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Robert Pomerhn

Why you should know who his is: Poet Robert Pomerhn has been writing and performing poetry in coffeehouses around Buffalo for 15 years. A Buffalo State grad, he says his goal is to show the world how to accept poetic forms beyond the more traditional literary canon, and to accept artists who work and struggle for acceptance outside academia or the “Def Jam scene.” His vivid, religiously infused poetry has run the gamut from street-smart rhymes to emotional free verse on current events, and was first self-published in 2003’s Blest for This Poet Crest to Rest on My Chest as well as in underground publications across the country. His latest collection is Till Death Do Us published in December by Joe Veronneau of Vermont’s Scintillating Press (freewebs.com/scintillatingpublications/). A practicing Catholic, Pomerhn sometimes also uses other media, like collage and music lyrics, to express his devotion and commitment expressing his life and times. His books are available around town at Rust Belt Books, Talking Leaves and other local booksellers.

Hometown: Buffalo

Age: 37

Education: B.A. in English, Buffalo State College

Day job: “I’ve been mopping the floors at the Infant of Prague parish in Cheektowaga for nearly 17 or 18 years. It’s a menial task, but it puts bread on the table and allows me the time to work on my poetry.”

When did you first discover poetry? “Around 11 or 12th grade in high school. Dr. David Landrey from Buffalo State also introduced me to the postmodern era, and we still keep in touch to this day.”

Your older work has a definite hip hop/urban feel to it. What influenced your spoken word style? I went to Cleveland Hill High School, and we were one of the first suburban high schools open to all different walks of life and cultures. It was fortunate for me that I grew up with, went to school with and played basketball with lots of African Americans. It was around ’85 and ’86, and that was like the advent of hip-hop rap, and I developed an ear for that.”

When did you get your “crest,” or “poet” tattoo featured on your book covers? Oh, it’s been an accumulation. I have one of rosary beads, the Book of Psalms, the Prince of Peace, and that’s my dad and brother above my heart, because they’re my inspirations.”

Your poetry also had a lot of religious motifs/themes. What role does religion play in your life? There are some things in the poetry that take a different stance from Christianity. But I’m a Jesus freak, and I say that in a good way. It’s not institution or ideology, it’s the living spirit that dwells within.”

In the poem “Till Death Do Us Art,” you write “does reading off the page discredit the stage?” Is there a tension between the written and spoken word for you? That quote pretty much typifies the work in my latest book. What I want to do is cause a bridge, or a fusion, between spoken word poetry and poetry of the institution. Many spoken word artists don’t have the desire to see their work on the page and be preserved, but for me, that tension works.”

Why don’t you consider yourself a “typical underground poet”? “I have close to 250 to 300 manila envelopes that I’ve sent out there, and if it’s taught me anything, it’s that for every success you have, there’s a failure. But the negative criticism is better for me than getting nothing back. Now there’s an informal group of people who are working to get my work exposure in areas other than Buffalo, not necessarily to make money off of me. These pieces have come together now, so I’m being a little more choosey about where I send something.”

Name some of your literary or creative influences. “The Surrealists and Dadaists and the explosion of postmodernism that came after World War I, the first break in the world. I’m not politically inclined as a poet, but that was the first time people were dying meaningless deaths, and so these intellectuals got together to create their works and destroy or deconstruct them… Artaud, Breton, Picabia, Braque, Picasso.”

Any current collaborations? “With Chicago-Buffalo musician Chamus Hawk on his new CD; I wrote lyrics for the forthcoming album Wings for a Soul’s Dream; Junior Thesis. He and I went to high school together.”

What do you like to do when you’re not writing or performing? “Basketball has always been an important part of my life.”

Best spoken word performance: “At Steel Drums a few years ago. There were nearly 300 people there.”

Have any resolutions for 2006? “To read more and take some time to pat myself on my back, as well as others who are important to me.”