"Poems are never finished, and every time you read them year after year as you mature, the poems no longer reflect who you've become. You want to rewrite, to reformulate. It can be good. It can be bad."
Lone Star Literary Life: Because I am an unabashed Francophile, can we start with your fabulously French name and heritage? You were born and spent your first decade in France — do you feel any connection? Has it influenced your writing? Likewise, you have spent a few years with Texas as your home — how has that impacted your writing?
François Pointeau: My family moved to the United States when I turned ten years of age; I spoke close to no English. We moved to San Francisco where I attended a French Lycée. 1.5 years later, we moved to West Texas. Sixteen years later, I was kicked out of the United States by the INS. I returned to France for seven years while awaiting my green card. (Growing up in the United States as an undocumented immigrant affected who I am more than anything else.) France has always been part of who I am. So has West Texas. I don't live either place, yet both are close to my heart. My friends in Europe in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s called me the Celtic Cowboy. Born in Brittany, brought up in West Texas, I feel neither French nor American. I am Breton and Texan. In other words, I'm a world citizen.
You’ve said that your poetry writing started when you came to the US, and you wrote in English, not French, as a way to help you learn the language. Was the poetry aspect intentional? Can you tell us about how that evolved?
I wrote my first poem as a school assignment for my English teacher, Mrs. Tanzing, at the French Lycée in San Francisco. She was determined to teach me English, whether it killed her or not, and I was stubborn. A year or so prior, when my family lived in Paris, my parents had sent me to Ireland for a month so that I would learn English. In Paris as a kid, I attended a bilingual school. The English teacher wrote to my parents that I was a smart kid who was refusing to learn English. I told my parents it was a stupid language, and that I wouldn't learn it. In Ireland, I stayed with two separate families. The first family I ignored completely. The second family, I spent as much time as possible with the grandmother. She didn't speak a word. She had chickens, cows, a dog, and several other animals. We communicated with grunts and sign language. When I came back, I had learned no English. When we moved to the United States, I understood that I would have to learn English, so I decided to do it on my own terms. That's when I started writing poetry.
You published your first poetry collection, Beer Songs for the Lonely, in 2006, and then completely rewrote it in 2013. It was a pretty successful first run, wasn’t it? What was behind the re-write?
There's this long poem in the second edition, "Blueberry Hill, a dark fable," that took me ten years to write. It was always supposed to be part of my collection, yet it wasn't finished when I first published Beers Songs for the Lonely, and that was the main impetus for rewriting and republishing the second edition. Now that I look back on those two editions, the first one is my favorite, yet the second one is more polished. The first one is raw, unfiltered, and rough; I always knew I would republish it. I regret some of the edits I made in the second edition. I took out several poems and all the prose pieces. If there's ever going to be a third edition, I will reinstate the poems I took out, though most of the edits will remain.
It's difficult to answer. Poems are never finished, and every time you read them year after year as you mature, the poems no longer reflect who you've become. You want to rewrite, to reformulate. It can be good. It can be bad. The other long poem in that collection, "Vacuum Dance," is much better in the second edition, yet it is also less angry, less incoherent, less chaotic. For those reasons, I'm not sure if it is more honest. I rewrote and republished because I thought the collection needed it, and I really wanted to share "Blueberry Hill" with the world. I don't know if that was the right decision. It doesn't matter. Both editions stand on their own, and in my mind, are two separate books.
You told me that in 2015, you quit your job, gave all your possessions away, bought a small RV, and drifted through the Southwest and California for four-plus months. What can you share about how that unfolded?
I needed a change. I was trying to figure out a way to go live on the road. At the time, I figured that buying an RV would be the answer, so I saved my money and bought a small RV. Making money while I was on the road proved to be something I couldn't figure out how to do.
In an interview with Writing on the Air, you told host Joe Brundidge, “A lot of things I set out to do didn’t happen, but a lot of other things did.” Was this road trip spontaneous or was there a plan? I feel like your answers will be yes to both of those questions. Ha!
There was a kernel of a plan. The plan was to find a way to live on the road permanently. That part of the plan failed, though I'm still thinking about it. The trip was not spontaneous; however pretty much everything that happened during the trip was. My main plan was to get the hell out of town and drive to the Pacific Ocean (I had a reading scheduled in Long Beach for early December 2015.)
In an interview with Writing on the Air, you said, “It’s a lot of fun to park in the middle of nowhere and just to read a book and not have to worry about getting to work tomorrow.” Agreed! Do you still have that wanderlust?
Yes. All the time. If I can ever figure out a way to live on the road permanently, that's where I'll be.
Those months of experiences on the road are what inspired Songs of the Rollin Chateau, your upcoming book of poetry. (I recommend to all to say the book’s title followed by the author’s name for instant rhyming gratification: Songs of the Rollin Chateau by François Pointeau) What can readers expect?
It contains forty poems and five illustrations. They are what I'm calling "travel poems" about my experience while traveling around the Southwest and California living in a small RV. I tend to write narrative poetry. The first drafts were written during the last presidential election primaries, and some of them have a political tone to them, though most of them do not (I wasn't happy with either the DNC or RNC primaries, and I was definitely not happy with the 2016 election results), though again, that is but a very small aspect of the whole. Most of the poems are soul-searching, on-the-road, what's this all about? kind of whimsical meandering, hopefully even slightly funny at times. Live and let live, love life kind of poems, with a little sadness & little laughter thrown in there...
For Songs of the Rollin Chateau, you and artist/illustrator Brian Wootan are publishing only for participants in your Kickstarter campaign. Can you explain Kickstarter and why you are going this route?
The short answer is that I wanted to avoid several things. I didn't want to have several cases of books to carry around for the next few years. I want to find a way to print only what people want to buy; however, I don't want a POD or an e-book. What I do want is a beautiful book, not just good content, but also a beautiful object. I want to create something unique. I want to put myself in a situation where I am not spending so much time selling, distributing, and all that. If a mass-market publisher wants to publish my work, that would be great. However, me… I want to write. I want my books to exist in this world as actual books; yet when that's done, I want to move on to the next project, the next book, the next period of creativity. I want to concentrate on producing books and podcasts and other creative endeavors. I want to tell stories; I want to analyze the world around me. I don't want to be a publisher—though I am by default—or a distributor or a warehouse. If people find me and my work and read one of my books that is no longer available, then they can get on my email list to make sure they hear about my next book (I'm working on the new one as we speak). Brian Wootan, the artist with whom I work, and myself are going to try to release a new book project every twelve to eighteen months.
You were part of the Writing on the Air cooperative for six years. Can you share a little about that time?
Writing on the Air went off the air earlier this year. I joined KOOP as a volunteer in 2009. When you first join, they give you a questionnaire. They ask you what kind of radio you would like to create. I answered that I wanted to produce a show about wine and poetry. WOTA was an existing collective show that had been on the air for a long time, and KOOP assigned me to WOTA to learn the ins and outs of radio producing. Dillon McKinsey and Lee Davis, who were the WOTA collective at the time, asked me if I wanted to stay with WOTA and become part of their collective. I stayed on. Eventually, both Lee and Dillon left the show, and I became the lead. I was at WOTA from September 2009 to September 2015! I can't say enough great things about KOOP 91.7FM. What I learned in those six years is huge, and it is what brought me to my podcast.
Your podcast, Radar Talk Intimate, now boasts over forty episodes, (and is now featured once a month on Lone Star Literary Life’s Texas Talks feature). What can listeners expect in your podcasts? How do you pick the subjects of your interviews?
In October 2015 when I went on the road, one of my goals was to create a podcast. It didn't happen. Living on the road had its own challenges that I had to deal with on a daily level, and a podcast wasn't going to happen. Eventually, I moved to Houston, and in December 2017 I finally launched Radar Talk Intimate. My goal is to take my podcast on the road. The goal of my podcast is to talk with creative people from all walks of life. Writers and poets are my mainstay; however, I want to talk with all kinds of folks. Eventually, I want to create a TV series that will be an offshoot and addition to the podcast.
I'm not only interested in what people produce, but also how people live, how they pay the rent, who touches them intellectually and emotionally on a day to day level. Though I can be political, I mostly keep politics out of my podcast—unless the guest brings it up—because I want to talk with everybody, and I want the conversation to revolve around creativity.
What you can expect is an array of folks who do some really cool shit with their lives. My show is a small window into their lives. I'm hoping that people will tune in to listen to folks who are their friends and neighbors certainly, but hopefully people will tune in to hear folks from all walks of life talking about their lives, their successes, their troubles, their families, their views and beliefs… All the people I talk with are creators of some kind, so hopefully listeners will step out of their comfort zone and discover new worlds by reaching out and checking out what other people are creating.
You told WriteByNight.net, “I fully encourage ALL writers to self-publish, hire professional editors, and put out as much work as possible." Can you elaborate on your advice?
Yes. Learn what it takes. Learn to respect your work but to view it as work, as a craft. When you write, you mold. Creativity is messy, often gets better and messier when you bring on more people. Forces you to view everything you do as a work in progress, forces you to kill your babies and sleep with your enemies. Take your scribbles off that pedestal, and take a hammer to it—destroy that pedestal, and let your scribbles wallow in the mud before you rinse them. Editors are your best friend!
Amen to that! Finally, the lightning round . . .
Favorite book? So many… right now: Spring and All by William Carlos Williams. Just finished the Three-Body trilogy by Cixin Liu. The pure imaginative power of each of these two very different works is mind-boggling.
Number of books on your nightstand? eReader? I live in a tiny efficiency; my whole studio is covered in books. Many I have not read; many I have carried with me for years and read several times. I own a Kindle; however, I haven't looked at it in over two years. There's an ever-changing pile of four to ten books on my nightstand. I'm currently reading Tears of the Truffle-Pig by Texas author Fernando A. Flores (FSG 2019).
Most underappreciated author/hidden gem author? I think W.C. Williams was a better poet than either Pound or Eliot, and a much better man. Joe Lansdale, East Texas author. This guy should be regarded as one of the best American writers alive today.
François Pointeau was born in Rennes, France, and moved to the United States with his family as a child. He is a poet and writer of short stories. Pointeau’s first poetry collection, Beer Songs For the Lonely (New Belleville Press), was published in 2014; Good Feeling: Seven Short Stories (New Belleville Press) was published in 2015. His upcoming book of poetry, Songs of the Rollin Chateau, is available only via Kickstarter pledge, through September 21, 2019. Pointeau lives in Houston. You can visit him on Facebook.