Recently I did this interview for a zine in Vrindavana, India.
Kindly introduce yourself and tell us your story on how you got involved with the hardcore punk scene.
Hare Krishna! I’m Glenn Burns, in Houston, TX. I’m originally from the Washington, D.C. area. Silver Spring, MD, to fill in the boring details. My friends just call me Glenn; my poetry friends call me BGK, because I ask them to.
My birthday keeps falling in March. This year I turned 45. I grew up, like many around me, in troubled times—unable to focus in school, struggling to survive in a dysfunctional environment at home. My resultant anger gelled well with the energy of punk rock that I discovered at the time, through skateboarding. It’s simply what what everyone around me who I respected was listening to. Little did I realize, in my home city, that I was sitting on the hotbed that was Dischord. Still so, we had a lot of the New York influence coming down, mixing in with our own scene. The afternoon matinees in Chinatown, in a little Go Go club called The Safari, were a staple.
How were you introduced to the path of spirituality?
I was very young when my grandmother told me about Jesus. Jesus, for me, began on a pendent on my grandmother’s keychain, and she said that it was good luck, he helped her to sell houses. This intrigued me.
Once my parents realized my grandmother was indoctrinating me in this way, in Annapolis, they were very upset; my father declared ours as an atheist household.
My mother was excited by what she heard of Egypt and the pyramids, UFOs, and ESP. To my cousins and I, this excitement was infectious, and we were really interested in the idea of reading each other’s minds, and the power of telekinesis, using the mind to levitate otherwise inanimate objects from their base into the open air. These topics would fill the house while everyone chain smoked the night away. It was the perfect environment to become just a little crazy, especially since we never figured out all that much about the extraterrestrial involvement in connection with the origin of the pyramids or could successfully strain our thoughts into lifting a pencil off the table into suspension.
Tell us about your poetry and literary works, what inspires you to write?
I had my first psychedelic experience at a young age by becoming sick with the flu. As I was lying in bed, swirling patterns in the shadows covered the entire ceiling.
A good friend of mine, Derek, goaded me to take him to the Krsna temple in Potomac, MD one Sunday afternoon as I was finishing up mowing someone’s lawn. I was the one that stuck around; he lost interest after a couple of weeks. What first got me was that the devotees were vegetarian. I could rock with that. Ray, from Youth of Today, had come down to talk some sense into us hardcore kids, as the Sunday feast was happening next door. Reincarnation is a thing. We are not our bodies. God is blue.
I began to write a lot. I didn’t really know what I was doing, at first. Derek and I were doing a zine at the time called Suffer Free. Derek put together the feature piece, which was to interview Ray about his new band that he was putting together, Shelter. Ray was more interested to talk about a scathing piece written about the devotees, by Tim Yohannan in Maximum Rocknroll. The rest of the zine I filled in with, in my own juvenile way, small articles on what little I understood of the Krsna philosophy.
One of my foremost reasons for moving to the temple in Philadelphia was to escape my family. Here’s something I wrote in my journal:
“When I first came to the temple, I never predicted that all these changes in my life were going to take place, and that I would ever be able to sit by myself for a whole day and write, read and chant the holy name, but somehow it happened, this great transformation of a straight-edge kid, a skater, the teacher’s rotten apple, the punk rock vandal, the bad seed from a family of bad seeds. The whole direction of my life was chaotic, just a bunch of arrows twisted up into something like a rubber band ball, pointing any way but ahead.“
About a year later, a crew of us made the trek to Vrindavana. Somehow I fell sick right away, with pneumonia, and became an invalid most of my stay, but even then I began to formulate what I wanted to write next, what I would really like to write—my own magazine, to take a more humble approach, to share more honestly from my direct experience, to present a journal on living a life of devotion, and whatever else came to mind. This became Journal of Thought.
Another friend I was living with, Vic Dicara from Inside Out and 108, told me bluntly You’re a poet. These words made a big impact on me. It was news to me.
I put the first poem I ever wrote right at the beginning of Journal of Thought’s first issue, and I’ve been writing poetry ever since. Poetry is what makes the most sense to me. Keeping my own private journal, however, is my foremost obsession. It’s really how I write books full of poems—they spring out of this space and I collect them into batches and release them. In the past decade or so I’ve been self-publishing under the Etheric Publishing umbrella, books like Good Nature, Terra, I’m In Your Area, She’s Hardly Recognizable Now, and my most recent, Overflow.
This year I’m hoping to put out two more books: Vast + Spacious and Next Age.
Vast + Spacious is something a friend of mine, Kathy, actually surprised me with for my birthday. She handed me my own book as a present! So the book is done. The book is a collection of my journal entries from over the years. Quite awhile ago I asked her to hold onto a crate of this writing and see if she could make any sense of it—I wasn’t sure if anything would come of it—and here it is. She picked the title, designed the cover, all of it. I’m so stoked. There will be some small editorial tweaks here and there, tiny adjustments, and it will include an introduction and foreword before it’s injected into the wild.
What draws you to poetry? How do you think modern society views the poetry scene?
I’ve been haphazardly celebrating
National Poetry Month
by doing some featured
in Webster, Texas
it’s always an honor
to be asked to do this
the audiences are so
present and focused
in some of these places
the drop of a pin
I always want to make
sure that I don’t
waste their time
to take seriously
in an age of complexity
there’s information and distraction
but poetry finds a way
to wind through
in so many unexpected
who becomes involved
begins to see it
Is it difficult to practice Krsna Consciousness? Meat eating, drinking, smoking… These are normal stuffs in our society; so how do you manage to avoid these things? What is your motivation? Are you happy with your life?
While it’s made a significant impact on my life, I wouldn’t say that I’m very much of a practitioner any more. For at least twenty years now I’ve been drawn to other things like mindfulness meditation, Zen theory, psychedelics, shamanism, anarchism, and so on. I think I’m much happier this way. I do a form of zazen meditation, but these days I’m mostly focused on writing. I recently told someone that if I write for only an hour a day, I feel ill. It’s a bit of an obsession.
With so many things that is going on around the world, do you think vegetarianism is still a relevant issue today?
Vegetarianism is and will remain relevant for as long as our global consciousness is wrestling with compassion. It’s still something very important to me and yet it has become ingrained.
Tell us more about your experience when you first came to Vrindavan; describe Vrindavan at the time. What was your realization?
I was living with devotees back in Potomac after having lived in the Philly temple through the spring and summer. In this turn, I had moved from one camp to another, from Shelter to 108, bands both well known for being a major part of the second wave of Krishna consciousness in hardcore.
So I was with both camps as we were all heading to India. I was 18. I still remember so clearly my daily trips to the Yamuna River, chanting japa through the villages, visiting with Tamala Krishna Maharaja, going on an early morning Vrindavana Parikrama with my friend Raghunatha, him telling me to always carry a large stick on these walks, to fend off any pack of wild dog attacks I might encounter, since it happened to him days earlier.
It was an opportunity to grow up fast as it is for any young person spending time far away from home, but also with the aspect of being in a place that’s possibly a heaven realm. That’s the big idea about Vrindvana, after all, at least to me. And that’s what’s happening even now, with this interview. I’m entertaining, inevitably, a trippy thought that I’m being interviewed by someone currently in Heaven. How should I conduct myself if this is the case?
Well, I wanted to get the best of this experience, so I started reading more about the esoteric nature of the land of Vrindavana. Any practitioner back in the States, having never been, is unable to appreciate Vrindavana to this extent— going on pilgrimage to the very sites we hear about in Krishna Book and Srimad Bhagavatam, and be in the places where these lilas were taking place, and supposedly still are, it contains a multitude of hidden layers. I suppose this is the business of a spiritual person, to wade through the hidden layers. As I was reading, I discovered an idea—at night, Vrindavana contracts like a lotus flower, its pedals joining together to help expedite Krishna’s travel time from one adventure to the next. I still find this fascinating.
Unfortunately, I feel ill with pneumonia rather early on in my stay, thus my agenda was cleared.
Another thing sticks out in my mind—one day I spotted a yogi on the side of the road taking a pretty serious smoke break. He was openly smoking weed. At the time, because I was still trying to be the good bhakta, I frowned on this. It was only because I was trying to be as staunch as possible, because that’s what was demanded of me. I didn’t even consider that this yogi was way more staunch than I would ever be. Here he was, smoking up in style. Something strange was sent to my unconscious mind that day that would many years later turn to curiosity and finally, fortunately, direct experience.
What is your message to the youth of today?
Here’s a list:
1. Be here somehow.
2. Find the things that ground you and make you happy.
3. Always work towards the positive and towards love.
4. Hold onto your friends.
5. Be aware of your own energy levels.
6. Tap into your creative spirit.
7. Spread your knowledge to others.
8. Be a light unto yourself.
9. Don’t forget the struggle.
10. Challenge yourself.
11. Practice radical honesty, with compassion.
12. Observe the life stages.
13. Go vegetarian!
14. Don’t take shit from anybody.
15. Plan ahead.
16. Don’t forget the streets.
17. Pick your battles.
18. Know when to quit.
19. Create your own solid organizational system.
20. Contemplate what it means to navigate.
Theft on Lilac
it was a cold attack dead of 10 o’clock
up goes that garage door with the push
of a button and the door into the hallway
stands wide open
our headlights shine
into the pitch black home invaded by a van
men who came in breaking the back window
contents turned up on their heads
drawers pulled out drapes torn down
parts of the dining room scattered
into kitchen with kitchen island tipped
a crack in the ceiling
revealing swamp waters
and now whoever can come crawling across
this broken seal
and reveal themselves here
for here is human desire converted
whoever deserves it most
no one knows
how we barb wire
the psyche but we know
to expect it
popped at three
a schedule or I’ll
grind a knuckle into my eye
back into the socket
the teacher will
ask what’s the matter?
I’ll say it’s allergies
among other things
like life back home
the cat is sipping broth
loud as bong hits
a witch stirring the pot
additional tiny poison drop
pour one out for a
friend back there
climb up on that
rock and see kids
what to do?
old wives’ tales
failure to elaborate
the page is torn
out of History Porn
we’re currently caught by
traffic and stuck in the pews
I can’t afford my own view
low on gas as a
fill ‘er up and fill out
and chill out
feeling it out
we’re brailing it out
in August House
lean against it
more squeamish than
a screaming poet