The Write Stuff: Joel Landmine on Telling the Truth as You See It and Not Apologizing
The Write Stuff is a series of interview profiles conducted by Litseen, where authors give exclusive readings from their work.
Joel Landmine is a Bay Area poet, filmmaker and curmudgeon. He lives alone with his cat in Oakland, and rarely leaves the house. His first book of poems, Yeah, Well... is out this month on Punk Hostage Press. He has begrudgingly survived several near-death experiences.
Julie Michelle Sparenberg
When people ask what do you do, you tell them... ?
I usually say I'm a student. I study anthropology. I worked as a bar DJ for a lotta years. If it seems relevant, I say I'm a writer. It took a long time to sort of admit that to myself. Like, "Oh yeah, I do this thing, and people ask me to come do it, so I am actually the thing.
I'm reluctant to tell people I'm a poet. To paraphrase my friend Bucky, there are few things more repulsive to tell the average person than "I wrote a poem, and I'd like you to read it." There is a certain kind of person who gets very wrapped up in adopting the persona of a "poet." In my experience, they usually can't write, and are grating to be around. They tend to write poems about the "poets are dangerous," or some such nonsense. Billy Childish summed it up perfectly in his poem "The Noble Beast". Look it up, it's on YouTube.
What's your biggest struggle -- work or otherwise?
I once heard somebody say "It seemed like everybody else knew where they were supposed to be and what they were supposed to be doing." Once, when I was a teenager, I was tripping balls on mushrooms and my father said to me "Son, you're just not very good at life." I'm actually pretty good in a crisis, but just regular day-to-day shit is really challenging.
But all things considered, I can't complain. I mean shit, man, six years ago I was living in a "drug program" that was essentially a glorified homeless shelter for crackheads off the street, with black mold growing on the walls. Today I'm a published author, I made a documentary, I'm pulling down straight A's at a prestigious university. And because of where I've been I'm able to appreciate that stuff deeply. I don't take anything in my life for granted.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
You know, the same tired old chestnut. Do that shit. Tell the truth as you see it. Don't apologize. I write poems because I can't paint, or play the guitar or whatever. So do what you're good at, do it as much as possible, get better at it.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I am who I say I am. So yeah. It would be nice to be able to afford to drive a car, though.
When you're sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
These teenagers took a video of themselves humping this ottoman to this sexy R&B slowjam, I guess to demonstrate their sexual prowess. They all gave themselves "sexy" nicknames, like "Pipelayer." Then somebody sped it up and set it to Yakkety Sax (AKA The Benny Hill Theme). That shit cracks me up every time. But then again, you could speed up practically any video and set it to the Benny Hill theme and it would crack me up.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
My great grandfather Samuel was a Jew in what is now Ukraine and what was then Czarist Russia. He tried to escape hiding in the back of a haycart and got caught, and had to walk all the way back. The police would meet each other at the border of each town, and walk him to the next. He made it on his second attempt. I went to Ellis Island and his name is up on the wall there.
Also, my dad's cousin Lenore looks and talks like Mae West, dresses (and decorates her house) mostly in leopard print, and is a private investigator. Her husband is "the living voice of Al Jolson." She's not really an ancestor, but she is a bad motherfuckin' bitch.
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
I wanted to be an entomologist or a stand-up comedian. My parents sent me to therapy way too early. I had all these Bill Cosby stand-up tapes from the 60's and I would just go in and recite Bill Cosby routines for the therapist and tell him about how I wanted a black leather jacket. That dude probably coulda' written a book.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn't have to be ideal.
It wouldn't be. If you were there with me, you would probably stop talking to me after.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
I don't know, but if I did, I could only hope that somebody would speed it up and set it to The Benny Hill Theme.
How much money do you have in your checking account?
Let's just say that I have a thing or two to say about overdraft fees.
What's wrong with society today?
I've been a curmudgeonly old man as long as I can remember, and I'm old enough that it ain't cute no more. Don't get me started.
What is your fondest memory?
None of your Goddam business. But I once saw literary columnist Evan Karp politely ask the fucking cops for directions to the bar. That shit still makes me smile sometimes.
What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?
It would be nice to be able to afford to drive a car.
What is art? Is it necessary? Why?
In the immortal words of Townes Van Zandt, "It's better than just waitin' 'round to die."
What are you working on right now?
My first collection of poetry, Yeah, Well..., comes out in like two weeks on Punk Hostage Press. It'll be available on their website, or through Amazon. I'm really pleased to be working with them. Iris and Razor take really good care of their authors, giving them a majority of sales. They take their cut and use it to run their non-profit Words As Works, which donates books to prisons, mental health hospitals, and other institutions. They are working to bring readings and writing workshops to these institutions as well. I'm very lucky to be on a press that gives back and has such a high caliber of talent on their roster.
What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?
I like raw and simple. Tell me a story, make me feel a feeling. Too much writing I hear uses too many words to say too little. I like Raymond Carver a lot.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
It would pretty much be 1996.
What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?
Bus Girlfriend #1
I see you around town sometimes
and when I look at your face
I know I could fall in love with you.
I kind of fucking hate you for that.
And I live in the Bay Area. I'm surprised fifty bucks still gets you a BART ticket.
What are some of your favorite smells?
Pipe smoke, weed smoke on the street, sex, frying bacon. The usual.
If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?
To see Otis Redding live, just once. Oh wait, that's a fucking time machine. Shit. It would be nice to be able to afford to drive a car.
For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook. This interview conducted by Evan Karp. Follow Litseen at @Litseen.