Poets Online Talking about Coffee: Russell Jaffe

You’re well known as a promotions man for Coca-Cola. Does this impact on your coffee consumption?

No, I wear the Coca-Cola sweatshirt because it’s the most American piece of Americana I own. And that’s what I want to represent right now. I love phase-wear. I used to always wear some iteration of black and pink to represent Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Then I would always be sure to wear a pink shirt and sort of tattered up suit when I wore. I wanted my look to be representative of the way that I was feeling about my place in the world. Irony to me are like the tables the fell on me; when I was 13, I was helping my mom set up her work for an event, and I needed to move some plastic folding tables. Little did I realize these plastic folding tables were actually made out of some version of heavy wood and steel and I pulled one off the wall and the next one fell and then the next one on top of that and then the next one on top of that until they crushed my legs. I’m extremely lucky that it didn’t break anything, but I had some nasty, nasty purple-green bruises for months.

I wear something American because it’s goofy and I love America, and I hate America, and I am America, everything I do is America, and hating America, for me, is like asking the fish to damn the water it swims in. Coca-Cola as a brand is pretty disgusting and pretty sinister and all that stuff people with reasonable intelligence and above seem to understand effortlessly. But it’s also a celebration of objects an object could, and that’s being a human being to me, and that’s American. We are pleasure maximizes for sure. I love the taste of coffee. If I don’t drink it, also, I’ll get a headache like I’ve been teleported to the bottom of the sea and my head is crushing under the pressure. And I work with junior high kids and have a baby, so I extra bonus need it to lubricate the mind sprockets. The headthink wheels. I do drink coffee because of the pleasure maximization, but I also spend a shitload of money on good coffee because I think that matters. I like to spend money on things I like. It’s like paying tribute! Especially if I think those things matter.💤☕️☕️☕️💥🐔🔨

Tell our readers who may be unaware about Write. Poetry. Right. Now-

So this was a very special thing in my life that ended up morphing a lot. I worked at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa. Huge school, third biggest in the entire state. Imagine this school like the Death Star—they’re surrounded by tons of little busted-up looking fleets of campuses, but the main shebang is this huge floating monolith in the grass. That’s where I worked, the main campus. And I think it was a “perk” offered to main campus adjuncts that (instead of, you know, more money) we got to take a free Continuing Education department class. I wanted to take “Pies Pies Pies,” but it had a materials fee. So I looked for a poetry workshop. But there was none. That’s when I saw a form to propose and offer a new class. So I pitched this idea for a class—Write. Poetry. Right. Now! People would sign up and pay $50 for 5 weeks, and I’d get something ridiculous, like 20% of this or something. They loved my pitch, a class that focused on reading (mostly contemporary stuff) and writing poetry, as well as publishing in print and online and learning about journals. It would be my way to squeeze a little cash blood from the stone of my MFA and teach more of the shit I wish I’d learned. I put up fliers and I ran this class in 5 week iterations for years, and the same few people kept signing up. I hope you see their poems around—Justine Retz, Chris Eck, R.C. Davis, Eric Roalson, and a few others who took it once and never again. One was a 14 year old girl with a lot of trouble at home, and her poems were really brutal and powerful…one was an old farmer who HATED when people said “have a nice day” to her! She was like, “HOW DARE PEOPLE TELL ME WHAT KIND OF DAY TO HAVE!” That was a fun class. Well, this class never had more than 6 students at a time, and they want you to have something like 8 to keep it going. But luckily, former NBA player and clueless department head and nice guy Greg Stokes (used to play for the Kings) took over Continuing Ed and let me slip through the cracks. We found ourselves moved from room to smaller, shittier room, then to a creepy junior high after hours (there were actually clowns painted on the halls, what a sensual nightmare), and then finally I just quit, and I told the students, how about we just meet at a bar and you pay me directly? By then, it was the same repeat 5 people, the ones I named, and Adam Edelman, who is now getting is MFA in Austin, When I met him, he was reading Blake and Keats, He really embraced the class. By the time Carleen moved in with me, we were meeting at my house having potlucks/booze lucks. And no one paid me shit. I couldn’t charge them anymore, they were my friends! Some of the best poetry I ever read came from these people. This reinvented poetry for me—these were all adults with lives and no formal poetry educations, but here they were reading contemporary stuff. The workshop was so fun and cathartic and made me think about poetry less as a community or hierarchy and more as this energy pool we were all sitting right on top of, dipping in our ladles as it ran beneath us. Like in Tron! I would like to restart these classes in Chicago.


Sounds fun. And this is an energy pool you’ve channelled in your live poeming sessions for QMT.

Yeah man, those live poeming things are such an iceberg tip. I could talk about the live poeming forever. The fact that they’re being used pretty much just for MMA content right now is what I see as the equivalent as movies being invented simply to settle a bet about whether or not a horse has all 4 legs in the air at any point while it’s running. One concept is an iceberg tip of what centuries later is THE vanguard of human documentation, if you measure vanguard success as making shit tons of money and having shit tons of eyeballs deeply affected across the world all the time! Live poeming is anthemic, I think, in this time when we’re so focused on right now and our place within it, which I hear all the time is bad, but that’s because a lot of who is deciding what is bad is a different generation measuring good vs. bad against their own familiar times, and in fact it’s just the natural change of how people communicate and relate to each other in their surroundings. So yeah, I’m a pretty high energy guy. I find the poetry is a good Interzone for me. I get super excited about concepts. I think that the live poeming thing lends itself to so many brilliant, fantastic, strange and beautiful opportunities for poetry. For the longest time, poetry has served as an indirect, abstract expressive way to respond to and reflect on the world. Now, it’s time to go backwards.

Happy birthday!


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