Amos White on The Return of the Citizen’s Artistic Voice

Amos White on The Return of the Citizen’s Artistic Voice

An interview with Amos White, from The Write Stuff series:

Amos White is an American haiku poet and author of The Sound of the Web: Haiku and Poetry on Facebook and Twitter, recognized for his vivid imagery and breathless interpretations. He was a Finalist in the NPR National Cherry Blossom Haiku Contest 2013 and has works published in The Wittenberg Review, Oakland Review, Bones Journal, San Francisco BayView, Area 17, World Haiku Association Anthology. Amos serves on several literary and arts nonprofit boards, is Founder and Host of the Heart of the Muse: a creative’s salon, and Founder and Producer of Beyond Words: Jazz+Poetry show at the California Jazz Conservatory in Berkeley.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

Letting go.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

I’d say, “Do it! Go for it! But keep your day job.” Success comes from chasing one’s passion as it becomes the real life dream you dreamed. There is nothing that fuels you more. Though it must be balanced with serious doses of practicalities to assure that your basic needs are being met while you are building your career.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I measure success by the number of ToDo items that lay elided at the end of the week.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

My father was a jazz man long before he mastered education as a Cap Crusader then got called Doctor and a Buckeye. It wasn’t the hands or the barbed kisses or the rumbling lullabies from our Shaker Heights post-war flat to the eponymous White House down Ridgeway Ave.

You see…

His trumpet sound came early, Saturday mornings when the winter hymns in house registers fell silent.  Then they would lift—and spit and rise! from the place where spider webs and moulded coal dust lay piled against damp cinder blocks somewhere beneath the kitchen.

It’s the way you’d walk, you see, or when you’d hear HEY! HEY! roundin’ third & a cloud of dust waiting at home. Or the sharp trill of the whippoorwill when you’d be lost somewhere under the aisles at Shottenstein’s. And although he died last year of old age, I can not divorce myself from the silver spoon of Horace left in my mouth. This song of poetry whenever I think of this adventure we’ve embarked upon—this song for my father.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

I was enamored with Jesse Owens at 10 years of age. I had run underneath his tutelage only three years earlier in the Great Horseshoe Stadium of Ohio State University—later, whose track would be named in his honor. His sense to pursue greatness in achievement in the face of his and the world’s nemesis, Hitler, bore a hole in my runner’s soul. I was 7 in the Spring of 1972 when my father packed me and my two classmates into the woodsey, green paneled Country Squire station wagon. Soon there was a nice man who shook my dad’s arm like he was pumping air, who said we were training for a race. Each boy to one lane he said. His voice light and ribbon smooth and his eyes held you in your tracks and made you want to smile all at the same time. As he lined each of us in our “stance” he pointed down the track where my dad stood when the gun shot! People were screaming, heads turning and the sound of my heart pounded my ears. Crossing the white line I turned around to see where everyone else was when dad and the man ran up, he gently squatted down, one hand on my shoulder, the other pointing back to the vacant end zone when he said, “Thru this line is where you are going, son. Never stop. And never look back.”

What’s wrong with society today?

Social myopia, historical amnesia and a rapidly deteriorating conscience. In short, we all need more poetry in our AI.

What is your fondest memory?

The look of patent wonderment on my fourteen month old son’s face as Nonna held his day old sister in her arms.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

What’s the momentum of a sunrise,
or the calculus of a smile?
Are we not the sum of hearts
indescribably entangled?

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

A poet elected president. I would like to see the return of the Citizen’s artistic voice to move the historical pendulum to librate near center in a fight with a southpaw’s ferocity and a righty’s tenacity in this great political experiment to continue to redefine itself as a “democracy.” The basis of this country’s path to social justice and human and economic rights is under attack from divisive inflammatory rhetoric and institutional authoritarianism that threatens to further erode the moral and principled gains of the previous 60 to 100 years. If ever we needed a metaphor to surge to the fore to unite us against the rising tyranny of fear and division, it would be now! And from the mouth of a poet.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art is the expressed manifestation of disembodied experience. We need art to make sense of the senseless and to give form to perspectives where those without can be stretched to see, to hear or to experience things anew and from differing perspectives: to imagine the future not seen.

What are you working on right now?

Producing three one-man multimedia haiku performances; a jazz poetry show at the Berkeley School of Jazz; a Beat Museum reading “Breathe Between The Beats: A Night of Beat Poetry & the Zen of Haiku;” a Marin Poetry Center talk on “Diversity in literature,” a citywide Berkeley Celebration of Haiku; producing intersectional digital lit conference; expanding intergenerational literary reading opportunities; planning the design of a state of the art cultural arts center with a renowned architect; supporting the City of Alameda Arts Commission to be a fully funded arts fund and commission.

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

I’d love to write comedic satire.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

Mark Benihoff’s bank routing and account number to mine.

What are some of your favorite smells?

The tinge of curry on warm kitchen currents; port on ruby lips; the sudden rush of sea and hot sand as the city leaves my nostrils; the jolt of your morning musk; the way love never calls but forever beckons, there, from the nape of your neck.

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