Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Life of a Poet - Rob Kistner


Kids, every week I think "this story is the best yet, how can I top this one?" Yet every week, there is another fantastically interesting poet, and life history. Invariably, when I ask a poet for an interview, they tell me they are just ordinary and can't imagine anyone would find their lives interesting. Then they proceed to blow my doors off! Rob Kistner, of Image & Verse, is just such a poet, with such a cool story.  He toured with a rock and roll band, so, instead of the usual cup of tea, light up your glowsticks, kids, and get ready to wave!



PU: Rob, so good to visit with you. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your family, and  life in your part of the world?


Rob: I reside in the Pacific Northwest, in Portland, Oregon – The Pacific Northwest is truly a paradise.  It is still pristine wilderness.  Within 90 minutes of my home in the Cascade Mountain foothills are cloud-piercing mountains, ancient old-growth forests, the Pacific Ocean, the awesome high-cliffed Oregon coast, the amazing Columbia Gorge, the breath-taking Willamette Valley, world-class wine country, and a plethora of freshwater lakes, rivers, and streams, including a trout stream at the foot of our property. 

[Cascade Mounatins image from google]

PU: It sounds so beautiful, Rob, and I know it is, from having traveled through it Back in the Day.

ROB: I am married, and the father of a daughter and two sons, one of the sons now deceased.

PU: I am so sorry, Rob. There is nothing harder in this world, for a parent, than losing a child.

Rob: Losing my son Aaron in his 18th year was utterly devastating.  No parent should ever have to bury a child who is still in their youth - it perverts the natural way of life.  It was the most devastating thing that I, his mother Pam, my wife Kathy, and my two surviving children, Justin and Jennifer, have ever had to endure.  I don't know how I would have ever endured the heartbreak, were it not for them -- all three of whom were suffering greatly themselves. Aaron was not Kathy's son, but she'd known and loved him since he was a small child.  
It took me a number of years to get past the despair and bitter anger, and were it not for my family, I am not sure where that darkness may have taken me. A scar still lingers, and occasional unexpected tears -- but finally I'm blessed to appreciate the sweetest of my memories of him.  Having Kathy come into my life 25 years ago is more than this poor fool probably deserves... :)



PU: I am glad you hang onto the sweetest of your memories of him, Rob. That's how he would want to be remembered, I'm sure. I understand you have a very interesting background. Might you elaborate?

Rob: I was educated at three different universities between 1965 and 1970, and spent many years touring and playing rock and roll.

PU: You were a rock star!

Rob: Well, maybe not a rock star, but I was lead singer and lyricist in bands in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. I began writing in 1961, at age fourteen – initially writing only lyrics for the rock bands I was in, but soon thereafter poetry and some short stories.

PU: How did the other boys react?

Rob:Since I was writing lyrics for my rock bands, and the guys liked my bands, they figured the writing lyrics thing was cool.  I didn’t share the poetry initially, but leaked it later, and by then, it was just part of my writing, so it was accepted.

PU: Was your talent recognized by teachers?
 
Rob: I actually hated English class, and didn’t really submit my lyrics or poetry in class, so the teacher who could have been exposed to my sincere writing – wasn’t.  My rock bands did perform at school events, so teachers heard my words as a result – but to them it was ‘only’ rock and roll, yet my peers liked it.  J


PU: This photo takes me back! We thought we looked so incredibly sophisticated, and we were just babies! Where did all this talent of yours come from?

Rob: Orphaned at birth, I was later adopted into a very dysfunctional family. Without going into detail, it was an extremely difficult and emotionally scarring situation that drove me inward to acutely cultivate my imagination.  I was also ADD as a child, which drove me to act out, both by compulsion, and as a way to get attention when in the safety I found away from home. This set the stage for my ‘escaping’ into performing and later the writing.  It was I grasping, early in life, for my sanity.  I was fortunate to have a reasonably good speaking and singing voice, so this worked in my favor as I developed into a lead singer.

As I grew into my teens, the bands, and sports, offered me the ideal opportunity to get out and stay out of the house.  I began singing professionally (getting paid) while still in high school.  In college, I spent weekends ‘touring’ with my bands.  



PU: Whoa! What an incredible story. I so understand the going inward and using one’s imagination to survive a difficult childhood. Your talent really gave you a way out and up.


And this has to be the coolest photo ever!

Rob: I no longer have photos of the last two bands, Stone Fox from 1967 to 1970, and Life Everlasting in 1970 and 1971. While I was a singer, I also designed architecturally integrated audio systems, starting in 1969, and later became an early practitioner in the field of home theatre design. In 1983, I opened a retail outlet for my audio design company.

PU: Wow, Rob, you were in the advance wave of current technology. Coming from the era of vinyl records, I remember hearing about cd’s for the first time in the 80's, and not understanding at all how such a thing could be possible.
                                             


Rob: I was a member of George Lucas’s Lucasfilm Ltd. team in the 1990’s, and enjoyed having an office on his Skywalker Ranch facility in San Rafael, CA.

PU: Oh my goodness!  See why I love doing these interviews? Everyone has such an interesting, unexpected, and often mind-blowing, story.

Rob: During the mid to late 1990’s, I also copublished, with my son Justin, one of the country’s first digital art blogs, featuring our digital works. After leaving Lucasfilm, I involved myself primarily in writing, with a focus on free verse poetry.

I currently publish three active blogs, which feature my poetry, an occasional short story, as well as some examples of my art, collages, and 3D designs.  I also write, produce, and record multimedia poetry.

I’ve been fortunate to have my work appear, from time to time, on sites such as “A Handful Of Stones”, “Poets Who Blog”, “Feel Free To Read”, and in the “Read Write Poem 2010 Anthology”. My Image & Verse blog is included in the OAC’s list of the 100 Best Poetry Blogs.

As a poet and writer, I embrace human emotion and passion, and the ironies inherent in the act of living – and attempt to infuse the contemplative wisdom that comes with my six decades of life on this earth. I also enjoy touching upon occasional elements of scifi and the fantastic.

PU: Our decades definitely help to infuse our works, Rob, don’t they? You feature your wife Kathleen on your blog, and seem to share a wonderfully creative life as artists together. Can you give us a peek in?

Rob: My wife, Kathy, is a nationally recognized contemporary fiber-artist.  She calls on her extensive background as a weaver, utilizing her Toika floor loom, Navajo upright loom, and various custom-made lap looms to assist in creating her contemporary abstract soft sculptures. She also incorporates hand-spinning and hand-dying, especially Ikat space-dying into her unique works. Kath and I also enjoy searching for interesting ‘found objects’, which we both blend into her pieces, in this way she allows me to share in her joy of art.  I also will craft mixed-material mounting/hanging brackets to display her work on walls. 


[My favorite of Kathy's fiber art : Bayou]

We spent a number of wonderful years traveling the country, showing her work, by invitation, in some of the top juried art/craft shows around the country.  Her pieces hang in many private collections in this country and abroad. You can view samples of her work on her site: http://fibrationsstudio.com/

PU: I  love what you wrote on your blog about creating “to feel the vital energy of life, and to celebrate the sharing of love.” It must be a great life!

Rob: Contemporary art and craft, in addition to music and reading, are elements that provide the ‘spark of life’ for both Kathy and I – it invigorates our spirits, our souls if you wish.  It raises us above the mundane aspects of daily living.  Our love of contemporary art and craft, and our sharing of the act of creating it, are key cornerstones of our relationship – this includes the sharing of my writing. 

Kathy is my primary sounding board, and is invaluable in this way to my early drafting process. I also design contemporary furniture, and owned a contemporary furniture store, which featured art and craft, in the 1980’s.  Kathy, in addition to being an artist, is an excellent visual display designer – it was through my store that we first met. Also sharing our work with family and friends is an important love-bonding component of our lives.

PU: Sigh. Lovely! What led you to creating a blog, Rob?

Rob: Besides being a poet and lyricist, I also paint abstract acrylics.  My surviving and youngest son Justin is a minimalist illustrator.  Jus is also a brilliant website/blog designer, and earned his Bachelors degree in electronic journalism from the University of Oregon. In 1996, while he was still in college, he got into creating digital art, and turned me on to it. He and I began experimenting, pushing the early boundaries of the medium.  This lead us to publishing one of the county’s first digital art websites, entitled “DigiSee That”, an online gallery.  We did a public showing of our digital art in Portland Oregon in 1997, which included my wife’s contemporary soft sculptures.  The show ran for a month and was entitled “Symbiocity”.  I also displayed some of my poetry at that show, and certain poems found their way to the DigiSee That site – so that is how my ‘blogging’ experience began.

PU: So interesting! I note you have several blogs. Would you like to describe the types of art featured in each site? Which of the arts is your first love?

Rob: I currently publish four blogs.  The primary blog of seven years is “Image & Verse”, at http://www.image-verse.com/ and features varied samples of my poetry, a few of my short stories, my recorded multi-media poetry -- and samples of my digital art, my collages, my photography, and my 3D designs.  I also publish a blog entitled “Image & Verse Too” at http://imageverse2.wordpress.com/ which began as a place to post early drafts of my work, but which has not seen much activity in recent months. I began a few years ago anonymously publishing a blog entitled “Re•flect” at http://winedarksea.wordpress.com/ where I published my experimental stream-of-consciousness poems, which I tagged as my lucid dreams. It is, or I guess was, anonymous because it is all very ‘unfiltered’ of-the-moment writing, and I was initially being guarded about the work, but not so much anymore. 




The most current blog I publish is entitled “From The Red Chair” at http://fromtheredchair.wordpress.com/ and it features what I call my ‘short poems’ – these are as the phrase identifies them, short poems, but which are not haikus or tankas.
  
In addition to the art styles I practice, as described above, I also create abstract acrylic on canvas, but have not yet featured it on “Image& Verse”, but that day is coming, as soon as I can get a portfolio photographed and into digital files.  Writing, especially poetry, is my first love.  Of the graphic art disciplines I create, I think my collages are my favorite, because you can ‘tell’ a story in visual poetics.  Although, I love the abstract freedom at the heart of my digital art.

PU: You sound very busy in all of the art forms. Way back when, what led you to expressing yourself in the poetic form?

Rob: It was a natural progression from lyric writing, and I began to really enjoy the open, abstract nature of poetry. In keeping with my love of contemporary, abstract, minimalist creativity -- I am drawn to a sans punctuation free verse form.  Poetry enables one to say more, with less. I also like the fact that poetry can invite the reader’s personal interpretation more than any other form of writing.  It is this element of open interpretation that fuels my love of jazz.

I also love that ah-ha epiphanal moment that poetry can so often provide, including in the writing of it.  I believe it requires, and in turn provides, the most intimate and spontaneous moments that a writer can enjoy with their muse – necessary moments for good poetry.

Also, being strongly ADD, even though I have learned most effectively how to live well with it; I get easily distracted and bored, especially writing in length much beyond a long form poem or a short story.  I have a sci fi novella, and a humorous novel I have been slowly unfolding for a number of years.  It is my goal to finish these and perhaps others, but it doesn’t come easy.

Poets United: I could write a book on that topic alone, the "not coming easy" :) ! How would you describe your personal approach to the creative writing process?

Rob: I would say it’s spontaneous and free form. I require my muse to deliver ‘that line’ or ‘that phrase’ from which the poem bursts forth.  Sometimes it will come in dreams captured then on paper upon waking.  Or it might come unexpectedly, in a conversation, or reading, or driving down the street, or listening to music, or looking at art, etc. I seldom have success if I ‘sit down’ and ‘plan’ to write.  Occasionally I will attempt meditation for relaxation, and a spark of inspiration will appear.

One reason I much prefer punctuation-less free verse over traditional poetry forms, is it doesn’t really work well for me to ‘construct’ a poem – almost always sounds disingenuous. Now, I have successfully written poems of traditional form, even the occasional rhyme, but it’s the exception.

Part of my writing process, I think because I am a singer, is to sound the words of a poem out loud, to hear it and get the feel of the words in my mouth.  I use this quite effectively when I am circling that initial line or phrase, as I described earlier.  The sounding out of the initial words often sparks the next line, then the next, until – voila!

These days, if I am near my computer when inspiration strikes, which is usually the case, I prefer to compose digitally.  I appreciate the immediate editing, and the easily managed alternate wordings it provides.  While in my first years of writing, the absence of processor-based technology necessitated handwritten or typed early drafts, I seldom take that approach any more. Also, I am constantly editing, and re-editing my pieces, they are ‘never’ done – so I’m thankful for the computer.  Incidentally, this constant editing of my work also will spawn an offshoot poem of equal merit to the original.

PU: Who would you say has been the single biggest influence on your writing?

Rob: It’s probably more what than a who, and is either a compulsive need to communicate in order to substantiate/validate my own existence, or the need to escape in order to preserve my sanity. Perhaps these are intrinsically connected. If I had to pick a who, I might choose Carl Sandburg.


PU: As good a reason as I've come across as to why one writes. What are your personal criteria for good poetry? Your own and others?

Rob: In every case, for myself and other poets, the work must ring true, genuine, authentic – that it came from a place of ‘knowing’ inside the poet, and in the poet’s ‘true’ voice, not through a filter of pomp and pretense.  This makes most poetry of traditional form quite often difficult for me to find inspirational – but not always.

PU: Do you have a favorite poem, written by you?

Rob: The short answer might always be, whatever is the most recent poem I’ve written. But you might as well ask me which of my three children (now two surviving) do I love the most.  I was ultimately inspired to write each piece of my poetry, so they are all dear to me.  Something I enjoy doing is going back a few years and reading some of my pieces I haven’t read in years. An interesting phenomenon generally occurs; I always discover a piece or two I didn’t remember writing, at least not immediately.  Often the spark of inspiration that begat the piece originally will ignite in my soul again, and I am moved, sometimes to tears.  This is the feeling I cherish most.  That said, it is impossible to name my favorite among my writings, for I would surely overlook a true contender.

PU: Well said. Can you tell us a bit about your time running Writers Island?

Rob: Writer’s Island  came about somewhat by necessity.  Years ago I had been part of the online community of the poetry prompt blog entitled Poetry Thursday, one of the publishers being Dana Guthrie Martin.  In 2007 Dana closed Poetry Thursday, leaving a very vibrant community of online poets somewhat stranded.  So I took it upon myself to open Writer’s Island so the PT community would have a new place to adjourn, find prompts, and post their work.  It was a great experience, and I made some wonderful online friends. In recent months, with a decline in my health, it simply became too much to maintain – so with great sadness, I regrettably closed the Island 2 months ago.

I also published a blog entitled “Matinée Muse” at http://matineemuse.wordpress.com/ and posted ‘creativity prompts inspired by films’.  This blog is also now closed.

PU: I’m sorry to hear about your health, Rob. And I definitely know how much energy and man-power it takes to maintain these sites! You have already spoken about the connection between music and poetry for you.

Rob: Yes, I  consider music and poetry to both be highly ‘soulful’ written/recorded art forms.

PU: So true. I never thought about the connection that way before. Do you play an instrument?

Rob: I played a B-flat coronet in grade school, but put it down when I assumed the role of lead singer, front man in my bands.  I did play hand percussion instruments while performing: conga, djembe, bongo, tambourine, maracas, etc.  I still sing constantly – around the house, driving, working in the yard…


PU: Me, too. All my life, in my case driving everyone within earshot mad with irritation. Can you tell us a bit  about your history in The Biz?

Rob: Having been in bands for well over two decades, I have memories.  One of my earliest was performing, at age 16, in Newport Kentucky, a little ‘sin city’ across from Cincinnati Ohio.  It was a wide-open town, filled with the underworld element that would later move to Vegas.  I played at a joint open all night; our last set began at 3 AM. This place had illegal gambling, prostitution, open drug trafficking, you name it…  I became a man-of-the-world at 16, while performing in Newport. I have this poem on my blog that touches on that experience, at: http://www.image-verse.com/sneakin-up-on-breakfast
In my time in bands I either worked with, opened for, shared the same stages with, or met some truly memorable individuals: The Casino’s, Alvin Lee & Ten Years After, James Gang, Eisley Brothers, Allman Brothers, Lemon Pipers, Procol Harem, Flamin’ Groovies, Santana and others.  Also did a bit of recording, but with no success. Those years were remarkable.

PU: Remarkable, for certain. Every teen’s dream, and you lived it. I’ll bet you love the movie Almost Famous! (You didn’t write it, did you :) ?) When you look back, Back in The Day, what were the high spots, creatively? Personally?

Rob: Looking back, there are many high spots in my life, but what truly puts a smile in my heart is meeting my wife Kathy, and the birth of my three children.

PU: That is lovely. Well around now is when I usually ask if you have ever lived a great adventure, but you have already answered that! Any others?


Rob: One of my most memorable adventures, in addition to my years performing rock & roll, was a yearlong motorcycle trip across the United States, as a young man in 1970.  We would sleep out under the stars, or with accommodating strangers, my favorite being the obliging young ladies. Given the era, we also found shelter in communes as we traveled. Here is a short prose I posted on Image & Verse about this trip: http://www.image-verse.com/freedom

PU: A must-read!

Rob: It was also a genuine adventure being part of George’s Lucasfilm Ltd. Team.  With my office on the grounds of his Skywalker Ranch, outside of San Rafael CA, I worked with amazingly creative individuals, and rubbed shoulders, during lunch in the main house, with directors, producers, and actors I admired and respected.  It was exciting. 

PU: I’ll bet! I’m excited just hearing about it!


Rob: I didn't work on films, Sherry, I was part of George's multi-division, behind-the-scenes technologies empire -- which at the time, included Skywalker Sound, Industrial Light & Magic, LucasArts Gaming, Lucas Licensing, LucasVideo, and my division, THX.  Incidentally,  these technologies divisions, as a group, are a more lucrative part of Lucasfilm Ltd. than is the movie making division.  I was a Market Development Strategist in George's THX technologies division.  


George makes the bulk of his money behind the scenes doing creative work for other studios and producers, as well as licensing his intellectual properties. His Skywalker Sound, Industrial Light & Magic, Lucas Digital, LucasArts Gaming, Star Wars Licensing, PIXAR and THX (until he sold both of the latter) -- these are the companies that earned George his multi-billion dollar fortune.  Most of his employees work behind the scenes, as I did.  I still have my Lucasfilm THX picture ID...  :)

Poets United: Wow!

Rob: George had developed technology in the late 1980's to significantly improve film sound performance, as well as the visual experience of film in theaters.  Up until THX was developed, there were no standards for the sound and visual performance in a movie theater. They were by and large terrible, except for just a few very large theaters around the country.


At the time George's company, Skywalker Sound, was mixing nearly all of the surround soundtracks for major motion pictures, not just his own.  Unfortunately, the superb quality sound Skywalker Sound was creating was being lost to the public because the theaters in those days had really poor systems.  So George introduced his THX technologies and began licensing it to theaters around the world.  


Today, due to George's efforts in the 1980's and 1990's, THX has been absorbed into the fabric of all fields, levels, and categories of recorded sound ad visuals - so you seldom see the THX trademark anymore.  But there was a time when, at the start of every major movie showing around the world, the THX logo would appear in exciting vignettes, underscored by the signature THX sound byte. (here is a link to an example of one of those opening THX vignettes>> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fzp2CLltgg&feature=related <<).


The THX quality standards that George developed, have now been applied to sound studio mixing facilities worldwide. From our suite of offices on George's Skywalker Ranch, I was part of the technologies team that introduced and expanded the market penetration of THX.



PU: It must have been fantastic, doing such ground-breaking work, and with such a game-changing team. I remember taking my kids to see Star Wars. We had never seen anything like it. What are your hopes for the years ahead, creatively, Rob?

Rob: Current goals are to complete any or all of the writing projects that I’ve begun, and which are sadly suffering from my neglect; these include a humorous novel, a sci-fi novella, and numerous unfinished poems and multi-media productions. I have recently begun a writing collaboration with a guitarist/pianist.  I will be writing lyrics for his progressive rock project, which should prove exciting.  He and I will also be writing soundtracks for a number of multi-media poetry productions I have envisioned. The result will be a compilation of work that I will market in both DVD and CD format.  I am very excited about this ongoing collaboration.

PU: You are very productive! Way to go, Rob. Anything else you’d like to share with us???

"if you look for poetry everywhere, you will find it"

Rob: In wrapping up my thoughts, I’d like to share one final observation.  Poetry exists in a broad spectrum of forms, many beyond words. If you look for poetry everywhere, you will find it, the world is filled with it – and a better place for being so…

PU: True words, Rob. Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It has been such a pleasure, and so interesting. The guys are going to especially enjoy your tekky experience, I'll bet! What a wonderfully rich, productive, creative life you are living! Keep shining!

Another amazing life history, kids, and they just keep coming! Isn't it true that the people behind the pen are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!

13 comments:

  1. Sherry -- you had me doing my best to dig into the old memory banks, and pulling out bits and pieces of my past for this. It was enjoyable, and at the same time, a very interesting and sobering experience for me. I greatly appreciate the gracious effort you put forth in sparking, sorting through, and organizing the ramblings of this old man. Thank you Sherry! :)

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  2. Thanks you so much ! I loved this and getting to know a little about Rob!

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  3. Terrific interview Sherry. Rob's story is fascinating! I stopped over at his Image and Verse for a quick perusal and it has captured my attention. I'll be back for more.

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  4. What an incredibly interesting man. I am really glad I read this interview this morning. Rob is quite an artist!

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  5. It was my pleasure to do this interview. So fascinating, and interesting. Thanks for giving us such a comprehensive look in, Rob, and for rooting around in the Memory Box - you have lived an amazing life:)

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  6. Wow, what a fascinating story! And, despite tragedies and traumas, such a positive life, so rich in creativity and love! I feel better for reading this interview; a great start to my day.

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  7. Wow, wow, Rob what an amazing life you have had filtered with so much creative beauty. I am sorry for the loss of your son; he would be proud of your accomplishments and the joy you have brought many~
    Thank you so much for sharing yourself! Great interview~

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  8. A stunning interview gently easing out the threads of a colourful life! Rob has given so much to the real and virtual worlds!

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  9. Sherry, you landed a gold mine in Rob Kistner! I completely related to the songwriter/poet dichotomy, how poetry is more free-form. Rob's intense love of family is reflected in the fact that he mentions he is the father of TWO boys, one deceased. Most people mention children they've lost as "I had a son..." What courage to survive that.

    Rob, if it's possible, I admire you even more now. And dig those crazy gig threads!!! Amy

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  10. Rob's interview just blows me away, Sherry. I have been to his blog (the one I knew about) so many times and I have thoroughly enjoyed his poetry. My second thought was how much he must love his wife and how refreshing that is. To know so much about the man behind the poetry is just amazing. He is multi-talented for sure. I am so sorry about the loss of your son, Rob. I do know how the grief can really tackle you art times when you think all is well. I enjoyed seeing the photos of the beautiful NW and his rock star information. You never know the other side of the poets we meet here at Poets United. This is a jewel.

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  11. Wonderful interview Sherry. What an interesting life you have led, Rob. I have enjoyed you blog for a long time and it is fun to get to know more about the poet! I wonder if I ever heard you sing back when you were doing that. I listened to lots of music back then. Love hearing about kathy's work too.

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  12. oh it's a terrific interview ... loved knowing him, sherry.

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  13. Hey guys that would be cool if you where to look at my new blog! It's a blog were people can post their poems and stuff. They will be like reviewed and critiqued and admired and stuff! From a poet to a poem help me out man
    http://featuremypoetry.blogspot.com/

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