Inland Empire Poet Laureate Nikia Chaney’s book Three, Walking is out on September 20th. You can preorder the book here. Below is the trailer featuring a reading by Chaney from the book which weaves her poetic language into a science fiction parable that explores a world in which three brave women push against the external structures of their realm that abstractly mirrors our own.
Megan Siebe has been writing and recording music for two decades. Her string arrangements dot recordings by The Renderers, Simon Joyner, Cursive, Refrigerator and others. I am so thrilled to have a copy of her debut record in hand as I write this, a co-release between Shrimper & Grapefruit. That this record is out today, August the 27th, is poetic. It is the perfect veranda tonic when the A/C doesn’t work on a humid summer eve. Tennessee Williams. I think of August Wilson. Albee too, I don’t know why. It is literature that comes to mind when I play this record.
I remember being in Omaha for a week one summer, the windows were screened and opened the entire time. Fireflies. It sounded like this gorgeous record by Megan Siebe. She is my John Bonham or Dewey Redman – easy to not even hear her in the recordings that she has done because her playing is that of an empath. She does whatever it is that needs to be done. No smoke blow bullshit. Playing in C minor for eight minutes if needed. Siebe?
This record of hers is everything about her that I know, that for a decade I have arms distance loved, it is all here. You need a simple shrug? You need a two AM ledge talk down? It is all here on this stately debut record of hers. My favorite artists are the ones that are not trying to impress me. I said bye bye to the Bill Bruford grilled cheese beard stroking society when I was 14. I was a servant for most of my life & understand the roll of the server. See? Siebe, she does what has to be done, I mean, religiously, in whatever guise you find her. This record of hers serves her songs. She does not over arch, does not Paris of plaster, caulk the minor disasters, no, she has faith in you. You will see it for what it is worth. She is like that. Light footed, laughing off the heartache, and moving forward, not moving on. August. The windows are open, and if you are quiet, you can hear everything in this record of hers.
Megan Siebe’s debut LP is being co-released by Shrimper and Grapefruit Records on August 27th, a limited edition 160 gram beauty of an LP with a lyric insert, download code, and, for a limited time, a hand sewn slip bag. Check out the debut of the second track and video from the record Swaying Steady, Whispers via Ears to Feed. Preorders are ongoing at Grapefruit with a limited edition cloth sleeve hand screened by Siebe.
Juanita Mantz is a force of nature. Her debut book is a thumbnail polaroid that develops in your hands over the course of sixty pages. There she is burdened as a troubled youth, dropping out of high school to a mix tape of Siouxsie, X, The Smiths and The Cure and then voila, she puts herself through college (spoiler alert for those that haven’t read the title of her book) to become a public defender.
But wait, better than that is that her new book Portrait of a Deputy Public Defender (or, how I became a punk rock lawyer is an inspiring read that showcases Mantz’s ability to write in a number of different modes. Essays, autobiography, young adult narratives all crash into one another like the soundtrack of her youth and womanhood, making apologies for nothing and making the case for all that she holds to be of great import. Her family reminds me of my family, might remind you of yours. That she economically fleshes out her uncle and sister in a vignette in the book that still slugs me and stops me in my tracks on the seventh read speaks volumes. This is good writing powered by good intention. Good intention delivered in the work that she does as public defender and as a force for change in our thirsty world. I have told you twice now, she is a force to be reckoned with. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Your book reads like a thoughtful mix-tape. There are deeply personal passages, SE Hinton/Young Adult offramps, Charles Mingus underdog autobiographical entries, treatise that get thick into it on the injustices of the justice system…sewn together by your unique voice. It reads to me like you did a lot of surgery to get to the root of all of these things, leaving a lot on the cutting room floor.
I cut the most from the first chapbook story How Did I Get Here? Interestingly, that story is one of the last stories in my 200 plus page YA memoir which ends with me dropping out. This chapbook, funnily enough, begins with that same “HS dropout” story, and is about why my dropout history is my magic wand as a deputy public defender. It’s a reframing in a way…. it’s a YA tragedy in my other book which is written in present tense YA voice, but looking back as an adult in this chapbook, I’m glad it happened. It gave me resilience, and empathy.
For this chapbook, I cut a lot out of that “dropout story” and left the longer version in my longer YA memoir. The stuff I cut out was about my older half sister Barb dying my junior year of HS and my dad almost committing suicide when she died…It just seemed like too much. So I cut it. But it was hard to cut. In the longer memoir, the dropout story is much longer and more detailed and is retitled “Under the big black sun” as a nod to the LA punk band X which mirrors the cover on this chapbook. I also worked on making my mom more well rounded. In both of my books, I had to show just how much my mom put into me so her anger feels justified. She thought I was gonna make it to college, which I did eventually years later, and then law school, but me dropping out of high school 5 units short almost broke her. My twin Jackie made it, just barely, but that’s her story to tell, not mine, but I’m glad one of us did graduate that day.
It’s funny you mention SE Hinton because I have a whole story in my longer YA memoir book called Stay Gold that’s inspired by SE Hinton’s writing and the book The Outsiders… it’s about me and my friends at a club called Marilyn’s in Pasadena. SE Hinton, along with Judy Blume, was a huge influence on my writing style. The jazz reference is also interesting, because I do tend to write in a trance and just go with it. In fact, most of the essays and stories were written in one sitting. Like I said, I get inspired and go into a trance and write a first draft and then I edit and edit. And edit some more. I edit the whole piece word by word over and over. And sometimes that can take a while. Then again, I also have a couple of stories that came out perfect in the first draft that I never had to edit, one of those was a story about visiting my grandpa in Norco. That’s the universe/muses working through me when that happens.
A lot in the chapbook is really about blue collar life which intersects with punk rock and public defense nicely. And my dad’s bar and my parents’ professions and my upbringing etc.
Ultimately, I could see expanding the chapbook into a longer academic book about the legal “other”, which was the topic of my USC Law school “note” or thesis. I would use Edward Said (Orientalism), along with James Joyce (my title mirrors his book Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), and I would use the teachings of Gloria Anzaldúa’ and her book Borderlands / La Frontera and the philosophy/social justice writings of Cherie Moraga, Angela Davis and others…. I do some of that in this chapbook, but there’s a lot more to be said.
The passage in the book about your sister graduating from high school after you dropped out and your uncle’s disgust about this is such a visceral piece in the book. It is not a spoiler if you answer this, has he seen the work that you did and are now doing on behalf of the underserved in need of a public defender?
Regarding Uncle Roland, that was the hardest part of my dropout day. My godfather’s disappointment was palpable. I saw myself through his eyes that day and I was ashamed. Sadly, my Uncle Roland died in 2003, just after I graduated from law school. The year after in fact. He never got to see me as a deputy public defender. But Roland, aka Wolfman Jack, did live to see me become a lawyer. Another fun fact, my uncle Roland was initially only my godfather, but I had to share him with my twin sister Jackie (like most stuff as kids/twins) after her godfather Mickey died suddenly (he was very obese and lived in Montana and died after gastric bypass surgery in the 1970s).
The poor, the indigent, those lost in the legal malaise, it is one thing to spray paint “punk’s not dead” on a wall or scrawl “society sucks” on a peechee folder in yer teens, another altogether to work within the system, for the people instead of dismissively rejecting the system. I dig this as your definition of punk rock.
Yes, music is my everything. It saved me along with writing. I love lyrics and beats. I love to dance and sing (I am off key usually) and music is just a huge part of my life along with concerts! I’m excited to see “X” soon. A live show makes me feel young again. It’s what my best friends and I always gravitated to. It’s our joy. Thank god my husband loves the same music too. Ironically, I came back to punk rock and post punk right after I left corporate law. There’s a direct relationship between finding the two things again, ie, finding myself again, and the fact that one of my PD supervisors had seen the Sex Pistols live! Because in HS, I was obsessed with The Sex Pistols. And PIL. And Sid who was long dead by then.
Most of my fave bands in HS were a mix of punk and post punk. I’m not that knowledgeable about later punk to be honest. I’m more into the proto punk bands like the NY Dolls, The Stooges, Velvet Underground and then The Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, and other Cali punk bands like X and Social Distortion and of course post punk people like Siouxsie, Robert Smith/the Cure, Joy Division, Bauhaus along with The Smiths… and early U2 and the Replacements (who started out punky but turned almost pop in their last album) and The Pixies. Of course, I’m also super obsessed with Bowie, and I am a huge Runaways/Joan Jett and Go-Go’s fan. Those were my bands. I tend to deep dive into bands and singers.
Being punk for me is now more of a political statement and a way of looking at the world. I’m trying to create a discourse in my chapbook to show the intersections. We’ve created an incarcerated class. It’s tragic. I also wanted to redeem the image of a deputy public defender in the media. We’re hard working, punk rock lawyers. We’re doing it for the clients. Not ever for the money. At least not most of us. We’re usually true believers. I could never go private because I could never have a client’s family mortgage their house to pay. I’d go broke in a month. As a deputy public defender 4, don’t get me wrong, I make a decent living but still after 13 years, I make only a bit more than what I made in my 1st year of practice as a corporate civil lawyer.
Lawyers are white collar but I still think of myself as blue collar in my soul. Public defense is blue collar work. It’s blue-collar life, it’s fighting the powers that be, it’s everything. As is punk music. And what’s weird is that I so resisted writing about my work for years. I had so many blocks, the privileges, privacy, fear, but after George Floyd, I said fuck it. I’m gonna say what I want. It’s why I could never be a judge, among other reasons such as imprisoning and caging humans, because I need to say what I think aloud and loud, and not be constrained, in writing, both personally, & politically. In sum, I need to tell my stories.
Music is such an important part your life. You have touched upon how records by The Replacements, X, Bowie, etc. offered you a place to land in conversations with me, and it is in the book to a degree as well. Your experience having been sidelined and outcast reads in the book as a means with which to rescue those asea. How many years have you now worked as a public defender?
I’ve been doing this public defense work almost thirteen years now which is more than half my almost 20 year legal career. I graduated in 2002. My job is hard on the soul. But I love it. Yet, it’s hard, so I’m hoping to make it to at least 55 and I’m almost 50. But maybe I’ll last another ten years who knows? The old corporate law Juanita feels like a different person, that was never me. I was Eliza Doolittle. Pretending. For almost 7 years. Glad I got out when I did. I might not be here otherwise.
I love my job, but the work gets harder and harder the more experience you have. I handle very serious cases, and I do a lot of consulting with other lawyers from my office. The only thing I won’t handle is death penalty. I’m happy to consult but I cannot do those cases as I’m not DP certified and frankly could not stomach participating as a lawyer in that field. It would probably harm me in my soul irrevocably but I so, so admire the lawyers who can do that work.
Also, I’ve created this specialty in mental health and incompetency and it’s taken almost a decade to become an expert. I love the field so much and it’s where everything is heading. Recognizing that the majority of those incarcerated are mentally ill and traumatized is the first step to really seeing people. That way we, as a society, can help them. Rather than harm them.
At day’s end, after the myriad of heartaches & injustices that have transpired in your courtroom, there is hope for me and others that it is not always a miscarriage of justice for the working poor. Are there red letter days for you?
I talk about a couple of “red letter” days in this chapbook. I had to change details but over the years, I have had some very big cases go well for the clients. And yet, it’s not a win per se, but a win where justice reigned and the client is in a safe place.
I’m convinced it’s visualization and tenacity. I’ve had prosecutors give in because I simply won’t give up. I fight and fight for my clients and make life hard for the prosecutors and sometimes they come around and do the right thing. Sometimes, I plead, beg, tell them my clients’ stories over and over. I humanize the clients.
Does your work as a public defender get more difficult with time?
Recently, I had a miracle happen in a very serious case with an autistic client who I became very invested in, so attached and invested that I said aloud, if the wrong thing happens, I’ll quit doing this work. Thankfully, the miracle happened and he’s OK. I’m still here as a result. I cried like a baby the day I “won” that case. It is my finest moment.
The hardest part recently is being so open emotionally after Covid. After a year of working mostly from home, my eyes are wide open to the horrors I have to bear witness to. It’s raw. So many people are suffering. All of my desensitization is gone. I come home from court and want to puke. The other day, they took a guy down and he was struggling, and all these lawyers are just in there chatting, and I said aloud, “what the hell is wrong with everyone?”
The title of the book in and of itself is an interesting definition of terms.
The title of the chapbook, like I said, is based on Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce and I use his quote at the start of my chapbook, which is so apt, he wrote:
“I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use — silence, exile, and cunning.”
What Joyce is saying is that be true to yourself. To your art and soul no matter what. Amplify your voice. No matter the cost, whether it be exile, censorship, critique, illness and/or poverty. Joyce dealt with all of those. Because in the end, that’s all we have. I’m a huge Joyce fan. I took classes in him at UCR with a Joyce Scholar. I went to Ireland to see his birthplace of Dublin and his wife’s (Nora Barnacle) house in Galway. His short story collection “Dubliners” was one of the first books that made me want to be a writer.
You might know Joel Huschle from the three decades on writer/singer for the band WCKR SPGT, or perhaps the many side projects of his as a singer over the years. Huschle is also a writer, a performer, and an endlessly creative mind. Hell, I wish I had recorded so many conversations that I have had with him over my lifetime because he is sharp, witty, cutting and never at a loss for ideas or words.
If you are unfamiliar with Joel Huschle, well, you are in luck because his new book on Bamboo Dart Press, False Memories of a Cape Cod Clam Shack, encapsulates all that he is into a book that is just shy of being the size of a 7″ single. Can you imagine that? A six foot tall guy fitting into a 55 page book the size of a 45 RPM record? Careful with that book, Eugene, both sides are hits.
Your book captures your voice which so many folks that know of you will recognize from nearly four decades of writing & recording with WCKR SPGT. I wonder if some of this was written in the absence of recording with WCKR SPGT
Even in the occasional absence of recording and collaborating with Spgt, I feel that much of my output is grounded in the Spgt ethos. Wckr Spgt is in me. Like a welcome disease.
The footnoted diary entries at the bottom of entries which include errands to run, jotted notes and miscellany from the day are fantastic. Was this a conscious effort to ground some of these short stories of grandeur?
Mark Givens (the editor of this chapbook) was given the task of organizing the placement of the footnoted entries. He was able to add a depth to this project that, frankly, knocked my socks off. He and I have collaborated for 40 years and I consider his input to actually be tapped in to my thought process. I handed him, through email, a disorganized heap of writings and he turned it into something I am immensely proud of.
The melding of heartache and absurdism in your writing is amplified by the starkness of delivery in the book. It is an odd mix of lyrics, short stories, essays and asides that succeeds as a whole. I love that the book disarms by being intensely personal and injecting fabulism into the everyday. Did you intend to straddle both worlds?
I have always straddled both worlds. Is it intentional? I cannot wrap my mind around the idea of intentionality. I know of no other way I could be. Some of the more bleak entries stemmed from my retirement from the mental health field that was hastened by choosing to surrender my LCSW license because of my DUI in November of 2016. I went through a few years when fabulism was crushed and I was basically in survival mode.
I read the book a third time and it struck me as autobiography. “Tattered and Thin”, one of the last pieces in the book almost serves as an introduction of who you are to the reader, in the manner of how we shorthand a friend that another friend of ours is about to meet for the first time.
Each thing I write is probably autobiographical. “Tattered and Thin” is perhaps the closest I can get to understanding spirituality. Holy books bore the shit out of me, which is why my holy book would be more of a quick read.
I am forever interested in the physical spaces of the Inland Empire and the how they are presented by writers of the area. You play around with Puddingstone and The Port of Long Beach, presenting alternate visions of them but not very far removed from what they are. Were you born in Southern California?
Born in Minnesota. My father worked for Honeywell and got transferred to Massachusettes when I was three. Then he got transferred to Southern California in 1974. So I have been here since I was nine. It feels like home. Puddingstone Reservoir has always fascinated me. It is a sad and beautiful place. There are warning signs stating that the fish are toxic to eat, yet they allow fishing. The folks catching the fish do not heed these warnings, probably because they’d rather feed their families toxic fish instead of watching them starve.
I think your line about the center of a chair being a “sitty center” is the perfect example of how your writing works. You are mucking around with geography and language, making a huge joke that the center of the metro area is merely a place for folks to rest their asses.
The “sitty center” comes from some of my more recent writings. I like haiku because I am lazy and have a short attention span. Puns come easily to me and I am in a constant psychic struggle to not verbalize the word/meaning structures that are being built in my mind. I am also in awe of chairs. They are everywhere.
Writer Juanita E. Mantz is able to boil down and succinctly connect her formative years as a punk rock high school dropout to her work as a public defender in her debut book out August 10th. The book has a title as long as old diplodocus’ tail because it is in fact quite a tale. Mantz employs her upbringing in the book to underline the empathy and fight that she sharpened over the course of her life to defend those cast to the side, or worse, trapped in a legal system built to imprison and keep the poor impoverished. Her book serves as the perfect introduction to her many talents, including some works of her poetry. See the trailer with a reading by Juanita from the book above.
Joel Huschle’s forthcoming book on Bamboo Dart Press is out on July 25th. Check out the trailer below featuring a new song by the singer and one of the songwriters of WCKR SPGT. The book, available for preorder direct from Bamboo Dart Press, is an amalgam of all the Huschle worlds of fabulism that have made him one of my favorite writers. The book surprises at every turn and is truly a work of art. Check out the trailer for the book below featuring one of Joel’s songs.
Words Become Ashes- An Offering, Cindy Rinne’s new book on Bamboo Dart Press combines her poetry and her fiberverse artwork into a sharp little book. Full color pictures of her stitched work compliment her writing as a truly satisfying and comprehensive whole. Not to simplify the book, but the fire that engulfed and took away Rinne’s home has served as a spiritual reawakening. The quiet of that devastation has revealed new shoots and undergrowth that emerges in the book, growing on the lattice of experience and knowledge. Rinne has had a number of books published, and we are thrilled to be one of the limbs bearing the fruit of her labor. Below is an interview that I conducted with Rinne in preparation for the publication of the book.
Your poetry is an interesting marriage of the magical/spiritual realm and natural world, where the two meet and where the twain exists. You hit this marriage dead on in your poem Riding The Wind where you write that you dance between worlds. As a reader was am taken aback by an ephemeral poem that quickly introduces a polar bear from out of nowhere, or the voicing of a raven as a coda to another piece in the book.
Riding the Wind visuals arrived during a shamanic journey. The polar bear was a surprise. I went along for the ride to see where the voyage would take me. The poem came from what I experienced. The first line As I stand, turn, and fluff the pillows, is from a prompt to take the last line of a poem from a book I just read. I have vintage pillowcases given to me. This became my canvas. I decided to include part of the poem on the art. Text as texture. I don’t include text often. It is a strong element and needs to become a part of the whole. The poem is written in two columns to be read across or vertically. Words from each column appear on the art. I add text in my own hand so it is unique. I am in this poem as ritual is important to me as are the spiritual meanings of animals, plants, etc. I also don’t know a lot about my ancestors. The moths joined the artwork near the end of stitching. Like the raven speaking in another poem, all are linked. Nighttime and the moon are a theme in the art in this book. Finding the richness of the dark.
As Mark and I get longer in the tooth with Bamboo Dart Press, a pattern is emerging of authors whose work we issue work in other artistic realms. I think of Kendall Johnson’s paintings, Meg Pokrass’ poetry, Allen Callaci’s singing, etc. Your thread work is incredible and is woven throughout this book. The gown you made Apology (Page 27 of the book, will insert picture here) is a huge tell of your writing style.
Apology a wall sculpture was designed and created at a residency in Joshua Tree, CA. This dress of beautiful, rich colors had holes and tears. I repaired them by hand. Mending became part of the art. I also hand-stitched the larger shapes onto the padded dress while watching the sun set over the desert. My writing like my art is a collage of gathered fragments. Reflects how I think with various unrelated thoughts flowing through my mind. My perception is a dance between worlds as I believe the spiritual and natural realms exist together. I write of ancient / present and of many cultures. My fiber collages contain past / present fabrics from around the world. Sometimes I have a small remnant of something rare and it is one shot whether printmaking, embroidery, or machine stitching. I hold my breath and give it a try.
Dear Exploration is a beautiful, autobiographical poem (I am assuming) which succinctly captures age, aging and the act of letting go in a stark and concrete manner. The book almost floats into the ether at points but is then brought right down to earth in pieces like this.
Dear Exploration, is autobiographical. I found this object in the ashes of my house in 2003. This book is about trauma, facing it, and ways to put the pieces of life back together. What does your body need? I long for ashen trauma to transmute into music. Throughout the book are experiences and objects that are mine. These intermingle with the magical / spiritual realm.
As with the placement of poems like Dear Exploration at particular points in the book, photos of your thread work appear throughout the book. Do you start these pieces with a finished concept in hand or patchwork as you work? There is incredibly detailed work at play in some of these pieces.
I collect a lot of possible fabrics for each piece like a palette of paints. One or two fabrics start the color wave. I decide the artwork’s size. Then start cutting and placing the pieces together on my design wall. Add and take away like editing a poem. I might have a fabric for years before it finds the right home. I paint with fabric and draw with thread. Creating fiber art takes a lot of time, but I love what I do.
You self-describe what you do as Fiberverse, did this come to you early when you started matching verse and fiber media?
It took me five years to decide on Fiberverse. It is not easy to describe what I create in one word. I made long lists of words and combined them in different ways. This one seemed the best. People seem to connect and understand.
Collaborating is something that seems to come natural for you, in your previous chapbook Mapless you worked with Nikia Chaney, how was that project born?
When Nikia Chaney and I get together, creative sparks fly. Mapless was born from a challenge we gave ourselves. We decided to write and do a piece of art-a-day for a couple of weeks. I came up with the Ghost Fish story. I made drawings, tapestries, and bean bags. Nikia created digital images. She wrote in response to the story. Our writing styles are different, but they work together like the different textures in my art. When we put our images on her kitchen table, we easily found pairs (did I say I work organically?). She fused our images together for the book. Later, I had a solo show of my fiber art and drawings for Mapless and we read from the book at the reception!
Cindy Rinne is celebrating the release of her Bamboo Dart Press book as well as her collaborative book with Toti O’Brien with a reading this Saturday July 10th from 6-9pm at The Metro Gallery located at 119 w. 2nd St. in Pomona
Megan Siebe is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and arranger from Omaha, Nebraska. She’s cut her teeth as a member of bands such as Simon Joyner & the Ghosts, The David Nance Group, Cursive, Sean Pratt & the Sweats, The Jim Schroeder Sextet, and many others, touring nearly non-stop for the last decade. She’s also written string arrangements for albums by Refrigerator, John Davis, the Renderers, Dennis Callaci, L. Eugene Methe, Justin Townes Earle, and Anna McClellan. But all the while she was writing her own intimate, finely-crafted songs. Shrimper and Grapefruit are proud to join forces to release Megan’s astonishing debut LP Swaying Steady. Here is the first track from the record:
I remember being in Omaha for a week one summer, the windows were screened and opened the entire time. Fireflies. It sounded like this record by Megan Siebe. Low hums, no hurry breezes, music everywhere. Siebe’s delivery is disarming. She is singing songs about breaking up, about roads gone wrong or soured folk in such a matter of fact and steady voice that the depths she is singing of are like those of a veteran doctor, a seen it all and that’s just the way it is reporter. Previously, her playing, her voice call to my addled mind John Bonham or Dewey Redman – easy to not even hear her in the recordings that she has done because it supports the players or other songwriters. She did whatever needed to be done for the sake of the song. What a revelation then to hear her in full bloom under the lit limes, with such a stellar song cycle as what she has written on Swaying Steady.
The debut record is available for preorder as the stand alone LP or the deluxe version limited to 100 copies that includes this screen-printed, hand-sewn outer sleeve bag lovingly made by Siebe. I have turned mine into a pillow to rest my head on & cry all them lies away when I can’t get to sleep.
Kendall Johnson is a multi-talented artist whose work in his favored mediums (writing and painting) is a reflection of the work that he has done for decades in the real world. It is a huge tell that he is a man that has rushed into the worst of situations to offer help, both as a firefighter and as a trauma psychotherapist. These occupations did not come by chance. His new book on Bamboo Dart Press, Black Box Poetics, touches on his experiences in these realms, but also of his time served during the Vietnam War. He has previously written a number of books that serve as texts for the varying trauma timelines. How to deal head on in just days out from the worst physical forms of trauma, for those that are in the midst of a crisis, or those in recovery.
There are those that flirt with darkness, dance and romance with the idea of it. Ken has been deep in the thickets and sees no phoney Johnny Deppisized Keith Richards skull ring joy in it, but sees a way out of it. His is an incredibly empathetic heart and calm voice that comes back from the depths of things not to show his battle scars, but to show that there is indeed a path out of the most sorrowful and hopeless of places. In the stories he recounts here, there is not always salvation, and there are not tinted ever afters, but there is a case made for redemption.
Your book “Black Box Poetics” is one you mentioned you never wanted to write because of the weight of the subjects. Many of your previous books offer concrete solutions or at least methods of helping those that have been exposed to trauma where this one is a more contemplative and internal look at events you have been called to in an attempt to help the survivors of varying traumas. What was the catalyst to share these stories?
I retired from trauma and crisis consultation, and don’t have to worry about gaining a reputation for breaking confidence, that code of silence that protects individuals and agencies from unscrupulous professionals from telling stories outside of the clinic. I don’t do that in my writing or speaking. I change names, gender, situation, time and place to disguise who I am talking about. Always have. But when I was practicing it was important not to appear as if I was breaking trust. Now appearance is less of an issue, though I still go out of my way to protect my people.
The military folks have an old saying: “no battle plan survives the first shot fired.” I stand in awe of the complexity, ferocity and randomness of the world, and the capacity of humans to deny it. I’m in equal awe of the human capacity to endure, to persevere in the face of obstacle and setback. These are the things about the situations I encountered that I find so compelling, and that I hope to convey.
Your writing is not histrionic, and there is a deep humanity in your framing of these stories. There seems to me to be a very distinct outline in the sequence of these stories where light slowly starts to pin hole the darkness as the reader moves through the book. Was there a lot of thought put into the pacing of these stories, the reveals about yourself?
I truly feel I have as much a duty to protect my readers from the toxic impact of many of the situations that I encountered and now relate. I remember doing a trauma survey of counselors for whom I provided consultation in L.A. after the combination of civil disorder/fire/flooding/earthquake from 91-94, and in NYC/DC following 9/11. My counselors, who listened to victims after these events, showed as many or more trauma symptoms than the victims they helped. Same with reporters in the UK. There is plenty of misery in the world. The point of discussing it, no matter how interesting, is to talk about it in a manner that minimizes the effects of hearing about it, and at the same time try to make sense of it and to find redemptive value in the listening.
Pomona artist Father Bill Moore’s appearance towards the books end is such a succinct and beautiful piece of writing and quietly captures who he was. Knowing about the two of you outside of this book, I wonder what that relationship was like or the conversations you had outside of those that appear in the book
I’d like to think that Fr. Bill took me on as a special project, in his mentoring me. In retrospect, I doubt he would agree that it was mentoring. He’d probably insist it was the other way around. He would talk to me about what I was trying to do in my painting, and give me positive and constructive feedback if I insisted. He’d listen to my adventures in the consultation incidents when I’d return, and I would find myself talking about how the elements of my art reflected the truths of the world I’d been exposed to. He’d let me connect the dots. And he would talk to me about his life, his internal questions, not his answers.
You collaborated with fellow Bamboo Dart Press writer John Brantingham on the book A Sublime And Tragic Dance: Robert Oppenheimer & the Manhattan Project, your paintings married to his writing. Collaboration and working with others has been a thread in your professional life as well as your creative life. For the solitary work that you do, it appears that you try to interact and collaborate with others in so much that it allows in regard to your writing and painting. Were the paintings done in tandem with that book? Do you have paintings you work with in tandem with your own writing?
John, his wife Ann, and I met during a meeting of his writing group the San Gabriel Valley Literature Festival one night in my gallery in the downstairs of the dA Center in Pomona. I had my Fragments exhibit up, where I was experimenting with trying to reclaim lost Vietnam memories. I had written excerpts from some of my various stories and poems that I’d gleaned retrospectively and paired with the art work. He invited me to read. One day he and Ann were in my studio looking at work and we found ourselves confessing a mutual interest in Oppenheimer and his very convoluted, contradictory life and personality. After our book of ekphrastic poems influenced by the art, we’ve continued the collaboration. I’ve also been working with another writer, Kate Flannery. Collaboration helps me see the things I am blind to, gain words for things I need to clarify, and discover new perspectives and directions. In the same way, my own paintings are an important tool in opening my own inner doors.
Much of your poetry has a reportage aspect to it in the same way that your texts for teachers and professionals do. There are a lot of facts, figures, noted physical spaces in the work of your poems. I know in talking to you that you are a revisionist in your writing, working to fine tune your written work. I wonder how this method comes into play with your painting, if there is room for such editing and deleting in how you realize on canvas.
Ha! What a terrific and insightful question! Revision is what I do best, and what I do most of. I’ve learned that not selling a painting early is a blessing, as most of the best of my work happens after a second, third, or fourth repainting. I just can’t make deep sense of an image right away. Paintings, my own or others, reveal themselves slowly, just like stories under revision. Being older holds possibilities in a similar way, and you have the chance to develop an appreciative understanding. Instead of saying “I wish that hadn’t happened,” or “I wish I’d done this or that differently,” you get to re-understand what did happen, and like good wine, a lot of things get better as they age. You get the opportunity to roll things around until the more important sense of them appears.
Allen Callaci is a singer & songwriter in the band Refrigerator, but his love predating singing was writing. I know this because he was about ten years old and I was six when we started making comic books out of lined notebook paper and staples together. His last book Louder Than Good-bye just won an eLit Book Award. That book featured a thumbnail sketch of his new Bamboo Dart Press book 17 & Life. It is a mediation on the life of a girl he went to Upland Junior High School with whose life was extinguished when she was seventeen but whose soul and thoughtfulness in her short life has remained alive for so many that knew her, even if ever fleetingly. Her relationship with Callaci was the fleeting kind. A brand of decency and sweetness that is seldom seen in junior high home rooms nor public school hallways. The book underlines the possibility and loss that are not just taken away from so many of us in one fell swoop, but continue to call, widening out like them slow circles around stones throw in a river.
I may be biased, you know, about what a watermark this book is, so let me say in my defense that he and I have scratched and thrown away so much of each others work in our thousands of collaborations together that I can argue the point that when he presented the finished manuscript of “17 & Life” to me it was a note perfect piece of writing. He has deepened his initial sketch of the story which was expanded in part by Buzzsaw sending Allen some photographs he took that were an echo of Callaci’s writing and appear in the book. Slow circles, thrown stones, lined notebook paper, staples, wishes. “17 & Life” is out today.
17 & Life began life as a much shorter blog piece that you wrote. What made you return to it and expand upon your original piece?
The piece began as the bookend to an ebook collection of blogs I had written over a three year period on the passing of pop culture icons such as David Foster Wallace, Tom Petty and Mary Tyler Moore called “Louder Than Good-Bye” through Pelekinesis. The remembrances I wrote were not standard obituaries but the personal connections I felt to these artists.
Pelekinesis publisher Mark Givens suggested this collection of blogs should begin with a reflection on the first time that I had to confront grief and loss. Mark’s suggestion paved the way to a string of late nights spent writing and rewriting and being frozen at the keys as I thought back and processed the tragic murder of Anna.
That introduction was later finetuned again into a blog for Kevin Powell’s BK Nation that was published shortly after the release of “Louder Than Good-Bye”.
The final phase of this evolution was put into motion when you reached out to me right after the original piece appeared and said “this is one of the best things you’ve written. You really need to expand this.”
Being 4 years younger than you and only vaguely remember these events and how they affected our household originally, but do recall it shook you when our folks moved a few years after the events in the book just a block from where Anna & her car were found.
In the late 80s/early 90s we moved with our mom and stepdad to a recently developed planned community in Northern Upland. I was out walking with my friend Pat Jankiewicz, who attended Upland High School with Anna, and he pointed to the lot across the street where a housing tract was currently under construction and paused before saying “It’s still gives me chills whenever I walk by,” he said, “That’s where they buried Anna Marie.” I looked towards where he was pointing and felt It all come crashing back.
A few blocks west from where Pat and I stood was the Lucky’s grocery store whose parking lot where police had located Anna’s mother’s station wagon a few days after her murder.
I only knew Anna for two brief years via a shared homeroom in Junior High. Yet I feel like I never came completely to terms with her sudden and tragic loss until just now. They say writing is therapeutic, This felt like a cross between a confession and an exorcism.
The sanctity of life is honored by not mentioning the killer’s name in the book, not really touching upon him. Where the few details of interactions you had with Anna are used to platform her spirit. It reminds me of friends of Dad’s or Mom’s that want to speak to one of us of their memory when we are in their company. Have you been in touch with her family?
The one concrete rule I gave myself from the very beginning of writing this was not to waste a single drop of ink on the murderer. I’m not really a fan of the true crime drama genre save for a few exceptions such as Capote’s In Cold Blood. I think it’s a genre that at its worst sensationalizes and glamorizes murderers or at best unintentionally immortalizes them as it pushes the victims and their families to the background. I wanted the book to be a meditation and requiem of Anna.
Anna and I shared a home room for two years at the ruthless and unforgiving purgatory that went by the name of Upland Jr. High. We were from different worlds. She was one of the most beautiful and popular girls at UJH. And I was a retainer-fitted, Marvel comic book loving, KISS T-shirt wearing misfit. But everyday in homeroom she never failed to seek me out, make small talk and maybe occasionally jibe me about not being a more devoted Catholic (she volunteered at her church every weekend). These seem like small, simple gestures on the surface but to a 12 year old outcast they were like a ray of light breaking through the clouds across a brutal landscape.
About 6 months ago I heard from Anna’s niece who had come across the original blog online and reached out to me via social media telling me she was really moved by the piece and had shared it with her family who said it really captured Anna. I was so elated to hear that my message in a bottle had reached them and more importantly that they warmly embraced it. I really can’t convey how much that blessing meant to me.
The photographs in the book by Buzzsaw are an integral piece of the narrative. The two of you have known each other for over thirty five years and have in fact collaborated before on his projects. What was it like for him to collaborate on your lead?
Yes, we have known each other since way back in Junior college. The interesting thing about this collaboration was how unplanned and organic it was. Buzzsaw read the original piece and sent me some photos that he said were inspired by it. I was blown away by the haunting images he sent. The way they enrich the text is incredible. I was disappointed that his pics came after the piece was initially published but I filed the images away for a year or more thinking maybe someday the text and his images would connect somehow, some way.
A few years later you and Mark approached me about possibly putting something together for Bamboo Press and it felt like this was the place it was always destined to be. My philosophy towards the arts has always been things will surface when and where they’re meant to surface (or never surface at all in some cases).
You have written two books about harrowingly personal experiences, one that happened to you in your first book Heart Like a Starfish, and one that marked you as a teenager. Do you have plans to write a third novel of non-fiction?
After two non-fiction works that were pretty intense and draining to write my plan is to venture out into the daylight for the next piece I write which is tentatively titled “Silver Maria” and will be a warmly, comic piece of fiction based on our unruly Sicilian grandmother. She was so completely outrageous, abrasive and full of life that I find myself having to dial her down a bit rather than embellish her. I have to say its been pretty refreshing to be grinning madly as I tap into the keyboard and a most welcome change.
Kendall Johnson is not only a storied author of a number of books as a trauma psychotherapist, but a poet and a painter as well. His new book Black Box Poetics out on Bamboo Dart Press on June 10th veers from his more formal books and delves into the personal. Here is the trailer featuring an introduction to the world of the book written by Kendall along with his work as a painter that accompanies the script. Black Box Poetics is a fascinating read and the trailer serves as a spot on introduction into the world of a true artist.
We are warming up our vocals with the dude from Greta Van Fleet and our bon mot abilities (you should hear my hilarious joke about Eric Clapton’s vaccinated feet. Spoiler alert: Just because they are vaccinated, doesn’t mean they don’t have chlamydia!) as we prepare for a mini Refrigerator tour of radio stations over the next month. If that goes well, we will practice once or twice and play some live shows. Can’t wait for the off color neon drink tickets and broken down tour bus outside of some awesome blossom Chili’s in Fumbruck, Ohio…
What better place to start our radio tour than at our favorite radio station, KSPC? Right, there is no better place to start, and well, to stay. Dennis will be sitting in with the legendary Erica Tyron on Wednesday May 26th from 4pm-6pm (PST) on her new Pop Up Smile Shop show. Erica would never tell you this, but as the GM at KSPC for decades, she has been laser like in keeping the station from the hands of the man that ask questions such as “Why do we need terrestrial radio?” and “How can we, as an academic pillar, monetize this bullshit noise your DJ’s keep playing?”. The station remains vibrant against the forces from all corners and it will be a treat to be there once more. Oh, and she is a top drawer spinner of sound. Listen to the station live now!
The next stop is San Pedro, where members of Refrigerator will be chatting with Mike Watt on the Watt From Pedro show. That is the next place we would travel to on a regular tour as we would want to make our way out of The IE and dance around the greater Los Angeles area without playing a proper show in the city. Allen, he is the sweet one in the band, will be joined by the sassiest member of the band, Chris Jones. It isn’t on a radio dial, but I hear you can find it on your phone or your computer starting June 1st. Mike Watt? He can play bass over the contacts in my computer and it will come out sounding like Jimmy Scott! You won’t want to miss where the two cutest members of the band will land for our third radio stop, Daniel & Mark will be hitting morning zoo land in mid June. Wet tea stained shirt contests? Absolutely daft mate!
Jean Smith is my favorite kind of artist. A writer, a performer, a painter whose art in whatever medium she comes to me in never fails to move me. It was nearly thirty years ago that I first met Jean outside of Munchies in Pomona for a Mecca Normal show we played together. How wonderful that between then and now Refrigerator and Mecca Normal have played a myriad of shows together, and that when we couldn’t work in the same arena during the past year, we found a method around that. Jean was kind enough to listen to the new Refrigerator record and take the time to paint the cover art for it based on the album title and what she heard. Now that painting can be yours. Visit eBay to place a bid on the painting. Jean has added an additional painting to the cadre for the winner, check out the listing. Proceeds from the sale will go towards her Free Artist Residency for Progressive Social Change that she is in the midst of getting off the ground. A true artist is one that dreams big and then takes small steps and huge leaps to get to that place. Let all the assholes cocktail around Jeff Koons. My water well is built next to where folks cure their own canvases and create something for the future. Jean Smith has always done that, and continues to do that without a parachute.
Note: the deluxe edition of the LP is almost sold out & won’t be back. The regular LP edition is widely available.
Gail Butensky has honed her unique photographic style over decades. Her hard fought for angles and shots at thousands of live concerts over the years has served her more recent work of equally fleeting moments: shots of the desert shifts or of trains or of flora. Hers is a style rooted in nature and chance. When shooting photos of bands like Big Black, The Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Fuck, The Minutemen, Husker Du, Virginia Dare or Pavement, you can see the connection between subject and photographer. Sure, some wacky poses or taking the piss out of photo shoot antics is at play, but you won’t find much in her canon of work that utilizes anything other than natural light, stumbled upon flowerings, or abandoned settings. She is not a set decorator, she is a gum shoe on the fly. In her first commercially available book Every Bend which it out this week, Gail has shorthanded her life in twenty six photos with commentary about each photograph. It is as weighty and personal as any poetry or revealing autobiography that I have read, tricking the reader/viewer that it is all happenstance, really nothing at all. You, of course, will know better. Good photography has the ability to stop you in your tracks. Her work does that.
Your photographs have appeared in and on a myriad of magazines, record covers and books by others over the years. You mentioned when we first started this project that you had put together small books built out of the same cloth of Every Bend for friends, minus the writing that you did in this book. Was it a similar process putting this book together?
The books I put together in the past were each for a specific trip- more as a souvenir and thank you to whoever I traveled with! They had words, simple captions, with the photos pasted into a sketchbook. This book was different because the photos were from a long stretch of many different times and places. For this book I spread finished prints all over the dining room table and ordered and reordered and edited until I had what I thought was some sort of semblance of a cohesive ‘story’. Then I made up words. A general overview travelogue.
You have done quite a bit of commercial work for magazines, record labels, bands, but that work is near impossible for me to sort from your work as an artist, a photographer shooting what and how she likes. Do you approach work on the commercial side in a different context?
Maybe sometimes…. It seems a lot of my ‘commercial’ work ( I even hesitate to call it that) is published by happenstance. Photos I may have taken anyway, I was there, I took pictures, now someone wants to use them. In the small amount of time I was more formally assigned to shoot something, I pretty much shot it all the same way. No studios or set ups for me. Mostly on the fly.
A number of artists harden, get set in their ways with age. I love in the work I have seen of yours from the last few years that you continue to play with the medium of photography. There is a playfulness and inquisitiveness in your early work that is still very much alive in the present. Once photos are taken, do you play with filters, process et al still?
Oh I’m an instagrammer now! I do miss the darkroom and real film, very much, but without that access (and time), I’ve had a good time playing around with digital toys. Not much in real retouching or photo shop (I never did that on prints anyway), just fun stuff. And since I ‘ve always had a camera in my pocket, now I just have my phone. The only difference is its a little bit lighter… and I probably shoot even more because you can delete and save so easily. Maybe too easy?
Does your eye disrupt your day to day life? Do you find you have to stop what you are doing to snap something?
Ah, it disrupts me when I’m not feeling lazy…. Driving a lot in LA, I do sees stuff and think ‘pull over!’ But I’m usually in a rush to get someplace. I may note the spot and think on going back, but…. Walking is much better. I stop to take pictures a Lot. I’m usually behind anyone else I’m walking with… (except Greg- he’s a slow poke).
What is likeliest to catch your eye? Make you stop what you are doing and snap pictures?
So many different things! I’m obsessed with square hedges lately. Why???? Still trying to come up with the acronym for my hashtag. But whenever I’m out walking, a lot more these days, it can be a view, a small strange thing by the side of the road, a juxtaposition, who knows… it’s so easy to stop, look, take a picture. Sometimes it doesn’t translate, and I can save or delete, but sometimes it’s even funnier in the relooking!
Peter Cherches is a vital member of the New York literary scene. Sonorexia, the avant-vaudeville music/performance group he co-led with Elliott Sharp appeared at a wide range of venues in New York City. Peter’s first album as a jazz vocalist, Mercerized! Songs of Johnny Mercer, featuring Lee Feldman on piano, was released in 2016. In his new Bamboo Dart Press book Tracks: Memoirs from a Life with Music, Cherches reflects on the artists and the sounds that have informed his life. It is a fascinating diving board for Cherches to jump from but will not leave the light music listener stranded on the shore as he pairs music history with his own.
The entry on Sam Rivers struck me as a large part of what your book is about. Music as a companion. The entry on the series of shows you saw Jazz artist Rivers perform in his loft could have been a book in and of itself. There is quite a bit revealed about you in this chapter, in what you valued about these experiences as you veered from teendom to adulthood.
You can get a group of three or four hardcore jazz fans together and they’ll happily reminisce for hours about the shows they’ve seen over the years, but it would make for a pretty boring book. When I started writing these memoirs I thought carefully about what I could convey that might resonate with readers regardless of their specific musical interests, and for me that’s giving form to my enthusiasms and trying to recreate the experience of the moment as well as the echoes over a lifetime.
Writing about music is as difficult as writing about dance. It is not a concrete form. A good portion of the book is about your experience in and around the edges of music, but there are passages that delve into the artist and the artist’s work such as your dissecting of Steve Lacy’s Micro Worlds. On writing these entries, did you revisit each work? Leave it to memory?
I think it’s the same for all arts. If anything, I find writing about writing more difficult because one is using the same tools, while with music I feel I have more leeway to find my own entry point via language. In some cases it was to situate the music as a soundtrack to an experience, and in others I was more consciously, in part at least, writing tributes to artists who have inspired me–and in most cases it was music that I think had an impact on my prose writing. I did listen to all the music again. In the case of Lacy, I knew I wanted to write about one of the tracks from that album, but I reviewed the whole thing to decide which track would be the most fertile place from which to riff on Lacy’s art.
A number of entries feature your brother or your grandparents or others acting as guides be it to the store, or from records pulled from their collections.
I feel fortunate to have grown up in a family that had definite musical enthusiasms. My older brother wasn’t especially interested in rock, but he encouraged my interests, whatever they were. I think the essence of the book is the enthusiasms, the specifics being the armature to hang them on.
Refrigerator’s new LP “So Long To Farewell” is out on May 15th. Preorders of the regular edition LP and the Deluxe colored vinyl LP with bonus CD and Bamboo Dart Press book are available from Revolver USA and Grapefruit Distribution. The deluxe version is a one time pressing strictly limited to 150 copies. The Jean Smith cover art houses the marbled green & white 160 gram vinyl, download code, bonus CD with six exclusive tracks and the 68 page Bamboo Dart Press book. The regular edition is a 160 gram black vinyl LP + download code.
Check out the lead off track from the forthcoming Refrigerator record below. The LP is available for presell as a deluxe swirled green marble edition with a bonus CD of exclusive tracks as well as a bound 60 page Bamboo Dart Press book featuring artwork and writing by the band as well as a standard edition 160 gram black vinyl edition. Cover art by Jean Smith will be auctioned off week of street with all proceeds benefitting the Free Artist Residency for Progressive Social Change program.
Romaine Washington is the author of Sirens in Her Belly (2015, Jamii Publications). She is a fellow of The Watering Hole, South Carolina and the Inland Area Writing Project at the University of California Riverside. She is an active member of the poetry community in the Inland Empire, through the Inlandia Institute and elsewhere. Romaine is an educator and a native Californian from San Bernardino. Her new book Purgatory Has An Address is out April 15th and available for preorder now. The book boils down Washington’s talent of sifting out the superfluous without sacrificing the beauty of language.
Purgatory Has An Address reads to me like an economical autobiography. You write in a number of the poems in the book about a little girl that I am assuming is you, about your Mom and Dad and brother.
Yes, most of the poems in the book are autobiographical based on family experience. A few years ago my mom died and left a packet of photos that allowed me to put together her homegoing program. These photos were evidence of the many life stories she shared with me. Sifting through her snapshots spun me into a place where I could give myself permission to ask questions and voice ideas that I had previously kept at bay. Some emotions spun around like a car tire stuck in the mud. Other feelings expressed themselves as these long meandering journeys that walked around old neighborhoods.
Yes, most of the poems in the book are autobiographical based on family experience. A few years ago my mom died and left a packet of photos that allowed me to put together her homegoing program. These photos were evidence of the many life stories she shared with me. Sifting through her snapshots spun me into a place where I could give myself permission to ask questions and voice ideas that I had previously kept at bay. Some emotions spun around like a car tire stuck in the mud. Other feelings expressed themselves as these long meandering journeys that walked around old neighborhoods.
Your poetry is not built to be a reflection of the reader, a mirror. There are not pluralities of “we” referencing yourself and the reader, it is an unabashed portrait of you. I think about how welcoming it is to the reader though. How the coldness and starkness of what you write in some of your verse is often presented between a curious naked painting of emotions without frills. It is incredibly effective and moving. Are you consciously boiling down these memories in verse to their base?
Yes, in my editing process I try to remove extraneous words and capture the truth of the experience. I have a writing friend and we share our writing on Google doc and read each other’s work. One of her mantras is “vulnerability”. I have a tendency to get lost in the music of language. At one point the Meditation in Dissolving Boundaries was almost about a jazzy cow going to high school and gossiping as the girl in the poem uses her imagination to meld with the cow to become a happy heifer. My friend’s response was – I like all of this, but what happened to the original flow and rhythm of the poem?
Another instance of conscious distillation of the emotions in the poems was with Decommission, Norton AFB, 1994 poem. It was a long rambling four pages of colliding senses and emotions. I brought it to a workshop and the wonderful facilitator’s suggestion was to write the poem as a letter to Norton AFB. Following her advice brought me to the core of what I was really feeling. Some of the poems in this collection were new and others were five years in the writing and revising process.
There is a grouping of poems halfway through the book that are about the Inland Empire of your youth, my youth. The Chino winds, the horseflies, the baked dirt. South Carolina and San Bernardino County have a lot in common. That these writings are in this intensely personal book seems to point to how much your surroundings shaped you.
Yes, I do believe that the rituals we adopt as part of our way of seeing and navigating our surroundings is based on where we live and they become a part of who we are. For certain, it is the setting of all of our personal narrative. For example, because my father was in the military, Norton Air Force Base wasn’t just a place of economic stability for San Bernardino, but for our family. When my father died, the air force base was a constant that I, like many residents, thought we could rely on.
When we talk about images of black children and women in stories and movies, the last thing that comes to mind for many people is not the life of someone who lives in a middle-class home next to a farm but this was my lived experience. It is not glamorous nor profane, it is not urban-dangerous, edgy or sexy. My memory of place and the everydayness of hopes, disappointments, and searing boredom are part of my life’s snapshots.
Religion and magic are given equal time in your book filled with minor or missed miracles, resurrections, performers on stage with wands, wizards behind glass withholding sealed documents of origin and the dissection of a couple of disappearing acts. You do not fall on the side of one or the other but utilize the attributes of each of them in the place of loss. Could you speak to that?
I love this observation because faith and hope are so much a part of our existence, whether we are Christian, Catholic, Jewish… As we know, life is a series of choices and walking through or running from their consequences and the residual effects. Things happen, either by choice or design and oftentimes, there is very little we can do to change or control it. The opening poem asks, “What’s Your Story?”. Our stories are embedded in our faith in and hopes for and being able to even speak to the event or events, requires perseverance and sometimes a reframing of our experiences to support our perceptions, real or imagined.
Inside a Burning Building is one of the last poems in the book written during the full bloom of Covid-19. Like other good writing, this poem could be about any mental or physical malady. There is a striking final stanza that relates to your life in the poem about imploring a friend to write, suggesting that writing is life. You have dedicated your adult life to teaching, to other writers, and the writing that you do. Can you give advice to young writers about how to find their unique voice?
That is an interesting question. I am often asked what advice I can give to young writers and I really want to say that any advice about writing could actually be shared with writers of any age. Writing is one of the few things that we can do at any age. So, I offer the same advice to young and old: read for enjoyment, write honestly, and go to workshops so you can be around others who enjoy writing, receive prompts, and feedback.
The person I wrote that poem for was a writing workshop participant in her 60’s who was just starting her personal creative writing journey. So, my best advice is to start writing and keep writing. Know that it can help you discover what you feel and can help you add meaning to your life and the lives of your readers.
You may not know who Gail Butensky is, but if you have seen photographs of The Minutemen, Big Black, Husker Du, Pavement, TFUL282 or a rash of others, hers are some of the photos of them that you will recognize. Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, the book Our Band Could Be Your Life, The San Francisco Guardian, The Chicago Reader and a myriad of other magazines and papers chronicling punk and underground music scenes over the last four decades. Butensky has not only chronicled some of the most important music of those years, but has shot thousands upon thousands of photographs of the non music world that are illuminating to see through her eyes. In the first published collection of her photographs, Butensky has chosen a thumbnail journey of her life. Sure, there are photos of bands, and artists, but also of landscapes and portraits of everyday life. Each photo features a newly written reflection by Butensky. Check out the trailer which features photos by her not included in her new book on Bamboo Dart Press Every Bend which is out on May 10th and available for preorder now.
Allen Callaci’s new book 17 & Life is out on June 1st on Bamboo Dart Press. A thoughtful and meditative prayer on loss, the book expands upon an early blog post of his that has now quadrupled in length and features photographs by Buzzsaw. The book is stark and painted with the ache of experience and age, lovingly ode to life, not death. Check out the trailer featuring a brand new recording of Refrigerator’s song Seventeen as reimagined for this book by Allen.
Call them libertines or infidels, call us doubting heathens if you want. Still, we dream. Our prayers, you think unheard, but no. All hopes & wishes are heard. I awake at 5:45 AM most mornings, and the first thing on my mind are my ankles. I crack them left to right, and I send up my low rent/high rent versions of psalms and prayers to my pals that are deep into, deep, you, into the depths of sorrow, hurt, maladies. I send up smoke signals that I believe, are seen. Seen. I do not believe that no one is there, though I have no (g)od standing guard over me.
Personal choice, but my family and friends, to the void? Nah. I believe in them. I believe in them. Nah. Repent. For maybe I was felonious for casting them. Casting them out. Casting, not to catch, but to disavow. So we, we live with that. So I, I wrestle in the dark with definitions askew. I can still, to the mountain, pilgrimage and triplicate check for you.
Once a week for a year, for them, from my mole hill of a mountain top, comes one of them mimiographed weekly missilettes. The kind that were tucked into the pews at St. Josephs. Tucked in there for me to read from, though I don’t recall believing, though I don’t recall believing.
Every Sunday, a believer in non-believers. A believer in believers. My heart is with you. I click on the link. I push pull a password and then strain to remember, to write about you. You and me, and our families. It can’t matter that I am unheard. It can’t matter for I have heard the good word. The good word slinks, it hunches in the pit, whispers under it’s breath, please don’t land on me. Too. I too, don’t want to be seen and equally, don’t need no prayers of mine to be heard. We are running, we are stumbling, I try to think back to how long I had been aware that I am bound to fail. The age of thirteen? That sounds about right. Since I was thirteen, I knew I was bound, bound not for glory, but to fail.
Weekly entries for Sunday Prayers are entered every Sunday at midnight Pacific Coast Time in the states. Waves, deleted weekly to make way for the incoming. We are coming. We are in. We are coming, and then with our filthy feet, we enter the in.
We are as busy as a teenager’s phone here at Bamboo Dart Press. We have an incredible string of a half dozen books out through June starting with Romaine Washington’s book of poetry Purgatory Has An Address. Her reading of At The End of The Devil’s Breath from her forthcoming book captures the sparks in the wind of the Inland Empire. The book is equally as stunning, a portrait of real world spaces that she has occupied. Every word, another splinter of that address that she once live at, once left, or is tending to now.
Peter Cherches is a vital member of the New York literary scene. Sonorexia, his collaborative “avant-vaudeville” band with multi-instrumentalist Elliott Sharp, has appeared at a wide range of venues in New York City. Pete’s first album as a jazz vocalist, Mercerized! Songs of Johnny Mercer, featuring Lee Feldman on piano, was released in 2016. Hear a piece of that in the trailer above and check out his previous three books issed by Pelekinesis Books Whistler’s Mother’s Son (2020), Autobiography Without Words and Lift Your Right Arm. We are thrilled to be issuing his latest book Tracks: Memoirs From a Life with Music on May the 4th.
Stephanie Barbe Hammer’s Rescue Plan is a complex little novella. I have gone back to it a number of times over the ensuing months since I first read it. The characters that inhabit the book are complex, the reveal in the small minute and most of them do not do nor go where you would expect they might. Barbe Hammer describes her style as magical realism. As one who abhors genres for all that is lost in their simple definition, I can think of no two better words to describe Rescue Plan. Like writers Richard Ford or Lucia Berlin, there is something otherworldly at play in this seemingly small town coming of age story. The slow motion dissolves that push backgrounds to the fore only to themselves decay, ebb and reveal other secrets is just one of the magic tricks that I have been able to pinpoint upon repeated readings. I caught up with Stephanie to discuss her new book, her poetry and her fantastic blog on the eve of her new book being published. The book is available February 10th directly from us at Bamboo Dart Press as well as your favorite independent bookstores, Revolver USA, Grapefruit, Barnes & Noble, Amazon and more.
It strikes me that the first four books on Bamboo Dart press are all short stories written by writers that also write poetry. Your short stories are, from my perspective, as musical as your poems, which is not to say that you follow a form, but the that the divide between the two is thin. Have some of your poem extended themselves to the point of being short stories in the past?
The dividing line for me between prose and poem is very thin, and when I started writing fiction (I was a poet first) that line was extremely fuzzy and hard to manage — which is why my first book of poems was a collection of prose-poems, that quintessential “I get to have it both ways” hybrid. But now, I can tell early on when I’m writing when something is going to be a story (and therefore in prose, at least at this point), and when it’s going to be a poem. Poems are about images and deepening those sensations, plunging you into the moment and staying there as long as we can, before having to come up for air. A story and a novel are — just about inevitably it seems to me — about a journey from one space to another. Either geographically, psychologically, or both. I am remembering though, that there were longer lyrical moments in RESCUE PLAN, which is about — among other things — the joy of swimming. So that poetic dive into the water and trying to stay there for a long time…. that was there in the first set of drafts. So, I just deconstructed my own answer. The dividing line remains pretty thin.
So many of your poems are about neighbors, community, the day to day goings on that they could fit into the imaginary town Narrow Interior that you write of in some of your short stories. Readers of your work may not puzzle in the fact that so many of your stories, including your latest book “Rescue Plan” take place within the same city limits. What was the origin of this town? Will this place continue to populate stories for you?
I love this question! Narrow Interior started off as a riff on the New England town, Northampton, which is where I went to college (and near to where I went to summer camp). But it very quickly became something else. Narrow Interior has got layers of Southampton Long Island, as well as various college towns that I’ve visited as a professor. There is some Claremont California in Narrow Interior, and there’s some Bellingham Washington thrown in and some Olympia as well. There’s even a touch of Goshen Indiana, where I went for a summer when I was 17. My first novel takes place in Narrow Interior and my second novel — which I’m seeking a home for — sets out from there. But above all Narrow Interior is a fairy-tale town that — like all towns in America — has a history of atrocity that it has not come to grips with. As a result, it is both a potentially dangerous and deeply wondrous place in ways that I’ll unveil for readers bit by bit in my forthcoming books.
The longing and pining by so many characters in “Rescue Plan” struck me, Gomer, the main character, is colored in and revealed by all that is unsaid between his lover, his father, his friends and even his coach in a manner that rewards on repeated readings. Hand in hand, so much of the readers expectations of where the characters might land never materializes. So many attributes that would be the defining characteristic of these characters in even a longer novel, do not come to define those in your new book. It is structurally fascinating to me. Was this story written that way, or carved out in the editing process to stand in this manner?
Funny that you should mention longing. I’m reading Proust right now, and it’s such a pleasure, because Proust insists on being very leisurely and taking us through all of the wanting of his characters in all of their nuanced permutations. Few of us have the leisure and the financial wherewithal to write like, let alone read, Proust. But in a concentrated way, I try to invite my readers to join in with the complexity of Gomer’s longings, because what we want matters. The story was always about that. And I guess in the gaps of what the characters say to each other, I’m trying to create even more space, for them to want other things, and for us to want things for them. Those gaps got more spacious in the final edits.
I love your Blog Writing (un) real and what is reveals about your creative life and your waking life. You wrote a beautiful piece about the imagined life of your and your husband’s mothers that brought me to tears on your blog recently. There is a lot of blur between realism and fantasy that runs throughout your work. It reads like you are utilizing whatever is necessary to reveal something of greater worth than simply a well written story. I wonder if you arrive here consciously or unconsciously as you create.
Here’s how my brain works. When I was 4 I was playing Romeo and Juliet with my doll. I had never seen the play of course. I knew only that there was a balcony scene and that Romeo was down on 67th street (I’m a former New Yorker), and that Juliet was upstairs saying “Romeo, Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo?” I remember thinking something like “what the heck is Juliet doing up here? She needs to get DOWN to Romeo.” So I threw my doll out the window. because I was thinking “They need to be together! So, we’ll just have to change the story.” As luck would have it my doll fell onto the window sill of my grandfather’s workroom in the basement of the apartment building where we lived. My mother was talking to him and she SAW the doll on the sill. Oh man, was she mad that I’d been so careless with my toys!But to this day, I stand by my decision to have Juliet jump from the balcony, just like, in my most recent “true” story, I move my mother and mother in law to Paris. I am always thinking “How do we change this story? How do we get out and have love and adventure and togetherness?” That’s my whole project in a nutshell. I’ve been a magical realist from the get-go, I guess.
I stayed away from you across all of these platforms for all of these decades because I didn’t want to write about me. I never had a manager, a label liaison, no in house nothing. I mean, I will share with you my shortcomings and foibles. There is nothing there that would shock or awe anyone. Your life is rough around the bends, dog-eared and trying, and you have been kind to not place that weight on me. I appreciated that, so I in turn did this for you. We can confess to one another in person, have a drink or not, hell, those are some of the best and worst moments of my life. The best and worst, sure, but also worth every moment spent on them. I recall sitting in the round with one of my closest friends and a group of her pals that I had never met. One of those newly introduced to me over drinks confessed that she was a suicidal alcoholic. No one else at the table said a thing to that. This was not news to them. This was only news to me. I had nothing in my back pocket, I was taken aback. Like most of you, I have lost too many friends to one or the other of these maladies and it hurts me still, those ghosts and those memories.
I recall looking her in the eye, and telling her that the reason she was saying this in my company, my virgin company, was because she knew she had to do something about her life. I told her that I didn’t know her at all, but I knew her music, and so by default, I did know more about her than I rightly should. I asked her if she would get some help, not the help of a friend, or family, but of professionals. “Don’t let it get so horrific that you end up in county, half alive, half out of your mind. Get help now of a better kind.” I said, but certainly less succinctly and to the point. It will be lesser help that any of us will get in crisis mode. You are near crisis mode. I knew that from experience. “Do it now” I said then.
Silence fell. No one, not a thing. Her friends that were gathered around that thrift store bar pedestal table with me had all said this to her before, I am sure. They didn’t want to add anything. She didn’t want to address this reaction of mine. I couldn’t stop myself from having said it. I would say it again were I there now, even knowing it would serve no purpose. I wouldn’t just sit there having said that, like I did then. That was my mistake. I should have left. Ah, but the ego soapbox doesn’t work that way. You always have something more to say, don’t you? All bells, whistles and calls but no pick up, no delivery. I was a stranger. I had hoped to see her again. Again but changed. If I was one that prayed, I would also be on bended knee hoping that I would be more worldly, knowledgeable upon our next meeting to offer a true salve. To offer you something more than warmed over trite sounding advice that had landed at your feet on a monthly basis for years.
The artists and painters and writers that I know, so many of them have told me that they are happiest in their work when they are lost and don’t know where they are going. That the great reveal comes to them sometimes years after a work is completed. I don’t put myself in the category of any of them, those terms, but I know precisely that which they are speaking of. I wrote a book titled 100 Cassettes that came out earlier this year. I didn’t know it was going to be an autobiography. I didn’t see the reveal of all of my shortcomings and foibles, reflections as anything other than a piece of work about music. Then it came to me from the printing press, bound up instead of scribbles and fevered notes. Like that troubled drinker, it was only then that it blurted out what it was. Some off ramp autobiography, not largely about me so much as those and that which informed and shaped me. Those records. Those friends. Those conversations.
Five Ghost Stories is a book of five fictional short stories that I wrote. It is out on January 15th on http://www.bamboodartpress.com. I chose these five stories out of forty that I had written this calendar year with you in mind. Us at that table, the first and only time that I met you. You, shocked at the timbre and panic in your voicing to the five of us that night. You reminded me of my friends, my family, myself. When I was younger, I would have been horrified, but at that moment I was reminded of all those that we had lost. My circle, how many were gone and how many of us had mourned and continue to mourn those losses. I couldn’t save any of them, none of us could. Who was I to think I could save anyone? Do them justice, that is the best that I can deliver for the asking.
I thought of you when I put this one to bed. I am thinking still, of you and that night. I am hoping the best only for you, and I know that sounds like nothing, like less than praying, but it isn’t. Hope is harder to come by than prayer. I see people praying everywhere. I see just as much hopelessness. We were given these sternums, these vessels inside of vessels to hold near all of that memory. A heart to keep our loved ones chambered up and safe from the physical harm that will come to all of them in time. You probably don’t remember me, that one chance meeting, but I have been carrying you in there all of the eves since we sat in the round. Another smoke signal. Another slight movement. A little something from you to me to prove that you am still living. Ah, the rise of your chest as you inhale, you are still there. I exhale and watch my sternum pull my ribs down like pearls, gently, one by one.