When I was asked to interview Calvero, after the release of someday i’m going to marry Katy Perry by University of Hell Press, I hadn’t read his book yet. I had been given a copy but it got lost under a stack of homework and a pile of exorcised energy drink cans. So I dug out the barely soiled book and began to read it. At first, I was baffled that it had been published. It seemed to have been written from a child’s point of view, with very little bearing on larger poetics. But then I saw it. I saw Calvero’s style, his voice, and his intentions. I saw that I was in the presence of something new and quite brilliant.
I wanted my interview to highlight Calvero’s playful expression, maybe with iPhone text bubble chat or Skype. Unfortunately, neither of us were mechanically or technologically equipped to figure out how to do any of that, so I just emailed him the questions and let him at it.
So, first of all, is Calvero your real name? Are you on single name status like Cher, Sting, or Prince?
Actually my legal name is Cher Sting Prince III, but since those names were already taken I decided to lovingly rip off the name Calvero from my favorite Charlie Chaplin movie, Limelight. I’m a huge Chaplin fan and writing under a pen name gave me the courage to try certain things I wouldn’t have normally had the balls to try otherwise as I began experimenting around with my poetry. A pen name gave me the courage to be fearless, as lame as that sounds.
So where are you from originally? What was it like growing up as an eventual social icon?
I’m from Connecticut and still live in Connecticut, not too far away from New York City. When you grow up knowing that you’re going to be an eventual social icon, it’s kinda hard. Because when you know you’re going to be an eventual social icon and that everyone around you isn’t, you almost begin feeling sorry for them and it can be really isolating at times. The cheese stands alone, ya know? Like when I walk into a room and notice that George Clooney isn’t there and that I’m, therefore, the prettiest person in the room. I’m like, “Aw …” in regards to everyone else because I feel bad for them because they’re not as important/pretty as me.
When did you first get into poetry? Do you have any interesting stories as to your first memory of loving poetry or wanting to be a poet?
It’s funny … I’ve always loved writing poetry, but nine times outta ten I hate reading it. Like when I took a poetry class in college but I absolutely ended up hating it because I never knew what the fuck was going on. We would read these poems in class and everyone in class always seemed to have these really insightful thoughts and guesses as to what the poems were about and I would just be there sitting in my seat constantly rereading the poem to myself in secret trying to come up with something intelligent to say about the poem so I could contribute to the discussion and not feel stupid about myself. But now, looking back, I realize that those really insightful thoughts and guesses were nothing but that. They were just thoughts and guesses and most of the time they were wrong to begin with. People see whatever it is they wanna see inside poems or works of art.
When did you start writing poetry?
I began writing poetry in high school but holy shit was it horrible. I began writing poetry mainly because I had crushes on all these girls but never had the balls to actually go up and ask them out, so whenever I liked a girl and wasn’t able to express those feelings to her in person I had all these pent-up feelings I couldn’t let out so I ended up writing them down in poems. And they were really flowery and trying-to-sound-pretty-and-romantic poems. So bad. So, so, sooooooo bad. And the answer to your next question is: Yes, I was extremely popular in high school. Next question.
Who are some of your earliest influences?
I wrote poetry in high school and then I stopped for about five years until I discovered Bukowski. And it was Bukowski who made me wanna write poetry again. Like I mentioned, I took a poetry class in college and I never knew what the hell was going on, but Bukowski made me realize that, maybe, just maybe, that was okay. That maybe there was nothing wrong with me but maybe there was something wrong with these iconic poems themselves. Bukowski taught me that the way you connect with people is through brutal honesty. You don’t beat around the bush. You don’t disguise the point you’re trying to get across with pretty sounding words. You just fuckin’ get to the point already. And that, maybe, if your poem has to be studied and deciphered by a class full of college students and some professor that you’ve failed as a poet.
Chaplin himself said “I don’t have much patience with a thing of beauty that must be explained to be understood,” and I never really understood that until I read Bukowski. Like, if you have something to say just come out and fuckin’ say it already. Stop trying to sound pretty and eloquent and intelligent and like you’re smarter than me and just say what you mean because that’s how you really connect with people. Once I realized that poetry could be like that and not have to rhyme or sound like flowers, it was like this awakening I had. It was this, “No shit …” moment that I had. “I can do that? Okay …. Cool.”
I, personally, am extremely inspired by your choice of voice for the book. Is this voice normal for you and how did you discover this specific voice?
Actually, before I began writing under the pen name of Calvero, I wrote a children’s fiction novel. I wrote this book but no one wanted it. No agent, no publisher, no one, and I felt like, “Aw, man …. What a waste of a year of my life that was.” But then, as I began writing poetry under the name Calvero, I realized the voice I was using was the exact same kinda voice I used to write my children’s novel with. Just this time around what I talked about was a little more adult and with much more bathroom humor. It was almost like in South Park when you have these little kids addressing these really adult topics. That was what it felt like to me a lot of the time. Not that I’m nearly anywhere as smart or intelligent as that show.
What are some of your interests outside of poetry?
I’m obsessed with Green Day. I have three Green Day tattoos. I grew up on pop punk/punk/ska music and still listen to it to this day and most likely will even when I’m a wrinkly, ninety-year-old man. I love cats more than I love most people and I’m pretty big into video games and also have a weird fascination with the paranormal.
When you started realizing that you were actually a poet, that writing was to become a central focus of your life, what were some of your early goals with poetry? What were your hopes and aspirations for your writing?
I’m still kinda scared to call myself a poet because I feel like a poet is someone who has really mastered their craft and 99.9% of the time I don’t even feel close to that, but what I try, emphasis on try, to achieve with my poetry is what Monty Python was often able to do with their sketch comedy. I want my poems to feel wild and free and unpredictable and I want the reader to be like, “Seriously, where the fuck is he going with this?” as they read it. Then, out of nowhere, you arrive at this destination, and it’s this destination you never expected to arrive at either, and then as the reader you’re just kinda like, “Awwww, no way …. No shit …. I see what he did there. I didn’t see it coming but I see what he did there and I love it. Cool ….” I wanna take people on a journey. I’m really influenced by Flarf poetry but the problem with Flarf poetry was that it never took you anywhere. At least not me. Flarf was just these really random and cool-sounding and insightful and personal thoughts but they never added up to much. And I want my shit to add up to something.
You write a lot about masturbation. Are we to believe that there is no harem of women waiting to please the Almighty Calvero?
I wouldn’t call it a harem as much as I’d call it a gaggle. A gaggle of girls. The problem with having a gaggle of girls constantly chasing after you is that there are so many that want you and your body that when you choose one, or on really kinky days two or three, you break a lot of the other girls’ hearts in the gaggle. And I feel bad doing that. Ya know? I feel bad breaking girls’ hearts so sometimes it’s just easier to masturbate. When you masturbate you don’t break anyone’s heart. Except maybe your own.
Who are the current poets that are “doing it for you?”
To be honest, I don’t know too many current poets. A lot of writers I admire are dead. One “fan” messaged me online and said they thought I was like the love child between Bukowski and Sam Pink. I didn’t know who the shit Sam Pink was so I looked him up and now I own three of his books and totally take that comparison as a compliment. Talk about visceral and brutal. Sam Pink grants you this really intimate and voyeuristic look inside his fucked-up head, which is what I try to do, but yeah … I think he’s really unique and awesome and I totally understand the fuss over him. That and there’s a poet named Johnny No Bueno I really like. I have his book and I kinda hate him though too because in a perfect world his poems are what I want mine to feel/sound like, like a punch in the face that still makes you wanna weep like a little girl at the same time. Any poet who hits that hard and makes me almost cry I personally feel like has something really special going for them.
What can we expect from the Almighty Calvero in the future?
Right now I’m working on a novel. It’s, like, 90% done. At least the first draft is 90% done. So, yeah … There’s that and I’m also kinda working on this idea for a play I have. I’d love that. I’d love to be a playwright too, but fuck me, who knows? I guess we’ll see. That and I have a book of love poems coming out and published by University of Hell Press towards the end of the year.
What would you say to aspiring writers? What tips of the trade would you share for the burgeoning typers and scribblers out there?
Honestly, at the risk of sounding really mature and responsible, don’t go to school to learn how to write. Seriously. Just read. Read and write. Read lots and lots of books. Get inspired by the books you love. Steal from the books that you consider are the greatest books ever written and use those books as the foundation of your writing and then just build and infuse yourself and your own personality into it from there. I feel like writing isn’t something that can be taught. It just has to be brought outta you. It’s like a pro baseball player who can hit a baseball over 400 feet. Sure you had a little help and coaching getting yourself to do that but it’s something you were naturally good at to begin with, something you were born to do. Just read, man. Let books themselves teach you. Read and read and read and write and write and write and don’t be afraid when something you write sucks ass. It’s a good thing when you can look at something you’ve written and be like, “Man, this just totally blows.” It means you don’t sniff your own farts. It means you have standards. And if you don’t sniff your own farts and if you do have standards you’re already ahead of most writers I know.