Ann and John Brantingham spent nine summers volunteering and living in a van in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks away from wifi, electricity, plumbing, and anxiety. This experience brought them back to themselves. Kitkitdizzi is their dual memoir, Ann’s in graphite drawings and John’s in short essays. These summers gave them the time to stop and look and let their minds romp at random without the burden of triaging every moment as they raced through their days. What they found was a balm from the surreality of modern life. John has previously issued a book a on Bamboo Dart Press and both he and Ann have had a plethora of works published. Their new book is available for preorder here. Below is a short featuring John’s poetry and Ann’s drawings.
Victor Gastelum, known for the artwork he did for numerous punk rock flyers, cover art for SST records and a slew of Calexico releases as well as collaborative work with Josh Bayer and Raymond Pettibon among others branches out with his first collection of abstract images in this book with longtime friend Robert Vodicka, the former label manager at New Alliance Records. Vodicka’s behind the scenes work in a number of music scenes in Southern California is a hidden history whose iceberg tip surfaces in the text of the book. Gastelum and Vodicka used chance procedures to match the specific images to the text. The book also features an interview with Gastelum and Vodicka, conducted by Dennis Callaci of Bamboo Dart Press and Shrimper Records. The book is available direct from us here or everywhere else. Below is an excerpt from the interview from the book.
The subtext of how and why these pieces were created adds an emotional punch. Victor, this is a new form for you. I recall you mentioning when your father was hospitalized that you bought some pens and a notebook to have something to do as you bedsat. That you couldn’t focus on reading or anything else.
Victor Gastelum: Yeah, I had a notebook at hand on a visit and I started drawing small circles, as small as I could, until I filled up the page. At first I tried to draw things, like Nick Blinko does; crucifixes and things in the little circles, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even imagine how he [Blinko] does what he does, so then I just started drawing abstractly. I liked it. I got into it. I filled up a couple of sketchbooks and I liked that I could do it anywhere. I looked forward to waiting in line at the pharmacy. I was like, “Oh, fifteen minutes; I’m going to go sit and draw for fifteen minutes.” I drew while waiting for appointments; while waiting for the doctors to come in. Any time I had to wait, it was something fun I could do. I had been doing these drawings and maybe I shared them with Robert. He 34 had sent me a list of words—something he had been doing—and said that if I found any use for them to use them. I had thought of self-publishing a book of my abstract pieces, but then I thought that these could go together. I thought we were doing something similar on our own in our free time. He had done a lot of writing for music ad copy and liner notes, as well as being a writer by profession; a real technical writer. I am a graphic artist. I do commercial art as well. This utilized both skills we have, but in an abstract way. I saw that they went together. I didn’t understand it at first, but then we came up with a format of how to put the two together.
In initial conversations, one of you mentioned that the book was going to consist of fake band names ascribed to each of Victor’s works. It could still be read as such, but it’s become something larger than that in my eyes.
Robert Vodicka: At some point I was making up band names to entertain myself. I was putting words together that I thought were interesting juxtapositions; interesting word play. I think it started with band names. I’m not sure if that started first, or if they were two parallel vectors, but it expanded into me writing things down that occurred to me. Prior to the pandemic, I was driving around Illinois for work quite a bit, so to entertain myself on long boring 35 drives, I would think of these things and when I got where I was going, I would try to write them down before I forgot them.
Graphic artist Victor Gastelum, whose work has graced many a punk rock flyer, SST and Calexico record cover among a plethora of other works has collaborated with writer Robert Vodicka, a veteran music head whose work at New Alliance records in the 80’s to early 90’s and stint as a DJ on KSPC on their new book Shaolin Days and DeKalb Nights out on November 19th and available for preorder here.
Here is a sneak peak at their words and art in film.
I had the conversation below with Michael Loveday on the eve of the street date of his new book out today on Bamboo Dart Press. You can find the book at your finer independent bookstores, yer gross big box sites or direct from us here.
Your novella in flash, Three Men on the Edge offered a number of portraits of three souls struggling with varying degrees of troubles. It is easy to view that book as cohesive, but I find that your new book Do What the Boss Says employs a lot of connective tissue from story to story even with each being unrelated. Were these stories written before, after & during your writing of Three Men on the Edge?
I was writing Three Men on the Edge from 2011 to 2017. I began writing some of the stories in Do What the Boss Says during that same time, but the majority were begun after Three Men on the Edge was completed. And definitely the editing part (which, for me, is where most of the work gets done) took place during the pandemic – from 2020 to 2022. My feeling is that any “connective tissue” in Do What the Boss Says is thematic (or related to subject) – for example, the image of opening doors or going through doors recurs across three stories – rather than there being any linked narratives. By which I mean that there aren’t any characters that appear in one story and crop up in another. But I definitely did want to try to build a cohesive collection. In fact, the stories here were gathered from a longer collection I’ve been finishing – about 120 pages long. I noticed that quite a few stories were about family and childhood, and I became interested in the possibility of gathering them separately in a chapbook or pamphlet. It took a while to figure out which ones to include and which to leave out – I had a number of others that referenced family/childhood but they didn’t fit the themes of the final collection.
In the final story in the book, Every Time We Fall, you write that Parents don’t want to be rescued by their children This after a number of the stories in the book about parents of varied walks. I wonder if this was a conscious decision to ground the book in reflecting on childhood and adulthood.
Yes, definitely. The final two stories in fact are about a kind of role reversal – the “adult child” looking after an older parent. Whereas most of the other pieces are about narrators and protagonists in their actual childhood. It’s not easy to ensure that a miscellaneous collection, even one that explores a broadly unified territory thematically, adds up to a statement about life. But I would admit I was trying for something like that – some sense of reaching a concluding position (even though the ending isn’t tying a linked narrative together, as might happen in a novella-in-flash or novel-in-stories).
For all of the unsaid in the aforementioned story, there is a detailed transgression in the parable Silver and Blood about a mother and father diminishing a child both physically and mentally.
Yeah, it’s a pretty dark story, that one! I guess it’s playful in some ways, because of the fairy tale elements (the daughter with a heart made of silver) and it uses an energetic “once-upon-a-time” folk tale mode of narration, but what happens in the story is certainly quite tragic. It was inspired by a Japanese folk tale I encountered, called Tsuru Nyōbō, or The Crane Wife, in which a man marries a crane who, out of love, weaves brocades from her own feathers in secret so that the man can sell them and make them rich, but she makes herself ill in the process. It’s an astonishing bit of folklore about a form of self-harm, self-denial and neglect that’s nevertheless arising from a place of love and loyalty and creativity, and I thought it would be interesting to transfer those ideas into a framework where a child is doing something similar under pressure from greedy parents. Here’s a link to an early version of the story online, although I did make some crucial changes to the final published version in the chapbook that change the balance of its meaning slightly, so the chapbook version is more ambiguous in its conclusion: Silver and Blood – Fictive Dream
The boss that you reference in the title makes an appearance in nearly every one of these stories, be it the parental figure, god, the abstract voice in our head etc.
Yes, I guess my hope was to explore the pressure inherent in the relationship between children and adults. Freud, of course, famously wrote about the family as a microcosm of society, one that was at once a civilising influence and simultaneously a source of internal conflicts and repression. I found it interesting to write about that process from the child’s perspective – a mixture of civilisation and ruin. And the title Do What the Boss Says, which is lifted from a particular story about work This Be the Curse | The Journal of Radical Wonder, is intended to take on a different meaning across the collection as a whole. My hope was that “the Boss” might start to mean something other than an employer, and listening to that other definition of Boss isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. Although I don’t want to name who/what that “Boss” might be.
Michael Loveday’s new book Do What the Boss Says: Stories of Family and Childhood is out on November 5th. You can preorder it here. Hear a reading of the story The Glass House from the book in the trailer.
Do What the Boss Says: Stories of Family and Childhood is a collection of short-short stories exploring the adult-child dynamic. A daughter nervously visits her father who has now become a stranger; a young Irish girl substitutes a cardboard cut-out for her presence within her own family; a naive schoolboy is tricked by a more streetwise passer-by; a child tries to impress her village by breaking the world record for stepping in and out of a doorway. This chapbook offers you a kaleidoscopic view of the pressures, conflicts and joys of childhood and family life: from surreal fables to memoir, to idiosyncratic realism, to ghost stories about weird encounters.
Peter Wortsman’s book of cut up poetry is out today. It features both the original cut ups mirroring a translation on every other page. Wortsman is a poet, essayist and novelist and in Borrowed Words his dependance on the words of others does not hinder his creative ear and offers some playful pieces of art that are the actual cut ups composed of newsprint, glue and lined paper for the eye. You can find Borrowed Words at your better book stores, big box retailers as well as direct from us here. I spoke with Peter on the eve of his new book being published recently.
You write novels, stories, essays, poetry, songs, profiles, travelogues and plays, and also translate from the German. I like that these works can act as watermarks for your creative life. For instance, during the Covid crisis, the Deutsches Theater in Göttingen, Germany, presented a scaled-down version of the German translation of your play, The Tattooed Man Tells All, that would not have been staged in such a stark manner had we not suffered through those times. (The play ran for eight months in repertory, so somebody must have done something right.) Your new book, Borrowed Words, was born out of writer’s block during the pandemic and would probably not have been birthed were it not for the interruption of the outside world.
Every text is a response in form and content to the moment of its composition. This is not a conscious choice for me, but rather an involuntary organic response to various stimuli. Irritated oysters drool, their salty spit occasionally congealing into pearls. Genre is a fluid notion. A literary chameleon, I alternate disguises to meld with my environment and hide from predators.
Do you work in different arenas and let the field for one of these areas lay fallow as a plan?
I have no gameplan. When I’m weary of one form, I take refuge in another, oftentimes fiddling with multiple parallel musings, the one seeping into and informing the other. In the early days of the Covid pandemic lockdown I relished the solitude and the dearth of interruptions. But over time it got to me. Writing felt too much like a solipsistic, navel-gazing stunt. Initially I cut up and rearranged words borrowed from various sources to pass the time as a virtual game of solitaire, never intending to publish the result. To my surprise, the assembled texts made poetic sense, and in fact, better bespoke the nervous mood of the moment than compilations of neatly chiseled sentences.
Borrowed Words is a book of poetry created by cut ups. I believe that you had initially intended the book to not include the actual physical cut ups, just the completed poems, is that right? I find it sublime, having both versions of the poems mirroring one another. The poems can be read in an entirely different fashion with stark differences not just visually, but emotionally. The glue drips, the curled paper, the implied pathos on the originals that sometimes read like ransom notes. This presentation of both versions of the poems also calls to mind books of foreign language poetry that have the original poem followed by the translated version, or Blake’s placement of prints with the poems on the right margin.
As I said above, these cutups were not originally intended for publication. Glue splotches, broken bits of type, stray fingerprints and trapped hairs initially made no difference. Like a sculptor’s slip mold or a photographer’s negative, the cutup itself was just part of the process, a sloppy means to an open end. Over time I took greater pains to work cleanly. The pasted composite on the page felt more like an artifact with all the telling imperfections of a piece of ancient pottery. It seemed essential to preserve and display the irregularity of the original side by side with the clarity of the transcription.
You were touring your last book, Epiphany of a Middle-Aged Pilgrim, Essays in Lieu of a Memoir, up to the edge of the Covid 19 lockdown. I think you one-upped other authors by pre-writing your pandemic book, and now you have moved on to taking prisoners with poetry in Borrowed Words!
Rather than taking prisoners, I would hope that these renegade “ransomed” words set the imprisoned reader’s mind free to play, in the spirit of the book’s epigram borrowed from a letter whipped off to a friend by the great German DADA collagist Kurt Schwitters: “We play till death drags us away.”
Bill Chen and I are off to a sputtering start as we return to KSPC to co-host a show together. Bill hosted the show At Random among others from the late 80’s into the new millenia, while I toiled behind the board for a decade and a half doing a show weekly. You can listen live or hear the show from this morning via the archive over at KSPC for two weeks from showtime. Every Wednesday for the foreseeable future Bill and I, or one of us solo, will be spinning records, spooling tapes and translating digital 1’s and 0’s as well as verbal spats and high sixes. Viva KSPC!
Third and final short featuring a reading by the author and visuals of Noah James Saunders third sculpture influenced by the poem from which Zegans’ reads.
Below is a conversation I had with author Marc Zegans on the eve of his new book being published. The book is out now and available at all fine independent bookstores and oversized big box stores.
Lyon Street is a layered book. I read it again last night from the perspective of you leading a walking tour of the San Francisco of the 1980’s and early 90’s. In the physical world, this could actually be pulled off to the extent that you could nearly take a circuitous walk starting at the hills of SF, through the city, to the sea.
Thank you for noting that Lyon Street is layered and that it can be explored from different angles. It’s a very small collection and my hope has been that folks would discover that it is amenable to a variety of different readings. I’m particularly happy to know that you read it last night from the perspective of my leading a walking tour of San Francisco as it was thirty to forty years ago, envisoning a visceral walk back in time without nostalgia. I worked hard with Lark Simmons to create the pin map at the front of the book to give people a sense of place and possibility, and to suggest that walking the city and looking about its neighborhoods might be a path to connecting with the freedom and vitality of the moment in time that Lyon Street describes.
The table of locations, situated just before the map, gathers places and venues named in the collection. The table functions as a kind of cabinet of wonders, and, also, as a kind of poem in itself, one that captures the come and go nature of the places that we take to be enduring. (As I say this, I hear in my mind the Allman Brothers’ “Come and Go Blues.” Here’s a fine solo acoustic version of Greg Allman singing it in 1981. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIwnbYwmFOI )
Interestingly, my friend Peter Brigham, at whose house I recorded the readings of the poems from Lyon Street that appeared in your films, suggested that I do a walking and reading tour that took people round to lost places mentioned in the book and to old San Francisco institutions that remain. His idea and your reading speak to me and call back memories of reading in the early ‘80s Luc Sante’s brilliant social history, Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. I was particularly taken by his account of how he came to write that book. Sante talks of walking about lower Manhattan and discovering here and there traces of the early city and the whispers of stories these held.
City life, if you observe closely, presents a revelatory mix of past and present, or, better put, an experience of the eternal present. Cities are places in which ghost and memory and the lived present almost magically entwine. They offer the living experience of a Joycean sense of time, a sense of timeless present beautifully portrayed in William Kennedy’s fine, slim novel, Ironweed, which I also read when the experiences I describe in Lyon Street were unfolding.
These are incredibly personal poems and observations that read in both real time and the past tense. Given that, you retain the slang and the vernacular of that era. It is a choice that rewards on repeated readings as these poems are not all written from your perspective which further adds to the tapestry of the whole of the book.
Thanks for bringing this point forward. Writing poems in vernacular tongue is a means kindling a present experience of the place as it was then. This is different from both historic simulation and from a nostalgic look back. It’s a means of induction into the isness of place whose essence persists in the cracks. It creates, also, a distinction between the narrative “I,” and person who wrote Lyon Street. This distinction is important first, because the various fictive “I”s who populate this collection come together to create the place that novelist David Scott Ewers marvelously describes as “a San Francisco of the Mind,” and second because it distinguishes the nature and purpose of Lyon Street from confessional poetry, which it is not.
The blink and you miss ’em references to place is also there in your use of time and names in the book. Catsup being categorized as a vegetable by the Reagan administration, Jello being Jello Biafra, John Lee short for John Lee Hooker, Milk for Harvey Milk, Allen short for Allen Ginsberg – there are a number of on the sly & veiled references in the book. Your readings are musical in tone, this is to me another fascinating layer to this book. The musicality of it. I hear Freddie Hubbard or Pharoah Sanders, I think of you mentioning listening to KJAZZ in the car during this era.
This goes to what you were saying earlier about the collection having layers that invite different readings. While these poems are written with simple language that can happily be read on its face, beneath the melody line there’s a lot of material for readers who might want to journey deeper.
When you talk about hearing Freddie Hubbard or Pharoah Sanders, you’re pointing to a musical aspect of the larger web in which the poems are situated. The specific references that you call out in “P(un)k Poets Too Fucked to Drink” (which is an answer poem to Howl from the perspective of a generation stripped of the foundational premises against which subcultural voices and Avant Garde movements pushed during the modern era) invite folks to think deeply about the stakes that have been at play in our society for over forty years. I used the example of six French fries with catsup being defined by the Reagan administration as a school lunch vegetable because it marked so visibly the turn to callous cruelty on the right that has badly scarred and now threatens to destroy our nation. It’s easy to lay this at the feet of Trump, but he’s simply the most overt expression of a systematically orchestrated pattern of behavior that has much deeper roots.
where healthy school lunch
is six french fries
and ketchup, not rotting,
is a vegetable.
It’s worth noting that this stanza contains a lot of wordplay that goes beyond calling out the abhorrent policy. The phrase “not rotting” is an oblique reference to the Dead Kennedys’ album, Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, because a tomato, the major ingredient in catsup, is a fruit not a vegetable, and there’s nothing fresh about preservative-soaked school cafeteria ketchup.
Another veiled reference comes at the end of the poem. My invocation of the “Clown Prince” is a nod to the late philosopher turned cultural critic Richard Rorty who spent his final years at Stanford. Rorty, following Harold Bloom’s call for strong poets in The Anxiety of Influence, argued that in a world that lacked the foundational surety of a verifiable correspondence theory to nature, we needed strong poetry, laced with a robustly ironic understanding that we might be dead wrong, to manifest meaning and to mobilize political muscle on behalf of liberal principles. His argument concerning how we would best proceed, given what philosophy can and cannot do, pops the post-modern bubble and replaces it with a muscular poetically rooted view of human responsibility. For me this was a real punk generation answer to Ginsberg’s last gasp of modern dialectic, Howl, and my version resolves the poem’s final section.
The poem Final Impression of a Dying Man can be read as a piece about the declining days of a loved one or of the gentrification that was to come to San Francisco where your book closes. From the final stanza:
see bone and sadness
merging into night,
then a tooth and a smile,
a softening around the lips,
and that is all.
That’s a fine and gentle dual interpretation Dennis. San Francisco has lost something vital. In a strange way it’s become blind to itself, blind to its beauty, to its magic, to its possibility, and to the cold fact that this city which characterizes itself as the creative hub of the world has become inhospitable to writers, musicians, and artists. The arrogant premise that routinized technical innovation processes are superior to and can rightfully supplant artistic creativity is sheer nonsense. Novel artistic practice expands the way we hear, the way we see, the way we move, the metaphors we reason by, the way we repair our spirits and heal our souls, and the ways we envision futures. If benignly conceived, art can guide technology paths in ways that nurture the planet, rather than destroy it. It is no accident that the final project of my late high school friend Gerald Huff, who was a principal software engineer at Tesla, was to write a novel, Crisis 2038, that examined the coming consequences of mass technology driven unemployment. Simply put making truly original art opens a window through which we can find our better angels, see magnificent futures and to envision means to achieve them. There’s a line in the poem which speaks to this, “Buena Vista, if only you’d look.”
There is a rich sweetness that is not nostalgia nor revery in Lyon Street. These poems are not about the good old days nor the grievances of what happened to the city and people that color this book that are so beloved. The book closes on a note of possibility in the poem Starting. It is a large act of kindness Marc. Was this one of the last poems written for the book? It is such a beautiful means of kissing the reader goodbye.
I wrote Starting years ago and revised it many times between then and now. A central challenge in putting this book together was working out how it should be arranged. I wanted Lyon Street to be a complete piece of work, rather than simply a gathering of thematically related poems. Sorting this out took considered effort over many drafts, as the form fully converged it became apparent that Starting should be the final poem.
I was greatly helped in coming to that conclusion by my friend and colleague Larry Beckett. Larry is a superb, deeply read, and profoundly insightful poet to whom I’d sent a near final draft of the collection. In that version I had a very short poem after Starting that functioned as a coda, but I was unsure whether to keep it. Larry made a very strong case that I should drop this tag-on because Starting’s arrival at its final four words, “and start to swim,” embodied the California myth entire, and that the book’s gift to the reader would be greatest if I were to end it there. He, of course, was right, and I think that deep inside I already knew this. It’s probably, unconsciously, why I put this question to him. I needed the benediction of an older wiser poet as I prepared to cut the final piece of chaff and offer the book without equivocation as the strongest piece of poetry I could write.
Like a farmer rotating his crops, Peter Wortsman periodically ploughs words back into the mulch of meaning. Romanian émigré DADA poet Tristran Tzara gave it a name: cut-up (or “découpé” in French). Wortsman reverts to cutups when he’s too distracted, depressed, dumbfounded or deranged to write in the regular manner. As the isolation of virtual lockdown during the seemingly interminable Covid-19 pandemic stretches into its third year, Wortsman, a modern-day monk, languishes in the solitude of his cell, longing for meaningful communion. Absent belief in a transcendent being, cutups take the place of prayer. Here is a trailer for the book
Peter Wortsman Borrowed Words is available for preorder
My good pal for decades, Bill Chen and I are both back on KSPC Wednesday Sept 28 from 10am-noon We will be playing noise and notes and arguing about nothingness. Listen in locally at 88.7 on yer FM band or on the digital feed at KSPC online live or canned for two weeks after it airs.
Marc Zegans’ Lyon Street is a book of longing, lost and found love for a place and a people that have long moved away from the haven San Francisco was in the 1980’s and 90’s. Victorian houses in need of a paint job then, not an alarm system; Cop cars alit amidst riots that rose as reaction to police brutality. Language of the time not sanded down and soaped up in a gauzy lens, written to reflect where Marc was then. Where the post hippie bloom died and birthed a punk scene of outsiders, poets, artists. In his new book of poems, Zegans, like the spirits that possess the body of each poem herein, guides us through San Francisco as it was. He is talking shorthand here, but for those not familiar with the landscape, subdivisions, and jarring neighborhood lines of demarcation in the San Francisco of that era, you will undoubtedly catch it in the prose and pruned back peel that allow you in. Zegans’ previous books of poetry and spoken word albums signposted that he was no one trick pony. He is one of those writers digging for a new old world. Pulling up bricks of sand from the depths of the ocean to expand his imagined and real worlds. This book is one he has been meditating on for decades and it shows.
Check out this short film featuring a reading by Zegans from the book married to a sculpture created by Noah James Saunders specifically for the poem North Beach.
Marc Zegans’ book Lyon Steet is available for preorder now.
Ruth Nolan grew up in California’s Mojave Desert and worked as a wildland firefighter for the Bureau of Land Management’s California Desert District and also for the U.S. Forest Service, fighting wildfires throughout the western U.S. Her new book on Bamboo Dart Press, After the Dome Fire, focuses on that aspect of her life. She has been notably published in Boom, California; McSweeney’s; East Bay Times; Los Angeles Fiction: Southland Writing by Southland Writers (Red Hen Press;) and Desert Oracle among a plethora of other landings. Ruth was named the inaugural Mojave Desert Literary Laureate in 2021. Below is a conversation I had with Ruth Nolan on the eve of her new book which was issued September 5th.
After the Dome Fire is a collection that has a history dating back at least four years that I am aware of, that is when I first read the poem Mopping Up (the trailer featuring the poem can be seen here ). The poems in the book reflect back on decades. When did the seed of this collection start for you?
Truth is, I’ve been spending my past few years gathering and sifting through the memory-weave of my desert life, as experienced from childhood until now. Re-visiting and re-imagining a deeply storied desert landscape, and my place in all desert places and journey across space and time. The 2020 Dome Fire in the East Mojave Preserve horrified and infuriated me, and I’d say that my motivation for pulling these poems together was the real incentive for bringing this collection together – an elegy and testament to the brutality of wildfire, in all its fire ecologies, human influences, and the recoveries and resilience that follow via the power of the natural world to heal and regenerate, sometimes in the face of great odds.
So much of your poetry is a reflection of the high desert. This collection is more personal. You not only voice your experiences as a firefighter, but also that of a new mother, of love and loss which is threaded through poems of destruction and rebirth of the natural world around you.
Interesting for you to say this, because my work as a wildland firefighter – frequently working in the area of the Dome Fire and the East Mojave Preserve – was my introduction to the forces of wildfire in that Mojave Desert Region, typically spawned by monsoon lightning strikes, and my time as a firefighter came to an end just a year or so before my daughter was born. So there is definitely an overlap and connection: working to care for and nurture the desert through the work of firefighting, in the immediate face of danger and destruction, and also the closely related baton handoff of giving birth and literally regenerating a new life!
It reads closer to a novel than a chapbook of poetry. A novel with many subplots whose intersections become clearer on repeated readings.
As I’ve said, the many intersections of fighting fires and giving birth, as I have lived them, are filled with possibilities in one’s imagination and poetic sensibilities. Other intersections reflected in my poems weave throughout his chapbook, like long-used footpaths and trails and roads eked across the desert land, and hopefully touch on some of the elements in our shared human stories universal to us all. And truth is, I miss my firefighting days! Some days, I’d rather be out there, working with intent and teamwork, using my shovel and Pulaski fire tool to work hard and get meaningful work done – the excitement and rush of it all. I’d rather be out there than sitting in an air-conditioned condo, writing about it – this can feel rather dull, in contrast.
Your photographs in the book add another dimension to these poems and offer the reader a moment to catch their breath with some of the more harrowing poems. Most of the photos appear are not of torched landscapes, but of landscapes recovering or untouched.
I feel that in writing these poems and taking these pictures in such an isolated and exotic landscape little understood by most people, I’m a sort of poetic ambassador – and how interesting to connect this to my current term serving as the inaugural Mojave Desert Literary Laureate – to bring images and stories of the desert to the forefront through my own deep experiences and interpretations of those. You can see that in some of the photos, the torched desert sits next to the pristine desert, burnt Joshua trees almost touching limbs with untouched trees – as if seeking comfort and regeneration, which they are undoubtedly busy doing, above and underground. Just as beauty and vulgarity often stand and even shine, side by side, seeking some sort of transformation and return to balance that we, as humans, must actively work to restore through the power of honoring, nurturing, and caring for the land, and for our own hearts.
There is a stoicism in your voice that has that same quality in these poems.
Just like the ever-stoic Mojave Desert itself! Except the softness filters in here and there: the lick of gentle monsoon rains; the drifty scent of wildflowers; smudgy sunsets in rainbow tones; gentle sunrise tones peeking in baby hues above the sharpest ridgelines…the softness is always there, against the harshest notes.
Grace and beauty exist in these words, but they are the kind that are as tough nails.
Don’t fuck with grace and beauty!
Always a spiel and revolving revolution listening to Mike Watt’s show. This week his musical guests are Shrimper stalwarts Goosewind whose new cassette is out this Friday. We are celebrating San Pedro today as that is where Rick and Melody of Goosewind live along with Watt. Thankful 4 the Times We Share is the name of the release and serves as a nod to all that we were able to grab onto in this world. Check it out here.
Ruth Nolan, a former wildland firefighter for the Bureau of Land Management’s California Desert District and U.S. Forest Service, is a widely published writer/scholar whose work focuses on California’s deserts. Her new book of ecopoetry, After the Dome Fire, uses the aftermath of the 2020 Cima Dome Fire in the East Mojave National Preserve as a closely examined and imagined focal point to provide an autobiographical pulse of her life in the Mojave Desert, where she fought wildfires and, as a single parent, raised her daughter. These poems also take a deep look at the impacts, along with wildfire, of increasing human interferences with intact desert ecologies – such a solar industrialization, urbanization and tourism – and both celebrate the beauty and mourn the loss of pristine wildlands. Poems with titles such as “Mopping Up,” “Friendly Fire, “Escape Route” and “Ghost Flower,” along with photos taken by the author, puts readers in her hiking boots and takes them along for a hike down a rugged desert trail carved across a powerfully storied and evolving landscape.
The book is out September 5th and is available for preorder here. Check out the trailer below.
Goosewind’s first release on Shrimper in three decades is out on August 26th, Check out the first song on side one of the cassette below in this premiere on Ears to Feed for Shadow Mirror Raps. The cassette has built in hiss and is a limited edition of 100 numbered cassettes available via Midheaven/Revolver and Grapefruit distribution and finer independent record stores while supplies last. A digital version of the release, Grateful 4 the Times We Share is forthcoming as well as a CDR version. We do the reverse out this way, the physical is the forefront and the digital the afterthought.
Thomas R. Thomas has written poetry for over fifty years. He wrote when he was holding down full time work, raising a family and juggling all that was tilting in his path on a daily basis. He wrote about these very things in his poems. His life experience colors his writing and in his new book he shares a book of poems about the loss of his son Shaun. These poems found a way out of him and were written for only one. Like Kendall Johnson or Juanita Mantz‘ books on Bamboo Dart Press, this book touches upon sorrow and loss, not in an abstract way nor in a manner of confession, but as a match in the dark, a signpost for others that have gone through sorrow that they are not alone in the that sorrow, offering a hand as they themselves are bowing from the pain..
I had a brief conversation with Thomas below that captures his fearlessness and his selflessness. His book Missing Shaun is out today and in it you might see yourself, see those you love, maybe those you lost rendered in a manner that is subtle and tender without being maudlin or cliche.
You are an accomplished draftsman whose work has included the most droll of the everyday to work on Ren & Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead. There is a savagery in that kind of animation that seems polar opposite to your exacting style in both draftsmanship and writing.
Drafting and poetry are not in opposition. Also, my work on the cartoons, and later video games, was more technical than creative. My approach to poetry is also technical as well as creative. Even in the poems I write that don’t follow a formal structure, I will look for a pattern, such as length of line, or how many lines in a stanza. At the same I always pay attention to the music in the flow as I write.
Part of what fascinates me about your writing is the divide between adhering to rules of writing, as in the haiku work that you do, and also breaking from that format if need be. I wonder if what I perceive of your unique voice is not unlike that of one that has learned a craft by endless trial, error and passion.
I always look at the chaos as I write, although what appears to be random, such as the patterns in a fractal, or the apparent chaos of a Jackson Pollock, there is always some form of order in the chaos. As far as the process of my writing, I have written for almost 50 years, and
most of that time was in experimentation. My goal was to learn the rules, and then to see how far I could veer off from the rules, and in most cases the rules were of my own design. I find that an artist is one who travels roads not commonly taken. It has been my observation that often in the arts the artist will repeat what others have done, or they find a niche and remain in that small area. I have always wanted to explore new fields after I have started to feel comfortable. It is my goal to feel inherently uncomfortable in my art, and to explore new regions, at least new to me.
You run the Arroyo Seco Press which has issued a plethora of incredible books and chapbooks. There is something to the lightness of your thumbprint to your imprint that is present in your writing as well. There is a natural beauty to them both, an honesty instead of a histrionic neediness to what you write and what you choose to issue.
Regarding the press, I find that I need to let the poets shine. I really try not to get in the way of their craft. Even in the presentation of the press itself it is about the poets, so if you look at the website you will notice that my name is not anywhere—that is so there is complete focus on them. I won’t even publish my own work, except for a few places on the Redshift publication where I have a few poems listed under a pseudonym. Even in my own poems I would rather focus on the poems rather than on me. Although, I have no problem revealing very personal details. I think that real experiences, and feelings will be more relatable. Although I do have a few poems that are pure fiction, and are of characters that I personally can’t relate to.
Missing Shaun takes two paths. One is the transcription of the texts of Shaun’s last few weeks and the other, the haiku’s and writing in verse after his death. Anyone in modern times can relate to the rushed hospital updates of a loved one in the hospital, but even more relatable is the poetry, your defining the empty space, the slivers and the mountains.
One reason I wrote the opening narrative was that I wanted to connect the poems that I had written to the week that preceded most of them. Listing the dates and times was because I wrote most of the poems on my phone or computer, and they would record when I wrote them. Also, the texts and phone calls had the dates and times. I think the chronology represents an immediacy that we can all relate to. It certainly places what happened in a time when most of us were experiencing great loss, or at least the fear of loss. Our loss of our son was not unique, but something that all of us experience to one degree, so although personal, what I have written is everyone’s story.
The reflection of the coffee table recently straightened by Shaun, the door to his room not being ajar, the morning comics you can’t share with him. These are the most heartbreaking details in all of the book.
I wrote the poems about the coffee table, open door, and the others like that as the thought about them came to me in part because I was feeling the emotions of missing him so intensely. Those are the things that we all experience as we miss our loved ones. That is where something so personal is still relatable to anyone who reads them, and will spark memories of lost loved ones. The last part of the book is me trying, maybe for the last time to talk to him. I have always enjoyed talking with both of my sons. Even when they were little we talked to them, and then with them in a way respecting their intelligence and their opinions, and they have given back in ways that still astound us. I can give his older brother Martin a call, or have a conversation in text just about any time I want, and I always learn from him. That is something I have lost now with Shaun.
There is some light in this book and I would be remiss in any conversation to not hit upon that. You purposely introduced a bit of that as you put the book together you mentioned. I think this book is important not just because is it by a writer at the top of his game, but a writer that is giving us everything in his arsenal.
As I was writing the poems I shared them with some poet friends. I had not shared our loss to very many people outside of our families. from the feedback from my poet friends I knew that I needed to share what I had written. I also needed to share Shaun with the world. We live our lives in a flicker of time, and in the billions of lives who have and who will live in the world, one life, yours, mine, and Shaun’s, still has a major impact on this world—this vast universe.
It is a real thrill to be issuing a brand new Goosewind release on Shrimper. It has been nearly thirty years since their last cassette release on the label but they have kept busy since then. On the new release Grateful 4 the Times We Share the band is back with an emotional and fitting return that features players that have been associated in the orbit of Rick Goosewind over that time span including Melody Kriesel, Maddelleine Grae, Ruben Seahag, Thomas Spectre, Garrett Dunn and Allen Callaci of Refrigerator dueting on a Blind Willie Johnson cover. The cassette spans the folk and psych roots, dark and light and otherworldliness that the band has inhabited over all those decades with odes to all that is gone and praise for the hard fought for that remains. Rick Goosewind orchestrates a tour of time as he hears it from the far back of his past to the present. The hand numbered limited edition first dub of 100 copies features full color cover art by Dennis Callaci. Grateful 4 the Times We Share is out on August 26th and will be available at your finer independent record stores, Revolver and Grapefruit.
A quick update that Ben Woods second LP pre-orders will be shipping on August 12th with arrival in stores hitting right around that time as well. The CD is available everywhere now is the record digitally.
I could talk music until the bloodshot in my eyes is nothing but shot out between Patrick Brayer and Mike Watt. What a pleasure to just be sitting all quiet listening to the two of them spiel and freewheel on Watt’s show. Patrick Brayer’s latest record came out at the begin of the year. Hear the two of them play tracks from the record and talk about roads connected. Check it out here.
Thomas R. Thomas has a dozen books under his belt and also heads up the fantastic Arroyo Seco Press. His forthcoming book, Missing Shaun, is a meditation on the death of his son. Real time texts are followed by a series of poems and haikus reflecting on his loss. Thomas is unflinching but also quite aware of the reader as there are moments of light and relief in this incredible work of his. The book is out August tenth.
Ben Woods’ Dispeller CD and digital are available now. The limited edition marble vinyl had a slight delay but will be making itself present in the material world in three weeks time or thereabout. Raves are rolling in for his addictive sophomore effort, check out the Quietus review. Preorder for the LP continue at Ben’s bandcamp page and via Revolver and Grapefruit.
Ben Woods Dispeller is out today. The European pressed LP is a beauty, but delayed by a few weeks. Preorders continue on the vinyl from Revolver and Grapefruit. We expect the first run of LP’s on marble vinyl to sell out rather fast and apologize for the unforeseen but not unexpected delay which has become a near norm in this day and age.
I spoke to Stephanie Barbé Hammer’s on the eve of the publication of her new book City Slicker being issued. We had the following conversation about this astonishing new work of hers that took a lifetime to compose. The batteries in the smoke detector alerted me all histrionic when I said this aloud that there are a number of decades left for Barbé Hammer which is lucky for us as her writing continues to broaden and expand. City Slicker (encounters with the outside) is available at your favorite independent bookstores and record shops as well as the corporate self checkout and digital ghost shops. It is also available direct from Bamboo Dart Press.
Your new book City Slicker (encounters with the outside) is about the external, how it formed you as you grew from a girl to a woman. In one of my favorite pieces in the book of Working a table on a street corner for eugene McCarthy, 1968 (New York City) you flip the script of the book as this one is about the internal. The first death of a friend, political awakening, being at odds with your parents, it is all here, succinctly and circuitously these three topics unwind around each other in the poem.
The majority of the verse in this book is dated. Each piece with a titles and most followed by the year, 1958-2019. The book is sequenced in chronological order and I have two questions about that. Firstly, how much of this book was written in real time and how much is reflection? I would think that the majority of the early poems were written after the fact, but that? Boiling down sixty years of life into sixty pages is quite a feat, especially considering what a rewarding read City Slicker is. How did you go about editing this book together.
The poems seemed to spool out in terms of a specific moment as well as a particular time and location, so when the time came to “collect” them, I played around with ideas — including going backwards in time and juxtaposing city and country poems — but this just seemed to confuse the issue, so I went with traditional linear time. As to what was written in real time and what wasn’t — well, the poems about the past were written as reflection, although some of them (outside at night, discomfort poem, ellen) were written quite a while ago, in response to prompts given by John Brantingham in a free class he gave on how to make a poetry collection. The poems about living in the PNW are all recent — some of them very recent. To be honest, I didn’t worry about this at the time; I just wrote them as they came up for me. Many were written during covid, which was such an internal time, and that isolation enabled me to look back at experiences like college and the year I lived in Geneva and in the East Village and see them with a kind of vividness that I might not have gotten access to otherwise.
When you first turned in the book, I recall asking you why there was an absence of approximately twenty years, in the timeline of the pieces. I laughed when you told me this was because you and Larry were raising your daughter during that time. It is worth noting that none of your work was published until you were into your fifties, that gift serves this book as so much of it was not written with the reader in mind. That quality shines in a book that is a hybrid book of verse/diary/memoir.
I published poetry in my forties as well as some short fiction, but yes, this work all comes from later. I think it takes time for some of us to be able to write about our lives, and I don’t think I could have written this way earlier. Being older really does have its benefits. I’ll share that my spawn is herself a creative writer, so I don’t think it’s my job to write about her (although I have — a little — in my earlier poetry collections). It’s really for her to tell her own story.
Your other writing has incredibly vulnerable and three dimensional characters, many taken from those you have known and reworked around the edges in the abstract. I wonder if sharing this much about yourself in a spare and honest voice was a difficult proposition for you.
You know that issue has only occurred to me recently! I look at some of these poems and think “jeepers, well THAT’s revealing,” but at the time i was just making the work and that came first. The poem about sex in Northampton feels very revealing to me, as does the poem about the window cleaner. But on the other hand, I really like them! So, I’ll have to live with the discomfort that I’ve revealed too much, and the possibility of feeling embarassed. After all, I write about having diarrhea in France! And in the end, lyric poetry is ABOUT the personal. It’s where the “I’ performs its most intimate dance.
For the sake of economy, I seldom pull from the text of BDP writers books in these interviews, but the following lines in one of the last entries in the book For the window cleaner March 22nd 2021 (Whidbey Island) is as great an entry that may exist for someone to understand your writing. It is conversational and natural, but crafted by one who has a great understanding of writing, and is herself, a poet. This is something many of us would like to say as a farewell. It reads matter of fact, but after sitting with it, it reads to me like the work of a gardener, a caretaker. Yes, things are a mess, but messes can be cleaned. Don’t get caught up in the minutia. Everything ends, all work on the internal and external will not end. Not until after the decline, the true end.
That’s so funny. I answered the previous question before seeing this one. Ah, my beloved window cleaner! Yes, as a poet, I myself am kind of like the window cleaner. You do what you can. It’s alot of work, and it doesn’t always come out smudge-free. And there’s always a more successful poet or someone shinier out there. But it’s the job. And sometimes you need to swerve to avoid hitting something. And you pack up your gear and you start again tomorrow, god willing. You’re making me realize that I identify with him to a great extent, and that’s fun to realize.
Excerpt from City Sicker (encounters with the outside):
I suppose that suffering doesn’t build character Sadness doesn’t make you better, kinder, more patient Rather it’s that constant swipe of the squeegie on glass The clean that doesn’t stay, because things are declining
These lines are so interesting to me — I’m not sure where they came from! Things are declining or are they? and so what if they are? I feel a certain sympathy — solidarity, I guess — with the window cleaner because he has to work hard and others don’t. He gets to be pissed off about that, in my view. But it makes just as much sense to turn this whole proposition around. The window cleaner reminds me that being able to be a poet, have the leisure time to write is a great privilege, for which I need to be more grateful. So, in a way the window cleaner is telling me that I’m pretty lucky to not to have be be doing physical labor to make a living. I’m sitting at my desk looking at him. But he’s looking back. I hope the poem does him a little justice in that regard.
Ben Woods Sophomore record is out Friday digitally and on CD with the limited edition marble vinyl edition out a few weeks thereafter. The Fader premiere of a short film of Woods and his band live in and outside of the studio performing songs from the new record Dispeller and some background on the film and record is viewable here. The film, directed by Martin Sagadin captures the meditative spirit and stoic beauty of the new record which is available for preorder from Revolver and Grapefruit now.
A year of crate digging for artwork, master tapes, old flyers and notes celebrates an anniversary with the delivery of the earliest recordings by The Secret Stars out today on clear vinyl, reflection built in CD and ether heaving digital platforms. Their first release, a cassette only release on Shrimper in 1995 has been lovingly mastered by Carl Saff from the original tape. I have not worked with someone as talented as Carl since the Golden family (John, JJ & April) whose surname is fitting. Like The Golden’s, Saff has an exquisite ear. I mean, he understands the language of this record and has dialed it in without scaring away the ghosts and the spirit. Both the CD & LP sound phenomenal. The Smashed Plastic pressing on clear vinyl looks and sounds stunning. The locked groove and the easter egg at the end of that locked groove can be revealed now, so pick up that stylus and catch the skree. I suggest adopting a copy from your favorite local record store. If that doesn’t work, get it direct from Revolver or Grapefruit.
Carol D. Marsh’s Border/Between: A Symphony in Essays is a stunning work. I have explained in detail in a link to the trailer for the book why this book moves me to the degree that it does, so no introduction, I feel, is necessary. In the conversation below that I had with Marsh, her heart and artistry is on display. Her empathy and kindness that is found herein is real, as true as her fierceness and tough as nails might.
In your new book, Border/Between: A Symphony in Essays, you take numerous cues from music including the idea of movements, verses, repeating choruses. Haydn, George Harrison, Quincy Jones and prayer, the rhythm of them, act as skeletal mass that you then dress with each of the four essays in the book. Songwriters are often asked, what came first, the music or the lyrics, could this be asked of you in your composing of this book?
I wrote “Hush” in 2020, “Song for the Dying” in 2021, and “Requiem for the Fall” in 2018. They were part of a long process in which I explored the ways in which written forms and structures coincide with musical ones, and vice versa. Themes, motifs, rhythms, movements, dynamics/emotions – all these are equally applicable to writing style as to musical. That fascinated me, and so I played with it over the course of those three essays. When I learned, last year, that some publishers do prose chapbooks, it took about three seconds for me to realize I had the makings of a chapbook in these three essays. That was an exciting moment for me. I love it when worlds collide and I get a burst of creative inspiration. So in answer to your question, which came first, I’d say they arrived together out of an already existing fascination that I’d been exploring for some years. (Please note: I don’t mention Quincy Jones anywhere, thought I get the connection you’ve made.)
The structure of each essay, which you have noted as movements, have a different rhythm, both in tone, structure and subject matter. What brought you to bring these four essays together as one work?
Well, I pretty much answered this in the first question, so I’ll talk about how I wrote the first essay, “Sonata.” Once I decided on a chapbook containing the three essays I’d already written, I needed to write the first essay. I made about eight crappy starts before I realized I had three movements, the classical symphony structure is four movements, and the first movement often serves as introduction and foreshadowing of themes and motifs to come. Though I love to be creative, I also respond to structure, so the idea of putting all the years-long mulling I’d been doing into this chapbook that could mirror the form of a symphony was another exciting moment for me. I call the first movement “Sonata” because the first movement of a classical symphony is, historically, the sonata form: typically three movements, but sometimes four. So there you go – form (movements) within form (sonata) within form (symphony in four movements). I used the first movement of my essay-symphony to function in the traditional way, which is in movements that introduce themes and motifs (themes, but shorter) to be explored in later movements. Addiction, forgiveness, living with the unlivable, finding hope in despair and good in bad, death and dying, individual and mass destruction. Living in the between.
You have written a number of essays about your experiences as well as a book of memoir (Nowhere Else I Want to Be). In Border/Between: A Symphony in Essays you merge your personal history with history removed from you. There is such a large want in the world of writing and literature for books to be a specific genre by both readers and publishers. Did this present hurdles in trying to thumbnail the book or land some it? Was that even a concern?
An insightful question. There are a couple things I can answer. One is that publishers didn’t seem to understand what I am trying to do in Border/Between. It doesn’t necessarily fit into expectations of a prose chapbook. After a while, I decided to look for a publisher who knew writing AND music and musical form. It took some months, but one day I found Bamboo Press. It seemed such a perfect fit that I ignored the fact the website has no Submissions page and emailed Mark a query. He responded in two days, I sent the manuscript, and you and he accepted it in about a week. An object lesson in not giving up. Also, because of the direct and creative tie-ins to music and musical form, I did have a difficult time coming up with a thumb-nail. Do I emphasize the unusual melding of music and word? Do I emphasize narrative arc or themes? I suppose that’s why Bamboo Press is the publisher that picked it up—your understanding was organic and didn’t need any explanation from me.
The most successful experimental film or music or writing, in my mind, does not announce that it is experimenting. It draws your attention in to such a large degree that you are awash in the work, you are not thinking of dissecting or prodding it because the senses are boiling over with no time for that. It is only after repeated reads that I see the seams, the labor, the layered mirroring that went into your book as the essays are so engrossing.
I love it that you say the seams and the layers are revealed as you re-read! I didn’t want to make them obvious, I wanted what I call the slow reveal. You know, you read and suddenly you think, oh! I’m starting to get it! There’s delight in that, and I think it’s one of the reasons one of the reviews says the chapbook leaves the reader “hopeful, even inspired,” though it’s about pretty dark topics. Though I’d written three of the essays before, and though they echoed and complemented one another already, I did go back to each of them and tighten up some of the language, word-smith the concepts I wanted to come through. What was interesting to me was that there were, in the end, very few changes to make. The three essays I’d written in earlier years already had most of what I needed for this work to cohere. I think that has to do with the number of years this idea—to write in a way that evokes and follows musical form—was hanging around in my subconscious mind.
In the movement Hush Crystal is pulled from your history, Miriam’s House, a DC residence for homeless women living with AIDS that you founded, directed and lived at. In Song for the Dying you recount your brother Bill’s life and death. Both of these are harrowing pieces, and both hinge on different interpretations of a song. In the case of Hush it is the old spiritual which the piece is titled after that most will recognize from Quincy Jones’ score to Roots. In Song for The Dying, Bill sends you links to a cover of George Harrison’s “The Art of Dying”. These are songs of hope in the future, regeneration. In both essays I was hearing these songs in a new light, as I do when an artist reinterprets a song that has been the soundtrack to my life, allowing me to hear it anew. It is a stunning way to memorialize these two figures that you loved. The soundtrack was before me as I read these two essays and did in fact act as a salve, an embrace.
The tune of Hush was actually in my ears as Crystal died. But her death and her story are so harrowing that it took some years for me to allow myself to remember that night and the music in my heart. I was a bit afraid to lift that story out of my memoir (Nowhere Else I Want to Be) as I worried it would be too harsh, too judgmental out of context. Or maybe it was that I was still feeling harsh and judgmental about her life and death. As I was first trying to write the essay a few years ago, I became agitated. So I picked up my singing bowl and listened for a while. What I write about feeling the untethering of judgement and opinion is exactly what happened, and what freed me to write the essay. Song for the Dying, on the other hand, was an essay I knew I would write as soon as Bill’s fiancé told me he’d listened to it just before he died. That so overwhelmed me in its symbolism and irony and as an intuitive act that between all that and my grief, I couldn’t begin the essay for more than two years. Even when I felt ready to start on the first draft, it was gut-wrenching to hear the song, to think of my brother in that hospital bed, to know that he—who loved music so much—turned to that particular song when at his most vulnerable … To this day, I can only listen to The Art of Dying when I’m feeling otherwise strong. (NOTE: Bill never sent me the link to The Art of Dying. I learned from his fiancé that it was the last song he listened to, according to his playlist, before he died.)
Stephanie Barbé Hammer is a busy woman. Her latest novel, Pretend Plumber was issued just six weeks ago on the Inlandia book imprint. You can read her musings on a regular basis via her blog where slices of her insight, humor, darkness and fantastical writing are served up near al a carte on a regular basis. And like a Mark E. Smith, her second book on Bamboo Dart Press is due in two weeks. It is a unique autobiography in verse. It is about the external world and how it shapes the interior of our beings, of her being.
In her book City Slicker (encounters with the outside) Barbé Hammer writes of her life in chronological order using the space she was in at each juncture in both reflection and in real time. This is the work of a lifetime, one ring encircling another as each entry builds upon the previous. It is a miracle of economy, and a book like no other in her canon of works. Check out the reading from the book by Stephanie in the trailer below.
Way back when, God Is My Co-Pilot issued a cassette only release on Shrimper. They were a blur with a release a week it seemed like for a good Goddamned while. The band has continued to fly by the seat of its pants econo style and scratch up material in seconds when the inspiration hits them. Hear their response to Brett & Neil & Clarence & Amy & Sam & John. Here is their latest track, recorded yesterday. Here, for just now, not forever.
I have never read a book quite like Carol D. Marsh’s forthcoming chapbook due out on Bamboo Dart Press on June 30th. The book is a knee play symphony written as four movements. The skeletal outline of the book is important. This is life in song, music in words that get me as close to hearing live music or playing music as anything I have ever read on a printed page. That is not to say that these are essays about music. These are essays in the form of music, with music making its presence known as the rhythm for the written work by Marsh.
These essays offer meditations on a couple of large arcs of history that have gone awry, but also the minor chords that we strike to bring slivers of light into the darkest of times. Titled impossibly and correctly for what it is, Marsh approaches each essay as a musical piece. The essay about her brother spans from their childhood together to his passing in verses and choruses. This essay underlines the magic trick that Marsh has taken flight with here. Bottling a life in a three and a half minute pop song? A symphonic movement? An opera? The secret to a timeless piece of music/lyrics is to keep the heart and soul of the thing alive. That often means painfully throwing off board all the decor and decorum to be sure you are present with the beating heart of it all times. I am there, with Crystal and Bill in these stories, I am hearing their music as I read. This is an astonishing book that begs to be turned over and listened to, side to side, ad infinitum.
Carol D. Marsh’s Border/Between: A Symphony in Eassays is out June 30th and available for preorder now.
The second single from the forthcoming Ben Woods record is a beautiful duet between Ben and Lucy Hunter (from the NZ band Opposite Sex) and features Marlon Williams tape mangled choir. The b/w video, directed by Julian Vares matches the mood and slow pour down of the track, Wearing Divine from Wood’s Dispeller album.
Preorders are ongoing with the CD’s pressed in the US and vinyl lovingly mastered and pressed in Spain on limited edition marble vinyl. Don’t sleep if interested in the colored vinyl as the first pressing streets on July 15th and will sell out.
Cati Porter writing has one foot in the material world and the other in the fantastical. Bones might be veins in her world, flesh becoming sequins, but the heart and mind of her writing is lodged firmly in the reality of earth one. In her newest work, Novel, which is out today on Bamboo Dart Press., Porter’s poetry often opens slowly, conversationally before pulling the reader asunder to floors and shores you would not imagine you would be taken to based upon the entry way. It is deft and nimble, not dross window dressing. I spoke to Cati about her new book and about writing, language and music over the course of this Spring. The conversation below is a lot like her best writing. Porter is quick, humorous, biting and fearless about picking at the varnish of truth, seeing if it is in fact what ends up under her thumbnail, or if it is in fact something altogether different.
I have read Novel a number of times, and I have walked away from it each time with a different view of what the book is about. Novel is such a great signpost to alert the reader of these poems to be on their toes as the weather changes at breakneck speed. That you can label things whatever you want, but that does not make it so.
Right! That’s one thing I really love about poetry. When I was a newbie poet I was so desperate to be taken seriously, and so I tried hard to write VERY SERIOUS POEMS. As a married young mother on the verge of turning thirty (Sylvia Plath’s age when she died), I remember writing a maudlin poem about how old I felt and showing it to a friend who was then in her late fifties. She was like, “Get over yourself!” Now that I’m in my fifties, I have a much clearer vision about how short life really is, and relish its abundant absurdities, like feeling old at thirty.
Cooking With the Women You Have Loved is a perfect balance of wit and cynicism in regard to relationships. On the page it can be read as folly, but also as tragedy. I wonder if when reading poems of this nature aloud you make tonal shifts, reinterpreting the poem? if the poem changes in time like a song performed live dozens or hundreds of times by a performer.
Good point! I haven’t read that one out loud yet. Or maybe just once? I’ll have to get back to you on that. But I’d like to take a minute to talk a little about the origin of this poem, and in doing so, illuminate part of my process.
Daily, I drive my husband crazy with my “witticisms”— deadpan reading off of billboards, or asking him absurd questions based on something he just said, e.g. Him: I guess we’ll throw caution to the wind. Me: How far do you think we can throw it?
“Cooking with the Women You Have Loved” came on the heels of my reading an article that admonished women for the use of the word “just”, something I am personally guilty of. I also say “I’m sorry” a lot— not to apologize, per se, but to express solidarity, or empathy. Supposedly this undermines our authority, but it’s a learned behavior. We know that, at least when it comes to most of our interactions with men, we have to work harder to be heard, buffer our knowledge with qualifiers, couch requests in apologies, or disarm with humor. (See my poem “Disarming Sue”).
So: Back to the word “just”. When did it become just filler? And why is it bad for women to use it, but okay for men?
Think of William Carlos Williams’ “This is Just to Say”, which, in my reading, is not just a poem about eating plums. It’s a poem about power. It’s a poem about taking things without asking, with only feigned apologies. Williams uses “just” to minimize any potential fallout from his eating of the plums, and to illustrate how the eating of the plums was, well, just-ified by the mere fact of their perceived deliciousness. Like telling a woman it’s her fault because her skirt is too short.
So yes, “Cooking…” is about relationships, but more so, it’s about power, and how undermining the authority of women is detrimental to all parties.
In writing this out and thinking about the poems in context, I’ve come to realize that at least parts of Novel can be read as a feminist manifesto.
Yeah, the book moves and takes on different forms for me. There are a number of poems in Novel that play with banal everyday notes. A to-do-list at how to succeed at death, a lesson on how to teach cats to type, a recipe for failure, the proper housing and caring tips for stories, all jump into the realm of the fantastical in a slow frog boil.
Yes! I like the “slow frog boil” analogy. Seldom is anything as easy or straightforward as it seems at the start. We all need a pep talk. We all have stories that get out of control. We have all failed at something. We attempt the seemingly impossible, sometimes precisely because we’ve been told that we will fail. (I could give you a list of the times I’ve been told I would fail at something, usually—but not always!—by men. But I digress…) So we prove them wrong. Or we prove them right. In any case, we try. Sometimes with hilarious results.
There are groupings of poems in the book, a series of poems about death, the aforementioned poems that play with recipes, a series about writers and poetry that includes Lazarus dying in a bookstore. These are obvious sequences, but there is also a more subtle road map unfolding in this book, it is akin to traveling an interstate and not being able to pinpoint when the city announced itself, or when the forest gave way to the desert. I wonder how much time and thought you took in editing this book.
During the first winter of the pandemic, I had some downtime so I dredged my hard drive for all of my unpublished poems, stuck them all in one manuscript, put them in an order that made sense to me, and sent it out. That manuscript, which contained everything and the kitchen sink, was rejected. I was thrown, but I got right back up on that horse. After that, I teased it apart into two threads: one the fantastical, and one more grounded. The fantastical thread became Novel, which at first was titled Because the Dead Cannot Tie Their Shoes. I kept rearranging the furniture until the arrangement felt right, changed the title to encompass the manuscript as a whole, and here we are. Time is slippery.
You have worked with a plethora of talented writers in your tenure with Inlandia Institute through which you have helped shepherd many incredible works by writers and poets from the Inland Empire. I couldn’t help but think that some of these poems are dream letters to writers, directions of where to go, what not to say, when to leave the scene. I think of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet or Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit, cartographers of ideas. I imagine that giving input and direction to writers is similar to this book of yours – you are offering directions, but are not attempting to drive the writer, or in this case the reader, to a specific destination.
I like to think I know where I am going, but most often the poem has a different destination in mind. What’s true in life is true in poetry: I love taking long meandering drives, but I have no innate sense of direction. You would be wise not to follow me. These poems are proof that it’s anyone’s guess where we might end up!
The long awaited issue of the first Secret Stars cassette only release from 1995 streets on July 1st. The first press of the LP is limited to just over 500 copies on heavyweight clear vinyl with two inserts (liner notes and a tour poster reproduction as seen above) and is available for preorder. The CD is also available for preorder and it includes new liner notes by Dennis Callaci.
Cati Porter writes incredibly poignant essays and has the ability to boil down an essay two thousand words deep into a poem that is rich and creamy. Like a traveling magician that travels with birds, disembodied assistants, four thousand pounds of clouds and a continent of mirrors, her sleight of hand demands attention. NOW. How does she fit all of those ideas into her tiny caravan careening on the edge of a canyon? Her book on Bamboo Dart Press Novel is available for preorder now. The trailer features a reading by Porter from one of the poems in Novel. I am sure she has a novel in her somewhere, undoubtedly entitled Poems. Today I celebrate sharing the sweetness and awe of Cati Porter with you.
Thrilled with the deluxe Secret Stars LP on heavy weight clear vinyl that includes two inserts (one, a reproduction of a tour poster, the other, new liner notes that I penned). Carl Saff has done an incredible mastering job from the original self titled Shrimper cassette and the Smashed Plastic pressing sounds unbelievable. More shortly as we darken the sky and prep this for release in June. CD & digital will also be available then. Presell announced in a week as the no color vinyl is limited. Hey, here’s John Lombardo holding a copy of the vinyl right here!
Robert Scotellaro has been writing flash stories and novellas in micro since the 1970s, with Rolling Stone publishing many of his short poems from that period. A divergent path for each genre led to Scotellaro being in the trenches with artists and staying true to that calling. The clarity of his voice is in full effect fifty years from that point, undiminished and sharper than most blades I have been cut by. His style see-saws, often in the same story (hell, sometimes the same sentence), between the chimerical and ho-hum everyday human fallibility that is before us, in us, everyday. His ability to bounce between flights of the mercurial and the blasé and put to paper the digested dirt and blood of each in his new book God in a Can is a gift for the weary reader. Your pals at Bamboo Dart Press celebrate the release of his latest out today which we are thrilled to be housing. I spoke with Robert about his new book and some of his previous paths just a few minutes ago, here it is. Bongos, please.
Your writing, for my money, has gotten better and stronger over the course of fifty years. That is a rarity. In conversation, you are one of the closest listeners I have ever encountered. I wonder if this was a learned quality or something you worked on? This must serve you well with the details in your writing.
Thank you. I think “paying attention” is in the job description for a writer. Close attention. Getting out of one’s head long enough to provide space for new things to enter. Can garner valuable elements that can be woven into future works. Listening closely is something I’ve worked on over the years. When you’re young it’s a bit harder to hear that tree full of songbirds as much as the one tweeting in your head. I like that you mention “details.” They can highlight/define/imply so much in a flash piece, and it helps immensely for a writer andsubsequently, a reader, to be receptive to them.
The brevity of your pieces allows for punchlines in the darkest of stories. I wonder if this doesn’t come from the underground Comix scene of the late 60’s & early 70’s that you were in the maelstrom of, the ability to throw in a panel that flips the perspective of a story. In your new book I could easily see Through the Wallpaper Roses or Mime with a Gun paneled out in a black and white pulp underground comix.
The underground comix scene back then was a great source of connection with likeminded artistic souls from around the country converging in San Francisco. It was a counterculture renaissance of sorts and humor (at times satire and dark humor) was a part of it along with the pot-addled brain blips. I published two novellas in microfiction and a handful of tiny poetry books during that period. But what would follow for me, quite naturally, was a kind of writing that employed a measure tragicomedy at times. I think in many ways it is irony that plays a big role in my work. A bit of humor/irony at a slant can offset the trajectory of a story from becoming too heavy-handed without dulling its edge—might even sharpen it.H
You did write a children’s book Daddy Fixed the Vacuum Cleaner which was illustrated by John Jones. I love that it does not dumb down or patronize, that the writing is the same as it might be for any Robert Scotellaro work. Was this piece written with the intention of it becoming an illustrated book?
Most often when I write (even when I wrote for children) I feel there is a cinematic/visual aspect to the work. I would have loved to see my work back then presented in that way—cinematically. I had two children’s books of humorous/lyrical poetry published in England. They were lushly illustrated. With my current work I enjoy doing it with words alone, but an animated story might be terrific. Daddy Fixed…was originally a children’s poem that begged to be illustrated, so I sent it out as a picture book and it was picked up right away. I don’t write for children anymore but it was gratifying to get feedback that there were a lot of kids out there getting a kick out of it. I was told there were 20,000 copies printed, so that’s a lot of giggling kids.
In much the same way as the aforementioned, stage direction and cinematic styles are present in a number of your pieces, as is rhythm and music. I read once that though you play no instrument, you have written a number of songs in your head. Have you ever worked with musicians (besides playing bongos w/ Allen Ginsberg) or have plans in the future to do so?
I did play bongos on a small stage as Ginsberg recited his poetry, and that was exciting as hell, in no small part because I admired his work so profoundly. But no, I’ve never had the chops to practice playing an instrument in any formal way. As a kid I’d been beating out rhythms on everything from pots to tabletops. My mom finally got the drift and bought me bongo drums one Christmas so I could drive her all the way nuts. I have no plans to augment my meager musical efforts, save for some politicians out there I wouldn’t mind beating (conga-beating) some sense into.
Horde of Two’s book with the full length companion CD (their second record) on Bamboo Dart Press I Knew I Was a Rebel Then is garnering rave reviews across the spectrum. Check out the new video for Durutti: A Life in 8 Parts (parts 1 & 2) which features hundreds of sketches by guitarist David Lester (Mecca Normal). Bassist/Artist Wendy Atkinson is the other half of the duo whose work can be heard on her incredible solo albums as well as collaborative work with Jandek and others. The book portion of the release features artwork & drawings by Lester, writing and photography by Atkinson and is a stunning piece of work.
Robert Scotellaro is my favorite magician and my favorite comic book writer. If you talk to him, he will probably understand this though he will profess to being neither a magi nor a panelist. His book on Bambood Dart Press, God in a Can lets you in on the punchline before you even get to the first set up of the many jokes, riddles and dark observations that make up the book. It is a collection of flash and micro fictions that looks at life through a surreal, and often humorous lens, at various societal behaviors, perceptions at a slant, and unusual scenarios. Paradoxically, the underpinnings, at the core, can be very real in the way the stories explore how we live, struggle to live, and hope to. The book is out on May 10th and available for preorder now. Check out the trailer for the book below
I am thrilled to be co-releasing the second long player from New Zealand’s Ben Woods. Dispeller is the child of Xpressway tooth grind and Flying Nun helium pop through the lens of the incredibly talented singer/songwriter who pokes at and around the construct of a ballad, pushing to see how much Walkerian bombast and noise a torch song can hold. It is a brilliant record, truly. I have paced through the carpet listening to the thing on repeat and my rat toe nails are digging through the floorboards as it plays overhead now. Check out the video and impressions that Bill Meyer has of the thing along with the premier of the video and single Hovering at Home below. Shrimper has teamed up with the Melted Ice Cream label out of New Zealand and Meritorio Records out of Spain for a limited edition LP as well as a CD version that will be out July 15th. Pre-orders are happening here.
Strictly limited first edition of 100 hand painted, hand numbered copies of Heimito Kunst “Post Exoticsm” cassette are available now from Revolver,Grapefruit and via Bandcamp. If I didn’t love it with my heart and soul, I wouldn’t have sat cross-legged on my wood floor dubbing them while everyone else was outside enjoying meth, terror and heartbreak 2 weekends ago.
On his second release, Italy’s Heimito Kunst further explores his brand of minimalist, personal psych that is in league with two of my favorite Youngs (Richard & La Monte, apologies to Angus, Loretta, Malcolm & Neil). He further expands his palette by adding tuba and voice (used as drone) to Post Exoticism. First edition is a hand dubbed, numbered edition of 100 featuring artwork & hand painted covers by Dennis Callaci with hand scrawled orange cassette shells.
Synthesizers, field recordings, magnetic tapes together with percussion, various microphones and stringed instruments fill the listening of this musical elegy. In his debut album Heimito Künst takes us inside kaleidoscopic sound visions in which, between references to the darkest and most disturbing kraut sound and experimental sequence plans based on noise polyrhythms, he makes us glimpse wave structures that lead us directly to breathe the author’s panic dust. – It’s Psychedelic Magazine
Neither band has played live in over two years. This not only marks their first show together in decades but precedes a limited edition cassette by Goosewind on Shrimper later this year. Both bands are playing at Ironbark Ciderworks located in Claremont, California Sunday May 15th. The event starts at 5pm with a DJ Set by our pal Eddie Z with bands starting at 6pm. Sorry, no puppet show.
A mystery direct from Italy. Check out this piece by Heimito Kunst from last year and keep your peeled eyes eared for the numbered cassette only release due this Spring on Shrimper.
Peter Cherches’ second book for Bamboo Dart Press is a series of reflections about the slog of the spring and summer of 2020. Built with slivers of fantasy and meditation for good measure, the book is a refreshing discourse on the subject injected with humor and of concerns about real world and dream life problems. The book is available at finer independent bookstores as well as Etailers everywhere. You can also order it direct from Mark and I here.
Peter and I met waiting for a bus and had to keep our yacking to the quick as his line was different than mine. Here is that conversation we had about his book.
Did you lean on humor during the pandemic in your life outside of writing at the time?
No more or less than usual.
Progress and On The Street are well constructed pieces that could nearly land in a stand up set by a comedian.
I don’t really follow stand-up, but I’m very influenced by funny storytellers. Jean Shepherd was a childhood favorite. I aim for a conversational form of narrative.
The piece Forgetful replaces the fever dream of being naked in public with being maskless in a crowded public area. I am assuming this was a dream of yours during the pandemic?
No, I used to write about dreams, now I write dreams. I learned how to write dreamlike pieces by learning to write about real dreams, to convey the quotidian weirdness. In 1987 I published a chapbook of dream stories, and they were all reprinted in Autobiography Without Words (Pelekinesis, 2016).
There is a bridge between your first book on Bamboo Dart Press that was music driven and this, your second one as musical references abound (Miles Davis, The Rolling Stones, Jimmy Scott, The Flamingos). Both in your musical performance and your readings at bookstores, you fully engage with the audience. This book captures as much of that as I have yet to read in a collection of yours. Were you consciously writing with this in mind?
I try always to have that “live” feel to my prose, so thanks for noticing.
You make an interesting observation in the coda of the book about how the pandemic is not dissimilar to an imagined retirement. Is this your voice or the voice of the character you are writing?
So many people have retired due to the pandemic that would have never anticipated doing such were it not for the virus. In all of these pieces the character is a version of me. I was already retired by the time I wrote that, having been laid off in July of 2020. I was planning to retire in 2021, so with severance and unemployment I got a paid early retirement.
An Open Letter to the Titanic Dinosaurs of Our Content
So many of us are being held hostage. Bandcamp’s purchase by some videogame manufacturer that is looking to soundtrack back seat you in a shooter POV. Fred Durst cumming on yer My Space page which killed the entirety of your small little cubby at that place. Veejay sucker punching the rights out from under you in the 60’s. It is still the same. It never ends.
Thirty years of working at a record store and running Shrimper turned over every kind of fucker you have ever run into during your life. The free lunches were disgusting. The contracts my band innocently signed for a spell with BMI made us nauseous as we read about some pocket protector going into a mom & pop coffee shop & suing them for having a radio on. So long BMI, we agreed decades ago. Play us for free at your own risk of driving away customers. Roadrunner, roadrunner. Coyote that coyote to death.
The creators are enslaved by meager pennies. It is no different than the minimum wage. It is not a livable wage. Over & over again the same crash test. We can’t trust no one. So many friends of mine that sell far more records than I ever will are dependent on what little they can collect from publishing & streaming & contracts gone awry & BMI & ASCAP & all the crap that asks for a signature. We never benefit from signing anything. DO NOT SIGN THE DOTTED LINE.
Me & the band I am in & my label are fortunate. We are not dependent on any of it. We tried it. It was a losing proposition that did not matter all that much as the records I put out on the label or with Refrigerator or Simon Joyner or John Davis or solo will sell a modest amount. A modest amount, but everyone gets paid. That is built into the cost of the pressing. No artist on Shrimper has ever signed a contract. Every artist on Shrimper owns their master tapes. Everything is trust & handshake. I trust in that. Not them half-baked offers from major labels in the 90’s that were built to bankrupt & silence what it is we were doing, the group of us here in the IE. No good came from any of them contracts or managers or handlers that I, for the most part, dodged. It is misery.
I know it is hard to hold on. I know that what Shrimper has done looks like a failure to most. Branding & gladhanding was never my thing, but fuck if praying to not get fucked was not my M.O. in the 90’s as I chased down K Records, Cargo & Dutch East India Distribution for payment. The David’s can be as bad as the Goliaths. Revolver USA & Grapefruit records are the two distributors I am fortunate to work with. They are champs. There are champs out there.
What works? Bonds & unions. Can we unionize as artists? Pull content from those dull eyed bean counters? Find a way that is not a dead ending? The only current way is to hustle & shuck and do it all yourself. R.I.P., D.I.Y., a great sentiment and single I issued decades ago by John Davis. Maybe there is a way we can unionize. Artists, anti-artist, creators. Leave the man standing in the shadows without a cut of us.
Not playing a game of told you so, but one of told you no. I am fortunate, my NO will not make me unable to pay my mortgage. I can afford no. Maybe there is a path we can chart out that does the same for others. We do it 50/50 where I am from. A label owner is writing this. If a tiny independent record label can do this, why can’t a larger one? Why can’t anyone? If they tell you otherwise, leave. Check the record, check the record, check the track record, record as Mark E. Smith would say. There is another way.
Peter Cherches second book for Bamboo Dart Press Masks: Stories from a Pandemic is available for preorder now. Check out the trailer that features Cherches reading from the book with a subway performing troupe nod to Little Jimmy Scott. The book streets on March 17th.
It has been five years since the Sloppy Heads debut record Useless Smile was released on Shrimper. There is a thrill in the chilled air as it can now be reported that the second record by the band will land in the summer months on Shrimper.
For those of us in the IE, Montclair’s Mission Tiki Drive In remains one of the crown jewels of the area. The orange groves are gone, the retro movie house that was the last leg of The Canyon theater in San Dimas is gone, the small venues and book stores that are gone, some, by fortune, supplanted by other small venues that have carried us. We have the ghost of KSPC always in the air to be a companion, untouchable but present.
Larger than life small annexes like KSPC & The Mission Drive In don’t come back one they are gone. KSPC is in no danger of becoming some John Mayer/Ed Sheeran porn radio, but our Beloved Mission Drive In is on the books to become another dead hub of warehouses. More crap for the big boys and girls to sell to us as pre-landfill. More cash flow to the millionaire space travelers for their selfish journeys to uncover only the reflection of their dead sunken eyes in space. There is a petition that you can sign here to draw attention to the plight of The Mission Tiki Drive In. Ideas are being floated by some of us about how to possibly purchase this huge plot of land from the owners in an attempt to keep this outdoor theater alive and thriving, pipe dreams. Here is a start.
I am thrilled to share with you the latest book on our Bamboo Dart Press imprint. Mark Givens is an artist, writer, publisher and songwriter. I mention that because all of those talents meet up in this children’s parable that he has written and illustrated titled A Circle of Birds which is available today.
Graphically savvy and narratively astute, Givens delivers Terry Southern pathos for the picture book set. Brightly feathered and so, so dry.—David Carpenter, author of From Alex to Ursula (and then a few more)
Delightful drawings accompany a charming parable of privilege and class, ending on a note of defiant optimism. A relevant story for our times.—David Lester, artist and musician
Below is an interview I conducted with Givens
A Circle of Birds has had an odd journey. It was the first publication for your Pelekinesis imprint over ten years ago, correct?
When I approach a new project, I like to do a lot of research to help guide me in directions that make sense. Starting a publishing company in 2012 came with a whole slew of production questions: Is this the most economical method? what production technique will have the smallest carbon footprint? what kind of quality can be achieved with short-run processes? what distribution channels are open to small presses? what online resources are available? Most of these questions could be answered by searching the web but the questions about quality could really only be answered by producing some physical books.
So I put together a book I’d been working on, “A Circle of Birds,” and published it through LuLu. The quality and processes were reliable and stable, but it was very expensive. So I put together a book by my father, a collection of comic strips published in the Pomona Clarion newspaper from 1971 to 1972 called “Diary of a Mad House-Husband,” and published it through CreateSpace. It looked pretty good but the process was clunky and the lack of design control was too great. I used the publishing name “Pelekinesis” on both of these titles. These were valuable experiments that helped inform my decisions until, later in 2012, I published our first official Pelekinesis title, “Tales of a Minstrel” by Tala Bar.
So, yes, this story was published under the Pelekinesis imprint but it was part of my research and testing process and never had a chance to enjoy a proper book launch or its place in the sun. That time is now!
It is interesting to me that the story comes from a place of a single privileged bird’s relation to a bevy of working class birds (in our world, they are all working class folks, this is a parable!). This is a children’s story, and so often children books come from the voice of the singled out misfit that does not fit in with the crowd. Was this flip a conscious decision?
My writing, limited as it is, often addresses social and philosophical issues through animal personification. There was a story called “The Fishbowl” which I read on Bella’s radio show on KSPC, that explored the size of our perceived realities through the eyes of a fish. This story, “A Circle of Birds,” looks at social status and economic disparity through anthropomorphic birds. Sometimes it’s easier to think about these things when we remove ourselves from the equation. Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” Adams’ “Watership Down”… hell, AESOP, for god’s sake!
I wanted to think about the class system and the notion of hard work in relation to exploitation and social ladder-climbing. The idea that we can pull ourselves up through the social strata, the “rags-to-riches” fairy tale, is an attractive proposition that can be easily exploited, guilt-inducing, and harmful when unfulfilled.
We are told that, through hard work and persistence, we can achieve ANYTHING we dream. And if those dreams go unrealized we start to believe that we must have done something wrong, or didn’t try hard enough, or gave up. We blame ourselves for not achieving our “potential” or fulfilling our “destiny.”
The truth is that MANY contributing factors can influence the success or failure of an individual’s plans – economic conditions, social class, evolving passions, or just plain old bad ideas can certainly have an impact. How an individual reacts to those circumstances tells a pretty powerful story. I wanted this story to hint at the more famous hero’s journey while creating a distance between the two tales – the empty existence of the privileged birds and the more communal existence of the village birds – how the two realities co-exist with very little interaction.
I wanted “A Circle of Birds” to start in an empty space, above the downtrodden masses but secluded and vacant, where dim-witted privilege abounds. The physical elevation and sense of importance are self-imposed. The bluster, pomp, and isolation personified by the flapping birds, the lack of social understanding exemplified by naive business decisions, and the knowledge that this cycle will continue present very few questions – the answers being as vacuous as the surroundings.
There is nothing much redeeming about the main character. The little bird is a sympathetic buffoon, stumbling through life with privilege keeping the outside world at bay. The villagers have no reason to hide from their surroundings and see the world as it really is, grit and all.
In the end, the hard working villagers make their own lives better, while the rich birds continue their cycle of isolation, their elevated self-worth intact.
When you wrote this book your children were just of the age to read it themselves, maybe 5, 6 years old. Did they read it? I wonder what their thoughts were?
I read this story to them and they thought the birds were pretty cute. They didn’t like it when the birds started to get older and the feathers started to fall out. Other than that, they developed a deep understanding of classism and privilege, we discussed Marx and Young, and then they wanted more fruit snacks.
The book does not have an easy ending in that it does no go where I anticipated it would land upon my initial read. Was that ending cooked in before you started writing this piece?
I wanted the end of the story to sneak up on the reader. I didn’t want the reader to draw connections between the villagers’ successes and anything going on in the tower. I think it’s interesting that you took the story in one direction before the story snapped back in another direction. I hope that unexpected path didn’t let you down!
I did want to make it clear that the privileged birds would continue their self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance without regard for the villagers and that won’t change. They’ll continue to piddle away in their comfy little bubble, free from the dirty reality of the outside world, while the rest of the world presses on finding happiness and joy in things around them.
Like some of your better lyrics, this parable could be interpreted a couple of different ways. It didn’t strike me as vague or open ended until another reader got something altogether different out of this than I did. Are you surprised by this?
One refrain we often hear is that once the artist releases the work into the world it no longer belongs to the artist, that the viewer brings their own perspective into the equation so, naturally, the art will be interpreted in different ways.
I think there’s a lot of truth in that, especially with the kind of oblique backdrop we have painted. I enjoy experimenting with form and style and the sounds of words. There’s an audio version of “A Circle of Birds” that’s read by the wonderful Glenn Hascall so you can listen along if you want. I also like dropping in allusions that might carry some extra weight – easter eggs of a sort – or make the reader smile. But I also think that artists have the ability to create works that leave little room for interpretation. I like to leave room for whatever the reader might bring while trying my darndest to state the point clearly. I don’t care much how the reader gets there, I just hope we all arrive near the same place.
Mark Givens follows up his collaborative book with bandmate Joel Huschle of Wckr Spgt with a book written and illustrated by him entitled A Circle of Birds. The book is out on February 16th and is available for preorder now at Bamboo Dart Press.
This parable for a divided age, beautifully illustrated, lodges in the memory and makes you think differently about the unequal way that life hands out its gifts. It’s a tale of entitlement and privilege with an unexpectedly happy ending – but not for the one you might expect.—John Helmer, author of Mother Tongue, musician, podcaster (The Learning Hack, Great Minds on Learning)
Check out the trailer below
This Bamboo Dart Press special project is a book comprised of essays, photographs, a making of the album vignette, and a mini graphic novella based on the Spanish revolutionary Durruti but is also much more than that. This work a unique look into the creative process minus the navel gazing where the CD and book are in fact of one piece. David Lester & Wendy Atkinson of Horde of Two discuss their new album and book, I Knew I Was A Rebel Then below.
WENDY: We typically create music by improvising together. For our first album we improvised while watching film noir, the tension and moody visuals acted as our conductor.
DAVID: I’ve always been fascinated with creating a longer piece of linked music. Very different from my punk rock origins. But still retaining a political edge. The increasing lurch of the world towards tyranny led me to think of anti-fascist movements and individuals. The Spanish revolutionary and anti-fascist Durruti came to mind and I figured structuring a piece around his life would give the music a narrative shape. Luckily Wendy was game to attempt this project.
WENDY: For this album, in the rainy spring, we packed up our recording gear and booked a cabin at a deserted resort on Mayne Island. In preparation, David created an 8-part musical sketch for us to improvise around.
DAVID: Both of us have a long interest in the power of social justice and the arts. Me with my duo Mecca Normal and my political graphic novels and Wendy with her long-running performance series Beyond Words that presented artists tackling social issues.
WENDY: Our interests coalesced to create a piece to represent Durutti’s fight against fascism. A fight that seems particularly relevant now.
DAVID: The Durruti piece takes up half the album, but equally important are the other songs which demonstrate our pleasure in improvising and our humour, particularly in “If I Can’t Dance” where we spontaneously break out into laughter. Wendy, do you remember why we started laughing?
WENDY: We were playing around making vocal sounds and then you yawned, which made me laugh and then we both started laughing. This was the last song we recorded for the album, just before Dennis at Shrimper contacted us.
DAVID: Dennis at Shrimper partnered with Mark Givens at Pelekinesis to form the Bamboo Dart Press imprint and they proposed the book/CD idea. We wanted the text to reveal the roundabout, up/down convoluted process that is often the nature of how creative projects unfold.
WENDY: We incorporated a short story I wrote that explored the uncertain nature of triumph and defeat. These themes permeate this project. For example, Durutti didn’t live to see the end of fascism in Spain.
DAVID: Activism and creativity can have immediate results but may often encounter setbacks over a long-term body of work.
WENDY: The illustrations in the book came from a graphic novel that David is working on. Combining my short story and David’s art mirrors our musical collaboration by intertwining visual art and text.
DAVID: Our intention was to metaphorically link all the aspects of this project. Each element complements the others to express the theme of triumph/defeat.
WENDY: David and I have different musical styles but they balance each other. When we improvise, we just hit play on the 4-track recorder and let it run so we captured all the great moments as well as the ‘less great’ ones!
DAVID: The project started with improvisation but the rest of the album was carefully constructed. Mixing was an intense process as Wendy stitched the sections together seamlessly. She beautifully crafted the work.
WENDY: We would listen to the recording together and talk about the changes. We both overdubbed many tracks and I would remix it and send David the new version. Lots of back and forthing!
DAVID: But we reached consensus on every element of the recording. Our aim was to capture the musical dynamic between us, allowing an alchemy of raw, energetic guitar and melodic bass.
WENDY: I feel that the music evocatively conveys the story of a time when people rose up against tyranny. The short sample of Durutti’s voice adds a poignancy to the piece. Given the state of the world, we hope his life and the music are inspiring.
Brayer’s hometown heeds the arrival in this interview with The Claremont Courier.
Taken from his first record in nearly two decades, here is a video for Patrick Brayer’s “Standing There”. The song from his “Cabbage and Kings: an Inland Shrimpire Anthology” record is available for presale from Revolver, Grapefruit and finer independent record stores and will be sitting in them sweaty little bins come January 21 of ’22. The video offers a brief history of Brayer via photos of him and images that he shot over the last fifty years. My favorite is the young long haired country boy playing an outdoor event in 1973. Wait a minute, that’s him then. Here he is now.
Wendy Atkinson has issued three stunning solo records. Her bass playing is the perfect marriage to David Lester’s (Mecca Normal) inimitable guitar style which on their band Horde of Two’s first record Guitar and Bass Actions delivered on the promise of what the duo could do together musically. Their abstract instrumental landscapes can surprisingly veer into hooky terra firma territory, and just as quickly explode into a Glenn Gould Morricone melodrama score.
On their second release, I Knew I Was a Rebel Then Due out on January 21st on Bamboo Dart Press (and available for preorder here) the two split the CD and the book in two, with half of each offering a suite on the Spanish revolutionary Buenaventura Durutti. The book features writings and illustrations to accompany the musical suite of Horde of Two by Lester. The second half of the book and the CD features songs unrelated to the Durutti compositions. Photography, a history on this project, and fiction by Atkinson that explodes the idea of what a record is or what a book is mark the second half of the book. We are thrilled to be issuing this unique work as our second Bamboo Dart Press special project following last years deluxe issue of Refrigerator’s So Long to Farewell whose deluxe colored vinyl edition of the LP featured an Exclusive Bamboo Dart Press put together by the band as well as a bonus CD (a few copies remain, see link).
Patrick Brayer’s new CD Cabbage and Kings: An Inland Shrimpire Anthology is out January 21st. Here is the lead off track with a video created by Brayer. Holy, holy.
Patrick Brayer birthed a haunted concoction of stripped down lowest of high country music in the 1970’s in the Inland Empire. Maybe not quite country, nor confessional west coast, but a unique thing that he does with his jazz vocal phrasing, odd shifts in time in his playing and unique high bar lyrics. His first LP was issued in 1979 and included his signature tune “Cold Feelings” (also the name of the record). Twenty years later his second record was issued by Ben Harper on Ben’s short lived record label. A slight large hand past twenty years from that CD, the world will be graced with the third commercially available record by Brayer.
Brayer is well known in songwriting circles, his work has been covered by those with deep ears like John Doe, Alison Krauss, Alan Jackson and Robert Plant among others. Check out Plant doing his version of Brayer’s track The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn
Patrick has been one of my favorite lyricists, players & singers for years and it is a dream project to be issuing what I think is his finest record yet on January 21 of next year. More on all of that soon. In the interim, as in the poetic missives that arrive from Patrick with a recently developed older photo, here is an incredible shot of Patrick with Bill Monroe taken in 1973.
Tim Hatch is a writer that came by poetry in the last decade. His poetry is descriptive without being ornate, but that is not to say that Hatch’s love of language and ability to turn a phrase is simple. Maybe simple like the truth. In his first book of published poetry, Hatch offers the flip side of his book on Pelekinesis, My Bariatric Year. That book chronicled Tim’s weight loss surgery delving into not only self image, but self evaluation. His new book Wild Embrace is in inward looking book that peers into his formative years, and experiences of loss that shaped him.
The interview below serves as a wonderful introduction to Tim Hatch. Wild Embrace is a watermark work and Bamboo Dart Press is honored to be issuing books of this depth on our imprint.
The poems of Wild Embrace paint a portrait of your life. Was this collection written within a specific time frame? Edited together from years of writing to form a whole? The earliest poems in this book were written in late 2012 and I had zero intention of them being seen by anyone. I had no intention of making any kind of serious attempt at poetry, but I was in a creative writing program and there were two required poetry classes, so I took them both at the same time to try and get them out of the way as fast as possible. About three weeks later, poetry had its hooks into me. The newest poem in this collection (“Lake Sabrina, 1973”) was written in late 2020, just as Covid was really starting to take people from me, and the helplessness called me back to early childhood. A large part of this collection was my MFA thesis, but several of the poems in there didn’t survive to this version. Anything that was cut was cut because it didn’t serve the overall tone. Or because it sucked. Your childhood home is a huge character in this book, it takes on the personality of your father and your father’s set of beliefs. You being at Lake Sabrina, or out under the stars, or anywhere but home serves as a chance for the reader to also take a breath. The poem “Reunion” takes place on a gentle Sunday morning and is a nice break towards the middle of the book. I appreciated your considering the reader in these poems, giving me a moment out of those more difficult memories, but perhaps you were not thinking of the reader at all?
I was thinking very specifically of the reader! Damn near everything in this book has been read, in varying forms, in front of audiences at countless poetry readings over the last nine years. I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in those same audiences, listening to featured readers, and on a few occasions, I’ve really wanted a change in tone. Pretty early on I made the decision to follow the really heavy stuff with something a little more lighthearted, and the audience response is wildly different (and better, in my opinion). Just as your home takes on anamorphic characteristics, nature stands in for your father, for you, in a number of these poems; bears clawing at you from a table of scattered silverware, a plucked fish out of water dying are intertwined with factual and violent examples of concrete abuse in your childhood.
Yeah. I think a lot of what I’m attempting there, with the nature thing anyway, is to show either an unwillingness to call out my father or an inability to acknowledge it. I’ve never written about this before, partially because I haven’t figured out how to yet, but it wasn’t until I was 36 that I was able to acknowledge I’d been abused. I literally spent my entire adult life prior to that saying things like, “I don’t want to say I was abused, I think that’s an insult to people who’ve been through actual abuse, but…” and then I’d go on to describe something horrific that I’d been through and the people I was talking to had no idea how to respond to that (which in hindsight should’ve been a bit of a clue that maybe I actually had been abused?). For the record, the moment everything changed for me was while driving home one night, alone in my truck, and I put in the new Mountain Goats CD and the third track came on (“This Year”), and by the time it was over, I had to pull off the freeway because I wasn’t able to see through the tears. There was just something about the refrain of “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me” that took me back to my senior year of high school and honestly not knowing if I could make it to graduation without killing either my father or myself. Somehow I did make it to graduation, and I locked that feeling deep, deep down and forgot about it until hearing that lyric. It was like getting hit in the face with a board. The next day I happened to have a therapy session scheduled and it was in there that I first said the words, “I’m a child abuse survivor,” and I will never forget the look of relief on my therapist’s face. So anyway, I think a lot of my poems have a built-in sensibility that whether it’s in the moment, or years after the fact, the truth is sometimes a little too similar to looking directly into the sun. But then, sometimes you have to call a thing out for what it is.
We are bedside with you attending to a friend in hospice, and casket side with you at another’s funeral. These both read to me of the ultimate in caretaking, of doing work that was far beyond that of your father to do. I have read the book a dozen times, and each read reveals a larger picture of what you are trying to communicate. The pacing, stylistic jumps and subject matter. Was the process of editing the book arduous? Easy? Definitely not easy. Poetry is weird, for me at least, in that I can open up a poem from however many years ago, and as soon as I begin reading it, revision brain kicks in. And sometimes I give in to it, and other times I have to force myself to stop and just accept that I wouldn’t have written the thing any differently back in 2015. There’s a poem in this book called “Endless Stories,” and the only reason I’m certain it’s called that is because I just physically walked into my office and picked up the hardcopy of the book and confirmed the title. That poem has changed so many times since it was first written. It’s a walk through the house I grew up in, but it’s a fictional me, and there used to be a fictional daughter (who I removed, because whatever I was attempting to do with her just felt false after a while), and in the first draft of the poem I was starting on the front porch and eventually I decided to start in the kitchen and end on the porch, and in yet another draft I was revisiting some of the rooms several times, and literally the last few stanzas of the poem, as it appears in this book, only just got written a few months ago. So there’s a whole process of revision that happens at the individual poem level, and sometimes that goes on for months or even years. Organizing the poems into the order they’re presented in the book was comparatively simple, and my guiding principle was very similar to what I was saying earlier about taking the audience into consideration. And none of it was arduous. Revision might be banging your head against a wall but good lord, is it rewarding. Revision is frustration and delight and it’s where damn near all the art of writing takes place. The poem Ms.Guthrie chronicles a teacher that spotlights you. It is a gorgeous ode to a strong woman and authority figure that questioned authority. Your four part poem to her in this book is a lovingly rendered thank you note, fully formed in just a few pages that makes her come alive to the reader. Is she an amalgam of teachers? Did she influence you to teach?
First, thank you. Second, she is a very real person who taught at Sierra Vista Elementary School in the 70s and 80s. She had her own library, several stacks of books, in her classroom and I made an attempt to read through all of them. It was her class that introduced me to Greek Mythology, which I mention in the poem, and it was she who taught me that our leaders are our employees and that we have the right / duty / obligation to question them. In the third fucking grade she taught me this. She was a glorious explosion of a woman, and the person I describe in the poem, and in this response, is an amalgam of all my memories of her, because there’s no way an actual person could live up to all this. She’s almost certainly no longer with us, but if I had any way of reaching her family, I could spend an entire weekend telling them how important she was to me. She influenced me to be who I am today as much as any member of my family (and, in some cases, more). Teaching college is very different from teaching grade school, but whatever similarities there may be, I’m certain I can trace some of my approaches to it back to her.
Tim Hatch’s Wild Embrace is an autobiographical collection of poems that explore themes of abuse and fragility. The weight of the language and craftsmanship that Hatch employs to tell his stories in poem form is uniquely a voice his own. Honed over decades of writing, his is the ability to pare back the unnecessary and surprise the reader with twists in his poems – limbs on a trunk unexpectedly pruned here, allowed to grow wildly there. The book is available for preorder now and available at finer independent bookstores and wherever else you may shop on November 10th.
The thrill of the Bamboo Dart Press imprint is birthing books that either would have never been written or would have never seen the light of day were it not for this modest little operation. Our fourteenth and final book in our first year of existence is one that captures so much of what I love about the physical world (the modern day wild west that is the Inland Empire), the creative world (a high concept science fiction piece that subtly dips its tongue in cheek humor into a vat of sorrow) and not least of all, the enduring friendship and collaborative nature of its authors who have created so many weird and wooly conceptual rides over the last four decades that it would take a staff of two full time employees a good five years to note them all. I interviewed the authors Joel Huschle and Mark Givens about their book “The 909” on the eve of its release.
The 909 was slated to be a short film about a decade ago, what happened to the film?
Mark Givens: Joel and I have a long history of conceptually existent projects – movies, tv shows, operas – that never make it into the physical realm. Our Wikipedia entry still lists Bug-Free America as a film that “was expected in 2006, but has yet to debut.”
We wrote this script for the 909 Film Festival in 2011 but never filmed it. That happens a lot with ideas that sound good and make sense, but with new ideas pushing other ideapans off the back burners, sometimes some of them need to be put aside. I’m still learning how to let go of old ideas, stop feeling like these ideas are hanging over our heads, so it’s a work in progress.
But the script is solid, and with some technical assistance from author and film maker Tim Kirk, we’ve been able to hammer it into good shape and are excited to release it as a chapbook.
Joel Huschle: I still want to make the flag with 50 moths instead of stars for the end-scene in Bug-Free America.
This is high concept, issuing the script for a film that is once again in the process of being shot.
MG: We wanted – no, NEEDED – to get The 909 out into the physical world in some form because the next part is coming. So we need to issue part one before part two comes out. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get the movie shot before too long and we’re pretty excited that you’ve agreed to film it. You’ve got a great eye and I love what you’ve been doing with Bamboo Dart Press trailers and promo videos. We have so many talented friends!
JH: I am excited about acting in the role of Joel for this film.
There have been a number of films, shorts et al that the two of you have done alone or together in the past, can you touch upon those?
MG: I’ve not made any movies. Joel?
JH: The first movie I ever made was shot on Super 8 film when I was in 7th grade. The movie was called, Maggots. It was essentially my friend Will spitting rice out of his mouth and then falling to the ground while handfuls of these rice are thrown onto his face and neck. It was about 90 seconds long and I really wish I still had my copy of it. The rest of my video work can’t really be called movies. I do a lot of overdubbing music and dialogue onto promotional videos. I also made a stag film for Mark when he got married. It was called “The Wet Season” and it consisted of a toy car sexually nudging a stuffed bear. The video’s narration consists of me saying “Give it to me!” My wife can’t watch it because the dialogue creeps her out. I understand her point.
Both of you are early adapters to new technology, do either of you have a pair of Google Glass or beta tape players? The technology in the book, a decade out, is obviously closer to a reality now than it was when written.
MG: The advances in mesh networking serve as the impetus for getting this story out there into the world now, before the speculation becomes retrospeculative. Regardless of the actual technology, the conceptual underpinnings are strong.
Technology sets the stage for the actions of The 909 and from this technological base, The 909 explores surveillance, place, and autonomy. It’s also about the way we group people and keep track of them with programs like ZIP codes and addresses. For example, one component of The 909 is based on the overlay plan, a program started in 1992 that dislocated, or de-located, groups from their associated areas by overlaying one code on top of another.
In The 909, we speculate that eventually each person will have their own number, becoming a singular data point, a group of one. This idea fits perfectly with the idea of the mesh; each point in the mesh is a transmitter as well as a receiver, the overlay assigns numbers to those points. So, The 909 questions the ramifications the implications of this kind of interconnectedness.
JH: Never got the Google Glass, though I still fantasize about glasses that will do facial recognition and give me the names of the people I interact with. I am terrible with names. I was very into computers since the late 1970’s. My dad built a Heathkit computer with 4k of ram, a cassette drive, and an LED readout. We graduated to a TRS-80 Model III and that’s when I became obsessed with computers and technology. Mark and I have had long and ongoing conversations about the direction in which tech is headed and how these breakthroughs will challenge every element of our lives. We will, very soon, be questioning how life is defined.
The book plays with the open spaces of the Inland Empire, The former vineyard that is now a gross outdoor mall called Victoria Gardens, vacant strip malls, corporate coffee shops housed in a huge chain store, a stretch of road in Norco, these spaces become incredibly important in tying into the theme of the technology of the “mesh”, something that is a constant abstraction companion married to the physicality of The IE.
MG: The idea of systems without centers, without a central point, is intriguing. Instead of a spoke-and-hub model, these systems resemble other peer-to-peer systems; de-centralized systems that eliminate the biggest choke point and allowing data to route around any blockages that may occur. Information will find a way through. This is true for data systems as well as physical spaces.
Diamond Bar, for example, is a town built without a fixed center while Victoria Gardens is a shopping mall masquerading as a downtown – one model denying place, the other trying desperately to create one. So this is really an exploration of the delocation of public spaces, the absence of place, of belonging. In one way it’s demoralizing, but there’s something tragically beautiful about places that nobody wants. Something communal, a shared absence.
JH: Economy and population control are central elements within the mesh. The idea that communication can be owned and traded like apples or pencils is daunting, emotionally.
Joel Huschle and Mark Givens have collaborated on performances, films, music and a variety of projects over the course of their friendship which spans over four decades. Their latest project is a film that they are allowing us to see built from the ground up. “The 909” takes place in the not too distant future in the Inland Empire. The reach of surveillance has grown incrementally and humanity has become coordinates in the “Mesh”. Here is the trailer for the book. The book is available for preorder now, available October 15th. The soundtrack is due summer of 2022 with the film premiering in the fall of next year as well.
I am always reading three books at a time. You? maybe more. It is interesting how a book of fiction, an autobiography and a graphic novel start to draw parallels. How any three books that are bedside start to call and respond to one another. So it is not surprising that Nikia Chaney, the fourth poet laureate of the Inland Empire, has me dog earing the book of poetry that she edited entitled
San Bernardino, Singing while Mark and I revisited and prepped her
new book on Bamboo Dart Press that is out today entitled Three, Walking. I can’t help but marry both books together. They are similarly titled and both survey the people and the landscape, possible escape and the resignation of trying to make a lesser world a better one. That which is beyond our control weighs heavy in both books and so much of the poetic writing in Chaney’s new book calls me back to look at a specific poem by a different writer in the book of poetry that she edited.
Chaney, in the physical world of ours, has done all of the above, and beyond that, served to open doors for students, for writers in workshops, worked for justice, to light the darker recesses and lend relief maps to those traveling rough terrain. Her talent and her singular voice is rich and real. No showboat, no Queen Mary rust gathering. Chaney’s Three, Walking is otherworldly but not distant. She calls it Science Fiction. I would agree if we are terming Octavia Butler a Sci-fi writer, Andrei Tarkovsky a Sci-fi director & Margaret Brundage a Sci-fi painter. Otherworldly, but not distant.
Three, Walking came to me as a work of science fiction. It is such a maligned genre, was it your intent to write a work of science fiction or did the story come to you without that intent?
Oh I absolutely intended a science fiction story. Sci fi or speculative fiction is my gateway into reading. While I am primarily a poet, I fondly remember being very young and intensely interested in new worlds and different ways to look at the question of being human. Octavia Butler and Ursula K. Leguin were my favorite. Butler wrote about society in a way that the characters themselves revealed the central thems. And Leguin’s work was all about the ways human beings make community. Other writers like Asimov and Sagan wrote short stories that simply blew my mind away. I loved short stories the best as they quickly introduced the characters, setting, and essential questions. These stories, though were still a bit of an experiment. I wanted to know if I could do it. That was crazy fun, though: discovering a new genre of writing.
Giving nothing away to the reader, the lighthearted Goebbels-esque treatment of those that inhabit the keep-pen by the narrator in chapter one is not rooted far from reality. The story can work on a level as simple as campfire oration fantasy, or as dense as a Shirley Jackson short story that is deep on parables without being pretentious.
That story is most like one of the more frightening ones of the three. It started with those first images “wooly heads, keep pen, wild”. As the story developed I keep the picture of the events visually and just went where it needed to go. Inhabiting the speaker was so hard as it takes the pov of someone I find abhorrent. Yet it was a good exercise in exploring resistance, a theme I absolutely love.
Some of your poetry experiments with the absence of words, linking verbs and such are omitted, giving the reader pause. One of the characters in this book does a bit of that. The absence of words – is she new to this language, an immigrant, an alien, a tortured human? Is it a shorthand effort to get this backstory and these possibilities into a short story?
Language. I love love love language. Again this must relate to me being a poet but I also experiment with textual art, so having the story do that felt natural. I also wanted to make it universal in the sense that the reader can place the characters where ever they seemed to be. The beauty of speculative fiction (for me) is that the point of the story isn’t so much the plot but the experience of looking at humanity (as I believe all sci-fi stories touch on humanity) from a very different viewpoint.
The working title for your book was Three Women, Leaving (Walking), I am surely far off in the deep end, but it called to my mind a riff on the Robert Altman film “Three Women”, the ambiguity and amorphous nature of the women in the keep-pen in your book.
Oh I wasn’t thinking of the Robert Altman film, though I have to definitely check that out. I was thinking of Nina Simone’s “Four Women”, but since there are three stories. Ha! The walking comes from this idea of leaving home, breaking out, taking a risk to push against the confines (keep-pen) of the world in some essential way. I love this story by Stephen King, “The Long Walk” and I always think about how the characters react to the stress of their journey. Walking too for me is this strange act in which we use our bodies, or limbs to move slowly away, not run, but walk. As if we are still going but taking our time.
You are working on a memoir. Ladybug, due out in 2022. You have written poetry that is of a personal nature in the past, but I wonder if writing memoir is more difficult to come to than poetry or essays? Curious as you work on this book how you are approaching it.
Oh yes, memoir is the most difficult of all. In memoir there is no hiding or building complexities and creations to get at themes. And pain has to be looked at directly as this happened, this happened to me. For poetry I always feel I can play. I can sing or paint words on the page that look pleasing so what I am actually saying takes a bit of back seat. Writing fiction, though sci fi has taught me that I can build worlds slowly and inhabit them with people (who may look like me) in order to show us the mirror of ourselves. All three genres take different approaches. Equally they ask for the same things though. Truth, the willingness to look at pain, the need to find beauty, and the surprising way it always ends where the writer needs it to end at a new beginning a new story or line in the reader’s hands.
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.