“It is my hope to assist in raising the profile of poetry in this region and to emphasize through readings and events that it is an inclusive art open to all.”* – Andreas Gripp
London poet and publisher Andreas Gripp is one of the hardest-working writers that I know.
This week, I chatted with the Synaeresis: arts + poetry magazine editor and Mykonos Open Mic Poetry Series organizer about his involvement with the literary community and his thoughts about poetry’s future in such a busy (and noisy) digital era.
Andreas, you’ve been part of London, Ontario’s poetry community since 1994 and during that time you’ve worn many hats. Recently you took on the role as the organizer for the new Mykonos Open Mic Poetry Series which is being held on the second Tuesday of every month. Why is a poetry reading series (like the one you are organizing) so important to the community?
London has always been in need of a place where poets of varied experience, as well as newcomers, can share their work. Without a literary open mic, the opportunities are few and far between (if at all). It’s where we meet old friends and new talent. The featured reader is someone who has taken their craft further than simply writing on paper and keeping it in a box. It’s a poet who has shared their work publicly, in print or digitally, and can be inspiring to those of us who may not be there yet.
You’ve organized several open mics in the past. Where did the idea for this new series come from and why did you decide to organize it?
A number of people in London were missing the monthly events at Mykonos. A couple of folks asked me if I could bring the series back since I’d organized previous series and events so I decided to give it a go for a while and see where it leads.
For those newcomers who have never attended one of your events, what can they expect to hear or see during the evening?
The Mykonos series basically continues where the previous London Open Mic series left off. A featured poet followed by an open mic. It’s with the same host (Joan Clayton) and at the same venue (Mykonos Restaurant). Basically business as usual where everyone and every level and style are welcome.
So far you’ve had excellent guests with fresh new voices to pull in a good audience. The series officially launched on December 11 with featured reader Jennifer Wenn, followed by Koral Scott on January 8, 2019. The next featured guest will be Carmi Levy on February 12, 2019. Who else have you lined up for this first season?
In March, we have Brittany Renaud featuring, and in April Alan Leangvan will be in the spotlight. Alan is leaving us for Calgary this Spring, so it will be a great opportunity to wish him farewell. Both Brittany and Alan have been fantastic bridges between several poetry scenes in town (e.g. Slam and Page). Carrie Lee Connel, my wife and fellow writer, will be our May feature and Joan Clayton, our effervescent host, will conclude the season in June. After that, if the series continues, it will resume in September or October. Due to persistent health problems, I can’t make any long-term commitments, to the series or anything, really.
Andreas, I hope the series does continue and that people appreciate all that you are doing, despite your health concerns. You are so organized! Perhaps, this is a pre-mature question. If a poet is interested in becoming a featured reader for the next season, how do they apply? What is the criteria used to select your featured guests? Are there any application deadlines and if yes, what are they?
Thank you. No one really “applies” to be a featured reader. For this season, I asked folks who hadn’t featured at a local event for some time; so even if Jane Poet was fantastic, if she’d been a feature 4 or 5 times in the past year elsewhere in town, I didn’t approach her for this initial run of events. Some folks were asked because I was familiar with their work from either the Another London poetry anthology or because I’d published them in Synaeresis; or in the case of Carmi Levy, had demonstrated poetic skills that they may not be cognizant that they have and I was hoping they’d share them with the literary public.
There is a boatload of others in London and area who are deserving of a featured spot, and if I notice they’re not spotlighted at WordsFest or Poetry London or LOMP, they’ll get an invite to Mykonos should the series continue for some time. That, however, is very iffy for the reason I mentioned earlier. Of course, someone else can always take this series over – someone with better health and more energy than I presently have. I just wanted to get the ball rolling again.
The other way someone can become a feature, if I’m not familiar with how they present their work publicly, is to read at the open mic – we might take notice and ask them for more. Good writing HAS to go hand-in-hand with engaging live conveyance of one’s work.
You are also the editor of Synaeresis: arts + poetry, which is a free digital magazine that comes out two to four times a year. Issue six will be released soon. What is your next submission deadline and what will you be looking for? Any advice for first time submitters?
Instead of issue deadlines, Synaeresis is now in a policy of open submissions, meaning that folks can send in their poems/flash fiction/art/photography at any time. When I feel that a particular issue has enough content and it’s time to release it to the world, it will appear on the Synaeresis website, as well as on Internet Archive, Scribd, and Issuu. I’ve found that deadlines are too restricting for me as a publisher and as a contributor as well. The only thing I look for is exceptional, original writing (no clichés, please) and artwork – no special themes. It’s always good for first-time submitters to read an issue or more of the magazine – each issue is free to read and/or download on my website.
What inspired you to start this publication? What are some of the highlights of producing a digital magazine? What are some of the frustrations?
Well I had published a previous poetry journal called Afterthoughts from 1994 to 2000. But the cost of printing and distributing was fairly exorbitant, and after being turned down for a publishing grant, I was forced to shelve the magazine.
Fast-forward to 2017 and digital publishing is both inexpensive and of a premium quality so I could now do things with Synaeresis that I couldn’t with Afterthoughts. There really isn’t much that I know how to do being that I have no particular set of skills, but putting books and magazines together is one of them so I had to follow the gift, so to speak. I’ve always loved to showcase the work of others to the world, and Synaeresis is an avenue to do just that.
Of course, it’s frustrating when there are thousands and thousands of others doing the same thing with online publications, so at the end of the day Synaeresis gets lost in an unfathomable sea of digital magazines. It can also be disheartening when the upper echelon of the literary and artistic communities won’t give you or your publication the time of day – but I’m used to that by now. I’ve never fit into cliques of any kind so it’s unrealistic of me to think this project will somehow be welcomed into “the fold.”
I feel your frustration. Somedays it’s a literary jungle out there but I’m sure your contributors appreciate your efforts. In terms of your own writing, you’ve been extremely prolific with 43 published books including 24 poetry books and 2 novels. When did you first become interested in poetry? Who were your favourite writers as a child and who (or what) inspires you now?
I caught the poetry bug in 1992 from some friends of mine and proceeded to scribble down a few sophomoric verses. Like anything, it took years of working on the craft to develop an honest, hopefully authentic voice. Being the editor of Afterthoughts taught me a great deal about what I liked and didn’t like about poetry. I read comic books and science encyclopedias as a kid so there’s nothing influential from decades back, however today my favourite poets are Billy Collins and James Deahl. I gravitate towards an accessible yet intelligent form of peoples’ poetry. Lots of other writers I could mention, too – all of whom are in this vein.
I understand your next project will incorporate digital images with your poetry: a collection of broadsides you have been creating and sharing with the on-line community. Do you have a theme for this project? Why or why not? When will it be available for viewing?
I’ve been focusing, for the past year and a half, on creating visual poems or “Broadsides” – a melding of written word with a photograph or piece of art. I started using public domain photos but this wasn’t really artistically satisfying so I switched over to taking my own photographs, editing them so that text could be overlaid and clearly seen, and posting them on social media as well as on my websites. For the sake of preserving these works, I’m creating a digital book made up of over 100 of these broadsides and will post it, later this year, to Internet Archive and other such depositories for the sake of “posterity.” Like the rest of my work, there’s no specific theme, just my poems married to my pictures – it’s just another way of presenting poetry to the world in a creative, accessible way.
Writing can indeed be a long and difficult career, so much so, that over the years you’ve taken the odd hiatus from your poetry and then returned each time with more enthusiasm to create. Can a writer ever retire from writing? Why or why not?
Like any occupation, a writer can retire from what they do, and most of the time probably should. I’ve seen poets and musicians and such become a tired shell of themselves. Our brains and bodies are most creative and energetic at particular stages of our lives, and if one sees either their enthusiasm or their ability (or both) beginning to diminish, it can be a good idea to call it a career. There’s a new generation of folks to be heard, for better or worse, and passing them the pen (or in today’s case, the laptop) isn’t something we should be resisting, especially if we’ve already said what we’ve needed to as artists.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?
Not really, I just call it like it’s seen. Many folks get angry about my opinionations, but at the same time seem to reserve doing that for themselves. Calling a spade a heart doesn’t do anyone any good.
Thank you, Debbie, for your questions and for thinking of me for your wonderful blog.
Thank you Andreas for your frankness and for all you have done to share and spread the love of poetry into the community. I’ve been following your poetic career for a long time and I’m glad we finally had a chance to chat.
Mark your calendars for future Mykonos Open Mic Poetry Series events to be held on the second Tuesday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m. at Mykonos Restaurant, 572 Adelaide Street North (at Elias St.)! Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free.
Additional info about Synaeresis appears here.
Also check out the website of his press Harmonia Press.
*Quote is from an Artistic Statement posted on the author’s website. Reprinted with the author’s permission. Copyright © Andreas Gripp