Thursday, December 27, 2012

Interview with HobGob Press' Stroud

Following up on my reviews of Stroud's chapbooks, I was so intrigued with his work I interviewed him about it, and the press:

Me: What inspired you to start HobGob Press?

Stroud: HobGob Press was inspired by other small, local, independent presses as well as the research I had done on the origins of the chap-book, the pocket sized booklets from the 19th century. How interesting this disposable booklet included so many kinds of printed material such as pamphlets, political and religious tracts, nursery rhymes, poetry, folk tales, children's literature and almanacs. What range! Chapbooks can be anything – and that’s indicative of me and my artistic philosophy. The mission for my press specifically is to publish modern and experimental works of art, including Poetry, Music, Scores, Visual, Essays, Blogs, Photography, etc.

Me: Tell me about Soundpaths: what was the impetus for it? How long did it take to develop it?

Stroud: Soundpaths are an artistic form bridging between language arts and musical composition used as a tool for performance and education. Think of a Soundpath as a maze for your finger to follow – from a beginning point to an end point. Each Soundpath has several different designed lines and symbols – each one representing a different sound for you to make – a key is included.

The creation of Soundpaths were very forced and unnatural in their development, at first, in that they are a product of relentless thinking, squeezing for ideas, and experimentation of form. I came up with the concept while working on the assembly-line floor at a factory about a year ago. Everything was so grey there, so monotonous; each hour, each day, I gasped for stimulation. My boredom gave rise to me escaping the confines of my physical situation and freeing my mind to fly high above those factory walls.

I flew so high and scratched the clouds above so hard that eventually the concept of sound poetry landed down into my lap, right there where I was working. Tickled by the chance procedures and sound-work of poet Jackson Mac Low that same year, diagrams and charts of over one-hundred machine parts around me, my subconscious mind had, within enough time, pieced together the first Soundpath – Wab Notka – a maze that prompted you to speak words at specific times.

Eventually, the words inside a Soundpath became gibberish words (in order to free sounds from meaning), the paths became more elaborate, symbols were added, and the concept of sound itself becoming the focus of this poetic form took place. Later on, and through more research, I realized I was working in much the same ways as the Dadaists before me, specifically like Tristan Tzara. I was discouraged at first, thinking I was merely copying the principles of artists before my time, but quickly realized how Soundpaths were different, and that it was important to carry on this type of work, like a torch being passed down to me, I vouched to dig deeper into the idea of sound (enter John Cage).

Me: Have you performed/used Soundpaths for/with children? If so, what were their reactions?

Stroud: Indeed. I first introduced Soundpaths at the Hessler Street Fair in Cleveland, Ohio in the summer of 2012. A poet named Chandra and her daughter Ursula approached me, telling me of their love for my work. Chandra told me that my sound poems, Featherweight and Wab Notka, opened her daughters eyes to the wonder of poetry, of what it could be, and that I was single handedly responsible for, in only a matter of minutes, getting Ursula to “fall in love with poetry.” Well, this opened MY eyes to what Soundpaths could be, and who they could be for.

Since then, I have introduced Soundpaths to numerous children, including some at a latchkey program I had worked at – the responses have all been positive. All of the children (grades third through fifth) found them intriguing (they enjoyed being detectives decoding the paths and their keys), wildly fun (they enjoyed making loud noises), and above all humorous (they enjoyed making funny faces to produce sounds and making their friends laugh at their interpretation).

After a year of experimenting with Soundpaths and their many applications I found something deep within them. A friend of mine, a brilliant poet and educator, Michael Salinger, suggested I search for the educational aspects of these sound poems, to find what educational standards the phonetic aspects of my work meets. Low and behold, I found that Soundpaths meet over twenty legitimate English Language Arts Standards for Reading / Foundational Skills for Kindergarten and First Grade.

Me: Have you considered including a DVD or links to videos of you demonstrating Soundpaths? Or would that distract from your intent?

Stroud: Yes, I’ve considered, but I feel my directions are clear enough to not have videos included. However, there are a few ways you can view me performing Soundpaths:

The Official Soundpath Facebook page -

Me Headlining at Literary Café in Tremont, Ohio:

Me Performing my 1ST prize winning Soundpath, Featherweight, at the Hessler Street Fair in Cleveland, Ohio -

Me: Who are your models, as poets; who do you read?

Stroud: I read less actual poetry than I do biographies, manifestos, theories, and blogs about art of all mediums, as well as heavy, modern scientific texts. I’m moved by concepts. I’m a receptor of information and stimuli. I take all of the inspiration, impulses and knowledge I receive and allow them to incubate in my mind until the right moment. Then, slowly, all of these ingredients tend to swirl around in a stew revealing themselves to me at a later point in time as original thoughts.

My main influences are: Jackson Mac Low, John Cage, Walt Disney, Antonin Artaud, Peter Brooks, e. e. Cummings, Anne Bogart and Tina Landau, Keri Smith, Carl Sagan, and Stephen Hawking.

Me: Why is experimental art important?

Stroud: I experiment because its fun to do; there needn’t be anything deeper to it than that. I derive great pleasure from exercising my skills as a creative entity, a creator, a conscious observer of the world. Other factors fueling my work include my ADD and how bored I become with “old toys,” mixed with my wide range of interests in things other than art. I’m a cross-pollinator, for sure. However, as an artist, I recognize the implications of my experiments’ results; soon, I develop real concepts behind my inventions and innovations.

I begin my experiments with an impulse, something as small as a sensation of a color, sound, or smell, etc. Again, I do this because its fun – I try staying playful like a child as long as possible. The process makes me feel alive. Very few times do I begin with a concept, a seed – I start pre-seed – I collect data like a scientist would. I research things that interest me; I gather music, paintings and articles that relate to feelings that stick with me that I cannot shake. I don’t need to know why, I trust my intuition.

Experimental art isn’t all novelty, it’s the actual process used to invent and innovate anything! That should make its importance clear enough. Art, when pushed hard enough, can “add to the stock of available reality.” (R. P. Blackburn).

It’s important to search of new modes of expression. In nature, as well as in our culture, we experience change – rapidly. I make art at a speed and manner in which feels natural with this change. I find insanity in recycling the old text-based plays we’ve seen one-hundred times, being stuck listening to the same music from my childhood on the radio, and carrying out holiday traditions that have no meaning to me. Though I enjoy the occasional nostalgia, I know the importance of being awake to the now, hearing what modern artists, who are in tune with what is truly happening around us, who have the words and the ways to express themselves in a manner we can resonate with, have to say.

Experimental art is mysterious, intriguing, fresh, original, growing, achieving more, and it makes us think and ask questions like: what is art? Work should be curious. I don’t want to shut my brain off, hear what I’ve heard before and be entertained. Do not entertain me. Bring me back to life, give me the type of wonder I once had discovering a flower for the first time, or hearing my first thunderstorm, swimming in my first lake, capturing my first bug, throwing my first snowball, blowing my first dandelion.

Experimental Art is happening NOW, it’s living, as live experiments are.

Me: Do you find that Northern Ohio is receptive to your work?

Stroud: Yes, overall. Though, I find most people find humor in my work opposed to the deeper aspects, because of its peculiarity, and because I don’t have the stage time to explain it properly. Ironically, I’m trying to make accessible art that a general, unassuming crowd doesn’t need an artistic background to appreciate. However, I find it is the artists themselves who most appreciate and respect what I’m trying to do – but that will change.

One of my missions as an artist is to change the parochial view of art today. A child believes a poem must rhyme, and on a more complex level an artist believes a play must have words or a painting must use paint.

I’ve been told my work has youthfulness to it – that makes me smile. Art should be fun to make, fun to look at, and fun to be a part of. I never want to isolate someone from experiencing my work; in fact, all of my work is intended to allow you, the audience, make half of the piece. I often provide the vehicle for you to become an artist – I think that’s a message pretty easy to receive.

Me: Can you tell me a little about some of your performance art? What are your objectives with performances?

Stroud: My performances are typically interdisciplinary, interactive, and visceral. My performances are loosely scripted and orchestrated, though I allow for a lot of ‘chance’ to occur. I perform anywhere, in any venue or setting and for any length of time.

The focus of my work lately is to conduct primitive, highly visual spectacles that unleash unconscious responses in audiences that are normally inaccessible.

I try to provoke conditions that will force the release of primitive instincts hidden beneath the civilized social layer masking all human behaviour. There is a certain energy and impact of this shocking way of performing that should be employed in order to increase a sense of danger, violence and disorientation in the audience. The key word is VISCERAL in all that I do.

Two examples of my performance art include:

Mysterious Stranger, an on-site performance inspired by Mark Twain’s depiction of the devil. I staged it under the stage in a crawlspace. It played to several sold out shows, though only eight to ten people were allowed in at a time. The gallery of pictures can be found here:

White Shadow, an on-site performance inspired by breath and death. I performed at the Akron Civic Theatre. One key part was when I was tied half-nude in a plastic body bag, suffocating for two minutes, then finally emerging the womb through a hole punctured near my mouth. The gallery of pictures can be found here:

Me: Who are you reading now?

Stroud: Right now I’m reading a lot of material on ‘Absurdism.’ I’m also reading Austin Kleon’s best-selling book of art and poetry, ‘Newspaper Blackout,’ where the reader creates a poem by redacting newspaper articles with a permanent marker.

Me: What’s next for Stroud?

Stroud: I’m working on a book currently called Haptic Poetry, a subjective poetic art form that creates objects to be touched and manipulated. In Haptic Poetry, the sense of touch is more important than the sense of sight. The goal is to create aesthetic effect (the psychological responses to artistic experiences) in the minds of the intended audience. Think of it as telling a story, conveying a concept, or expressing an emotion through texture instead of through the written word.

In addition, I am gearing up to perform in Israël Horovitz’s surrealist play, RATS, some various performance pieces at Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, a devised children’s theatre piece I’m developing called ‘x-ray,’ and most importantly a huge fundraising event called ‘Art for Autism and Other Complex Disabilities’ at the high school I work at.

As for what’s truly next in my life, my far-reaching future, I hope to one day own my own art gallery / studio / black box theatre where I will run classes, host local artists and their work (as well as mine).

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1 comment:

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Did you incorporate your small press or did you file it as a sole proprietorship for tax i.d. purposes?