Last week I began a series of Poets of the Week with Sarah Frances Moran and Charlie de Courcy. If you missed the article, check it out here.
This week I had the chance to interview two wonderful poets from the southern part of the United States: Jonathan Brown, the Buddy Wakefield-inspired poet-turned-musician-turned-rule-breaker and Amir Safi, the lover of Whataburger and all things Texas. Here's what they had to say about their poetry.
Q: What is your biggest inspiration?
Amir Safi:Anything that makes me feel. Any feeling, emotions move me to write.
Jonathan Brown: Probably Janis Joplin. She’s the person I think of when I think about art and how I like it. Art doesn’t have to be pretty. It should be honest and passionate. It’s not about approval; it’s about feeling things together. I feel like that is the difference between art and entertainment, for me.
Q: What do you think is the single cleverest line you have ever written?
Amir Safi:“The violin says, ‘I broke a few bridges because too many songs sound like excuses.’”
Jonathan Brown: “Tomorrow will be yesterday in two days.” That’s from my song, Near Numb Ear Drum Drum Head.
Q: Do you prefer writing funny or serious poems and why?
Amir Safi:Currently, I really enjoy writing satire. I feel that humor is the best vehicle to illustrate meaning. This is why I believe people enjoy watching John Oliver among others so much.
Jonathan Brown: Blanket answer, I would say serious. However, I also don’t think that serious poetry works all the time. Your seriousness loses its weight when all of your emotions are on a similar volume level. When you stay in a range between 8.5 and 10 on an emotional volume scale, it is not that interesting. So, I am leaning more towards being a little funnier than I used to be.
Q: What is your biggest aspiration in life?
Amir Safi:My biggest professional aspiration right now is to retire, ha! My biggest personal aspiration is to be grateful. My biggest aspiration in poetry right now is to bring together awesome writers and get their work out in front of others through multiple outlets, including but not limited to Twitter, podcast, YouTube and of course the live stage. Context for this vision: Much like Impressionism was met by harsh criticism from the conventional art community in France, slam poetry has received the same reception from academia, but Drake doesn’t need a degree to prove that his art is worthy. Under Impressionism artists such as Renoir and Monet among others formed a community.
Could you imagine being in a community where you were working on a piece and Renoir came by to offer you his two cents? This is not to say that we are the equivalent to Drake or Renoir, just saying that we don’t need permission or approval to have value as writers. It is my goal to create such a community in Houston. It is my hope that AvantGarden, known for its rich history of hosting Houston poetry readings, becomes our own version of Café Gerbois. That goal has since grown through the establishment of the Write About Now YouTube channel and the “Write About Now” podcast as well as other social media channels. The Internet is another name for a boundless stage for artists to meet, collaborate, inspire and share.
Jonathan Brown: I think I am doing it, but I just want to do it more often. My biggest aspiration in life is to make art and travel the world. I just want to do it on a larger scale. In the past, I was a high school teacher for 8 years. When you are a teacher, almost none of what you do day-to-day is about you. However, this past year, going full-time with my art, it’s all about me. From how to make more art to how to be a better me, it isn’t as fulfilling as I expected it would be. So, next year, I want to do more workshops with young people. I want to do workshops in schools, prisons, and art museums. I miss seeing the spark of young people finding their voices. Right now, it feels like I’m constantly slam-dunking, but I really miss the assist.
Q: What is your favorite book of all time, poetic or otherwise?
Amir Safi: There are so many to choose from, but I would say the most influential/my favorite work is Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse and right beside it are various poetry collections from Rumi & Hafiz.
Jonathan Brown: My favorite book right now is “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” by Haruki Murakami. It’s been really helpful to me. It’s an extended metaphor between writing and long-distance running. While I haven’t run a marathon yet, I have done two halves. I think that the metaphors in this book are spot-on.
Also, I really love the Bhagavad Gita, which is the Hindu holy book. It is the first ever self-help book and there are metaphors in every line. It is a gorgeous piece of poetry and art and scripture text in one.
Q: What is your proudest accomplishment?
Amir Safi:I don’t feel like I have a proudest accomplishment. That sounds sad, but I feel like my proudest accomplishment is always changing. At one point my proudest accomplishment was writing a poem or making a friend or getting an 100 on an exam or spelling a word right or getting the courage to read a poem or starting a nonprofit or winning Southern Fried or winning Southern Fried again or the fact that my parents still claim me or getting my work shared by major media networks or the fact that my girlfriend and I have been in a relationship together for three years and she still cares about me or being a big brother or crowd surfing for the first time in an inflatable raft during Steve Aoki’s set at the MTV Woody Awards. Honestly, I’m insatiable; I feel like I can always do better at everything. I don’t have a proudest accomplishment; I have a “that was a nice, now, how can I do better in the future-ishment?”
Jonathan Brown: I don’t have one. Every time I acknowledge a proudest moment, I attempt to destroy it. I think trophies are unhealthy for the mind. It’s being materialistic in a memory way. I’ve done a lot of fun things, but I don’t hold any one specific thing above the rest.
Q: If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Amir Safi:To sleep.
Jonathan Brown: Inside. I would go right into the birthplace of consciousness. I would go to the Big Bang and the end of the world at the same time. I’ve traveled a lot internationally and in the United States, and that’s a beautiful thing, but there’s really no place like home. When I talk about home, I am talking about the place that those executed on death row mention in their final words, a coming home. I mean a place that I can go to often while I’m still alive and is not necessarily a physical place.
Q: If you could only use 1 word to describe yourself and your poetry, what word would you use?
Jonathan Brown: I would like to say ‘honest.’ Other words like thankful, grateful, passionate, and thank you come to mind. But, I guess if I had to pick just one, I’d go with honest.
Q: What is a quote that you feel defines you or is your life motto?
Amir Safi:My favorite quote is "One day You will take my heart completely and make it more fiery than a dragon. Your eyelashes will write on my heart the poem that could never come from the pen of a poet” by Rumi, but the quote that most defines me is “No one knows in which shell the priceless pearl does hide” by Hafiz.
Jonathan Brown: My quote is “If you meet God [Buddha] on the road, kill him.” Once I figure out who I am, I look forward to creating a new definition and destroying it quickly. I look forward to more cross-pollination of music and poetry in my future.