​Buddy Wakefield on Taking His Books Out of Print

Buddy Wakefield is a three-time world champion spoken-word artist, featured on the BBC, HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, ABC Radio National, and signed to Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records. In the spring of 2001 Buddy left his position as the executive assistant at a biomedical firm in Gig Harbour, WA, sold or gave away everything he owned, moved into a Honda Civic and set out to tour North American poetry venues through 2003. He never stopped.

I’ve been walking around really pleased with my life decisions, but also sad about some stuff that I had to leave behind.

In October 2015 he released Stunt Water: The Buddy Wakefield Reader 1991-2011 through Write Bloody publishing, created from his first three books of poetry, which are now out of print.

Tell me about Stunt Water.

Stunt Water is my favourite poems from the first three books all consolidated into one book, so that I could put the first three books out of print, and then have one piece of merchandise.

It was a very strategic move for a couple of reasons. One being that I only have to travel around with one piece of merchandise, but also because I wrote Live for a Living and Gentleman Practice when I was a lot younger, and said a lot of stuff in there with authority, that I hadn’t yet practiced. So when I read it now, I cringe a little, because it reads young. There is some stuff in there that is not how I wish to represent myself anymore.

I know every author can’t go around taking their books off the shelf because they are embarrassed of something they said previously, but luckily I’m in a position where I can.

What has it been like collecting your work of the past twenty years?

It was really incredible in compiling it all. I was reminded of everything I had done to get here. I sure felt fulfilled by a lot of it, all that I’ve had the opportunity to experience in life as a poet, and making a living doing what I love.

It’s notable that you have taken out the journal entries, such as in Gentleman Practice.

I think I just wanted one collection that a teacher could pick up in a school, or anyone could pick up to see my work, and not constantly be very distracted by it. This is the same thing I do on stage, which is step out of the pieces and ramble on, which is a hit of miss situation.

A lot of people have commented about how much they appreciate the journal entries over the years. But I just wanted to have one tight collection without any extraneous material.

How have audiences been changing you and changing for you?

How have they been changing me? Jeez. I don’t know that they have. How have they been changing for me?

The thing about what I do is that one night I can be at Roundhouse with 600 people and the next night I can be in Edinburgh with 35, or at the National Slam with 3,000, or the world’s largest yoga event with 13,000 people in Central Park. So, I’ve largely let go of expectations of when I show up to a venue. They are so different every time.

There were 255 shows on the last world tour that I did, and you can imagine the sheer breadth of kinds of audience. I don’t know how they have changed me, because each one is so unto itself.

In your opening piece you talk about compassion. Is compassion something that has been moving you recently?

That sums up my entire last year. I heard somebody say that compassion is half joy, half sadness, and that really resonates its truth for me. This past year feels like it has been the most compassionate year of my life, half sadness and half joy. I started an entirely new life trajectory, one that I’m really happy about, but I also had to leave a lot behind, which I am really sad about. I’ve been walking around really pleased with my life decisions, but also sad about some stuff that I had to leave behind.

Then there is everything that has been happening in the news, across the board throughout the whole world. The general awareness that is developing in younger and younger folks, where people are so politically aware I just feel like the world is ready to settle into a more compassionate way of being.

Something that resonated in your set for myself, as well as other poets, was how you ‘outframed’ and remixed your pieces. How do you engage with the emotional threads of multiple pieces?

Breaking the fourth wall is really important to me. Doing it in a way that is fun, and smart. It has always been important to me to include all of the elements, audio, visual, kinaesthetic, with a crowd. Substance and thought. Provoking stuff, also the sucker punch. To be well rounded up there and deliver a show.

Sometimes there is music, such as last night in Wakefield, UK where a woman played violin with me and another played ukulele. That keeps it fresh for myself and for the audience. If things get awkward of weird, I just call it in the moment, rather than just leave it with everybody or freak out. I’m getting better at making all the moments fun, and not having expectations of moments that are supposed to be fun.

Are you still raising chickens?

No. That’s something I had to leave behind.