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.