We can often sit and wonder why someone else has something we don't, or we can do our best and not worry about what other's have. This becomes harder in this day and age when we can see what people boast about having in their lives just at the tip of your fingers. Alexis Marshall has another viewpoint.
In this interview we talk about bad Instagram poetry, his musical endeavors, sadness, being dumb, and his book of collected poetry, A Sea Above the Pains of Our Youth, which is being released by Permanent Sleep Press on Friday, October 13.
Who you are/what you do?
My name is Alexis Marshall, I’ve been playing music for about 20 years. I’ve been writing some kind of poetry to some extent throughout that time period and never was terribly serious about it, but as I’ve gotten older, I've put more time and more focus into writing strictly as poetry and not with the potential to be used as a song down the line.
Aside from that, I don’t do a whole hell of a lot, I do a lot of pacing and thats about it, I do a lot of yard work… thats my life.
Is this your first book of collected poems?
This is my first collection, yeah. I remember a few years ago, I was debating on contacting Hydra Head (Daughters label at the time) and I think I spoke briefly with someone there at the time about a collected lyric book. I don’t think they ever followed through, or became anything more than an idea, so this would be the first real thing I’ve done writing wise.
Awesome. Did (Permanent Sleep Press) get in touch with you or vice versa?
You know, I don’t care for social media very much, and just recently, like last year, I decided I was gonna start writing/collecting my poetry, so I thought “I’m not gonna do Facebook, but I like to look at pictures and I like art, so i’ll commit to Instagram." So, I started one and Permanent Sleep just started following me somewhere along the line. I was just gonna use Instagram to push my poetry, you know cause everyone on social media is a business, like everyone is promoting themselves.
Yeah, definitely. I’m guilty of that.
Right, but thats the dream I suppose right everybody wants to be famous for doing the bullshit that they do? It isn’t really worth anybody’s attention, but they’re gonna do it anyway and try their best.
So, I did instagram in hopes to promote this shit and self-publish my work and I would have a platform to sell through, and (Permanent Sleep Press) just messaged me through it and ask if I’d be interested in releasing something with them, and I said “Of course." It was quick, didn’t really take as much work as I thought it would take, and that was nice to have someone approach me about it, as opposed to banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how I’m going to put my own stuff out and push it on people. I’m not a good salesman, I don’t promote myself well, and I’m awkward and a bit lazy.
You know, I am the same exact way.
Yeah, I’m thankful Permanent Sleep Press approached me cause I probably would not have seen the whole thing through.
Permanent Sleep Press actually put out a a collection of my photographs, along with (Tracy Nguyen’s) photographs, and if they hadn’t of approached me, I’m not sure I would probably not have done anything else.
Yeah, theres a validity to others putting out your work. I remember that was a big thing with Aaron Turner (Isis) when Hydra Head could put out the Isis material but he didn’t want to release his own material. I thought that was admirable and I’m glad I don’t have to. You sort of start to feel like if I’m not gonna do this, you know, is no one gonna give a shit? It’s nice, its someone that actually cares what you are doing, and they think others will care. Cause I could write “Boy, I’m really fucking good and everybody wants to read this,” but who the fuck am I to say that? And, of course, I want my shit to be read.
There are so many guilty pleasures, and mine is combing through bad Instagram poetry. There are so many terrible, terrible, terrible poets on Instagram with like 15,000 followers, just writing fucking garbage. Just absolute souless things you would find on like a doily in a tea room, or a fortune cookie, its just bullshit self-help stuff under the guise of poetry. They use things like hashtags #poetsofinstagram and all this shit. It's just silly, disgusting stuff. I love it, its great, its a real fun read. I hate it, but I love it.
That sounds like some “Live. Laugh. Love” type deal.
[Laughing] Yeah, thats pretty much what all of it is to an extent.
Do find a difference in writing poetry just stand alone to when it comes to write lyrics for Daughters or Fucking Invincible?
Well, some of the Daughters stuff were poems that became songs, so they were elaborated on. The past couple of records I’ve kind of embraced the narrative, like trying to tell a story to some extent and creating characters. Telling stories for people in some very compressed short story, I suppose. With that vibe, it’s just kind of I’m mad about this thing, and it’s base language and primal "fuck this" and "fuck that" and I’m 18 again, jumping around and swearing and point the finger at everybody for my problems. So, with poetry, I think I try to be more thoughtful and introspective to some extent and everything is a little different, between the two bands and writing poems. They’re all a bit different, but they do tend to bleed into each other from time to time. That’s just the way it is, sometimes I have a song that doesn’t really work well as a song, but it just ends up standing on its own, and vice versa.
Yeah, I think that ends up happening a lot, I have a book of Mike Williams from Eyehategod’s poetry and half of it are just eyehategod lyrics. Going from that, do you have a personal favorite? One that stuck out a lot and I kind of related to was “the process of a manic depressive” that one hit very close to home.
I like that one very much. The first poem in there, it’s weird to say “I like” or like a certain poem would be my favorite, I don’t know how to choose but, what I like the most are some of the stuff that’s a bit more painful for me to some extent. The first poem I put in the book, "The Greeting,” it was kind of a dramatic experience of my childhood. I think I sort of relayed what what I feel about what I witnessed and and I think I did a good job. That might be one of my favorites in there. When I got the proof back and I started reading through everything, there was stuff I thought “Man, this doesn’t work!” or “I shouldn’t have used this word," so yeah, thats tough to do, sometimes you think "I wrote a great poem" and then you get it back and it’s like, "What the fuck was I talking about right here?"
You are your worst critic.
Right, but you have to know what to say and when. I wrote a lot in my phone which I would do very quickly and I’d make a lot of typos, and autocorrect is a huge help, so I’ll write there and then from there I write them on my typewriter so that way, once its in the typewriter that sort of finalizes it. Like “This is done, I can’t fuck with this anymore." I have to leave it alone, otherwise, I’ll just change a line or I’ll realize I think the structure should be rearranged and a constant would sound better here. So you know, it can be difficult and frustrating to just try to write something as simple as just a poem, and a short poem at that too. It’s difficult to choose a favorite, I feel like everything afterwards could be improved on to some extent.
I feel like depression is a huge theme in a lot of poetry, do you find that as a reoccurring theme in your work, or could it even be a coping mechanism in a way?
I don’t think it’s a coping mechanism, you know I find preforming music closer to that, like I’ll play live and I might feel better, but never feel better about things. You know its a moment of relief, you can step away from for a while, when you’re your’e preforming. But organizing a poem you have to take more of a surgical approach to it and sort of see it working but, its pondering up shitty images of my childhood and my youth and then and you know, my depression. So, it’s kind of hard to write about something and then have to step outside from it and examine it as a piece of work, and decide if that makes sense or if its just a bunch of fucking words that don’t make sense together.
There are poems like that in the book that just kind of freely be in writing them, and they went one draft and thats it, sometimes they don’t make a lot of sense or they can seem suggestive or both to any number of things. I think that is just as good, I don’t feel like I need to be like a "depressed poet" or a alcoholic poet or something like that, or like a "white male poet." I don’t really identify with any of that. I’m just writing it means what it means to me and it could mean whatever else to anybody else. Thats kind of the beauty of art, right?
Right, I think that is a really great way of looking at it.
There were a lot of poems that were really old that I had written like 10 years ago, maybe a handful and I re-wrote them. There is a common factor in all of them, maybe a sadness, but I didn't have a specific type of feeling in all of them, this book isn’t about my dad or something. There were times when I wrote specific things about my father and thought I should put these all in a filing cabinet and just make a book just about how much a struggle with feelings with my father. But no, I just kind of included everything. Just a collection of a lot of the material I had. They’re just words.
I’m sure maybe at some point I’ll make a collection of poems about hating being at the bank or something, you know.
Did you find in a difference in writing your poetry from when you were only in Daughters to when you started Fucking Invincible?
No, I didn’t. I don’t find a correlation between them because they’re all different I wouldn’t say forms in my personality, but more like they’re different forms of writing. One didn’t really effect the other, sometimes we’d have a song, and I’d sit and listen to it and I’d hear how my voice would sound in that song and kind of just write to fill in the gaps where the voice belongs. I make it fit. very different from writing a poem, because I don’t write lyrics to fill a poem.
Can you tell me about the few images that are Included in the book?
They’re, some old sketches my partner, my wife had done while she was over in Italy, she was there for a masters in college and she had a book where she was just sketching a lot of things here and there. She went to art school, she’s so smart and talented, what she’s doing with me I have no idea [chuckles]. So, theres just a lot of random things she was just sitting in a park or somewhere just drawing. I liked a lot of them and she wasn’t really doing anything with them, so I asked her if I could use them for the book.
They’re really wonderful, cause they’re drawn on like a transparency paper, so there would be images one side of it that would sort of effect the other and then she would start drawing something and then start drawing something else over it, and you could still see whats underneath. I thought that was brilliant cause some artists will try to paint over an old painting, but when you can see whats underneath, its like looking into a different room. It’s nice.
Is there a meaning behind the title: A Sea Above the Pains Of Our Youth?
I can’t remember the original title I had that I loved, it was great, I think I had a different titled when I first sent it over. But I feel like I was obsessing over this line: "sea above the pains of our youth." It's in one of the last few poems. I had written a poem about a good friend of mine when he was living on my couch and I had written that line, and I had a moment where I wrote this stanza and was like, "This is fucking great," and was very proud of it. So, I think I texted him it and mentioned maybe thinking about using that line for the title and he thought it was a pretty good line as well. I just liked it, although I suppose a lot of it is about my youth and my satisfaction with the way I grew up, and being a parent now and how to not be like my father. I think I may have been trying to lend some sort of meaning to the title when I just thought it sounded good.
If you were to explain this book to someone in a short sentence, what would you say?
I’m terrible with self analysis and self promotion, but I wouldn’t even want to tell someone how to interpret the book or what to think about it, I’ve seen, and done and been a part of shitty things and decided to write some of them down in plain language. I didn’t finish high school, I’m not very educated. On paper, I’m dumb as shit, so don’t expect some literary acrobats, it’s just how I feel.
A Sea Above the Pains of Our Youth is out on October 13 from Permanent Sleep Press.