LA poet / photographer Alexis Rhone Fancher talks about the progressive line between music and poetry

"The jazz and blues culture speaks to the world through the American experience that created it. Our gift to the world. America’s on going poem to the universe."

Alexis Rhone Fancher: Poetic Rhythms

Writer/photographer Alexis Rhone Fancher is a member of Jack Grapes’ L.A. Poets & Writers Collective. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in RATTLE, BoySlut, The Mas Tequila Review, The Juice Bar, Cultural Weekly, High Coupe, Gutter Eloquence Magazine, Tell Your True Tale, The Good Men Project, Bare Hands, 100-Word Stories, The Poetry Super Highway, Le Zaporogue, numerous anthologies, and elsewhere. 

"I want to write poems that people want to roll around in, get dirty, and come out the other end tarnished, spent, and a little less alone."

Her photographs have been published world-wide, including the covers of Witness and The Mas Tequila Review In 2013 she was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is poetry editor of Cultural Weekly.

Alexis talks about the Jazz, Blues, Rock, Jack Grapes, Ray Bradbury, Cher, Dalai Lama, Richard Pryor, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and her poetry.

Interview by Michael Limnios 

All Photos are Self-portraits by Alexis Rhone Fancher

When was your first desire to become involved in poetry?

Music was my way into poetry, starting when I was a child. I was always writing and singing little songs. My father and I were the singers in our family (he had a beautiful voice) and we spent a lot of time harmonizing, making up tunes. I wrote the words. As a poet, I read my poems aloud as I work. Poetry, for me, is about rhythm, sound, wordplay, feeling.

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas most frequently?

I write poems about many subjects, but the ones that I get the most response to, that seem to resonate in others, are my erotic poems, many drawn from or triggered by actual events in my own life. I’ve lived a full and rather edgy life, and have always been comfortable expressing myself sexually. I’ve been told I write the words that “most people can only fantasize about, alone, in the dark.”

What experiences in your life make you a good poet?

I am blessed to have received a strong, liberal arts education. My father’s eclectic musical tastes formed mine. He brought home Elvis Presley, Nate King Cole, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Leadbelly, Harry Belafonte, Gary U.S. Bonds, you name it. I took voice lessons, sang in a band. Wrote lyrics. My mother was a dancer. I took ballet class for years, went to see Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Fonteyn. Listened to opera and classical music. My older cousins were all musicians and taught me about jazz. The arts were very important in my family. And we had a huge library. No book was ever off limits to me. If I could reach it, I could read it, was the rule. I learned early on to climb. What are the triggers for the creation? That’s an interesting question. Sometimes a poem will rattle around in my head for decades, like my poem, “Subterranean Lovesick Clues,” about a first love.

I’d thought about that poem forever, and then one day, I just started writing it. Sometimes the trigger is a feeling or emotion that comes over me when I’m making love with my husband, a feeling so strong I’ll have to stop and write it down, so I won’t forget. (My husband is used to this. I try to write quickly). But mostly, my trigger is having a regular writing routine. I get up each morning, grab my coffee, glance at my email, and then retreat for as many hours as I possibly can (minimum four) each day to write. I sit down in my Aeron chair and it’s almost Pavlovian: the poems begin to flow. I’ve never had writer’s block in my life.

What have you learned about yourself from your writing of your poems?

I’ve learned that the dirty laundry, the naked truth, the secret stuff that most people hide, that scares me the most to write about, is exactly what I must write about.

How would you characterize the philosophy of Alexis Rhone Fancher’s poetry?

As a poet, it is important to me to speak my mind. I mean, I’m not running for public office (God forbid!), and I really don’t much care what people think of me, and that’s very freeing. As for poetry, I believe it gets a bad rap. Most people are so afraid of getting it wrong; they don't "get it" at all. I want to write poems that people want to roll around in, get dirty, and come out the other end tarnished, spent, and a little less alone.

"I had the pleasure of hearing Jimi play in the late ‘60‘s. Jimi Hendrix WAS the perfect mixture of poetry and song. He moved like a poet, had that smokin’ energy of a rock star. Charismatic."

Has your poetry changed greatly over the years or have your themes and techniques remained basically the same?  Have you embarked on new directions recently?

My themes have remained consistent (damaged people, love, duplicity, sexuality, vulnerability, the never ending sparing between men and women, sex, sex, sex). My techniques have changed as I’ve studied writing and individual poets. I’d like to think I have evolved as a poet. I certainly take more risks. As for embarking on new directions, in December of 2012 I became poetry editor of Cultural Weekly, which has introduced me to a seemingly endless number of exceptional poets worldwide, and has allowed me the privilege of sharing them with our over 10,000 weekly readers.

How important is music in your life?

Life without music is unthinkable to me. I have a huge music library on my iMac, and have hundreds of artists at my fingertips. Mostly, I listen to jazz when I am not writing. I adore Patricia Barber, Dexter Gordon, Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Charles Lloyd, Miles Davis, all the West Coast mid-century players like Dolphy, Mingus, Booker Little. Blues? Give me Muddy Waters, Stan West, Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, Howlin’ Wolf. Classical music? I love Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Mussorgsky, and Satie. When I am writing I either listen to Bach’s Goldberg Variations (played by Glenn Gould), or nothing at all. How does music affect your mood and inspiration? Music may get me in the mood to create, but most of my creating is done in silence.

What has been the relationship between music and poetry in your life and writing?

It’s all art. All self-expression. One sings. The other doesn’t. The music compliments the poetry. The poetry informs the music.

What is the best advice ever given you and what advice would you give to new generation?

“Failure is vastly underrated.” - Cher.

“Just keep writing.” - Ellen Bass.

“My religion is kindness.” - The Dali Lama.

I’d pass it along.

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"A photograph should be a poem for the eyes."

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What are your hopes and fears for the future of world?

I hope good poetry and good literature endure. I hope that kindness replaces all the divisive world religions. I hope everyone enjoys great sex. I fear I will not live to see it.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you?

Watching Richard Pryor do standup on a late night TV rerun cracked me up. He’s still the best ever, imo. As for what touched me emotionally lately, listening to Jerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond’s classic, “Two Of A Mind.”

Which has been the most interesting period in your life?

Definitely now. I am doing my best work. I’m married to a many-faceted genius, living downtown in my favorite city as she enters a cultural renaissance, writing every day, listening to great music, documenting my world in photographs and creating photo essays, writing and publishing poetry, editing poetry for Cultural Weekly, putting together a new book of poetry, beginning a new novel... Living my dream life.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Meeting Ray Bradbury in the late ’90’s was a turning point for me. I was photographing the Bad Hemingway Contest at Harry’s Bar in Century City, for PEN, and Ray was a featured speaker. I had the good fortune to talk with him for half an hour about writing. It was life-changing for me. He taught me writing secrets I have never forgotten. Like how to never have writer’s block.

Are there any memories from Jack Grapes, and L.A. Poets & Writers Collective which you’d like to share with us?

Jack is a brilliant poet and teacher and mentor. His “Method Writing” transformed me as a writer. He gives his students a “tool box” of techniques, and approaches writing as craft. I studied with him for over five straight years. I use his teachings every day. My favorite Jack Grapes quote? “If it could happen in real life, it’s NOT surreal.”

"I’ve learned that the dirty laundry, the naked truth, the secret stuff that most people hide, that scares me the most to write about, is exactly what I must write about."

Do you know why the poetry is connected to Jazz and Blues culture & what characterizes the sound of poetry?

Poetry is written to be read aloud. I always read my work aloud as I write. Poetry is about cadence, rhythm, line. Just like music. The jazz and blues culture speaks to the world through the American experience that created it. Our gift to the world. America’s on going poem to the universe.

How you would spend a day with Bob Dylan and what would you like to ask Tom Waits?

A day with Bob Dylan?  I’d talk about music and writing and New York in the ’60’s. I’d cook him some lunch and open a good bottle of wine. Kick back. Talk about art. Introduce him to my husband. Talk about art some more.

As for Tom Waits, no disrespect to Tom, but I’d much rather talk to Patti Smith. In fact, I’d love to hang out with her. I’d ask her about Robert Mapplethorpe and talk about her book, “Just Kids.” Then we’d go to her concert and she’d stay on stage for days, and I’d photograph her constantly. And talk about art.

How close to poetry is Jimi Hendrix music and song?

I had the pleasure of hearing Jimi play in the late ‘60‘s. Jimi Hendrix WAS the perfect mixture of poetry and song. He moved like a poet, had that smokin’ energy of a rock star. Charismatic.

If Eric Dolfy was a poet who would be?

Matthew Dickman, of course!

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"I hope good poetry and good literature endure. I hope that kindness replaces all the divisive world religions. I hope everyone enjoys great sex. I fear I will not live to see it."

_________________

What from your memorabilia and things (records, books, photos etc.) you would put in a "capsule on time"?

My time capsule would include music from Miles, Patricia Barber, Jobim, Monk, Ella, Etta James, Madeline Peyroux, Dexter Gordon, Booker Little, Dolphy, Frank Zappa, Billie Holliday, Bob Dylan, The Talking Heads, Patti Smith; several Cohen Brothers films, especially “Fargo” and “Miller’s Crossing,” Bunuel’s “Belle du Jour,” Woody Allen’s “Crimes & Misdemeanors,” Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita,” copies of Joan Didion’s “Play It As It Lays,” John Fowles revised “The Magus,” the poetry of Louise Gluck, Dorianne Laux, Richard Jones, Ellen Bass, Jack Grapes, Marie Howe, Natalie Diaz, Matthew Dickman, Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds, Gwendolyn Brooks; a pair of sky-high stiletto boots, my flesh-colored brassiere from the late 60’s with the nipples cut out, a bottle of Christian Dior’s “Poison,” a moment of silence, a dynamite joint of Columbian, the best of my erotic photos, photos by Diane Arbus, Helmut Newton, Joel-Peter Witkin, Jan Sedek, Mary Ellen Mark, Annie Leibowitz, Robert Mapplethorpe, paintings by Lucien Freud, David Hockney, Lenore Carrington, an Alexander McQueen ball gown, my best poems, and my unsold first novel.

You are also an artistic photographer. What is the philosophical and poetic dimension behind the "IMAGE"?

A photograph should be a poem for the eyes.

Alexis Rhone Fancher - website

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