Friday, February 22, 2013

Joe Gardner "2nd Generation American Drifter"

Joe Gardner serves up his poetry without any bullshit!
Interviewed by Jessica Wilson

I first met Joe Gardner at the downtown mecca for literary delight, The Last Bookstore. We were there for a reading hosted by the fabulous and one of the most generous Angeleno Poets, Mike ThePoet Sonksen. As soon as I heard Joe at the mic I was astounded. His work was genuine, raw, and said truth with no colorful innuendos or analogies, his work is core-shaking. It shook me! I immediately introduced myself to him after the reading and offered him a spot to join my open mic series. Since that moment, Joe has stayed in my brain. Each time he reads I am simply amazed with his work, and Joe is a humble Poet, often times I think I make him blush, but he is a damn genius!

I had a desire to make him blush some more and interview him because the WORLD needs to read Joe Gardner!

Here’s how it all went:

Jessica: Where are you from and how do you think the place you’re from has affected your work?

Joe: I’m from two places. As a child I spent the winters in Modesto, CA and the summers here in East Lakewood, CA. I’m pretty much a 2nd generation American drifter. I’ve spent the last 12 years tramping around the states, owning only what would fit in my rucksack. It was a lot of fun and has given me a wider perspective on things. These experiences and the people I’ve met are the backbone of my writing. Living a very minimalistic life for so long has given me a greater appreciation for what it takes to just get by; let alone succeed.

Jessica: When did you begin writing? Writing poetry?

Joe: I was always reading or writing something. From an early age I found solace in reading. Poetry started when I was ‘bout 12 or so; mostly poor attempts to re-write songs on the radio.

Jessica: Who are some of your favorite Poets/ poems? Do these same Poets/poems influence your work? How so?

Joe: William Blake tops the list. His piece "The Tyger" really grabbed me. It was the whole duality concept that I found identity with. Jim Morrison showed me how to have fun with imagery and to not care about rules. I came across Charles Bukowski in 2003. I’ve always enjoyed his straight forward style of writing.  My main goal for my words is that a regular working-guy/gal could pick it up and get what I’m talking about. I don’t buy the b.s. that poetry is only for the “educated”.

Jessica: Amen! And thank you for mentioning Morrison. He’s often overlooked for his poetic quality. He was pretty damn amazing, and Blake was a great influence on him as well, inspiring the title for his band! Bukowski is perfect for you! I do hear a similarity in your works.

Joe: I love their work. It’s funny, I found out about Morrison’s poetry from reading Blake. Kind of a back-ass-wards way of going about it, but it worked out.

Jessica: I really love your poem “Military”. It’s quite an amazing epic of self-reflection and discovery. It must have taken a lot of your soul to write this out. I think it takes a lot of courage to document your own personal life cycles and challenges. How hard was this for you to do?

Joe: Military was a one-shot poem. It just wrote itself. I try to stay out of the way of my pen on these things. [Besides], I always have the option of not sharing the piece if I’m not ready.

Jessica: Wow – one shot! It’s a very good testimony of life… I really enjoyed it! It seems that epics or lengthier pieces would take much time to construct. How do you stay in your zone to write in one sitting until you feel the piece is complete?

Joe: These are always the tough questions…the “How” of it all. To be honest; I really don’t know what the hell I am doing. Writing “Military” just came in a rush; like a confession or testimony. It was all there ready to go. I couldn’t keep up with my thoughts. I love it when I get in that zone! It’s like this strange little compressed mania that I call the “Slow Eternity” where everything else just kind of tunes out, like the TV being on with the volume on mute; there but not so much. 

Thank god for spell check…and that’s how it normally goes. It’s kinda either on or off. Either the poem is there…or I just stare at the paper. I’m not a very disciplined Writer. To be honest I am a lazy Writer. I don’t particularly follow any set structure or rules that I’m really aware of. I don’t write a lot of long poems; I tend to get bored with them. I like the challenge of compressing as much as I can within as few words or lines possible, and then ultimately leaving it up to the reader to decide what it all means or doesn't  [I find] that mentality allows the poem to be whatever it turns out to be. I don’t write for the reader. A poem begins and ends for me, but once it is shared, my opinion doesn't matter. In fact, it would only get in the way, and that’s why when doing a reading I won’t waste the time to explain the poem. I trust the audience is smart enough to think for themselves. If I had to explain the poem; then I don’t think I did my job as a Poet very well.

Jessica: Honesty seems to be a big element to your poetics. Is it hard to be honest?

Joe: This question makes me smile. There are so many different directions to go with it. I can only write what I know. I don’t know enough about poetry to fake it. I’d rather be booed for being honest than have the artificial applause that comes from pandering. ‘Sides, seems there are plenty enough people writing fiction these days.

Jessica: Touché!

Joe: Just playing! I think being honest in writing is the only way to go. People know a hack when they see one. Being honest in the poem, I think, allows the reader to be honest with themselves when reading the poem. So if I want people to find identity in my words then I have to put identity there to be found. If I’m up here trying to write about the Blue Collar,  for Blue Collar people, then I damned well better have worn that collar and be telling the truth. Some things can’t be faked.

Jessica: Are there any ghosts you force yourself to visit in your writing? Similarly, are there areas or topics of your life you steer away from writing about? Ghosts you don’t want to face?

Joe: I try not to force or control my writing. Mostly I get possessed by a thought or a line; hell sometimes it’s just a word. If the poem goes to uncomfortable territory I just try to sit back and let it ride its course. I’m not claiming any sort of enlightenment; I’ve just come to terms with my ghosts. Even if it’s just accepting that there ain’t a damned thing I can do to change yesterday.  The biggest thing I try to do is to remember that words are powerful. I try not to hurt anyone with my writing; that’s why I don’t drop names in the HER poems… That and libel and slander lawsuits are a bitch!

Jessica: What are you reading right now?

Joe: I’ve just been picking through a couple of different works. I had my nose in the 2012 LUMMOX;  a lot of really good stuff in there. I’ve also been flipping through Mike ThePoet’s work “I Am Alive in Los Angeles”. I’m also fond of James Jay’s work “The Journeymen”. Lately I’ve been stuck reading my own work, (boring), editing and making selections for my first book.

Jessica: I am excited to learn that you are putting together a book. Your work deserves to be read! Do you have a publisher or idea set up already? Any dates we can look for?

Joe with Jennifer Brown
Joe: I’m hoping to have it out around April. I’m going through the self-publishing route. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the help of both Rd Armstrong to guide me through the whole mess of making a book for the first time, and my lady, Jennifer Brown. There wouldn’t be any of this without her. I’m kinda reclusive in nature. I’d still be holed up somewhere scribbling in notebooks waiting for the butterfly nets.

Jessica: What do you think it takes to be a Poet in 2013?

Joe: Audacity. Fear. Danger. Defiance and humility. I think it takes all the same as it always has.  For me it has to be raw. It needs teeth going for my throat. Poets have always been voices of change, and changing takes experience. I think mostly to be a Poet you just have to decide to be. After that…well, I’ll have to get back to you when I have more experience with being a poet.

Enjoy the poetry of Joe Gardner!

Lakewood, CA; High School
Bless your feast with new thought
the radio sang soothing discordance; even sober it was very sublime,
so our bodies went with the flow
Presidential campaign across a troubled nation...
desert war death
so obscene...
I came home from school to watch the war on TV
I was 16; so very naive, so very bold and daring 
my patriotism was a hard dick of imagined glory
never knowing what a terrible price I would pay 

Fort Sill, OK; Basic training and Advanced Individual training
Formation...the cold bugle shatters the glass morning
as I am broken and remade
over and over again...

Fort Benning, GA; Airborne Training
Today I get ready to enter the belly of a great bird
Carried high through the sky; the earth so small and delicate below
beckoning me to return to her dirty breast
I stood in a door opened to the passing blue sky
one step from the womb
embraced by the deep rapture of the Slow Eternity
I jump
from the belly of this bird
like Jonah from the whale
Lazarus from the grave

Fort Bragg, NC;
Solider sweating in the sun
clutching desperately to his rifle and his rosary
strangled by the conflict of faith and honor
so tired always tired
Contrived morality on the line
soul for sale, body for rent
deep rot of loss in the eyes
confusion fear
march to the next field of fire
my dog tags clenched tightly in my fist
talisman and medals of my decision made
I think of home.
Summer humid heat in the North Carolina forests
artillery cannon roaring like thunder
war paint running with sweat streaks my face with weariness
we prepare for war
I think of home
Bloodshot whiskey eyes I sit alone at the bar
while the topless dancers with pretty acid glazed eyes
and practiced plastic smiles
seduce dollars from lonely hard dick soldiers
I think of home
Drunken laughter fills the hallways
loud, full of brass and bravado
as the beer flows freely...
throughout time; only the flags change...
Dancing devils on broken angels
do you hear the bells; here comes the carnival
body bag parade dressed in flags, honors, medals
and gun salutes
Walking through the paths breathing deeply of the still quiet air
where nothing grows
blanketed by wreaths and thousands of little plastic flags
whispering in the wind thousands of names
all chiseled with great care by sorrow in this garden of stone

Honorable Discharge; completion of service
Music drifts like smoke from the radio
hot summer rains falling in this forested land
Boots polished to reflect like mirrors
muddied by the wet grass.
This is the last time I will wear this proud uniform
I take a journey across the country
to leave behind my life, 
to go to the real world
to return a stranger to my family, my friends,
I clutch my dog tags and think of home.

-  Joe Gardner(c)2013


See there is a whole other AMERICA that lies beneath the surface.
Everybody likes to talk about it, act as if they know about it;
they like to say what’s wrong with it, they like to breed dissent within it;
keep us fighting amongst ourselves never looking at what’s going on behind the curtain;
blind-sided with knee-jerk emotional appeals disguised as legislation
that only furthers their own robber Barron agenda of social enslavement
keeping the people hungry tired angry poor distracted
all the while contently vomiting Orwell nightmares                                          
thru the eyes and into the head, keeping the brain numb and immersed in shit,
tamed and complainant with constant streaming live feed media input;
immediate gratification buy now consumerism learned stupidity disguised as entertainment...
and we have failed.
Poets and Bards had been the front-line troops for every revolution of social reform...
Always there spreading the word; sharing the reality the degradations the experience;
until now.
We have failed our calling.           
We have failed the poets before us
We have failed our heritage of DEFIANCE.
We have failed ourselves...
Used to be it was dangerous to be a Poet; to express new and undisguised ideas;
road weary voices that called for change endured the loneliness, the ridicule and disdain,
the beatings and jailing’s for violation of murky and obscene laws;
the hunger the addictions the drunkenness the madness
the brawls the sex the suicides the LONELY dying... and the FEAR… always the FEAR                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                  gnawing at your mind
like hunger crazed rats...
Where are our Bukowski's? Who will be our Blake,
our Rimbaud, Baudelaire; Verlaine where the fuck is our Kerouac, our Ginsberg, and our Whitman?
Where is our Poe?
Where is our Fear? Where is our VOICE?  Where is the defiance
embrace that motherfucking god-head defiance that makes Poets,
that drives us to madness and addictions and every other experience
that we can possibly suffer to flood our minds with;
that defiance that makes us say to the masters
To raise our voices      to wash away the stench
of all the dddd-double talk fine print political head spin doctors weaving
honeyed nightmares of mind killing nonsense
Are we so lost...? Have we no star to guide us; no witches or shamans,
has the mount become insurmountable...?
Or do we come together as a guild a union; a legion of voices.
Do we catch the fear? Ride it; feed from it, grow from it learn from it
teaching each other to become it
Do we sing our defiance while birthing challenging thoughts of change,
or do we lower our heads, and bleat with the other sheep
awaiting the sheers and then the butcher?

-  Joe Gardner(c)2013


I ended up getting published
in the Modern Drunkard Magazine
by accident.

I was stone drunk at my normal chair
at the Streets of London Pub
in Denver
I was coming off
one of them good breakups…
You know
the one
where you hate each other
but still end up drunk
and back in bed alone with each other
after the bars close down
and everyone else has gone home…

So anyways; I’m trying to make a go
for the bartender, Christa,
I figured I’d be clever
And throw down some drunk poems
right on the spot…

I knew I scored
when she read them.

My feelings were mixed
when she told me her fiancé,
Mr. Frank Kelly Rich,
former Army Combat Ranger
and father of
Modern Drunkard Magazine
would probably publish me.

So Frank…
that’s how my first poems
came across your bar top.

-  Joe Gardner(c)2013


The Gun promised paradise
                in the pale moonlight
parables stuttered in the wind
                no wise men to answer the riddles
or to guide us past the burning street lamps.

                A baby and mother both cry
as she presses child
to a dry tit of desperation
that once carried the milk of paradise
                while somewhere a drunkard
with an empty bottle in hand
                sings a song of dead and forgotten promises
of Paradise.

Gold adorns the churches
alongside a tortured promise of paradise
while children poisoned and half drowned
on stagnant baptism water
grow hungry and sullen.
                                                                Angry words
                                                                reflect off
                                                                broken souls.

Cruel men tie
                                tin cans
                                                to the tails of dogs...

-  Joe Gardner(c)2013

Joe Gardner
Catch Joe Gardner on Facebook and "like" his page Working Class Poetry by Joe Gardner

Upcoming readings:
February 23rd at Steamers Jazz Cafe in Fullerton
12-3pm, with open mic

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