Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Interview with poet JAMES KENNETH BLAYLOCK by Dave Wolff

Interview with poet JAMES KENNETH BLAYLOCK

My first exposure to your poems was reading them on Facebook and posting several of them on this blog. How often do you post your work on Facebook and what sort of feedback does it usually receive?
I try to write something every day, if possible. With all the chaos in the world there's definitely material out there. I have a small fan base and they always like to share their comments. Most often I hear positive feedback, but sometimes I get a person who doesn't understand at all. Those people can be a bit insulting, even crude at times, but I guess they are just seeking answers. Although my rule of thumb is to not explain a poem but to let it speak for itself. To me writing is an art form, or expression, therefore it doesn't need an explanation. My brother and sister are both painters and they never explain their paintings to anyone, henceforth, it's all in the eye of the beholder. Besides if you were to divulge too much that would rob people of the mystery.

At this point, is it preferable to have a limited fan base with people who understand your writing than to have people jumping on the bandwagon?
I wouldn't be opposed to a growing fan base whatsoever. Hopefully it would be something that I wrote that drew them closer and not a bandwagon type of situation, but even that wouldn't be horrible. You know how sometimes you hear a band and you dislike them at first? But then they have that one song and everything changes... I would like to surmise that there is that one poem for everyone. Like if you read enough of my body of work you'll find something you like, pretty thoroughly.

I’ve had moments when I heard a song by a band I initially disliked and ended up becoming a fan. Have you likewise had such moments? How often have you seen it from your readers?
As a self-proclaimed music lover I've actually had that happen many times. I don't necessarily enjoy one genre of music more than another. Nor do I hold a certain caliber of soundscapes to some high esteem. But some bands just don't grab me until I hear the one song that does. For instance I was never a huge Demon Hunter fan until I heard their song Heartstrings Come Undone. Even further back whenever I first heard the band Gwar, I didn't think much of them until I heard the fun filled ballad The Road Behind. I've seen the very same thing happen with people that read my work. They tell me some poems are okay and I'm alright to read sometimes. But then they find that one poem, and it somehow hits them closer to the bone. Everything changes then, and I don't take that lightly. As it's supremely beautiful in itself.

Concerning readers who don’t understand your verse, if they are seeking answers why not just ask? Not because they are looking for reasons to judge you, but because they genuinely seek understanding.
Sometimes people have been known to connect with me on a personal level. I must say that is the best route to take. No one wants to be insulted; it's more than childish, it's borderline ridiculous. But you know how they always say people hate what they don't understand. Then again close-mindedness get you nowhere either. But I would be open to communication.

There are people who pay lip service to open mindedness but it usually means they want you to be open only to their ideas. If you have another point of view you’re an idiot and the enemy. How would you define genuine open mindedness?
Human beings are definitely a hard species to fathom. Manipulation comes so easily to us. Hence, lip service is merely another form of our shameful trickery. I think the truth can be found the longer you know a person, the real them oozes through the porcelain cracks, revealing the frailties beneath.

How long have you been writing? Who were the first poets whose work you read, and whose work inspired you to capture your ideas in verse?
I began writing at the end of the year 2000. You know it's funny I never even read any poetry before I started writing it. I guess, if I had to compile a list of influences I would be hard-pressed to include many different musicians and their lyrics. Seems that's where I got my best schooling. Bands like Megadeth, Tori Amos, Faith No More, Leonard Cohen, The Doors, Iron Maiden, The Eagles, Prince, Nirvana, Mortification, Sixpence None the Richer, Beatles, The Moon Festival, Bride, Queensryche, Savatage, Jewel, Daniel Amos, Tracy Chapman, Creed, Susanne Vega, Third Day, Michael Jackson, Live, Grant Lee Buffalo, Alice in Chains, Toadies, Steve Taylor, John Cougar Mellencamp, Sevendust, Fugazi, Lard, Dinosaur Jr., Stevie Wonder etc. After I began writing though I had a regiment of reading poetry by poets like Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Shel Silverstein, Sylvia Plath, Dorothy Parker, William Blake, e.e. cummings, Leonard Cohen, Charles Bukowski, Billy Collins, Maya Angelou, Jewel, Langston Hughes and so on became mainstays.

Are there distinctions between the bands and poets who inspired you, or do you consider song lyrics a form of poetry?
I consider lyrics and poems to be one and the same. Music just takes it to a whole nother level. I've written many poems that people have wanted to turn into songs. Sadly, I've never heard of any of the end results though.

Is it primarily the lyrics of the bands you cited that inspire you, or does their music also come into play? Is there something in the poets you have been reading in the verses you write?
Those bands and poets are bona fide influences, but I don't limit what I listen to and read. I guess I was just trying to show the diversity. I didn't even mention any of the spoken word artists I enjoy hearing. One such man is Levi the Poet. He's all over Spotify and Youtube. Yet at the end of the day, my style is my own. Don't get me wrong I'm sure their contributions to my life are buried underneath and even between the lines. But if I had to claim an influence above all others, it would be my faith in God. Without his tutelage and love I would have never picked up a pen.

Who is Levi the Poet, and how much material have you read and listened to from him?
Levi the Poet is a spoken word artist from New Mexico. I was blessed to be able to see him at a coffee shop I often frequented called Lighthouse Coffee Bar. He was on tour with another band I admire called White Collar Sideshow. Their music is supercharged with horror movie themes and excerpts. Their stage presence is rather sublime. They wear masks and their instruments are often that of farming equipment, namely saw blades. Anyways it was all extremely powerful. Afterwards I got to meet Levi and shared some of my poetry with him. He asked could he have a copy of one of my poems. Of course I oblige with an enthusiastic "YES!" That poem is entitled Breaking the Fever. I own a CD or two by him and he has a slew of material available online. Which reminds me I need to check and see if he's published a book yet. Although I do know he's released another CD Cataracts.

If you have heard Cataracts, how would you describe it to the readers?
Levi's poetry isn't the poetry of our fathers. Not that he doesn't tackle a lot of the same issues, plus some. Although, back in the heyday beatnik poets ruled. Instead his spoken word comes at you at breakneck speed. In his world nothing is taboo. Forget those days of the soft buildup, he uses the microphone as a megaphone. Set to a melancholy soundscape.

Are there any poets from the beat era whose work you read on a regular basis? How does their writing speak to you?
Never really being an aficionado of the beatnik movement, I found myself trying to ingest as much as I could over time. But even now I can't proclaim many favorite poets, or poems. Undoubtedly they were perfect for their placement in that time, but they could definitely speak their minds more freely. Naturally my hat is off to them for paving the way.

If poets are influenced by musicians and bands, should their diversity come naturally as opposed to trying to be diverse to impress people? How do you tell if a writer’s influences are honest or forced?
Wowzers that is a monumental question. Diversity should be easily helpful not easily faked. I was speaking of it as in not limiting ourselves, but others can educate themselves to a place of tweaking it to perfection. In a sense we become magicians. To the point where innocent folks don't even look for that sleight of hand anymore. But then again we want to be tricked. Although the apt pupil will always see what there is to be deciphered.

Many people are offended and threatened by verses that challenge mediocrity because their space is comfortable and safe, and any poem with a differing viewpoint is taken as a personal slight and receive confrontational reactions. In some cases people will project their own fears on what they read to justify it. Is it better to remain silent or object?
Undoubtedly fear seems to be the dominant emotion in many people. I don't know why it's so hard for humanoids to adapt. Admittedly we all have a small amount of fear within us, but to allow it to become completely overgrown is not advised. Yet it happens every day. As far as arguing to state a perspective, to me it is somewhat useless. It doesn't matter how much you try to push a person they won't budge. As you said they're comfortable. With that being said I guess silence is the best option.

Silence in the sense of ignoring such people as you express yourself, I relate to that. But not being forced into silence if you stated something they dislike and it pissed someone off. People don’t want to admit they’re wrong to judge others and are likely afraid to look at themselves.
No one wishes to have a silent tongue. After all we do have the freedom of speech, don't we? Although nowadays that appears to be becoming less and less. People seem so easily offended. Anyways, ignoring a foolish person is hard to do, but their downfall is inevitable. With that being said I still offer up wisdom if I have something to share.

Is the media somewhat responsible for people becoming more easily offended, or a new politically correct atmosphere, or what do you think has caused it?
Sincerely I blame all of the above. Our skins have only become thinner by degrees from the overflow. I'm just hoping that we won't, in time, be blown away by a cool stiff breeze due to our frailties. It's kind of like a toddler (any parent should get this reference) from an early age we, as future responsible people, have to learn how to self-soothe... without that one simple thing set into play in our lives, we're nothing more than glorified babes. Being a disabled man myself, I had to grow a thicker skin long ago. Those things that used to hurt me severely are now only shiny treasures. They forced me to grow up. To some this might sound like a horrifying thought, but it is necessary.

What poems did you write that aroused people’s interest to adapt them into songs? Do you still think this would happen in the future, even if it hasn’t worked out yet?
It happens all the time. Since I'm pretty prolific I have a hard time keeping up with every title. But people have straight up asked me to write songs for them too. Regardless of whatever way the question came about nothing has ever congealed, just yet. Although I have the fortitude to believe it will eventually. I wish I could conjure something up myself but I'm not necessarily a musician. Besides being able to play a tiny bit of guitar and even tinier amount of keyboard. I guess, I'm fairly musically inept. And don't even get me started about singing.

How much inspiration do you find to write about from your daily view of the world?
I tend to be acutely aware of everything happening around me. All the chaotics. Those things within my general spectrum, and otherwise. Oddly enough, most of my writing has nothing to do with me. My main goal is to help people going through oppressive and depressive experiences.

Does knowing your surroundings help your writing so it assists others with their experiences?
I imagine it does. I like to look at things beyond myself and focus on the bigger picture. After all we have the same five senses, therefore, we're subject to the same sorrows.

Were there any instances when a reader approached you saying he related to your writing and it led him to see the world from another perspective?
Most often instances like that came during spoken word events, or afterwards. There's something about hearing me read my work that impacts people more so. Poems like Born With Our Clocks Running, Child of War, Cowards Come, A Phoenix Too Bright, Just Another Broken Pot, The Feeder of Demons, Cupid's Last Hoorah!, Captain Courageous, The Fat Feast of Pigs, Weaker By Degrees amongst many others have gotten that exact reaction.

What are the themes of those poems and how deeply do they go into the human psyche?
Those particular poems deal with mortality, morality, cowardice, betrayal, realization, retribution, heroism, humor and depression. I think they lull the human psyche as we all go through the same struggles in this life.

How often do you do spoken performances? In what venues do you prefer reciting your poems?
Being that I usually use a wheelchair it makes it a lot harder to get out and do performances. Oftentimes venues are not even equipped for someone like me though they do their best to accommodate. Usually my favorites are open mics. That way I get the best of both worlds: music and poetry.

In addition to your Facebook profile, where on the internet are you posting your verses for readers to peruse and mull over?
Well, besides Facebook I enter my poems into lots of contests, and the like. Along with websites like Pathetic, Poetry Soup, Writers Cafe, Poetry in Progress, Apollo Blessed to name a few. But honestly Facebook has a bevy of writers groups I'm a member of. For instance FM magazine publishes an anthology every so often and I always have work appear there. That helps fan base growth immensely.

How many contests have you submitted your work to? Have you ended up winning any yet?
God only knows how many contests I have entered. I do recall the different variety of prizes being mostly promotionally based. Meaning, oftentimes, there is no cash to be claimed. But the way I figure it is this "if my work reaches someone it's worth it. God knows we all need to connect with someone, somewhere, sometimes."

Where are the websites where you share your work based? Are they all exclusively to promote poets or can you find other material there?
The websites are based both stateside, and abroad. Just last year someone asked me could they post one of my poems on their website that was based out of India; naturally I agreed. Most of the writer websites cater to all kinds of writers and not only poets. It is absolutely a smorgasbord of talent.

Which of your poems were posted on this India-based website, and how much did your readership increase once they were there?
Here's that poem in its entirety:

Human Attributions
what is personification if not
as a reminder of who we are
motions for nations to grow
uprooting all our jaded past
proving plenty of us can
prosper into more than
animals, inanimate objects
whatever abstract notions...
passed rhetorical figures,
unto human attributions
an embodiment or rather
some better incarnations

For whatever reason the gentleman found a connection within its mere words. And, yes, my Indian readership has grown. He and I were excited to share it with his site readers.

Where else besides India would you consider promoting? Do you think readers in those areas would be receptive?
Anywhere really. Especially since pain and suffering and oppression seem to be pretty much global. It's only a rare occasion that someone hasn't experienced one or all of these things. Crazy enough it molds us into who we become, but it helps to know we're not alone. No matter the geological location.

In what countries do you see the most suffering and oppression, regardless of location? How would you express what you see in verse more aggressively?
I don't think suffering or oppression are in one location only. Therefore, I wouldn't feel comfortable saying it's worse here, than there, but instead it's everywhere. This world is becoming more toxic by the minute. No one's going to escape without scarification. But hopefully it's a minimal plague. Much of my poetry tries not to overlook or exacerbate this not so pretty understanding.

Have you published any collections of your poems in book form? If so, tell the readers about your publications?
I have released two books. I'm working on a third as we speak. The titles of the first two are "Born With Our Clocks Running" and "We Wander With Our Candles Lit". Both have received a decent amount of sales, thus far. Of course it would be great to get them into more people's hands. Plus, I'm very excited that my sister has agreed to make my new book cover. Her name is Hannah Elizabeth Blaylock.

Name some of the verses that were published in your first two books. Do you or your readers notice any improvement in your writing from the first book to the second?
All of the previous poems I've mentioned are in the books. Plus, many other fan favorites such as Ode to a Pink Snowball, The Devil, I'm Burning for You, Possession of Pain, Demon of Depression, Austen's Pride and Joy, A Zombie's Lament, Change?, Mother of Night, The Madness of Poe, Bread and Circuses, Idle Bits of Inertia, Pang of Denial, God, Government and Mr. Death, Freeing any Leviathans, The Skeletal Rampike, Thinking Annihilation, Time Spent Alone (Crooked Ghosts) and my very first poem Flowers. Plus, many more. Honestly, I just write, but my fans definitely notice the difference. They're always telling me that I'm getting better and better with each poem. They're always telling me "You shall be up there with the greats". I'm humbled and honored but I take it all in stride.

How much distribution have "Born With Our Clocks Running" and "We Wander With Our Candles Lit" gotten since they came out? How would you define a decent amount of sales?
I am responsible for promoting myself. Although my publisher does have me on Amazon and Barnes And Noble among others, and of course their website (lulu.com). I mostly sell my autographed books through my Facebook page along with meet-and-greets, open mics and other events. As a matter of fact this weekend, I'm going to be participating in the Great American Arts Fair here in Tyler, Texas. To date, I think I've sold a couple of hundred copies of "Born With Our Clocks Running" and quickly approaching a hundred of "We Wander With Our Candles Lit".

Why do you prefer self-promotion to being promoted by a company? Is it more helpful in finding your own target audience?
I'm not against signing up with any word proprietor, nor other conglomerates, but I do relish the freedom of being an independent artist. I really must say I enjoy the one-on-one interactions, therefore, I positively do find my own audience. Sometimes you meet people that are simpatico, but often times you're ignored, you know. Still, ultimately, I'm not interested in popularity contests, which to many is hard to swallow. But, so be it.

Is your appearance at Great American Arts Fair your first? How did you hear of this event?
Surprisingly enough I never even heard of it until I saw a commercial during late night television. But I guess they could have showed the same advertisements in those wee hours of the day, but I hardly spend my time watching such programming. I weaned myself off of that teat long ago.

Where on the internet can interested parties read about the Great American Arts Fair?
I guess it's a Tyler, Texas thing. I even heard while I was there that they only recently adopted the name Great American Arts Fair, before that they called it something likened to Christmas in July, go figure. Anyhoo, I will include a link I found on Facebook.

How did it come to be that Hannah would design the cover of your third book?
Not only is Hannah Elizabeth Blaylock my sister but she's also a very talented painter, sculptor, writer, florist and general crafter. She seems to be a natural at anything she lends her hand to. I have desired to work with her for years, and now, we're finally making it happen. Plus, we hope to release a book of poetry together, but that'll arise in due time. I'm just thrilled to be getting this wonderful opportunity. I can't wait to see what her beautiful mind comes up with as far as the cover goes.

Tell the readers  about this collection of poetry you and Hannah plan to publish.
That remains to be seen, but I'm sure once we start compiling poetry together then it will work itself out. Of course she has her own style of writing, but we tend to think a lot on the same type of topics. So I imagine it'll be quite interesting after it all evolves.

What would you say the differences are between Hannah’s approach to writing and yours?
Whereas there are many similarities in our writing process, she tends to not focus as much of her attention upon the proceedings. Ultimately that's not a bad thing, at all, instead she looks for inspiration and I readily find it easier. Some might even go as far as to say that writing is my lives blood. For which I couldn't disagree. I coin it "word soup" because I'm always stirring it up.

How do you expect the combination of your writing styles will turn out when the book is completed? Would you consider additional collaborations if its release is met favorably?
In my mind's eye I could see it doing very well. A commingling of her fans with my fans. Mainly her fanbase consists of people that know her for her other artistic endeavors, but this will be her first venture into the world of publishing. Indeed, I would most definitely collaborate with her again. On a side note: I've been known to collaborate with many other writers, and the like. Simply because I believe powerful things can happen at any given moment. The monumental could be just around any corner.

What other artistic endeavors has Hannah pursued? Can her work be viewed on the net?
Since becoming a mother she has taken a short hiatus from most of her endeavors. Although, being a florist, by trade, much of her creativity flourishes there, in the meantime. Anyone is welcome to view her work on Facebook at Hannah Blaylock Art. It's pretty exciting to know that one of her first projects will be my book cover. She said she plans on getting more work done within the next week or two. So check back as often as you wish.

Who are the other writers you have collaborated with? Were any of your previous collaborations published online or in print? Plug the collabs that are still available today?
Way back when I used to hang out on writerscafe.org, I had collaborated with many writers and poets, but over the years not so much. One constant poet that I have collaborated with is Poppy Silver, which, of course, I imagine, is a pseudonym. I forget her real name, unfortunately. We used to do this exchange where one of us would start a stanza and the other would follow it up with the next, and vice versa. She has her own writer's website at Apolloblessed.ning.com. Let me see if I can find some of those particular poems.

Void (Collaboration with Poppy Silver and James Blaylock)
surrounded, depths have called me
there is no turning back
only round to oblivion
the midnight stars shy away
and black cats hiss unendingly
but alas, the concrete swallows
footseps which have left no mark
suffocated in remorse
darkness..tell me a story
listen up, cried the dark imps
to the sounds of sad humans;
it's music to our sickening ears
and such tones of misery
swallow them, a feeble sight
held within our claws
but after a lifetime of tears
the pit was the only place
for finding all pains, earned
(Her stanzas were 1st, 3rd & 5th. Mine were 2nd, 4th & 6th)

Look To The Skies (A Collaboration With Poppy Silver and James Blaylock)
looking upward towards the skies
the birds sang loudly of silver linings;
knowing that time echoes hopefulness
between divine cascades of hope
they circulated with faith on their wings
their voices, sublime
the sun was there as well... just
casting its warmth upon all hearts -
towards everything and everyone
telling them to raise their heads
fear no dread
all is infinite
for the sorrows of their father's dooms
are in fact replaceable with beams of
enchanting lights and wonderments
Shards of delight and sentiment
breathe and cherish desire, hope and trust
Sunrise shall speak for us all
(Hers were 2nd, 4th & 6th. Mine were 1st, 3rd & 5th)

She's from England, talented and I think these poems are profound. She and I work well together and we wrote these pieces back to back as Dark and Light.

Where else has Poppy Silver been published online or in print? Would you want to work with her or the others with whom you have collaborated in the future?
I do know that she has books available, but alas, I don't own any of them. Henceforth, I don't know her publishers' name. Other than that I only know of her being published on writerscafe.org and on her Facebook page and of course Apollo blessed. I'm always open for new collaborations. Creating something out of nothing is magnificent. She also has an Apollo Blessed page on Facebook, which she renamed Creative Souls.

How would you like your written verse to be remembered years from now, in terms of the impact it had on your readers?
To me, to be, remembered as someone that had the ability to help somebody else, through mere words, in their darkest hour would be phenomenal. One thing I always tell people is "I feel like my writing reaches deep into the darkness and pulls people away from the abyss, guiding them back unto the light."

-Dave Wolff


  1. Outstanding interview with this fascinating person and poet. Your questions were penetrating and wide-ranging but most of all, they gave James the opportunity and stimulation to probe himself and his art. The interview gave me a much greater appreciation and understanding of James whom I have known and loved as a fellow poet for several years. Including James poems in the interview also helped me develop another way of reading them. This intriguing man is so open, sophisticated, and gentle. Thanks for this wonderful piece on James Kenneth Blaylock.

  2. A very well thought out interview. Well done.