Meet Ben, in his own words…
I was a quiet kid. I’m not sure where that came from, but if I had to guess I’d say I lost my voice somewhere on the highway from Ft. Myers, FL to Buffalo, NY. My parents divorced when I was three and we left my father to his own devices in the sunshine. I guess that kind of thing leaves a hole in a little boy, one his words leak out of. I stayed that way – quiet – for a long time. In my group of friends I was the follower, not the leader. I was along for the ride.
One day I was climbing a tree with a few other kids and when we got as high as we could go the one leading us stopped and claimed he didn’t know what we wanted to do, that he was out of ideas. A few of the others started chirping their opinions while I sat quietly daydreaming about The Lost World by Michael Crichton, a book I had been reading before I got there. The lead kid quieted them and said, “Hey, Ben never gives his idea. Ben, what do you want to do?” I was dumbfounded. I had no idea what to say. I realized I had to figure it out. “Ben, what do you want to do?”
In third grade we had to write a short story based on a photograph we were able to choose. Upon writing my story I realized it mattered to me how the indentation of the paragraph related to where the last word of the paragraph was placed on the page. My friends thought that made me a bit crazy. It was at that moment I knew I wanted to be a writer. Over a decade later I was in a creative writing program at Medaille College and my professor was talking about formatting your work, how where the words are placed can be as important as what’s written. At that moment, I began to understand that “want” had nothing to do with pursuing my craft. This is what I was naturally meant to do.
I started getting published in low-level magazines my junior year in college. It was satisfying and helped to let me know I was on the right path, but then all of sudden it dried up. The stories, my inspiration, and my will. I had always been blessed with being blissfully unaware of how difficult what I wanted to do with my life would be. (It wasn’t that I didn’t understand it, I just chose not to care) These days I often tell people I was blessed with arrogance, born with the internalization that what I had to say mattered enough that I’d spend my whole life getting other people to listen. But that’s not totally true. More so, it’s just one of those things we say because it sounds good and moves the conversation along to calmer waters. In reality, I was mad at the world. Mad that it had stolen my voice when I was four, my father when I was thirteen, and mad that regardless of the invoices I had been keeping it kept claiming that it didn’t owe me anything.
At about twenty-two, thirteen years after that day in third grade, I started to think for the first time in my life that it was all a pipe dream. I was never going to be my heroes, and if that was the case, then why bother at all? It was a dark time for me personally. Where before I had practiced a schedule of writing 2,000 words a day, every day, suddenly I wasn’t writing at all anymore. I began to forget my stories, the things that really mattered to me, and my life suffered because of it. My dreams became things shoved into shoe-boxes in the back of my closet. Writing was just, “one of those things I used to do.”
And then I started to read. I had always read, mind you, but in my desperation I pushed everything to do with literature away. I felt alone. The books brought me back. They saved me. I doubt there is a single person who has enjoyed the experience of reading who has not had that moment when they read something, paused for a moment, put the book down, looked at the ceiling and said, “Thank God, I’m not crazy. Someone else has felt this way before, too.” For a year I read, and read, and read. At the end of it I had ingested 110 titles. The well where I drew my ideas from was wet again. I was churning out short stories and high level fiction publications weren’t taking them, but they were sending me personal responses with the rejection notices, meaning they’d actually read them and debated publishing them. I was back, and I was better than I had been before.
Around that time I stumbled into the Pure Ink Poetry Slam. I had gone to school for creative writing, and while I enjoyed the poetry classes, I just didn’t jive with any of the movements. I didn’t want to be a beat poet, or a L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poet, or a poet at all. I just wanted to tell stories. But when I saw spoken-word, something changed. I have always been a human being trying to find the voice they lost when they were young, and there I was, twenty-five, looking at it on a stage in front of me. I signed up, and I read some very old hip-hop lyrics I had that weren’t poetry and didn’t belong at a slam, but I didn’t care. I was home.
Spoken-word gave me something else I had never had. A writing platform. As a fiction writer, I can have stories published all over the country or the world, but no one around me would ever know I was doing it. I had no way to build a brand, to connect the person with the artist. Spoken-word allows for that. Not many people want to sit and listen to a short story for twenty-five minutes, but they don’t mind a three-minute poem. Heck, sometimes they’ll come and ask you to do it. That was different. Very different.
And now, seven years after I was ready to quit on myself I have a finished novel, am pursing my first literary agent, have represented Buffalo, NY in the National Poetry Slam for two consecutive years, am a Teaching Artist at the Just Buffalo Literary Center, and have my first chapbook of poetry and fiction being published through Ghost City Press out of Syracuse, NY. And the best part is that I still feel like I haven’t accomplished a thing yet. I merely a reformed quitter. But I’m getting there. Little by little.
Where do you find your inspiration? What about Buffalo inspires you/your business?
I don’t particularly believe in inspiration. People have this odd idea that it comes like a lightening strike, as if it doesn’t have to do with the day-to-day mundane things we’re always doing. They like to imagine it as some divine intervention and I think that completely misses the point.
I think of artist’s as having creative batteries. Do enough projects, make enough art, and suddenly your battery is drained and you have to recharge it. Whether your charger is a theater production, a book, a poetry show, music, a trip to a gallery, the point is to consume something of value. Consume is the important word there. Be an observer, not a participant, and suddenly there are ideas knocking around the ol’ brainscape again.
In Buffalo there are so many chargers to plug into. Recently, it’s been seeing projects like Foundlings Poetry Zine and Peach Mag rise up and fill a void in the literary scene. It’s going to Caffe Aroma and seeing people standing out the door for a poetry open mic. It’s the Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Babel Series. It’s watching the Cringe Worthy Poets Collective publish chapbooks for local poets and bringing in poets from around the country to feature in Buffalo. Buffalo inspires me because the people around me are doing it, and doing it right, right now.
Your go-to words of encouragement
I’ll give two, and both of them are from the same person, Stephen King.
“Sometimes you have to go on when you don’t feel like it, and sometimes you’re doing good work when it feels like all you’re managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position.” – On Writing
“Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really. Pressure and time.” – Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption
What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
That it’s going to be okay. That the worthlessness you feel is an illusion. That your voice matters, and there will come a day when all of this, everything you’re going through, is going to make sense. That it’s all necessary. All of it. Keep applying the pressure, and give it time.
Favorite Buffalo stuff
- Caffe Aroma for sitting and writing with all the other pen movers in the city.
- Pure Ink Poetry Slam for providing a place that poets can compete and earn national exposure by making the National Poetry Slam team.
- The Public for actually covering art and giving it a voice (see what I did there?).
- Foundlings and Peach Mag for creating local literary magazines poets and writers can be published in.
- The Gypsy Parlor and Gabrielle Mattina for giving our poetry slam a home and allowing us to do any kind of show we want on her stage. (This includes the poetry slam, my band, Poets Vs Comics: Dawn of the Open Mic for the Infringement Festival, etc)
- The Just Buffalo Literary Center for giving writers an opportunity to work with an organization that is working for them.
- Creative Mornings/Buffalo for giving me a bunch of opportunities I didn’t think I’d have.
- Cringe-Worthy Poets Collective for publishing so many local writers chapbooks and giving them an inexpensive way to get their work out there.
Ben’s book release:
Three other poets I’ve been working with a lot lately are Justin Karcher (Editor-in-Chief of Ghost City Review), Megan Kemple (Author of American Blasphemies, Ghost City Press, 2017) and Aidan Ryan (Co-Editor of Foundlings Poetry Zine and the 2017 Winner of the Just Buffalo Literary Center’s Members Award).
Last year, Aidan put together the Whistle Stop ’16: Poets and Comics Pre-Presidential Debate Tour – a reading series with stops in Rochester, Syracuse, Buffalo, Fredonia, and Toronto, ON – where each of us read politically slanted work as a primer before each debate. It was a huge success and caused the four of us to start working on new projects together. This Spring, each of us had a new book accepted for publication, and rather than compete with each other we decided to work together and put our releases as part of a connected series. We titled it Babble (a self-depricating play on Just Buffalo’s Babel series) and have already completed the first event with Karcher’s release of When Severed Ears Sing You Songs (CWP Collective, 2017). My release of ROTTEN KID is the second event in the series.
At a certain point I realized a lot of what I was writing was opaque (I said most of this during my CMTransparency talk) and the works in this book are a collection of my first attempts at being transparent with my audience, but more so, with myself. Each work in the book centers around a character who fits the archetype of the Rotten Kid: The quiet kid in the back of class who people misinterpret, misunderstand, and often ridicule. At a certain point a poet friend of mine, Tom Dreitlein, noticed this trend in my writing and suggest turning it into a collection and now here we are. It’s heavily influenced by my last two years of working with kids in various settings across the city, the state, and in Canada. It’s also influenced by my work with youth drug and alcohol abusers through Horizon Health in their rehab facility.
The book is being released by Ghost City Press, will be released online as of 2/28/17 and the book launch will be March 12th, 2017 from 5pm to 7pm featuring readers such as Eve Williams Wilson, the four previously mentioned poets, Ten Thousand, and Tom Dreitlein at The Gypsy Parlor, roughly three years from when I released I Was a Lid there. (I Was a Lid is a short book of fiction). MORE ON THE EVENT HERE
It will be $10 the day of the launch and people who attend will be the only people who are able to get a signed copy.