I had the chance to interview the Psychafunkadelic band from Louisville, KY, Blind Feline a couple days ago. We talked a little bit about how the band got together, their new album, working with Ron Whitehead, musical inspirations, and the stories behind their songs. Here’s what they had to say.
JDCIV Blind Feline! Tell me a little about the band. Names, how y’all met, how you would describe your music, that sort of thing.
I’m Oliver Sayani , I moved away from home in the TN mountains to Louisville and before long had jammed with a lot of people including Matt griffin the current drummer of Blind Feline. His lifelong friend and band mate Kurt Spoelker our bass player came on board shortly after.
The first song I showed them was “one for the road” a jazz standard-like song I wrote about a drunken mascarade in Spain. I came in with a lot of songs already, and wrote a bunch from experiences in the past 4-5 years as well as tapping into memories about people and places back home, all the shady characters, and stories people hear but never know is true or not.
The name Blind Feline came from a blind baby wildcat stolen from its nest in the east TN mountains by a bootlegger that refused to get busted and lived off the land until he died, growing wildwood flower and making wine. I was in a class with his niece.
Every song has a different story. Some of them go together.
JDCIV Awesome, nice to get to know little about y’all and the band’s background. Killer choice for a name! I dig the story behind that. Your sound is similar to Grateful Dead’s psychedelic jam style with a folk/bluegrass twang. Who are some of the band’s influences/favorite musicians?
BF I appreciate that! To name a few I’d our biggest influences , Hank Williams, Rush, Primus, JJ Cale, Blind Melon, Doc Watson, Grateful Dead, John Scofield, ZZ Top, Les Paul, Devin the dude, snoop dogg.
Artists today we like : Sturgull Simpson, Billy Strings, Nathan Smith, Foo fighters, tame impala, Mac demarco, Trey Anastasio band
JDCIV Right on, all excellent artists. Tell me about any current or future projects that are in the works.
BF Music video and new single “Big Soup” just came out it’s available on YouTube, song on Spotify, iTunes etc.
Self produced psychedelic nature-themed concept album “Lost in the Moss Remastered” is set to be released 4/20
JDCIV I just saw the YouTube video for “Big Soup” yesterday, I dig it. Kick ass date for a release, too!
I know there’s always been a bridge between poetry and music, but how did y’all come to work with the infamous Kentucky Outlaw Poet, Ron Whitehead? He’s truly a living legend. Recently he emailed me the link to Rock N Roll Poems Vol. 2, and it is fantastic!
BF The neck of the woods I grew up in has drawn a lot of artists of all different sorts. I met and heard stories from a lot of Appalachian folk poets growing up, and one of the names I would hear a lot was Ron Whitehead. Through this network of artists Blind Feline was put on a bill as the house band of a small pub in eastern KY, where he would be headlining. I thought of him as a mystical and mythical figure, which he is, but was blown away by his humility and respect upon meeting him, and his reverence for our music after hearing us was heartwarming. Later in that same show he had us improvise a jam in the background while he delivered his poetry, which is essentially what we did in the studio for our latest collaboration with him, rocknroll poems vol 2.
JDCIV Such an amazing collaboration, my favorite is The Fortune Teller; what a story!!! It’s as if y’all were meant to meet up, brought together by the hand of fate to pair music with poetry. I dig it.
So, tell me, where did the inspiration for Lost in the Moss Remastered come from? What can we expect from this album?
BF A re-recorded, remastered, and re -invented version of the nature-themed debut EP embodying the spirit of our “genre” psychadaleyeah. A variety album that goes from swampy funk, to electric bluegrass to country blues and jazz to tell stories about people, places and experiences from Red River gorge to the Cumberland Gap to coastal Spain.
JDCIV Nice! Can you give us an example of one of the stories? I’m intrigued.
BF The Meadow is about a place in my hometown up the side of a vine covered cliff that me and my friends discovered and used to hang out at. Once you climbed 200 feet at almost a 90 degree angle, it flattened out in a mess of trees and kudzu vines forming little huts, underneath which we’d congregate, having discussions which led to discoveries, experiences and unfoldings. Strange visions took place there. I documented these to the best of my recollection in the lyrics of the song.
JDCIV Wow, that’s far more profound than I expected it to be. Extremely cool. Can’t wait to hear the album. Are y’all throwing a release party or holding an event on 4/20 that you’d like to let people know about? Where will the album be available once it’s been released?
BF Thanks, it’s been nice sharing some stories with you, and we’re grateful for you to give us this platform. The album will be available everywhere online: YouTube, Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music etc, a release party is in the works.
JDCIV Excellent, thank you for letting me pick your brain a little. Before we wrap it up, is anything you’d like to add or anyone else you’d like to thank?
BF No problem. Just want to say thanks for putting us out there to your audience, I encourage everyone to check out our website BlindFelineband.com and follow our social media’s for show announcements. Bangers coming soon.
Well, y’all, there you have it. I’ll thell you what, I dig this band. It comes highly recommended. I’d also like to thank my friend, Ron Whitehead, for putting them on my radar. Trust me, check these guys out.
“Blind Feline is one of the best new bands on the planet! Their second original EP “Cicadas” is a gem.” —Ron Whitehead
James D. Casey IV is the author of seven books, founder and editor-in-chief of Cajun Mutt Press, and extensively published online/in print by small press venues and literary magazines internationally. He is a poet with roots in Colorado, Louisiana & Mississippi, currently residing in Illinois with his Beautiful Muse and their fat black cat, Chico.
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.
“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.
Cajun Mutt Press is a home for outsiders, outlaws, and all things on the literary fringe. I like to keep it professional but have fun while doing so. My approach to publishing is W.W.H.S.T.D., “What would Hunter S. Thompson do?”
Steve Denehan lives in Kildare, Ireland with his wife Eimear and daughter Robin. Publication credits include The Irish Times, Poetry Ireland Review, The Phoenix, The Blue Nib, The Opiate, The Hungry Chimera, Ink in Thirds, Crack The Spine and The Cape Rock. He has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and Best New Poet. His chapbook, Of Thunder, Pearls and Birdsongis available from Fowlpox Press, and his new full-length collection of poetry, Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below is available now from Cajun Mutt Press.
J.D.C.IV Who is Steve Denehan? Tell us a bit about yourself.
S.D. There’s not a whole lot to tell really. I wish there was! I’m 44, married to Eimear and we have a little girl called Robin. They would pop up fairly regularly in my poems actually. I haven’t really been writing poems too long. Or rather, I haven’t been submitting too long. I would have been writing poems and other bits and pieces all the way along but only got to submitting them two years ago or so.
J.D.C.IV Sounds like you have two wonderful muses to help you in your writing process. When did you start writing poetry? Was it something you fell in love with at a young age, or something you took interest in as you got older?
S.D. So much stuff comes from listening to and watching Robin. The way she, like any seven-year-old, sees the world is amazing and poems just appear all around her.
I would have always written poetry but never with any discipline and often for no reason at all. I suppose it’s like how somebody might doodle with a pencil to kill time except with me it was with words.
I’m not sure I ever really fell in love with poetry. It probably sounds a little odd but I wouldn’t really consider myself a huge poetry fan. While I do read poetry, and have been reading more these last couple of years, I much rather reading fiction.
J.D.C.IV That’s beautiful, “poems just appear all around her.” Sometimes that’s the best way to approach poetry, with the eyes of a child.
Many poets, more often now I believe, don’t write with any discipline or reason. Myself included. But I also believe real poetry must be written this way to achieve its goal. And practice makes perfect.
As someone who says they never fell in love with poetry and isn’t a big poetry fan, who are some of your favorite poets? And who are some of your favorite fiction writers?
S.D. I think too much discipline or planning is dangerous! I would feel strongly that writing should flow and have a realness to it and, for me at least, that comes only when it is not forced. So I just kind of wait for it to happen or to come along.
I am struggling to think of poets that I have read enough to mention. Which I know is kind of terrible. I listen to a huge amount of music and would consider many songwriters to be poets. People like Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and many others write the most beautiful poetry and then, somehow make it even more magical by setting it to music. Even someone like Jim Croce can say so much, everything really, in a two-minute song like “Salon and Saloon”. It is all so simple too which I like. In terms of an actual poet, I have read a big old wedge of Charles Bukowski but he was so prolific that I am probably only halfway through what he produced. I love his style and how he flits from sadness to humour often in the same poem. I have read two of your books (so far) and you would have a similar style too I think. To make people feel happy and sad in just a few lines is an amazing thing.
I could go on and on about my favourite fiction writers but I especially love, and would highly recommend, Glen Duncan. How he is not a household name is ridiculous really as he writes the most insightful and dense books about the human condition. I, Lucifer is a great starting point with him. I loved Paul Auster’s early and middle periods but I think he has got a little self-indulgent over the last ten years or so. I love a guy called Joe R. Lansdale who is so prolific that he writes them almost as fast as I can read them. The Bottoms by Joe is one of my all-time favourites. Then, there is the man himself, JD. Salinger who I have read and reread over the years. I read an interview with his son recently actually who confirmed that all of the work Salinger produced over the last fifty years of his life will be released in the next five years or so. I can’t wait to gobble it all up.
J.D.C.IV I agree, it should just flow and be real. I also agree with music being poetry. Cohen and Waits are two of the biggest influences on my writing. And ole Buk, he’s definitely one of the greats. He’s definitely one of my personal favorite poets, infinite thanks for the comparison.
As far as fiction, I never got too heavy into it. There are a few honorable mentions for me, The Outsiders, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Bukowski’s Ham on Rye.
S.D. Actually, that’s right, I should have mentioned Bukowski’s “fiction”. They are some of the funniest and most painful books I have read. What a guy.
Again, I wish I had a more interesting answer for you but I have no reason that I can think of for putting the collection together. I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought really. Maybe it just comes back to the fact that it just felt right. I find that things work out a little better for me when I listen to my gut rather than my head. If I overthink things I seem to get a bit tangled. I seem to write a lot in comparison to other people so I had quite a few poems sitting here. I thought it would be a super cool thing to put them together as a collection and see if somebody might be interested in publishing it. Thankfully, that’s when you appeared!
I think it’s important to say that putting the book together isn’t just a profoundly enormous thing for me, but for my family. They are all in there and it honestly wouldn’t have come to pass without them. It was Eimear who persuaded me to submit the poems in the first place and my family hop in and out of the poems regularly. I was kind of a bare-minimum guy in school and have kind of spent forty years coasting along happily behind the scenes so the fact that there is a book with my name on it out in the world is a happy surprise for my parents and family. Nobody, including myself, would have seen it coming a year or two ago.
J.D.C.IV I can relate to not putting much thought into a book because of having amassed enough writing for a collection. My first two titles were put together using writing I had gathered over a twenty-year span since my teens. From the third book on is when I started putting any purposely calculated thought into my poetry collections.
I do see a reoccurring theme of family in these poems, a lot of them your father. It’s good to have a strong family bond. But a few of my favorites like Jesus or Rasputin, Knuckles Bruised from Punching Raindrops, and Chinaski didn’t mention family. Can you tell us the inspiration behind them? And what made you choose Jesus or Rasputin as the opener?
S.D. If I’m lucky enough to have another collection someday I’ll see if I can have a theme running through it maybe. Then again I do like variety. If I keep harping on about one thing I bore myself so I can only imagine how someone reading might feel.
I chose Jesus or Rasputin as the opening poem purely because of the title. I don’t seem to have much of a knack for choosing titles and often I just pick any old line from the poem itself and make that the title. I thought Jesus or Rasputin was kind of eye-catching though so I went with that. The poem itself was inspired by something Robin said even though she does not make an appearance in it. She is at the age where she asks many, many, many ridiculous questions and was going through a phase of asking about rain. I got to thinking about how all water is constantly being recycled and is as old as time really. The poem is just considering the possibility that a drop of rain that falls on me today could have fallen on Abraham Lincoln or Genghis Khan. Every drop, every molecule has an impossible and infinite journey but then, when it comes down to it, it generally ends up falling here in Ireland and messing up our plans!
Knuckles Bruised from Punching Raindrops is a poem about frustration really. It can be so easy to let a small thing get in on you and overwhelm you. At least it can be for me. That particular morning there really was a bird that was mimicking an alarm and it was driving me bananas.
Chinaski is about Bukowski. As you would definitely know Chinaski was his alter ego from many of his stories. I had read a book of his poetry that he had written towards the end of his life and I was pleased to see that, while he had finally reached a level of financial comfort, the fire in him was undimmed.
J.D.C.IV Themes are more for a short chapbook collection of poetry, that’s why prefer to publish full-length collections because there’s usually a broader subject manner.
That’s an insightful sentiment about rainfall. Being that any drop could’ve fallen on anyone throughout history and will infinitely from here on out because it’s recycled, even Jesus or Rasputin. I hadn’t thought of it that way, and I’m glad the bird you mentioned in Knuckles Bruised from Punching Raindrops visited your washing line that fateful morning. Otherwise, that poem may have never come to be.
As for Chinaski, I knew it was about Buk, glad you could still see the flame in his later work. I was just wondering if he’d come to you in a dream or vision of some sort that prompted the write. What about the experimental piece, Style/Content? Tell us about that one.
S.D. Ah, I see! I guess that makes sense. I don’t know if I would even have the discipline to have a theme running through a chapbook. Maybe it is something that comes along with experience.
Almost all the poems I have written start with one tiny thing, an image or a word, and things go from there. With Chinaski, it wasn’t a dream or vision but the thought of him as an older guy kind of hunched over his typewriter. I thought of him in side profile and with him typing and crooked with age and time he looked to me like a human question mark. The poem all came quickly then. That’s what always happens actually. My brain is usually pretty empty which seems to be a good thing with poetry because when the beginning of a poem comes along the rest follows quickly.
Ah, Style/Content! That was a messy one for you to format in the book I’m sure. Thanks for persevering with it. When it comes to poetry, and life in general really, I don’t like anything to distract from what is truly important, which is the words. I have read lots of poems that have been written with unusual spacing and tabs and that kind of thing. I have almost always found it distracting and an annoyance that takes me out of the poem itself. It can work of course and I have used unusual formatting (sparingly) on occasion myself. But flinging the words all over the page for the sake of it drives me a little bit mad. Style/Content was me trying to make that point.
J.D.C.IV I don’t know if it comes with experience per se when writing a themed chapbook, more like having multiple things to say about the same thing. Most of my poems start in the same way you just stated. I’ll get an idea, or a single line will come to mind, and I just run with it. I dig the idea of a “human question mark.” That’s a powerful image to compare to an old gnarled Bukowski still leaning against his machine, pecking out the words with weathered hands.
The message you wanted to convey with Style/Content came across perfectly. I agree 100% that a lot of the poems with crazy formatting are completely unnecessary. Yours makes perfect sense.
Tell me, what are some of your personal favorite poems from the book and why?
S.D. I found with your book Death & Love/Love & Death there was a feeling, a really strong feeling, that ran right the way through it. I really liked that and would love to be able to manage it myself. I know there were poems about love and about death but it wasn’t that theme that struck me but that feeling, that depth. If I could end up getting something like that together I’d be chuffed.
I can’t remember what poems exactly are in the book actually, one sec and I’ll grab it…
There are a lot of poems about how close I am with my parents that mean a lot to me. I am adopted and could have ended up anywhere with anyone so I always think how lucky I was how things worked out. My parents are remarkable people and I love them very much. I hope that comes out in the poems in which they are mentioned. There are poems, quite a lot of poems actually, that people tell me they find dark but to me they are funny. Poems like Ivory, Hate, and Birdsong. Birdsong in particular always makes me smile as in that poem of larks and nightingales I am the crow.
J.D.C.IV I’m glad you enjoyed it, that was a fun write. Death & Love/Love & Death started off as an experiment to see if I could pull off a true tête-bêche. Only two proof copies were printed the way I intended. Had a bit of trouble getting it to print half right-side-up and half upside-down.
I dig the imagery in Ivory, and I like that it’s a little horrific and hilarious at the same time. I’ve had a few teeth pulled in my day and it went quite like that.
Hate holds a positive message, even with the slight twist. As hard as it is for us to admit it, I believe we all hold some degree of hate in our hearts for one thing or another.
Birdsong paints a beautiful picture, then beautifully destroys it. Who are the metaphorical larks, blackbirds, and nightingales that the crow’s squawk scatters at the end of the poem?
S.D. Those two proof copies are your pension!
Yeah, I think Hate has a positive message. I think it’s okay to hate. In fact, I think it’s absolutely vital to feel passionately whether it is love or hate. I mean, without feeling hate I’m not sure it’s possible to feel love, and vice versa. I think hate can be a very healthy thing. But, I am bringing the book up to my parents tomorrow and I know for sure Dad will again give me the old lecture on how I shouldn’t hate.
That’s a good question about Birdsong! I hadn’t considered who the other birds in the poem might be. I’m not sure now that I think of it. I suspect that maybe they are the people who care a lot about how they are perceived by everyone else. People who carefully cultivate an image and who never show their real selves. They are impossible to get to know and there is a part of me that doubts whether there even are real people underneath. I like people who are real. I like oddballs. I think I might be an oddball.
J.D.C.IV I don’t know about pension, but hopefully someone will see them as holding some sort of worth one day.
Again, I agree with you. I believe it is vital to feel passionately, love or hate, and I’ve always considered myself an oddball. I think you fit that saying well, I dig your style. May the crow’s squawk forever reveal the real underneath.
Well, brother, thanks for letting me pick your brain a little. One more question before we wrap it up. What’s on the horizon for Steve Denehan? Are there any future projects in the works? Tell us about the blog tour you have coming up in November for Miles of Sky Above Us, Miles of Earth Below and any other interviews/reviews we should keep an eye out for. You can also mention/thank a few people, make any dedications, and add anything else you’d like to say.
The floor is yours.
S.D. I was talking to a good friend of mine earlier this evening and we were saying that if one person reads a poem and it has a positive impact, even a small one, that’s about as good as it gets. So, you are way ahead of the curve there. You are prolific, have many books published and have your own press! Your worth is not someday, it’s now.
Hehe, yeah, us crows have got to keep squawking and stick together!
Thanks a million for taking the time James. I enjoyed the interview. Thanks also for taking a chance on me. I really hope the book sells well for you and for Cajun Mutt Press. The Blog Tour might hopefully help it along and is due to kick off towards the end of November. There will be a new (hopefully not terrible!) review posted every day to reignite interest and there will be an interview or two also. It might keep it in peoples minds in the run-up to Christmas.
I am not too great at making plans for the future. There are a few poems on the horizon that I am looking forward to seeing out in the world. Oh, I just found out this week that Analog Submission Press has accepted a chapbook of mine so that will be coming along at some point too. Beyond and besides that I’ll just keep writing and see where it leads.
There are so many people to thank. A special mention as always must go to my old teacher, Mr. Shanahan, who showed me, who showed us all, how lives can be changed with just a few words. I am wary of singling people out though as I would hate to exclude anyone. It has been a genuinely amazing thing though, almost since the beginning. People have been so kind and so supportive and I think that has been the most surprising and meaningful part of it all.
J.D.C.IV Thank you, Steve, it was a pleasure putting this book together with you and having this little back and forth. I appreciate you answering some questions and letting us get to know you better.
That’s an important fact about a poem having even the smallest positive impact on someone as well. That’s what really counts, and I’m honored I could help bring your first collection of poetry to life. I’m also looking forward to following the tour, seeing the reviews, your new Analog Submission chapbook, and all the other stellar things to come!
I.L.C. Me, I am the youngest of 3 children, the only boy born to working-class parents in Stoke on Trent, England. After leaving school at 16, I had a few short term jobs until at 18 I went into my dad’s trade ( like a lot of working-class kids do ) and became an engineer.
I did this for 10 years before I got sacked because of my drug problem. First I got busted scoring heroin on my lunch break, then 3 months later my girlfriend died of an overdose. This landed me in the local newspaper and I was fired for bringing bad publicity to the company.
At this point, I had a bit of a breakdown. After that, I had loads of short term jobs, the longest being in a cardboard box factory for 5 years. I was made redundant in ’05 and in ’06 I had a major stroke. After a few weeks in the hospital, I had a lot of physiotherapy to learn how to talk and walk again. Since then I’ve had a couple of jobs, but really, my health isn’t up to it. I feel fine but I am still quite weak on my left side.
So that’s the whole sad story.
Oh, I forgot about a really important thing, in 2003 I met Karen and we’ve been together ever since. We aren’t really married, but I call her my wife after 16 years together.
C.M.P. Well, my friend, sometimes hardships make the best writers. Did publishing your first book change your process of writing in any way?
C.M.P. “A Bad Day” and “Dying On His Knees ( Howling Like A Dog )” are my two favorite poems from this collection. Where did the inspiration for those two writes come from?
I.L.C. “A Bad Day” was written on a bad day, I had been in a huge argument with Karen and I was pissed off and depressed.
When I read it a few hours after I’d finished writing it, I thought it was a bit too much, that’s when I added the coda about the McDonald’s staff.
“Dying on His Knees” was a surrealist, stream of consciousness thing that I wrote after waking up at 5:47 am, half on, half off the bed. Still drunk from the night before, with “Stones In My Passway“ by the awesome bluesman Robert Johnson running through my head. I’d had a nightmare about seeing a young girl being raped in broken glass and all of these weird influences came together and I just wrote out whatever was passing through my brain.
It turned out pretty well, maybe I’ll try writing that way again.
C.M.P. Interesting, Robert Johnson has been the inspiration behind some of my writing as well. Is your poetry mostly the result of personal experience, inspired by the world around you, or is it a mixture of both?
I.L.C. Both really, and anything can inspire me.
I wrote a poem about doing an armed robbery on a post office, I’ve never done it, or seen it in the world around me. The idea just popped into my head from God knows where and I thought it would be fun to write about. It was.
C.M.P. I think all writers have written at least one piece of dark personal fantasy, I know I’ve written my share. Have any specific book(s)/author(s) have influenced your life and writing?
They broke all of the rules of storytelling, but I couldn’t put them down.
The next time I was that affected by a book was Factotum by Charles Bukowski, at the time I was working loads of really terrible jobs, a couple of weeks here, a month there, and in my spare time, I was drinking as much as I possibly could. It felt like he could have been writing about me.
C.M.P. Charles Bukowski is a personal favorite of mine, I can relate. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
I.L.C. I don’t know who it was who said that you aren’t a writer all of the time, but you have to become one every time you sit down to write, but I agree with it. The hardest part for me is getting myself into the headspace where I think that anyone would be interested in what I have to say.
When you are brought up in the school system as working-class, you are taught that you are nothing special and you never will be.
This is something that I have to fight against every time I face a blank page.
C.M.P. Well, it’s a fight worth fighting, and I believe people are interested. I definitely enjoy your work. What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
I.L.C. I can’t think of a specific time when I realized the power of words, I just know that as far back as I can remember I’ve always loved reading.
My mum has always said that even when I was a really young child, if she wanted me to behave, she would give me a book to read and that was it. I’d be engrossed until I’d finished it.
C.M.P. I was the same way, always loved to read. How long have you been writing, and what sparked your initial love of poetry?
I.L.C. I started writing poetry aged 29, or so, but for 15 years before that, I had been playing guitar and writing my own songs.
I suppose that’s where I first found out what words could do, and the fun you could have playing with words.
I loved ( and still do ), great songwriters like Bob Dylan and Lou Reed.
I loved to compare their styles, Dylan spinning words together endlessly with his 10 minute long songs filled with exotic imagery, Reed would tell a story in as few words as possible, a really economic, spare sparse style.
I loved them both, I think maybe that’s why I write both rhyming and non-rhyming poems. I love different styles of writing and don’t want to be tied down to just one.
C.M.P.Music is poetry put to melody, and Dylan & Reed are indeed two of the greats. Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
I.L.C. Yes, I always feel on dodgy ground talking about spirituality, I don’t know what I believe in.
It changes from minute to minute, never mind day to day. Having said that, when I write I feel in touch with something other than myself, I don’t know what it is, or even if it’s there, but I feel it.
C.M.P. I understand that sentiment 100%. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
I.L.C. It energises me, if I’ve just written something that I think is particularly good it takes me a few hours to come down from the high.
C.M.P. Nice, I feel the same way. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I.L.C. I read all of the time, almost every genre; crime, thrillers, mystery, horror and of course poetry.
Of course, there are thousands more, these are just off the top of my head.
I also love music, I like nearly all styles, as long as it has a certain spirit or attitude. I love music:
From folk to funk.
From blues to breakbeats.
From Lead Belly to Led Zeppelin.
From Woody Guthrie to the Wu-Tang Clan.
Well, you get the picture.
I used to love playing guitar, but since I had the stroke it’s frustrating, I can’t play like I used to.
C.M.P. I see some of my favorites on those lists! Tell me, is there a second book in the works?
I.L.C. I haven’t consciously thought about another book yet, but I am constantly writing.
I must write at least 3 poems a week, although having said that, there have been periods in the past when I haven’t written a word for months.
The longest has been 6 months without a single idea, then I don’t know what happens, maybe the planets align properly, or my hormones balance out right, whatever the blockage is over and I will write 5 poems in one day. Then everything is back to normal and I’m back to 3 poems a week.
C.M.P. I believe we all hit a wall now and then as writers. You can’t force the words, they will flow when they’re ready to flow. Well, Ian, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions and letting us get to know you better and what drives you as a writer. Is there anything else you’d like to add, or anyone that you’d like to mention?
I.L.C. I think that I have said enough for now.
This has been my first interview, I have enjoyed it, but I think that I have said enough.
C.M.P. Excellent, this is my first time as the interviewer instead of the interviewee, thank you again for letting me pick your brain a little.
Ian Lewis Copestick is a 46-year-old writer from Stoke on Trent England.
Although he started writing poetry in 2001, he only started sending them out for publication 8 months ago. In this time he has had over 100 poems and 5 short stories published. He is featured in print anthologies by Alien Buddha Press and Horror Sleaze Trash.