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[5.25.01] [4.4.05]

Wayman Barnes 4.4.05
The Terry McCarty Interview

First of all, let me tell you something about myself: I do the best Terry McCarty impression. The mannerisms, the vocal inflections, the pauses, I have him down pat. Get a few drinks in me and a knowing audience and I can become Terry McCarty!

Now as any comedy textbook will tell you (yes, there are such things), you have to really like something to be able to parody it well. And I am a big fan of Terry. He is funny, speaks his mind, and pisses people off. He is one of a kind and we definitely need more like him in this dullsville world.

Recently, he sent me his new chapbook, USE YOUR DELUSION. It is written about (and for) the LA poetry community. I found it very interesting and entertaining. If you are involved in the “scene,” you need to purchase this book. Even if you disagree with his views, USE YOUR DELUSION works very well as a time capsule. It neatly encapsulates what it is like to be at these readings at this time. Someday, when you are old and reminiscing about your poetry career, you can read this book and say, “Ah, yes…that is how it was.”

As you are about to find out, this interview is very long. I started by asking Terry some general questions and then went into details about each poem. I think the questions and answers still work without any context. I do recommend buying his book and reading it before starting this interview.

To purchase USE YOUR DELUSION find Terry McCarty at a reading near you or go to his website: TerryMcCa

(This interview was done by e-mail. All my questions were written while I was at work pretending to work. So if it feels disjointed or there is any repetition, that is why.)


Wayman Barnes: What part of eastern Texas did you grow up in?

Terry McCarty: Actually, it's North Texas-just a little ways across the border from Oklahoma.

Wayman Barnes: Were you exposed to poetry out there on the high plains?

Terry McCarty: My poetry exposure came mostly during junior high and high school.  Students in Electra (the town I grew up in) were exposed to classic poets (Coleridge, Dorothy Parker, etc.) and condensed/simplified versions of Shakespeare's plays.

Wayman Barnes: Who was the first poet you ever got excited about? What was it about their work that appealed to you?

Terry McCarty: As a preadolescent, I enjoyed the wit and clever rhymes of Ogden Nash-a poet who seems to have been largely forgotten nowadays.

Wayman Barnes: When did you start writing?

Terry McCarty: I didn't start writing poetry in earnest until 1997, when I was spending a lot of my days at the pre-Grove Farmer's Market on Fairfax.  My first poems weren't very good, but I (after seeing listings for readings in G. Murray Thomas' NEXT magazine) began to attend workshops at the former Midnight Special Bookstore in Santa Monica.  There I began to learn more about how to properly craft a poem, no matter what style it was written in.

Wayman Barnes: Is your first poem something you would ever read in public?

Terry McCarty: My first poem was about jaywalking in L.A.-and, no, it's not quite worth subjecting an audience to.  In fact, I don't know if I still have a copy of it or not.

Wayman Barnes: When and where did you first start reading your poems in public?

Terry McCarty: I began to read in public sometime in the spring of 1998 at Midnight Special's Friday readings.  The first few times I attended Midnight Special, I just watched because I didn't have the confidence to get up and embarrass myself in front of strangers.  It took a few workshops before I felt I had poems that were worthy of public readings.

Wayman Barnes: What was the reaction to your work?

Terry McCarty: The reaction was generally good.  No one came to me and said I was bad and/or should stop writing.  So I continued.

Wayman Barnes: How long was it before your next reading?

Terry McCarty: By the length of time "before my next reading", it was the next week, if I remember correctly.  I began to go to other area readings by late summer of 1998-and my first feature was at Midnight Special that fall.

Wayman Barnes: Do you have any advice for someone who is reading in public for the first time?

Terry McCarty: My advice would be to get up and read the poem or poems from beginning to end and don't worry at the time if the poetry or the delivery is perfect or not.  And then afterwards seek out the more experienced poets in the room and ask for feedback.  Don't get discouraged if one person has an overtly negative reaction; get as many different people as possible (as well as, perhaps, the host) to offer opinions as to what you are good at and what you can improve on.


Wayman Barnes: For those who don't know, what is a chapbook?

Terry McCarty: Actually, "chapbook" is derived from old English, but the definition poets need to concern themselves with is this: chapbook-a short, usually self-published book of poetry that is sold by the poet directly on most occasions.  Sometimes chapbooks can be found at independent booksellers (but potential buyers must either look carefully for them or ask a salesperson).

Wayman Barnes: How many have you written?

Terry McCarty: I've written eight so far-ANTHOLOGY ONE, ANTHOLOGY TWO, HOLLYWOOD POETRY, ENGAGEMENT DAY, PAY NO ATTENTION TO THIS MAN, HOLLYWOOD POETRY UNLOADED, 20 GREATEST HITS and, of course, USE YOUR DELUSION.  The ninth, 20 GREATEST B-SIDES: 2003-2005, will be available this spring.  It will have 20 poems that are either new or previously unpublished in book form. 

Wayman Barnes: Do you remember the first chapbook you saw? What was your reaction?

Terry McCarty: I think the first chapbook I ever saw was one of those that Pat and Marcia Cohee used to publish for their features at the Laguna Poets readings in Laguna Beach.  I thought it was elegantly designed and formatted-a great way for poets to preserve the work of others for posterity.

Wayman Barnes: Was there a chapbook by someone else that inspired you to make your own?

Terry McCarty: In terms of inspiration, I would say that Rick Lupert's I'M A JEW.  ARE YOU? was a key one.  I bought the book in 1998, but waited another 2+ years until I had stockpiled enough poems worthy of compiling for potential readers. 

Wayman Barnes: What is your response to people who say chapbooks are for people who can't get published in “real” books?

Terry McCarty: My answer would be for poets to ignore naysayers.  Publishing one's chapbooks is a good way to learn fundamental skills such as editing, formatting, layout and cover design.  Some poets go on to use those skills to publish the works of other poets.  One example is the now-defunct publication BLUE SATELLITE, where Amelie Frank and Matthew Mars (formerly Niblock) selected the best works submitted to them from local poets and published them in chapbook-format journals under the moniker Sacred Beverage Press.

If a poet chooses to publish him/herself and exercises complete control over his/her product, then it should be something that other poets in the community should not be derogatory about.  But it has happened to me in the past-and no doubt it will happen to other poets too who travel this solitary path.

Wayman Barnes: Was it exciting the first times you saw your own words in print?

Terry McCarty: It was exciting to see my words in print when ANTHOLOGY ONE was fresh from the printer in the fall of 2000.  The other comparable forms of excitement was when I've been included in publications such as the SAN GABRIEL VALLEY POETRY QUARTERLY, the Midnight Special anthology edited by Dave Nordling (POETS AT MIDNIGHT), BEYOND THE VALLEY OF CONTEMPORARY POETS and Tebot Bach's SO LUMINOUS THE WILDFLOWERS, which can be purchased online at Amazon.

Wayman Barnes: How about the first time someone asked to buy one?

Terry McCarty: I think the first sales I made were to poets I truly respected such as Russell Salamon and Jack Shafer.  So I was excited that I had produced something they thought was worth buying.

Wayman Barnes: Has publishing your own chapbooks affected the way you write?

Terry McCarty: After the first two books, which were random poetry collections, I began to think of chapbooks in conceptual terms.  I owe this to Rick Lupert, who is quite adept at the art of the concept chapbook.  And all the books I've done since, except for the HITS and B-SIDES collections, have been organized around a specific theme or themes.

Wayman Barnes: I've always liked the crisp, glossy white of your books (Hollywood Poetry, in particular), so much so I went to the same printer as you when I did my own chapbook. So thank you. Any advice for people making a chapbook for the first time?

Terry McCarty: My advice for first-time chapbook writers would be to keep your print run limited and be realistic in terms of profitability.  Ideally, a print run should be in the 50-100 copy range; 50-60 copies are sufficient if you are still networking and building an identity in your poetry community.

Another piece of advice would be to not overprice your first books.  Keep the price around, say, $5.00 to $7.00-and aim for breakeven or a small loss at worst.  Sometimes people can overprice their work, which can lead to boxes of unsold books cluttering the house or garage.

The final piece of advice for Southern California chapbook writers would be to go to the same printer that Wayman and I have used-PIP Printing in Burbank (ask for Sabine Steinmetz).  Please feel free to e-mail me for further information if you'd like.


Wayman Barnes: One thing I've always liked about you (and sometimes teased you about) is your rabblerousing. I still have fond memories of you at the Rapp Saloon yelling: “Rick Lupert, go to Hell!” and I've also heard about many of your skirmishes in certain poetry chat rooms. Now you've written a chapbook, Use Your Delusion, about and for the LA poetry scene. That is a lot of effort for very little return. Obviously this is important to you. Why do you care so much?

Terry McCarty: I'd like to see a poetry scene where members would reach out to each other more, as well as to the 98% of Southern Californians who are unexposed to poetry either out of choice or due to preoccupations with other matters.

And sometimes my outspokenness has been fueled by a belief that the work of a lot of talented poets will slide into obscurity and most people posting to poetry listserves are more concerned about converting people to writing in more traditional forms or arguing about whether Bukowski or William Burroughs or whoever was/is a "real poet".

But a lot of poets here feel comfortable with the scene being small and separatist.  It's always easier to do that than to risk an influx of newer poets into the scene because (gasp)


My conflicts with certain poets on listserves, to be honest, began to get really out of hand recently.  I was ejected from one listserve twice for violating the moderator's beliefs in restrained speech-the first for arguing with poets over matters that began with my distaste for a poetry swimsuit calendar (as well as for poets allowing their pictures to be made and sold for large sums of money, which seemed a sad form of vanity-besides, who would buy them outside of the poetry community and the poets' friends and families?) and devolved into further squabbling.  The second time, I called a former Orange County poet a pompous ass (in fact, he recently did a mini-tour here) because a few months earlier he criticized my poetry and my conduct in what I termed a really unwarranted lofty, arrogant manner.  Unfortunately, my remark came out of the blue-so I was shown the cyberdoor.

  On another listserve, I did say some less-than-sensitive things to some poets with large egos and great sensitivities of their own-but I tried to criticize poetry community behavior and avoid saying anything really personal (and I didn't totally succeed, unfortunately).  For that, I received a lot of insults and an "I don't believe you!  Nyaah!" attitude when I made the occasional effort to mend fences.  The worst of it was when a poet (who has since apologized) speculated upon my parents and I possibly being alcoholics and-even worse-that I beat my wife (utterly false).

The result of these incidents is that I've forgotten how to conduct myself at readings.  And over the space of four months, I've had three very public losses of temper at certain poets regarding listserve matters at readings.  Two of these venues I was ejected from; in the case of one of them, I've started to make things up with the host but he wants to see how I behave in a room with him (the poetry equivalent of a urine test) before (with the owner's blessing) I can return to his venue.

  As a result of these self-control issues, I'm now going to therapy and hoping for the day when certain people in the community won't be anxious and grim-faced when I appear at a venue.  And I don't want to give them cause to be nervous-but I do want to keep being opinionated in a normal tone of voice when it's necessary.

  One positive note to end with: one of my loudest detractors and I will meet sometime in early spring and maybe we'll find poetry issues and topics we'll agree on.  These days, I much prefer seeking common ground at least some of the time.

Wayman Barnes: What are expecting to achieve with this chapbook?

Terry McCarty: I was hoping, in part, that USE YOUR DELUSION would make sense to poets in other communities as well-that they could read the book and say, "That's exactly what goes on in my community too."

Wayman Barnes: How has the general response been?

Terry McCarty: The general response has been that people have bought the book, but I'm not getting too much feedback as of yet.  Hopefully this interview will stir some additional interest in the book from L.A. and other areas of the world that read LITRAVE.

Wayman Barnes: Has there been a reaction from people that are criticized in the book?

Terry McCarty: To be honest, most of the people criticized haven't bought it yet-but they're aware of my past opinions so they won't be unduly surprised if they've been told about it or read any of the poems.


Wayman Barnes: What do you think the priority of a poetry reading should be: to entertain the audience or to give the reader a place to express themselves?

Terry McCarty: Ideally, it should be a mixture of the two unless the host is convinced that the reading be entertaining only.  If that's the case, then he/she should be just producing no-open-reading showcases.

Wayman Barnes: I am guessing that this poem is about a specific reading(s), so I will take it at face value that the host you describe is an ass. I know that some readings will frontload the first half with their friends, but many try their best to put on a good show. I know from experience that I am often put on stage (regardless of when I sign up) right before the intermission because I am high energy (sometimes I start the second half for the very same reason). I assume they put the same consideration into the other readers. If you were a host and you knew that a particular poet was terrible, would you put him/her in the first half and risk losing the energy of the room (and a lot of the audience during intermission) or save them for the second half?

Terry McCarty: We have different takes on the "backload a terrible reader" issue.  I believe that a five-minute open slot, while it may be an eternity to some audience members, is just five minutes.  If I were hosting, I wouldn't want to get into the practice of poetry eugenics  because a poem which is "bad" to one person may be quite edifying to another.

Wayman Barnes: I hate the “Free Mumia” poets. They're almost as bad as the “9-11” poets. I bet they were all “Roses are red” poets when they were younger.

Terry McCarty: Well, that was the kind of well-meaning but sometimes knee-jerk poetry rewarded by the actual basis for the host in "Carnival".

And it was his (and to a lesser extent, his partner's) reading, so being merely entertaining wasn't as highly valued.  I was hurt for awhile because the host seemed like a blend of Johnny Carson and Abbie Hoffman and it was then considered a big coup for your career if he liked you.  But I've pretty much shrugged it off now.  You just have to learn that some people don't buy what you sell and (as my wife wisely tells me) I can't control what other people think.

  I missed the 9/11 readings, but I participated in a "stop the Iraq war" reading in 2003-just about the time the L.A. poetry community started to have "stop the war poetry reading fatigue", so very few people turned up at the venue in Los Feliz.  But I hope the poem I read ("Cruising Towards Damascus" from my 20 GREATEST HITS book) won't sound too dull or standard-progressive-boilerplate as the years go by.

Wayman Barnes: Another gripe is the first timers who read everything they've ever written. I always have to wonder what is going on in their head. Are they clueless to the fact that no one else has read ten poems in a row? Do they consider this to be their one and only chance to tell the world what their inner most feelings? Do they think that we actually want to hear more?!!

Terry McCarty: With the first-timers (and with more experienced poets too), it's possible to zone out on the podium and just keep reading (or pontificating) and ignore the audience response.

 All one can do is to mention it to them, but only if they ask first.

Wayman Barnes: I also hate poets that ask how much time they have left. What is that all about? Can they not tell time? Are they wanting the host to say, “You are so great. We'd love for you to go on all night. Pretty please?” … But enough about my gripes. What are the things that drive you crazy?

Terry McCarty: If I've ever done that (and I have), it's just to make sure I'm not going on too long-not for ego reasons.  I have seen some poets bulldoze over hosts-especially when doing features-and I dislike it when they give off the vibe that they should read as long as they like because they are Important Community Figures.

I guess I'm also driven crazy when some hosts show a little too much contempt from the stage towards poets not in their circle of friends (or poets the host considers "bad").


Wayman Barnes: How do you feel about poetry hosts using alarms on stage to let readers know their time is up? It always reminds me of grade school. Do you think this cheapens the experience the audience members who are not readers? To me it seems to send a subconscious message that the open mic readers are being tolerated – not really the best environment to express oneself.

Terry McCarty: To answer the last query first, I think that a louder message about open mike readers merely being tolerated gets sent when hosts give in to the temptation to give lengthy introductions to their features or allow the features to run too long-causing post-feature open mikers to have their time cut.

But some hosts do think of their evenings in terms of a "show" and what makes for the best show-even though the sad irony is that the audience rarely has nonpoets and is primarily made up of open mikers who want their time to read as well as to listen to the feature(s).

I don't know if you have to have a stopwatch or electric alarm go off to audibly cue a poet in terms of his/her time being up.  But the host ought to make it clear before the start of the reading that he/she will tell the poet when six (or five or seven) minutes are up and the only exception for overrun will be made if there is, say, a handful of lines left in the poet's poem.

Wayman Barnes: Do you think it can be perceived as a lack of respect on the part of the open mic poet towards the other poets when they go way over time? If the other readers have made a conscious choice, knowing that there is a five minute limit, to not bring their ten minute magnum opus, aren't they saying that they are more special than everyone else there?

Terry McCarty: Sometimes, it's a lack of respect and other times it's just that the poet disappears into a world of his/her own and needs to be audibly reminded by the host.  For a host to rely on giving hand signals and hoping the poet will eventually make eye contact isn't a good solution to this problem.

But sometimes also a host will let an open reader go on if that reader is deemed "special" or if the host feels the reader is quite appealing to the audience.  And the host, if he/she deems someone special enough, should mention this to the audience before the poet reads.

And to be honest, this kind of specialness should only be bestowed on out-of-town guests in person (not someone calling in by phone)-not cronies or other hosts.

Wayman Barnes: What are your feelings about language restrictions?

Terry McCarty: Unfortunately, language restrictions are a part of many venues-particularly chain bookstores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble-and they're something that can be lived with.  But I wouldn't want to read at a venue where there's censorship of ideas or political views


Wayman Barnes: I realize it is a joke, but I must disagree with Dana Snow - Poetry is a multimillion dollar industry. It might not be the biggest multimillion dollar industry, but it certainly qualifies, just look at the number of books written about writing poetry! That is a multimillion dollar industry in and of its self. Still, there is definite room for improvement. If you were poet laureate or head of the NEA, what would you do to promote poetry?

Terry McCarty: I'd have to settle for poet laureate, since I think there's too many minefields in terms of heading the NEA-regardless of who's occupying the White House.

I'd like to see more contemporary poets like Nick Flynn or Philip Levine (or to name three local icons-Laurel Ann Bogen, Scott Wannberg and R. D. Armstrong) be given attention in secondary schools and colleges than I believe is happening at present.

And, as much as it may irritate some poets, the poetic works of musicians such as Suzanne Vega and Billy Corgan should be taken seriously as secondary education material alongside icons of the past (I'd like to see a favorite like Ogden Nash get more attention) and talents of the present and future.

Wayman Barnes: Why do you think some people become such stringent adherents to particular styles of poetry and are so dismissive of others?

Terry McCarty: My short answer would be that the poet takes pride in learning to craft a poem in a specific style and believes that, as the infamous Robert Frost quote goes, "...free verse is like playing tennis without a net".

And, particularly in a city dominated by the entertainment industry like Los Angeles, people like their avocations to display the kind of superiority to others they can't display in their day jobs.

It gets particularly galling when poets who fervently champion their literary worth are disdainful of performance/slam artists and hiss variations of the phrase "WE'RE writers.  THEY aren't."

Wayman Barnes: Is this dogmatic behavior is off putting to the casual poetry fan?

Terry McCarty: It can be offputting to a casual fan when he/she is unlucky enough to listen to literary poets whose work sounds (and probably also reads) like water being slowly poured into a glass.

And it can be really offputting to more experienced poets in Internet newsgroups or listserves when poets exalt their literary worth and/or level of erudition and believe that everyone else writing poetry is mediocre or worse.

I'd say a casual fan of poetry should begin by attending readings with both features and an open mike to get a bead for the entire poetry experience-both good and bad.  And then, his or her tastes may broaden to try out an occasional "eminent poets only" reading or a showcase made up only of less-eminent but well-known local poets.

But I would hope he or she would always attend open mikes.  Yes, sometimes there will be poor open mike readers, but there's always the chance to catch some genuine talent in the making.

Wayman Barnes : And do you think it is part of the reason poetry isn't as accepted by the mainstream?

Terry McCarty: Poetry isn't accepted by the mainstream because the mainstream thinks it's too effete and castor-oilish-"Pay attention because this poem is GOOD for you!"

 And it doesn't help that the NEA head-Dana Gioia-is a Joe Liebermanesque pious scold who's more famous for espousing "great standards" (imagine if Bukowski were alive today and applying for an NEA grant) and making the daring, edgy move of exhorting the US population to......read Shakespeare-a "safe" choice when the government demands cultural conservatism.

 Poetry written in accessible (almost plain, perhaps) language needs to be exposed to the mainstream almost as much as the overly high-toned, look-how-brilliant-I-am fodder that Robert Pinsky  proudly selects to be included in the online magazine SLATE.

Wayman Barnes: Or is elitism part of poetry's charm?

[5.25.01] [4.4.05]