The days and evenings spent with my students in Provence made a rare and remarkable time. There are moments when one wants to bless the world. I’m grateful for those. Thanks to Fred Brown, Louise Brown and her lovely students, and to Caroline, Heather, Jeff, and Phil.
There’s nothing greater than to be inspired. All that makes life a glorious endeavor derives from that. Love in its transient or perennial bloom, the letting go of all restraint in the service of the heart’s reach, the making of things that fly. Something blows on the coals of imagination, and we have our moments on fire. It wants to move through us. We know it does. Into the world and onto the air in machines that come from our fingertips. Apparently it only takes 396 hours. All we have to do is stretch ourselves, breathe in, and have the guts to put out our hands.
Sometimes it’s something outside us that causes it. A story, a poem, a painting, a strain of music, the color of light in a certain place, or the angle of it when it strikes water or snow or sand or skin, a sudden breadth of wildflowers, the shudder of memory tripped in the mouth, the curve of a hip, a ferocious beauty or a tender one, a lick of comic salt, a trick of bourbon. The stories and poems in this book smolder with peculiar things. I could feel the ruddy heat of them in the room when these writers gathered. It took nothing to let the air in. A suggestion. That’s all.
So they made this book. From scratch. Edited it. Encouraged each other, and there are few better things artists can do. Layout, design, aerodynamics, everything. To publish themselves. Not because going indie is fashionable, but because it’s possible. Not to set themselves alongside Walt Whitman, Virginia Wolff, Anais Nin, and the like, but to lock arms in a singular endeavor. Not to prove the connection between literary legitimacy and traditional publishing is crumbling—we all know self-published books are now reviewed in the New York Times and Publishers Weekly, and every day more established authors are going out on their own—but because they believe in the work and want to share it. Each one of them does.
I get it. I really do. When you love the work, you want to see who you are when you put yourself in a place where you can call yourself by it. And if you build a kite, there is this wonderful feeling that attends when you sail it yourself. It’s like a voice that way. One doesn’t need anyone to tell you it’s worth raising. One only needs the wind and the will and the capacity for joy in loosing the machine that has come out of you. If it’s yar, folks will see it as it should be seen. Soaring.
The authors here are inspired and inspiring. This is a marvelous book of dreams.
Buy the complete collection in one volume:
I’ve been cleaning out the drawers and boxes. These are cuts, maybe not finished, maybe laid down and left to knock around, or fragments culled from the air in a given moment and then forgotten. Tapes sitting in cracked cases, tangled, frayed amd torn. So I cleaned and spliced, and they kind of make a story now that I’ve stuck them together. It’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
I was living in Seville, Spain in 1986. For the first month or so, I stayed at the Hostal Virgen de los Reyes. I got sick. Ferocious fever. Neck glands bulging and tight as drums. The works. Flattened me good.
Then, one night, the sheets were knotted bladderwrack, the way they get when it’s late and the air is wet and you’re coughing so much you feel your lungs rip and something bursts in your brain with every bark. I dragged myself out of bed, grabbed my Walkman, guitar, and a carton of wine, and went up to the roof where I hoped the air would be cooler. Thought I’d strum a bit. Drink until it made me tired. Maybe lay out under the stars.
There was a guy already there. One foot hooked on a rail behind him, he stood leaning back on the parapet, his head tilted toward a fiddle he plucked and tuned. He tossed me a nod when he saw me coming. I flung one back at him and grinned, because that’s what you do when the moon is fat and blue and the sky all glittery-like, and there’s the fiddler on the goddam roof.
I always had a thing for small presses and tiny mags. I read Bukowski for the first time on typewriter paper, photocopied and saddle-stitched. Seymour Krim, Paul Bowles, Mohammed Mrabet, even Tom Waits: the list is longer than memory. I found the things remarkable. Like they were made next door. Like I could smell the wine and cigarettes still on the pages.
I read HOWL in high school, and it sent me careening, dizzy and delirious, through the streets of my town, hauling folks up by the collar, pressing their backs to walls while I wheezed breathless lines into shocked mugs. CITY LIGHTS, Ferlinghetti’s press, was the publisher. HOWL was part of the POCKET POET SERIES—the same series that introduced me to Corso’s GASOLINE, Ferlinghetti’s own PICTURES OF A GONE WORLD, and opened me like a can of party snakes. But when I found a Ginsburg poem in a homemade journal held together by a couple of staples, it was something else. Even closer somehow. More personal. More private and direct. I forget the name of the zine, but I remember the moment.
Then I met Irv Stettner, editor and publisher of STROKER MAGAZINE. He had accepted some of my work and invited me to visit him. I did, bottle in hand, and we became pals. Together, mailbags swinging from our shoulders, we pinballed tables in East Village bars and cafes, fists full of Strokers waving as we went. Irv taught to me to hawk them like the boxes of Cracker Jacks they were, each with a surprise on the inside.
That’s when I got the itch to make things like that or to help other folks make them—excellent words stuffed into bottles or homemade baskets strung to balloons and let loose on the blue. It’s not all that hard. Sure, as I recently mentioned to my friend, Tim Gilmore, the less money you have, the more muscle you need. But think what you do for the next guy or gal. The artist you boost. The reader with a chest full of snakes yet unsprung. And we have the internet. So, you know, fuck a duck.
I’m launching EAT POEMS, a series of digital EP albums, each focusing on a single poet reading his or her own work.
The first album will be THE RAPE POEMS by Frances Driscoll, a sampling of the work in her extraordinary collection published under the same name by Pleasure Boat Studios. Look for the announcement in the immediate future.
“with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies good to eat a thousand years.” from HOWL by Allen Ginsberg
I’ll be interviewing Margaret Atwood in little more than a week, and I’m wondering what I might talk to her about. I hear she’s a serious twitterer, so I was thinking I’d ask her how that’s going. I’m sure no one has done that before.
I rarely Twitter. I never text. But it seems like there are hordes of folks busy at it. Some people are tweeting poems. Others are writing novels serialized in posts of 140 characters. I hear these novels are big in Japan. Words, words, words. Between the Blogosphere and the Twitterati, the social networkers and self e-publishers of all stripes, an awful lot of people are writing. More every day. Some think this a bad thing, that somehow rare and golden flecks of genius will be lost in the dust storm.
When I was a kid the number of people who live in China and India sparked my imagination. I didn’t know the number, really—just that more than half of all the people in all the world lived in those places. I considered that if every Chinese and Indian got up on a stepstool and leapt off together at just the right moment, the impact of all those feet hitting the ground at once would send the world careening into the sun. The thought still makes me smile.
So what if everyone got up tomorrow and, instead of merely feeling they had a story or poem inside of them, took the leap to write it down. What if they twittered or blogged it; texted, kindled, or simply went old school and scribbled on paper or their walls or their arms? What if the sun came up on a planet awash in stories and poetry? It would be apocalyptic. Something huge would crumble. Great glaciers would melt and move and reshuffle the continents. I can almost hear the crack and crunch of it. What a lovely day to be alive that would be.
I still don’t know what I’m going to talk to Margaret Atwood about. But I’m going to pay more attention to Twitter: https://twitter.com/MarkAri.
There’s a small flock of deans where I work. They’ve decided to offer a regular time on a regular basis when they’ll make sure one or more of them is available to hear from folks about whatever those folks have on their minds. That sounds pretty good. It shows a desire to make communication easier. I don’t think they really want to hear what’s on my mind—and they don’t make it a fair risk to tell them—but, on the surface at least, it’s a nice gesture. There’s something to be said for that.
The result was a flurry of e-mails. One person saw the invitation as an occasion for bluster, and the “reply-to-all” button on their email client as a convenient megaphone.
I’m not against “reply-to-all.” It has its uses. And I’ve no problem with soap-boxing. I’ll stop to listen if the voice is a compelling one. But I do like having the choice to move on and be done with it should that voice strike me as hollow. “Reply-to-all” makes that nearly impossible. It turns the public street into an endless loop. I have to come back again and again if only to read enough to know that it is that same windy thing I want to delete.
The fellow had his withers swelled about grade inflation. It’s not a new subject, so he must have felt it was one not taken seriously enough. The invitation from the deans was to walk over and tell it to them, but that requires legwork. And it’s private. He wanted an audience.
All right. Even if I never bought the rap about grade inflation enough to care about it in the least, I figure the guy has some congestion to clear. I can live with that. And if he has to be rude and mean-spirited, I can let that pass, too. I’ve been there. Let him blow it off. Then maybe he’ll pour himself a drink with a little bite to it, put on some music, and let it all go away. That’s what I was thinking. I didn’t type it and hit “reply-to-all.”
The professoriate is a wreck. It is hidebound. As winkered by procedure and atrophied presuppositions as any rankist clergy. Sure, it will change. Everything is changing now. Technology is ahead of us. And whether you think we’re caught in the web or at home in the cloud there’s no going back unless we tear it all down and start again. More and more, the professoriate puts on the uniform of the corporate structures it serves. Some members pay lip-service to resisting that direction; others welcome it. Those in opposition don’t fight too hard. The bargaining table is a Brahmin picnic where everyone is afraid they’ll go hungry and no one is aware of how fat they are.
Of course, the blowhard’s rant didn’t die. “Reply-to-all” is electronic chum. Fish gather.
In the itty-bitty frenzy of back and forth that followed, someone from the “hard” sciences “replied-to-all,” claiming her department does not have to be concerned about grade inflation. Half of their students are failing. That was a mark of pride. Of solid pedagogy and high standards. “How easy,” I thought. I did not hit “reply-to-all.”
I feel pretty good about my students. And though my job is a temporary one, I’ve been at this place for better than ten years. I’ve met good folks. Both on faculty and in administration—even a dean or two. Ones I admire and like. There are some loons about, too, and that pleases me. And sure, there are plenty of others who are forgettable except in their own minds, and a few who are a curse on everything living. I don’t care. Just stay out of my mailbox.
I’m not sure what it is that made me want to write this rather than spend the time working on a song, but there you have it. It might have been the invitation to talk which, while well-intentioned, was in essence personally meaningless. Maybe it was all the grade inflation nonsense—the problem has never been in the classroom. Maybe rising grades are a symptom (and I’m not swearing to it) of something else but, if so, the fault is elsewhere. Or maybe it was that “weed-them-out” mentality that reeked of a discredited (one would hope) Social Darwinism. But I’m betting it was just that “reply-to-all.” Get a blog, for God’s sake.
It could be that windbag did me favor. I’m looking around. I’m looking at my wrists and ankles. I’m smiling as I type.