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Interview with Jerry Danielsen

24 February 2006 No Comment

This week we bring you the interview with Jerry Danielsen, author of Against the Fog and founder of the Los Angeles Poets Press. I once read story about a man, a candle and a war…I can’t remember the war, or his name…what I remember is that night after night after night, this man would stand outside the White House, sometimes in the rain, with a single candle burning. If anyone knew they said nothing. He said that often he would see the shadow of a curtain moving in the West Wing, he presumed it was the White House staff, perhaps even the President himself, checking to see if he was still there…

One day a journalist pitched up and asked him not without sympathy, why do you stand here every night? Do you actually think you are going to change the world, or the war, or the country?
No, the man replied, I just don’t want the country to change me.

The United States has since 1945 attacked more than 43 democracies, often leaving the savage ruins of the country in the hands of their allies, tyrannical dictators who run the country as according to their whims. The United States, whose favorite word seems to be democracy, but whose actually policy seems to be fascism with a lethal dose of patriotism [my country right or wrong] and an overly generous dollop of religiosity, ie: Jesus is my Gun, whoops, I mean my God, has for the past 6 years been on what Bush calls the Crusades.

But reading a book called Against the Fog made me remember that there are still some who will not let themselves become something other than who they are……inside…..some who hold the candle against the wars, and the chaos in the world, and even his own country, if it should seem to him that his country is going against itself.

The man that holds a candle Against the Fog.

Jerry Danielsen, the author of the book, is such a man.

I sat down with Jerry and asked him a few questions on his book, his life, his past and hopefully his future trip to South Africa.

Jerry, what are you wearing right now?

I’m wearing a smile – along with my bare feet and some stitched clothing 🙂

Tell me, why do they call you Kojak, what is your favourite color, where were you born, and what has been your journey up until this moment?

Well, the only person who calls me "Kojak" is you, so go figure. My favorite color is probably purple – the political mix of red, blue and beyond as they say over here. My journey? That’s complicated. "I was born, and I’ve been losing ground ever since" – to quote an old lyric of mine. I was born in a small town called Denison in the state of Iowa. My parents moved us to the Los Angeles, California area when I was around 2 years old. I am a second generation American, since 2 of my grandparents were born in Europe. I started writing words and music when I was 7 or 8 years old. I had a cheap "Chord Organ" that I played. When I was 12, I started taking guitar music lessons. Immediately, I began making up my own stuff. In addition to words – the guitar, bass, piano and drums just flow within me. I now make a living wage with music, and poetry. I have written hundreds of songs and instrumental pieces as well – having done 17 (although sometimes low budget) film scores. I went on to get a degree in music composition from California Institute of the Arts. I also started my own recording studio "Busy Signal Studios" where I regularly record bands, singer songwriters, car commercials, spoken word – you name it. During my formative years, I was also writing lyrics to songs. I fell upon the notion that some of the verbal phrases that I was writing didn’t belong in songs and therefore had a different home. These words became my first poems. I actually got excited about the prospect of poems existing on their own, as an important artistic vehicle. A few friends who were doing an exciting amount of writing incited me to attend a meeting about becoming an editor of a new poetry magazine. In those days (daze), magazines were printed and not available on the web, since there was no internet. We had meetings and decided to form a poetry/literary magazine, which we called "Volume Number Magazine" ( Vol. No.) and we had specific themes for each issue, and we which accepted submissions from anyone. We advertised in "Poets Market Guide" and other poetic publicity journals, and we received over 900 poems to review for each of the 27 issues that we did. We did an entire issue dedicated to Africa in the 80’s. We had also established "Los Angeles Poets’ Press" when we started in 1983, and have published writers varying in range from the homeless to USA Poet Laureate prize winner Octavio Paz. We continue to this day publishing works of poetry every year, but each book now features a single writer. It is through LAPP that I published my books "What?" and "Against The Fog". I’m planning more works for the near future – title in progress- that will include unpublished older work as well as lots of new poetry.

I found the words Against the Fog to be profound not only for our present situation but for what has been leading up to these moments, the little ways we began to forget what we fought for.. whether in Africa or in America. For too long I think, Americans and Africans alike has been taught to identify evil as something definitive, something which has been given a shape and a name and color by the media. So we fought what we thought was the enemy. But now we see that there is something which has taken us from the inside, unguarded, and something else which has arisen from the outside…..much like a fog, it s dangerous and disorientating and has blinded us to it’s true nature.  What is it, and what made you choose upon such a title for your book?

You’re right about the nebulous problems that countries – and even individuals – go through. You know the old expression "The fog of war". The book title comes from the poem in the book with the same name- I wrote this observational poem spontaneously at the beach – on the top story of a music club – I was just watching people and reflecting on myself as well. As it started to get dark, a slight fog rolled in – the title matches the metaphor of the poem – the lack of clarity, and it also represents some kind of internal battle for me. The unease that can come with a mixture of hope, regret and confusion that life sometimes brings. Fighting an amorphous shadowy mass… I shot the cover photo for the book on a trip to Boston. The way the fog was descending onto the rooftops seemed to fit the book title. On a lighter note, there is also humor in the book too, like the short poem: I Just Parked In a parking lot. just drove up and parked in this parking lot where other people park for different reasons and in the parking lot I looked around from inside my car and drove off.

Brave New Poets is a radio show that was founded by you in the U.S.
Today, the world is consumed by a materialism that has become a God, and renders man like a slave to the whip. Only we are the ones whipping ourselves. Now more than ever, the poets, the musicians, the athletes

The Dancers and Playrights too

Yeah, they are meant to be the eyes and body and soul of the people, drawing them closer to the truth.
This requires a great bravery for in times like these the world least wants to hear the truth…What is Brave New Poets about, and what should be the role of the poet, the writer etc

Brave New Authors is a college based radio program. To be a poet and admit it is to be brave in this culture. We feature writers of all kinds, but we heavily promote poetry. To me the beautiful thing about poetry is speaking the truth, as it occurs to the writer. What is God? That is a question that mankind has been grappling with since the dawn of thought. In my opinion, the best poetic work can be simple and still hit a universal chord, not like a God, but like a man or woman. The radio show reflects my desire to get work out to the public, to express, reflect, explore. Regarding the role of the poet – case in point- look at "Poets Against The War". Laura Bush wanted to have poets over to the White House to speak of the "Greatness" of America. The group she invited responded with 13,000 poems against the Iraq war – 3 of which are mine, which is how you, in a roundabout manner, came to hear about me. The poet, at best, shows the truth in an elegant way. Regarding the radio show, I think that it’s important to promote poetry. By being on 180 university stations, we enlarge our audience, and "get the word out", as they say. The motto for LAPP (Los Angeles Poets’ Press) and the radio show is: LAPP is devoted to bring buried works to the light, to the surface of the earth, and to the hearts of the receptive. We are received very well, and we have interviewed many known poets from our area. We have also been looking into expanding to Mexico and Europe. With your permission, South Africa too.

We have seen in this age more than any other…that materialism has become Life..and so Life itself is measured and revolves around the material aspects, getting them, wanting them, thinking about them…even the human body has become like a car, to be fixed and adjusted and tuned up….human beings have become an empty shell, flesh and bone, but no soul…this creates a desperation, which again leads to the God that people can touch and hold, but which gives them nothing. In the past, mankind worshipped idols, preferring to believe in a God they could see and touch.. Today, we worship idols only in a different way. There is a Surah in my Qurán which says:

You are obsessed by the greed for more and more
Until you go down to your graves
Nay, but you will come to know
Nay, but you will come to know
If you but knew it with the knowledge of certainty
You would indeed see the hell you are in
In Time, indeed, you shall see it with the eye of certainty
And on that Day you will be asked what you have done with the Boon of life.

And never have these words held more meaning than now in this age…of 200 ice cream scoopers.
They say too that the world is divided between the Japanese financier, the Chinese producer and the American consumer. Has consumerism become a religion and is it at all related to the poem that you wrote which ended off with the words Dare To Say No To Pop Culture?

You words ring true. The obsession of the Wal-Mart American consumer is disgusting. The obsession of every nation seems to be money. A good friend once told me "Money only matters when you don’t have any." Consumerism is close to religion because it’s what some people believe in. "Culture? Give me ice cream scoopers! Two hundred scoopers? Try 200,000"! Actually, I enjoy a sitting meditation practice called "Zazen". One simply sits in a lotus type position, and breathes. Be still, the monkey mind. It’s antithetical to pop culture. There is a saying here called "Dare to say no to drugs". You know, bumper stickers – shirts – obviously trying to turn young children away from drugs. My poem reflects the concept that mass popular culture is also wrong-headed:

Now little Johnny and Sue
stay away from it.
It’s bad for you and causes problems.
It’s sick and corrupt.
After repeated exposure
you won’t be able to concentrate
on anything for over
a minute and a half,
even after watching music videos.
Dare to say no to pop culture

You have submitted your works to the people handling the Poetry Africa festival held annually in South Africa. What made you desire to visit our shores?

First of all, I became interested in South Africa in the 1980’s. We had published a "Vol No" dedicated to SA in the 80’s. I also had a good friend that came from SA, and educated me on how life was then. I played percussion in the CalArts African music ensemble too. My South African connection became big when my poetry was "Accidentally" discovered by people browsing the internet, South Africa. I love visiting different places, it inspires me. I’ve been to Mexico, Canada, and most of Europe. To me it is exciting also to have an opportunity to travel to a place that actually listens to poets. Although there is poetry in Southern California, some people in South Africa seem to genuinely respect poetry more. For that, I am greatly appreciative.

You are vehemently anti-Bush. In a previous email you mentioned just how far you went to keep Bush out of office….from the telephone calls, to the campaigns, to the money, and I think the whole world agrees that Kerry was the lessor of the two evils.
We know Bush stole the first election…what we want to know is how he managed to get the second one? And why are there only two political parties in the U.S? What are the differences between them?

Thank you for asking about politics. Bush managed to win the 2nd time win a margin of 100,000 votes in Ohio. Here in USA, we have a system called the "Electoral College". Each state has it’s own percentage to the total mix. That’s why Al Gore was trumped in 2000, and also Kerry in 2004. Republican sponsors paid for an electronic voting system by a co. called "Diebold". Hackers can get into this computer biased system, and questions remain regarding the viability of this method. He won by utilizing the concept of "Smear, Fear and Queers" to quote Al Franken. Smear the opponent, make up lies that make a war hero have to defend himself, thereby taking up the opponents’ time – Fear of another terrorist attack, and propagandizing "Bush is the only one who can protect us". The republican propaganda machine also spewed out hatred of gay people. Instead of talking about real, day to day issues like – prescription drugs for old folks type issues, they hammered on queers There are actually several other political parties in the US, but they share lack of power, organization and the magic word: MONEY. There are actually true independent thinkers here, but the Democrats and Republicans are both beholden to a kind of "Corpocracy". Corporations rule the roost.

You wrote a poem called the Iraqi Reality T.V War Show, in which you question whether you will end up in Cuba for writing your thoughts..

The Iraqi reality T.V war
Is unlike most reality T.V
Because people really die
It is a failure because war is a failure
Defeat even for the declared victor..

Can you tell more about what was running through your mind as you wrote this?

I was observing the lies and the way televised "Shock and Awe" bombing was still just another pointless war, where peoples lives’ are actually affected, and creating more terrorism seems to be the opposite of any sane goal. I hate the way news stations carry bombing footage, like it’s a video game.

This war on religion has served not only to isolate man from man, but it has also revived what we in Africa would call a religious racism.
White against non- white. In Denmark, the Queen has said that the Danes have too tolerant and lazy regarding the Muslims and the immigrants in the country. Islam constitutes the second largest religion in Denmark, yet there are reports that mosque’s have been shut down. Now the people in the U.S are getting a pretty bad rep, and perhaps it is unjust seeing as how this attitude exists in many other countries.
My uncle who held a senior position at Lufthansa in Germany was fired after 9/11…a Muslim handling airplanes…LMAO;)
A well known band in Denmark called Outlandish have used music as the medium through which they question the values and the norms of European society and it’s attitude to everything in the world outside of itself.
One lyric goes, how can you tell me about participation when all you want is segregation?
And another, still second class citizens in our own homes..want a scapegoat, still seeing us as the problem, like we just off the boat, guess ya wanted cheap labour to build your home.

What are your thoughts on the War on Terror, Islam, Christianity, oil, money, and pimps;)

My son once said "Being a pimp would be the best job ever…". lol The war on terror seems to be valid on some fronts, but the poet can only speculate. The politician lies. Money matters – pushes power – organized religion succumbs. Oil is the mover of economies. Begging, pleading masses long for it. To control it is to have power.

Since 1948, when Truman recognized the artificially created State of Israel, the United States-the Free World-has been fomenting an ideological war, complete with its Pro West military enclave in the heart of the Middle East…So long as Israel exists, having forcibly occupied the land of Palestine, there will never be peace, and thus there will always be a reason to invade Muslim lands, to fight real or fake bogeyman, to occupy and (forcibly) take control of vital resources. We know that the Palestinian Israel conflict (the ideological conflict) is the pretext which the U.S uses to make war….

Actually, we were told differently. Terrorism is the excuse we were given by Bush to wage war.

All the American Presidents, from Carter to Nixon to Clinton to Bush have stated that the security of Israel is the security of the U.S.
It is the American public who has the power to change this situation,..by refusing to allow their tax money to fund Israel (who takes in a total of $9 billion aid a year from the U.S, 9 times what Africa receives, even though Israeli’s comprise of less than 0.0001 of world population)…by pressurizing their congressman, their representatives, by just saying No.
Yet the American public does nothing.
In South Africa, we who have recently emerged from apartheid understand that the issue at hand is not Jews against Muslims or Blacks against Whites, but South Africans against apartheid, Palestinians against Zionism…Foreign occupation against Freedom.

Over here, it looks bad that Hamas got control of the government of the Palestinian Authority. Bush promotes democracy, but doesn’t like what happens if he disagrees with the outcome. I have never been to that region of the world, so I don’t know all of the intricacies of what it’s like to actually be there.

What is the perception of the Israeli Palestinian situation in the U.S? Are Americans aware that it is solely their tax money that goes to fund Israel? What are American feelings, and your own, towards the foreign policy of the U.S, the core of which is war?

Jewish Americans have a strong voice in Congress and in other government functions. The American public has no way of appropriating taxed money. We get to simply watch as the money is spent by the people that are elected. Elections are supposed to represent the people. In a society that is divided, a common voice does not exist. Perhaps it’s the role of the poet to make sense of it all.

On the business of war, we know that oil was the reason behind the invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq and soon, Iran. Afghanistan is now run by Hamid Karzai, a former Unocal worker, Iraq’s current amssador was also heavily involved in Unocal.
They spoke of Al-Qaeda…WMD…and the nuclear threat of Iran, even though the U.S and Israel already have a significant collection of nuclear weapons. But the U.S derives more than more than half of their Mid East oil from Saudi Arabia, and very little if any from the still undeveloped fields in Caspian region, Since gold as a fixed rate was abolished by Roosevelt, the U.S has anchored their currency in oil instead. Saddam changed that when he started the successful Euro for Oil programme. Iraq was invaded.

This was one of the greatest mistakes in History…

Ironically, Iran in about to begin a Euro for Oil programme in March, co-incidentally-March is the very same time Israel has declared war in Iran.
At the same time, Asian countries flood the U.S with their products because they are the main bankrollers of the $ and they need an export market….so basically, the American economy cannot survive without being the world currency, and thus it cannot survive with out controlling the currency in which oil is bought and sold.  What are your thoughts on the business of oil, and in your perspective-how aware is the American public about the true oil situation?

The American Public just wants enough gas to put into their cars, at a reasonable rate. The true oil situation is a debatable one, but it does seem to make the world go ’round.

I think….hate Bush or like him…. America needed to destroy the Euro for Oil programme, and the Democrats would have done just the same, perhaps with a smile on their face holding an Aids orphan baby from New Orleans…
Are Americans aware of the precarious position of the dollar on the world market?

I think not. Americans are interested in their own lives, but isn’t everyone? The writer’s role is to attempt to make sense of it all – putting the "human face" on all of this.

What is the attitude of the general American public towards poets like yourself? I have seen a few really good poets/musicians doing their thing, whilst people stare at them wondering what the sound coming out of their face is…

Well, the sound coming out of my face is full of color and imagery. You might ask how that is coming out of my face. The importance of poetry in America shifts from phase to phase. For example – in some areas and cultures, poetry can be on the radar screen. In others, It is not. Poets in America are lucky to be recognized by any large, mass audience. Is there ever a large, mass audience for poetry? There is quite a bit of poetry in the self-published, self-sponsored independent poetry world here in the USA. People who believe in it keep it alive. It is a relatively small percentage of Americans who respect and value poetry, but that percentage is valuable and keeps it going.

What do you think of the music scene today, because you are heavily involved in the production of bands that are up and coming, as well as those which are successful. Are certain types of music associated with lifestyles…is alot of music today eg rock, just a facade?

I think the music scene today is more about hype than it is about content. If one looks good – if one isn’t a straight, boring, responsible white male person, Then they have a chance. There is nothing stronger than a great hook – a phrase that can capture the right words with the right melody. Again, what the majority of people purchase does not always reflect the best books or music. The rave/trance thing attracts many people, and hip-hop sells a huge amount, but I don’t know many people who buy it. I do think it’s all part of an image – especially in the rock world. The best musicians I know are not necessarily the ones who are the most famous or wealthy.

What has been some of the best and worst moments of your life?

Wow, big question! Being born was one of the biggest moments of my life. LOL I’d have to say one of the best moments of my life when my son was born. My relationship with him is strong and magnificent. I worked hard to be able to do music and writing for a living – – and I sometimes rejoice in how my life resonates now – as opposed to other times. Worst moments include getting hit by a car when I was 9 years old. I was on a motorcycle and I was hit hard by a car – My pelvis was fractured and my hip was displaced. Getting divorced was very difficult, but also liberating. Getting noticed in South Africa is a great moment!

What book are you currently reading?

"The deep green sea." It was sent by a friend of mine…

What’s dancing around in your eardrums right now?

Listening to some Smile Empty Soul, recorded here.

Why aren’t people of worth achieving the same modicum of success–lets measure it in terms of the usual– credibility, fame, money etc as the rest of the overpaid, manufactured fame junkies?

I think that the operative term here is "money". The ones who are promoted financially are more likely to succeed in recouping the money- investment expenditure. The public gets to decide which books or CD’s they buy. Unfortunately, this can often disregard the artists personal nature. The junkies are made up of people who think they are important, and people who desire money.

I listen to a band called the Goo Goo Dolls, the lead’s voice is so raw that in itself it is a path to truth, yet aside from being known for a few hits…….. they have not been given the place they deserve…almost as if there is something active holding them back and not just a lack of investment.
It seems like it is only safe to allow the platform to be given to people who have nothing to say..

I don’t think it’s "allowed" – it’s what gets people going that sells. Unfortunately, some people are easily mislead, while others question "authority" and think for themselves.

In Islam we believe that the greatest Jihad (struggle against oppression) is to say one word of truth in the face of a tyrant….

I burn a candle
For those thousands that have been killed
Or gotten their limbs "liberated" for fruitless lies
Searching for weapons of mass
Destruction, imminent threats,
Nuclear capabilities and ties to 9/11.

Maybe a song, a poem and a prayer will help.

Salaam (peace) and Thank you Jerry.

You’re welcome! Thank you!

Jerry Danielsen: www.LosAngelesPoetsPress.com

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light

[Gato note: Plato believed in a communist utopia-if he could at that point have extrapolated a few hundred years down the line, he would have seen the greatest injustice-an ideology which claims man must live for the State as nothing but an eating, sleeping, excreting machine, hands and feet and stomach…but no soul. Today we have seen that the greatest flaw in Communism was not only the reduction of man to the state of consumer/producer, but that man who is a mosque and not a building, a poem and not a word from the dictionary, cannot be subjugated or told to live for someone other than himself….and his beliefs..and these beliefs cannot be changed or moulded.. The human spirit is proud and strong, like granite…it cannot be broken. When his pupil Aristotle attempted to tell him of the dangers of communism, that a great corruption would stem from those same people who can own nothing, and be nothing…Plato said: Teacher speak, Pupil must Listen. It is not recorded what Aristotle said next, but I garner it was something like:
Yo man, this shit sucks, I mean, wassup wit ya?
Ya want some communism-I’m gonna take your wife-that’s right, the State is gonna take yo wife and yo plasma screen T.V-how you feel now Pops?
Plato: Please-not my plasma screen T.V!!!!!!Dotty, honey pack your bags, you’re going for a trip.

But the quote was good right?]

This exclusive interview was brought to you by El Gato.

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