(Joe Lavigne owns one of those trendy cafés that attract the literati – mostly writers and poets hoping for their big break. The only difference is that Joe’s café doesn’t serve coffee. In fact, his café doesn’t have any chairs. There’s no piped in Miles Davis tunes either. Joe owns the Arcanum Café – a virtual community that has become a popular hang-out for aspiring writers. The café is a place to share ideas, post works in progress, discuss writing, and bitch about the publishing industry. Joe lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and is an aspiring poet and musician. You can view his work here. DaRK PaRTY caught up with Joe to talk about the trials and tribulations of running an online writer’s forum and his own philosophy about the writing life.)
DaRK PaRTY: You are the owner and Webmaster of Arcanum Cafe -- a community of writers, readers and poets. Can you give DaRK PaRTY readers unfamiliar with the site a quick history and the reason for the cafe's existence?
Joe Lavigne: The Arcanum Cafe started in August of 1997, initially as a personal homepage on AOL. It was a place where I could post my own poems and learn about making Web pages. I realized immediately the possibilities of asking others to submit their works for publication on the Web site. For me it just seemed like the most natural direction to take the site.Since I was about 14, I've thought there should be a better and easier way for the average person to get their poetry and stories into the spotlight in spite of those in the literary business or academia deeming their works unworthy or unpublishable. One of my dreams has been to produce a magazine to help other aspiring poets and writers get published. Admittedly a large part of that desire was borne out of the fact that in my earliest years writing I felt like there was neither venue nor appreciation for my style of then dark writings. But even as my own works matured and I gained some modest respect in school for my writing, that wish to help others publish their works never faded. So in my college years in the Chicago area, I started an annual community literary magazine called Arcanum Literary Magazine, which had fairly successful publication runs.
So when I started the website a couple years later it seemed like the perfect way to keep that dream alive. At that time I couldn't find any Web sites that posted other people's literary or creative works. In hindsight, there were a handful of others sites, but lack of search engine placement and even lack of categorization for such sites in search engines made them virtual impossible to find. Oddly enough, I think most of those original sites have since fallen by the wayside despite the wide proliferation of community poetry sites these days, making Arcanum Cafe one of the oldest on the Web.
DP: You must get all types at the site. Can you share some of the weirdest and most memorable moments of running the cafe since its launch in 1997?
Joe: Yeah, the site definitely gets all kinds to say the least. On the bizarre end, I once had a skinhead Neo-Nazi poet, who threatened to kill me after he was banned from the café. He wasn't the first nor last to make death threats, but was probably the only one I took somewhat serious.
We once had someone pretend they were a family member of mine in order to falsely claim I was killed in a car accident when I was gone from the site for two days. That caused quite a stir. We've had an excessively needy person fake their own death to get attention. We've also had the usual assortment of hackers, spammers, and of course trolls over the years.But we continue to have a greater wealth of really good people. Members sharing not only their creative works, but sharing with each other in everything from births, sickness, marriage, divorce and deaths as well as the daily trials and tribulations of life. The site has even resulted in some romance amongst members, ranging from long distance relationships to engagements and even living together. Recently we had our first marriage of two poets that met via the website.
All in all I've gotten to know people from every corner of the globe and from nearly every walk of life.
DP: We share a similar background in journalism. Do you think a career as a reporter or editor is a good start for a writer with ambitions as a poet or a novelist?
Joe: Well, a career in journalism will certainly pay the bills a bit while someone tries to get their creative ambitions off the ground. Overall, I think a print journalism background, which was my particular area and focus, helps you learn a lot more about the actual publication business, the writing process in general and the key elements of storytelling. Not to mention being a reporter, in my experience, makes you interact with a wide array of people from government officials to the average Joe to the homeless person living on the street. I think that definitely can broaden your horizons as well as give you more subjects and personalities to draw from for your writing.
A career in journalism just makes you more aware of and keen to what's going on in the world and often the why's that lie behind issues or events. This insight can help an artist or writer create works that perhaps can aim at deeper and more universal levels.
DP: You're a poet as well as Arcanum's main man. What attracted you to poetry in the first place and how would you describe your own work?
Joe: These days I rarely write poetry or fiction. Funny, when I first started writing poetry at the age of 13, I had no clue what a poem was or if what I was writing was poetry until an English teacher told me that was what I was doing. I started writing in order to vent and cope with the very unusual circumstances going on in my life. Basically, it kept me from drowning in a sea of madness. So much of my early work was exceptionally dark, depressing, bloody and violent.
But of course over time, as I slowly emerged from that sea and matured, my writing changed. Of course there were relationships that resulted in a good deal of love poetry. But beyond the dark and love categories, I'm not sure how I would classify the rest of my writings. A good portion would probably be considered arcane or esoteric. Most of that stuff I don’t even bother making public.
DP: Being a writer can be one of the most agonizing and frustrating pursuits. What's your advice to people who want to make a career out of it?
Joe: I'm no expert on writing, so I’m not keen on giving advice. But I think the best thing to do is to just always keep writing even if there feels like there is no inspiration forthcoming or muse guiding you. Spend as much time as you can learning about the world and people around you, like what makes them tick, as much as you can to have the deepest well of experience and knowledge to draw from for your writing.
Read as much as you can. I still think when it comes to creative writing the best advice is the age-old “show, don't tell.” But essentially whether you're writing poetry, a novel, an article for a magazine, a news story for a newspaper or even a press release, you've got to make your audience care and hopefully feel passionate about what you are writing.
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Labels: 5 Questions, Joe Lavigne, Writing