Having recently written a piece about banned books and conventions over at Bea’s Book Nook for the Banned Book Week, I couldn’t get out of my mind two sayings, never judge a book by its cover and Still Waters Run Deep. So when we had the opportunity to review actor Robert Lasardo’s two poetry titles we jumped at the chance.
Thanks to Lady Eleanor we were also lucky enough to have an interview with Robert where we asked about his writing, his body art and how he feels it has affected him in his career as well as mentally and spiritually…
Falcata Times: Do you think that the poems were in your mind when you had the tattoo's done or were they something that arrived when you looked back upon the artwork?
Robert Lasardo: My poems are a continued expression that manifested once I revisited the tattoo images and looked deeper within myself. For years people I did not know personally would ask me to explain the meaning behind the ink. Some would thank me proclaiming that I inspired them to get their first tattoo. Over time and with many more questions I started to feel a responsibility to share my story with people who seemed to express a genuine interest in the art form.
FT: The Poem 1979 mentions about being warned against having tattoo's, what tattoo did you choose first and what happened when you got home and your family saw what you'd had done?
RL: My first tattoo was a traditional cartoon 1950s style prize fighter. I had it tattooed on the right side of my chest. I was able to keep it a secret from my father for many months until I was arrested wearing a shirt that was unable to fully conceal the tattoo. It was after midnight and in the middle of summer when my father received the call that I had been arrested.
Being a juvenile I was not booked or finger printed and released into my father’s custody. I was given a court date and faced criminal charges for assault and possession of a deadly weapon. As my father and I walked home that night my shirt exposed the tattoo and I wondered if he would beat me right there in the street. To my surprise he just yelled to me to zip my fucking shirt up. By now I had tattoos on both sides of my chest and had no shame in showing the world.
My father on the other hand made it clear to me that my tattoos were a disgrace and represented everything he hated. Given the nature of my crime left me with little credibility for any argument in my defence for self-expression. I was assisting the ignorance in society and reinforcing the stigma that made tattoos seem so taboo.
FT: Also in 1979 you mention that people will look at you differently for having tattoos. How do you feel they have affected your acting career?
RL: I can only judge my acting career from the point of view of optimism. There is a line from the classic 40s film 'From Here To Eternity' spoken by the late and great Montgomery Clift "when you love a thing you have to be grateful. Doesn't mean it has to love you back." Before acting I had nothing. Acting has given me a purpose in life regardless of how I am measured by it. For years it has been suggested to me by some that my efforts have been in vain. That I will fail or have failed to transcend the physical choices I have made that were part of my evolution. I cannot deny or betray who I am as an expression for the sake of the conformed ego. No doubt there will always be people who see me as threat to conventional structures. I may not be the one to change things completely. But maybe through some of my achievements I have shown what is possible to those who have been told to give up and bury their dreams.
FT: Reading the book (playing with fire) do you feel that tattoo's do speak a thousand words if people are prepared to listen and what do you feel the majority of your tattoo's are telling people?
RL: Yes I do. If those who observe the images do so with an open mind. Art is a subjective experience that seems to be governed by personal criteria that varies from individual to individual. What people read into the pictures (Tattoos) I feel is a projection of their own belief system and thought process. Regardless of what I set out to communicate with image and word I cannot drive the response just witness the reactions. Some have found the images frightening while others have commented on their beauty. I guess it all depends on who is doing the looking. For me they encompass the extremes within life with the desire to expose and transcend inner conflict.
FT: When did you start writing poetry or is it something that you think has developed as you've gotten older?
RL: I remember writing poems in my late 20s. I don't think I even realized I was writing poetry until a friend pointed it out to me. He seemed surprised and asked me how I was able to write like that. I don't know if I was as impressed with the words as he was. I threw all of the work in the garbage. Maybe because the words marked such a turbulent time in my life.
The writing was always in direct relationship to the emotional storms I found myself in. The words just came as a way to release extreme feelings. I could not control the words any more than what life was throwing at me at the time. I would not plan to write. I would not sit down to write. I just found myself writing. Over the years I would continue to write things down then discard them. One day a friend told me rather bluntly to stop doing that. He explained to me the value of my words and the significance of the experiences that brought them to life. I can't say that I keep everything I write now but I definitely think twice before trashing it.
FT: How have the fans reacted to seeing a different side to you in this book?
RL: The first thing that comes to mind is an email I received from a man who told me specifically what poems had affected him. He also wrote, "Keep going with this." This got my attention primarily because I did not know this man. My friends were supportive but I could not be sure if they would be objective enough, though someone did warn me "not everyone is going to understand this". I was not surprised by the warning.
My goal was more about being true to what I needed to communicate rather than spelling everything out or editing myself. What I found within peoples response to my work did surprise me though. Not only did they understand it but it touched people in ways I did not expect. I knew what I had conjured was personal to me. But to see it penetrate others and create an emotional response other than fear was something very new for me.
FT: Which is your favorite poem from your book?
RL: In my second book, Playing With Fire' my favorite poem is FURY.
FT: In general which poem is your favorite?
RL: My favorite poem in general is from my first book, Choices: Inside Out. It is titled CRADLE.
FT: Are there any more books in the pipe line and what do you think that they will tell people about you?
RL: No doubt there will be more storms to come my way. And there will be an opportunity to learn something else which I can write about. My hope is that it will be something new. An inspiration perhaps that can dispel the dragon and remove the smoke that makes it so difficult to see the sun. I have a responsibility now to tell people who understand where I'm coming from a story that embraces hope.
FT: You mention giving money to charity with your first book. Can you tell us more about your charity choice?
RL: USA CARES.ORG is a charity that is working to provide US veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with much needed supplies. Some men are leaving military hospitals with no more than a trash bag to store their personal belongings. Some of these men are disabled. The goal is to provide these men with at least a descent back pack or satchel.