Say Hello To The ICON, David A. Gaines

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Dave is one highly inspiring and talented poet. His words are evidently an outpour from his heart and can be deeply felt in beautiful ways untold. We are in love with his amazing personality and beautiful vulnerability to share some of the least talked about issues in the society especially in regards mental health for men.
Dave is that kind of wordsmith we do not just call a poet but also the poem because his poetry are a make up of real time personal life experiences. And this is quite relatable to thousands of people out there going through similar situations. Dave is no doubt a blessing to the creative industry and beyond.

Join us on this special annual ISSUE as Dave shares a truckload of inspiration on his growing up days, views on mental health and glimpses of his journey as a creative.

Enjoy and Stay Inspired

Can you please share some highlights of how you began your creative journey as a poet and what you consider most fulfilling about it right now?

As a preacher’s kid raised in Philadelphia’s Black churches, I must endure the cliche and say that my first introduction to poetry was the Bible. There are books within that holy anthology I find particularly poetic, such as Proverbs and Psalms, that definitely shaped me as a poet early in life.

I remember my father would have me, a prospective preacher, run drills wherein he’d point to random objects in the room and have me improvise a sermon themed around it. His father had him run the same drills. Only later in life did I realize that this exercise is really about practicing metaphors and recognizing the poetic potential in everyday objects. These moments shaped me.

Right now I’m finding the process of learning new ways to keep my poems fresh to be very fulfilling. Sometimes it’s performing with live music, other times I’m making short films out of my poetry. It’s very satisfying and reminds me that there is no expiration date on artistic works.

Can you remember the first poem you wrote and what inspired it?

I wrote my first poem when I was 16. I was in my first serious relationship, well, as serious as highschool love can be (which is extraordinarily serious), and my girlfriend wrote me a sweet poem that inspired me to try and write one myself. When I gave it to her she said it was “very good,” which in retrospect was a pretty generous lie, but one I very much needed to hear as it motivated me to continue practicing poetry.

What does Art mean to you?

Art is how I tell the world that I’m here. I deeply want to be known and that is why I create. I find pleasure in knowing that each artwork I birth is a monument to my life experience that will survive me. Art is how human beings chronicle our brief transit of Earth. Artists are historians of the heart, shedding the pretense of objectivity for the freedom that only true self-expression can provide. Despite the importance of that role, I always try to keep in mind that art is intrinsically worthless. Art alone doesn’t feed or house anyone, nor does it keep anyone warm (unless used as kindling). Art cannot exist in a vacuum and community, to me, is the breath that fills the space and gives artwork life. Without direct impact on people’s lives, without addressing the needs of our communities, art is self-serving expression and functionally useless. People give art value.

For a long time I thought being vulnerable was a sign of weakness. I was taught that my worth was directly correlated to what I could provide or destroy. I was bullied and harassed in school for being soft despite my desperate attempts to prove otherwise. I’m very familiar with the fear of being perceived as weak; however, I think the solution is not to erase the fear, but to help men build the courage to confront the fear and overcome it. Men must learn that self-perception, not outward perception, is what defines and controls us; and that the most “masculine” thing one can do is to be consistently vulnerable in their relationships, as that truly is the most difficult act.

As far as mental health advice, I’d say protect your peace. Separate yourself from people who are threatened when you change for the better. Surround yourself with people who are also doing the work to heal from their trauma and grow closer to their most authentic selves. You cannot heal in isolation and you will need accountability on your journey. Go to therapy if you can afford it. See a psychiatrist for an evaluation and explore medications for any mental issues they may identify. Be gentle with yourself along the way and internalize this aphorism—you are the most important person in your life.

You have some special special fondness for your grandma. We saw some sweet glimpses of this in your powerful poetry short film Fine China. This project also reflected glimpses of your days, growing up. What was growing up like?

My childhood can be most concisely described in one experience. In college I performed at an event hosted by an organization that repurposes guns into tools such as watering cans, shovels and mattocks. As I watched them transform a machine gun into a flower pot I could only think of my family. My siblings and I endured a great deal of abuse in our house. There was always love present but it was like a beautiful melody in a violent song. And yet we managed to create bright moments of joy and carefreeness despite the destruction around us. We’re still healing from it all. We’re still far from peace—a flower pot, too, can be a weapon in the wrong hands—but we’re moving towards a more positive place and for that I’m grateful.

“Every man I know is a performer. More display than practice or practicing somedisplay he learnt from other men. My father told me boys don’t cross their legs so I tell my brother the same.” An excerpt from the poetry film Fine China.
 We love how your words are thought provoking and relatable to thousands of menout there. How were you able to manage your mental health on depressing days and break free from stereotypes and limiting boxes?

I owe everything I know about managing my mental health to my friends. They showed me that I matter, that I was someone whose health was worth caring for, and demonstrated in their own lives what a healing journey is supposed to look like. Their care for me and refusal to allow me to sink into despair and isolation is what continues to pull me out of my depressive episodes. I’m grateful to have met generous and patient people who were willing to invest in my personhood.

And to be frank, I’ve always had an issue with authority. I never felt that it was anyone’s place to tell me who and how to be despite all the people and systems deeply invested in doing so. Once I got the chance to develop my own identity it was only natural that I did so in defiance of all the powers that tried so hard to squash my individuality (i.e. capitalist cisheteropatriarchy).

Another powerful project by you is your book- ‘Soft Boy.’ Please share any other quick glimpses on the inspiration behind the book.

I think the production of “soft boy.” started when I took my first real look at myself and realized I hated what I saw. What I saw was inauthenticity, incessant performance and the pitiful absence of self-knowledge. I could have chosen to stay that way, many do, but instead I chose life and that is what the book is all about—choosing life by healing, taking responsibility for my choices and being intentional about self-care. The book was inspired by the work I was doing in my actual life and I believe that’s why it has resonated with so many people.

Do you feel creatives in developed countries are at an advantage than those in developing countries?

This question deserves a nuanced answer that I don’t have the space to give in this interview. However, the simplistic answer is—in some ways, definitely, and in others, absolutely not.

Balancing work time and rest time is a struggle for many Creatives. Please share a few tips on how you try to balance work time, rest time and family time?

I must admit that my work-life balance is still clumsy. Some weeks I’m better at it than others.
Creating a routine has been my saving grace. Having some sort of structure around my work has helped me get much better at scheduling time for rest and hanging with family and friends. Also making a to-do list helps me visualize all I’ve done that day and staves off the “I’m not working hard enough” anxious thoughts. I’ve found it incredibly useful to be realistic with myself about what my capacity is for work any given day, and to forgive myself when I don’t take care of myself or my relationships in the ways I know I need. Shame only makes it harder to improve.

What does success mean to you?

This is a great question because my definition of success is constantly evolving. It used to mean clout, follower numbers, views on social media sites and being liked. Sometimes I still fall back into that mode of thinking. At one point my idea of success was directly tied to the income I was bringing in. It can be easy to regress into that perspective. But now I feel most successful when I know that I’m growing as a person and I’m having a positive impact on the people around me. It doesn’t matter if it’s through my art, my non-creative work or just my day-to-day life, as long as I’m becoming a better person and making people’s lives more bearable, I’m successful. In that way, success is no longer a feeling for me, nor is it controlled by outside influences, it’s a marker that I set for myself and that I regulate internally.

Please briefly tell us something we do not know about Dave G.

I don’t know how to do long division. My family moved around a lot and between all the shifts in curriculum I somehow missed that particular math section. So far it hasn’t affected my life in any drastic ways but deep down I harbor a fear that it will somehow suddenly become life threateningly relevant.

Let’s go a little poetic: If poetry is a rainbow and you have a choice of one color in that palette, what would that be and why?

Tough question. I think I’d go with green. Just because I want to show it some love. It can’t be easy being green. Sandwiched between ostentatious colors like yellow and orange and the cooler colors of blue and violet. Green is the rainbow’s middle child and it deserves just as much love as the others. As a middle child I’m probably also just projecting.

Massive love Dave!


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