“Poems for Barter, Sale, or Trade,” reads Traci Lavois’ sign in front of her typewriter. She sets up a tiny area with writerly accoutrements, pencils, and paper. Give her a topic; it becomes an interactive piece of art. Give her a few minutes; she’ll make a poem just for you. Traci will be at upcoming Pop Shop Events and Festivals and we get to collaborate on events together too. I got to ask her some questions about her work.
BB: What’s the difference between your writing and your artwork? Where does one end and the other begin?
TL: I’ve always written, ever since I was a child but I never fancied myself much of an artist. I liked the machinery of the typer, the tangibility– winding the ribbon with my hands, pounding away at the dusty antique keys. Collage art fulfilled the same thing for me…working with my fingers to make a story. I’m a paper scrap junkie. I love hoarding old books and magazines, yellowed pages, old receipts, library cards, etc. Each page of Camp Big Stick was made entirely from recycled and re-purposed paper materials. I spent ten days at my uncle’s lake house in Comanche, TX last winter and made each page by hand, selecting the paper, typing up each poem, and making all the collage artwork for the book.
BB: You toured for you latest book. How was your tour? Where did you go?
TL: When I had the idea for Camp Big Stick: somebody poisoned the humans, I knew I wanted to take it on the road. I just wasn’t at all sure how to make that happen or what it would look like without a professional publishing company to back me.
I was actually selling poems at a Pop Shop event a few months after returning to Texas, when I met my partner in life, love, and the ethereal. Matt, who ran a wildly successful underground music venue at the time, shared with me his passion for the DIY community.
I was able to see firsthand how bands and musicians traveled the country on their own, self booking, sleeping on the floors and couches of friends, playing shows with local bands, busking on the streets to make it to the next city, etc. I basically applied this format to my street poetry and my book; I loaded my typer into my crappy Nissan and hit the road.I booked my tour in places where I knew folks. Each stop was vastly different, but with the same goal in mind, collaboration with local artists and the spreading of the Big Stick word.
After my release party here in Houston, I took Camp Big Stick to seven cities including, Dallas, TX, New Orleans, LA, Memphis, TN, Nashville TN, Huntsville, AL, Chicago IL, and Los Angeles, CA. At some stops I was a feature reader at a pre-existing poetry night. In other cities I put together a variety show of sorts with many different performances from local artists. I wrote poems on the street so I could eat. I slept on pull out couches. I drove until I went mad. I met some incredible individuals.
I strongly encourage anyone who has a project worth sharing to explore the possibility of a DIY tour, whether it is with their art, comedy, music, writing, etc. Get creative, come up with merch and small freebies for the road, find a way to busk, exhaust your IRL friends and your cyber pals. I cannot encourage artists enough to take this empowering and legitimizing step with their art!
BB: What are your next steps for your work?
TL: I am currently practicing the “ride the horse in the direction its going” philosophy. Whatever, Mom Publications, founded by my partner, Matt Fries, and myself, is due for its second book release in December with a collection of wacky fiction from a local writer and pal. We hand-bind each book from our east-side-home-office, using our binding machine and a healthy amount of grit. Our goal with Whatever, Mom is to provide a written voice (and yes, as the name implies, an angsty one) for the Houston community. Our website will be up and running very soon with info about purchasing books and upcoming events!
As for my personal work, I have already begun writing and image sourcing for my second collection of poetry and art. I’m also exploring new collaborations with my street performing poetry act. The coolest part of my tour was teaming up with local musicians. We would create songs on the spot using audience suggestions as topics. I would start typing and the musician would start strumming and they would sing the song as I wrote it. Upon returning from tour, Matt, who is also a part time circuit wizard, adhered a contact mic to one of my portable typewriters. He can then run through pedals to loop and add effects, in essence turning my typer into an instrument. I make a beat by pounding the typer keys, he lays the track. loops, and mixes, and I rap/sing/say the words I am typing. My secret dream has always been to be a nerdy, wordy, white girl rapper, and I’m stoked to see where this experiment takes me. We debuted our strange noise/poetry hybrid on Dallas public radio at 3AM on Halloween. Can’t wait to show Houston our wild little set up and release some more Whatever, Mom literature for your eye balls to devour.
BB: What is the weirdest subject for a poem that anyone has asked for?
TL: I was once commissioned, for the price of two cigarettes (I’m not even a smoker), to write a poem about zombies, Thomas Jefferson, and a Hitler-Abe Lincoln hybrid human. I was busking at a bar and the man who requested it said he’d be right back, so I hammered out his request and I never saw him again.
To learn more about Traci Lavois visit her website here.