Thursday, December 15, 2011

Somerville Poet James Caroline: Plays Hard on the Page and the Stage.

Somerville Poet James Caroline: Plays Hard on the Page and the Stage.

Interview with Doug Holder

James Caroline started out mainly as a Slam poet getting his feet wet at the famed Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, Mass. when it was under the reign of Michael Brown. Since then he has become as respected on the stage as the page. And in fact the poetry is much more important to him than the performance.

From Somerville Poet/Performer James Caroline's Website:

"Over the past years, the award winning poet and performer James Caroline has made a name for himself nationally through slams, chapbooks, theatre, and touring. His work is a rare mix of literary craft and vulnerability, and the intensity of his performances has garnered comparisons to Patti Smith. James was voted Best Local Author in the 2006 Boston Phoenix poll. He is a multiple winner of Cambridge Poetry Awards for Best Erotic Performance Poet and Best Slam Poet. James has guest-lectured and performed on three continents. He's been published in some brightly lit rags & others that exist in seedy basements. As Tom Daley, a well-respected poet in the Boston area said of him: " 'He is the poet of complicit honesty, of untethered jubilation, of laminating adherence to what is profane and derelict because he is well acquainted with the outrages of the world. Ranging along the hinterlands of taboos, he boldly corrals their fearsome warnings into words of elegant defiance and terrifying affection ' ".

I spoke with this mercurial man of meter on my show: " Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer" on Somerville Community Access TV.

Doug Holder: You started out as a Slam poet--right?

James Caroline: It was a good tool. I met a lot of good people. I met Regie Gibson, Patricia Smith, Tom Daley--all incredibly accomplished. They pulled me aside and brought me in their exclusive workshop. The workshop consisted of Tom Daley, Nicole Perez, Regie Gibson and myself. I started to take more seriously the writing as opposed to the performing. I didn't want to be "ghettoized" as a Slam poet. The chapbook I put out after the workshop was a lot closer to what I wanted to be doing. I realized then my writing should come first.

You live in the Union Square section of Somerville. How did you wind up here?

JC: I was born in Indiana and left my small town as quickly as I could. I went to college, graduated and did a film internship in London. I loved it--at times I was virtually homeless. I came back home and visited a friend of mine who was in graduate school at Boston College. I fell in love with the area, made friends, and started going to readings at the Lizard Lounge and other places. It is a good place for me.

You won the best " Erotic Male Performer" at the now defunct Cambridge Poetry Awards founded by Jeff Robinson.

I won that award once. To be honest what I was doing was being a gay male in a white suit, in a somewhat homophobic atmosphere. What I was trying to do was to push people's buttons. But I also used sex and the body to challenge the crowd.

DH: I occasionally teach Bob Dylan's work in my poetry classes at Endicott College. After all he was included in the Norton's Anthology of Poetry. Some would say his lyrics, or poetry, would not stand up as great poetry without his performance of his work. Do you feel your poetry now stand alone--on it's own?

I have poems that I perform, and I have poems that are meant for the stage. But I put out books of poetry that did incredibly well. Seven years ago it might have been a different story. Do I think Bob Dylan holds up on the page as a great poet? No. He is a great lyricist. He is a better poet than Jim Morrison. I don't think you can call someone who uses obvious rhyme a great poet. A lot of his stuff is very cliche.

: Talk about the up and coming poets on the scene.

JC: Well I will mention Jade Sylvan although she is already "up" and has been for a while. You have to have some hype to hand out to get known and Jade is good at promoting herself and has a lot of talent. Jade is a great poet and even a better fiction writer. The college kids at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, where I work as one of the hosts have a lot of talent. Off hand I can think of Derek Williams and Sylvia Holtz. A lot of great stuff is coming from Manchester, New Hampshire. I am also impressed with the Emerson College students who come to the Cantab. These people are more interested in the poetry than the fame. They want to be good writers.

DH: In your poem inspired by the artist Francis Bacon titled "The 1st Time I Saw Francis Bacon's Work" you write in reaction to this man's body of art:

"... Distorted body frozen

in the throes of some climax outro

that thin line between smile and terror.

Rabid mirror has you climbing incisor


You were born perfect

and look

at what you've let them do..."

DH:What attracts you to his often grotesque portraits of people?

I knew of Bacon. I was in London and I kept going back to the Tate Gallery to see his work. I saw one of his paintings--which had a really vivid orange background, and in it two people appeared to be wrestling or having sex. I was fascinated. Yes--he paints grotesques. And I thought not all art has to deal with the beautiful. Most things aren't really beautiful if you dig even remotely below the surface. Bacon's work said to me that you can pose, you can airbrush, you can use mascara--but it's all vanity. What really matters is what you put out in the world. Something as simple as being kind or not being a bitch.

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