By Eric Wendt
Born of bar tabs and jukebox marathons, Six Ft. Swells is the indie press boozy, lovelorn wordsmiths have been waiting for. Started by three friends and poets — Matt Amott, Todd Cirillo and Julie Valin — Six Ft. Swells began with a simple manifesto: poetry should be honest, accessible, and most importantly, fun. Thus was After Hours Poetry created. Sharing themes of love, sex, revelry, heartbreak and hooch, After Hours Poetry is a live reading for anyone who enjoys a good show, whether they’re sipping on cheep beer or fine wine. Todd and Julie were nice enough to let Synthesis pick their brains. Deep thoughts ensued.
It seems like love and alcohol are two big themes throughout the work. Would you say that’s fair? Are they linked?
Todd: Going out for the evening with serious drinkers is a lot like love; you never can tell how it’s going to turn out. Add poets into the mix and you just know something is going to get broken or born before the sun comes up.
Why do you think poetry has fallen by the wayside for a lot of people? I mean, the whole Beat scene was hip back in the day, but it seems like it’s pulling teeth to try and get crowds out to poetry readings.
Todd: On the one hand, poetry has always had a bad rap for being too academic, serious and difficult to comprehend. On the other hand, poets themselves have made it hard for an audience to endure, either by arrogance or boredom. Just because you write words on a page doesn’t make it a good poem. So it can be difficult to sit in an audience and listen to someone’s journal entry who is up on stage acting like they are doing the audience a favor. I believe that a poet’s responsibility is to entertain the audience, not bore them. Let the audience have a good time. Don’t make it a solemn, holier than thou affair. It’s okay to have fun at a poetry reading; to yell at the poet, to ask the girl/boy next to you out, to clap, cheer and interact.
When you say you want to make poetry accessible for everyone, what does that mean? How do you go about doing it?
Julie: I like, for example, that my dad loves coming to our poetry readings. My dad, the blue-collar worker with a simple high school education. He laughs the loudest, too, and always comes away proud of his daughter for making poetry fun and relatable. For not using words anyone needs to look up in their Merriam-Webster.
As people in love with the written word, I’d be interested to know what kind of music you feel drawn toward. Is it about the lyrics for you, or are the sounds more important?
Todd: Music is essential to our poetry…we share a profound love of Otis Redding. Put Otis on any jukebox and the evening will improve. Personally, I hear music like waves, sometimes loud, sometimes just background noise. Lyrics, sounds — it’s all the same because the end result is inspiration.
Julie: Music is poetry to me, too. It is the atmosphere it creates that draws me in and inspires me. I am almost always in an Otis Redding mood. Or John Coltrane. Saturday morning laundry or late-night writing—Portishead, Massive Attack, Nada Surf. Saturday night party time—Fugazi, TV on the Radio, Dandy Warhols.
Any advice for aspiring scribes?
Julie: As mentioned before, just because you write words in your journal, alone in a room, doesn’t mean you’re an automatic poet. It is indeed a craft. Read lots and lots of other poets. Study it. And then share it with the public via open mics or submitting to literary magazines. Take any cues and criticism constructively. Don’t be an ignorant asshole.
Is it just me, or is iambic pentameter just total bullshit?
Todd: Any poem that’s overly depressing or requires a dictionary just to get through the fucking thing is bullshit.
Julie: I am so right there with you, it’s not even funny. I mean, is that even a thing anymore?
Check out afterhourspoetry.com and keep your eyes peeled for Julie’s new poetry book, The Distance Between.