INTERVIEW with MIKE ZONE

Duane Vorhees

- Duane Vorhees


Mike Zone is the author of A Farewell to Big Ideas, Void Beneath the Skin, Better than the Movie: 4 Screenplays and Fellow Passengers: Public Transit Poetry, Meditations and Musings. A contributing poet to Mad Swirl and contributing writer to the graphic novel series American Anti-hero by Alien Buddha Press. His poetry and stories have appeared in: Horror Sleaze Trash, The Daily Dope Fiend, Outlaw Poetry, The Rye Whiskey Review, Synchronized Chaos and Triadæ Magazine.


Mike Zone: My bio is an observation: I'm walking along the neighborhood gazing at the hill with a flock of geese neatly lined up gazing at me, cold black eyes and solemn black beaks pointed at my person. Sometimes there's a sense of looming anger. My intrusion into goose territory? Jealousy aimed at the cup of coffee in my hand? Could it be they'd like a cup of coffee but being geese this is an impossible scenario due to their lack of hands and digits? Fuck paying for it, they will just beak the barista or cashier and go. It's goose territory and I envy them and their fantastical visions of getting coffee.

Duane Vorhees: Okay…… Can you describe in detail what caused you to write, especially poetry?

Mike Zone
MZ: I write as a coping mechanism to deal with an ever bombarding set of conflicting emotions and situations within my day to day existence. Sometimes it's just ire aimed at our society's vapid social engineering and slamming against what I would like to deem the big unfeeling picture of it all and it's empty meaning, so why be a miserable wretch about all of it and torture others for one's own egotistic sake? Poetry gets to the heart of the matter, the pacing of breath, a rhythm of sorts even if I'm the only one who can feel it. It's a play of poetry and needles, poking and exposing what needs to be done or said as you paint either brutally or elusively what you see and feel in relation to that on an instinctual whim.

DV: Are you saying, then, that poetry is mainly a private affair, that there’s no need for audience participation?

MZ: In a way, when it comes to conception and maybe even the actual writing of it but once we get to say actually reciting it or presenting it to an audience whether they be the reader, listener or editor it begins to evolve on its own and shifts into a communal agent of sorts prompting a plethora of reactions and experiences.

DV: Are you a dedicated public reader of your verses? Have you ever had an audience reaction that you didn't expect or that led you to revise a poem?

MZ: I used to read my poesy at a local coffee shop on poetry night and that was about it, when my mother became gravely ill much of that fell to the wayside as I took time to take care of her... sometimes one of the local bars downtown hosts an open mic poetry/performing arts session that I feel caters to self indulgent middle class kids with imaginary problems which I've been hesitant to attend, sometimes my poetry will touch on the nature of class and that seems to ruffle feathers in a rather adverse manner...a tense and silent astonishment, talking about the forbidden when we're all supposed to be the same but different, of course I kind of thrive on conflict of this sort and my working nearly sixty hours lately prevents me from attending these gatherings. Have I ever had an audience deliver an unexpected reaction? Well, yes actually I was doing a reading at the local community college (Grand Rapids Community College) "50 Years The Best of Display" magazine reading my blues poem Shock Doctrine Bride about an engagement gone awry which also invoke elements of class conflict in society, surrounded by comfortable baby-boomers and millennials I was surprised to have the non-academic baby-boomers shake my hand, compliment my work and congratulate me. The so-called open minded progressive generation and established academics seemed a bit perturbed by the nature of the work and my delivery. Now, have I ever revised a poem due to a lukewarm reception? No, the work is generally as it stands a testament to a moment in time which evolves through external and internal perception. I'll consider what prompts such a reaction, mull it over and write a response accordingly if the need should strike and sometimes it does.

DV: My own open mic experience is quite different. In the early 90s I was teaching in Seoul. A poet/musician named Dan Godston organized an open mic movement, which I participated in from almost the beginning. We had events at a number of venues, every week, and even a couple of international festivals. For a while we had several hundred bodies packed into a small bar, though the numbers dropped to a few dozen regulars and one-timers. Most of the attendees were young Canadian English teachers, but it was truly an international, cosmopolitan set, and the mic was open to everything – poets and musicians of course, but also body painters, fire breathers, dance-like capoeira martial artists, even a visiting member of Blue Man Group.… It was all very exciting, maybe because we didn’t cater to the academics. Would you mind sharing Shock Doctrine Bride with us?

MZ: Not at all but beware the novice poet with his blatant hammering and yammering...

you'll never know what it's like
you say it's not your problem
if I wind up homeless
then call me at odd hours of an eclipse morning
weeping about how I'm the only one
how you miss me sleeping at your side
you're so sorry for the way things are
thanks
you'll never know what it's like
clawing and scraping like I did
to even get to this menial level of survival
on the rollercoaster labor scale
working a five-dime store job
affording nothing but nothing with infinite dreams
you'll never know what it's like
going hungry to pay for a surgery on your credit card
or even decide
what do I need more this week?
heat or electric?
Fuck it. Winter's here.
happy anniversary honey
you'll never know what it's like
not your problem right?
tell me to have sweet dreams
I want you to have dreams about rich girls
rejected by working class lads put out on the street
then shot by private police cause the school's budget
just got redirected

Thank you for helping me rekindle the memory of the poem that started my foray into publishing, a poem written in a creative writing class taught by David Cope that I took to hone my screenwriting skills... here I am 7 years later with a lack of a film deal and over 100 poetry, flash fiction and short story credits later.

DV: Jack Warner dismissed his writers as "schmucks with Underwoods." William Faulkner used to periodically write in Hollywood until he made enough money to live on while he wrote his next novel. Most of his work on screenplays went uncredited, but he did receive acknowledgement for adaptions of Raymond Chandler's "The Big Sleep" and Ernest Hemingway's "To Have and Have Not." Both movies starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall and were directed by Howard Hawks. Indeed, Faulkner had boasted to Hawks that he could turn Hemingway's worst book into a great movie. F. Scott Fitzgerald tried it full time for a couple of years, actually worked for a week as a rewrite man on "Gone With the Wind" but was forbidden to use any dialogue that didn't appear in the novel, and in the end his only screenwriting credit was for an adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's "Three Comrades," which was actually heavily rewritten by the producer. So, obviously it's a tougher writing nut to crack than most.  Poetry does not generally pay well but at least allows creative freedom and doesn't need much equipment. Are you currently working on a script idea?

MZ: Yes, I actually am working on a couple, one is a stream of consciousness scene a day concept while the other is about a barfly trying to distance himself from a life he really isn't happy with but is essentially the only life he has in which he exists in a somewhat sociable manner. I have several other concepts, such as a zombie STD flick and a slew of other whack-a-doodle ideas but I'm gradually working my way back to screenwriting. I actually wouldn't mind being a success at that so I could be like Faulkner and write some "serious" literature but ultimately I'm not that serious of a person, my dream project is a heavy metal version of Lord of the Rings filled with anti-heroes who set out to destroy the world and perhaps sitting down to write the events behind my Mona in Amerika series of poems which could be taken serious it really depends on how one views the "American Dream" and its relationship to the universe if there is a relationship at all. I actually have a collection of screenplays which aren't edited very well (all apologies never go to create-space drunk with "good ideas in a state of panic stricken depression) entitled Better Than the Movies: 4 Screenplays....shameless plug.

DV: It’s not shameless to share whatever you’re proud of. How did you get interested in doing screenplays? Aside from the obvious differences between poems and screenplays, of course, in what ways do the mental processes of creating differ between the two genres?

MZ: My interest in screenplays developed through my interests in comics books, I originally wanted to be a comic book writer, however I started getting more into my music during my teenage years coming across The Doors and being really enthralled by Jim Morrison's poetry which caused me to come across a copy of American Night which showcased his poetry and a short film script which was something that blew me away at the time being all of sixteen years old not really having a notion of what cinema could be. So this idea of communication via the visual and literary ignited a compulsion into my brain. The comic strip being a sort of natural evolution to the motion picture storytelling. My poetry is more instinctive, slam, bang with a bit of editing whereas my screenwriting is a tad more structured. I always have the three act story construct in mind, perhaps even a theme, there's a character and a situation that I build off of and I have a general direction I'd like to go but more often than not they tell where they'd like to be or rather where they would rather not be but the laws of their universe kind of say otherwise. It's kind of a balancing act much like with the poetry where you're trying to communicate something without being excessively direct about it but not overly allusive. Perhaps the ultimate objective is a balance of sorts. Whatever that's supposed to mean, I was grocery shopping the other day and ran into a medicine woman and wound up having a discussion about my trying to bring a sense of balance and attempting to communicate with the rest of the human population. Apparently I need to sleep with an onyx bracelet to keep me grounded but I shouldn't fear people thinking I'm crazy...or I could stop buying avocados during full moons.

DV: Comic books were my entrée to writing as well. In 2nd grade or so I tried to write and draw sci-fi stories and invented a handful of superheroes. They were, of course, highly imitative and crude, but everybody has to start somehow. (Indeed, I often imagine the poems in “The Many Loves of Duane Vorhees” becoming the basis of a graphic novel and/or a movie. Wanna collaborate?)

MZ: I'd be open to it, as a matter of fact I'm also a contributing writer on Red Fock's illustrated novel series American Anti-Hero and plan on introducing some pretty exciting stuff there which will hopefully lead to an actual comic book in the future, but I'd totally be down to seeing what we could come up with.

DV: The poem sequence is essentially a biography. The central persona starts out as a young man or perhaps teenager, with an idealized romantic attachment who dies. The next part is more sexualized, but illustrative of an alienating relationship. Then there is a marriage that ends in divorce, followed by a middle-aged man playing the field in a series of frustrating sexual pursuits. Then an ill-fated late-blooming romance with a younger woman. Feelings of death, possibly suicide. Finally, true love. It is an outline of a plot structure, though it lacks plot and deep character (and dialogue). Early on it should be made clear that the main, aging character is a poet, either by showing him writing a poem or reading one, perhaps as part of a seduction scene or reflections on his life. But what I picture is a subtle, mainly indirect presentation of the poems -- as various chyrons, billboards, voice-overs, background TV or radio sequences, soundtrack, crossword puzzles, audible thoughts, product placements, etc. Clearly, they can't all be used.

MZ: I have downloaded your text and will begin reading it and jotting down ideas and such. I'll be exploring both venues of the graphic novel and script form before ultimately deciding where I'd like to go with it. I may even play with chronology. 

DV: I hope something good develops.

MZ: I'm sure something will.

DV: Meanwhile, can you fill us in on Red Fock’s venue? How did you get involved?

MZ: My involvement in Alien Buddha Press along with my association with Red Focks was spawned from my seeking out a home for my poetry collection Void Beneath the Skin...Alien Buddha Press happened to publish some of the contemporary poets I most admire such as Kevin Peery, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Don Beukes and Scott Thomas Outlar, so I figured these were poets I corresponded with via social media who seemed to be interested in my work so working on the wild assumption Alien Buddha Press would pick up my collection I submitted it as they were seeking out new poetry manuscripts as well. I also had caught word via the Alien Buddha Press page on facebook that they were seeking contributors to an upcoming graphic novel series, which intrigued so I submitted my short story Human Zoo along with a short script I wrote in college and submitted to the Blue Cat Screenplay contest ... needless to say things have gone well and I hope to keep it going in the long run if not entirely on American Anti-hero, there is a plethora of opportunity via various incubating projects.

DV: Ryan, Don, and Scott, of course, have long been associated with this site as well (where’s Kevin?). What is your impression of the new internet-spawned poetry universe (versiverse)? Will it ever achieve the critical/intellectual legitimacy of the poetry found in the hard-copy, small-press world?

MZ: I was rather dismissive at first, almost perceiving it as Peter Posing Poet posts up another poetry blog via wordpress, but after actually taking time to read and actually correspond with fellow poets, I think it is a fantastic venue in the exchange of ideas, perceptions and information that congeals most wonderfully with the hard copy, small-press world. One does not have to decimate the other in a survival of the fittest combative state. I look at it as a natural co-evolution in which the "establishment" so to speak will learn to embrace this ever evolving neo versiverse (I like that term by the way).

DV: I seem to recall that when Adrienne Rich guest-edited one of “The Best American Poetry” series of annual volumes in the mid-1990s she exclusively chose on-line, nontraditional sources, and then when “The Best of the Best American Poetry” came out a couple of years later Harold Bloom rather pointedly neglected to include any of Rich’s selections. Do you think the “establishment” views have evolved at all since then? Is that a good or a bad thing?

MZ: I feel as if they have softened a bit. It's funny you should mention the "The Best American" anthologies, working in book stores over the years, perusing the shelves of thrift shops along with doing a brief stint at a textbook company, I've had these types of discussions with students and educators in conjunction with seeing a wider acceptance of the so-called "non-traditional" sources. Good or bad? Well, you have an increase of exposure to a variety of voices, and hopefully the chance to garner new readership which in turn could spark interest in your more traditional sources, which is what I'd personally like to see going back to the concept of co-evolution of tangible and electronic media. Now there could be a drastically negative aspect in which the past is disregarded should things go entirely into the realm of cyberspace but again I don't foresee that happening, because then we are entering the realm of corporate controlled publishing monitoring the net should the erosion of net neutrality be maintained.

DV: Marshall McLuhan famously insisted that “the medium is the message,” suggesting that the printing press led to a shift of consciousness away from a cyclic understanding of reality to a linear one, and by extension the new cyber technologies are creating asynchronous modes of communication. If this is true, how is it going to affect the form or content of poetry?

MZ: Now we're getting to the nature of time of itself in which two or more events or rather all of time is happening at once but our human perspective seems to compartmentalize this experience unless we are getting to the nitty gritty of computer programming itself which leads to an entirely different nature of permissiveness. I like to believe something within our DNA adds a bit of rational coherency to the experience and I would love to give a definitive answer but like the philosopher Slavoj Zizek has alluded to we are embarking on a time as a species that we do not even have the linguistics to define as of yet. Ergo (I'm starting to sound like a pseudo intellectual blow-hard now) I believe once the poetry is engulfed within technology, it is fully capable of transcending beyond language even into the multitude of the visual mediums, perhaps even an amalgamation but then again there will be that craving for simple language and bare indirect communication alongside say shifting content affected by direct reader/observer participation. In essence there will a social mode of multimedia experimentation anchored and contrasted by the traditional form of content in an ever shifting landscape.

DV: Maybe your next graphic novel or movie venture could be that seminal breakthrough into universal poetic experience.

MZ: This is how I picture the film's opening: Black screen with a quote by Lawrence Ferlinghetti "One needs other people, perhaps especially women, to construct one's own special illusions of life." We see the POET walking from the dock, toward a hut on the shore, the tide barely approaching the doorway. He lights a candle and sits at a desk, slips paper into a typewriter, contemplates and begins typing at a slow then rapid pace. The script will be slightly more detailed than this but it's a start. The tide coming ever so closer as his story progresses.


DV: And as the tide progresses, the POET ages, the typewriter becomes a laptop and then a tablet. Perhaps by the end it is just a shaky hand with the nub of a pencil. But, out of ego, instead of Ferlinghetti I might want to use Vorhees, perhaps “There are two sorts of zebras in this world / and two kinds of love, / The love that burns / and / the love that cools / to then burn anew. / Black zebras with white stripes / and white ones with black.” (The real poem would have some ellipses, of course, but comic books and movie scripts shouldn’t be too damn pedantic.) But, I guess this beginning of a project makes a fitting finale to our conversation. Thank you for sharing your vision and vicissitudes with us, and I hope to stay in collaborative contact.

1 comment :

  1. Revelatory, necessary, current, eye-opening, quirky, immersive, Bravo!

    ReplyDelete

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