It’s Web Wednesday once again. We had gotten great insight into De Jackson’s mind and muse the last time out. This week we are happy to present an interview with the next selected honoree. A Renaissance Man of sorts, our choice for interesting blog is Andrew Kreider’s “Penguin Poems.” Andrew’s work can be found here at POETIC BLOOMINGS and at POETIC ASIDES with Robert Lee Brewer.
1. Welcome to Poetic Bloomings, and thank you for accepting this designation, Andrew. The title of your poetry blog is “Penguin Poems,” which frankly left me scratching my head. Then I was introduced to Ollie, your 6-foot inflatable penguin. One has to wonder how many interviews with poets start out with this: Tell us what inspiration you derive from the penguins in your life.
First of all, thanks so much for the invitation to be interviewed here. I love this new site, and I look forward to seeing what grows here in the months and years to come!
Now, Ollie. Ollie is an incredible gift in my life. He started life as a lawn ornament. I found him two years ago in the local hardware store, and brought him home to live with us. It was love at first sight. A moment of recognition, some strange point of connection, between a six foot five human and a six-foot piece of inflatable vinyl. Ollie the penguin is my alter-ego at this stage of my life. In the penguin world, it’s the dad that looks after the chicks. And here I am, a stay-at-home dad, in my 40s, married to a 3rd year medical student whom I love and occasionally see, with three kids in grade school, middle school and high school.
I spent quite a bit of time trying to find a “better” name for my blog. I thought maybe I should have something more artsy, literary, or professional sounding. As if that would make me a better poet! I even chose a couple of other options (Marie, you noted those blank blogs in my blogger profile). But somehow I kept coming back to the penguin. Penguins are mysterious, exotic, playful, and can’t fly very high. That’s me. At least, most of the time.
2. How old were you when poetry grabbed your attention, and what poet and/or poem was the first to inspire you?
I’ve always loved words, from my earliest memories. Especially words shaped into stories. Growing up in England, I bounced back and forth between the sublime and the ridiculous – from T.S. Eliot to Hilaire Belloc. A first poem? Probably Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat.” While American students were learning “Thanatopsis” or “Sea-Fever,” I was drinking deeply from the wells of nonsense verse…
3. I saw that you wrote the following poem in response to a line from poet Vivienne Blake: Marvel at the miracle of the ordinary. That is such a great line, and I thoroughly enjoyed where it took you.
By Andrew Kreider
Three blind mice orienteering through our A/C ducts
Squirrels plotting malice on the birdseed box
Graceful mold filigreeing the bathroom
Grass abounding it places it should not
Geometric patterns of unwashed laundry
The majesty of dishes rising from the sink
Long shadows cast by looming bills
The sonic boom of freshman saxophone
And sheer power of teenage deodorant
The flattened mass of a forgotten Twinkie
And pyramid of eraserless No. 2 pencils.
Rainbows filling the room from a hanging crystal
The tenderness of one loving look across the table.
Someday I will write a book,
Hopefully a funny one. But for now
I walk outside and simply marvel
At the miracle of the ordinary.
Each line paints an extraordinary image of the very ordinary, while ranging from tender, to quirky, to comical. Does this give us a glimpse into what makes Andrew Kreider tick?
Absolutely. I love to pay attention to the little things around me, the ordinary things, and then build outward from them to connect with more universal themes and questions. I also love to laugh, and find that my imagination will often run off the rails in crazy directions. As much as I try to be serious in my writing, the penguins keep peeking in around the edges.
In this connection, I love the writing of Aaron Belz (http://meaningless.com). His willingness just to be quirky. I love it. I think there is something tremendously healing for the world in laughter. Especially when laughter leads us slyly into reflecting on life. That’s what I’m doing in a half-crazed piece like “Recital.”
I don’t know where your black shoes are.
We don’t have time to curl your hair
At this point, my dear, I really don’t care
Just grab your stuff and get in the car.
Why do we do this to ourselves each May,
This ritual humiliation we call the recital?
Can this two-hour battle of flesh versus machine be as vital
To our children’s development as their teachers say?
Leave your sister alone, you unrepentant brat!
Can’t you see she’s having nervous fits
About the middle section of this piece? It’s got her scared to bits.
And don’t say that dress makes her look fat.
Look, I love soccer, but I wouldn’t love it more if you made me
Take a penalty in front of a thousand people, for crying out loud.
Why can’t these poor frightened souls be allowed
To play for fun at home instead of out where everyone else can see?
Oh gosh, there’s your grandma in the second row
All her friends from church have come along
To hear you play your two-finger version of a patriotic song.
You’d better stop your tears, or all the makeup stains will show.
I’m all for music lessons, please don’t get me wrong. I’m quite aware
They teach us discipline, which is of course right and good.
But somewhere I think we crossed the line, and what could
Have been encouraging to kids has instead become a collective nightmare.
There she is, under the lights. She looks so innocent
Sitting on the piano stool, preparing to do violence
To America the Beautiful. In her defense
The outfit’s pretty, even if her playing’s only twenty-five percent.
You show me a gifted pianist playing Chopin out his mind,
I’ll see your smug little prodigy and raise you
Five hackers lurching sweat-drenched and distraught through
Fur Elise like a drunken typing pool. Full house beats one-of-a-kind.
Oh, well done, you were divine, a taste of heaven to the ear!
These flowers are a token of my love and great esteem
You are so talented and brave. Let’s go get the largest ice cream
We can find, and forget this charade until we have to do it all again next year.
4. In addition to your poetry blog, you have an appealing website (Andrew Kreider, Words and Music [http://www.andrewkreider.com/index.html]) that includes music and video as well. Please tell us about The Minor Profits. (What a fun play on words!)
The Minor Profits have been together about five years, in various combinations. I love playing with these guys. We play a combination of musical styles that ranges from rock to country – it’s all originals, written by members of the band. Working with the Profits has taught me a great deal about creativity – what it’s like to collaborate on a project, allowing others to “edit” your work, seeing how things can be changed, improved, challenged, occasionally hamstrung, by others’ input. Poeming is often such a solitary activity – writing for and playing in a band is a great counterbalance.
5. MARIE: With your obvious interest in music and lyrics, do you often find yourself attempting to compose tunes to your poetry? WALT: As a musician and composer myself, which comes first, the “Chicken or the Egg” (Melody or Lyrics)?
Until the last few years, I would have described myself as primarily a singer-songwriter. I’ve been writing and playing since I was a teenager. These days, I count myself primarily a poet, who is also a musician. I make a conscious break in my mind between songs and poetry. I try and write song lyrics each week, but these are separate from the poetry I write. In earlier years, my songwriting was so deep and profound (!) – so many images and ideas, it was like a graduate student’s first lecture. It was way too much. So my songwriting has taken the path of becoming more and more simple – one idea, one or two verses, a few images, a repeated hook – while the poetry is left free to serve the more lofty goals of changing the world. Or not.
As to Walt’s question, I typically start with the words as a framework. Then find my groove, chord structure, melody, or whatever will shape the song. And from there, go back and massage the words around until they fit the musical structure. If I don’t have words to begin with, then I easily fall into the “let’s just sing baby at the end of line two so it all scans” trap.
6. WALT: Who inspires you musically? What types of music move you?
It can be any style, from classical to rap – what catches me in any style is that moment of “ecstasy.” Those performances when something takes off and you are on a different plane. It can be Bach or Bruckner, Parker or Hendrix, Dylan or Sara McLachlan or U2. My all-time favorite performer and writer is Bruce Cockburn – now THERE’S a poet who is also a stunning musician. If you’ve never run into Bruce before, check out “The Charity of Night” – in my estimation his best album of all.
WALT: I am very familiar with Bruce Cockburn’s work; I am a big fan as well. I will agree with your assessment of his poet acumen. Songs such as “The Coming Rains”, “Wondering Where the Lions Are” and “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” cover a wide range, but one of my favorites musically and poetically is “Lovers in a Dangerous Time”.
7. Thanks to Buddah Moskowitz’s virtual poetry reading site (http://www.virtualpoetryreading.com/?tag=kreider), I have come to realize that some poets add a great deal of interest and intrigue through the use of the instrument that is their own voice. Do you personally glean as much enjoyment in “performing” your poetry as in writing?
I love to perform. Especially when I can perform my own words. By training, I am a preacher, and I would always preach without notes so that I could look my audience in the eye and tell them what was on my heart. This is how I want to communicate my poetry – from the heart, directly to my listeners, like it’s something really important. Which, of course, it is!
8. It appears that your faith in God plays a large role in your life. To what extent does your faith shape your poetry and music?
Just over two years ago, I stepped away from being the pastor of a local Mennonite church, a place filled with good people. It was time to let go. I was burned out, and my family was ready to be out of the fish bowl. Since leaving the role of religious professional, I have found God to be both more and less important in my life. I have a deep and abiding belief in God, but less attachment to organized religion, at least for now. I’m relishing the chance to rest my spirit and find joy. In the midst of all this, wouldn’t you know, all those biblical allusions keep seeping into my writing. I’m so soaked in it all – and for the abiding power of the stories of the Bible, I am grateful. Timeless stuff.
The theme I am circling around in my writing these days has to do with finding my voice. Finding the deep place from which I write most authentically. For me, this has meant letting go of a lot of things – to do with looking good, following the rules, saying the right thing. It’s meant doing the hard work of finally leaving home. I have a good friend who grew up in a family where everyone knew he would be a car salesman like his dad. That was all he was taught, all he knew as a young man. But the day finally came where he knew he couldn’t be the person others saw him to be. And he left. For me, the family buisness was working for the church, a pattern handed down through the generations. It was a pretty traumatic transition, letting down family, church and God Almighty, but amazingly enough, everyone survived and even seem to be thriving as the smoke clears! In different ways, at some point or other, I think we all struggle with some form of the family business.
The family business
The sales floor holds its breath
Willing the words to come
Half physician half grease-monkey
I toil beneath one final vehicle
Eyes closed tracing by feel and memory
I am gifted at this work
And love it yet I realize
I am ready now
To fold these overalls and
Return my grandpa’s tools
To their sacred rolling chest
The family business will survive
I know that clearly now
And I am tired
I pull a plain grey envelope
And write the letter
I have composed a thousand times
To all my loyal customers
Family and well-meaning friends
With gratitude and love
Letting go of being a “holy man” has allowed me to become human – to laugh, love, lust, rage, fail, have outrageous opinions. And all of that floods into my poetry. I have been so humbled by this transition, but it doesn’t feel like humiliation. More like finally becoming myself.
9. Your music is available on CD. Would you please share with us how we can get our hands on a copy?
As well as playing with The Minor Profits, I am a solo singer-songwriter. Most people who produce CDs make the mistake of producing far too many in the first run. I am living proof. I have probably five full boxes of “Firebrands and Golden Strands” in my basement, and I would be glad to send one for FREE to anyone reading this who would like to receive one! Seriously, just drop me a line. It’s either that, or turn them all into tree ornaments. The others are available in more limited quantities, and you can follow the links on my website. Firebrands is actually a pretty good disc. I’m proud of it – but there really can be too much of a good thing.
10. Have you published your poetry? If not, do you have plans to do so?
I self-published my first chapbook, “The Family Business” in 2010. It was a limited run (see lessons learned, above) and I have only four left. I hope to do something similar at the end of 2011. It’s been great to be able to have something to sell or give away at readings. I love to read other poets’ chapbooks, both to see the poems they choose and also how they decide to present them.
Thank you Andrew for your time, your work and propagation of poetry!