13 Questions with Jack Henry

by HST UK on May 3, 2011

Jack Henry is a poet who throws his poems out with the whirling carelessness of a bareknuckle boxer. His latest collection ‘Crunked’ is about to be released through Epic Rites Press. Jack kindly took some time out to answer our 13 questions.

HST: I’ve always considered you to be a stalwart of the Small Press / Online Poetry scene. You write, churning out the poems, you give up your time to read many other poets, and you feature their words at Heroin Love Songs. You seem at peace with the madness, accepting the road to nowhere, but writing with the enthusiasm of someone who considers endless possibilities. What keeps your motor running?

JH: A stalwart? That just might be a first.

I think I have two answers to this, going from initial gut, then actually putting in some thought. First, I returned to HLS after a year and half layoff. That certainly does wonders for motivation, but the first generation of HLS was all about ME! Yes, it’s true. I did the journal to learn how to edit, how to find good (relative) poetry, put together a publication and have it printed. The madness of doing a print/on-line/e-journal finally cracked the nut. HLS volume 7 print (which never appeared) was an overly ambitious attempt to expose only the best of the best in women’s poetry. It failed because I stopped caring enough to do it right and I didn’t want to do it wrong. This is around the same time the radio show ended. The second answer, which actually looks a lot less thought out but explains HLS’ return, is due to a few people actually remembering the original and wanting it back. Plus, and Brian over at Zygote can appreciate this, there is a certain addictive quality to doing a journal. With this version I have lost all sense of caring, other than that of the work in it. There are no deadlines, fewer rules, less structure and only a blog publication. I may do print in the future but recommend no one hold their breath. And I discover some amazing talent. That keeps me running. People like Mike Taylor…

HST: The Submission Guidelines for Heroin Love Songs casually references Charlie Sheen. I consider Sheen to be running his own modern day Kool Aid Test, hoping to push his celebrity to unchartered territories. In a warped way I think he genuinely believes that he can lead people to a promised land, where they can turn of E!, ignore TMZ and finally embrace who they are and achieve their own miniature greatness. Unfortunately people have got bored of his antics. What do you make of Celebrity Bullshit, why does it occupy so much of our time?

JH: Charlie Sheen is a joke and a caricature of anything that resembles reality. I put his tag line in, at the time, because of its irony. With all the fucked up things going on around us, Libya, revolution, nuclear meltdowns, we (meaning Americans mostly) turn our eyes to him and those of his ilk. The general public is so celebrity mindfucked it’s beyond sad. Well beyond…

“Celebrity bullshit” occupies our time for a number of reasons. Media force feeds it but only do so because we swallow it without question. Most lives are so mundane, only because we make it so, that we turn to these clowns to feel better about ourselves. It’s fast food for the mind, nothing more. We are becoming fat, lazy, stupid people controlled by corporate demagogues who collect every penny we are willing to spend.

HST: As a poet from Los Angeles, do you get stylistically labelled purely because of where you are from?

JH: Initially, I think, some would label me a L.A. writer, not that I really know what that means. Writers are influenced heavily by their surroundings. I chose to you use exterior settings to create internal monologues. Los Angeles is a city I relate to and have spent many years wandering.

I’d like to think that the whole of my writing does not merely represent a Los Angeles style, rather a writer that acknowledges his surroundings.

HST: Your latest collection is called ‘Crunked’, the name paints a mental picture of garishly dressed blingtards drinking purple drank and spitting out nursery rhyme lobotomy level hip hop. Talk to me about the title of the collection, and how things have been going in the lead up to the book’s release?

JH: Ha! That’s great.

Crunked was a difficult collection to put together for one reason. In mind it is simply too raw, too ripped from the flesh. Crunked, to me, is a state of being out of control, on purpose. And the book certainly is out of control. I finished writing it over a manic 72 hour period of time. Wolfgang had it for a number of years and wanted to put it out but I didn’t. My intention was to get feedback from him and nothing more, but time convinced me to put out. One of the themes I try to live by is to be as honest in your writing as you can. This one feels a little too honest. But fuck it. It’s done and will be out in May 2011.

HST: I used to love listening to your Blog Talk Radio Show. You and Rob Plath just chewing the fat and sending your words out into the ether. Poetry seems a perfect fit for Talk Radio, but for whatever reason it’s an acquired taste, with a small but rabid audience. Any plans for another Radio Show?

JH: Maybe. Rob and actually chatted about doing the show again, but that is something I really have to learn to put less time into. I used to do a great deal of research into it and that takes time I didn’t really have.

When we started we did it right. Me and Rob bullshitting and letting others listen in. We would have a poet we liked join the madness and just see what happened. After a couple month hiatus we started again but the guests started to get bigger. Dan Fante, Tony O’Neill and Wanda Coleman. Not that those weren’t great guests and great shows, but it felt like work. Publicists started to contact me to have their writers on. It got weird. It’s not like we had a great huge following, 250 downloads in a week at most, but I guess it resonated.

Rob and I are up for it but I think we need to be talked into it a little more. If anyone wants to sponsor us, contact me directly. Not having to pay for BTR at $40 might help. We will accept all sponsors.

HST: Your poem ‘it’s cold outside’ struck a chord with me. Particularly –

“i have never been to Paris or Rome
or cities that seem to matter to those that claim to know.
i have never swam in an ocean other than my own.
i do not see past tomorrow or even the next hour.”

For my generation, travel equals enlightenment. If you haven’t been to Bali or Beirut then you haven’t lived. Yet most of the enlightened people I’ve met haven’t even worn down the soles of their own shoes. What are your thoughts on travel?

JH: I think travel is a cool deal. But I could live a thousand lives without seeing all of Los Angeles or even California. I think it is more important for someone to travel outside their comfort zone. If that means Bali or Beirut, or wherever, so be it. That works. Walking done the streets of East Los Angeles or Oakland or driving through the Mojave in the middle of night works for me.

HST: ‘Julian Gets Tied to a Bed in a Suite at the Renaissance Hotel ’, shows some real potential. How did the idea for this story fester into something potentially contagious? Do you hope to revive Julian?

JH: Jesus. I didn’t think anyone read those shorts.

The Julian Chronicles started out as a long poem then it turned into a series of vignettes. At some point Brian Fugett and I were talking about books that were written with and through a variety of genres – poetry, fiction, non-fiction, screenplay – this was my initial attempt. I think I got bored and moved on. My attention span sucks which is why I don’t write fiction. It might come back but I doubt it.

HST: Poetry has been dead for so long, I think its writers and readers realize this, and though some are in denial, we know that we are partaking in a dead art. Is it futile to talk about the future of poetry, when really the prospect of a future doesn’t exist?

JH: I think you are incorrect in saying poetry is dead or even dying. Exposure and appreciation of poetry is dying. People don’t understand it and schools rarely take time to teach it. You have to get into college before you are exposed to poetry in a significant way, and it is generally dead poets. I think Facebook and other mediums of social discourse are important to the revival of poetry appreciation.

Poets need to understand that the future of being a writer of poetry is changing as are avenues to the public. Just as I say Facebook et al are a good thing for exposure they are the death knell for publication. Even HLS adds to this demise. By allowing poetry to be free to all, we delineate the value of the form. People appreciate what they pay for and people will not pay for poetry on a large scale because they can get it for free on-line. One never appreciates what they get for free. Some do, I should probably add that, but in general, not so much.

There is a future in poetry but it is not in the form or manner we currently understand and acknowledge.

HST: The cover for ‘with the patience of monuments’ features the image of a grotty urinal. Regale us with an amusing toilet (or bathroom for you Americans) anecdote?

JH: The urinal represents my disdain for American society and culture as a whole. You see the ugliest of ugly in a bathroom. Junkies, hookers fucking and so on. I’ve seen it all. But a urinal, when new, is a bright and shiny white thing. The one of the cover has seen it all. Maybe I am just a piss and puke covered urinal.

HST: Poetry readings bring out egomaniacs and extroverts in all their horror, but every once in a while a wallflower will spout some guff fueled by dutch courage and captivates the whole room. How do you prepare for a reading? What have been your best / worst ‘performances’?

JH: Well, one I hate reading in public and two, all of my performances are “worst.” However, to answer, I prepare with massive amounts of scotch whiskey. And the absolute worst reading I did was in San Diego where I was the “featured” reader and five people were in the audience. Five and I brought three of them.

HST: I’d like to thank you again for reviewing ‘Dead End Road’ a couple of years back. You support wet behind the ear poets, and those that are deluded to believe their words might capture an audience. How would you convince a young aspiring poet to put down their pen (or ipad) and stop writing?

JH: A true writer can never quit so I guess it would be through amputation.

HST: A generation of adults in the US and the UK hold MFA’s and degrees, most of whom are working dead end jobs not connected to what they studied. Has the education system failed us, or were we fools for studying the arts?

JH: Yes I am one of the deluded American’s with an MFA working a bullshit job for a bullshit career. Getting an MFA is an expensive and utter waste of time in an era when people that want to teach (me) get a degree (MFA) so they can teach but the fucktards in State Capitals and Washington DC think it’s more important to build weapons than educate.

It’s a simple answer: The American education is TOO focused on test scores in order to keep meagre funding so arts are cut first to pay the bills. Arts MUST be taught at a younger age and promoted throughout the educational process. Kids at a young age get it but parents, teachers and educators do not. They have the ability to understand classical arts, music, etc. and yet we focus on finger painting. There are certain poets they can understand but we focus on sickening nursery tales that have no value other than prepare them for a life focused on Celebrity. We are dumbing down our kids as fast as fucking possible and it pisses me off. Teachers that want to teach get cut, those that can’t teach but have tenure ride it out. Our educational system is not much better than a third world country. We might be better served to just educate to the third grade level and put them straight into the unemployment line. The only fucking way we can grow as a country is to support education and the arts. Fuckwads will never get it and they certainly won’t ask me.

HST: Hypothetical scenario: You’re on death row. You are allowed to read one final poem, you’re allowed to listen to one last song, you’re allowed to drink one last drink before you meet the end. What do you decide?

JH: I take the drink to burn the book then slit the throat of the guard with a CD as I escape.


I would read “Me & Nadine,” by Mike Taylor, any glass of 20 yo Irish Whiskey, and listen to “What’s Left of the Flag” by Flogging Molly.


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