Paul D of the Riot Act talks about poetry and punk rock

This Sunday, punk poet Paul Dickinson (a.k.a. Paul D) and his rag-tag crew of poets and storytellers will be taking over the Turf Club for the semi-regular Riot Act reading series.  Paul D, Jen March, Courtney McClean, Maggie Ryan Sanford, and possibly others will all be presenting their stuff for a free customer appreciation show.

I met Paul D last week on one of the rare occasions he graces Minneapolis with his presence for a slice of pizza and a pint at Pizza Luce. We spent some time chatting about poetry.

City Pages:  So when did you first start writing poetry?   

Paul D: I actually started out writing punk rock lyrics for bands. I probably wrote my first poem when I was 16 or 17 years old. I don't know if you'd call that poetry. I don't if you'd call what I write now poetry.

CP: Was there a specific band you wrote for?  

PD: I was the drummer but they let me write the lyrics because no one else wanted to do it. That band was Manifest Destiny. That was back when there were not as many bands, so you didn't have to be that good. 

CP: How long did you play for them?

PD: Three... four years? It's just a blur. I mean, everybody moved away. That was my high school band. Then I went to college. I was a lousy student in high school because I was busy playing in my rock band, and skateboarding or whatever. Then I went to college and I really did get into reading, studying, and learning the classics. You know--all the old dead white guys.

CP: Who's your favorite dead white guy?

PD: John Keats is my favorite dead white guy.

CP: What do you like about him?  

PD: I like his unbridled romanticism. But also his melancholy. I mean, this guy was hundreds of years before The Cure. He died when he was 26. He was so prolific and amazing.  

CP: So, you started writing traditional poems?

PD: My poems were not traditional at all. It was just awful stuff. Just incorrigible really. I think I'm still writing juvenilia.  

CP:  So when did you start performing poetry?

PD: I started toward the end of college and then I kind of got involved in the Minneapolis scene. In the early days--believe it or not--we used to do some shows at Mayslack's bar. I used to bring by equipment from St. Paul. It got really rowdy in there, and made some people upset. My crowning artistic achievement is that there was some city council member that wanted to ban poetry readings in Minneapolis. That, to me, is my proudest accomplishment.  

CP: And then what happened?

PD: Eventually I went to graduate school. I got really fried on reading, to be honest with you. I felt over exposed so I stopped doing it for a long time

CP: What was your thesis?  

PD: A book of poetry

CP: Obviously you had to have your professors approve your poetry, so you can't really call that juvenilia, right?

PD: I guess not. I can fake it when I have to.  

CP:  Are you more punk rock or more poetry?

PD:  That's a tough one. They kind of blur together for me.  Tonight I'm more poetry but tomorrow morning I might be more punk rock.

CP:  What makes a poem punk rock?

PD:  I don't know.  To me being punk--you could get really specific about it.  It's a general outlook on life.  There's a right way, there's a wrong way and there's the punk way, which is usually the really wrong way--the way that makes no sense and has no redeeming qualities.

CP:  So that's pretty much how you live your life?

PD: Yeah. No redeeming qualities. 

CP:  So how long have you been doing the most recent Riot Act?

PD:  I think we've been at the Turf club for three years, maybe four.  I'm not good at keeping track of the years.  I've done a few in Minneapolis.  

CP:  What made me go to the Turf Club?

PD:  I tried to do one at a bookstore and you know I can't do this in a book store.  

CP:  Is there something about alcohol that improves the reading?

PD:  Are you saying I didn't have alcohol in the bookstore?  Here's why I like the Turf Club a lot: The Turf Club is a supportive environment in that usually no one will throw anything at you--they're actually pretty quiet and respectful--but it's important to me that it not be precious.

CP: What do you mean by that?

PD: I just don't like these places where everyone is so sensitive; they really make me feel uncomfortable.  

CP:  What inspires you?  

PD: Irregular patterns 

CP:  Like what?

PD:  In human behavior.  Inspiration is a tough thing.  

CP:  I mean, what do you get from it?

PD: I don't know if I'm supposed to get anything form it. I don't think writing is therapy

CP:  Well what is it then?

PD: I don't believe in this writing for yourself stuff. No one writes for themselves. That's B.S. I write for other people. A lot of this stuff is just odes. Like Keats wrote these odes. Like you could write an ode to Lake Street.  

CP:  Have you ever written an ode to Lake Street?

PD: Not officially. I probably have a million times and not known it

CP:  What's your favorite thing about performing?

PD: Doing the unexpected. Reaching the squarest person in the room.  

The latest performance of the Riot Act reading series is from 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday, October 24 at the Turf Club, followed by karaoke. admission is free.

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