Sitting Down with Byron Kerman, Flood Stage Poet
by Jenny Beatrice
When do you first remember getting a charge out of writing?
I won a Mother’s Day poetry contest sponsored by Famous-Barr department stores when I was in third grade. My prize was literally being told I could stroll through the huge department store, and, within reason, pick out anything I wanted. (I also got to have lunch with my mother and the store manager in the Famous-Barr in-store restaurant. I tried the Welsh rarebit, a new dish for me. It was pleasantly cheesy.) I picked out a book about how to make your own championship paper airplanes, which I cherish to this day.
What type of writing gives you a charge today?
If it fascinates/moves me, hopefully it will fascinate/move you. That’s the trick, right? I enjoy attempting to complete works in all genres – poetry, prose, pranks, plays, comedy shorts, performance-art pieces, gibberish, you name it.
Aside from creating gibberish, what’s your day job?
Freelance writer and pet sitter. No turd in the litter box left unscooped. (I’m referring to the latter. Mostly.)
St. Louis loves and pet peeves?
Love all the fun, kitchy things you can do, like Dog Museum, pork steak barbecues, and our clown/Elvis tribute act, “Clownvis.” Love getting lost at the Laumeier Sculpture Park, and driving down Lindell Boulevard near the mansions. Loathe the conservatism, the racial divides, the provincialism here. And wish for a bigger art/theater/poetry/literature/storytelling/etc. scene, a la NYC.
How does being a St. Louisan impact your writing?
Living in St. Louis gives you time to write, because in the dead of winter you’re called to your desk – there’s no place else to go, essentially.
Do you ever leave your desk and join in the local literary scene?
I try to support my friends who’re authors at their signings. I attend poetry readings, novel signings, and especially book-discussion groups.
Ah, so you must have some book recommendations for us.
Just finished The Hunger Games and loved it. Re-reading Leaves of Grass now, actually, with a book of literary crit on it, side-by-side. Also reading a Great Books collection about the seven deadly sins; the amazing, barbed racial commentary that is the poetry of Sterling Brown; some poetry by Andrea Meitner; the sick Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson; and Paul Auster’s Brooklyn Follies. Never enough time to read.
What else fills your time?
Restaurants and food, basketball, marijuana, heavy metal, and mystical peregrinations.
Any advice for writers trying to get published?
Go to school first, and take a lot of harsh criticism. It’s the only way. You have to get tough (while staying sensitive). “Love your enemies, for they will point out all your flaws,” is the Ben Franklin quote. Accept constructive criticism (and give it, but maybe not to your closest friends – friendship is very, very rarely compatible with real, honest criticism). Look to writers you admire, ask for their advice, and be prepared to be hurt. Look within and see if writing is still for you. Is it a passion for which you’ll make real sacrifices, like a stable income, or health insurance, or the ability to pay for your kids’ schooling? Maybe it isn’t for you. Does that piss you off, dear reader? Good – now we’re getting somewhere.
Byron Kerman is a writer whose journalism, prose, poetry, and humorous and memoir pieces have appeared in Radar, Heeb, Print, Fine Books & Collections, Writing! and many other publications, sites and theater productions. He is a contributing writer at St. Louis Magazine, Sauce Magazine, and Playback STL, and the former movie critic for the KETC Guide (PBS).