The founders of PoetrIE, Cindy Rinne, Jason Keller, and Larry Eby, are an unlikely trio: a hippie, a vegan biker, and an unassuming fella with dark rimmed glasses. The one thing they all have in common, however, besides producing incredible poetry, is their dedication in putting the Inland Empire on the literary map. When people think of the Inland Empire, they often think of warehouses, meth, congested traffic, and the Mission Inn. But rarely does “Inland Empire” evoke images of poets reading on corners and an art renaissance spreading like wild fire throughout the region.
I first met Larry Eby at a gathering I didn’t really want to go to. I noticed three things when I arrived. The first was that I was somewhat overdressed–I was the only one in heels and a dress, in a sea of flip flops and tennis shoes. The second thing was that the pizza still hadn’t arrived, and the third was a really young looking kid with a backpack. The young looking kid introduced himself as Larry Eby and invited folks to a writing workshop that met each week at Augie’s Coffee House in Redlands. I had recently had a break-up with another workshop and was on the rebound–but cautious. I didn’t want to join another workshop where it was more about everyone feeling good about their writing regardless of the quality being produced, and less about becoming better writers by facing the harsh reality that sometimes our writing isn’t very good and needs work. I didn’t want someone always telling me, “Hey, that’s a great poem!” I have my mom for that. I needed something more meaningful. I said what the heck, exchanged information with Larry and took a chance. That was almost two years ago.
I sat down and spoke with Larry and Cindy outside of Augie’s, PoetrIE’s headquarters, to talk about the group, on a chilly Thursday night before workshop began.
Isabel Quintero: My first question for you guys is how did PoetrIE get started?
Larry Eby: Well, the first day that we figured out what was going to happen, Jason Keller said, “Hey man, I built this website called poetrie.net.” He said we were going to have an events calendar and we were going to have workshops and things like that. He told me while we went to this open mic at Borders [now closed] in Riverside and we decided that we have to start the workshop, it’s going to be this day, and we just started.
IQ: So, you didn’t sit down and plan it and say, “Hey maybe this would be a good idea?” Jason just said, “Guess what we’re doing?”
LE: Yea. Well Jason said, here’s this website, we’re going to do this. Jason and I had already been working on each other’s work for a while…at that point before it was formal and before we decided to make the PoetrIE workshop.
Cindy Rinne: Yes.
IQ: How did you all meet?
CR: Can I back up and start with the early part of the story?
IQ: Okay, sure!
CR: (laughing) I was at an art show on State Street and I walked up to Aeron Brown’s booth and Jason was standing there, I had never met him, and I didn’t know Larry at the time either, and Aaron said, “You two need to know each other.” So we started talking about the workshop and I said, I’m leading a lot of things right now, if you set it up, I’ll come. And he [Jason] said okay. It sounds like he went to Larry and he did it. Or maybe it was all wrapped up together.
IQ: Alright, so Larry, how did you and Jason meet?
LE: We met at a Science Fiction class at Cal State [San Bernardino]. It wasn’t a writing class, but it was study of 1960s science fiction, and it was during summer school.
IQ: With Prof. [David] Carlson?
LE: Yes, it was Prof. Carlson.
IQ: I took that class as well. Many, many years ago.
LE: Well, Jason and I kind of hit it off. We saw each other again in our first creative writing class at Cal State, which was beginning fiction. And then, we were working on each others stories a lot then and we took the intermediate class together, and we were working on each others stories. And we took the advanced class together. So it was a lot of writing together. [But] our interests actually started with metal bands, that’s how we started talking. And then I think both of our interests in writing grew as we progressed through Cal State’s program.
IQ: Okay, so, so far what are the greatest accomplishments you see for PoetrIE? When you started PoetrIE, what did you envision? You had the website, you had the workshops, was that all you envisioned or did you imagine it being something bigger?
CR: For me in the beginning it was doing the readings. Getting out into different cities in the public spaces. Our first one was in an art gallery but we’ve read on the streets, Art in the Alley, a lot of different places. I really like the fact that we actually read, have readings in the community in places where people wouldn’t always come to hear poetry. So I think we’re a good outreach for poetry as a form.
LE: I think the ultimate goal that we have for PoetrIE is to become an organization where we can help fund writers and promote the community. But I think our greatest accomplishment has been the community building and our workshop.
CR: It’s amazing.
LE: From the beginning until now, I think our biggest accomplishment has been how great the workshop has become and how so many members have been publishing, like you publishing a book, everyone’s getting into all these journals–it’s fantastic.
IQ: Where do you envision the group a year from now? Five years from now? Still as small as it is? Because it’s been growing…
CR: Yes, and we have the journal too [Tin Cannon].
LE: Tin Cannon, is also a major accomplishment.
CR: It is.
LE: That was one of the biggest things. We wanted to have a journal that really encompasses the IE voice. But, a year from now, what we see PoetrIE as, is [being] a 501(c)(3) [non-profit organization], have the paperwork in, and [then] starting a scholarship fund. That’s what I want getting started by next year. A couple more Tin Cannons out. Five years from now? Man…
CR: You know, I think in five years from now, we will start getting invited to read outside of the Inland Empire. We’ve already read in Venice, and I think that will continue to grow, especially as a non-profit having a literary magazine, I see us being invited at the university level or being able to travel beyond this area. We had great attendance in Venice.
LE: What I’d also like to see in five years is more pockets of workshops. We have our main workshop but I would like to see it branch out, to have different workshop leaders that go out and have their own workshop but also the workshop leaders continue in our core workshop. So that way we expand but we don’t lose our tight knit group that we have. That’d be awesome.
IQ: So, building more community, but still maintaining the main community, that started it off? Kind of like a feeder community/group?
CR: I think too, what’s good about the group is that you can be a beginner, you can be advanced, we have professors reading with us…we try to make it welcoming. Even though we have a very serious workshop, we still try to make it very inclusive. And, it’s free.
LE: That’s the one thing I want to keep. I don’t think we should charge for the workshops. Poetry should be free. Obviously, we charge for the journal because it costs a lot of money to produce a journal.
IQ: Well, then, do you see PoetrIE as kind of an anomaly in the area? Or part of a bigger movement within the Inland Empire? How do you see it, in regards to other groups in our geographical location? Because we have Inlandia and they’re spread out in Ontario, Riverside, and other areas. And in Riverside you have things going on with Back to the Grind or the DIY community out there. Where do you see PoetrIE?
CR: More spread out and participating in different events. We just did the Redlands 125th [anniversary] so we were able to write poetry in support this city. And we go to another city and support their artists and what their doing. We’ve had a reading at Cellar Door Books. We have a community that brings different people into different places. Linking up with other organizations is not impossible but complicated. I don’t think we’re to that place yet.
LE: I don’t think we’re an anomaly. Especially in Redlands, there’s a major art movement, and I think we’re just a part of that for sure. I don’t think we’re separate. We don’t communicate as much as we should…but I do think we’re part of this one major art movement. It’s definitely the Redlands Renaissance.
CR: Yes. It’s very exciting, because it started out grassroots. And it’s expanding. I like being part of things like that.
LE: And it’s kind of centered around this coffee shop.
CR: It is. It’s absolutely centered around [Augie’s Coffeehouse]…they’re putting on the next event.
IQ: You mentioned that Inlandia has it’s own board, does PoetrIE have it’s own board?
LE: Not yet.
IQ: If you had to right now say, is there one leader for the group?
LE: No. I wouldn’t say there is one leader. I would say there’s a core group of leaders in this group. I mean everyone has contributed in major ways, to signal someone out and say they’re the leader, I think that would discredit what we do because we’re a big collaborative organization and we collaborate on everything as far as events, Tin Cannon, the workshop and everything. I don’t like dictatorships.
IQ: Are there any specific projects that you guys are working on right now? Either solo or collaborative? What has been the biggest benefit for you, as a writer, in being part of PoetrIE?
LE: For me the feedback on my own work has been fantastic. I’ve grown so much as a writer because of the people around me and the feedback they have given me. Them leading me in directions towards other art forms to study, or read, or things like that. That has helped me tremendously. I don’t think I would have any of the stuff that I’ve written if it wasn’t for this group.
IQ: What about you, Cindy? What has been the biggest thing you have gotten from this group?
CR: Well, I’ve fallen in love with being a writer. I used to introduce myself as an artist and sort of a poet, and sometimes now, the poet comes first. Which is interesting, because I’ve been an artist for over thirty something years. I’m still doing professional art but the writing…without this group I would not have two books done, [and] three chapbooks. I have done collaborations with amazing people. Like Larry said, I’ve grown tremendously from the workshops because there’s great people who know what they’re talking about. And the accountability…I wouldn’t be submitting to journals. Before, I was putting poems on my art but I wasn’t doing any of this other kind of thing. And when I came to this group, I was ready to get more serious. I was doing some other groups and they were fabulous but they didn’t dig as deep into the crit[ique]s and editing, and I was just ready to grow.
IQ: What advice would you give to people to begin a workshop like this or to writers who want to join the group?
LE: First off, for the people who want to start a workshop: grab a friend and just start meeting. And people will start showing up. Meet in a public place, talk to people, and be willing to invite them to hang out with you to write and work on stuff. All you need is one person to be considered a workshop. Grab a friend. Do it.
CR: I’m inviting people to come to this group all the time because they come to art shows or to one of our events. I let them know this is when we meet, this is what we’re doing. You don’t have to read, you can read, you can just come for a while to see what we’re about. Not every group is going to be a match for every personality. Maybe ten years ago I wouldn’t have been ready for this group. It has to be the right time and right combination. And at least they come to find that out, and they are welcome.
IQ: Final advice for writing?
CR: Same thing as always. Read a lot of stuff. Meet with people. Keep writing. Poem-a-day! We haven’t mentioned poem a day. Poem-a-day has been amazing. This group has done 3-4 poem-a-days a year. That has been where most of my published work has come out of. It creates community, it’s online, but it’s a lot of the same people we meet with. Poem-a-day has been killer but it’s been the best to get stories down, and get input from people. It’s not as deep critiques, but like Larry said, you might get a direction, and the encouragement is fabulous.
LE: Advice for writers? Just write. A lot. Everyday as much as you can because not everything is going to be great work but you have to practice like it’s a muscle. It’s something that you have to continuously do. It’s like it’s an instrument, if you don’t practice you’re not ever going to play in the concert hall.
IQ: I think some of the misconceptions that people have about poets is that you sit around and wait for inspiration.
CR: (laughing) You’d never get anything written.
IQ: This is my last question. Use one sentence to define PoetrIE.
LE: PoetrIE is community.
CR: PoetrIE is established to show that there are amazing writers in the Inland Empire.
IQ: Alright, well thank you two very much. PoetrIE meets the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of the month at Augie’s Coffee House in Redlands.
Learn more about this great organization on www.poetrie.net.
If you would like to submit your work for the second edition of Tin Cannon, their literary journal, go on to tincannon.com for more information.