Sunday, September 4, 2016

Interview with poet HEATHER DAWSON by Dave Wolff

Interview with poet HEATHER DAWSON

A question I often ask of poets and fiction writers is, how long have you been capturing your thoughts and ideas on paper, and where did your earliest inspiration come from?
I guess since grade school. About eighth grade I stopped playing it safe with assignments and started really just writing whatever I felt. I had a great teacher named Loretta Moderaki who said something like 'would you like to be a writer?' I had never thought about it before. I don't remember what I said, just that a boy made fun of me because I had received positive attention from a teacher. I'm sure I turned bright red and I think I remember deciding not to put too much effort into my next assignment so as to not draw attention to myself - but I couldn't help it. I just kept writing. I used to tell stories to my friends - little ideas of scenarios - like boys we wanted to hang out and places we'd want to go with them. I like description - I like to paint a picture make people see what I'm seeing in my head or try to. So I would create little worlds for us.
When I started singing it was just the way things were - if you were the singer you wrote the lyrics. So at about fourteen I started writing lyrics. Typical stuff for the day, metal topics. Some a bit too dark for my parents’ and teachers’ liking. I was on the outside this little fluffy pink Catholic school girl but I'm writing songs about Ricky Kasso up in Northport. It threw people a bit. Scared them I guess.
Inspiration came from the everyday mostly - things that happened to me or my peers. Mostly about my relationships family stuff feeling like an outsider. I was always trying too hard to fit in but I was always just a little... off. So I guess when I was a kid it was mostly about that kind of mundane thing. I mean everyone is an outsider when they are fourteen right? Even a cheerleader feels uncomfortable in her skin at fourteen.

Why do you think you became tired of playing it safe? Was there a catalyst that resulted in you writing independently or was it just spur of the moment?
I'm not really sure why I changed in eighth grade. I actually think it was Mrs. Moderacki. She seemed to make it okay to be smart. She made you want to learn more and be yourself to your fullest. She was open and demanding at the same time. I wanted to be better because of her. It wasn't that I didn't do well in school before then - on the contrary. But I loosened up a bit really then and started to be who I was. I tried anyway. Before then I tortured myself over homework and assignments. Until one day as I was crying over some homework or something my mother came in and said 'seriously Heather, in a hundred years, no one will care'. That kinda woke me up a bit. My mom was not cavalier about our school work, but I think she realized I was tearing myself up over it. She wanted me to be able to relax a bit, and I did. I was then able to put more of myself into my work, and I ended up enjoying it more. As the assignments got more personal, I was able to write more and more. I continued to write furiously as I started high school however I never really found a teacher who 'got me' and again I just started to blend into the background.

Did you eventually forget the pressure to fit in, in favor of expressing yourself?
Yes but it would backfire - I would express myself in fits and starts. My parents were unhappy with the direction I was going in. They barely tolerated my singing. They didn't like the other musicians - invariably I was around a lot of boys that wasn't really acceptable. So the writing just became one of the many flakey things I did. Eventually I came to believe being myself led to bad things happening in my life. I stopped playing and I stopped writing. I tried to be less 'quirky' for lack of a better word. It wasn't until after I had my children and I realized - I'm gonna die never having done what I wanted. So I just started doing it all again. And pretty much - whoever had something to say about it - I ignored.

Who was Ricky Kasso and what made you want to compose lyrics about him? Do you remember the reactions of people who read your lyrics about him?
There was this horrible murder completed by this bunch of skells on the North Shore. They were hopped up on dust but the media focused on the fact that they were metalheads and devil worshippers. Ricky was the leader of this group. He was like the mini Charlie Manson of Long Island. He got these other kids to be afraid of him, he claimed to worship Satan. I remember reading an article in Rolling Stone about it, I think like a year later when I was living in Vermont. It was a trip to read about Long Island in Rolling Stone. But they pretty much chalked it up to affluent kids on drugs with no empathy committing a thrill kill in the woods. Which was the truth. No devil worship; they spelled Satan "S A T I N ".
My aunt found my lyric book at her house and was pretty horrified. 'Why did you want to write about those scary kids?' At the time you have to remember Ozzy and Judas Priest were in front of congress defending heavy metal. The media blaming teen suicides on song lyrics. It was a witch hunt. We were terrified of nuclear war but had to be all smiley and wear sweaters, feathered hair and bright colors. We were on the verge of annihilation; the reality was the world was scary. Metal just kinda threw a light on it. Guidance counselors called my parents - not just about those lyrics but also about Ozzy lyrics I was transcribing. My father was so angry at me. It went on like that for a while but I eventually gave in. I loved my folks, they were good parents - I worried I was hurting them so I chucked it.

The tale of Ricky Kazzo sounds like a matter of peer pressure that went too far out of control. Why do you think incidents like this take place?
Ricky Kasso's story was very similar in many ways to the film 'River's Edge'. I think one of Keanu Reeves' first films. Just a bunch of kids - very close knit who let drugs get the best of them - maybe a bit of mental illness and yea a very intense peer pressure. But from what I've read Kasso was the very charismatic leader of this little group - a Charlie Manson in training.
It kinda goes back to what's becoming the theme here - think for yourself and stand up for what you believe in. If one kid who was there that night had said 'hey Ricky you're tripping balls and need to go home and forget this thing for tonight' there may have been no murder - and Kasso wouldn't have killed himself in jail. It's hard for young people to say - ya know what this is fucked - I'm getting outta here - it's even harder to say to a friend 'man, YOU'RE fucked and I'm going to get help to stop this'. I've told my kids look if something goes down and you feel something bad is going to happen come to me right away don't wait. But those Northport kids were all self wrapped up and didn't see what was really going down so yea peer pressure sounds a bit mundane but really I guess that's what it boiled down to.

Only in River’s Edge only one of the kids sided with the killer, who didn’t do it for reasons involving the “occult” but because the victim was “talking shit about his mom”. A couple were on the fence but most were against the killer. One of them (Reeves) ratted out the guilty party because he felt it was the right thing to do, and he received most of the support.
I don't think Kasso was really doing anything for the occult; those kids were dumb as a bag of rocks. Just because you played Stairway To Heaven backwards, listened to Venom and read Crowley’s biography it doesn't make you a practitioner of the dark arts. They were dopey drugged out kids who went too far when a drug deal went wrong. Very similar to what happened in River’s Edge when the girlfriend of the character John was killed - the song Used To Love Her was based on that movie - (actually a Guns N Roses song I can tolerate). In Kasso's case while the kids eventually fessed up that kid's body did lie in the woods a few days - and I believe other kids from the neighborhood went to see it. Both the true story and River’s Edge were deeply disturbing. I'm a big believer in not caring about motivation - if it's a kid high on drugs, an occult killing a terrorist attack or a random shooting at a mall, people are dead and they can't come back. There's not much to be done about it. People want to make laws 'protecting' the public, but honestly other than education, love and help for the mentally ill and substance abuse, people will do what they will. I choose to believe most people are good; that helps me make my way.

I read about how Ozzy and Judas Priest were targeted as the reasons metal was a “bad influence” on youth. Did you read about Dee Snider defending his band against the PMRC?
Ozzy and Priest were targeted for myriad reasons; mostly because they were thought to encourage anti-social behavior and substance abuse in young people, as if the sixties never happened and they just dreamed this stuff up. But these same accusations were lobbed at artists and thinkers through the ages from Aristotle to Miley Cyrus (not that the two are of the same ilk). The idea is that parents don't want outside forces influencing their children - especially those that don't adhere to the values they themselves are trying to instill. This was right around the time of MTV exploding and women were working as a norm now; no one home to mind the store. (NOT BLAMING WOMEN WORKING, just the consumer society that disallows a person to be home to hold down the fort). Parents are not available to monitor kids on music and different ideas coming through the TV, stuff that looks more violent with bondage costumes and lyrics about dragons and the devil and such. The government stepped in and said they would protect you. In my mind it was the first step towards limiting childhood freedoms. Now my twelve year old can't walk to the park or I'm a bad mom. Not saying I want him to do what I was doing at twelve but still - it’s the park. Dee was one of the more intelligent speakers about this - I read and watched news stories about the whole proceedings. Frank Zappa too was a smart voice in this opposition to government censorship of art. The Ramones had that song, the chorus was "Aww Tipper c'mon" about the PMRC and Tipper Gore who was leading the charge. There were smart people defending the right to make art their way. My parents censored me - that was their job - my 'Born Again' and "Houses Of The Holy" album COVERS were confiscated but not the albums. Ha ha - that was great. But my dad didn't want the government doing it - he was capable of make decisions to guide me.
I'm a mom; I can get freaked out about what my kids are consuming - my son is a gamer - I don't get what the hell he's talking about half the time but I sit with him so I can understand what’s happening. If I don't dig it I tell him why, and we have discussions. I'm not saying I don't say "no way man not that". But that's my job. My daughter listens to Melanie Martinez - I was totally in wig mode when I first heard lyrics but then I said it was what Alice Cooper was doing in the 70s. Zoe talked to me about it and now we listen together. I'm not going to make this stuff verboten cause then they just want it more - if you make it normal - they move on. Anyway... I don't know if we have the same issues today with censorship. Everybody in the media is so concerned with being young and hip. It’s like we are a country of thirteen year old girls with too much make up and lurid colored tube dresses.

There was a similar occurrence to the Kasson incident involving the West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jesse Miskelley, Jr; and Jason Baldwin) in 1994 but eventually they were freed since there wasn’t enough evidence to prove them guilty.
I read about that and saw a film I think. If I'm not mistaken three goth kids were accused and convicted of killing a kid, they were tried mostly in the court of public opinion and because they were weirdos they got sent away. Only they didn't do it, right? And it was some typical drifter type that committed the crime. I followed enough to realize that the general public will always judge people by their looks and associations. But I knew that before. The difference between them and the Kasso thing was that Ricky really was a dusthead that killed a kid in the woods. There were witnesses and he just never got a chance to go to trial. These other three kids really did seem to be on the up and up and they and their families got raked over the coals because they dressed in black and listened to music on the left of the dial. If we are honest there is a darkness in kids sometimes; they are struggling to give up one identity to another, breaking from their families in harsh ways. It’s not easy, but if you tell them "Hey dude you're just figuring it out now, in five years you'll be in a much better place, but you gotta hang in. Let's go watch Buffy or Dr. Who" they may do ok. They just want to know you are on their side and no matter what you love them.

There were three documentaries about the WM3, the Paradise Lost series that chronicled their trial from the beginning. One of the people who was convinced of their guilt (John Mark Byers) realized he was wrong in the third film and apologized to Damien Echols.
I didn't see all three of these films and most likely only part of one. I don't watch television; especially news programming; as it for the most part controlled by corporate interests and therefore completely biased. So sometimes I seem to be unaware of recent crime events or weather portents. But it's been five years or more and I don't really miss it. We do now have a TV which we didn't for a while so we watch tween shows on Cartoon Network - Steven Universe, Gravity Falls. And then Dr. Who and Buffy on Amazon and other movies. So honestly half the time people are talking about current events I just shrug.
I just have to say most judge people in a blink like the Malcolm Gladwell’s book, only from what I understand Mr. Gladwell said this was a good thing. It's worse today with the immediacy of our information. Our brains go oh I know this type; hippie, liberal, pinko = opposed to the second amendment... Not true. We need to slow down and get to know one another - the corporate media wants to slam us all in silos of silence, never exchange ideas and just spew hate at one another. Don't fall for it - go out and meet actual people who are different than you. Get to know them and this is how we defeat injustice and end the hateful bs going on now. Don't say oh I've seen that guy in TV he's a goth killer of kids cause... Untrue.

Is the film about the WM3 you were referring to The Devil’s Knot? I saw it in part but not all the way through yet.
I don't really remember - I've seen bits of a movie about those three kids on You Tube but I haven't had TV since like 2011 so... I don't know...

The Devil’s Knot was released in 2013 and is based on the 2002 book by Mara Leveritt. If you haven’t seen if yet I’d recommend watching it once but generally the documentaries are more informative.
I'm going to check it out and River’s Edge as well. I love films about teen angst and subculture. Did you ever see Suburbia? Great movie about punk subculture in California in the 80s. Also that thing with Matt Dillion, his first movie. Or Foxes with Cherie Currie… Honestly those were the days - the 70s - when teens could do pretty much what every adult could do... hahaha.

There was also Class Of 1984 though it leaned closer to exploitation. And there were a few in the 90s including S.F.W., Slacker, The Doom Generation, SubUrbia and SLC Punk. And let’s not forget Kevin Smith’s Clerks.
Suburbia is one of my favorites but the one from the early 80s with Flea not the other one. I haven't seen any of these however now I have a long list of films to watch I am guaranteed to love. I really enjoy the realism in the films of the 70s and early 80s - that's my fave time for movies in the US. I think those actors and actresses were beautiful and sexy while still looking like actual people - Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don't Look Now. My god is there anything better than that... not sure.

Who is Malcolm Gladwell and what book of his were you referring to earlier?
Malcolm Gladwell is an author who writes very often about human behavior and sociological phenomenon. One book he wrote was Blink - it was a NY Times best seller for weeks. It's about - briefly - how our first instincts are usually the correct ones. And in some ways I see his point but truth be told it's a very simplistic way to look at the world and people as a whole. I feel it's myopic to say 'my experience is the whole of a field of reference'. You may have an instinct - those guys look weird and therefore must be weird. But because you don't have all the info you are completely off base. If you saw me at work - or at a PTA meeting - you would never know I was a singer in a band - or a pagan or anything - you would just think oh there's a middle aged mom, very neat and normal. Or if you saw me at a show you'd think the complete opposite of me - she's a rocker chick - or whatever. Truth is I'm both - I'm not anyone's perception of me - I define myself. Gladwell told people your first idea of a situation is usually the correct one - and I don't think he was nefarious in his ideas - I just think that it allowed many people to look at their fears and say 'ah yes see I'm right' - it's not as simple as a surface glance - to get a true picture of a person we need to look deeper - people feel these days they don't have time for that so it's always the easy answer - a quick pigeon hole for everyone so we can all feel superior and safe. But it's false. And how sad to deny ourselves true experience...

I interviewed a front woman for a punk band and we discussed how people wouldn’t know she was an art school student and studied ballet just by looking at her.
It’s true it cuts both ways. I mean my friends at my kids’ school know my deal and come to see my shows. If I'm at work or at a school function people don't know what I do on the weekends and if I’m playing a show talking to folks they don't know / believe I have two school aged kids and have a master’s degree. But honestly I don't care. I don't get wrapped up in what other people think of me or who I am. I love that song Harper Valley PTA - the woman is like yea I am who I am but don't judge me you all got your skeletons. Although - and maybe it’s just the circle I run with - my people are pretty creative and cool bunch but people are much more tolerant of quirky folks these days than when I was a kid… or maybe I just don't care… hahaha.

Besides the goth and metalhead stereotypes, since the infamous “skinhead fight” episode of Geraldo (for sensationalism and ratings, not a genuine desire to change for the better) the media constantly labels all skinheads as white supremacists, virtually ignoring that traditional skinhead comes from a mix of white and black culture. The 1998 movie American History X pushes this idea, making no mention of skinhead reggae or the Spirit of 69, for example.
For while I was a big believer in the yell at people until they see things your way. But that way doesn't work. I learned in social work school, I took a lot of policy classes, that if a person has a belief showing them actual facts to the contrary won't change that belief. So you can jump up and down and scream at people about how their belief about a thing is wrong, but if corporate media got to them first it’s a moot point. Its corporate media's job to keep us separate and fighting amongst ourselves so we don't get together overthrow the corporate oligarchy we find ourselves crushed by today. I live in Freeport by conscious choice because I like to live with people who are different than me. I like to know all kinds of folks - it keeps me open and on my toes. I have friends that think that's insane, but guess what I'm living walking proof that its not and guess what there are more people out there that aren't isolating themselves from different cultures. It’s not hard - I just live my life as I want to - if people dig it they can see that maybe what they thought for years and years was wrong. I'M NOT A CHRISTIAN however the Christian bible has a saying that rings true to me - "don't let your faith (beliefs) be a clanging bell." because 1) the clanging falls on deaf ears and 2) mostly you are clanging to hear yourself speak - I'm so righteous I'm so pious .. I don't live the way I live to impress or annoy anyone I do it because it’s what I like... if people see I'm happy and that I am content for the most part - that I hang with other cool people well they may change beliefs they have to the contrary.
Have you ever gone on the Afro Punk FB page or gone to the Afro Punk concerts? Listened to the band Death from Detroit? Bad Brains? Sure you have. This is THE HISTORY of rock and roll in GENERAL... that's the primary reason why it was so HATED in the 50s - race mixing. Gospel, spirituals, the blues, country music, Scottish folk music, put it in a whiskey barrel shake it up; its rock and roll. I'm not familiar with the history of punk rock guys who shave their heads. There was a skin head movement that definitely had a Nazi sentiment in Scotland where my family is from. But conversely I know in NY there was a straight edge movement where the guys were punks with close cut hair but were like no drugs/alcohol that was inclusive. Look, again, it goes back to what I said before - the corporate media will sensationalize anything not only for profit, that's a secondary gain, but for the purposes of keeping us apart. The answer to that is don't listen - talk to people different then you and don't be afraid just cause some idiot on the magic thinking box told you to be afraid... don't stay apart and listen to one another. And whatever your beliefs don't be a bloody clanging bell.

Have you seen indications that deciding for yourself pays off for you?
Ok so I have a saying; if you don't like it don't do it. This is basically a Crowley thing. I'm like a humanist pagan atheist and I know he was not a great dude but the idea of Do What Thou Wilt is kinda right on. So the deal is: if you have to force yourself to wake up every day and you make yourself miserable trying to have a family, kids and a job, maybe that shit just ain't for you and you shouldn't force yourself to do that which makes you miserable. It also makes all the people around you feel like a burden and that you are preventing their true happiness. So when people say "oh well we all have to do things we don't like" - I think sure there are aspects of the day - cleaning the cat box say, that I don't dig, but ultimately I love my cat so I'm going to clean the cat box with love cause I love my cat. Everything should be done with love. If you are doing something and you’re cursing the person you are doing it for, put it down and walk away, because you don't really love that person. The Catholic Mystic Saint Theresa said, I'm paraphrasing, there is divinity in the smallest act. Tying your shoes, washing the dishes, cleaning the fucking cat box can all be divine acts if done with love. This is what people cannot understand about me. Recently a good close friend of mine was diagnosed with a very serious illness. He was despondent about it and said to me "I don't understand, I did all the right things in life." And I said "that was your first mistake." There are no right or wrong things - there is only love and the absence of love or fear. Just walk in love and you will be okay.

What you are saying applies whether you are forcing yourself, or others want to force you who think they know what’s best for you. In the latter case I hear the double talk that it’s acceptable for a pop diva to show skin on stage, but if a punk or goth does so she is labeled a slut.
I'm not gonna call any lady a slut. And if she's a 'bitch' that's also not cool - I don't like wrapping people's good or bad traits in what they are... If I'm a good singer I'm not a good female singer I'm just a good singer –if I'm a jerk well I'm a jerk - being born a woman didn't make me a jerk. My experience upbringing personality all those things make me a jerk. Don't pin labels on people.
I don't mind skin on anyone - if you are comfortable in the uniform you got on the day you were born got form it. But more men should get into the nudity thing - Prince showed his fine, bare ass, Bowie in his skin tight jumpsuits. I think women want everyone to 'look at me!!' I'm no exception - I've got thousands of well-crafted selfies on FB and Instagram. I'm just more of a Patti Smith type than a Kardashian type.
And on that note I think there IS something weird about the hyper sexualization of women that has gone on in the last few years... I don't know how to say this. It's like, women are so interested in being perfect they end up being caricatures of what a woman is - they look like Barbie Dolls. And it's weird. False eyelashes, skin tight Lycra dresses that don't fit... Incredible amounts of makeup ... It's so false... Maybe I’m just old fashioned but give me Julie Christie in the 70s any day... That was sexy... It maybe me I just like realism in my objectification... haha.
But to get back to the greater point, I honestly don't think there's a double standard cause those ladies you mentioned get called sluts everyday too, maybe not like 'look at the slut' but they are raked over the coals when they make bad decisions and it's blamed on their being women. Pamela and Britney have had bad things happen - but everyone does. But Wendy O Williams wore less than these girls on stage every day - and if any one called her a slut I'd be surprised - because she'd kick your teeth in. Slut to me is someone who lets themselves sadly be manipulated by men and then later say - oh I didn't want to do that he made me (not talking about trafficking, rape or date rape here). If you are a sexual being and you want to express yourself great own it don't let some Kim Fowley type tell you how to do it. Be a Madonna - a Wendy - PJ Harvey or Patti Smith.
Me: I like my jeans and shirts best - I tried a couple of times to don more glamorous stuff - but other than huge pink fairy dresses I feel uncomfortable and can't sing. I like to write about this stuff though the push and pull of women's sexuality - it's powerful and overwhelming sometimes - it's a responsibility and to deny it is to be naive. Own it and work within parameters you are comfortable with.

There were times I’ve heard goths and punks called sluts. Freaks, weirdos… there are times I saw them looked down upon. In general I’ve seen people who preach the most about being tolerant and open minded are least tolerant of people who look or think differently from them, and try to hide, whitewash or justify it.
Yea man that was me - the clanging bell - I would hear something I didn't like and say "how can you think that?!?!' and then write the person off and hang out with people who only have the same ideals as me. An echo chamber - how is that going to help the free exchange of ideas that lead to change? I may not change anyone I may only open my heart to more love, and again, going back to Christian mythology - because it’s the one most people are familiar with - Jesus didn't stay with pious folks who thought the same way he did - he went out among the masses talking exchanging ideas changing some minds but not all. The ones MOST opposed to Christ were the ones who on paper should have been his greatest supporters and allies and eventually THEY killed him, not the prostitutes and the tax collectors. They dug him and they were changed cause of love. So again - just be love - all the philosophies echo this - FEAR NOT AND BE LOVE.
One thing you mention here is justification and whitewashing - everyone has a history and experience - you may say to me as a woman oh you are wrong but I may say well you didn’t have my experience as a woman - we do need to be careful of minding people's personal histories. A soldier with PTSD has the same issues as a woman who was beaten, a dude in jail or a child living with screaming and yelling every day. Some we make allowances for some we don't depending on our prejudices. Some we say oh they did that to themselves - other than the child we could say all three others put themselves in the position that caused the trauma. Again - I want to be clear we need to LOVE which to me means being open to others. Not fearing what they have to say - questioning is fine - but don't negate out of hand what is presented because it makes no sense to your experience.

How would you say the topics we have discussed this far have influenced or inspired you as a poet?
I think mainly now I don't shy away from what I really want to say. I get an idea in my head and I can't get it out of there until it’s in the world. As I youth I would write and then I would rip everything up and throw it away. I keep all of my writing electronically now. So it stays mainly where it was - I give myself a break more. I'm not afraid of offending anyone - I'm not afraid of what people think of me. I do what I love to do with the people I love. That's my whole life now. I don't look for approval anymore from anyone - and frankly there are only maybe one or two people whose opinions of me truly matter. When I trust someone enough to share early writing it’s because I know they will understand. Like my music reviews, my poetry is stream of consciousness; so I write and maybe change a few words but that's it. Sometimes I'm crying so hard when I write it’s hard to see what I'm writing. I guess how all this relates to what we discussed before is just that I spent so much time saying "Look! Look, I'm ok, I'm normal, look I hid all that weird stuff over there!!" but my weird stuff just kept popping out. So now there's nothing left to hide. I don't care to hide. People may not get what I'm saying in my poems but I think it’s pretty straight forward. I'm waiting always for beauty and grace around every corner in every situation. And in freeing myself I've found it more and more. Do all things with love, Do all things you love. And be around those you love. Death is forever and nothing here really matters, everything is fleeting and dies, so love and have fun.

How many of your poems do you have saved electronically? You submitted a few of them to this zine for publication; on what basis do you remember choosing them for submission?
A lot and I lost them. Once but was able to recover them. I think I choose the ones that kind of touched on subjects I wrestle with daily. My mother's recent sudden illness and death - my own motherhood - my regrets for paths not taken - my reluctant anger. As I get older I am more willing to tease out these topics and see what's really going on with me. Sometimes when I write as I mentioned - I'm so emotional I'm crying and don't know what's coming out. I really want to be punching the wall but I get it out and it's such a release - those are some good ones. But then there's ones I write because I can finally understand the fragments of emotion that have been going on in my brain for years. One of the first ones I sent you was about a friendship I have that is very steady but how I need to be aware of how much that friend can give. It's a nice soft friendship but we can discuss deep topic but this is someone that has to follow their own path - your little kitchen drinking tea and reading tarot not going to be enough for them. Maybe once in a while but my little steady life is too small for them. And that's cool.

How much feeling goes into your writing? Which of your personal experiences are easiest and hardest to write about?
All my stuff is deeply personal. I guess the stuff that's easiest to write about is the love that's all around me: my mom my kids past friendships and loves are way easy cause it just all flows - when I think about pain and my own fear - that's hard. I'm a very paranoid person - I have trouble understanding sometimes what people are saying to me - I am waiting for the other shoe to drop - maybe someone is nefarious, yes? But I can’t tell and I feel tricked but the side of me that says NO FEAR is like stop doing that to yourself and this other poor person who is just fine really. Does this make sense? I guess anger is hard for me to funnel because I try very much to negate anger from my life and that's not realistic. People get angry - I get angry - you need to embrace it and channel it - but I don't want to even acknowledge it. I was in a band once trying to write lyrics and my friend said "get angry" and I said "but look, I am, look at what I wrote" and he said 'yea, but that's at yourself..." I sometimes feel to be angry at another is useless - cause you can’t make them change - but you can change yourself - get angry at yourself and make a change there. So you don't feel hurt or angry with others.

While anger can be a waste of your energy, there are some people who don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt and you have to consider who you change yourself for. As Anton LaVey wrote, “kindness to those who deserve it instead of love wasted on ingrates…” Is it best to change yourself if it benefits you and people accept you as you are?
I'm not changing myself for anyone - in fact if I started to hate people who 'wronged' me or were 'undeserving' that would be a change in me for the worse. Most people like the adage that "I will respect (love, treat well) those that respect me". I don't wait to see if someone will respect me first - I start out with respect. You'd be surprised how many folks respond in kind, immediately. You'll see my band mates and friends walk up to me with big smiles joking and saying “Hi, I'm Heather!!” with a big smile. That started when I was like in junior high because that was how I walked around introducing myself. I tried to always be a sunny reflection. But seriously everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt as we are all humans sharing this rock.
Love is never a waste, because it makes the giver feel as good as the receiver. It’s a win-win situation. I don't love with the expectation of some kind of return. I love because I want to love... it’s probably narcissistic but it’s more about who I am and what I am putting out in the world. And when I say love - is not the love I have for those closest to me - that's reserved for the special people in my life. But there is a secondary type of love - agape - that is for all the world. That tattoo on my back - it’s the Ace of Cups continually overflowing with love... and it reads "I love all the world" in French. Keep loving and the love around you will grow.
Regarding Anton LaVey, I first want to say as an atheist, Satanism is just another religion to me. There's a god there's ritual and rules. I don't know them as well as other religions but just note that I put the Church of Satan in the same group as all other religions. I think the above answers my thoughts about the statement you selected but I did want to get into I do get into things I have heard LaVey say in the context of the Christian ideal of love. There is a twisted Christian ideology that LaVey refers to; it’s the Christian idea of love "god" above all others. Above children, spouse, and community - in fact, in a Christian marriage "god" literally gets between the married couple when they are having sex. That's very disturbing. The idea that two people aren't capable of expressing love without guidance from a deity. The Superlative Three Way. That two people have to have something between them and they cannot be the closest they can be is abhorrent. In the Catholic faith this is the same argument against birth control - there should be no barrier between the couple during congress. But it’s also what they espouse and encourage metaphysically. The Satanists have this correct - that two consenting adults have the honor, pleasure and inalienable right to enjoy their humanity with one another and love as deeply as they require.

Another thing I got reading LaVey was things aren’t always as they seem. People pretend to be friendly and respectful but sometimes they’re hiding something more negative.
Looks never bother me - usually freaky folks, as has been your experience, are the best kind. I've also found people who espouse certain beliefs act in completely different way. So usually I try to ignore what people say and watch how they behave. People say things in anger they would never follow through with - some are pleasant but deep down are plotting your death. But again not sure if it's narcissism but I try not to worry so much about what people's motivations are as long as I keep my motives pure. Sometimes the way people dress or adorn themselves is an avenue of expression sometimes the most poetic artistic folks are big on norm core clothes. So don't judge either way.

How has your writing improved since you started penning poems? Which of your poems represent your state of mind today?
I think I edit more. I am very careful about word choice; choosing words I think best express the exact thought I am trying to put across. My poems are much shorter than other modern poetry. But they can sometimes encapsulate the relation of small moments and how they fit into grander schemas of life. I think the poem called Sugar And Thistle that I wrote about the experience of caring for my mother as she died was perfect little slice of what I love about writing and what I loved about having that experience. Or what was precious about it. The events we try to make magical - when I would kiss my mother she tasted like candy. I thought 'oh my god she's beatified!!" but it was the medications we were giving her coming out through her pores. So what we think is a miracle is really mundane. But the miracle that was really present was the honor I had in caring for her those last days. If I tried to list the selfless acts my mother conducted on my behalf I would be dead before it ended. Mine toward her would fit on a matchbook cover - and frankly that's the way it should be. But I had these two weeks to give her entirely - my mind my body my self. And don't take this in a weird way but I was happy to do it. Even her last act was an act to teach me something about her and about myself. That I had power and could enact miracles myself as a human woman. That's touching the "goddess", no?
All my poems after that one are similar. The small things we do and how they fit in the wholeness of life: being older wanting more children and being told impossible, longing to be a boy in the halcyon days of the 90s on the Lower East Side; the prospect of being old and alone in the waning days of life; this is what I think about and what I write about. Me but not me in all the ways I think I could or should be.

Does your “less is more” approach to writing poems like Sugar And Thistle help put what you’re saying across?
I like brevity - I also like economy of words. It's a challenge to use as few words as possible to get my point across - I'm not writing epics here I'm boiling complex issues down to their simplest form. Using certain language can exclude certain people or be seen as elitist - especially when the themes are so universal. My poem - I think it's called A Gift - about wanting to be pregnant again - I think that one is so short but so spot on - I want something I can't have - it's almost humiliating the childishness of my request - but in the end the honesty of the sentiment .. I want to present myself to you belly full and say here I made this for you... Now I didn't make this myself of course I had help - but the responsibility - the toll. That's mine... But that poem is short but I think there's a lot of emotion and passion in that...

How much do you usually have to edit a poem you write before you’re satisfied with the end result?
I must be honest, not much - I change words I move lines as punctuation - occasionally I will take out whole lines that don't work or don't serve the idea. Again it's about concise, pointed words that cut to the heart of the matter. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right ones and then I may go back and back again to try and find perfect sentiments.

Describe other poems you wrote of the less is more approach and explain their effectiveness.
This poem seems so Pollyanna and simple - it starts out about a very mundane dream to go back to a simpler time and have a simple life - but as the very end we get the real meaning of this.
The idea is that women think they are saving men by taming them - and in reality most men don't want to be tamed and will blame women for their boredom of life - but they want to be cared for but not held down.
I love Rick Danko - he's was a beautiful man with great talent and a simple life - he seemed to have everything but he still drank himself to death - I don't know anything about his life just that he seemed sweet was an amazing authentic musician and souls and get was struggling - I want to save him but he had a wife and a family - what could anyone done that they didn't do. That's not the point; the real idea is we build these castles in the sand and they are just cardboard. A lot of my work is based on this premise. Any way it's short... haha

In my next life I will marry Rick Danko
I will wear long gingham dresses and my hair in braids
I will be 22 and pregnant
We will have dogs and cats and chickens and horses
At night he will build a fire in the hearth
I will drape the itchy wool blanket around my naked body and drink warm tea
Rick will pull aside the covering and grasp my belly and say
I am in you:
you are growing me in there
He will be aroused by my fullest state of being
And want me all over again
But knowing my delicate state he will refrain, kiss me deeply and say
You are so beautiful here... The fire illuminating your eyes

He'll stop drinking

He'll give me more children

He will live to old age
handsome and strong...
But this is a dream -
and real men are trapped by life and turn to hate it
and as woman is the keeper of the light...
It is she they come to detest

Who was Rick Danko? And why do you think some women think men need to be tamed?
Rick Danko was the beautiful Canadian bass player for The Band. He was just so sweet and soft to me - in interviews or on film. He had a heavenly voice but to me he was so tragic in that he had this problem he couldn't come to grips with - his drinking - and it ended up killing him. Sometimes - rock guys meet girls who are smart and strong and can help their guys have creature comforts, home - good food - peace - loving - and they get better. Or sometimes they have all those things but still can't break away from their demons. In that poem, I just chose Rick as an avatar for pure connection in love. That idea that this woman can make a life and home with this man without changing their natures. But in this idea Rick evolves from his former self - sees the beauty in the world through his wife - through their child through the loving act that brought that child to be, and the wife evolves too - she's no longer afraid of her natural self. She accepts it and basks in it - her nakedness, the fullness of her pregnancy. These are gorgeous natural things. Believe me - I don't want anyone to be tamed - man or woman - I just think that sometimes over time people lose touch with that natural self - when I say "women tame men" it’s more of a metaphor - at times in order to live here in this world we may need to squelch our desires but rather than tamp them down its better that our desires change. I think sometimes if a person’s desires change and they long for the more sedate life they become afraid that they are losing their natural self. It’s a balance really - to be wild and tame at the same time. To find those avenues to be wild and then know when it’s best for your own interests to be tame. The best relationships are those that allow for wildness and can cope with tameness without feeling constricted. But that can easily pass from one to the other. I think woman try too hard to tame men: "this is the way it’s done" rather than trying on the man's wildness for size and seeing how it feels. That freedom. I have a poem that touches on this about wanting to be one of my male friends. They were all having such wild lives in NYC on the Lower East Side. I finished school - I worked - I was in a steady stable relationship - I tamed myself. Looking back I could have done similar things but I was afraid.

My growth grew from my “wildness” in the long run. I've always been more successful doing what I wanted, not what others expected.
And I think that's kind of what I am. I think is a balanced way of life - we need to use our wildness for growth. The worst times in my life were when I tried to push my 'wildness' down. You get constricted if you are too "tame"; you burn out if you are too "wild". There's a place where you can easily be yourself and yet not succumb to excess. It’s a power versus control thing really - when I am performing with Acme Dynamite I am all power right? Sometimes not enough control; I get pitchy or I flub lyrics - then there are the times when I want more control - too much actually - and I will pull back and (gasp) use lyric sheets - but then it’s a flat boring performance. There is a way to use your wildness and power and still be in control. I think some people have found that balance - I think Alice Cooper is a good example. Iggy Pop is another... too much power and wildness you burn out... not enough you die. You have obviously been able to strike that balance well. I on the other hand... The theme of this interview was very much about perception - how people are perceived in the world - wildness is a state of mind not a way of behaving really - if you feel free, you are - if you don't have any fear you are free... that's the main way I try to live now. Unafraid - I notice when I fear something I lose control and try to reign in my power - and that compounds the problem - go through this world unafraid with control and you will be free.

What do you wish to ultimately achieve through your poems? Do you ever plan to release a book of your collected writings?
I never thought seriously about my writing until recently. I always just used it as a cathartic thing. I needed to get something out or words I put together sounded interesting and I wanted to build on them and not forget them. I don't use paper, it’s all done electronically. It used to be lyrics for songs I was writing, but as I don't do that anymore it’s just my little scribbles. What I'd really like to do is follow up what two friends of mine have done in the past and collaborate with a fine artist. Jennifer Agro is a poet and Dina Levy is an artist. Jen would give Dina a set of words or a short poem and Dina would create a drawing about that poem. It was beautiful. I can see a gallery thing where the poem is in a frame next to the painting or drawing and the poem is shown like just another piece of art. It would be great to have a group show like that like four sets of people showing at once (and then a band or two... and drinks... snackies you know that kind of thing...). This is where my head goes... I can’t stop it sometimes. All ideas rarely follow through.
As for a book... I love books but they are not kinetic are they? I like art to move... I like things that are there for a moment and then are gone. Mercurial. I like plays more than movies - live music more than records - because it’s always different and always exciting. You never know what could happen. I think poems should be read aloud more than on the page... that way it’s all alive.

-Dave Wolff

1 comment:

  1. Great interview. Really intelligent questions and answers and no posing. It's amazing how soft and tough Heather Dawson can be. I will definitely check out her writing.