Q and A with Scott Poole
Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to aprominent - or not soprominent - local person.
There once was a poet from Vancouver
Who took in rhymes like a Hoover
His show ran nationally
His fans loved him passionately
A literary shaker and mover.
OK, so high art it isn't. We'll leave that to this week's Q and A subject, Scott Poole. Not too many poets can lay claim to a regular national audience, but Poole isn't your everyday, garden-variety poet.
Resident poet of the locally produced radio show 'Live Wire,' Poole gets to read to a national audience without actually having to meet it. He has two published books of poetry, 'The Cheap Seats' and 'Hiding from Salesmen,' and he was the first director of Wordstock, the annual Portland literary festival.
And then there's the angst thing. Poole, 37, is married with two young children, and his poems lean more toward the comic than the depressed, with a little touch of the bizarre thrown in.
If it isn't the kids, maybe it's the day job that keeps Poole from getting too tormented - he's also a computer programmer at Freightliner in Northwest Portland.
Portland Tribune: So many poets, and so few gigs. How did you become the 'Live Wire' resident poet?
Scott Poole: I was the director of Wordstock and met the producers in 2005. They named me the house poet after a while. It's like house dressing - probably because it's in stock, maybe not the best, but always good enough for the customer base.
Tribune: When you meet someone at a party, and they ask what you do, what do you tell them?
Poole: Well, it depends on what party I'm at. If it's a nonarts crowd, I usually say I'm a software developer for Freightliner. And if it's an arts crowd then I'm a poet and I develop software to pay the bills.
I don't bring the poetry thing up. It's like telling somebody you have no spleen the first time you meet them. They don't know how to react to that statement. It's like meeting a shepherd at a party. Or a professional badminton player - 'Oh, how does that work?'
Tribune: Does being a poet really carry that much of a stigma?
Poole: It's definitely a conversation stopper. First, they're concerned for your livelihood, and then you try to break the ice by saying a poet joke. Like, what's the difference between a poet and a large pizza?
Tribune: I don't know.
Poole: A pizza can feed a family of four.
Tribune: Were you always interested in poetry?
Poole: No. I didn't even like to read much. But I had a friend in college who had written a poem to a girl and he'd gotten her to go out with him. And she was way out of his league. So there was a girl I had my eye on, and I tried the same thing. We were studying for finals at the time, and I gave it to her at the library and she burst into tears and gave me a big hug. And I thought, 'Wow, this stuff really works.'
Tribune: Is this a good time to be a poet?
Poole: It's certainly been good to me lately. I've been on 'Live Wire' and it's a great forum for my kind of poetry, which is a surreal kind of poetry. It really fits what I'm trying to do.
If you do a reading in front of a normal bookstore crowd, which is four people, three who came in off the street and your mom, the poems don't seem to register all that well. The 'Live Wire' audience is very appreciative of my kind of poetry, which tends to be more humorous than high literary art.
Tribune: Has being a parent made you a better poet?
Poole: I think it's made me more aware of the whole scope of life, and it's reminded me of a lot of things I went through as a child. Going through them on the other side as a parent has given me a full view. I like to look at the whole comedy of life and being a parent is just perfect for that.
Tribune: What strikes you as funny?
Poole: Basically I start writing, and if it's funny it's funny, and if it's not I try to get there. But monkeys are always funny.
The thing I'm always going for is to write something that surprises me, that I never thought of before. Whether it's a tragic something or a sad thing, so be it, but usually it's something kind of bizarre.
Tribune: For instance?
Poole: I've always had jobs where I wasn't in a cubicle, and now I work where it's just miles of cubes as far as the eye can see. I wrote a piece about that.
I thought back to when I was a temp. I'd gotten weird little jobs, so I imagined being hired to be a cubicle wall with three other people. We held hands around a guy at a desk, doing a job. But then one of the people starts complaining because his feet hurt, and then the guy goes and gets all these computer books and puts them on the shelf of the woman who was complaining and then she ends up collapsing. And then I get fired.
Tribune: Yeah, that's bizarre.
Poole: That's the kind of stuff I write, taking the feeling of someone for these temporary jobs, how useless they are, and putting yourself in a truly useless position so the reader will feel the same thing. It gets around people who think, 'Oh, this is a poem,' and then by the second line they're turned off.
Tribune: So what you're saying is, you're trying to trick people who don't like poetry into reading your stuff?
Poole: Correct. I think that's a noble goal, don't you?
- Peter Korn