Saturday, September 24, 2011

12 or 20 questions (second series) with Rusty Priske

Rusty Priske is a poet and a writer. He has been the Slam Master for Capital Slam (one of the most successful and longest running slams in Canada) since 2008 as well as doing the same job for the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in 2010. He has a published collection of poems called Rusty Priske: Trapeze Artist, as well as appearing on seven CDs and two chapbooks. He has performed from Halifax to Victoria and has represented Ottawa and Capital Slam at the National Slam Championships four times in five years.

Rusty is a member of the poetry troupes, The Copper Conundrum and The Colossus, and is a former member of the acclaimed troupe, The Recipe.

He currently writes for the Legend of the Five Rings game line and formerly for the Warlord: Saga of the Storm game line from AEG.

1 - How did your first cd change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

Well, I still don’t have my own, full-length CD. I have plans, but plans are just plans. The first time I appeared on a CD however, was Live at Capital Slam 2007 and that was pretty exciting. Change my life? Not really, but the difference between my life over the past five years – my creative life anyway – is quite marked. If anyone told me five years ago that people would be able to quote some of my own lines back to me or request specific poems or even recognize me on the street, I would have said they were crazy.

I still need a day job, though, and I am still hoping for a Canada Council grant so I can get that CD project off the ground.

I finally have my own book. Rusty Priske: Trapeze Artist is available from me or at

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I didn’t, actually. When I was young I wanted to be a writer…but mostly, I wanted to write comic books. These days Brian Michael Bendis has what I thought of as my dream job. Even when I got back to writing as an adult, it was writing fiction and world building for the gaming world. It wasn’t until my wife Ruthanne told me she wanted to go a show called Capital Slam that I was exposed to spoken word. I wrote my first piece the next day and made the Capital Slam Team a year later. With my other writing job having very constricting creative limitations, spoken word was, for me, a place where I could stretch my wings and write stuff that explored who I was and how I saw the world.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I write quite a lot. I rarely (but not never) write something that I don’t finish… but that doesn’t make it all good. I write quickly, but I don’t start until it has been rolling around in my head for a while, so that is a little misleading. I usually don’t edit the written portion, but I do edit while I am memorizing a piece for performance. That is where I let my writing  evolve into something that sounds more natural… or at least I attempt to.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a single large project, such as a full cd, from the very beginning?

I don’t normally work on ‘projects’. I work on poems. When I put the book together or make plans for the CD, it is a collection rather than a pre-planned whole. That is changing, however, as I have just announced a new project called The Duncameron. I’ll talk more about that, but it is a large project. A VERY large project, in fact.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

Well, my work is meant to be performed, rather than read, so the ‘true’ form is what you get when you see me on stage, whether at a Slam or other performance. I don’t consider those ‘readings’, though. That isn’t to say I don’t do readings. One of my weaknesses is that I do not have a strong memory, so there are times when I am asked to perform and rather than doing one of the two or three poems I have ready at any given time I will pull out my book and read a piece. It takes a little away from the performance, but it allows me to share a wider range of material.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I always have concerns with my work. Some of it is intensely personal, some of it is political… or ‘social’. I have run into problems recently where I have been told that I shouldn’t be writing about certain subjects because it is observational rather than personal. I don’t buy that. I am going to write about things that interest me, or bother me, or infuriate me, or… whatever.

Now, if you mean, do I have concerns WITH my writing… certainly. I wish my writing was more technically strong at times, but I am who I am, and that where my writing comes from.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I don’t think of the role of a writer as much as I think about the role of an artist. I think an artist needs to hold a mirror up… ugh, what a cliché. True though. People don’t always see the big picture… or little picture… or anything outside their self-driven world view. I am not saying that an artist is any different but when each shares their art among themselves and the wider public, people can start to pull those different views into a collage of life.

I have had conversations with people that I realized could NEVER advance (the conversations, that is) because we had such wildly disparate views on the world. How can you come to a consensus with someone who considers ‘it says in the bible’ to be a definitive argument when you do not believe that the bible is any more than a book? How can you come to an understanding with someone who says ‘the economy is the most important…blah blah blah’ when you see the economy as a tool rather than the frame… anyway. Yeah, I get political sometimes

Artists can show people different points of view – let people ponder different ideas or help them cement ideas they already have.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

As a poet I have no editor. Sometimes that shows (for the worse). That doesn’t mean I never have outside input. I usually read my poems to my wife as soon as I write them and that will sometimes turn into very specific criticism that can improve my work. She made the poem ‘Tricks’ a lot better, for example. Earlier this year she helped me see that a poem I was working on was actually two poems.

I do have an editor for my fiction work and it is painful at times… but still essential.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Just start.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between solo and collaborative works? What do you see as the appeal?

I have no idea how to create collaborative art. I have done it, but I still don’t know how to do it. The first step appears to be to team up with people who are smarter and more talented than you are and let them tell you what to do.

When I was the alternate with the Capital Slam Team in 2009, I got to see a group of poets create things that went to a whole other level by making them collaborative. Those poets are now The Recipe – one of the most renowned groups of spoken word artists in the country.

I do some collaborative work with the Copper Conundrum (Kevin Matthews, Danielle K.L. Gregoire and myself), but up until now it has mostly been arranging solo pieces for two or three voices.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I have no routine when it comes to poetry. I have a notebook where I jot down basic ideas. Later I will slosh those around in my head until I feel like I can write it. Most of my writing happens at my cubicle desk on breaks at work. I wish I could say that I write in a perfect space for nurturing my creative process or the like… but nope.

My typical day has very little to do with the creative process. The poetry doesn’t pay the bills – my government 9 to 5 life does that. I have great respect for those (like yourself) that have the ability to live off their art.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

My first stop when I feel the need to write and have nothing handy is my notebook where I jot down single lines – or even just a couple words – that are mental hooks for pieces. I have notes in my book that have been there for years, and sometimes that hook is all I need to get writing. My fairly recent piece ‘Trapeze Artist’ came from a Bob Dylan quote I found back in 2006. They do not always evolve in the form they started. My piece ‘FN’ started as an anti-gun piece that was going to touch on how guns affect different lives. It ended up being about the practice of indoctrinating violence in children.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Hmmm… that isn’t a major theme for me. I can’t really think of anything.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Dipping back into the cliché bag, everything is inspiration. I am a big fan of music and draw from it a lot. A poem I mentioned earlier, ‘Tricks’, grew out of a single line from a song by The Hold Steady. I have a whole novel I would like to write that grew out of a Dave Matthews Band song, of all things, and I have an idea for a movie that came from a song by a local Victoria, B.C. band called Shillelagh.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

I draw from my peers a lot. Anyone who heard my early work could likely see how much I was initially influenced by Kevin Matthews. Since I run the Capital Slam competitions, I get to listen to poems by a wide variety of people and all of them influence me in some way or another. Some days I wish I could be half the writer that Amal El-Mohtar is.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

I want to make my CD, ‘Why Art?’ I have it planned out. I have guest artists lined up. I am ready to do it… but my vision is currently out of my financial scope.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

When people ask me what I do, my answer is writer and poet. When they ask what I do ‘for a living’, the answer is Business Process Modeler for the federal government. I know which one I prefer.

I wish I had studied math in school instead of commerce. It still plays to my skills without venturing into a field that I have no real interest.

Not exactly a creative focused answer, eh? Well, that’s what happens when you don’t rediscover your creative side until you are well into your thirties.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I needed a creative outlet and writing was the one that worked. A simplistic answer, but that is the best I can come up with.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

The last book I read that I was really impressed by was The Book of Dave by Will Self. The last book I read at all was non-fiction: Extra Bases: Reflections on Jackie Robinson, Race and Baseball History by Jules Tygiel. The last poetry book was Leaving Rio by Kathryn Hogan.

The last great film would have been… maybe The Road. I mostly watch films for pure entertainment, but I wouldn’t call the last bunch of films I saw great.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I am always writing for slams, and writing for Legend of the Five Rings, but my new project that I am excited about is called The Duncameron. It is a project based on a project based on a challenge.

The short version is that there was a challenge thrown down at the Austin Poetry Slam to do as many poems in a row as possible while slamming without repeating any. The idea was to keep things fresh and interesting, always bringing new material. A poet named Big Poppa E threw this open to the wider slam community and some poets in Vancouver took up the challenge.

As they were doing this, one poet named Duncan Shields started listing his poems by title on the Vancouver Poetry House message board to track his progress.

Now I have never met Duncan. I know of him and I suppose the reverse is true, but I have never seen him perform. I became fascinated with this list of poem titles and started imagining what I would do with the different ideas.

Finally, I made myself a challenge. If Duncan could get his list to 100 poems (which was his goal), I would start writing poems with the same titles, having no idea if they matched his in theme, form, whatever. Some of the titles have given me some great ideas. Others will be more of a challenge (‘Two Girls, One Cup’? Really?)

He made his goal. Now it is my turn.

I have cleared this with Duncan and I am starting The Duncameron. (I was a literature major once upon a time…)

I have crazy visions of shared books and the like, but first comes the work. The first poem on the list and the one that is currently sloshing around in my head is called ‘Beverage Lids’. Watch for it!

12 or 20 (second series) questions:

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