Henry Rollins (b. Feb 13th 1961) is a former member of the legendary punk band Black Flag, writer, activist, and journalist. Originally from Washington D.C., he is colloquially known for his stage demeanor, notably during his time as Black Flag’s frontman, but in recent years, he has become more well known as a spoken word poet, due to his transparency and humorous antics. Rollins is often seen as a cynical old punk, but there’s more to his story and perspective than meets the eye. He is sober by choice and influenced a variety of generations to push against faulty human rights and homophobia, as well as partaking in many benefit concerts and events in an effort to give a breathing example of true punk rock ethos.
Rollin’s style of spoken word poetry is fluid and unconventional; there is little space between spoken word and stand up comedy. The concepts are centered around humanity and the value of knowledge and common sense, but his delivery is spastic, ranging from having many asides and rambling sections to being short and neatly phrased. When Rollins performs “Eric the Pilot” there is a sense of apathetic comedy embedded in the experience, his emotions are quite visible on his face as he explains taking flight in a single propeller plane, “I am used to like feeling that stuff rearrange my innards...you get the idea that there are hamsters on bowling balls, we go tooling around the International Airport of St. Louis looking for the runway” as well as the terrifying experience of being below a commercial plane in the air, “it was an act of god that we were in the air...a few minutes in, you hear from miles above us a commercial plane coming into the airport; the entire plane starts vibrating...I don’t know that it’s way up there...Eric he looks over the wheel with this look [confused look] everything in him says fuck I hope this is okay” the poem then veers into strange territory, as Rollins and Eric end up landing in “Pigsknuckle, Arizona” and consequently has to reschedule his show in Tulsa.
As a poet, Rollins’ work carries the same straightforward approach, highlighted with glimmers of comedic relief, hope and suffering all packaged into one neat stream of poetry. There is such power in his poems, for example in “One from None” Rollins states “It’s funny/These people try to bum me out/Calling me shit/They’re not telling me anything I don’t already know/When they talk shit/It’s lightweight compared to what I say to myself” and you can feel the realism and resilience to his environment. He continues to wisely write, “Kindness is strength/It’s easier to open a door, than to keep it open/Hatred is easy/Frustration is life on pause” exemplifying a person stripped of their bleak outlook on life, but still bitter with the way things are. When he addresses the roots of recreating oneself, “Self-Creation is painful/Trying to take my parents blood out of mine/Trying to stand on my own two feet/Without leaning on someone else/Looking to myself for total strength” Rollins returns to the separation between parent and child to truly illustrate why he has become one from none, not out of egotistical need, but a symbol of the strength any one person can hold.
ENGL4302 Spoken Word Poetry & Pedagogy at LSU