Thursday, November 19, 2020

Get Drunk! by Charles Baudelaire

Get Drunk!


One should always be drunk. That's all that matters;

that's our one imperative need. So as not to feel Time's

horrible burden, one which breaks your shoulders and bows

you down, you must get drunk without stopping.


But with what?

With wine, poetry, or virtue

as you choose.

But get drunk.


And if, at some time, on the steps of a palace,

in the green grass of a ditch,

in the bleak solitude of your room,

you are waking and the drunkenness has already abated,

ask the wind, the wave, the stars, the clock,

all that which flees,

all that which groans,

all that which rolls,

all that which sings,

all that which speaks,

ask them, what time it is;

and the wind, the wave, the stars, the birds, and the clock,

they will all reply:


"It is time to get drunk!


So that you may not be the martyred slaves of Time,

get drunk, get drunk,

and never pause to rest!

With wine, poetry, or virtue,

as you choose!”


by Charles Baudelaire

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Friday, November 13, 2020

Mrs. White—flash fiction at Right Hand Pointing

My flash fiction, "Mrs. White," now up at RIGHT HAND POINTING #141, "Plan"! The navigation is a little funky: follow the pointing hands, mine's towards the end.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Letters To Michael—essay

My 'hermit crab' #essay, "Letters To Michael," now out in the new South Dakota Review! I'm really proud of this one. You can order here:

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

17 Haikus up at HST

My poem (which shall remain nameless so as not to attract Russian bots to my blog) is now up at HST. It's a 'form' I borrowed from David Trinidad: 17 haikus about one pop culture subject: one haiku for every syllable in a traditional american haiku. NSFW. click on the pic to go!

Thursday, October 1, 2020

People I Meet Podcast interview

Dean K interviews my about writing, travel, teaching, Deep Wild Journal and life on his People I Meet Podcast. A good talk! He's a good interviewer!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Reagan Sova on the Little Red School House Podcast

My friend writer/songwriter Reagan Sova interviewed on the Little Red School House Podcast ( @LRedSchoolHouse ) about anarchism, education and sports, and his novel Tiger Island:


Friday, August 14, 2020

Scott Seckel's "Despoblado"

Meet Val, one of Scott Seckel’s characters in his short story “Despoblado” from Deep Wild 2020, as he meets some fellow backcountry animals:

"It was an August night on the far east side of the Mazatzal Mountains. He was twenty-three. A pair of diamondbacks hit in a spontaneous one-two. One punctured his right calf. The other struck the outside of his left shin. The bites felt no worse than thorn pricks.

"The right snake’s head was broad as a hoe. Val saw its jaws flex as it pumped in venom. Its body was too thick to reach around. Using both hands, he frantically tried to rip it out of his leg. The fangs stuck in the wound. The third time they tore free. His calf was trenched more than an inch deep. He smashed the snake’s skull against a rock.

"The other rattler successfully disengaged its target. After striking, it withdrew in a coil beneath a saltbush. Val hacked it apart with a machete, then sank to the ground. Pain and swelling started in fifteen minutes."

Order Deep Wild #2 to read the rest!


Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The One

Recently re-discovered the copy of CURBSIDE REVIEW (I guess now defunct) in which this appeared, way back in 2003. 

The One


            Tu es pure, tu es encore plus

            pure que moi-même



If I say I have given up nothing

it is not true

and the smoke doesn’t care

if I go


her mouth

her eyes

I may be the only one to speak of them

the only one to have been surrounded

and choked by the heat


and fire has a face

a hated face

a hating face

your face

you who I will not name who other men have known


the dirt says: on me

the ashes say: on me

embers sense your presence

and our best moments

still burn


the sadness of knowing you

the sadness of having you

or not


the impatience of waiting

the corruption

you who forgets


who brings absence and takes me from the world

I hate you for crying

which destroys me and creates itself

like fire



Sunday, August 9, 2020

Movies I've seen at least three times

 Movies I've seen at least three times and have somehow formed my life

1. Star Wars

I saw the first movie thirteen times in theaters when it came out. It's a space opera, perhaps cheeseball, yet at the time, visually, it was amazing. I felt like Luke in real life, living lonely on a desolate planet. I still feel that way. And I wanted to be Han Solo. I still feel that way.

2. Aliens

The first, Alien, is also a classic, maybe even visually and artistically more so than Aliens, but there is something about this one, the non-stop action, but I love Vasquez. Ripley too, she was even smarter, but both offered me the strong women of comic books, strong women I've always looked for since. But more than one other young man I knew in the 90s loved Vasquez too, and her call to action has been mine for my life: "Let's rock!!"

3. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

I'd even argue The Life of Brian is better, but The Holy Grail was the first of theirs I saw, and changed how I saw humor: mockery and satire, above all to oneself. As a D&D nerd, this one hit home.

4. Blood of Heroes

With Rutger Hauer and Joan Chen. My group of high school friends, boys and girls, all loved this one, though I'm not sure how popular it ever was. That scene at the end—Joan Chen: I don't want to lose. Hauer: Then win.

5. Rollerball

All three times in my teens, I think. The original, with James Caan, spoke to something in the angry soccer player of my younger self: "This isn't a game! It was never meant to be!" There's something about all sports in that statement. Recently re-watched and it holds up.

6. The Seven Samurai

I would be one of the group of misfits, wanting to do the right thing and defend the defenseless.

7. Blade Runner

Any version, though the Director's Cut (without the voiceover) is best. Combining sci-fi with noir is genius. But the question of what makes us human (memories? emotions?) is still relevant. Loved the sequel too.

8. The Piano

The only woman-directed film on the list, I know. All three of the actors are intense powerhouses. Holly Hunter (without speaking!) gave me the first real look into women's desires and fears and the balancing acts they have to perform. I would be (am) Harvey Keitel putting his tongue in the hole in her stocking.

9. Casablanca

Probably on everybody's list. The choice: he could get the woman, but gives her up for the greater cause. I want to love people because they serve a greater cause.

10. Barfly

It's gritty. It's about the lowlife class which rarely gets representation. Which is what Charles Bukowski was always writing about. The beauty and the despair of being poor. Creating out of that.

11. Apocalypse Now

The original, not the Redux version. The extra footage doesn't add anything. I don't even like Martin Sheen or his performance—he was added late, was supposed to be Harvey Keitel I think (and imagine that)—it's everyone else in the movie, and it's the madness, not just of war, but of life. In a sense, and I just thought of this, Sheen works because he's so blank: he just wanders through the quest, already damaged from life, already shut down emotionally.

12. Spinal Tap

I saw the bass player Billy Sheehan give a talk, and he said, "I didn't think Spinal Tap was funny. All that stuff has happened to me." Which makes it funnier. The deadpan humor, everything played straight. I think it's somehow a mockumentary about men, in general, somehow. And not just musicians, but anyone who loves rock/metal music loves this movie. Because it's true.

13. Sex, Lies and Videotape

I relate to James Spader's character, his distance and desire, and I love the contrast between the people who are having sex but who are not connected/intimate, and his desire for, but fear of, intimacy.


Honorable mentions:

The Company

Man On Wire


They Live

A box of incense—micro-fiction

 My micro-fiction, "A box of incense," now up at VOL. 1 BROOKLYN:

Monday, June 22, 2020

Desert Cabal by Amy Irvine

This review will appear in the 2020 issue of Deep Wild: Writing from the Backcountry. Order here!

Desert Cabal
by Amy Irvine
Torrey House Press 2018
ISBN: 978-1-937226-97-8

If there is a patron saint of backcountry enthusiasts, it is Edward Abbey. And if there is a book that has ruffled the feathers of Abbey fans recently (especially men, and especially men who haven't read the book) it's Amy Irvine's Desert Cabal. It's a short, fast, informal, read—perfect, say, for carrying with you into the backcountry, which is where her imaginary conversation with the ghost of Ed Abbey framing the book takes place. Mostly this talk takes place around his most iconic book, Desert Solitaire, though also Abbey in general, all his contradictions and hypocrisies and grumpiness. Desert Cabal is not an attack, but Irvine asks important questions, not just for Abbey but for all of us lovers of wilderness, though she is definitely claiming a place at the table, as an equal, and genuinely wanting to understand a man and writer who meant so much to her.

Each chapter focuses on some aspect of Abbey's thought, with Irvine's commiserations—we get her experiences in, and thoughts about, the backcountry too. And Irvine may prove to be a little prickly to some readers, just like Abbey—she's no fan of Republicans or Democrats, no fan of upper-middle class environmental activists who look down on the working poor while driving SUVs, and she at least has some grudging respect for the occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge for standing up to the federal government. And she carries a Glock.

Of course, Abbey can't answer back, and Irvine does make some suppositions about how he might react to what has been happening recently, most of which I agree with. The one big one I question is thinking that he in fact might be in favor of Trump's border wall. As evidence, she invokes Abbey's (in)famous quote about sending mexican immigrants back from the border with a rifle and a box of ammunition (which I have always thought is misunderstood by most). My thought is that Abbey would have hated the wall, not because of the humans its supposed to (symbolically, at least) keep out, but because of the wild spaces it divides. Because of the jaguars and wolves and pumas.

The biggest question Irvine has for Abbey, and the biggest revelation of the book, is why Abbey took out references to his wife and children from Desert Solitaire. Irvine has access to the original typed manuscript, and sees first-hand the sentences mentioning them crossed out. As a writer, it's clear she understands the conceit, or concept, of the solitude of Desert Solitaire, the Romantic (with a capital R) experience of the writer/speaker in and against and with Nature (also with a capital). But as a woman, and a mother, she can't help but take that (not just omission, but a) crossing out personally.

We'll never know if by keeping his family in Desert Solitaire whether it would have been the bestseller it was (and still is). My guess? Yes. It certainly would have been different. With the inclusion of those few sentences, the entire vision would have been changed. Which is Irvine's point. She sees a missed opportunity, which women would have seen—saw—automatically: "Solitude, for women, is a different animal entirely." And, a little later: "we [women] seek not so much solitude as solidarity, intimacy more than privacy. But it's the way of wilderness—in a thriving ecosystem, integration matters far more than independence." In other words, what if we'd had a bestselling book that shaped decades of activists and nature lovers which advocated for solidarity instead of a leftover sense of American rugged individualism?

Again, Irvine still values Edward Abbey as a huge, good, influence. I was happy to read that in fact, like me, the book of his that really meant the most to her is his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang, for its spirit of activism. It was there she learned that she "could resist authority...on behalf of...these beloved public lands!"

Which brings us to the 'Cabal' of the title. Irvine prefers the french, and female, version, la cabale, but which in either case is the (perhaps conspiratorial, perhaps witchcrafty) group of us, all, who love the wilderness but also want to save it from our governments (local and federal) and tourists and maybe from ourselves. Her invocation (her 'calling in') to us is the reverse of the famous Abbey proclamation to his readers not to get bogged down in the activist part of life, but to "Get out!" and enjoy the wild. Irvine does not deny that at all, but suggest to us (and Abbey's ghost) that, decades later, maybe it's time to 'Come back!':

"So I say to you, go solo, into the desert. Yes, do this and love every minute. But then come back. Come back to the cabale that has joined together, to save what we know and love."

Order Deep Wild: Writing from the Backcountry #2, 2020, here!

The West Will Swallow You by Leath Tonino

My book review of Leath Tonino's non-fiction collection, The West Will Swallow You, now up at QUARTERLY WEST.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Lightning Storm-micro fiction

Here's my micro-fiction "Lightning Storm" as part of National Flash Fiction's "Micro Madness" 2 x 22 online stories for 22 days. Scroll down to mine on June 15th, four down from the top. Also includes video of me reading it! Eep!
Here's the direct link to the YouTube video of "Lightning Storm."

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Deep Wild Journal Subscription Campaign!

Deep Wild Journal’s May Subscription Campaign is two-thirds over, and we have raised close to three fourths of our $2000 goal to help cover production and shipping costs for our Summer 2020 issue.

It’s shaping up to be something special: 170 pages of creative work by 41 writers and two artists from 22 states and five countries, each of them sharing their insights and experiences from the backcountry.

If you love wild places and good words, please consider supporting our  mission—to provide a home for creative work inspired by journeys to places where there are no roads—with a subscription for yourself and/or a friend, at  The journal is compact and sturdy and 100% recyclable. It wants to go camping with you!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Armadillos-short story

My short story, "Armadillos," is in the current issue of COWBOY JAMBOREE. It's print/pdf, I'm on page 60:

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Me on the Malarkey Public Radio Podcast

I'm the guest on the podcast Malarkey Public Radio! Alan, Travis, Jason and I talk Deep Wild Journal, Ed Abbey, writing, and other cool stuff.
Check out the Malarkey Book website here.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Rain In Peace—essay

Honored to have had my essay, " Rain In Peace" up at littledeathlit, but the website is now defunct. Enjoy here:

Grey december skies with evening rain pattering on roof. Not that I'm attached to beautiful sounds except I am—fighting depression or malaise or existential crisis of christmas and all I've got here in Salem a few familiar faces—baristas and yoga instructors and whoever I see running—people from when I lived here if I ever really did. A bit of peace between summer lookout gigs for cheap rent though the gloom gets to me but better than Michigan which would have gloom plus snow plus cold and christmas music gives me a headache and worse—the whole month really starting w/my birthday—I have decided to be 47 indefinitely because I can't be 51, I don't feel like an adult, which I guess is my problem but I look at the adults around me not content, just doing what they think they should barely getting by—I'm not rich nor even middle-class these days but not in debt and could pay for a medical emergency unless it was some super C thing then adios Juanito—while the rest of the world has free health care we have bought politicians from both parties (which btw parties not in the Constitution)—republicans no surprise it's the democrats who betray us, smiling and talking well so we trust them and their Machines and days of impeachment to distract us from all the shit going down. They just voted for more military spending and a Space Force: time to get a guillotine tattoo and a molotov cocktail.

Taproot has the best brussels sprouts anywhere and GovCup café the cutest baristas. All the women my age have real jobs and real lives and money and those that don't—who wants to date someone like that? Not that I want to be with someone, or not all the fucking time—living w/someone the rest of my life seems like hell, topped only by listening to christmas music more than ten minutes. Sencha tea the only answer, small warm cup in hand, staring at cars all going somewhere—north to Portland. I should be in Costa Rica or Puerto Rico or Bolivia where the US government has sponsored yet another coup for white people because how dare indigenous people claim natural resources and not an american corporation? The Monroe Doctrine dammit! Assange and Manning in jail for revealing american war crimes. No one cares b/c they believe what corporate media tells them. Everybody likes a whistleblower when she's on your side, when there are no sides except the rich and us. I gotta get out of here—Ed Abbey would say, get outside! Even a smaller city becomes too much for me now though I don't want to become a mountain man just yet. Or maybe yes? Chinese style—not moving to Alaska to hunt caribou, though a cabin anywhere sounds good, even in the cold. I thought about buying one on Lake Superior long ago—how would that have changed my life? Would I be any less content? Not sure I could buy a house anywhere these days—maybe land—maybe live out of a shipping container off grid—I'd really get a woman that way. Or just an A-frame. I've heard it's the basic sturdiest of constructions.

Salem from Hebrew/Arabic for peace. Also witch trials. I knew a guy from Jordan named Salaam who was peaceful and patient and thought the singular of 'you guys' was 'you guy' which we loved tho not in a malicious way it just made sense in a language that doesn't. At least spanish has accents so you have a chance at pronunciation and unlike french which has accents but you don't pronounce half the letters—but french women are awesome and don't play games et vive la France or the people striking—we need that here, we need a general strike, the teachers unions showing the way. And the more I go online the lonelier I get tho better informed about how badly the MSM lies to us at the cost of my soul—sometimes I'd like to be that guy from The Matrix who chooses the illusion except most people can't—most people couldn't get the middle class illusion even tho half of Merica has Amazon Prime while Jeff Bezos laughs and doesn't pay taxes—cheaper to pay an ambulance than lower temps in his warehouses but you get free delivery on yr new vibrator—by drone—but who am I, I'm going to buy Victoria's Secret padded bras so I can keep my cross-dressing secret tho secretly wish a woman would force me to go to a store and buy them in person so again I'm not really building a case for women being interested. I don't wear bras in my towers only in town where I'm lonely—wearing women's intimates the closest I can get to being intimate or the closest I'll allow myself tho also too to wear a slutty dress and do slutty things—who doesn't want that? People everywhere staring into phones thumb-typing—maybe thery're taking notes for anarchist manifestoes or actually connecting and communicating with someone. Maybe they're writing poetry no one will read.

Re-steep the tea so it's mostly hot water at this point but that's all I need really don't want to wire myself for zen—I go early to help set up in place of a donation and just to help. I don't go in for all the bells and whistles and reincarnation bullshit but there is value in people coming together to sit quietly—we're helping each other become better people. Imagine how bad I'd be if I didn't meditate—probably in prison—not to say I'm great now but wanting to be better is key. seems to me I could live my life / a lot better than I think I am. Our corporate overlords would love us to practice non-interference and we're certainly not going to convert them—they're not even real christians (who is?)(not even Jesus). Not that I'm a fan of islam—desert flowers don't need protection and no man has a right or duty to hit a woman—though Sufis are ok: let's dance / put on your red shoes and dance the blues. I can't dance but would love to watch you—I'll play music that causes you to dance uncontrollably even if you're sad. I am sad. No peace in the world. Or doesn't seem it. Corporations torture the timber and strip off the land—we accept Merica as a paradise when maybe it's purgatory. I feel helpless about the Tongass National Forest desecration or fracking in Colorado or poisoned water in Flint—people care about these things but we don't matter.

What I mean is that sitting still trains you to not react to thoughts or emotions good or bad they always come it's just how or if we react to them so if you sit and are angry you just remain still which is good for real life—if someone angers just remain still and don't worsen the situation nor make an ass of yourself though anger's a self-defence mechanism—it wants to protect you so be aware of it but sometimes we direct it at the wrong person—pausing helps that (he says as if he's even good at it)—I don't own a gun even tho I'm merican and it's my dog-given right because I'd just end up using it and a gun never de-escalates any situation or rather two guns never do—with one I guess the fear of death in the other person gives you power though when the other person has a gun there's still a chance to de-escalate them—less so if your skin is dark—some guy took a UPS driver hostage on the freeway and 18 cops just opened fire w/people all around killing the guy, the hostage and a bystander and no one seems to care or remember because 'an historic' impeachment in the House of Representatives is happening even tho Senate won't confirm so all a show—the president's popularity rising and already high among supporters meaning he could win re-election which makes you wonder if that's what the democrats want—they certainly didn't impeach him on emoulements or waging unjust wars or invasions because they do that too meaning we're fucked unless the 20-40 progressive democrats split off and go green but even most of them voted for war while our infrastructure crumbles and life expectancy falls.

Rain all day emptying the city of conservative law students. Politicians only come here january-march because oregon politics don't rate fulltime representatives tho the governor hangs around a little—I've practiced yoga with her—she can rock a headstand—just too bad she's approving an oil pipeline because those things never leak though on the other hand if the few republicans don't like something they just leave the state so nothing can happen. The theme going into the 21st century is Avoidance of Responsibility—no wonder all normal folk do it too (or don't do it I guess)—I don't know why the poor don't rise up except poor whites hate poor blacks and all seem to think a privileged middle-class person wanting to challenge the idea of gender to be ridiculous while NPR listeners think a game show host for president is the problem not the symptom and the brits just re-elected a racist b/c the BBC and Guardian labeled the progressive candidate racist while old white men voted to leave Europe when all the young people want to stay though a European Union run by the IMF is a bad idea, but imagine if Scotland finally declared independence and Northern Ireland joined Regular Ireland—trying to look for good unexpected things from chaos hanging in the GovCup craving a falafel near winter solstice, plus rain makes darkness at 4:30 we should be hibernatiing. I don't mind the lights it's the goddamm music—just trying to have a normal day to keep my sanity—even ran in the rain this morning which felt better than not. I'm not well. Sad and angry and lonely and helpless but playing guitar and sat still for ten minutes this morning and made tea.

You can try to ignore homeless people but can't (especially guys w/tourette's wandering the streets). Some formed a camp under the bridge to West Salem for safety and self-governance but the city broke it up and now they have to camp solo right on Commercial Street, or if they don't have tents they can try the christian place and suffer thru a sermon for food and dog's love, or grab a blanket and sleep in a doorway next to a bar w/a bunch of middle-class people trying to have fun. I used to live off Asylum Avenue in the winters where there still is one tho not sure who can afford it—used to be those who needed could fly over the cuckoo's nest but got raused out under Reagan while regular homelessness increased under Clinton when he gutted welfare like a good republican. I could go on about Obama but you won't believe me, and apparently Bush II is a good guy now sharing our values though he killed a million people for oil and a lie—at McCain's funeral they should have locked the doors and begun war crimes trials but those are only for africans and occaisional east europeans and buddhism urges to take politics lightly. I just want to stand in the rain tonight let it fall on my face. I ate too much pizza and got sick on twitter and youtube though I like watching women play drum covers of metal songs. I like watching male drummers too or any good musician. My bare feet in cold puddles makes me feel alive. I want to do things that make me feel alive.

I don't hate cops I just feel better when they're not around—and if we had a group of 150 self-governing individuals we'd have to invent our own cops because people are stupid, but at least they wouldn't have guns or be militarized through anti-terrorist budgets and ex-soldiers getting jobs though I think I do hate the CIA and probably the FBI—if they'd just concentrate on catching sex traffickers and white supremists instead of basically all liberal groups, which is their real job and Robert Mueller liberal darling lied to Congress under Bush II about WMDs in Iraq but Shrub gave Michelle Obama a throat lozenge so it's ok now. Merica doesn't recognize the ICC anyways conveniently. I got the peace blue-ooze because it doesn't seem possible, the Permanent Deep State won't allow it and I can't believe once I thought about working for the State Department because I wanted to live in another country and replace lost passports for wanderers like me tho I am actually a federal employee (maybe not much longer if anyone actually reads this ooze, though I don't think an FBI agent would read this far into the text) and I still do want to live in another country—what if—what if I'd gotten an under-the-table job at a pizza place in Salamanca and maybe fucked Marta even tho I think she was just using me to get back at her belgian boyfriend but she did wear black bras. Or if I'd taught english in China I'd be in their facial recognition database and sent to the Uyghur concentrations camps for rehabilitation. Or I'd be a professor of eastern philosophy in Hong Kong studying if non-interference really works or leads to modernized China.

Sean Bonney anarchist poet from England who died too soon and whom I'm just now discovering, your voice is missed and needed. I can't replace you but I am with you and reading Amiri Baraka, trying to find a poetics of protest even as I retreat to my lookout, but at least I'm not interfering making things worse or working for Amazon. If this were a space opera I guess I'd get caught up in the Resistence, though that term got co-opted quickly here and means nothing. People who actually resisted, like in Ferguson, got stomped by white militias working with cops and their leaders now mysteriously die—just like the head of the child-trafficking ring—friends w/two presidents—mysteriously died in prison before his accusers could name names—except, you know, a prince of England and a former Democratic governor of New Mexico. Once you find out the CIA killed mericans in Merica, nothing seems impossible, including that they killed Kennedy or that Flight 93 was shot down by merican fighter jets—start with the idea that everything your government says is a lie and that corporate media vomits up talking points and you're close. Prove me wrong. This is only a poem disguised as an essay or the other way around—my porn history would offend you. My imagination even more so tho I bet you're curious. The FBI informant in your liberal group probably would be. Maybe you could turn me in collect some kind of reward. Rain spilling down and some guy on the corner just took of his pants and boots and wrote gibberish in chalk on the sidewalk wearing earbuds attached to nothing, humming to himself and doing pushups. A cop has finally arived—they do have to deal w/crazies, no wonder they treat us all that way. I hope the guy's alright.

I don't go up to Portland too much anymore—too expensive, and hard to find a parking spot and I only lived there two years—enough to get priced out of my studio apartment. a\And lost my chance to be a teacher ever again I guess, though I'm not sure I want to anymore—if someone asked I would, even if in North Dakota for a couple years I think, or maybe not? I lived on savings intending to be a writer and wrote and upped my pubs and so in one sense was successful but in another never got paid. 2019 3,000 journalists lost their jobs through corporate purge but supposedly unemployment is at an all-time low, because of the service industry and temp jobs with UPS where you too could be taken hostage and the cops will just shoot you and congratulate themselves on no cop deaths. At least I'm white and my chances of death-by-cop much lower, though I do have long hair which is still a 'bust me' sign. I suppose if a poodle tried to kill me I'd think all poodles dangerous. I don't know where I'll live if not in Peace. I just move. My plan just not to have to pay rent because who can afford rent now? When I was an full-time teacher I had a two-bedroom apartment and five pieces of furniture including a futon mattress and I just ate out a lot and bought new books and women approached me, even a couple/few students, which was scary. I didn't fuck anybody. I regret that now. Just thought I should be a decent person and not get involved with anyone I didn't want a ltr with, so all the women went on and got fucked by someone else—I fear I'm a Romantic don't tell anyone they'll take advantage. I know it's just sex I know it's just love I know nothing. I have to go and I don't know where.

I have motion sickness on this longest of Merican nights, thirsty and tired and moving again in the rain tho warmer today. I want to say that we'll better if we only want to be better people but I don't know if that's enough. Not enough people seem to. I mean do Jeff Bezos or the Koch Brothers, do they think that? Do they think they're being better people or want to? We should study latin again b/c really it's studying philosophy and poetry, which asks us how to lead better lives. But instead we get statistics. Math will not save what makes us sick. Not to sound like a Space Opera. But I wonder if there's snow in the Cascades and Santiam Pass is closed. Here in Salem people are out in the streets on a saturday night. Green EXIT signs. If I could just get over the mountains. I don't want to say goodbye to Peace and I will return to it but I don't want to live off Asylum Avenue anymore. Tis the season for black tights which is sexy. We need sexy. The chorus supposed to make some commentary on the story, but the poets we kicked out of the Republic long ago are in hiding. If you write on the walls facial recognition cameras will catch you. We have to not care and not feel guilty even for our sex stuff—act rightly speak rightly have sex rightly which sounds boring but bad guys don't read books or at least only mysteries and true crime—they'll come for us and chop off our heads and hands as an example. So let us and why not just live as examples to others. It's either change yourself you change the world or the other way or both/and, and this is difficult this is almost the end. We don't want fame we want glory, yes? And good music and dancing. What if everyone learned a musical instrument to near fluency?

We could hope for a world w/o leafblowers, but it will only come at the local level, and even then rich people will fight/spend to be able to pay undocumented workers to use them on their lawns. And hope is only something you hope for when you have nothing, which is why it was Obama's theme—he left us without it. The sound of tires on wet pavement and the smell of fog—leaving Salem behind in this new decade, will we be back? We never really lived here just a temporary place, due to Merican Peace, due to Merican War and bills. I've put it on credit that's what we've always done—keep you in debt so you're grateful for a gig job or three—living on a mountain doesn't seem so crazy if that's sane. Should we and why not just leave a goddamn big carbon footprint. This is all almost over and I don't know what to do. Two young hooded women bow to each other. No—they're checking their phones (for the revolution). We need to do positive things like fuck and write poetry, or at least masturbate and write micro-fiction about anarchism. Wolves coming back and employee-owned companies growing. More people letting their yards go wild which attracts foxes. If we can just get past christmas we'll be ok I promise, and I'll meet you further up the path in a good clearing—we can sleep out under the stars and talk about our dreams, and when the sun also rises pack our packs and keep going.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Our Death by Sean Bonney

Our Death
by Sean Bonney
Commune Editions 2019 Oakland, CA.
ISBN: 978-1934639283

Please forgive us if we here in Merica learned about British poet Sean Bonney too late: He died in 2019, and Our Death is the first and only book of his published, posthumously, on this side of the Pond. Bonney comes out of the spoken word tradition and radical left politics, and although he was a lecturer at the university level, he would have been at home at the Nuyorican in New York City or the Green Mill in Chicago. All of his poetry is angry, and some of it brutal, like in "one royal car one screaming mob":

"freedom." yeh. tell me about it.
I think you mean the holes in my shoes.
but, you know, I
get to do what I want all the time
whereas you, you get all these duties, yeh
that whatever-it-is you call fucking
you bonus your job
that fish sauce you tell yourself you're eating
when really you know you're eating shit
yes, I walk around on your roofs
in my fucked up boots
whenever I want
no, not like Mary Poppins, no
demons of the cities either
you kind of don't know what I'm talking about
certain frequencies you don't get, no
I'm not jealous of you
freedom, yeh, these holes in my shoes....
you see they're special they'll never wear out
as I boot your face in over and over, as
yes as I smash it. three nails in your forehead.
special receivers in your bougie head.

Bonney tends not to use titles in these poems, but this one does a great job of already placing us in the streets, in or part of that 'mob,' protesting someone from a royal family, something you'd never hear about on the BBC. The title is also a key that the speaker of the poem isn't Bonney. The word 'mob' is never used by a group itself. Bonney seems to be the outsider, looking on, or in, though he's at least somewhat sympathetic—like newspapers, poetry collections reveal their biases in how much ink is devoted to a certain topic.

Most of the poems in Our Death are prose, many in the style of John Ashbury, if Ashbury dropped f-bombs and came from the lower-class—technically grammatically-correct sentences that don't quite proceed linearly, but rather take readers, and their minds, un-logically off in some unexpected direction, so that at the end we're not sure where we are, except not where we started. Take for example this excerpt from "On Bomb Scares":

It was a bullet replaced all history. Couldn't recognize ourselves in it—all of its dates compressed to a phalanx of immaterial noise. And then we ignited, were permanently stained. We had always guessed it would be cities that would fall, but how wrong we were, transformed in our sleep to an alphabet rearranged as a disc of cranial time. Letters were allocated. Calendars and surgery. Vowels and black clouds. Several royal bastards. They wail and screech in the lower part of the city.

We're far from Ashbury's finger sandwiches here. I'm not sure there's a definite meaning to this poem, even if there seems to be an accusation of blame at the end, towards the royal bastards, which reads like Bonney thinks all royals are bastards, maybe not literally (though in a system where bloodlines are of the utmost importance, 'bastard' is probably the worst insult you could call a royal) but in the sense that all royalty behaves awfully. Still, I feel that "phalanx of immaterial noise," now especially as I write this over the Christmas holidays, surrounded by bad music every time I step out in public.

A mini-manifesto titled (in the Table of Contents, at least) "all poetry that does not" from his first full book, Blade Switch Control Unit (2005), which I read at the same time as Our Death, helps make sense of Bonney's Anarchist-Ashbury style:

All poetry that does not testify to an awareness of the radical falsity of the established forms (of life) is faulty. Understand prosody via black bloc tactics.* No-one has yet spoken a language which is not the language of those who establish, enforce, and benefit from the facts. Language is conservative. Its conservatism issues (a) from its utilitarian purpose, (b) from the fact that the memory of a person, like that of humankind, is short.

In other words, we're all using the language of the oppressor if our poems 'make sense.' Which is not a new idea—L*A*N*G*U*A*G*E poets in the 80s, in America at least, were ostensibly rebelling against this same idea, though to my mind ended up betraying their middle-class-ness, sounding, at best, clever, and at worst, gibberish. Above all, their 'politics' never manifested, sounding like their poems were written from comfortable academic offices. What I mean is, they would never mention "black bloc tactics" at all, as Bonney does, if perhaps ironically or sarcastically: That asterisk in the poem directs us to a footnote: "Archaic reference, unexplained." Which says a lot of you're at all politically aware (like if you just get your news from NPR)—The black bloc folks are the ones dressed all in black, with baklavas, at protests, who are not above some destruction of corporate property, and other mischief, to shut the system down. In this age of peaceful and playing-nice pink pussy protests, Bonney's reminding us that the corporations, and the politicians they buy off, aren't scared of us, don't even notice us, and certainly don't care about us, unless we scare them, make them notice us, and make them care.

What makes Bonney's poetry 'anarchist' or 'protest', though he does use those words, is not any wisdom or 'revelation' but the settings (for example, in the streets, during protests) and especially the things mentioned, connecting him to another Merican poet, William Carlos Williams, whose admonition "no ideas but in things" is maybe the key to Bonney's poetry. The boot is the idea.

There are no revelations, nor definite political solutions in Bonney's poetry. There is only what he calls "desperation", which he addresses in a prose-poem-letter, "Dear Katarina," to Greek anarchist poet, Katarina Gogou. I'm sure many readers feel a certain desperation in American and European politics. But Bonney argues that our of our sense of desperation is  needed, necessary. That from it comes

....a way of pronouncing the language needed to help undermine the fascist tinnitus that all of our sensory networks have become....I'm telling you this because I sense something of this desperation—a desperation I'm determined not to normalize—in your work as well.

I'm not familiar with Gogou's work, Bonney talks about her in a late interview, but she isn't available in English (or not in Merica anyways). In one section of Our Death titled "Cancer: Poems after Katerina Gogou," Bonney writes what he calls "versions" of her poetry, half-translations, or more like translations of her intentions or emotions. They're anyways distinct style-wise from Bonney's other poems, with more repetition and Ann Waldman-style chanting. The title poem becomes a catalogue of fears, desperate ones:

Fearful we'll abandon our history or steal it. Fearful we'll set up borders around that history. Fearful we'll drive up the rents on that history and talk and talk about the old days in meter and rhyme while the pigs close the borders. Fearful we'll be those borders. Fearful we'll confuse those borders with songs and sit inside those songs as if they were the scars on our veins. Fearful our scars will become a lullaby and that we will turn into dogs. Fearful we'll confuse dogs with doves. Fearful of doves and swans, of corpuscles, of medical robes, of silence and smack. Fearful we're doing what they want. What silence wants. We police their borders. They know how it is. Fearful bastards. Fearful of everything. All of us. Fuck it. Do it tomorrow. No escape from the massacre.

The question is, who is the 'we'? The fears start off lower-class and anti-establishment, talking about "the pigs." But then we get a 'we' that polices 'their' borders—who is this but the pigs themselves. The answer is, I think, that it's a listing of the fears of everyone. Again, Bonney isn't the speaker here, but speaking for everyone. Everyone is afraid, and we're all acting and re-acting out of that. In this poem I see a glimmer of, not hope, but basic wisdom, a reminder to not act in fear, even if still angry. You could argue anger comes from fear. Though the kind of anger Bonney is channeling comes from a sense of self-defense: It's ok to get angry at fascists and corrupt politicians and the rich: they're out to kill us. But let us not be afraid of them.

I wrote that we learned about Bonney too late. I think I actually mean just in time. I've been looking for a response to what's happening politically, both in England and here in Merica, wondering how I could/should respond as a poet. And I don't mean pink pussy protests. The answer is not to worry about being profound and having a great message, but placing our poems in the streets, to be in the streets, fighting against the people who are literally killing us (the title is, and about, Our Death). And/or, if we introverted poets can't be front-line protesters, we can place them and their things, like their boots, in our poems.

I would have liked to read more of Bonney, for decades to come. Though compared to Rimbaud, I think he might have become a British Allen Ginsberg. Maybe there will be a posthumous collection of previously uncollected works. A Collected Works would be welcome. Remains to be seen if the street protests of England and Europe Bonney invokes will happen to that extent here in Merica.

Problems by Jade Sharma

My review of Problems by Jade Sharma appeared in WORD RIOT (now defunct) August 2016.

by Jade Sharma
Coffee House Press 2016
ISBN: 978-1-56689-442-5

I decided to read Jade Sharma's Problems because Coffee House Press is selling it as “girl meets Trainspotting,” and Trainspotting was one of my favorite books of the 90s, because it encapsulated the seedy underbelly of the supposedly prosperous 90s for the western world. I was entirely ready to be disappointed with Problems, since that's a lot to live up to. But I'm not, I'm not disappointed at all.

Maya, the narrator of Problems, is mostly unreliable. One page she's telling us (or maybe herself) that she only 'chips': snorts heroin no more than two days in a row, while a few pages later she's telling one of her best friends that she's done it ten days in a row. She's lying to somebody, probably her friend, who herself is a 'successful' magazine editor also with a heroin/crack/whatever addiction: Maya’s friend  needs the drugs to get through her job, and needs the job to buy the drugs. Thus is Sharma's critique of hipster life in New York (and maybe the rest of the country, or world).

The most radical fact about Maya, even more than her snorting heroin, is that she's an Indian-American, as in from the Indian subcontinent, snorting heroin. Or, half-Indian, but just like with Barack Obama, in America, if you're half/mixed, then you're considered, even by yourself seemingly, as belonging to the darker half. In any case, Maya dispenses with her Indian-ness fairly quickly, or wants to, and for most of the book describes herself as “brown,” making her(self) a member of the 'ambiguously brown' minority-majority that can include native-americans, latinos/hispanics, middle-easterners, mediterranean-ers, anyone not 'white' or dark.

Maya's family works hard to achieve and maintain the safe and respectable facade of middle- to upper-middle-class-ness, a fantasy of prosperity, tradition, order, and economic improvement. But Problems shatters this fantasy. Sharma is not interested in niceness or pleasant representations of the Indian-American experience. Instead she tells us the story of a young woman living single, fucking white guys, using hardcore internet porn vocabulary, and snorting heroin. It is a story not everyone will be happy with.

Given, Maya is on the surface, on that façade, living a middle-class life: ostensibly going to college, getting a PhD, and in conversation with her mother about apply for college teaching jobs. But the car wreck that we readers are slowing down to look at in Problems is whether all of this is going to fall apart for Maya. One suspects yes. The 'how' is the fascination, with the 'why' kind of secondary, because that's another part of the critique that Sharma is offering: the hipster lifestyle of New York and elsewhere is all just as much a façade as 'regular' middle-class-ness, and not sustainable:

You can't help the truth, the mundane details that frame people's perceptions of who you are, like where you were born, what your father does for a living, how many siblings you have. In our lies we offer the world a presentation of how we would be if we had complete control over our existence. That's why it's so embarrassing to get caught in a lit. It offers a glimpse into how you want to be seen. Those are the things I am insecure about. You take things off the table, clean up your stories, edit out the parts that don't make sense, and think, Now that's better.

What's interesting is that for Maya, drugs are the least of her problems. Whether that's true or not is a question, but Problems could exist as a story without the drugs, in that Maya certainly has other problems, including (but not limited to) body issues, and race issues, and daddy issues, if it were just about these things the book might verge on up into basic chick lit, whereas really it's kind of the anti-chick lit novel, or the novel for all the real women out there who can't afford to just up and head for Italia to eat, drink and pray when some dude breaks up with them.

But it's in the body issue rants or self-critiques that I feel like I'm getting a glimpse behind the curtain at what all women go through, though female readers will probably be like, 'yes, thank you, finally someone finally putting this shit on paper!' Maya feels she can't win, even from the beginning, because she's brown, and white women don't have any problems (which, is absurd, and shows how much she's in denial, because she describes white women she meets in this hipster drug world, and anyone but her can tell they're fucked up too). But I get it when Maya says she hates her big breasts and the fact that she has no ass, and wishes she could move all the weight from her top to her bottom so she could have a nice juicy butt like other women. I get that there surely is some other woman who just as strongly wishes her butt weren't so big, and that her breasts were. You can't win as long as you're playing the game of guessing what men want, of having men (even hipster men) in the position of power to be the Deciders about what looks good in women. Thus, problems.

Having a sympathetic character who is kind of a fucked up and unreliable and a liar and a drug (ab)user is tough to pull off, especially for the length of a novel. Irvine Welsh did it in Trainspotting by having multiple characters, at least half of whom weren't totally dislikable, merely pathetic. Also, he captured the world of the characters, lower-class life in economically poor Scotland of the 90s, which was kind of exotic for someone like me. The hipster drug culture of the now in New York City is also kind of exotic for me, though less so. And, both books are funny. Like this:

You live in New York, and you're so cool. You have an apartment in the East Village, and you call yourself an artist. But after a while, you forget what it was you were so excited about. There is nothing here for you. You feel like a sucker every day paying fourteen bucks for a pack of smokes. You take stock of your resources, and you don't have anything. You call yourself an artist, but you work fifty million hours a week just to sleep in a room where only a bed fits. You go to bars where you can't sit down or hear anyone talk. You're a hipster in New York City. There are a million of you, and it doesn't matter that you believe you're talented, because no one cares and you're only getting older. The thing you didn't realize when you were fourteen and thought Kurt Cobain was God was that not every weirdo with an ironic tee from Urban Outfitters makes it. There are a lot of people in their sixties, toothless, broken, and poor, who have stories of almost making it. At what point do people hear “loser” when you say “artist”?

Problems is a sign of the times: a (dark) satire, a tragedy, and a critique of something bubbling under our supposedly back-to-normal economy, where those that are still nouveau-riche-y middle-class are not that far from a hard fall into crack-whore-dom.

But still, even with Maya's problems, what I like the most is that she's unrepentant, and refuses to see herself as a victim. Her problems are her own, and she's dealing with them, and she won't take your pity. We may not agree on how she's proceeding, or if she's proceeding at all, but she is still smart, and able to laugh at herself. And if she's lying to herself as well, well, don't we all. In this she's like the characters of another favorite author of mine, Kim Addonizio, though Addonizio is stronger and more successful in the short story form. Sharma makes Problems move right along with an almost (but not quite) collage style similar to David Markson, or some Vonnegut (like in Hocus Pocus) and maybe most especially Charles Bukowski.

And so there: I've just compared Jade Sharma to four of my favorite writers of all time. I've been grumbling to my friends lately that I don't seem to like reading fiction, period, anymore, but Sharma gives me hope. I think it's that dark, seedy, satiric novels like Problems just aren't considered marketable by the Big Publishers, gone are the days when Hubert Selby Jr. was a bestseller. And so I can't find any novels like this anymore. And probably the Eat, Pray, Love crowd would not like this book. Though, that said, fans of Cheryl Strayed's Wild might. Thankfully we have indie publishers like Coffee House who will take chances. Although, they're not taking a chance. They have a great book on their hands. and they know it.

[Release date: July 5, 2016]