MASS TEXT: AN INTERVIEW WITH ERIK ADRIAN SANTIAGO

Erik Adrian Santiago’s poetry book Please Stop the Rain, out via Toronto-based PERMANENT SLEEP PRESS, is a touching (and gripping) look at life through the lens of an artist who’s been through various highs and lows, an artist who’s truly indulged in (and been tremendously affected by) the human experience. Through his writing, Santiago shows both the tenderness of love and the harsh reality of sheer existence, the warmth of memory and the pain of remembrance. After reading his work, I was motivated to contact him for an interview, in order to learn more about the writer and artist who crafted such a compelling work.

MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA. JEAN SEABERG’S CHILDHOOD HOME 2014

MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA. JEAN SEABERG’S CHILDHOOD HOME 2014

How did you get into writing poetry?

Writing is something I have always tinkered with in some framework, but never took seriously or committed to, which is a through line of my life, like many, never thinking I had anything to say worth documenting. Discovering Raymond Carver was a major shift in thinking for me: realizing that my interests were in what wasn’t said. Poetry was made relatable and attainable for the first time in high school when I got the Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.

Where are you from? You mention Massachusetts (Plymouth/Cape Cod/Boston) in your work. What memories or significance do those areas have for you? Do you ever miss New England? Why?

I grew up in Kingston and Plymouth, MA, and then moved to Boston at 18. I consider myself a New Englander in some sense of cultural identity. I think being from Mass. is very specific. To me, MA/New England represents many aspects of Nostalgic America, that thing that Norman Rockwell captured perfectly. But what has always pulled me into his paintings is that he captured the happy moments of something broken. There is a reason many notable comedians are all from MA/New England and it’s not the comedy scene. Someone has to try and make light of all the grey. Growing up there couldn’t be matched.

Who/what are your major influences, both literary and non-literary?

I find myself constantly taking in media and information. And sometimes (to a fault) I find it hard to recognize the things I like vs. the things I really loved. I find that there have been many moments in my life where a film or book has made a shift, and at times those pieces are of great substance, and other times, it was really just the right place and the right time. For instance, reading Iron John by Robert Bly in my mid-late 20’s was a game changer which sent me into a spiral of re-reading a lot of classic stories we have all grown up on. Furthermore, a deep spiral into a lot of KABIR and other poets that really have nothing to do with one another (other than my discovery of many of them in a particular time frame), which was the first year I moved to Los Angeles, and my life had very little direction. Focusing that chaotic energy became a crutch. I also spend a great deal of my time listening to debates and other confrontational entertainment by the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris, both of whom I find to be just wonderful and influential on my person in a lot of ways that are immeasurable.

Theatre: read plays, read the classics and the contemporary classics. I love Stephen Adly Guirgis; Jesus Hopped the A Train blew me away. His way of showing the fall of a person’s life in slow motion; I love that. Edmund’s monologue in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Read that. That inspires me to get away more.

Really all of these things are what get my mind running, and once running, that is when ideas or poems or the like strike me. This is also how I spend a considerable amount of my time in my studio making leather goods: listening to people debate the fun stuff like religion and politics.

The simpler answer is: “I am obsessed with everything that is Coming of Age.”

You mention family (parents and children, specifically) relationships in Please Stop the Rain quite frequently. Why choose to include such examples of human connections? In what ways does this choice reflect your own life and experiences?

How can one make anything without commenting or reflecting on human connections? Most of our time in life is spent on making, maintaining, manipulating, destroying, reflecting and lamenting the human connections we experience in this fantastic time we trudge through.

I see “Selected Works” in the first few pages of Please Stop the Rain. Were these works included in any other literary publications beforehand (zines, journals, other collections, etc.)?

No, this is my first publication. I started really writing things down in the mid 2000’s (2005/2006) after a lot of prodding from a handful of friends that I should write a book. I was originally going to write a self help book called Life Advice From a High-School Dropout, whichI thought was really funny and never came to be (as one would expect from a dropout). I then just started writing things down and keeping all kinds of scraps of paper, notes on my phone or computer. When I finally decided I should actually put out a book, I had so much stuff that had to be weeded through. A lot of it was shit. From that point to the release of PSTR was a few years and a fair amount of speed bumps. So we will see what is coming as things start to really unfold. I am working on a second book currently and have a few other writing projects I am procrastinating on. But I would like to maintain some kind of steady movement forward.

Why do you write? Why choose poetry/writing as a form of expression?

I don’t feel like I am a poet in the traditional sense/fit the archetype, per se. I do feel that this is how my brain works. It’s how I have grown to deal with living life, and this allows me to share that. I am a sensitive person that takes most of the happenings in my sphere personally, so having an outlet is really important to me; I am lucky enough to have a few outlets. I am an actor and a maker. Each of these acts really allows me to get the noise out of my head in different ways. I don’t see them as separate, but different aspects of the same machine. I need all of them in different ways. The poetry and writing is just the mouthpiece of all my work.

How did you first get involved with Permanent Sleep Press?

On the long road to getting this book published, friend and editor Max G Morton and I spoke with Matt Finner (Owner of PSP) about getting help with the design and who could help with pressing the book. This eventually led to PSP being the home for PSTR, which I am beyond happy with. Matt teamed up with DEATHWISH INC. for distribution, which is owned by some old friends from Boston. This was just the icing on the cake for me; to have my book associated with both PSP & DW was and is an honor. All of this came from Max’s recommendation to go with PSP.

Do you consider yourself an artist? Why or why not?

Yes, because my pursuit in life is to make art. Really the question is: “Is the pursuit of making art enough to make you an artist?” I don’t know, yet.

What do you see as the purpose of art (literary or otherwise)?

To induce a response in the viewer that is an inexplicable feeling of universality. For me, art above all makes me feel like I am not alone.

What does the word “art” mean to you?

Admission of something I understand or am trying to understand.

How has the city of L.A. influenced you in comparison with Boston? How would you compare life/lifestyles in both cities?

LA has allowed me to become focused on what it is I want to be pursuing in my life. LA in my perception is a very misanthropic city. I do not have to interact with anyone I don’t choose to interact with. You can easily trim the fat, buckle down and focus on work. Boston/New England is where I learned what hard work is and how to do it. The person I was when I moved from Plymouth to Boston in 2000 is not the same person I am 17 years later in LA, thankfully. I have grown and discovered a lot in my travels and life experience. I don’t think that person could live in LA and I don’t think the person I am today could go back to Boston right now. That does not mean in any way that I do not deeply love and appreciate Boston and will always hold it in a higher regard than almost anywhere.

What do you see as the pros/cons of having lived in/spent time in so many different places?

I only see pros. I don’t see any benefit in never leaving where you are from. For me, the purpose is to leave. You can always go back, but leave, please leave. Go meet someone else, see stuff. The universal lottery of where you were born no longer has to rule your life. The people you know and love are not bound by the chance of proximity. I think leaving and travel is key. It will only enhance your life. Even in the moments when everything has gone pear shaped. In hindsight, I am enriched as a person for having those times.

The friendships I have made in my travels and the experiences I have had would not have been possible without leaving. The time I have spent in places like Florida and Atlanta have bound me to people and experiences, which I would not be who I am without. Coming home from travel is always a learning experience in itself; you will learn so much from what has and has not happened since you left.

How would you describe your involvement in the music scene?

I have just been going to shows in New England and the tri-state area since the mid 90’s. That progressed to going on tour with my friends’ bands and traveling around the country and world with my best pals. Years later, turned out I learned some stuff along the way. Now I work as a stage manager, production manager and occasionally tour manager. I don’t think I need to give you a résumé, but some of my best times were touring with Righteous Jams and Black My Heart.

As for the second book you’re working on, what can we expect from it?

I don’t know if you can expect anything yet, haha. I write a lot and don’t read it ‘til much later.

A lot of it won’t make it and I don’t even know what I have until I am ready to sit down with my editor, Max G Morton, and he travels quite a bit, and I work and travel quite a bit too.  But, that being said, it’ll probably be about relationships and the mother fucker-y of life.

How has punk/hardcore influenced your work (writing and otherwise)?

Punk and hardcore are my culture, or the culture I chose, opposed to the culture that I was randomly born into, so how that has influenced my life and work is immeasurable in many ways. I can’t imagine my life without subculture at this point. That introduction and choice was made at a very young age in my case. I grew up in the Boston Hardcore scene in its second coming. Going to shows was literally all I did other than sports (skateboarding/wrestling). I traveled to do all three of these things. Driving to Upstate NY, NYC, New Jersey, CT… really the entire region just to skate and go to shows. I think that knowing there is more out there in the world than the malarkey you are getting bombarded by in school and at home is incredible. Sitting in class on a Monday morning sore and exhausted, daydreaming about the weekend you had in some other town in some other state, stage diving, fist fighting, and screaming down the Mass Pike while everyone else is just hungover from getting drunk in the woods: that is everything. Knowing you left and had an adventure. Knowing that you can leave and nothing changes.

I don’t know… Question, analyze everything you are given in life, throw away all the parts that don’t hold up to scrutiny. I think that is what I learned from the culture of punk and hardcore, and that influences almost everything I do. That is probably the only other advice I would give other than leave where you are from, which, a few paragraphs later, I still stand by whole-heartedly.