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American Poets Interview Series
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Tour Log: May 24th, 1998

Interview with Troy Teegarden
by Jordan Green Troy, Ron and Jordan

L to R: Troy, Ron and Jordan

Troy Teegarden does the "Society of Underground Poets" radio hour on 89.9 FM, WRVG which is broadcast from Georgetown College. WRVG has generated "World Radio" programming, which will be syndicated around the nation next month as an alternative to NPR and PRI on public radio. Troy is the author of Reflections On the Elkhorn. He is married to Kate Teegarden. Troy and Kate run Sweet Lady Moon Press. Twice a year they host the Society Of Underground Poets Festival in Lexington. They have a 15 month old daughter, Adrian.

Troy Teegarden can be contacted through Sweet Lady Moon Press, PO Box 1076, Georgetown, KY 40324 or by e-mail:

Featured Poetry by Troy Teegarden

Troy Teegarden: We've still got a group of people that get together and do poetry once a month. That's where the Society Of Underground Poets came from. We started it as a little offshoot of the College. It's a pretty nice little group of people; it's alternative and stuff. The feeling over there (at Georgetown College) is Southern Baptist, you know ... and "what are you doing with long hair and ear rings?" It's still pretty rough over there, yeah! I was surprised that they gave me a job. Because I was editor of the newspaper for a year and I got into some serious problems. (Ron Whitehead cackles). I would have phone calls from the President. The President got a call from his mother down in North Carolina: "What is this guy doing with this newspaper?" When his mother calls him, you know something's going down. I got in some trouble, but I didn't quit (laughs appreciatively). I wasn't gonna stop. But then when it came up for me to get a job, I was like 'I'm dead'. I went in and talked to the President and he gave me a good rundown, you know, and I got it. Damn!

Ron: That's amazing.

Troy: I walked out in shock.

Jordan Green: Okay, I just read your book, Reflections On the Elkhorn, and it's great, I love it.

Troy: Had a good time writing it. Thanks.

Jordan: Yeah, I bet. It sounds like you had a good time taking notes for it too. There seems to be some vital mental notes on the state of your home of Georgetown from this summer job that you did.

Troy: I actually did it over two summers.

Jordan: Okay, so it's kind of condensed. What did those interactions with people on that job tell you about the reality of people's lives here?

Troy: Well, it shows me that there's something interesting in almost every person you meet no matter where you are. I wrote the book -- well, 75 percent of it -- in one afternoon, just sitting there. Because you get really bored. I rented canoes on the Elkhorn Creek for about six months total, three months each summer. And you get really bored. Because we were open seven days a week, in the morning 'til 'bout seven o'clock at night. You're really happy when somebody actually comes down there so I tended to notice more about the person than I normally would have, just bumping into somebody on the street. But yeah, it's definitely got a Kentucky flavor I think, a small town kind of flavor to all the characters. I developed a really keen eye because you're down there by yourself so much.

Jordan: I would kind of disagree that it was a boring summer job. You were maybe unoccupied, but your mind was keen to things.

Troy: (bursts out laughing) My mind was tuned in, but that's about 30 minutes of the day. The other seven hours of the day I was just kind of sitting there rotting. I read a lot of Bukowski that summer too. Which didn't help.

Jordan: Yeah, I think I see a little bit of that influence in it. So what's the Society of Underground Poets all about?

Troy: It's a group that I started with a couple of other people in Georgetown in 1995. I had been in college since 1993 and got there and found the poetry scene and the English department a little ... uh, I don't know how to put this nicely ... conservative? Hung on classics and stuff like that, which is what I had absolutely no interest in. Just as kind of a reference and knowing what was going on in the classics, that's all I cared about. I didn't really want to study it. And I ran into some other people of like minds and we decided to start having our own meetings. The other people involved were Mike Francis, who wrote a really good book called Why I Hate Washing Dirty Clothes. It's still out there somewhere. And David Devore who's a drummer. There's a couple of other people. We started experimenting with poetry and having these late night meetings, getting together, you know, and shooting the shit. It was fun. We'd do some all-nighters. We'd start at ten o'clock and quit about six in the morning, drink lots of coffee, and just be generally strung out.

Jordan: Are you a Literature major?

Troy: Yeah, I was an English and Communications Arts major.

Jordan: You seem to be a really key person in Georgetown as far as bringing people together to do poetry and motivating people and just nurturing a sense of writers' community. What kind of satisfaction and gratification is in that for you?

Troy: Ha ha ha! Well, it's mostly a pain in the ass. The good thing is you meet a lot of interesting people and you get to hear some good poetry and written word. We put together a poetry festival twice a year and it's so hard to get all these people in the same place at the same time. But once you get 'em there, the rewards are unbelievable. After it's over you just kind of sit around and glow for a couple of days. But it's rough getting it together. I don't really know why I keep doing it. I think the thing is that I really want all the writers in Kentucky to know each other. That's one of my goals. I wish that everyone at least knew of everyone else and knew enough of their work to know either if they liked it or they didn't. And there's nothing like that going on right now.

Jordan: Yeah, yeah, sounds good. There's a lot going on just in the thirty mile radius of my home.

Troy: Yeah, right and I didn't even know you. I met you through Nick (Valle). I talked to you on the phone and didn't know who you were until this past -- what was it November? And it's the same thing with Ron. Three or four people mentioned Ron to me and I was like 'who the hell is Ron Whitehead?' Finally I meet him and I like his writing, and you know, why can't everybody just get together? Once. Let's exchange addresses or something.

Jordan: What do you think can be some of the benefits of young writers or just writers period reading each other's work and comparing notes?

Troy: I think the number one thing is you learn: you learn what other people are writing about. You learn more about what you're writing about when you listen to other people tell you what they think about what you wrote. I think you just get a broader view of what's happenin', what's going on in contemporary poetry and written word. Right now in the mainstream press I don't know what in the hell's going on in modern poetry.

Jordan: Yeah, I don't either.

Troy: I don't think anything is. I don't know, I just really don't know. So you at least know the people who are around you so you have some kind of context to keep yourself in. But you don't want to just stay in Kentucky. I encourage everybody to get really involved in a small press and check out the magazines and stuff that are out there. It's not that hard to do. You can find people you like or just (search) by topics or whatever you want to get into. But I would really like to have a solid base in Kentucky. I think it would be beneficial to everybody.

Jordan: Yeah, I don't think there's that many nationally-known and acclaimed poets. It seems like all around the country it's pretty localized.

Troy: Yeah, everybody's got their own little scene. The funny thing is when I'm doing these interviews for this new radio show I've got started, when I mention that I'm from Kentucky the first thing I get is a laugh. And the second thing I get is "Oh yeah, Wendell Berry". Wendell Berry's stuff is great and everything, but that shouldn't be the only perspective the outside world has of Kentucky. Wendell Berry and Bobbie Ann Mason are about the only two that anyone in New York knows of. Not that any of the rest of us deserve the kind of credit that they get, but still it would be nice for at least everyone around here to know everyone else.

Jordan: Toyota is the main employer in Georgetown. What kind of effect do you think that has on this community?

Troy: Well, I've seen first hand some of those effects because I worked at a coffee shop here in town for about two years. A coffee shop is a place where people can sit down, relax and they'll talk to you about just about anything, usually more than you want to hear. But one of the main complaints here in Georgetown is between the people who lived here before Toyota got here and the people who have moved in since then. And the people locally aren't very happy about it. They don't like that the small town atmosphere has been intruded upon is how they feel about it. People from outside of the country even are buying up horse farms and people aren't very happy about it. But I'm not originally from here. I'm still kind of an outsider looking in. I've only been here about four years. But you know, money-wise, economically (Toyota locating in Georgetown ten years ago has) really boosted this place. People have more money on their hands. I don't think they know what to do with it. I personally hate watching farms turn into suburban nightmares, which is what is going on here. I can't stand it. Every time I drive down the road, there's some new housing development going up. Not that they're rundown housing developments; they're middle class type places. Really, I'd much rather look at a field full of horses than a bunch of houses in a row and everybody's got their barbecue fired up.

A lot of things have changed around here, at least according to the locals. Ha ha!

Jordan: So you grew up in Brooksville, Kentucky?

Troy: Yeah, Brooksville.

Jordan: Which is where?

Troy: It's in Bracken County. Northern Kentucky right on the Ohio River. The town's population is 650. We don't even have a stop light.

Jordan: Oh, really?

Troy: Yeah, no fast food, no nothin', man. It's a small town. The real thing!

Jordan: So Georgetown College brought you here.

Troy: Yeah, I don't know how I ended up here. I was supposed to be making some kind of college decision. And I thought right at the end of my senior year that what I really wanted to do was be an auto mechanic, but I decided I oughtta at least try to do something else first.

I went into vocational school to be an auto mechanic. Decided, well, maybe I'll try college. I just came to Georgetown, decided the city was beautiful, the campus was beautiful. Green grass, trees, squirrels, you know, really laid back kind of thing. Or so I thought. That's how I got here.

Jordan: So what made you change your mind about being an auto mechanic.

Troy: I don't know. I sometimes wish I'd just been an auto mechanic (laughs). Not demeaning that; I think there's great value in people who know how to work with their hands and know how machines work. But I don't know what happened really. I think I was encouraged by my parents to do something else, encouraged by society in general to get a college degree, and do something that's a little more beneficial, not just to the people in your region, but to people all around. Every once in awhile I'll just go out and work on my Volkswagen bus and wish that's all I had to worry about.

Jordan: Turtles are a recurring theme in Reflections On the Elkhorn. So what makes you so fascinated with turtles?

Troy: My original interest in turtles was just when I was a little kid. I'd walk around behind my house. I don't even know what those turtles were called -- box turtles that are just randomly wandering around the woods, you know. I'd always pick 'em up, bring 'em home and just kind of watch 'em for awhile, and take them back. I had a bad experience -- every kid probably has had the same experience -- have an animal die on 'em, so ... I kept that shell, but then I'd look at the turtles and take 'em back.

The literary interest started with Gary Snyder's Turtle Island. It won the Pulitzer in '75 or something, I think. He uses the Native American myth of where the United States is on the back of a turtle shell, where the United States is Turtle Island. I'm not into Native American Studies or anything; I wish I was. So that's where I kind of got that from. I got that from reading (Turtle Island) that summer and there were a lot of turtles that hung out on the log in the creek. They had their own little thing going, so I thought I'd tap into that.

Jordan: You have that poem called "Jackasses" about the turtle who resists and refuses to jump out of the way of the boat.

Troy: (bursts out laughing) I was really surprised. I thought that turtle was gonna be dead. You can take a lot out of that little piece about that turtle staying there. I don't really want to say anything about what it's about. You can read it and get what you will out of it. I don't want to explain it. I'd rather everybody just read it and take their own from it.

(We talk about putting "Jackasses" up on the web site and I mention that I didn't think I had anything to say when Troy interviewed me for his show on WRVG, how I was surprised that the possibility of being broadcast made me so talkative.)

Troy: I'm hoping to change that with this radio station. You know, Ron's fairly well known, but some of these people that aren't hardly known -- you know, they've got an audience of maybe 250 people and they've still got something interesting to say. I'm hoping with this radio station that horizons are going to be broadened.

Jordan: What are local writers saying about life at the end of the millennium in this semi-industrialized, backwater state of Kentucky?

Troy: The millennium fever kind of cracks me up. It's all just because we follow a certain calendar. It's a complete bunch of shit. I don't even notice. Some of my writer friends are buying those books like A Guide to the Millennium. Like, "Look in the Book of Revelations; all these symbols are in here."

And I'm just like, "Well, you know, whatever." But a general feeling. That's a good question. A lot of people are into a what's-happening-right-at-this-minute kind of writing. Like general daily activities and what you can draw from that. I don't see any kind of paranoia or true fever in the writing, but when I'm speaking to them, they're always bringing this up as a kind of topic. I've been reading ...

Jordan: I meant "end of the millennium" as a time reference, not necessarily as a turning point, just to say right now.

Troy: Well, like I was complaining about before, one of the things I see Kentucky writers writing about is the loss of farmland. The kind of things that are going on right now is everything is becoming industrialized, computer technology is kind of wiping out hand letters and people actually going over to each other's houses to speak to each other. I think one of the great things about Southern culture is everybody used to set out on each other's porches and just kind of drop by and sit and talk to each other. There's not a whole lot of that happening anymore. People are sending e-mail. You throw the e-mail away and then there's no record of any of that that ever happened. And I think that's one of the big problems that we've got right now.

Jordan: So do you think there are real solutions to counter that.

Troy: Well, I think the small press is one of the solutions because the big thing in the small press is about getting things down on paper, to have something tangible in your hands to hold and read. Technology has really boosted the small press because normally people couldn't put out these nice looking little publications without computers, but even with computers they're still putting books out on paper, as compared to like an e-zine or something like that, where people can have it in their hands and keep it. And I think that's a very valuable thing. There are those people who would never want to read a book over the internet. I want to have the book in my hand. I want to sit there in low light and read the book, you know. That's my kind of thing.

Jordan: What do you make of the sudden explosion of poetry readings and open mics with the supposed loss of oral culture?

Troy: That's a good question. I don't really know why poetry's back in now. All of a sudden it's really hip again and I think it's connected to a resurgence in interest in the Beat Generation. I think that's really got things going. I think their poetry and written word is so accessible to almost anybody. Jack Kerouac said basically. "Everybody can do this, you know; it's not just me." You can write whatever you want. You can write about your daily activities. Bukowski always wrote about his hemorrhoids. You can write about whatever you want! I think it's kind of a poetry back to the people thing. I don't know how many people take it seriously, but there are a lot of people out there writing. So I think that's kind of got things back into the hip movement. It used to be kind of scary to be a poet, but now when you say you're a poet, at least people our age say, "Oh, that's kind of cool." People say, "Well I've written this" or "I write songs" or play the mandolin or something. Everybody's kind of into the arts now, at least our generation.

Jordan: Huh. That's really good to hear.

Troy: I think so.

Jordan: Okay, why do you have a need to write poems and publish other people's work?

Troy: Well I write poems because I like to keep things on paper. My memory is horrible. I can't remember things. I was talking to my mother yesterday, talking about we had gone to Canada when I was a kid. And I can't remember anything about being in Canada except that we were on a boat -- we rode a boat from Maine to Nova Scotia -- and the only thing I can remember was being in the slots. My grandmother had fallen asleep or something and she'd given me a dime and I went in and started playing the slots. That's all I remember about the whole trip! That's horrible, man! So that's why I started keeping journals. And I went to college and people said, "Well, you can develop that into something." It's kind of as a memory to things I've done. I hope that it has a broader meaning to other people. That's when I let other people see it or give readings.

And as for getting out other people's poetry, I love doing that. I love putting out Stovepipe, which is the journal that I do. I love getting submissions in the mail. I really like reading other people's stuff. I hate rejecting people's stuff. I am really, really stringent about what I like and what I don't. When you do a small magazine like this you can get away with that.

Half my days are determined by the kind of mail I get. If you don't get anything in the mail, all of a sudden it's a horrible day.

Jordan: What sources inspired your writing?

Troy: I wrote lots of poems when I was a little kid, really just goofy things, like to my mom on Mother's Day. But in high school there was this girl and I started writing her these cheesy love poems. I got to college and of course I moved on from that. And started reading the Beats. I got a lot of encouragement from some of the college professors. I got around the people I was mentioning before, the Society of Underground Poets, and it just kind of went from there. I read a lot of William Carlos Williams. I like his style. I really like Kerouac's Scattered Poems; I think that's pretty good. Even though he's not thought of as a poet and I think a lot of his poetry is really bad, I like that book.

So then you get a broader perspective and all those college classes take contemporary literature even though I didn't like a lot of that you still get a feel for what's going on. You find that one person that you really like and you go read all their books. So that's kind of how I got started.

Jordan: Tell me about World Radio.

Troy: I was station manager at the (Georgetown College) radio station and we were just 140 watts. And Bill Gillespie is our general manager and he is head of the Communications department, which I was a major in. He just kind of found out that we had this big hole in our frequency, so we upgraded the local station to 50,000 watts and then he had this vision of starting World Radio, which is the national network, which will be right up there with NPR and PRI (premiering June 1). So I decided through all the poetry people that I knew and the Society of Underground Poets meetings that maybe I could convert something into radio. We're attempting to do the Society of Underground Poets radio hour. It's gonna be a one hour weekly show, hopefully syndicated and sent nationally. We'll see how that goes here in the next couple weeks.

Jordan: Great, so what poets do you have lined up?

Troy: I'm gonna try to get some local flavor in there every time even though it's a national program. Lately, I did Michael Crosley and Joseph Bialek who are barroom performers, the Church of Carnal Knowledge (aired May 24). And they're really good performers, so they were in the studio. Of course, I interviewed you and Ron Whitehead (airing May 31). On the national scale, I interviewed Andrew Carrol, who during poetry month, he went around and handed out 100,000 free poetry books. He went around in a Ryder truck. I think his thing is called the American Literature and Literacy Project. He founded that with Joseph Brodsky, the Russian poet who won the Nobel Prize.

Talking with Robert Pinsky who is the current poet laureate. He has the Favorite Poem Project going on right now; we're trying to get in on that a little bit. It's where they go around and record just regular people reading their favorite poems.

So we're working on that. We're also talking to Robert Hass who was the poet laureate before Pinsky. He writes a regular column for the Washington Post on the weekends. He picks a poem that he likes and talks about why he likes it.

Talking to Bob Holman at Mouth Almighty Records. I just talked to him last week. He's really excited about the project. He's sending me some stuff. I think the interest is out there. There's nothing like what we're trying to do out there right now, so I think it'll fly. I think if you are even remotely interested in poetry at all, you will get something out of this program. And it's not even just a program about poetry. We've got spoken word performers, fiction writers, people who put out zines, people who do just do-it-yourself kind of projects, just interesting people, so it's not completely focused on poetry.

Jordan: There's not a lot of poetry programming on the radio, but it seems like the perfect medium for it.

Troy: Yeah, I think it'll work. And I think especially this new thing that's going on with poetry and music -- it's not new, but it's back -- I think that is really, really a radio kind of thing -- somebody reading poetry over music -- because if you tune in the radio to listen to music and somebody's singing, so why can't somebody be talking? You know, it's just kind of a little bit different.

Jordan: So what do see as being unique about this station and its programming?

Troy: The station is definitely unique because it's a blues-based kind of thing, which there's supposedly an audience out there for, but nobody seems to be picking up the blues programs. People who come up with the regional blues ideas can't really get anywhere. We're wide open to that kind of stuff.

Jordan: And then there's some bluegrass.

Troy: Oh yeah, I think Americana is what the label is called. It's a mix of bluegrass, folk, acoustic, you know, people who write the songs and sing them themselves, that's one of our big things. It's a wide open thing. You can get just about anything on this radio station. Every once awhile you'll hear Willie Nelson, then you've got Lyle Lovett, Alison Krauss. You've got Howlin' Wolf. It bounces around. Hendrix. The Allman Brothers. It's a true mix.

We have 150 affiliates right now picking up at least one program. You have to think these people have been supplied by NPR and PRI and now here's this third party they've never heard of. They're in central Kentucky. You know, it's a kind of questionable thing. I think once they hear us, they'll change over and pick up at least some of our programming. There's nothing as original as what we're doing -- that I know of. Don't let me piss everybody off. If you've got some original programming, contact us. We like it.

Jordan: Do you think the music that's on World Radio appeals to a specifically rural, working class audience?

Troy: No, not specifically because I think -- well, I'm gone get hung up here but -- I think your typical public radio audience isn't exactly working class. I think they're more middle class, but I think our programming doesn't have that intellectual feel like NPR does. Like you hear them speaking and they either sound like they're not interested in what they're talking about or they're kind of talking down to you sometimes. It's not all like that, but sometimes it is. And I think a lot of people are turned off by that. So I think we're gonna be more everybody-friendly. Accessible to the people, just like we're trying to do with these poetry projects. Bring poetry back to the people. I think the radio station is doing the same thing, getting it back to where you're interested in listening. You think the person speaking is interesting and you want to listen to 'em.

Jordan: They actually have a personality.

Troy: Yeah, they're not just reading a script.

Jordan: Okay, anything else you want to add?

Troy: No, I'm alright.

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