ML Liebler interviewed by Pete Donohue
The US Rust Belt Poet with the Wife of Bath Kicks Out the Jams in Hastings (England)
ML Liebler interviewed by Pete Donohue
The (mad) March monthly open mic at Sheer Poetry was a specially extended event as Bookbusters welcomed two legendary special guest performers. London beat poet and musician Pete Brown has a performance career spanning seven decades and is well known as the lyricist for sixties supergroup Cream as well as later collaborations with Jack Bruce and for fronting his own ground-breaking bands. Last year our Reviews Editor Colin Gibson ran a two-part interview with Brown (who has recently relocated to St Leonards) in HIP.
ML Liebler is a poet, musician, university professor, music and arts activist, and small press publisher from Detroit USA. Liebler’s Ridgeway Press has recently published Brown’s latest poetry collection Mundane Tuesday and Freudian Saturday.
It was an explosive night of performance poetry with some of our regular less-experienced Hastings poets sharing the stage on an equal footing with two guys who have been around the literary block several times each. Amongst all this fun ML Liebler agreed to an exclusive spontaneous interview with HIP Literature Editor Pete Donohue. Here is some of it:
HIP: Have you always lived in Detroit?
ML: Born and raised. I teach at Wayne State University which is in the middle of the city. And as it turns out there was a little hospital on campus where I was born and it’s now the Wayne State mortuary science building.
HIP: So have you donated your body?
ML: (Laughing) I’m thinking about it.
HIP: You told us earlier you have a wife from Bath. What’s the deal there?
ML: Well her mother married an American soldier from the city and we now live in the house which she grew up in, and have known each other since we were like fourteen. We go back to England from time to time – we still have a little bit of family left in Bath.
HIP: How long have you been together?
ML: Coming up fifty years now (applause from audience). Doesn’t everybody do that?
HIP: How did you get into poetry in the first instance?
ML: I just started writing. I didn’t really know that I was doing poetry. I just had this urge inside me. I don’t come from an intellectual or academic family, as maybe you can tell from my work. So my grandmother didn’t really read me poems but she did love Elvis and The Inkspots, which really was kinda hip-hop performance poetry of its time.
So I was really influenced by music but I don’t know what it was, I just started scribbling – feelings, I guess, in my textbooks, and getting into trouble for that. This was the second grade but it wasn’t until I got to the fifth grade – when I was ten and we were given literature books – that I saw these things that were called poems. I thought: oh, ok, that’s kinda like what I’m doing.
ML: People thought I was the least likely person to do it and it’s been a life of poetry ever since. I’ve been all over the world. You know, some of you might like to go to Afghanistan. I’ve done a lot of work in the West Bank with poetry and stuff. I did a lot for the State Department but I think Trump’s getting rid of that. I used to do a lot of stuff in Russia – which is how I know I don’t wanna live in Russia. And in America, there are a lot of times (I travelled) for the state department, to do literature and teaching, and talk to teachers, stuff like that.
HIP: And music? You seem pretty into that.
ML: Music? Yeah, when I started doing music years ago…
PB: (Pete Brown from stage right) He sings the blues, he’s very good at it.
ML: I sing the blues, and Pete has authorised that so it’s good. We did a cool show. But what I did, because of my musical influences, and where I come from, and because in America poetry is not very highly regarded, I thought: well you know what, I love poetry, I love music, I’m gonna start putting my poetry with music and performing it for people. Changing hearts and minds. And essentially that has worked. I’ve done a lot of recordings. I did one with Peter Lewis (Moby Grape), I did poetry and music with Country Joe (McDonald), I did an album with Al Kooper doing the music. And then I have my own group which actually is called Coyote Monk (Poetry Band). My stuff is on Spotify and Apple Music.
HIP: So the poetry came first and then…
ML: …The music. I thought: Hey, I want people to get into poetry. Not so much to buy it, although that doesn’t hurt, but to make it accessible.
HIP: When we do performance poetry people listen.
ML: That’s because there are a gazillion bands. And I don’t wanna be a band, I wanna perform poetry. And we do Kick Out the Jams but in a kinda bluesy weird way, and when we did it with John Sinclair (US jazz poet, counterculture activist and manager of iconic sixties Detroit protopunk band MC5) he said: “You know, if MC5 had done it that way they’d be in the Hall of Fame. So it’s a different kinda thing.
HIP: So what’s more important then – the words, the rhythm, the delivery, a combination?
ML: The words are always written in books first, and then I think up music that goes with it. Yeah.
HIP: ML Liebler welcome to the Hastings poetry scene and thank you so much for detouring on this trip to England to come and perform for us at no charge. You truly are a free spirit and a sheer poet.
LM Liebler poem:
When I was seven years old
in second grade
my teacher wrote
in the comments section
of my report card: Michael
is an even-tempered boy
but when provoked
his fists are soon flying.
At eleven years old I heard
All You Need Is Love.
That changed everything.