Steve Ramirez, as a poet and reading series producer, is pretty much the rock of gibralter. His staying power (along with that of his partner-in-crime Ben Trigg) is legendary in Southern California. Many years before his current production, Two Idiots Peddling Poetry, Steve was running weekly readings in Orange County and the Inland Empire. It puts him on a short list with people like Pat and Marcia Cohee, who ran the Laguna Poets reading series for literally decades.
Beyond that, Steve continues to turn out incredible poems. He has a gift for telling a story that is painful and tragic and funny at the same time. It's disarming. And it's exaclty what good poetry should do to you--trick you into absorbing the profound. We got him to settle down from working all his projects for a minute to talk to us about his influences, his reading series and his latest recording project.
Get Underground: Which poets have had the greatest influence on your style, <sub-question>, which poet do you want to be when you grow up?
Steve Ramirez: I used to have a short answer for this, but the more I've been writing, the more and more I find my um, "style" (my writing's gotten a bit schizophrenic lately) influenced by more and more people. I've had various periods where I'm staring at Sherman Alexie, Tony Hoagland and Dean Young, trying to figure out how they do what they do. But I've also had a not so secret yen for Anne Sexton and Kim Addonizio. Lately, I've been on this kick where my mind has been corrupted by photogravures, one of those old school photographic techniques. Go to www.photogravure.com. Or check out the work of Robert ParkeHarrison. Great stuff. Bends your mind in new directions.
Sub answer: I'm finally trying to learn to want to be me when I grow up... whoever that'll be, but in the meantime I'd still love to fill the shoes of Jack McCarthy. If I could write one of his pieces, I'd call it a career right there.
GU: Tell us about the collaborative process you went through making your CD. Did you go into it with a theory of how you wanted the music and sound to relate with each poem?
SR: I had this idea of putting the poems I chose into a sort of audio context, just trying to flesh out the stories of the pieces with sound and music. In certain cases it was pretty straightforward or at least seemed that way... like the opening piece, I knew that I wanted to tie in the idea of music and writing somehow, which is how the idea of the typewriter as a percussion instrument worked it's way in (and I ripped that idea off from Yann Tiersen, a french composer whom I adore).
In other cases it really drove me crazy... like the end piece. I'd originally gone in with an idea for a kind of heavy and dramatic cello piece and had Leslie Neal play this really beautiful and haunting piece for me... but for some reason, when I was sitting there mixing it, it just didn't seem to fit with the rest of the pieces I'd already recorded... so I was visiting with Brendan Constantine up in Idyllwild and we started talking about zombie movies... because that's what you do when Brendan's around, right? And the whole idea of putting it into the framework of a zombie movie, with a radio broadcast and full orchestration and sound effects (I recorded the squeaking floors and some other stuff at the cabin while he was teaching class) and everything else involved in it fell together.
For the rest of the pieces, I mostly invited musically talented friends (like the unbelievably good Mindy Nettifee) to come over, plied them with food and beer (and more beer) and mined their talents for everything I could. Then I just mixed it all on my laptop and added strange sounds that I'd been collecting, like the crows at the beginning of Ode to a Brownie... from a field I found while driving to a DJ gig in Lancaster.
GU: You've been running the Two Idiots Peddling Poetry reading for a VERY long time by industry standards. Is it as rewarding as it sounds? Has it been hard to work nervous breakdowns into running a weekly show and holding down a full-time job?
SR: The past few months, we've been having one of our previous generations of readers return to the reading after a prolonged absence and it's so weird to see these kids that used to come read for us back again, only all grown up. It's tough sledding sometimes, having gone weekly for wow... coming up on 7 years in August... but having the opportunity to see people develop their skills and spending time with people who love poetry makes it worthwhile during the nervous breakdowns. Not to mention having an incredibly good friend/co-host/support network/fellow comic geek like Ben Trigg around to cover for me when I work late/develop food poisoning/get stuck in traffic on the way back from Ventura County. If it were One Idiot Peddling Poetry, the show would've folded long ago.
GU: You write a lot about superheroes, so I have to ask the age-old self-defining question--if you could have any super power, what would it be?
SR: I'm quickly becoming addicted to Heroes, and originally I thought about Hiro's ability to stop time (I mean, c'mon, how cool would that be?), but I think I actually am growing more partial to his non super power lately... the ability to have just about every crappy situation thrown at him that you can imagine and still find the time to look at himself holding a samurai sword in the future and go "cool!!!!"
GU: Are you happy?
SR: We all go through our emo stages, but overall, I'd say yeah. Like my friend Jeremy says "Emo is one step from emu, and that's one step from having feathers and laying eggs."
GU: How can people get a hold of your CD or chapbooks?
For the cd, I'm now available at www.cdbaby.com/steveramirez (woohoo) and supposedly one of these days (before summer is all I'm hearing) I'll be available on iTunes (double woohoo). For chapbooks... um... good luck? I might have one kicking around in my truck, but I kind of doubt it. For a poetry host, I'm the worst self marketer ever. Hands down.
And now, for some poetry: