VC-How did you became rapt with poetry?
SY-Well, I found poetry in a different way, not through my parents or school, not at first. I sort of knew early on, that my vocational calling was going to be a plethora of tasks, and one of those tasks would be radio. I knew in the early days of my life I wanted to be a radio broadcaster like Orion Samuleson who still does the Farm Report on WGN-AM radio in Chicago. I would listen to his delivery of words in newscasts and farm reports and from that, I took it from there. That was at age 5, but I truly didn’t start writing poetry until age 12. In all honesty, I was never a true fan of poetry per say, primarily, because when I was in school, I had teachers that would force me to memorize poetry that I never liked or understood and knowing what I know now, a teacher should never force anything onto a kid, because the kid will remember it for life and go on hating something that is supposed to be precious & beautiful; it’s kind of like losing your virginity and the person you do it w/yells at you or bitches because they didn’t feel the same way. It leaves an imprint on your memory for life.
VC-Who are your biggest influences as a poet?
SY-0-12, it was radio, television and my parents. 12-23, it was Emily Dickinson, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and the Beatles. 24-33, Orson Welles. 34-40, it was Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Noam Paco Gaster and a lot of other Chicago poets & performers. 41-48, it was noise, music and babies. At age 49 (currently), I am influenced by the universe which surrounds me; trees, birds, car horns, radios, rain, wind, fire, breathing, death.
VC-What sorts of poems do you write? What else do you write?SY-I write almost anything, really. These days, I write more hardcore depressing poems, just reflecting the sign of the times or whatever I’m feeling. When I’m in love or in a relationship and/or in love with the universe, I tend to write love poems or poems that rhyme or at least have their own sense of rhythm. I write down a lot of observations too, especially when I travel, I tend to write a lot in my two semi-blank journals which I bring along with me almost everywhere I go, plus my laptop. It’s not always poetry mind you, but sometimes it can be little bursts of prose or streams of consciousness, that somehow or another will turn into a good piece of fiction or a poem. I write almost anywhere, including the bathroom and the shower and I do have a waterproof journal with a waterproof pen as well! I like writing mid-afternoons and at night too. And also most importantly, I tend not to share a lot of what I write with others, unless I feel “it’s good enough” to be shared. When or if I do share what I’ve written, I share privately among friends, colleagues and with my poetry mentor. When I get to that point or at least feel brave enough, I’ll go to an open mic around town and share my new works. If the response is good, then somehow I seem to like it too. But if the response is not so good or I get no feedback, then the piece gets tucked away and reworked until which time I deem it possible for it to be read and or performed again.
VC-Do you always understand what you write about?
SY-That’s an excellent question, Vito! The best answer, I can possibly muster is no, I don’t ever understand what I’m writing about at times and sometimes it takes minutes, hours or even days, to figure out what I’m trying to say. Truly though, I believe that writers just write and don’t always understand where their material comes from, it’s almost as if it’s handed to them on a platter and they just kind of go with it. I know for me, that’s always the case, especially when I’m writing about my subconscious and the consciousness of the world within or without me just sort of pops out from nowhere. Perhaps it’s a gift, I’m not certain, but that’s what it comes down to at times.
VC-How Cops hate Poetry began? Why did it fold?
SY-The short version is that Cops Hate Poetry came about when a word from my published poem, “Myth Of A Dream Omitted From A Good Humor Truck,” which was published in Western Illinois University’s Elements, was not only changed without my permission, but they didn’t even bother to inform me! The word was icycles, referring to the cycle of time, but it was spelled as icicles. I knew then that the time had come to publish a fanzine that wouldn’t censor other people’s poetry. And so by day, as a WIU student, I studied my schoolwork, while at night, I studied the impressively giant collection of 1960s/1970s underground newspapers on microfilm at the University Library. By fall, 1986, when I didn’t return, due to poor grades, I published my 1st issue, a 4-pager w/my own poetry, an interview w/Eugene Chadbourne and a few other things, w/a run of 99 copies. In the years that followed, my zine grew in terms of content & pages & the circulation was upped to 250 copies. I ended it in 1991, after a long and fruitful run, wanting to go in other directions, including a career in journalism.
VC-How did Columbia College prepare you for your poetry or writing career?
Um, well; it didn’t start at Columbia College; it actually started at Niles West High School (Skokie, Illinois) during my junior year (1979). I took one creative writing class and then three years later at Lincoln College in Lincoln, Illinois; I took one creative writing class. There was no such thing as poetry classes where I went to high school or the colleges I attended at the time. And to be quite honest, I didn’t really “prepare.” I just wrote, you know, because that’s what classes tend to do, is prepare you for what you as a writer are doing. I also did a lot of what I call “street writing,” where I’d sit on Chicago el train benches and just observe, take notes of life at its fullest. I’d also write a lot in coffeehouses, did a lot of journaling. Writing poetry came quite natural to me, but obviously it was shaped over the years and these days, I don’t really consider myself a poet; more so a multi-disciplinary performance artist. I became one the day of Ronald Reagan’s funeral. I was at my job trying to think of a fun, nice way to remember him. I couldn’t think of anything nice to say about him and that’s when I created the performance piece “Pin The Quote In Reagan’s Mouth.” The night I performed it, at a chain coffee shop no less, the crowd loved it; the venue loved it, but the host went ballistic on me and banned me from doing performance pieces and using props for his open mic. Only weeks before, I did a Yoko Ono drag performance there & Noam (Paco Gaster), who was also in town that weekend, did a performance piece where he walked on the tables and chairs and the host just blew up; the crowd loved him and I was extremely inspired by what I saw Noam doing that night- I mean I was already heading in that direction, but it was Reagan’s funeral that sealed the deal for good. What Columbia actually prepared me for was what I had hoped to be a better journalism career. They had great classes and great instructors directly from the trenches teaching there. My career was jump-started, immediately after I graduated in 1990, primarily as a freelance journalist until I secured my first journalism job at a weekly newspaper in Melrose Park, Illinois. What happened in the process, not by accident perhaps or just a general gradual change in my life, was that I burned out of journalism completely by 1995 and all of those writing skills just melded into my poetry and prose and suddenly my writing just became much better in terms of expression! My blog is a great example of that.
VC-How did you become involved in the Bathroom Poetry Project? Are any of these poems still up?
SY-The Bathroom Poetry Project I found was by mere chance only. I was scouring Chicago’s edition of Craigslist and for new and unknown territories in terms of art and performance and other sorts of weird opportunities and I came across a listing looking for a Chicago coordinator; so I wrote back the project originator and I was on my way. It took some real maneuvering before I actually got into my first venue and for a while it the project for me was primarily based in Evanston. Then, it expanded once I got three venues in Chicago. As far as I know, none of the poems are left up on the walls of the stalls. If you want to look at the crux of the project, I suggest you go here, to read up on what I did as the Chicago coordinator:www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/pottypoet/Content?oid=1109031
VC-Why did you change your name from Charles Bernstein to Sid Yiddish? Was it partially an attempt to embrace your Judaic origins? Is Sid a persona?
SY-I’m not sure where we’re going with thus “Judaic” stuff, Vito, but essentially, Sid Yiddish bridges the often scary gap that performance artists often embrace-the side that no one wants to go to, the instruments that no one wants to play, the music that no one wants to listen to, the food that no one wants to eat, the books no one wants to read. Sid comes in and embraces the abandoned, the homeless, those poor souls left for dead. Sid fixes them up and sends them on their way. Now, I bet you’re thinking, what the hell does that mean? Sid gives a damn when others don’t. Sid embraces people and helps them connect with their hidden, shy side and lets it all hang out with a bit of shine and sparkle in all its glory and to also help them cross bridges, even when it looks scary and unevenly balanced. That’s Sid’s primary function. Is Sid a persona? No, not really. Sid’s a real person, just like you. Sid is my middle name.
VC-How has Judaism and/or punk influenced your poetry?
SY-I don’t know really-I am a Jew; but that’s where it stops; I mean it’s really tokenism in my eyes-a Jewish punk? So what! You’re an Italian poet/writer professor. Does that help you out any? Are you influenced by your own heritage? There’s so much more to me, than that. I was always punk before punk came into the norm, anyway; always do stuff my own way in my own style. Punk is more than just about music and clothes; it’s attitude & about the way you think about things.
VC-How did you get involved with Danish punk band, Clean Boys?
SY-Well, it’s a long story. Back in late September, 2007, Pedro Da Palma-lead throat/bassist for Clean Boys was on YouTube, looking for films of Artless, my New York pal Mykel Board’s old punk band, but was unable to find anything, so he punched in Mykel’s name & he came across my throat singing video which I had posted one year earlier, entitled “Mykel Board Weasel Squeezer.” (to take a look at that film, go here-www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-BnnztltTU)
He wrote the following comment beneath it: “Well this is some kind of tribute indeed. I tried to find some Artless here on YouTube-No Success. But ok-this one makes my day, so my quest wasn't in vain! Pedro Da Palma, Denmark.” We checked each other out, respectively on our Myspace pages, but really didn’t do anything for about a year. Then in late summer, 2008, I contacted Pedro and asked him if he and the band might want to back me up for Chicago Calling Three, at the now defunct AV-Aerie-luckily he had said yes and that was the beginning of a great, grand partnership between us. That year, for Chicago Calling, I had built a super-group, members of my own band $2 Cockroach & Clean Boys, all backing me up on my piece, “Jazz Haiku-A-Rama.” It was a chaotic scene to say the least; the day of the show the venue’s Skype wasn’t working, thereby meaning, we nearly had to go to “Plan B,” meaning doing it live by cell phone in other words calling them up and doing the performance by way of speakerphone-after several cell calls and even a extremely nasty phone call from their drummer, we made it work somehow. We waited for another year to go by and I asked Pedro if he and the band would like to back me up for Chicago Calling Four at the now-defunct Mercury Café. And again they did. This time we performed my punk opera, “DP.” I composed the words, they scored the opera. We performed the opera at one other venue in the city and it was then in late October, when Pedro asked me to come overseas and perform and tour with them. I told him, “not until we have a record…and the rest is history.
VC-How did Denmark compare with the USA? Are people more or less receptive to the arts there?
SY-Well, if one knows anything about America and are either an artist or a musician, there is a slightly better chance that those sorts of Americans will be treated far better overseas than here in the States. In America, the biggest differences are, that no one, except for maybe a miniscule minority/cult following appreciates you for who you are and unlike the majority of the US population whom expects a lot out of you and if you don’t fit into the norm, (kind of like me), then you’re SOL. Everywhere I performed and taught in Denmark, I was treated with such respect and admiration and to me, as a citizen of the USA it felt so good, you know? Because here, as a performer you get very little of that here, again due to the fact that most Americans expect way too much and when they don’t get what they want, they throw a tantrum or toss you aside or put you into that “Other” category. That’s essentially where I am always placed.
VC-Do you consider yourself more of a musician, poet or performer? Or what?SY-I’m a combination of all three and much more actually, Vito! Of course, I started off in poetry, so I guess I’ll always be a poet, but in my world, I only believe you can travel so far or do so much that the focus becomes limited, so I have to look elsewhere other ways to be motivated and find other pleasures and so that means, performing as in being a performance artist and making music, however it might be. Plus, I act, throat sing and tap dance too, so I’m really like an “other” or the guy you can’t categorize, much as you might want to. And there’s a lot of that going on, you know? Especially in music, by both promoters & music critics; the comparison of one person to another and sure, we might have similar attributes and qualities, but people are not the same as other people. We are individuals one and whole and everyone and I mean everyone, has something to offer the world, but don’t take advantage of what they have to offer and get stuck in ruts or placed in spaces they didn’t get create and get frustrated with themselves and often give up hope. That’s where I honestly can say, I don’t ever want to go to again.
VC-How do you figure out what to perform?
SY-I don’t really. I’m at the point in my career, that I have a few basics that I present, but usually what I do is gauge the crowd-I try to see in my mind what will work and what won’t work. It works well at a place like the Green Mill or a performance (band) space like Cal’s Liquors, where one never knows what to expect there. Depending on the time I have for a given performance, I tend to pick things that are quick or easy for me to remember. In my case, when I perform at a band venue and I’m playing with collaborators, I usually draw up a set list. Last autumn, I worked with a banjo player who learnt everything I had sent to him. The set list had 11 pieces, but I only performed eight, again because of gauging the crowd. If I am given a longer time frame to perform in, then I tend to try out experimental works. And in that light, some of my more outlandish works don’t always work when they are supposed to, even if they are presented in the right atmosphere.
VC-What new projects are you working on?
What do you have planned for us in the future?
SY-Currently at work on a plethora of stuff, including; 2 improvising orchestras; Chicago Scratch Orchestra, as instrumentalist, composer and conductor & then my own orchestra, Sid Yiddish And His Krackhaus Minyans, as instrumentalist, composer & conductor; a new performance duo, Bukakke Birds, set in motion for mid-year via Skype, w/a Trinidadian; a new as-of-yet untitled themed CD compilation on mental disorders on my label, Misspelled Records (Australia); plus I have a cassette tape project that will be released sometime in the spring, on Salamander Lane Productions & I’m working on brand new spoken word/music CD, set for release late, 2011. On Tuesday, February 1, 2011, I’m performing with my band, Krackhaus Minyans, on WNUR’s (Northwestern University, 89.3 FM or www.wnur.org) Jazz Show. Otherwise, I can always be caught around town or online with the other bands I perform with, including: Flabby Hoffman Trio, Adeptive Radiation, Clean Boys (via Skype), Cousin Bones, Chicago Scratch Orchestra & Krackhaus Minyans.VC-Where can we find out more info about Sid Yiddish?
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