Scott Thomas Outlar: I spend the hours flowing and fluxing with the ever-changing currents of the Tao River while laughing at and/or weeping over life’s existential nature. I enjoy walks to the park, gazing at stars, contemplating the inevitable yawning grave, dancing atop the plot where one day my bones will rest, and generally remaining in as detached a state of consciousness as possible while still getting kicks in this temporal playground of flesh and blood. I host the site 17Numa.wordpress.com where links to all my published work can be found, including my chapbook “Songs of a Dissident” which was released in 2015.
DV: So, how did a young fellow like yourself -- hip, handsome, all that -- ever get into the poetry writing game? There certainly isn't any money in it.
STO: First off, thank you for asking me to do this interview. I’m honored by the opportunity to say a few words (or many…I can be a bit long-winded at times). That’s a hell of a complimentary first question. I’m just vain enough to accept it at face value without offering any self-deprecating deflections in reply. Now to get on with the brass tacks of the matter. Though I’d been writing poetry for many years (to be fair, much of it pretty bad [so much for throwing self-deprecation out the window, eh?]), I sort of slipped headfirst into submitting it. I’d been publishing essays for a couple of months at the social justice newsletter Dissident Voice, and knowing that they also had a weekly Sunday Poetry Page, I decided to toss my hat in the ring and send something in that vein their way. Happily, Angie Tibbs (the wonderful editor) accepted the first poem I sent. That took place in the Spring of 2014, and I’ve been contributing a weekly piece ever since. As to the point of why I’d get myself involved in a process that seems terribly difficult to make a buck at, I’ll just say that I’ve always been up for a good challenge. The common consensus among writers in the small press community is that financial rewards are a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that can never be reached. I reject such a notion wholeheartedly. My intention is to become successful, not only in the sense of being able to have my words read by an approving audience, but also by earning enough cold hard cash to skate along through this world with the type of lifestyle I crave. First and foremost, I write because it is my absolute passion and there is an underlying philosophy that I wish to espouse to the world, but that certainly doesn’t preclude me from also desiring to make a healthy living from such artistic pursuits. I make no apologies for what some might consider rash, brash, or even crass presumptuousness on my behalf. I’m not here to play by the rules that were put in place before I decided to join the party. I’m here to smash paradigms and rage righteous while stirring up some trouble on the dance floor.
DV: I guess it depends largely on what sort of lifestyle you crave. I suppose a fair number of prolific poets, who keep busy at readings and get a lot of republishing royalties, probably make a relatively good living. (In the contemporary world, most of them have decent university jobs.) A few, like Allen Ginsburg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, became quite rich (though Ferlinghetti was also a successful publisher -- but CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND sold over a million; Ginsburg's HOWL sold upwards of 3 million!), so clearly it's possible. On the other hand, Jack Kerouac estimated that he earned about as much as a bartender..... Nevertheless, the determination to do something is the most important component in its accomplishment. Do you have any clear vision of how to achieve your financial objectives as a poet?
STO: It’s a great point you raise…the precedent has been set for the possibility of success by some of those who have walked this path before. There is heart to be gained in such truth. The lifestyle I speak of doesn’t necessarily require a large amount of money…well, no, I’ll be honest, I would like to be filthy rich. But not because I have any great love of Federal Reserve Notes. In fact, I can’t stand the concept of the damned centrally regulated filth. But this is neither the time nor the place to go off on some wild, raving, ranting, rambling screed on the subject of international banking. No, no, that type of material is better suited for the social justice newsletter Dissident Voice where I’ve been contributing a weekly piece for the past year and a half. But I digress. My vision to achieve success is laced in crystalline formations and glowing neon mandala abstractions. I chase such energies like the proverbial dragon…down every rabbit hole I come across. To wit: the way to get where I ultimately would like to be is to give 100% authenticity. That’s from the right-brained artistic point of view. When it comes to the rigid, left-brained, structured, formulaic path, I’ll simply say this: there are books that must be sold, there are crowds that must be read to, there are festivals that must be attended, there are radio and television spots that must be lined up, there are political games that must be played, there are connections that must be made, and there are stages that must be rocked. I love poetry. I have dedicated the past 18 months of my life to its beautiful form. Yet poetry, in the final equation, is but one spoke on a much larger wheel. There are, after all, over seventeen ways to skin a cat…
DV: It was Ben Franklin who said all cats are gray in the dark -- but he was advising young men to marry older women, who (he claimed) would be SO grateful. Meanwhile, you certainly are keeping busy at it. In your short career as a poetry writer, what have you learned about the form? What works for you creatively, as a poet?
STO: Ha! I’d never heard that quote from Mr. Franklin before. I wonder what he’d think about the modern day cougar phenomenon? From the sound of it, I’d assume such a cultural trend would be met with his enthusiastic approval.
DV: Franklin was a man ahead of his time in many areas. He seems to have been in full cougardom in his Paris days, much to the disgust of John and Abigail Adams while they were there.
STO: I should say here that I’ve only been publishing poetry for the past couple of years, but I’d been writing the stuff for over a decade prior to that. Much of it was bad news and so will likely never find its way from out the pages of the notebooks where it was born. But those efforts were part of the growing process as my style developed. The most important aspect to my poetry is probably the rhythm and musicality of the language. I wrote a lot of lyrics in days gone by…now that my work is more fleshed-out, that sense of flowing from syllable to syllable still plays a crucial role. Free verse is my preferred method of war. I capture poems like snapshots in time. They often emerge from a stream of consciousness that isn’t overly keen on fitting into prearranged structures. I’m an anarchist at heart…the art follows suit. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy trying my hand from time to time with meter and form. As they say, there is a time and a place for all things. I do have a tremendous amount of respect for poets who work in a disciplined and structured manner, and yet I also dig the work of those who get drunk on the joys of life and show no inhibitions in the way their words erupt upon the page.
DV: I enjoy the variety of poetries that my site has attracted (though I like some particular poems more than others), and I strongly disagree with any one-size-fits-all approach to anything. Isn't that also true for an ideology (like anarchism) -- isn't there a place for highly-structured, disproportionately powerful establishments to do good, useful things?
STO: Certainly, I’d agree there are such cases. Religious institutions, charitable organizations, and privately operated businesses all have the potential to do good, useful things in the world. In fact, not only can they, but they have, and they do. Generally speaking. To be fair, they’ve also pulled a few nasty stunts in their time. The beautiful aspect about establishments such as these is that anyone who decides to serve them does so of their own freewill volition. Individuals are able to enter into a contract (or other form of agreement) and knowingly put themselves in a position of service to whomever is above them on the ladder of hierarchical control, whether that be a preacher, a pope, a CEO, a GM, or even the latest upstart, punk supervisor who has just had their first taste of power and so acts like a complete jackass to subordinates. If the situation becomes untenable, the worker can choose to leave out the same door they entered and go find a new occupation that better suits their temperament. These types of highly-structured systems help feed and shelter the homeless, provide free healthcare, collect donations in emergency situations (Americans are very generous people when it comes to natural disasters around the world), and, most importantly, in the case of businesses, strengthen local economies. The crux of the problem, as I see it, begins when an institution forcibly maintains its power through the coercive threat of violence against any individual or group that doesn’t follow whatever arbitrary laws, rules, and regulations the said system has established. Governments fall into this category, and some people might claim that puts them at the top of the list as the greatest force of evil on the planet. Conversely, other people might make the argument that the needs of the many outweigh the freedom of a select few, and so disproportionate, graduated income taxes are necessary to provide social service programs. It’s a heartfelt sentiment, no doubt, but, morally, I feel such a philosophy falls short. The path to hell is paved with good intentions. It is my belief that the personal sovereignty of each individual is paramount, and that rule by mob is a dangerous game that never ends well. Stealing a million dollars from the rich dude down the street to distribute equitably amongst a hundred poor people living in unhappy conditions might sound really good for the poor folks, but it’s not so good for the family, friends, business partners, and employees of the person who was robbed. This is, of course, a very simplistic and crude example to what is certainly a complex issue, but, at the end of the day, truth is usually steeped in common sense. As far as anarchy is concerned, if a group of people all voluntarily decide to start up a commune together with an established set of taxes and wage distribution, I say have at it. All the best to them. However, the moment they get too big for their britches and start trying to force non-willing individuals into their system, well, that’s likely when bad mojo and heavy rumblings will begin in earnest. Also, I’d add here that I don’t believe anarchy is a viable option in America at this point of history. The federal government is far too bloated with bureaucracy, and so, barring some type of terrible cataclysm which leads to chaos, it’s going to take generations worth of continued effort to chip away at the Fed. It would have to be a process of returning control to the states, then the counties, then the cities, then local communities…then, perhaps, one day there will be an opportunity for true voluntary association without social engineers, control freaks, parasites, and rulers hovering everywhere waiting to suck wealth and resources from the people. It’s a long row to hoe.
DV: Isn't that what sympathetic dissidents always say -- that change must be incremental, it will take a long time? That revolutions as shortcuts almost always turn out badly?
STO: A quick-fix revolution, on the surface, sounds like an utterly beautiful concept. If I believed such a process could play out smoothly, I’d throw all my cards on the table, back it 100% (& to the nines), and start screaming (more than I already do) from the mountaintop. However, the mechanics of the Beast System are so entrenched and woven into the fabric of society, and there are so many people completely dependent on governmental social programs…I just feel it would reek too much havoc upon too many innocent victims if the plug were pulled. Lickety-split. Snap. Crackle. Pop. I am a staunch supporter of free/open/primal markets, of personal sovereignty and responsibility, and of as limited a role for government as is feasibly possible without causing the masses to fall (up) into (a heaval of) chaos. At some point, if humanity ever fully evolves as a species, that role for government will reach the perfect state of absolute zero. Truly, only then will the total ingenuity and evolutionary entrepreneurialism of this species take off like never before witnessed so far upon the earth (unless, of course, the whole Atlantis mythos has some credibility to it…which it very well might [I seem to recall crystal cities…or was that all just a dream?]). Until such a time when the consciousness of enough individuals has risen to the height to hit the high peak note of an anarchic opera, I’ll have to take on the title of being a sympathetic dissident. The topic of Revolution was one I discussed with my late Father on many an occasion. He often agreed with my basic reasoning behind why I believed such a largescale need existed, but was always careful to warn me that drastic measures could potentially result in innocents (and innocence) being caught in the crossfire (as it were). That concern of his definitely stuck with me through the years. The whole (circular) idea of Revolution is fraught with catch-22 scenarios (not the least of which is that you always wind up back where you started [reciprocity & karma]). It’s a tricky business, but one that ultimately will be settled…one way or another. However things proceed to play out in the years to come, I plan on enjoying the show…whether it happens to be televised or not.
DV: Do poets have any role in the process, or are they mere ornaments?
STO: As for whether poets have a place in the process, the only answer here is a resounding: By God, Yes! (or: Hell Yes! works just as well) [opposites attract] – The shift in consciousness necessary to bring about meaningful (dynamic) Revolution – in my opinion (oh so humble as it might be) – begins with a Renaissance of spirituality and art. Luckily and quite fortuitously, with great privilege and prosperity (the future favors the bold with its fortune), we just so happen to be on the cusp of such a beautiful shift. In fact, despite what the naysayers of hoodoo voodoo wuwu might have to say, I happen to believe (I heard it from a friend of a friend of a friend on good authority…it’s solid, I swear) that the New Age has already been entered unto (fiery rapture/the whole shebang). The Artist (poets & painters & whatnot) has many roles. One is to serve as a mirror for society, reflecting back the collective cancers causing problems throughout our cultures and nations (lines in the sand & shadow work). But bringing the problems up to the surface and shining a light upon them is but the beginning of the ordeal (toil & trouble). Another point my Father often made while I was busy bitching & whining & moaning about the state of the world as a riled up young man (I’ve since settled into life a bit [detached/drained]) was that if you’re going to run off at the mouth describing (ranting & rambling & raving) all the problems, you’d better damn well have some solutions waiting in the wings (hidden up your sleeve), or no one is really going to pay any heed (to the boy who cried wolf/to the man who tore down the moon). The solution is simple (though perhaps not so easy). Every single person on this planet is an artist in some way (toward a degree of certain capacity), having unique perceptions, viewpoints, talents, skills, and abilities that serve as a plate to the overall buffet (a time for feasting/a time for fasting). The greater the number of artists who tune into their highest calling and open up the amplified possibilities of their consciousness, the less need there will be for any sort of silly stupid hierarchical and/or centralized apparatuses enforcing control through the use of aggressive (bully pulpit) power dynamics. The Renaissance Revolution is born within the heart, mind, body, and soul of each individual. It is the role of the artist to do their thing (like it ain’t no thang but a chicken wing/like it’s going out of style) while bringing as many others to the party as possible (dance the night away/worry’s for another day).
DV: Does it seem odd to you that "the best" (or most notable) poets seem to be oriented on the Left (with a few obvious exceptions)?
STO: Well, I have to slap on a preface to this answer before diving in fully. Deep breath. Here goes. It’s my belief that the left-right paradigm of politics as currently considered by most people is essentially bankrupt as a way of viewing the situation. So I try and simplify the problem by offering this definition: On the left is Statism, including all the subdivisions of collectivized philosophies that fall under such a system. Fascism, monarchism, communism, and socialism all come to mind immediately. On the right is pure Sovereignty. True anarchy. What comes closest in our current climate, I suppose, is classical liberalism and modern-day Libertarianism. In my opinion, the establishment of both the Democratic and Republican parties in America fall on the left side of the equation. Undoubtedly, however, there exist strains in both parties that line up with the right. OK, with that out of the way…when it comes to poets (and artists of all stripes for that matter) it seems to me that for the most part what they are seeking in life is justice, liberty, equality, freedom of expression, tolerance, individualism, and fairness. In the paradigm I espouse, these are all ideas that land on the right. There is also a sense in some poets/artists of wanting to save/heal the world and bring about some sort of Utopian paradise on earth. While such idealism might be born of pure intentions, it usually leads to advocating institutional governmental power to enforce laws and place restrictions against whichever person or group they think is causing the problems that keep such a Utopia from manifesting. This type of control freak behavior falls smack dab on the left. Although the idea of attending an institution of higher learning was never really part of my agenda, I can still make some half-baked comments on what I see as the fruits of Academia today. I’ll give myself an honorary degree in bullshitting before I start. Hell, why not just make it a doctorate? OK. Good. It seems to me that there is a troubling type of thought coming out of colleges these days that leads to a generation of coddled, faux-intellectual disciples that want to silence all divergent opinions from their own. They claim to want free speech, but they display the ultimate form of hypocrisy in seeking to shut up those with whom they disagree. It seems to stem from a type of victim mentality consciousness that has spawned politically correct concepts such as “safe zones” where no one is allowed to be offensive lest they get expelled off campus. Please excuse me for a moment while I gag. So, to boil it all down, I’m not surprised and I don’t find it odd that poets entrenched in Academia have a tendency to fall on the left. That’s the culture they’re immersed in. It’s to be expected. Fortunately, I never let politics get in the way of enjoying good writing, so I can dig something spit from the pen of people on the left and right…as long as the work isn’t advocating some type of terrible gibberish that seeks to stamp out freedom. Then we might run into trouble.
DV: The situation you describe is not a "modern" phenomenon at all. My college career was during the polarized late '60s. People my age talked a lot about freedom and tolerance and "doing one's thing" but were not generous in extending those values to those they disagreed with. And, of course, the "establishment" behaved like institutions generally do when challenged, by attempting to punish and suppress the dissidents. And of course I suppose the behavior is as old as humankind. We oscillate between indifference and passion. What writers are you passionate about?
STO: I’ll kick this answer off by saying a few words about Hunter S. Thompson – his subversive style of ranting and raving against the decadent institutions of his “doomed” generation has probably influenced me more than any other writer. His sharp, biting tongue, his wit, his fiery verbiage, his unflinching willingness to take on the corrupted bureaucratic swine of the political rank-and-file…well, hell, I just can’t seem to get enough of the stuff. Charles Bukowski is a voice that heavily impacted my perception of poetry. Watching and listening to his interviews, documentaries, and live readings helped me transition out of a mostly lyrical style into the straight forward, brutal earnestness that has now seeped into much of my verse. Henry Miller, Friedrich Nietzsche, Hermann Hesse, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac, and Roger Zelazny are a handful of others (from a much longer list) who have filled me with enthusiasm through the years. Looking over these names, I notice a certain trait they all share…that being the fact that not one of them is still sucking air in the land of the living. Which brings me to a main point about the writers I’m passionate about in this current day and age. It is the work of my contemporaries that truly pumps me up, because it is they who have the ability to alter the course of society using their artistically motivated words, thoughts, and ideas. Poets such as Heath Brougher, Charles Clifford Brooks III, Don Beukes, Sheikha A., Laura Kaminski, Chumki Sharma, Kushal Poddar, Ajise Vincent, Sarah Frances Moran, and Matt Duggan (to name but a few on another much longer list) – these are folks who I am familiar with and admire greatly. They are harbingers of the Renaissance I’m always yapping my gums about.
DV: An interesting list, indeed. I'm pretty familiar with the dear-departeds (except Henry Miller, whom I tried to read in my early 20s, but I just could not get into him -- what did I miss?). I've spent many hundreds of hours with them.
STO: Well, as far as Miller is concerned, I’ve always dug the deep intelligence imbued in his words. I admire the way he could paint a portrait of the characters in his life, really being able to bring forth a sense of uniqueness in the people he’d describe. I guess I just vibe with the overall style of his writing. He seemed to have been a rather selfish fellow, but with a good heart underneath, and that dichotomy is interesting. He could be detailing some mundane situation but then all of a sudden go off on a tangent that incorporates a wide array of subject matter, from astrology to numerology to literature to occultism to water painting to cuisine to wine to music to sex to psychology to philosophy to geography…and yet combine all the subjects in such a way that they flow together seamlessly into a unified tapestry.
DV: It's your list of contemporaries that I find truly fascinating -- because I don't know many of them! (Actually, I’ll take that back; four of them have appeared on this blog; and I hope the others will do so.) In what way are they harbingers of the Renaissance?
STO: I basically just mean that there are certain people who are awake, aware, alert, and consciously activated. As the political structure of crony, corporate, globalized, Fortune 100, faux capitalistic fascism collapses around the world, civilization will either fall into complete chaos or there will be a rise of true sovereignty in which individuals who have a strong core of spiritual centeredness form together in tribes and communities that aren’t structured through controlled governmental hierarchies. I guess when the cookie crumbles it could go either way, but I like to bank on the latter. Maybe it’s just so I can keep a semblance of my sanity. But holding out such hope does give me a reason to remain faithful to the mission of trying to play my small part in the process of helping to bring about the emergence of such a future. The level of consciousness which wins out, I believe, will be determined by the energy put forth by the artisans of the world. I decided a long time ago that I might as well toss my weight behind those types of people who can potentially steer the vessel toward the promised land, as it were.
DV: Well, I guess the future is always a good place to end. So, with that, I want to thank you for your time. It's been a pleasure getting to know you better. Good luck with all your plans and dreams.
STO: Thank you for your thoughtful questions, Duane. I enjoyed our conversation. Selah.