INTERVIEW WITH ALEX NESS Finished November 2013

Hello reader.
This interview is the result of four yahoo chat/phone interview sessions.  It was meant to appear in a new poetry/arts journal that apparently died a still birth.  The interviewer gave me his full blessings to post it, and it has been edited by me.  It was completed in November of 2013 right after I learned I had cancer.  It was a pleasure working with the interviewer, who for reasons I am unaware of, did not want his name on the piece.  However I appreciated the questions, and time it took, and attention, so thanks to him.
Why does anyone write, do you write for the same reasons? Why are you or why are you not similar?

I don't know, exactly, why individual others write except that I know for some it is a mental catharsis and for others it is a means to an end.  Why I write is a question that isn't nearly so uncertain, I have always written, poems to begin with, since I was 7 years old.   I remember writing stories and thinking about how I wish I could draw to add to the stories, and for a while I thought I was an artist as well as writer.   But I am no visual artist.  I am creative, but my skills, if I ever had any artist-wise, are long eroded and permanently gone.

Do you work in a special way, with rituals and comfort items, and in a specific place?

No.  I write anywhere if I have a pen and pad, or on my computer.   I do have three comic book action figures upon my desk, occasionally a cat, and a can of Diet Mountain Dew there.   I know most writers/working people are coffee fans, for their caffeine delivery load , but if I drink that I don't write, it gets me very angsty.

What authors do you hold as those you are influenced by?

I think that to suggest I am influenced by say H.P. Lovecraft, or Robert E. Howard is not to say I share their level of talent, or skills, or work habits.   Add in Ernest Hemingway and Lord Dunsany and you have writers who wrote in ways that fed my mind.   I write epic poetry, so you cannot remove the influences of the writers of Beowulf, The Cid, The Song of Roland, and Le Mort D'Arthur.

However, I tried very hard to create a style that I was comfortable in, and that would make sure that I was not being directly influenced by other poets.   This doesn't, of course, make me better, just that, I knew if I were to be published, I wanted to avoid issues with borrowing and unconscious lifting of other material.  So if by influenced by means I write like _______, I don't think I write like anyone else that I know.  I try not to read others to avoid that.

Really, you don't read current poetry?  And you call yourself a poet?

I've been told it seems a bit extreme to avoid current and living poets.   But I am not someone making a strict rule about it, I am just trying to avoid some of the dangers of the creative world.   By limiting my exposure to mostly that of the classics I avoid creating work that I will later question.

I do call myself a poet, but poet means someone who observes life and records it in a form that is meant to be made bite sized for the readers, but still have giant flavor.   I don't call myself a poet right away, I tell people I am a writer.   When they get specific I say poetry.   The reason is, some people think poetry is useless, and others find it "darling".  So I try just to be me, if I can.
Is Poetry relevant still?

There are obviously people who do not read or enjoy poetry.   So I want to delineate the answer by addressing matters of taste first, poetry isn't relevant to those who never read it.   But poetry is a living body, it is the way some in society reflect upon events, some people use poetry as a pulse for the flow of new and old ideas, and some see poetry as a record of existence.   It has been around since the beginning of human writing, and isn't going to stop over issues of taste.

That isn't to say that it is "popular".  Popular or Mass culture might like music that has poetic lyrics, but there are many who upon hearing that they liked it for that would scream loudly about hating poetry.   Poetry is not an acquired taste, it is a taste.   You can like it or not, I don't care.

I like it.  I buy it.  I share it with others.

OK but even so, I will write the work I write, and do so without regard for your taste.  I have to do it that way, or I'll forever second guess myself, ignore what I believe, and try to pander towards the audience.  A creative person is lost the moment he or she try to write for a group of people who do not, truly, care for the creative person, but for their fix of reading or listening or whatever kind of creative goods.

Where do you see poetry in the future?

It exists in the present, was very important in the past, and will never stop existing.   So I see it existing.   New forms and new technology will change some things but the creative uses them, hopefully isn't changed if sometimes he does get changed somewhat by that.   I don't see a lot of people reading poetry, but, with the advent of electronic book readers and other technology, I think some people might enter into the world of poetry quite by accident, and stay there.

In the future what formats do you think will be important for poetry?  Podcasts?  Books in print?   Ebooks?  Blogs?  Television? Live readings (in person)?  Film?  Texting? 

I really hate ebooks, and podcasts, I hate the thought of text poems… But I love blogging, the ideas in poems can certainly be made into movies, and live readings will never lose their appeal for many poetry lovers.

Will you ever move to straight prose and abandon being a poet, if say, you were to find it lucrative?

I would love to make money from my poetry, but I would never write prose instead if it were about making more money.  If I found my poetry was stale and I hated writing it, then sure.  But in 43 years of writing, that hasn't happened.   I doubt it ever will.

During the period of the last year and a half, I've had cancer, had hips dislocate, I have a micro-fractured spine, my mother died, and all of that caused me to write MORE, not less.   So even if it doesn't show in the published works category, I am never NOT writing poetry.

What five poets of the past, since you don't read those of the present, would you hold up as the best poets in the history of poetry?

Not actually a question someone can answer, without a lot of caveats.   So I won't answer the question you asked but will answer with what I think is true...

William Carlos Williams was a perfect poet.
Basho was perfect as a poet.
Emily Dickinson was perfect as a poet.
Lord Byron was beyond awesome as a poet.
Edgar Allan Poe was a poet of great ability.

You should understand that, while I like all of the above, I don't think anyone is the best, or clearly the most important.   I think William Shakespeare was a great author, and people love his poetry as well as plays, but he doesn't hit me in my taste area.   So I am not qualified to answer, because, if I know there are great poets that I don't like the work of, or only appreciate, rather than like, there are also many many poets who have work that I have never read.   And I do not know how I could answer such a question.    I do think too, my opinion in this is of limited value.   I read dead poets, I love many poets, and I see some prose authors as actually being poetic in their prose, without others seeing it.  

You arrived in the book world differently than most who are called Poets or who call themselves a Poet.   Talk about that if you would.

I am someone who thinks labels are stupid.  So while I am aware that some people, even important people in the world of poetry believe that there is a certain process to achieve great poetry, and it includes public readings, critiques, academic accreditation, and basically being allowed to call yourself a poet by virtue of rising up through academic or poetry journal ranks, I am not one of those people.

I have written, took classes, and done my own preparation.  I wrote online to find how to deal with others in the world, let alone the poetry world, as a writer for comics sites, blogs, and more.   I think it is foolish to think you can only arrive as an author, or poet, by following a prescribed path.   I was never afraid of public considerations of my work, despite having social anxiety.   I am simply someone who thinks if you write, then you should write.   I don't think anyone without a degree is less qualified by such.

And I say all that as someone with a Master's degree in History and Political Science.   I love learning.  And I self taught myself about poetry by writing it, since the age of 7.
How does being a poet, which is one thing, intersect with collaborating on illustrated works?  Do you enjoy working with visual artists since you say you are unable in that area?

I am not going to lie and say I love to collaborate on works with any artist.   It would be false.

Some events happen and you are dealing with people who are talented but have no self esteem.   So you have done your work and they still can't produce their side of the equation after years of waiting.   People are all different and whatever works for some, is not the same for others.   I recently had a big, acrimonious split from an artist, who, I think is very talented, but has poor self esteem.   And I think if he knew how good he was, he would never pause at the table for fear of it not being good.

But there are others.  I've worked with many very good, talented people who lifted my soul by being a part of my creative life.   I have become aware that naming names is risky because you might miss someone, but, Paul Harmon, Ed Quinby, and Cynthia Narcisi all were joyously awesome.

So I know it doesn't necessarily have to be hard to achieve a collaborative work, but sometimes it is.

Where do you go to read up on the world of poetry?

Some might see this as glib, but I think watching the news, seeing a sunset, being in love, and being moved by someone's kindness or horrified by their idiocy, all contribute more to my poetry than journals or online magazines.  I read journals when I can, but being a poet means I have almost no money to spend.   It is just part of the deal.
I understand, from your many blog posts, twitter posts and facebook entries that you make very little money from your writing.   Do you believe that makes your work unsuccessful?  How do you measure your worth as a writer?  I am not, by the way, saying you don't have worth.  I am just pointing out that people use money made as a way to measure their own, or other people's success.

I make precious little money.  Sorry for bitching so loudly that you could hear all the way there from my facebook.

I don't measure anyone's worth by the money they make, made or inherited. I am aware, however, that other people DO do that.  So, in the eyes of others, yes, I am poor, and they might think that my work sucks because no one buys it.

However, I have been told by people who are well read that my work inspires them, and my work stands in their minds as being good.  I was told that one of my books changed a person's life by giving them a way to see their problem from a different perspective, and by that, didn't commit suicide.   Another person told me that they included a list of my poems on their syllabus for a class and asked students to write about similar themes, events in history, using poetry and images to express themselves.   A university head in an Eastern European country asked me to consider coming there for a period of time to teach in English, using my poems as the medium for cultural sharing and ideas.

I make almost no money. If society considers artists who make no money to be without worth, then to that society I have no worth.  But I do have worth, and I use my podium to talk about issues that I feel are important, and I say what is in my heart that people might think but would never say.  I try to take what little I attention I get, and use that to help and building hope.

Who am I to do this?  A poet.  A father.  A brother.  A son. A Christian.  An American. A human.  I love the world I live in, I want my friends and family, and others to rise above the horrors that drive us all to worry.  I believe there is hope.  And by doing what I do, I am living the life I am supposed to live.

And not every role in the play called life is equal, or easy.
Wow. As I said, I wasn't judging you, I was asking a question that I hoped wouldn't offend you.

I know.

When writing from history, do you try to impart your own version of what happened, or do you trust the accounts written by others? As such are you writing Historical Fiction in poetic form? 

I try to be honest to the events, and try to still be able to take what I know and insert it where necessary.  As a poet I am not bound by honor to be fully factual, but in cases where I know as many facts as possible, I do try to be fully factual.  I think some people worry about accuracy without realizing that a vast majority of accounts of the past are not, in themselves, accurate.  We hold them high above the world and say this is truth, when in fact, we don't really know how much of that is propaganda, or simply wrong. Just looking at the studies done of eye witness accounts of crimes, and how the memories of people change according to need and time, shows you that people are prone to memory and perspective failure. 
We are never perfect, and our minds deal with so many things, facts get lost, events that happened get forgotten, and the sexier events and happenings and persons of history get focused upon.  But a lack of evidence does not mean an event didn't happen, nor does evidence found mean that the version told is accurate.

I am prone to mistakes too, and I surely don't know all that has happened.  The poet story teller is not someone who necessarily knows more than other people, my role, as I see it, is to share a story that provokes other people to do their own reading, to evoke a moment to give people a sense of what it was like, and to create a voice that pays honor to the events, without following stereotypes or falsehoods.

What is there that a poet does that a prose writer, song writer or film writer do not does?

I think people are welcome to have their own opinions regarding this, but, a poet takes a bite out of something, chews it, tastes it, digests it, and then in as few words as necessary, explains it so that the reader will have a knowledge that is intimate and honest, and as much as it is possible, gain a sense of a flavor of whatever it was being considered.  How well the poet might do, whether they rhyme or follow a pattern, or beat, whether they use a particular style, are all part of the equation, but are less important than the focus the poet gives to the subject.  I think the other writers all are important, and certainly in each area they have their own unique roles.  But poetry always interested and inspired me because of the ability within to bring understanding.
What five books of poetry or including poetry do you hold closest to your heart?

I have always kept a copy of these books close to my heart: Illiad and the Odyssey, the Aenied,  Selected poems by William Carlos Williams, Selected poems of Ezra Pound, and I will go out of bounds here, a little, and say the ancient work the Poetic Edda of the accounts of the Vikings.   I realize they aren't all poetic, but they are all inspiring and they did make me believe that the Vikings discovered North America long before Columbus made his voyage, when I was 10 years old.  I think that is a beautiful thing.

Do you draw inspiration from those writers as a poet, that is, do you feel a sense of connection to the early writers because of the fact they were poets, or from your background as a historian? 

We are an amalgam of parents, DNA, society and education.  Throw in the abuse and events of life, add in your hopes and dreams, and that is who you are.  I can't distinguish between the things in me that come from knowledge and interest in history, and things that move me because they make good poetry.

One of your most disturbing works is AUTUMN PAINTED RED.  Did you find writing it to be psychologically disturbing, or were you able to write as the Ripper, as you did, and about the Ripper as you and others did, from a perspective of history?  What did most people think of your take?
I wasn't disturbed in any way writing about the Ripper.  I have read so many accounts regarding the events that it felt almost scholarly or academic in angle taken, not exploitative or done with sensationalist intent.

Most people didn't really talk to me about my take.  Frankly, no one bought the work, outside of the people on the work, and we all tried our best to create a work that was sound, and interesting.  It truly depresses me to think of the hours and hours of work and the efforts to bring it to print, for the sake of under a hundred readers.  I don't know what could have been done better, Jason Moser the cover artist did a wonderful job, and then I should say he did many interiors and compiled the book for print.  Robert Wilson, Joseph Hilliard, Kurt Wilcken, Nichole Porter and Daniel Mann all contributed to whole, and I was very moved by how the work turned out.

I can't force people to read my work, so I can only say, it is their loss if they didn't read it.

Describe how you write please, do you work in a flurry of fury, or are you deliberate, and take a great deal of time being deliberate in your choices and time taken?

I am a writer of  poems that require great thought, and preparation but, in the writing I am pouring out all that though and inspiration and preparation, so, not long if it goes well.   I tend to be quicker in ways than some, but decidedly less speedy when it is a subject that wounds me.   I take great care to use the right words, and to read the poem aloud, but, I find that if you keep rewriting you lose a great amount of the poems energy in exchange for “perfection”.   While I desire, as any creative does, to achieve a higher state of quality as a poet, and to deliver perfect works, I do not believe perfection is possible for a schmoe like me.   There are poets who I feel came very close to perfect in works and as creative, but my work is not perfect yet.   I think that deliberation only offers so much opportunity, however to achieve perfection, and each poem, unless it is a large, epic, huge, vastly gargantuan work, does not offer that.   I think the pursuit of perfection is foolish, despite the excellence of others, I find most who try to do such, are committing folly.   That is just me though.  I realize others think that they can readdress poems, and edit them into beauty but, I don’t think it works, and it surely doesn’t for me.

(scurries to the computer, there is a quote that is appropriate, hold on while I search for it… )

“Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n'y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n'y a plus rien à retrancher.”


OK so what is that and what does that mean?

“Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away” 

A poet writes words that have meaning, and many believe that you create and try to build something, you construct a poem.  But that is wrong, you have a mass, and you deliver it to the world, and edits and ideas are ways to craft the clay into shape.  You are not the creator, you are the midwife, who after that birth dresses the child.  I think, certainly for me if not others, creation is an organic, intuitive event, that brings to life a work, from the wiring and spirit inside you. 

Is this true for all creative people?

I am rather a shitty visual artist.  I don’t claim to know if that is true for other creatives, but as a writer/poet, for me, it is very true.

You mentioned you don’t read modern poets, even bigger names?   Maya Angelou, or Seamus Heaney or…

Honestly, Seamus Heaney is a classic poet, even if he is/was also a modern man.  I love his work, and thought he was amazing.  Two poets I read and am moved by are Robert Wilson and Danni Williams, who are perhaps not well known but they are very good.  And they are so unique I don’t ever worry over finding myself absorbing their thoughts or patterns of poetry, I can readily recognize their words.

I was fortunate enough to hear you in a radio interview say that there were four categories or types of poets.  For the reader/listeners here, now, would you please discuss that theory?

I am not embarrassed to repeat that theory, but I don’t really believe it so much as placed it out there as way to look at poets.   That is, I am not lying or trying to mislead, but the world is far more complicated and layered than four categories of poets would lead you to think.

The first category/type is:  The Poet is a Prophet.  The writing of poems is a way to express truth, and while the beauty of the work is important, it is less important than the meaning and truth being expressed.   I think you can assume that prophets are not necessarily religious in nature, despite the sound of the title.   As someone who hates labels I won’t make a list of poets who are this or any other categories, but you could assume on your own who fits or doesn’t.

The second category/type is: The Poet is an Artist.   To the poet who is an artist, his medium is words, and rhythm and beat.   They use words, and syllables and length of words to create a concise or steady beat, they create visual images and sounds with only their words, and they paint pictures of beauty or other intricate designs, by the use of words and sounds.  They are often thought to be less serious, by non poets, because they are not as sold into a meaning of importance behind their work.  They long to be creative, just as the others do, but they are able to create word paintings while others use paint to help their words.

The third category/type is: The Poet is a Wannabe.  This isn’t meant to aim at anyone in particular and some wannabes have talent, but, because they pander to whoever they are writing for, their sole interest is not to create but to be seen as creative.   They want to have the status of poet, as they see it as being something that they probably are not.  If they have talent, they can certainly grow out of being a wannabe.  But from my perspective and years reading and watching other poets, most wannabes follow trends and eventually fade from view.  Who could maintain such an act over a long period of time without having talent, or great persistence?

The fourth category/type is: The Poet is a Fucker.   This category is the hardest to explain.  The Fucker, as he is known, is a poet who might have talent, or might not, might be a prophet or artist, but, he does not use his talents to be nude to the audience view.  He wants to be seen.  His poetry is an act of ego, instead of the being the opposite, which good poetry needs.  He doesn’t affect a narrative voice, he doesn’t paint pictures with words, he draws or paints a big arrow towards himself and generally to his greatness.  He is not a wannabe, because he has the talent to be whatever he chooses, but he misreads the point of poetry, by making his work, all about him.    

I think I know what you are, by this list, but tell me which you are?

I think I’d be considered the prophet.

RIGHT.  That is where I pegged you.  Do you carry wounds from that?  Is it hard being a prophet?

I carry wounds from everything I do, so yes, and yes.   But being a poet is also a reflection of my being an INFJ on Myers Briggs test.

OK that is another area I was going to ask, but you’ve brought it up.   Does it take a certain personality to become a poet.  Your MBTI shows you to be one of the rarest sorts of individuals.   How can others do what poets do if it takes a rare personality type?

No one ever said it was easy to do what is in you.  But saying that, brings up the issue of is a poet born or is a poet trained?   And I can’t answer that.  I only know where I come from and who I am.

Where do poets go, who are like you, rather than utilizing academia, to find publishers?  Or do you not recommend your path taken for others?

I think being a poet is very hard, and going around the “approved” method outside of academia and journals, is ridiculously harder to do.  I think anyone wanting to do what I did should look at how little money I’ve made, and how lucky I’ve been to be published at all.

Are there any bookstores that supported you better than most?

The Source Comics and Games in Roseville Minnesota has been, at times, my sole supporter of my work in the retail setting.  I am very grateful for them, and thank them for their support.

How did you get published right away?  Most people seem to linger in a zone of no success, and you started out with published works?

I began working in blogs for the comic industry and I made many connections with artists and an artist who published before, smaller prints.  So I used those connections to begin, and then, after being published was published by people who were impressed with the first book.   It does snowball meaning, you get published because you’ve been published.  You can display your work by having work to display.   Since 2010 though I’ve mostly self-published, and the reason why is that you can control your work, you keep the meager profits, and you create your own brand of work.   I am very fortunate.  I completely realize that.   At the same time, I am aware that for about 10 years prior to present, I worked 60-80 hours a week writing.   That isn’t magical, it is persistence that what happened happened.  And now, I am getting to a place where I am satisfied with my own pace, rather than trying to achieve a set number of works per year…

2013 for you was enormous…

No it really wasn’t.   I had pushed through many works due to the fact that in 2012 my mother went into hospice and died in October of that year.  I had finished a lot of projects due to the fact that I didn’t want to have my mother pass away, and find myself with deadlines, and unable to do anything.   After she died I was unable to write, but my work was in the hands of others.  I allowed myself to be in mourning, and as a creative I had lost a key person in my life.    2013 was full of published works, but it was only so because I knew I’d be in great sorrow, and that was true.   The lessons I learned in the decade of work prior to 2012 came to fruition, because I was able to finish works, and move forward, and then when the drain of creativity happened, I could afford a breathing time to mourn.

I am sorry for your loss.

Thank you.

What is coming out for you in 2014?

I was expecting certain works that won’t happen now due to the acrimonious break up.  But that is ok.  I have one very large book coming out, and a Cthulhu based book too, but that is far smaller.  Each is illustrated using public domain art.   I am very excited about both.   Other projects are live, that is, still working on them.   I am very happy to have made the acquaintance of Paul Ewert, Nichole Porter, Jason Moser and Marc Kleinhenz.  Josh Brown too, I should give credit to, was a great partner and editor for my work.  All of these people are great friends as well as creative counterparts.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you for the questions.