We had the good fortune of connecting with Robt O’Sullivan Schleith and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Robt, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I often think of myself as being risk-averse, but in reality I have often taken great risks throughout my life, most notably when merging my art with community service. I nervously attended my first San Diego poetry open mic in the mid-1990’s, having had a good number of poems published over the previous four or so years. Although I had been a singer-songwriter in my twenties, reciting one’s own poetry from a stage to strangers felt much more threatening and exposing than music had ever been for me. But within a year I was handed the reins of that open mic reading by my friend Lizzie Wann, who wanted to free her time up to pursue running a house concert series instead. I wasn’t sure I was up to the challenge at the time, but indeed have been hosting a poetry reading ever since. Risk-taking paid off in 1998, when I was successful in getting Marc Smith (of Chicago’s Green Mill) to certify one of the readings I was hosting as the official San Diego Poetry Slam, initially held at a College area coffeehouse, but eventually relocated to, and sponsored by, the much larger Urban Grind in Hillcrest. At the same time, in conjunction with the various readings I was hosting, I also began producing an annual anthology of local poets over the next five years called Drift Wood Highway, with profit from book sales invested back into the slam, helping to fund travel expenses for the teams we fielded. I should note here that several local poets at that time, notably Chris Vannoy and Jimmy Jazz, were also producing local poets anthologies of their own, and reinvesting profits into the slam’s general fund. In 2005 I left a thriving San Diego spoken word scene to move to Escondido. Publisher William Harry Harding tapped me for a regional editor slot with his recently-launched San Diego Poetry Annual, and I was also handed the reins of the Escondido Municipal Gallery’s monthly literary series called Poets INC (Inland North County). Within two years at the gallery I began producing an annual anthology of local poets for the Escondido Arts Partnership titled SUMMATION, which is currently celebrating its 13th year. We at the Gallery are eternally grateful for invaluable editorial leadership from Robert Lundy and Elizabeth Yahn Williams for quite a few of those thirteen years. My most recent flirtation with risk has been to apply for a position on the Escondido Arts Partnership’s Board of Directors, thanks to ongoing encouragement from Executive Director Chrisanne Moats. In one of her most minimalist poems, Anais Nin wrote “And then the day came / when the risk / to remain tight / in a bud / was more painful / than the risk / it took / to blossom.” I wish everyone who reads this good fortune with the risks to which they choose to respond.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I feel fortunate to have spent quite a few years as a working musician when I was younger. I think most people who start out as songwriters develop an interest in poetry at some point. And those who are able to create poems that experiment with some of the best elements of music; e.g. rhythm, syncopation, tempo and rests, just to name a few, will hopefully garner a fair degree of favorability with an audience. Cultivating an expressive, semi-musical voice goes a long way with listeners as well. Poets taking even just a few months of voice lessons would not be not ill-advised, in my opinion. I think that writers planning to recite their words at open mics again, post-pandemic, consider that all of the work which goes into creating a poem is really only half the effort; one must also find the most effective voice possible to propel the poem forward to your audience, who will enthusiastically embrace your words if you can seduce them into doing so.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I like to take out-of-town visitors to uptown San Diego first, to see some of the interesting residential architecture on most of the streets .. a walk across the Spruce Street bridge, as well as across the Vermont Street poetry bridge, gives them a real feel for our city of such diverse neighborhoods. The jetty at Hospitality Point which looks over to OB’s Dog Beach is another favorite spot, as is the park down at Spanish Landing on the bay. I like taking friends out to eat at diners like Rudford’s, Chicken Pie Shop, 94th Aero Squadron and even National City’s Family House of Pancakes which serves an incredible array of meals well beyond breakfast orders like its name suggests. Up in north county, in addition to gorgeous beaches like San Elijo, Swami’s and Grand View, I take visitors up onto Palomar Mountain, then enjoy a walking tour of Old Escondido, followed by a flight of hand-crafted brews at Plan 9 Alehouse and then dinner at Ali Baba Mediterranean on Mission Ave. And we’d definitely hit up a few of the open mic readings all over San Diego county, and enjoy some of the best spoken word in the whole country!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Chrisanne Moats with the Escondido Arts Partnership, also William Harry Harding with the San Diego Entertainment & Arts Guild
Youtube: youtube.com/channel/UCGlZ2QdBhbY1foNNe7nUwpA (Poets INC Inland North County)