10 Questions with Jesse Herzfeld

In this series I ask artist, poets, and other creators 10 questions about how they’ve maintained creativity and sanity during the past year of chaos and isolation. 

10 Questions With Jesse Herzfeld (Writer/Poet/Creator) – Cleveland, Ohio

1. How are you doing after a year of Covid-19?

It’s been a tough year. The pandemic started toward the end of my first solo exhibition and I got sick around that time,which was before testing was widely available. I still haven’t fully recovered but I’m finally able to take deep breaths again. I just had my second dose of the Covidvaccine a few days ago so I’m beginning to feel a bit more hopeful.

2. What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on a bunch of things. My visual adaptation of Rimbaud’s Illuminations is an ongoing project and I’ve been making a lot of smaller works that focus on certain sections and characters from my larger compositions. These smaller mixed-media works were pretty popular at my show so I wanted to create more of them and put them up on my website shop. I’ve also completed some pet portrait commissions recently including my first double pup portrait. Mainly, I’ve been working on a book of visual poetry about my personal journey as a psychiatric survivor. It’s nearing completion and I’m excited to let it loose upon the world. I have a few other things in the works that will remain secret for now.

3. How has the pandemic affected your creative output?

Health issues have slowed me down some but also made me more determined to complete things.

4. What has kept you motivated during the last several months?

As I continue to recover and I have more energy I get excited to be able to put more time toward reaching my creative goals. I have been making a lot of progress with my book of visual poetry and I think there is a sort of adrenaline that kicks in when I’m nearing the finish line of a project that has been a few years in the making.

5. What have you been listening to, watching or reading?

I listen to a lot of lectures while I’m drawing. Alan Watts is always a favorite. I also like listening to David Graeber, Camille Paglia and Mary Beard. I’ve been reading Amanda Palmer’s book, “The Art of Asking” and “Aion” by Carl Jung. The best things I’ve watched on Netlifx are “The Dark Crystal” by the Jim Henson Co., the art documentary about Stanislaw Sokolowski called “Struggle” and “My Octopus Teacher”. The new Adam Curtis series “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” is also really fascinating and available for free on youtube.


6. Do you have plans for when things begin to open back up?

I’d like to travel with my partner. We were planning a trip but that has been put on hold. Since I’m a solitary artist with a home studio I feel fortunate that my day-to-day activities weren’t greatly affected, but I do miss going to the theater and concerts and visiting with family and friends indoors.

7. Have you spent the pandemic isolated or have you tried to stay connected to other creatives remotely?

Both. I work best in seclusion but I try to stay connected to my creative friends. Since I went to art school in Philly and also in London (where I was the only American in my program), my artist friends are spread all around the world. I love that the digital realm allows me to keep up with what everyone is working on.

8. Has the last year helped you venture into new creative areas?

No, I’ve still been plugging along on the same projects but without the distraction of social obligations.

9. What would you say the biggest lesson you learned during the past year?

Appreciate breathing.

10. How do you think your creative community will look once things start to open back up and things start to get more normal again?

In some ways, it will look the same because so much of it is a remote community. In terms of my local creative community, I think a lot of people have done really interesting creative work during lockdown and there will probably be some great exhibitions and poetry readings once things are back to normal.

Bio:
Across a variety of forms and mediums, artist Jessie Herzfeld explores dreams, desire, and the fantastic. Inspired by music, nature, literature, and Medieval art. Jessie’s work often contains animal imagery, surreal creatures and unusual landscapes. She works in oil paint, watercolor, charcoal, markers, photography, sculpture, and hair.

Her current work is a visual translation of the poems in Arthur Rimbaud’s Les Illuminations and can be viewed at http://www.JessieHerzfeld.com. She uses a mixed media process combining traditional materials with non-traditional media to create visionary collages that capture the moods, symbolic themes, and lyrical quality of Rimbaud’s words.

She also has a pet portrait business called Modern Tail Studios. To learn more and see samples of her unique style of animal portraiture visit www.moderntailstudios.com.

Jessie holds a BFA from The University of Pennsylvania in coordination with The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and a Master of Arts in Illustration from CamberwellCollege of Arts in London. She has experience with commissions and freelance as well as teaching art classes, and she welcomes further opportunities to be involved with arts education and nurturing creativity.

10 Questions with Steven Thom

In this series I ask artist, poets, and other creators 10 questions about how they’ve maintained creativity and sanity during the past year of chaos and isolation.

10 Questions With Steven Thom (Writer/Poet/Creator) – Cleveland, Ohio

1. How are you doing after a year of Covid-19?

Emotionally, almost over flowing and at times when isolated there is anguish and tears. This is due in part to the emotional pressure involved taking care of my 94yr old Mother. Her health is not good and her mobility is questionable. Being someone struggling with dementia her days and nights are indistinguishable from one another. So fatigue and stress plays a part as well. The fact my social life is nonexistent just adds to the isolation.

2. What are you currently working on?

I am working on my body as best I can. I train with weights three days a week. And read books that are typically non-fiction and poetry from indigent poets. I watch and study global climate activity and overall geological history of the planet. I had been writing poems and editing from a long list of thoughts built up over the last 3 years. But currently not actively writing or editing anything of note.

3. How has the pandemic affected your creative output?

I have gone from writing daily to having written one poem during the last four months. I have no headspace for writing. I’m in a solitary world, with the mentality to grind through it.

4. What has kept you motivated during the last several months?

My motivation is nonexistent to write. I’m forcing myself to read and learn and exercise but I have no words to put on paper. I used to go the Cleveland Art Museum three to four times a year. I haven’t visited in eighteen months. I am hopeful that will change.

5. What have you been listening to, watching or reading?

I watch a lot of You Tube about climate and weather in general, with trailers of various movie trailers I won’t be seeing. Some music but generally only listen in the car, mainly Laurie Anderson of late, or whatever is on WCPN. I’m reading a novel The Overstory, and rereading Breath, how to breathe to improve overall health.

6. Do you have plans for when things begin to open back up?

Not really. All things are pretty much on hold until my Mother passes and I’ve completed the dissolution of her estate. It will be nice to not have to make decisions concerning the right time to shop or go see a movie. I’ll just be able to go without much concern about how many people will be present.

7. Have you spent the pandemic isolated or have you tried to stay connected to other creatives remotely?

I’ve definitely been isolated. I’ve no interest in connecting remotely. Although I’ve had an ongoing phone conversation for the last six months or so with a friend and fellow poet.

8. Has the last year helped you venture into new creative areas?

It’s been a period of self-exploration and discovery. There’s a great deal of recognizing scars from family events. My family was at its best unsupportive and emotionally distant. So, I’ve spent a great deal of time reflecting and coming to terms with the consequences of an abusive childhood. In that sense I’m more at peace due to Covid isolation.

9. What would you say the biggest lesson you learned during the past year?

No alcohol no weed is best for me. And really really embrace a commitment to exercise and health-oriented practices in the many and varied forms in existence today. And finally, its critical, at least to me, to come to terms with my personal history. To be able to try and let the wounds heal as opposed to denying the damage.

10. How do you think your creative community will look once things start to open back up and things start to get more normal again?

The three venues I regularly went to and participated in, may not reopen or have  poetry nights at all. So, I’m not certain about what plans I may have. I hope to be at at the Tannery Park Jawbone. And I was part of a trio that was to read poems at Visible Voice but I’m unsure about being indoors with Covid strains swirling around. And the Last Exit readings are still Zoom so until that changes very little will be different than how things are now for me.

Bio.

I’m a father for two young independent minded adults. When they were young, they traveled with me to some of my Pro bowling tournaments. I was a PBA member for a decade and also ran a bowling pro shop business during that time. Along the way I won the Greater Cleveland Bowling Association Masters title and also contributed to winning two team titles. After closing it down I returned to Baldwin Wallace in 2005 to complete my degree in business. With the mistaken belief, the combination of work experience and education would make me a valued employee in a company. While I maintained employment during the 2007-08 crash and afterwards, my career peaked at store manager level for three different supplement companies. When my Mother had an aortic valve replacement surgery in December of 2018, I quit working to take care of her. With the help of my sister, that has been going on for close to three years now. During that time, I also completed and published by John Burroughs, Crises Chronicles Press a selection of poetry titled, The Strength of Flowers.

New Poem – My Mind

My Mind (A Study In How I’ve Disappointed My Parents)

My mind is a used book shop.
It is filled up dusty, piled precariously.
Packrat, hoarder, floor to ceiling.
Unorganized to the outsider,
but to me…
organized chaos. Just right.

My mind is an old record.
Scratched, crackle, pop.
Ring wear cover art. Dollar bin.
It skips a few songs but plays.
Patti Smith, John Coltrane, Lou Reed.
In constant rotation. Soundtrack.

My mind is a medicine cabinet.
Old needles. Haunted. Demonic.
Ghost clang bottles. Glass, shaker.
Bad pills traded for good. Prescribed.
Still not right. Quite far left.
12 steps…baby steps.

My mind is a part-time bully.
Part-time bullied. Fetal position.
Fulltime beautiful mess. Scarred.
Post-traumatic stressed out. Tired as fuck.
Sober, alcoholic, addict. Recovery.
Reclusively on call. Ringer off.

My mind works. Day laborer, inconsistent.
Sometimes nefariously thoughtful.
Vulgar. Tongued whipped truth.
Medicated, for my protection.
From me. From everyone.
The results are varied.

My mind is a collected works. A tattered journal.
Bound with string cheese. Lactose intolerant.
44 years. Ginsberg’s madness marked up.
Emerging nonconformed. Identity crisis.
I’ve disappointed my parents. Again.
They’ll be okay.

Four Poems About Love

Love Poems

Love poems are shit.
Shit. Love. Pray.
Or, was it, Eat Love Shit?
Either way. Struggle.
Mindful, mindless

Ghosting. Window pane
Window into pain.
Ice forms on glass, crackling.
Winters are cold here.

Smoke. ignite. Dissolve
My hands turn red, then blue.
Yellow tar.
Snow fell. I was falling. Star


Smoke Rings

Smoke rings into square pegs, ashtray eyes.
She held the cigarette like dart. Aiming it. Bullseye.
The sycamores were full of birds. Song birds. Love birds.
The soup was cold. Served white bowl diner.
Smoke rings. She made them perfect. Open mouth, lipstick cool. Puff…
I rested, coffee tired. Eyes dark circle, vulture.
Death in a vinyl booth. She smiled.
Staring hazy cloud. Eggs Benedict. 3am sleepless.
She blew smoke rings. Round pegs. Ashtray eyes.
Match sticks, vulnerable, struck heat. No more.


Orange Bike

He dared me.
Party, after party. Drunk.
Gay. Not me. Maybe?
Never sure. Never cared.
That was a kiss. So what?
Laughter, we followed
with whispered. Maybe?
Then New York. Magnetic.
Over and out.
Never again. Only a kiss.
No regret. Philadelphia was my courage. Orange bike.


Summer Lover

She. Beautiful, brown.
Black.
Stronger than aware.

My heart scraping
sidewalk gum. Sneakers
She was smiling.

Acting. Poet. Proud.
We were different. Same
Everyone kisses
like magic
at first.

White. Me. Nervous.
Brown. Her. Hesitant
Lips, soft. We were free

We stopped. Summer,
overheated. Modern lovers.
Radiator cool. She Was.

Three New Poems

Pills

Crushing pills, formica
Cold cuts. Tender touch
Rolled twenties. Credit card, chop, dice, tap.
Nose burns, tears swell.
Corduroy jacket, sweaty pants. Break the bone.
Slit wrist bath tub gin.
Blood orange, blue moon
Call me. Dawn. Call me.


School Daze

High school, wretched memory, Fuck
Grated my skin to bits. Parmesan ghost.
Priestly garb, clerical collar, choking victims.
Student body, body shaming, phobias.
Catholic cross crusted Christ. Nailed, bullied.
Fuck the nostalgia.
My classmates were cruel. They are. Repression.


Fuel

When you try to die
so much
it becomes a lifestyle

Blood letting us just
a ritual
in letting everyone down

Death trades us in
for rust
and artists that matter

So together we
sink into
our best impressions

Midwestern eyes
only see
burning hope as fuel

Identity Crisis (A Poem)

Identity Crisis

I’m a man
If that makes you happy
I can’t agree fully
I don’t know what I am
A crumbled newspaper
Insignificant stain
I’m gutter gum sticky
White, sure, but filthy
All constructed bullshit
I’m zero
Nothing
You have made me what you wish
I just don’t give a shit
Anymore
——————————
Artwork – Identity 2019

Banjo Pete – (Happy 100th)

May 3rd was the 100th anniversary of Pete Seeger’s birth. This is a poem I wrote about him a few years ago.

Banjo Pete

You sang about the unions
You spoke to those in need
Carried a banjo on your back
Picking when you needed to sing
From the Hudson valley
To the western shoreline
Telling stories about the heartland
A friend to all you met along way
Even those who wanted to destroy you
Your songs were hymns of reconciliation
In groups the harmonies rang true
Alone you gently got em to sing along
Freedom chants and peaceful protests
Just a smile for the working man
The woods were your happy country
The rivers made you feel alive
On top of mountains a yodel carried
Down on the street you spoke to the young
Years of love for music and peace
For rights and for things to change
When you died we mourned a hero
More so we just sang the anthems of the day

Eating Tom Waits

I ate a Tom Waits record
A1 and ketchup
Picked it up biting down
It was chewy crunch vinyl
Trying to taste the pain
Savor the songwriting
Sharp edges cut my inner cheek
Blood filled old holes
where teeth grew
I squished it into my left side
Chipmunk pouch-like juicy
Afraid to swallow the metallic taste
I felt the chunks of albums
Ripping my stomach to shreds
I spit the blood in the sink
Looking in the mirror I saw my age
No longer teen queen
No longer twenties two tone
Not even dirty thirty
I was grey and cold
Salt and pepper poetic
Lyric lacerating inner self
I ate a Tom Waits record

We are Being, We Are The Earth

We Are Being, We Are The Earth

—————————

We become dualistic in youth

Putting one against the other

Establishing social norms

Constructed ideas of humans

Race and gender explained as fact

A fallacy of powers built before

We camp in our valleys

Climbing mountains of hope

Facing weather stormy unfair

Unbalanced breaking beyond

Crying for a voice

Voicing our crying

Soap boxes wobbly reactionary

Revolution of convenience

“We still gotta work”

“We can’t be too different”

“We must adult like adults”

Who are the adults?

Another construct given life

That life taking ours

Death

Foretold in history

Western only apply

Our systems, science and social orders

Arbitrary axioms or apathy

But hope is real

As much as it is not

It’s lives as ghosts around

Sleeping dormant until needed

Burning embers to scorch the soil

Of old ways long instilled

We are alive

We are being

We are constant birth

We are connected beyond

In all life we breathe deep

No linear straight line

It’s all a circle

We return to where we came

The earth

Fuck William Burroughs

He had written Burroughs several letters in the early nineties, receiving a few responses. Gary had been flirting with the notion of being a writer since he was young, reading constantly and banging away on his mother’s 1954 Royal typewriter.

Obsessed at a young age with books, Gary was enthralled by the magic of Salinger and Hemingway but it was when his youthful eyes engulfed Kerouac, it was the beats became his passion. One day a neighbor was having a yard sake and there was a beat up copy of Naked Lunch, which he gobbled up like a starving dog. Burroughs became his favorite, over all else, and unlike his other idols, he was still alive.

Gary would write his letters with a reckless energy that was raw and full of adolescent hope. It must of touched a nerve as he received responses from his idol, even an invitation. So in the summer of 1993 Gary traveled on his own On The Road journey, and stopped in Lawrence, Kansas.

Burroughs, an old man, was a gracious host and very eccentric of course. They smoked weed, talked writing and politics then even sat in silence. As it got late, Gary felt he should go but William wasn’t pushing him away, in fact it seemed perhaps he was hoping the young man would stay. Though perhaps it was all in Gary’s head?

After his journey, Gary told me all about his meeting with his idol. A Burroughs fan myself, I was full of jealous excitement. He told me “Ya know I think he wanted to fuck me or something?” I said “You should have! It’s William Burroughs, man! Just fuck the old man and there’s your story!l” we laughed but inside we both knew I was right.