Thursday 27 November 2014


With PAPER AND INK LITERARY ZINE recently releasing our very first single author poetry zine, 'MAPS + TEXT', this month's interview is with none other than said 'single author' himself. If you haven't had a chance to check out 'MAPS + TEXT' yet, what the hell are you waiting for?!? Seriously, it's a cracker! It is a collection of illustrated maps each accompanied by a single prose poem, they're all interconnected and all by the wonderful hand of this guy... America's original punk poet...

First things first... What's your name, where do you come from and what do you do?

John Burgess. I grew up in upstate New York, went to college in Montana, taught English in Japan and now am settled in Seattle. I've made a living writing and editing, first for small newspapers and then in corporate communications.  

How long have you been writing poetry?

Since I was a teenager in the 1970s.  

You describe yourself as a 'punk poet', what does that mean exactly?

For me, it's about bringing punk pathos to poetry by writing short and direct. 'Punk Poems' (a poetry collection released by Ravenna Press in 2005), for example, are each 10 lines. #Aurora_reports are even shorter -- three things I observe directly. Punk poet is also about being an outsider, working with a small independent press, and a lot of do-it-yourself.

For people that haven't checked it out yet, tell them a little about the idea behind the 'MAPS + TEXT' project.

This project is about memory and context. I drew the maps from memory about the places I lived and trips I took. I constructed the text from notebook fragments and found texts to evoke a feeling I associated with that time and place. They're my version of illuminated texts.

So far you've had three books and a pamphlet published by Ravenna Press, how did you come to hook up with those guys?

Ravenna publisher and editor Kathryn Rantala found me! She heard me read at a PoetsWest gathering and asked me to send some poems for her lit journal, Snow Monkey. When I had a manuscript ready I asked if she would consider it. She accepted it and has published me since.

Who are Band of Poets? Tell me about your collaborations with them.

I hooked up with Jed Myers, poet, songwriter and guitarist, at a open mic series he hosted in 2005. We started collaborating. He would improvise music behind me as I read poetry. We eventually added other poet-musicians, calling ourselves the Band of Poets. Working with musicians opened up my poetry, specifically writing longer pieces and linking shorter ones to read with music, finding connections, rhythm and beats in unexpected places, learning different ways to vocalize. We still perform about twice a year together, including the annual Ginsberg Marathon.

Obviously you take a lot of inspiration from music and punk in particular. Who are your favourite punk bands?

The Clash, The Ramones, Patti Smith.

Good choices! Do you listen to many (if any) modern punk bands?

I got into the Seattle scene -- Nirvana, Screaming Trees, Mudhoney. Then Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill, Fugazi came next for me. Today's playlist includes Parquet Courts, Perfect Pussy, Thermals.  

If you could only listen to three albums for the rest of your life what would they be? 

Sandinista - The Clash          Blonde on Blonde - Bob Dylan          Dig Me Out - Sleater-Kinney


The DIY aspect of punk and zine culture is something that is very important to me personally. I bet you've folded a fair number of zines yourself over the years?

I've photocopied and folded little booklets since the 1980s. One of the first ones was a collection of haiku I wrote in Japan. A more recent one was a bonus poem and collage I gave away with the first 50 copies of Graffito. 

What is your stance on the e-reader?

I buy e-books and use my Kindle app from time to time. Mostly for non-fiction. Given their limitations, I believe there will always be small presses and printed books. A lot of what I read isn't available as e-books anyhow.

What is your favourite movie?

The 1984 Talking Heads documentary Stop Making Sense.

If you could get drunk (or have dinner if you're not a drinker, or get drunk AND have dinner if you're greedy) with any three famous people, dead or alive, who would they be?

Joe Strummer, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson. 

Do you have any words or wisdom for any budding young poets out there?

Write every day. Read other poets. Create your own scene.

And finally, what does the future hold for John Burgess?


New book from Ravenna Press in February -- "by Land..." my riff on the Journals of Lewis & Clark. Music and poetry collaboration with sampler-supreme James Nugent. And in January, Patti Smith concert!  

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions, John, and thank you for letting me turn your 'MAPS + TEXT' project in to a zine. 

You can follow updates from John on Twitter or on his website, you can grab a copy of 'MAPS + TEXT' right here and buy any of his Ravenna Press poetry collections right here

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