Gavin Geoffrey Dillard, can you tell us a little about yourself? A few of the dirty details. Your ancestry. Your parents' names. How they felt about their boy leaving for New York City? Why New York? Why art school in California? Your roommates in college?
I was born in Asheville. I ran away to the North Carolina School of the Arts and made them accept me for high school—it's the only way I would have survived high school. While in high school, our English class was/were asked to write a poem. I guess mine was brilliant, because the teacher, himself a published poet, removed me from high school English and spent the next two years tutoring me in poetry and the classics. At some point he, Alton Busbee, showed my work to Jonathan Williams, a poet from the famed Black Mountain College and publisher of Jargon Press, who in turn sent my work to Ian Young (Catalyst Press) in Canada; Ian brought me to New York to meet the Ginsbergs et al, and published my first two collections.
My parents were dazzled by all I did. They occasionally fussed, but caved with enough threats and pressure. They had their own disfunction's to manage.
I ended up at Cal Arts simply because several of my friends from NCSA had been accepted there. It was a very young and happening school at the time. And it was just outside of Hollywood—which is where I wanted to be! My suite mate was Paul Rubenfeld, who went on to become Pee Wee. Tim Burton, of course, was there, as well as all the creators of Pee Wee's Playhouse.
Why poetry? What drew you to writing poetry in the first place? The music of words? The placement of images? Feel free to cast a spell and let it all hang out here, so to speak…
I was a poet in numerous lifetimes. I believe I was Ono no Komachi. Dickinson and Blake are both contenders as well. My mother, an English major, taught me to write well before first grade. By first grade I had already compiled a wee volume of koans and wisdom sayings. Poor Richard's Almanac became my favorite childhood book—tho my internal influences were clearly of Asian descent.
"Why poetry?" I'm afraid I don't understand the question.
In one of your previous incarnations, you were known as the “Naked Poet.” What is a naked poet? How would you define nakedness? How does it differ from nudity? It seems more than a question of clothing to me. How does the idea of nakedness work its way in and out of your poetry? Why do you think it is important?
In Hollywood, I created a public Sunday salon that became frightfully successful. All the cool people were there every week—Tim Burton, Hockney, Blondie, Tim Leary … it was quite the scene. One Sunday I was to read and the crowd was particularly boisterous. So I took my clothes off and sat down on a stool. Not only did everyone listen to every word, they listened deeply. Women cried. I was given authority where there had been none. Respect. The LA Times was there and wrote about me after as "the Naked Poet". It stuck. After that it seemed I had no choice but to read in the buff wherever I read. People expected it; but more, I expected it. And besides, it worked!
Nakedness is a metaphor for openness. It is what poets must be if they are to guide and lead. We are the feelings for those who have lost theirs; the inspiration for the uninspired. I suppose there are distinctions between nakedness and nudity, but who cares. The words take on different meanings according to context. It is indeed clothinglessness; openness, exposure … and at its heart honesty. Truth. Which is the soul of poetry. The words of poetry are merely the artifice; the clothes.
What is your writing and revision process like? Do you have a regular writing routine? Do you write every day? At a particular time? In a particular place?
I revise anytime I like. Every time I republish a poem it is apt to be different. I don't see anything sacred about the original—Why stifle the creative process of editing? I am not sentimental about my work. On the other hand some poems never change. They are timeless and remain untouchable.
I have no disciplines. And here on the farm one is a slave to the needs of the cats and chickens and bears, the winds and the weather. One sneaks in poetry where one can; as often as not a poem thwacks me in the chest and I have to run for a paper and pen to give it birth.
But honestly, when I read good poetry fractals of inspiration spin out unchecked. At those times I write voluminously and often never get back to edit or even reread—I have boxes and boxes of unmanaged words. Often I avoid reading just to quell the flow. And this is also why I don't read crappy poetry, for fear of crappy inspiration (yes, there is such a thing).
Artistic collaboration--one of the hardest things to undertake successfully. Yet you have done it several times. You have collaborated on books, musicals, songs. What are your current projects and do you have any advice on what makes a successful partnership in the arts?
Nocturnal Omissions (Sibling Rivalry Press) is the only collaborative poetry collection, and it happened without chore. It was simply a correspondence, and as natural as such things are. We barely edited the book.
Songs and musicals are another story altogether and can be infinitely trying and painful. I have often hated my collaborators and wished them death. Then again, when it goes well it is like a proper dance or blessed sex: magical. Always lovely (lucky) when that happens.
Writing comedy was fun. Imagine getting stoned with Lily Tomlin and sitting thru numerous shows of Dolly cracking jokes and writing them down—bliss.
The new opera has been amazing. I have had very little to do. John de los Santos created the entire libretto from my extant canon—a conversation between the older me (the Poet) and the younger me (the Muse). Loosely inspired by the concept of Nocturnal Omissions. Of course I got final edit—we thrashed out a few minor points—I did a modicum of rewrite, and voila, instant opera. Well, not quite instant, but I lucked out. Clint Borzoni has just finished the score, and workshops should happen soon in New York.
Of course. Initially it was my teacher, Busbee. Then Ian Young, who has never ceased to be a support. Isherwood became a mentor as well, tho rarely with the poetry—he didn't feel it his jurisdiction—altho he continually attested one of my poems to be his favorite (thank Goddess Auden was already dead or there may have been blood spilt).
My professor at Cal Arts was Deena Metzger. Wonderful poet, wonderful teacher, wonderful lady; many points she bequeathed to me have remained decade after decade.
Speaking of partnerships, besides your bevy of furry familiars (I am talking about the four-legged variety here) can you tell us a bit about your other poetic inspirations? Cats? Orchids? Extra-Terrestrials? Landscapes? Minerals?
All of these, I suppose—especially the felines. Tho romance was infinitely my forte. Until I became bored with romance and moved into the spiritual realms. Four years of LSD psychotherapy had much to do with that. As did the AIDS onslaught.
As I said, I explode when reading brilliant work. While I have always enjoyed the modern classics—Dickinson, Millay, Whitman … stars fall down and kiss me when I read the great masters: Sankara, Li Po, Basho, Izumi Shikibu, Lao Tzu, Rumi, Hafiz, Francis … this is always where my heart is.
Putting the romantic with the spiritual has been my recent passion and completion. A homecoming, artistically.
Anything else you would like to add before I snap my fingers and take you out of this trance? Perhaps a word of wizardly advice to those aspiring enchanters still a bit nervous about following their dreams?
Poetry can be great therapy—or not. But a poet is born such and writes because s/he has to. Nothing else makes sense. Some say what they have to say and move on. Others, like myself, just keep on babbling. I mean, really, what else is there?
Gavin Geoffrey Dillard has published eight collections of verse, two anthologies, and his infamous Hollywood tell-all, IN THE FLESH: Undressing for Success. Also known as “The Naked Poet,” his poems have been recorded by James Earl Jones, Don Adams, and published in anthologies and periodicals worldwide. An anthology of his life's work, THE MORTAL POEMS (the first half-century), will come out in 2014 from Sibling Rivalry Press. Dillard was schooled at both The North Carolina School of the Arts and California Institute of the Arts. He was tutored in songwriting by David Geffen, and in playwrighting by Jerome Lawrence and Tom Eyen. Deena Metzger, Ian Young, and Christopher Isherwood were also ongoing mentors. The author of dozens of songs, Gavin has written lyrics with and for such luminaries as Peter Allen, Chanticleer, Sam Harris, Jake Heggie, Glen Roven, Lowell Liebermann, Ralph Edwards and Disney Studios. His classical art songs ("Of Gods and Cats") have been featured at Lincoln Center by mezzo Jennifer Larmore.
He has written comedy with and for Dolly Parton, Joan Rivers, Peggy Lee, Vincent Price, Lily Tomlin. Gavin is the co-author of BARK!, the musical, which has played throughout North and South America, and author of OMFG!!!, an iLove Story, which premiered in 2011 in San Francisco. Spring of 2014 will see the opening of WHEN ADONIS CALLS, an opera comprised entirely of Dillard's poetry, by Clint Borzoni, with libretto conceived and constructed by John de los Santos.