Whisper to Scream

From punk to folk, poetry to prose, Patrick Porter is a voice of unease.

During this time, Porter was also concentrating on his poetry. "Songs and poetry are pretty much the same to me. This may sound really fucking melodramatic, but a song is like a shard, you know what I mean? Like this shard of consciousness. That sounds really stupid, but that's how I think of them." His first book of poems, The Intrusive Ache of Morning, was published in 2000 by Chicago's Press of the Third Mind. "It took like three days to write. I just wanted a book of my own, to be able to hold this tangible manuscript and say that I wrote it. The publisher paid me with 500 copies of it, and I remember when I got that box in the mail. I remember thinking, 'This is what I want to do with my life. I've been fired from every job I've ever had: delivery driver, meatpacker, dishwasher. I consider myself almost totally unemployable.' So I packed up a big duffel bag full of my books and took the bus to San Francisco, without any money, just naively thinking that I could sell them out there."

Porter soon found, however, that San Francisco's modern poetry scene was a far howl from Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg's romanticized Beat era. "I went to these open-mike poetry readings to try to sell some of my books," he says. "I fucking hate reading my poetry. I hate poetry. I hate poets. It was horrible. I would sleep at night on Fisherman's Wharf or on the beach, then walk all the way across San Francisco with this huge bag of books, trying to find the fucking place where this poetry reading was at. I'd get five minutes to read a couple poems, then some lady would come up with a guitar and sing some song about strawberries or something. I was sitting at this coffeehouse, totally starving, with everyone around me eating pastries and drinking coffee, and some lady is up there singing, 'My love is like strawberries.' I wanted to fucking kill myself."

Porter's second book of poetry, Nervous Halo, was published in 2001 by Pueblo's Academic & Arts Press, run by the late Paul Dilsaver. At the time, Porter was also polishing up a quarter-of-a-million-word novel, Kristallnacht.

"I've been trying to write novels since I was thirteen, but I'd never finish them. Where most kids that age would keep a journal, I'd write a novel. I just wanted to write this big Dostoyevskian book about the meaning of life or something," Porter recalls. "When I finally finished Kristallnacht, I took a bus out to New York and went to the offices of Random House. I was totally stupid. I just walked right into some woman's office and bugged her with this 450-page manuscript under my arm. I thought people would be instantly like, 'Wow, this guy's a genius. Let's publish this right now!' That lady actually did read it, though, and we started communicating through e-mail. She read my last draft, too, and she told me I was getting closer to what Random House is looking for. It's really encouraging."

As for his music, Porter has decided to remain solo; the heat of the spotlight still seems to make him a bit squeamish. "It's totally not egotistical or anything. It's not that I don't really like people; it's just that I don't work incredibly well with them," he explains. "It's almost like a Neil Young sort of thing, where he'll have different bands but it's still his name on the album. I'll call it Patrick Porter and the News or something."

Besides his usual depressive influences, Porter has been spreading his net wider in search of musical inspiration. "I'm trying to strip my stuff way down live -- just my voice and an acoustic guitar. Nick Drake has had a lot of influence on me lately. Dylan -- anything that's just really stripped down to a good song. John Fahey, too; I love that guy. As for blues, I was always into Mississippi John Hurt, Sonny Boy Williamson...anything with feeling, anything seductive. There has to be some kind of seductive element to it. That's what I want to make: Marvin Gaye-ish type music, except played by a skinny white guy who can't sing."

Music isn't the only part of his life Porter hopes to simplify. "I don't think I'll ever have a regular job again," he says, "but if I don't write, like, 5,000 words a day, I feel like shit. I don't want to be seen as someone who's like a bum or something, someone who doesn't work. I totally want to be married and have kids and live on a ranch and just be this dork that writes books and milks cows all day."

Porter, perpetually uneasy in the Denver music scene, is also contemplating a move to New York in the near future. "I don't think anyone cares about my kind of music out here," he says. "I always end up playing shows for like one guy throwing spit wads at me. I don't even want to play in any venues besides little coffeehouses and stuff like that. I just don't like these big gigs, all these people looking at you. It feels like I'm filling out a job application or something."

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