text from December 2021
More than: Interviewing Geoff
Photo ideas: Geoff working at an event, Geoff’s poems if he has any
Social copy/intro: Geoff is more than a haikuist for us out in New York City. He’s a writer, public intellectual, artist, singer, photographer, and an occasional baseball player. Bianca, our original content curator, spoke with Geoff over the phone in October of 2021. Dive into their conversation below as they discuss topics ranging from obliterating ego to taking the path less traveled in life.
Bianca: What exciting things are going on in your life right now?
Geoff: Well, in my immediate day-to-day life, I just moved to New York for the second time. I moved in five days ago after sort of making the move out here like six weeks ago, and I was couch surfing with friends all over the city. I went out of town to stay with a few friends around the East Coast, which is not my norm. I’m usually very much like a monk, in a sense, and I’m very rigorous and intentional with my daily practice, like wake up, brush my teeth, stretch, get right into doing the writing, and then have my coffee and breakfast, and get back into reading and writing. So, I’m a big believer in deep work, and getting into a mystical, relaxed conscious space.
B: What you’re saying reminds me of Eastern thought on meditation and dis-identifying with your stream of consciousness, which is the practice of observing your thoughts without attachment. That’s what I think or that’s what I feel, but that’s not who I am.
G: I find myself drifting more lately towards mysticism. Jiddu Krishnamurti is a famous Eastern thinker. I’m more the ‘not-self’ and resting in awareness, letting the thoughts pass, and this idea of being no one, as a way to be everyone.
B: How interesting! What writers and artists have shaped your worldview?
G: Yeah, the first one that comes to mind is an African American writer named James Baldwin, a gay black man in America active in the 60s and 70s, who was thinking about oppressive systems and really pushing back hard against the culture. There’s a speech he gave a sort of later in his life, probably in his 60s that I’ve listened to dozens of times. It’s a speech that he gave to some students about the artist’s struggle for integrity where he sort of says that if you’re an artist, you will learn that you’re an artist because you feel things deeply, think things deeply, and you can’t stop expressing yourself. You try to get a regular job and you can’t, and you fail, you get fired or quit because you can’t stop obeying the voice within you; it’s always raging all the time. James Baldwin helped me see that being this kind of person, a voluminous person, you must find a way to make that into a gift, and you must give it away. It is your fate to wrestle with what you are.
B: Yeah, there’s a way that we artists commune with ourselves as artists when we have an opportunity for that self-expression, whether it’s through conversation that’s intellectually stimulating, or it’s taking pen to page, fingers to keyboard, or whatever your medium. I like to say I’m a poet by compulsion.
G: I like the idea. And that I’m not who I am, yet, but I need to keep writing and making art in order to be myself again.
B: So what do you plan to do in New York as you’re thinking about what’s next for you as an artist and making your way?
G: I have no idea how I’m going to make it work. New York is a hard place to live. I mean I think I just need to keep doing what scares me. Suddenly you can do way cooler work. I mean my plan is just to kind of keep leaning into what I’ve been working on, like my singing voice. Broadway’s here, you know, movies happen here. I’ve done some modeling. I see taking acting classes. I should be doing open mics. I think networking is key, but not in a sleazy way, but in just like a solidarity way of finding others. I like the idea that the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack. For instance, I didn’t engineer getting a job as a poet, I kept writing poetry. Maybe that’s the question: how do I keep being me and not be afraid of money? How do I live in peace, and not in fear? How do I make it happen? What do I need to do, given the state of the world? This is a time for me to figure out how to be who I am in the world. I’m learning how to bring what I am to the world. And maybe, listen more than I speak, kind of distill the essence of what I am.
B: And that’s a lot of like what Haiku-writing is, right? As a form, it forces you to be choosy and concise. So I think, in a way, being a haikuist is in alignment with that goal of yours.
G: Yeah, so here’s an example of the overall whole of the artistic process. I have, you know, 10,000 things I could say about this person, but I’ve also got a time limit because we’re also like line cooks. Or we’re also like a service provider where it’s like, well, I only have two minutes to write this poem. Joan Didion said, “The minute you start putting words on paper you’re eliminating possibilities; so, by writing the first line of the book you create the end, but I could contradict that all day. I think each poem is an example of how to love someone — how to serve someone, how to be right about someone, how to give someone a gift. So it’s always a healthy exercise for me to write a poem for someone because you have to get it right, again and again and again.
B: So, a broad question for you to end on: why Haiku?
G: It’s funny. I remember the phone call. Daniel reached out and told me about Haiku Guys and said that they needed more people in San Francisco. He said, “Haiku is like a poetry pill.” So it’s just this little taste. It’s a little, small bit that’s big enough to like to wake somebody up. If you hand someone a book of poems and say, you must read this, that’s not a nice thing to do, but Haiku is a nice thing to do because everybody has six or eight or ten seconds to read one. And it takes you to a special place when you’re reading someone else’s written words, especially when they’re about you and there for you. You know, we want to write a haiku for everyone, because everyone deserves to have a poem written about them. I think that’s what we can do with Haiku. It’s a good chance to see people.
Have your own question for Geoff? Join the conversation; leave a comment!
Connect with Geoff @gplewis on Instagram and Twitter
Interested in booking Geoff for an event? Contact us.
i have photos of all the poems i’ve written at events — some are on IG, here’s one set from a few days ago:
here’s another from this last holiday season:
what did you think of the selection of photos i emailed a while back? there may be more if i go digging and trying to remember
business as usual: sharpen what’s useful, discard what’s poison ~ am I a toxic employee and teammate? I was; he who is alone suffers no fools—am I actually mad? No, this is art, this isn’t about me; this is an inarticulate resentment about something that happened a long time ago