Between the Rock and the Heart: An Interview with David Lawton

It’s Animal but Merciful contributor David Lawton chats with Thomas Fucaloro

David Lawton is a Boston area native transplanted to the New York City poetry scene. His poetry appears in the first great weather for MEDIA anthology, It’s Animal but Merciful, and his debut poetry collection, Sharp Blue Stream, has just been published by Three Rooms Press. Founder of the highly popular JujoMukti Tea Lounge reading series, David now co-hosts and curates our weekly Spoken Word Sundays at The Parkside Lounge. 

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TF: So, can you talk about what you've been up to for the past year?

DL: Well, I feel like I am in a period of transition and I've been wrestling with where my writing is going. But I think New York is in a period of transition as well, including the poetry scene. So it's turned out to be the ideal time to revisit the arc of creativity that brought me onto the poetry circuit in New York seven or so years ago—and which reached a resolution of sorts recently in the form of a collection.

TF: That brings us toSharp Blue Stream from Three Rooms Press. How long did it take for the manuscript to come about?

DL: There are a couple of poems in the book that are over twenty years old. I reworked them when I first came out on the open mic circuit, so in one sense it has taken that long. Three Rooms spoke to me about doing a book two or three years ago, but it was a little delayed by all the great work they have been doing. It was really in the last six months that we reshaped the manuscript I had originally shared with them into the much more diversified book we ended up with.

TF: How do you separate David Lawton "the rock poet” from David Lawton "the sensitive poet"?

DL:The work separates them. They speak to different parts of me. The rock stuff comes from the gut and groin. Inspiration and escape. The sensitive stuff reveals the heart. The pose falls away. I was trained as an actor, and always endeavored to avoid being typecast. And I think I've tried to experiment with different types of poems and performance styles to reveal different aspects of myself.

TF: When you write, are you writing for your voice or does the page come first?

DL: Again I think it depends on the piece. Inevitably we all have a voice. But, with certain poems, I might choose to suppress my idiosyncrasies because I want to express something more universal. With more personal pieces, they will not work unless I find my quirky way of saying it. Otherwise they sound false

TF: “Well, Come On!” and “The Other Stooges” are great pieces of work. One focuses on the actual band The Stooges, the other focuses on the comedy team. Did you write one with the other in mind or was it all just a matter of fact?

DL: I was out of town and chatting online with a talented young lady who is part of our community. I mentioned that I had written a piece about Iggy and the Stooges after seeing their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. A triumphant "Fuck you" moment. She suggested maybe I should write one about "the other Stooges". I had a couple of hours to kill, so sat down and the piece came out pretty much as it appears in the book. I didn't consciously attempt to tie them together in any way, but what I think they both share is a sense of redemption. Do the work you do, regardless of if anyone considers it "low art". Talent and originality will out.

TF: There is some great narrative and storytelling going on in this book such as “Alberta and Ruth”.  Are most of these stories true, or did they blossom from your head?

DL: They all come from my experiences. "Alberta and Ruth" is about two essential blues artists, Alberta Hunter and Ruth Brown, and is inspired by the style of the blues and jazz poems of John Sinclair. Whereas something like "Strip Mall in the Poconos" came from a scene I witnessed in passing, and I let my imagination fill in the blanks in terms of who those people were, based on how they made me feel.

TF: “Impossibility” is my favorite poem in the book. A very different breed of poem for you, it still has that Lawton lyrical flavor but has a touch of heart in it that is vulnerable but giving. Is that something you would like to explore more?

DL: I am surprised but delighted that that one is your favorite, since it was a departure from me. I was out in the country when I was inspired to write that, and I think it maintains some of that otherworldliness. So yes, I think this is a direction to further explore. Revisiting these experiments is being very useful to me in charting my next course.

TF: You have just started taking over some of the hosting duties at the Parkside Lounge Spoken Word Sundays. What can we expect?

DL: Well, since there is some nostalgia for the format we used at the original version of this reading I hosted at the JujoMukti Tea Lounge, I am going to give my features the option of reading poems back and forth as we did then. I have the Long Island poet Michelle Whittaker, who was recently published in The New Yorker, reading with Thuli Zuma, one of the exciting new voices on the slam scene in June. Ptr Kozlowski and Efrayim Levenson, who each have their own brand of quirky and humorous stuff, feature in July. And our August features, Kirsten Tomanocy and Seth Wallin, are poets in a committed relationship. I also want to work in some collaborations with music in the upcoming months.

TF: Who have you been reading lately?

DL: Anytime I am stuck and feel I need to go back to the basics, I pull out my Roominghouse Madrigals by Mr. Bukowski. I have been going back and forth between that and Kerouac's Collected Poems, the new Maintenant 7 Dada anthology from Three Rooms Press , and It's Animal but Merciful. And that is not blowing smoke. There's such innovation and variety in there.

TF:What’s next for David Lawton?

DL: I'm trying to figure out a plan to make art for the rest of my life, with less bullshit eating up the hours. I acted in my first play in a long time last year, and it was a terrific experience. I want to do it again. Maybe write a play. As soon as I finish beating the drum for this book, I'll start developing another manuscript. And I'd like to meet a nice girl who makes good pancakes.

Read David Lawton's  poem “Tri-City Rock Brood” in our anthology It’s Animal but Merciful.

Sharp Blue Stream, and other books by our contributors, may be found and ordered through our Book page. Or visit Three Rooms Press for more author and purchase info.

Check out our calendar to find out what events are coming up, including our Spoken Word Sundays at the Parkside Lounge. And sign up to our monthly newsletter for reading news, publications, submission calls, and more.