July’s author spotlight is Kevin Barger
SwEP is spotlighting an author each month to find out what they are working on now and in the near future. Interviews are written and conducted by SwEP author, Gina Marselle. Ms. Marselle was lucky enough to catch up with Mr. Kevin Barger, as he was preparing to leave on tour from Asheville, N.C. to Washington, D.C. from July 6 to 12, 2017.
This interview was conducted by phone on July 3, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. eastern time.
Our first SwEP author spotlight is Performance Poet, Kevin Barger, who is currently on tour with a Poetry Cabaret in Washington, D.C. from July 6 through July 12, 2017 (for more information or for tickets: https://www.capitalfringe.org/events/1135-poetry-cabaret).
Barger is the author of Observable Acts: A Collection of Poetry published by SwEP in 2015. Barger’s works can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Observable-Acts-Kevin-Barger/dp/0692404554 or through SwEP or by contacting the author in person or through Facebook.
Tell us a little about your background in slam and performance poetry?
I met Spoken-Word and Visual Artist, Moody Black around 2008ish and was interested in his work. Black can be seen on All Def Poetry [see Black perform In The Field: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hU0zGh9aSQs&t=49s]. He hosted the first slam I competed in. Slam in Asheville, N.C. use to be a big thing before I got involved. In Asheville, when slam first started, it flourished but then it died. It went through a few cycles of popularity. It may have kept dying because Asheville is an artsy and nonjudgmental city and slam is judgmental—I mean we compete for scores and placement. People aren’t as interested in that. When I took over the slam in Asheville the Slammaster was on his way out and he left the slam responsibilities to me. I created a board of people to help run it and our slam became pretty popular, but then it began to take over my life. I was no longer concentrating on my own writing and performance. I was always promoting other poets and the slam scene in Asheville. Slam was my life from 2008 to 2011 [a number of Barger’s poems are on YouTube from this time period]. Eventually, a boyfriend brought it to my attention that I was no longer writing for self. I was like an addict, slam had become my addiction—my boyfriend encouraged me to stop and write for myself, to share my work for me and not for points. It made sense. Now, I concentrate on performance poetry, for the most part.
What were you like in school?
I was the really shy, fat kid that every one would pick on. Writing would allow me to escape. Once, in third grade, I wrote a book for a school assignment—a mystery, maybe about a lost shoe. It wasn’t very good but it was epic, and the shoe was eventually found at the dump. It was a hardbound book put together with duct tape. You know, I don’t ever remember not writing. In middle school, I entered a contest to have a poem published. It was a scam. I realize that now, but it was published on a plaque and the company wanted to sell my family a bunch of stuff along with the plaque. It was obviously a scam, eventually the sent my parents back the check they wrote the company. My parents still have the plaque and they appreciate it, but it really was a horrible poem. Mostly, I avoided school. I would eat lunch in the library. In high school, I was writing poetry—I came out in high school as bisexual my senior year. I dated a girl in high school and after for seven years, actually. But in high school, we would write poems to each other, as notes to hand off during homeroom class or in the halls. We didn’t pay too much attention in class, as we were writing these notes back in forth to each other. She stopped writing eventually, and I didn’t. When our relationship ended, I started writing more professionally. She stopped writing after high school, she just didn’t write—it wasn’t her thing—it was mine, and now, here I am.
Why do you write?
I write for catharsis, to empty myself. Once it is out of me and on a page, it is no longer mine—if someone else can connect to it then that is valuable as well, but at the end of the day, I am writing for catharsis.
Do you write on a typewriter, computer, dictate or longhand?
I use to have a leather bound journal and wrote with a pencil to edit as I wrote. Probably shouldn’t have done that, but I did it anyway—now I type on the computer. I can’t keep a new poem in my head—I have to write it down.
I am a serious writer. I don’t completely think of myself as a professional writer, but I do take it more seriously than most who write as a hobby. Any art you do for catharsis is really, really valuable. Once you start to make a name for yourself, the level changes and it becomes serious and important. Writing isn’t my whole life, I’m like the guy who comes and mows your lawn and sometimes I get paid—I might earn $10 bucks selling a book or really, I’m more likely to give you a book. Now, Neil Gaimen, author of American Gods, basically says you have to write all the time to be a writer, you can’t wait to be inspired—you have to write—I am not that strict of a writer.
When did you decide to become a writer?
I never really made a decision to become a “writer,” as I’ve always written. It is just a label that helps to make up me. I also make pottery sometimes, which makes me a “potter,” or I go hiking which makes me a “hiker.” It’s just a label that describes something I do sometimes. I think I am in the minority here by not buying into the mystique surrounding the term “writer.” I write poetry. I perform poetry. It is a label, but it doesn’t define me. I am gay, but that also doesn’t define me. Since I was in a relationship with a woman for seven years—there are things we do that fall outside the labels we adopt. There are a lot of labels to define us, but they should never confine us. We should celebrate all the things we do instead of just clinging to one.
Which writers inspire you?
So when I first started performance poetry I was really intrigued by Patricia Smith, Taylor Mali, Moody Black, and Rives. Rives is an amazing poet, he is godly. I recommend his TEDtalk Mockingbirds Remix2006 to everyone [it can me found: https://www.ted.com/talks/rives_remixes_ted2006/transcript?language=enn]. I am also inspired by Dorothy Parker (she wrote gossipy poetry) and Langston Hughes; I love writers from the 1920s, not sure why—I just do.
Right now I am really excited about the Poetry Cabaret Collective that I will be performing with in D.C. It is a mish mash of music, poets, dancers, even a fire-eater—It is a fun show! My ambition is to discover fun ways to get my voice out there. I am a performance poet and I enjoy that aspect of my work right now. With the Poetry Cabaret I can do this. We did a lot of fundraising for this tour from a Zombie festival to a kickstarter. Now we are all traveling together—15 of us to D.C. We will perform in D.C. from the 6th through the 12th at The Capital Fringe Festival: https://www.capitalfringe.org/. Eventually, our hopes are to take this show on the road.
Note: The show is made up of the following artists (taken from Facebook events page):
Chief Creative and Director: Caleb Beissert
Music Director: Aaron Price
Poets: Kevin Evans, Justin William Evans, Justin Blackburn, Kevin Barger, Michael Coyle, Caleb Beissert
Dance Artists: Hester Prynncess, Union J, Tom Scheve
Musicians: Aaron Price, Polly Panic, Max Melner
How did you get involved with the Poetry Cabaret?
Caleb Beissert invited me. I met him through the slam poetry scene. He hosted an open mic I would go to recruit poets for the slam.
I consider myself a page poet, doing what you do is admirable—performing for crowds of people and participating in slams, festivals, and now this Poetry Cabaret show. I certainly admire stage poets. Even though, I don’t like to say (or label) stage verses page poet, but there is a difference. As a performance poet, how do you differentiate a stage poet from say a page poet like myself?
I agree there is a difference between stage and page poetry and spoken word and slam and performance, really. I think page writers worry about grammar and form—whereas stage, we worry more about sound of words and how powerful we can get something across. I don’t call myself a slam poet anymore, I love slam, will perform it, it was just detrimental to my writing. But, I don’t perform for points anymore—it was a competition and a strategy was always needed—in slam we are trying to one up the person who came before us. When I performed slam, I was not writing for myself, I was writing to score points. Don’t get me wrong, I love slam. The Slam community has a big family and slam helped become the person I am today. Going through that fire—is amazing. But years doing it can be difficult; there is so much work involved from the competition itself to the work in putting together shows—it is life consuming. On the other hand, performance poetry allows me to write for myself and perform on the stage. I have a lot of freedom to take risks because I’m not being scored. Really, say, if someone gives you a six, your soul is crushed…and then you second-guess yourself and your ability. The first slam I remember performing in I won, and it gave me an ego boost—I didn’t always win, but I did that time. Then I performed more and made a name for myself. I performed in festivals and people recognized my work and it was awesome when people came up afterward saying they loved my work…yet, with slam there is self-doubt, but at the end of the day it is really a love fest. One thing about stage poetry is after performing a poem there is immediate validation for who you are as a writer and performer. If you are in classroom setting or in a workshop editing a page poem then a lot of times people become critical and offer ways to improve your writing, grammar issues, etc. In the classes, I only saw my mistakes. Really, in thinking about it, poetry, at one point was something that could only be understood by academia and it killed the art form. Now, this is something that we poets are working on is that poetry needs to be for everyone so we all can read, write, and share. Poetry connects us through emotions—that is me talking as a stage poet. I don’t limit myself to form, but if I just want to get everything out on a page then I do, but ultimately, it is going to be performed.
What genre are your book(s)?
Poetry. I only have the one book.
What draws you to this genre?
I love poetry; it feels like something I have always done. The short form suits me. I like writing essays, too. I love reading fiction, however, my poems can be confessional. It can be dangerous because it can turn into your diary—it needs to be topic based. As the writer, we want empathy not sympathy from sharing our poetry. At first, I was a very political poet and shared poems about gay rights and issues. Lately, I’ve moved away from that to write more emotional things. I don’t box myself in.
How much research do you do?
Not a lot. It is more about how I feel in a moment. If I am making a reference…I may research about that topic enough to make sure I get a specific line or thought right. My poem “Little Brother” is about the shooting of Lawrence King, and I really had to learn that story in order to make a larger point. Mostly, though, I have an outpouring of words that I have to immediately write it down. Writing for me is kind of like trying to catch air. I’ll lose a piece if I’m unable to get it on paper as soon as the thought occurs. I don’t want to lose it so later I will go back to edit.
How do you edit your work?
I really have a difficult time finishing a poem. As far as editing, I show it to different people, and get feedback—then I edit. I will read it out loud and feel the words in my mouth and make sure that they sound like they belong together. I don’t edit per se for grammar and such. I may write a poem and have a need to share it at a show. I just tell the audience, I just wrote this. Let me know what you think. Some poems I don’t share at all.
Tell us about the cover/s and how it/they came about.
Kat had a graphic designer for my book. I helped to decide the final look for the cover with feed back from others.
Do you have any advice for other authors on how to market their books?
I market myself by performing. I take my books with me. I am trying to figure out how to market myself better. I like to make sure my book is in my bio when being introduced. It is hard to market. I tried advertising online, but it wasn’t successful. Performing poems and having books available is the best way for me. I love the connection made when I hand a book over or sign a book to someone. Love having a book out, and selling a book, I am just as an apt to give a copy of my book away as I am at selling it.
Which social network works best for you? How can people connect with you?
Facebook is really the best way.
How many shows a year?
I maybe perform in three to four big shows each year—I’d like to do more. I try to show up at open mics, too, when I can. There’s one hosted by Caleb, the host of the Poetry Cabaret, every Wednesday in Asheville that I get to sometimes.
If you would like to find more about Kevin Barger then please connect through SwEP or contact the author directly through Facebook or Facebook Messenger. Samples of his work are in his most current manuscript; Observable Acts: A Collection of Poetry (SwEP, 2015) https://swimmingwithelephants.com/ or you may find a sampling of his slam poetry online. Here is Kevin Barger performing “Lullabye” at the Asheville Poetry Slam at The Magnetic Field (January 2010): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xu47N3zXhTs.
Interview Conducted By the Always Brilliant Gina Marselle
Gina Marselle, M.A.Ed, is a New Mexico educator who lives in Albuquerque with her husband and children. She has published poetic work with The Sunday Poem Online Series, in the Alibi, the Rag, SIC3, Adobe Walls: An Anthology of New Mexico Poetry, Catching Calliope, Fix and Free Poetry Anthology I and II, and La Palabra Anthology I and II. Aside from poetry, she is an accomplished photographer. Her photos of New Mexico poets have been featured in the Santa Fe Magazine, Trend (March, 2011). She also photographed the cover of Jessica Helen Lopez’ poetry book, Always Messing With Them Boys (West End Press, 2011), and has her photography featured in September: traces of letting go a poetry book by Katrina K Guarascio (Swimming With Elephants Publications, 2014). Finally, A Fire of Prayer: A Collection of Poetry and Photography is her first full-length manuscript (Swimming With Elephants Publications, 2015).
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