A Fevers of the Mind Interview/Promo piece with Ron Whitehead, U.S. National Beat Poet Laureate

From Ron Whitehead:

I’m a wild nature Kentucky farm boy who loves adventuring into the unknown. I’ve been blessed that poetry, my main vehicle of communication, has taken me across the USA and to at least 20 countries around the world. I love to travel to new places and meet new people. I admire and respect all our beautiful differences. And I’m forever searching for and discovering what we have in common. We’re all dirty potatoes floating in the same tub of polluted water and the more we bang into each other by openly honestly sharing the stories of our lives the more we come clean. I love to hear the stories of people’s lives. I have friends everywhere. When I was a boy I learned that to have friends I’ve got to be a friend. If I’m friendly then most other folks will be friendly too. 

The older I get the more I realize I don’t know anything, no one does. We’re all guessing, feeling our way, grappling for answers. But every day I have encounters with the spirit world. We are all in perpetual motion, in transition, even when we are still, silent, listening. Listening is the greatest art of all. Not-knowing is the fundamental plowed earth of our being, not-knowing. It is our life source. Embrace the wind. Embrace my heart. Born to die, there is no safety, all is demanded. Expose yourself completely. Accept the consequences of your successes, and your failures, as no other dare. Enlightened mind is not special, it is natural. Present yourself as you are, wise fool. Don’t hesitate, embrace mystery paradox uncertainty. Have courage. Through fear, and boredom, have faith. Be compassion. Embrace the wind. Embrace your heart. Not-knowing is the fundamental plowed earth of our being. It is our life source. Not-knowing.

Today ‘Specialization’ is sold on every corner, fed in every home, brainwashed into every student, every young person. We are told that the only way to succeed, here at the beginning of the 21st Century is to put all our time, energy, learning, and focus into one area, one field, one specialty: math, science, computer technology, business, government, the gaining of material wealth, the material world. If we don’t we will fail. We are subtly and forcefully, implicitly and explicitly, encouraged to deny the rest of who we are, our total self, selves, our holistic being. The postmodern brave new world resides inside the computer via The Web with only faint peripheral recognition to the person, the individual – and by extension the real global community, the real human being operating the machine. The idea of and belief in specialization as the only path, only possibility, has sped up the fragmentation, the alienation which began to grow rapidly within the individual, radically reshaping culture, over a century and a half ago with the birth of those Machiavellian revolutions in technology, industry, and war. And with the growing fracturing fragmentation and alienation comes the path – anger, fear, anxiety, angst, ennui, nihilism, depression, despair – that, for the person of action, leads to suicide. Unless, through our paradoxical leap of creative faith we engage ourselves in the belief, which can become a life mission that regardless of the consequences, we can, through our engagement, our actions, our loving life work, make the world a better, safer, friendlier place in which to live. Sound naive? What place does the antinomian voice, the voice that, though trembling, speaks out against The Powers That Be, what place does this Visionary Outsider Voice have in the real violent world in which we are immersed? Are we too desensitized to the violence, to the fact that in the past Century alone we have murdered over 160 million people in one war after another, to even think it worthwhile to consider the possibility of a less violent world? Are we too small, too insignificant to make any kind of difference? The power and greed mongers have control. What difference can one individual life possibly make, possibly matter?

Today the millennial generation is swollen with young people yearning to express the creative energies buried in their hearts, seeping from every pore of their beings. They ache to change to heal the world. Is it still possible? Is it too late? Is there anyone (a group?) left to show the way to be an example? To be a guide? A mentor? James Joyce, King of Modernism, said the idea of the hero was nothing but a damn lie that the primary motivating forces are passion and compassion. As late as 1984 people were laughing at George Orwell. Today, as we finally dwell in an Orwellian culture of simulation life on the screen landscape, can we remember passion and compassion or has the postmodern ironic satyric death in life game laugh killed both sperm and egg? Is there anywhere worth going from here? Is it any wonder that today’s youth have adopted Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Herbert Huncke, Gregory Corso, Neal Cassady, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Amiri Baraka, David Amram, Diane di Prima, Bob Dylan, Hunter S. Thompson, Patti Smith, The Clash, and all the other Beat Generation and related poets, writers, artists, musicians as their inspirational, life-affirming antinomian ancestors? These are people who have stood up against unreasoning power/right/might, looked that power in the eyes and said NO I don’t agree with you and this is why. And they have spoken these words, not for money or for fame, but out of life’s deepest convictions, out of the belief that we, each one of us, no matter our skin color our economic status our political religious sexual preferences, all of us have the right to live to dream as we choose rather than as some supposed higher moral authority prescribes for us.

I choose to be a spiritual warrior poet.

Can poetry, music, film, dance, art matter? Are they merely a gold exchange for the rich? The crucible of the alchemical arts blends the terrible beauty of the natural world with questions of global social conscience. Poems stories songs films dance photographs art defy categorization. They are authentic original expressions of spirit dwelling in dynamic harmony with nature.

What is involved in the process of artistic creation? And how is that process related to space and time? What makes it possible for a handful of poets, musicians, filmmakers, dancers, artists to maneuver in a molecular universe, where immersion at will into things and being other than self is readily accomplished, rather than the dreary chore of drudging through the thick cellular world? The answers are simply complex and like truth, time and water they constantly slip through fingers away, away but the past recalled becomes present again and in a sense when we look anywhere including back into the past we are looking with some form of anticipation which is an attribute of future time so where are we really? How do how will poets, writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, photographers, inhabitors of the creative realms of the 21st Century respond to these questions? Some respond with ironic, comic faith, some with passion, with compassion, without which the intelligent sensitive creature will inevitably traverse the Valley of The Shadow of Death encountering Angst, Despair, Ennui, and possibly Suicide. The sensitive individual poet writer musician artist filmmaker photographer prophet, the empath whose natural ability is negative capability, ineluctably chooses the life-game quest of self-creation in the possibly infinite probability of possible realities in the self-contained inter-connected Ocean of Consciousness.

There are no answers, only questions.

My argument for The Ocean of Consciousness reaches back to the early experiential understanding of holy while reaching forward beyond the limits of dialectical gnosticism to an alchemy that also transcends divisions inherent in the alienation the fragmentation of Deep Modernism and the superficial chaos of postmodernism. Even if you are a cryptanalyst and are able to turn into plain text the coded messages of Lacan but also the utterances of French existentialists, deconstructionists, poststructuralists, and all the other sibilant schools that flowed out of postwar France what leads you to believe that the deadly serious egocentric humor of postmodernism where theory is lauded as more important than text (whatever text might be: book, song, painting, film, life, etc) can possibly be the final word? Deconstructing a text does not designify does not make the text less than what it was before you playfully surgically took it apart and, if you’re a good mechanic, put it back together again even if you gave it new features. No matter how much taking apart deconstructing you do there will always remain something, a meaningful essence that cannot be destroyed.

Lightninged passion compassion filled art matters.

The poet writer musician filmmaker photographer dancer artist deconstructs realism. She employs the innovative technique of intercalation: the juxtaposition of scenes in time. She is Elus Cohen, Elect Priest of Expressionism, Cubism, Modernism, Dadaism, Surrealism, postmodernism but she is more. She is Master Alchemist, Master Magician. Her long slender hand reaches towards me, grabs my throat, and pulls me into the text, the book, the song, the art, the film, the photo, the dance. Manger du Livre indeed! I not only consume the book: the book consumes me. Now I, with her, am Elus Cohen juxtaposing scenes in time and space in her, in me. My original perception, awareness, and senses are fractured, fractalled, and exiting the poem, the song, the film, the dance, the art I find I am rearranged. I now have new perspective, awareness, senses. I look at others. Are their expressions different as they look at me? I must look different. I feel different. I am different. Me. And me now. I,I. Ha. Aha! Now as my hand moves this pen across this page I change. I am transformed. I am never the same. My molecules jump, sway, swoon, dance across the page, giggling, laughing, singing, happy to be new! It’s spring again! They shout Yes Yes Yes!!!

Poetry, music, film, dance, art create new resonant myths.

Knowledge, from the inception of Modernism and through postmodernism to The Ocean of Consciousness, is reorganized, redefined through literature, music, art, film, photography. The genres are changing, the canons are exploding, as is culture. The mythopoetics, the privileged sense of sight, of modern, contemporary, avant-garde poets, writers, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, dancers, artists are examples of art forms of a society, a culture, a civilization, a world, in which humanity lives, not securely in cities nor innocently in the country, but on the apocalyptic, simultaneous edge of a new realm of being and understanding. The mythopoet, female and male, returns to the role of prophet-seer by creating myths that resonate in the minds of readers, myths that speak with the authority of the ancient myths, myths that are gifts from the creative realms of being, gifts from the shadow.

On Being an Outlaw Poet 

“To live outside the law you must be honest.”
–Bob Dylan, Outlaw Poet

“An outlaw can be defined as somebody who lives outside the law, beyond the law, not necessarily against it. By the time I wrote Hell’s Angels  I was riding with them and it was clear that it was no longer possible for me to go back and live within the law.

There were a lot more outlaws than me. I was just a writer. I wasn’t trying to be an outlaw writer. I never heard of the term, somebody else made it up. But we were all outside the law, Kerouac, Miller, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kesey, me. I didn’t have a gauge as to who was the worst outlaw. I just recognized my allies, my people.”
–Hunter S. Thompson, Outlaw Writer 

“time was, time is, time will be no more”
and it’s the big bang epiphany
in the gap between thought and image
voices    streams racing
whispering through my blood
pleading through my bones
strange activities of my nerves
the unconscious life of the mind
a tetrameter of iambs marching
alchemically transmutative symbol decipherment
the book as sacred elixir
manger du livre
eat the book
and the words
will set you free 

“the shortest distance between two points is creative distance”

and Allen Ginsberg howls
“i saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving, hysterical naked”

and Diane di Prima rants
“the only war that matters is the war against the
imagination all other wars are subsumed in it”

and Amiri Baraka chants
“they have turned, and say that i am dying. that
i have thrown
my life
away. they
have left me alone, where
there is no one, nothing
save who i am. not a note
not a word.”

and Lawrence Ferlinghetti paints
pictures of the gone world

mysterium tremendum gnostical turpitude

Allen Ginsberg    Diane di Prima
Amiri Baraka    Lawrence Ferlinghetti

numinous howls and rants and chants and paintings

and years of tears come fiercely flowing streaming
all the pain     wells up
years of failure    of not being enough for anyone
years of wandering    lost    on the outside
being told “you ain’t shit   you don’t fit   what the
fuck you doin here?    all you’ve done is create pain and sorrow
wouldn’t you be better off dead?”

turning away from walking away from disappearing from
bullies authorities tyrants the past the dead
in the hermetic corridors of authority the dead
somberly splash in their shallow sewers
devouring and regurgitating themselves
and with tears in my eyes a snarl on my lips and
peace in my heart
i’m failing as no other dare fail

and i’m in the gap between thought and image
how’d i get here after all the years
of not being self
after all the years of being    other
of floating out of my body    on the ceiling
watching skin blood bones nerves going through the motions
believing in space and time without realizing i was already
out    out of sync    beyond chaos
breathing rhythms at the ending of time
and now here in the gap between thought and image
where the only distance is creative distance
here now    at the ending of time
i focus all three eyes in wolf fashion
closing time
i walk through the stone called lump of fat
and i float through the fire that is central
and i enter the upper chamber of the golden pyramid
the confluence of all streams
polyglot commingling of all voices
thalass feeds herself
and as i float over the open sarcophagus
i am
the ocean of consciousness

Ron Whitehead, U.S. National Beat Poet Laureate

Never Too Many Sunsets: Amram, Whitehead, Messina: Three Generations will be released by sonaBLAST! Records on August 17th

Official induction as U.S. National Beat Poet Laureate, International Beat Festival, New Hartford, Connecticut, September 4th.

Outlaw Poet: The Legend of Ron Whitehead will be released by Storm Generation Films & Dark Star TV late summer early fall 2021.

Photos by Jinn Bug and Chris Felver 


Excerpts from interview with Kentucky Poet Ron Whitehead from 2019 in Fevers of the Mind Poetry & Art Digest Issue 1