Pulse of poetry

Todd Cirillo


Luna’s Cafe & Juice Bar

1414 16th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 441-3931

Grass Valley’s Todd Cirillo writes poetry that includes everything you love: intelligence, rhythm, music, surprise, and a love and mastery of words. But it’s Cirillo’s unabashed honesty that leaves you feeling the need to smoke a cigarette after he’s had his way with you. He’ll be back seducing yet again at Luna’s Café & Juice Bar (1414 16th Street) this Thursday, April 22, at 7:30 p.m., when he’s featured at B.L. Kennedy’s final hurrah as host of his poetry series. Come join him. Bring a lighter.

How’d you initially get interested in poetry?

Poetry is the oldest form of artistic expression. It’s a direct line from your heart to the page. The goal of poetry is to represent an emotion in the cleanest and clearest way. A good poem needs to be like a little cherry bomb. Everything should be packed in the smallest package, and then it just explodes.

The first poem I wrote was on the back porch of my folks’ place. There was a summer Midwestern storm that came blowing through. I wrote down some words and that was it. It was uncomplicated. It was about a girl who’d broken up with me.

Did you share your poem with her?

No. It was just for me. In a notebook. Where everyone starts.

Describe your writing style.

I write “after hours” poetry and love poems. Both good love and bad.

What’s your poetic method?

My process is to go out and place myself on the railroad tracks. I want to hear and listen and observe, to allow things to happen and see what’s going to happen. That often includes sacrificing myself and my own relationships.

After you lay yourself on the tracks to create the poem, are you free from it?

Poetry can be a dangerous thing. William S. Burroughs said that poetry is made up of flaws. I like that. One of the hardships of being an artist is that you have to create, and someone can view it as being hurtful. But what is more important? Why do people choose to experience art in the first place? If you fall in love with someone because they write poems about beautiful women, you can’t keep worrying about that.

Have you ever had a cherry bomb just drop in your lap?

Yes. “Semantics” was one that just came to me like that.

Do you have some poems that you’re especially attached to?

Oh yes. There are definitely some that I’d like on a program of my existence, because they’re etched in me or they captured some kind of purity of who I am or who I want to be.

How has your style developed or changed?

I started by writing very long poems. Now, I write in a much more concise manner. I want to clearly convey the rain that’s hitting the city street and the sound of the neon bar sign, the conversation of two people picking up on each other. And no matter what my life situation is, I’ve been able to remain tuned in to those moments and to what I think is the pulse of poetry.

Too often poetry is viewed as an elitist endeavor. But when you write poetry about what really happens, and in a way that can be understood, poetry becomes more accessible. I want my poetry to be accessible to truck stops and barrooms and bowling alleys. By maintaining the elements of poetry, it’s kept from being condescending.

My poetry readings are more like a Van Halen concert, early 1980s. There’s lots of music, drinking and socializing. The poets may be the focal point for a time, but it’s more a bringing together of people.

Five years ago, Julie Valin, Matt Amott and I started our small press, Six Ft. Swells, to promote our work and make poetry more accessible. Our first meeting happened while sitting around in a bar, and ever since, anything that Six Ft. Swells puts out is a reason to have a party, see old friends, make new friends and turn people on to our poetry.

Who or what inspires you?

Poets, music and places. Bukowski, Kerouac, Corso and Lou Welch influence me. Music is also a constant. Otis Redding, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and [Led] Zeppelin are probably just as important to me as any poet. And there’s New Orleans. It’s fun. Music. Girls. There’s a freedom to be artistic there that I tap into … history and mystery. And there’s a dangerous, sexual and seedy edge there that comes through jazz and food and the architecture. I immediately felt at home there, the moment I heard the sounds. New Orleans writes the greatest love poems. I can fall in love there every time I’m there.