The lousiest poet in Chico
Stephen Handlin has led a life defined by extremes of tragedy, romance, poverty, creative flurries and individual moments of enlightenment. His “tortured artist” persona is so quickly approaching cliché, it wouldn’t make sense for him to be anything other than a poet. The 34-year-old Magalia resident and Iraq war veteran, along with hundreds of other Chico-area scribes, entered and lost the CN&R’s Poetry 99 contest in October. After “crying into [his] bong” for a few days, Handlin launched his own poetry website, http://lousypoet.org, which he describes as “a poetry site for the rest of us.”
Why did you become a poet?
While I was art major at USC, I ended up taking some mushrooms and writing in my notebook “words are an inefficient means of expression,” so you should only use pictures. The next day I saw that and wrote this little rhyming poem about my dog. All of the sudden I could rhyme, and I had fun with it. I was like, what can I do with this? So I went to a café in Santa Monica, and the experience of performing the poem led to the inspiration for the next poem. Then I just got into a deal where I wrote every day.
There was a period in your life where you were homeless. How did you get off the streets?
I was living in a ’73 Camaro with my dog. That was actually a great time. Being a homeless poet in west L.A. is the coolest thing—chicks dig you. But one day I broke down on the highway. I go to start the car, and it backfires. My pitbull was always easily spooked, so she jumped out of the window. She never hit the ground—a truck hit her and she ended up about three lanes out. So I spent a couple days sitting in front of a café covered in blood. My future wife invited me to her house for a shower, and I just sorta never left.
Has your experience in Iraq influenced you creatively?
Going to Iraq is great experience for a writer if you’ve got nothing else going on. You learn so much about people and life; war is a human experience like romance—no two are alike.
What is your highest hope for the site?
I’d just like people to put poetry on it. That café I told you about, the scene there was part of the reason I love poetry so much. There was no time limit, I could just get up there, ramble like an idiot and sit down. I love the completely open format. My site is the online equivalent to that café. It’s just about doing whatever you want.