It's now mid-September and I have no idea where the time has gone since this series started back in July. It has been wonderful so far sharing these interviews with all of you, dear readers, and I hope you continue to stay tuned and enjoy getting to know even more poets over the next few months. You can take a look at any and all previous interviews on my Odyssey profile.
This week I had the opportunity to interview two poets: Cal Harris, a British poet who has been known to win slams with poems inspired by misheard song lyrics, and Ashley August, host of Bowery Slam in New York City and actress. This week, they got asked questions about their art, poetry, venue, and more. Let's take a look at some of their answers.
Q: Tell me about your writing style. How and what do you write most often?
Cal Harris: My writing style tends to be accessible and witty with a good measure of popular culture thrown in. I don’t often use ostentatious words or strict structures. One website refers to my style as ‘spoken word for the everyday man’ which quite neatly sums me up. I most often write about interesting things that I observe whilst going about the rigmarole of everyday life, or something that has popped up on BuzzFeed or the like.
Ashley August: My style is a poetic monolog at the scene of the crime. The stories I tell more often than not, take place in the then and there of a situation, through the lens of a larger bodied, young woman of color. Oh, and romantic love and the lack thereof, that sh*t always finds a way into my work.
Q: What is one thing you completely nerd or geek out over?
Cal Harris: Space. I love all things cosmic and get a little bit too excited over theoretical physics. Whenever I go shopping I have a quick flick through New Scientist to see if it’s worth buying.
Ashley August: I’ve been waiting for someone to ask! 90’s TV is my jam! The bright colors, patterns, furry getups, leather pants that hug the buns right! That was such a fun time. In the 90s, I was able to see myself in roles that weren’t limited to the small imagination of a stereotype. People of color strived, succeeded, laughed and fell in love on TV, showing that yes, we too are human and partake in things and feelings White America thinks is exclusive to them. Representation of POC living joyously was so important to me and is even more now. I see us working our way back to that today, slowly, but we are moving.
Q: What is the hardest part of writing/performing poetry for you?
Cal Harris: Starting! The first line is always the one which takes me the longest to come up with and he one which gets deleted and rewritten the most times. Once that line is in place the rest usually follow pretty quickly as rhymes almost seem to spring out of the page.
Ashley August: Writing can get scary for me. I sometimes will run into a truth that I forgot I hid from myself and I’ll go, “TRUTH! Girl, who the heck invited you here!?”. Then I have to open the door for it, let it in, and help unpack all of its baggage. That’s what I mean by scary; I would think that I knew myself and where I was going, and then surprise, this is actually where you need to go, whether you share it with the world or not is fine, but it's here where you will do your breaking open.
Q: What do you love most about your home poetry scene?
Cal Harris: I love the sheer volume of poetry events that are available now. A few years ago slams and performance nights were almost unheard of where I live. Nowadays there’s at least one a week and there are a lot of people taking poetry to different mediums, like visual displays, secret gigs, poetry trails and we even have the odd festival here now!
Ashley August: I’m from New York City, cue the air horns! Here, all stories all welcomed and there is no such thing as a piece too gritty or too different. The NYC scene is also filled with amazing performers who aren’t afraid to take chances physically on stage. I’m the type to want to do a poem on my head, spitting all the lines backwards, so this works out for me.
Q: What inspires you and your poetry?
Cal Harris: Banality is often a theme in my poetry. I like just writing about normal things that normal people do or see on a daily basis. I really enjoy trying to make normality seem funny. I think we should all take life a little less seriously sometimes.
Ashley August: I’m a theater artist and an actor for TV and film, so there is where I get lots of inspiration. I will see something done in a play, like a movement or a character voice choice, which will inspire a way to approach an experience I want to share.
Q: What do you consider “successful” poetry?
Cal Harris: If I get a couple of likes on Facebook for a new poem then that’s a success for me! Anything that makes somebody else smile for even a second, or momentarily forget their own problems. It’s great when someone brings up one of my poems in an everyday conversation, particularly when that person isn’t a poet themselves. If somebody likes my poems enough to mention them when I am not mentioning them, that’s enough for me.
Ashley August: “Successful poetry” is a funny thing. I think every poem, is indeed a success. The edited polished version is a success, the 1st draft is a success, the ground stages, even that is successful. Sometimes it is forgotten that creating something so intimate and also public is not an easy thing to do. Digging deep, taking a chance on the page/stage or having a conversation with yourself about a story you need to tell or aren’t sure you can, is all poetry to me. If it is true to you, then it is a success.
Q: When you aren’t doing poetry, what are you up to?
Cal Harris: Working usually! I might as well have a bed in the restaurant I work in. That or going out for a drink. You see what I mean: banality.
Ashley August: Trying to teach my parents in Central America how to use Facebook, but also to stay out of my kool-aid, truly hard work. I’m an artist through and through so I’m always performing and that really is what I love. I act on stage and in film/TV and have been toying with stand-up. I’ve been working on the script for my first short film and a web series. I also recently got back to the reason I began poetry, which is rap. I may drop a mixtape called “Lord, What Am I Doing With My Life Pt.1”. Be on the lookout for that gem.
Q: Who is your favorite poet in the scene today?
Cal Harris: That’s a difficult question. The answer to that always changes but I really like Luke Wright. His poetry also if often about something really mundane but infused with hilarity and comic touches. He also doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. Another poet I really like is Harry Baker, mainly for his tight rhyme schemes and wittiness. He also is a bit of a nerd, which does it for me.
Ashley August: My best friend is something else. Timothy DuWhite has been really out here. He has such a unique voice, his pen game and storytelling ability is nuts, and his performance is an experience all must see. Tim is so good that if Tim were a movie, they’d go in and make a Tim 2.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add? (Links, poems, comments, etc)
Cal Harris: Yes, thank you for having me. Here’s a couple of links to some poems that were recently published by my friends. The first one is a video of me performing my very first ‘slam poem’, Starbucks Lovers and the second one is the only ‘serious’ poem I think I have ever written, and certainly the only poem which is based on something personal to me; it’s about my Nan's dementia. Enjoy.