Poets are not known for being extroverts. But in the world of this subject, they almost have to be—his independent press requires each author to perform at least twenty shows per year, a contract agreement more often suited for a music PR firm. That may be just the comparison today’s subject wants; his label, Write Bloody Publishing, markets its authors as accessible, dramatic, and even stylish. The subject himself has ample experience with the music industry: he has toured and collaborated with musicians, utilized music as an accompaniment to his poetry, and has his own band, John Wilkes Kissing Booth, itself a perfect example of his desire to combine humor, poetry, and music in ways that require the independence that a small label provides. By employing independent artists and designers, many of them personal friends, to craft aesthetically interesting promotional materials, Write Bloody Publishing pushes the DIY publishing industry forward, demanding more of both its authors and its marketing ambitions. Derrick C. Brown may evade definition—is he a punk, a businessman, a raconteur?—but his thoughtful approach to collaboration hints that art itself is sometimes better left undefined.
How did your upbringing shape your sense of humor (which is wryly and quietly present in even your most somber poems)?
I think my upbringing was like many American kids. Dark, lots of shame, stroking, and flooded with the fear of God. My neighborhood friends and I all fed off of tearing each other down with sick burns and whiffle ball bat fights. They were not into art of any kind. They were into skateboards, crime and loud car stereos. I don’t know how in the Hell I fell into comedy and poetry, but it has been a fine therapy.
Many artists find inspiration in the west coast—Joan Didion, Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck… and even your contemporaries Amber Tamblyn and Cold War Kids. Yet you left for Texas. How does Texas inspire you?
I’m back! I moved to Los Angeles to tackle more writing and development projects in October. Get ready for a musical and odd TV shows as well as a new book of poetry.
Some of your poetry is accompanied by music, you’ve toured with musicians, you have a band, and you promote your fellow authors “like rock stars.” What separates, for you, a poem from a song?
I like blending art forms so music, poetry or comedy isn’t enough. A song can be wonderful absent of powerful lyrics. A poem cannot.
A song can be wonderful absent of powerful lyrics. A poem cannot.
Your publishing press, Write Bloody Publishing, takes the form of a record label—marketing and selling each author as a “rock star” of sorts—do you think the general public needs more flashy marketing than ever before to be drawn to an author or poet?
I don’t think so. I feel that a screenshot of a few lines on Tumblr can sell a ton of books now. Poetry could use some sneaky installments into the realms of film and TV to help spread it without people being aware of what they are being fed.
You emphasize that all of the authors on Write Bloody must tour “at least 20 shows a year.” What does the verbalization of poetry add to its meaning, if anything? Do you think a poem can exist only on the page, or that a poet’s voice is intrinsically linked to her / his writing?
Authors who teach talk about finding their voice, and it means a unique tone or rhythm. I have found that, in a literal sense, using your voice is a powerful way to connect with an audience, as well as perfecting your editing process. Your final step in editing should always be saying the poem out loud to see if you are being clunky, wonky or verbose.
Do you find that the DIY route—lacking funds of a large publisher, perhaps, but gaining more freedom—has limited or expanded your creative capacity as a poet?
It expands your ability to solve problems without money, but with a large publisher you gain eyeballs, sometimes. The best way is to build a fanbase from touring, and you don’t need a large publishing house anymore to do that. You may need to pay a publicist five grand for three months to get great reviews, though. We can’t do that.
Your poem “grocery list” seems to deal with a lot of anxiety for things done wrong, or not done—“finish everything,” “Don’t text while talking to someone, you’ll look like an asshole”—It seems like a mundane, yet worrisome, list. Do you find that the little things in life make you anxious? How does poetry help, or hinder, that anxiety?
Little things don’t make me anxious but they are the fuel of poetry. Poetry is an emergency brake that slows the world and exposes the sweet minutia of living.
How has performing poetry affected your mental health?
I am so, so, so fucked. And it’s fine.