Sean Brendan-Brown discusses his band, why he started writing, and his idea of the perfect poetry festival.
The Coil: Describe your writing style to someone who’s never read you.
Sean Brendan-Brown: I’m a medically-retired Marine, but I also fronted a band called The Trannys. I was raised Roman Catholic in a Kennedy-worshiping family of alcoholic, working-class Irish Americans: I identify now as atheist but still fiercely Democrat: all this chaos, death, change, faith, loyalty, and passion is my signature in both poetry and fiction.
How would The New York Times categorize your writing?
The NYT is too highbrow and pseudo-intellectually narcissistic to care about my writing, even though I have an MFA from Iowa (Poetry), and I’ve won NEA Fellowships in both Poetry and Fiction. I’m a real Marine psycho-writer, and my sexuality, politics, and violence scare the shit out of them because it’s not topical causes or issues I fight for or endorse, but the struggle of real people forever. I won’t entertain you at a cocktail party or waste my time promoting your gallery of bullshit, or praise your Pulitzer or American Book Award, all as silly, corrupt, and meaningless now as a Nobel Prize thrown away on Bob Dylan.
What was the catalyst that made you start writing?
My medical-retirement from the USMC. I spent nine months at the Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital recovering, and out of the pain, boredom, and frustration began to keep a journal that became, by the end, 20 spiral notebooks. Back home in Tacoma, Washington, I began writing poetry and song lyrics and started a band.
Your favorite —
Whisk(e)y: Maker’s Mark Cask Strength.
Wild animal: Rhino.
Waffle topping: Blueberry compote.
Poem: William Butler Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium.”
Scientist or inventor: Nicolaus Copernicus.
Broadway musical: Cats (Sorry, can’t help it, love it!)
Badass getaway vehicle: Aston Martin V12 Vantage.
Movie to watch alone: Beaches (Sorry, can’t help it, love it!)
Quote: “I can resist everything except temptation.” — Oscar Wilde
Tell us about your favorite books or authors.
When I was in hospital as a Marine, some volunteers brought a huge box of books for us to poke through, and the one I grabbed was W. B. Yeats’ The Tower, a reprint of the 1928 original, and I was flabbergasted. I fell totally in love with poetry, then read a collection of short stories by Flannery O’Connor and thought her amazing, way better than Hemingway, not only in style but in substance. Later, at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, I read all the Russian, French, and German “greats.”
If you could witness or participate in any historical event or time period, what would it be?
The American Civil War; I would go back and prevent John Wilkes Booth from killing President Abraham Lincoln. I think the USA would be a vastly better country now if President Lincoln had lived to carry out his plans for Reconstruction of the South and Reunification of the States.
Which underrepresented cause do you want to bring to our attention?
The abuse of beagles for experiments in laboratories is truly sickening and should be completely outlawed! I totally support those PETA “terrorists” who free these beautiful victims, and I hope you join our cause! These gentle, fun hounds are so intelligent and loving, I consider them angels more than dogs.
Weapon of choice:
Bear Cruzer Compound Bow, Carbon Express Red arrows with G5 Outdoors Montec broadheads.
If you could invent something that is missing from your life, what would it be?
Stephen King (sorry, he pens a ton of crap but a bit of gold, too) wrote “Word Processor of the Gods,” and I really need one; I have piles of notes in my office and a million terabytes of great ideas stuck in my Lenovos and Apples, and dozens of book ideas in my blurry head, and only churn out a book maybe every five years.
The perfect soundtrack to your writing:
When I’m writing poetry I listen to classical or New Age shit or “pop Celtic” bands like Clannad or Enya (sorry, I love her), but when I’m working on fiction, it’s always heavy metal, and when I’m drunk, Stone Temple Pilots, Coldplay, Muse, Def Leppard, Killswitch Engage, Velvet Revolver, Metallica, R.E.M., Queensryche, The Gathering, Nirvana, or The Killers.
Which literary figure, dead or alive, would you want to —
Take tea with: James Joyce, then Samuel Beckett.
Arm wrestle: Ernest Hemingway, then William Faulkner.
Ice skate with: Gertrude Stein, then Willa Cather.
Drink under the table: Charles Bukowski, then Arthur Rimbaud.
Get a blurb from: Denis Johnson, then Robert Frost.
Beat in a duel of wits: Albert Camus, then Oscar Wilde.
Have on your side in the apocalypse: Hunter S. Thompson, then Rudyard Kipling.
Write your next book for you: Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, then Shusaku Endo.
Explain why, though way more brilliant than your celebrity friends, you fucked everything up: Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald (greatest American novelist, period).
The one thing in your writing routine you couldn’t live without:
The hope that it all matters, that I’m not just throwing my soul into the abyss, that someone really needs or wants what I’m writing, and that writing makes a real difference, not some fucking cliché difference, but mind-changing, didactic difference! We’ve entertained ourselves to death too long; it’s time to get smart now. This time and this age needs human intelligence, not artificial intelligence, and human interaction, face-to-face, breath-to-breath, voice-to-voice, not social media.
Set the perfect scene for you to write your next masterpiece.
Already live it: quiet house in a quiet suburban development in the bluest city in the bluest state (Olympia, Washington) tending my lawn and gardens, drinking the best brews in the world. (Even Germany acquiesces that Pacific Northwest beer is the best, especially our Organic Fishtail 12% alcohol licorice & lemongrass “Hail Ale,” which we encourage tweakers to drink instead of Four Loko or Joose (a toxic slurry of malt liquor, artificial flavors, and colors with high-fructose corn syrup) when we offer a great organic brew naturally sweet!) Great friends and neighbors, great bar scene and nightlife, great sex, and already halfway through that next “masterpiece.”
When writing makes you rich, you will:
Buy a warehouse on the docks in Seattle, continually host “Battles of the Bands” competitions and Microbrew and Pot Festivals, Poetry Festivals (real readings, not slams, which are bullshit) with real, gorgeous, high-quality print books by high-quality presses represented by the real authors in person, decently paid and available to mingle, talk, and sign, and more drunkenness, great bands, and great dancing with beautiful people two hours later at the Wine Festival, and it starts all over with the Daffodil & Rhododendron Festivals, then the Beagle Rescue Festival featuring free blunts and a high-tech stage featuring the best local rap and hip-hop: what on earth could be better?