Poets and writers drink more intensely. Smoke more intensely. Worship God more intensely. Poets and writers fuck more intensely. Poets and writers give more willingly-- spilling the alphabetical marrow of their souls out into the albino sonogram of hope that is the page, hoping some stranger whom he or she has never before met turns to his crafted syllables in time of dire need and somehow finds solace, finds laughter finds a friend.
...Flaring autumnal botanical stalk of life screaming (occluding) casa DVB like an amoxicillin-addled Phoneix.. (photo taken by my cool, sexy neighbor down the street Kirbie Holland, ie, chop-chop ie 'pain-in-me-phuckin' butt-butt, ie, smiles....
Writing fiction is a lot getting drunk off the draught of the keyboard (Home Row Happy Hour) and then squeezing your heart into an empty gin bottle and hurling it as far as you possibly can into an ocean of unknown variables. You don’t know what sort of current your script will get caught in; how large the tidal wave will be. You have no clue how many seasons your heart will spend bobbing up and down, succumbing to the sloshes of nature, the indifference of mankind, the boiled insouciance of an accelerated society whose paws have more and more freely adapted to the rectangular scepter of the remote control and less and less to the tattered lapels of a book jacket. You have no clue what foreign shore will be privy to your psychedelic scribbles or if your heart will even wash up in the hands of an appreciable audience at all.
All you have (intrinsically, I think) is the joy of composition. The moment when that blank slate of the computer screen is gradually dotted with syllables and motion—the inward paradoxical feeling of having somehow, magically, traveled simply by sitting on your ass for eight for hours straight and tapping out crunches into a stream of jittery alphabetical shapes. You have that feeling of feeling less alone in the world, the feeling of connecting with something inexplicably spiritual. The feeling of devising a story, of living out that story through composition and in giving that story (and not caring, in a way, if the story ever quote unquote “makes-it”—in the immortal gothic cadenza’s of Black Sabbath “Give it all and ask for no return/and very soon you’ll see and you’ll begin to learn/ that it’s alright—yeah it’s alright” ).
2. If you didn't write, what would you do?
3. Your favorite writing quote?
There’s a quote by Anne Sexton I read when I was in high school from a letter she wrote to a burgeoning writer I’m really fond of, a poetic Polonius urging an unfledged literary Laertes to, “Get to work man, and let the publishing come in its own time even if its 15 years from now. No matter. Fight for the poem. Put your energy into it. Force discipline into madness. Push for the stars or at least go back and push one poem all the way up there. I did it, why not you?” There’s another really well anthologized quote from Heart of Darkness which I used to have pierced over my writer’s desk where the narrator comments, “No I don’t like work…no man does, but I like what’s in the work. The chance to find yourself.” There’s a book on atomic positivism the size of a Sunday school bulletin by Ludwig Wittgenstein entitled, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus that just destroys me with metaphysical maxims like “The single thing proves over and over to be unimportant but the possibility of every single thing show us something about the nature of the world.” and, “If eternity is understood not by endless temporal duration but by timelessness then he who lives in the moment lives eternally.” Of course David Foster Wallace’s 1993 contemporary fiction
Dalkey achieve interview with Larry McCaffery where he talks about, “Fiction is what it’s like to be a complete
and sentient fuckin’ human being vs. a rather sophisticated mammal.” just
disintegrated every cell of my anatomy when first perused. Somewhere Michael
Chabon has a great quote about if you want to learn to be a fiction writer you
must learn, “to sit on your ass,” and
although it’s not hip to reference there’s a quote from Loius L’amour’s
autobiography EDUCATION OF A WANDERING MAN (the book Chris McCandless was
reading at the time of his demise) goading the reader to “Start writing no matter about what. The water does not flow until the
faucet is turned on.”
most significant literary quote, the quote that I received when I was sixteen while reading copious
amounts of Eliot and acting like I was the Peach pit of the Prufrockian fool
comes from the fourth couplet of Walt Whitman’s long poem I Sing the Body
Electric.When I was in high school the
highlight was coming home after classes brewing a pot of coffee and just
looking out my bedroom window lost in the spangled drape of a
zinfandel-flavored autumn at dusk, leaves the color of bruised cranberry and light-copper
skirting beneath the alleyway below while I sat at my desk, flagellating wisps
of fresh ink across the albino topography of each page. Every afternoon while
writing I would pause and listen to THE WRITER’S ALMANAC which for me, is
indispensible, listening as Garrison Keillor’s plosive vowels whisper like an
illegitimate zephyr across the airwaves. Even though it’s been eighteen years I
can still tell you that the sun looked like a mandarin nerf-ball orb as light
stretched in elongated planks and spluttered prisms across the wall my old
bedroom and time seemed to stop and Garrison recited this poem. I won’t quote
the whole thing here (it’s an individual experience) but it starts out with the
phrase, “I have perceived that to be with
those I like is enough…”
Wait, you wanted quote singular.
Your favorite non-writing quote?
I have a crinkled rejection slip from the New Yorker
pinned like a botched homecoming boutonnière above my writing desk at my mom’s
house. It reads as follows: “Play with
words, not with yourself, Mr. Von Behren.”
5. What vegetable do you hate to eat and
The first poem I wrote for Miss Mooney in third
grade was a five-seven-five haiku about Rutabagas. It went like this:
you want to eat it, babe?
What are three elements that you need to mention in order to tell someone your
most embarrassing moment?
There was a
lot of alcohol and a lot of public nudity and (what the hell) lets throw in an
elderly nun in a wheelchair brandishing an oxygen tank and clutching a rosary
in the fashion of flailed Mardi Gras beads ….it only gets better…
Why did you decide to read for Dirty Laundry Lit: Hungover?
Boy, the story would have to convene about eight
years ago when poet laureate Billy Collins was reading at the University where
I worked and I was hanging out with a young poet named Lindsay Gail, who is
hummeled-cheek and buxom and whose northern hemisphere looks like it was
poetically purloined from the logo’d stem of a St. Pauli’s girl emblem.
reading I approached the poet laureate and tried to say something witty about
lanyards and he completely ignored me all the while ogling Lindsay Gail’s
cleavage. Finally I grabbed Lindsay Gail
by her wrist and said something to the poet like, “We’re formative young poets.
Who do have to sleep with to get published?” Collins continued to ignore me
before I inquired again and he annoyingly swatted back, ““Why don’t you just go
to Breadloaf. They call it Bedloaf.”
summer (2004) I fell salivatingly in love with this classy older married woman
and wrote 300,000 words and blew my wrists out like an overtly-plugged amp in a
teenage garage band.Fast-forward eight
years to last summer. I had just gotten rejected from a semi-prestigious
literary magazine and it was one of those desultory,
missives. The healthiest advice I’ve ever received about publishing is that
when someone says “no,” you mentally supplant the word “no,” with the word
“next,” so the fear of rejection in completely reneged, but for some reason
instead of mentally hearing the word “next,” I heard a lot of internal swearing
followed the by the word game and by the word on. I mostly write long-crazy
novels and give a couple poetry readings a month but I wanted to start
hammering away at the windshield of the page again and just tie the reader up
to the linguistic bedpost of each sentence, Odysseus voluntarily trussed to the
totemic strip-pole mast of ecstatic longing unable to defer from emotionally
ejaculating into the cradle of his cod-piece (or whatever they wore back then)
with every forbidden sip of the Sirens refrain.
Sometimes when you feel the need to be heard you
scratch and howl even though it seems like no one is paying attention to you at
the time and I started copying and pasting and then splattering seasoned blog
entries from eight years (about a fourth of my lifetime) ago into the fair
forehead of ye olde Facebook status update rectangle everyday. They were all
stories that were each about 2,000 words long scribed solely for the
velvet-haired “muse” creation I was in love with all those years ago. Via the
magnetic mire of incestuous social-networking conduitsI ended up befriending fellow,
“Bedloafians,” one being a dear poetic brother from Vermont named Larry Bradley
(whose first name is that of my favorite Uncle and last is that of the
University which fired me). It was through poet Larry Bradley that I met the
refulgent gazelle-eyed sensuous scribe Natashia Deon who invited me to recite
my poetic tithes at Dirty Laundry Lit at a time when I direly needed validation
for my craft.
That said I’m honored to be a part of Dirty Laundry
Lit. Honored to be a part of Natashia’s vision attesting to the narrative
potency of the human condition evinced through the linguistic medium of words.
Honored to hang out with writers of exceptional glory I admire.
If you could have any two people in the world, dead or alive, to show up to
this reading, who would it be and why?
You. I want to read just for you. And you. I harbor
a hardcore second-person pronoun fetish.
Where did you grow up? If more than one place, where would you call your
I’m extremely proud to
be an Illinois writer. It’s the state that gave birth to Hemingway, Carl
Sandburg, Nelson Algren, Mike Royko, Studs Turkel, but I’d argue that in the
last fifteen years alone thirty percent of the authors deemed contemporary and
significant who will be read and taught 100 years from now have roots in this
George Saunders, who I
had the privilege of introducing at a book store before he was well known, was
born in Chicago and is just pure south side blood. Dave Eggers grew up in the
‘burbs and attended one of those high schools you always see featured in John
Hughes films where beanie clad members of the school bridge club are always
making pacts over lunch trays to lose their virginity by Arbor Day. Richard
Powers ( Galatea 2.2!!!) grew up near Chicago and teaches at U of I.Jonathan Franzen was born in a suburb of St.
Louis—but on the Illinois side. Jennifer Egan lived in Chicago as well Being a
young impressionable novelist and knowing that David Foster Wallace finished
proofing the galleys for Infinite Jest in my same area code was just
tremendously important to me when I was nineteen years old and just getting out
of that perfunctory Kerouac-induced “Look ma, no punctuation, say something Zen
that is seemingly profound,” mandatory male writer phase.
The town I live in is called Peoria and it’s pretty
much the genital wart of the Midwest. All of the sociological flotsam and
jetsam sifts down the muddy eddies of the Illinois River and just gets stuck
here. It’s the birthplace of Richard Pryor and the hometown where comedian Sam
Kinison entered puberty. It’s inexplicably referenced as a footnote to
Ginsberg’s Howl as “Holy Peoria,” and is the setting of DFW’s swan song epistle
to corporate tedium THE PALE KING.
It’s a town (or city circa maybe half-a million if
you include environs) that’s a working-class wet dream stranded on a hilly
bluff with a lots of old money and beautiful old houses that were built by
bootleggers in the prohibition era. It’s the home of Bradley University, where
state poet laureate and friend Kevin Stein teaches, and the home of the late
journalistic legend the great Rick Baker andalmost monthly there will still be poetry readings where fifty people
show up. I have a dear friend, poet Kyle Devalk who is always reading poems on
the top of overturned garbage cans or vacant church steps.
What I love
about living here is that, few places on the planet I have observed where the
quilt of disparate social-stratums seemingly overlap each other. As a writer
you are sort of born wearing an ontological periscope like a spelunkering cap
at all times as you sift through this chasm of life called reality. You observe
compassion in a different way. You observe poverty in a different way. You feel the pulse of love and the pangs of
hurt with more intensity and with escalating vigor because that’s your job.
Parts of P-town are extremely ghettoey. The high
school I attended had the lowest ISAT scores in the state and the highest
teenage pregnancy rate in the nation. Parts are extremely opulent and yuppie.
Down the river it looks like William Faulkner country and there is more white
trash than you could bag up with a twist tie.
People get stuck here. I sauntered into my best
friend from high school a few weeks back whom I hadn’t seen in fifteen years
and he told me he had been arrested 52 times and then he lifted up his shirt to
show me the welts where he had been stabbed on his front porch a few months
earlier and then he started rapping and he started doing spontaneous things
with language that I just can’t do even though I write my ass off every day.
But perhaps what I love most about living here is
that if I am having a bad day I can get in my dilapidated BMW and in five minutes
just be out driving across desolate country roads and chasing the tangerine
splash of the sunset and looking at barns. That’s all I want to do when I start
selling books is just refurbish a barn and write eight hours a day and brew my
own mead and can my own vegetables and, every Saturday night, smoke my pipe
while listening to Prairie Home Companion.
Not a bad life indeed.
One word to describe your childhood hometown?
Remember those confetti
vignettes collectively culled from the scrapbooks of childhood when you first
discovered books and you were involved in summer reading programs at the
library downtown in the summer and you were wearing shorts and you could feel
the air conditioner rattle and hush and
purr against the bare whiteness of your legs and that girl you harbored a
hard-core crush on, the red headed girl with freckles who is taller than you
who always sits in front of you with her back extremely straight and whose
northern limbs elevate like an exclamatory mark every time she knows the answer
in math class and who always colors between the lines and who somehow, perhaps
by divine providence or happenstance, you saunter into her at the library at
the check out counter while you are ferrying a pagoda of young adult tomes by
CS Lewis and Franklin W. Dixon and various Newbery award lauding scholars and you
become embarrassed because your mom is next to you and you are wearing really
thick glasses that look like abandon
television sets which you just got a few weeks earlier and, even though
everyone in your family wears glasses and your mom tells you that they make you
look handsome you still refrain from looking at her directly but can tell from
the semi-dampness of her hair that she just went swimming that morning and the
stalk of her entire anatomy smells like chlorine dappled with hints of sunshine
and you try notto feel maladroit and
intellectually deficient as your moms talk and you notice that she is checking
out books at a higher Accelerated Reader caliber than the ones you are
currently checking out andyou say
goodbye really quickly while looking down as if to verify that your shoes are
properly velcroed and at night, when you read with a flash light under the dome
of your EMPIRE STRIKES BACKsheets and
try as hard as you can you cannot stop thinking about the red headed girl in
the library check out line and how, every sentence you read still from time to
time, moving your lips in warbled static, carries with it the fragrant scent of
sunshine and chlorine.
11. Wanna add something? Please do.
As a dangling coda
(shhhh!!!) is that when Natashia first contacted me I didn’t open up her e-mail
because she looks, in an almost Secret Sharer kinda way, almost exactly like my
friend Shawn. About a block from where I live there are all of these seedy
writer bars kinda ol’ school blue-collar Cannery Row type taverns you can still
smoke in that look like something Eugene O’Neil might stumble out of after
three days of consecutive imbibing with a draft of Ice Man Cometh tucked under
his arm. One of these bars is called the Getaway and the first time I slipped
inside Shawn was stationed behind the bar and when I ordered a beer she lifted
her top as if playing a rendition of Simon says. Before she placed the sudsy
libation in front of me she hiked up the frayed hem of her denim skirt like a
flower in spring by the railroad tracks and after I told Shawn she just made a
patron for life she asked me if I could do legal work for her. So when I first
saw that Natashia had contacted me I refrained from opening the e-mail because
I figured it was a Shawn-pseudonym soliciting funds.
...and oh, since you have a hard time making
yer lover come, you should come to DIRTY LAUNDRY LITgala of joy on Oct 6th. The stage
is going to explode into bouquets of light leaving the audience hedonistically
--all questions interrogated by (push-cart prize princess) Diva Natashia Deon...whose fragrant poetic pulse inspires us all...
She sat on the lip of my bed as I played to her this song, her boots skimming up past the stalks of her kneecaps, sprouting up into the ashen stems of her thighs, a veiled skirted hem swaying in sensuous cadences inches below her torso, part of a self-contained outfit with black straps etching up past the topography her shoulder blades before sprinting down, criss-crossing her spine, X marking the spot of her deeply poetic heart from behind. She wore a vignette of what looked like a Betty Boop methed-out china doll on her shirt. She would later tell me that she chose that particular outfit because she realized then that, if we embraced, "The boots were staying on," that the goth-naughty -well-read- voodoo-doll-baby-catholic girl raiments were staying in place, taming the itching orchestrations of my lecherous finger tips by a simple assurance of her smile.
The night before we sat together in the poetry reading of Keith Ratzliffe. I had a beer and talked to the poet at the reception. We had the same creative writing class and although I was envious of her innate abilities to fuel the English language with an ardor and imagery that has seldom, I still fucking believe to this day, been matched (I was a green daschund cheeked Salieri to the magic of her Mozart) but every time I was shrouded in the presence of her breath I felt in awe.
Outside the entrance to her dorm I told her that I needed to tell her something important and when she smiled I told her that I thought she was gorgeous and then I picked her up and twirled her around and we embraced but still there was no kiss.
That afternoon I kidnapped her after our creative writing class. We dissipated into the carpet of leaves banking the sidewalks as we discussed writing and art and movies and life. Somehow we traipsed though the geometry of the west bluff and found ourselves on the doorsteps to the only house I have ever known. As I tried to kiss her lips folded into a dinner napkin and she handed me a missive and requested that I read it before the possibility of anything romantic exploded.
As I fell inside the orifice of her lips, riding the life boat of her tongue into the sweet oblivion and electric spontaneity of post adolescent amour. Both of our eyes closed at the same time. It was terse, spontaneous like a child pirouetting in front of a water fountain perching his lips at the rail of continuous fluid in search of wet nourishment.
I remember this song was played on that day, now exactly a decade andfour skittering years ago. For some reason I wanted this brilliant Penelope scribe to listen to the shattering chords of the opening hymn like an introit to something that might have been yet never was--the way a glass chandelier snapping into triangles of ice, realizing that this crystallize emotional Armageddon droping like an end of the world avalanche inside the nest of your chest was transpiring in both darkness and in light somehow above and below you both simultaneously waiting with the gestation of pregnant goddess carrying in her womb the magic and molecules of something incubating, something fighting, something waiting to peck into the planet and hatch and breathe.
I asked her if she liked the song and she said it was ok. She was a PJ harvey Courtney Love sorta lass. She wasn't into the moribund New Wave alternative anthems that had shepherded me like a maudlin metronome through the nihilistic teenage perils of youth.
We left my bedroom and walked back to campus that autumn, our hands forming one solitary bouquet of fingers--a tugging orb buoyed in the scent of a new found connection. She told me that today was her parents' wedding anniversary. We walked next to the house where she would live in a years time and where our rapport would end in heart-fraught-with-splinters-and-thorns fashion but for that moment, the plainsong of her smile pushing through the hyphen of her lips made me feel that the end of the world and the world to come had somehow lapsed without me knowing and that this sheet of time currently was disintegrating into a sea of random quarks and neurons and that all that existed was the sight of her eyes, the scent of her body and the newness found in the interior cusp of her warm palm squeezed tightly in mine.