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.
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:
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.
What kind of gifts have your brought forth, Covid-19? I used to dig the dress up beaks of plague crows with their potpourri stuffed nostrils walking the streets of the fourteenth century. Those, of course, were archaic portraiture. It is hard to look at you now, though. “It’s not that funny, is it?” to quote Lindsey Buckingham, when it happens to you in real time. Nope. Multiple family members and friends of mine got sick, friends lost family members, so many of us sacrificed birthdays and halloweens and thanksgivings, high holidays all lower cased because it was us alone in our homes. Maybe a dog or cat keeping us company. Maybe our kids or our lover if we were lucky. Everyone is home. No one can come out. No one can find time to answer the phone. But I am calling you nonetheless from the back porch of Southern California with stacks of records from the vineyards out here piled up next to the stereo.
The harvest from the golden state was healthy in 2020, maybe the lack of smog this year, time on our hands. As if it weren’t enough that artists whose records I received for Christmas in the lean early years of the 80’s made records this year that were brilliant & on endless repeat in my home (cheers to you Sparks & X), there were also Southern California releases by my peers that grew up here or moved here that made me wonder if I would always stay in the minor leagues (Franklin Bruno & The Human Hearts, Falcon Eddy, The Mountain Goats) and those that are my SoCal juniors like Kevin Morby, David Herman Dune and So Many Wizards that inspired me.
Old dinosaurs don’t die, they become fuel. Tom Petty’s west coast transplant success “Wildflowers” box set took root. Los Angeles recordings by Prince that surfaced on his “Sign O’ the Times” boxset allow his inclusion here. That song about “Wally” on that 6 or 7 disc set, I imagine what it was then before Suzanne was forced to erase it. What about new artist? AzSwaye’s minimal Hip Hop killed it. “Real Movie” by him reverberated with it’s manufactured snow flocked tree of disease. BH “Trap Pac”, we don’t care if you don’t like traps you bearded fifty somethings – go lissen’ to Eric Clapton or Frank Zappa. Stroke that pepper and salt rug hanging off of yer’ chin until it cums all over Van Morrison’s anti-mask. This one slays it. And Vi Redd, on her alto sax, I heard her calling me through the citrus groves, beckoning me to get back home in a dream.
I could rattle on about more music from this 60 square mile radius that made my year, but you get the point. Grown in sharper, the wealth of sound from around the globe over the last twelve months was far too much for me to digest. What a banner of a mother it was musically. Thank you non musicians, embarrassed to be called artist artists and all points in between for the salvation.
Covid-19, it wasn’t you that meant to take so much from us. It is just that your make up and ours can’t coexist so well together. You are a terrible room mate. I see your maskless proponets on my dazed winds by foot, welcoming sickness. Someone has to do it, so why not them? The end of the worlders, sandwich boarders, conspiracy fornicators pushing out new tubes of sour cream Crest from them vacant anuses and armpits, I am calling, wishing even them the happiest of new years. I say this aloud as I type, then pardon myself as I shit my pants and plastic bag my clothing. It is rude to leave your shit everywhere. My mom taught me that. Merry Christmas, Baby. Happy Hanukkah Darling. Here’s to bringing back all of them upper cases in 2021.
The term local legend has a negative connotation to it, a “could have been a contender” flavor that does not fit writer John Brantingham. His work in poetry, fiction and art is not dissimilar to his public work in the classroom, heading up workshops or at the gallery that he runs with his wife, noted artist, Ann Brantingham. There are doors on hinges at that gallery, and may you be so lucky in your life to meet two artists in your community that are always opening doors for others and welcoming them in like the Brantinghams. John Brantingham’s new book on Bamboo Dart, “Life, Orange to Pear” is a character study of time. What it does to families, the dynamics that time uses to bend and change the arc of one generation coming into its own after the stewardship of flawed adults. The idiosyncratic ways our families have shaped each of us, all here on display in “Life, Orange to Pear”. Bamboo Dart Press is thrilled to be issuing this as the second book on our imprint. The following conversation with John took place at the beginning of November. The book is available direct from us at Bamboo Dart http://www.bamboodartpress.com via the myriad of finer book stores and distributors now. Check out the trailer below featuring John reading from the book coupled with illustrations by his wife Ann.
There is an interesting divide in your work as both a poet and writer between the natural world and that of steel and glass. The tenderness in even some of the most hardened characters in your stories strikes me as the closest to that duality.
Certainly in “Life, Orange to Pear” the father walks both of these lines with his daughter. These are some of the ideas that interest me the most. There are a series of interesting false dilemmas that most people set up for themselves. I go to the term false dilemma first because I teach critical thinking and the false dilemma is one of the fallacies that I talk about a lot, but we do this naturally. One of them is that we think the world of people and nature are two different things. I find that kind of fascinating, and it makes people think that nature is foreign to them, and when they venture into a national park or purely wild space they think it is a place of danger, and it is to some degree, but no more so than an urban environment. All those wild elements of the forest exist in the city and all the wild elements of the city exist outside of it and all the truth and beauty does too. All of that lives inside of us as well. As we are both wild and urban, we are good and evil too. It’s important to understand this. I am a confirmed pacifist because I know that just below the surface is a good deal of violence that I am certainly capable of. I want to keep that down. It is part of who I am, and I don’t want it to be. That’s why it’s important to write my characters, especially those like this one who is so similar to me, with a clear vision of those parts of him that are failings. It’s important for us to see ourselves as we are.
Your other new work, “Inland Empire Afternoon” is a character study of the region of Southern California that we both live in whose flavor and mapping is spread out over forty characters, a cut-up among well defined characters instead of ideas. Did that concept come into play prior to writing this piece or in the midst of it?
I’m a huge fan of Richard Linklater, and what I did there was try to do what he did for the city of Austin in Slackers, where he bounced for five minutes from character to character building up a vision of the city and a particular group of people who lived there. It was a critical look at that urban space, but it was also a kind of love letter to it. I have lived most of my life in or around the Inland Empire and I’ve really begun to see why it is a beautiful place. It’s one of those spaces that’s ill-defined in the American conscious. Angelinos often see it as a kind ugly step-brother, but that’s just provincialism. There is beauty in all places occupied by people because there is beauty in people. I wanted to draw that out.
In your teaching (both in the classroom and in workshops) you use prompts and I have seen your ability to be lightning fast in crystalizing an idea for a writer. Did childhood role play (Dungeons & Dragons) serve as an early introduction to this technique for you?
Yes, and what I love about Dungeons and Dragons when it is played well is that it is all about bizarre improvisation. In that moment it becomes surreal and fun. Some people like to play it in a constrained way that follows strict rules and it becomes almost like a slow motion video game. If you take out the improvisation and the surreality, if you stick to slow moving rules, then it replicates reality, and there is a kind of safety and tedium to that. Like improv, it is often funny, but like improv, it doesn’t need to be. But if you take that improv element out of it, it just becomes as restrictive as reality. In my classes, which are almost never funny, I want to have that kind of movement. They need to because the people before me are different than any group of students have ever been. They have their own desires and needs, and I need to pivot to meet those needs. Creative spaces, in classrooms, writing rooms, or gaming rooms are sacred, and they need to be approached in that way.
What was the seed of the original concept that drove you and your wife Ann to start your California Imagism Gallery? Besides the obvious, what are your hopes in the years ahead for this space?
Ann and I have been talking about this a lot lately. What has marked so much of this time in the world is a kind of festering cynicism. Our goal is to move away from that. People are angry now. People often act in evil ways, but if you look through the veneer of that anger, you can perhaps find kindness and potential in all people. The motto of our gallery is “Be Kind Humans.” I told someone that, and she immediately equated kindness with weakness. My goal is to move beyond that simplistic conception of kindness, which again is a false dilemma. Those two things are not synonymous. Those two things do not even exist on the same spectrum, but we have been told again and again that they are. I disagree. That is the goal of the gallery, and I hope that it makes money, but I won’t be bothered if it doesn’t. I will be bothered if it is not a voice in a growing revolution for compassion and complexity of thought. We will host readings and artists. We will be a part of conversation and salons. We will move toward that place of humanity.
You more recent forays into flash fiction are a nice bridge between your short stories and poems. Do you find some poems morphing into fiction or the more economical flash fiction?
I think it does that to some degree, but I generally am in a flash fiction mood or a poetry mood. They are different things in my mind although they help to develop each other. In flash, I am trying to understand a character and his/her/their moment of epiphany. In my poetry, I am having the epiphany. It is autobiographical while the flash is fictional.