Christopher Luna: Poet. Teacher. Editor. Writing Coach. Collage Artist. Poet Laureate of Clark County 2013-2017.
February 2022 Interview
What was it like growing up in Long Island, New York?
When I was growing up it was very hard to imagine what might be out there, on the other side of the bridges connecting the island to the rest of the United States. I felt literally separated from America, and couldn’t wait to see the rest of my country. I was very bored. I promised my young self that whatever happened in my adult life, it would not be boring. And it hasn’t been. Of course, after I did some traveling I learned that I am a true New Yorker, or one who compares every other place disfavorably to New York. I have not seen anything or been anywhere
in this great big beautiful country to change my opinion that I grew up in the best place in the world.
Here’s what was so great about Long Island: access to the Atlantic Ocean, to The City, to culture, and the constant presence of an international community that represented the embodiment of the melting pot that America promised to be. I grew up in the suburbs, but the neighborhood was surrounded by miles of forest. There was a horse farm and a wetlands preserve down the road from my house. I spent my formative years in the woods.
I love the food, the music, the art, and the poetry in New York. I love the unending, unstoppable energy
of it. I love that you know where you stand with everyone you meet within 15 seconds. Out here there are certain people I have known for years, and I couldn’t tell you what they think or feel about anything. I certainly have no idea what they think or feel about me. In New York you know where you stand right away.
Did you have access to art and poetry throughout your childhood?
I did, although my interest in poetry really began in my twenties, when I read Allen Ginsberg’s collected poems and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I knew that I was a writer from around age 11. The two authors who made me want to be a writer were Stephen King and John Irving. My earliest writing was short stories which imitated King, the Twilight Zone, and horror movies.
What was your introduction to poetry?
The two poems which first grabbed my attention in high school were Robert Frost’s, “The Road Not Traveled” and Allen Ginsberg’s “Death to Van Gogh’s Ear.” At the time I had seen Van Gogh’s painting but had not yet done any kind of drugs, and many of Ginsberg’s political references were lost on me. However, I was very turned on by the way he used language, and the marvelous, revolutionary, psychedelic psychodrama of lines like:
“A secret conspiracy by Catholic Church in the lavatories of Congress has denied contraceptives to the unceasing masses of India.
Nobody publishes a word that is not the cowardly robot ravings of a depraved mentality
The day of the publication of the true literature of the American body will be day of Revolution”
In the poem Ginsberg proclaims “poet is priest,” a sentiment that would eventually solidify into a strong belief based on life experience.
One of the reasons that Ginsberg’s collected poems were so life changing was the glossary he included in the back of the book. This allowed me to find my way to additional research about the social and political movements of the 1960s and 1970s which Ginsberg contributed so much to, including gay rights, drug decriminilization, anti-war, and anti-nuclear power efforts. The glossary also led me to the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, CO, the school Ginsberg co-founded with Anne Waldman, Diane di Prima, and Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche to bring Western and Eastern ideas together. I graduated from Naropa in 1999 with an MFA in Writing and Poetics.
Both you and your wife Toni do so much for our community–how did you meet?
Thank you. We met at the library. When we met, neither of us was really ready for a relationship, and both of us had suffered from being with people who did not respect or value us. So we both lacked the same thing, and were both willing to give it to the right person. Once we got together, we promised to “do things differently,” which meant that we discuss problems in the moment as they arise rather than allowing them to fester into resentment. This decision has kept us close and helped us to avoid some of the problems that long-term couples face.
When I first got to town, there was no poetry scene, and so I headed, as out-of-towners do, to the library. It was there that I met not only the person who would become my wife and Partner in Truth and Beauty but other local poets who are still good friends today; Eileen Elliott, Jim Martin, Diane Cammer, and Robin Moore. I also met Eric Padget, a very talented musician with whom I eventually collaborated. He invited me to record a spoken word album in his Seattle-based label Noise Noise Ouch Stop which I hope to see released in the next year or so.
When I first arrived in town, Vancouver was boring. There were great artists, musicians, painters, and dancers here, but they didn’t really talk to each other or support each other’s work in a consistent way. I started the reading series because I was bored and wanted to know if there were other writers in town. Eventually, nurturing the literary community led me to become part of Vancouver’s downtown arts scene. I worked closely with my good friend Leah Jackson, whose leadership at Sixth Street Gallery and later Angst Gallery were crucial to building downtown into the thriving arts district it became. I’m very proud of the work that she, Toni, myself and others did to make Vancouver a viable arts community.
Leah has supported me in everything I’ve done since we met in 2005. She exhibited my art, gave me a venue for poetry readings and performances, mentored me in art curation, allowed us to use Angst Gallery as the home for Ghost Town Poetry Open Mic from 2015-2020, and named me poet laureate of her two businesses before the county honored me the first poet laureate for Clark County, a position I served in for five years.
Want to enhance your skills as a writer? Visit printedmattervancouver.com for coaching and editing services, or for poetry and memoir workshops.
Follow @christopherjluna on Instagram for more collages. Learn more about Luna at christopherluna-poetry.blogspot.com