GH’s Michael Easton Dishes The Collector’s Edition Of His First — And Final — Book Of Poetry, 18 Straight Whiskeys.
GH fans know Michael Easton (Finn) best as an actor — but he’s also an award-winning screenwriter and director and a best-selling author. His first publication, back in 1997, was a book of poetry, 18 Straight Whiskeys, which had two printings and is poised for a third: a collector’s edition out this month, updated to include 40 new poems, which Easton says will be his last. He spoke with Digest about the work he calls “the most honest thing I’ve ever done.”
Soap Opera Digest: How did this collector’s edition come about?
Michael Easton: The publisher actually came to me about a year and a half ago and said, “It’s been 20 years since we did this, and we thought about re-releasing the book and doing it as a hardcover to do something kind of cool for your fans,” and they wanted to know if I could do some new poetry for it. I haven’t done poetry in a long time.
Digest: Having read this iteration of the book, it almost feels like it has two authors: the guy who wrote the original poems, and the guy who wrote the newer ones in the collection.
Easton: Yeah, I look back at some of the old poems and I don’t even know who that person was. If I think really hard I can kind of remember, but a lot of that is in a haze. I wrote the first book in the year following my mom’s passing. I was going through some things and working my way through some stuff through some poems. I had friends that had a little place in Paris and I went there. I didn’t speak French, so it was very lonely. It was a good opportunity to just do a lot of writing and that’s what I did; I wrote a lot really late at night, when at all possible a little drunk, and never thought of doing anything with it. But I started doing some readings when I was working in Vancouver on a show called TWO and someone said, “You should think about publishing. I think a lot of people are maybe feeling similar things, and it’s kind of a nice catharsis for you all to be able to talk about how to deal with loss.”
Digest: What was your reaction to the idea of writing new poems for the re-release?
Easton: For about two years [before writing the original book], I had collected poetry I had written on napkins in bars and stuff like that and kept it in an old shoebox. When they first contacted me, I said, “I’m not doing poetry anymore.” But, sort of a similar thing that happened the first time around, I was back to jotting down a few thoughts and lines and had some things on napkins. I guess that’s just my catharsis — I jot down little lines here and there of things I feel. I realized, “Well, there is a box full of napkins and scratch paper….” It became the perfect opportunity to go dig in there and find some things. I said, “Okay, I can do this.” It took me a year, but I came up with 40 new poems that I’m really proud of. For me, the nice thing about it was to be able to look at the poems written 20 years ago and the poems written now and just see two different stages in my life, to see where I had changed.
Digest: What is your relationship now to those poems from 20 years ago?
Easton: It took everything in me not to want to go and edit every one of them or pull a lot of them out! The publisher thought that wasn’t very honest and after I got over my own ego, I said, “You’re right, it’s not fair to do that.” So we left them as is; nothing was edited. I remember being heavily influenced by people like [Charles] Bukowski and Ray-mond Carver and [Charles] Baudelaire. Not that I can write like them, but I feel that influence in [the older poems]. I feel like maybe I’ve gotten a little bit more comfortable in my own style now.
Digest: The newer poems cover a seven-year span, from 2011-18.
Easton: It starts in 2011 because that became a very significant year for me and kind of set me off writing again. In the matter of a month, I lost my father and I became a father [to daughter Lilah Bell]. I knew when I lost my mom when I was 24 that no day would be as good as it could be because she wouldn’t be there to share it. You sort of feel those days, on your wedding day and stuff, where there’s that empty seat. And then when I lost my father…. You don’t realize how hard it is to be a father until you are one and, of course, it gives you a whole new perspective on your own father. In that moment you would love to call him up and say, “I’m really sorry for being the kid that I was, and I want to thank you for all that you did.” I can’t do that, and so I try to do that in the words on these pages. In some way, maybe he’ll know that.
Digest: Loneliness is such a dominant theme in the earlier poems that it’s kind of hard to imagine that the guy we are introduced to in them became the guy we meet in the more current ones, who’s a husband and a father.
Easton: No, not a chance! I was never gonna be this [a family man]. I was destined for a life of loneliness. But somewhere along the way, someone comes along and knocks you out and takes your heart and you go with them and you go down a different path. I’ve been down a different path for the last 14 years [with wife Ginevra]. It’s been a good path.
Digest: I found the poems you wrote to your children particularly moving.
Easton: I wasn’t sure I wanted to include those. I thought, “Maybe I’ll just give those to them separately from the book,” because I felt like that’s a little indulgent, to basically just write a love letter to your children. When the publisher saw them, she said, “I don’t feel that way about them. I understand they’re personal, but I think there’s some things in here that can be general.” I don’t think there’s anything more pure and beautiful than writing a note to your children and that’s how I tried to do it. Probably one of the main differences between the old poems and the poems now is there was a lot of role-playing in those early poems. I was almost playing a character: “I will write a poem as if I was that person.” The new poems, they’re almost all my voice; they’re really down to the soul. It’s probably the most honest thing I’ve ever done.
Digest: Is it a vulnerable feeling, putting that out there into the world?
Easton: Yeah, but that’s part of exposing yourself, isn’t it? I held so many things in for so long that I try not to do that anymore. I highly recommend it. You feel really raw and really naked, but that’s part of finding humility and considering your own mortality and considering life and love. It’s nice to be really honest. It’s also really rewarding when people come back to you and say, “I lost my mom or I lost my dad and I felt those things, I just didn’t know exactly how to word it.” It makes it all worthwhile. That’s the best thing about going out on the road with Roger [Howarth, Franco, for fan events]: meeting amazing people who tell you stories about their life. Because you’ve opened up to them, they open up to you.
Digest: Between GH and your family, when did you find time to write poetry?
Easton: That’s why it took a year! If I was a single guy, it would’ve taken about nine days. It was all done late at night after the kids went to bed. After reading Harry Potter, I’d turn off my dad mind-set and go, “Okay, let’s try to be a poet for a few minutes.”
All For You: Easton dedicated his book to wife Ginevra and their children, Lilah Bell and Jack, pictured in March.
Digest: Where do you write?
Easton: Pretty much anywhere I can.
Digest: Anywhere with a napkin?
Easton: Yeah, there’s still a lot of stuff being written on cocktail napkins in bars! That hasn’t changed. Some of the best thoughts come to you there.
Digest: Have you written more poems since this book went to press?
Easton: I gotta be honest: I think this is it for me and poetry. I won’t ever do another poetry book. It took so much out of me. There were times it hurt and it was frustrating and there were some tears shed. It took a lot out of me to do it, just from an emotional standpoint, digging up old memories and stuff that I thought I’d dealt with. I always carry around this little sort of Moleskine journal and I jot down thoughts here and there. But I think I’ll use a different outlet for my writing now. w
* How To Find Your Copy: The collector’s edition of 18 Straight Whiskeys is limited to 1,000 copies, all of which will be signed by Easton. The first 200 copies will be available exclusively on his website, michaeleaston.com. “It’s my Pearl Jam moment, to make sure fans get the first crack at the book,” he grins. “That’ll be in mid-October, and by Thanksgiving, they’ll be in bookstores.”
Check out our new podcast, Dishing With Digest!