Travis Byram grew up as an only child with a single mother in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He writes the movie blog, titoito.blogspot.com, which won the 2012 Free Lance-Star Creative Multimedia Contest. Emily Densmore speaks with Travis below.
You mentioned that you had an internship as a poetry writer in your college’s Natural History and Archeological Collections Project. That sounds incredibly cool. Could you tell us more about that experience? What excited you about it? What were some challenges?
Working at the Natural History and Archaeology Collections Project (NHACP) has been wonderful. I have a great relationship with Emily Smith. We actually got beers when we were both in England this past summer. She’s so dedicated to helping out her interns. She gave me such freedom my first semester with the NHACP—I got to come in for an hour every other day and respond in poetry to these old late 19th century lantern slides about the most mundane things: orange picking, cotton gins, and then, of course, this deserted, sad miner home, where in the background lies a massive mine, something out of There Will Be Blood. The contrast was extraordinary. The real challenge was picking which of the 100s the NHACP had was worth responding to.
What advice would you give to other young authors just starting out?
Since I’m an author just starting out myself, I’ll give advice from those who’ve helped me so far—expect rejection and don’t take it personally, and be happily surprised when you’re published. Keep, keep, keep editing and toying with your work, knowing you are comfortable and believe in what’s on the page. You’re not a poet because it pays six figures starting out—you’re a poet because you feel like you need to be.
Why are you drawn to poetry? What does it do for you as a genre?
I never was any good at poetry growing up—I’ve listened to hip-hop for a long time, which of course now I realize is poetry. I’m really drawn to sounds, how sonically things are heard and read, and since I don’t see myself as the next Chance the Rapper, I think poetry is a fun genre to explore that in. I also have an overwriting problem, and you can’t afford to do that in poetry.
What do you think is the purpose of poetry in today’s society?
I think, perhaps more than ever we need poetry. At its most base level it can be an escape, but at its highest potential it’s a powerful form of expression. Whatever side you’re on, this country is living in a political three-ring circus. You can stuff your face with popcorn and watch, or you can get out your frustrations and beef artistically.
How did you get into blogging? Can you talk a little bit about the advantages and limitations of blogging as a form?
After I watched Slumdog Millionaire when I was 12 I fell in love with movies. After I fell in love with movies I fell in love with the Oscars. Modeling after Entertainment Weekly, I wanted to write down my picks for the 2009 show, and I set up a website on Blogspot to do it. With college consuming my time, I haven’t been able to blog recently. But I’m taking film courses now for my Film Studies minor to strengthen my knowledge, and I plan on doing an Ang Lee project this summer by watching his entire filmography and blogging about it. I like blogging’s limitations because like poetry no one is going to be drawn to a super long post. You have to introduce, sum up the movie, then give your critiques—in about six paragraphs. I put a lot of faith in critiques by EW, the Washington Post and Rogerebert.com, so I want to make sure the five minutes people spend reading my reviews makes an impact in their viewing choice.
What are your future goals as a writer?
At the end of the day I would love, love, love to be a screenwriter, but for something more independent than Hollywood. Or a playwright. Or a novelist. Something where I can put all my energy into a project, see it come to fruition, and then move on to the next thing. I took karate for two years before giving up on it. I took singing lessons for a semester and haven’t tried it since. Film and writing are two things I think about everyday, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of them. Look out for Travis Byram’s new musical: “The Singing Karate Kid.”