Monday, January 29, 2018

LIFE OF A POET ~ BARRY DAWSON JR. IV

Today we are meeting with one of our newer members, Barry Dawson Jr. IV, who writes at the intriguingly titled HEPHAESTUS’ WASTE AND COSMIC RUBBLE. Every poet has a story, and Barry's is an amazing one, which includes service in the Navy. Pour yourself a cup of tea or coffee, and draw your chairs in close. You won't want to miss a single word.






Sherry: Barry, it is so nice to be meeting with you. First, I have to ask the meaning behind the name of your blog.

Barry: I feel a bit silly discussing this, mostly because creating the title was a pretty absurd concept, but I’ll give it a go. First, I’ll share a poem I wrote for 2016’s NaPoWriMo:

Hephaestus’ Waste

Hephaestus strained,
stumbled on lame foot
while smithing
warhammers for
warring gods,
blowing bellows
into the kiln,
spark begetting
cosmic inferno,
fusing hydrogen
into helium-ash,
photons flying
in all directions,
consumed by flora,
discarding oxygen
inhaled by man,
exhaled into
a poem


Hephaestus was a Greek god. He was the son of Zeus and Hera and served as the blacksmith of the gods. Hephaestus also served as the god of fire, masonry, metalworking, kilns, and the arts (specifically sculpture). He is often depicted as lame and ugly. I’d go on, but you could probably read his Wikipedia page as well as I can. :)

For my title, I was going for an oxymoron; something grandiose and insignificant. I liked the idea of poetry being created accidentally, as some inconsequential spillage of a clumsy, dorky god too focused on his primary task to notice the mess pooling at his clumsy, lame feet. Poetry, as cosmic rubble, if you will. I know it sounds silly, but my previous blog was titled My Libido Wears a Tuxedo, which is pretty self-explanatory. And even before that, when I was doing mostly humorous essays, my old blog was called Trite Clichés and Inevitable Truisms. I know my way around a silly title or three.


Sherry: Very creative indeed. Where do you live, Barry?



Barry: I live several minutes northeast of Seattle, Washington, nestled in the bosom of a temperate rainforest, with my wife, Erin, and our children, Danielle and Robert. I also have a daughter, Dana, who lives with my ex-wife. I am an IT Support professional. By day, I worked in IT tech support for a US federal agency before the contract ended in November. I promise that my day job adventures aren’t even as remotely interesting as I’ve written here. I’ll try not to bring it up again.




Sherry: Smiles. You are a hop, skip and a jump from me, on the wonderful West Coast. You have such a beautiful family!

Where did you grow up, Barry? When you look back at that boy, can you see any hints he would become a writer? Was there someone who you feel was a significant influence in you following your dreams? 

Barry: It’s difficult for me to know exactly how much to share here without either getting too dense and negative, or leaving it too shallow and glib, so I’ll just wing it and see where things land. I was born on the West side of Chicago to a lower-middle-class family. I was first-born. My brother, and closest confidant, Phil, came six years later. There was love, struggle, and pain in mostly equal parts. My parents were young and didn’t have many healthy emotional support resources at their disposal. They both made mistakes and poor choices in their youth, but they did the best they could by me and Phil.


Barry and Phil

My parents separated when I was six years old after something terrible happened, and I spent my remaining childhood with mom, bouncing between rent-controlled slums, my maternal grandmother’s home, and several housing projects. We struggled to survive in poverty conditions, and never really put down roots anywhere. As a natural introvert, I soon became weary of struggling to make friends, only to have them ripped away from me when we had to move within a year or two. To cope, I built an emotional firewall around my already natural reclusiveness. I also learned to use humor to parry and counter external threats encroaching upon my inner world. I had exclusive adventures mostly within my imagination, and often by extension via books, poetry, and later videogames. I struggle with this quirk even today.

Sherry: How touching it is, to see the closeness between you and your little brother. You look like his protector. And I think most poets have a somewhat reclusive streak. I certainly do.

Barry: Mom gets all the credit for helping me to enrich and fortify my young imagination, by exposing me to life beyond what was happening on our block. She filled my formative years with a love for reading, science, and museums. We would sometimes skip school and go to museums and planetariums together. Dad lectured me on setting my sights higher than his trade as a printing press operator, but Mom did the heavy-lifting.

I cannot recall the first time I put pen to paper for myself, but I felt like a poet long before then. Probably because of an active imagination, I’ve always felt displaced from my circumstances; like I was observing rather than participating in my own life. 

My first poem was probably a diss-rap aimed at one of my cousins when I was 12 or 13. My dad’s girlfriend found it, and that was pretty much the end of my hip-hop career. She liked how it flowed, but didn’t appreciate all the colorful cuss-words sprinkled through it. It’s for the best, as I was a shy kid and there’s no such thing as a timid rapper. I wrote love notes in high school, and I tinkered here and there, but nothing serious. 

My poetic voice truly found a footing in my late twenties, after an ex-girlfriend broke my heart. Oh yeah… I “Taylor Swift-ed” her big time. That was fifteen years ago and we’re cool now, but yeah, I was the emo, purple-prose kid for quite a while after that.

Sherry: I can see you. I am smiling. Been there. The teen years are hard on sensitive poets.

Barry: A few years later, in 2003, I found a website called okayplayer. The Freestyle Forum section is where many aspiring MC’s, “net-cee’s” (a playful, often pejorative term for guys like me who write rap lyrics, but don’t perform), and poets sharpen their skills and share their written art. I was intimidated at first, but I soon found myself honing and sharing my craft as well as workshopping with others. My fondest memory is being asked to participate in a ten-artist collaboration. I felt like I finally belonged somewhere, which is a pretty big deal for me. I’m still friends with poets and artists from the site, and I poke my head in there from time to time, but for the most part, the core group that I associated with has moved on to other projects. In 2005, I collected many of my poems from Freestyle and self-published a poetry collection. That was pretty neat. It got rave reviews from my former hairstylist.

From there, I branched out into freelance writing for sports blogs and film reviews. It was a short stint for me, as sports blogs became saturated with insightful writers and YouTube became flush with dynamic reviewers. Plus, my stuff was pretty mediocre and mostly terrible, so no big. I was a hacky review guy and a pretty wack sports guy, but through all of that, there was always my poetry. I’m probably not there yet (wherever “there” is), but I guess I’m an OK poet now.
  
Sherry: Yes, you are, and we're happy you found us! Barry, we'd love to hear about your years in the Navy. And thank you so much for your service!


Boot Camp


Barry: I joined the Navy in 1991, shortly after graduating from high school and marrying my high school sweetheart and future ex-wife (let’s call her “P”). I reported for duty in February, 1992. I served for six years as a Fire Controlman in the advanced electronics field. I trained to perform preventive and corrective maintenance on radars and missile/gun fire-control targeting computers. I helped decommission the USS Jouett in 1993/94, and I served my last three years on the USS Ingraham, ported in Everett, WA. This concludes my military summary. Thank you and have a fine Navy day.



I’d like to say that I heard the call of the warrior or that I felt the need to defend my country, but the truth is far less patriotic. I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I didn’t have a plan. My relationship with my mom had deteriorated, and I was living day to day in survival mode. I was 16 and I just happened to be at P’s house while her Navy recruiter stopped by to give her a practice exam. He encouraged me to test as well. His eyes boggled at my score, and after that, he wouldn’t leave me alone. He followed me through high school hallways, telling me about the great adventure ahead of me that was so much greater than my current struggles. As I had nothing going on, it didn’t take much convincing to get me to swear-in. (only the University of Iowa sent me a college packet, but I knew I needed money first, education second.)

(P never qualified for the Navy and chose to live out her dreams vicariously through me – a guy who was seemingly effortlessly qualified, and only joining the Navy in lieu of starvation. Let’s just say there was plenty of friction, envy, and resentment within our sham of a marriage. There was love, but fear was the major motivating factor in us eloping. Fear of being alone. This and other mitigating factors doomed our relationship and friendship years later.)

My recruiter may have oversold the adventure part, but he was proven to be right about everything. I was still a kid when I finished bootcamp and apprentice school. I was essentially an immature child playing sailor when I reported to the USS Jouett, so I was lucky to report to a ship that was decommissioning (BTW: The Navy sent me to a six-month technical school to learn an obsolete weapons system, and then they sent me from the east coast to the west coast just to help unplug/box-up a fire control computer and turn off the lights. Your tax dollars at work.)





Reporting to the USS Ingraham was when my true Navy career began, three years into a six-year enlistment. The senior staff and leadership structure of the USS Ingraham finished off my parenting, and boy did I make things harder than they had to be. I was a knucklehead, but they straightened me out. I learned a great deal about personal accountability and formed the building blocks of adult-me on the deck of that ship. I struggled and failed, but I also exceled and had lots of fun. I even had two greenhorns reporting to me before I was honorably discharged from service. One guy was super-naive like I was near the beginning of my career, and the other was a corner-cutting slacker like I was at year three. I bet my superiors had a good ironic laugh at how frustrated those two made me at times.







Sherry: I'll bet! Smiles. Barry, what do you love about poetry?

Barry: I love the way poetry connects me to my emotions, and the way it connects me to other poets and readers. Words written by people thousands of years ago moved and helped inspire me to transcend childhood poverty and eventually share my own unique thoughts with others. Thoughts that are uniquely mine can inspire others today, and vice-versa. Perhaps thousands of years from now, a kid growing up in poverty will be uplifted by words written by me, sitting here in my study in my pajamas, being annoyed and enriched by Erin’s hug-interruptions. It is mundane and amazing. It is trivial and essential.





At Leavenworth

We are collections of molecules using chemical-electrical impulses to create abstract concepts, beautiful ideas, and complex emotions to understand and/or bond with other collections of molecules. The practice of poetry, if not immortality, is at least a special kind of alchemy. We are all alchemists, some of us cheating death in our own way.

My God, when did I turn into such a freaking crystal-hugging, pretentious hippie? I swear, they never should’ve legalized marijuana around here.



Sherry: LOL. Would you like to choose three of your poems? And tell us a bit about each?

This was more difficult than I imagined. I think this first one is a good start, in keeping with my naval-gazing naval-nostalgia…

Reflections

I was a small child the first time I saw a sailor
It was on an elevated train in the Chicago Loop
His dress blues made him resemble a Greek deity
Though I couldn’t determine which one
He smiled, winked, gave me a Fonzie thumbs-up
I could see my wide-eyed reflection in his shoes
Sometimes, I can see the future
But I don’t always know it when I see it

Seawater can be used to exchange heat for cooling
Seawater will dehydrate you if you drink it
Dolphins love playing in the wake of warships
Flying fish exist; they aren’t just suicidal birds
King Neptune sings the greatest lullabies
I am numb to the buffeting sea wind
The salty sea-spray preserves my youth

I allow kids to find their own reflections

** *

Sherry: I love that closing line especially. 

Barry: Looking back, I do a lot of confessional poetry. I look at it as a form of self-therapy, validating my existence by reminding myself who I was, who I am, and where I’m from. Consider this more self-therapy:




Crown Prince of the Stoop
____________________________________________________________

I am from concrete and asphalt
Twisted metal vines and closed doors with keyholes
A brownstone with address etched in memory
Of cookouts and clarity of purpose lost to history

I am from wood-paneling and artistry
The Zen of autumn leaves and spring breeze
I am from structure and superstructure
I am the discipline in its absence

I am from invisible blood-soaked tenements
Where we feared both the criminal and the lawman
Where my little bro learned to draw homes
With iron bars over the windows

I am from a sociology experiment gone awry
Stacked atop one another like animals
Sprinkle a few magic rocks through the hood
And laugh as it burns itself to the ground

I'm from a woman who was raised in the slums
Who raised me and my little bro in the slums
But she was not of the slums
Her heart was molded from foreign rare gems
Forged in the heart of stars billions of years ago
She carried herself with a galactic grace
And demanded the same from her princely sons
She is from where potential becomes kinetic
She is from where daydreams dare to scream
"Why not me? Why the fuck not, us?"                       

I'm from a man forged in iron-rich Mississippi mud
A man who I ain't never seen lose a fight
A man who endured painful burdens with a smirk
With a backbone fortified with calcified pride
Never bent, always elongated, stretching to the heavens
Filling my head with starships, multiple realities
Alternate possibilities of existence, taking the lead
Defending myself, little brother, family, and country
With a quiet swagger and my own smirk, slurring
“Why not me? Why the fuck not, us?”

I am from a place of problematic punchlines
Where opportunity is denied, violence decried
Knowing we can never commit to peace eternal
Where working men are gunned-down
And vilified for living

But I am from a place of princes and kings
Scowling unapologetically at social constructs
Dancing to the beat of our own choosing, because
Why the fuck not us?

** *

Me and my Bro


Sherry: This is so moving. I love poems like this, that look back at childhood and begin "I am from...." I can see those two young brothers very clearly. Saddened that your little brother learned to draw bars over the windows. I adore the "galactic grace" of your mother! Her strength inspired your dreams.





Barry: I was looking for a poem I wrote as a fantasy/tragic fairy tale. I searched for a week, but couldn’t find it. Perhaps I only dreamt of the poem and never actually wrote it? Yeah, they probably shouldn’t have legalized weed around here. Anyway, here’s another fantasy poem inspired by an anime I watched:

The Sin that Played Us

She whispered her envy of the stars in the sky
And so she whispered her want to myself,
and many more
She whispered, and so the bodies began to pile

Treasures pirated, black flag betrayal
Disguised as other deadly sins,
and even masquerading as virtue
Compelled me to act against my nature

She whispered, and so the bodies began to pile
Beneath my feet, they pooled, stagnant

She whispered to fools that I must be stopped
Before I dimmed each star that shined

She whispered, and so am I betrayed
My vision inverted, and soon I pooled beneath
The sandals of other fools who listened

Unable to move as crows descend upon me
Their inverted faces masked and mute

She whispered, but I can no longer hear
For I am floating among the murder of crows
Flying their processions around me

She whispered, and now I must decide
To follow the procession beneath the waves
Of blood spilled by others, by me,
and by new fools

The crows pay respect, awaiting my choice
I growl at them,
I’m not yet ready
And so one by one, they slowly disappear

I gasp, the cool oxygen a shock to dormant lungs
Mortal intent rendered but a glancing blow
She whispered, and I’d outlived my usefulness

But I ain’t dead yet, bitch.

** *

Sherry: Thank you for these, Barry. Your voice is strong, and your writing wonderfully alive and vivid. When you aren’t working or writing, what other activities do you enjoy?

Barry: I am a Chicago Bears fan, still, even now, in spite of myself, good taste, and reason. Bourbon helps. I’m also a sci-fi fan, a Trekker, an anime nerd, a former comic book guy, a Star Wars guy, and a huge Steven Universe fan. My mom said that all she had to do was give me books or sit me in front of the TV. That premise remains unchanged well into my 40’s.

I was also way into flag football for a decade or so until I lost perspective, became overcompetitive, and nearly killed a baby on the football field. But that’s another story…

Sherry: I am intrigued at all the stories we have not had time to get to. I want to include a link to your book, Barry, "Blind Eye Turning". 




Good for you, getting a book out, Barry. Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

Barry: I enjoy reading the talented poets of Poets United. I must admit, I was a bit intimidated about sharing my boring life and poetic process here, but wifey convinced me to push through my apprehension as therapy to let others get a peek at the man behind the words. That’s still a silly notion to me. I mean, anyone who has waded through the words vomited upon my blogs already knows what I’m about. This was good therapy though… and fun!

Sorry for being so long-winded, but us old-salts love spinning a good tale. Sorry for all the bad words too. I tried limiting them to my poems already written, but I do tend to cuss like a… well, you get the idea.

Sherry: Thank you to Erin for encouraging you, for we love getting to know the poet behind the pen, and this has been a total trip! Thanks for persevering, Barry, and helping us get to know you. We enjoyed it, and look forward to reading many more of your poems.

Well, my friends? I told you this would be good. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!




17 comments:

  1. Wow... I am long-winded! Sorry about that! Thanks for letting me participate. :)

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  2. Thank you for being "long-winded", Barry! I wouldn't have wanted any fewer words. To us, who didn't know anything of your life, it's all fascinating. And many thanks, Sherry, for drawing him out. (As for "bad words", I always think we poets believe we own the language and that's why we're not scared of any words. Nor should we be.) I love all the poems included here. Hard to pick a favourite when they're all so engaging, but perhaps "Prince of the Stoop" ... or maybe "Reflections"....

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  5. Oh heavens, blogger glitch. Will start over. I, too, found "Prince of the Stoop" very moving....the thought of those two young brothers, so full of dreams, and your mother, who sounds amazing. Thank you, Barry, for allowing us to see the poet behind the pen. It helps, when reading poetry, to know something of the story behind the poem. Thank you also for your years of service to your country.

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  6. Another wonderful interview, Sherry. I enjoyed this share, so much ... a fascinating personal story and awesome poetry - wonderful words brilliantly rendered with strength and clarity. Pleased to meet you and your family, Barry. Great job on this, Poets!

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  7. I needed a smile this morning. Thank you for this lovely surprise Sherry. Congratulations on your book Barry.I was very moved by "Crown Prince of the Stoop"I enjoy your poetry and hope to read more contributions from you at Poets United in the future.

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  8. Good that you're long winded and let us into your amazing world Barry! Love every word shared here and two little brothers picture is so very cute and moving. Thank you Sherry & Barry.

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  9. "Poetry, as cosmic rubble" and "Perhaps thousands of years from now, a kid growing up in poverty will be uplifted by words written by me, sitting here in my study in my pajamas, being annoyed and enriched by Erin’s hug-interruptions. It is mundane and amazing. It is trivial and essential."

    Altogether a mighty fine articulation of poetry. And I especially love the poem "Reflections." Wow. You are funny, too, though that may be the result of understatement about the learning and groaning years. Now sounds LOVELY! Thank you for bringing yourself here. (Be kind to hippies and nerds, please!)

    Thank you once again, Sherry, for helping us to see each other.

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  10. I needed a smile today. This was a nice surprise. Thank you Sherry and Barry, congratulations on your new book . I enjoy your poetry and hope to read more of you in the future at Poets United.'The Crown Prince Of The Stoop' is very moving...loved it!

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  11. Barry, I don't make the rounds much anymore, but glad to see your work and you highlighted here. Well deserved light to your (to me) consistently strong and thoughtful voice.

    Sherry - as always, you set such an encouraging table, as it were.

    Now back into the woodwork for me. Cheers ~ M

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  12. Michael, we miss you! I hope you are still writing. You have such a gift.thanks so much for stopping by.

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  13. Sherry what fun you had interviewing Barry....this was my first introduction to him and his poetry, and I am so happy to have finally read his amazing poems. Barry, I thoroughly enjoyed your candid and thoughtful insights into life/poetry and I especially love your sense of humor....I look forward to reading more of your poetry soon!

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  14. Barry, this is one of the most open and honest interviews I have read here. Thank you for sharing your life, your depthful poetry with us. I will read your poetry with the background knowledge you have shared. Your mom, by the way, sounds like a very special person! And your life is not boring at all! Sherry, thanks for putting it all together!!

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  15. I appreciate Barry's openness and honesty, too, Mary. Barry, this is why I love doing these features. Every poet has an amazing story, and once we know it, it makes reading their poems an even deeper experience. Thank you for sharing yours.

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  16. Please no one take my silence as apathy. Quite the opposite. I didn't expect so many kind and wonderful comments, and I'm kinda dumbfounded, extremely grateful, and... that other thing I can't quite articulate.

    Embarrassed?
    Humbled?

    That feeling when you feel like a jackass at having attention drawn to you.. but you're glad for the attention, but you still kinda feel silly for getting the attention that you didn't think you wanted, but now that you have it, you kinda like it, but you feel like a smug, pretentious jackass for existing in a world where folks say nice things about you?

    Am I making any sense? Anyway, you all are invited to eulogize me at my funeral. Congratulations, You've all passed the test!

    Also, Buyer beware: I self-published that book in 2005. The poetic voice captured there is shaky at best.

    If anyone thinks the book sucks (and some of you might), allow me to quote comedian Dave Chappelle: "You will never get your [expletive] money back. I'm like Evel Knievel. I get paid for the attempt."

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  17. Writing is the best therapy - write on!

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