Poetic Justice: This collection has more of a focus, compared to previous work, on the literary world than politics and music. Was this purposeful?
klipschutz: No doubt about it. I wanted this book to be a world unto itself, with its own cast of characters, to burrow deeply into obsession and language. Political people tend to be news junkies, and often history junkies. They know and care what came before and how we got to here. And musicians know their own roots and lineage, and the lineage of other musical genres. So do the fans. They post their favourite album covers on social media – for fun, and there are long threads about the first show they saw, the worst show they’ve seen, their favourite drum solo. But poets…not so much. Lack of curiosity and wilful ignorance drives me nuts. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I sit around reading John Milton for fun. But I do like to argue with dead people, to pay my heroes compliments and send them flowers, to lock horns with the overrated, and crack jokes about them to my cats. If you want to discuss Mary Oliver or Nicanor Parra or Langston Hughes, or hear my take on Elizabeth Bishop’s fish poem, I’m in, day or night.
Poetic Justice: Your book’s opening poem, “North Beach Threnody,” is self-evidently set at a reading at City Lights and Kerouac’s ghost makes a cameo. Then in “Antipasto À Go” he appears as “… a saint / who carried the game ball / and typed a forty-foot-long scroll.” Gregory Corso makes multiple appearances too. Do you have conflicted feelings about the Beats?
klipschutz: Most definitely. San Francisco’s literary scene, such as it is, can seem at times like a Beat Theme Park. The Beats hold a special place in my heart, but I’m not going to carry their water and imitate them, like some folks I could name and make myself even less popular at certain establishments than I already am. Sure, Corso is a god. Ginsberg is a demiurge, and Burroughs wrote that one indispensable book. Bob Kaufman, what a card, in all the right ways. But Burroughs also killed his wife and didn’t ever seem show any guilt for doing so. Corso ripped people off to buy dope. And misogyny among the Beats is a real problem. So what are you going to do? If anybody wants to burn their books, please give them to me instead.
Poetic Justice: How premeditated were the poems in Premeditations? Do you subscribe to Kerouac’s technique of “first thought best thought” and “spontaneous” writing, or do you think editing, heavy or otherwise, is preferable?
klipschutz: Different strokes. Keats wrote “Ozymandias” in ten minutes. Leonard Cohen took years and years to finish “Hallelujah.” I’ve gotten lucky and written poems fast. But not often. The first draft’s for me. The next fifty are for you. As to the book itself, it evolved over thirty years. No plan. Nothing was premeditated. But when it came to shaping the poems into a book and figuring out which ones to put in and which to leave out, that was, inevitably, a less than off-the-cuff activity. Moving pieces of paper around on the floor, from pile to pile, that kind of thing.
Poetic Justice: Some of the poems in Premeditations are complex. Do you think poetry should be difficult and challenge the reader/listener?
klipschutz: Yes I do. Sometimes it should. The reader more than the listener. Which poems to pick for a live reading, that’s a whole other can of worms. But regardless of the level of density, there should always be a surface level where pleasure is given, even if that is only through sound, with meaning to follow. I’m glad you didn’t say “all of the poems…are complex.” I try to mix it up. This takes us back to your first question. Politics is complex, history is complex, music is complex. The more you know (read “care”) about any of these subjects, the better you can unravel it. I couldn’t tell a great opera from a derivative one. Which is not surprising, because I’ve seen maybe three operas in my life, and slept through one of them. Not that I’m proud of it, but you can’t do everything, just like you can’t be everywhere.
Back to complexity. If you can’t unravel what you’re hearing or reading yourself, there are always village explainers to do it for you. If you don’t read the news, you might end up, oh, I don’t know, with some fool boiling it all down for you by saying, “We’re doing wonderful things, and we have all the best people.” What the hell does that mean? Simplicity has its pitfalls too.
Poetic Justice: In a few poems you experiment with typography. Have you ever considered putting out a book made up purely of visual poetry?
klipschutz: A thousand times yes! When do we start?
Poetic Justice: Is it fair to say that you consider “the Boho life” disappointing?
klipschutz: More like a young person’s game. I’m sixty-four. And I live in an apartment with Colette (my wife) and three cats. I like having a pad, and a desk. And a robe (which by the way I’m wearing right now, at one in the afternoon). I survived heroin and Hep C. For which I’m grateful. The wolf is not at the door, not today, knock on wood.
Poetic Justice: Heroin? Was this a “Rimbaud” period for you, a “dérèglement de tous les sens”?
klipschutz: Oh, that? Back in my twenties. Actually, heroin doesn’t rearrange the senses, it just makes you feel good all over on a somatic level, a sweet fog. Till you run out. Or get addicted. I never got that far, thank God. The intrigue, the legal risk, and the outré company you keep are all part of the glorious disaster. Lou Reed made a career out of that. Once, I was staying at my friend Mario’s place in Santa Barbara and he wasn’t there, but his connection showed up with some friends and a batch of heroin. They kept shooting me up, for free, and I was in young, stupid, and immortal heaven. Later, Mario gave me a king hell dressing down – he was a major fuck-up, so he loved to be in the lecturer’s chair. He was also one of my closest friends ever, till he died in 2013. He said they were cutting up the batch, testing its potency while they diluted it, and that if I’d OD’d, they would have rolled me in a blanket and dumped me by the side of the road. Apparently, they were in the Mexican Mafia. And yet, and I don’t know why, here I am. These are the kinds of stories you can tell only when your parents are both dead…
Poetic Justice: Do you think a romantic nature is required for being a poet?
klipschutz: Most definitely. I’m a satirist, by nature, but also a sentimental fool who loves – and hates – deeply. I write love poems, and pop songs, for that matter. Chuck Prophet says (maybe quoting someone else), “An artist has to risk embarrassing himself.” Any time you meet a new friend, much less climb or fall into bed with someone, you’re opening yourself up and risking rejection. A poem should do no less.
Read our review of Premeditations here