Zombie Logic recently interviewed Outlaw poet Thomas L. Vaultonburg, author of four books of poetry, including Flesh Wounds, a book of poetry he wrote during the ten years he worked as a bartender and bouncer in strip clubs and dive bars.
Zombie: You don't consider yourself an Outlaw poet, but the poems in Flesh Wounds are a literal document of someone not obeying many rules at all, in terms of society or poetry.
Vaultonburg: Not intentionally. I tend to be rather conservative in my personal attitudes towards morality. Working in strip clubs and seedy bars was less of a choice than an accident. I took the work that was offered and went where it led me. Most nights I wanted to scrub my skin with steel wool to try and wash off the sleeze and filth. A lot of people have romantic notions about places like strip clubs, but its a sick, sad, dispiriting place where you never want to find yourself after they turn off the stage lights.
Zombie: Thus the title of your third book of poetry, Flesh Wounds?
Vaultonburg: Exactly. You're always aware of the fact when you work in the bar business that almost nothing you are doing has any redeeming value at all, and in fact you're probably contributing to a great amount of suffering and dysfunction.
Zombie Logic: You saw some strange things in your days as a bouncer. How did that inform your work?
Vaultonburg: I saw everything. I was invited to try everything. 99% of the time I went home and watched television instead. Sin is more boring than most people fantasize about.
Zombie: Doesn't sound like the Outlaw poetry I'm aware of where pot-bellied writers who work in safe occupations write frothy poems about strip clubs and being bad-asses?
Vaultonburg: That's not the reality of it. I saw those guys in the club. Normally they were English teachers or professors who came to see 18 year old girls who had become strippers that they probably had been fantasizing about since they had them is Sophomore English. Their jobs and families and lives were really safe and measured out, so they came to the strip club, then went home and wrote poems romanticizing a lot of stuff that never happened. Not to them, at least.
Zombie: But you don't consider yourself an Outlaw?
Vaultonburg: No. I did meet and have to interact with some very successful Outlaws and out-an-out criminals during those years, and they'd be the last ones to self-identify themselves as Outlaws. In general they would do anything they could not to draw attention to themselves.
Zombie: There's a lot of tough material in your book Flesh Wounds.
Vaultonburg: Those things happened. If I had been a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir I would have written about that.
Zombie: You designed the cover of Flesh Wounds from a painting of Doubting Thomas by Caravaggio. Are you experiencing a religious conversion?
Vaultonburg: No. As you can see I have a Schlitz firmly in hand. I have no plans to join anyone's team anytime soon.
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Zombie: Your favorite poems in Flesh Wounds aren't the ones about sins of the flesh and what you witnessed in those years in the service industry. A poem like "Pinata." Why is that?
Vaultonburg: Those are better poems. I also like the poems like "Dancing With a Beetle" where I was able to seperate myself from the conditions I was living in and speculate what the world might be like if I were ever to re-enter it.
You were our first lesson
In rage and greed-
Our smiling guardian
Put the stick
In our small hands,
And whispered that
Awaited us when we
Spun around and
Drunken with images
Of unimaginable trinkets
We became whirling dervishes
Of lust and anger,
Whacking and thumping away
At your broken smile
Way past nap time,
Until frustrated with
Our lack of killer instinct,
Our teacher sawed you
In half, spilling
Far less enticing bounty
Than we had dreamed of. Some rushed forward and
Grabbed and devoured,
Others stood back and
Cried over the carnage.
Either way we all learned
Who we would be that day.
Zombie: You were kind of a bad-ass. Those were some rough clubs you bounced in.
Vaultonburg: I still am.
Zombie: Ever miss it?
Vaultonburg: Anyone who has ever worked in a busy bar would know I was a liar if I said I didn't miss it sometimes. The variety, not ever knowing what to expect, seeing people at their worst and getting to go home with a wad of cash.
Zombie: And poems to boot.
Vaultonburg: I got paid for ten years to do all the things other people only talk about.
Zombie: But you're not an Outlaw?