Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the Poetry Bomb
S.A. Griffin has a Weapon of Mass Discussion.
It’s a Cold War-era warhead that Griffin has emptied of explosives and packed with poems—and it’s headed our way. The Poetry Bomb and its L.A.-based bombardier will zero in on Albuquerque for two performances this Sunday, May 2, as part of a five-week cross-country onslaught.
Griffin—who has published several collections of Beat-infused poetry, co-edited the The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (1999), toured widely with his poetry troupe The Carma Bums, and acted in TV shows (“Dexter”) and films (World Trade Center)—will read his own work plus a random sampling of the sonnets, haikus, rhymes and free verse that have been contributed to his project by people from around the world.
Griffin’s poetic call-to-arms—asking for one submission per person, mailed to him on an 8-1/2 by 11 or smaller page—went viral back in March thanks to Facebook and an Associated Press article. He is also accepting bomb-ready poems at each of his readings.
The Alibi spoke to Griffin via telephone en route to Albuquerque.
What’s the message behind the Poetry Bomb?
You could argue that warfare, the industry of war, and artifacts like bombs are invented to create and enforce agreements. This Poetry Bomb, conceptually, is the opposite. It’s fundamentally about inspiring or fostering disagreements. I absolutely do not agree with everything that’s inside the bomb. I’m not supposed to. There are many different ideas, cultures, backgrounds, religions and poetry styles represented. So that’s exactly what it’s for. It’s not for us to agree, it’s for us to disagree and agree to disagree peacefully so we can move ahead together—regionally, nationally and globally.
Does New Mexico hold special meaning for you as birthplace of the atomic bomb?
I’m well aware of the history of the area and it certainly looms large in my thoughts. I even tried to schedule a stop in Las Cruces that unfortunately didn’t work out. Being born in 1954, I grew up in the shadow of the atomic bomb. So it’s present underneath everything that I’ve done in my life.
You could argue that warfare, the industry of war, and artifacts like bombs are invented to create and enforce agreements. This Poetry Bomb, conceptually, is the opposite. It’s fundamentally about inspiring or fostering dis agreements.
How loaded is your Poetry Bomb?
It’s about half full. I’ve got about 400 pieces in there. Once it’s full, it’ll be sealed, and I have no idea what will happen to it. It doesn’t really matter to me. My job is to do what I’m doing in the present. Beyond that, who knows? The story will reveal itself to me in the process.
How do you transport a 7-foot-long warhead?
Very carefully. [Laughs.] Right now it’s in a van. That’s how I’m getting around the country with it.
Do you find yourself thinking about Slim Pickens rodeo-riding the nuke in Dr. Strangelove?
How could I not? That scene is one of the most powerful images of the post-World War II world. To ride a nuclear bomb to the ground to complete its mission of absolute destruction and then throw your hand in the air and scream “Yahoo!” like it’s some sort of party is rather insane. And I think that was the point. It’s why the image is so everlasting.
You’re an actor. As you know, Albuquerque is overtaking Hollywood as the filmmaking mecca of the universe—
Oh, I didn’t know that, but thanks for letting me know. [Laughs.]
Could you see yourself here for a series like “Breaking Bad” or a Coen brothers film?
Hell, are you kidding me? It would be a dream to work with the Coen brothers. “Breaking Bad” I’m not familiar with because I don’t really watch much prime-time television. The only shows I’m following right now are “Big Love” and “True Blood” ... and “Jeopardy.”
You have a poem called “President of Nothing.” What’s your take on President Obama?
I think Mr. Obama is doing the best job he possibly can. More people should look at the positive. We don’t have time to be cynics. We’re a country of people who are unemployed, whose industries are outsourced. We need to work together, create things for ourselves, quit fighting. I came from a fairly bad background as a child, and it was poetry that really spoke to me and told me I could lift myself up and make myself better. So I’m hopefully passing that message along and letting people know they can educate themselves as I continue to try to educate myself. As you get older, it’s more difficult—not just the body but the mind tends to start petrifying as well. So it takes work.
Skulls and Sickles: The Visual Rhetoric of Death in ASARO's Woodblock Prints at UNM Zimmerman Library
When the regional Mexican government violently put down a peaceful teacher’s strike in Oaxaca de Juárez in 2006, the brutality of the police inspired a group of artists in the community to form themselves into a collective called the Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca (ASARO) to protest the bloodshed. Two current exhibits in Albuquerque showcase their work. One exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Center was curated by the University Libraries and Learning Sciences Curator of Latin American and Iberian Collections Suzanne Schadl and her graduate student Michael de la Rosa. One at the Herzstein Gallery on the second floor of Zimmerman Library on the UNM campus was curated by graduate student Megan Jirón. She writes “Unlike the European or Anglo-American perspective, Mexico’s inhabitants embrace death. They confront it with a sense of playfulness, defiance and acceptance.”
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