My Conversation with Nick Cave

On August 27th, at the second of two “Conversations with Nick Cave” events at Musiikkitalo in Helsinki, I was one of about 30 people seated on the stage about 15 feet from Nick Cave and his piano. Yes, on the stage. And between a couple songs in the second half of the event, I got the chance to ask him a question. In truth, as the event material promised, it was more like we had a conversation, albeit a short one.

All this might not have happened. Two months earlier, the shows sold out before I was able to buy a ticket. (Both shows sold out in minutes!) Then, a few weeks before the show, my wife connected with a work colleague who had an extra seat and through her efforts I was able to obtain it for myself.

Then, on the night of the show, luck piled upon luck when I was standing in the lobby and was was randomly selected by the roving stage manager to be one of the lucky few to be seated on the stage. These special V.I.P. seats are not for sale, making stage seats even more of an honor as they do not simply go to people willing to pay more.

Many who asked questions seemed to have come prepared. By contrast, before asking my own, I had only loosely formulated it in my head. Retrospectively, the question seems to have derived from my fear of death as a creative person. When I turned 50 five years back, my wish to become a practicing poet and (to use an old cliche) express myself became greater. I more fully realized my time on earth is limited, and if I am to have my say, or even find out what I might have to say (part of understanding my life and giving it meaning), I needed to do it now.

My question to Nick Cave went something like this: As a creative person who has been producing work across almost 5 decades, do you feel like you’re any closer to saying what you might have had to say, or does the finish line keep moving, i.e. do you still feel like you still have “everything to say” as you likely did at the start.

I introduced my question…

Me: Hi Nick, I’m David. As a person who has loved music my whole life, more often as I have grown older, I have experienced the deaths of my musical heroes. Two big ones recently were Leonard Cohen and David Bowie, two artists who were active up until the very end who spoke in late-life about their plans to produce new work. I miss them dearly now that they’re gone almost as if I had known them, as if they’d been close friends. You, yourself, are someone I’ve been listening to for about four decades. You’ve been making music in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and continue now in your early 60s. And I think you are still getting better.

Nick Cave: (Cleverly) Thank you for confirming my suspicions.

Me: My question is: Do you feel now as you are getting on in life that you have gotten any closer to expressing what you set out to express, or does it still feel a long way off as if you still have “everything to say” as you might have when you first started making music?

Nick Cave: (I need to point out I was so nervous standing there holding my microphone it was difficult to take it all in, so I  roughly and probably inaccurately characterize the response he gave, all the while looking directly at me as if he and I were the only two in the auditorium which at that time seated about 1,700 people.)  I don’t think of things as having a sort of predefined narrative where I would know at the start what I set out to do and what I wanted to say. Certainly, in most people’s lives there come defining events which shatter or destroy their original concept of who they thought they were, and and that may entirely change what they feel they have to say. For me, the death of my son was one such event. So instead of having had a sort of clarity about that I want to communicate, it’s been far more chaotic, and my songs have been more a response to what was going on at the time. There’s been a lot of flailing around. Does that answer the question?

Me: I hear you saying that chaos and flailing around is inevitable in life, that’s maybe a good thing, and we should even welcome it.

Nick Cave said some additional words I can’t remember at all as the conversation ground to a semi-awkward end.

I can recall only replying “Thank you” before I sat back down.

I wish there was a recording to see what actually transpired in the exchange. I know people listened and maybe even took it to heart as someone later referred back to Cave’s answer to me as part of their own question.

To give you an idea of the intimacy brought by sitting on the stage, below is an elicit video of Cave’s performance of “Stagger Lee” I found taken by another attendee that night. (Technically, no photography or video is allowed at these events, but as you might expect, Google still turns up a handful from each show.)

And here’s a link to the full set list of songs Cave performed on this particular night.

Top Replies to a Tweet by Nancy Pelosi Congratulating Joy Harjo, the First Native American U.S. Poet Laureate (a found poem)


Televise hearings!! Enforce subpoenas!! Start impeachment investigations!!

Please impeach Trump


Bla bla bla Start impeachment hearings now

All I want to hear from you is impeachment inquiry Don’t act as if things are normal

Congratulations to Joy Harjo. Still, impeach!

Congratulations well deserved. Now about those impeachment hearings.

When are you going to do something about 45? I’m beginning to think you may be in cahoots with him.

Impeach and 2 jail CLIMATE control 2



Great but this is not your constitutional duty

Congratulations, beautiful

You’re about as competent as Paul Ryan. Impeach!

Impeach potus (repeated 19 times)

This is great news! We need Native representation across all of our institutions. We also need impeachment, like today!

I am very happy and lucky to have lived long enough to see a 100% of non-migrant descendance American get such recognition. Well earned!

She’s a wonderful poet and a wonderful choice!

Which language she composes poetry in?

May her talents come to our talents as an art of beauty!

I thought it was Elisabeth Warren.

Acknowledgment of indigenous people finally after genocide of millions indigenous peoples by European immigrants

Nancy I grow up with native Americans Indians friend

Poetry, yes! I love it. But, what about TCB* when it comes to what does matter in real life?

* TCB is an acronym, in this case presumably standing for “taking care of business”

Author comment: I wrote this poem (or more accurately, assembled it) in response to comments on a tweet June 20th by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House congratulating Joy Harjo on being selected as new poet laureate of the United States.

People say don’t read the comments. But I did, and I was appalled but also convinced that they represent a cross section of America speaking for itself. Every line of this poem is a real comment, randomly selected from the top replies and unedited for syntax, spelling or punctuation. The poem ends with a comment by a Twitter user with 8 followers that I felt sums up the antithesis of my opinion that poetry does matter in real life, more than a lot of things.

And, if I need to even say it myself, yes, congratulations to Joy Harjo! I believe she is a wonderful choice for the next poet laureate of the U.S.

Driver Three

I’ve been taking an online poetry class from the UK’s The Poetry School. The tutor is Leah Umansky (@lady_bronte on Twitter), author most recently of The Barbarous Century (Eyewear, 2018).

The class, called “Only Love Studio,” is ostensibly about love poetry, but love is interpreted broadly and includes romantic love, platonic love, and love of place so the subject matter for the poems has been quite far-ranging.

It’s been a joy to be in Leah’s class. Her assignments have pushed me to write in ways I typically might not, and her feedback has been generous, encouraging and insightful. Time will tell if I get any keepers out of this class, but most assignments have produced at least one poem worthy of sharing in one form or another.

Our class of 18 students is diverse, and it’s been inspirational to see the depth of expression possible by poets of different levels. Based on my first experience, I would definitely recommend The Poetry School.

I made an audio recording of last week’s workshop poem called “1982.” It was a bit of retrospective on the experience of American high school when you’re a bit of a nerd. You can hear an early version of that poem below:

This week, I wrote “Driver Three” in response to a prompt related to “love of place.” On the surface it’s a 15-line story about a car ride (well, technically 3) that I had during a work trip to China last week. But more importantly, it’s about the necessity of trusting even in a world with plenty of evidence you should do otherwise. I struggled with it for 4 days while traveling, but when I got home my wife immediately gave me the feedback I needed to figure out how to end it.

It’s a work in progress, but you can see what I’ve got in the video below.

9 Great Poetry Podcasts

Recently I shared a list of 6 Great Ways to Get Poetry in Your Inbox.

In this post, I share a list of podcasts (iTunes podcast links are provided below, but most of these podcasts are available on all platforms) where you can hear poetry read aloud and discussed by poets and poetry editors. There are other lists, but these are the ones to which I subscribe and to which I regularly listen.

  1. The Poetry Magazine Podcast – (iTunes) In this podcast, the editors of Poetry Magazine (Don Share, Christina Pugh, and Lindsay Garbutt) “listen to a poem or two in the current issue.” Often the poets themselves read the poem. Then the editors discuss the poem, often a line at a time, (with the corresponding audio clip re-introduced). It’s a great way to hear new poems and get insight into their workings. It’s also helpful to get in the habit of paying attention to the way the lines within a poem work and contribute to the whole. Don Share’s voice is always welcome in my headphones, and I enjoy his relaxed and unpretentious presentation.
  2. Poetry Off the Shelf (from the Poetry Foundation) – (iTunes) Hosted by Curtis Fox, this podcast “explores the diverse world of contemporary American poetry with readings by poets, interviews with critics, and short poetry documentaries.” This is casual, unpretentious conversation about poetry that’s easy and fun to listen to.
  3. The New Yorker Poetry podcast – (iTunes ** Stitcher) Hosted by poet Kevin Young, poetry editor of the New Yorker Magazine, in this podcast, they “ask poets to chose a poem from the magazine’s archive to read and discuss along with a piece of their own which we’ve published in the New Yorker.” Again, here’s the chance to hear new and archived poetry read aloud and to hear poets reveal their own inner processes. Kevin Young is a great poetry conversationalist (would love to chat with him myself!) which helps to make these conversations lively and interesting.
  4. Poem Talk – (iTunes) Podcast recorded at the Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania, where host Al Filreis leads a roundtable discussion about single poems with a rotating series of guests.  In its own description, the discussions are lively. They are correct in saying so!
  5. The Poetry Review Podcast from the Poetry Society(On iTunes ** on Soundcloud **) – Rotating selection of hosts interview poets who also read from their poems which have appeared in The Poetry Review.
  6. Poem of the Day (Poetry Foundation) – Daily (On iTunes ** -)  Poem of the day read by the poet or a reader other than the poet.
  7. The Kenyon Review Podcast – (iTunes) Literary podcast not limited to poetry.
  8. The Paris Review podcast– (iTunes) Features classic stories and poems, interviews from their archives, and new work and original readings by the contemporary writers of our time.
  9. The Writer’s Almanac – (iTunes ** Stitcher ** TuneIn) As reviewed in the daily email blast item, this is the old standby.  Garrison Keillor was returned in July 2018 with this daily 5-minute item which includes a  writer-related datebook and other histories, as well as a contemporary or classic poem, read in his trademark voice. Many poets have remarked that they love the way Garrison Keillor reads their poems.

The Rainbow-Colored Gorilla Plays Foosball

Just for fun, here’s an ekphrastic poem inspired by a photo my friend Ed Ackerson posted to Instagram the other day. The photo seemed to urgently want to tell a story so I had to make one up around it.

The Rainbow-Colored Gorilla Plays Foosball

We were down 10 points when
boom! The rainbow-colored gorilla
sat down on the foosball table. Maybe

he was wound up after the pride
parade. Or maybe he was just angry.
Oooo oooo oooo, was all he said,

but that’s all he ever said. We had
to abandon the game after that
due to the smell and carry the table,

gorilla and all, out to the alley behind
the house. He didn’t budge, and soon the
weeds grew up around him. To this day,

he patrols the penalty arc, rain or shine.
Best goalie I’ve seen in Uptown in years, one neighbor said.
Greatest of all time! Insists another.