This article reprinted from the John T Unger Weblog. The original article can be found online:
© 2010, John T Unger
When I was a poet, about once a week somebody would tell me that one of my poems had "changed their life." Seriously, people really said that. So, I'd suggest they buy one of my books and they'd kind of mumble and sidle away. Apparently I hadn't changed their life enough. I told that story to my good friend Austin Kleon and he drew the cartoon above. (The book in my story was actually only 6 bucks).
My three theories of writing from that time are:
- All you need is something to say and a way to say it.
- The easiest path to good prose is to live an interesting life and write it down.
- All writing should work equally well as spoken word and as words on the page.
I still stand by these rules although it turned out that the flaw with number two is: if you are living an interesting life, you have no time to write. If you're writing, your life isn't very interesting from an outside view.
Eventually, I discovered that it's a lot easier to get paid for making art than poems, so that's what I do now. I miss writing, and the simpler lifestyle of being a poet, but I don't really miss how brutally solitary I had to be to focus on writing.
In spring of 1997 my friend Johnny Berst sent me a deeply poetic, apocalyptic, cryptic postcard out of the blue. I hadn't heard from him in years, but responded in kind… before we knew it, we were essentially writing a collaborative book together through the mail. All told, there were somewhere around 2000 postcards before it was over. I really think the cards contain some of the best work either of us ever did. Here's my favorite 40 cards
The 36 poems in this collection work best aloud. They were written for both performance and the page, as scores for spoken word. The poems are roughly chronological, and span from the late 80s to the late 90s.
This book takes its title from a remark my friend Jeff Monseau made about the punitively lengthy letters I used to airdrop on him; "…characters come out, your haunts and geography." The 33 poems in this collection are about people and places that anchored my world.
One dozen short love poems based on the idea that observation is one of the primary tells of the heart. When you love someone, you pay attention to them. You see things that other people might not. These were an experiment in short poems that display love rather than talking about it, by calling up an image of things noticed.
My first published work, 1992. The structure of the book is an autobiographical narrative in four movements, corresponding to the four major epochs of civilization as I have experienced them: Tribal Nomadic Hunter-Gatherer, Sedentary Agrarian, Iron Age/Industrial Revolution & the Information Age.
Fiction + Prose
My dad had pet crows when he was a kid. They were the heroes of my favorite bed-time story. This is my retelling of his story.
I'm pretty sure this is the only actual fiction piece I've ever written which survives. The whole thing is a total fabrication except for the "records on ribs" which I read about somewhere. I saved the story primarily for the Musée des X-rays, which I really wish were a real place…
I could have titled this Turning a Prophet, had the whole experience not been so costly. Paid to be a personal savior & messiah, I thought I had it made. Simple drama devolves into enlightenment film noir.
I was asked to write an essay about "sex, Rock 'n Roll and art" for the exhibition catalog of Sextablos: Works on Metal and I had a ball with it. If you are easily offended by strong language you might want to skip this one. If not, read it out loud at the top of your lungs... Preach it. It sounds really great that way!