with Tony Brewer:
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Tony: I drew a lot when I was very young. My mom is a visual artist and encouraged me. When I learned to read, I started doing lettering and titles for the drawings, then captions. The captions became paragraphs and I just kept making more paragraphs. I wrote my first stage play in 3rd grade – an Empire Strikes Back ripoff – and I was a short story writer in 6th grade and junior high. My first major influence was Ray Bradbury and authors like Isaac Asimov, Ursula K. McGuin, Tolkien, Clive Barker, Thomas Harris. My favorite album as a kid was Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. I have learned it was produced by the Disney sound effects department, so that makes sense considering I got into foley later on. I studied film and writing in college, at Bard and IU, and a girlfriend gave me books of Bukowski and Dylan albums – Love Is a Dog from Hell and Bringing It All Back Home were favorites – so around then I gravitated toward poetry. Experimental filmmaker Maya Deren wrote about the similarities of film and poetry and that really resonated with me, how poetry bends time and has the jump-cut and juxtaposition/montage quality of film editing. William S. Burroughs and Ginsberg were early poetry and artistic influences. Reading Beowulf in 8th grade was a major motivator.
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Tony: Most recently CA Conrad and I’m reading a lot of Basho. Also Jack Gilbert, W.S. Merwin, James Tate, Louise Gluck, da levy, Neruda. People I actually know: Steve Henn, Tim Heerdink, Matt Hart, Hiromi Yoshida. I think William S. Burroughs is still a big influence, partly his writing and his voice – and he also is a Midwesterner – but mainly his process-based experiments like cut-ups and audio editing and shotgun paintings. There is intention in all that but he also liked to just set things up and see what happens. I have a background in improv theatre, so chance and free association have become central to all my projects. I like working across disciplines.
Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing/art? Have any travels away from home influenced work/describe?
Tony: I grew up in Ladoga IN, a tiny farm town of about 1000 people. I’ve traveled a bunch and lived in NY my freshman year of college, but I had a Ray Bradbury childhood: sheltered and somewhat locked in the past, even when I was a kid, but I had freedom to roam. I’m not resentful of that shelter. It still feels very small and trapped in amber whenever I visit. I’ve written about my family dynamics, which are interesting to me, and I have performed in many states and Canada. It’s important to maintain a sense of belonging to where I am originally from but I don’t want to just write downhome stuff – barn poems, I call them – but also not come off like I am “from the internet.” I don’t want to write about things that I have only read or heard about but haven’t experienced myself. I mean up to a point, but I remember hearing at a workshop “I want to know what you think, not what the New York Times thinks.” I like the stories you have to dig down to find. I think that’s what poetry “covers”: not simply the zeitgeist but what squishes out when the hammer of media attention falls. The thing that’s taken me furthest from home – in terms of physical distance but also getting “outside myself” – is performing live sound effects because it’s not words at all. It’s performative and requires intense listening and observing. Director David Ossman has said I am painting with sound – I really like that. I’ve worked coast to coast and that’s been a broadening experience, both because traveling does that but also any kind of production work, I pick up ways to make my own productions better: how to take care of people, how to get good performances out of people. I try to produce readings and events I would want to attend. I co-founded the first poetry slam in Indiana in 2001, mainly because it was a different way of hosting a poetry reading. That’s when I started traveling to do readings. I was also a roller derby announcer for 8 years and I traveled with the team to announce for them at away bouts. In fact that’s how I got to do a reading in Canada: I stayed an extra day and read in Toronto. Trips that still stand out and that generated a lot of writing: Devils Tower WY, Iceland, New Orleans, Toronto, Shiprock NM, Whidbey Island WA. I finished my book Hot Type Cold Read in a hotel room while I was working a live sound effects gig in Fort Lauderdale. I do some of my best work in one field while I’m in the thick of it in another.
Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?
Meaningful to me, probably my 2010 chapbook Little Glove in a Big Hand. My cousin Jeffrey died in a farming accident when he and I were both 4 years old, and it tore our families apart. I was so young I was barely aware of it and no one really explained to me what happened to him. He was just gone. I’d been writing about that for probably 25 years but didn’t like any of it – I was either too close to the material or not close enough. Then the memories started coming back, more vivid than before, and I started having dreams about it and I filled a notebook with poems and workshopped them with the Reservoir Dogwoods and got them published all in about 8 months. I was doing some therapy at the time, really working on myself, so that’s likely why some dormant things resurfaced with more clarity. I really figured some things out in that project.
Meaningful to other people, probably the poem I wrote in 2004 “Cicada Blues Chorus 10 & 17.” I wrote it as a team piece for poetry slams the last time the 17-year cicadas came through. It continues to be my most endearing poem and I never get tired of doing it. I also have written a ton of meaningful poetry on demand, for total strangers as well as close friends who have trusted me enough to tell me intimate details about their lives, sometimes out on the street in the middle of a festival. A woman once asked if I knew anything about bipolar disorder (I do) and could I write a poem about her son? Another person was in recovery and asked me to write about it – and I asked questions like recovery from what? How long have you been clean? I’m not confrontational about it but this collaborative thing opens up between us and I feel compelled to push for details. I think the patrons feel compelled to tell me – after all they asked for it. I have written elegies on demand too for a haunted cemetery tour, and for those I always ask things like “So what kind of life did you lead?” or “Do you have any regrets?” and sometimes they laugh it off and sometimes they get very serious, more serious than they were probably imagining their night was going to be.
Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Tony: Learning how to parse any poetry, especially by reading Ginsberg’s big red book of collected poems 1947-1980. It took several years to work through because I really dug down into the forms and researched his life a bit to figure out what he was saying. Read most of it aloud. Suddenly the veil lifted and I could see with new eyes. Before that, some poetry was just unreachable, or maybe I didn’t work at it enough. There are poems I don’t like or poets I like more than others, but everything is available to me now. I think Poetry is enormous and I want to get at it. I’m not sure I ever wanted to be an artist, or a poet, but I’ve always done some writing and some music and some production work, making books or plays or movies. I just like doing the work: making poems, making live sound effects, making events. There is a certain amount of networking required and I don’t always feel like that’s conducive to getting underneath things enough to make poems, so that tension – the openness and the aloofness – fuels a lot of what I do.
Q6: Favorite activities to relax?
“Never hurry, never rest” -Nietzsche
I try to get into some woods near running water whenever possible.
Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?
I just put out a new chapbook with Alien Buddha Press: The History of Projectiles. I was invited by Ryder Magazine to do a writeup on it here: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/392109039/10/
Why buy from Amazon when you can buy directly from me? https://tonybrewer71.blogspot.com/
Seriously, hit me up and I’ll kick in something special and unique.
I’m doing some readings with Tim Heerdink in July:
7/10 Bluestocking Social Bookstore in Evansville IN: https://www.facebook.com/events/204093574943742
7/16 Poetry in the Park in St. Louis: https://www.facebook.com/events/185279830160680
7/17 Barb’s Books in Belle MO: https://www.facebook.com/events/498526064727221
7/18 TBA but likely we’ll be live on KOPN out of Columbia MO https://www.kopn.org/
7/29 I’m doing a formal book launch with guest readers in Bloomington in the courtyard at the Runcible Spoon Cafe & Restaurant.
Aug 10 and 24 Poetry on Demand at A Fair for the Arts in Switchyard Park in Bloomington
Sep 4-5 Labor Day weekend Poetry on Demand at the 4th Street Arts Festival in Bloomington
I just wrapped co-producing the 9th annual HEAR Now Audio Fiction & Arts Festival (virtual this year) June 24-27 https://www.natf.org/, where I also taught live sound effects, did some voice acting, and performed poetry live with the ensemble Urban Deer: http://urban-deer.com/
I also co-produce a spoken word series (currently also virtual) with live music for the Writers Guild at Bloomington on the first Wed of every month: https://writersguildbloomington.com/
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
“May you always be prepared for what you want. Amen.” from “Toast”
“The waiting period for revenge / is a sentence” from “Why we will never get over this”
Q9: What has helped you most with writing?
On the last day of Richard Cecil’s poetry workshop when I was a junior at IU, I asked “How do I keep doing this?” meaning making poems as some sort vocation outside of a college classroom. I wasn’t sure how serious I was about writing as a profession. He said there were 2 ways: get into an MFA program but you’ll be teaching and doing other things as much as or more than writing – although there is a supportive network there and you’ll get published and have books and all that. That was his world. I said OK what’s the other? He said just write and send your stuff out. Get a job that doesn’t destroy your mind and your willingness to keep submitting work, and eventually you’ll get things out there. I think I went that route, with an assist from audio theatre and poetry slams, which weren’t widely known at that point but I hosted a slam for 10 years and found my network that way. Many of my influences are “working poets” who have a job outside the field: William Carlos Williams, Lee Young-Li, slam poets who were active and touring before Poetry Slam incorporated. I liked that Richard didn’t say “and so you should take THIS path.” He just told me what was available.
Joseph Kerschbaum and I have workshopped each other a bunch. He co-founded that slam with me and we’ve done book tours together. The Reservoir Dogwoods poetry performance group I’m in – Jason Ammerman in Indy, Matthew Jackson in Columbus (IN), and me in Bloomington – has taught me a lot about collaboration and writing poems together. Same with all the poetry on demand. I have written a lot of poems I would not have thought to write except someone asked for it, and that compulsory aspect has stretched my boundaries. POD has helped me break out of writing slumps and keep my mind open to new forms. It’s another form of connectedness.
Poets Tom Hastings and Eric Rensberger have been mentors. Eric once commented after an open mic I was hosting: “More chips with the salsa please,” and that has stuck with me. Spice is nice but your need a sturdy delivery system. Tom has said: “You’re always working on a manuscript,” I think meaning you are always editing and collecting material for the next project, whatever it ends up being. I am definitely doing that all the time.