Saturday, October 17, 2015

Interview with poet STEVEN MICHAEL PAPE by Dave Wolff

Interview with poet STEVEN MICHAEL PAPE

You recently released a new book of poems advertised on social media. Did you think of the title after it was compiled?
My book 21st Century Wasteland: Birth, Chaos, Death is split into three sections to highlight different poems and themes. This was an idea of my friend, poet Lewis Crystal who published the book for me. It worked out well; the poems range from the innocence of childhood to recollections through gang culture, drugs, the streets and the dangers faced in them. Some poems are political I guess, and describe riots, the government and their policies. Some poems touch on nature, so it’s an eclectic collection that I enjoyed writing. The cover art was by my friend Tim Bennett who has collaborated with me on previous books. His artwork for this book fit perfectly with the poems throughout the book, especially the Chaos and Death sections. I mostly have a title in my mind before I start work on a new book and it’s mostly taken from a poem title in the book.

Are your previous collections of poems still receiving a response on the internet?
Not so much now, but The Awakening Soul and Escapism got favourable reviews upon publication and certain poems out of those books have been used in other magazines and books so they still possibly appeal to some readers. The subject matter is a bit too dark for me now. I tried to distance myself from dark poetry and tried to write more about reality than fantasy.

Explain the process of dividing your poems into three different sections for 21st Century Wasteland. What gave Lewis Crystal the idea to organize it in multiple sections?
I think Lewis's initial idea was that the reader could pick a particular section to read. He also felt that it was a new idea from the ordinary book. He placed Killed For Looking Different, a poem about Sophie Lancaster, in the Birth section, as this untimely and terrible death did start the public awareness of hate crimes against Goths through Sylvia Lancaster’s Sophie Lancaster Foundation, so I'm happy with where the poem was placed.

I remember reading about Sophie Lancaster and running Killed For Looking Different in AEA (it was issue 23 as I recall). Who was Sophie Lancaster, what were your thoughts on the incident involving her and how did it inspire your poem?
Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend Robert Maltby were part of the Goth subculture. In 2007 they were attacked in Stubbylee Park in Lancashire here in the U.K. Although Robert survived, Sophie went into a coma and subsequently died due to her head injuries. Five youths were caught and sentenced, two receiving life sentences and the other three being charged with GBH. People in England and all over the world were appalled as was I. The poem was a tribute to Sophie and how she may have felt that night.

Tell the readers of this interview what you know of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation.
The Sophie Lancaster Foundation was set up by Sophie’s mother Sylvia to bring to the public’s attention the need to recognize hate crimes against the Goth culture and its followers. She was awarded an MBE this year and has done talks with police forces and schools to bring to people’s attention that just because someone is an individual doesn’t make them a bad person. Plays, books and art have been completed in Sophie’s memory, and the website for The Sophie Lancaster Foundation sells clothes and other items to help fund Sylvia’s ongoing work.

Have you donated to the Sophie Lancaster Foundation or helped spread word for them?
I'm due to buy some merchandise from the foundations website in the next few weeks. They do hoodies and shirts with the slogan Weirdo Mosher Freak, with smaller writing underneath it that states, 'If only it had stopped with name calling'; this is a strong message. I share a lot of articles on Facebook the foundation put up and I'm hoping to contact schools in my name to see if they would be willing to let Sylvia Lancaster and her team do one of their hate crime presentations. I believe it would alter people’s perceptions about the alternative scene.

How many local schools do you hope to contact for the foundation? How often do they do presentations on hate crimes?
I'm hoping to approach three senior schools in the area with the idea of the foundation doing a presentation, and maybe contact the lecturers who do the presentation to obtain a bit more information to pass onto the head teachers of the schools. The Sophie Lancaster Foundation does talks and presentations most days as I gather from their Facebook page, in schools and to various other organizations.

How much drawing power does their presentations have at present? Are the turnouts mostly comprised of people from alternative lifestyles or do they also attract some mainstream audiences?
The presentations do very well coverage wise and attract all sorts of people not just the alternative community. The foundation go all over the country to all locations to try and get their message across. I was in a goth store the other day and there was Sophie posters up in there making customers aware of their work.

Regarding your mention on hate crimes against goths, is this legally recognized as a hate crime in England? Why do you think it took so long to consider physical attacks on people because of their looks as bias crimes? Quote the lines from Killed For Looking Different that best convey your thoughts on the issue?
I believe it’s slowly being recognized and discussed in Parliament. I think these days in society if you look different or are into a different scene certain groups of individuals will not understand and will show their disdain some of the time in a violent way. I think the line 'alive in the hearts and minds of all' pretty much sums up the public’s feelings to this dreadful crime.

Why do you think people fear what is different and react with hatred and violence?
I think that if anyone looks different or individual then people think that somehow they are a threat. In this society a lot of people dress the same and don't have their own individuality so any person or people that look different are a target. I believe it comes down to jealousy, mostly because the individual is choosing to be their own person and not be influenced to look like everyone else.

Is the resentment you mentioned due to people feeling dissatisfied with living the same routine, and seeing original and creative people making names for themselves and setting new standards?
There seems to be a generation of people who seem to dress alike and act the same so anyone who looks differently is a possible target of ridicule or attack due to the individual being just that. It’s a sad state of affairs if a person can't dress how they want or be into a certain band or genre without the threat of attack from people who just don't understand. This again is one of the issues that the Sophie team tries to explain.

Are you expecting to do long term promotion for the foundation, on social media as well as by word of mouth?
As soon as everything is in place and if certain schools are interested I will definitely be pressing on with promotion by social media as I think other people would like to see the presentation as well as the children. It’s a worthwhile cause and if it changes one child’s perception regarding subcultures and individuality then it’s reached its goal.

England was well known for its punk scene in the early to late 70s. From what I read it has had a major influence on art, fashion and music on a worldwide scale, as well as sociopolitical issues. Would you say it equally influenced poetry?
I'm a huge fan of Punk. Being born in 1974 I obviously missed it but I got into the music at the age of fifteen. Bands like Sex Pistols, Clash and American bands like Ramones, New York Dolls and Dickies to name a few are bands I still listen to. During the Punk movement, poet John Cooper Clarke used to open for bands at several venues with his biting realism and comedic poetry, so I believe punk influenced him and how Britain was then, with the unemployment and strikes. John Cooper Clarke is still writing and performing and had a documentary called Evidently John Cooper Clarke released last year which I recommend watching.

Where do you see the influence from the creativity of the 70s punk scene on today’s fields of entertainment?
If you look at early Guns and Roses and bands like Motley Crue I think there was a Punk influence somewhat. Nirvana had a punk ethic and sound, especially in their earlier material. But I think 90% of bands today would admit to being influenced by punk; if not the British scene certainly the American scene. Bands like The Ramones and New York Dolls had a huge influence of some rock bands with the dress and make up bands like Poison and again Motley Crue, so I believe it had a good influence on the music scene then and today. Obviously bands like Rancid, Green Day and NOFX are hugely influenced by the early punk scene; this goes without saying.

Does John Cooper Clarke have any of his works published? Who were some of the punk bands he appeared with? What would you say is revealed about him in the documentary you mentioned?
John Cooper Clarke has been published many times as well as having records out with him reading his poetry to music. Beasley Street and Kung Fu International are firm favourites. He supported the main punk bands of the time like Sex Pistols, The Clash, Buzzcocks and Joy Division to name a small selection. The documentary (Evidently) traces his early days working in a college to his first unpaid gig in a pub to supporting punk bands, and traces his lost unproductive years as he struggled to overcome drug addiction. It’s a good documentary and definitely worth viewing to get better insight.

Was Evidently released independently or does it have mainstream distribution of any kind? Does it offer any insight into the English punk scene as well as his career?
I saw it on BBC4 here in the U.K but it’s bound to be released on DVD if it isn't already. To perform poetry to a punk crowd wouldn't have been easy so Clarke held his own in those days and his fast delivery was a direct result of listening to The Ramones. Cooper Clarke still performs and is currently playing some festivals as well as his own U.K tour, so he’s very much still in the public eye.

Would you have liked to be there when the punk scene was happening in the 70s? Who from the scene would you have most liked to meet if you were there?
When I see the old footage it looks amazing. I’d have loved to see the Pistols in their heyday I did get to see them twice when they briefly reformed and it was an excellent experience. I would have liked to have met Sid Vicious in the punk days and Malcolm Owen out of the Ruts as I love that band. I briefly met John Lydon (Rotten) earlier this year at a book signing for Anger Is An Energy biography. That was a great experience and I got to have a few photos taken with him too. He was a nice friendly bloke and a huge influence on me from the age of 15. I also love P.I.L and have seen them live.

I take it you have read Lydon’s biography Anger Is An Energy? Is it an autobiography or written by an outside party who knew him?  How would you rate it as a representation of his life, from his involvement in punk to beyond?
Lydon’s book is written by him personally and touches on a lot more than his previous book 'Rotten' did. It still highlights his early life but he explains the reasons behind several P.I.L songs, his relationship with the Pistols and a lot about his feud with Virgin Records. It’s well written and informative.

What was covered about Johnny Rotten’s life in Rotten? What year was it still published, and is it still available?
Rotten was published in 1993 and is still in print. It’s different from his new book Anger as it has viewpoints from several people. The Sex Pistols are interviewed as are many others from the punk scene. I think Anger is a more in depth book personally as it tells more of what Lydon did after the Pistols and his moving to America in the early 80's.

Did Lewis Crystal publish your previous collections? Does he have a formal publishing company or is he independent?
Lewis has published two books of mine. A Closed Mind Is An Open Trap and 21st Century. He's an independent publisher who publishes other people’s work as well as his own. He also publishes an anthology called FM Monthly that contains various poets and has been on the Amazon best seller list several times.

Has your work appeared on FM Monthly? Whose writings have you read there that you would recommend?
I've had several poems published in FM Monthly. Rich Orth, Kerstin Marx and Lewis Crystal are a few of the poets whose work I have enjoyed reading. Any of Orth’s poems from his book 'Poetry Girls' he writes darker poetry and is influenced by Edgar Allen Poe. Marx and Crystal write about real life and society. Lewis has written quite a lot about growing up in Brooklyn and his childhood and his parents too.

How widely is FM Monthly distributed each time a new issue is released?
FM used to be published in book form but like AEA it’s now gone online only, which is a shame as it was a quarterly (I think) publication and it always had art on the cover. I know Lewis got the book in some stores in his town and it sold on Amazon and always did really well in sales and charting on Amazons best seller list. I still post new poetry on FM an online magazine when I have written new material.

Which of your poems have been posted at FM Monthly and how many new readers have checked it out?
At least five or six in three or four FM books plus I tend to post new ones on their site. A lot of poets would like FM back in book form as opposed to online but I'm not sure if it’s down to cost of printing or the time it takes. A lot of hard work on Lewis's part went into making it what it was.

How long have you and Lewis Crystal been acquainted? How would you describe his verse, and have you and he collaborated on poems together?
I've known Lewis about four years. His poetry is mostly non-rhyming and deals with everyday issues. He has written a few novels. We have never collaborated on poems, only on my books. His approach to publishing is very professional and he takes his time with the editing process. With my book 'A Closed Mind' we had problems with the quality of the cover and this took a lot of patience to rectify. Also if the cover features someone’s artwork like my books have, you have to take this into account and make sure the artist is happy with how their art is projected on the cover.

Are these novels published Lewis Crystal works of fiction or collections of his poetry? How much time does he put into the process of editing his work? How long was it before he was satisfied with the cover of A Closed Mind?
Lewis has published collections of his poetry and novels. He takes as long as necessary with the editing process and doesn't rush. He offers advice on certain poems with his expertise and lets the poet decide how to continue with their work. The cover for A Closed Mind took about two weeks before both me, Lewis and Tim Bennett were satisfied with the text placing and cover quality. With an artist supplying his work you always have to run sample covers by them to see if they are satisfied with how their artwork is portrayed and whether the text is obscuring their art. A Closed Mind and 21st Century Wasteland were produced by all three of us working together trading emails, covers and ideas until each party was happy with the finished book.

Which of your books have you and Tim Bennett collaborated on before you released this new volume? In what ways does the cover art he designed fit the poems that were written for it?
Tim Bennett has provided art work for three of my books so far. The artwork for 21st Century seems to fit in with more of the poems about society I think. Some poems in the Chaos and Death sections particularly. The Burning Car, The Police Helicopter and The Viaduct In The Background. This is a well-known structure in Derbyshire and has been the scene of several suicides over the years sadly, so the images fit some of the poems in that respect.

How do you currently look at society in your home country and what effort do you now make to channel your views?
I wanted this book to reflect society today and my own life: parenthood, children and everyday things portrayed in poems like Early Morning Street Scene and Council Estate; the everyday things we see and deal with. I tend to write more like this now and not so much dark fantasy poetry although the occasional dark poem is in this book.

How did your poems come to be based on real life events as opposed to fantasy subjects?
I think it was a conscious decision to concentrate more on everyday things as opposed to dark fantasy poems. There is also only so far you can go with dark poetry and its content but with reality or social poetry there is endless things to write about so the scale is far wider.

Name the poems based on what you see in the outside world and what they’re meant to say?
'The Cancer Of Gangland Culture' and 'Drugs And Guns' deals with the gang culture in U.K cities this need to belong to a group or unit and how it ends up in either death or a prison sentence. 'Life In A Gunsight' is about war and the loss of lives. 'Pollution And Predators' is about the vastness of the city and also the danger and loneliness one can face.

What local and world news have you kept up with during the past year or so?
As with most people, the ongoing war has been an interest, also the government and politicians and what their policies are or are going to be. I like to watch crime documentaries as well as any dealing with other issues in society, such as gang documentaries, documentaries on the prison system and documentaries on writers or musicians I like.

What government policy issues have you had something to say about?
The government issues I mention have been homelessness, unemployment and the lack of prospects not just for the young leaving school but for all citizens. The government started the bedroom tax which means if a person lives in a house with a spare room they can get charged for having this room or can be asked to move into smaller premises so a bigger family can use the rooms. This has made a lot of people leave family homes after twenty or thirty years because they can't afford to pay the tax on the spare room(s). I believe politicians to be liars who state they will do this or that then move the goalposts to suit their own political ideals, which is why I don't vote.

How long has this bedroom tax been in effect? Have there been any organized protests against it?
Since last year I believe I’m not sure if any other politicians will alter it if they get in power. There has been a loop hole in the ruling apparently and if the spare room is under a certain size you can't be charged. There have been protests about it and many people having to leave their home. It’s been upsetting for many British citizens.

Of the documentaries you usually watch, are there any that especially held your interest of late?
Apart from crime documentaries I also love music related documentaries. The Filth and the Fury by Julien Temple (Sex Pistols) Who Killed Nancy by Alan G Parker, The Future is unwritten by Julien Temple (Joe Strummer and The Clash) also the Joy Division Doc and The Doors Under Review are also excellent works. I'm soon to order Looking for Johnny about Johnny Thunders as I'm a huge New York Dolls fan and love Thunders’ guitar style and lyrics. I'm looking forward to seeing Montage Of Heck a new HBO doc about Kurt Cobain as I love Nirvana.

I saw The Filth and the Fury and thought it was a cut above the rest as far as documentaries go. Did you see any docs featuring Don Letts who spun reggae singles in clubs where the first punks frequented?
The Filth and the Fury was well directed. It’s possibly one of my favourite Pistols docs. I do like Julien Temple’s work. I’ve not seen any footage of Don Letts but I know you sent me something which I intend to watch soon, I like Don Letts; a lot of punks were heavily into reggae. John Lydon and Joe Strummer being fans, you can hear the influence in a lot of The Clash’s music. John Lydon actually went to Africa after the Pistols split in 1978 to work for Virgin Records helping to sign reggae musicians to the label which shows his love and knowledge of the genre.

What other punk documentaries would you recommend that you recently watched?
Punk In London is a good doc featuring The Clash and others. I love to see the old footage of those days. I watched a film from 1982 called Ladies And Gentlemen The Fabulous Stains about a fictional girl punk band. It features Paul Cook and Steve Jones (Pistols) Paul Simonon (The Clash) and Ray Winstone. It’s dated but worth seeing for the musicians in it. Breaking Glass with Hazel O’Connor although not a doc is worth seeing as it highlights the highs and lows of fame.

Do you watch any documentaries on American punk or hardcore? Did you get a chance to view any documentaries about the punk scenes in other continents such as Africa?
I've not seen any but ought to look some up like Dead Kennedys and a few other bands like Rancid and The Transplants. There is a British doc I just remembered called D.O.A that details the Pistols U.S.A tour, but this doesn't cover the American scene only the views of the audience.

Do you generally prefer watching documentaries to Hollywood productions?
I prefer documentaries but also enjoy things like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Sons Of Anarchy. I can watch them again and again. I also like docs by Louis Theroux and Ross Kemp as these are always insightful and well made.

When it comes to mainstream news or independent/internet news channels, what would you rather watch?
It’s rare I watch the news although I do view some articles online if I find them of interest. The trouble with online news is you are never sure it’s genuine as there are a lot of sites that produce fake articles and stories with so-called deaths of certain celebrities.

Is there anything you’ve watched on the news you would base future poems on?
Anything to do with war, poverty or society at present I can base future poems on. Most documentaries seem to stir up emotions which sometimes lead to a poem or poems. It can be months after I’ve watched a news article or doc that I might start to write, I will write notes and do research before I start laying down a poem based on real life. By the way A Closed Mind and 21st Century are available from Amazon worldwide.

Steven Michael Pape on Facebook

-Dave Wolff

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