Super thanks to RJ Walker for not only stooping to this interview but for being so incredibly patient. Between sickness, a move, and delayed internet access, he has even more of a right to hate me than most people do. As soon as I saw him on Facebook, I recognized him from some of his Button Poetry videos. I knew I had to interview him but asking felt like Lloyd Dobler pursuing Diane Court. Fortunately for us, he humbled himself to this interview and was great to work with. Please check his shit out and pay him.
In a youtube comment on Button Poetry's video of "Halloween," you say that the poem was inspired by a time where someone was a jerk to you for being the only one without a costume. Did you ever see that dude again? Is he aware of the poem?
Actually, it was my ex who was the jerk, but I changed the name and everything. At the halloween party, she acted like I ruined it because I didn’t come in a costume and all of her friends laughed at me. I was really ashamed and angry. The next morning, I wrote that poem.
Speaking of Halloween, what is your favorite holiday?
Ummm… Halloween… actually. I love ghost stories and spook alleys and campfires and everything autumn.
Some of your performances, such as "Seance for the Boy I Let Die," are confessional and even vulnerable in nature. Is there anything you wouldn't feel comfortable writing about?
Yes. Some things just aren’t meant to be a poem. When writing poems about patients, you have to make sure you’re not telling someone else’s story, and are instead telling your story of the experience.
Your poems really connect with people on a visceral level. Can you ever anticipate which lines or which pieces are going to be more successful than others?
Yes, actually. That’s the beauty of poetry slam. Every time you get scores it’s a measuring stick for how well your work is connecting. When I perform at the local slam, I can get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t.
"Deceit & I" has over 200 k views on youtube. Did you ever see yourself reaching such a large audience?
Sort of? I figured that if I kept up with poetry slam, I’d eventually get picked up by button poetry. What I didn’t expect was the response from the safe sleep community and pediatricians. Several doctors reached out regarding the poem to tell me that I was making an impact in reducing SIDS deaths by talking about something people were afraid to discuss.
You've lent your talents to some video games. How similar is doing a public reading voice work?
Honestly, indie voiceover work is just grunting and yelling in a closet. Public readings are great because you can gauge the energy and response of the audience. Voice Over work is really just you and the computer.
Was there ever a moment behind the mic where it clicked for you? Did you have immediate chemistry or was it a slow connection?
I started at a little open mic by my house telling jokes. Eventually, the jokes developed into full blown character monologues and someone invited me to do them at a poetry slam. I went and managed to get 2nd at my first slam ever!
Do you ever see the same people in attendance for your performances as a stand-up comic that you've seen attending your slam poetry?
Of course. When I do stand-up, it's usually at the same mic I do poetry. I also inject some stand-up into my featured poetry sets. The two artforms are very close and very connected for me.
Do you find your work as two separate experiences, one on the written page and one heard aloud? Or are the two directly associated for you?
While the words are the same, my poems on the stage have the added element of choreography and vocal expression. My poems on the page have the added element of formatting, and font and readers can take their time with it. Though the words are the same, the page and stage intersect, but both have advantages and disadvantages.
You actually gave me the heads up on the new Front Bottoms EP with a Facebook post about it. What's your favorite album of theirs?
My favorite album has to be Talon of the Hawk, but my favorite song would have to be Awkward Conversations.
Congrats on taking home the gold in the NPS! Do you ever feel like an athlete participating in such competitions?
well, bronze. We took 4th. Which is still quite impressive! Poetry Slam is 100% an academic sport and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Judging from your social media activity and juggling act of output, do you ever feel overwhelmed being neck deep in the game?
YES YES YES. I wear a lot of hats and do a lot of things. Getting poetry to be profitable is a really big struggle. It’s not exactly a popular product, and all the big pay comes from grants and universities. The big money comes from people who think poetry is important just because it’s artistic, not from people who actually WANT to purchase poetry. So I’m constantly trying to find ways to reinvent poetry as a lucrative and desirable product. That’s part of what Dollar Complements is. Not only am I trying to popularize and incentivize the writing of positive and validating poetry, I’m trying to blaze a career trail for other poets. Several poets have used the Dollar Compliments model of typewriter commissions sent through the mail to fundraise everything from Slam Teams to their top surgery. Slam has been successful for me, but this project is my real baby. It can be difficult to juggle it with my other work sometimes, but it’s certainly worth it.
Obvious final question, but what's next? Anything around the corner you'd like to promote or tease?
Well, there’s my patreon www.patreon.com/dollarcompliments Subscribers get a compliment, which is a tiny ode poem to you, every month. I type them up on my typewriter and send them through the mail. I post all the compliments to my instagram, which is @dollarcompliments. Even if you don’t subscribe to the patreon, you can follow along the compliments other people are getting!
Also, my new book Indigo League just came out on amazon: http://a.co/d/5tHTY7O
It’s a book of 50 poems inspired by Pokemon. There’s a poem for all the different types of trainer in the original red/blue/yellow versions of Pokemon, as well as a poem for all of the cities. A Seance for the Boy I Let Die is the poem for Lavender Town.
My other books are available on my website at www.rjwalkerpoet.com You can also access my voiceover demos there.
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