Tuesday, September 6, 2011

John Brantingham

Augie's Quick Post

     Welcome to Augie's Corner, today we welcome John Brantingham who is a Published Poet, Short Story Writer, Novelist and a full-time Professor of English and Creative Writing at Mt San Antonio College, located in Walnut, California.

Augie: John thank you for taking the time out of your demanding schedule as a Professor and writer to spend time with us today.

John: Thank you so much for interviewing me. It’s a pleasure to be included in your blog.

 Augie: This is rare for me, but let’s dispense with formality and get down to the nitty gritty, is that alright with you?

John: Sure.

Augie:  Great, East of Los Angeles is a modern day poetry book, depicting an area that not too many people know about, can you tell us what was the draw for you when you decided to put these beautifully sculptured vignettes together?

John: Well, I’ve lived in the San Gabriel Valley most of my life, and when I was just starting to write poetry, I wrote about my life and what I saw. I wasn’t consciously writing about place, but it just sort of worked out that way. After years, I realized that the area where I’ve lived is really the focus of my work, and I’ve been writing about it consciously since then.

Augie: That’s wonderful, to love the area where one is raised, and then honor that area in poetry and prose 

Augie: When I read your poetry, “Your Favorite Jazz Radio Station,” “The Art of Falling,”etc., I felt as though I was traveling, feeling and seeing the sites that you spoke of, when writing as you do, is this a learned form of writing or one just has to have the right knack to write in this manner?

John: Well both of those poems and many more were written quite literally when I was traveling through them. I had a monster commute for years, and to deal with it emotionally, I’d compose as I drove. The commute that I describe in “Your Favorite Jazz Radio Station” was my literal commute, out of the desert and into the city slowly over 60 or 70 miles. “The Art of Falling” came from my motorcycle journeys where I felt as though I was going to die on those overpasses every day. What I like to feel is that the honesty of what I’m feeling is coming through. I was at those places. I felt those things, and I think that’s vital in the kind of poetry that I’m writing there. One of my favorite writers is Charles Bukowski because he’s so honest. His poetry and fiction really gets into the core of who he is. The fact is that I’ve always thought of him as a terrible person, but he’s honest about that. It’s only though emotional honesty that a writer can touch other people.

Augie: John, you use the word honest many times here, and I have to agree with you, honesty is important in writing, it not only keeps the words fresh and alive, but it gives one credibility. I had read once that an artist has to be honest with its audience as well as believable, no matter if one is writing or painting (okay folklore is a little different, one is expected to lie or paint the picture brighter/larger)

Augie: So, you don’t write in one genre?  

John: No, poetry is in fact not the focus of my writing life.
I’m first a short story and novel writer, but I do love poetry. Generally, I’d be categorized as a literary writer, but I hate that designation. I’d love to get into mystery fiction too, but that has its own rules and challenges. Those rules are wonderful though. They give structure and demand perfection in the same way that the rules of the sonnet demand the attention and devotion of the poet.

Augie: John, you cause me to smile. I know that those of us who know you on a personal level have to give out a What!!! You having problems with rules, challenges, categories, perfection…ok I’ll be nice.

Augie: Folks John is wearing the Professor’s hat right here—let me tell you that he is prolific, iconic and  insanely funny at times. As well as a compassionate teacher who wants everyone around him to succeed. As far as I know, he has no problem with rules, challenges or any other demands and if he does he meets them head-on. Okay, we’ll move on from here. 

Augie: How do you allocate your time, you as a College Professor, a member of Sunny Frazier’s Posse, the column you write for Walnut Patch, I don’t know, we see you all over the Internet, what’s your secret?

John: I read once that the happiest people on Earth are those who cannot see the difference between who they are, what their moral values are, and what they do. I’ve tried to live this way. I am what I do. And when I read this, I thought of all the things that bring me happiness, and I’m happiest when I write, when I teach, and when I spend time with people. It’s no secret, and it’s not hard. I just don’t like to spend any time doing any of the things that don’t bring me happiness. It’s been a lot of fun working with Sunny and on Walnut Patch, and I am happy when I write. I’m not so happy when I lie around all day and gossip or play video games or do so many other things. I know that brings other people happiness, so more power to them. One of the big changes I made was to not buy a cell phone. I still don’t have one. It makes me unhappy to be distracted and talk on the phone. If it brings me no happiness, I should not do it. People think that’s strange, but it would be much stranger to bring myself suffering. So I guess my secret is that I really really like to do all of those things.

Augie: Thank you for being candid. 

Augie:  I must relate to the audience that you have a unique platform as a down to earth, lay back guy (that when one meets you, they definitely see you as friend, okay so I may be after brownie points), but, you always get the job done; case in point the Mt San Antonio Writers Weekend held yearly, how many years has it been running?

John: This is going to be our fourth year. It grew out of our Writer’s Day program which has been going on for over 40 years now, longer than I’ve been alive, but we wanted to expand it.

Augie: What was your inspiration? I mean what did you want to accomplish?

John: Well, I’ve been to a number of writer’s conferences, and they are all good in their ways, but I realized that since most of them cost something like $1000, they are out of most students’ budgets. We decided that we could have something similar to those big conferences and keep them mostly free. Here’s what we wanted in the short term:

A weekend-long conference where students can work with professional writers and publishers on their own work and get intensive discussion on how to write and publish. So many of the students at Mt. San Antonio College see themselves as trapped in some narrowly defined world where they have no chance of real improvement of dream achievement. That’s nonsense, and we decided to prove that students can achieve. It’s been incredibly successful. So many of our students, who are just freshman and senior college students, have published widely, and I’m proud of that. What I’m more proud of is the fact that these students and many others have begun to see their lives have a larger context and greater possibility. It’s hard to see that about yourself, but when we take students seriously, they take themselves seriously.

Here’s the long term goal:

A week-long conference in which students can complete a course of study with famous writers and publishers who create relationships that last beyond the week. I want Mt. SAC to be a center for art and culture in the area. It already is to a large degree, but there is no reason that we shouldn’t be a destination for serious artists.

Augie: This leads me to one of your next project, The San Gabriel Valley International Literary Festival that you, your beautiful wife Ann and Scott Creley are dedicated to bring to Southern California, tell us about the dream and it coming to fruition.

John: The idea for the literary festival sgvlitfest.com came after I participated in a literary festival in Swansea, Wales at the Dylan Thomas center. It was a great experience and a thrill. There were writers from all over the world come to open up the lives of the people of Swansea, and have their lives opened up too. Swansea’s a fairly small city, however, and I thought of all the people back home who would love to have something like this. I mentioned the idea to Ann and Scott and both of them ran with it, coming up with ideas and plans. The three of us have different skill sets and that’s been great. Scott’s a former student and younger than I am, and technologically savvy. I have to say that he’s been doing so much of the work so far. I really admire his ability to get the word out there. The first big hurdle is going to be to get the funding. What I’d really like to do is to create a cultural center in this area that would be a permanent place for art, music, and writing. All communities should have this. The San Gabriel Valley certainly deserves it.

Augie: Would this require backing, volunteers, would the center be open to a select few as back in the heydays of Hollywood (when only certain caliber of people were allowed to participate)?

John: No, I hate that about art. I want everyone. Our slogan is “collaboration without exclusion, art without attitude.” The problem that I have with so many art communities is that there is a feeling that some people belong and that other people are supposed to look in at those exciting artists and dream. This is nonsense. All artists are outsiders. We always have been and to create another level of outsiders is silly. We need to work together.

The fact is that we need all the volunteers that we can get. We don’t just need boots on the ground either (although we do need that). We need people who are just willing to share their art with us. If you go to the website, you can check this out, but everyone is welcome. Obviously, people in the San Gabriel Valley will have easier access because of proximity, but anyone who wants to be a part of the movement, is a part of the movement.

Augie: John, this sounds exciting and I know that you and your team will be successful. I heard a peep that you are also involved in the Beside the City of Angels: Long Beach Poetry Festival; can you fill us in on this engagement?

John: Well, I earned my MFA in fiction at CSU Long Beach, and I used to run poetry readings in the area. Anyway, I’ve been associated with the Long Beach poetry scene (which is amazing and vibrant) for a long time, so they were kind enough to ask me to be a part of their reading. I’m a major fan of a lot of the poets there, and I’m knocked out by the offer.

It’s a one day event that’s a poetry marathon. I’ll be one of the first poets, but it goes on all day. If you have any love for poetry, you should check it out. If you’ve never been into poetry, this is a great event for you. Long Beach poetry has long been known for its incredible accessibility. People who hate poetry love Long Beach poetry, which is due to the influence of people like Gerry Locklin and Ray Zepeda who are both really great and influential professors at CSULB.  Here’s the facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/lbpoetryfest?sk=wall

Augie: You are definitely a busy person.

Augie: What are you working on now?

John: I’m working on a collection of stories about a homeless man. These are really vignettes following him through the beach communities. Also, I’m working on some travel poems. I’m trying to get out of the last collection mentally. Finally, I’m polishing a thriller. It’s a revenge drama with lots of killing. It’s different than what I’m known for and incredibly dark in places, but it’s really exciting to me.

Augie: Is there anything else you would like to share with the audience?

John: I have some links:

These will all give a sense of who I am and what I do. If anyone wants to contact me, they can email me at jbrantingham@mtsac.edu. Also, I’m on facebook.

Augie: Just quickly I would like to get your first reaction on the following words.

a. Favorite colour: Green

b. Favorite food: Chicken pie (not pot pie – it has to be homemade by me and in a crust)

c. Lover of dog or cat?  Both, but dogs win. My best pal is Archie.

d. Favorite cologne/perfume? My own musk

e. Drink of choice? Coca Cola – It’s unhealthy, I know, but I’m hooked.

f.  If you and your wife can travel anywhere in the world, all expense paid for two weeks, where would you go?  London – this is where we met and fell in love.

g. If I had a million dollar  I would  create that cultural center in the San Gabriel Valley and spend every day of my life down there

Augie: John, thank you for being here today, we have learned a lot about your accomplishments as well as your desire to bring an ‘art center’ to the San Gabriel Valley, also you can pick up John Brantingham's East of Los Angeles, published by Anphora Literary Press at your local book store, or see John on Face Book.  

Great fortunes on your future projects John.       

John: Thank you so much Augie. This is a great site and I love the work you’re doing here.

          Thanks again.  See ya soon.  Augie

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