“My life is a sand painting poem. Here gone, here gone gone gone, baby. Beautifully, meticulously, randomly, fractalledly, holistically forever. Right here, right now, presently nowheredly-gone. Sand in the sea poem poet.“-Ron Whitehead
Born on a farm in Kentucky, poet, author, orator, editor, teacher, lecturer Ron Whitehead possesses a command of the English language that is truly astounding. As a young man, Whitehead left the Kentucky farmlands in pursuit of higher learning, traveling to the University of Louisville, then later Oxford University. He quickly won renown for his gift with words, displaying dazzling talent as a poet, orator, author and editor.
Whitehead has since extended his gift with words beyond writing poetry and editing literary works, spearheading the creation of a non-profit organization called the Global Literary Renaissance, whose aim is to help support literature worldwide by teaching and lecturing to students, and collaborating with musicians.
Among his 28 literary works are Western Kentucky: Lost & Forgotten, Found & Remembered (with Sarah Elizabeth Burkey), The Third Testament: Three Gospels of Peace (with art by Lawrence Ferlinghetti & David Minton) and most recently, I REFUSE, I WILL NOT BOW DOWN, I WILL NEVER GIVE UP, which was just released by California’s Cook Creative.
In addition this Summer, Ron Whitehead will release the double CD companion to the just mentioned book being brought out by California’s Cook Creative, which marks his 37th CD among his classics “Kentucky Roots”, “Kentucky: poems, stories, songs”, “Kentucky Blues”, “From Iceland to Kentucky & Beyond”, “The Shape of Water”, “The Viking Hillbilly Apocalypse Revue” and “The Storm Generation Manifesto & on parting, the wilderness poems.”
A man of unlimited energy and possessing a true love of academia, Whitehead continues his active involvement in the academic world as an editor and a professor. Among the numerous authors whose work he has edited are Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Ron has also taught at many of the world’s most prestigious universities, among them: the University of Louisville, New York University, Trinity College Dublin, and The University of Iceland.
Among Whitehead’s current collaborative projects is an upcoming documentary film on his life and work, titled “Outlaw Poet: a Documentary on Ron Whitehead.” This highly anticipated film is being directed by the exciting young director Nick Storm and will be released by Storm Generation Films.
This month, Examiner had the honor of sitting down with “The King of the Underground” Mr. Ron Whitehead, as he graciously shared his memoirs of growing up in the Kentucky farmlands, his inborn love and understanding of poetry (“From as far back as I can remember, I heard the rhythms of life of poetry”) and more. Here is Part 1 of our two-part interview with the “Hillbilly Outlaw Poet” Ron Whitehead:
Ron, at what age did you first begin reading poetry and
who was the first poet whose work you read?
I started first grade when I was 5, and I was already reading. I was already
working on farms, plus I started selling GRIT magazine door to door in
Centertown (population 323) which was a mile and a half from our farm.
I wandered through backwoods or rode my bicycle on dirt and gravel roads
to get there. Through GRIT, I joined, at age 5, my first book clubs: history and biography.
Although Daddy, a farmer and coal miner, dropped out of school in 9th grade, he loved poetry. He could recite all of Hiawatha and many other poems. He subscribed to Reader’s Digest magazine, which included Word Power. Whenever it arrived, Daddy would yell out “Ronnie, come here” and he’d ask me to spell and give the definition of each of the ten words.
From as far back as I can remember, I heard the rhythms of life of poetry. The first poems I heard? The Book of Psalms, Old Testament, the Bible.
A few years ago, I wrote a book of poems titled “Kokopelli”, inspired by my longtime friend David Amram’s composition by the same name, my love of the legendary indigenous stories of Kokopelli and my love of The Book of Psalms. An independent press out of Calgary, Canada brought it out in a handmade edition of 250 copies. they ended up printing several editions. I gave all my copies away. I don’t even have one copy to read from. Mama taught me, through her actions rather than through her words, how to give without anticipation of reciprocation.
At what age did you decide to become a poet, and was there
a particular person or event that influenced that decision?
I was born a poet. I’ve been a poet in many lifetimes. It is my calling.
Poetry is the main vehicle for me to communicate, for me to uplift, inspire
comfort, heal, awaken, entertain myself and whoever else has the desire and the
yearning for any of the above.
The influences, the mentors from the beginning of my life till now and beyond, well they are legion. I was a blessed child. I’m a blessed man. I have no complaints, only thanks.
I choose to be a mentor. I’ve mentored thousands of young people of all ages, round the world. It is a gift to me to be able to do so.
Growing up, was there a particular poet whose work you loved best, and why?
Oh my. Well, I’ve mentioned some already. From my earliest memories
I spent half my time in nature; I’m a natural born farmboy/outdoors poet.
I spent the other half rabid-dog reading.
I refuse to place limits on my reading and my writing. I read what I want to read, regardless of what anyone says. I write, using as few words as possible, what I’m inspired to write in order to create a moving, living, breathing, filmic, tangible image of whatever experience I’m birthing.
I come from a long line of farmers, coal miners, “holy roller” preachers, Native Americans, Irish gypsies, strong women and intuitives, water witches, psychic,s diviners and creatives.
Today as an adult, do you have a favorite poet?
I have so many favorites that I don’t know where to begin. In many ways
I realize, despite what anyone says, that I am or certainly strongly
identify with Tiresias.
I am drawn to the oracles and prophet poets:
Homer and Sappho to William Blake and Walt Whitman,
Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, W.B. Yeats, Allen Ginsberg,
Jack Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso,
Diane di Prima, Amiri Baraka, Bob Dylan and Jinn Fuller. Yet there are so many many more inspired influences who I stand in direct lineage with.
How has growing up in Kentucky influenced your poetry?
I grew up in the pioneer lands of Kentucky. I was born, not tabula
rasa, with an ancient history of experience. Yet I have been and I
am shaped by each lifetime.
I chose to be born in Kentucky. Kentucky is a land, a place like no other. One has to be strong to even be from Kentucky. I was raised by a 10th degree badass, a 10th degree smartass: Daddy. Till I was 17, I was front and center black ops boot camp.
I was a master marksman by age 2. Check out the photo of me, shooting. As a boy, I learned how to kill, skin and eat animals, each of whom I had the greatest respect for. I’ve always felt that I have an indigenous spirit. I love animals and animals love me.
I learned to fight to kill by age 12. I’ve told many folks ‘bout this part of my upbringing. It was rough. Daddy believed and practiced “don’t spare the rod.” I was frequently bloodied. Thank God for Daddy, ‘cause he taught me how to be strong. My will power is fierce beyond measure.
Thank God for Mama. Mama represents what true Christianity is. She is love: unconditional love. She always put ointment and bandages on my bleeding wounds. Ask other Kentuckians what influence growing up in Kentucky had on them. I guarantee you we share a great deal. Ask Abraham Lincoln, Bill Monroe, The Everly Brothers, Muhammad Ali, Hunter S. Thompson, Johnny Depp, and so many others who have Kentucky roots and who have gone on to impact whatever arena they participate in.
What qualities about your work do you think make it unique from the work of other poets?
For years I wrote out of my mind, literally and figuratively. Before
I found my voice as a poet, as a writer and as a person, I, like most writers
poets and people, practiced mental masturbation. Everything started and ended
with my mind.
When I left home at age 17, I hated Kentucky. I never wanted
to return. All I felt was rage and pain. It wasn’t until I left home
that I finally found the courage to come out of the closet and announce
to anyone who asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, that I
finally, proudly, boldly pronounced “I AM A POET!!!!!”
So, in those next few liberating years-via waking and sleeping dreams-I recalled not only the pain but good memories. Interactions with nature and people began to
return to me. I had an epiphany. I started journeying back to my
earliest memories and recalling, even in fragments, the good experiences
I had growing up in the pioneer lands of Kentucky. I started writing
my experiences down; they inevitably arrived as poem gifts.
Simultaneously, I recognized that my favorite poems, stories, songs and movies
incorporate all of what it means to be fully human: the pain and the joy.
All the senses: sex, birth, heart, soul, voice and mind. This includes the
paranormal senses, which to me are as real as the physical sense.
I got in touch with myself in every way. I found my voice as a poet, a writer
and as a person. Oh my, this was a long journey and I’m barely touching the top
of the iceberg, but at least I’m touching it. This is the period of my life-
my mid 20s-when I finally began to become me. It still took years of healing,
I’m still on the path of creative healing. I’m certain this journey will take forever, but there’s no other journey, no other path I’d rather be on. So to answer your question: I write all of me. I don’t allow anyone or anything, inside or outside of me, to place any limited boundaries
on what the multitudinous muses bring to me. And they bring it. Oh my, they bring the gifts and I always thank them.
CONTINUED ON MAY 22, 2013