It amazes me that we are already 8 weeks into this series of Poets of the Week. You can check out all the previous articles here. I'll be here with 2 poets a week every week from now until December 19!
This week, I had the honor of interviewing two long-time poetry veterans, Eirean Bradley, editor of Drunk in a Midnight Choir and altogether awesome human, and Marty McConnell, poet and teacher and in my top two all-time favorite female poets. I was first introduced to Eirean's poetry through a friend of mine who covered "Falling in Love with a Divorcee" at an open mic. I found Marty's poem, "Instructions for a Body," when I was prepping for the National Poetry Slam last year and I still tear up and feel majorly empowered every time I listen and watch her work!
Here's what these poets had to say about their poetry, their history, their advice to young poets, and how poetry has changed in the last decade, as well as their favorite candy!
Q: This is rare to have two poets on this series that have known each other and worked together before. How do you two know each other?
Eirean Bradley: I want to say that we met at the ABQ poetry festival in 1998. Is that right? It was either 98 or 99. We have a mutual friend (Andi Strickland, one of my favorite poets of all time) who was really instrumental in my coming up in the Phoenix, AZ poetry scene and she was originally from Chicago where Marty is from. I don’t know: it just always felt like we were vouched for as friends/good folks first, and talented poets second, ya know? Also, we were both young and pretty mouthy so I think we just always got along.
Marty McConnell: I think the first time we met was at the Albuquerque Poetry Festival in 1998, maybe it was 1997. Eirean let me and the two women I was traveling with, Andi Strickland and Heather Gawronski, stay at his place -- gave us his bed actually -- during the festival. Then there was the brief stint where Eirean lived in NYC and I was also there, so we crossed paths around the louderARTS show I was co-curating, and times in common we were at NPS events, then Eirean was running the Portland Poetry Slam and my sister lives in Portland… basically we know each other the way I know so many amazing people through this wild and widespread community.
Q: Where and when did you get your start in poetry?
Eirean Bradley: I got into poetry in 1995 in Phoenix, AZ. I went to my first poetry slam because Mary McCann who was my favorite DJ at my favorite radio station (the dearly departed KUKQ) was the host. I didn’t know sh*t about poetry but I came from the world of punk rock so screaming things at strangers wasn’t so scary. I was also really lucky, because my first night the featured poet was a dude named Chris Chandler from Atlanta and he was this magnetic weirdo who immediately got me enthralled in the possibilities of performance poetry. It was kinda on after that.
Marty McConnell: I don’t know what a start in poetry is, really… maybe Des Plaines, Illinois, around 1979 when my grandmother gave me “A Children's Book of Verse.” Or when I started going to open mics in Cincinnati (actually Kentucky because Cincinnati didn’t have one) around 1996, or when I quit my career in public relations in 1999 to travel the country in a van and then move to NYC for grad school.
Q: Have you released any chapbooks, CDs, merchandise for your poetry?
Eirean Bradley: I have released two books on University of Hell Press and been in a bunch of cool anthologies (Again I wait for this to Pull Apart on FreezeRay Press, Welcome to the New Hallelujah on Drunk in a Midnight Choir, and Poetry Slam on Manic D Press, to name a few…) I have released a few cds that are looooooooooooong since out of print.
Marty McConnell: The book people can actually get their hands on is “wine for a shotgun,” published by EM Press. Over the years I’ve Kinkos-produced a slew of chapbooks and laptop-recorded CDs, but those are mostly available through old-guard slam poet’s garage sales when they decide finally to get rid of their library backlog.
Q: What is the furthest place that poetry has taken you? (Another country, across country, another mindset, etc)
Eirean Bradley: Damn, I’m sure Marty’s answer is gonna be radder than mine. I have travelled all over the country and gotten to perform at basically every kind of venue from Biker Bar to Church Service to Psych Ward to State Penitentiary to Elementary Schools.
I think, the coolest thing though is my involvement in poetry has gotten me involved with thousands of different people from different walks of life and social standings. It really has been the skeleton key that has unlocked a lot of really interesting doors for me.
Marty McConnell: Psychologically, the furthest place poetry has taken me is into a life I could never have imagined for myself, could never have built without writing and performing poetry as its base -- a life with the concept of me as a creator at its center. Geographically, Berlin.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced with your writing?
Eirean Bradley: TO NOT SUCK. SERIOUSLY. And I only get there about half of the time depending on who you ask.
Marty McConnell: Finding ways to write beyond autobiography while maintaining authenticity and avoiding appropriation.
Q: How has poetry changed over the past decade, both personally and globally?
Eirean Bradley: OH SWEET JESUS. GOT AN HOUR? Well, for the personally: I have spent the last decade being over 30 so the spazzy angry young man who was my poetic voice before that has died of old age. I used to cram 1000 words where now a wisely chosen 100 or so will do just fine.
As for globally, the rise of viable self-publishing/small presses has really been a game changer that is making publishing poetry a more egalitarian thing. I mean, you still have to social climb and network if you want to be on one of the “big” presses but now, if you just want to be a curmudgeon who likes to get stoned and play Kung Fu on his NES after work like I do, there’s infinite options.
I choose option Kung Fu.
Marty McConnell: Well, there is no “poetry,” right? At any given moment, there are a multitude of poetries occurring, evolving, atrophying, being reborn… I will say that within American poetry I see a long overdue recognition of the work of writers who have been long marginalized: poets of color, queer poets, etc. But that’s not poetry changing, it’s the canon shifting incrementally. Slam, hip-hop, the return to understanding poetry as an oral as well as a written art, these have birthed generations with different understandings of what poetry is and does, and most importantly, who has access to it and can make their way as a poet. But has poetry itself changed? I don’t know.
Q: What is your favorite candy and why?
Eirean Bradley: Motherf*cking CHOCO TACO. Because it’s a frozen chocolate taco. And proof that god is Not Dead. (You have no idea how quickly I typed that response. I have had to think out every other question but not the Choco Taco.) [Interviewer Note: Pictured below is a Choco Taco.]
Marty McConnell: Twizzlers, though I can’t really eat them now because they contain gluten. In any home occupied by a family on my mother’s side, there’s a kitchen cabinet that contains Twizzlers. I can usually spot it within a few minutes of arrival.
Q: As veteran poets, what is some good advice for new and aspiring writers and poets?
Eirean Bradley: Dance with who brought you to the party. Don’t chase whatever trend our movement comes around. If you have any longevity you will see about 35 of them come and go. There will be times that you are desperately uncool. I have been uncool at least 85 godd*mn times. Luckily, I have been cool about 86 times.
Marty McConnell: Read beyond your immediate circle. Beyond your friends’ work, beyond the work that immediately resonates with or makes sense to you. Read essays on poetry as well as poetry itself. Seek out people who want to talk with you about what you’re reading, and what they’re reading, what you relish about what you’re reading as well as what you don’t understand or vehemently oppose or are just bored by. Read work by people who are like you, and people who are nothing like you. Read work by long dead writers, and the person reading at the bookstore down the street. In short: read. And if budget’s too tight for all the books you want or it’s overwhelming, great places to start are Verse Daily or Poetry Daily, where you can see a range of poems from various literary magazines and books and then seek out those writers’ work elsewhere.