Heaven Better Have Free Refills

Eunoia Review

I want my God to be the old man behind the projector at one of those classic movie theaters. Who has to organize the reels of film alphabetically, but makes sure to leave a few of his favorite ones on the top of the pile anyway. Who chews peppermints throughout the day, and gets yelled at by his daughter and his dentist because they think he’s going to hurt his teeth. Who yells at teenagers for their antics, not because he’s actually upset, but because he knows they’ll joke about it with the dates they brought, and he doesn’t mind being the butt end of any joke, especially one that helps somebody get laid. But mainly, I want my God to smoke cigars, because my Grandfather did. And I think the two of them should get along.

Donald C. Welch III lives in Brooklyn, NY. His current project @SocialLit explores…

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Moving Off the Factory Floor

Over the weekend I read an article by Sean Bishop entitled The Poetry Factory: On Mass Submission Culture. Though written two years ago, it remains an enlightening read about the economics of poetry submissions. Is the old method of submitting, selecting only a few journals and without the aid of simultaneous submissions, still viable? Maybe and maybe not. It’s definitely in a poet’s best interest to get as much work out as possible, but I also agree with Bishop in that quality often suffers as writers become more and more invested in the quantity of work they can send out. When poets begin treating their submissions like a production line in a factory it becomes more about industry than artistry.

In November I wrote a blog about submissions, the things I’ve learned, and advice I’ve been given including the advice from Peter Jay Shippy: submit where you read. While I still consider this valuable insight, the problem is that there’s so much content on the internet and in print that it’s daunting to keep up with new publications.

While it might sound counter-intuitive to popular opinion, I intend on submitting a good portion of my new work to the magazines and journals who have published me. When I started submitting I sent work out anywhere and everywhere, but now that I have publications I like and who like my work I can be more selective, both with my poetry and my choice of publications, in order to find the right outlets for specific pieces. I don’t want to blindly submit poems to a list of publications and collect journal titles for my bio like merit badges. That being said, I still want to submit to new places, but now I can take the time to read and get to know the publication to make sure it fits my work and isn’t just a catchy title or famous reputation. I’m more interested in being a contributor than a one timer so the places I submit to are places I’ll continue giving my work to for future publications.

Besides my personal preference, there are a few professional advantages to this method as well: it keeps my name in the forefront of editors minds for awards such as the Pushcart Prize or Best of the Net, I already have an understanding of the journal’s preferences and submission process, and it invites features/spotlights if the magazine offers them because they’ll already have multiple works from me and a solid understanding of my style and range.

Many poets underestimate relationships with the journals and magazines that publish them and are content using the publications as a means to get into institutions and publishing houses. When I launched my #SocLlit project I reached out to some journals that had published my work and Slippery Elm and South85 Journal both responded with enthusiasm. Slippery Elm helped me promote the project on their social media pages and South85 offered me a guest post on their blog to reflect on the project. These gestures were incredibly helpful and indicative of the scenes literary magazines once created and still can.

Literary journals and magazines have the potential to be a kind of community, but instead many writers use them as CV builders to climb the literary social ladder. In Welch & Penn, as with any DIY band worth their salt, I knew it was important to grow a local scene before we embarked on our tours. Journals and magazines can be a home crowd for writers, someone to sing along and mosh to the songs when necessary. I’m not convinced that prestige and readership are as strongly connected as they once were. Changes in technology, distribution, and taste have altered the way literary audiences discover and interact with authors and their work. Rather than publishing one poem in a renowned magazine, I’d rather publish three or four in a lesser-known journal and build a following from their readers and contributors. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to be published at a prestigious level one day, but if I am, I want to make sure I have a solid foundation and not just a couple rungs under my feet. When a piece gets accepted, literary jargon often refers to the place that published the work as “a home”. I want to start treating them like it.

-Welch

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The Musical Network

Two of my good friends, The Tyler Bryant and Dane Page, have begun blogs about their music and musical careers. They’ve both written on the topic of Open Mics, so I thought I’d add my own piece into the discussion.

You can find Dane’s post and blog here

And Tyler’s here

I want to echo what both of them say in terms of the performance aspects of open mics and rather than spend time revisiting their advice, I wanted to speak to the networking potential of open mics. In October I wrote a piece about the way social media has changed both open mics and the way audiences interact with musicians and performers. So this post explores the connections between musicians that open mics help foster.

The first show Welch & Penn played was at an open mic. We hadn’t tested our idea in front of anyone besides our close friends and before we dedicated time to this as a serious act Penn and I wanted to see how a live audience would receive us. More importantly, we wanted feedback from the musicians who were there since it was a new project. We wanted to know what could be smoother and if poetry and acoustic music really made any sense together. Here’s a video from that open mic:

 


Open mics are an important testing ground for fledgling acts. Penn and I were able to gauge our dynamic in front of people for the first time and run a three song set without the pressure of an actual gig. This kind of experience is invaluable for beginning bands, all of the practice in the world can’t replicate the stress and adrenaline of a live performance.

Another advantage to open mics is that it’s a good way to get your foot in the door at venues. If the host of the open mic isn’t the establishment’s manager then chances are they have a say in the booking process or can put a bug in the manager’s ear since they handle the music first hand for the venue on specific nights.

Finally, open mics give musicians the opportunity to meet other acts and bands they might want to perform with. As great as videos and recordings are, until I see a band or performer live, I’m never absolutely sure how compatible we’ll be. Videos can be filmed at home venues and recordings can be taken and re-taken, I want to see how a musician will act and re-act in person. For example: will they freak out when the volunteer sound guy turns their guitar too low? Will they purposefully get too drunk to create a persona? These are things I want to find out for myself. Open mics are an invaluable way to find acts I want to create bills with.This networking is essential for booking and being invited to play shows with other local acts.

While some musicians I’ve met feel that open mics are beneath them, I think that’s a self-destructive attitude. Unless they have a manager willing to research and connect them to other acts for every show they play, reach out to venues, and give them rehearsal feedback, they need to change their mind-set. Open mics are a necessity for any independent or DIY act. So get out there, get playing, and most importantly, keep listening.
-Welch

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DIY on a Diet

On both tours Penn and I had pretty strict diets. I was a vegetarian for a whole host of reasons (some personal and some health) and Penn is Gluten free due to allergies. While these dietary restrictions might be manageable at home they’re more difficult to adhere to while on the road.

One of our biggest concerns was staying healthy. While it’s a well-known fact that fast food always, inexplicably, tastes better on road trips, French fires, milkshakes, and the like are pretty meager in both nutrition and satisfaction. Even now that I’m back eating meat, the patties and burgers offered at fast food chains aren’t anything I’d recommend living on for weeks or months at a time. Along with fast food, it’s easy to consume calories through junk food and gas station goodies, especially while sitting in a car without much more to do than eat, but with shows booked we had commitments to listeners, venues, and ourselves to stay healthy and not eating right only increases the chances of getting sick.

Another issue with such specific diets is budget and since neither of our diets were particularly cheap this was a big concern. I distinctly remember the first night of the Green Sundress Tour after playing our set at Turntable we were sitting on a bench outside a Harris Teeter grocery center, eating gluten free chips Penn’s mom had graciously packed us with a dish of hummus and some sushi we bought at a marked down price because the store was about to close.

Supermarkets are friends for DIY acts on tour. The most affordable option for touring is to do some grocery shopping and purchase things in bulk that won’t go bad. While we only budgeted for gas and lodging, leaving the remaining money to be used freely for food, if I were to tour again I’d definitely create a more specific and rigid spending plan that included groceries and food. Some chain restaurants will also offer whatever perishable food they have left over, so try going to places like Dunkin’ Donuts or Panera that have to throw out whatever isn’t eaten. If you can get some free bagels, or some nice Panera bread, from a friendly manager that’s a great score and will open up some extra spending money.

Penn and I often joked about trying to get support from PETA and other health or animal rights organizations like some late 90’s and early 00’s bands did, but, in all seriousness, that might not be a bad route. While not necessarily PETA, or organizations as devise and far-reaching, there are a lot of local and state based organizations that deal with issues such as personal health, sustainability, environmentalism, and other topics that inform or promote certain diets. Bands that align with their missions should reach out, because even though the places probably can’t or won’t provide funding they might be able to give some free publicity or at the very least offer suggestions about the local cuisine and what’s available at what prices.

The number one, albeit clichéd, lesson I learned on tour is that nothing beats a home cooked meal. When we stayed with friends and family and they offered us one, there was nothing better. Simply being able to sit down and have an extended conversation with other humans besides the two people I had been in a car with for weeks was a huge mental relief. Plus, the people preparing them were already aware of our diets so there were no concerns or questions about the ingredients.
Keeping healthy and full while on the road isn’t too hard, it just requires some planning and preparation. Take the time to budget and communicate, both with other people and your tour mates, and it should be a savory and sweet venture.

Eat well and travel easy.

-Welch

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One Writer’s Prose is Another Writer’s Poem

I’ve recently been interested in found and erasure poetry, or poems created from other texts. Since I’ve been doing a lot of theory work and craft essays on @SocialLit these poems are a fun way to remain inspired without draining too much creative juice. It can be meditative to go through a text, especially bland articles like manuals, textbooks, or instructions, and select words that stand out in order to find the poetics hidden within them. It’s also rather emblematic of the poetic process, as seeking out the meaningful in the mundane is something I strive to do in my work.

I’ve been submitting some of these pieces around with two published poems to my credit so far: “90’s Power Hour” a poem comprised of lyrics from popular 90’s songs and “John Wayne Rides Off Into Sunset Blvd” which uses John Wayne’s list of IMDB acting credits as a source. Two more famous examples of found poetry include The O Mission Repo a poem made from the 9/11 Commission Report by Travis Macdonald and Of Lamb a poem made from the autobiography of English Essayist Charles Lamb whose sister’s name “Mary” appeared so often in the text it inspired poet Matthea Harvey and illustrator Amy Jean Porter to cast an eerie spin on the classic nursery rhyme Mary Had a Little Lamb.

Despite the fact that the text is found somewhere else, every writer, or finder, brings a little something different to the table that helps establish their unique voice and style. For example, I’ll often take grammar and punctuation from the text to make my pieces grammatically correct whereas many people choose to leave punctuation behind. Every writer can have their own rules for what they write or find, nothing is set in stone. Found poetry functions on a kind of Honor System since nobody can really know whether or not the writer is actually using the source they say they are, even if a meticulous critic also read the exact same text it’d be challenging to tell if the writer was cheating by adding in extra words.

Found poetry is considered by many to be gimmick or simply the latest fad in the writing world. This is probably due to the fact that they’re hard poems to critique and workshop because it’s not the writer’s words per say. It’s difficult to give and receive the kind of critical feedback expected in high level workshops like “change this specific word” or “rearrange this phrasing”, when what’s really being said is: “go back and keep looking”. On top of that, anyone can find anything; different words will inevitably stand out to different people and different words might even stand out to the same person every time they revisit a text. For example, if two years from now I were to go back and try to write 90’s Power Hour I might find different lyrics of the songs standing out to me.

I’m not sure what the history of the found poem is and I certainly have no idea what its future will be. But I imagine this has always happened in some form or fashion. It’s important for poets to remember not to take themselves too seriously and finding poetry in unexpected, and often strange, texts is just one way I keep things light.

-Welch

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Home Base

On my way home from the Charlotte airport I passed a van with a bumper sticker that read: “Support your local musician.” Initially I thought that was pretty clever. But after giving it some more thought, I realized how true of a statement that is. Local musicians and local scenes are incredibly important and not just for the performers and bands in the area, but for community as a whole.

Having spent so much of my time in Boston and now New York City, I’ve forgotten what it feels like to truly be a part of a tight local music and poetry scene. That’s not to say that performers and artists in these cities aren’t close with one another, but in both NYC and Boston there are so many poets and so many musicians that it would be impossible for me to know all of them. I might be able to narrow down some scenes, for example the Boston Poetry Slam community is very tight, and know a good number of people, but cities are too vast to know everyone, even by name, like I could around Lake Norman.

And sometimes I’m nostalgic for the scene in the Lake Norman area. Thursday night I went to Bella Love in Cornelius to watch my friends play music and Friday night I went back for a poetry specific open mic. It’s inspiring to see, especially since I started reading my poetry and playing music here around. It feels very homey.

While it’s a younger generation that gets to reap the benefits, the people I was performing with when I was younger made a point to open up the area. They tried to write, paint, draw, and perform in a place that remains largely unreceptive to anything but music on the radio. I remember driving around the city with demos of an old high school band, dropping them off everywhere and anywhere with our contact info and never receiving a single reply. Not even a NO.

Now there are open mics that go for four hours with full bands and attentive crowds the whole night. There are art crawls and street festivals like Music on the Main in Mooresville and The 2nd Friday Art Crawl in Cornelius. There is a growing and vibrant scene.

Remember: Support your Local Musician. And all those other artists too.

-Welch

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Distance Makes the Heart

Many bands spend time apart. Old high school bands go their separate ways for college and college bands go their separate ways for the real world. Often times this leads break-ups, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Welch & Penn has managed to be a group that always functioned with distance. Penn and I founded the duo while we were both in college and our respective locales were Davidson/Greensboro, North Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts.

Despite this distance we’ve managed two tours, two EPs, one home recorded and one recorded in Nashville, and to play close to fifty shows in counting. So as the holidays grow near and I plan my trip back to North Carolina, the unofficial home base for Welch & Penn, I thought I’d share what I consider some of the ways to make a long distance musical relationship work:

Set reasonable goals- Welch & Penn only tours in the summer and gigs when I was visit my family in North Carolina. We don’t criss-cross the east coast in an attempt to make shows, instead we give ourselves plenty of scheduling time and set up shows and recording sessions when we’re both in town. We also understand that we’re a small venue and coffee shop act, which is an important realization to make as a band. Since we can only meet up a few times a year we don’t have the ability to practice every day and really gig around to land huge venues.

Use Technology to your advantage, but don’t rely on it- Don’t use Skype to practice. It can be a useful tool for meetings since it replicates the sensation of a face to face interaction, but the delays and just general strangeness of video stream practicing makes it difficult to accomplish much. We tried this and it didn’t work. However, this blog is an invaluable asset to us. It gives us the opportunity to post updates, videos, photos, from both the band and our personal lives and is something we can contribute to together while in our separate homes. Social Media (as I’ve mentioned in my facebook and twitter blogs) is a great tool for bands today so use that to your advantage!

Make most of your time together- People want to see a band live. When Penn and I are both around we’ll perform as often as possible, whether it’s a paid gig or an open mic, to have a strong presence and make it known that we’re in town. When we play a show we’d also make sure to film at least a song or two from it so that when we’re split again people will still have something to watch. Penn is incredibly good about keeping up with this and that’s why there are so many Welch & Penn live videos on Youtube.

Use the time apart to promote- When we’re apart we send our music off to radio shows and reviews and post the videos not just to personal sites, but around to music blogs or wherever takes submissions. We also use that time to plan our tours, divvying up the areas between us to find venues and local support. These things can and should be time consuming, making it more efficient to do on our own when there are shows, recording, and touring to do together.

Use the distance to your advantage- There’s something very unique about bands that manage to work despite distance. In live performances this detail always catches people’s attention and makes us that much more interesting or worth listening to. Furthermore, it opens up more resources since technically our ‘local’ presses, venues, and fan bases are in two completely different regions. This broad range of an audience base made our Green Sundress Tour possible since we had more resources to pull from and work with during an extensive tour.

Patience- Have patience with one another. Things are going to move more slowly because of the space. But that’s the nature of it. And like the saying goes: distance makes the heart grow fonder. And the difficulty of navigating distance as a band will make actually performing, recording, and working together all the sweeter.

-Welch

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