National Poetry Month Celebration
It's nice to have Van back!
Last year was a busy and productive year for me. My poetry appeared in several top-notch journals, I conducted creative writing workshops at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, I spoke to more than 2,500 students via school visits, and the boxers that I coached won some noteworthy fights.
2014 has started on a positive note. I have been a celebrity judge for the Houston Youth Poetry Slam, two of my photos were selected for Oh Snap! 2, a juried cell phone photo exhibition (which last year had more than 2,300 entries), my Basquiat Suite (poetry) was published in Verse/Chorus Anthology, and I have poems and photography scheduled to appear in national publications in the upcoming months.
I will be making some cameos in some upcoming videos, as well as revisiting another one of my passions, directing. I’m in preproduction on a couple of short films profiling a boxing Olympic-hopeful. There’s a lot more on the table, but that will have to be in a follow-up interview (smile).
Van passes the NPM torch to....
I draw inspiration from literature, from music, from the conversations of complete strangers (I’m a notorious earhustler), from films, from artwork, from my experiences, from human nature, from my child-like imagination, from friends, from family, and from pain.
What advice do you have for someone that is threatened by poetry?
To the Senator who’s so threatened by Art that he or she votes “Yes” to excising 8 million dollars from this year’s proposed NEA funding budget, I say look at our Constitution and marvel at the poetry inherent in the phrase “…secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves”. To the individual who is intimidated by poetry because he or she believes poets refuse to express exactly how they feel, I will paraphrase Robert Frost who claimed that we’re all poets—24/7—because we rarely speak from the heart. We rely heavily on vague statements to intimate at what we mean, as a result of uncertainty and maybe even shyness.
What is an interesting fact about you?
Robert Frost and I share the same birthday (drumroll).
Since I was a kid, I’ve wanted to be an actor. I grew up an only child, so films were my main source of entertainment. I can quote lines from all the characters in What About Bob? and in Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon. If someone were to adapt those films into Off-Broadway plays and hold auditions in Houston, guess who’s not showing up ready to go sailing or to go kiss the antagonist’s Converse? To this day, I have stage fright. I get nervous reading my poems off the page to a small audience. Reciting lines in front of a large audience makes my lips numb just thinking about it (in my Bill Murray voice). In a sense, I feel like I resolve my fear of acting through literature because I’ve written numerous persona poems. Perhaps sharing my persona poems at poetry readings is the closest I can come to being an actor?
Where are you from/Where do you live?
I grew up in Ft. Walton Beach, FL, and I live in Fresno, TX (about 30 minutes outside of Houston).
Who is your favorite poet?
I don’t have a favorite poet, but there are poets who influence my work. I revere Langston Hughes for championing the blues and jazz in his body of work, for giving agency to the black speakers of his poems, and for never becoming complacent with his style. As writers, it’s tempting to play it safe; however, as Hughes advanced in age, he continued experimenting with language. My man Bob Kaufman (aka Golden Sardine), who had one foot in the Beat Movement and the other one in the Black Arts Movement, held it down on the Surrealist tip. Whenever I think I’ve created surprising imagery, I turn to Kaufman’s words: “I’ve never seen a wild poetic loaf of bread, but if I did I’d eat it crust and all”, and I instantly realize that my so-called fresh metaphor is actually dry and leathery.