Interview with Larry Jaffe by Kara L.C. Jones

Q: You seem so very involved, heart and soul, in so many poetry projects. How did you start writing and pouring yourself into poetic endeavors?

Larry: Well I woke up one morning and realized I was a poet and this is what a poet does. I am not kidding. It is a good thing. When I left college oh so many years ago, I left to be a poet. Unfortunately, there were not a lot of poet jobs available, I did not find anything in the classified despite looking every day. On the plus side, I made my first chapbooks, typing into my Royal Futura portable typewriter with carbons… and then binding them with thread. This was an amazing accomplishment. They did not earn me much money, but I made many friends. I surely wish I had one of those now. I felt like I was living my life as a poet.

But then when I had a family, well those poet wages were not feeding the kids and I became a writer that wrote poetry sometimes. I cannot say it made me happy, but I can say that I took care of what I thought needed taking care of, raising my children.

Finally, when all of that was accomplished, it was like revelation time and I knew I had to go back to my avocation. Being a poet who writes poetry is way different than being a writer who does so. At least that is the case for me.

Aside from my own work, community is very important to me. And I believe and you must also otherwise you would not be doing what you are doing, that it is up to each of us to create beyond our window. By this I mean, I look at the entire poetry community as a team almost as if this were basketball we were playing. Now surely I can get out on the court and score but big time scorers don’t win championships, teams do. So when I get out on the poetry court I want to help my teammates to improve their game as much as I want to improve my own. I believe if I help others be better that my game will be better. So that is why you see me involved in poets4peace, or poho (poetry host network) or running readings etc. I do believe it improves my art. Of course there has to be proper balance. It cannot get in the way of my art either, so I have to monitor very carefully.


Q: What is Poets4Peace? Why did you start it? What projects are currently happening there?

Larry: I started p4p in 1997 as an attempt and I think a valid one to balance out the b.s both online and in the world. It is not a magazine or a poetry site like others. I see it as a memorial to peace there are so many for war. I wanted to build such a thing and even envisioned a true memorial to peace built out in the real world. Right now the only way to manifest that within my power is the site and the series of readings (over 50) that we have coordinated. Peace is not an act of war in reverse. Peace is both an individual and community effort. In my reality peace has nothing to do with war, it is a state of being. Individuals who are at peace lead to groups that are at peace, etc.

This does not mean that one does not fight for what is right. Freedom is very important. One cannot stand idly by during times of oppression. One must choose their weapons carefully for some it is a rifle for some a pen or word processor. But by all means the peace I speak of is in truth freedom, total freedom.


Q: What is Dialogue Among Civilizations Through Poetry? How can people get involved?

Larry: This is a very exciting and dynamic program that I am thrilled to be part of. My partner in this Ram Devenini in New York worked with UNESCO to create the first Dialogue Readings which aligned with a United Nations mandate, Dialogue among Civilizations through Poetry. It is very unifying and puts us in the unique position to change people’s perceptions about poetry around the world and make it a vital part of their lives. There is much more info on the web site ( than I can write here and participation is quite simple just go to the site and let us know what you want to do. In brief, last march we were blessed to experience the literal blossoming of poetry across the globe with readings from the Antarctic to Australia, from Moscow to Tokyo, from Belgrade to Boston. It was an unprecedented event with over 200 readings in some 150 cities worldwide. As the readings coordinator, it was one of the most thrilling events I have ever been involved with. And now we are about to do it again and if possible even better with more promotion, more materials and believe it or not more readings.


Q: Your own website is very interesting. How did you first decide to get online with your works?

Larry: I have been very active online for quite sometime. I found that as a poet I could reach people directly without the middleman so to speak and this was fascinating to me and frankly deeply satisfying. I get a plethora of email about my work from real folks who find it to their liking. In many ways being online rejuvenated my goal to be a poet and it is being realized.

My work has been translated into several languages, read out in several countries that I would never have had the opportunity to travel to previously. Of course, now I do tour quite a bit, but initially I was all cyber poet. Right now my poetry is being translated into Russian and recently was in Italian. I was just asked for permission for it to be read in India at a large poetry conclave. I am honored by this. It reminds me to be so thankful for this gift of words that I have.

So yes I love the Internet. I would not have the poetic joy and success I have today without it, including meeting you Kara.


Q: Your silent poem Poetry of Light is really awesome. What's the story behind the poem? What kind of technology did you use to create that? Why did you decide to create it in this way?

Larry: Thank you Kara, I have been on a quest as you have seen in my latest attempt with Amateur Poetry Models and DymoPo. The Poetry of Light has its origins in my roots of guerilla poetry. This goes way back where I would print poetry on cheap fliers and put them under the windshield wipers of automobiles. I wanted the poetry to look like commerce so that people would unknowingly read it thinking it an ad when it was poetry. I also stenciled poems on the streets (short short poems). PofL derives from that stencil feeling. I want to be able to show my poetry in art galleries, not simply to perform it but it have the physical qualities of art and not in a book. Again I want to bring my poetry to life make it into living words.

I like to use beaurocratic tools for art. Similar to what I started with the fliers. Using common off the shelf things to create art. Even typically officious things like the Dymolabeler or PowerPoint which is what I used to create the Poetry of Light series. It is designed to be projected on gallery walls.


Q: On your own site ( you have a section called Tabula Rasa. Why do you call it that? How often do you add works to that?

Larry: Well TR is blank slate. It is what confronts every poet. I am using that section to have only my latest poetry and showcase it. Unfortunately, I do not update it often enough but am making a determined effort to do so. A lot of folks stop by my site I always want to continually surprise them with various works.


Q: Your works are great inspirations to me personally for seeing a poet who is truly workin' it in so many different ways. How did you learn the business of your art?

Larry: This is indeed a good question. Boy you sure are making me think. Lol. Well I have had to learn things the hard way I guess. As I told you I dropped out of school to be a poet and found myself needing to write for a living. I wrote for alternative media for a couple years learning the ins and outs of putting together a publication. These were always communal efforts, you learned paste up and layout and circulation and advertising because you had to. No one else was going to do it. You learned to work as a team, sometimes concentrating on what you did best, but when it came to getting the rag out you just did what you had to do. So that gave me a very strong foundation for what it takes to bring something to market. Over the years I expanded those skills, unfortunately not marketing my art but more commercial things. So now when I look at my work and this is not an easy transition, I try to treat myself as a client, wearing a different hat, looking out as to how best to market Larry Jaffe and I tell you he is not very easy to work with, very picky you know.

But seriously, I really don’t treat my poetry as a business, my art is sacrosanct, it is my existence. But as you put it, I treat the business of my poetry as a business. A strong web presence, good looking books, etc. As artists it is very important that we learn how to market ourselves. Very important!

Q: Is there one thing in particular that has surprised you about the projects and writing that you are doing? Or one thing in particular that you are especially proud of? Why did it surprise you or make you proud?

Larry: This is a very simple answer. I am most proud of touching people whether it be with my poetry or with a project like the Dialogue Among Civilizations Through Poetry program.

I will excerpt an email for you from a friend of mine in Belgrade: Happy Birthday! and yes, you’re right it is a beautiful present. Reading in Beograd just began and I got back from there. It is held as you know in Cultural Centre and it is sunny day today, lots of people on the streets and it began on the street in front of the Centre. Dubravka read your message and then it began. Man it really heals. I’m happy it all worked well and that it happened. Lots of young poets, which is very important for the social environment in my country, and they are good. So once again Happy Birthday and I’m glad you did all this. Hope to meet you in person soon. Love, igor

What more can I say after that… this is what poetry is all about. I never in my wildest dreams would think that I could touch people so. To me this is such a gift and I am very thankful for it.


Q: Are there books and recordings of your works available? How can our readers get a hold of copies of these?

Ron: Yes there are. I have 4 books currently available and one CD. Folks can write to me directly right now Am still working on some distribution aspects and onsite ordering.


Q: As a poet, where do you see your art leading you in the next year, 5 years, 10 years? Where do you see the business of your art leading you?

Larry: As an artist as a poet, I want to hone my craft to the best of my abilities. I am always always reading other poets. Right now I am in this funky Frank O’hara mode. I learn by reading and listening. So foremost is improving my craft.

I want to take poetry and words to new places new levels of artistry. On my web site I have my new mediums of poetry of light and dymopo. I would like a gallery showing of my work with models parading wearing my words.

And just to make you one of the first to know. I just got the opportunity to host a poetry reading at one of the hottest clubs on the Sunset Strip, the Rainbow Room. (See Poetix)

I always see myself doing a combination of creating my art and creating places for art to be served. It is important to me to retain that balance.


Editor's Note: Please page thru this issue of the KotaPress Poetry Journal to see Larry's poems featured!

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