Kenneth P. Gurney. I first met Rich Boucher in 2000 at the Washington D.C. slam hosted by Nicki Miller at either Teaism or Cafe Myth. After I left the D.C. area early in 2001, Rich and I did not cross paths again until Albuquerque (2007 I think) where the poetry gods navigated our independent journeys.
What got you started into poetry? What age?
Rich Boucher. I think I was 15 or 16 at the time. I was horribly crushing on a girl in my class in high school, and I had this sense or concept of the idea of love being addressed in poetry. So I would write short, rhyming and truly terrible odes to this girl. Actually, this or that girl, as I crushed on more than a few. I was bullied in high school, and of course I’m alive and fine now (just imagine THAT, young humans of 2016!), but when I think back on those times, I really should have been bullied for the horrible forced rhymes I created; a person who writes horrible forced rhymes ought to be on the receiving end of bullying. And then, in my senior year of high school, a remarkable man named Austin Lynch was my English teacher, and he made the poetry part of his class come genuinely and scintillatingly alive. I wanted to be like him, and I knew that poetry was a part of him. I endeavored from that year on to learn about and devour and incorporate poetry. And it was never forced – always felt natural, as though my mind and my mouth were always “meant” to voice poetry.
KPG. What is your favorite breakfast?
RB. I love a cup of very, very strong coffee with only two and a half sugars. And with that, I love some well-done chorizo and scrambled eggs, with TONS of black pepper. A couple of slices of cantaloupe. Ice water.
KPG. You have lived in both the greater D.C. area and Albuquerque. How do these very different cultural environments affect your writing?
RB. Great question! I actually lived in Newark, Delaware – which is only an hour and some change from D.C., but I was reading there often enough to pick up on the gestalt. Newark itself was a very fertile breeding ground for solid, inventive poets and the crew I ran with back there was a great number to be among. As for how both the Mid-Atlantic region and Albuquerque have affected my writing, I would say that both environments helped to reinforce for myself the value in remaining on my own track and doing my own thing. Both the Mid-Atlantic and Albuquerque performance poetry scenes are heavily informed by the generally left-of-center, progressive politics of those groups of poets. I’m not that “political” of a poet, and, if anything, I’m more often than not honestly inspired to write political poems that make fun of the abundant thought-process and common-sense pitfalls that in my view tend to plague the mindsets of the progressivist, “activist” poets.
KPG. If you have a hero, who is he/she and why?
RB. I have two, and they are twin lights in my personal firmament: James Tate and Charles Simic. These two poets have by their many brilliant examples shown me the way of my own work. Models for me to riff off of in my own voice. I want most often to choose words that delight with the fact of their unsettling combination, and James Tate has always shown me the leadingest, bestest way to do that. I want most often, also, to try to frighten or instill a little bit of fear or concern in the reader or listener, and Charles Simic has always shown me the darkestest, fearsomely way to do that. Yes, I acknowledge that a few of those terms back there in the previous sentence aren’t actually “words” – doesn’t matter.
KPG. Do you feel that you remain a slam poet / spoken word poet or do you feel that your writing has transitioned away from that genre toward some other category?
RB. I like this question. I was just thinking about this the other day. There’s a poet in the city who, in the past handful of years, when she has seen me in public, shared poetry spaces, has always managed to say something descriptive of me relating to the slam. And it never mattered that I would tell her that I didn’t regard myself as a “slam poet” any longer – it was just a label that she had mentally and permanently assigned to me. But I don’t slam anymore. What I remain is what I’ll call a performance poet. That is a poet who at least semi-regularly performs his work out in public. When I write, I’ll write not only for what the poem wants to be saying but also for how I know the poem will need to sound when either read aloud or performed by me in front of a microphone. Slam has taught me a lot about sonics, and mic technique, and those things inform me continually. When we talk about other categories, though, I’ll also clarify that I also conform to (and then from time to time deliberately non-conform to) the things I was taught about how to make a poem live on a page. So, I am THAT as well.
KPG. Tell us about your favorite poetry experience.
RB. If you only want ONE of my favorite experiences, then I’m in trouble. It’s hard to pick just one. I met James Tate once and asked him to sign my copy of his “Selected Poems” to me with a weird reference to a fake band I was in back in high school, and he complied with almost no comment at all. It was weird and yet fantastic. I knew he was a deity then. He filled a bookstore to overflowing out the door. More recently, I served twice on the Selection Committee for the Albuquerque Poet Laureate Program. It was a rare pride to feel when I watched from the crowd as poets I’d helped select were announced by dignitaries from this city as the Poet Laureate. A rare, poetry-related pride and honour.
KPG. If you could wave a magic wand and place a poetry book into every high school English classroom as required reading, which one would it be and why?
RB. I would place a copy of James Tate’s Memoir of the Hawk into every high school’s English classroom. I would do this because James Tate’s work in this book is exemplary, compelling, weird and unforgettable. I would do this also because it would be instructive for the students to see by his example the very strange and exciting things that poetry can be and that poetry can do.
KPG. Are you in a writing group? If you are, how do you find that beneficial?
RB. I’m not in a writing group at the moment, but I have been a member of a few. In Delaware I was a part of a small cadre of folks who would meet up after the close of the open mic night that I hosted for several years, and we would all hunker down at the local greasy spoon and pass around a piece of paper and create these elaborate, disgusting, lewd, fantastical and profane exquisite corpses with all sorts of different and ever-changing “rules” that would go on for pages and pages. Delirious writing. One night, this drunk couple came to our table and just sat down with all of us, like ten of us, and the college girl half of the couple was just shit-faced out of her god-damned mind. I had the bright idea to quickly thrust the notebook at her and I told her to write something on the next line, to contribute to the exquisite corpse. This girl was just completely drops-of-pee-in-the-panties drunk. She blurrily took the pen from my hand and wrote – and this is a direct quote – “I am Britney Roxanne Hitler. I got the throw up” on the page. I’ve also been a member of a group that writes, critiques and holds informal contests of erotic writing. So being a member of writings groups, in my view, is beneficial on a number of different levels. There’s an abundance of inspiration, and you can get an interesting and renewed sense of yourself when you compare what you’re doing with what others are doing in a small group.
KPG. Where was your last selfie taken? With anyone?
RB. I took a recent selfie and I tweaked it to look almost like a wood-carving with the Prisma app; I made it my Facebook profile picture. I enjoyed doing that, but good sweet Christ you need to understand that it felt vain as shit to do that! It always does. But I’m right in sync with society in that regard, aren’t I? We are all so very interested in our own faces.
KPG. If there is a little known poet you think everyone should read, who is that poet and which book of theirs should we seek?
RB. I have my reasons to doubt that she’s well known in the performance poetry circles and high schools around here (or even perhaps nationwide), but I like the work of Denise Duhamel, and in particular I’d recommend her book, “Kinky”.
KPG. If you could be present at any moment in history, what event would you visit and why?
RB. On first blush, I’ll say that I’d love to be present for the moment just before they started rolling at the filming of the first stag film. I would take over directorial and casting duties.
KPG. If you have a personal connection to the American Civil War, what is it? Which ancestor and what unit did they fight in?
RB. So, I have no one in my family that participated in the Civil War as far as I’m aware of (other than living in the half of America that won, of course), but I do have an early childhood recollection that’s somewhat related to this. I remember a time once, when I was a kid growing up in New England, my family was driving down a Massachusetts country road on a Sunday, on the way to see some family out of town, and we saw a car coming close in the other lane, and when it got closer we saw that it was a black 69 Dodge Charger with white mag wheels and the words “General Grant” above the windows and big block numbers reading “10” on the doors on the side and, as the driver drove past, he honked his horn. The melody was the opening bars to the Star-Spangled Banner. And this happened right around the time that the “Dukes of Hazzard” TV show was hugely popular. So we were met with the victorious Union version of that beautiful car. I remember liking that show and that orange car, and somehow managing to not even connect that symbolism of that car with actual history. It was just a funny, farcical show to me with a magical car that somehow didn’t atomize into nothing upon landing after one of its many jumps over a ravine. And of course Catherine Bach as Daisy Duke. This is an incontrovertible fact: there is no one on Earth who could possibly forget seeing her.
KPG. What reoccurring themes have you noticed in your poetry over the years? Is there a point of personal experience you revisit often?
RB. I think that I have noticed a few themes come up commonly in my work over the last several years. One of the themes is the notion or concept of the speaker of the poem as a person who is unsure of something that is in fact, sure. I love doubt very much. I especially love to portray or give voice to doubt in situations where there is absolutely no room, cause or justification for doubt. I’m fascinated also with the potential to bewilder the reader or listener with the public act of stating uncertainty about something that is unquestionably certain. That’s big to me. I like calling into question things that we “know” are real from science and things that we “know” happened from the history books. I think it’s very important, a duty, even, for a poet to declare what is real to be unreal and to call into question the happening of events in the timeline that are, by collective universal agreement, to have happened. You hear people say, “we have to protect and remember and respect history”, and they sometimes mean it even when discussing literature. Fuck that noise. I’ll do what I want with my history and with yours, too – it’s my poem and I’ll do as I please. I have also loved, over the last handful of years, to do what I can to explode and then expand upon the meanings of expressions and sayings that are commonplace and idiomatic to the language. One must always endeavor to victimize the reader or listener of the poem, especially in this eggshell era we live in today.
KPG. As a former slammer, what are your thoughts on the poetry slam, and on the increased emphasis on the youth poetry movement?
RB. I’m grateful to have done my time in the slam, and for the good things that slam has taught me about the craft of editing and performing one’s poems. That to me is the best thing about the slam, that if you stick with it and actually work and practice at it, you will learn a thing or two editing and bringing life to your words at the microphone. I’ll defend that good thing about the slam to the last breath. Sadly, the slam over the last ten years or so has become a joke that isn’t funny, a rough beast of clumsy, obvious, preaching-to-the-choir polemics and SJW prose listicles being foisted on innocent, uncritical audiences (or in some cases completely complicit, biased audiences in on the whole circle-jerk) expecting to hear actual poetry. It’s a shame. I think of that one recent slam champion darling from Boston or perhaps New York City who said something like “whenever I see a white guy onstage I immediately tune out” on her Twitter page and how no one in the national scene called her on her racism, and I feel a great swell of sadness and pity for a movement that at one time was a legitimate force for positivity and for bringing poetry to new places and new ears. As far as the whole “youth poetry” and “youth speaks” movement goes? I honestly think it’s marvelous and fine to help get kids excited about the possibilities of poetry, and I have heard certain one or two fine poems here and there, but I think many have turned the thing into a “let’s give them a hand for just being young” sort of mechanism, which I find objectionable. You don’t applaud people in their 20’s for being in their 20’s, and you don’t applaud people in the 60’s for being in their 60’s, so why would you do this for high schoolers? And I don’t find many examples of the poetry actually evidencing the study of the craft, just emulation of those self-appointed “social justice warrior poets” and the diary journal entries that they would really like to convince you is poetry. Sorry, son, but you’re not a “warrior” because you read a poem at a microphone. And stop with the stupid Messianic poses; you’re no hero. You’re just a guy who read a poem at a microphone and nothing more. I can go down to the local fire department or police department and show you what actual living and breathing heroes look like, if you’re up for it.
KPG. Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, or no chocolate at all?
RB. Dark chocolate first, and dark chocolate always. White chocolate is lovely, but can be too much for my mouth on occasion. Milk chocolate is a bit boring to me unless it comes hopping along in the form of a large bunny. But if we’re getting down to brass tacks here, everyone knows that dark chocolate is the best.