A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Milo Starr Johnson

Q1: When did you start writing and whom have influenced you?

Milo: I started writing poetry in junior high. Ginsberg and Yeats have been profound poetry influences. But for most of my life I’ve been a dramatist and solo performer, so other writers worth mentioning would be Shakespeare, Lenny Bruce, Harold Pinter,
Hunter S. Thompson, and Spalding Gray.

Q2: Any Pivotal Moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Milo: I never wanted to be a writer, because that was my mother's dream for herself. I wanted to be a film director, and decided to write screenplays to that end. But as I learned that craft and began to tell personal stories. I found that I had a lot to say, and that I loved words and language. I had a theater background, so I began to write, produce, and perform my own work in my 30's.

Q3: Who has  helped you most with your writing and career?

Milo: My audience. 

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced 
your work? 

Milo: Growing up in the 60's and 70's in the San Francisco Bay area, I was very much influenced by the Beats and hippies, free speech and free love, psychedelic music, experimental art, the anti-war movement and environmentalism. I became a radical thinker early on.

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?

Milo: My most recent work, the surreal, poetic audio drama Miss Experience White means a lot to me. I'd wanted to write about my family and ancestors from a political perspective for a long time. It was satisfying to merge that with channeling my angst about America's current political mess.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Milo:  Being in nature. Watching the waves breaking.

Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza/lyric from your writing?

Milo: The very last line in Miss Experience White. I knew what I wanted it to be 
early on. There was a phase of writing where I was (metaphorically speaking) using
 anvils, pickaxes, and crowbars to get that line to work properly. And it does!

Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always comes back to you as an inspiration?

Milo: Since I write music this requires 2 answers. If I’m in literary mode, writing 
poetry or drama, I do not want to hear any words. I love Brian Eno’s ambient music. I 
never get tired of “An Ending (Ascent)” from Apollo - Atmospheres and Soundtracks. 
Now, if I’m in music mode, I’ll tend to listen to old R&B. It’s grounded and truthful.

Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, projects that you would like to promote?

Milo: Miss Experience White is a surreal, poetic audio drama about white privilege, 
produced as a three-part podcast. With immersive sound design, indie rock/pop and 
americana music, dark humor, and hope for the future. Four out of 5 stars on Apple 
Podcasts. https://www.milostarrjohnson.com/missexperiencewhite/1

Bonus Question: Any funny memory or strange occurrence you'd like to share during your creative journey?

Milo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0M0kuFFLsHA  I was writing one of my first songs. (I started music late, in my 40’s.) I was 
walking in my neighborhood and the melody for the second half of the verse came to me. 
But I didn’t have any recording device with me! I tried to keep it in mind but got 
distracted running errands and lost it. So I went back to the exact same street corner and 
stood around, humming, until it came back. Then I didn’t stop humming it until I got 
 home. The song is called Look Away. 


Milo Starr Johnson is a multi-disciplinary performing artist in San Francisco. She is apoet, singer, storyteller, songwriter, playwright, actor, and producer. Her most recentwork is Miss Experience White, a surreal, poetic audio drama about white privilege,
produced as a three-part podcast. “I write to perform, and I perform to deliver a message,which usually has something to do with change.” Learn more at

A story from Joan Hawkins: My Writing Teacher

My writing teacher

Most of us working the phones used a handle. An alias in case some cop or speed freak or infatuated client tried to track us down. A persona to match the online personality.  Tom was Moodus.  Harry was Speed.  Women tended to choose literary names.  Sharon went by Emily. Ginger—more radical by far—called herself George.  “Eliot or Sand?” Speed asked her once. “If you bothered to read them,” George answered, “you’d know.” Sharp tongued among ourselves.  Acid wit. Gallows humor.

          It was 1969.  Anything could happen at any time.  And when we weren’t working the phones, we were on edge.  We were Damien Switchboard, a crisis hotline and intervention center, located on the no-man’s land borderline separating San Mateo County, California, from San Francisco. Our goal was to buffer between counter culture freaks and The Man, to keep our people off the street and outside institutions as long as humanly possible. We provided drug counseling, draft counseling, pregnancy and abortion counseling, birth control information and sometimes basic sex ed. We did mental health referrals.  We kept track of crash pads—places where a stranger could spend the night—and safe houses where runaways and victims of domestic violence could shelter.  We maintained a rides board, hooking up people who had wheels with people needing transportation.  We talked frightened mystics down from bad acid trips.  But most often we just “rapped,” as we called it then. With the rusty percolator on overdrive, and KSAN humming in the background, we would talk to lonely, dispossessed, disheartened people all night long.  A lot of our work was suicide prevention.

          The youngest and most romantic of the group, I took risks. I did not use a handle. I was 16; it was the 60s; I believed in a kind of fate.  And besides I’d already changed my name once. At the Switchboard I was Joan—plain Joan.  The same name I used in my other life—not my real life, since things at Damien were always a little more intense and therefore a little more real—but my offline life, my student-poet-cashier-coffeehouse life.  At Damien, I worked the Friday night shift, the second-worst shift of the week.  When the phone wasn’t ringing, I wrote dark poetry and long, complicated journal entries.  “Write what you know,” my high school Creative Writing teacher used to scrawl on my papers. But I was writing what I knew.  Transcribing really.  The horror stories I heard on Friday nights. My writing teacher meant well, but he didn’t have a fucking clue.

Bio: Joan Hawkins is a writer and spoken word performer, who focuses mainly on creative memoir.  Her  poetry and prose have appeared in Avalanches of Poetry, Fevers of the Mind, the Performing Arts Journal, Plath Profiles, and Sand.

Two poems are forthcoming in a special poetry issue of The Ryder Magazine. She and Kalynn Brower have co-edited an anthology called Trigger Warnings, which contains one of Joan’s stories; it’s currently under consideration by Indiana University Press. “My Writing Teacher”  comes from a manuscript in progress– School and Suicide.

Joan lives in Bloomington, IN with her cat Izzy Isou. She is currently the Chair of the Writers Guild at Bloomington.

Poem “Eclipse” by Joan Hawkins for Before I Turn Into Gold Day

Leonard Cohen and Edie Sedgwick at the Chelsea Hotel by Joan Hawkins

Poem: Mid Morning to Mid San Francisco by David L O’Nan

cars on road in city during daytime

Mid Morning to Mid San Francisco

About Mid-Morning would be the time I awoke
I took my eyes towards my bedroom window -
to peek at nature.
It was what I dreamed.
A sticky Yellow sky, love dripping from the goo clouds.

Tripping over clothes,
to the bathroom I swam
My hands covered in ink,
lips covered with morning slime.
I do my business,
Wash my hands with rusty fluid
My stomach rumbles feed my incertitude

I decide on a mildly heated vegetable soup
It cured my weakness.
For minutes I was a newborn bat,
Now I was King Kong with the visions of a God.

I took a disgusting look
towards such disgusting dishes.
That overlap the sink blistering the kitchen in scum.
I pulled a thought out of my head,
while in my hand I asked the thought What do you want?

The thought looked up at me,
illuminating spontaneity.
Said "Drive to San Francisco"
I shall drive through the afternoon,
through the menstruation of the evening.
When lady night's lashes curl
and blink blood onto the stars.

Just, just drive.

It didn't matter that I lived in the Midwest
The thought was full,
not ready to regurgitate into thin air.

So I put one foot in the machine,
two feet in the machine.
Popped in some nerd waves from the early 80's
thanks to Elvis Costello.
I put my hands-on a sticky steering wheel 
and began to drive.

Already, quite bumpy the trip is
I decided to switch to a different wave,
and became blind for a while.
In the popping electricity pulsating in the circuits, in my body.
The sun beams down,
horny wearing eyeliner.
It's gut full of lasers.

And my eyes fumigate at a myriad of lost lushes, at bus stops.
They call out "Come here Cobra, strike me, bite me"
They are pocket change vampires,
sitting in the brothel bakeries and closeted gurus with gnat-brain hair.
Spinning around the eggshells, largo and loopy.

The continuous drive leads to fields,
fields, more fields, and doormats.
Thousands of welcome home doormats
For lost sheep,
government Lassies that won't come home.

The perfect place to relax,
drink deep my narcosis
And take a shave to a beautiful rat of a beard.
I have stepped on many a king's crown, 
so sharp and thorny stuck in my salt wounded feet.

The mission becomes radical, sort of
I'm still sort of mysterious to myself.
So I drive a little further, 
now wearing my face like a goliath beetle.
I sense the grass is intelligent
And I jump 4 steps, 5 steps, 
then crawl through the green.
Tangle in wires,
I begin to dream of redheads with a Warrior Edge

With a recluse of a grip
That smile over our dead bodies.
After we mellow in our last yellow snort.

The mortuary is crawling with afterthoughts.
My powder replaces my skin
My ashes will drive the rest of the way.
The rest of the way to ol' San Fran
Where I'll meet a Psychedelic Heaven.

“Whispers” by David L O’Nan poem from new/revised book “The Famous Poetry Outlaws are Painting Walls and Whispers”

Poem “Alone In My Car” by David L O’Nan

Current bio for Fevers of the Mind’s David L O’Nan editor/writing contributor to blog.

Available Now: Before I Turn Into Gold Inspired by Leonard Cohen Anthology by David L O’Nan & Contributors w/art by Geoffrey Wren

Bending Rivers: The Poetry & Stories of David L O’Nan out now! 

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Ona Woods

with Ona Woods:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Ona: I’ve always been interested in writing, but I started writing poetry seriously around the time I was 18, at the end of high school and beginning of college. The first book of poetry that really grabbed me and pulled me deeper into writing was The Splinter Factory by Jeffrey McDaniel, and from there I spent a while being completely obsessed with more performance-focused poets, particularly those who were being published by Write Bloody, like Derrick Brown and Anis Mojgani. I’m not so focused on performance poetry now, especially as I’m struggling with voice dysphoria since starting my transition, but I think those influences still keep me focused on the idea of poetry as something that can be loud, quiet, fast, slow, and contain all the elements of music.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Ona: My fiancée, Inès Pujos! I fell in love with them while we were both working towards our MFAs and for eight years we’ve grown together side by side both as writers and as people. Their poems are ferocious and gut wrenching and gorgeous, and their first book, Something Dark to Shine In, is coming out from Sundress Publications later this year!

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your work/describe?

Ona: I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, but I would say my writing is more influenced by the time I spent in Chicago while in undergrad. Those years were the years where I first found a community of writers, where I learned how to use my writing not just to express myself but to actually become myself, and where I learned that poetry is first and foremost an art of empathy (also that kind of winter just changes you after living in California).

Q4: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?

Ona: The most meaningful work to me is actually not a poem, but an essay that I wrote at the very beginning of my transition, before I’d come out to anyone, and the act of writing it really helped me come to terms with my gender identity after decades of repressing it. It’s the first thing I ever published under my new name. It’s called “An Honest-to-God Step Towards Something” and it came out in Entropy in May of 2020: https://entropymag.org/an-honest-to-god-step-towards-something/.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Ona: Unfortunately, my memory of that time isn’t so great, so I can’t say. I can only really remember those years as phases and feelings, not specific moments.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Ona: I’m a big ol’ nerd. Video games have been a great (maybe too great) escape during COVID times, and in particular Final Fantasy XIV should be prescribed as a palliative treatment for gender dysphoria. I really want to learn to cook/bake but I’m too tightly wound and whenever I do anything in the kitchen it just turns into a whole lot of panicky yelling.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?


I have a poem coming out in the July issue of perhappened that I’m very excited about! (https://www.perhappened.com/) It’s called “Nothing Is the Night” and it’s a long-ish piece from several years ago. Writing the piece was an experience that showed me that something buried inside me was screaming to be let out, though it took another five years to figure out what that something was.

Also, I’m working to get an online literary magazine off the ground. We’re called Ciphertext, we’re taking submissions in all genres now, and you can find out more at http://ciphertext.pub/submissions!

Q8: What is one of your favorite lines from one of your poems/writings or from others?

Ona: The chorus of the song “December” by We Are the Union has been stuck in blood ever since their new album, Ordinary Life, came out last month: “You’ll be dead in December. / There can’t be two of us forever.” My whole life I’d given myself over to a constructed persona bent on keeping the real me hidden and safe, and coming out meant taking control back from, and ultimately destroying, that artificial self. So hearing those lines sung by a woman who had herself just come out as trans has really resonated with me.

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Again, I have to say my fiancée. They’re the only one who’s never been afraid to tell me what needs to be cut, whether it’s a single line or an entire poem.