A video poem by Indira Allegra
Indira Allegra is a poet and interdisciplinary artist whose work explores forms of queer intimacy, text, trauma and racial identity through performance, video works and handwoven textiles. A 2012 Lambda Literary Fellow and Voices at VONA Alum, she has contributed works to “25 for 25: An Anthology of Works by 25 Outstanding Contemporary LGTB Authors”, “Yellow Medicine Review: A Journal of Indigenous Literature, Art and Thought”, “Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two Spirit Literature”, “Konch Magazine” and “make/shift Magazine” among others. Indira reads and performs work in the Bay Area and New York City. Her experimental videopoems have screened at film festivals internationally. In the Bay Area, Indira’s textile works have shown at the Alter Space and College Avenue Galleries. She is currently completing her first collection of poems entitled Indigo Season.
by Jon Bennett
I told the property manager,
“that little guy that carves
Buddhas in 310,
fix his sink, OK?”
The Chinese wood carver
had been filling milk jugs
with tap water
in the communal bathroom
for 3 years
I knew he had crazy rent control
and was scared of bugging the landlord
but I was sick of it.
A week later I saw him
being carried down the stairs
on his son’s back,
his things piled in the street.
I would’ve asked
where he was going
but I don’t speak Mandarin
I didn’t want to know.
Jon Bennett is a San Francisco poet. His work has appeared in 13 Myna Birds, The Blue Hour and Horror Sleaze Trash.
photo by Alessandro Piana Bianca
by Pattrick Trotti
J.D. Salinger makes an appearance on “To Catch A Predator: North Woods Edition,”
Charles Bukowski caught at the local OTB trying to steal someone’s winning ticket,
James Joyce auctions off his eye patch on eBay to help him in between books,
Ernest Hemingway argues about guns in front of a studio audience on “Piers Morgan Live,”
Jack Kerouac admits on “Oprah” that the only reason he championed Neal Cassady was because they were lovers,
Franz Kafka is arrested on suspicion of arson while trying to get rid of his final manuscripts before dying,
F. Scott Fitzgerald is taken to court for his role in the death of Zelda;
Truman Capote drops his notes of In Cold Blood and writes about the trial, rough draft title: Death in the Jazz Age,
All the while Jonathan Franzen is secretly contemplating starting a personal Twitter account; wondering if the next great American novel can really be titled hash tag.
Writer, editor, student, Patrick Trotti lives in Tarrytown, New York.
photo by BookLife
by Steven Armstrong
The Emperor’s guards move through the village tonight, carrying bags of rare black rice as they always have every year since I was a boy. Said to have healing properties, our dying village elder could benefit from even one grain.
I step out from my hiding place on the large bushy hill, crossbow drawn. Heavy rain obscures my vision, but I see one guard I can take.
I pull the trigger; my quarrel sings a silent song and stings the guard’s shoulder. His bag drops. Rice spills. I run to collect some before the guards converge and darkness greets me.
Steven Armstrong lives in the Silicon Valley, San Jose, California, where he mainly works as a staff writer for an entertainment website.
photo by PostBear
by John Grey
I can’t quite believe the absorption.
Or remember it more likely.
Desire to be the self just reels,
can’t be sustained when touching.
It’s the immutable ‘us.’
And they just plant themselves there,
in the park, under the tree.
Even shoulders, toes,
rally to the eyes’ closed glances.
That’s what I miss.
Not the love.
I’ve got that in gut-loads.
Not even the lust.
That’s like the tides with me.
It’s the exclusivity.
I couldn’t interrupt them if I tried.
Hell, an earthquake
couldn’t interrupt them.
not like their earthquake
John Grey is an Australian born poet. Recently published in Slant, Southern California Review and Skidrow Penthouse with work upcoming in Bryant Literary Magazine, Natural Bridge and Soundings East.
photo by Fabio Giomandi
by Jeff Von Ward
A History of Broken Love Things(Punk Hostage Press), by SB Stokes is the author’s debut collection of poetry, an expansive and regenerative look at identity through the tumbled stones of broken relationships. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the poet following a string of successful Bay Area events and readings. What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our discussion.
Q: When I told my high school guidance counselor I wanted to be a poet, he tried to talk me out of it. Do you have any cool stories about peoples’ responses, good, bad or unexpected, when you declared your entry in the field?
SB STOKES: Michael McClure refused to read any of my poetry while I was his student at the California College of the Arts (CCA, then known as CCAC, The California College of Arts & Crafts), and when I pressed him, he quoted Alfred Jarry to me, saying: “You know, Mister Stokes, ‘the armature of the absolute is the absurd’.” And then he smirked, winked at me, and walked away. He also refused to teach any poetry classes at the time, he was touring the world doing spoken word with Ray Manzarek, keyboardist for The Doors.
Q: That must have been in the early nineties? I remember seeing flyers for what would become Love Lion all over Santa Cruz, where I lived at that time.
SB STOKES: That sounds right. Then, when I was forced to drop out of art school (but still required to be enrolled full-time at some college-level school to continue living rent-free at my parents’ house), I went to Diablo Valley Junior College (DVC), where an Advanced Poetry instructor gave the assignment for the rest of the 35 students in the class to write a poem in MY poetic style. I was shocked, horrified, embarrassed, and humiliated. I sincerely didn’t know how to take that. Was he mocking me, trying to teach me a lesson? Complimenting my already defined personal style? (Yeah, right.) Was he trying to get me to take a good, hard look at how my poems were becoming formulaic? I sincerely have no idea. I tend to think the first idea was probably the most accurate. Any way you slice it, it sucked big-time.
Q: What is poetry anyway and why does it have such a bad rap?
SB STOKES: This question should be posed in the reverse order: poetry gets a bad rap because it is so very difficult to define generally. It is a myriad of different perspectives and voices and cadences and phrasings and lineations and formats and forms and structures and experiments and expressions and languages and vernaculars and it is constantly growing, expanding, and changing. That’s why!
Q: How do you make poetry relevant to a contemporary audience?
SB STOKES: Speak about contemporary concerns. Use the topical to be universal. Be present and relevant. Be honest about real human experiences.
Q: What are some of your poetic influences? The high and low diction reminded me a little bit of Ashbery, in a good way.
SB STOKES: I’m flattered by the Ashbery comparison! Wow. He is a poet whose work impressed me from the moment I was exposed to it. And now, I apologize in advance for the length of my answer. Well, like most people who first came to poetry as a teenager, in high school, I think my initial influences are pretty common nowadays: Shakespeare, William Blake, e.e. cummings, Charles Bukowski, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. And my Mom was always a big Rod McKuen fan, so as a small kid I was exposed to his books too. In college and grad school, the instructors I studied with most closely became truly influential. Daniel J. Langton, Camille Dungy, Truong Tran, Maxine Chernoff, Paul Hoover, Donna de la Perriere, Barbara Tomash, Toni Mirosevich, Myung Mi Kim, Aaron Shurin, Michael McClure.
Nowadays, of course, my compatriots in the SF Bay Area literary scene, especially my closest running buddies (dubbed “The Beast Generation” by Zarina Zabrisky), are probably my greatest and most immediate influences. The people I love to read with, would love to read with, or would love to read with again: Cassandra Dallett, William Taylor Jr., Joel Landmine, Jennifer Brown, Zarina Zabrisky and Simon Rogghe, Charlie Getter, Hollie Hardy, Sarah Overton, Jason Schenheit, Brontez Purnell, Alexandra Naughton, Sarah Wisby, Daniel Suarez, Justin Etc., Sandra Wassilie, Evan Karp, Cynthia Atkins, Tim Kahl, Bill Gainer, Justin Etc.,
Lately I’ve been wondering if I’m not the poetic offspring of David Meltzer… Music and lyrics are a huge influence on my poetry as well. I have a lot of poems that talk to or about particular bands or songs. And movies, oh my gawd, movies flashing in my mind constantly.
Q: That’s a dynamite list. Hoping someone reading this will find a new muse for a while. So how does your background in art inform your poetry—or does it?
SB STOKES: My background in art is a lifelong exposure and immersion and participation in the world of art, on various and varied levels. I know, that sounds like a bunch of windy bullshit, but I’ve been drawing and thinking in pictures for as long as I can remember, since I could hold a crayon, since before I knew there was such a thing as “art”.
Q: One of the things I think you do really well is the elliptical… following a stream-of-conscious “line of thought” with a quivering second and third guessing, an almost neurotic compulsion that seems both funny and true, making the speakers of your poems vulnerable and tender, even if they’re afraid sometimes of the repercussions. How much distance exists between you and the speakers?
SB STOKES: It varies widely between poems. It’s like an endless strand of Xmas lights: some of them are nearer the plug than others, and sometimes they get moved around too.
Q: How do you modulate personal pain and make it universal? Is writing poetry actually therapeutic?
SB STOKES: Poetry, for me personally, is beyond therapeutic. Sometimes it is downright cathartic. It is always necessary, even if what comes out seems like pure crap. Necessary is what poetry is for me.
As far as personal pain goes, I guess I just try to represent it as best I can, with a sincere attempt at accuracy and honesty. I try to modulate it in the same ways I try to modulate it in daily life, I guess. I think the few times when I am successful at that, that’s when it strikes a chord with the greater human heart, whether it be in writing or in person.
Q: Can you speak about the order of the poems in a history of broken love things? The poems seem to start small before moving on to encompass larger and larger spaces, greater complexity, more unsolvable problems. Is the stumblebum making some kind of moral progress or merely marking time?
SB STOKES: Honestly, A. Razor had some influence, as my editor (in addition to being half of my publisher duo, with Iris Berry), on the order of poems in my book, but mainly I was trying to create thematic clusters that seemed to relate to one another in either subject matter, voice, or overall perspective. I wish I could say that I had the forethought on this, my first book, to be so organized as to follow the progression you suggest!
Q: What is your revision process? How do you know when a piece is finished?
SB STOKES: Uhhhh. I’m not sure how to answer this one. I revise until the music and rhythm are as clean and tight as they can be? Some—very, very few—poems are done when I write them, but for the most part, it’s a matter of hours to weeks to months of reading them out loud to myself and subtracting (or adding) words to lines to balance (or knock out of balance) the meter of each line. I feel like I’m just stating the obvious right now.
Q: Tell me about your book launch in SF? That was one of the coolest readings I’ve been to this year.
SB STOKES: I was out walking the lake (Lake Merritt in Oakland) with my friend and fellow poet Cassandra Dallett and I was complaining about how a book release reading just felt like too much of giant ego trip: “Hey, everybody! Look at me! And come listen to me! Reading stuff I wrote! And celebrate MY book with ME!” So, I started thinking about how I could possibly use my book release party/reading as a means of drawing attention to other talented poet friends of mine, while necessarily highlighting and hyping my recently published book. The best idea I could come up with was to have a dozen of my female poet friends come up and read their favorite poem from the book. This idea was based on the fact that several different people, writers and non-writers, had commented to me that in some of my poems, the narrator’s voice seemed female, or of an indeterminate gender. I thought, “Just how different will these poems sound in a female voice, read by someone who has real skill at reading and/or performing poetry?” And then I thought about how many bad-ass female poets I know and it became a no-brainer. I had a truly successful book release. I sold something like forty copies of my book that night, over one hundred people attended, and the readings were stellar! I was stunned and grateful.
Q: Why did you decide to publish your debut book with Punk Hostage Press?
SB STOKES: In all honesty, because they asked me! And when I met and talked with A. Razor at Beast Crawl a few years ago, I thought, “This is a man I can relate to. Someone who will understand what I’m trying to do with this poetry thing.” I felt like we had a pretty clear kinship with one another. And I really respected Punk Hostage Press and Words As Works’ nonprofit mission to spread good, truthful, well-written, and well-produced poetry and prose books to folks who are incarcerated, homeless, or otherwise disenfranchised. It was really one of those moments of recognizing family when you first meet someone. So I said yes, and Razor and I busted out my book.
Q: You’ve maintained a blog, Mass Communications, for quite a while now. How does this fuel your poetry writing process? Is there any writing you began there that ultimately became a part of your collection?
SB STOKES: Mass Communications started out as an experiment, back when I first got on the web and really started considering another attempt at being a serious writer, at trying to become a real published poet. I wasn’t writing much at all at that time, but I had a backlog of one-off poems and short-short prose pieces I had written, off and on, during the ten year hiatus I took from actively writing, reading, and submitting poetry.
Q: You’re very active in the Bay Area literary “scene.” You read frequently at events and also help curate Beat Crawl and guest curated one of my favorite Quiet Lightning shows. What have been the advantages or disadvantages of having such a public presence?
SB STOKES: I do more than “help curate” Beast Crawl. I am one of the people who originally created and produced Beast Crawl, and I’m still one of the folks responsible for the event’s annual production, with a handful of very smart, hardworking, and dedicated folks. We do the whole event annually for zero dollars—it’s all free and that’s the way we are trying to keep it. I’m very proud to be a part of Beast Crawl. Additionally, I curate an annual reading at the event, called SKINLESS: New & Raw Writing, which drew a bigger crowd at Beast Crawl this year than ever before. We actually had to turn folks away at the door for lack of space, with an audience of over 70 people, it was hard to believe. Truthfully, I’d like to be out reading and performing and producing more, but I work between five and six nights a week most weeks, so the numbers of readings I can attend as either a reader or audience member are actually quite few. I don’t really feel like I have that much of a public presence. Like, I never worry about over saturating the local audiences, because, like I said, I’m actually out listening and performing far less than I’d like to be, and far less than most of my poetry compatriots. And as far as producing readings or events go, I do that even less frequently.
Q: Do you have any advice for other writers?
SB STOKES: If you feel like you must write poetry, like you might die if you don’t get it out of you, like it is an undeniable compulsion, like your head might explode, or your might drive your car into a tree on purpose if you cannot write out your poetic ideas and phrases and lines frequently, then you cannot rest until you have edited, hacked at it, sanded it down, refined it to its purest essences (with or without food, or sleep, or whatever else), then by all means—by any and all means—keep writing. If you’re not sure, or it’s something you’re only vaguely interested in, or you’re not all that excited about poetry, then please just stop. There are enough talented poets out here starving already.
Q: Good advice. What are you working on now?
SB STOKES: I am currently writing and editing like a madman, as usual. My output varies widely, but lately, since the publication of my book in January 2014, I have about 140 unpublished poems that are either finished, or damn close. My hope is to have another book length manuscript ready for publication in early 2015.
by Wes Solether
Absence completing the thread between lover and beloved.
There are some species that leave themselves, physically, in their lovers.
The lover resulted from the alphabet or written word.
Desire can only be reached through simile/metaphor, an impure connection.
Reaching a constellation as boughs.
Wes Solether just moved back from San Francisco to his home state of Illinois to better connect with the corn that raised him. He’s reading Americana by Don DeLillo right now. He’s recently been published in Vector Press, Epigraph Magazine, and ditch.
photo by Anais
by George Freek
Wife, this poem is for you.
I’m watching as weeds
now overtake your garden.
I haven’t the will to
fight them. Years ago,
I helped you pull them,
though my heart wasn’t in it.
I would rather be reading,
or better yet, drinking.
But it was a pleasure to see
the joy you took from it.
And I admit it. I think it’s
no disgrace. Wherever
you are, I think of you smiling,
with your dirt-stained face.
And know that no matter
how high weeds grow,
no one will ever take your place.
George Freek is a poet/playwright living in Belvidere, IL. His poems have recently been published by ‘The Missing Slate'; ‘Danse Macabre'; ‘The Stillwater Review'; ‘The Lake'; The Foliate Oak'; and
‘The Rotary Dial’. His plays are published by Havescripts; Playscripts, Inc; and Lazy Bee Scripts (UK).
photo by Xo-mox
by Donal Mahoney
Spread ‘Em for Anyone Edna
had always had trouble with men.
It started in high school when Edna,
big for her age, hosted the soccer team,
one by one, provided they won.
Edna had strong school spirit
but the players were not sportsmanlike,
telling classmates Edna was a bad goalie.
She had let everyone in.
Edna’s largesse continued in college
with lanky lads on the tennis team.
Tennis players had more couth, she said,
and they certainly knew how to serve.
They would take Edna to dinner and a movie
and she would send them home smiling,
victorious, three sets to none.
Then one Sunday morning
while home on vacation,
Edna took Grandma to church,
a place Edna had never been.
She found the preacher attractive.
He stared at Edna throughout
his fist-pounding sermon,
fire raging, brimstone crackling.
That Sunday, Spread ‘Em for Anyone Edna
answered the altar call and was born again.
After seven abortions Edna decided
to limit her kindness to one man,
a dentist named Dr. Throckmorton,
a renowned specialist in root canals,
a wealthy man she would eventually marry.
She admired his technique with a drill.
Donal Mahoney lives in St. Louis Missouri. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com
photo by Ines
by Jeff Von Ward
Yeah, Well (Punk Hostage Press) by Joel Landmine is a debut collection of poetry that really packs a wallop. I recently had the opportunity to talk about the book with the author. What follows is a slightly edited transcript of our discussion.
Who is Joe Clifford and why does he hate poetry so much? (Editor’s note: Joe Clifford wrote the introduction to Yeah, Well.)
Hahahaha! Joe is a crime fiction writer I know from readings. He wrote an excellent memoir called Junkie Love about his experience as a junkie in San Francisco in the ’90s. He wanted to shoot a book trailer to promote it and needed someone to play him as young drug addict. He contacted me. We were just acquaintances then. He said he liked my “street” look, which was really a polite way of saying “Hey! You look like you could be a junkie!” He knew from my writing that I’ve had my own struggles with addiction, so we were really able to connect on that level. We spent a (sometimes harrowing) St. Patrick’s day shooting the thing down off of Sixth Street.
I think his problems with poetry are the same ones I have, that a lot of people have. So much of it is pompous and inaccessible. The language serves to obscure meaning rather than create it. In short, I don’t understand it, it doesn’t make me feel anything. Some poets use a lot of words to say very little, which to me is the inverse of the goal. The poetry I like tends to use poetry itself as a storytelling medium in a way similar to photography.
I tend to try to to write poems for people who don’t like poetry (and hopefully also for those that do). So I really wanted somebody who was not a poet to write the introduction, and I was very lucky that Joe agreed to do it.
Tell me a little about your background? You seem to have come into poetry in a more roundabout (i.e. honest) way than most. When did you know you wanted to write poetry and why? What were some of your first audiences and how has your work evolved?
I started writing poetry in high school. Typical angry-misfit-kid-discovers-cummings-and-Bukowski kinda stuff. I liked writing, and I had a couple of teachers who were very supportive. It was one of the few times I felt encouraged in school. I just found some of that stuff in an old box. It was predictably awful. At some point it just faded out, I stopped doing it. It was never something I took very seriously, and I kind of lost my way for a while, not just with my writing.
Later in to my twenties I managed to mangle my life up pretty badly. I’d been at it for a while, but the bottom fell out all at once. It was a situation where it took me a couple of years to get back even to the point of starting over, just some baseline normalcy. It was such a dark time, it almost seems maudlin now. But it was very painful, so I started writing again, just for myself, as a coping mechanism.
So when the smoke cleared, I was living in San Francisco. I had worked as a bar DJ for a long time, and had started doing that again for work, started taking some classes at city college. I was doing a weekly ’60s Soul night at a bar in the Tenderloin with the multitalented Jonathan Hirsch. He told me one night he was thinking about thinking about doing a reading series. So I told him I’d been writing and showed him some of my stuff, and he liked it and asked me to read.
That ended up being The Tenderloin Reading Series. He did it quarterly for a couple of years and that’s where I started out. Then other writers who did reading series started asking me to read or submit, and it turned into a little career. I was really lucky to get thrown in on my first shot with some really talented writers like William Taylor Jr., and Paul Corman-Roberts. I’m still a little baffled by the whole thing, I didn’t really chase it, it just kind of snowballed. I’ve never been ambitious. People seem to like what I do, and they ask me to come do it, so I do. It’s really that simple.
Living in the East Bay now, I’m really lucky to have such high caliber peers. Alexandra Naughton, and SB Stokes both put books out on Punk Hostage the same month mine came out, and Hollie Hardy just put one out this month. I’m really inspired to keep working by a lot of my peers out here: Mk Chavez, Cassandra Dallet, Tomas Moniz, John Panzer, Tom Pitts and many more.
A lot of your poems are really short and funny. It seems like you’ve spent a lot of time at open mics perfecting the timing. Is that instrumental to keeping someone’s attention? How do you know when a piece is finished? How is contemporary poetry different than a good stand-up routine? Or, say, a punk rock concert?
That’s funny, I actually mention in the book that I write poems, not monologues, you know? Like they’re intended to be read, so in that way their brevity can be a little deceptive. There are some things that come out when someone reads a thing that doesn’t happen when they listen. I’m not great about submitting, so there are a lot of people that have only heard my work, but never read it. That always bothered me a little, because though they’re conversational, I write them to be read. But there’s a performance aspect, too, that you get used to. There are pieces in the book that I’ve never read in front of an audience because they don’t always translate, it’s a different medium. Frankly it’s kind of ironic, because there’s something about the written word being read aloud that’s always bothered me. Anyway, I hope they’re not just funny.
I’ve spent a lot more of my life at punk shows than I have at readings. And I wanted to be a standup when I was a kid. So short and fast makes sense to me. But I like being at home in bed by myself way too much to ever be a good punk musician, and I’m not funny enough to be a standup. So I do this.
I tend to think of my work as being quiet, even if the subject matter isn’t always. But in the writing and the performing, it’s that get in there say what you need to say, and try and make it entertaining attitude. I’m always more comfortable doing readings at bars and places like that. I’ve done a couple of readings where that were a little bit more “literary,” where people express enjoyment by polite attentiveness. It’s confusing to me. If I can’t hear the audience, I think I’m bombing. There has to be a give and take in a live setting. If people are squirming in their seats, or looking around the room, it’s time to shut the fuck up.
What are some of your poetic influences?
I’ve actually been influenced far more by storytelling forms outside of poetry. I enjoy sentimentality, but usually textured with some humor or nastiness. I’ve always gravitated toward the personal as opposed to the epic. I like short stories a lot as a form. Roald Dahl’s adult short stories, Denis Johnson, Kafka, there was a really good book by this guy Breece D’J pancake. Vonnegut was really influental in that he showed me that cynicism and sentimentality don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Raymond Carver is HUGE for me. A lot of people that I like wrote prose poetry as well. I like Jimmy Santiago Baca a lot, and there’s another writer on Punk Hostage named Dennis Cruz that I really look up to as a poet. Shit, the first time I ever ditched school was to go to a Douglas Adams book signing, so…
I’ve also been obsessed with movies and music since I was very young. So like John Waters, and Jim Jarmusch were big influences aesthetically, and lots of old horror and cult movies. Songs show up a lot. I really like old blues and honky tonk from a writing perspective because they so deftly combine poetry and storytelling.
A few singers are also really good writers. A handful of them have probably influenced my writing more than anything else. Tom Waits, Biggie Smalls and John Prine are all really great storytellers. Jonathan Richman is a big one for me. He has that whimsical persona that sometimes can seem gimmicky, and I think for some people that stands in the way of seeing what a GREAT writer (and guitar player, for that matter) he is. He can phrase really complex life shit in such a simple, straightforward way, which is what I aspire to. There’s another guy, Dan Reeder, that probably wins for the most stuff where I think “MAN! I wish I’D written that!” His song Maybe is probably the most articulate reflection on death I’ve ever heard (and ain’t that something people have been trying to figure out forever). Again, the work is deceptively simple. Writing something that seems simple and actually says something is much more difficult than it seems.
One of my favorite poems in your collection is “Chicharrones.” It’s a pretty sexy story and told with a certain kind of panache. I think the speaker and the girl really do love each other, even if it’s complicated. What was the inspiration for this poem?
I’ve gotten more feedback on that one piece than anything else I’ve written. A lot of people said it made them cry, which is high praise for a writer.
The story’s right there, it happened. That girl was trouble out the gate, so I dumped her. But then I realized that I missed her and then spent a summer chasing her around (mostly chasing my own tail actually). It was toxic and painful for both of us, but we absolutely loved each other. That one night really distilled the whole experience.
I see a lot of stuff about about relationships on the internet that is firmly grounded in reason. It’s all very prescriptive, like what are and aren’t acceptable ways to love. But love doesn’t fucking work like that. Feelings are rarely rational. I like to see that acknowledged. Carver’s famous story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” articulates, or that Buzzcocks song Ever Fallen In Love, it in a somewhat similar way. Knowing you should or shouldn’t love somebody rarely has any effect at all on whether or not you do. It’s an experience a lot of people can relate to, but don’t like to talk about openly.
Can you speak about the order of the poems in Yeah, Well… ? What if anything has the speaker learned about life, women, drinking, and rivalries by the end of the epilogue?
They’re not in any kind of thematic or chronological order. The editor divided them into three major themes and played with the idea of dividing the book that way, but I wanted them to mixed together. I thought it would have more texture that way. But some of the like poems ended up clumped together anyway. I don’t tend to read books of poetry or short stories in order, I’ll put them down and come back to them, jump around. I hope it holds up to read front to back.
As far as the second part of the question, well… It’s in the book. Those are questions for the reader to answer.
Why did you decide to publish your debut book with Punk Hostage Press?
Razor and Iris and I had some mutual friends. People had actually been telling me to submit to them for some time, that it would be a good fit. Then Ben told me he wanted to get in to editing, and he took some of my work to Razor. I’m really grateful to them, it was very personal, I had a lot of creative control. They’re great people, they’re good to their writers, and there are a lot of very talented people on their roster.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t trust whitey, Lord loves a workin’ man, see a doctor and get rid of it.
You also recently wrote and directed a film. Can you tell me about that? How was that experience different than writing poetry?
Yeah, I made a documentary called Ladies & Gentlemen, Phatima Rude. I didn’t direct, I made it with my friend Paul King, who directed and produced. I shot and edited most of it, as well as the story editing.
Phatima is a punk drag performance artist in San Francisco. He’s been on the scene for upwards of 20 years and has been really influential on that scene, but still leads this very marginal existence. At the time we were shooting the film, he was living and working out of his van. He’s been a part of all these liminal scenes, the drag scene, the gay club scene, the queer scene in general, but in a lot of ways has been an outsider even amongst outsiders. The film touches on performance, gender identity, addiction, homelessness, but Phatima really comes to all of those things with a really unique perspective. A lot of people only know her club persona, which is very confrontational and larger than life, but as a person she is really sweet and soft spoken.
So as filmmakers, it was really important to us not to present a caricature. Phatima was very generous to us to share his story in such an intimate way. So it was my job to maintain all its texture while editorializing as little as possible. In poetry, I have more artistic license. I can rearrange or fictionalize as it suits me, as it serves the work. But here, I really had a responsibility to tell the audience Phatima’s story as it had been told to us.
That story really got its shape in the story editing. We had like 12 or 13 hours of footage with a bunch of long interviews (we ended up with two final cuts, a 25 minute, and a 38 minute). So we had everything transcribed, and it was left to me to reassemble it in to a coherent whole. So assembling the working script was where I really had to utilize my skills as a writer. Then in the actual editing, sometimes stuff from the working script we made didn’t work. There was a lot of stuff (same as in writing) that was really great, but just didn’t work in the context of the larger piece. I’m much more comfortable mercilessly cutting my own writing than I was with some of that footage. But it was kind of the same principle, like, what is the absolute minimum I can use and still tell this story? It was a learning experience for sure. The three of us collaborated pretty intensely, and I think we’re all very proud of the finished product.