Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Poetry Chain Gang (Volume 3) | Jose Gouveia

The Black Telephone has five fast questions for poet Jose Gouveia.

BT: The word magnolia, I think, is a very poetic word— it could almost be a one word poem. Is there a word you would consider to be very poetic— poetic enough, say, to be a one word poem?

JOSE: I think that sometimes we tend to put too much emphasis on the power of the word as opposed to the power of the word in a particular situation. Sure, magnolia is a poetic-sounding word, even a nature image of beautiful flowers budding, and there are other words with a poetic ring to it such as whiz, or buzz, active verbs that sound like the word itself, or onomatopoeia, which is another poetic-sounding word in and of itself. When I was a teenager, I started drinking whiskey because, initially, I just loved the poetic sound of that word! But I don’t believe that any word can be a one word poem unless circumstances allow: this is what we as artists call attaching our art to the outside world. Look at the word revolution. I think it is a very poetic word, has rhythm, many other words rhyme with it, it has multiple syllables so you can stress each differently to get a different sound out of the word. Rev-ooooooo-luuuuuuu-shun! Revo!-lu-shuuuuuuuuuun! See, many ways to sound poetic in Revolution! But go outside these days and keep screaming revolution and the neighbors will call the police or psyche ward on you. Scream revolution at any open mic and you'll’be the most cliché poet reading that night. Ah, but in 1776 Colonial America, Revolution truly was a one word poem, because we were at war for independence and the word revolution had a special meaning to that particular time period in our history. Just as some poems may have a short shelf life, so do most one word poems.

BT: Did you work on a poem today?

JOSE: That’s a relative question. If you mean did I actually sit at my desk and physically write poetry today, then the answer is no. But I am always working on poems. I have five or six ideas for poems in my head, and I always let them stew in my head for weeks before I finally write them down, sometimes months. I like to think my poems are fermenting up there, getting more toxic. Remember, a poem has to at least sound good to be a good poem, so I have to hear the poem in my head before I write it down. Other times I do compose more on paper, but have to write my poems while saying them out loud. Sometimes I say my poems out loud for weeks before writing them down—in the shower, while driving, etc. So whether I’ve actually sat at my desk to write today or not, in one way or another, the composing of poetry is always going on in my head.

BT: Is there a poet you're really diggin' at the moment?

JOSE: Franz Wright. I’ve recently gotten into his work and it is amazing. He is a poet full of compassion and with a very large heart. I’m also big on the poetry of Martin Espada and Marge Piercy, two of whom I feel are America’s pre-eminent political voices in poetry. For the first time ever I’ve began reading Jim Carrol, and so far I’m enjoying it. But there is also a younger poet out there named John Murillo whose poetry is simply incredible. John can make ya laugh, then cry, then be mad at the same situation all in the same poem. His polemic style works mostly in part to his keen sense of humor and the type of jargon he uses in creating the tone of his poems. All these poets I highly suggest.

BT: A starving artist appears on your doorstep: hungry for inspiration, thirsty for poetry— what do you feed him/her?

JOSE: Honestly? I’d probably feed him a good swift kick in the teeth. Then I’d tell him to give up all his material possessions and go join a band of gypsies, bringing disgrace to your family name and disowned from the family. Now that you don’t know where your next meal or money might come from, go work a dozen nickel-and-dime jobs over two decades and in that time fall in love, marry, have children, become an alcoholic, lose everything— you get the idea. Point is, nothing can feed a hungry artist if he/she is a true artist at heart. Only the experiences life gives you can inspire one to write, or at least to write well. They say write what you know. And pain is always a great motivator. So no, I’m not saying that everyone has to live up to this false romantic notion of life as the struggling artist, but I do believe that pain is the proverbial breakfast of champions for poets. Without something your readers/audience can also relate to, the writing itself will always fall short.

BT: I’m trying to start a chain, a chain of poets, sort of like a chain gang of poets. Can you please suggest a poet I should ask five fast questions to next?

JOSE: Bobby Miller, a great poet out of Provincetown and a great photographer as well. Tell him I sent you. He’s originally from NYC, but has been in Provincetown about 15 years now. He’d be great for something like this!

José Gouveia, a.k.a. Joe Go, Editor of RUBBER SIDE DOWN: the biker poet anthology (2008); author of three chapbooks: WHAT WE DO (1997), GINSBERG IS DEAD (2000) and THE SLAUGHTER OF THE SACRED COW (2008). Author of THE METER MAN poetry column, The Barnstable Patriot; Host of THE POETS CORNER, WOMR-FM Provincetown; Poetry Curator, The Cultural Center of Cape Cod. 1999 Poet Laureate of Cape Cod and Poet-In-Residence Cape Cod Community College; Massachusetts Poet of the Year, 2001; M.F.A. in Poetry from New England College.


  1. Hi Jose,

    Thanks for the insight into your process. I have to write it down to work on a poem but also have to hear it as I edit.

    Your responses were thought provoking.

    All my best,


  2. Hi Joe ... You-ve been in mY thoughts ... How-s it going? ...
    -Capsule of Oct.-Dec.-: 1440m. sailing* from Cape Cod to the Abacos Bahamas. Somehow, I was led to this site today, and there was your name, photo, and well articulated thoughts: >TY ... ALLLLL thE BEST ...
    Ports visited @ ...