Scott Thomas Outlar is my guest on The Writer’s Space. Scott is widely published in both print and online journals. His books include: Songs of a Dissident (Transcendent Zero Press, 2015), Chaos Songs (Weasel Press, 2016), and Happy Hour Hallelujah (CTU Publishing, 2016). He serves as an editor at The Blue Mountain Review, Walking is Still Honest Press, The Peregrine Muse, and Novelmasters. Scott’s poetry takes us through snapshots of society – through the squalor of lives under oppressive regimes, the injustices wrought on us, and the need to break free. Yet there are also glimpses of a softer side inspired by love and nature. Scott hosts 17Numa.wordpress.com where links to his published poetry, fiction, essays, interviews, reviews, and books can be found. He is a Best of the Net and three-time Pushcart Prize nominee.
SR:Happy Hour Hallelujah and Chaos Songs were both published last year. Tell us a little about them? What inspired you to write both collections, and why did you publish two collections in one year?
STO: The timing of the two books happened to coincide in such a way based on outside circumstances more so than careful planning on my part. Happy Hour Hallelujah was under contract with CTU Publishing, and I was in the process of working through the final edits when Chaos Songs (an already completed manuscript) was picked up by Weasel Press. The two collections were published within a month of each other, in August and September of 2016.
They wound up working well together as counterbalancing forces. In a nutshell, Happy Hour Hallelujah presents poems dealing with spirituality, philosophy, and nature, while Chaos Songs focuses more on autobiographical material of a somewhat less romantic sort.
It remains a high priority of mine to continue doing my level best to promote these books with equal energy and enthusiasm. I do not take lightly the role that independent publishers in the small press take on. It is a labor of love, but also one that is fueled by the support of readers.
If I might take this opportunity to make a plea to those who enjoy my work: if you have the means and resources to help support the efforts of myself and these publishers, please do so by ordering copies of the books mentioned above. The simple fact of the matter is that money allows the wheels to keep spinning (both in my mind and on the printer as it spits out words to be shipped around the world).
SR: Your poetry is deeply political. Is there a reason?
STO: There are several trillion reasons, in fact, with innumerable more pouring off the printing press of the Federal Reserve every day. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, I suppose, seeing as how the problems associated with fiat currency are now digitized exponentially through derivatives. A supposedly sovereign government borrowing its money from a private consortium of international banks seems to me to be about as basic a reason to start kicking up a fuss as can possibly be fathomed. Thomas Jefferson dropped some sage wisdom on the subject a couple hundred years ago that likely has him rolling over in his grave right now. He once opined, “I sincerely believe that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.” It still seems to ring true as far as I can tell. Grab your bayonets and muskets, friends!
There are some who espouse the opinion that the two subjects that should never be discussed in public, especially when drinking copious amounts of alcohol, are politics and religion. Bah! What utter nonsense! I’ve always believed that these two topics are exactly those that should be bantered about while happily sipping wine at the bar. Only cowards and crybabies get their diapers in a wad when talking about that in life which matters most. Save the bullshit about Lady Gaga and the rest of her goo goo ilk for another conversation. It’s time for adults to start hashing out solutions that don’t involve control freak social institutions run by unelected, bureaucratic bozos. Save your safe space, patty-cake, candy land craziness. It’s time to toughen up and bow your back. Soon we’ll learn who sinks and who swims. Oh yeah, I forgot to place a trigger warning at the beginning of this answer. I guess my fingers were a little itchy on the pen.
SR: If the poet is the mirror holding up the flaws of society and urging, even challenging us to change for the better, how do you see that message getting translated into action, or is it merely words to be read in the safety of one’s home?
STO: As liberating as it might feel to shake one’s fist and rage against the machine, when the rubber actually meets the road it should be understood that real and lasting change must begin within one’s own consciousness. There is a reason why certain ideas become clichéd – because, at their core, they are imbued with universal truth. Thus, the main action necessary at this point in history is to live a life that shines as an example of wholesomeness, honesty, decency, and goodwill. I am not about to get too carried away trying to explain exactly how such a path should be navigated because I’m constantly searching to reach the vision on the other side myself. Here’s what I will venture to say about the matter though: the time has come to deconstruct from the global, corporate system and return to a local state of harmony with the land. Plant some seeds, drink some fresh juice, turn off the news once in a while, and go talk to your neighbors. Who the hell knows? It might turn out that you actually like them.
SR: You use satire in many poems to attack falsehoods and pretense? Why satire?
STO: When attacking a situation that has reached the point of untenable absurdity, satire becomes a means through which to burn away the shallow veil of pretense and fully reveal the rotten core of its bad joke. Every court has a jester; maybe I can use my wit to maneuver into close proximity with the king, and then swiftly slip a dagger underneath his golden crown. That is to say: the crony, corporate, fascist global empire run by the psychotic elite is no longer a laughing matter. So, using satire, I howl instead. I rant, rave, and scream righteous screeds into the face of the Satanic Beast System.
It could also have something to do with the fact that I get a kick out of trolling, provoking, and mocking members of political cults. It might not be the most highbrow form of enlightened entertainment, but suffering fools has just never been my strongest suit. So until all the lemmings and sheep have marched themselves right over the ledge, I guess I’ll have to keep bombing away at every false idol and institution that they hold sacred. Always while wearing a sly smirk upon my face, of course.
SR: Information and truth for one may be construed as propaganda by the other. As a poet writing ‘political’ poetry how do you balance truth from being viewed as propaganda? When does poetry become a rallying cry for freedom and when does it fall to propaganda, and who decides? What is the deciding factor, is it the message, or the form and structure of the poem? Do we read the poem for its poetic qualities and reject the message or are they both important to make a ‘good’ poem? And do we discard propaganda poetry because we don’t agree to the message?
STO: Every opinion is saturated with propaganda. That’s a fact. Perhaps it all comes down to who has the biggest bullhorn available to scream their version of reality into the ear holes of the populace. I would venture to say that if the message you are trying to deliver is designed to enlighten and raise up the spirits of those who hear it, then you are using healthy propaganda. On the flip side, if the nonsense you spew is meant to deceive and misinform, then you are a demon sent from the fiery pits of hell. As such, you will be utterly destroyed in the end. Either by humanity, karma, or God. Whichever way the cookie winds up crumbling in that regard, it’s going to be messy.
However, on a more positive note, I do believe that it’s important in life to examine and digest views that we don’t necessarily agree with. It helps us to have empathy, and it enables us to mature both psychologically and spiritually. As much fun as it is to watch our enemies flail around on the floor while their ridiculous ideology fails and falls into complete ruins, we should also remember that they are all too human. They are susceptible to coercive influences. They are prone to ignorance. Perhaps they just need a pat on the back or a peck on the lips to help them sort through the confusion of this whacky modern world. Insert songs of kumbaya here.
SR: You are widely published, your work is appreciated by many and you’ve been nominated for awards. What does it take to get to that point of being accepted and known as a good writer?
STO: Dedication, vision, talent, an indefatigable will to succeed, a support system of good family and friends, help from on high, grace, providence, a steadfast nature which allows you to shrug off any attacks from those who seek to work against you due to their pettiness and jealousy, determination, respect for those who walked the path before you and left lights on along the way, appreciation for what is pure and true, inner resolve, the ability to adapt with changing circumstances, networking skills, intensity, confidence, courage, diligence, mindfulness, a desire to learn, and, most importantly, an audience of loyal readers who enjoy your work.
SR: There are more poets out there than we can read. What advice would you give poets trying to get themselves known and read?
STO: There is a difference between being inspired by and becoming an imitation of. Learn from those who set your soul on fire, but never mimic them to the point where you become lost in their shadows. Be unique. Raise your own voice. Seek to craft your own style. If you want to be noticed, you have to put in the work. There’s simply no way to avoid that harsh reality, I’m afraid. Realize that there are sacrifices that must be made, and that the biggest of these is time itself. Don’t become discouraged if the pieces aren’t falling into place as you would wish. Press forward. Steady, steady, steady, quantum leap.
It is not perfection that is expected, only the pursuit thereof.
SR: Some people say poetry is dead, some publishers say poetry doesn’t sell. Yet at times of both strife and happiness people always turn to poetry. Care to comment?
STO: Poetry is raw human emotion condensed into words and symbols. Language is the great connecting force of our species. Using the universal tongue of poetry, we are able to feel deeply and experience intimately each other’s joy, triumph, failure, suffering, happiness, ecstasy, jubilation, despondency, love, hatred, hope, sadness, and faith. We look into the eyes of our fellow sentient beings through verse, and we realize the truth, exclaiming: “Yes! This is also me. This is where it all began. This is where it must also end.”
Chaos enters the spaces of stagnation,
not to obliterate,
but to break down what is not working
so the inherent pattern of order
can emerge in a new light,
and the holy path of inward peace
can once again be seen clearly.
The choice to destroy
is not necessarily negative
but sometimes absolutely necessary
as a way to tear apart
at a dilapidated structure
so a more solid foundation
can be established
upon which to build
a temple of health, happiness, and love.
Life is not always easy,
but the trials and tribulations
are inherent in the process of progression
as a way to push evolution forward,
and the challenges that naturally arise
are a Godsend of grace
presented to teach the lesson
that we are creatures of adaptation and survival.
(“Detoxification” is an excerpt from Happy Hour Hallelujah)