Truth Talks: Chasen

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meet chasen,

a poet.

curiosity got the best of me when it comes to choosing this month’s conversation.. when i would walk around my hometown farmers market, i always saw a guy sitting with a typewriter offering on-the-spot poems.

i’m not the most creative person, so the idea that someone could do something like that on the fly was crazy to me.

i finally decided to ask him about it, so in between live readings and handing out the poems he had written that morning, we got to talk about creativity, aesthetics, and inspiration.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and what let you to start selling poems at the farmers’ market.

My name is Chasen. I am a third-year at UC Riverside for Creative Writing, undergraduate. 

When did you start writing, and what drew you to poetry specifically?

I got a typewriter for my birthday and ever since I took a creative writing class in 11th grade, I found that I love poetry and kind of, this is how it kind of went: In 11th grade I had a teacher named Mr. Beech and every day at the beginning of his class, he would say, “Okay, pull out a piece of paper. We’re going to write a poem in 5 minutes.” Then he would give us the topic of what the poem would be about and that’s what first started me into doing this, because I just really liked that idea. I got a typewriter for my birthday because I asked for one, just because I was getting into poetry.

Do you feel like the school system supports creativity? If not, what would you change about it?

The arts is a very ambient thing, and I feel like if you ask anyone, say a professor or someone affiliated with a college or high school, they’re going to say that yes, that they support the arts, you know? But in their head, what they think the arts is, you know, it’s an ambient thing. It’s an abstraction. I think yeah, you will get a general answer. That will be your surface level answer. Yes, they support the arts, even though they may not know what the arts is. I’m a Creative Writing major, so I do some poems and short stories for whatever classes I’m in. Those are all – it’s hard for me to feel a connection there.

When did you start writing poems publicly for others, and what drew you to it?

I kind of fell into it. I started doing this about four years ago in front of Starbucks. During my senior year of high school, I went out to Starbucks with a typewriter and a bunch of pre-made poems. I put them in a stack and said “Poems for $1.” You would just come up, throw a dollar in the box, get a random poem about whatever. That was cool for a while, and then people started coming up to me and saying, “Hey, can I actually request the topic of the poem?” I was like, “Okay, sure.” I would just try to sit here and write something on the fly. Of course, the first probably hundred poems were just terrible. Just your generic crap, like, “Roses are red,” all that stuff, just because I didn’t really know what I was out there doing yet. I just knew I wanted to make some money just trying to write, you know? I wasn’t by any means an experienced writer. So, anyway, the poems just kind of got gradually better as I kept going to Starbucks and people just kept requesting things. Then, I got kicked out of Starbucks for doing that. I would always get kicked out every time I would go.

So, I moved and I ended up right outside of the Coin and Jewelry shop across the street, at those picnic benches, and I was doing it there for a while. Every Saturday I would just come out for three hours, and I would get the stragglers from the farmer’s market, but I was making maybe $10 an hour, doing maybe one or two poems an hour, if I was lucky. 

Then a guy came up to me and said, “Oh, my God, do you know about Ruth, this lady who does typewriter jewelry?” And I didn’t. He said, “I’m going to go over there and tell her about you.” He did, and she was like, “Tell him to come over here immediately.” To this day, I have been here in this exact spot for about two years now. I share Ruth’s space, and she is why I’m here. That’s the origin of how I got to this exact spot. He made that connection. I don’t know who would go out of their way and come up to a random guy and go, “Hey, oh my God, you write with a typewriter. There’s this lady who sells typewriter jewelry.” He made that connection, not me, so I would probably not be doing this if it wasn’t for him because I didn’t make enough money out there to be doing it. 

What’s it like writing on-the-spot poetry? Is your process different? How has it affected your writing or creativity?

Why I do what I do – the topic requests and things – I actually found that out just through the process of actually doing it, that it’s more about the energy of the person requesting and I try to mimic that in the style of the poem I write. As you just saw for that grandmother who is clearly fanatic about her grandchild… I wrote somewhat of a two-dimensional poem for her that doesn’t really break any boundaries, but that’s not what that one was meant to do. That one was meant to give her a heartwarming feeling about her granddaughter, and of course, I do the best I can not actually knowing her granddaughter. I kind of just have to say generic things like, “The heavenly sigh,” or whatever it is.

Now I have an actual audience here and whatnot. 

Why did you decide to take your poetry to such a public level?

I never intended to come out and do live poetry. What I would do is I would sit in my room the night before I’d go to Starbucks and I’d make like thirty poems, and then I would have a stack of them. I’d have the typewriter out, kind of just for the aesthetic of it, and I’d be typing away, just some random poem. I’d be working on them like I did the night before, just keeping the stack maintained. That’s what I was originally out there doing. Having people take a poem and go away… no real connection there between me and them. We stayed strangers. I would give them a random poem, they’d read it, maybe they’d like it, but we would still be strangers in a sense.

Now, every single request they give me, they give me a little piece of them - whatever they’re thinking about, the name of their loved one. I expand on that, and that is the magic. That’s the real connection. That’s when they go, “Oh, my God, this dude knows me,” or whatever. I’ve been told so many times that I’m psychic, just because of how powerful creative writing can be because you give a person a metaphor, and their head fills it in with things from their life. They’re baffled as to how I can get so seemingly close to them. That’s the reason why, after all these years and all these poems, I’m still out here doing it. It’s for that connection element.

Where do you get your inspiration when it comes to writing poems for yourself, not strangers?

The only times I really find myself writing something for me is… I can never control it. I always act super weird a few hours prior to writing it, but I never really know when it’s about to hit. It sounds so stupid and cheesy explaining it, but I get the shakes and my stomach feels weird. I feel sick, almost. Then, I don’t even know what it’s going to be about, and all of a sudden, two words will pop into my head. Those are the first two words of the poem, and I will write that down. Sometimes I’ll just go from there, and I’ll write a poem. The poems that I write personally for myself are big paragraphs; they’re big, long blurbs. That’s what I get published in literary magazines – big blurbs. 

 One poem that I have published is called, “The Suburbs Isn’t a Good Place to Bump Gangster’s Paradise Because You Don’t Get Shot, You Get a Job.” That’s about my friend Sam. When we were sixteen and seventeen, we used to sit out in nature and smoke weed all day and do nothing. We’d steal bottles of whiskey and drink them. That poem is about how I moved on from that, and he stayed in that lifestyle. It’s a pretty close one to me. That’s probably the closest poem to myself that I’ve written. It’s about my friend and in his shoes. That’s an example of a personal poem.

The poems I write for myself are very long and very confusing. The titles are super long and make no sense. These poems out here are the domesticated poems; they’re for the public, and I’m in a different mindset when I’m writing these than when I’m writing my other poems for myself. I write those on my laptop, or by hand, honestly. I hardly ever use a typewriter for my own poetry. The typewriter is just gimmicky; it’s a gimmick. That’s why people come to me – to see me use the typewriter and maybe also get a poem while they’re there.

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How do you personally differentiate aesthetic from gimmicks?

You know, I think it’s kind of the same. For example, today I wrote a poem for two little girls about their cats. That is the gimmick right there. The gimmick is being about to have two little girls come up to you and ask for a poem about cats and being able to write it out on the typewriter and having them walk away with something like this. That’s a really special thing for them, but that’s the whole gimmick of it. Because if I was out here on a laptop, their mom would not bother to stop with her kids and go, “Oh, let’s get a poem from this guy off his laptop.” No. It’s the typewriter that attracts them in. I think the aesthetic creates the gimmick. They’re pretty much one and the same.

How does social media, or the internet, affect your artistry?

Very greatly. I have an Instagram (follow him here) and I post whatever I feel is my best one of that day. The caption is what the person requested. It’s just a picture of the poem.

It affects me in a positive way, just because people can come here and get a poem, and then ask if I have any Instagram, and then they get to see all of my work and that stuff. I’m not one of those people who are like, “I hate technology, I just want to live in the 1930s with my typewriter in my log cabin.” That’s not me. 

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Hopefully finishing up graduate school, having my Mastery of Fine Arts and becoming a creative writing professor, or becoming a famous singer in my rock band. Either or.

One thing everyone should know how to do:

Just keep moving forward. You can get hung up on so many things, and keep thinking about them. Your mind can just go in a circle. I hate seeing people who are in ruts, like the 9-5, and they just live the same day every single day. I would never be able to do that and stay sane. I have to keep doing other things and keep saying, “What’s next?” That’s how I keep moving through the world, for me.

“If I am putting my method to everybody, it’s to keep saying, “What’s next?” and to keep looking for the next thing.”

Because for me personally, that’s what keeps me sane. I don’t know about other people, but for me, it works.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Wake up, go to class, go skate, go film. Skateboarding is my other art form, and filming it, too. I don’t think about writing or any of this poem stuff at all. I don’t think about it until I’m here on Saturdays. I just let the hours pass, I guess. When it comes to spare time, I don’t watch much TV or Netflix or anything; I just have a lot of homework, so homework after I finish skating. Just try to stay sane. Eat 3 meals a day, you know? Some eggs, can’t go wrong.

What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

I don’t think a person ever really came up to me and said this, but I feel like the world has given me this advice: if you go down a path, or you put your energy into something, in some way, shape, or form, something is coming back to you. It’s weird because I’m not someone who believes in gemstones or your signs and auras and all of that. I’m not religious; I don’t believe in any of that stuff, but I do think that there is somewhat of a tangible type of energy that will maybe impact me for the positive if I keep being out here and being positive to everybody. It’s weird because I’m not a positive person. I’m very negative. But out here, I am the most positive person, and it’s refreshing. I think maybe it’s like a mask of positivity that has taught me, or given me the advice, to keep venturing down this path of toying with other people’s energies. And to keep leaving an impression on people. I feel like if you leave your impression on enough people, something is bound to happen. I don’t know what, but something. That’s probably the advice that I have been given just by coming out here every Saturday and just seeing the impact I make on people.

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the quick fix:

I can’t go a day without… Skating.

Everyone should… listen to Paranoid Android by Radiohead.

Life is better with a little… weed.

Everyone in their 20’s should… know how to drive. [laughs]

One insider thing to do in Temecula… go to a winery and be like everybody else, because the inside thing in Temecula is to be like the person next to you. Which is why I hate Temecula.

What the world needs right now is... John Lennon.

One way to spread love... words.

“Creativity is the main thing because I think anything creative shows the most intimate side of you, the side you may be most scared or most intimated to show. If you show that, then that’s like showing love. It’s like I trust you enough for me to let you know about this creative thing. I think creativity thing is the most intimate way of showing love.”

You can follow Chasen here.