Poet John Yamrus talks about the Jazz & Blues, Poetry, Miles Davis, Jack Kerouac, and Bukowski

"The music of Miles Davis has taught me a LOT about poetry. Listening to Miles Davis has taught me to respect the intelligence of my audience. It’s taught me to respect the silence."

John Yamrus: Say what you got to say, and get out of the way

The work of John Yamrus is widely published in magazines around the world. His poems have been taught at both the high school and the college level and selections of his work have been translated into several languages, including Spanish, Swedish, Italian, French, Japanese and Romanian.

"My poetry today, isn’t even the same as it was yesterday. While I respect and very much appreciate what I did, and where I was in the past, I totally understand that looking over your shoulder will only get you a stiff neck."

His work has been described by the great Milner Place as "...a blade made from smooth honest steel, with the sharpest of edges."

John Yamrus talks about the Jazz, Blues, Poetry, Miles Davis, Howlin Wolf, Jack Kerouac, Charles Bukowski Greta Garbo, Groucho Marx; and his dogs Phoebe and Ito.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I don’t wait for ideas to trigger.  I always figured if you wait, you’re dead.  Go out and make your own ideas.

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

That I’m lazy.  That I hate long poems.  That I don’t need to spell things out for people.  Things they already know.

How would you characterize the philosophy of John Yamrus poetry?

Say what you got to say, and get out of the way.  You’re not needed.

Do you think that your poetry is as it started out or has this changed and are you pointing in a new direction?

My poetry today, isn’t even the same as it was yesterday.  While I respect and very much appreciate what I did, and where I was in the past, I totally understand that looking over your shoulder will only get you a stiff neck.

"I love the old stuff. I love jazz. I love the blues. I love Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon and Art Blakey and Lucky Millinder…and Wes Montgomery…and Solomon Burke and Ruth Brown." (Photo: Miles Davis) 

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

That’s a REALLY good question!  I’ve often said that the music of Miles Davis has taught me a LOT about poetry.  Listening to Miles Davis has taught me to respect the intelligence of my audience.  It’s taught me to respect the silence.  It’s taught me that you can say a lot by not saying a word.  That’s a HELL of a good question.  Thanks for asking it.

How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

People often ask me why I don’t play an instrument.  I love the old stuff.  I love jazz.  I love the blues.  I love Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon and Art Blakey and Lucky Millinder…and Wes Montgomery…and Solomon Burke and Ruth Brown.  I love all that stuff.

What first attracted you to the Jazz & Soul music and how important was music in your life?

I’d like to say that it has to do with being 62…but that’s not it, as most people don’t even have a clue about the things I listen to.  That’s their loss.  Not mine.

Why did you think that the Jazz Blues and Soul continued to generate such a devoted following?

I’m not even going to answer that, because if you don’t know, you don’t need to know.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Beat generation with Jazz Blues Soul lyrics with poetry and beyond?

I call to mind that famous photo of Jack Kerouac, giving a reading, drunk, with his hands splayed out like Jesus on the cross. 

Him, giving everything he’s got and holding nothing back.  I don’t have a problem with writers who fail.  If you don’t fail, you’re not trying.  If you don’t fail, you’re playing it safe. 

If you don’t fail, you’re not breaking any new ground. 

Give me the ones who aren’t afraid to fail.  If they got the balls to get back up, I’m with them every single time.          (Watercolor of John Yamrus done by Swedish artist Henry Denander)

You have come to know great personalities.  Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Gerald Locklin has been a great influence on me.  But then again so has that legless guy who sat in a cart and sold pencils on Main Street in Wilkes-Barre in 1963.

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

My uncle Dutch once told me that if I’m ever on the short end of a fight, back myself into a corner, so no one can come up and hit me from behind.

Your poems have been translated into many languages. What’s the difference of view between Europe and U.S.A on art and especially in poetry?

I don’t know how to answer that.  I just write ‘em…I don’t rate ‘em.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of world? What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you?

That’s a big question, isn’t it?  Too big for me.  I just want to know what’s for dinner and what time I’m going to bed.

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

Leaves Of Grass…Kind Of Blue…Greta Garbo…Groucho Marx and Willie Mays.

What do you miss most nowadays from the 70's?

The only things I miss are my dogs, and that frog I killed when I was 8 years old.

What would you like to ask Phoebe and Ito?

Phoebe and Ito are dogs.  I’d read the book…hug the dogs…and fall asleep, happy that I did my job.

What's the legacy of Charles Bukowski today?  What characterizes the philosophy of Hank?

Charles Bukowski is singularly responsible for everything that’s good and everything that’s bad about modern poetry today.  He made it look so easy that every joker on the block thought they could do the same.  The dopes couldn’t see the great artistry that hid behind the streets, the women and the beer.

How you would spend a day with Mayakovsky and Hikmet in a bar? What would you say to Cavafy and Lorca?

I wouldn’t say a word to them.  They’re poets.  I’d leave them to their own private hell.

Which has been the most interesting period in your life?

When I reach it, I’ll let you know.

John Yamrus - official website

 

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