Cliff Lynn, Annapolis area poet and co-host of three poetry series, has changed his name to Willy Purple. And if you watch his short poem of the same name (check out the video above) you’ll know that if he is to lose his sight due to any host of awful and hilarious reasons, you’re to call him Blind Willy Purple. It’s got a nice ring to it, huh?
The first time we saw Cliff (or…Willy) read, it was along the river in center city York during the city’s annual Yorkfest celebration. We were blown away by not just the familiar and easy tone of his humorous-but-oh-so-true poetry but also by his personality. The man is funny, and he writes like Vonnegut in Sandburg’s body. Weeks later he left the 200+ audience at the Ware Center’s Poetry Aloud laughing , smiling, and waiting for more. He says his “poetry phase” began less than 10 years ago but you would swear he was being wildly modest.
We asked the busy poet, who co-hosts three separate readings (listed below), some questions about his work and influences, his experience with poetry communities, and why he thinks poetry is important.
How long have you been writing? What do you write? How long have you been funny?
This go-round in literature, my poetry phase, began in 2004, around the time of the Divorce. Since then, I’ve written poetry, short stories, and the occasional obituary. Do you find me funny, Spider? Am I a clown? I’ve sought attention through what I consider humor for as long as I can remember. Some call it funny, others call it “misdemeanors”.
Tell us about what the writing community is like in Annapolis and Westminster? Where are you from originally and what was the literary community like there?
I was living in Annapolis when I started writing poetry, and I was amazed at the large number of kick-ass poets there are in the MD/DC area, a strange and pulsing underbelly of society. In Annapolis there are quite a few groupies, which is weird. Westminster hasn’t really kicked off yet, but I’ve spent a lot of time away in the past couple of years so getting traction for myself as a host has been a challenge. I’m from the Universe, and Poems there are strange little animals that wander door-to-door, offering to sharpen your wings for a sixpence.
What are the most important characteristics of your favorite writing? Who are some of your favorites of all time, and local?
I like intelligent, humorous, emotional writing. Kurt Vonnegut. Hunter S Thompson. Many of my favorites are local, probably because when one has the opportunity to hear the poet interpret his/her own work, I think that completes the piece. Barbara DeCesare, Rocky Jones, Deanna Nikaido, Hiram Larew, Randolph Bridgeman, Chris Goodrich, Rupert Wondolowski, the late Chris Toll…really, I could keep naming my favorite locals until the meteor hits. Among poets that I haven’t met, I’d have to say Richard Brautigan is tops…and I just last week read a book by Brian Patten from Liverpool which was brilliant. I find that certain poems really speak to me, like one great song on an otherwise forgettable album, but Brautigan and Patten are just the coolest. Oh, and Tom Waits.
Do you find humor to be important in the things you write? I feel as though audiences get both laughter and a sense of subtle sorrow from your writing. What can you say about your own style?
In the movie Tender Mercies, some young country/western wanna-be asks ex-superstar Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall) for some advice. He replies, “just play it like ya feel it.” For me, a poem should mean something to me, I should feel something when I review what I just wrote. I try to use humor, I guess because I can, and I try not to take myself too seriously. Subtle sorrow? Well, I guess subtle is a good thing, right?
What do you consider your role to be in your literary community? What do you do?
I try to do what I can, when I can. Rocky Jones, Pam Winters and I co-host a couple of monthly readings in Annapolis, and I host one in Westminster as well, all at local coffee shops. Also, I’ve been involved with the Poetry Out Loud program (wow, when I first typed that last word it came out pogrom. Where was I going with that?), and I’ve visited a number of schools to talk about poetry. When invited, I mean, I don’t just wander into elementary schools and read in the halls. I have been anointed the Poet Laureate of Tuscarora High School in Frederick, MD, because I try to make it there every year.
Have you always been a performer of your poetry? Do you think performing is a necessary part of being a poet?
I was invited to read for a Maryland Writers Organization meeting shortly after I outed myself publicly as a poet, and it was a kick. I’d never really thought about that, but it has become a huge part of my poetry experience. Then, my buddy Rocky started drumming behind me, and playing other instruments as well. My personal favorite is the Chico Orchestral Xylophone Piano. It makes animal sounds.
Who are your influences? What gets you writing?
I love going to a poetry reading, it gets me all juiced up to write. That sounds disgusting. I’m influenced by everyone I’ve ever met, every chance encounter, every time I’ve hit someone with my car. Generally, I’ll get a thought in my head and forget to write it down, but it gestates for a bit, and then I’ll overhear a remark, or mishear a lyric, and that will get me going.
Tell us something interesting about Annapolis.
Everyone who lives in Annapolis is a werewolf.
Tell us something interesting about yourself, unrelated to poetry or communities.
I was a Gong Show reject when I was in middle school in southern California. I was the eighth grade spelling bee champ at Fillmore Junior High.
Why is poetry important?
Is it? I believe that each of us has a gnawing need to create something and share our monsters with each other. I think it makes us whole. For me, as it turns out, it’s poetry, but it could just as easily have been making furniture, songwriting, sculpting mud-pies, decorating the bedroom walls with my own shit (because if I did it with someone else’s shit, that would be crazy).
Meet Cliff yourself and hear him and other local poets do their thing at these reading series:
- 2nd Saturdays in Annapolis, the Evil Grin Poetry Series at Ahh, Coffee 1015 Bay Ridge Avenue, 6:30-8:30pm.
- 4th Fridays in Annapolis, the Poet Experience at Zu Coffee, 934 Bay Ridge Road, 6:30-8:30pm.
- 3rd Saturdays in Westminster, the Corner of Poetry and Main, Birdies Cafe 233 E. Main Street, 6:30-8:30pm
Here’s a poem sent to us by Willy Purple himself:
untitled lady on a horse
by Cliff Lynn
you’re cutting the grass with a manual push mower
it’s too long since the last cutting
you pause to enjoy a splash of cool life from the garden hose
you hear the sarcastic snicker of a horse behind you
there is a lady astride a magnificent blond beast
she is not naked, though you wish dearly she were
her hair, the colors of autumn leaves, storm about her head
and shoulders, and upper torso
the ghosts of dogs of many breeds jump and dance about the horse’s feet
my father has died she says
I’m sorry you say, considering your tongue, and the salt of her calves
she reads your thoughts, but presses on
probably, she gets that a lot
my father has died she says
he asked that you build the tower of his life
using his letters, his sketches as erector set
but I didn’t know your father you say
slightly upset that the cut of her blouse does not reveal more cleavage
no matter she says, it was his final wish
but I haven’t a horse you say
pity that she says, and is gone
selfishly taking her will-nippled breasts with her