Ron Rodriguez, Puerto Rican poet, studied with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Anne Waldman at Naropa Institute. Has appeared in the following anthologies: The Trip-The Guide Through Contemporary Poetry-Yugoslavia, City Lights Anthology-S.F., Whose Woods These Are, WPFW Anthology, Hungry As We Are-D.C., and the following publications: New Directions Review, The World-N.Y.C., Big Scream-Grandville Mich., New Blood, Bombay Gin-Boulder CO., Beatniks From Space-Ann Arbor Mich., Action-Adams Basin NY. and First Offence-UK. Also has book published, The Captains That Dogs Aren’t with Washington Writers Publishing House.Has read and performed poetry at The Writer’s Center, D.C Space, Botswana Club, Hard Art Gallery, WPFW’s Poet and the Poem, Fondo del Sol, Gala Hispanic Theatre, Ruthless Grip Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art, Atticus Books, Pass Gallery, Iota and Miller Cabin in D.C; Pilot Theatre, Be Bop Records and C.A.S.H in L.A; Club Generic, Intersection, Eye Gallery and S.F Art Inst. in San Francisco; Naropa U. in Boulder; Pirate Gallery in Denver; Larry Blake’s in Berkeley; Painted Bride in Philadelphia; Maxwell’s in Hoboken; Nuyorican Cafe in N.Y.C.;M.S.I.A. Gallery and El Escenario in San Juan P.R., Rutgers and Harvard University.
Played in band Repulsion for Reptiles, which featured an avant-garde jazz-industrial noise hybrid with Spanish lyrics. Has translated the works of Luis Pales Matos and Miguel Unamuno among others. Ron has worked as a laborer, warehouse worker, janitor, truck driver, yoga teacher, drug counselor, case manager with the mentally ill, police psychologist, software tester, court interpreter, and is currently a faceless bureaucrat for the federal government.
Interview with Ron Rodriguez
Q: How and when did you find out that your book was being published?
I got a call from Grace Cavalieri telling me that my manuscripts was among the chosen. I met Grace at the Antioch College branch in Baltimore which has long been defunct.
Q: What was it like seeing your book in print for the first time?
This was quite some time ago, it felt satisfying, but i’d like to have that experience more often.
Q: What kind of poet/fiction writer do you see yourself as? Is there a particular genre or subject matter you find yourself revisiting often?
I’m very much inspired by the beat writers, (see #9) but I have my own style distelled from thore influenced. I also have different styles of poetry that I write in. I have the dream prose-poems inspired by henri michaux and max jacob. I have the spanish poems inspired by jibaro ballads I heard as a child in puerto rico along with the french surrealist poets along with rimbaud and baudelaire. I have the life stories inspired by bukowski and the “dirty realists” such as raymond carver. I also have the abstract poems inspired by the work of Jackson MaClow, who has taken the sounds of words and created mood pieces out of them.
Q: When did you first realize that you were a writer? Can you pinpoint a specific time in your life, or did you always know that you wanted to write?
It was around 1972 when I transferred from Montgomery College to umd that I started writing for myself. I didn’t think of myself as a poet or artist, I just felt the need to express myself. While flunking out of UMD I discovered the program at Antioch College in Baltimore. I wasn’t until I started taking writing classes from Grace Cavaliere that I realized I wanted to be a writer.
Q: Can you discuss your writing practice? Are there particular places or times of day that you find most conducive to writing?
My methods for writing vary quite a bit, although I find it easier to write in the morning when I have the time to do it.
Q: What is it about your writing style that makes you unique?
I have different styles of poetry that I haven’t seen other people do or replicate. My influences do show in a lot of styles, but when it comes to my more abstract works, I can’t find anything on paper that I could say clearly influenced my work. A lot the influence would be better noticed in music rather than writing.
Q: What do you think the WWPH has done for the Washington literary scene?
It published the early works of people like Terry Winch and provided a place for poets of a wide variety of styles to exhibit their works.
Q: How involved are you in the DC literary scene now?
I’m not very involved now. I don’t relate too much to the whole hip-hop poetry slam scene or the politically oriented scene. I realize that the newyorican poetry scene revolved around the open mikes and the poetry slam, and I see the value of poetry being more immediate, but to me the open mikes and poetry slams seem to be more about popularity and less about the quality of the poetry itself. I still value the performance aspect of the poetry scene, but right now I don’t feel a connection to what’s going on. I know this comment dates me, but i remember fondly the mass transit readings that Terry Winch and Michael Lally used to host at the P st book store back in the early 70′s. I feel the same about the naropa poetry scene in the late 70′s and early 80′s when Allen Ginsberg was still alive.
Q: What people have most inspired your work? Why?
At first, I was inspired by Salvador Dali to write surrealist poetry when I was 21. I wasn’t aware of a surrealist school of poetry at the time, but I wanted to write poetry that would evoke the type of imagery he presented in his paintings. I had also read William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg at the time, and was also inspired by their imagery and anti-establishment stance. A couple of years later I picked up a magazine called Bastard Angel which featured Charles Bukowski among other fringe poets. I was inpired by Bukowski view of the world along with his ability to bring humour to poetry instead of trying to be serious and lofty in a manner similar to Burroughs and Ginsberg.
Q: What is your favorite book? Why?
I would be very hard for me to pick a favorite book but I can mention the ones that really influenced and electrified me. When I first read naked lunch by william burroughs I was only 14 and wasn’t prepared for the images he placed on paper. I knew that grove press had a reputation for “dirty books” and I bought the book thinking I would be an experience similar to Terry Southern’s Candy.
Q: Who are your favorite authors and why?
I have mentioned favorite author’s throughout this interview, but I might as well make my list now. I really like Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil and Paris Spleen along with Rimbaud’s a Season in Hell and The Drunken Boat. I think those books were very influential on french surrealist poetry school which in turn influenced the beat movement and new york school of poetry. As far as the beat movement goes, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs are my favorites. Ginsberg
Q: What is the best writing advice you ever received and from who?
The best advice I think I got was from Allen Ginsberg who encouraged me too look at my poetry from the stand point of how relevant it would be 50 or 100 years from now, or what parts of it are timeless and universal as opposed to relevant only to my own personal obsessions.
Q: What is the strangest job you ever had?
I’ve had a number of strange jobs, one of them was helping move this guy’s belongings out of his apartment and throw them in the dumpster. Most of the stuff the guy wansn’t throwing in the dumpster was given away. The guy gave me a lot of fine china and asian ceramic plates and cups along with a sports coat and a sweater vest that I still wear in the winter. After the guy got rid of all his possesions he said he was moving to W.Va and looking for work. Another time I was cleaning inside a nursing home. One of the rooms I was told to clean had this lady with her legs spread apart and some plastic tubing going into her vagina. She smiled at me in what must have been embarassment and the foreman kept explaining how he wanted the wall cleaned.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world to write, where would you go? Why?
One of my writing fantasies is staying in a motel out in the desert during the summer and alternate swimming and writing during the day. I would imagine there wouldn’t be too many distractions and I also like to soak up the sun and swim when it gets really hot. The combination of solitude, heat and swimming really appeals to me. The last time I drove through the desert at night was around 83. At that time the air smelled like a dry sauna and the sky looked pitch black, save for the clarity of the stars.
Q: What is your favorite DC: restaurant, coffee shop, bookstore?
Despite some of the negative feedback they get as a megachain bookstore my favorite bookstore has to be Borders. I know that they are limited when it comes to small press poetry and some types of roots music, but they are one of the few places left where you can get some good deals on remaindered books and once in a while they’ll put some cd’s on the bargain bin. I’ve gotten some good deals on local groups like last train home but I realize it’s probably because they were categorized as non-profitalble items that wouldn’t be sold again. I also have to credit the borders at white flint for having an ongoing open mike on Sunday afternoons that I used to attend. Even though a lot of the poetry was bad, there were some good poets that would read at times and it wasn’t such a back biting scene as I’ve experienced with other open mikes. I haven’t been at an open mike for quite some years now but it would be nice for something like that to be available in the silver spring area. As far as restaurants and coffe shops, I don’t hang out at those type of places trying to find a “poetry scene”, the closest I get to that are art gallery openings, especially the ones at pass gallery, where you see more artists as opposed to “scensters”.