In honor of Black History Month, we invited henry 7. reneau, jr. to talk about his creative writing process and poetic influences in an email interview. You can read his poem “sheared & slaughtered #2” in issue 4.
Pretty Owl Poetry: Describe your life right now in 3-5 words.
Henry: Not now, but right now!
POP: What’s your favorite city, and why?
H: Porterville, CA. People in this city look you in the eye and tell you exactly how they feel. There’s a country wisdom about the people here that transcends the bullshit most Amerikkans accept as gospel.
POP: Do you find words, or do they find you?
H: Words follow me up from the depths of my dreams and intuitions; they filter in from overheard conversations, the world-wide web, music, television broadcasts, personal conversations with others and the written page. I am a writer always listening for that bona fide shade of truth, the authentic inspiration, deluged, always under siege, in the cacophonous jumble of the whole world trying to be heard at once. Sometimes I can mix these words into a home-cooked meal of stanzas, filling my creative plate with aromatic epiphany and wholesome vision. With everything that I write there is always the hope those who join me in this meal will be changed for the better of all humanity.
POP: Can you describe your writing process–how do you begin a poem? Do you use prompts? Do you take notes? etc.
H: Most of my writing resembles a quest into chaos where the hero dies in the end. It begins with whatever I see or hear in my immediate environment, the bits and pieces from overheard conversations, personal insights and the actions of others that are then screened through my personal beliefs, experiences, and worldview. Most times I am then able to winnow out the essence of whatever was rumbling around incoherent in my mind. I do sometimes use prompts and I have boxes full of notations on everything from toilet paper to coasters to pieces of cardboard boxes that I revisit from time to time. My writing process is a chaotic, roundabout and confrontational road that requires that I give my all, mentally and physically. When I enter moments of what can best be described as lucid dreaming, when time and space seem to melt away to ephemera—just me, a pen and a blank sheet of paper—the words seem to take on a life of their own. It is most often in these moments that my writing process takes me into an uncharted frontier where dragons eat heroes and heroines for lunch.
POP: Who was the first poet who really moved you?
H: June Jordan. Once I read her collection, “Some Changes,” poetry became my main means of artistic expression. Her writing grasped the root of a thing and held it in her open palm for the whole world to see, and be moved by.
POP: What is your least favorite household chore?
H: Dusting. This household chore is like trying to corral a migration of butt-nekked lemmings high on meth. Hellfire and save the matches!
POP: Do you write your poetry to be read, heard, or both?
H: Whenever I write a poem, one of the means of editing I use is reading the poem out loud while looking into a mirror. I also participate in open mics. Both of these methods of editing serve mostly to regiment the rhythm of the poem, and to access how clearly my written words convey the meaning I intended. There is nothing that feels better than having an audience get what you are writing about, and to see the light of enlightenment and positive change blaze to life in their eyes.
POP: What is poetry’s fuel source?
H: I believe the main fuel source of poetry is empathy, which should not be confused with compassion. When you look at the whole history of humanity you realize that our most defining characteristic is our capacity for, and ever inventive means of, killing one another. Most of humanity can feel sympathy for the dead, the dying and the suffering, but only a handful feel their pain. Empathy is an exposed nerve. Empathy is teaching the hungry to fish, as opposed to compassion’s giving the hungry a fish for one day. Empathy is the cure, while compassion is only a Band-Aid on an open wound.
POP: Does poetry have value in today’s world?
H: I believe poetry’s main value is its ability to make a person think for themselves. This is the last thing any authoritarian government, institution, or individual wants a person to do. Poets are always among the first pushed to the wall, before the firing squad, anytime tyranny rears its head. More than any other art form poetry gives a person a choice, solely dependent upon personal experiences, beliefs and worldview. Poets should strive for an easily accessible, and universal, authenticity in their compositions. Every poet’s goal should be to make all humanity feel the commonality beating in every individual human heart.