Cajun Mutt Press Interviews: Merritt Waldon & Ron Whitehead

JDCIV/CMP
This is an interesting project that y’all put together here. Where did the idea for Oracles from a Strange Fire come from?

RW
Not long ago Merritt Waldon sent me four poems and asked me if I would read them and offer feedback. I edited two of them. Often, when I edit I end up losing myself and rewriting the poem(s). Merritt suggested we do a volume of his poems accompanied by my edits/transformations. In the midst of working on some other big projects I said HellYeah! A couple of weeks later, the Oracles from a Strange Fire collaboration was completed. Merritt’s poems are on the left hand page and my edits/transformations are on the right hand page.

I’m excited for Merritt on getting his first book accepted for publication. I’m honored to be part of it. Thank you to James Dennis Casey IV and Cajun Mutt Press for publishing this experiment in poetry. Language always has been and forever will be an experiment.

MW
The idea popped in my head after reading two poems Ron had already edited and sent me in an email. After reading them, it was almost like bang light bulb and the thought came. What if it was like a bilingual edition of poetry, instead of two different languages it would poetic language, or style. Two different poets same poem, and I thought it would pop because..Indiana/Kentucky. Neighboring ways of speaking and cultures. Ron and I are also different generations, I thought that also is interesting part of this project with the side by side.

RW
For decades now I have edited, and published, by poems by folks all over the world. These days I stay so busy working on creative projects with folks all over the world that I simply don’t have time to honor many of the editing requests that come in. Merritt’s request arrived at a moment when I was taking a moment to pause and reflect, on life, on literature, on the experimental nature of language. I love to play with language, to see what it will take me, to discover where the words will go. I also saw something in Merritt’s work, a deep yearning to grow as a poet. Desire and hard work and the relentless determination to achieve goals, to be your dream all mean so much to me. It took me eight years to build the bridge from where I was was, to living and being my dream. And I did it. That was a long time ago. I’ve been encouraging others to discover their dream, build the bridge, and become their own damn dream. I never wanted to live anybody else’s dream. Fuck that! Fuck The System!

JDCIV/CMP
Each of you definitely has a unique voice when it comes to poetry, but the end result worked out beautifully. Ron, you’ve worked with some big names “building the bridge” during your writing career. Merritt, this is your first book, how does it feel to be collaborating with the infamous Kentucky Outlaw Poet?

MW
When Ron answered I was shocked and overjoyed. I too had spent a lot of my time, especially in the younger days of achieving the same goal. I had given up not on the dream, yet the pushing of it out there for a long time. I must say that I didn’t know if I’d ever hear from poets I actually followed and looked to for advice. Once my mentor disappeared off the map I had very few literary conversations of sorts. I just was like fuck it, write Ron back..and I did.

JDCIV/CMP
Sometimes you just have to take that leap over the edge. How long have you been writing, Merritt?

MW
Honestly James, I feel like I made it after all where I wanted to be. I used to dream about meeting Hunter Thompson as teen, or even Ferlinghetti, all those greats I read then. I lived like I wd meet them everywhere I went, I was off the hook, wild poetic, untamed.. so even just meeting on line and then being able to correspond and share my work with Ron is an immense personal blessing for me.

I’ve been writing and drawing ever since I CD hold a crayon, so my older sister always says. Yet she’s right. I remember always writing on paper as a child, poetry came about suddenly my first year of adolescence. I was if course not liking the emotions and how they work. I even got kicked out of a class for one of the first poems I ever wrote, copying Baudelaire s hymn to Satan..lol

JDCIV/CMP
I think any writer with a knack for getting in trouble has dreamed of meeting Hunter, and Charles Baudelaire is a pretty intense poet to be reading at a young age. How do you think that shaped you as a writer? And Ron, what was the first book of poems do you remember reading? Also, you Have met H.S.T. What was that like?

MW
Baudelaire’s poetry back then concerted for me and with in me a holy life. That almost sounds weird. It tattooed on my spirit the sacred and profane as one, and that desiring to be a scribe of such things or muses, or even prostitutes and gutters was a calling. I guess in a lot of ways his poetry and life were confirmation that inpiration, poetry, and living how one so chooses was worth all that one would give it, even if it meant ones life. I shd say it also gave me immense love for the darker, wilder sides of living..

JDCIV/CMP
I definitely relate to your love for the dark and wild sides of living. It was Bukowski and Jim Morrison that did it for me. There are a lot of personal poems in this collection that go to that dark place. How did it feel letting those emotions pour onto the page? Personally, I use a lot of my writing as a therapeutic tool for me to exorcise my demons. Is it the same for you? What is your writing process like?

MW
Indeed therapeautic. And you mention. MORRISON, another influence in the adolescent days, lyric s lifestyle. I always feel as if I building a bomb or something very explosive like that while I’m writing. It does help with a lot of human feelings. I always look at it as from a.perspecitve of a scribe, as if everything CD be history or at least relataleable . I do also enjoy just for myself. Tha5 dark place I feel is just part of our generations James, like the doors being one of those first film noir type bands, poetic, our generations have lived in a bit darker times. Growing up I saw the darkness of war on my dad, our country’s culture, all the music, movies. F course some of us were going dark. The best way I know how to explain my process maybe is like building an incendiary device or maybe a star exploding. I think I speak like that Bout the gift because of my personal exposure to Viet nam veterans my whole childhood/adolescence.

RW

“I have long admired Ron Whitehead. He is crazy as nine loons, and his poetry is a dazzling mix of folk wisdom and pure mathematics.”
—Hunter S. Thompson

I followed Hunter S. Thompson’s life and work from the release of Hell’s Angels till now. I will continue to follow it. My friend Gene Williams and I sold Hunter’s books we sold the first Rolling Stone magazines in the underground bookstore, For Madmen Only, and in the headshop, The Store, we operated on South Limestone in Lexington Kentucky. I never dreamed I’d eventually work with Hunter and with members of The Beat Generation: Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, David Amram, Diane di Prima, Amiri Baraka, and others. Their works changed my life. Dreams do come true.

Hunter shot himself. He is gone. He died in his kitchen in his cabin at Owl Farm Woody Creek Colorado. I read his Nixon obituary, “He Was A Crook,” and other works to him in that kitchen. I took my children to visit him. He loved young people. He loved his family. I drank and did drugs with him. We watched basketball. One night, years ago, in early May my son Nathanial and I arrived, driving 24 hours non-stop from Kentucky, just in time to watch the NBA playoffs with Hunter. Don Johnson called several times wanting us to come over. Kentuckian Rex Chapman was playing for the Phoenix Suns. The Suns were down by nine points with one minute to go in the game. I looked at Hunter and said I’ll bet you that Rex will hit three threes and tie the game, that the Suns will win by one point in three overtimes. Hunter looked at me and laughed. Rex hit three threes and tied the game. But Phoenix lost in three overtimes, by one point. I got damn close. Hunter paid closer attention to me after that. We talked about life about our families about literature. Hunter was a good kind man. He was full of life. He was tough. He was a real human being. He was spirit, holy spirit, no matter what anyone says.

I had the honor of producing, with the help of Douglas Brinkley and many young people and friends, The Hunter S. Thompson Tribute at Memorial Auditorium on 4th Street in Louisville Kentucky in December 1996. We had a sold out standing room audience of over 2,000. I brought in Hunter, his Mom Virginia, his son Juan, The Sheriff of Pitkin County, Johnny Depp, Warren Zevon, David Amram, Douglas Brinkley, Roxanne Pulitzer, Harvey Sloane, Susi Wood & a bluegrass band, and many more. The Mayor gave Hunter the keys to the city. The Governor named Hunter, Johnny, Warren, David, Doug, and me Kentucky Colonels. It was a spectacular event.

Hunter is one of America’s one of the world’s greatest writers. He stands shoulder to shoulder with Mark Twain, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, all five America’s Best prose writers, bar none.

Jonathan Swift, George Orwell, William S. Burroughs, and Hunter S. Thompson are literary giants, visionaries who have much in common.

People continue to say that there will be no audience for Thompson’s work, that no one will understand or care. Yet as I travel across America across the world working with young people, of all ages, I witness a movement, amongst young people, away from the constraints of non-democratic puritan totalitarian cultures. I see a new generation that recognizes the lies of the power elite, a generation that is turning to the freethinkers the freedom fighters of the 50s and 60s, recognizing honoring them as mentors.

Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes her or him its instrument. The artist is not simply a person acting freely, in pursuit of a merely private end, but one who allows art to realize its purposes through her or his person. Artists have moods, free will, personal aims, but as artists, they are bearers of a collective humanity, carrying and shaping the common unconscious life of the species.

I have heard more than once that Hunter S. Thompson is a madman. That oh look at what he could have done if he lived a more sane life. Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, pre-eminent Jewish author, recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, in The Town Beyond the Wall, says: “Mad Moishe, the fat man who cries when he sings and laughs when he is silent…Moishe—I speak of the real Moishe, the one who hides behind the madman—is a great man. He is far-seeing. He sees worlds that remain inaccessible to us. His madness is only a wall, erected to protect us- us: to see what Moishe’s bloodshot eyes see would be dangerous.” In Jewish mysticism, the prophet often bears the facade of madness. Hunter S. Thompson stands in direct lineage to the great writers and prophets. And as with the prophets of old, the message may be too painful for the masses to tolerate, to hear, to bear. They may, and usually do, condemn, even kill, the messenger.

Hunter stood as long as he could. He fought a valiant fight. He was a brave yet sensitive soul. He was a sacred shaman warrior. He saw. He felt. He recorded his visions. He took alcohol and drugs to ease the pain generated by what he saw what he felt. He lived on his own terms. He died on his own terms. Did the masses kill Hunter? Did he kill himself? He found the courage to stand up against the power mongers and the masses. At least thirteen times he should have died but, miraculously, didn’t. He chose to take his own life. He completed the work he came to do.

If life is a dream, as some suggest, sometimes beautiful sometimes desperate, then Hunter’s work is the terrible saga of the ending of time for The American Dream. With its action set at the heart of darkness of American materialist culture, with war as perpetual background, playing on the television, Hunter S. Thompson, like the prophets of old, shows how we, through greed and powerlust, have already gone over the edge. As Jack Kerouac, through his brilliant oeuvre, breathed hope into international youth culture Thompson shows how the ruling power-elite is not about to share what it controls with idealists yearning for a world of peace love and understanding.

We must look beyond the life of the artist to the work the body of work itself. That is the measure of success. Like those who have re-examined Orwell’s 1984 to find a multi-layered literary masterpiece, we must look deep into Thompson’s work and find the deep multi-layered messages. His books, especially the early ones and his letters, are literary masterpieces equal to the best writing ever produced.

Knowledge, from the inception of Modernism, and through post-modernism and chaos to The Ocean of Consciousness, is reorganized, redefined through Literature, Art, Music, and Film. The genres are changing, the canons are exploding, as is culture. The mythopoetics, the privileged sense of sight, of modern, contemporary, avant-garde cutting edge Nabi poets, musicians, artists, filmmakers are examples of art forms of a society, a culture, a civilization, a world, in which humanity lives, not securely in cities nor innocently in the country, but on the apocalyptic, simultaneous edge of a new realm of being and understanding. The mythopoet, female and male, the shaman, Hunter S. Thompson returns to the role of prophet-seet by creating myths that resonate in the minds of readers, myths that speak with the authority of the ancient myths, myths that are gifts from the shadow.

Hunter S. Thompson and Ron Whitehead, holding Hunter’s gun, in The Kitchen at Owl Farm, Summer 1995. Photo by Deborah Fuller. Outlaw Poet: The Legend of Ron Whitehead (Storm Generation Films & Dark Star TV) will be released in 2021.

MW
I should add, with Rons answer there, it is HST statement on some of Rons books about perfect mathematics.. it was his quote that ensured me owning the copy of Rons books I found at my hometown bookstore. If I may ask.. how is it Ron that you have that perfect mathematics HST spoke of.

RW
The best poetry is music. The best music is poetry. Music and poetry are pure mathematics! The language of angels.

I love nearly every line Hunter ever wrote. and yes I’m still celebrating the call I received, in 1998, from some young folks in NYC who were publishing a book by me and the young man on the phone said, “Ron, are you sitting down?” and I said, “Well, I reckon I should be.” and he read me the handwritten letter he’d just received from Hunter which Hunter sent for the back cover of my book. YES!!!!!!! Check and see how many times Hunter praised other writers and poets. I treasure the gift of Hunter’s words!! Why have I done all the work I have done for Hunter, for the past 25 years? Why did I work for 25 years to get Louisville to honor Hunter in his hometown? Hunter was a friend a mentor a hero and something of a father figure, someone I looked up to, and still do. Hunter stood for so many of the same things I stand up for: freedom, equality, justice, telling it like it is, being yer own damn self, regardless of what anyone else says bout ya. I have unconditional love for my friends. I accept them as they are. We’re all cracked. and I find great beauty in that.

MW
So much beauty. Thanks you to Ron. I am learning from him some of those lessons.

RW
You’re welcome Merritt! And thank you!

MW
I feel like should maybe say something about my mentor as Ron has…i do mention him a lot. Never a full story..
You’re welcome Ron

JDCIV/CMP
Wow, brother Ron, you truly are a living legend. “Art is a kind of innate drive that seizes a human being and makes her or him its instrument.” I love that sentiment. I feel a lot of Hunter’s spirit alive in your words. And as for William S. Burroughs, he said “Language is a virus from outer space.” I feel like that plays into the theme of Oracles from a Strange Fire.
Merritt, you mentioned your mentor. Who was it?

MW
I was living in San antonio, late 90s. I became a staple at.poetry readings even helping sun poet society be born, and had met Bill Shields. He was Viet nam veteran who studied briefly under Brautigan when he came home, and began writing. I met him and our correspondence boomed. His books were republished by 2.13.61/Rollins.. he was an anonymous type man. Yet he helped to find my voice all those years ago,.. his main brief mantras were “Stomp hard pound them keys to glue It never ends Fuck em if they don’t like it.”

His books were powerful vignettes of something I had already grew up with cause my dad and uncles. Funny thing was I spent a lot of my adolescence some what disrespecting my father because of war, because he chose it over other things. Yet i may not even exist if he hadnt. Funny right..that in the end it as be a veteran as my mentor..lol. Bill Shields. I miss him. Have no idea if he’s even still alive

RW
Here’s a fragment of interview I did with Burroughs:

Whitehead: Hunter S. Thompson, who I like so much, is, like me, from Louisville and you’re from just up the road in St. Louis. I recently visited Hunter at his home in Colorado. Hunter said he thought he was a pretty good shot until he went shooting with you.

WSB: I’ll put it like this: Some days you’re good and some you aren’t.

Whitehead: You must have been good that day. Hunter was real impressed.

WSB: Well, he gave me a great pistol.

Whitehead: Like Hunter, some people would say that you’re a Southern gentleman with a world literary reputation, but both you and Hunter have escaped the Southern-writer label. Any comments?

WSB: I escaped the label because I didn’t and don’t write about the South.

MW
Awe..Burroughs.. I had a French teacher once ask me finding me reading Naked Lunch for first time in 10 grade, he was like you understand that, thAt a little ahead of your age isnt. I simply asked. Don t you understand it?. No he said..lol. that wdve been one heck of a shooting session though..burroughs and HST..

RW
New music/spoken word video of “Talk to Me: Fuck The System” will be released before Christmas. Says much on how I feel about language, love, life:

Talk to Me: Fuck The System

As I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take
my soul to take
Talk to me
Whisper in my ear
words I can’t possibly understand
Sing all night
as we speed from Amsterdam to Athens
Do your poet punk
Fuck You scream in Dutch
to telephone poles
mowing them down
with electric guitar
never more
than four chords
as we plummet
south
Talk to me
Whisper in my ear
words I can’t possibly understand
Sing all night
as we speed from Rome to Tangier
Do your lullaby ironic
Fuck You scream in Arabic
to telephone poles
mowing them down
with electric guitar
never more
than four chords
as we plummet
south
Talk to me

Talk to Me: Fuck The System” by Ron Whitehead & The Storm Generation Band. Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Bill Hardesty at Logan Street Music Studios.

JDCIV/CMP
“I escaped the label because I didn’t and don’t write about the South.” I love that. I feel similar in a way, growing up in the deep south… I’m also a southern writer that doesn’t write about the south. With the exception of a few poems here and there about drunken nights in New Orleans. Another interesting quote from Burroughs that ties into the theme of Oracles is “When You Cut into the Present the Future Leaks Out.” That’s exactly what y’all have done here, created the future from the present through poetry. I dig it, and I agree, Merritt, I would’ve loved to see that shooting session in person!

Merritt, have you ever attempted to reach out to Bill Shields? It seems like he helped you cope with some of the things you were going through with your father, and helped you grow as a writer.

MW
Yes many times, our correspondence was primarily emails, with random snail mail. When my buddy Phil help me do a small booklet of 6 poems a couple years or so ago, I tried to send one to the last known address, it was returned. The thing was, he apparently either was as hard core veteran as he said, and so in real life I guess he ended getting a lot of static cause his books were all about that.. and so he basically just dropped off the grid, have never heard from him since. A mutual friend and I had talked Bout it when it all happened I even post a public post defending him as the son and nephew of many veterans, and basically didn’t care if he had been a real veteran or not cause the poetry I read, was very similar in tone and.mood to the many nights of my childhood watching my dad deal with his self, silently or otherwise. So. I may have a pretender as a mentor, yet he still wrote them, and he did ca0ture the essence of what I could see from firsthand veterans the experience of man at war.

I ‘ll defend him I think to the navy too, just because he wrote such great work.. I mean. Idk. Reading his first book Rollins printed, it made.me.more connected to my dad, uncles, and the fact that I was also supposed to be a soldier..lol.

JDCIV/CMP
That’s interesting, that story in and of itself could be the premise of a book.

MW
I’ve thought about do that with the letters and stuff.

JDCiv/CMP
Do either of y’all have a personal favorite poem from the book you’d like to touch on?
For me it was “Midnight ode from scott county jail”

MW
That’s a good question for me, In that I feel like I shd say all of them..yet let think a sec..
One of my favorites has to be, FROM ORACLES
I FOLLOWED THE RED LIGHT OF A FINGERNAIL MOOON
Definitely the Texas memory poems, and boardgames confessions..i don’t write much about my girls, but when I do.. it’s important to me.

RW
I’ll let others pick their favorites. I’m looking forward to holding the book in my hands and reading it all in book form.

MW
Now i must say here Ron.. one of may favs is your version if REFUSE TO BE BURNT OUT..inthink it CD go great with music..
However, Ron’s right, our favorites are more personally picked..lol I think

RW
Merritt, I like that one too.

JDCIV/CMP
So what’s next, brother Merritt? Since this is your first book. I’m sure you have more writing stored away for another one.

MW
Indeed. As soon as Ron and I started working on Oracles, I began going on facebook, flash drive other olaces, millions of typewritten pages and began making files. Right now I have 3 already ready to go just need edited.. one

All the spontaneous moans.. another one is all the Pistol city blues, and such. Stuff I’ve posted. And of course my flash drive has more stuff. That’s why I am so thankful here, because working with Ron and you on this has got to motivated to do that. I’ve also been trying to combine all love poems.into one thing as well. And then of course plus your idea about a book on my mentor and i With the letters.

Let’s just say until getting in touch with Ron, all these years of writing and I NEVER really tried to out books together of my own accord..lol I’m 46 or so. Started talking w Ron this year.. so. I was missing out because of my personal routines..

JDCIV/CMP
I’m glad to hear you have a few things lined up. Keep with it and stay motivated. Ron is an excellent poet to have in your corner and an even better friend. I’m honored to have a hand in brining your first book to life as well, my friend, looking forward to seeing more work from you in the near future!

How about you, brother Ron, any other upcoming projects? You’re an extremely prolific poet and all-around creative person.

RW
2020 has been a busy year: 5 new books and 3 new albums, all collaborations. 2021 promises to be just as busy, especially since we should be able to start traveling again, starting sometime in the Spring. A new edition of my book of basketball poems, “blistered asphalt on dixie highway: Kentucky Basketball is Poetry in Motion,” will be released in January. “The Adventures of Brain Man” will be released in February. More titles later in the year, plus performances, touring, recording, and, after 10 years in production, Outlaw Poet: The Legend of Ron Whitehead film is supposed to be released Fall 2021.

MW
I’ve been really waiting for the outlaw poet film with a lot of excitement..lol

RW
They have hundreds of hours of footage so I’m curious as hell to see it myself! Won’t know whether to sit on back row by the door, in case I need to run, or 2/3rds of the way up in the middle. haha.

JDCIV/CMP
You’ve definitely been busy! Fantastic, my friend, and I’m looking forward to the film as well. Is there anything else you or Merritt would like to add? Anyone you want to thank?

RW
I’m honored to be part of this experiment in poetry in language. Thank you to Merritt for never giving up! And big thank to you James for publishing the book and all the important work you do to keep the flame alive!!

MW
Of course I thank you guys. My dad, Bill Shields, and other like you Ron, that have influenced me to never give up.. I think I wd die first before that..

JDCIV/CMP
Well, thanks for letting me pick y’all’s brains for a while. And to the readers out there, keep your eyes peeled for Oracles from a Strange Fire by Merritt Waldon and Ron Whitehead. Available on Christmas day.

Cover photo by Jinn Bug

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