what is your name?
Is this a trick question? My parent’s named me Jackass at birth but it is not a name that inspires confidence in others so they changed my name to Ross when I started kindergarten. The teachers still called me Jackass until I graduated from high school though and apparently it stuck because many people still call me Jackass today in friendly discourse. But my name is Ross Runfola.
how would you describe what you do?
I am an attorney, professor of sociology specializing in Gender Roles and Sports Sociology, poet, writer and performance artist. I do not find it difficult to do all these activities because I am incompetent and insipid in all these endeavors. People do not realize how easy it is to do a number of things if you set very low expectations for yourself and strive to do them badly. There is a lot to be said about mediocrity.
I have always labored at multiple careers at the same time or leave a profession and come back to it at a future time since I usually am not happy doing one task. When a profession no longer gives me excitement I leave; embracing the concept of Protean Man, which is foreign in Western Culture- that is you labor at something until it no longer gives you pleasure. I do not stay for the usual Western reasons, to maintain a good salary or to vest in a pension.
what are you currently working on?
I am currently reading books by diverse people such as the Dalai Llama, Herman Hesse, Herbert Benson and others I use for a course I teach on Human Relations which may lead to a book; revising another edition of a sociology textbook I wrote , Understanding Sociology, getting a poetry book ready scheduled for publication in early 2010 by Tainted Coffee Press, entitled, Up Against the Poetry Establishment: Poems that Make me Literary Roadkill and putting together an article for publication regarding myths in contemporary sports.
what has had the greatest influence on your work?
The greatest influence on my thinking and my work is the driving force that the basic goal of American education is not to create creative or independent thinkers but to socialize students to fit into society. In all I do, I try to encourage enlightened dissent and focus the attention of people on the forgotten. I am a poor man’s Howard Zinn. I try to show everyone who hears my poems or reads my works in American history or sociology to see the social landscape from the bottom up instead of the top down.
what is the greatest misconception about you or your work?
The greatest misconception about me and my poetry, for example, is that I am a gadfly who writes controversial poetry as if that was my only purpose. Charles Bukowski is my muse.
I write poetry that focuses on the raw underbelly of urban life as I lived it or viewed it. The stark reality of life in the society as lived by the worker or the common person is ignored by academic or rhyming poets. I find their poetry devoid of experience; essentially a self centered exercise where poets write for themselves. I am turned off by the kind of poetry that uses language that is abstract and contrary to the vocabulary of common people.
Vanity chapbooks are as beneficial to others as masturbation and polite poesy journals where poets have an unwritten understanding to publish each other’s bad poetry, is really an effete giant poetry cluster fuck. The only people who read them are an inbred group of academic or rhyming mutant poets.
In my poem, The Beauty of My Poetry, I write about these poets:
men with manicures who teach at university.
men who never had to sully their hands with hard labor.
…and only gain fame in the small circle of poets
with pasty faces and no passion or soul.
their poetry does not come out easily like the first shit in the morning.
deadlines are their inspirational laxative.
When I read poetry in public or write for journals, my goal is not to get the audience to like me or my poetry. As Rollo May finds, “If you do not express your own ideas, you will have betrayed yourself.
My goal in writing poetry and at poetry readings is to create poetry that is less conforming to meaningless codes; less reliant on exterior forms of approval and reinforcements, less tolerant of intolerance, more prone to risk taking, and more spontaneous and interactive.
That is my goal, not only in poetry, but everything I do in life. I write articles for newspapers, teach and in my daily interaction with others; not to curry favor. I say or write what I believe, or think people should read or hear, not what they want to read or hear. I am not into ass kissing, never have been and say what I mean.
what do you see as the main strengths and weaknesses of the medium you work in?
The main weakness in the printed word is that the public finds it, when they look for it at all rather than amusing themselves with electronic gadgets including television, almost exclusively in mainstream newspapers, magazines and books which are almost totally controlled by corporations and thus do not deliver the truth. I do have hope, however, that with the explosion of dot coms, the public will increasingly get their information from people outside of corporate control.
how has technology impacted upon the work you do?
I like the feel of books and try to resist doing research from Google or Wikipedia type of sources, which is not research at all. I do use the computer, however, to more easily write books, articles and poems but I am a computer illiterate and proud of it.
what’s the greatest piece of advice you would like to pass on?
The greatest advice to pass on to writers, teachers, and everyone really, comes from Charles Bukowski when he states that: “An intellectual is a man who says a simple thing in a difficult way. An artist is a man who says a difficult thing in a simple way.” People should strive to be an artist and be understood since that is the goal of human communication. I find it laughable, incredibly insecure and narcissistic when people like professors or writers speak or write to impress an audience rather than convey their message.
The greatest advice to young poets also comes from Bukowski: “There is nothing wrong with poetry that is entertaining and easy to understand… (A young poet) should stay the hell out of writing classes and find out what’s happening around the corner. And bad luck for the young poet who has a rich father, an early marriage, an early success or the ability to do anything well.”
In all aspects of life, not just poetry, be true to yourself. Be creative and break with any strain of homogeneity merely to be accepted.
where can we find you online?
I can be found online at www.rossrunfola.com .
what are you reading at the moment?
I am reading more than one book. I would recommend: Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, D.D. Guttenplan, American Radical: The Life and times of I.F. Stone, the greatest journalist who ever lived and wrote on his terms and, Nicholas N. Kittrie, Rebels With a Cause, a history of dissent in the United States. Whoops- my poetry book coming out in the New Year by Tainted Coffee Press, Up Against the Poetry Establishment: Poems that Make me Literary Road Kill.
what are you listening to at the moment?
I am listening to the beautiful sounds of police sirens and screams piercing the cold, Buffalo night air. I am also listening to The Arcade Fire- Haiti, Nina Simone- Ain’t Got No- I’ve Got Life and Mississippi Goddamn and Bob Dylan- Things Have Changed.
anything else we should know?
When you are in a tough bar, always sit in a position that you can see anyone who may attempt to hit you- never with your back and head exposed.