Would you like something to drink before we start our interview?
What do you have, praytell?
I only have frosty cold Newcastle beer.
That’s perfect, actually. Newcastle is my absolute favorite. Do you have any smokes?
Only Parliament Lights or Malby Reds.
Excellent. I’ll take one of each. Let us commence.
OK so let’s get right to the controversial meat of the matter, so to speak: is there truth to the tale that Allen Ginsberg propositioned you for sex back in the late 80s?
Do you mind if I get at least one beer in me before I tackle that question?
Yeah sure, sure. OK so, the name of your most recent collection of poetry is entitled Poems for the Utopian Nihilist. What exactly is meant by Utopian Nihilism?
For any self-respecting literary intellectual, I think the term is self-explanatory and that’s why I chose to construct it as such.
Oh c’mon, just play the game…
OK, the term represents a simple human philosophical paradox not unlike say, Religious Atheism, or say, a Positive Naysayer or something as basic as Sweet and Sour. It is the gazelle and the lion and the lion and the gazelle. The salt and the pepper of things. The sacred and the profane making passionate off-the-hook love. The Utopian thinker believes or wants to believe in a perfect world whereas the Nihilist knows through personal experience and the bitter scarring reality of socialization, that this world and our existence in it, is entirely imperfect. Either everything in this Life is sacred or nothing in this Life is sacred at all. And yes, the twain do meet. They meet all the time. Sublemon/sublime, baby…
Are the Utopian Nihilists a cult?
No, not exactly. The Utopian Nihilists do, however, represent a new movement in spoken word and written 21st Century poetry, ranging from France to Germany to Estonia to California. Emo, modern, ancient hardship type of stuff…tragic yet wondrous…and very romantic in a disillusioning sense, where your heart is being licked gently by a beautifully-colored Poison Dart frog and you feel all euphoric in that moment but you know that you are dying…there is a innocent sadness and a romantic longing as well as a callous, dubious nature which understands disappointment on grand levels…the Utopian Nihilist poet writes from a timeless perspective using a contemporary vernacular edge, synthesizing the transcendent and the downtrodden. In any poem of human horror there shall always be at least a pinhole of light.
So personally, what are you trying to do with your Subjective Imagist poetry?
Mainly, I am an image-shooter, wherein I like to inscribe vivid images into the mind of the reader, to force the reader to see that picture that I am beaming out to them, and in a very basic, universal way. Kneeling alone in a cathedral listening to candles… everyone can see and feel that image. Almost so that a sixth-grader could see the image, providing they could read at a proficient level, and feel the image for what it is in a concrete primary way. Maybe a sixth grader wouldn’t glean all the references, the layers over top and underneath or in an academic way, necessarily, but the images are designed so that any reader should be able, on at least one level, to see the image exactly as I want to convey it. I’m not into esoterics or surreal cryptograms that people have to decipher with a decoder ring or a Master’s degree. But mainly, this is the new poetry. I mean, I dig the metaphysical mysterious higher realm and that is a large part of my shit but I don’t want to shut anybody out by creating literary conundrums that they have to strain to understand.
You seem to be a rather chipper, happy, devil-may-care sort of fellow who spreads much love in this world. So what’s with all the dark/bummer stuff in your writing?
The “emo” or melancholy emotive quality is not something I attempt to inject but rather, organically emerges on a consistent basis in my writing. I am not inherently a sad person but rather, a positive amateur Zen-minded person and for some reason, a certain sadness floods my writing—of human isolation, of oppression, of the death of relationships and all living things. But I’ve experienced a lot of pain and death in my life so I suppose I see IT for what IT is and go with IT…it’s an embracing of that which is natural and supernatural…and although I can be heavy-handed, I’m all about the celebration of overcoming adversity and the exultation of love, birds and blooming flowers.
Describe “Subjective Imagist.”
The subjective aspect refers to the author’s editorial or personae NOT being present whatsoever. My personae does not matter. Milo’s take on things is not important within the framework of a larger piece. It is an omniscient voice, which does the speaking and the proselytizing and the object, animal or second or third person, which traditionally takes precedence. I have not been a confessional poet because that which sprouts from my bellybutton. I do not consider my opinion or private life to be important enough to share with the general public…I might talk about the play of light on the bathroom floor in the mid-afternoon but not what Milo Martin thinks about the play of light on the bathroom floor…you dig? But I love confessional poetry like Anne Sexton…I’ve written a lot of confessional poetry but I’m just not ready to reveal it…not just yet…as far as the imagist poetry is concerned, the unadulterated use of strings of images to create the desired emotions I want to convey is tantamount to my writing, without explicitly framing anything, leaving that exclusively up to the interpreter to thereby reconcile the sometimes very disparate yet specific images, to personally create an even larger image and therefore an exponential statement.
The number 11 can be seen all through your writings. What does the number 11 mean to you?
First and foremost, it’s a powerful, mystical transitional number…second of all, it’s a transcendental number, third, it is the number of birds and angels and insects… certain people, and you know who you are, see the universal affirmation of 11:11 on their clocks or computers everyday…yes, it means something…it is the larger spirit giving us reaffirmation that what we are doing is right or that we need to be doing something else. The presence of a higher spirit or the parallel dimension. There is actually a worldwide cult following centered around 11 and 11:11. And Nelson Mandela was released from prison on 2/11 and we know what happened on 9/11…and the World War II armistice was solidified on 11/11 in the 11th hour…these are portholes we pass through where the world becomes different…
What is your favorite fruit?
Avocados. Ripe avocados. Al dente avocados. With salt and pepper and a spoon. And a bit of mayonnaise sometimes. Or as my friend Michi Ukawa hipped me to, wasabi and soy sauce drizzled on avocadoes…sublime really. Or Monterey Jack cheese, mayo and tomato and sprouts with big thick slices of peppered avocado on multi-grain bread…
So are you a Vegetarian?
Yes for 18 years now…it is no longer necessary to eat murdered animals when we have all the food that we want to eat…I mean, if we were in a poor forest and the ground was frozen and our only alternative was to snare a rabbit to cook, ok…but that is not the case anymore…why does our society spend billions of dollars on vital resources and food supplies to systematically murder our brothers and sisters and package them up like homogenized meat products and then push them through our innards to shit them out 6 hours later? What good does that do anyone except to perpetuate violence and death-oriented gluttony based on an archaic tradition of barbarism? What about love and consideration? Doing unto others as they would have them do unto us? Do those Christian principles go right out the window when we want to have a hamburger?
What’s the best piece of advice given you to this point?
My mother at age 9 told me, “You can’t give a fuck about what anyone ever thinks about you” and that was the first time I had heard her use the “F” word…and I have always employed a certain disregard in regards to my art. Some people love my shit and some are vehemently opposed. Some people think I am full of shit. Some people think I hold value. And that’s alright because we are here to prick the consciousness and provoke thought, positive and negative…and I always applied that to Slam and I never gave a shit about Slam because I didn’t give a fuck if my poem was the best or the most popular, I wanted to provoke thought and shoot images but I never had one iota of any aspiration of winning a slam by ranting or raving or being funny or animated…because art and competition, in my most humble estimation, is well, inane…I ain’t never been no one’s dancing sweetheart and I suppose I never will be…
How many poetry slams have you won?
Zero. I have never, ever won a Slam in my life…I have, in fact, come in second many times…
Well then why the hell did you get into Slam?
Ben Porter Lewis convinced me in the late 90s that Slam would elevate the art of spoken word and poetry in general…I was skeptical yes but saw first-hand going to slams and poetry events in the late 90s, that there was indeed, a bona fide renaissance in populist poetry and that in fact, the Slam movement and late 20th century poetry was garnering mass attention and population…hell at the 1998 National Slam in Austin, Texas, there was a crowd at the Finals of over 1200 and CNN covering the event…the Beats were getting 40 people at their readings…there is an actual statistical fact that, in the last 15 years, more people have attended poetry events than in the whole of the 20th Century combined…true…therefore Slam across the world has drastically increased exposure to poetry and in particular the spoken word…VIVA POESIE and the exposure to poetry to beings who wouldn’t normally be listening to poetry! It is a classical art form and must remain alive at all costs…the new movement in poetry has done more than that; it has given poetry a brand-new life, never seen before in history…and here we are, a part of it…
From the Old School–Anne Sexton, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Cocteau, Charles Bukowski, Gregory Corso, Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, Raymond Carver, Jack Micheline, and a lot of people from the LA scene– Chris Tannahill Yvonne de la Vega, Ben Porter Lewis, Wanda Coleman, Rich Ferguson, Jerry the Priest, Nathan Green, Peter Coca, Jeff McDaniel, Daphne Gottlieb (SF), Ellyn Maybe, Steve Abee and the whole East Hollywood ONYX scene back in the day…certainly all the POESIE UNITED guys, who are some of the most-respected spoken word/slam guys in the world and who taught me much about true vocal dynamic intensity and brotherhood: Antoine Faure, Tobias Hoffmann, Wehwalt Koslovsky and Ben Porter Lewis—Utopian Nihilists all…
Musical influences as they pertain to lyrics?
Black Sabbath, Fugazi, Morphine, Sex Pistols, Neil Young, Public Enemy, Wire, Pink Floyd, Bernie Taupin, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Lungfish, The Beach Boys and Radiohead. All pretty emo (except PE). I would include My Bloody Valentine and early REM but it’s hard to make out a lot of their words…it’s more about the palpable texture of the heavy harmonies the words make rather than the actual words themselves…
So you’ve toured Europe doing spoken word poetry?
I’ve toured Europe four times with the multi-lingual international spoken word crew, POESIE UNITED.
What impressed you about the poetry scene in Europe?
Many things: #1, a deep reverence for poetry, classical and modern #2, many Europeans speak English better than Americans #3, cultural monies are devoted to the arts and in my case, I get paid good money for poetry performances #4, people buy books and value books and read books #5, poets are considered to be the highest agents of literary form in Croatia and #6, in a crowded bar of 400 people drinking heavily, one can hear a coin drop when the poet hits the stage…
What are your favorite cities in Europe?
Berlin, Freiburg, Paris, Amsterdam, Zagreb, Tartu
Cities you disliked?
I fucking hated Prague. Goddamned city of atheist pickpockets, grimy violent gypsies, dead-eyed cold people who can’t make a salad to save their lives. Or a bagel. When the Jews were taken away to “Holiday Camp” in the 30s and 40s, no one bothered to ask anyone for the recipe for bagels. What buffoons. And I was in Prague for over a month and I know bagels. They couldn’t make a proper bagel that tasted anything better than a shoe rubber, swear to god. Tried about 6 times to no avail. All bagels in Prague are horrible. All I wanted was a cup a coffee and a decent bagel…They just don’t have the savoir faire there…I studied there in the summer of ’03 and albeit I met some cool writers and the beer (Krusovice) and the coffee were good, the spirit in all of the churches was non-existent and sterile. No wonder Kafka was so depressed. Now I certainly understand that the Czechs were jacked-up and occupied by the Nazis and the Russians in the same century, and certainly going back to the 11th Century, occupied and brutalized by the Ottoman Empire, but there existed a real sense of guardedness and anti-hospitality and it just didn’t feel welcoming or warm whatsoever. I just didn’t like Prague but as it turned out, I wrote some pretty good poetry there that ended up being published. I actually wrote a lot of stuff in Prague. But I hated it there and oh the porn stars on parade. Lord have mercy but all the chicks in Prague are porn stars in waiting or being. All healthy and fed with saucy potatoes and meaty goulash their whole lives, bodies beautiful in an exotic Slavic sense, bouncing and beautiful and fair, wearing almost absolutely nothing in the sweltering summer months, with sunglasses and heels and a lot of times, no panties. Christ I fucking hated Prague. Partially because I was in Prague with my fiancé at the time who became my wife who became my second ex-wife.
Ok so let’s move on, shall we? To lighter things– what is the singular movie that gives you hope?
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, bar none.
Good one! Psychedelic Technicolor poetry magic, baby!
I always wanted to be virtuous and rewarded like Charlie.
It is rumored that you are Jewish and color-blind…is there truth to these assertions?
Yes I am half-Swedish Jew. However I wasn’t raised Jewish (except for one year) but going back to childhood, most of my best friends have been Jewish. And many Jewish girlfriends. I am half-Jewish and proud of the tribe. And yes I am Red-Green color blind. So the way you see green is the way that I see red. All my trees are red. All my fire engines are green. But it really doesn’t mean anything to me as since the day I was born, it’s always been like this to my eyes…it’s reduced to semantics: if, from the date of your birth, people told you that an automobile was called a fox and a fox was called an automobile, it would be automatic and ingrained into you and that’s how you would always operate…. however, because of this anomaly, I will never legally be able to pilot a plane or captain a ship. Or be an air traffic controller. There are times at stoplights when I see for micro seconds the green to be red and vice versa…the 80s were hell for me with all those red and green album covers…my eyes were shifting madly…
OK so, the Allen Ginsberg encounter: are you comfortable in discussing that now?
I suppose I am lubed up enough at this point.
Nice. So where did you meet and what were the circumstances? And did he really hit you up for sex?
I don’t think there was a young male poet that Ginsberg didn’t hit up for sex. I was probably one of thousands of nervous straight poet guys he propositioned. It was 1988, City Lights Books in San Francisco. He was reading poems from White Shroud and signing after. Back then, I always had big messy hair and I remember vividly trying to look ‘literary’ for when I met him and so I combed and slicked back my hair for the event. There is a photo of us in the back of Poems for the Utopian Nihilist and it is the only picture that exists of me with my hair combed. Anyway, my eyes met his and he immediately insisted I come behind the signing table and sit down right beside him. I was sorta freaked-out but sorta glowing. Shit, this was my poetic idol. “You’re going to sit right there,” he said, “while I finish signing and then we’re going to talk.” When it was just me and him at the end, he turned to me and asked very casually, “So, what do you do for sex?” I stammered something probably very incoherent or innocuous when he pushed on. “So like, boys, girls, insects, automobiles?” I immediately picked up on the automobile tact and told him I had recently read JG Ballard’s Crash and tried to divert his attention to a conversation about auto-eroticism and car crash fetishism. “So you like to have sex in cars?” “Well yeah sometimes but…” “Well then, where’s your car? he asked…“You’re something else,” I said to him. “No, “ he admonished,” I am like Everything else…now would you like to come back to my hotel and smoke a joint and further discuss these poems in private?” It was evident he was gonna try to hunker down on Bobo. I hemmed and I hawed and I’m sure, as a green 25 year-old, my repartee was very lame and I was intimidated terribly. I just was not into sagging New Jersey Jewish poetry men, at least not sexually…”Well if you change your mind or aren’t doing anything later, I’ll be at the Fairmont. You know where it is…” I always sorta regretted that decision not to con a little more face time with one of American’s great poets and share a slice of the cosmos with a sophisticated head but then again, I don’t lie very well and well, I’m just too much into girls…and I knew there was gonna be some fellatio involved…and I guess I wasn’t completely ready for that…
Why did you make this interview thing so long and involved? All the other TNB self-interviews are so succinct and clever, masterful in their brevity…
Well if you didn’t fucking ask me so many questions and so many complex questions, there wouldn’t be a problem then, would there?
But you are the asker…
Any last words?
Treat each person freshly and without precedent, eleven:eleven, and
Utopian Nihilists unite!
“Prof Martin” photo courtesy of Michi Ukawa. “BigM” photo photo courtesy of Sabrina Hill.