You may not know who Gail Butensky is, but if you have seen photographs of The Minutemen, Big Black, Husker Du, Pavement, TFUL282, Pavement 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.
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.
Steve Folta has been a near silent staple in the Shrimper world for twenty five years. His first band Junket appeared on a Shrimper compilation before I met him. His other bands, Speed Bumps and The Uncalled For have also made appearances. But wait, that is not all. Besides having been a member of Falcon Eddy and in a myriad of other bands, Folta has engineered, or mixed a half dozen Refrigerator records (including the newest, due out in April), tracks by Franklin Bruno, records by Diskothi-Q and WCKR SPGT and more. The kid has been around.
What a joy it was when Folta was recording a song or so a week in the process of creating his new record “Time and a Half”. Two months would go by and I would have a bouquet of seven or eight songs by him that would root into my failing memory banks. They somehow found a place in the loose silt of the shore to dig in and grab a hold of something that wave after wave could not dislodge. We are talking hooks, blabbies and frentilemen, hooks and thrown stones, lookout! His one man band jams are the odd variety of garage rock & worm licks that stick with you. I imagine the two Folta’s practically KO’ing one another in the battle of aesthetics as the songs are recorded track by track, punch by uppercut leading to both Folta’s exiting the ring bloodied but victorious. Steve is a retiring fella, and only via a stumble when I was kicked did I just discover his completed album featuring songs I had fallen in love with over the last year. Six bucks for twenty songs. Biff! Bang! Pow! Gonna knock you out.
Callaci’s second book is out a year shy of his previous book “100 Cassettes”. Hear him read a portion of one of the five stories below.
The fourth book on Bamboo Dart Press is due out on February 15th, and it is a stunner. Stephanie Barbe Hammer is a poet and novelist with a number of published books in each of these tributaries. Her new book, Rescue Plan is a book of longing. Its brief 45 pages serve as a tour de force study of the hearts of those that reside in her imagined town of Narrow Interior whose other occupants can be found in a myriad of stories by the author. This book serves as Bamboo Dart’s valentine for the mid February season. This is a bouquet from the writer of pining as opposed to flowers. It was built to last you well past the end of the season of hearts, out past the brambles of Spring and long after the inoculations of the summer of 2021. Rescue Plan fits neatly in hand when you go back out there into the real world. I daydream about turning its pages on the metro, the subway and the omnibus in Montclair California that I hope to occupy once more.
As economical and utilitarian as Barbe Hammer’s work is, she seldom fails to move me to tears, make me laugh out loud or more frequently, be haunted as I digest her poems or narratives. I have been tricked into thinking many of her works are small one act knee plays while reading them in real time, only to ponder their enormity for days afterwards. “Rescue Plan”, which is available for preorder at https://www.bamboodartpress.com/ and will be available at your finer independent brick and mortar book stores, Revolver, Grapefruit, Midheaven, Ingram, Amazon, Barnes & Noble among others on February 15th.
If you have not read any work by Stephanie Barbe Hammer, I strongly suggest you visit her blog Writing (Un) Real and read the short piece that she wrote about her mother just a few weeks back. It is a sublime piece and serves as a wonderful introduction to the magic she is capable of: