The following interview of Ken Waldman by Lois P. Jones originally aired on KPFK Los Angeles (reproduced with permission).
Biographical Information—Ken Waldman
Ken Waldman has drawn on his 30 years in Alaska to produce poems, stories, and fiddle tunes that combine into a performance uniquely his.
A former college professor with an MFA in Creative Writing (University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1988), Waldman has had published six full-length poetry collections, a memoir, a children’s book, and has released nine CDs that mix old-time Appalachian-style string-band music with original poetry. Since 1995 he’s toured full-time, performing at some of the nation’s leading universities, festivals, arts centers, and clubs.
Three of his poetry collections are set in Alaska. His first, Nome Poems, details white and Native issues in rural Alaska and went through two printings with Albuquerque’s West End Press before Waldman reprinted it himself. His second, To Live on This Earth, was released by the same publisher and has poems set throughout Alaska; many focus on the natural world there. His third, The Secret Visitor’s Guide, was published by Wings Press of San Antonio, and revisits both Alaska settings, and includes work set outside Alaska, plus a sequence of political poems inspired by the September 11, 2001 attacks. Waldman has three other full-length poetry collections by respected and known publishers: And Shadow Remained (Pavement Saw Press), Conditions and Cures (Steel Toe Books), and As the World Burns (Ridgeway Press). His memoir, Are You Famous? (Catalyst Book Press), chronicles Waldman’s adventures on tour throughout the United States. His self-published children’s book, D is for Dog Team (Nomadic Press) is a sequence of Alaska-set acrostic poems for young readers that was almost immmediately picked up for distribution by University of Alaska Press.
Waldman has had over 400 poems and stories in journals and anthologies, including Beloit Poetry Journal, Puerto del Sol, and Quarterly West. He is currently shopping four additional full-length poetry collections, a novel, a story collection, a sequel to his memoir, and a hybrid work that is both memoir and a guide to writing—and also includes a full poetry collection of poems about writing and writers.
Among Waldman’s CDs are two for children, Fiddling Poets on Parade (2005) and D is for Dog Team (2009), which goes with the children’s book of the same title. On all CDs, Waldman is joined by ace accompanists. He’s also composed and recorded over one hundred original tunes.
Though he still performs solo on occasion, Waldman teams with other musicians when he headlines such venues as Cal Poly Arts, Lakewood Cultural Center in Colorado, The Millennium Stage at The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., or else for concert series and festivals. He’ll also bring a troupe of musicians for performing arts series shows.
He is also a popular visiting artist in classrooms. Using both his fiddle and a repertoire of proven writing exercises, he has led workshops in over 225 schools in 34 states nationwide, and has been a guest writer at over 100 colleges and universities, including University of Tennessee, Knox College, and San Diego State University.
His recent essay about making a living as a touring artist was in the September/October 2015 issue of Poets & Writers magazine, and can be seen here.
For more about Ken Waldman: www.kenwaldman.com.
I toted my junker, side seam already cracked,
an old cheap box of wood that would take
the steep banks of small planes aiming
for runways, the bumps and jostles of sleds
hooked to snowmachines, the ice, the wind,
nights in the villages. Higher education
missionary, I made rounds to students’ homes
(where I visited, but never fit), to liaisons’
offices (where the state-issued equipment
sometimes worked), to the local high schools
and elementaries (where I volunteered service)—
fiddle closer to my heart than the backpack
full of books. Indeed, closer to my heart
than the frozen broken truth: a bloody pump
buried in utter darkness. Quick to unsnap
the case, I scratched tunes where no one had,
played real-life old-time music to Eskimos
and the odd whites in that weathered land.
The Pied Fiddler, I might have been, gently
placing the beat-up instrument in others’ hands,
giving up the bow. Good for smiles and laughs.
Random questions and comments. A third-grader:
It must be like having a dog making noise—
you must never get lonely. A high-schooler:
Is it hard to learn? One of my college students:
Why are you out here? Where is your family?