Steve Abee

Steve Abee is a human, we mean that in the realist of real ways, he is a poet and a  teacher, he’s the author of short stories and books, he was our AP English teacher and he is our friend. Mr. Abee (as he was to us for the first part of our knowing) is a history of Los Angeles, he knew Beck when Beck was playing in coffee shops in Echo Park, he’s probably the best person to ask where to get a cup of coffee or a doughnut in this desert city. Not only will he tell you where the best doughnut spot is in each area of LA, but he’ll tell you the tales of Sunset and Silverlake when the the phrase “oat late” would get your ass kicked. He is wickedly beautiful, and has an immensely large heart, always beating.

When did this start?

I was in high school, I had friends who were into writing, and I had a really powerful 11th grade teacher, Mrs. Shackleton, and she talked about the spiritual aspect of literature, her approach was that literature has a spiritual function. She asked us to analyze text, and there were different categories, the spiritual, the analytical. I thought it was really beautiful, that each piece was being seen as part of the mind. I thought that was the way to go, examine the moment. Live to create, and make community out of creation, and spread that gift of value, because when you create art you’ve saying there’s value, theres value to this chaos and this experience, we were here and it mattered. We're floating around on this crazy rock in this ocean, and what is it, how does it exist, there's so much mystery, and it feels like it’s what were supposed to do.

How did you know this was what you wanted to do?

I was in college and took a creative writing class where the teacher and the class were really enthusiastic about my work, he wanted to publish a bunch of my stuff and it was kind of unheard of, a freshman to have three things published. Then I met this guy, he was in this poetry workshop with Jack Grapes, and part of that workshop was to put out little books of your own poetry at the end of the class, he showed me his and I still have it, it’s this amazing little punk rock homemade poetry zine of his own, it’s called Inside My Brain. He showed me the technique of gluing and pasting. That was when I realized you could do this, when I first found out about the beat writers, one thing I loved to death about those guys was the way they all hung out around art, they were all apart of each others art, I thought that was the coolest thing, to be hanging out at the coffee shop, smoking cigarettes, asking what's it all about.

When did you leave Santa Cruz?

In eighty nine and had this idea, to find the beat heart of the city, you know, write poems and just see where that goes. Because Los Angeles at the time was the anti-poetic city, it was the late eighties, and there was this gnarly-ness to the city. I thought that anybody who was writing down here or making art here is a full on warrior.

How has poetry changed you?

You’re always changing, your place on the planet will change how you see things. I know my writing has changed from when I was in my twenties to now, it’s become more personal, but my life is way more contained, in routine, in a family unit. I have a daughter at UCLA and she needed something last week when it was raining, and I was like ‘I’ll do it, I’ll come over’, and just seeing the city in the deluge, watching the people,
the rain dogs at the corner waiting to cross the street. LA is a big part of it, I mean it’s a crazy maker, it’s constantly changing, there's a whole gentrification thing, but it’s a beautiful piece of the planet to me, it works.

Do you create, because you are trying to find meaning?

We’re meaning machines, it’s just part of the brain size we have, it’s a gift. 

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Do you create, because you are trying to find meaning?

We’re meaning machines, it’s just part of the brain size we have, it’s a gift, this little cosmic window, we get to look out on it, and see how big it is or how small it is, we have this strange gift of sight, and I think making meaning is holding something in its mystery and it’s gift. To be able to say where I am at this moment, I’m experiencing something that's ineffable but I’m going to put words to it, so I can mark it as a place, or celebrate the moment, a light to other lights. Somehow it’s almost a spiritual practice in its own way, being able to sit with the words in the moment, and at this stage I don’t even publish that much, a lot of it is just me writing it, reading, maybe typing it up. It’s the act of going through it, just being in it is sufficient right now.

Was there a point you felt like quitting?

I don’t feel like you’re a real artist unless you quit everyday, ‘I can’t do this, this is insane’, I mean you look at the reality of it, you know, it’s an echo in an empty room. But then, there's the need to be in it, that excites on a level that keeps you coming back to it, because you’re not going to stop being an artist you know, you’re an artist, it’s part of everything you do, it’ll take shape in different forms, you might not be driven to be in the gallery or write the book, but you’re still going to see the artistic value in life, seeing beauty, and I mean beauty in that radical sense of something that shakes you in your bones, I don’t think that leaves you. It was never boring, and you are involved in that act of exposing people to the value of art. The things that we cover in class are artists who have said, it's important.

Is there something you’ve created that you’re most proud of?

Family... I mean it’s a corny answer but it’s true, I discovered some really beauti- ful things, in consistency. It wasn’t all about exploding all time, things were exploding enough on their own, just getting the kids to school and existing is already full of everything that's in the ocean. The whole poetic journey... and I say poetic journey in that it’s a journey of meaning, everything is part of the song, and I wanted to honor that, even if it's not about publishing the next great American novel. It wasn’t all about exploding all time, things were exploding enough on their own, just getting the kids to school and existing is already full of everything that's in the ocean.

How often do you write?

I write a few poems a week, but the other week I wrote two in one day, but it’s the act of doing it. I was at this meeting and wrote this...