Interview: Lawrence Berger
Poet “Laughing” Larry Berger was born and raised in nearby Rochester, NY. He went to California as an aspiring chef and came back a performance poet! His latest book Instant Poetry (Just Add Words!) is completely derived from interactive poetry readings in Los Angeles, CA.
The performance poems in Instant Poetry appear in their original formats, as they were “written” onstage, some using words or phrases called out by the audience during the event. Alternately, Larry says, a few poems “were written around the event described in the poem.” The book includes poems about everything from bubble gum to bad advice from parents, green tea ice cream to velour armchairs, burritos and cold KFC… I think “Laughing” Larry Berger can write a poem about anything at his performances. I’ll bet he’s had some funny words suggested over time!
Instant Poetry (Just Add Words!) isn’t your everyday poetry book. This book is full of personality! Larry’s instant poems offer a glimpse into his poetic past; the reader can try to imagine how the words were shouted or who may have shouted them. (Audience sources are not divulged in the book.) It is also a work of creativity that can inspire you to try the method with your friends or writing group. Larry’s method is generally to hear the audience call out words or phrases and create an ‘instant’ poem which he then performs with a great enthusiasm that’s his own unique style.
I asked Larry to tell me about his favorite poem and the performance where it was created. He didn’t have to think about this for long: “Yes! It would have to be my ‘name poem.’ I was doing a reading at a venue called The Rose Cafe in Venice, CA and one of my poetry teachers by the name of Richard Beeban called out ‘Larry, Will you please Stop laughing!’ And I wrote: Stop Laughing… [the poem on page 19 of Instant Poetry] Everybody including Mr. Beeban applauded and I’ve been ‘Laughing’ Larry Berger ever since.” Here is the poem:
with having a highly developed sense of humor?
Laughter is the wave of joy and nature’s first breath!
To stop laughing
is to resign ourselves to
coffins of skin!
To have eyes vacant of life
Stare back from our reflections
in the mirror.
I don’t think so!!!
I asked Larry how old he was when he became interested in poetry and whether he’s always enjoyed performance. He shared his start: “29 may seem old but I was working for a Literary Agent named Herb Vernon at the time trying to promote both his business and a Self-Help book I had written called The Green Lantern: A Guide for Achieving the American Dream. He suggested I try going to a poetry reading to help improve my speaking abilities. I went and read my first poem, ‘The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights!’ and I have not looked back since.”
Larry tells this about an early performance: “Well I started reading at a venue called The Midnight Special Bookstore in Santa Monica CA. The floorboards creaked and it was a very politically charged reading. They told me I scared the women who showed up but they liked my poetry. Talk about mixed messages. But I soon found friendlier venues and got into the circuit. The Midnight Special has gone out of business but the circuit is still strong.”
Larry mentions in his bio on the back of the book that he ”apprenticed with the ‘children’ of Jack Micheline for three years.” He explained to me that Micheline was a San Francisco-based poet who went all over the country trading poems for a place to sleep or something to eat. Larry spent time ‘apprenticing’ with poets in the L.A. poetry circuit—he runs
through some names, “Rafael F.J. Alvarado, S. A. Griffith, James Maverick, “the “Giggling Goddess” Ellen Maybe, Kennon B. Raines, Merline M. Murphy, The Onyx Crew, and all those on the L.A. circuit.” Some or all of these California poets were heavily influenced by Micheline. Maverick now has a poetry based call-in show De’Joynt, co-hosted by Deedee, on KillRadio.org. A Chomsky quote “For those who stubbornly seek freedom…” heads up L.A.-based Kill Radio’s homepage where a mix of shows are available. Larry often calls in to the De’Joynt show to read a poem.
It was James Maverick who pushed Larry to publish the first edition of Instant Poetry and to study improvisational theater. Larry couldn’t afford the classes James specifically suggested, but he told me he was motivated to attend Santa Monica College, where he studied Occidental yoga under Crystal Robbins who had also been certified in the (Arthur) Lesac method of voice for the theater. What is this method? “Famous actors who have also had the training include Anthony Hopkins and Whoopi Goldberg,” said Larry, and “For more on Jack Micheline you can read The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. It features Jack and several of his ‘children’ but don’t get it [$30] in the store…on Amazon for $5 or $10…” Larry says he just finished reading this book.
Favorite places of Larry’s to read in CA and NY are many and he likes to listen to others read on Internet radio shows. He’s also experimented with his own call-in show and is looking for a sponsor to expand and further formalize his show. (Suggestions, anyone?) He says of James Maverick’s radio show, “Well I’m very loyal, right now my favorite place to read is probably De’Joynt on KillRadio.org. It’s on from 7-9 p.m. PST (10 p.m.-2 a.m. east coast time) on Tuesday nights.”
The main literary forces in Rochester, NY, where Larry lives, are Rochester Poets, Just Poets, and Writers & Books. He’s a regular at the Rochester Poets monthly reading, at St. John Fisher college in Pittsford, NY, recently moved to the third Thursday of the month from 7-9 p.m. and likes to read at various Western NY venues wherever possible. At the Tango Cafe (formerly Daily Perks and The Mez), “Rochester Poets does…a satellite reading on Tuesdays…that has a more organic feel to it.” Larry is reading there (389 Gregory St., Rochester) on Jan. 25th; for info: (585) 271-4930. Larry likes to listen to poets read at these places, but also online, De’Joynt and others at KillRadio.org, and in archived posts of Yvonne de La Vega’s show Wordbeat on BlogTalkRadio.com—archived posts because she’s on at 4 a.m. EST.
Larry is fond of Rochester, NY’s Just Poets organization’s monthly workshops, “They are held on the first Saturday of the month at St. John Fisher College [Pittsford, NY] and are free to members [$20/yr. memb.] They really like to focus on forms…It’s almost like taking a college class so I’m finally getting the formal training I’ve been lacking.”
Larry also has a business, Skysaje Enterprises, doing consulting work for artists and artist groups “who need help with the business end of getting published,
touring, writing grants, etc.” He has a Small Business Administration degree and nearly 20 years of experience. He would consider teaching his ‘instant poetry’ methods if he discovered an appropriate venue.
This is the third edition of Instant Poetry (Just Add Words!), available globally online from major booksellers and iUniverse, usually for $8.95. Previous editions were available throughout the West Coast, going back to 1999 when it was compiled. Larry Berger’s poetry is also featured on the spoken word CD Dragons Dance Volume 1, available from the author by mail, and a book titled Chocolate Box. There is a ‘trailer’ for Larry’s Instant Poetry book on YouTube; type in the book title to locate it.
Questions, comments, or other inquiries can be directed to author “Laughing” Larry Berger.