Born in Santo Domingo, Sergio G. Satélite moved to New York City in his mid-teens to become a Calvinist preacher, an undocumented mime, a factory worker, a Spanish interpreter and a student of analytic philosophy. Examples of his work can be found in LiVE MAG!, Local Knowledge, Breadcrumbs Mag, and the latest great weather for MEDIA anthology, Suitcase of Chrysanthemums.
Sergio reads at our Brooklyn book launch on Thursday September 13th.
Thomas Fucaloro: Can you tell us a little about yourself? Why poetry? What is your connection to it?
Sergio G. Satélite: Let’s see. I bit about myself. Ok. My first therapist told me my primary coping mechanisms are humor and intellectualization. I’m told my first word was gracias, when I was six months old. I was born in Santo Domingo. Moved to NY/NJ at age sixteen. Was a hard-core evangelical for almost ten years. I was a mime, a singer, a youth leader, a preacher and by age 19 I was the interim pastor in a small church. A few years after high school, I studied philosophy at Hunter College. Primarily analytic philosophy. I was undocumented for a very long time.
What else. I sleep naked, when possible. I’ve eaten more Mexican food than I have Dominican food in the last 15 years. I obsess over thinkers, singers and shows (John Dewey, Peep Show, Silvio Rodriguez, Leonard Cohen, Rick and Morty, etc.) and I no longer know which language I dream in.
Why poetry? I had a religious-existential-epistemological-vocational-romantic-crisis. (Sorry for the little mouthful, but that’s sort of what it was.) Fairly long story short, I ended up with a loss of faith in my ability to finish projects, particularly writing projects. Then I started getting ideas for poems, and though most of the poems were initially fairly crappy, I realized I can finish things! So, poetry has become the small, slow vehicle I am currently taking to rebuild my trust in my self-efficacy, or in Leonard Cohen’s words, a way in which I “locate my self-respect.”
TF: In Suitcase of Chrysanthemums, you have an amazing poem, "Kahil Gibran and the People Who Really, Really Loved Poetry," that challenges the idea of poetry, among other things; what brought on this mad list?
SGS: There is a Nacho Vegas song, “El Hombre Que Casi Conocio a Michi Panero” (The Man Who Almost Met Michi Panero), that has the lines:
I failed once, I failed a thousand times,
and even so, I raise my glass to the sky
in a toast for the human race
and for how well it inhabits the world.
Like the character in that song, I find the project of living a semi-efficient human life overwhelming. At the same time, I’m deeply fascinated by questions about how it is most people seem to manage. (I think most people take most people for granted.)
Coming up with the mad list was fairly easy. You just start thinking about all the shit “normal” people do. The hard part was finding a way to limit this list. And this is where absurdist juxtapositions come handy.
By the way, I wouldn’t say the poem challenges the concept of poetry itself. It challenges a certain preachiness and moral-high-roading, that I, as a person who shyly accepts the title ‘poet’ fight hard not too default into. Being human is hard, so, while I want to throw my three tiny stones into the massive pond of articulated human experience, I don’t want to fancy I’m doing so from a particularly special or advantaged position.
TF: This poem feels very connected to your experiences on the poetry scene, has anything changed since you wrote it? Or stayed the same? Has it gotten better? Worse? Does it matter?
SGS: Umm... I’m still in the infancy of my discoveries about the poetry scene. What I’ve noticed so far is that excepting perhaps in the case of some slam events, poetry as a form of entertainment, is very rare, just like going to a philosophy or neuroscience lecture. Some people go, but most don’t. So I’m fascinated by the ones who do. In my experience, poetry reading series and open mics basically operate like small evangelical churches: the genuine believers and faithfuls are usually poets themselves. And then you have the friends, relatives, and lovers of poets. And then there is a tiny fragment of mysterious poetry lovers who are not themselves writers or relative-friends-lovers of the poets. I don’t have a problem per se with this, but I’m constantly wondering why this third group is so tiny.
I’ll only make one point about the poetry scene getting worse. I feel (like many other people and poets do) that we are heading into a culture of self-censorship that isn’t very healthy for any of the arts. I won’t go into a rant about this, but it is an interesting challenge to find ways to say things about topics that are deemed even unmentionable and that this is particularly difficult when you are coming from an angle that largely agrees with the spirit (though definitely not with the letter) of what is causing this collective self-censoring.
As for the poets themselves, I’m very happy with the poetry circles I’ve been encountering over the last year. Particularly the folks from great weather for MEDIA, Mad Gleam Press (meeting at Gamba Forest), and a bunch of more seasoned poets that I call the “LES poets,” even though they are from a bunch of places in the tristate area—it just so happens I discovered them in events at Parkside Lounge, Sidewalk Cafe, KGB, Swift, etc. (These poets include people such as the crazy maniac Jeff Wright whose little book Radio Poems, I love.)
But it was poets like Jason Swartwood, Craig Kite, Olivia Mardwig, Michelle Whittaker, Brian Sheffield, Julie Bentsen, Anton Yakovlev and you, who really gave me a sense that I could be performative, vulnerable and intellectually-and-humorously-inclined in my poetry all at once. So, I feel I’m in a fine intersection of the poetry scene.
TF: How does Kahil Gibran fit into this piece?
SFS: Frankly, the real Khalil has very little to do with the piece. As much as I am fascinated by people, I feel that my hyper-awareness of my own shortcomings sometimes turns my praises of people into thinly disguised resentments. I didn’t want to be that guy in the piece, so it occured to me to put my rant in Kahlil’s mouth so that I could be as free as possible without feeling I’m being unkind. My Khalil is ultimately a moralist and a humorist who is too aware of his shortcomings and so a little skeptical of the role of the poet as edifier, as motivational speaker. Not that I think either of these roles is totally impossible or even entirely undesirable. I just find it way more suspicious and daunting than when I was young and strong and had god by my side and more hair.
TF: What's next for you? Where are you hoping poetry takes you?
I have a little rubber duck at work. At this point I just want to go on squeezing it.