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Billy Corgan: "But my relationships with James [Iha, guitarist] and D'Arcy [Wretzky, basssist] are piss beyond poor"
October 20, 2004, 1:45 pm

Smashing Pumpkin tries hand at poetry
Wednesday, October 20, 2004
John Soeder
Plain Dealer Pop Music Critic

Despite all his rage, he isn't just a rat in a cage anymore.

Billy Corgan has found a new creative outlet as a poet.

"Blinking with Fists," a collection of impressionistic free verse by the former frontman for the alternative-rock band Smashing Pumpkins, has just been published by Faber and Faber.

"This poetry book has no compromise in it," Corgan says by phone from San Francisco, where he launched a 15-date book tour last week.

He'll do a book signing tonight at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lyndhurst, followed by a poetry reading at the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood.

Corgan was the Pumpkins' chief songwriter. The Chicago native hopes his poems reveal a side of him beyond the chrome-domed brooder in the "ZERO" T-shirt who led the band throughout the 1990s.

In that role, Corgan felt like "this [expletive] cartoon character," he says. "My vision of myself was a lot more boring and a lot less angst-y, [with] a little more levity."

"Blinking With Fists" is "closer to good ol' me," says Corgan, 37.

The book is "like a good mix tape," he says. "Each poem adds its own sound to a bigger thing. There are individual poems that are like the hit songs, that are really strong.

"I shouldn't be saying this, but I think some poems in the book aren't very good. They create a sense of balance . . . that I felt had to be in there."

Which poems aren't up to snuff?

Corgan laughs. "Let's just say they're toward the back of the book," he says.

"Blinking With Fists" is dedicated to his mother. Several years after her death in 1997, Corgan came across some poems she had written while she had been committed to a mental institution.

"I realized - and it was a shocking thing - my mother wanted to be an artist," Corgan says. "She dropped out of high school, had me and my brother early on, then ended up getting a really good job working for a clothes importer.

"I never realized there was an artist in there who, for whatever reason, never got off the ground."

George Bilgere, a poetry teacher at John Carroll University, author of three poetry books and co-host of the poetry radio program "Wordplay" on WJCU FM/88.7, says he "wasn't exactly blown away" by Corgan's poems.

"When pop singers do poetry, it's usually pretty silly," Bilgere says.

Corgan's ambiguous verse is reminiscent of the work of 19th-century French Symbolist poets such as Paul Verlaine and Stephane Mallarme, according to Bilgere.

"They wanted poetry to approach the condition of music, a condition of pure feeling . . . divorced from statement, narrative or even sharply etched description," Bilgere says. "I guess that's what I think [Corgan] is doing: looking for music, rather than meaning, in the language."

"Blinking With Fists" is aimed at fans of Corgan's music and readers seeking "a more avant-garde . . . outside the mainstream of poetry," says Denise Oswald, Corgan's editor at Faber and Faber.

"While his poetry might not appeal to the purists, it has the potential to turn on some readers who never even knew they might be interested in this kind of writing," Oswald says.

For his part, Corgan isn't holding out for the literary establishment's approval.

"If somebody in some ivory tower decides I'm really wonderful, I'll take it," Corgan says. "But I don't see that happening.

"Poetry has never been a big part of my life, which makes this even more ironic, that I would write a poetry book. I know this pisses off poets. The poets I like, they don't like anyway. I like Edna St. Vincent Millay. You're not supposed to like her poetry.

"It's like indie rock. If you don't like Sonic Youth, you're not cool, you know? I'm playing the same game with a different crowd.

"I suffered through the same thing with the Pumpkins. We didn't sign with the right indie label. We had success too early. We must've cheated."

With "Blinking With Fists," his intent was "not to win anybody over," Corgan says. "It's strictly me being me."

Currently writing a novel in fits and starts, Corgan hasn't abandoned music, either. His first solo album is slated for a spring 2005 release.

"It's future-leaning rock 'n' roll - with poetic overtones," Corgan says.

For his Beck Center appearance, he'll be accompanied by Tibetan vocalist Yungchen Lhamo. Between poems, Corgan might pull out a guitar and perform a song or two. Don't bother shouting requests for "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" or other Pumpkins favorites, however.

"I haven't played any Pumpkins music since Dec. 2, 2000," Corgan says, referring to the date of the band's final concert.

His next group, the short-lived Zwan, called it quits last year.

A Smashing Pumpkins reunion doesn't appear to be in the offing.

"My relationship with [Pumpkins drummer] Jimmy Chamberlin is great," Corgan says. "I know we'll work together again. But my relationships with James [Iha, guitarist] and D'Arcy [Wretzky, basssist] are piss beyond poor, so read into that whatever you want."

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:

[email protected], 216-999-4562

? 2004 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

Source: Cleveland.com