We had the good fortune of connecting with Alice Pero and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Alice, what do you think makes you most happy? Why?
Helping others create makes me happy. Making art of any kind, dance, music is what I live for. I feel that people become more centered, more in contact with their real selves when they are making their own art. When children learn at an early age to value their own creations, they become better people, even if they do not end up being professional artists. Having confidence in creating gives them self-respect. And when I perform a poem or music, I always hope I can give them some understanding that they have a spiritual life which lifts them out of the ordinary into another realm. There is so much in this material world that is dragging people down, especially now. So anything I can do to bright light to people’s lives, brings light to mine. I think of a life in art as very closely connected to the spiritual life.
A photograph I have from my country cottage in New York State illustrates how I feel about art. It is the light shining in the window. The woman paring the apples is me, holding the fruit that will become something far more as it becomes art.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I started out studying a combination of dance and music when I was quite small; this is called “Dalcroze” and is not so well known now, but it invites a child to learn music through movement. As a result of this early training, I found I loved both music and dance. I chose to go to college for music (Indiana University School of Music, Manhattan School of Music) and have a degree in flute performance. Then after studying the course in rhythmic improvisation with Jamie Faunt, I began to write poetry, as rhythm is the foundation of all poetry. I always wanted to write, but had no “center” or basic understanding of the art form, nor did I have the self-confidence to create my own work. I would say that the challenges of having so many varied interests are still with me, but I encourage people to follow all of their paths and not limit themselves, as the world needs artists of many talents and one art form feeds another. For example in many of my readings I have used movement and my performing techniques are all based on my knowledge and skill with rhythm. As a teacher of creative writing, I have found that children will write poetry easily when they understand and can improvise with rhythm. And I often use art and music to inspire children to write. As far as challenges, for an artist the main one is believing in yourself. I know that sounds cliché, but it is a basic truth and anything you can do to recognize that you are unique and have something to offer people, do it! This means surrounding yourself with people who are supportive and not hanging around people who give you criticism that is often not based on reality, (especially when you are just starting out.) This does not mean you should not get good teachers who might correct your technique, but never keep a teacher who makes you feel diminished and does not also praise what you do well. And if you have your own individual ideas, go with them. They are probably right because you are uniquely you and your ideas are valuable. Treasure them and hoard them like gold and give them out freely like sunlight. There is also a commonly held belief that creation comes from one’s unhappiness or even from the unconscious. Although it is true that an artist might create out of unhappiness and thus free himself from it, it is not true for me that an artist does his best work when he is unhappy. I have found that I need to find that “happy, calm place” and create from there. Then one can run the gamut of emotions freely because one is not being bulldozed by them.
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?
The Huntington Library is a wonderful place. I could spend more than a week there. While in the Pasadena area, my favorite place to eat out is Culture Club 101, a fully organic café with delicious meat and vegetable dishes. Another great place for organic food is True Food Kitchen. Heading over to the West Side I would go to The Getty Museum. I am thinking of normal times, of course, and in those normal times which I am planning for the future, we would go to some poetry readings. There is Moonday, of course, the reading I founded in 2002, which is now at an art house/sculpture garden on Art Street in Sunland. Village Poets has a wonderful reading at Bolton Hall in Tujunga the fourth Sunday of the month and Elena Secota runs a reading at the Rapp Saloon in Santa Monica. Classical music is my thing and currently I have a group called “Windsong Players Chamber Ensemble” and hopefully while my friend was in town, we would be performing at one of the local venues/churches. There are music performances at the Brand Library which are often free and if you go to the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, you can hear up and coming singer/songwriters and then take a walk to the pier and a ride on the beautiful Ferris wheel. In addition we would take a walk in the desert wash behind my house in Sunland where there is a creek coming down from the reservoir in the mountains. It is most inspiring to listen to this water as it cascades over the rocks and look at the San Gabriel mountains framing this desert oasis under a very blue sky.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There was a music educator here in Los Angeles in the 80’s and 90’s named Jamie Faunt. Praise him wherever he is; (he passed away a few years ago.) Using his techniques of rhythm and improvisation, I started choreographing and then writing poetry. Later I went back to playing flute and that opened up a whole new career. Teachers who get their students to create are so incredibly valuable and rare. I also give a shout out to Kathryn Levy who started the New York City Ballet Education Department Poetry Project which got me teaching creative writing in public schools back in 1991. These were early influences which lit fires that have not been extinguished. I connected up with California Poets in the Schools when I moved to LA in 1996 and have been doing creative writing workshops in schools here ever since. I was lucky when publisher/poet, Ric Masten, wanted to publish my first book, “Thawed Stars.” I met him when I was producing The Live Poetry Show at Celebrity Centre Int in Hollywood, (another great place to visit for artists.) I can attest to the fact that helping other artists does pay one back, because one does end up being helped in return. In music I am also indebted to my wonderful collaborators in Windsong Players Chamber Music Ensemble. I started this group in 2015 with singer/dancer/artist/poet, Toti O’Brien, who was very supportive, and guitarist Vincent Reyes. At that time I set in motion the tradition of having a poet do a short poetry set at every concert. And a couple of years ago we did a concert (with our new group of musicians) collaborating with dancer/choreographer, Aerin Holt. I have also commissioned a number of pieces of music from Ruben Aghiyan, our resident composer and violinist, and Carol Worthey, internationally known Los Angles composer. I am grateful for having such amazing musicians to work with. Our group includes as well, Shushana Hakobyan, pianist and Veronica Bell, soprano. Veronica is also a skilled audio video technician and artist and we are lucky to have her produce many recordings of concerts as well as video and print promotion. These people are brilliant and I feel very lucky to have connected up with them. I also have to mention my many collaborators in poetry dialogue; currently I am dialoguing with Dean Blehert in Reston, VA, Dan Potter in Stonington, CT, Elaine Westheimer in San Diego, Matt Black in England and several others. The result of writing I did with Sunland Poet Laureate, Elsa Frausto, was the book, “Sunland Park Poems.” Also the dialogue I am doing with artist, Vera Campion, in New York City will become an art/poetry book, “Beyond Birds and Answers,” to be released by Elyssar Press in June 2021. I am fortunate to be part of the Village Poets of Sunland/Tujunga, who have kept a Poet Laureate program going for over 20 years, making me their 10th Poet Laureate. Maja Trochimczyk of Village Poets also heads up the California State Poetry Society and is doing a tremendous job of keeping their wonderful journal, “California Quarterly” going as well as monthly and yearly contests. I want to thank poet, Lois P. Jones, for helping me with the Moonday reading for many years. I am grateful to all of these artists and poets and musicians for the spiritual food they feed me almost on a daily basis. This is the breathing in and out that artists should have with one another, making more beauty to spread like sunshine into the world.