Outcryer Journal Presents Brian Sheffield
August 2, 2015
Brian Sheffield: Writing poetry between the lines and learning to talk about it.
Be prepared for a brutally honest read that will not only tear through your heartstrings but also leave you questioning your own position in society. Brian Sheffield is unafraid to get vulnerably raw and punch his own privilege in the face. Devastatingly witty (as well as gritty), this poet brings his courage, activism, and sexuality to the forefront while leaving the rest of us biting our nails.
Poetry Collection by Brian Sheffield
How did you get started?
While I’ve always enjoyed writing, I didn’t really get into poetry until college. And, even then, I didn’t start writing poetry seriously until around 2011. At that point, I just imitated a lot of my favorite writers, many of those being the Beats and the British Romantics. I was living in Monterey, CA and was lucky to find a local poetry slam. I attended quite a bit before actually performing and fell in love with the energy. Once I started performing, I couldn’t stop. I guess it was about then that I learned I could just put together my own chapbooks and distribute them to whomever cared to read what I had to write. Over time, I got to know a lot of local poets, artists, musicians, and activists and really delved into that kind of a world. I kept putting out new work that I would covertly leave at coffee shop counters and hide in the shelves of local bookshops and libraries. Eventually, people began to learn who I was. After a while, I realized that this was something I wanted to do on a much bigger scale and Monterey just wasn’t big enough. So, I moved to New York. That was about five months ago and, since then, I’ve been a feature poet at three open mics and have had my poetry published in two local journals. It’s been pretty exciting overall.
What are you doing now?
Right now, I’m finishing work on my fifth chapbook ( SIN(G) ), submitting poetry to as many journals and magazines as I can find, and performing at as many open mics and poetry slams as my time will allow. Granted, I’m working full time so that kind of makes it difficult. Nonetheless, I’m finding enough time to perform at least once or twice a week. I’m really trying to play with more personal and visceral poetry while radically experimenting with form and style. I think it makes my work more honest, which is my main goal: being as dangerously honest with myself and my audience as I can be. Unfortunately, that does make some of my work inaccessible to the lay-reader. I do consciously try to stay away from the traditional, though I find myself writing in traditional forms more often than I’d like. So, I guess that’s what I’m really working on right now: making my poetry and my books look exactly the way that I see or hear them originally in my head, which is damn hard to do as my head’s already pretty chaotic.
What does art mean to you?
That’s a little difficult. Theoretically, any kind of creation can be defined as art if it’s put into the right context. However, my own definition would likely be a little more limited. I would define art as anything constructed that consciously tries to make some form of meaning, even if that meaning is meaninglessness itself, if that makes sense. Or, it’s just another medium used to make sense of reality, kind of the way philosophy, science, or religion do. And sometimes, art can be very philosophical, or very scientific, or very religious. And, sometimes, it can be borderline nihilistic, breaking down all meaning making mechanisms in order to showcase nothingness as opposed to something — once again, very vague. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be aesthetically beautiful, which tends to be the more traditional view of art. I just think that it needs to be deliberate, even if that deliberation has a quality of chaos.
Tell us about your most favorite piece of work that you have done. Why is it meaningful to you?
Right now, I’m pretty excited about SIN(G). However, seeing as it’s not quite a finished product (at least, as of this interview), I’d have to say Songs From Heaven’s Crooked Teeth is probably my favorite. While I see A LOT of weakness in it, it definitely marks a point in my life where I really started to feel confident about my work. It was in the process of working on that book that I began to realize how much I truly wanted to do this and make it a major part of my life. I view it as a legitimate accomplishment, both artistically and poetically. I was pretty proud of it then and am proud of it even now, if only in the context of where I was at the time.
If you could travel anywhere, where would you travel? And why?
If I could travel anywhere (safely and any way I wanted), I would travel through other people’s thoughts and imaginations and dreams and whatnot. And then, just all around the universe. Sure, the earth is beautiful, but I’m more interested in people and those aspects of ourselves that we refuse to talk about. I’m pretty sure we are all equally as beautiful and as sick as each other. I guess it would just be another way of learning about myself through the context of other people. Or, rather, just another form of self-validation. And then the universe because DAMN is it big and full of stars.
Finish this sentence…
I feel most fulfilled when…I am happy, no matter what that means.
If I had it my way….centralized government and every monetary system worldwide would be abolished, along with all forms of military and police. Every current conceivable norm would be subverted insomuch that sexuality, gender, race, access to resources, religious beliefs or lack thereof, and disability would never have any bearing on any living organism in any way, shape, or form, with no regard to the situation at hand. All forms of energy use and resource extraction that negatively impacts our living space in any way, (i.e. disturbs the natural order and balance of things), would be permanently abolished, and the myth of human superiority over nature and the universe would vanish.
It’s happy hour, what are you ordering?
I’m ordering a beer. Probably a Blue Moon or Brooklyn Lager. That’s about it.