A.D. Winans Interview

A.D. Winans is one of the few writers I have met (and I’ve met too God Damned many of them) who doesn’t act like a writer or think of himself continually as a writer and maybe that is why he writes better than they do. I always prefer a poet I can tolerate for more than ten minutes. That’s rare and so is A.D.

–Charles Bukowski

A.D. Winans is a San Francisco-based writer and poet who became involved in the West Coast Beat scene in 1958. By his own account, he has lost count. But, he has been published in over 1500 magazines, journals and anthologies, not including web zines, and has published 48 books. A.D. is a small press legend and a survivor. He counts his friends as the late poets Jack Micheline, Bob Kaufman and Charles Bukowski and misses them.
At 72 years old he has a myspace page , with 188 friends and posts there frequently.

He doesn’t go to North Beach much anymore. He says it’s not the same, but his writing is still just as real as it ever was. Nothing is really new in poetry, but A.D makes it sound fresh and original. His poems are his children. He will tell you that and poetry is his life.

He once played pool with Janis Joplin and corresponded with Pete Seeger who wrote and told him “the real heroes are the men who work to bring home the bread to put on the table, and the mothers who sing their children to sleep at night.”
One of his friends, the late Charles Bukowski, said of him– “A.D. Winans can go ten rounds with the best of them”.

In my poetry journey, I started with Brautigan as a high school kid, then found Bukowski. From Bukowski I found Winans and instantly became a fan.
I contacted him about a year ago wanting advice on how to be a poet and learned that it is not really something you become. He gives advice by not giving it. Just about every silly question I asked him, I read the answer in one of his poems. It was like listening to Dylan to find the truth.
In this case, the answers to my questions were already written. Winans did say find a good woman. I have already done that, but…

Maybe Seeger had it right about the real heroes. When I look back and remember my wife singing the girls to sleep I realize some of us are heroes and some of us are poets and just a few every now and then are both.

The Interview:

Scot: Who were your early influences when you began writing poetry?

ADW.: Early on I wanted to be a novelist and writers like Jack London, Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck were my heroes. When I returned home from Panama in 1958, I discovered poets like Brautgan, Corso, Micheline, Kaufman, and other Beats who influenced me. But earlier than this poets like Pound, Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Ann Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Sandburg caught my attention. Especially Sandburg who wrote on subjects that were relevant to me and in an accessible language.

Scot: How do you think the business has changed since you first became published?

ADW The biggest change is that corporations have taken over the literary publishing houses that once were the life blood of poets and writers. So that now it is a business. The biggest change in the small press world is there has been an increasing number of poetry “business” boys who kiss ass and trade favors to get themselves and their friends published. To some extent this has always existed, it’s just become more prevalent and less hidden than in the past.

Scot: How often do you write? Do you have a routine?

ADW I don’t have a routine. I write when the inner voices tell me to write, much like the late William Wantling. I can go months without writing a poem and then within a matters of weeks (or less) write a large number of poems. I used to try setting time aside each day to write, but it didn’t work for me. It’s the same way with my prose. I’m not a formula writer. I have to write the story and then try to find a market for it.

Scot: Many say nobody reads poetry anymore—if true why is that?

ADW It appears for the most part that the majority of people reading poetry are other poets. There are some people in the non-writing community who read poetry, but it’s the responsibility of the poet to reach them by writing on subjects that are relative to their life and writing it in a clear language they can understand. Academic poets almost exclusively write for other academic poets. The language school poets don’t write for the every day working man and woman. What average Joe out there would be interested in what they are writing? It’s like MFA poets writing uninteresting poems for other MFA poets. The late Jack Micheline and Bob Kaufman were exceptions to the rule. The problem is getting accesible poetry to the average American. The small press has no meaningful distribution and no large publisher is going to publish this kind of poetry.

Scot: How has the small press scene changed since you in the business?

ADW: I don’t know what you mean by business? The small press was never a business. There will always be a small press scene. The Mag’s come and go. Only the names change. I guess the biggest change is that the Internet and web now allows anyone with money to buy a software program to set up and create their own zine. There is both good and bad to that. I prefer the print venue although I don’t deny you can reach a wider audience through the Internet.

Scot: What was your greatest writing accomplishment—what made it so?

ADW I don’t know if I can name any one accomplishment that stands out. I had a poem of mine set to music and performed at Tully Hall (NYC), which I guess might be my l5 minutes of fame. Publishing a literary magazine for l7 years certainly ranks near the top. Winning a 2006 PEN Josephine Miles Literary Excellence Award was an honor. A press is currently working on releasing a boxed set of six Cd’s of mine (from past readings), which I am quite excited about. All my accomplishments (if you can call them that) are like the children I never had. Those children are and will be part of my archives at Brown University.

Scot: What advice would you give a young poet?

ADW Just to be yourself. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Never sell out. You can’t put a price on integrity.

Scot: If you were left with one book of poems—what would it be?

ADW: I don’t think I can name just one. It would do injustice to all the others that would deserve mentioning.

Scot: If you could change something in your professional life, what would it be?

ADW: I don’t consider my writing a profession. I consider it a necessity. So there is nothing I would change since my life and my poetry are one and the same.

Scot: Are there any new poets out there that will change the way we look at poetry?

ADW: That’s not for me to say. I could give you a list of several poets I see as having this potential but whether they will change how we look at poetry is another matter. I don’t see any Micheline or Kaufman’s out there. You have to live poetry and not just write it. You need to become involved in the community you live in. You need to give something of yourself that goes beyond putting a pen to a piece of paper.

Scot: What is one thing about A.D. that we don’t know but need to know?

ADW: That I am not the tough, hard-nosed poet that some people see me as. I have a soft side that only my true friends know.

Scot: What does it mean to be a poet?

ADW: I think if you asked this question to a hundred poets you’d get a hundred different responses. I have said over and over again that my life and poetry are one and the same, so the question has no relevance to me. I do know what poetry is not. Poetry is not “Holy.” Poetry is only holy when it loses its holiness. I wish those poets who walk around with an invisible Capital “P” on their foreheads would understand this.

Scot: What is the name your latest book? Where can it be purchased?

ADW: MARKING TIME. Available at Erbacce Press (UK). $8.00, plus small shipping price.
Details at http://www.erbacce-press.com

Scot: If you had the opportunity to talk to Jack Micheline or Bob Kaufman one more time, what would you tell them?

ADW: I’d tell them that I love them. I’d ask them how it is out there in the void? I’d tell them I’m still trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’d tell them they haven’t been forgotten. And I’d tell Kaufman, can you believe that this country has come so far as to nominate a Black man for President of the U.S. I’m sure Micheline would be singing to the stars over this news.

(Scot Young works in education, writes a few poems, once sang with Kenny Loggins and Dirty Dick Murdoch, but mainly puts bread on the table)

19 Responses to A.D. Winans Interview

  1. johemmant says:

    Another good guy, I like many, many of these answers, especially that capital P one. ‘It’s like MFA poets writing uninteresting poems for other MFA poets’, this made me smile too. I like two kinds of poetry, some very obscure, absolutely beautiful work which leaves me in awe of the talent and wordsmithery of the writer but it takes me a while to understand each piece, and sometimes I don’t get to the core and then I love stuff which I feel can breach the gap between the poet reading poetry and the general public reading poetry. If it is written in an obscure way, then it will stay obscure and this makes me very sad. I belong to a book group, all clever women with artsy degrees who love to read, knock back a novel or two a week (which is hard when you’ve kids and jobs) and offer insightful thoughts about writing……whenever I suggest poetry they say no freaking way. That disturbs me greatly, for if they won’t bite, who the hell will?

  2. johemmant says:

    Does that rambling comment make any sense…….yep, Jo just woke up again and has only had three sips of coffee. But thanks for posting this, I really enjoyed it.

  3. Scot says:

    Jo–makes perfect sense. Thanks for reading, glad you liked it and you are right–he is a good guy.

  4. Pris says:

    Al is one of the great ones, in my book, both as poet and person. I’m going to put a link to this interview on my blog, if you don’t mind. Thanks for another ‘slice’ of A.D. Always good to read.


  5. Scot says:

    You bet. Thought you would enjoy it

  6. Nice interview. I can relate to the dilemma that indie publishers have with distribution. I was very, very lucky to get my small press book in a store as prestigious as City Lights Books (where Winans is revered) but they have a long history of indulging small press authors anyway so I cannot exactly claim it as a coup of any sort.

    In any event, as I said, nice interview, Scot. I steered some folks from bukowski.net over here to have a look-see.

  7. Scot says:

    Thanks Rodger for the read and press…Your book looked great and the intros/blurbs were fabulous.

  8. Thanks, Scot. Someone actually complained to me that in the free preview of the book none of the stories are sampled, only the intros and blurbs … you mean, that’s not enough to get one to read the damn book?

  9. ybonesy says:

    Really loved this interview. Writing as a necessity, and the idea that poetry and life are one in the same. These stood out, but also a no-nonsense voice and approach to life. And that last answer — it really showed the soft side.

  10. Scot says:

    the last answer is priceless

  11. Scot says:

    ever will please them all–I thought it did the trick

  12. Amazing poet. Amazing talent. But I also love his personality, which you capture so well here. I love this interview, Scot. Thank you so much for doing it!!

  13. Alexa Cohen says:

    Thank you very much, Scot.

    Is is a really interesting interview and I lhave loved reading it.

  14. Scot says:

    He is a good one.
    You won’t find him at Barnes & Noble–and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

  15. lissa says:

    wow scot. fascinating interview. thanks for posting this. i really, really enjoyed it. this is def something i’ll save so i can look back at it from time to time.

  16. Scot says:

    thanks Lissa–I will log it at the top of this page

  17. Sam Rasnake says:

    Enjoyed this interview, Scot. Very insightful.

  18. Scot says:

    Thanks–I checked your “about me”—seem to have a lot in common–damn just when I thought I was unique.

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