Joseph A. Lapin is an author, journalist, and poet based in Los Angeles, California. He is a contributing writer at the LA Weekly, and his work has been published in Salon, The Rattling Wall, OC Weekly, The Village Voice, Pacific Standard, Sliver of Stone Magazine, and Literary Orphans.
He blogs at www.josephalapin.com, where you can also listen to the Working Poet Radio Show, his online radio program dedicated to interviewing poets on a variety of topics.
For this week's blog feature, Joseph talked to Middle Gray Letters Editor Dariel Suarez. He shared some of his thoughts on managing his work life, working in different genres and what speaks to him in the world.
Dariel Suarez: Your writing has a strong sense of place and a keen social consciousness. How do these elements find their way into your work? What attracts you to them during your creative process?
Joseph Lapin: When I'm writing poetry, it usually starts when I'm taking a walk, and I just begin to write what I see in Los Angeles, Miami, or Massachusetts. I look for the small details. Then the words become so strong like a crescendo in a symphony, and I must find a piece of paper to write the lines down ringing in my head. I'm just writing what I see and allowing those objects and images to take me somewhere internally. The world is already filled with so much social injustice, so it appears naturally in my poems. Just walking down the street in a city can speak to something larger. So I stay in the moment, in the setting, and allow it to speak.
DS: As a writer who works in different genres, is there one that pulls you more than the others? How do you choose the genre in which to write a particular piece?
JL: Sometimes it's just a matter of economics. I need to make money, so I write news stories over poetry. Sometimes I see a story in the world that needs to be told immediately, or sometimes I'm just overwhelmed by a poem in my head. But my memoir often feels like the most important story, because it's the narrative I need to tell. It's about growing up in my hometown in Massachusetts with a mother who has a mental illness, struggling to discover what is real -- and what is madness. To me, my favorite writing teeters on the edge of reality, and every genre has the potential for exploration. Genres are just a different package -- but they are all the same to me. Even music. Well, especially music.
DS: How has growing up in Massachusetts, studying in South Florida, and living in Southern California impacted you as a person and writer?
JL: It has totally fucked me up. No, joking. It's made me the person I am today. It's given me a lot to write about. I even lived in Detroit. And it's just a part of my goal to explore the world...or as much as I can before I die. Also, I met my wife in Florida, and we have been on a journey ever since.
DS: Who would you call your main influences? What about their work inspires you most?
JL: Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Charles Bukowski, George Orwell, Jack Kerouac, Van Gogh, Raymond Chandler, Ernest Hemingway, Denis Johnson, Tobias Wolff, Augusten Burroughs, Philip Levine, Frank O'Hara. They were/are authentic men. True to themselves and the world, and they didn't give a fuck what anyone else thought of them as long as they were doing something honest, even if it was told as a lie. At the heart of most of these men, there is a desire for a change of perspective. To forget the world we have created out of metal and grime and see all that is beautiful and stunning. Plus, they were a bit mad, and that's cool.
DS: In today's hectic and demanding world, how do you manage your work life and your writing time?
JL: I keep to-do lists, and I love the satisfaction of crossing items off the list. It was a habit I picked up when I was working at a rehab center. Other than that, I live by deadlines. I need them. If I don't have a deadline, then it's hard to get work done. But really I'm just so freaking hungry for work and publishing. You know that line at the end of Araby? Well, I am a creature driven and derided by publishing. I want to write. And I want to make a living off of it. And every great freelance writer I know says, "You just need to work harder than you could have ever imagined." So I put it in the hours; I burn the midnight oil; and I focus. I am trying to be a working poet.
DS: What would you like to see more of in contemporary American Literature? How do you see it stacking up in comparison to past generations.
JL: I would like to see more writers taking risks in digital media; I would like to see writers out in the forefront of our culture; I would like to see them on television and not just on C-Span; I would like to see more risks with form; I would like to see more blue-collar mother fuckers; I would like to see humbleness; I would like to see less distinctions between the genres.
Honestly though, we're heading towards a great moment in culture, and it's getting better every day. We are living in a great epoch of American art. So I would just like to see it develop.
DS: You conduct something called the Working Poet Radio Show in your blog. What made you decide to do it? What do you personally get out of it?
JL: I was hanging out with Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts, Renee Pickup, and Heron at an In 'N' Out Burger close to two in the morning. Renee was talking about her show -- Books and Booze -- and she was saying how easy it is easy to start a radio show. Well, a few weeks later, I started a radio show. I figured I had so many friends across the country who were writers -- and becoming successful -- and I should just get them on the air and try and pull out why they were so special. There is still so much room for story telling through radio. Like vinyl records, the radio is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Why not try and be a part of it?
DS: In your blog, you often discuss personal experiences and your journey as an aspiring author. What made you decide to open up to the world in such a way? How has it changed you?
JL: I decided to open up and start a blog because of Joe Clifford. I was reading his journey to publishing, and the blog was instrumental in his career. Plus, it was a good way to actually stay consistent with writing and put my thoughts out there. Why wait for someone to give me permission?
DS: You've written articles for several publications. How do you see your journalistic side in relation to your fiction and poetry?
JL: Well, it's all the same when you think about it. I don't really see much of a difference at the heart of these genres. I'm trying to move an audience, take them somewhere else, and say something bigger by telling a story. It's just the way the words show up on the page that's different. I love what is happening with new media, and I think publications like BuzzFeed are really onto something that brings poetry and journalism closer.
DS: What projects are you currently working on? What can readers expect from Joseph Lapin in the near future?
JL: I'm trying to get my memoir published; I'm working on an idea for a non-fiction book about my time in Los Angeles in 2013/2014; I'm going to be publishing stories like crazy; and I'm starting to get involved with this start-up tech company called History of Cool. Find out what happens on my blog. I'm trying to live my life like a book, a movie, and I hope people will be interested in following my narrative. Big things are about to happen.