The Internet. For all of its (as of late) perceived inherent darkness, it is still a beacon for those who, at their heart, hope to do some good in an ever shrinking world. When drawn into this exponentially growing ganglia of human driven neurotransmitters, it allows us to create, connect, collaborate, share and offer support to artists living beyond our local circles. I've been lucky to have "met" scores of writers and artists from the microfiber'd comfort of my recliner, spending many an evening immersed in their work, viewing their creations and following their travels. One such person is Shane Manier, a painter, poet and social activist out of North Carolina. Her recently released book Fallen Heroes of the Awful Waffle (Main St. Rag) explores the lives of people she has encountered in Waffle Houses while traveling between North Carolina and Georgia.
Each one of the poems reads like a short story. Manier is able to show the humanity in the subjects of the poem, shedding light on their frailties and strengths and giving a unique view of all too familiar struggles. She is able to draw from the wide spectrum of behaviors people put on public display and create a tapestry of language that sets the scene, sometimes strikingly so.
Take the opening stanzas of her poem “When Waffles Collide”:
I didn't know they were real.
Rich hipsters who thought being poor was cool,
Until I saw it for my own eyes.
There's a booth of four of them, so sheltered
you can still see the shine of their crowned heads,
where their parents kissed them to bed.
Manier perfectly captures the opposite of these affluent kids looking for the grittier side of things by writing about those that live it, as in her poem “Holy Whores”:
The same alleyway
I see a hooker wash
her mouth out with soda
after business brought her
another plate to warm
the leftovers of her conviction.
In “Tall Black Coffee” she tells of a taxi driver burning time and resources trying to save a nephew from the same fate his own mother found.
It was his momma, who liked the pipe too much
to let her son go on to college.
Now his nephew is following the family tradition,
and he's been adding up his milage
trying to find him and pull him off the streets.
There is plenty to like about this book, and Manier was kind enough to correspond with me so that more can discover her work and all she does.
Fred Whitehead - Have you always lived in North Carolina?
Shane Manier - Not always. I actually grew up traveling on the road.
My father built glass factories and when we weren't at a job site, we were at our farm in Chuckey, TN.
My mom's parents were living in Kannapolis, North Carolina, so when it came time for mom to take care of them, we moved to NC.
F.W. - Where is Kannapolis?
S.M. - Kannapolis is right next to Concord. It's a small town, but I like it.
F.W. - How is the poetry scene there?
S.M. - Well...there's not much of one. Hahaa. Our group got contacted a few months ago requesting we start an open mic for youth in the area, so of course we did, even though we really didn't want to take on a third open mic. We've done a few so far and they have been beautiful. We get a really diverse crowd, some poets, some rappers, some folk singers, we even had a cool magician. And the people are diverse, too; (tends to also happen with our other open mics) different ages, backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. One thing I have noticed in Kannapolis is people are so loving and giving. We have been accepting donations for local shelters and people have brought stuff each time! There are a few musician open mics in the area that have come and gone as well that sometimes poets can go to, but it's hard to get the crowd listening at the venues when they are eating, conversing, etc.
F.W. - We are lucky here in Buffalo in that we have a few really cool independent bookstores that support local poetry. Are there many in your area?
S.M. - There was one called Book Buyers but it closed down. There is a new one opening up however called Editions.
F.W. - When did you start writing poetry?
S.M. - I started at a very, very young age, as soon as I could write. I think I was seeing so many fantastic things both on the road and off, just what that life was like, and since I grew up around mostly construction workers and bikers, I didn't have many other kids to talk to, I was trying to express so many things I saw and felt. My father was very encouraging too, just in his ability to see the world around him and he encouraged me to write.
F.W. - When did you start performing?
S.M. - I started doing poetry out loud and as an art form about 13 years ago, but didn't really understand its power till about 2012, which was 5 years ago.
F.W. - You post a "poetry doodle" nearly every day. Are they drawn from experiences you may have had that day?
S.M. - They are! Some are reflections too. Memories that have stirred up that day from something.
F. W. - Would you consider your poetry doodles as a form of journaling?
S.M. – I suppose so. I think baring witness and channeling it into a type of language of communication can be considered journalism. I feel a lot of poetry is just that. A purer language that goes beyond a historian at times.
F.W. - What are some of your writing habits?
S.M. - I like to try to write everyday and also express myself through art. I feel like art is one of the closest forms of pure language we have. Sometimes our language hurts us, but metaphor has a way of connecting us all on a human level. I think that if you can pull art from anything around you, you can be unstoppable. That's the key, to use the senses. If I were to offer any advice on art in any form it would be practice "seeing," "hearing" and "feeling", use those senses.
F.W. - So true, great advice. You just published a book. Is this your first?
S .M. - It is my first, though I have been published before. I wanted to do my first few books proper. Like go through an editor and submit to be published by a real publisher instead of self-publishing. Most of my poetry isn't edited a lot, so this was the first time I actually sat down and really worked and worked on the poems that went into the book.
F.W. - Any plans for a book tour?
S.M. - Indeed I do! I have a few places booked already. My plan is to start in Kannapolis and spiral my way out as far as I am able.
F.W. - Do you read at many places outside of your area?
S.M. - I do. I tend to be visible a lot in Charlotte, but sometimes I even hit up Salisbury and surrounding areas.
F.W. – We have to get you to come north one of these days. What are your thoughts on the effect social media has had in giving poets a larger audience?
S.M. - I think it's wonderful for inspiration and for connectivity with others to touch and inspire them through our poetry. The only problem is a lot of poets feel they don't want to share which I understand if you are trying to get something published, you shouldn't because some publishers won't take poems that have been posted. They see it as a form of "self-publishing." I think things like writing exercises though, and just communicating through poetry, or maybe even previously published poems posted is a great thing.
F. W. - Do you submit to many journals?
S.M. - Not as often as I would like. I kind of stopped submitting, but plan on starting back soon.
F.W. - When did you start the Guerrilla Poets?
S.M. - I started the group in 2012 after a reading at The Witches Brew (a small cafe coffee shop that was in Lincolnton, NC). I was reading a poem called "Sitting with Death Beside the Fence with a Pack of Cigarettes." An older man had come up to me, crying, threw his arms around me and said he didn't know there was an open mic that night, he had just come in to get some food to go and that he had planned on going home and committing suicide, but after hearing that, said he wasn't going to and that moment right there I found out how powerful poetry could be for other people. There was nothing else I wanted to do but help others through the arts.
F.W. - What is Guerilla Poets?
S.M. - Guerilla Poets is an activist/outreach art collective whose main goal is to touch others lives through the arts. Our mission is to empower, uplift and inform.
F.W. - Was it your idea?
S.M. - It was, though when we started, there was a hard core of 4 of us that ran it. The original members were myself, Foster Cameron Hunter, Morgan DePue and Solomon Sasscer.
F.W. - It is not just in the U.S., is it? Where are the other chapters located?
S.M. - There is one in the UK, and they are some fantastic poets with some big hearts, too. Some of the members that way are Deke Dobson, Jerry Snod a.k.a. Mole, Paul Read and Mike Orvis.
F.W. - Are they independent in what they try to accomplish, or is there some sort of central planning committee that decides on areas to work on?
S.M. - We do collaborative projects, meaning we do videos and tracks of collaboration poems and there is also a traveling poetry journal we pass between us and around to others until it is filled. We plan on publishing that as well. They do events mostly on their own, but we are revamping this year and assigning leaders to help it grow further.
F.W. - How has the public response been to the work Guerrilla Poets has been doing?
S. M. - Very supportive. We get a lot of love at most places, which I am thankful for, as their support helps in turn the people we reach.
F.W. - What is your involvement in social activism, meaning, what areas are you trying to bring awareness to?
S.M. - Our group tends to go where the need is, which sometimes can be overwhelming between causes and also organizations where funding gets cut (we try to fill in what they lack). We've done so many things, from flash mob for awareness and uplifting message of hope and strength, to art, clothes, hygiene and toy fundraisers for homeless. We do art, music and poetry workshops for low income neighborhoods, homeless, elderly and youth. We've done art shows on the destruction of human intelligence, to fundraising shows for our friend Yongo in Africa that does permaculture in small villages. We're also in the process of a continuing series called "Save the Humans," which is all about self-sustainability and helping others to be less dependent on corporations in America, to stop some of the effects of mass demand and damage done to our resources (as well as ourselves, both mentally and physically). Our long effort goal with “Save the Humans” is to turn some property I own into a permaculture and artist learning retreat and seasonal eco-village.
F.W. - You sometimes do speed paintings at the readings and events you attend. What got you going with these?
S.W. - I was at a venue for an open mic in Kannapolis called “Vino Hops” a few years ago, it used to be our hang out place before it closed down. I met a lot of wonderful people and musicians there. One night after I had been there a few times, I asked David Domingo (who was hosting the open mic at the time) if I could paint because I was getting so inspired from the music, and he said sure! It unfolded from there.
F.W. - Did you go to school for art?
S.M. - I went to college for Graphic Design and Art, and I also spent some time in Europe in high school through my art class with Ms. Hardin.
F.W. - Do you work in other mediums besides painting?
S.M. - I do some ink, pastels, oil pastels and colored pencil as well. I actually have been meaning to get back to some other mediums lately.
F.W. - Are there any other writers or artists in your family?
S.M. - My father encouraged me to write, and he wrote some short stories with me when I was very young. Other than that, my grandmother wrote gospel music and was also one of the people who wrote "May the Circle Be Unbroken." Her name was Hortence Manier.
F. W. - Where can people find your work?
S.M. - I have been published in various anthologies and online journals; I am googleable and have a website where my art, a blog, and my facebook can be found. It is: http://guerillapoets2012.wixsite.com/shanemanier/about
I also have my first chapbook available through Main Street Rag "The Fallen Heroes of the Awful Waffle" that is also googleable (I just like saying that word "googleable" hahaa). You can find it here: https://mainstreetragbookstore.com/?product=the-fallen-heroes-of-the-awful-waffle
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