Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Absurdity and Failure | An Interview with Eric Paul

 Some people may know you as lyricist and vocalist of Arab On Radar. The Chinese Stars and Doomsday Student. And others like myself may know you as the author and poet. Was the progression from lyricist to author a natural one or were you always an author first? 

Right now, I’m working on my third album with Doomsday Student.  So I haven’t made a total transition from lyrics to poetry quite yet. If anything, I seem to have added a discipline to my pursuits, but I do understand what you are getting at.  I only point this out to illustrate that as I continue to write in these two disciplines, the writing in each continues to affect the other. They each have their own challenges. With lyrics there is a lot of flexibility with meaning but you are restricted by such elements as syntax, meter and melody.  Whereas in poetry the opposite is true. 

 I continue to struggle and grow with the craft involved in both disciplines, and that is what exhilarates me about writing.  The lyrics I wrote for Arab On Radar were my first attempts at writing, and when I look back on that early stuff I’m rather embarrassed by its execution. But I did have solid aesthetic and knew where I wanted to go, it just took a lot of work to get there. It was the same with poetry. But I will admit, the more I learn about poetry and the more poets I study, the more I feel that poetry has been a much more challenging craft to practice.     

 After releasing I Offered Myself As The Sea in 2009 you have continued to publish more works, including your most recent release “A Popular Place To Explode “. How would you describe this latest book and how do you think it differs from your earlier work? 

I think the biggest difference between I Offered Myself as the Sea and A Popular Place to Explode is that I actually began studying poetry. Shortly after releasing I Offered Myself as the Sea I sought out a remarkable poet named Renee Ashley to be my mentor. Working with her changed everything.  Before Renee, I was self-taught and struggling to evolve. I knew where I wanted to go with my work but I didn’t know how to get there.  I felt confident in my aesthetic but my craft was weak. Renee started me on a path to being the writer I hope someday to be. 

 You’ve mentioned that this collection is inspired by the psychology of the broken and failed neighbourhoods you grew up around. This resonated with me a lot, having grown up amidst a poor and eclectic neighbourhood myself. There's an isolation in concrete and sometimes even more isolation amongst the crowded. Can you explain your fascination with the idea of neighbourhoods and what they expose?

    It’s tough to explain the fascination –there was just a particular type of madness in the neighborhoods I grew up in.  The destitution just sparked such odd and destructive behavior and because of the lack of resources there was no way for those afflicted by it to seek help. I was and still am inspired by the environment as much as I continue to be affected by it. I am still trying to understand it.

 How would you describe your writing style? And what inspires you?

It is a cross between a man walking down the street yelling at strangers and a lovesick teenager.  What inspires me? Absurdity and failure. 

 If you were to pick one passage, quote or poem by another author that really affected you what would you choose?

  The poem, “My Great Great Etc. Uncle Patrick Henry” by James Tate is a poem that I’ve always found great enjoyment and comfort in it. I feel the poem speaks directly to my upbringing.

What are you reading at the moment and are there any authors you’re currently really into?

One of my favorite poets right now is Mathias Svalina. His work is imaginative and well crafted. I have been reading his new book. “The Wine-Dark Sea.” But my favorite collection by him might be “Wastoid.” I’ve also been really into the book “Wild Lives” by Sarah Jean Alexander and I recently rediscovered “Book of Frank” by CA Conrad. 

For me, writing is a catharsis or an intense therapy session with myself. What does writing mean to you? 

It has always been an impulse more than anything. Unfortunately, it isn’t that cathartic for me, it comes with a lot of frustration. I tend to ruminate and obsess over what I’m working on which can be quite troublesome. But, in the end, the feeling I have when I complete something is unlike anything else I experience in life. So for that, I can continue to do it. I just wish it came easier.    

Your work has been featured in various publications such The Observer and The Literary Review. How does one take and/or mark a milestone of having ones worked “reviewed”? 

Honestly, I just feel thankful. 

 In your new book there feels as though there’s a move away or an evolution of sorts in your writing style and the emotion or rather the obvious emotion behind it. One of my favourites from the book is “My Girlfriend is seeing skulls”. Can you tell me the story behind this piece? 

 I’m so flattered you like that piece. That was a tough one. This poem went through more drafts than any other piece in the collection. The story behind this poem is similar to most of my poems. They all begin with an image or a concept and then I create a narrative to support the image. Here in New England we have very rough winters and there is a certain madness that spreads among New Englanders while dealing with the darkness, cold, snow, and ice. I go through it too.  In the dead of the winter I had a strange hallucination that a skull formed out of a friend’s wintery breath while we were walking outside.  I wrote down this image and then the rest fell in place.

You have worked with Heartworm Press continually throughout your writing career. What is it about Heartworm that makes it sit so nicely with your work? 

Wes, who owns Heartworm, has a strong vision for the press. Wes just saw something in me that he fell within the realm of this vision so he approached me.  I must say, I couldn’t be more thankful. When Wes reached out to me to work on I Offered Myself As The Sea I was going through a very difficult time. The love and friendship that transpired from working on that book with Wes may have saved my life. Not only is Wes a talented writer, musician, and editor he is also a great fucking friend to me. 

Alongside your written work you have also done some spoken word. How does that experience differ for you personally and is there a vulnerability in being present whether in person or by voice as opposed to the written word?

I feel most vulnerable with the written word. Before I perform anything it is thoroughly edited and work shopped. I don’t read anything until I feel it is complete.  So I’m fairly relaxed when recording it. When I perform my work in public there is a hint of anxiety and vulnerability like there is with any live performance but I that’s what I enjoy about it. 

You have released many pieces of poetry and/or short prose. Are there any plans for you to tackle a novel?

I have no plans for a novel. I don’t know why but I have never had any interest in fiction either as a reader or a writer. 

What does the rest of 2016 hold for Eric Paul and are you working on any projects you can tell us about?

This year I am hoping to complete a non-fiction book that I have been working on for a couple years that details some of the craziest things that have occurred in my twenty years of touring.