The Sound of Story: An Interview with Poet, Chris Baron

In Poets on April 30, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Chris Baron was born into the tumultuous life of an artist’s family in New York City. As described in his poem, “Field Trip,” he was introduced to the power of many creative mediums at a young age: “stunned by a wave of Mozart, / toxic smells of oils and cigarette / smoke.” Later in the poem, the mother/artist “spins like a whirlwind, consumes / everything with brush strokes.” The artist “consumes” experiences and responds. Chris is passionate about the importance of art as a practical resource for discovering truth and as a means of survival in our every day lives.

Chris completed his M.F.A. in Poetry at San Diego State University in 1998 and is currently a Professor of English at San Diego City College. He has been a prominent part of the Border Voices Poetry Project and many other local San Diego literary endeavors. Forthcoming from City Works Press in 2012 is (tentatively titled) The Four Graces, which will highlight the work of Chris along with Cali Linfor, Sabrina Youmans, Heather Eudy. Also in 2012, This Time Not Alone will be released, an artist’s book of poetry and artwork with collaborator Randall Hasson.

The following interview took place via e-mail between Chris Baron and Crystal Hadidian in April 2011.

What is your perspective on how your work engages with music?

My works tries to tell a story in a musical way.  This is why I love poetry—I love story, and I love sound.  I want to remember the way something is told almost as much as the something itself.  Poetry provides all the practical tools to this.  When these tools build and deliver the story—then boom.

How would you describe the role of sound in your own poetry? Do you compose with the “music” of a poem in mind, or do you pay more attention to things like narrative thread and image?

I start with narrative and image, and the sound is natural.  Revision is key for me, so sometimes I pound it out to get the story down, and then I bring in the music.

Is there any particular piece of music that has influenced your work as a whole?

It’s hard to say—I am the guy who has James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer as a station on Pandora. Perhaps I see life a little bit too seriously?  I like music that tells stories.

Do you have a favorite poem you wrote that was ekphrastic?

So many of my poems are like this. In my M.F.A. thesis, there are many poems about growing up in an artist’s home. Some of the poems are about the challenges of an environment where nude women were present. I have also written some poems about the paintings themselves and how they have in some ways haunted and inspired me.

What are your thoughts on contemporary song lyrics and the the role of music and literature in the lives of your students?

This is so key for my students. Their favorite assignment is when I let them bring in a song, present it to the class, and then they get to discuss—using their new found lexicon and understanding about poetry, to explain how their favorite song is poetry.  Through a simple assignment like this one, students can start to make educated judgments about what might and might not be literature in the same way that they more easily might talk about what is or is not good music.

As for lyrics…music has it easy. The music of instruments is far more powerful in an immediate sense than any words, so you can say something like, “you know that I could use somebody” which is a good lie, and follow it up with a total of 19 other words in total, and if you put some solid music behind it, and you sing it with passion, then you got it!  Literature needs to work much harder (not that it is harder to do).

How do you view the relationship between popular music and contemporary literature?

Both explore the deep conditions of humanity—lust, love, greed, desire, hope, fear, life and death.  Literature is the longer version and exploration of what a song is trying to say for you.


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