Scott Wozniak: Shadowboxing the Apocalypse [Interview by Mike Daily]

June 28th, 2017 | Category: Interviews

— Photo by Charlotte Wirks Wozniak

Two years ago, I moved from the Portland area to Southern Oregon’s Rogue Valley and met Scott Wozniak. Scott’s become a close friend. He writes poetry. He participates in readings and (yes, they still exist) slams. In 2014, during the first six months of his sobriety, Scott won $140 at a slam in Ashland. I told him he reminds me in some ways of Steve Richmond. He laughed. When we met, Scott hadn’t heard of Steve or read his poems. Familiar refrain in American Renegades poetry. Or Outlaw. Modern American Poetry. MAP. Whatever you want to call it. Why? Because there’s always someone you haven’t heard of or read in this realm. Realm meaning the underground scene or network worldwide. Which brings to mind Worldwide Pants, David Letterman‘s production company. Watch this video: On June 10, 1982, Allen Ginsberg appeared on NBC’s Late Night with David Letterman. Allen talked about singing mantras, poetry, rock and roll. He mentioned collaborating with The Clash, being friends with Bob Dylan, preparing to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (Viking Press, 1957) in Boulder, Colorado, and how he was inspired by William Blake. After the commercial break, Ginsberg performed a punk rock-paced poem backed by Paul Shaffer’s band.

— Allen Ginsberg on Late Night with David Letterman, June 10, 1982.

Scott Wozniak’s new book Crumbling Utopian Pipedream (Moran Press, 2017) features marvelous cover art by Marie Enger, a back cover blurb by poet and novelist Rob Plath, and 40 poems written by a “chaos enthusiast” who—when he isn’t “doin’ the blue-collar thing,” as he told Marcia Epstein on her Talk With Me podcast—spends his free time writing and “[s]hadowboxing the apocalypse,” opening lines from his poem “The Time for Doomsday Preparation is Over,” which goes:

Shadowboxing
the apocalypse
by throwing
punches
at the wind
seems more
productive
than banging
heads
against
bricks
in this
counterfeit
age
of reason.

Ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome Scott Wozniak.

Mike Daily: The recent book review and interview by George Anderson in New South Wales, Australia, astounded me. Not many writers receive that kind of in-depth, insightful, “erudite” I think is the word, critical acclaim. You accomplished this with your second collection of poetry, Crumbling Utopian Pipedream, or CUP as I refer to it. Awestruck congratulations, my friend. What do you make of this?

Scott Wozniak: Quite honestly, I’m not completely sure there’s a whole lot to make of it. You know how things are in the small press world, especially poetry. You can rack up great reviews and remain unknown, except maybe by your peers. How far “acclaim” stretches is relative to how you perceive it.

The way I see it is this: George is one of those guys that writes great poetry himself, runs an awesome site dedicated to small press/underground lit, reviews books, basically shines a light on the scene, and has been doing it for a good amount of time now. The underground press survives thanks to guys like George, and there’s a ton of ‘em out there. You’re one of them, Mike. Guys who’ve been in the game a long time, writers who understand it’s up to us to keep the ball rolling.

Poetry, in particular, has been DIY for centuries. It’s a passion project. Ultimately, for me, if writers whose work I love, who I look up to, writers who’ve been doing this since before I was born, if those guys give me positive feedback, I’m stoked. I’m accomplishing more than I set out to accomplish. If I reach a wider audience thanks to these guys who have been grinding away for 10, 20, 30 years in the small press, because they just have to write, it’s in their bones, then I’m forever grateful. Because honestly, if not another soul on the planet read my words, I’d still be writing. So, I try to keep it in perspective. Sure, I like to hear that my writing connects with someone because I love that feeling of reading something that resonates with me. But, I’m a selfish fuck, a lot of times I’m writing for me. Clearing the trash out of the attic, you know? So, when I get a review like the one George did, I look at it more like he was very thorough and thoughtful, and paid my work huge respect on that level. I view it more as a reflection of his integrity and dedication to the small press than a reflection of how great my book is.

MD: The review drew attention to your choice to open CUP with an epigram by poet Doug Draime–

It’s then you see
the crushing odds
and you know
you have
beaten them.
Somehow. You know
with the certainty
of your continued
breath.

–and since I had been unfamiliar with Doug’s work, can you tell us more about him, the impact his poetry had on you, and your personal interactions with him?

— Doug Draime

SW: Doug Draime is a legend, in my eyes, and deserves to be recognized as such. He had been publishing in the underground since the late ’60s, up until he passed away last year. I only became familiar with his work maybe six or seven years ago. I started noticing him on quite a few different poetry websites I would frequent and he would floor me every time. Then I came across one of his chapbooks that was included in the first Punk Rock Chapbook Series by Epic Rites Press. After that, I was in full blown fan-boy mode and consumed as much of his work as I could find. His full-length collection, More than the Alley, published by Interior Noise Press (2012), is still one of my all-time favorite books of poetry out there.

Eventually, a couple of years down the line, after I’d started getting work published, I discovered that he lived right down the road from me. This was a revelation. There aren’t too many writers that I idolized like I did him and he was living in my backyard, in middle of nowhere, Southern Oregon.

One evening I tracked down his email. I shot him a message, and, surprisingly, he messaged me back. We corresponded semi-regularly for the last year of his life. I had no idea he was sick at the time and he would always shoot down my offers to get a cup of coffee because he wanted to spend time with his family. Regardless, he would take the time to give me advice on writing, periodically critique my work, push me to submit my stuff, and generally taught me about being a kind, selfless person. I was just this random, poetry freak who started harassing him and he took the time to encourage and talk to me, even while he was sick.

I had built him up as this giant of poetry and assumed that he somehow managed to make a living off his writing, even though I’d read many, many poems where he would talk about his experience at some shit, dead end job. When I breached this subject, he laughed at me and brought me back down to reality, telling me, “Make no mistake, poetry don’t pay the bills.”

For this experience alone, I’m continually grateful. It removed any visions of grandeur I may have possessed and instilled in me the importance to just write, fuck anything else. Doug wrote incredible stuff, and got published for 40-plus years without the drive for fame. He wrote top notch poetry that tore into me like few writers have. He did this because writing was in his bones. Pure, no-nonsense love of the form, without any expectations. I know he was unaware of the impact that realization had on me, but it’s massive. That’s why I try not to put too much stock in things like good reviews. If I can just write solid work and remain happy with the joy that comes from the act itself, then I will have accomplished something holy. Recently, another writer/illustrator whom I highly respect, Janne Karlsson, read the manuscript of a project he and I are working on together and told me he felt it read “like a cross between Doug Draime and Nietzsche.” I don’t think I will ever receive a higher compliment.

MD: George Anderson asked, “Have you recently stumbled upon some new authors you haven’t read before who have impressed you?” You answered, “Man, there’s a ton of ‘em out there right now. I think the underground, or as my friend Mike Daily likes to call it, post-outlaw poetry, is alive and well. But a few names that are newer to me and very impressive would be Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Katie Lewington, Mather Schneider, James Decay, Paul Tristram, Jenny Santellano, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Matthew Borczon, and Benjamin Blake, to name a few.” Go ahead and name some others, expanding from contemporary writers to list your lifelong influences. Speak on William S. Burroughs, pro and con from your experience and current perspective, if you will.

SW: I hate doing these lists. I always feel like it’s some sort of, “Oh, look how well-read I am” B.S. that’s a way of proving to the gatekeepers that I belong here, wherever here is. I’m not saying that feeling is grounded in reality, I’m just saying that’s how I feel. But, since I know you’re a complete bibliophile and have a heartfelt respect for authors, I will comply…

Obviously, Bukowski is at the head of the list, followed, in no particular order, by Czeslaw Milosz, d.a. levy, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Bob Kaufman, Jack Micheline, Gregory Corso, David Lerner, Miguel Algarin, Kurt Vonnegut, Ken Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson, Jim Carroll, Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Walt Whitman, Bob Flanagan, Iceberg Slim, Donald Goines, Dan Fante (thanks to you), Carlos Castaneda, Phillip K. Dick, Robert Hunter, John Prine, Richard Brautigan, Woody Guthrie,  Hubert Selby Jr., Harlan Ellison, Frank O’Hara, Bruce Springsteen, Joe Strummer, Tom Robbins, Tom Waits, Jack Black (author of, You Can’t Win, not the other guy), J.D. Salinger, everyone who ever wrote for Marvel Comics, a slew of other writers I’ve forgotten, and of course, Mr. William S. Burroughs, whom I tend to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with. Maybe hate is too strong of a word, it’s more of a love/ehh (shrugs shoulders) relationship.

The reason for this is that I love him for the madman he was, and how his work is a true representation of that. He lived hard and wild and that is obvious when you read him. His book, Junkie, is a hard one to top, and a clear, honest representation of a crazy-ass junkie. His cut-up period of work, I could do without. Naked Lunch is, in my opinion, the best of that style. I could do without the rest of the Nova Trilogy. Sure, it’s “experimental,” and “revolutionary” but it’s fucking hard to follow. That stuff is like learning a new language, it takes commitment to see it through.  But, in all honesty, he’s probably the only writer who got clumped into the whole “Beat” category that I never outgrew. I can hear the gasps of sacrilege pouring from your readers’ mouths due to that statement, but it’s true. I could explain my stance further but that would be a long exhaustive conversation better suited for another time.

Focusing on Burroughs, I love him because he was bat-shit-crazy and I can relate. But I also see the folly of his ways the more I reflect on my own mistakes. I mean, he did murder someone. It may have been a drug-fueled mistake, and who am I to say it didn’t torment him, but the fucker got away with it because he comes from a wealthy family. That rubs me wrong. Maybe it shouldn’t reflect on my opinion about his work, but if I’m being honest, it kind of does. I will spare you an expanded discourse, which would undoubtedly be filled with hypocrisy…for now.

MD: What do you think was meant by my allusion to “post-outlaw poetry”?

SW: I’ve milled this over a bit since I first heard you use the term, and to me it seems like just another label, like “post-punk,” that is lost on me. You did, however, clue me in to the fact that you view it along the lines of straight-edge, but less militant. So, with that taken into consideration, I’ve come up with this…

Where “outlaw” has a (suicidal?) tendency to glorify the over-consumption of drugs and alcohol, and the life led while in such a state of existence, “post-outlaw” visits these same themes from the standpoint of experiences lived, pointing out the destruction while also revealing the desire, struggle, and necessity of overcoming such behavior, with the hope that the reader may learn that it’s not all fun and games in the fast lane, and yes, there is a way out. Maybe the “post-outlaw” is one who miraculously survived the “outlaw” life and is now searching for higher meaning thanks to the destruction of their past? Or you could be saying that all the outlaws have come and gone, but I think we know better.

 

MD: I saw on Facebook that poet Alan Kaufman, Editor of The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999), is 27 years sober this week. Last question: How essential has working a program of recovery been in maintaining your sobriety? I had thought I was an anomaly in sobriety since I had for years used will power and determination to not try to change how I feel. Now I’m aware that others with the DIY (Do It Yourself) mindset seem to have quit using the same method. Individuals who have posted or interviewed to this effect include musician, writer, and anchor at MTV News Meredith Graves (1 year); BMX racer, dirt jumper, street rider, and writer Scott Towne (6 years); and rappers Evolve (Sergio Hernandez, 2 years) and Blueprint (Al Shepard, 7 years). I was surprised to hear while listening to “Super Duty Tough Work with Blueprint and Illogic: Podcast 67: The Benefits of Sobriety” that Blueprint and I share the same sobriety birthday, May 15th (Print’s got a year on me). He didn’t mention A.A. or any direct principles of the program during his podcast with Illogic. Likely because when he quit, he quit. Done deal for him. The Book of Drugs: A Memoir (Da Capo Press, 2012) by solo artist Mike Doughty (former singer-guitarist of Soul Coughing, 17 years sober as far as I know) is one of my favorite books. In “An Indie Superstar’s Slow Road to Sobriety,” Mike writes about how going to meetings and finding out how to work the program saved his life. Yours?

SW: There is no question that working a 12-step program of recovery saved my life. I’m a drunk junkie of the hopeless variety. There is no logical reason that you and I should be having this conversation. By all accounts, I should have died long ago. I tried to get sober a time or two by using self-will and I never got more than a handful of weeks under my belt. I just couldn’t do it, until I did the work outlined in the book. I’m not blessed with the capability to just turn off my need for oblivion. I was aware of this fact for a long time, I just thought it was my lot in life. When I started doing the program, I thought it was bullshit and wasn’t gonna work for me because, you know, I’m unique. But as I got into it, something happened. What that something is, I’m still not sure, nor do I care to know. I try not to think too deeply about the how’s or why’s. I just do what I’ve been taught and it keeps me clean, plain and simple.

———

Contributor Bio:

Mike Daily is a novelist, journalist, zinemaker, spoken words performer, and co-creator of the Plywood Hoods freestyle BMX trick team. He lives in Oregon. Daily is at work on his third novel, Moon Babes of Bicycle City. Excerpts from the book are being recorded with Joe Gruttola.

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