|photo credit -- Sandra Smith|
Tonight I'd like to post my recent interview with Charles Clifford Brooks III, poet, educator, and founder of the Southern Collective Experience. It is amazing how much he does! More importantly, I think you will want to learn more about him, and after reading this interview, you will continue to be intrigued.
|Credit -- Mary Judkins and Holly Holt|
|Design by Ezra Letra|
-- Who is Cowboy Blue Crawford, and what led you to write an epic about him?
Cowboy Blue Crawford is me.
I didn’t plan to write another epic poem as I began to wrap up Athena Departs. The name “Blue” came from the Ephemera and doesn’t symbolize anything in itself. “Crawford” is one of my father’s family names, and the town (Crawford, Georgia) in which I grew up. The idea that he’s a cowboy originated from the seed that Doc Holliday is among my trinity of lifelong heroes (i.e. Dante, Beethoven, and Holliday).
The work is autobiographical. I am a different man than that hurt boy from The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics. The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford leaks out of the fissures left behind in my flesh from battles won in my personal and professional life. It’s no sad song, or overwrought “I am tough” façade so many males in the arts feel must be fronted. I am me. I am Cowboy Blue Crawford.
|Photo credit -- Matthew Polsfuss|
-- Why did you choose the epic form?
The absolute focus it takes to write an epic is the primary reason I’m drawn to it as an art form. The longer a poem is, the tighter you must stitch the language. My nemesis is boredom. The attention needed to craft an epic removes all chances of me falling into a malaise of inactivity and incessant, itchy moods. The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford has also made me take an honest stock of who I am now - whether it’s pretty or not. I think one of the reasons my poetry has struck a sticking point is due to the fact I am the same man on paper that I am in person. I do not brag or make undo apologies.
Interior rhyme, I’ve found, is one of the keys to keeping a reader moving forward. I began in this business as a writer of prose. The epic allows me to marry poetry and the prosaic length of a good story. All writers must love, and be good at, spinning a good story. That’s what poetry and prose is all about. Plus, I feel society is underestimated in its ability to digest and appreciate the epic.
Although poetry is often a solitary undertaking, I don’t walk this road alone. Brother Felino A. Soriano and Brother Joe Milford are also a part of this project and add epics of their own. This is the first collaboration I’ve ever attempted, and it’s been effortless. The title of this collaboration has yet to be decided. The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford is only a piece of the whole. There’s even a unique addition of a prose piece that ties all three of our characters together. If you do the right work with the right people for the right reasons, miracles happen every day. Fact.
|Painting by Ka-Son Reeves inspired by Cowboy Blue Crawford|
This will be the cover of the epic once it is published.
-- What surprised you the most about writing an epic? Why?
What surprised me most is how much fun it is to write an epic. It demands a sharp lexicon, including one’s genuine drawl, awareness of one’s roots, truth of self, and a challenge that will show the poet's true strength.
Yet, the revisions and follow-through of the epic can be brutal to one with an OCD hold on perfectionism. I have become better about that since my first book, but to be honest, completely honest, it can feel like a “broken hallelujah” (thank you, Jeff Buckley).
So, to muscle through that barrage of reflection, I threw on music. The blues, old school country, gospel and bluegrass coaxed me beyond many writer’s blocks. It became the soundtrack for the whole work.
-- What led you to start the Southern Collective Experience?
The idea came to me a decade ago. Brother Joe Milford was on the phone with me as I started to throw around the idea of dispelling the cliché that artists can’t be friendly, if not family, while also being practical business folk. Art does make money. I don’t work for free. For life, love, or rent – everything I do today is because I adore it, and because it allows me to financially breathe deep.
More recently, someone told me that I can’t control the number of jackasses in my life. That isn’t true. The Experience began to come into immediate focus as also an oasis of intelligence, often-rough humor, with both hands buried deep in the Cemetery of Expression. We are a company. We are all published legit. Our reputations speak for themselves. No soapbox. No haughty mission statement. No promise to return art to some utopian state. We will make it better now, tomorrow, and tomorrow.
The SCE is a group of photographers, visual artists, prose writers, graphic designers, poets, and musicians. We share a similar, smart, gritty song in our hearts and refuse to shoot anywhere but straight.
When someone gets huffy with me about entrance into the group by asking if I’m an elitist, the answer is – yes. If that’s what people call someone who doesn’t compromise, I’ll stand by it.
|Photograph of the SCE by Sandra Smith|
-- I'm sure that you get this question all the time, but what does it mean to you to be Southern? Where/how do you draw the boundary? (I've known people who consider Indiana to be Southern; I also knew one man who informed me that Virginia was NOT Southern.)
Being Southern isn’t just about place. Yet, being from below the Mason-Dixon certainly helps. Being Southern-minded is a classical education that exemplifies the virtue of using language to settle unrest, but common sense (and ability) to put the bad man down. Violence isn’t always the answer, but sometimes it is. To be Southern is to give both God and the Devil their respect and space.
We have a melody between us that’s simple in its genius. In my opinion, the South is the only part of America that isn’t afraid of claiming a culture. This culture isn’t sexist or racist or riddled with Civil War Guilt. We come from all walks of life, both sexes, many religions, but united in the pursuit of genuine expression, intolerance for politically correct pressure, while wearing a real smile and strong resolve.
There is music in every crevice of the South. A great deal of music in our family goes back and forth as we pull tighter together. I’ve come to believe if someone has a deep-seeded love of some true form of music, there’s something redeemable in their soul. We sing to the world through the tones in our work and, as time goes on, all of us experience the peace in harmony.
-- How do you see the Southern Collective Experience evolving?
This year (in April 2015) we launch our magazine, The Copperhead Literary & Arts Review. We also make our website (www.southerncollectiveexperience.com) more visible this year, which includes Copperhead and our radio show, Dante’s Old South from WYYZ 1490AM, The Croc. The radio show starts back up in the late spring or early summer of this year with Brother Matt Youngblood. It will scream over the airwaves as well as streaming online coast-to-coast.
The newest evolution of the team is the Apprentice Class, which takes men and women with enormous talent and gives them access to those in the same field who are making a success of their greatest passion. This in no way makes it easier for the Apprentice Class, only enlightens and exposes those who need (and deserve) it most to the real world wisdom not taught in college. (I think the last course any art-based degree should include is: How the World Really Works 101. I am more than happy to develop this curriculum.)
All of us continue to grow on our own. A brilliant point in our social contract is that none of us lose our independence. None of us are swallowed by the demands of a group mentality. We fine tune this group every day. There are projects coming out this year that will leave us all spellbound. It’s the grace of being happy for other’s happiness and the desire to help them reach their “laughing place” (one of Brer Rabbit’s cunning terms of escape from Brer Fox and Brer Bear).
We are creating a fresh merchandising line for the SCE, and by this summer we hope to have a location for our own open mic night. The big difference in our open mic is the discussion and constructive criticism of the work presented. If you can’t take honest input delivered in a gentle fashion, don’t get into this occupation. Yet, there’s a way to offer criticism without being an asshole. I am doing an interview soon more on the SCE’s recreation of the open mic/poetry reading. The trick is to make it a festival with musicians, visual artists, dance, prose, and poetry. Remove outdated limitations and you reinvent the universe of performing arts. Yes, reading poetry is just that – a performance.
|Photo credit -- Anonymous|
Photograph is of CCB III reading.
Holly Holt is with him.
--What pleased you the most about writing your second book? Why?
Athena Departs exhibits a braver use of the way(s) in which I speak and think. As with The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford, Athena Departs doesn’t limp with the weight of lost love or befuddled by depression. Athena picks up where my first book left off. The stories mature and simply tell the facts behind my becoming.
-- What surprised you the most about writing your second book? Why?
What I found the most surprising was the lack of anxiety involved with the creation of, and editing, my poetry. The lessons I learned the first go-around stuck and it has saved me the self-imposed, accidental exile necessary to carve out The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics. My teaching job and the SCE have helped me keep my crazy train firmly on the rails. I am responsible to those in this family. That includes striving to do my best while avoiding the clichés of boozing or using narcotics to fuel my inspiration. One of the only maxims of our team is, “Don’t embarrass the family.”
-- What do you feel that you've learned from writing the second book?
That poetry is hard, hell-raising work. Yet, it is a forgiving art.
|Words by Charles Clifford Brooks III (from Athena Departs)|
Photo by Mary Judkins
Pinterest by Holly Holt (from Athena Departs)
-- How do you feel that your teaching has informed your writing?
Teaching forces me to focus on others and get out of my head for a considerable portion of the week. I have found this to be beneficial to my overall chill when my obsession to express myself exactly right just might drive me right up a tree I won’t climb down from if left too long alone. Teaching tunes me into the lives of fascinating people and allows me to flex another skill set outside creative internal monologue.
-- What advice would you give writers (and other artists) who want to use social media?
Use it genuinely. Don’t puke up every detail of your life. Think hard about what you want the public to know in the event that success slips under your front door. Privacy is priceless. If you see writing (or the arts) as a real-world career, these are things you must consider and respect along with the excitement.
-- If you had to live anywhere in the South, other than Georgia, where would you live? If you had to live anywhere in the US, other than the South, where would you live? Why?
If I had to move out of Georgia, but stay in the South, I would go to New Orleans. Anyone who has been there, and left a bit of themselves in that town, knows why. If I had to live outside the South, I would hit either Washington State or Colorado. I like the mountains and breathing room between folks up there.
|Above is the cover of Clifford's first book.|
|The cover of Clifford's second book is by Ezra Letra.|
The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
(Blue) An uncivil son of Athens
was slammed down, fired in, and fashioned
from an ancient forge
saved for babies
who become a Confederation
of cunning Senecas.
The South now has a cowboy
mommas don’t remember
with pride or joy.
The newest of the Crawford brood,
like the ones who came before,
found himself born
a bit more than a little less
sewn up in self-interest.
From the womb,
his father called him:
In a tomb
opened during an unimportant moon,
a child of the Old Faith,
was coaxed up
by a haunted Creole’s
That Hoodoo Man
teased out Blue’s feral talents
and hoochie-coochie habits.
Neither can be traced to anything damned
by a team of priests,
or zealous abbots.
Yet, it’s a natural fact
that Blue hit the ground
and immediately found
he spoke with the sound
of a Middle Georgia growl.
Granny Hazie put a Bible in his backpack,
and since his first steps,
Blue’s jeans have been held
against his slender hips
by a buckle etched in the
effigy of Saint Anthony.
The heart of the matter
is that he too easily mastered
the ability to attract and cheat
a poisonous youth.
Yet, those years,
though a bit misspent,
didn’t yoke him with
the horrible scars
made from settling, solitude,
or prison bars.
Today he lacks
the lethargic lifestyle of a man
that’s seen too much.
It’s a matter of perspective,
and plenty of prairie
The bottom line
Blue’s lasting luxury
is the subsidy
he invested to make the past
This is a story worth telling,
since it’s the nexus
of why he sleeps so soundly.
Clifford also brought some music for this interview:
Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama perform "I Shall Not Walk Alone":
Ben Harper plays an Asher lap steel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZSYaPokSQk
Harper and Relentless7's version of "Why Must You Always Dress in Black/Red House" is live in Montreal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PXke7vF2Uc
Moon Taxi performs "Mercury" live in Austin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7C_x8rOZI6E
And, of course, here is Bob Marley's "Redemption Song": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrY9eHkXTa4
We'll close with Avicii's "Wake Me Up": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LRd8PNJKVl8
Clifford Brooks is a teacher, freelance writer, and poet living in North Georgia. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry and Georgia Author of the Year for his first book of verse, The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics. Clifford’s next book of poetry, Athena Departs, is currently in the last stages of editing. His newest accomplishment, with the help of many brilliant artists, is the creation of The Southern Collective Experience, who will soon have a website of their own. His online presence includes Twitter; Instagram; Facebook; and his personal website Cliff Brooks. Artistic snippets of his work (as created by Holly Holt, a member of The Collective) can be found on Pinterest here: Athena Departs; and The Salvation of Cowboy Blue Crawford.
|Photo credit -- Matthew Polsfuss|