Monday, May 16, 2016

CD Collins: Portrait of an Artist as a Provocateur

CD Collins

CD Collins: Portrait of an Artist as a Provocateur

With Doug Holder

Kentucky native CD Collins follows the storytelling traditions of the South, both as a solo artist and when accompanied by musicians.  Her short fiction collection Blue Land was published by Polyho Press, her poetry collection by Ibbetson Street Press. As one of the originators of the resurgence of spoken word with live music, her work has been archived in four compact discs: Kentucky Stories (winner Best Spoken-Word album Boston Poetry Awards) Subtracting Down, and Carousel Lounge. Her most recent disc, Clean Coal/Big Lie, is currently being released in a series of one-woman shows.  Afterheat is her first novel.
Collins has performed in a variety of venues including Berklee College of Music Performance Hall, Boston Public Library, Club Passim, Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art and the New York Public Library.   Collins’ fiction has appeared in numerous literary magazines including StoryQuarterly, Phoebe, Salamander and The Pennsylvania Review.
Collins has received grants and awards from Massachusetts College of Art, Somerville Arts Council, the St. Botolph Club, The Kentucky Foundation for Women, the Cambridge Arts Council, and Women Waging Peace.
Collins holds a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Kentucky where she studied with author and activist Wendell Berry.
 She was recently a guest at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for a pilot conference to advance the development of innovative technologies that support the inclusion of people with disabilities.  I had the privilege to have Collins as a guest on my Somerville Community Access TV show  " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer'

Doug Holder: We published a poetry collection penned by you “Self Portrait with a Severed Head.”

A provocative title—are you a provocative writer?

CD Collins: I am not allowed to cuss on this program right? No cussing. ( Laugh). Yes I am willing to be provocative.

DH: What does art require of you?

CD: Art requires me to try to create life by putting these squiggly lines on paper. That is provocative in itself.

DH: What do you think a writer should do to perfect his or her craft?

CD: We need to go out more and experience life. For instance—I hate poems that are about writing poems.
DH: Your recently released novel “ Afterburn” that deals with a little girl and her family who were burnt in a gas explosion in rural Kentucky. Part of this novel is based on a true life experience you had as a child. In the book you link the burns to the ones that people suffered in Hiroshima.

CD: The book is a novel. And the young girl Ruby Chambers has some similarities with me. The trajectory of her life has not been my trajectory. I write fiction because I want to write whatever I want to write, and search for the truth.

DH:You were burnt, right?

CD There is a chapter in the book titled “Heat” that is completely autobiographical. It is the chronicle of the explosion I was involved in when I was ten. This explosion touches on a lot of different aspects of culture. The character identifies with the bombing of Hiroshima; as they suffered similar injuries. Ruby suffers burns over 70% of her body and these were like the burns suffered by victims in Japan. Her father is a U.S. soldier . She has an ambiguous relationship to that war. By-the-way this year is the 70th anniversary of the bombings. We commemorated the event in Lexington, Kentucky in Jefferson Park. We floated lanterns in the water; which is the very way Japanese commemorated the tragic event. I read from my novel—and the Japanese people who were there were very moved.

Getting back to the explosion that I was involved in, it was an underground pipe explosion that burned me and my family. Over 50 years later the same pipeline, in the same county exploded again. The pipeline consisted of re-purposed pipes.. A group of diverse people got together: lefties, righties, nuns, rednecks, etc... and closed that pipeline down. There was a documentary film made—and I appeared in it testifying talking on a panel.

DH: You are not only a poet, but a documentary filmmaker. You produced a documentary about the coal industry. Do you take Michael Moore as an inspiration? Did you get a lot of flak during your investigation into “ Big Coal?”

CD: Yeah. I get a lot of flak in general. I adore Michael Moore and I can't believe he is still alive. I have an album that deals with Big Coal titled “ Clean Coal, Big Lie.”. A lot of folks in the industry did not want to speak to me when I was working on my documentary. The title of my album“Clean Coal, Big Lie” is used in various initiatives around the country. It is a big lie. There is no clean coal. What people are not aware of is mountaintop- removal. Entire mountaintops are removed and dropped into valleys in the quest for coal. Where I grew up this process destroyed 17,000 miles of streams, and destroyed the lives of people. This process cracks foundations, destroys roads and water supplies. My culture is being destroyed. And all this doesn't provide many jobs...the dynamite does most of the work.

DH: You have discussed a writer's retreat you have established back in Kentucky.

CD: I have a farm in Eastern Kentucky. I put a down payment on it when I was 16. Even on a poet's salary I was able to hold on to that property. It has a beautiful Victorian home on the land. The house has a number of bedrooms. It is a beautiful home. Anyway I am renting out rooms—and I have called it the Savannah Retreat. I am also going to create a nature sanctuary on the land in honor of my late mother. I think what many writers are missing is quiet, and I am going to provide that. I have had a playwright reside there, someone is working on their dissertation, etc... Every dime goes back into the farm.

DH: You have been described as a key figure in the resurgence of the “Spoken Word” in these parts.

CD: It was accidental. We did not think we were creating something new. Jeff Robinson and others were also key players in this. Robinson keeps the tradition alive at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge where his band accompanies poets—very inspiring.

DH; The novelist Stephen McCauley said of you that you are a natural born storyteller. Do you come from an oral tradition?

CD: There is a big oral tradition in Kentucky. We have a style of storytelling that is unique. The whole point in our stories is the journey—not the end. It is a whole way of living. We create the time to talk.

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