Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Life of a Poet - Ed Pilolla

Kids, check this out! The Little Old Lady from Pasadena interviews the Big Kahuna award-winning LA journalist. It’s a Total Scoop! Ed Pilolla doesn't brag, but I researched him, and he has won eight state-wide awards for reporting and public service. You’ll find him at  Ed Pilollawhere he has both poetry and journalism blogs. Ed often focuses on social justice issues. You must check out the series he did on the Humane Society shelter in LA, as well as his series on homelessness. Great stuff! So here’s the background music for this interview - sing along with me: “Go, granny, go, granny, go granny go!”

Poets United: Ed, I am wondering what your path to journalism was like. Did you always know you are a writer?

Ed: I was 25 when I finally accepted my father’s offer to get me a stringer’s job with a weekly newspaper in the Chicago suburbs. Until then I never considered myself a writer, but my father convinced me that reporting was basically just talking to people and writing in basic sentences. So I got started through good old fashioned nepotism.

The first thing I wrote was a feature story on a church renovation. I didn’t ask the pastor if there was any opposition to the renovation, and so there was nothing in the story about it. But there were plenty of letters to the editor. And the opposition turned out to be successful, I believe. It was a learning lesson for me to get better as a reporter. And what I found was that the more reporting I did, the easier writing became. When you have a pile of goodies stacked up, making something from them is fun. I think that goes for journalism as well as a lot of different kinds of writing. 

Poets United: Wow, a late bloomer! Did you love poetry as a kid?

Ed: I read poetry here and there. I wrote a poem in college. It was sad. So was my love life at the time, haha! I submitted the poem to the college newspaper and it never got published. I was sad about that.

I didn’t write in high school, other than the 500 words compositions required for class, which are terrible. It’s the worst way to discover writing, padding something to achieve a desired word count. Good writing is writing clearly, and with only the minimum number of words that tell the full story. That makes a writer eliminate unnecessary words, and solid sentences keep a reader moving along.

Poets United: Did you study journalism in university?

Ed: No, I was a history major. And I also earned credits for a pre-med degree. I wanted to become a veterinarian. It didn’t happen, because you have to be a lot smarter than I am to become a vet, which worked out fine because I finally got smart and listened to my father to become a reporter.

Poets United: I can see now why you volunteered for a year at an animal shelter. You really love critters!  Can you give us a glimpse of your life today?

Ed: I just started working as a full-time reporter for a weekly newspaper in Hermosa Beach, California, and my girlfriend and I are looking for an apartment in Hermosa. I visit her in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles on the weekends and stay during the week with my mom in Torrance, which is next door to Hermosa. My life right now is stressful, breaking in a new job, looking for a place, and taking that next step in a relationship.

Ed and the beautiful Alecia

Poets United: May as well just dive in, Ed! The universe has showered you with beginnings in abundance right now. Use a big spoon! Scoop it up! My big question, in all of this: are you going to get a dog? Hee hee.

Ed: If we can find a place in a dog-friendly building, we certainly will. But the housing market is such that we can't limit ourselves to only dog-friendly apartment buildings, so we shall see!

Poets United: Where did you grow up, Ed? Do you have a favorite story about your boyhood  you’d like to share?

Ed: I grew up in River Forest, a nice suburb of Chicago, just a couple miles to the west. I didn’t write much. I drew and sketched. Once I stuck my head in a cool-looking hole in a dirt wall and got stung by more than 30 bees, mostly on my head and face. My brother saved my life by pulling me to safety.

Poets United: Whoa! Ouch! Other than bees, have you always loved animals? Has there been a special dog in your life? And can you tell us a bit about your year volunteering at the animal shelter?

Ed and Kopas

Ed: We had a family dog growing up. He tolerated me. I got a dog of my own when I was 22. We were best buds. His name was Kopas. We walked many parks and woods in and around Chicago and New Hampshire. He came with me to California in 2006 and died of a brain tumor. Soon after, I volunteered at the Carson Animal Shelter in L.A. County. Volunteering was a good experience. You provide needed help and get a lot of love back in return.

Poets United: Truer words were never spoken. Losing Kopas must have been heartbreaking. It is wonderful you turned that loss into action, and helped out the dogs at  Carson. Kids, check out this series. It is eye-opening, and heartrending. And I believe it directed public and official attention to the center, hopefully bringing about some needed changes. Carson Animal Shelter  is the first post in a continuing series, which animal lovers will find heart-rending.

at Carson -"please take me home" 

Ed, your writing often addresses issues of social (in)justice, things that need fixing, people who are marginalized, and you show us their humanity. Would you like to say something about using your journalism  as a platform for change?

Ed: I am telling stories I find interesting. I’m doing my best, but I’m not perfect. I have an opinion and I’m up front about it. People who don’t like my worldview won’t like my journalism writing. That’s the kind of place we live in.


Poets United: Kids, check out Ed’s series on homelessness - Sheba - the Most Famous Dog on Skid Row  Just this past weekend, Ed posted that Sheba, so well loved by those on the streets, sadly passed away on Tuesday, after being hit by a car. Ed's article can be found here. Sheba was an angel of the streets. She will be missed.

Ed, would you say that you are an activist? What causes are you most passionate about?

Ed: I guess I am an activist. I’m an activist for animal rights and human rights. Mostly, I’m a journalist who occasionally becomes an activist and risks arrest. I haven’t done it in a while and don’t plan to now that I have a job. But it’s certainly possible sometime in the future that I’ll get arrested again.

Non-violent civil disobedience is a legitimate political tool. I was arrested for sitting on the floor of a fur store and asking customers not to buy fur. Seriously. I wanted to register my thoughts on the modern method of animal production, but I also wanted to see the inside of L.A. County Jail, where they were taking all the homeless men from Skid Row in 2007. I faked a mental disorder (not hard) and went to the psych ward. I was in and out in 24 hours. It’s a book that’s perpetually on the back-burner. I’ve also once risked arrest in peaceful opposition to the thing that’s called the war on terror.

Poets United: That is a book that so needs to be written, Ed. I hope you write it. I’ll buy it! What, in your view, are the biggest challenges facing humankind? Do you have hope?

Ed: I don’t know what the challenges are. It seems there’s a battle for economic supremacy brewing, like there always probably has been. And that’s never a good thing for the majority of the people.  As a reporter these days, I cover Hermosa Beach, California. It’s a great place, but it has no affordable housing, at least that I’m aware of.
I think a challenge today is that many privileged people don’t know any poor people because they are isolated. Life is hard when you’re poor. Today, a wealthy man pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. And there are privileged people who want to slap more taxes on the poor and call it teaching the poor responsibility.

Poets United: I so agree! The tax thing makes me snaky!!!!!! Ed, I saw on your info page that some of your work has taken awards.

Ed: I was fortunate enough to do some reporting that was in-depth. This sort of reporting can only be done for editors and organizations that understand these projects take time. Getting recognized for good work is certainly a lot of fun.

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

Ed: My dad was the only one who encouraged me to write. He saw something in me that none of my teachers saw. And he pestered me through high school and college about going into journalism, but since we weren’t getting along, I wasn’t listening to anything he had to say during this time. We weren’t getting along because of domestic violence that had happened in the home. So when I was 25 and finally decided to listen to his advice and go into journalism, it began a renewal in our relationship that turned into a very close friendship.

photo by Gabriel Baird

Poets United: It’s wonderful, in life, how these things can heal, as people grow. Aside from your newspaper work, when it comes to poetry, do you wait for inspiration to strike, or do you write pretty consistently?

Ed: I catch – or attempt to catch – lightning in a bottle with poetry. I await inspiration. For longer projects, I plow through every part until the best part: the time to sit down with all my reporting done, or drafting in the case of writing fiction, and write.

Poets United: What inspires you? Some of your poems are mythic. This is what first got my attention, a language like days of olde, all full of wolves and wild things. Very deep and quite glorious. Do these poems stream forth pretty much as we see them, or do you have to work at them?

Ed: I work hard to trim and polish. Some things come easily. Mostly, they require buffing and smoothing and tinkering and rebuilding. The process can be fun or it can make you gnash your teeth, and I’d really like to hit a stretch of easy flowing poetry. But I’ll also take the other kind, too. See, what I speak comes to me.

Breach in the Moonlight

No one enters this deep into the forest. No one passes through my perimeter of wolves.
Yet the land speaks of new feet moving across the glen. The birds report news of a stranger in the deep.
I have been cut off for eons. I live in the high branches and the world under the tree. I have clear agreements with the great tribe of wolves. This can mean only one thing.
Love has found me.

Poets United: I love this one, Ed. So much! What makes a poem good for you, your own and others’?

Ed: Something enjoyable, memorable. A good piece reads like an experience. For me, I like clearly written pieces. If I have to run to a dictionary to look up a word, then I stop reading and I don’t like that. Words have their power in connection to the common man, so let’s speak in his language. I like image-rich pieces.

Poets United: You  seem to have created your own form, poetry written like prose. Have you always written in this style? How did it develop?

Ed: It has developed as the easiest way for me to write. I get intimidated by rules and forms. I just have fun, ideally. I just let it rip. At least in the drafting stage. Later, I roll up my sleeves. I’m writing between four and nine quick graphs. Yeah, it’s something that is developing. It’s fun!

Poets United: Kids, here's one of my favorites of Ed's. One of the coolest love poems ever.

image from google
The Mane

It fell from the sky, forged and heavy. We dragged it away and watched it for a thousand years. We rubbed our hands on it, and lived on top of it. Then it opened its eyes, and now we see it is alive.

There’s a lion outside. He’s not the normal size. He arrived with the tide, and says he wants to talk. I’m inclined to listen. He’s inclined to sip at the sky, my blue pool, cupped and calling.
I asked the lion to leave. He said to get on his back and he would leave. I said let’s talk some more. He asked for tea.
The light that finds me grows me. Keep opening me. With your hot breath, take me deep within, again and again.
I never knew joy had a routine. Sun goes up, I’m happy. Sun goes down, I’m in love.
Night has a moon. It is the brightest, heaviest thing, and it carries the night.
I love you exactly and positively as you are.
Poets United: Sigh. Just beautiful. All-time  favorite well known poet?

Ed: Ted Kooser in Nebraska and Dr. Mongo in Los Angeles. 

Poets United: Where is your favorite place in the world?

Ed: My mother is from Tuscany, but I love many places in Italy.

Tuscany, from google

Poets United: What goals do you have for your writing in the next five years?

Ed: Do excellent work, and that means keeping up a strong work ethic. I don’t have goals in terms of what specific types of projects I want to accomplish, or where I want to work. I want to be financially independent, doing the stories I want to do. That’s been my goal for awhile, and I’m still working towards it.

Poets United: Good goals, Ed. You have written three books. Do you have another one in the works?

Ed: I don’t have a book in the works. None of my books sold well, and that’s fine. It has led me back to reporting because I need money. It takes a lot of work to put out a book, and I won’t do that again without a better payoff. My blog is my book.

My blog is my book

Poets United: And we so enjoy reading it! What is the wildest thing you’ve ever done?

Ed: Getting arrested as I described above. I also embezzled money as the school treasurer in eighth grade for a few – maybe a handful – of lunches at the burger place across the street. It was actually me and the president who did it. He remains one of my closest friends.

Poets United: Every interview contains a surprise! Hee hee. I never woulda thunk it! When you are not writing, what else might we find you doing?

With friends at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker

Ed: Riding the bus! Ha ha. I like to see movies. I like to work at the Los Angeles Catholic Worker soup kitchen. I watch sports.

Poets United: I so admire that you volunteer, Ed. You put action behind your words. Way to be! Anything else you’d like to share with Poets United?

Ed: Think that covers it.

Poets United: Thank you so much, Ed, for taking the time, when you are so busy, to give us a peek into your life. We are so happy to have you at Poets United!

So there you have it, kids, right from the beaches of L.A., and hot off the presses. Isn’t it true that the people behind the pens are some of the most interesting folks around? Come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. It was grand to learn more about the man behind the blog, and Ed is certainly one in a million. I so admire his poetic style, and his humanitarian heart.

    Thanks to both Sherry and Ed for this insightful interview.

  2. Sherry, another fine interview. Ed, I loved learning more about you and also seeing your pictures. I have long enjoyed your blog, so it is nice to be able to read your background. You have had an interesting life so far, and I think it will be a life that will follow that track. I admire the work you have done so far for humans and animals. Your poetry has a unique style unlike anyone else's I've read in the blogosphere. I will be awaiting a new book!

  3. I knew I liked you for some other reason other than your writing but I couldn't quite put my pencil on it, Hmmmmm? I know it's because your an animal lover and a dog carer just like Sherry and I.

    YOu picked a good one Sherry, mi amiga.

    Thanks for your sharing with us Ed and for occasionally visiting me on my blog. The writers on blogspot are all wonderful people and loverly writers. Lets keep the neighborhood going and make sure that our voices are heard not just for pleasure but for action.

    Gracias mi amigos y amigas

  4. I knew as soon as I spotted the photo of Italy I was going to enjoy learning more about Ed ... I have to say, I was surprised it was of Tuscany though; thought it might be Cinque Terre or somewhere else on the coast ... as I'm spending my third summer in this beautiful country, I have a real appreciation for those with ties here, I think. Thanks for another terrific interview Sherry - and I agree with whomever said you were wise to find another animal lover - we all seem to relate well to those, don't we? Ed does sound sympatico in so many ways - enjoyed his writing before and will more so, now that I've had a bit of an introduction ... thanks again to both of you.

  5. hey...great to see ed featured here...what a wonderful interview.. ed was the first online poet i met and with reading his fantastic poem "bribing the fireflies" my poetic journey started in a way..

  6. I have been following Ed (on-line) for some time now. I love his writing, both his poetry and his journalism. He is so talented, good-hearted and sincere. His humility is inspirational.

    So nice that you highlighted him here Sherry Your questions were great. I know Ed so much better now and wish him well.

  7. Great interview Sherry. It is always great to know more about the person behind the writing. I have been a fan of Ed's work for quite a while now.

  8. Wonderful interview! I love how spirited Ed is, how he tries to aid the world, in many ways. Wow, arrested and so many things you have done to see the world in others eyes~ Fascinating and so much a journalist! This was part of my horoscope, it so fits you:
    " Be as thorough as a spy, as relentless as a muckraking journalist, and as curious as a child." ~Freewill Astrology.
    You are an inspiration, I love that you are involved in so many great causes. So nice to learn more about you, Ed!

  9. Another great interview Sherry. Darn it, you are so good at this!
    Ed, it's such a pleasure to get to know the man behind the blog. You are a really great guy!
    I love your love of animals and help and fight for both theirs and humans rights too. Animals need champions because they can't speak for themselves.
    I hope and wish you find an apartment you can afford so that you and your girlfriend can move in together as soon as possible.
    A pleasure reading this. Your 'Breach in the moonlight' has been one of my favs... love that you found love. :)

  10. this is such a touching presentation and piece you put together, sherry. i know how much work you put into this to make it as it is. thank you so much. i am truly moved.
    i'm still settling into my full-time reporting job. this is the kind of job i walked away from in 2004 becuz i was burned out. but it's also the only thing i'm qualified to do so here i am working it again becuz i need a job, and i'm doing my best to make it work better than before. it's going well, i guess. nothing is perfect, or even close. i hope to have the peace in my life in order to return to writing poetry soon. that would be a major accomplishment. i miss my blogging routine and friends so much...


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