by using the Czech word for comrade. He spoke at length of adoring love for his current partner and recanted his once rakish attitude towards women from when he’d worshipped at the altar of Bukowski. I felt almost as if i didn’t know who I was sitting next to but nevertheless I was happy as he looked so genuinely happy. I asked him the cause for this and he told me that recently had found Jesus. Not the Jesus of the conservatives, he was quick to say, but the Jesus of Liberation Theology. Matt always had a special place in his heart for Latin America, so that he’d made such a turn towards a perspective akin to Óscar Romero I wasn’t that surprised.

Knowing that I’d just come from two years of Marxian studies at NYU, he seemed to pause to see if I would pounce on him for such a position. When I didn’t he seemed relieved. I didn’t say so out of deference to a formative influence or just to be convivial, but as the issues I’d been dealing with around my divorce made me feel less militant, more fragile, more open to the perspective that people don’t always know what is best for them and that there are certain anxieties and humans needs that radical politics can’t always adequately address. We both found affinity on the idea that that which leads to love, real transformative love, is worth valuing and holding on to. I shared in detail my own pains, which I’d kept largely to myself out of fear of being ridiculed and he reflected back nothing but compassion and understanding. This openness led him to share with me how for years he had blamed himself for his son’s death and how this feeling of responsibility had weighted on him – and I’m quoting him as I remember it vividly – like an albatross that didn’t just weight him down but took him places he didn’t really want to go. He said his perspective was once such that if he wasn’t feeling the pain of Sage’s loss than he was somehow dishonoring his memory and not being true to how a father’s love show be. Now, however, he realized how ridiculous this was. Now, he said, he was able to forgive himself for those behaviors that he’d once hypnotized himself into believing had caused such an inscrutable act.

Over the six hours we spent that day chatting it up I feel that almost half of it was on love. Love for our partners. Love for people. And perhaps most importantly, as it is the foundations of all other, love for oneself. I left him back where he was staying feeling lifted not only for having such a great discourse, but also for seeing someone I care about that had long had demons raging inside him look as if they were all exorcised. His aura gave off blue tinge in my rearview window as I drove off.

There’s so much more I’d like to say, so much more that he deserves to be said in his memory, but right now I’m still reeling from his sudden death. In closing I’ll just state that I’m sharing below a small number of his poems as I feel it would be a shame to lose them to posterity only in the form of a few pieces of folded and stapled together chapbook parchment in his family and friend’s bookshelves. Plus, I believe, that giving them out would appeal to his pinko sympathies. I hope that even lacking his unique voice and delivery someone else can see a small spark of his tremendous energy and talent in them. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Love Poem to a Feminist

Not
An ode to privledged white women
Toting books by bell hooks
Alongside the mirrors and cellphones
In their pocketbooks
Not
An ode to Victorian-era prudes
Tired as Qualudes
Wearing their superior attitudes
Like nun’s habits and collars of starch
Demanding Vegan food on the farmworker march
Love poem to a feminist
Who did not concern herself
With chastising guys
Who use the word guy
Collectively
She never sat at a poetry slam
With a politically correct barometer
Ready stick her dogmatic thermometer
Up the ass of anyone who failed to pass
Her litmus test of acceptable art
Oh,
And she wasn’t no gringo
All bent out of shape
By mi vatos’ street lingo
No
She lived a life of quiet valor
In the bantustans of Palestine
Her hands were dirty
But her heart was clean
A flower in the wasteland
A butterfly in the latrine
Rising like the dawn
A smoulering Phoenix
Spreading wings of kerosene
From the corner of Florence and Normandy
To the refugee camps of Jenin
In the winter of our content
The trough of our desire
In the valley of our despair
In the line of fire
Wafa Ali Idris
Age 25
Had been active as an ambulance volunteer
In the first Intefada
No Feng Shui
No Birkenstocks
She nursed children who through rocks
At tanks and armoured ranks
She dressed wounds under bandages
Covering the empty sockets
Of young boys eyes
Cradled the raw, rank hamburger shanks
Of their shrapnel flayed thighs
Cries and whispers
Whimpers and cries
High pitched screams
Forever dancing in her dreams
Like a settler on the warpath
Bloodthirsty for a bloodbath
Until
One day
She decides
To put the keening to rest
Kneels before God
Straps a bomb to her chest
Jaffa Road marketplace
Jerusalem West
101 hornets stung in their own hornets nest
May she rest in peace
Eternally blessed
In the breast of Jah Almighty
Mighty as Aphrodyte
Wafa
I wrote this poem for you
And Wafa
Your mother is proud of you
Outside your door
It is written
In green paint
That drips fresh
As your martyred blood:
Any people whose women fight
Will be victorious.

No Man is a Villain in His Own Heart

No man is a villain in his own heart…
Ronald Wilson Reagan
Napoleon Bonaparte
No man is a villain in his own heart
Not the slave auctioneer tugging on his ear tearing families apart
Not the child molester in blue polyester stalking the toy aisles of your local K-Mart
No man is a villain in his own heart
Idi Amin wiping his plate clean with an ala carte order of severed genitalia
Washing it down with a shot of Gevalia lie-cure
He thought he was pure
As the virgin Madonna
Feeling his ginsana
As his teeth ripped human flesh like an Amazonian piranha
No man is a villain in his own mind
No blue-eyed devil
Who just got his shoes shined
Will recognize that his immortal soul kind
Of resembles the dried-up twist of lemon rind
He left behind
In a cocktail napkin lined with creases
An unsigned thesis of dread
Whose impossible Braille won’t even be read
By the living dead legions of overfed marionettes
Who rise from nether regions of nightmare and cold sweats
Shellshocked as ‘Nam vets
They lurch and wind
Trying to pass themselves off as humankind
Perpetually blind to the idolatry that has defined
The world that’s been designed
By and for them
Million dollar half-a-men
Making massacres like Tienanmen
No man is a villain in his own bones
The Israeli soldier who listens to the tones
Of techno music through his Sony headphones
As his semi-automatic sput-sput-sputters and groans
As he shoots upon children for throwing stones
At the Ariel Capone’s of occupation
No nation is a villain in its own black soul
Even if that nation’s C.I.A. payroll
Includes thugs that fuck nuns up their bleeding assholes
And hang pregnant women from telephone poles
And blast holes in the terrain
Of every Tarzan and Jane
Who refuse to clear the lane
For the Amtrak train
Of empire

No nation is a villain in its own eyes
Regardless of whether they trouble the skies
Of dirt farmers with B-52 bombers
And churn out Jeffrey Dammer ghouls
From torture schools
Like the S.O.A.
In Ft. Benning, G-A
Where grads learn to burn gonads
And strip fingernail pads
Out among the hush of lush, tall Georgia pine

No man is a villain in his own spine
A bitter grudge against my lover
That burns us both like strychnine
Benign neglect, cause and effect
She lies withering on the vine
She’s given her heart
But I won’t give her mine
She lies weeping on my bed; A.M., 2:09
As I fill up this page
Word by word, line by line
Then reach to refill my empty glass of red wine
No man is a villain in his own spine

There’s a Fascist at the Table

There’s a fascist at the table
Down at my local pub
Gunpowder grey irises
Nose like a .38 snub
No hair on his bullet head
Steel toes in his shoe
He’s a friendly enough fellow
If your skin is the proper hue
There’s a fascist at the table
That aint nothing new
Eating pickled hermelin
Slugging down his brew
Getting all nostalgic
For 1932
When they roamed the streets like wild beasts
The golden dawn of their ancient Greece
There’s a fascist at the table
When the skinheads come to town
Say what you want about the old days here
But THIS would have NEVER been tolerated
Government wringing their hands as to what the right approach is
There is only one way to deal with fucking cock-a-roaches
The police should have cracked open their heads in the streets of České Budějovice
And painted red the cobblestones of its every charming, quaint ulice
To let them know: Ne vice!
Send them to the nemocnice
with punctures in their plice
or back to they vesnice
In pine wood krabice nebo boxes
Because these vermin are led by wolves and foxes
Who will eat us alive
If we allow them to thrive
There’s a fascist at the table
When the brownshirts of Ostrava march
Some fat old oligarch
Planning programs of pogrom
Stirring hate up like napalm
Like Americans in Vietnam
On-line at genocide.com
Trafficking in fear
A fearsome puppeteer
Manipulating marionettes to murder
And you should have heard her
anguished wail
When none of those Nazi’s
went to jail
That put her teen boy into a coma
He was guilty of being Roma
Simple as that
You know,
Sometimes they even put you in an oven for that
There’s a fascist at the table
Of the Board of Directors meeting
There’s a fascist at the table
Reserved for Parliamentary seating
There’s a fascist at the table
When they are carving up the spoils
There’s a fascist at the table
When they are stealing native soils
There’s a fascist at the table
When they kill to drill for ore
There’s a fascist at the table
Every time there is a war
There’s a fascist at the table
But he’s been here before
Last time he left on a stretcher
I’m surprised he came back for more
There’s a fascist at the table
Chesko,
Slovensko,
Lasko,
Pozor

Song with Andrew Procyk

(Fugitive/Militant) in a foreign land
Rusty old (kalashnikov/machete gleamin’) in my hand
it doesn’t really matter if you understand
your hourglass has run
out of sand
You strike the coal till you make it hard
hoeing rows of cane on the boulevard
honing hatred sharp as a diamond shard
make the government call out the national guard
(Chorus)

This one was born in zion
all my fountains are in you
this one was born in zion
ain’t no ape inside your zoo
Deliver us from the minions of debauched inequity
from the bloody rack and pinions of hit and run hypocrisy
beneath the cruel steamrollers of asphalt bureaucracy
that pave over the butcher shops where they commit democracy
(Chorus)

On the Nod

A six-foot tall beetle
With a darkly iridescent carapace
And chili pepper eyes
Scythe arms snipping at the air like half-scissors
Disconnected
As the scene that came before it
The scene that now returns
A sugar cane field burning on a moonless night
Flames reflected off the flat black face
Of a pond standing still
At the foot of a kudzu covered hill
Two hours ago I crushed up a little round pill
Whisper softly now whisper softly now
God lives underwater
Where the rocks are smooth
And anemones groove
To the oldest music of all
As my eyes open to abstractions
As I understand new
Words
Worlds
As my at-least-for-now lady ages gracefully
As we attempt to de-fang the venom between us
Before our watery love turns wooden
But love forsakes us all
We’re better off studying horseplayer odds
Than we are trying to figure the algebra’s of feminine deception
Let X = a red dress that hangs in some forgotten closet
While we drink green beer in bleak neighborhood bars
Claiming to have learned something from the experience
Claiming to have learned ourselves a lesson
As if there is meaning in the dandelion copulations we attempt
As the wind blows us onward
As if there is meaning in the ticking of the clock
Meaning is a senseless koan
We are born we live we die along
Meantime
Lovers lose lovers in the whirlpool swirl
They sleep they dream and the fog disperses
Into the vaginal void of dawn who spreads her legs
Until sunshine emanates from her starry womb
I’m on the nod
Like a narcoleptic
Trembling with epileptic seizures of holy spirit
The truth will make you sick
In sickness there is wisdom
On the nod
Like Chapiquidick bridge
Brainwaves droning like a didge
In an aboriginal forest
A bird of paradise beating like a heart in my chest
Pinballs bounce the bone white walls of my skullcap
My brain is a train following a treasure map
Mirrorball shattering
In the lair of neon tarantulas
Who scuttle in
Grinding teeth
That shine platinum
In the black light
I’m rubbing my eyes
My balls itch
When my eyelids close
Chinese kites
Sacred rites
Arctic dragons breathing ice instead of fire
Lions on the veldt
Escher print wallpaper
On the inside of a ginger bread house
With silver ovens fired up
Hotter than the McVeigh death chamber
Melting oil-on-canvas representations of
Streetcorners half-painted
With cytoplasmic splatters
Pollockesque
In their density
Immensity
Intensity
“Everybody’s looking for something”
Hunters killers prostitutes priests
Bent lonely men casting nets off the pier
Palsied and sere
Septuagenarians shaking bony fingers at phantoms
As the roominghouse walls close in
Enfeebled toothless pigeon feeders
Roaming the park after dark
Sipping malt liquor beers
Flophouse King Lear’s
Drowning in tragedy
Delivering Slurpee cup soliloquies
In the parking lot of the local 7-11
As the sun sets its flaming eye
In some pocket of the sky
Where hypodermic fingertips
Lash the mainline
To heaven.

Africa

Africa
My father and my mother
Africa
I miss you like a lover
Like a best friend who died
Africa
I carry your soil inside the treads of my old blue sneakers
Pantsula for life
Still blasts out the speakers
Of my old hi-fi
Making me wonder why
I ever left the Icarus height
Of that lush mountain crest
Where we took our rest
After scaling sheer rockfaces
Traversing musk soaked places
Where baboons nest
In the breast of Azania
Africa
The anarchy and mayhem of your chaotic frontier
Rushes my ear
Like a rampaging river in flood
(Roasted miele baskets floating atop a human sea)
Africa
The bean counters of the West
Are overcome with detest
Seems your wars of liberation from colonization
Caused a currency fluctuation
That ruined their vacation
Ox-driven carts slow the path to Pretoria
Elephants block traffic in the middle of the road
Your hyenas remind them of their wives back home
The corporate engine won’t start
The cogs too black, too strong, too proud, too smart
Your bushveld too wild for Wal-Mart
Africa
The night we spent north of Louis Tricart
Sitting in a makeshift shebeen
At the edge of a clapboard encampment
Under stars, beside fire
Trading tribal scars for Irish bullshit
Toasting Nelson Mandela with milk carton beers
Africa
Pondering the vastness of your sheltering sky
Watching crocodiles congress over buffalo pie
Africa
Mud huts where tan skins are left out to dry
Cloud the crowded peripheries of my mind’s eye
As sunflower fields whistle by
Like the ululating cry
Of the Coptic Christain guy
Who flagged us down
With the ecstatic panic
Of a rescued castaway
On a military road so remote
It still bore the tank tracks that created it
Except where the root marks of marula fruit trees
Had obliterated it
Africa
How far did he get down that cruel clay road
With the gas we let him siphon?
Does his sweat still bead grainy patinas of pomegrante sweat
Across the blue-black skin of his forehead?
Does the gleaming silver star of his faith still dangle
From its teardrop green lapel
Adorning his breast
Like a medallion of war?
Africa
I wonder
Is your moon swole full tonight?
Africa
You infected me
Like a malarial mosquito bite
When you cradled me in the mystic twilight
Of your ancestors
The freedom songs of your protestors
Steel me for the fight
As I write what I like like Biko
Aint gonna turn the other cheek no
When we march through these streets like Soweto…uh!
Africa
Things have not been right
Since I left Jo-burg airport
On the ill-fated flight
Back to American stagnation
With the taste of the Southern Cross
Mixed with peri-peri sauce
Still lingering
In the mouth
Of my soul.

There is no word

Once you told me this:
“There is no word
For romantic love
In my language.”
It’s been about six years since you left me
On a prayer rug in a fallout shelter
Somewhere East of East Orange, New Jersey
Where greasy-fingered Ginsburg grandmas
Tug their kerchiefs against the cold
Trudging down stairways of gun metal gray
In the shadow of burned out factories
I can still remember your atomic eyes
The air raid sirens and the flaking swelter
Of flesh singed to the bone
To the bone
To the bone
There is a part of you I have always known
And will carry with me wherever
“I am stretched on your grave
And will lie there forever
If your hands were in mine
I am sure we’d not sever”
Anyway, whatever
I get carried away
What can I say?
You know life goes on
Passion and turblulence,
Struggle and solitude,
Love and art
New poems,
New vices
And a new shiv in my heart
I aint trying to pull your fire alarm again
I know our time has passed
Rounded and up and gassed
Like a Warsaw ghetto
We cannot recreate
Those deer in the meadow
That approached us at the sluice
We cannot repaint the hues
Of terraced indigo
That surrounded everything
With a dreamtime glow
Through the whole Spring and Summer of 1995
In that West Paterson attic
Where our love lived and died
Where we once defied
All gravity
Our want like a cavity
That could not be filled
No matter how much we drilled
It was magic and tragic
Beginning to end
My Guajarati Ophelia
Madness did descend
And you drowned in a wreath of violets
While all the Pontius Pilates
Washed their hands as they sank you
I was still a child then
I could not yank you
From the bonds of Hindu tradition
Now that I’m a man
I just want to say thank you
For the cosmic transmission
Of the purest love I will ever know
For the home that you provided when I had nowhere to go
For the clean way you decided to disengage and let go
For the smell of sandalwood and jasmine
On your skin and in your clothes
For the mendhi ink in between your regal toes
For the ring that you wear in your sacred nose
I’ll get down on my knees and propose
If I ever find half the woman you are
All I found is Delilah’s so far
Lying to your face as they strum your guitar
Then they talk about devotion
I am drowning in an ocean of deceit
But once I kissed the sandled feet
Of a Goddess.

Letter to my son, five years gone

Hey champ

what’s the news in your dimension?
I got an invitation to write about you the other day
from an old Gainesville friend
he knew you when you were a little baby
when me you and your mom
were living in married housing
scraping by on Pell Grant money
and my part time job as a windowman
staying together because we loved you
even more than we hated each other
and that’s saying something
(some day I would’ve told you the stories
suffice to say
we were children, so we acted like children)

anyway
this invitation
it shook my foundations
upset my equilibrium
like stirring up an iron pot of steaming gumbo
and the liquid boils over and burns your fucking fingers
but in the process
you move what needs to be moved
from the depths to the surface
first I was disturbed
and then I just put it on the back burner
the way I put you on the back burner
to survive
not so much your memory
but rather the memory of your death
the horror
of you blowing your fucking brains out
on your mom and stepdads bed
while they were at the gym
and I was trying to call you
not that I blame you
you were in pain and
this world is bullshit
you were just a brave boy who knew too much too soon
so don’t think I’m not proud of you
I always was
and this didn’t change that
one iota

Whenever I wonder why
you did what you did
I remember how
sensitive you were
a child without skin
this world
this scheme of things as they call it
the set up of this reality
would have only gotten more and more and more
excruciating and unbearable
for you
as time went on

and there aint no pill for that, lad
believe me, I’ve tried them all
this is just to say:
I know how tiresome it all seemed to you
I know how much you suffered
scratch that, mini-me
Truth is
I knew but I did not know
If I had had any real idea
little man
I would’ve done…
what?
I would’ve done something
Shit
I knew you were a moody kid
but I didn’t think the fault lines ran so deep

your mother loved you
your father loved you
your stepfather loved you
she was responsible
I was bohemian
you got order and you got wonder

it was the best, I thought, of both worlds
you had grandparents, friends, cool clothes and a PS2
you had all the material things I never had
you were cool
which at your age
I never was
part of me can’t figure it out
but the part of me that knows you knows
it’s that same part of me that knows that
even though I was not guilty of your death
that’s not quite the same as being innocent
you know I was going through some shit back then
so I wasn’t there for you
in the way that I normally was
in the way that you needed me to be
I know I disappointed you more than once
over those last 6 months
and so really I blame myself
for what happened
the bottom line is:
it was my job to protect you
to keep you safe
and I failed

the only thing I ever cared about in life
more than my writing
was being a good father to you
was I a good father to you?
You’ll have to answer that question
you’re the only one who can
my opinion?
I suppose,
yes, I was
most of the time
but not when it counted

anyway
we’ve been over all this before
the point of doing it all again
is that now I’m going to put it in a public forum
and label it poetry

I’ve been wrestling with the ethics of this
ever since I realized I was going to do it
usually when I write about you
I only show it to a handful of people
and the idea behind this
is that you are sacred
and therefore exempt
from exploitation

every other experience in my life
from painful break-ups to career implosions to random daily catastrophe
I think to myself
“hey,
at least I can get a good poem out of this”
I never wanted you to fall into that category
you are too important
you meant too much
I didn’t want to pimp your memory
in this one thing
in this one lousy fucking thing
I wanted to not be a whore

on the other hand
I’m compelled to share with the world how fucking special you were
You were a unique and magical lifeform
Who touched everyone you touched
I was blessed by the gift of being your father
I’d hate to let anyone forget
you were the apex of my existence
(my raison d etre
if you’ll allow me to be a douchebag
about it)

“thought of you as my mounaintop
thought of you as my peak
thought of you as everything
I had but couldn’t keep”

And no one’s ever seen me weep for you
but I weep for you
for a year after you died
I’d squeeze the syringe and pray
“God please kill me….
God,
please kill me.”

The grief was water
It swamped my oars
Until I washed up on the shores
of strange and beautiful Moravia

Wish you were here, boy
We would have had a real good time

An Ode to Blindness

And crows refracted wingtips
Clutching field mice in their claws
As she walked through tangerine gardens
Parting arabesques of mist

And snakes wriggled into abstractions
Shutting their velvet eyelids
As she walked through tall grass and out again
Twisting her hair into minarets

And trees dreamed up new cubisms
Bearing brilliant deformities on citrus sleeves
As she walked through skies gone liquid
Swallowing watercolors that lay drying

And husks of dead scorpions trembled
Splitting forth a curious chrysalis
As she walked through my front door
The sun flaring up in her eyes.

Thinking of my dead

September 11th
Always makes me think about the firemen
Who rushed into the towers
Knowing they were pretty much going to die

Then I think about my brother
Who is a fireman
Hope he is safe
And wish we lived closer

After that
Inevitably
I am thinking
Of my dead

My sweet, overtender but bad-assed little child,
The love of my life
Who put a Glock to his temple and squeezed the trigger
The night before Christmas Eve at the age of 14 ½

My grandmother who worker hers

My grandmother who worked herself to death in the factories
My grandfather who worked himself to death in the factories
My grandfather who worked in the coalmines and left 2 tips of
his fingers behind at the World Trade Center construction site
My grandmother who came over from Ireland on a refugee boat

The refugee boy who washed up on the beach
Young Trayvon, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland
Victor Jara, Emmett Till, Bobby Hutton, Bobby Sands
All my campesino brothers and sisters who died in the torture
cells, were thrown out of helicopters, whose exposure and thirst-
bloated corpses line the frontera

I am thinking of my dead and I am weeping as I type these
words
I’m thinking of my dead and the best ways to do right by them
That is all

Interview with Paul Kwiatkowski

510AlpEUpbL._SX425_BO1,204,203,200_

So after reading (and loving) Paul Kwiatowski’s book And Every Day Was Overcast and then confirming that one of the people that I thought I knew from the pictures in it was in fact who I thought it was, I decided to email Paul Kwiatkowski to request an interview. I wanted to talk to him about growing up in South Florida, his creative process as well as his early literary and musical influences. He agreed to speak with me and on July 23rd we spoke over the phone.

Ariel Sheen

So, have you had any contact with people whose pictures you took in the book and if so what have been some of their responses to it?

Paul Kwiatkowski

Yeah some of the people I’m still in contact with. Most of the people I’ve talked to have dug it. As for those that I haven’t spoken with, well, I hope they like the project and know where I was coming from with it.

Ariel Sheen

Keeping in mind that I love the lyrical nature of the book, I’m wondering what your decision making process was in deciding to forego a traditional narrative arc.

Paul Kwiatkowski

A narrative arc would be disingenuous to the material considering it’s the past and memory doesn’t work narratively that way. You can’t really remember it anything other than as bemusings and flavors. To create something that would make an arc would have been too clear.

Ariel Sheen

Do you find yourself more or less alienated living in New York than you were in South Florida?

Paul Kwiatkowski

OVERCAST_7I mean, I think a lot of the alienation that I wrote about had to do with just being a teenager. Plus Florida is kind of an isolated place to grow up. Not living in close proximity to people, I never felt like there was a community there. When I read your review of my book, like, I also remember wanting to go downtown, which was really just a movie theatre, and it being like a 40 minute ride just for that. As a teenage I hated that but I feel at this point in my life you can use that to your advantage creatively and just call it solitude.

Living in New York, well, I feel that your experience of the city largely depends on what you make of it. One thing I think is funny is that so many people come here with purpose and certain expectation of what will happen with it. Once that goes away, I think it becomes less exciting. Didn’t you use to live here? What did you think?

Ariel Sheen

Yeah, I did. My experience was largely the same. But I was in grad school so there was a large number of people to socialize with had the same purpose as me. The school encouraged meetings through a number of free food/drink events. But even then there was always this temporary element to any connection we had in the back of our minds. Or at least in the back of my mind. Something like we can be friendly now, but in a year or so we’ll be in totally different places of the country doing totally different things and so will lose track of each other. When I lived in Bushwick it wasn’t like that so much.

Paul Kwiatkowski

Oh nice, I like Bushwick. I saw Genesis P-Orridge play there last week.

Ariel Sheen

Awesome. I’m a little jealous. And a lot surprised! I don’t encounter a lot of people that know who that is. When I was about 16-17 I got really into industrial music. Through my investigations into the genre I came across him and a number of other… unusual musicians via V. Vale Re/Search Publications like Industrial Culture Handbook and his book on William Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Throbbing Gristle. I wasn’t always appreciative of the music, thought I did send Vale a demo I’d made, but I liked the innovative qualities of it. I mean a lot of it, like, sounds really weird.

Paul Kwiatkowski

Yeah I remember hearing them around the same time. Right about the same time I got into writing. I was mostly into Throbbing Gristle. I think it just really changed the way I go about making art. I think that’s what I got the most out of it. You know, Industrial or whatever electronic music name you want to call it just totally blew my imagination away. It definitely was inspiring and I definitely didn’t like every song to just get into the vibe of it. It was kind of a big influence. That stuff was just really. Man. Just finding out about it as a kid was inspiring. Maybe even more so than the products that the artists made. It definitely got me in tune with process and experimentation.

Ariel Sheen

So say 30-40 years from now, when there is no South Florida; How do you think you’ll respond to that?

Paul Kwiatkowski

d5551cf814407980-OVERCAST_0198It’ll be bitter sweet. There’s a lot of things that I love about Florida that I credit with my imagination. It seems inevitable though… Right? You should check out this book called Finding Florida. It’s just about this history of Florida and how it’s this state that’s never been able to be tamed. From the early Conquistadors that went there thinking they’d find gold. It goes from how thy not only didn’t finding gold but it was the only state that doesn’t have any rocks in the ground. Then tells about how later settlers tried to damn the waters but that storms kept flooding and destroying them. Then the elections and Bush. It’s this like, comprehensive history that this state has manipulated the people that have tried to harness it. Thus if Florida went up it’d just be fitting. It just has this entire history of kicking people back and that’d be just one more instance of it.

Ariel Sheen

I think you’re really on point about the land we call Florida not wanting the practices of white settlers. I’ve actually studied a lot Florida history and am also writing a book myself set there/here right now. Besides the North, prior to the Civil War, it was the Glades that had the largest population of runaway slaves. These were those that escaped and then acculturated themselves to the indigenous people in this land that at the time just could not be brought under the till.

Paul Kwiatkowski

Yeah, the Seminoles, right? The mix of races: free slaves and indigenous.

Ariel Sheen

Yeah, exactly! So from your 2011 Street Carnage interview I saw that you were reading a lot of literature that dealt with… unusual and extreme topics and themes. Because you and I are the same age I had this feeling that, well, in high school the setting of EDWO, at the time my group of friends was reading a lot of Poppy Z. Brite. She wrote Lost Souls and was wondering if you’d ever read it…

Paul Kwiatkowski

Haha. You know it’s funny I too was reading Poppy Z. Brite. I was a huge fan of Exquisite Corpse, which was one of my favorites.

Ariel Sheen

Yes! That book was so great!

Paul Kwiatkowski
You know it’s funny, I picked up the book again a year ago and it’s still really good. She’s kind of a kick as writer. So transgressive as well. It’s so impressive. Other than her, at the time I was also getting into Dennis Cooper and he definitely had a big influence on my approach to writing. Oh, and I started to discover Bret Easton Elis. There’s a book called Jesus Saves by Darcey Steinke.
It had a goth feel to it. I was just a voracious reader and was just really discovering literature at that time. I also remember reading In the Belly of the Beast and being really impressed by that. I worked at Borders so I had a lot of access to books. And a lot of the French Surrealists like Bataille and the Marquis se Sade. I’m glad I got that stuff out of my system as a teenager and not as an adult.

Ariel SheenPaul_Kwiatkowski_10

That’s so funny. I also worked at Borders, briefly, and when I was there Mike [the guy I know in one of the photos] was one of the floor managers.

Paul Kwiatkowski

That’s really wild.

Ariel Sheen

Going back to the Street Carnage interview, you’d mentioned then that you were working on a project from your trip to the Caribbean and Mexico, are you still working on that project? Or something else?

Paul Kwiatkowski

Haha! I don’t even remember what that project was, but at the moment I am working on a new book about Minnesota. Which is a large departure from those project. I’m working with a photographer who’s from Minnesota that’s now based in Medellin in Colombia. The book is about an airplane accident that claimed his cousin and photography’s relationship to technology. So it’s kind of like a mix between an Adam Curtis documentary with… I don’t even know what you’d say it’s mixed with…

Ariel Sheen

Cool. Interesting that you say that. I showed The Power of Nightmares in my Debate Classes to help students better contextualize the rhetoric their subjected to in the news.

Anyway, last question. So I bought the paperback edition of the And Everyday was Overcast for $30 and then learned that there’s an audio component that came for free with the $6 digital edition. Think you can send me that?

Paul Kwiatkowski

Oh, I can send it to you! I think it’s on my site. The soundtrack is part of the digital edition that I had done for my published that I did with Ryan DeShawn. It was actually heavily inspired by Genesis P-Orridge and Throbbing Gristle. I wanted to illustrate that Retard Radio storyline that runs through the book and, you know, in addition to going back to Florida and collecting pictures I’d go back and collect sounds. Something that always really stuck out in my memory of Florida was the sounds. It’s such an alive state. It’s constantly buzzing and grinding. It’s something that always fascinated me so I wanted to put something together as a companion piece to the book. But yeah, I’ll send you a zip file of it in a little bit.

Ariel Sheen

Cool, I’d like that.

Paul Kwiatkowski

No problem, I like that you’re interested in it. It was a cool experiment.

Ariel Sheen

Yeah. It sounds like it. And hearing you talk about it, it sounds like a friend of mine’s music production process that I just heard about on NPR that also left Florida for New York. Hopefully I can make it back there in two or three years.

Paul Kwiatkowski

Well it seems like you’re doing well over there, teaching and writing.

Ariel Sheen

That’s true, but that’s only after a long period of some personal hardships. No need to get into that, though. Thanks again for taking the time to speak with me.

Paul Kwiatkowski

My pleasure, it was good talking to you!

*

You can purchase And Every Day Was Overcast by clicking the title and learn more about Paul Kwiatkoski’s current projects by clicking here.

You can also read more interviews with the author that may or may not deal with topics of greater substance here.

Featureshoot Interview

Air Ship Daily

Street Carnage Interview

 

Interview with Jacques de Beaufort

Jacques de Beaufort
The artist with his work

 

You’ve been really involved in the local music scene over the past three years, shooting music videos and even hosting events for bands. Do you think that your interaction with musicians influences your art, and if so how?

I started getting involved with local musicians after I made a couple of videos with the Band In Heaven in 2012/2013. Shortly after directing these videos I opened UNIT 1, which I thought of primarily as a project space without really considering  a musical performance component. The first show I hosted, The Esoteric Showcase, featured the art/music collective The Sunny DeVilles and so it was only natural that they performed. They parked their tour bus in the garage and then tagged the gallery up with red spray paint. I was very impressed with them and their opening act, some scruffy kids calling themselves Smith Sundy, and so right away I realized the potential the space had for featuring music as well as art.

I always tried to light the shows very dramatically and we bought a PA system to ensure a great sound. We never charged a cover and luckily most of the bands agreed to play for gas money or free beer. It was a great example of a self-creating community. One of the best things for me was watching the art crowd stick around for the music, or the music crowd come early for the art. I think that we were unique in accomplishing this sort of sociological collision and it might be my favorite thing about UNIT 1.

The UNIT1 sessions videos came about by accident as well- I was thinking about doing a video for Smith Sundy and hanging out with Billy and Rachel from Raggy Monster at the now defunct Coastars Coffee watching Ella Herrera play. It made sense all the sudden to invite all three of these bands over and make some live video recordings all at once almost like a “factory” rather than do individual projects for each one. The first batch of recordings led to another and along the way I continued directing videos for other bands.

I’m not sure the interaction with musicians influenced my art. Rather I saw UNIT 1 and all the associated projects as a type of “conceptual” art piece, if I may use such a belabored term. For me it was re-directing the onanistic energy that is required to create highly meticulous works in solitary confinement out into the world. The “art” was sustained by the collaborative energy and enthusiasm we all had for creating events and videos. I think most of the musicians knew that I was also a painter and filmmaker, but this was not the sensibility that I was bringing to the collaboration. They were the ones being featured and my role was to help them communicate their vision. This was a new way of working for me, and although I greatly enjoyed it, it was not sustainable because I felt that my creative vision was not finding opportunities for realization. There’s only so much metabolic energy that one can generate in a given day, and something has got to be sacrificed for another thing to have life.

I like that sentiment. From reading another interview of yours I know that modern artist Glenn Brown, and older artists Pontormo, Balthus, Richard Dadd, Hans Baldun Grien, and Gustave Moreau are all figures that you feel are worthy of greater attention and influence your work. At a more general level, what periods or movements of art do you find yourself drawn towards?

You’ve done your research, yes those are all my favorites! I’m actually not a huge fan of contemporary art in general. Much of the “Art world” favors  attitude above all else, and I think the “correct” attitude is a real shitty one. Let me give you an example. There’s a scene I love in The Big Lebowski where The Dude watches in utter confusion as Maude Lebowski and her video artist friend with the pencil mustache laugh hysterically at an inside joke while talking to an Italian curator over the phone. In a way this scene I think illustrates the prevalent Art world aesthetic. Despite it’s being dismissive of past forms, it reminds me of Mannerist painting, a period of art that came directly after the High Renaissance that was characterized by willful over-complexity, inscrutability, and a general disdain for creating understandable or relatable pieces. It was made by and for a very privileged aristocratic audience, and the complexity was a purposeful barrier of comprehension to ensure that it was only “understood” by the right audience, those that are wealthy and learned. I love Mannerist painting, but it’s reason for existing is complete bullshit.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, movements like Romanticism, Symbolism, or Surrealism are approached with the expectation that the only thing that is required of the viewer is the ability to feel or dream. You can enjoy these works without reading a 10 page explanation of them because their meaning lies primarily in their ability to affect. Similarly I’m drawn, in a rather old fashioned way, to art in which the artists skill or technique is apparent. It’s exciting to me to see the work of a virtuoso-I just don’t get turned on by factory style artists like Jeff Koons who do little aside from sketch out an idea for a fabricator who then employs a crew to build the actual piece. For one day I had a job sanding down the shiny red surface of a Jeff Koons aluminum balloon puppy. It was a 10 hour day of sanding and I only made $120 dollars. I didn’t come back the second day.

I really like your quote in your interview with Anthea Joy Simpson, I’m paraphrasing, “Art is therapeutic, but the patient is human civilization.” Presuming you don’t imagine your work as a panacea, what sort of symptoms do you seek to treat for viewers of your work? 

I think the symptom is the terminality of human life. It’s horrifying that we are finite beings, the shadow of death looms ominously over our every waking moment. The Arts, above all else, help us to externalize and understand the nature of our finite existence. The creation of a narrative is perhaps the most important function of the humanities, and without it we would be worse than dead, we’d be lost and alone adrift in a sea of meaninglessness. This is why people kill themselves: because they cannot create, or cannot find in the world, a narrative in which they have a part.

Similarly, we get to define our collective narrative and to come to terms with the sublime and destructive historical events that lay waste to all of our human ambitions. For example, I don’t believe for a minute that man will ever conquer space and, in a similar vein, I find people like Elon Musk to be repugnant in their Neo-Randian Techno-Triumphalism. The reason he’s so beloved is not because he’s actually made any money or achieved any concrete successes (last time I checked all his ventures were financed by his involvement in PayPal and loans from the US government), but because he resonates with our overwhelming desire to believe that we are omnipotent beings that spit in the face of any external limitations to our resolve. The movie Interstellar traded similarly on this belief that we are transcendent beings, unbounded and unhindered by something so negligible as a dusty home planet or the 4 dimensions of space-time. We like to think of ourselves as infinite creatures of light, and in a sense we actually are, although I don’t think of it so literally or cartoonishly.

Recognizing that I’m putting you on the spot so you might not remember them all, what local artists are doing work that you respect?

I’ve exhibited so many great artists at UNIT1, and am a fan of all of them so it’s hard to really narrow it down. If you have to twist my arm I think my top five would be Woody Othello, Rob Regis, Adam Sheetz, Bjorn Davidson, and Paul Caprio.

Jacques de Beaufort
Bathsheeba

I really liked the female nudes you produced in 2013-2014. Do you use live models or do you go from images?

I do use live models, although I work from the photographs I take of them. So I guess that’s a yes on both accounts. Recently I began a series of drawings of men that’s coming out great so far.

I saw your interview with John David Ebert. You cited him as a seminal thinker in the development of your artistic view of the world. What other writers or schools of thought have you found intellectual affinity towards and, in a few words, why? 

John David Ebert is one of the most creative and talented writers that has yet to penetrate the mainstream. What I took most from him was the realization that mythic archetypes are constantly being re-enacted in popular culture and that most contemporary cultural critics are petrified of actually interpreting things in a way that constructs rather than deconstructs meaning. This enabled me to see the potential in my work for accessing these very potent myth forms and not feeling parochial about it. My “education” as an MFA student at CalArts left me feeling terrified of actually creating meaning in my own work because everything that I wanted to do somehow was representative of an evil Patriarchal Oppression. Something as simple as painting the female form without irony or pretense was a heinous crime, and I’m very glad I was able to unlearn all of this intellectual abuse.

In a similar vein, although I’m well acquainted with post-modern and post-structural thinkers, I don’t find them useful. My tastes are somewhat archaic, I enjoy Oswald Spengler and other Romantic thinkers like Goethe, Nietzsche, and JJ Bachofen. I also enjoy the weblogs of John Michael Greer, James Howard Kunstler, and Dmitry Orlov, who all write in what I would consider the “New Stoicism”. Their belief is that human accomplishment is indeed bounded by finite limitations, and although that’s a bitter pill for the American Individualist who spits at the sun in contempt, I find their message to be prescient and somewhat Eastern in its message of collective humility. It’s not wise to go around to parties talking about this stuff though because absolutely no one wants to hear it.

If money were not an option, which museum would you like to visit most?

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which I’m actually going to in 2 weeks.

Do you feel the numerous Art Walks across South Florida is beneficial for the scene or do you feel that it would be better served if more condensed geographically?

It will be what it will be, so any activity is better than none. I feel like there is too much distance for anything to be really condensed. What’s clear is that Broward and Palm Beach do not have the support or participation that Miami does, which is a bummer. There are some great shows and artists, but it’s not at the frequency and quality that you get in say Wynwood.

Miami art scene: Describe in three words.

Young Sticky Boobs

jacques2
Dido

Since the passage of the Common Core standards there’s been a lot of discourse on the need to emphasize STEM classed (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) largely at the expense of humanities classes. To me this belittling of the Arts denigrates the human condition for while the STEM fields may help us solve problems, without the arts and a notion of beauty and truth informed by cultural literacy and a familiarity with various productions the former is meaningless. As an professor of the arts, how do you feel about this?

I absolutely agree. Nietzsche actually described this when articulating the differences between Greek Kultur, and Roman Civilization.  The former as a free flowing dynamic myth-making process full of self-creating energy, and the latter as a rigid and mechanical system of replication with ossified values and an inability to create new culture forms. Our civilization is clearly in decline, and nowhere is this more evident in the insistence by politicians and administrators that education somehow should become a utilitarian business complete with quantifiable metrics. You see this very clearly in the hysterical obsession with STEM disciplines, and it has taken over just about every corner of post-secondary education. I suppose there is a nagging suspicion, which might be partly true, that the University system is not really a value positive endeavor, and this is a rational attempt to hold it to some sort of Randian accountability. I do agree that in general that hyper-specialization is not helping anyone, and that the throughput of a degree is more often its meaning as an indicator of prestige rather than a set of applicable skills, but for our culture at large what it results in is a misplaced focus on the mechanics of a society rather than its ability to generate meaning. You can build the most bitchin’ electronic device possible, but if there’s no music, film or literature for it to display, then its worthless.

Similarly the narrative of the American Dream is winding down, and public policy makers are looking for dome sort of magic elixir to keep the game alive. Clearly the most magical thing today is the irrational reverence that we afford technology, which is seen as being a salvific force of renewal, but in and for its own sake is just a means for creating new and unanticipated problems. The reckless zeal in which we are encouraged to embrace every new thing that comes around the corner has generated more than a few failures. MOOCs, online courses for the masses, were supposed to be what replaced flesh and blood Professors in a techno-topian revolution. After a few years the numbers came back and something like 15% of people who signed up for these things were actually completing them.

Feed the Goat

So I think sadly the gig is up in many ways, and that the university system is indeed in a state of attrition. I just hope that the Community and State Colleges do not become trade schools and that we do not turn our backs completely on the Liberal Arts, which have the distinct ability to afford us a Citizenry that is reasonable and well informed if it is operating correctly. So many forces in media and elsewhere are working so hard to erode the capacity of the Demos for critical thought that I fear it wont be too long before America represents the dystopian vision of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, and if this does happen it will be very easy to pinpoint policy efforts like Common Core and the obsession with STEM as the inception of this decline.

So do you consider yourself a Humanist?

Yes, I do.

What does humanism mean to you?

Humanism, in its ideal sense is something I believe in completely. It means equal rights and opportunities for all people, and it stands for an education and life philosophy on which self-determination, hard work, curiosity, and moral responsibility are encouraged. Unfortunately at the present moment as much as I believe in these ideals, I’m also informed by Cynicism, which is a philosophy in which human actions are often seen as being largely self-interested and influenced by our pre-civilized organic beings. As I’ve grown older my Humanism has been let down too many times, and so the Cynic in me has emerged more and more. Both philosophies are a means of understanding, but I wonder if this understanding is necessarily contingent on the greater circumstances that wish to be understood.

Unit 1 has been a great space for local arts and culture events. Every time that I’ve gone there I was impressed by the quality of work present as well as the fact that it was a space for the intermingling of art buyers with artsy people. Now that you’ve closed it, what projects are you going to work on in the near future?

I’ll be opening Jacques de Beaufort Studio/Gallery where I will create and exhibit my own works, and perhaps a small handful of others, in Fall 2015.

Interview with Stitches

Screen-Shot-2014-05-16-at-6-26-05-PM_vice_970x435I first met Stitches outside of his now infamous show at Propaganda in Lake Worth. Halfway into the set he left in order to chase after his baby-mama, who was upset with him for giving out cocaine to some scantily-clad female fans on stage. I’d write more about it, but the video is, of course, available online. A few weeks later I started a correspondence with him. After he became convinced I wasn’t trying to do a hit piece similar to the one previously published by New Times but simply learn his thoughts about the role of drugs in music and society, he agreed to speak with me. He asked for my address, which I hesitantly gave, and said he’d be in contact with me. Three days later I received a letter in the mail. On it was a piece of paper “No photos bc GPS” and on the back an address with a date and time on it. When I put in the address snailmailed me into Google maps I became a little worried. I promised I wouldn’t say where it was, but this particular neighborhood has an sketchy reputation. I put aside my reservations and went anyway.

I pulled into the driveway and noticed immediately that the paint on the house was peeling like an albino gumbo-limbo tree. The metal bars over the windows and doors had a similar texture, but from rust slowly chipping away and explosing a vector for tetanus transmission. Once in the house with the unassuming exterior, the façade of normal poverty quickly dropped. Two large men guarding the door answered my knock and brusquely patted me down. “Back on the right.” one of them grumbled. He sat in an ornately decorated oaken chair with red velvet backing and a border of shiny circular metal grommets. His normally poofy mohawk was done now in spikes that stood straight up several inches. In front of him was a similarly baroque desk with a cut-open brick of cocaine sitting on top of a large mirror. Next to it was a hunting life that looked straight out of Rambo. After I declined his offer of a line of some “straight off duh boat pure flake” I began the interview.

Ariel

“So I guess my first question is why do you like selling blow?”

 Stitches

“Man, you even listen to my lyrics? I don’t like selling blow. I LOVE selling blow! And why, because of all the money man. I ain’t doing it anymore though cause I got too many eyes on me. Know what I’m saying? I don’t want to risk my son having to grow up without a father like I did, so I’m just making music now.”

Ariel

“You’re not selling blow anymore?” I say while motioning with my head to the desk and the house we’re in.”

 Stitches

“Heh, don’t worry about none of this. Nothing’s in my name.” he said with a grin that showed off his numerous gold teeth.

Ariel

“Ok… Let me my second to last question another way. I know you come from a relatively privileged background and I can tell by the way you’ve managed to get so much attention for yourself that you’ve got some marketing savvy. If making money is your goal why do it by drawing all this negative attention via the tattoos on your face and the messages in your mix No Snitching is My Statement and just devote those skills of yours into a different career.”

Stitches

“That’s a long fucking question with a lot of presumptions in them. Yeah, true, my fams wasn’t so poor that we were on EBT, but you know that’s not even the point. I just never felt that the drug laws, not to mention a number of other laws, were fully something I could wrap my mind around. I mean I understood that they were there, but they weren’t rational to me so I never felt the need to follow them. Those are rules for lesser people, you know what I mean? That said I’m not going to lie, man, part of why I started flipping bricks was because of the thrill it gave me, not out of need. The feelings of excitement involved in the game are just so fucking strong. On the way to a pickup there this tension of wondering whether or not a cop is going to fuck with you. Then right before the meet you stress about things like: “Am I gonna have to pull a gun on someone?” While you’re their you’re on full alert. Afterwards it’s like, “What am I gonna buy with all this cash?” That shit is all a high in itself. Reading a bunch of books to become a fucking marketer like you’re talking about, man, that shit just isn’t for me. That’s for Last Men. I knew early on I’d rather study the streets and learn my lessons from there.”

 Ariel

“So, would you say that a motto you live by is if it makes you feel good, do it?”

Stitches

“Naw, man, that’s some basic shit right there. Take a wider view of things. Contextualize this within the War on Drugs. Now people always talking about how it’s failed, but that all depends on what you define success as – right? “

Ariel

“True. So then how do you view the War on Drugs?”

Stitches

“Glad you asked. So, like, this cocaine right here started its production cycle in Colombia. Some broke ass farmers, whose major misfortune was being born into a region with limited choices for crops, into a family lacking any capital resources or ready legal access to it under a corrupt government still marked by colonial features that could give two shits about creating the economic conditions that will allow all but those that are already rich to thrive. Get me? So these people take this huge risk growing cocoa, cause their own government and the US government is trying to eradicate all their shit, because even though they’re making only a fractional percentage of it’s final street value they still make more than if they was growing maracuya, lulo, bananas or whatever the fuck. Now their doing this isn’t going to give them the money to send their kids to a private International school to get the kind of education and connections that will allow them to obtain true upward social mobility, but at least shit’s better and their not in as grinding a poverty if they were growing something else, right??”

Ariel

“Right. But, well, I mean they face a greater risk of death and dispossession…”

Stiches

“Spot the fuck on, man. Now think about it, that’s some real heroic shit right there. They’ve got super limited options in the conditions that they were born into and they decide to put their lives on the line to produce a product that people want just to make a little more scratch. Not to rob people or kill them, but just to be creators, producers of something. I respect that.”

Ariel

“So in your mind the war on drugs is a war against small-business entrepeneurs?!”

Stitches

“Nah, man. Like I said, think bigger and map out the connections. You’re thinking is positivistic and reified.”

Ariel

“What do you mean by that?”

Stitches

“Ok, so what I’m doing is deconstructing these positivistic notions that you and a lot of other people have about the War on Drugs. According to Frederic Jameson reification is defined as the removal of traces of production from the product. Now included in the production process are all the traces of distribution and legislation associated with it. I was just talking about the production side, then there’s the work that’s involved with processing and distribution – which is where the gangs come in.

These people are also subject to extra-national legislative pressures and policing powers that have terrible effects on the social order. Look at Mexico, man, when are people gonna start talking about that place as a failed state? Anyway, so the War on Drugs isn’t just this overreaching government attempt at the regulation of social mores, it’s really about means of partial control of countries through U.S. military aid. Not only do they give money to buy U.S. produced military equipment, but by training foreign soldiers at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of America, the U.S. is able to place sympathetic military functionaries throughout the top echelons of those governments.

That ain’t the limits of product’s life cycle though. Many minds much more astute than mine have pointed out the debilitating social effects of mandatory minimum sentencing in America and how it mirrors Jim Crow policies. It’s all just a method of social and political control. A large number of businesses have attached themselves to this legislation and perpetuate the continuation of these failed policies simply because they make a lot of money off it.”

*

As I tried to wrap my mind around his unexpectedly intelligent answer to my questions a ferret with hair as white as snow freshly dropped on a Denver mountain peak came into my peripheral vision. It had in its mouth a small bag of money. It scurried past the rosewood desk. It, I presumed, climbed up one of Stitches legs. Stitches rubbed the creatures head. It cooed, dropping the bag. I noticed as the side of the animals mouth was rubbed that it’s teeth wasn’t what it was born with but was a golden grill. For fear of upsetting Stitches I held back my smirk.

Stitches then put the bag into a dropbox installed in the left drawer area of the desk. With his right hand still rolling circles onto the furred dome of the creature he then opened up the drawer to the right. The attention of the creature turned to the now visible booty. Stitches distracted the animal with by saying to it “Dineras is a good girl” repeatedly in a baby voice and a steady rubbing between the eyes. After quickly grabbing the treat from the small plastic bag he closed the drawer, turned the lock and brough the treat close to his chest. Dineras turned around. He moved the hand that had been circulating between the eyes and the top of his skull to it’s back. It ate the food from between his fingers and then continued.

*

Ariel

“Can I take a picture of her?”

Stitches

“Naw, the government’s tracking everything. I don’t want you uploading a picture that’s giving away the location of my trap house.”

Ariel

“Her name is Daenerys? Like G.O.T.?”

Stitches

“Huh? Don’t know what you’re talking about. Her name is like Spanish for money, Dinero, but cause she’s female it’s Dinera and because I want a lot of money it’s plural: Dineras”

Ariel

“Oh… Ok… Anyway, So I’m not going to lie, that was way more insightful than I was expecting. To follow up let me ask two things, first let me be clear, you admit then that you play a role in the perpetuation of this order of international domination.”

Stitches

“Bitch please, that shit ain’t on me. The majority of American’s are so apathetic to politics that they would rather let continue this sitch wherein their tax dollars finances civil wars in most of the countries that produce and traffic cocaine and pays for widespread violation of the libertarian intent of the Constitution through militarized policing just because to do otherwise would time away from their television watching.“

Ariel

“Ok, second question. So do you think that drugs should be legalized?”

Stitches

“As a tax-payer, yes. As a Christian, yes. As a libertarian, absolutely. But as someone that’s in the game and an American, hell no! The regulation that would be involved in something like that would rapidly deflate all the bumper profits from the trade. Plus without this means of controlling Latin America it’s possible they’d unite and be able to more seriously compete with to our economy instead of being crypto-colonial appendages to it!”

Ariel

“So who are some of your favorite producers and musicians right now?”

Stitches

“Mike Will Made It and Juicy J are killing it. I’d love to work with DJ Holiday and Southside. Trap Back is just fucking killer, man. You know what I’ve been playing on repeat though for the past few weeks, Run the Jewels I and II. Those tracks Oh My Darling Don’t Cry and Early, man? Fire! Speaking of which! You got to see this.”

*

            Stitches got up from his chair and went into the other room. I looked at the large pile of white powder with curiosity and thought about whether this was not a set up like some of the other stunts that I’d read about. I wanted to know if it was real but didn’t want to actually try it. Right after the thought left my head he came back in with a tortoise in his hands. Every inch of its shell was various colored jewels. Green sapphires, red rubies, purple amethysts and what looked like a few diamonds were all arranged in such a way as to give the creature a motley pattern. He put it down next to me. Each step looked pained to it, as if it struggled under the weight of all the precious stones attached to it.

*

Stitches

“That’s Run the Jewels. I call him that cause he’s covered in jewels and he can’t really run. It’s ironic, get it? I also call him El-T, like El-P, cause he’s a Tortoise and Killer Mike cause he likes pizza. Get it? Like the Ninja Turtle? Hahahaha!”

Ariel

“That’s pretty funny… So, I’m curious, why you selling your donk?”

Stiches

“Got tired of getting pulled over in it and don’t want people to forget about me while my next mixtape is in production. I wish someone would buy it already cause I’m donating the money that I get from it’s sale – because I’m such a baller and respect the people that helped me gain the fame that I currently have – to a Colombian collective farm so they can use the money to buy more livestock and thus more quickly multiply their standard of living conditions.”

Ariel

“Ok, before I leave. I got to ask, is that real?” then nodded my head to the bag of cocaine.

Stitches

“What do you mean, is it real? It’s there in front of you isn’t it?”

Ariel

“Yeah, I get that. But, well, I haven’t seen you do a single line of that powder. Is it actually cocaine?”

Stitches

“You’re welcome to try it.”

Ariel

“No thanks. Can you just honestly answer the question?”

 

Stitches turned a little bit in his chair. It was the first time that I saw his swagger falter. A little turn in his chair, that’s all that it took. I went on the attack.

Ariel

“Why won’t you answer? Do you have something to hide?”

A tear came to his eye.

Stitches

“No. No man, ok, no. That’s not cocaine. It’s flour. Truth is I used to work at Panera Bread,  and I love baking bread. Waking up really early, mixing and baking things that would feed lots of people gave me an incredible sense of purpose. It was one of the best times in my lives. The smells. Rye, barley, rosemary… Anyway, I got fired from there after I got caught smoking herb on my break. My songs are really just a celebration of that time that I felt such purpose and connection to the people around me.

He was now sniffling to hold back tears.

My song Brick in Your face? I came up with that when I was working there. While making stuff I’d rap about what I was doing, you know? Cause I was happy? So I was all like at my station making a sourdough and I get this feeling inside and just blurt out “I love pounding dough!” which later became the chorus of “I love selling blow!” And cause I was always curious with what kind of fillings people would put between the slices of bread I’d made I was all like “I put that loaf in your face! What’re you going to do with it? You like that taste best give me respect, bake u bake up bake up!”

And Mail? Man I’d just been thinking about how I’d know that if people were willing to buy my pastries via the mail then that’d mean they really respect my skills as a baker.”

Ariel

“So the tattoos of the AK-47 on your face and the stitches across your mouth..?”

Stitches

“Are just part of a carefully crafted image designed to give me and my music the aura of illicit drug culture authenticity that unsophisticated audiences require while simultaneously arresting the drift of all of my creative significations as an musician to reference all of the colonialist, racist and classist ideologies that various state and private apparatuses use to justify micro and macro management of fears through various forms of repression and policing while also indicating the need for people to speak up and be active against the perpetuation of such widespread human suffering so that a a few people can profit.”

 ***

You can watch the video for Stitches new single Facts below.

As indicated about, Stitches currently has his donk available for sale.

Also, as you can probably tell by now, I’ve never actually met Phillip Katsabanis/Stitches and this entire interview is fictional. I hope you enjoyed it anyway! Thanks for reading!