On the Proper Use of Trail Mix and the Nature of Skin(response to a letter from a friend)

Zwei Weibliche Torsi by Egon Schiele

The whole real/unreal thing always throws me for a loop. I don’t really get it. For something to be real, does it have to be permanent? If that’s the case, then nothing is real. Love can’t last longer than a heart, and hearts give out. Unless, of course, you believe in the long embrace of the afterlife. I mean, according to some folks, we’d be too busy to hold hands anyway, hot dogging it over brimstone or singing praises in, I don’t know, 36-part harmony? Cool idea, the singing. Walking fearless through the shadowed valley into the glorious light of the Lord, eating a trail mix of joy and bliss and berries on our way. This all feels like crap.

The answer isn’t in a classroom either. Science and philosophy regularly fumble some of the big stuff, because they are too often based on a narrowing of vision at the expense of the periphery. And not just that.  Take evolution.  Plenty of facts in the ground for that one.  Though some of the dots may be missing, there are more than enough on the page to connect and get the picture.  But to suggest evolution supports a hierarchical understanding of life, or that it justifies the endless assault of social Darwinism on our better instincts, is just mind-numbing.  That  isn’t extrapolation; it’s imposition.  Blinkered eye out, dead eye in.  But you know what they say about the one-eyed man in the land of the blind, so crap is king.

You have to see in and out at the same time.  You have to look.  The yearning to understand has to be stronger than the yearning to prove. And so much of understanding is in our skin.

Consider the practice of philosophy. Reading is a significant part of it. So is rumination to build synaptic “muscle.” But if you want to have something to say about the world, you have to be in it,  absorb it, and be wholly absorbed by it. Not through conferences or speaking invitations or a neatly fenced program of “study abroad.” These things are fine, but limited, controlled, protected. You need to be alone and loose on the streets, in villages and jungles and deserts and cities. Starting with no direction, so you discover who you are in that place as you build the story of it with every step you take. You have to go where you’re afraid to go. That’s part of how you know you have to go there. And is it corny to say you have to be in the moment? You do. You can’t take yourself out of the equation. You can’t understand a thing without you.

Of course, not every journey is geographic. Anais Nin wrote about cities of the interior. There are worlds on both sides of our skin. Some of the best trips go both ways. Maybe love happens when we yearn for those worlds and they yearn for us and one another all at once. What trembly bliss might then ripple on the surface of our skin and under it?

But I don’t know. All that yap about dream and reality eludes me. I generally can’t tell the difference between the two. If you think you’re in love, you’re in love. The rest is just finding out what that means. You have to go there. If you’ve got a one-way ticket in your hand, it’s because that’s the only way. All that “planning” for a future you won’t get hurt in is just what you tell yourself to convince yourself it’s a good idea to get on the bus. Just get on while the door’s open.

Look, you can only get hurt to the extent it matters. And if it matters that much, what are you going to do? Sit around and think about it? Maybe pack the trail mix. I don’t know what kind.

90 in the Shade

One of the people I met when I first slid down to Jacksonville was Rob Thomas.  Rob hosted “90 in the Shade,” a radio magazine on WJCT, Jacksonville’s public radio station.  I’d heard the program a couple times and liked it a lot, so I was glad to find out I’d been booked to interview with him.

Rob was great.  I’d been traveling and touring about, but working with him wasn’t just another gig.  It was more of a good sit down with a new pal.  Despite all the techy things around, I felt at home in that little Studio A.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It was all about him, really.  His manner.  His voice.  A terrific voice.  Natural. Unforced. Warm. Given to laughter. With a bit of a break in it that somehow made it comfortable to be around. You can hear it on the EP, “Live at 90 in the Shade .”  You’ll see what I’m talking about.

Over a few years, Rob had me on the program more times than I can count.   Sometimes planned; sometimes spur of the moment.   I made sure to always have something new for him.  Prose to read or a song to sing.  Something to try out.  “Out of the Blue” was like that.  I’d just come back from the MacDowell Colony where I’d written a bunch of songs, and I kind of liked that one.  Rob’s show was a chance for me to hear what it sounded like when I played it for people I didn’t know.  

On occasion he had me scurrying.  There’d be a sudden cancellation, and Rob would ask me to fill in. In the hour or two before air time, I’d write a song.  “El Dorado” was one of those.  My dreidel song, too.  I’d be halfway through the show and start in on whatever new thing I had, wondering if I’d remember the words.  I usually did, more or less.  Or I made new ones up as I went.  It was fun.

Now and again, I’d play an old tune simply because it came up in conversation.  Even if I’d never played it before.  Like “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime.”  You know, faking it.  But not really.  Just being in the moment. A nice place to be.

I’m talking about these things like they are in the past, like those peculiar times are gone.  But about everything we think we know of time is bullshit. We imagine if we can’t put a finger on a thing, it’s not there, so we’re just a bunch of folks poking around in the dark, looking for something we can’t recall what it is.  Fuck a duck.  The trick is to make it up as you go along.  You get better at it.

“Live at 90 in the Shade” has a few of the performances I did on Rob’s program.  I don’t have many of them.  Rob says he thinks he has bunch hidden away in Georgia. I hope he gets around to digging them out. I’d like to hear them again.  But he doesn’t need to find them to have my thanks. He’s got that.


 Go to Live at 90 in the Shade.



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.




Update: Go to EAT to view the EAT Poems Series



“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




At the Legendary Folkway Coffee House in 1994

We were a pally bunch, tramping the streets of Peterborough, New Hampshire, yapping as we went. I think the magnificent Thulani Davis was there, the great Karl Ciesluk, David Barnes of “Barnztuff” fame, and some others. We were thirsty, and there was a  place I’d heard a lot about and never seen.

When we went through the doorway, I saw a small stage on the other side of the room. No one was on it. Some skinny guy behind the bar spotted me with my guitar slung over my shoulder. I always had it with me in those days.  After all, you are what you carry. Then the bar guy grabbed up a short stool, walked over to me, and put it in my hand. “Buy you a beer,” he said, giving me the once over. “Another when you’re done.” I touched the brim of my hat.

I’d have done it for one.


Statesboro Blues

So, I figure, there I was, glue on my fingers, not knowing what I was going to play, a stranger in a stranger land where loons totter in spilt moonlight and martinets are heard but rarely seen, their fluttering like breaths and whispers into raven ears. I had some friends in the crowd. That was smart. But all I could think, all I could really think, looking out blind from the light in my eyes, was man, man-oh-man, they oughta see this Jewboy fireman when he gets the boiler hot.


1994 Version (from “Live at the Legenday Folkway café“):

Out of the Blue

Might be a little sloppy, but I can be that way. Looks like I almost forgot my own words, too. What the hell, sometimes I just make them up as I go along anyway. And I didn’t know April Bacon was sitting in the audience, recording it with her cellphone. Likely, it wouldn’t have changed anything.

Still, and though I wrote it a while ago, it’s a good song.

The Mind Turns to Twitters

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.


About the event:  Folio Weekly, The Fix,

Remembering Bruno Schulz

ON November 18th, we remembered Bruno Schulz, the writer and artist murdered by a Gestapo officer on November 19, 1942.

The Program

1. Intro. (Mark Ari)
2. “Who is Bruno Schulz” (written and directed by Robby McChargue; Performed by Robbie McChargue, Chris Williams and Chris Valade)
3. Historical Perspective (Dr. Charles Closmann)
4. Painting unveiled (Kristen Knapp)
5. Reading 2 (Mark Ari)
6. Butoh Dance (Created and performed by Ashton DeVito)
7. Reading 3 (Mark Ari)

Remembering Bruno Schulz from UNF Videos on Vimeo.

Nibbling Chum

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.