Poet and author Catfish McDaris says stories from his experiences from the poetry and music world

"Great poets use their voices like musicians, drawing forth humor, grief, love, desire, hate, awe. Musicians have a step up with their instrument, that’s why I think some poets like to have a musician accompany them."

Catfish McDaris: The Blues of storyteller

Catfish McDaris is an American poet and author. Catfish was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1953. He's written poetry and prose for the past 20 years. After 3 years G.I. Joe, he hopped freights & hitchhiked across the U.S. & Mexico. He built adobe houses, tamed wild horses, made cattle troughs, worked in a zinc smelter, and painted flag poles. Catfish lived in a cave and wintered in a Chevy in Denver. The adventure finally landed at the post office in Milwaukee, a catfish farm is next, he hopes.

Catfish is listed in the 2011 Poet's Market on The Louisiana Review page with Gary Snyder and Antler. In 1994, he organized a charity event of poetry and music in Milwaukee called Wordstock. Catfish also read in 1994 at The First Underground Press Conference at De Paul University in Chicago. In 1998, he read in Cherry Valley, NY at the huge Beatnik festival held near Allen Ginsberg's farm. In 2007 Catfish read at The Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore in Paris and also in NYC in Oct of 2010 to promote his books and chapbooks. He's been nominated for the Pushcart Prize numerous times and the Best Of The Net in poetry in 2011.

Catfish's mother worked for Norman Petty Recording Studios, where Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, and Stephen Stills recorded) in Clovis, New Mexico and was enough lucky to meet musicians like Stephen Stills, Sam & Dave, Three Dog Night, and Waylon Jennings . Also Catfish worked with Bennie Barrow doing a few psychedelic light shows for Iron Butterfly, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Flock, and Zephyr. Low Dog Reeve (a pal of Bukowski), editor of Zen Tattoo gave to Steven Carl McDaris the nickname Catfish, when he told him he wanted to start a catfish farm

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the poetry and what characterizes Catfish’s poetry?

In the mid-80’s I started reading the Beatniks and I worked at the Post Office and discovered Bukowski and I had lived hard, drank, drugged, and chased women. I could relate to Buk, so I discovered Milwaukee had a small poetry scene with Antler and I went to Chicago to a few spots. My skills at musical instruments sucked, so I started reading my prose poems. I am a storyteller above all else.

What experiences in your life make you a good poet? What experience in life is the trigger for the creation?

Growing up in New Mexico, shooting Howitzer cannons in the army for 3 years in Germany, lots of adventures, travel, and Mexico. Once you get hooked on writing (creation) your mind records & spits out all kinds of crazy stuff.

"Well you can’t dance to poetry, but you can to music. That means lots more people are getting laid to music. Poems can be made into music and some of the best music starts as a poem."

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Ultimately my Mexican wife of 30 years and our 24 year old daughter, I don’t know how I was blessed with them. Besides that I would say living in a cave in the magical Jemez Mountains in New Mexico above a nudist colony hot springs.

What's been the experience from your hopped freights & hitchhiked travels across the U.S. & Mexico?

I hopped a freight in Fresno, CA that was full of oranges and grapefruit and rode across 3 states, that was sheer fun. I hopped a freight train in Dallas with 2 pals wanting to go west to our home in Clovis, NM. The train went south to Waco, we rode back to Dallas after bumming a big roll of sausage and a bag of sugar. We met a hobo and he told us to always get a wooden wedge for the boxcar door or it could slide shut & you might end up dead. I rode a freight to Juarez, Mexico and hitchhiked to Guaymas, Mexico and shark fished a summer. I got thrown in jail in Slayton, Texas for hitching because I had long hair and I got a free haircut & 67 days on a chain gang chopping weeds alongside the roads. I almost froze to death near Taos, New Mexico when I got drunk & split from this Forest Service chick because she had stinky hairy armpits. I felt like Ira Hayes stumbling down a mountain with no good coat or fire. 

Poetry and music can confront the “prison” of the spirit? What was the relation between music and poetry?

Well you can’t dance to poetry, but you can to music. That means lots more people are getting laid to music. Poems can be made into music and some of the best music starts as a poem. We should free all spirits. Prisons are for criminals.

"The Blues sort of grandfathered jazz, the Beats, the Streets and the Meats." Photo: Catfish and Jimmy "The ghost of Hendrix" Spencer in NYC 2010

How important was the music in your life? How does the music affect your mood and inspiration?

I grew up in the late 60’s early 70’s loving Jimi, Beatles, Grand Funk, and Zappa. I used to go to lots of concerts in Albuquerque and Denver Pop Festival with almost all the bands at Woodstock. There don’t seem like too many bands that can cut it like the old rockers. I can’t understand rap too much. My lady listens to classics and Francis Cabrel, Edith Piaf, Mikis Theodorakis and lots of music in Spanish.

What is the relation between music and poetry? From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the music and poetry?

Great poets use their voices like musicians, drawing forth humor, grief, love, desire, hate, awe. Musicians have a step up with their instrument, that’s why I think some poets like to have a musician accompany them. Many poets don’t know when to let the instrument do a solo, that’s when it doesn’t work well. It just becomes noise.

Would you mind telling me most vivid memories from Norman Petty Recording Studios with Stephen Stills, Sam & Dave, Three Dog Night, and Waylon Jennings?

Norman Petty owned a huge house for the visiting bands to stay in. The bands usually had many groupies and sometimes played at a bar called the Copper Penny. Sam & Dave were the epitome of cool, they played at Cannon Air Force Base and they had golden voices & could dance better than James Brown. I wasn’t that into Waylon’s country music, this was before he hooked up with Willie Nelson and started the Outlaws. Waylon lived not far from Clovis, in Texas. Three Dog Night were very cool and had lots of chicks. My best memory was with Stephen Stills, he played guitar all night long. Stills played stuff Hendrix taught him, electric and acoustic.

Are there any memories from Bennie Barrow and the psychedelic light shows for Iron Butterfly, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Jerry Goodman’s Flock and Zephyr, which you’d like to share with us?

Bennie was the ultimate cool hippie of my home town. He was Clyde Barrow’s grandson, of Bonnie & Clyde fame. Bennie went out with Marsha and I with her younger sister Tina. We hung out & he got these old movie projectors with lots of old films, I ran 3 while he operated 2 overhead projectors. He used colored dyes in mineral water and blew clouds in them with a straw creating psychedelic effects. Iron Butterfly and Strawberry Alarm Clock hired us for several shows in the southwest. We met the electric violinist Jerry Goodman of the Flock, the dude was phenomenal and he hired us also. Candy Givens had the pipes of Janis Joplin and Tommy Bolin played in Zephyr, we did a few shows for them. Every concert was sheer madness.

What is the lines that connects the legacy of Blues/Jazz culture, Beats, with 60s Acid culture and beyond?

The Blues sort of grandfathered jazz, the Beats, the Streets and the Meats. Blues led to the British invasion, the Beatles created lots of trends. Acid supposedly opened minds. I took enough in my youth, I had a few bad trips, but I’m still here today.

What are your hopes and fears on the future of world? What made you laugh lately and what touched (emotion) you?

I wish the Pope would quit flying around in his helicopter; I can’t afford gas for my lady’s tiny car. Watching Prez George W. Bush dodge those thrown shoes. I saw 1st Lady Obama dancing on TV, she has some great moves.

Which incident of your life you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting?

Doing a small reading at the Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore in Paris.

You have come to known great personalities in your time. It must be hard to pick, but which meetings have been the biggest experiences for you?

Getting autographs from Liz Taylor and buying her a margarita, Aretha Franklin, and Red Skelton. Meeting Charles Plymell, Antler, Janine Pommy Vega, and all the Beatniks.

"Great poets use their voices like musicians, drawing forth humor, grief, love, desire, hate, awe." Photo: Aida McDaris, Antler, Ana Christy (Alpha Beat Press), and Catfish

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

Led Zep #1, Hendrix "Axis Bold As Love", Martin Eden by Jack London, The Moon & Six Pence by Sommerset Maugham, Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck, Tales of Ordinary Madness by Buk, a photo of my wife, daughter, and me and my portrait by Van Gogh.

Do you know why the poetry is connected to underground and avant-garde culture & what characterize the philosophy of Outlaw poetry?

Most people don’t read or understand poetry. To me the outlaw movement just mean outside the normal parameters. You don’t have to commit a felony to be an outlaw poet. Also maybe it means outside the established school system or thought police boundaries.

Do you have any amusing tales to tell from Charles Plymell, and reading at Ginsberg's farm (1997) with Anne Waldman, David Amram, Ed Sanders, Ray Bremser, Janine Pommy Vega, and more?

Bremser suggested I ask Amram’s daughter which of his CD’s to buy and she told me about when he snuck into Cuba and recorded. Ray was my unofficial tour guide; Plymell had set up a car for me to drive. There were 2 port-a-potties at the read, Janine was waiting to use the john and kept trying the door. I told her Alan was in there, meaning Jeff Weinberg’s relative, she thought I meant Alan Ginsberg and we started laughing our asses off. One night around a big bonfire Tony Moffeit and Linda Lerner come traipsing out of this miniscule forest and Tony is lost and he asks me for directions to Cherry Valley. I looked up at the stars like I’m a captain at sea calculating a course; I said 2 blocks that way and fell down laughing.

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

Keep your eye to the keyhole, from Charles Plymell. My advice to the new generation, read.

"To me the outlaw movement just mean outside the normal parameters. You don’t have to commit a felony to be an outlaw poet." Photo: Catfish and Charles Plymell

Which of historical personalities would you like to meet? How you would spend a day with Van Gogh?

Frida Kahlo, William S. Burroughs, Geronimo, Jesus, and Picasso. I’d ask Vincent to paint me and I’d buy him and Theo some drinks and hustle them on the pool table where Vincent was laid out.

What would you say to Darwin? 

Nice theory.

What would you like to ask Bukowski? 

Hey Buk, what did you mean, by Don’t Try?

What advice would you give to Cheech & Chong?

Give up making bongs and start making wild movies again.

You had a charity event with poetry and music called Wordstock. Would you tell a little bit about that?

In '94, I started Wordstock to help a women’s shelter called Hope House here in Milwaukee. I did two days of readings & music in May and another two days in August. We didn’t make a lot of money, but we had fun. I did an one night benefit in 2001, which was a bit more successful. People don’t buy poetry or hardly attend readings, unless they get to read themselves.

I saw a photo with David Amram. What's been their experience with him?

In August 1998 near Ginsberg’s farm in Cherry Valley, NY I met David Amram. Charles Plymell lived there in a stone house built for Samuel Morse, his casa acted as headquarters for the huge Beatnik read and gathering. (Morse is famous for the Morse code precursor to phone texting) Amram brought his beautiful daughter, we shook hands and he gave me his business card from an organic goat farm selling milk, cheese and eggs. His daughter lined up a dozen of his CD’s on a table where my books were. I asked Ray Bremser about him, he said he played back up for Kerouac and with lots of jazz greats in New York City. I tried to decide which CD to buy. Ray suggested I ask his daughter. She liked one he made when he slipped into Cuba. David started playing two long ornate flutes simultaneously. Everyone got goose bumps, he turned the air into magic.

....and for the end a poem by  Catfish's new book "Jupiter Orgasma"

Thanksgiving Can Be A Real Motherfucker

My lady was withdrawing

$60 from the drive up ATM

I was tuning in Steely Dan

 

A Nixon masked person

with a revved chainsaw

cut off her extended arm

& grabbed it & the money

 

Ripping my belt from my

trousers, I made a tourniquet

next thing I knew I was on

the floor in a store

 

A circle of frozen turkeys

were shooting dice with tiny

hands, several had cigars

puffing from their neck hole

 

They were cursing in Turkish,

sounding pissed off & flipping

each other the bird, looking

around I noticed I was naked

 

I had a cell phone, I dialed 911

the operator asked, "What is

your emergency?" all I said

was gobble gobble gobble

 

Waking in a pool of sweat

I saw a full bottle of 101

proof whiskey, reaching

 

To scratch my testicles

I trotted for the bathroom

to discover two tiny plucked

butter balls, I thought this

is worse than Naked Lunch

         © Catfish McDaris

"My skills at musical instruments sucked, so I started reading my prose poems. I am a storyteller above all else." Photo: Catfish reading in a bookstore

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