Seattle Author Spotlight (4) — Greg Bem
And it’s Greg Bem!
Greg was one of the first Seattle writers I saw read/perform here in Seattle and Greg was one of the first Seattle lit people I actually talked to here in Seattle. Greg was really friendly and every time I saw him (he seems to be everywhere, reading, video taping, listening, enjoying, networking) he introduced me to other people. He also invited me for Mexican Happy Hour and that was grand. Greg also organizes readings in bars, on trains and in abandoned buildings, etc.
Greg, in his own words, is mainly a “situational poet”, preparing text (sometimes accompanied with video, music, musicians, etc) that’s only for that situation, that performance. Greg, though, is set to leave for Cambodia and will be gone for at least six months. He will be missed.
Here, on the other hand, is a link to some poems Greg just got published on-line.
Greg Bem was born in Southern Maine. He attended Roger Williams University where he studied under Beazley Kanost and Michael Gizzi. He moved to Philadelphia and was involved with the New Philadelphia Poets. He decided to move to Seattle, and since arriving to Columbia City, he’s been involved with SPLAB, the Breadline series, the Greenwood Lit Crawl, the outdoor series Ghost Tokens, and recently the Seattle Poetry Panels. In addition to individual performances at places like the Frye, Hugo House, Hedreen Gallery, and the Washington Ensemble Theatre, Bem has participated as one of the core members of the Four Hoarse Men throughout Seattle. You can find his stuff at gregbem.com, or on his Youtube channel. At the end of July he moves to Phnom Penh for at least 6 months under the banner of University of Washington’s MLIS program.
Rauan: what do you think of the writing “scene” and “community” in Seattle? How would you compare it to Philadelphia, where you lived previously
Greg: The writing “scene” in Seattle is one I feel conflicted about on a regular basis. On one hand, I would argue that it’s strong. On one hand you can usually find something going on related to literature, poetry, spoken word performance, sound poetry and sound art, or writing on any given night. On the other hand the clusters of folks engaging in these activities include the same individuals and the same types of readings. In many cases the lit scene here just isn’t that sexy . . . though it’s nice to have a socio-cubist perspective . . . but it is exhausting and somewhat incestual . . . though I suppose the supercharged or urgent “renaissance” (as some have referred to it) reflects a healthy urban culture. Oh, and compared to Philly . . . it helps that the academia is geographically out of the picture here, I think. At least it allows for the character of Seattle’s non-University folks to be operating on their own grounds. With Philly you’ve your Temple and your Penn and that gets a bit cumbersome. As always, though, the ideal is the bridge of the two. In Philly I was a member of the New Philadelphia Poets, which included Sarah Heady, Carlos Soto Roman, Debrah Morkun, Marion Bell, Jamie Townsend, Matt Landis, Patrick Lucy, and Angel Hogan, and the intentional investment from such a wonderful variety of perspectives allowed me to explore conceptual and intellectually-“heavy” poetics that I haven’t been able to get in touch with outside myself here. It was nice being able to act, much like in one of those shows like Captain Planet, a grotesque persona aligned with all the other personas in the group. On a side note, it would be nice if Seattle’s lit scene was a little less white. I’m still trying to deal with so many white guys standing in front of a mic (myself included).
RK: What are your plans for Cambodia?
GB: I guess we’re talking writing. Trying to figure out four or so ways to express myself digitally in public and private spaces while in Cambodia. My goal is to create various support structures through writing that will prevent me from succumbing to vice, which apparently is all over the place in Phnom Penh. Though the inner-Burroughs in me would love to channel the energy of drugs, sex, and shades in the night, I am going there to learn about their information infrastructure, library network, and general modes of communication and education, and probably should keep my vision as unblurred as possible. I think I want to write some landmine poems too. A landmine chapbook would hopefully be far enough from my post-colonial guilt and will hopefully become slightly more intimate with those limbs I have attached to my body (including my leg, which is “post-phlebitic.”
RK: to follow, with some info from Greg also, is a video sample of Greg’s work made especially for this spotlight
(GB: The first video was shot via Nikon DSLR by way of individual photographs during a recent trip to Golden, Colorado, home of the fabulous Red Rocks amphitheater. The actress is my friend Suzanne, who I challenged in the bold heat to run up and down these stares. I superimposed (or spliced in) the text from a large sequence of poems I wrote after this Colorado adventure in homage to Suzanne. The form was inspired by this form of speed reading available on the Internet which flashes individual words on a screen to remove the time it takes the muscles moving the eyes to cover distance. I think about how thought works during transience quite often and like to recreate how I usually compose songs or phrases–when walking or biking across the land.)
RK: The morning of one of your performances (the “handjob” one, I think) you sent a bulk mail to about 60, i think, of your friends announcing that you’d waited till the previous night to start working on yr performance and that you had then stayed up all night working on the text, video, etc. It seems, to me, that you thrive on pressure and like sometimes to heap it on yourself, like squeezing and cornering the imagination.Your thoughts?
RK: Amber Nelson one of our shared Seattle writer friends recently loaned you a big stack of contemporary poetry books (indie stuff, mainly, i think). Any general impressions, good and/or bad? Any work in particular especially impress or disgust you?
GB: I’m not done the entire stack (I still have seven books to go), but I’ve enjoyed the majority of Amber’s suggestions. I should contextualize the gift-giving, though: Amber and I were G-chatting away and I was in a sour, murky milk of a mood and I think I told her I didn’t like any contemporary poets. Or something like that. She has a good memory so you can ask her. Anyway, I told her about a bunch of poets from Black Mountain, Dada, etc. IE historical jibber-jabber and she responded by bringing me a stream of books. One of the major problems with being in a strong poetry community in Seattle is that I put a lot of attention to the folks that I consider my friends, within the community I believe in (for better and for worse), and then I don’t have a lot of time to devote to memorizing the folks doing amazing shit all over the country. Joe Hall just came through and read at a series I co-host, and that was splendid. I saw a bunch of caucasian Hawaiian poets who are in that Tinfish anthology read and Maged Zaher was there, and I missed that freshness. There is freshness in Seattle until you’ve been in Seattle . . . it begins to get claustrophobic (see Rachel Hug and Graham Isaac about that). But oh, the books! I really hadn’t heard of most of the people Amber suggested, but I read and enjoyed (enough to add to my Amazon Wishlist until I return from the Wild Wild East) Lara Glenum, Matthew Henrikson, Lisa Robertson, Hoa Hguyen (who I knew but had never read), and Chelsea Minnis. Based on the strength of these poets and their alignment to my own abnormalities, sometimes I feel like Amber should be the librarian, not me–though I’ve been giving her some music every week in return and I think we’re now even in terms of recommendations.
RK: to follow, with some info from Greg also, is a 2nd video sample of Greg’s work made especially for this spotlight
(GB: The second video was recorded in Columbia City, Seattle, and is specifically the walk I have to take from the light rail station to my home. I made the video specifically for you, Rauan, and overlaid some sound poetry derived from text one might think when walking back home. I imagined having part of my brain cut out of my head so that I could not form complete words, as though a filter had been put onto my mind. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to approach Khmer, the language of many Cambodians, since it’s so different from English and from many other languages. In some ways the ability to re-impose the language learned does not always translate well to the audience. In some cases the language used when thinking in your head on a mere walk will translate poorly when you get home and recall it for the purpose of additional communication. I like to explore these everyday challenges)
RK: Recently I joked that while you were away in Asia that i’d be writing a daily Greg Bem obituary. How about writing one for us now? A Greg Bem one, I mean. Or a Rauan Klassnik one. Whatever.
RK: where will Greg Bem be 5 years from now? (And what will he be up to?)
GB: In five years I will be standing outside your window screaming, reminding you of my favorite brand of silk cloth, and we will take the trip to the local public library to find out where we may purchase it, together.