Show and Tell Gallery’s Working Artist Interview Series:
Making Art & Making a Living in Portland

dan raphael (photo by Melba Jones Raphael)

Artist Brief Bio:

That a blue collar kid of two 1st generation Americans who didn’t complete high school would write poetry seemed magical to me.  Math geek and able to figure out a lot of things. My main aesthetic principle is “language knows more than I do” : I’m a relay, but must involve my current contexts. My poems jump around, have multiple levels—I continue to be surprised by what’s in them.

Making Art

S&TG:  Do you use the word artist, poet, etc. to describe yourself? Do you feel like you don’t “deserve” to call yourself that because you’re not paid, published, etc. or famous? Have you always thought of yourself as an artist?

dan raphael: I’m a poet, as well as a spoken word artist, publisher and reading arranger. The relationship I have with language is what shows I’m a poet. Being unpaid, ungranted, and not famous makes me wonder whether I’m deluded about my status as ‘poet.’

I make poetry but in other ways I am not a poet. Not getting paid for it is one part.  Not being out in the scene or reading much poetry also takes me from that context.

S&TG:  And what does it mean to you to be an artist, poet, etc? And have you always thought of yourself as one? If not, when did you?

dan raphael: One belief is that we’re alive to do certain things, given certain talents. One of mine is the connection with language, combined with my enthusiasm for performing.

I don’t think of myself in those terms, like poet or artist. Nor do I want to define myself by my job at DMV. And I have an ongoing conflict about what I am, what I should have been, etc.

S&TG:  How long have you been making art?

dan raphael: Around 40 years.

S&TG:  Why is your art important to you? Why do you spend time creating when you could be doing something completely different and no one else would stop you?

dan raphael: I ask myself that first question often. Is it just another habit?  Poetry has given me much good energy, good experiences. Don’t know why I stay hunkered with my poetry habit other than I have a long immersion in it and would be loathe to get out and try something new from scratch.

S&TG:  What does it feel like to create? No, seriously, what does it feel like?

dan raphael: At the best times there’s this flow inside me where I can’t write the words down fast enough, pinging around me, pulling me around. When the words aren’t coming there’s still this high energy, nervous, anxious. At times I’ve started writing a poem after a movie, started driving home, but after a few blocks had to pull over in a lit spot to write more, wondering what the people whose house I parked in front of might be thinking.  Once I’m done writing I’m still very energized, physically and mentally. Having been creative, reading through a poem, creates more energy and wonder.

S&TG:  What kind of art do you make? What excites you as an artist?

dan raphael: I make a range of poetry, some almost anthemic (ala Ferlinghetti or Ginsberg), others dense, leaping and surreal, like no one I’ve found.

I’m excited by energy, bridging distances (in perception, meaning, space-time, etc.). Also a wider dimension of energy/transport when working with musicians.

S&TG:  What’s your creative process? Do you follow a routine?

dan raphael: The unpredictable part is the poem coming, cause (for the most part) burst they must (or there isn’t a poem.) I’ve written a number of poems after or during arts events—movies, readings, concerts. Otherwise the poems just come up on me (often early in the day).  Since language knows more than I do, I can’t try to make it respond to my habits, I have to be ready of language.

S&TG:  Are there habits or places that help you create or get you inspired?

dan raphael: Movies and other arts events have helped me. Not so much inspired, but taken out of my other concerns and distractions by the art, catching a poem on my way back to the murk. Otherwise, keeping a calm mind and spirit, stillness.

Having more inputs and experiences helps in terms of material and in the energy that leaks into me from people out in the world.

S&TG:  What have you learned about your art that’s surprised you?

dan raphael: The voice in my poems is often surprising to me. Long back I decided to stick with the first person pronoun, so I wasn’t putting these statements and hallucinations into someone else’s mouth (while knowing I wasn’t always speaking from experience or belief). The voice is at times high perspective, like a god or eternal victim. an elemental, an embodiment of suppressed emotions and conclusions.

S&TG:  Who are your creative heroes?

dan raphael: So many of them. Whitman, Keorouac, Van Gogh, Miles Davis, Tharp. Buddha, Neil Young, etc.

S&TG:  What are your dreams?

dan raphael: To be “discovered”.: to get a genius grant and other grants after that. be a poet in residence. Maybe even be recognized by local arts agencies.

More realistically I hope to retire from DMV and make a part-time income on my language skills, have more time to roam around town and absorb the energies.

S&TG:  What kind of support system do you have?

dan raphael: Melba. A good handful of friends. the stubbornness of habit. Portland. My job.

S&TG:  What’s the most important lesson that you want to share with a beginning artist about how to be creative?

dan raphael: I can’t say anything. Every path is different. Follow your visions, your weirdness, run the other way, swirl.

Making a living

S&TG:  How do you pay your bills? Etc.

dan raphael: Work at DMV. 26 years

S&TG:  How does the way you make a living right now either support or complicate making art?

dan raphael: Takes a lot of energy– the last two years has been a lot more uncomfortable there.

S&TG:  What’s the most important lesson you want to share with an artist about how to make a living?

dan raphael: As I said above, every path is different. I’ve never been paid to write or teach. Some people can sustain their creativity while teaching and being in the academic environment. For a good while it seemed my job didn’t affect my creative energies but that changed a couple years ago.  Learn to live on as little money as possible, and be able to make that money in as little time and energy commitment.

S&TG:  Do you hope to make a living doing your art one day?

dan raphael: It would have seemed possible a couple years ago (though not probable,) however with the way the global economy and ecology is headed, we’re all going to be struggling to survive. Poetry can help in tough times, and may be a barterable skill.

S&TG:  Do you feel having to make money limits your creative life?

dan raphael: Yes.

For More:

A website is one of my goals for next year. Poems can be found by searching under dan raphael poetry. Some e-zines I’m currently in—new mystics, pemmican. otoliths and Heavy Bear. E-mail me at Looks like Impulse and Warp: the Selected 20th Century Poems will be out by end of next year.

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