5 Question Friday With Tacoma Poet David Fewster

I was recently contacted by David Fewster regarding a poem of his that was banned from yesterday’s Poet  Laureate inauguration. You can watch a youtube video of David reciting the poem below. David Fewster is Tacoma’s street poet. He’s the author of “Diary of a Homeless Alcoholic Suicidal Maniac & Other Picture Postcards”

I asked David if he’d like to participate in this week’s 5 Question Friday and he said he’d play along. 

1. Why is poetry important now?
Ha ha. Poetry important? The only people that answer that question with a straight face are poets who are desperately trying to drum up business for themselves. Poetry hasn’t been important for 400 years. Maybe a thousand, if you consider the Sung Dynasty and the Celtic Bardic tradition predating Alfred the Great as the last times that poetry played an integral role in the fabric of society. Poetry as popular entertainment died with Shakespeare.
For the past century, “poetry” has been comprised of a bunch of warring splinter groups, each with their own agendas, who fight their bloody battles amongst themselves against a backdrop of a totally uninterested universe. Kinda like the manga fans of today, to put it in an analogy the kids can understand. (Oh, except manga actually sells.)
I suppose my natural inclinations have drawn me to the sub-sect of “outsider” poetry (as exemplified in “The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry”), but this is mainly to provide a moral/cultural underpinning to my decision not to do anything “useful” or “responsible” for our corrupt society. You know, like “working for a living.” Even in my deepest delusion, however, I don’t kid myself that this aesthetic is “important.”
2. What about Tacoma inspires your poetry?
I am inspired by the rabid, intense pride the residents of this city have, seemingly in spite of all historical fact or corporeal evidence. When I first moved here, I thought this attitude was just insane, but the longer I live here and the older I get, the more I can appreciate the crazy nobility of it all–sort of like the Norse Gods singing as they march of to their deaths at Ragnarok.
3. What’s your favorite place in Tacoma and why?
 I like to sit on top of the Spanish Steps, smoke a couple of cigarettes, look out over Commencement Bay, and think “This is what the Shire would have looked like if Saruman had had his way.”
4. Who are your favorite poets?
Whenever I am asked this question by a “real” poet, I like to reply “Don Marquis.” Because it’s true, and also I enjoy seeing the look of absolute blankness that passes across 9 out of 10 faces. Google him. Dead for 80 years, books have never gone out of print. He is an American master.
In terms of the form and content of my own work, I feel a certain kinship with the big three of the Chicago Renaissance (Carl Sandburg, Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters.) I like going back to Richard Brautigan periodically, if only to remind myself that it’s OK to be short. (Slam poetry, which has in some ways been a wonderful influence on the scene, also has a very rigid format where every piece must be a rapidly-delivered, three minute monologue. Which can look pretty diffuse and rambling when it’s printed on a page. It’s nice to keep in mind that a fleeting impression plucked out of the ozone and put under a glass bell is a poem, too. Even if it doesn’t win you a free t-shirt with a bar’s name on it.)
I’m also fond of Jules Laforgue, who was a French Symbolist poet and a big influence of the “Prufrock”-era Eliot. He wrote some neat poems about Paris.
5. What do you feel the arts scene in Tacoma is ignoring?
 I’d hate to generalize, but let me throw out the following: Quality, Adventure, Distinction and Taste. To illustrate, I’ll give three examples of our “public” art, which we paid for.
1.) Has anyone ever walked that stretch of sidewalk on 11th around the corner from Commerce, and noticed the blue section with variations of phrases that begin with “Sea” painted on it? Have you walked by it so often that you’ve forgotten to say to yourself “My, how stupid” as you pass by? (Not to mention, we don’t live by a “sea”–that big thing of water is called a “sound.”) I don’t know how much this cost, but I’m pretty sure we flew a guy in from the East Coast to do it.
2.) I don’t know who did the sculpture in front of the Hotel Murano, either, but I assume it was the Board of Directors at Nike, because we paid a thousand bucks a foot to put a hundred-foot high logo of their company downtown.
3.) On 12th and Pacific, there is the new sculpture my neighbor refers to as “the nipple-penis statue.” We had to go out of the country to get this one. (Well, Canada.) Observant pedestrians may have even noticed the little poem embedded in bronze underneath which, among other things, refers to Tacoma as a “New Venice rising from the sea.” Even the PR copywriters at Prium would blush with shame at this.
Opportunities for local artists abound, however. They are allowed to donate their time and materials to provide fancy window dressing suitable for Chamber of Commerce photo shoots to our abandoned storefronts downtown. Of course, they are compensated by “publicity” and the chance to “network.” (Seattle artists, by the way, stopped falling for this ruse decades ago.) But at least the taxpayers can feel appeased, because it’s all “free.” (Meaning the artists are unpaid. However, every event and exhibition is administered by a staff of bureaucrats employed by the City of Tacoma. Who do not work for “free.” Because they’re not “idiots.”)
Lest it be thought that I just hate all art on principle’s sake, in closing I’d like to mention the beautiful job they did on the installation at the UW of T light rail stop, which feature historic photographs in glass along with poems by Phil Red Eagle and the late Amelia Haller. Wonderful to glimpse out the train window in passing, edifying to read again when lingering on the platform.
Thanks to David Fewster for joining me this week with 5 Question Friday. For more David Fewster, go to http://folksingers-in-hell.zoomshare.com/
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2 responses to “5 Question Friday With Tacoma Poet David Fewster

  1. David Fewster

    Thanks Jack. See you even included an Amazon link for my out-of-print book. Fancy.

  2. Pingback: 5 Question Friday One Year Anniversary With Ken Thoburn From Wingman Brewers |

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