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Risking It: An Interview with Tiko Lewis
Part of the PoetryCircle Showcase series.
  • PoetryCircle: Who are you?​

    Lewis: I am Mr. Darcy.  Seriously, my aim is always to be invisible. I don’t say much; I make it a point to give short answers, be polite but not engaging. Somehow, I end up being the guy everyone wants to shake hands with. No matter where I go—be it restaurant, bar, strip club—if I go more than 3 times, the parade of hands will begin.

    I believe being authentic is the best thing you can be. So, to friends, I give. Period.  And giving does not always have to be affirmative, or positive. Authenticity also includes honesty and truth, but that’s another conversation.

    PoetryCircle: What’s your world view?

    Lewis: I think the world suffers from a lack of true compassion and true care. Compassion and care have become headlines, most often used to raise money. Also, I feel the world has been shaped by the show “Survivor.”  Funny, right? Season 1, I thought it would be about everyone competing to make it to the next step; you know, skill, merit, luck. It ended up being about alliances and being untrue. And while this behavior has always existed, the show seemed to make it acceptable to openly be a dick, openly be untrue. I personally don’t think it takes all of that. If I can’t be authentic, I’d rather not be.

    PoetryCircle: Who are your inspirations?

    Lewis: My inspiration, my first inspiration, was Milner Place. The first poem that really struck me was his “reflections on reflections.” I loved the economy of words, and the room he created to allow the reader to put himself into the poem without the author’s baggage or interpretation. At the time, I could not articulate why I liked him, but his writing really appealed to me. I bought his book Naked Invitation, and reading it helped me find my voice. Then I read Bukowski’s poem “pleasures of the damned,” and I started reading all I could by Bukowski. For me, his poetry allowed me to leave the birds, clouds, and kittens behind. It was an example of tapping into the real shit, and delivering it without a filter. That was a powerful experience for me because my internal strife now had a place go, and sometimes a place to be buried.

    Tom Riordan because he’s a machine, a creative machine, that doesn’t stop. My latest inspiration has been Dax. His intellect thrills me. He’s E.E. Cummings with a cannon! He’s irreverence without shame, or joy in being irreverent. His message, even when jarring, carries a lot of compassion for the little guy. But he doesn’t let the little guy off the hook. He challenges him for being led, duped, even for being absent in life. He says “fuck the world…and fuck me, too”!  I just love that.

    PoetryCircle: What makes you angry?

    Lewis: In real life, a lack of manners and cordiality makes me angry because “excuse me” is free. Less than authentic people make me angry. I don’t do “representatives” well. If you can’t be real, don’t come around me. There’s enough in life to worry about without needing to worry about a fake person and their intentions.

    PoetryCircle: What makes you sad?

    Lewis: I don’t think I get sad. I think I get disappointed, and not necessarily with other people. Most of my disgust is reserved for me. I think that comes through in my writing. If I do get sad, it’s when people I admire die. Ed Bradley from 60 Minutes affected me. Amy Winehouse, and Heath Ledger, people like them. Ed was just so cool, with the earring and the white trimmed beard. But he was also so good at what he did, which was engaging you in the story. The others—I got so much joy from them. The notion that they have nothing else to give, this is it, combined with the circumstances, really is distressing. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is another.

    PoetryCircle: What makes you move on?

    Lewis: Moving on is always really hard. Me liking a person, or a thing, is a true investment. I give to it. I receive from it. So to leave it, whatever it is, is always a challenge. To clarify, I don’t categorize separation as moving on because you can be physically or logically removed from a thing but still be affected. Leaving behind the affects is what’s hard for me. And while I have the skill to create separation, I don’t think I have the skill to divorce myself from the affects. I think this is true for most people. That’s why I think the notion of closure is a crock of shit. But that’s another topic entirely.

    PoetryCircle: What motivated you to want to write poetry?

    Lewis: True story: it was a conversation with a stripper. In school, I wrote the obligatory papers and essays and creative writing assignments. Mine were always different from the other submissions, though, and the teachers took note. One in particular—Mrs. Dobbs from sophomore English—said she awaited my book being published. Years later, perhaps 10 or so, I’m sitting in a strip club, and a dancer worked up the nerve to come by. She was spacey and weird, and she talked about wanting to either be a writer or a brain surgeon. We talked about the writing because surgeon seemed a bit out of reach at that point.  Then I got called out. She challenged me to write a poem, and I did, on the spot. Looking back, it sucked, but it was a beginning.

    Since then, I’m motivated by the highs and the lows. I never write when I’m in the middle. It’s uninteresting, really. It’s like posting photos of new socks on Facebook, in celebration. Who does that, right? For the highs, it has to be monumental, some great shit. But the lows, man, I tell you, they’re the faucet.

    PoetryCircle: What do you think of the world of poetry?

    Lewis: I think most people who write poetry think too highly of themselves. As a result, the way they interact with each other comes from a condescending place. I’ve been guilty of this at times. I think there are too many people writing like Billy Collins and Marie Howe, who are good, but safe. I think most poetry comes across as stories with odd line breaks. For me, poetry is about creating something that’s different, something alive, using language in such a way, and images in such a way, that a new perspective is given to an old thing, or a new thing is presented. I don’t see enough of that. There are no risks being taken, at least none that I can appreciate.

    PoetryCircle: What are your goals as a writer?

    Lewis: These days, my goal as a writer is to write. I’ve been in a dry spell for a while, and I feel myself wanting to create again. I’m in the middle, and relating to life. It’s a good place to be. But for writing, it’s proven difficult. So I guess my goal should be figuring out how to produce without being super happy or depressed.

    PoetryCircle: What would you say to a young person who came to you and asked you to read her poems?

    Lewis: Risk! Stop telling the same stories. Stop writing the same poems others are writing. Stop saying things the same way every other person has said them. Do something different. Release any notion of style, for style can become a reason to not try new things, or receive advice or critique.

    Edit! Edit! Look for ways to improve your product! Believe in the purpose of the eraser. It exists for a reason. Embrace it. Embrace that there is always room to improve.

    Use concrete images, and avoid abstractions. If you can touch it, you can use it. Finally, have fun and don’t take yourself too seriously. Creativity is a gift. Act like it.

    PoetryCircle: What scares you most about life or living?

    Lewis: What scares me most is not living life fully, or based on how I’ve defined it. When I turned 30, I decided I would not live my life by anyone else’s expectations. I would not allow someone else to tell me what was good or bad. I would make those decisions. I would try it, and decide if it worked for me.

    PoetryCircle: What scares you least relative to what you think others are scared about?

    Lewis: ISIS. I think I’d win the lottery twice before I’m personally affected by them. Obamacare. Why people are so afraid of a mechanism that provides access to health care is beyond me. I keep hearing the term government overreach. I think the government deciding you own your land, but not its natural resources (natural gas, oil, etc.), is government overreach! Dying broke. I would much rather prefer not to live broke. If I die, and just so happen to spend it all, or most of it, cool.

    PoetryCircle: Is there life after death?

    Lewis: I have to believe there is something. I can’t account for what, but this would all be quite fruitless if this is the extent of the journey. If all we do is pop into existence, mull around for 65 years, and dissipate into nothingness, I’d question the point to that.

    I will say, my oldest memory—or rather, the first thing I remember thinking—was “I’ve already done this; why am I here again”? I’ve wondered about that memory—and your question—all my life as a result.

    PoetryCircle:  What’s a poetry editor?

    Lewis: A poetry editor is a number of things to a number of people. I think a poetry editor is a proofreader, quality control manager, risk management, garbage man, and most importantly, truth teller. I think all the other roles, if you will, precipitate from truth. Artists, in general, are like boxers. They have people in their corner telling them how great they are—hype, man. There are people telling them they’re ready for the next level—promoter. They have people telling them the world just doesn’t get them or understand their brilliance, so who cares what those other fuckers say or think—cut man. And there’s that person in the corner that says you’re losing and you’re not doing anything we covered in training and if you continue on this course, not only will you lose; you’ll get knocked the fuck out! That guy; that’s the poetry editor.

    PoetryCircle: What do you think about the marijuana legalization trend in the United States?

    Lewis: I think it’s about time. Personally, I prefer cigars. However, the notion that someone is constantly trying to regulate how the population alters their state is played out. Played out! We’ve all heard the arguments...alcohol and prescription drugs are considerably more dangerous, etc., etc. I believe that’s true.

    I think it’s deeper than that, though. I think there was a concerted effort to create a new class of criminal. Skipping past the social commentary, there’s a low percentage of the population inclined to murders, rapes, or that have the propensity to commit a violent crime. If you privatize prisons, and the business model is based on occupancy, how do you stand up or support that industry? You’ll have to create more reasons to put more people in those beds.

    PoetryCircle: What would you like to do right now?

    Lewis: More than anything, I’d like to figure this shit out. I’d like create a life that’s easily sustained, absent of drama and stress. Recognizing that’s near impossible, I want to do as little as possible for the longest possible time. I’m realizing that I’m too old for ambition, or a high level of ambition, the life-changing shit, so finding balance is what I want to do right now. Everything after that, as long as it comes slow enough for me to see it, and duck if I need to, I’m good!

    Selected work by Tiko Lewis:
    all natural zero calorie existence
    something other than a buddhist upbringing
    other work by Tiko Lewis
  1. Lance Watson
    Dude, you have it right on the reefer.
  2. tiko lewis
    this was a blast.  glad everyone
    enjoyed reading it as much as
    i enjoyed participating.  

    i almost feel i may have said
    too much.  ;0)

    thanks, for the opportunity to
    run my mouth.  these chances
    don't come often.

    la salsa vive!!!!

  3. Bethany Lim
    Nice to read your thoughts, tiko, and revisit your work!
  4. Jay Gandhi
    Loved his concept of the poetry editor
    Also his ideas about taking that risk to create something new,
    How he describes style as a barrier than a decorative tool.
    How he is trying hard to write in a phase where there is no emotional extreme.
    I can relate to a few things and I do agree Tom is a creative machine
    Jay Dougherty likes this.
  5. Scott Douglas
    Nice to read your mind
  6. brendan christopher
  7. Douglas Goodwin
    The interview was interesting. I read some of the poems. I liked:
    10 second rule
    black train (the first 17 lines)
    something other than a buddhist upbringing
    But there's kind of a slide into self-consciousness in some of the others. And even in the ones I didn't really like, there are strong lines among the weak lines. Maybe some of the poems just need another pass at a later date.
  8. Michael Ashley
    You're surely not too old to have ambition, this was the only part that made me sad! Great interview. Thought provoking and more or less along my line.
  9. Tom Riordan
    What a delight to listen to you for so long, Tiko. Tom
  10. Paul Brookes
    Enjoyed intensely. Raw, honest, no bullshit.
    Jenn Zed and TrishSaunders like this.
  11. Lavonne Westbrooks
    Thanks, Tiko, for saying it all out loud!
    Jenn Zed and TrishSaunders like this.
  12. TrishSaunders
    Great interview. I feel I know the enigmatic, immensely talented Tiko a little better after reading this.It thrills me, Tiko, that you credit the stripper as much as the English teacher with providing you a platform for writing. Even a conversation that sticks can be life changing. As for Milner: I know how delighted he would be to know that he inspired you. Well done, Jay.
    Jenn Zed likes this.
  13. Jenn Zed
    Interesting, informative and very personal deconstruct.
    Very good.
    TrishSaunders likes this.