You are about to meet Amy Zoellers, a.k.a. Hipnness and Outrage, AuntieHipster… take your pick of monikers and buckle your seat belt.
I met Amy first at Woodneath Story Center where Ryan and I have been taking classes to becomes certified story performers. Amy was also at those classes. I didn’t get to know Amy until she came to one of my open mic nights at North Independence Public Library.
Meeting Amy for the first time went like this:
Meeting Aunt Hipster
Me: Stormy dark cloud
watches from the edge of life
trying to look nice.
Her: A burst of light
personality like Coke
dancing with Mentos.
Us: Yin versus Yang—
rainbow and shadow mosh pit.
This is poetry.
And that about sums it up. If you want to see this for yourself, check into Amy’s Hipness and Outrage on Instagram today at 2 p.m. Central to watch us do a social distancing read and chat live. It will probably be available as a post on her Insta after, so I will try to link that here.
And now, meet Amy Zoellers:
Well, boy-craziness is almost always the gateway…I kid, I kid…(sort of). I grew up learning music and experiencing the euphoric feeling certain songs gave me—really, like peeking into Heaven—
Age 9: They showed us West Side Story in school—a sexual epiphany, if you will (Jets, Sharks, Russ Tamblyn, George Chakiris…) I truly awoke to the personal equation,
man + music —> thrill bomb.
Age 11: I first heard the Beatles in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and over the speakers as we waited for a 1950s-60s musical revue/floor show at the Worlds of Fun theme park…
The deep need to get at the guts of what made MY guts sing just led up and down a magnificent tree of … hipness? Branch after branch, root after root, one song or group led to another, to a book, to a film, to a way of dressing; it seeped in and became part of my path. Coming of age in a time and place in which fried perms and perm-mullets seemed like a good idea to my peer group certainly drove me into the proverbial arms of the mods.
We need more of that, especially if we are to survive the remainder of 2020. Humanity is in a scary place right now with viruses, riots, wildfires, violence… where do you see poetry’s place in this chaos?
Ok, I tend to feel like a ridiculous figure in times like these…as my poetry alternates between the confessional and a rockabilly song with screams and howls about Look at THAT Guy!! (And that probably means some guy in a decades-old photograph or a silent movie.) Visual art helps here—portraits of those who’ve experienced injustice and violence; a little German Expressionism with lipstick applied to the face mask…
There will always be poets and thank God for them, who are in step and can reflect the times and events with words and images that stir the people, get them thinking and moving toward change, and I would not say no to that calling, even in just one poem or song! But for the moment, I feel more like the B-52’s, playing a club full of sullen New Yorkers and suddenly making them dance. I can’t help it.
I’m glad you can’t help it—that’s part of your charm! Everyone likes to talk about their first time. What was your first poetry experience like?
First was Shel Silverstein from the school library, but let’s jump ahead to fifth grade and Ms. Bruns. Ms. Bruns had replaced our beloved, peppy, adorable, affirming creative writing teacher, Mrs. Reed. Ms. Bruns was sarcastic, a bit lumpy, and ate yogurt in front of us, but GOD BLESS HER, she read us “The Tell-Tale Heart” one October day in 1984, and really, I’m getting a little breathless remembering.
After that, I just went swimming in Edgar Allan Poe, and my dad (a former English teacher who also dabbled in poetry) put me on to “The Raven.” The rhythm + rhyme + spooky gloom was REALLY my scene, and I was peeking into heaven all over again. I memorized the first 30 lines of it for a reading in sixth grade. I still get shivers to hear James Earl Jones read it in the very first “Simpsons’ Tree House of Horror”—yes, the raven has Bart Simpson’s head, for Pete’s sake, and Homer’s stumbling around going “d’oh!” but there’s James Earl Jones and an organ behind him and whooaaa.
I remember that episode of The Simpsons—James Earl Jones made that work. You create with words but you also do a lot of visual art and play music. What is creativity like for you? I’d love to hear about your process.
It often begins with some magnificent overwhelming eruption of emotion that, without art, I could never wrangle. From a young age, putting things out there through the intense use of my hands has been necessary. I don’t know the whys or wherefores, but sometimes it MUST be a very angry punk song—or a giddy pop song! At other times, a portrait, where I can smear some type of medium with my hands or knit the face of a 1960’s heartthrob into a sock or what have you. So very much breathless emotion going on. If it didn’t go somewhere, I hate to think what.
I can think of something… and speaking of scary things (hahahaha!), if you could collaborate on a poem with one monster from fiction, who would it be and why? What kind of poem would you write?
You totally get me.
I was going to refer to a poem about waffles, in collaboration with the Mothman, but he’s more of a cryptid than a fictional monster.
In that case, I will absolutely collaborate with the fictional Vampyr in the greatest 20-minute West German vampire flick of all time, “Bad Blood for the Vampyr.” Why? Well, buckle up for some big fat mysterious poet wisdom: because he’s gorgeous, and I wish to listen to his put-on Transylvanian accent for an hour or two, and maybe-just-maybe brush that murderingly floppy New Wave hair out of his eyes.
We would write a villanelle. A real swinging villanelle about the city of Berlin and West German cigarettes vs. East German ones and, I don’t know, the WAY of things….
I need to get a copy of that and see for myself, and I would love to hear that poem. Can you share one of your favorite poems with us? Please tell us the story about why and how you wrote it.
Off the top of my head:
Dammit, John Greenleaf!
Thy bones! I would kiss them!
Your verses give way to such
Of stormy North England—
The same! (though you’re seventy)
Old slayer of woes.
I wrote that maybe 4 or 5 years ago—we were living in a suburb north of Dallas, Texas, which was not a great fit for us. But I did get a lot of poetry read and written. I had read where Helen Phillips (a marvelously poetic writer) had, for a time, resolved to read one poem and write one poem every day. I did that during most of our 3 years in Texas.
And one day, I read a John Greenleaf Whittier poem in which he’s at the grave of a girl he knew decades before, when they were children – found it—it’s called “In School Days,” and the little girl has been dead 40 years at the writing of the poem.
She had cried because she felt bad for beating him in the spelling competition—damn, that poem—however its sentimental honey may gush—was somehow electrifying in that time and place for me, when life seemed weird and misguided.
So the first stanza refers to John G. W. being all electrifying, and the second is about this English guitarist who was a total babe in the ‘sixties, and … well, perhaps it speaks for itself. It’s not terribly oblique but in a way it sums things up.
Words are a good vehicle of self-expression for you. Where do you hope poetry will take you in the future?
Community—as with those Open Mic nights we had at the library, before the pandemic… as with encouraging young poets to be who they are, experience the freedom of creating and sharing.
Songwriting—a compulsion tightly related to poetry. I don’t know why it’s a compulsion. I suppose the reason will be revealed one day.
More and more possibilities of language—man, I love language. I want to push past the walls of my mind and let the language tumble out and soar and all of that, and really capture the moods and sights and sounds of life that make me want to burst sometimes—so I can bring others with me.
What’s more—and this isn’t always a popular point of view with artists of our time—because I get so overwhelmed by the magnificence (and also the splendor of humanness and melancholy, the crushing darkness of the pits, the thrill of anger, the smell of cloves…) all around me, none of it would make sense to me without a Creator—a Creator Who cares and makes these people and things and music and aromas because it’s delightful to spend time creating and then to enjoy what was created, which is how I feel about the time I spend creating.
Said Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way: “We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves… Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.”
I want to give back to God many gifts!