the open road that compels me ..."
An Interview with Gypsy Pashn
by Patricia Gomes
Gypsypashn, a.k.a. Betsy Lister, has been
crowned the Biker Poet Laureate, by Road Poet, for Massachusetts and New Hampshire 2006. She also served as Biker Poet Laureate of New Hampshire in 2005.
She is the founder of BikerBits Ezine, and a monthly columnist for the Motorcyclist Post.
Her work has been
published in countless journals, both in print and electronically. In addition, she is the founder of Gypsypashn's Poetry Caravan, which meets on the third Thursday of each month at the Bestseller's Café® in Medford, Massachusetts.
owns and operates an insurance company, Lister Insurance Agency, Inc., which, unsurprisingly, caters to motorcyclists.
* * *
PG: As a rule, we don't use the words biker and poet in the same sentence; how do you find fellow biker poets
– how does a conversation about poetry even start in a group of bikers?
BL: Well, it just seems to take a path there. For instance, you may not ride, but whenever
you’re with a group of acquaintances or friends, ultimately, even if they ask: “So, what’s new with you,”
doesn’t poetry come into the conversation? It’s the same for bikers or motorcycle enthusiasts.
PG: How old were you when you started riding, and what is it about the road that compels
you to write poetry?
BL: I started, and had my first bike when I was
21. Prior to that, I rode on the back. And it's the open road itself that compels me to write poetry. It
enhances, intensifies the emotions: freedom, exhilaration, the ability to rise above the daily grind and feel unchained …powerful,
enabling feelings, honestly!
PG: Did you came up with the alias
Gypsypashn, or were you "gifted" with it?
BL: Way back in
1995, when my son first introduced me to the internet, he told me I had to come up with a screen name, and that I could only
use 10 letters. So I started to think, what best explains me, tells a bit about me, without giving too much away, that
I can truly identify with and others will identify that moniker with me. When I ride, I feel like a gypsy, I can go
wherever there is a road, so that is where the Gypsy came from.
The second portion ‘pashn’ came
from the fact that riding is a passion of mine, and because I only had 10 letters, passion became pashn — it’s
that simple —but it does describe me to a tee, I believe.
PG: Have the
friends/brothers you've lost to the road inspired your poetry?
I’ve lost countless friends to the perils of the asphalt, and each time it inspires words. Sometimes they’re
keepers to share, sometimes they’re just my own personal thoughts … and sometimes the computer crashes and takes
them all with it!
PG: You are the proud mother of a 31-year old son. Is he
comfortable with you riding?
BL: My son admires all that I’ve accomplished
with my riding, and is proud of me, but is totally against the fact that I do ride, because he believes motorcycles are risky
modes of transportation. I once took a vacation, and rode home through Vermont. During the vacation, I had a mishap
and laid the bike over, causing my right ankle to be wrenched and completely swollen. I couldn’t even remove my
boot it was so swollen. Upon my arrival at home, with the bike piled high with gear, I was filthy, had a layer of soot
on my face, got off the bike and was limping in the driveway, and my son asked, “Hey Mom welcome home — how was
At that point, I said, “It was awesome! I just came through God’s country, and
it’s beautiful!” He was shocked that I could be in pain, filthy, exhausted and boasting about the ride I
had just taken. He asked if he could sit on my bike. I was thrilled, and asked him if he wanted to take it down
He replied, “No, that’s ok.”
I think he wanted to see what I had seen from
my perspective. It’s a story I tell over and over again when people ask me this question.
PG: Tell us about Art College: Where and what did you study? Which medium do you prefer working in?
BL: Ahh … fond memories. I am a graduate of the Art Institute of
Boston in Kenmore Square, which is now affiliated with Lesley College. I studied fashion illustration in college.
However, when I graduated there were no jobs available in the Boston area, so I did not pursue an art career. My favorite
media are pen and ink, pencil, charcoal, and pastels. I haven’t painted for a long time, but when I did, I preferred
acrylic paint. I’m hoping to be able to put aside more time for a ‘return to art’ in the next few
PG: You wrote your first poem after your brother's suicide, do you think
his untimely passing may be the reason you live life to the absolute fullest?
Yes, that was a very low period in my life. As I've told you before, life has been a roller coaster ride. I seem
to ride white knuckled, but cling, hang on for dear life … and survive. His passing was a major turning point
in my life.
PG: Can you write a poem "off-the-cuff" or do you need to let a
poem come out on its own?
BL: I’ve been able to do both. I believe it all depends upon my mindset.
I, like most other people, experience times when I feel I’m more creative than at other times, and it’s at those
times that the words will tumble out. Other times, I could fumble around and not find anything that would roll off my
tongue in any semblance of order. And sometimes words just don’t come at all, never mind in any semblance of order.
PG: Who was the first poet to make you sit up and notice poetry?
BL: Believe it or not, it was Joyce Kilmer’s "Trees"… Robert Frost’s "The
Road Not Taken". Especially Frost’s poem — made me think about choices in life, and Kilmer’s poem
just titillated the artist in me.
PG: Best time to write, the time of day you
find yourself most contemplative?
BL: This one’s easy for me to
answer — in the wee hours of the morning, when it’s pitch black, with coffee in hand, usually on the front porch.
The only other time would be when I’m riding. How do I write while I ride? Good question. I have a
Dictaphone I’ll take with me and stick it in my bra, so that when words come, I just whip it out and start dictating
what comes to mind. In 2000, I rode out to Sturgis, South Dakota with that Dictaphone, and came up with some real nice
PG: Best time to ride: day or night? And why?
BL: When I was younger, there was no better time, now that I’m a bit older, I find daytime is the nicest,
when you can ride with the sun shining down on you. Although, dusk's a nice time to ride as well.
PG: Poetry and music go together like bikers and leather: whose music has influenced your writing?
BL: The Beatles, Tom Waits, Jackson Brown, The Eagles, Dakota Staton (Blues Artist), Janis
Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and many others, but those are a prelude to others I can’t recall at the moment.
PG: Favorite dead poet?
BL: Robert Frost.
PG: Favorite live poet?
Wow — I have many favorite contemporary poets, and they’re from all walks of life. Biker-wise, my ‘brother’
Peddlar, JoeGo Gouveia; Ironhorsewriter – Larry Squerri; and otherwise Steven Manchester, Douglas Bishop, David Surette
… and a few others that I cannot recall at the moment.
poetry: just a trend or here to stay?
BL: Don’t know. I’m
not a slammer in any way shape or means. I have enough of a difficult time remembering my own personal stats, never
mind trying to commit to memory my words to recite in competition! Is it here to stay? Well, if it does, I’m
hoping that the venue will never overpower mainstay poetry. My thoughts here are, once you lose the context of the artistry
of the spoken word, and submit it to competition, the ART of it all is lost, and I’m hoping we never lose pure poetry.
PG: So your preference is to write for the page rather than the microphone?
BL: I’m more a page writer than a mic writer, although, after having said that, I do
enjoy watching people’s reactions to my poetry, so I’ll change that and say both.
PG: Would you say you're completely comfortable reading your poetry to an audience?
BL: Sometimes I am. Sometimes – especially with a new or dark piece, never knowing how it’s going
to be received — I feel a tinge of nervousness roll through me.
you ever afraid of revealing too much about yourself?
BL: Yes, I think that’s
a fear of all writers, but one nice thing about writing is that we can always claim our subject is just one from our thoughts
or it’s someone other than ourselves. For me, it’s been a rough roller coaster ride, and I’m always
a bit fearful of divulging too much of the pain and tragedy. In fact, each time I go out for a ride, I keep a look out
for Easy Street. I’ve ridden many places, but have yet to find it. If you know where it is, please let me
know. I’d like to go there one of these days.
PG: As the years
progress, are you less or more afraid to take risks with your writing?
At this point in my life, I’m to a point where I feel I don’t care what people think. It’s just an
artistic expression, and they can think what they want.
PG: What are you afraid
BL: Socio-psychopaths. Unfortunately, my personality seems
to attract them. I've always regretted never having learned to not trust strangers
at first glance.
PG: This last one is a three-part question. It's 2012:
Where are you?
BL: I’m hoping I’m retired instead of
just being retarded, and living in a warm climate where there’s ample riding advantages and a long riding season.
PG: What are you doing?
painting, writing, riding, and enjoying life with my family, which will include grandchildren.
PG: What have you stopped doing?
BL: Working full time!
PG: Thank you, Gypsy; long may you ride.
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