Jamelah Earle: A lot of people are forced to read poetry in school and then make a point never to touch it again because it was boring or they didn't understand it or their teacher smelled like mothballs or some combination thereof. Say those people were to read this interview -- what would you tell them? Is poetry something necessary (outside of the echo chamber of poets, teachers, intellectuals, etc.)?
Gary Mex Glazner: First let me say how much I appreciate the forum LitKicks provides to do this interview. Last summer I was working in a poet-in-the-school program with a group of students who had all flunked at least two classes, these kids were culled from all the middle school students in Santa Fe. It was a really hard class, we were in trailer, no water, no air conditioning and three classes of twenty-five to thirty students.
It turned out their average reading level was fourth grade and they were acting out a lot to hide the fact that they couldn't read, couldn't pronounce words, just had really low skills. The day before the class ended one of the students as he was leaving said, "You're looking for a Columbine." At first I just blew it off, but later that night I thought I should tell someone. We had a meeting with the principal and the school therapist. The student denied even having ever heard of Columbine. It was chilling, later it came out his father had a large collection of guns and had been reported to the state Child Protection Agency for beating the boy. It was only the Friday before where that kid in Arizona had shot his family. As I left that meeting someone hit me in the back of the head with a rock. Ouch, taking a rock for poetry!
As a poet I see a value in poetry that can help kids to be creative, can help them to learn language skills and public speaking skills. Those skills are useful to most professions. Studying poetry isn't the only way to get those skills but seeing that there is something practical and useful in poetry can help to reach students that otherwise might dismiss poetry.
I think it can be a great outlet especially for young people. I was lucky after that experience to start working with a group of students at Desert Academy. The class is an elective so all the kids want to be there. The group is called the Precision Poetry Drill Team and they were featured on NPR's "All Things Considered" in April, you can check out the broadcast at this link:
I don't think we should force people to learn poetry and I think in general that after the basics are mastered students should have more say in their curriculum.
JE: Is there anything you really hate about the modern poetry scene? Why?
GMG: The division between academic poetry and performance or slam or cafe or street poetry -- which ever name you choose to call poetry outside of the university system -- bugs me. When it gets down to it, both sides love the art form and have more in common than what they have in common with an avid football fan. The so-called poetry wars would be laughable if the academic side didn't control so much of the funding for poetry. If I could echo the famous line, "Can't we all just get along?"
JE: A common perception is that the general public doesn't have an interest in poetry, making it hard (if not impossible) to make a living as a poet, yet that's what you're doing -- making a living as a poet. Even so, from your experience, would you say this perception carries any weight? Are you a special case, or is poetry something anyone can pursue as a career?
GMG: If poetry is of use to the community, it is pretty easy to get paid. I am the director of the Alzheimer's Poetry Project, alzpoetry.com and have recently received funding from the City of Santa Fe Arts Commission to expand the program to include a Spanish speaking poet and a Native American poet. The State of New Mexico awarding funding to help expand the program to rural parts of the State.
That is just one of the programs I talk about in How to Make a Living as a Poet, and of course I hope this interview will point people to the book. I have about ten interviews in the book with other poets, including Mary Karr, Sherman Alexie, Naomi Shihab Nye all touching on different aspects of generating income from poetry, so I don't think I am a special case. I am working on a follow up book that will come out next year that has about twenty-five interviews with poets who make their living from their poetry, so it can done.
If I say to you I am a free lance writer, people don't automatically say, "But what is your day job?" I see being a poet as similar. I put poetry at the center of all my actives in generating income. I have done radio, digital film, set type and run old printing presses, worked with everyone from YMCA after school programs, to MFA graduate students, to Alzheimer's patients. Don't limit yourself to what poetry can be, be as creative in bringing poetry into the world as you are in writing it. In the fall, I am going to start working with a program that puts poets into the break-room for ER doctors and nurses. The idea is they can hear a poem, or write one them selves. It's an intense environment and I am looking seeing if I can make poetry work there.
JE: Online writing (from blogs to messageboards) has become a really popular medium in the past few years. While it has allowed people who may have never had a chance before to find an encouraging audience, do you think that the proliferation of online writing has helped or hurt those hoping to make it as writers?
Check out my blog: http://howtopoet.blogspot.com.
I think blogs can be useful tools in helping to build the audience for poetry. I am also very interested in podcasts as a way to get poetry out and help build the audience. I will be teaching a literary journal class this year at Desert Academy here in Santa Fe and plan to have the students explore both blogs and podcasts, as well as learn how to set type and how to run the old printing presses at the 400-year-old Palace of the Governor's Museum.
JE: Your book, How to Make a Living as a Poet, serves as a guide to turn writing into an actual profession. Why did you think it was important to write it?
GMG: I kept getting requests on how to get sponsorships, how to pull off some of the projects I was successful in doing, like the Slam America tour with Grande Marnier. (Here is a scoop for LitKicks, the film "Busload of Poets" which documents the tour, just sold to the Documentary Channel, a new cable channel which will launch in November.) So I kept getting phone calls and people pulling me aside and asking about getting funding for their poetry projects and I realized I had enough material for a book. Soft Skull liked the idea enough to make it a three book series, so the second book, How to Make a Life as a Poet (working title) will come out in April of 2006 and the third book, with the working title of The Readers Respond will come out in April of 2007. The idea with the third book is to gather stories on how readers have used the first two books, how the ideas have worked, good or bad and tell those stories. We are collecting them at http://howtopoet.blogspot.com/
So there is a chance for LitKicks readers to get published. I would also be interested in essays on the general topic of making a living as a poet, pro or con.
JE: To switch gears a little, you're attuned to spoken word and the slam scene and also ran the Bowery Poetry Club for awhile. With all this experience, you probably have some opinions on poetry readings. What do you think makes a good poetry performance? What makes a bad one? Does it take a special kind of writing to sound good when read live?
GMG: I am a big fan of the "Naked Poets" from L.A., also, drinking helps. In general though if the poets are to be clothed, I tend to drift to something original, in presentation, form, subject matter. "Make it new," says Ezra Dog Pound. Bad for me are most open-mics, but I think that might have to do with starting to attend them in the late seventies, I just have been to so many bad open-mics. I like to hear more of one person, in a featured reading setting, give the person a chance to shine, an opportunity to push themselves and present a range of their work. Having said that, some of the hip-hop flavored open-mics at the Bowery Poetry Club have been amazing, the late night "Crunk" works for me.
Jamelah Earle: I was looking at your website and it appears that you have a lot of projects. What are some of the latest things you've been working on?
John Lawson: Our big June release is Terror-Dot-Gov: Docufictions by Harold Jaffe. It takes a unique approach that blends nonfiction and fiction, covering the war on terror in a way that is both sad and hilarious. Last month we had Spider Pie: Salacious Selections by Alyssa Sturgill. She's one of the great new surrealists, and we're excited to be the ones handling her debut book. Our most ambitious work yet is a move away from digital printing (print on demand) to do a substantial press run for the uncouth thriller Play Dead by Michael A. Arnzen, which will be out in August. And, of course, our most challenging collaboration yet: a son due in late July! I guess you'd call that a "limited edition." Seriously, though, I believe we'll have released something like 15 titles in 21 different editions during 2005. Of course, that doesn't count the various eBook editions we'll be putting out -- eight electronic formats for each book. So it's busy, busy, busy, considering we're just two people with some volunteers.
JE: What do you think about today's literary establishment? Did it play a role in your getting into indie publishing? How did you get into indie publishing?
JL: Well, I took the roundabout way. I started off as an aspiring screenwriter, completing scripts between sessions in the studio -- I used to be an audio engineer. That ended when I got encouragement from producers, although the final sale continued to elude me. As a writer of "weird" stuff it turned out I need somebody else's stamp on me before producers would invest. So I began selling articles and short stories, and pretty soon the Hollywood scene didn't matter anymore. Then, trying to sell my books, it became clear today's literary climate
isn't too much different than Hollywood. So I tracked down the most outrageous publisher I could find, Eraserhead Press, and asked how I could help them. My intentions were to help the literary rebels thrive so alternative voices would have a better chance. I started out as editor of EHP's online ublication, then moved up to Head of Promotions. It was actually Carlton Mellick III, EHP's founder, who suggested I break off and start my own company. His philosophy is that there can never be "too many" unusual publishers out there, and I agree. Ironically, as a side note, a UK producer is making me an offer on one of my scripts, so my plan worked...it took many years, but I finally made it.
JE: Do you think online writing is a good way for writers to find an audience, or does the fact that there are so many message boards, blogs and personal websites make it harder for unknown writers to have their voices heard above the fray? Is online writing a viable alternative to print?
JL: Online writing is one of the most under-utilized aspects of the publishing industry. The role of the indie publisher/author could really fall under the heading "guerilla writing." There's a great essay by Harold Jaffe illustrating how the five tenets of guerilla warfare can be applied to freethinking publishing in the current (corporate) publishing landscape. The major publishing and the midlevel people often have such bulky infrastructures that they can't respond to new developments until it's way too late. Our company springs from the advent of the Internet. We started as editors of an online literary journal, and all of our books have sprung from contacts we made there. There are plenty of webzines and message boards, and while traditionalists dismiss it all out of hand it's worth looking into. For us the zine is not only a testing ground for working with writers, but it's a free marketing tool. You can't beat it. Plus, our printer accepts the book files via online upload, sales reports from our distributor are updated daily online, we sell well through the multitude of online shops, we use online chats for promo, get our authors featured at various websites... the potential is endless.
As an author, there are plenty of low-grade webzines and message
boards, and others that put out product better than most "small press" magazines. There are serious readers and publishing professionals watching what happens on the Internet, and there are plenty of idiots too. It doesn't matter. Make a good impression on them all wherever and whenever you can. If you look at through the mindset of free advertising it would be insane not to put your writing out there in electronic format, even if you're just talking reprints. From where I sit, relying on the web has accelerated the growth of my writing career by at least five years, if not more. The contacts I've made with authors, editors, and readers have been invaluable.
JE: You run Raw Dog Screaming Press and an online literary journal, The Dream People, and I read on one of your pages that you "publish the unpublishable". How would you describe this so-called unpublishable writing? What kind of gap do you think your publishing projects fill?
JL: All the conglomerates to spring from the wave of mergers begun in the 1980's, they aren't willing to invest in authors so much as they invest in categories. What, then, becomes of the cross-genre author? The fringe literature? That's where we step in. Our focus is on the fringe, whether it's absurdism, surrealism, offbeat literary genre stuff, Beat-style work... essentially, material that's hard to pigeonhole, yet is sellable to multiple audiences. A lot of the stuff we've leaped at has passed through the hands of other companies because they don't "get" what the author is trying to do. The answer is obvious: they're telling a good story! Just because you won't find a section in the bookstore dedicated to a particular style doesn't mean it's an invalid approach. It just means us lazy publishers need to figure out how to sell/who to sell it to. We're gaining ground quickly, because there are people everywhere interested in all types of fiction, who want to see something fresh, something uninhibited. Despite popular opinion the sales are there, you just need to find a way to get the word out.
JE: Does being published by someone else give a writer more credibility than self-publishing?
JL: Well, that all depends. I know several publishers who do so little in terms of book design or promotion that you're better off self-publishing. That way you at least have some control over how the book looks and you know up front that you have to handle all promo yourself. Then again, you'll need to do some self-promotion even with the largest companies -- they may have a department dedicated to promo, but each person will be handling four or more books, and their staffs are being cut back all the time. As far as reviews are concerned, it's nearly impossible to get a reviewer to consider something you published yourself. By the same token, a new publishing company will encounter difficulty getting reviews, even for books by veteran authors, simply because it's expected that new companies will fail and nobody wants to waste their time on you.
Everything in publishing is a battle of attrition. The longer you stick with it the more people will take you seriously, because the shoddy companies will fail, or the authors who lack dedication will return to their day jobs, and you'll be left standing when the dust settles. The rules for promo are the same whether you're an indie publisher or a self-published author. It takes about six to twelve months to get recognized, and maybe a year to three years to see substantial profit coming in from a release. That's because you're relying, largely, on word-of-mouth promo, which also happens to be the best sort of promo around.
JE: What kind of advice would you give those who may be looking to get into publishing (either just their own work or the work of others)?
JL: There are plenty of books on the subject, so spend a few months researching the publishing industry to see what's expected out of you as a publisher or as a writer. When you do something, do something you
love because as I said you'll be promoting it for a while. Stick with it no matter what. One of the things I always tell myself is "Neither victory nor defeat shall affect me," which sounds corny I guess, but it's easy to get sidetracked by a bad review or a successful author signing. As long as you do five things a day for your company you can't go wrong. And, about bad reviews, research indicates that some people buy stuff reviewers trash to spite the reviewer, so it's never a completely bad thing. And lastly, right now might be the best time ever to get into publishing. Relying on digital printing means you don't need a crazy business loan to start up, and as I said the Internet gives you free access to readers on a global scale. Then if things go well you're in a position to go in any direction you want.
reVerse skillfully and surprisingly takes 14 tracks of poetry, song and every shade in between, then weaves them together into a CD that is an insightful representation of some of the best lyrical minds writing today. The strength in this collection is definitely the diversity. From Li-Young Lee's steady opening track "Echo and Shadow" (backed by guitar and a haunting vocal), to the jarring chaos of Marvin Tate's "Take Off Your Shoes and Run" and later the gospel-toned "Words Are My Salvation" by poet Sherrille Lamb, listeners will quickly and directly gain a sense of the range in today's poetry scene. reVerse juxtaposes seemingly unlikely collaborators in such a way that you feel they were meant to collide. Some tracks are purely spoken word, some poets read alongside music in a range of styles and there are a few straight up music tracks thrown in -- but then again, where does poetry end and music begin? Alexi Murdoch's "Song For You" is a real hidden gem on this CD, as is Lawrence Ferlinghetti's performance of "History of the Airplane" and Kent Foreman's rapid-fire "It's About Time". Lou Reed fans will want to be sure to catch his reading of "The City and the Sea" and the intense, quiet "What It Was" almost told as a secret by poet Mark Strand will make you want to be the unnamed subject of his performance. Each track exists strongly on its own merit, but it's the sum of all parts that is the power behind this work. Listening to the CD in one sitting is an accurate re-creation of styles and personalities you could find at any poetry reading -- that is if you're lucky enough to attend a reading by the likes I've mentioned above.
reVerse does what it sets out to do. It blurs the line even further between music and poetry while celebrating them both and much more.
KC Clarke, Executive Director of The Poetry Center of Chicago and creator of reVerse recently took some time to share his thoughts on poetry, performance and the birth of reVerse:
Caryn Thurman: I'm curious how you first became interested in poetry and who some of your first influences were. How did you decide to make poetry a major part of your life?
KC Clarke: I first became interested in poetry in grade school through my 4th grade teacher Mr. Sutherland. He had a poet visit my classroom. We were living in Detroit at the time. Soon afterwards, my mother gave me my first books of poetry: Dylan Thomas, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Robert Frost. I remember reading these books and in most cases having no idea what was going on, but loving it anyway. I've never been successful in resisting the artistic impulse. All said, I think poetry decided that it would be a part of my life. This sounds corny, I know, but I've sworn off poetry on several occasions and even got away from it entirely for a six year stretch during the late 1990s. This lead to a big relapse -- taking on the job as The Poetry Center's executive director. I think major league baseball is partially responsible for my poetry inclinations, but that is different conversation all together.
Poetry is the one area where I can include all of my artistic whateverings -- a cross genre of mediums and contents reduced into words. For me, the structures of poetry make it one of the most wonderfully morphable of art forms.
CT: I know the reVerse project has been a long time in the making. What prompted you to take on such a big project? How did the idea form and how has it evolved since you first started on the collection to what it is today?
KC: I love music. I'm always looking for good new work, even if it is only new to me. For instance, my recent obsessions include Interpol, The Faint and Arcade Fire. In a few months I'll start digging around and find some other bands/artists. Anyway, I don't have many choices in recordings of poetry. There isn't that much out there that combines poetry and music with respect to the art form of poetry. Most of the stuff out there either self-indulgent or is poorly recorded and produced.
I've always loved the Sire Records "Just Say Yes" compilations from the late 1980s. I think well-produced compilations do a good job at introducing people to new artists and artistic concepts. "Just Say Yes" put Depeche Mode with Ice-T and The Throwing Muses. Brilliant. Lots of electronica artists have become known through compilations. The fringe of music and the art of poetry aren't all that different is some respects. So put the solutions/outcomes/influences of all these things together and you get reVerse.
CT: I read a bit about the selection of the musician on the reVerse website -- did the final roster of artists grow and evolve over time or did you have a strong idea of who and what you wanted to include all along? Did you request specific works from them or did they select pieces they felt most strongly about?
KC: We had a pretty good idea of what people would offer since we asked for demos in advance. We included as many different aesthetics as we could. After our first studio session, we listened to the tracks over and over and found stuff we hated or were bugged by and fixed or replaced those things in other sessions. Alexi Murdoch and Lou Reed were wonderful late additions. We fell in love with Murdoch's EP Four Songs. "Song for You" is Murdoch's favorite from that album. We thought the piece Reed offered went spookily well with Ferlinghetti's piece, though they are thematically unrelated. The fact that Reed was featured on Just Say Mao, Volume III of "Just Say Yes" in 1989 is too perfect, for me at least.
CT: I see on the site that you refer to the current CD as reVerse Volume 1 -- I assume that a Volume 2 is in the works? When can we expect the next reVerse?
KC: Yes! We are working on Volume 2. I hope it doesn't take three years. But since it might take us two years to get the word out about reVerse Volume 1, who knows. There are not a lot of channels by which to easily promote and distribute a weird hybrid thing like reVerse, so we are in this for the long haul.
CT: I see you have a strong web presence with reVerse and The Poetry Center -- how do you feel the online world and "blogosphere" is changing the face of literature? Or is it at all? For better or worse?
KC: reVerse is primarily available via the internet. reVerse is its own little shop thanks to the internet. The net is good for literature, especially poetry. The traditional poetry publishing biz has produced lots of good and lots of bad books. One can find good and bad poetry on the internet as well. OK, nothing new in that comparison. Traditional news and information sources don't seem to consider poetry newsworthy. Can you imagine something like Blackbook actually devoting a dedicated corner of its magazine to poetry? Well maybe, but it is not likely. But we don't have to rely on Blackbook for our poetry, do we? We have the "blogoshpere." Viva la blogosphere! The only thing that is a bit scary about the internet is anyone anywhere can sit in front of a monitor in their underwear eating a block of cheese simultaneously posting outrageo us claims of being a sort of savior of poetry or whatever. People believe what they read. Hopefully as time passes we'll be more able to sort fact from fiction and enjoy both as they should be.
CT: Many writers on LitKicks have notebooks and notebooks (or document files and document files) of their writing, but may have never attempted to read their work in public. What advice would you give to someone who needs a little pep talk in this situation?
KC: I believe these writers should host their own poetry readings. Doesn't matter where. Host readings on a rooftop or in a garage. This way these writers can read their work for each other. They can invite other poets to come read. I'm completely serious. Reading in public is kind of like writing. A poet has to read a lot of poetry and write a lot of poetry to produce good poetry. Most people have to read their own poetry to an audience to become good at giving a reading. A Sony minidisk recorder is a handy tool. A poet can record and listen to their own poetry over and over. I don't know a single poet who doesn't have an opinion about what they like and don't like about how other poets read their work. If poets subject themselves to their own readings via minidisk, they can at least practice until they enjoy hearing their own poems.
CT: Finally, LitKicks always wants to know -- What are you reading? Any recommendations?
KC: Poetry: Franz Wright, Anselm Hollo and the book of Ecclesiastes (again). Fiction: Jose Saramago. Film: foreign Chinese films. The Suzhou River is an amazing flick.
(Thanks to KC Clarke for giving me a peek inside the creative energy of reVerse.)
reVerse Volume 1 is available through the reVerse website, where you can read more about the project, the artists involved and listen to an audio collage of the entire CD and individual track snippets.
Imagine standing under the night sky on the side of a mountain, surrounded by a thousand Ku Klux Klan members, all wearing their ghastly hoods and sheets. A huge burning cross casting monstrous shadows over the proceedings. You are also wearing a Klan sheet, but you are not one of them. You are there as a spy, to report their illegal activities to the police and expose their tactics of hate and intimidation. They have made it clear that they will kill anyone who betrays them. If they find out who you are, you're in trouble.
That is exactly what Stetson Kennedy did in the late 1940's. He wrote about it in his classic 1954 book, The Klan Unmasked, a gripping account of the experience. Disappointingly, the police and the FBI were reluctant to take direct action against the Klan, even when presented with hard evidence of arson, vandalism, assault, inciting riots, and murder. It turned out that many policemen and government officials were themselves Klan members. In fact, Kennedy says some of the Klan robes weren't quite long enough to cover the shoes and trouser cuffs of what looked suspiciously like police uniforms.
Jamelah Earle: What kind of role do you think writing and connecting with a community of like-minded artists plays in shaping an artist's perspective and style? Is it important? Does it have a downside?
Robert Creeley: I think it's extremely important not just for fact of political action, say, but for all circumstances of a writer's literal life. Company is what keeps it all together -- those "few golden ears" Allen Ginsberg speaks of for whom, he says, "Howl" was written. It matters immensely that someone is listening, can hear, knows where you're coming from. The general audience, the wider audience as one says, comes years later, so, as in jazz, it's the people who work with you and give you the necessary feedback who matter. If this can have a downside, it's only in some sad possibility that what said company is after is not particular to writing itself. For example, a friend used to say of his first wife, "She said she wanted to be a singer but what she really wanted was to be famous ..." A company having that so-called goal in mind gets to be a distraction instantly.
JE: Your Day Book of a Virtual Poet uses writing originally produced in an online medium (e-mail) to offer its insights, yet it is published in book form. Though online publishing does not currently have the same validity as traditional print publishing, do you think it will someday? Should it have the same validity?
RC: In that case a small press (Spuyten Duyvil) asked me for something and I thought those accumulated "letters" would be apt. So they proved, and that book has had a remarkable and continuing life. The thing was that the work online depended on Buffalo's high school, City Honors, keeping the material up on its website, and just now checking, I see it's long gone. (All that I found was the note written when Allen Ginsberg had just died.) In any case, it's what simply and cheaply can keep texts and all the uses of them one can think of available, can get and keep work in print. In the 40s, when I was coming in, the absolute limit was letter press and it was awful. No cold press -- only ditto, mimeo and such as resource -- which one used as did Diane di Prima and Amiri Baraka's "Floating Bear" or as the Golden Goose Press did with its magazine and chapbooks for a time. What a relief to have both distribution AND initial "printing" now be so old time easy! Whatever "validity" constitutes, that has got to mean something in itself.
JE: In terms of poetry, can you think of an example of something the online medium made possible that would not have been possible in print?
RC: For me it's been the chance to have art specific to something I wrote be there so simply. Here's an instance:
This was done initially as a catalog for a show of Francesco Clemente's and so few people got to see it. This way at least some sense of it is easily available. Note too that it's been 'up there' since 1998 although the magazine it's in has since moved first to Florida and then to the west etc etc. (It began as an online journal out of Damien College in Buffalo.) Anyhow my use of the possibilities is obviously minimal. Think of hypertext -- or 'e-poetry' -- as you'll find it here:
I.e., look at the range and action! Really, it all goes on and on. Check out the ubu.com site, for example -- it's like a miracle, to be able to hear and see such a range of material -- click, click, click! Had anyone ever told me such would be possible in the 40s, it would have been almost impossible to believe.
JE: In the past couple of years, the weblog (or blog -- a frequently-updated journal that can focus on anything from politics to one's personal life) has become an important force on the internet, and due to its popularity, people who may never have written or shared writing otherwise are publishing their thoughts on the web for the world to see. It seems that everyone has a blog these days. What do you think of this phenomenon? How do you think it changes the notion of what it takes to be a writer?
RC: I much like the quickness of exchange (for which read "publication") it provides. I truly think the more, the merrier -- and let one's own perceptions and needs make the relevant connections. Pound said years ago, "Damn your taste! I want if possible to sharpen your perceptions after which your taste can take care of itself." It's as if someone has finally opened that bleak door of usual discretion and habit, and let in a great diversity of response, proposal, everything. Two blogs I value indeed:
And one could go on and on (eg., to Chris Leydon etc).
JE: Though poetry has always had a small audience, things like spoken word/performance poetry and hiphop are increasing poetry's reach, especially to the young. Do you see this as a positive thing? What do you think of the difference between spoken word and written poetry?
RC: For me sound -- Pound's "Listen to the sound that it makes" -- has always been a crucial factor. That's why jazz back then in the mid-forties was so useful -- it let me hear ways of linking, how 'serial order' might be played, what a rhythm could literally accomplish. I wasn't getting that from the usual discussions of poetry at all. Anyhow I write and read my own poems as sounds and rhythms -- and that is a crucial part of their fact. One gets phrasing from all manner of source, people talking in the street, Frank Sinatra, and so on. Jack Kerouac is a terrific instance albeit he hardly took to the stage with any pleasure. But anyhow I write poetry to be spoken, I speak it when I write it -- like Bud Powell playing piano.
The only question I'd ever have, then, about performance is whether or no it begins to drift to that earlier point of my friend, "She said she wanted to be a singer..." I have no interest in poetry imagined as a pure art, say, but I don't want it only so as to see one's name in lights either. It's it -- and that's the point. What one can do with it is always something else.
JE: What advice would you give to today's young writers (the self-published chapbook poets, the novelists who can't find publishers for the finished book sitting in their top desk drawer, the 18-year-old poet trying to decide if it's worth it to go to college) who want to reach an audience?
RC: It may well sound too easy to say, but I'll say it anyhow -- find your own "golden ears," your friends and locating company, and make your way as that interaction. The so-called world at large is just a lot of particular places and you begin where you happen to be. Being a writer is blessed in that one doesn't have huge canvasses to carry about or have need for ultimate equipment or other musicians so as to make the composite sounds in mind. You can also find simply an endless resource of what's been done, what's can be model, in libraries, online, you name it. Google ho!
Anyhow I think of Levi Asher and the initial LitKicks -- and many friends, Alex Trocchi, Cid Corman, way back then in the early 50s. Who can wait to be tapped? Onward -- and good luck!
Lyn Lifshin: Vision is one of those rather abstract lofty words I don't really connect with poetry. I write poems that I hope will move people, let the reader feel someone else feels as they do though they never realized that. I hope the reader will find the poems let them see things in a different way and also in ways they might have felt but never quite understood that. The idea of Horace's that literature should teach and delight is interesting,"teach" in the sense of revealing, showing, connecting in a way that is startling, stunning, delightful. Even more I like Emily Dickinson's quote, "If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way?" As for feeling part of the 21st century that is something I never have thought much about. I suppose one is always a part of the time they are writing the events, values, words, the history of the time one moves through that makes one part of their times whether they rebel against it or elebrate it or ignore it.
AL: Lyn, could you explain your title "queen of the small press"?
LL: "Queen of the small press" is a rather strange title that was almost accidental. Black Apples was published first by The Crossing ress with a yellow cover and a drawing of a pumpkin or a pumpkin-like house, pale yellow, definitely not slick. It sold out quickly. The second edition was beautiful and had a shiny harder cover that also sold out. The 3rd edition had a papery cover with the same photograph as on the second edition but not shiny, not quite as beautiful. I suppose to jazz the 3rd edition up, John Gill took a line from a review by Warren Woessner the "Queen of the Small Press" for a little embellishment in the same way as he added 13 poems from earlier books and an introduction by John Gill as well as review statements from Warren Woessner, Victor Contoski, Alan Dugan, Richard Eberhart, and others. Later, one publisher wanted to make one book cover look like a romance novel. I said no as I did to another small press publisher who wanted to call a book Undressed and have me on the cover in bib overalls with nothing underneath. I nixed that too.
AL: Lyn, do you believe in inspiration? Or would you define the need to write as an instinctive, gut-driven process? Something born of the nerve-endings?
LL: I'm not sure about inspiration. Sometimes something will seem to demand to be written about. But often it takes several attempts to try to get it. Auden I think said if he had to choose whether to work with a student who felt driven to tell what he felt or someone who liked to play with words, he would pick the latter. I think poems, for me, come both ways. Recently I wrote series of poems because someone asked me to, about the adoption of a new baby, not something I would normally write about. Assignments often work well: the most unlikely subjects seem to lead to good poems, probably because they are new and fresh subjects I've never thought about. Several of my books came about in that way: Marilyn Monroe Poems came from poems I wrote for Rick Peabody's Mondo Marilyn, Jesus Alive and In the Flesh, from a request to submit to a Jesus as a pop icon anthology that came out just recently as Sweet Jesus. For another anthology, Dick for a Day I wrote a number of poems and many of them are sprinkled through my last two Black Sparrow books, Cold Comfort and Before It's Light, as well as my forthcoming Black Sparrow/David Godine book Another Woman Who Looks Like Me. Other "assignments" have led to poems as varied as The Daughter I Don't Have to poems about condoms. In my new book there are many poems based on paintings, also a request. I've often written poems about historic sites Shaker House Poems, The Old House on the Croton, The Old House Poems, Arizona Ruins Auddley End... so many that often I feel, in a new environment, a pull to try a poem based in that setting, that history. It's definitely a mix. When I go to teach I often do some exercises where the writers pick words and have to use them in a poem -- it frees the imagination at times to write about what you didn't really plan to.
AL: When you think of the word "hermetic" what immediately comes to mind?
LL: Probably because we have Hermes store nearby, when I hear "hermetic" I think of Hermes the god who the store must have also been thinking of: his elegance and eloquence and his being a leader of commerce. I think of how Hermes guided the dead on their way. And I think of Ira Herman who invited me once to read with Ken Kesey who was also eloquent, now dead, quite magnetic and magical when he wasn't. I think too of Emily Dickinson, not only for being separate but because of her poems, separated by fusion, air tight. And who could not think of cookies, hermit cookies, spicy, sweet or Emily's tropical birds, darting from petals to stamens to petals, alchemical. Writing this, I am also reading Millay's letters, how on March 4, 1926 from Steepletop (where I spent one September, feeling very isolated) she wrote to Edmund Wilson saying "we have been snowed in. I mean hermetically 4 weeks today, Five miles on snow shoes.... to fetch the mail or post a letter."
AL: What poets past or present have influenced your work the most and why? Also, what are your thoughts on surrealism, surrealist literature?
LL: I wrote my Master's Thesis on Dylan Thomas so I must have been somewhat influenced by him though I don't see it myself. I did an undergraduate thesis on Federico Garcia Lorca. My love of repetition, ominous beauty likely was influenced by his poems. And I worked on my PhD with a major in 15th, 16th and 17th century English (British) poetry. My PhD dissertation, which I wrote 100 pages of, dealt with Wyatt, Sidney and Donne. I know Wyatt's ragged, thought being thought-out style, breathless, not seeming to be polished and carefully written down, like the poems of Sidney, appealed much more to me. I think he as if I was just thinking the thought out, influenced my poems, often breathless. When I left SUNY at Albany, I had read very little contemporary poetry and plunged into writers like Sexton and Plath and probably Williams. I easily remember reading Sexton's " The Double Image" in a parked car in snow and being so taken by the emotion, that startling, personal quality that was so stunning, so moving. Not knowing that much about other contemporary writers, I took out many, many library books, discovered Paul Blackburn, Creeley, Wakoski, Piercy and began ordering small press books and magazines. There I discovered poets quite unlike Dryden, Pope, Donne and Herbert poets in the meat and mimeo school like Bukowski, DR Wagner, Steve Richmond, DA Levy. Every time I read a new magazine Wormwood, Goodly Company, El Corno Emplumado, I discovered wildly exciting poets. It was a wonderful and powerful set of discoveries for me. New York Times Book Review section had a cover photograph of many of the small and smallest press magazines. I found there was a program of poetry every Tuesday around noon on a PBS radio station and I always took the phone off the hook and listened. When I worked as an editor at a local PBS TV station I was fascinated by a series of programs called "USA Poetry" with write rs like Ed Sanders, Michael McClure, Anne Sexton I was enthralled. Soon I was included in an issue Rolling Stone did of 100 up and coming poets. I'm sure, too, I have been influenced by so much of the poetry by women I read in my several versions of Tangled Vines, a collection of mother and daughter poems, as well as women writing in two other of my anthologies, Ariadne's Thread and Lips Unsealed. I was a fine arts history minor in college and of course studied surrealism in art and a little in literature. I've certainly been influenced by their influence on American poets like Bly and the poets he published.
AL: Lyn, when did you start writing? What was the drive, the catalyst that made it inevitable that you write?
LL: I started writing when, at 6; I skipped from first grade to third grade because I read at an advanced level. As a result, I never learned long division, was always lost in math. But I loved to read and write. An excellent teacher, Mrs. Flag, read us Longfellow and Keats and had us write our own poems. She would bring apple blossoms and boughs in and have us look and touch, smell and taste and then write our own poems. I have blue thin notebooks of poems from then many but the poem that I had to write is the one I remember best. I grew up in a small town, Middlebury, Vermont and we lived on Main Street. One weekend I copied a poem of Blake's we were reading him at the time. I showed it to my mother, told her I wrote it. In a town of 3000 it wasn't surprising my mother ran into that teacher, excited, said what an inspiration she had been, how I used words she didn't even know I knew. By Monday, I had to write my own poem and it had to have "rill," "nigh" and "descending," in it.
AL: In terms of literature and psychology, do you believe that your subconscious leads you when you write? What are your thoughts on the psychological aspects of writing, literature?
LL: I do think the subconscious is connected to what i write. I used to say once I wrote something it became true, then it happened. In some workshops I have had students use dreams and dream exercises, day dreaming to let poems be triggered. And I've often written poems based on dreams. I suppose many images come from the sub- conscious, the strangeness in some poems, the stories I have no idea where they came from, the surreal. The title poem of Black Apples is a poem called "The�Dream of Black Apples, War". Somehow it came quickly, quietly from a dream and anticipated much that did happen later. The connection is one that is fascinating. I recently read that the predisposition to suicide can be determined by the use of some pronouns over others. I always want to read more about how memory works especially after editing my collection of women's memoirs, Lips Unsealed. I think it is very tangled with the subconscious I don't think any of the arts is separate from it.
AL: What's your favorite curse-word?
LL: My favorite swear word is one I probably never used but would love to. In college my roommate, from Rochester, with a definite Rochester accent and knowledge of Yiddish was always trying to teach me phrases that were very stunning but I could never quite say them right I think. I loved one, it sounded like "Vergo Harvit" or something like that and it meant drop dead I think very piercing word sounded like what it meant. But I never quite got it right.
AL: Thank you very much for allowing me to conduct this interview. Do you have any thoughts you'd like to share before we conclude?
LL: Well one important thing to me is that everyone know if they don't that Black Sparrow Books now will be published by David Godine press as Black Sparrow/ David Godine Books their new spring catalogue is just out with their back list and my new book, Another Woman Who Looks Like Me, will be published by them soon. They can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org phone is 800-344-4771 and fax is 800- 226-0934 and published recently is my new book from March Street Press and you can order that through Amazon.com or contact the publisher at email@example.com and still available is a documentary film about me called Lyn Lifshin: Not Made of Glass distributed by Women Make Movies. Telephone is 1-212-925-0606 Fax is 1-212-925-7002 and e mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. And my web site with lots of everything is www.lynlifshin.com
This interview originally appeared in the literary webzine, Tin
If you're saying to yourself, "DiPrima?" you are one of the main reasons I wrote this article. Even if you have heard of Diane's work you have to admit, in a field that already has an amazing paucity of women, to overlook even one seems like a capital crime, especially this one. Diane DiPrima is a San Francisco writer and poet who works in healing, Magick, and Alchemy.Her more recent books are : Pieces of a Song -Collected Poems, City Lights, 1990, Zip Code, Coffee House Press,1992, and Seminary Poems, Floating Press, 1991.
I spoke to Diane on 9-22-93 in her cozy booklined SF apartment. We spoke of rebellion, liberty, conditioning, and on being a women in the beat generation.Joseph Matheny
JM: When you started out as a writer in the 50's, were there a lot of control systems set up to punish anyone who tried to break out the consensus mold?
DD: It was a weird time. Especially for women. Rebellion was kind of expected of men.
JM: When men rebelled they were romantic, free. Women who rebelled were categorized as being nuts.
DD:Yes. Nuts or a whore, or something. Yes.
JM:Do you feel it's any different now?
DD:Not much. I think there's been a lot of lip service paid to how much women have managed to advance. The younger women that I know are behaving pretty much like women have always behaved. Maybe they don't
have so much of the middle class housewife dream, but they'll still be the one to get a job, while the man does the writing or the painting or whatever. I can think of example after example of this. I think that the internal control systems that have been put in place for women haven't been dented. It's such a big step forward to single mom, but so much more could be going on besides that.
JM:That's where the most effective censorship and control systems reside, inside ourselves, our head!
DD:Yes! How it gets there is interesting too.
JM: How do you think they get there?
DD:I would guess that it starts in the womb. Getting imprinted with the language pattern that's around you. The way people move, the way they hold themselves.To break it you'd have to do some really deliberate debriefing, on every level. The place where I was lucky in my own life was that I had a grandfather who was an anarchist. I didn't see much of him after I was 7 because my parents thought he was bad for me, but from 3 to 7 I saw a lot of him. I was still malleable enough so some debriefing occurred there. He would tell me these really weird fables about the world. He would read Dante to me and take me to the old peoples anarchist rallies, and all this showed me these other possibilities...
JM:So you had an early imprint of a kind of...anti-authority, authority figure.(laughs)
DD:(laughing) Yes! Aside from being an anti-authority authority figure the imprint that I got from him and my grandmother as well , was of two people who weren't afraid, at least from my child's point of perspective. They would just go ahead and do what they believed in. In all the other years of my early life I never encountered anyone else who wasn't afraid. I think kids today may be a little better off in that they encounter a few people who either aren't afraid, or who will go ahead and try something anyway, whatever it is. There's a possibility of that model, but during my childhood that was a very unusual model. I was born in 1934, during the depression,and everyone seemed to be frozenwithterror. We.....will....do... what....we....are....told!(laughs) and I don't think it's changed that much. Every day people are told that they should be afraid of not having health insurance, they're going to die in the gutter and to be afraid of all these things that aren't threats at the moment. Of course there are present threats but nobody's paying attention to those.
JM:It seems to me that rebellion itself has become a commodity, the media has co-opted rebellions like rock-n-roll, Dada, Surrealism, poetry, the rebel figure. Do you feel that this co-option has succeeded in making rebellion somewhat ineffectual?
DD:No. What your seeing is an old problem in the arts. Everything is always co-opted, and as soon as possible. As Cocteau used to talk about,you have to be a kind of acrobat or a tightrope walker. Stay 3 jumps ahead of what they can figure out about what you're doing, so by the time the media figures out that your writing, say, women and wolves, you're on to not just a point of view of rebellion or outdoing them, or anything like that. It's more a point of view of how long can you stay with one thing. Where do you want to go? You don't want to do anything you already know or that you've already figured out. So it comes naturally to the artist to keep making those jumps, that is ,if they don't fall into the old "jeez, I still don't own a microwave" programs.
JM:Reminds me of a story about Aldous Huxley. When asked if he had read all the books in his quite impressive library he replied, "God no! Who would want a library full of books that they had already read?"
DD:(laughs)It is true that rebellion is co-opted, but then it always gets out of their hands, it slithers in some other direction. Then they go "oh,how can we make this part of the system?" Like rap. OK, they are co-opting all this regular rap, but now this surreal rap is starting, native tongue, surreal imagery, spiritual anarchism rap, it's not about girls or politics or race and it's starting to happen.
JM:Is this something your daughter brings to your attention?
DD:Yes, I go over once in awhile and catch up on whats going on. You see as soon as something is defined, it wiggles off in another direction. I don't think that it's such a big problem in the sense of reaching a lot of people. How does the artist reach a large audience? The people that know are always going to find the new edge, but the mainstream are not that smart or the guy making a top 40 record is not that smart. It often takes them a long time to figure it out. Now that is a problem, because we don't have the time. We need to reach everybody, right away,because we have to stop the system dead in it's tracks. It's no longer a question of dismantling the system. There isn't enough time to take it apart, we just have to stop it.
JM: Do you feel that there's a somewhat centralized or conscious attempt to defuse radical art or rebellion through cooption or is it just < "the nature of the beast", so to speak.
DD:I think it goes back and forth.There are times when it's conscious, but not a single hierarchical conspiracy but rather a hydra headed conspiracy. Then there are other times that it doesn't need to be conscious anymore,
because that 's the mold, that pattern has been set, so everyone goes right on doing things that way. I'm not quite sure which point we're at right now in history. It's so transitional and craz y that I wouldn't hazard a guess. Just check your COINTELPRO history to see an example of a conscious conspiracy to stop us. Other times it was just a repetition of what has gone on before. Like the ants going back to where the garbage used to be.(laughs)
DD:Yes, and it's all in place when the next so called conspiracy comes along, which is very handy isn't it? I Wonder how we've made this monster we have here?
JM:Ok. Say we stop it dead in it's tracks. What then?
DD:It would be nice to say it's unimaginable, wouldn't that be great. That would be my hope!(laughs) For one thing, we'd have to use the same tables, wear the same shoes longer, read a lot of the same books, maybe for the next few hundred years. Dumps would become valuable places to mine!
JM:They already are to me!
DD:To some people,yes, but not to enough people. Screeching to a halt seems like the only possible solution and I'm not even sure how you would go about it. Of course the good old general strike would be a nice start.
JM:As long as we're on the subject of deconstructing, how do you feel about the predominant intellectual fad of post modernism, deconstrution, and the nihilism implicit in these systems?
DD:Well, when I read that stuff, it's so frustrating. Western thought always keeps stopping on the brink. It never really makes that extra step. It could really do with an infusion of Buddhist logic. At least 4 fold logic and then what's beyond that. It seems that although it's dressed up in new language, nothing really new has happened in philosophy in the 20th century. Well, maybe not since Wittgenstein. It seems like the same old thing. You know, sometimes when people ask me for poems now, I'll send out poems that have been lying around for years, I don't always have new poems lying around everywhere, and these things that I wrote as cut-up stuff, cutting up each others dreams in workshops and such. I'll send these out. Everyone seems to be taking them very seriously and publishing them. They think I'm working off of some language theory when actually these are just things I did for fun.
JM: What are you doing now?
DD:I'm working on 2 prose books. One is called "Recollections of My Life as a Women". I'm 120 pages into it and I'm still 8 years old. I'm still dealing with how the conditioning happened. In my generation a lot of it happened with battering, you got hit a lot, and screaming. Your basic conditioning came through abuse, not really different from concentration camps or anything else. I think think someday we're going to look back on how we're handling kids at this point in history and wonder how we could treat them such. Like when people say "how could women stand it when people did such and such? We'll be saying that about the way children are treated.
JM:What's the other book?
DD:The other prose book is called "Not Quite Buffalo Stew". It's just a rollicking, fun, surreal novel about life in California. It's in the first person, and in the 2nd or 3rd chapter in I found out that the "I" that was the narrator was a man, so that breaks a lot of rules already. The "I" is a drug smuggler named Lynx. There isn't a whole lot of continuity, just whatever scenes wanted to write themselves.
JM:Are you using any kind or random/divination systems, ie, cut-ups, grab bag, I ching, Tarot, coin tossing, etc.?
DD: Not with this one. This one dictates itself. The system I guess I'm using is that I can't write it at home. It won't happen anywhere that's familiar turf and it likes to happen while I'm driving. So I'll probably head for Nevada at some point and finish it.
JM:What do you see in the future for poetry and literature?
DD:I would like to see authors really use Magick to reach themes. I'd like to see more work coming out of visioning and trance. I'm really tired of reading about human beings! There's all these other beings, I'd like to see a real dimensional jump and I'd like to see people working on the technical problems. Like when you come back from trance or visioning, or drugs and what you can write down about it at that moment. What you can make into an actual piece, we haven't figured it out yet. Yeats certainly didn't figure it out. It's more than needing a new language. There are actual forms we need to find or the forms have to find us, that will hold all that material without trying to make it reductive. The attempts at visionary painting in the 60's and Yeats' last poems show how vision didn't translate into these old artistic forms. Of course taking the raw material and presenting that as a piece doesn't work either. Maybe a blending of vision, word, and sounds can achieve something. We haven't really had time to think about what the computer is. Most of us still think of it as a typewriter, or a calculator. We don't think of it as it's own dimension. It has it's own medium, possibilities, to bring this kind of material across. I also think about deliberate invocation to find the plane or thing you want to write about.
JM:Do you see us as heading into a post literate society?
DD:Yes, we might be. I don't think that will stop poetry, in fact it won't stop any of the arts at all. Even if it's oral there may be a split like there was in Europe when there was the written literature in Latin and then there was the oral poems of the singers in the Vulgate. We have that to a degree already with the poetry of the great song writers. Really though, I don't think literate or post literate really matters. Were cave paintings literate or pre-literate? Did they read those paintings or just look at them?(laughs) Of course the only reason a completely literate society was developed was for thought control, and now that thought control can be done via T.V, etc. it's not really needed anymore. They don't want everyone reading Schopenhauer!
DD:Everyone needs to remember that they can buy a small press or laser writer, or copy machine, and go home and do what the fuck they please and it will take a very long time for anyone to catch up with them all! No one seems to remember about a few years ago in Czechoslovakia, without access to all this technology like we have here, even with every one of their typewriters registered to the police, they still managed to publish their work! In order to do this they would they would type it with 10 carbon papers to make 10 copies! We are in a situation here in the US where no one can register all the computers, no one can figure out where alll the copy machines are. Get one now! Remember we can do it without government money. Government money is poison, take it when you need it, but don't get hooked. We can say what we want. They can't possibly keep up with us all.Real decentralization!
JM:That's great, helping people to find their true desires, but do you think that we're so full of false, spectacle manufactured desires that we can no longer identify our true desires?
DD:I think it doesn't take that long to deprogram false desires. Anyone who knows that they have the desire to know that about themselves, what their true desires are, will find the tools to do it. Drugs, autohypnosis, you could also do it by following the false desires until they lead to a dead end like Blake recommended....
JM:Hmmm ... somehow that seems ... very American ...
DD:Hmmm ... You're right ...
9 April 1997
by Lee Ranaldo
In April 1997 I had the chance to connect via telephone with William Burroughs to ask him some questions about Morocco and the years he spent in Tanger. Having traveled there a few times myself recently, I was curious about the Maroc of the forties and fifties, when Tanger was classified an "International Zone" and the laws were famously lax. We spoke for about half an hour that afternoon;I got the impression William wasn't really up for much more than that; he was alert but sounding a bit weary.
It wasn't until some months later in a Kaatskill Mountain cabin that I dug out the cassette tape to transcribe. I spent the better part of that afternoon trying to decipher his gravelly drawl, and pondering his life's journey. On two occasions Sonic Youth had the opportunity to visit him at his home in Lawrence, Kansas, where he took great pleasure in showing us jewel-encrusted knives, gun catalogues, his beloved cats, and the Orgone box out back which he'd built himself, between the pond and garden. Two days later on August 2 I heard of his death. I felt I had just been conversing with him. Barely three months separated his death from that of his lifelong friend Allen Ginsberg.
This man, who spoke of language as a virus, had become subliminal, a skewed organism, rooting under the cultural skin of our time. Imagine a world un-cut-up, without his bone-dry timing, without The Soft Machine or Dr. Benway. Imagine how much vital, challenging work from the last few decades, in so many fields, might not exist without him.
Later in the month, when the New Yorker published his final journal entries, it was clear that he could see the end coming. And what was he left with? Here is his final entry, day before he died: "Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller. What there is. LOVE." Those are the thoughts he leapt off with. Even before the words make sense, that voice is digging in. Listen to him speak yr mind, find rock power writ in his pages, let yr fingernails be left uncleaned.
(loud dial tone and faint "hello, hello?"
touch tone phone tones
ringing 5 or 6 times)
WSB: eh, Hello?
LR: Is this William?
LR: Hi William, this is Lee Ranaldo in New York City.
LR: How are ya?
WSB: Oh, okay.
LR: Well you sound pretty good.
LR: Okay, I wanted to talk to you, for just a few minutes this afternoon, about Morocco, if you would.
WSB: Just a moment, I gotta get my drink.
(25 sec silence)
LR: Okay, first off, William, I'd like to say that I was very sad to hear about Allen, I know you guys have been friends for the longest time.
WSB: Yes. Yes, well he knew, he knew it. He faced it.
LR: It seems like he faced it in a very dignified way, actually.
WSB: Yep, he told me, "I thought I'd be terrified but I'm not at all"
LR: He did?
WSB: Yes, "I'm exhilarated!" he said.
LR: Well, I suppose if anyone had the right, uh, frame about them to go out that way, it was probably him. I was hoping to get one more visit in with him before he passed on, but that was not meant to be. I'm sure a lot of people felt the same. When was the last time you saw him?
WSB: Los Angeles. At my show there.
LR: I wanted to talk to you about Morocco a little bit. I've recently been to the country, a few times, and done some exploring, and I know you spent quite a bit of time in Tanger. I just wanted to pick yr brain about that a little bit. You went to Tanger for the first time in 1953, 1954?
WSB: Nineteen-fifty-four, I believe.
LR: How did you end up in Morocco? What was it about the place that drew you there? I mean, today there are a lot of different romantic associations with the coast of North Africa.
WSB: There were a lot more then than there are now, I can tell you that. You'll notice more subdivisions now, as it's modernized and is no longer cheap. For one thing, it was very cheap then. Yeah, man, I lived like a king for $200 a month.
LR: Did it have the same sort of appeal, then, that Berlin had in the sixties and seventies, an international zone of sorts?
WSB: Pretty much so. It was an anything goes place, and that's another plus.
LR: And that was pretty available knowledge, when you went there?
WSB: Oh sure.
LR: Had you known Paul Bowles, or known about him, before you went there?
WSB: I'd read his books. I didn't know him.
LR: Did you meet him fairly quickly after you were there?
WSB: Mmm, I'd been there for some time, I'd met him very slightly. Later we became quite good friends, but that was some years afterwards.
LR: Do you enjoy his writing?
WSB: Very much, very much. Very particular style, particularly in the end of Let It Come Down, that's terrific, terrific, and The Sheltering Sky is almost a perfect novel. The end of that, oh man, that quote: "At the end of the Arab quarter the car stopped; it was the end of the line." great!
LR: Did you know Jane (Bowles)?
WSB: Oh yes, quite well.
LR: What'd you think of her?
WSB: Oh she was incredible
LR: I've heard incredible things about her, she lived quite an interesting life herself, although I guess in general women in Morocco were very much invisible, in a certain way. Native women, at least.
WSB: It's a very complicated situation, very complex, and I don't pretend to know much about it. Jane Bowles was sort of known for her strange behavior. In New York they invited her to some party where all these powerful ladies were, and they asked her, "Mrs. Bowles, what do you think of all this?", and she said "Oh" and fell to the floor in quite a genuine faint. That was her answer!
LR: Did you pretty much exist within an expatriate community there, or did you have a lot of contact with the local people? Was is easy to have contact?
WSB: The local people, umm, I don't speak a fuckin' word of Arabic, but I speak a little Spanish, y'know, they all spoke Spanish in the Northern Zone. My relations were mostly with the Spanish. Spanish boys. And, of course, otherwise in the expatriate side.
LR: Right, but you didn't frequent the Barbara Hutton crowd?
LR: There was a description, in Barry Miles book (El Hombre Invisible), where he said that you felt very lonely and cut off, being isolated in this corner of North Africa.
WSB: It wasn't being in a corner of North Africa that made it so, it was the fact that I hadn't made many friends there.
LR: Was that a strange time for you? Living there without really knowing anyone?
WSB: Not particularly, I've visited many places alone, many times.
LR: Do you think that the general tenor of life in Morocco influenced the way you were writing at that point? The daily life coming out in some of the routines?
WSB: Probably. The more I was in that surrounding the more I liked it. More and more. Yeah, it was cheap, and then, I met this guy Dave Ulmer (?), who was Barnaby Bliss (his nom de plume). He was at work writing society columns for the Tanger paper, an English (language) paper, the Morocco Courier, run by an old expatriate named Byrd, William Byrd, an old Paris expat. [Ulmer/Bliss, a character of some unsavory repute, supposedly introduced WSB to Tanger's young boy homo-sex scene, and also, more importantly, to Paul Bowles]
LR: Did you do much traveling around Morocco while you were there, or did you pretty much just stick in Tanger?
WSB: I'm ashamed to say, not much. I went to Fes, I went to Marrakech, and passed through Casablanca, some other places there, I forget the names of the coastal towns, and I've been to Jajouka!
LR: Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that, I'm friendly with Bachir Attar, and the last time we were there I went to Jajouka as well. I saw your inscriptions in his big scrapbook, and heard some stories.
LR: How did you end up there?
WSB: Through Brion Gysin, more or less.
LR: What did you make of the music?
WSB: Great, great. I loved it. Magic, it really has a magical quality that you can't find anymore, anywhere. It's dying out everywhere, that quality.
LR: It still seems to be in evidence when they play today, I don't know if you've heard them recently.
WSB: Not recently, but I've heard the recordings, some of the recordings. Ornette Coleman made some, you know. I was there when he made those.
LR: Excuse me?
WSB: I was there.
LR: You were there when he made those (Dancing in Your Head) recordings?
WSB: That's right.
LR: Oh, gee, wasn't that in the 70's? I didn't know you were there when those recordings were happening.
WSB: Yeah, it was, '72, I think.
LR: Are you still in touch with Bachir?
WSB: No, not really.
LR: You were in touch with his father, I suppose.
WSB: Yes, I knew the old man, sure, I remember him. He was the leader of the group back then.
LR: How many musicians would you say were in the group back then?
WSB: Oh, I don't know, it would vary, I'd say about 12, 15.
LR: That's about how many there are today as well. What about at the 1001 Nights (Gysin's restaurant in Tanger), were the Jajouka musicians playing in there?
WSB: Well, various musicians. They had dancing boys in there, too. But I didn't know Brion too well, I was only there a couple of times. I didn't know him then. I became friendly with him in Paris, later.
LR: Were you involved much with the music there, in Morocco, in Tanger? Did it make any strong impression on you?
WSB: Well, I like the Moroccan music very much, the music is omnipresent. I'd be sitting at my desk and hear it outside. It was all around you.
LR: I'd like to hear your impressions of the kif smoking there, and the majoun.
WSB: Sure. Well, the kif smoking was, y'know, anywhere and everywhere. There were no laws.
LR: They sort of smoke it the way people have a drink here, as a social relaxant?
WSB: Well, not exactly the same way. In the first place, it's pretty much confined to men, though I suppose the women get to smoke on their own. But anyway, of course majoun is just a candy made from kif,the kif, you see, is mixed with tobacco.
WSB: I can't smoke it.
WSB: So I'd always get those boys with the tobacco, I'd tell 'em: 'I don't want the tobacco in it.' So I rolled my own, and made my own majoun. It's just a candy, it's pretty much like a Christmas pudding, any sort of candy works good, fudge or whatever.
LR: And how did you find it? Was the high pretty pleasing?
WSB: Very very very much. It was stronger than pot.
LR: Were you smoking a lot of that, or taking a lot of that, when you were writing some of the routines?
WSB: Yeah, sure. It helped me a lot.
LR: The place where you spent a lot of your time there (in Tanger), the Muniria (the famed "Villa Delirium")?
WSB: The Hotel Muniria, yes.
LR: Was it a hotel or a boarding house?
WSB: It was a hotel.
LR: That's where you wrote a lot of the routines that became Naked Lunch?
WSB: Quite a few of them, yes.
LR: And is that where Kerouac, Ginsberg and Orlovsky, those guys, came to visit you?
WSB: I was living there at that time, yes. They didn't, there wasn't a place in the Muniria, but they found various cheap places around very near there.
LR: I heard Kerouac had nightmares from typing up your stuff at that time.
WSB: (pauses) Well, he said.
LR: Was he the first one to actually sit down and type a bunch of that stuff up?
WSB: No, he was by no means the first. Alan Ansen did a lot of typing, and of course Allen Ginsberg. I don't know who was first but it wasn't Jack.
LR: Those guys came and went pretty quickly, compared with the amount of time you spent in Morocco, I guess they weren't as enamored of the place.
WSB: Well they were settled somewhere else. Now for example, Jack didn't like any place outside of America, he hated Tanger.
LR: I wonder why?
WSB: He hated Paris because they couldn't understand his French.
LR: His French was a Canadian dialect.
WSB: Those French Canadians got themselves into a language ghetto. Even the French people don't speak their language! Anyway, he'd been to Mexico quite a lot, more than many other places. He liked it there fairly well.
LR: But he didn't like it very much in Tanger?
WSB: No no, not at all.
LR: Was Tanger a violent place then?
WSB: It was never a violent place that I know of, never! Good God, I walked around in Tanger at all hours of the day and night, never any trouble. There's this idea that you go into the native quarter you immediately get stabbed (laughs) it's nonsense!
LR: Well, people do bring back those stories now and again.
WSB: Well, occasionally it happens, but it is much less dangerous that certain areas of New York, my God!
LR: If you can navigate the streets of New York you're in pretty good stead just about anywhere, I guess.
WSB: Yeah, that's right, you're much safer in Tanger than in New York.
LR: Were there many travelers or tourists in Morocco at that time?
WSB: Not many at all. It was nice. In the summer of course you had sometimes quite a few Scandinavians, Germans(laughs). Brian Howard said about the Swedes, I think it was: 'You're all ugly, you're all queer, and none of you have any money!'
LR: There was another quote in Miles' book, you saying that you'd "never seen so many people in one place without any money or the prospect of any money."
WSB: You certainly could live cheaply there, yes.
LR: Did Americans have to register with the police to live there?
WSB: Of course not, nothing, they had to do nothing. Well, they put in various regulations in town, you had to get a card. By the time we got our goddamn cards and stood in line and had to take all that crap, I had to get one of those in France, too, well, anyway, by that time they had another idea (laughs), so your card that you had acquired was worthless.
LR: When was the last time you were back in Morocco?
WSB: When in the hell was it? I went there with, the last time I went with Jeremy Thomas and David Cronenberg, apropos of possibly getting some shots, y'know.
LR: Oh, for the movie (Naked Lunch)?
WSB: Yeah, for the sets. Well, we just were there a couple of days. It had changed, not incredibly but considerably. There's been a lot of building up, a lot of sort of sub-divisions, it's gotten more westernized. There used to be a lot of good restaurants there, now there's only one, and that's in the Hotel Minza. These people I was with were saying 'Oh show me to a little place in the native quarter where the food is good.' and I said: 'There aren't no such places! Right here in your best food in Morocco, or in Tanger anyway, right in the Hotel Minza!' Well, they went out and they ate in an awful, greasy Spanish restaurant. After that they believed me!
LR: (laughs) They had to find out the hard way.
LR: Okay William, I think that that's gonna be good, that about covers the subjects I'd wanted to get at you with, on there.
WSB: Well fine.
LR: I appreciate your talking to me, it's a great pleasure to talk to you.
WSB: Well, it's my pleasure too.
LR: Okay, I hope to get another chance to come out and say hello to you out there in Lawrence.
WSB: That'd be fine.
LR: Y'know, I have one last question for you, is that, uh, typewriter still growing out in your garden?
WSB: (puzzled) What typewriter?
LR: Last time we were out there to visit, you had a typewriter growing in your garden amongst all the plants and things.
WSB: Oh, just one I threw away I guess.
LR: Yeah, it was a very beautiful image there, with the weeds coming up through the keys.
WSB: (laughs) I guess so, I don't remember the typewriter, I've gone through so many typewriters, wear 'em out and throw 'em away.
LR: Do you generally write with a computer these days?
WSB: I have no idea how to do it. No, I don't.
LR: Typewriter or longhand?
WSB: Typewriter or longhand, yes. These modern inventions! James [Grauerholz] has one, but I just don't.
LR: Okay, well listen William, I thank you very much. Please tell both Jim and James thanks for their help as well.
WSB: I certainly will.
LR: Okay, you take care.
WSB: You too.
LR: Bye bye.
WSB: Bye bye.
1. Have you ever seen the famous 1965 photo of the crowd of Beat writers outside the City Lights bookstore? The photo was taken by Larry Keenan (here he is, with the photo, and his wife Lisa), and I was pleased to receive email from the photographer himself a few months ago. He actually wrote to me to ask me to please stop using his photos without permission, but instead of being nasty about it (as I've heard other copyright-holders sometimes are), he simply asked me to credit him whenever I used one of his pictures, which I was happy to do. We then corresponded a few times, and when I asked him to tell me the story behind his most famous photo he told me this:
To answer your question briefly, Yes I did know what I was doing was important. In fact, this is what I was telling my parents when they did not want me going over to the city to photograph "those dirty beatniks". I had the good fortune to meet Michael McClure at Calif. College of Arts and Crafts where he was/is teaching and I was a student. My friend Dale Smith and I approached McClure about helping us with a project we were doing. During the course of our meeting he said "would you guys like to photograph some of my friends"? We asked "who are your friends"? Allen Ginsberg, Ken Kesey, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, etc. We were blown-away. So for the next year or so we went over to his house most Saturdays and hung out for an hour or so and then went over to a Beat's house or apartment and spent the day photographing him or them. It was always a good experience. They were very nice to us. We were nice too, we gave them mounted prints. Pretty soon we were being invited to parties that we were told not to bring any cameras to.
To make a long story short. My parents made me mow the lawn before I could go over to SF and shoot the Last Gathering photo and the McClure, Dylan, Ginsberg photo.Mowing the lawn ... pretty classic. Anyway, there's a longer interview with Larry Keenan up at The BitWeaver's Loom, an art-oriented site he's involved with. It shows some of Keenan's newer computer-generated artwork as well as a few Beat photographs. Well worth checking out. A book of Keenan's photos will also be out soon, and several will be on display in New York City at Great Modern Pictures, 48 E. 82nd Street from Sept. 12 through Nov. 30.
2. Once again, the folks in Jack Kerouac's hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts are putting on a big Kerouac festival in October. Here's what's going on there. An appearance by Ed Sanders will be one of this year's highlights.
3. Allen Ginsberg News: Here's a page about the new State Of The Union double CD, produced by Elliot Sharp. It features a piece by Ginsberg, along with 145 (!) other pieces. Profits go to the National Coalition Against Censorship, which sounds like a pretty good cause to me. Also, there's an interview with Ginsberg here. Finally, the word is out that Ginsberg has recorded a version of his "Ballad Of The Skeletons" with a pretty impressive group of musicians: Paul McCartney, Lenny Kaye, Philip Glass and Marc Ribot. Should be interesting!
4. The new Enterzone is out, and after a nine-month hiatus I'm in it again! It's nice to be back. Still my favorite zine.
"His Swiftian vision of a processed, pre-pakeaged life, of a kind of elctro-chemical totalitarianism, often evokes the black laughter of hilarious horror."
"Burroughs is the greatest satirical writer since Jonathan Swift."
"The only American writer possessed by genius."
"Burroughs shakes the reader as a dog shakes a rat."
"An integrity beyond corruption...Burroughs convinces us he has seen things beyond description."
"One of the most dazzling magicians of our time."
---John Rechy, "The Ticket is Exploding"
"With suffering comes humility and with it in the end, wisdom."
At 82, William Seward Burroughs II, El Hombre Invisible, Literary Outlaw, Commandeur de l'Ordre de Arts et des Lettres, is rapidly becoming the most respected, highly regarded writer in America, in the world.
"All at once I snapped my fingers a couple of times
and laughed. Hellfire and damnation! I suddenly
imagined I had discovered a new word! I sat up in
bed, and said: It is not in the language, I have
discovered it - Kuboaa. It has letters just like
a real word, by sweet Jesus, man, you have discovered
a word!...Kuboaa...of tremendous linguistic
significance. The word stood out clearly in front
of me in the dark."
Burroughs? No. Knut Hamsun. In 1890, with the publication of "Hunger," the first purely psychological novel(yes I'm ready to argue), Hamsun turned the literary world upside-down and spun it around. In 1959, 69 years after Hamsun's breakthrough, with the release of "Naked Lunch," William S. Burroughs, explorer in the most real mythological sense, whose search for The Word has, does and will take him anywhere outside and inside himself, did what only a small handful of "literari" have achieved in the history of writing: He forever redirected the course of literature in a way that permanently altered language, culture and seeing.
So, what the hell is Old Bull Lee up to? Retired and enjoying good health, does he rest on his arse? No. He is busy working his arts off, dreaming, seeing, reading and representing new and old visions on paper, canvas, vinyl,tape, disk, CD-Rom, your brain and mine.
Dream long and dream hard enough
But rumors abound: He's kept tied to his bed and forced to use a
chamber pot; he still takes heroin; he moved to central America (USA) because
land was cheap and he knows it's about to become beachfront property since
East and West coasts willbe falling into oceans any day now; he's dead; he
shoots obsessed, fatal-attraction European midnight visitors with a shotgun.
You will come to know
Dreaming can make it so
---William S. Burroughs
Come on people. Wake up. Sober down. William Burroughs is harassed day and night by folks from around the world showing up, without invitation, notice or warning, banging on doors and windows, camping in his yard, trying to get a glimpse of the legend.
The man is 82. Let's show respect for his privacy as we do for his work, as we would expect and demand given the good fortune of being in his position. He receives requests every day for interviews, visits, readings, recordings and films. He does what he can, and always, always in the friendliest manner. (And no, he hasn't shot or threatened anyone.)
William's latest books include "My Education: A Book of Dreams" and "Ghost of Chance." Recent audiowork includes "Naked Lunch,""X-Files CD," plus, he is now in studio recording "Junky" and enjoying it so much he may go right into "Queer."
Two historic Burroughs events are taking place this summer. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (you can contact them at 212-857-6522) is premiering the exhibition "Ports of Entry: William S. Burroughs and the Arts" on July 16 through October 6. The event, curated by Robert Sobieszek, is the first-ever retrospective surveying Burroughs' career, with 153 works, beginning with his 1960s and early 1970s photocollages, scrapbooks, and his collaborations with Brion Gysin on photomontage "cut-ups." The exhibition will also include Burroughs' later shotgun art and recent abstract painting, and will explore how his work has influenced today's cultural landscape, resulting in the absorption of his ideas and routines into newer art, advertising and current popular culture.
The second event is The New Orleans Voices Without Restraint INSOMNIACATHON at the Contemporary Arts Center and The Howlin' Wolf Club, the largest Beat gathering of the year, where Mayor Mark Morial, James Grauerholz, Doug Brinkley, and others will speak with Burroughs over the phone. (For more information contact Ron Whitehead at 502-568-4956.)
Yes, the ticket is exploding. The walls of the literary world, the world of culture, are crumbling, and through the gaping holes strides the drawling wordslinger with an attitude, William Seward Burroughs II.
William S. Burroughs: Hello?
Ron Whitehead: William?
Whitehead: Ron Whitehead.
WSB: Well, well, Ron Whitehead.
Whitehead: How the hell are you?
WSB: How what?
Whitehead: How are you?
WSB: Well, I'm fine, thank you.
Whitehead: As you recall, I produced your "Published in Heaven: Remembering Jack Kerouac poster and chapbook," plus I sent you my "Calling the Toads" poem & I'm right now producing the William S. Burroughs/Sonic Youth 7" vinyl recording for our audio series.
WSB: Oh, of course, yes, yes.
Whitehead: I just received letters from Rene in Amsterdam. He says that after my reading at the Meer den Woorden Festival in Goes, Holland he started having dreams in which you and I taught him how to save the world. I'm forwarding the letters to you.
WSB: How old is he? I think I remember him. What does he look like?
Whitehead: Early 20s. Blond. Handsome. Friendly. Intelligent. Knows the history of the Beats inside out. He writes from a mental hospital in Amsterdam.
WSB: Hmm. Not sure. Perhaps.
Whitehead: Reason I'm calling is that Doug Brinkley has asked me to produce an event in New Orleans in August. It will be the largest Beat gathering of the year. RANT for the literary renaissance and The Majic Bus will present the event, called Voices Without Restraint: 48-Hour Non-Stop Music & Poetry INSOMNIACATHON. As part of the event, we'll hold a City of New Orleans Presentation Ceremony, dedicating to you the historic marker which will be erected at your Algiers home, which was made famous by Jack Kerouac in "On the Road." And we'd like to have a live phone conversation with you during the presentation.
WSB: Why certainly. Yes, yes. I'm honored.
Whitehead: Good. Just a few questions.
WSB: Fine. Shoot.
Whitehead: Why did you decide to settle in Algiers, which at that time was home to various military bases, rather than in one of the traditional bohemian neighborhoods?
WSB: Yes. Because it was a hell of a lot cheaper. Real estate there was the cheapest. I got that house for $7,000 something.
Whitehead: Any memories of different New Orleans neighborhoods you visited, music, riding the ferry?
WSB: The Quarter, strange plays...Didn't get around too much.
Whitehead: The New Orleans Police have come under attack recently -- imagine that -- for corruption. A cop hired executioners to kill a woman who signed a brutality complaint against him. Louisiana police cars have "So no one will have to fear" inscribed on their sides. Do you have any observations about the New Orleans police, about the illegal search of your home there, or the firearms they confiscated?
WSB: No. They never laid a finger on me, as far as any brutality goes. They did lead me to believe that one of them was a federal agent when he wasn't. He was a city cop. So there was an illegal search. But I didn't know it at the time. The next day, I was arrested. There was someone with me I hardly knew. He was just introduced to me. He had one joint on him. He'd thrown out larger amounts but still had one, and they found it right away. Then the next day they went in and took my car and I never got it back, though I wasn't convicted of anything. See, they can confiscate your property even though you're not convicted of anything. And that's really scary sinister.
Whitehead: Both our political parties are looking like a bird with two right wings.
Whitehead: The police are gaining more powers daily as our personal freedoms are disappearing.
WSB: See, that's what I say. The whole drug war is nothing but a pretext to increase police power and personnel, and that, of course, is dead wrong. So many created imagined drug offenses.
Whitehead: New Orleans has North America's largest magic community. In recent years you've spoken bluntly about your interest in magic. In New Orleans did you encounter magic in any form?
WSB: No, I didn't.
Whitehead: There may be irony in having a literary marker commemorate your Algiers home, a place where you lived briefly, perhaps unhappily. Did you produce any writing there?
WSB: Oh yes, quite a bit. And I wouldn't say I was particularly unhappy there.
Whitehead: So it wasn't all that bad?
WSB: No, it wasn't. Not at all.
Whitehead: Jack Kerouac devoted a large section of "On the Road," on the New Orleans visit.
WSB: Oh well, Kerouac was writing fiction. What he did when he wrote about me...he made me out with Russian Countesses and Swiss accounts and other things I didn't have or didn't happen and so on. Yet...some truth, some fiction.
Whitehead: You have dramatically influenced music, literature, film, art, advertising and culture in general. Are you intrigued by that influence? How did you first become conscious of other people's perception of you as icon?
WSB: Well, slowly of course. Over time. Reading the paper, magazines, journals, that sort of thing.
Whitehead: The request for interviews becomes absurd after a while. This is the first and last one I intend to do. I feel uncomfortable in the position of interviewer.
WSB: Yes, it becomes absurd because interviewers generally ask the same questions, say the same things.
Whitehead: Recently you've been barraged with interview requests, especially in relation to the deaths of Timothy Leary and Jan Kerouac.
WSB: Yes, of course I knew Leary, but barely knew, didn't really know Jan. James knew her, was friends with her, but I didn't.
Whitehead: Hunter S. Thompson, who I like so much, is, like me, from Louisville and you're from just up the road in St. Louis. I recently visited Hunter at his home in Colorado. Hunter said he thought he was a pretty good shot until he went shooting with you.
WSB: I'll put it like this: Some days you're good and some you aren't.
Whitehead: You must have been good that day. Hunter was real impressed.
WSB: Well, he gave me a great pistol.
Whitehead: Like Hunter, some people would say that you're a Southern gentleman with a world literary reputation, but both you and Hunter have escaped the Southern-writer label. Any comments?
WSB: I escaped the label because I didn't and don't write about the South.
Whitehead: Do you have a personal favorite of your own readings? I know you've been in the studio recording "Junky."
WSB: No, I don't have any special favorite.
Whitehead: Other than Brion Gysin, is there anyone you miss the most?
WSB: When you get to be my age there are more and more people you have known that you miss. Brion, Antony Balch, Ian Summerville are ones I think of right away I was quite close to.
Whitehead: Diane di Prima is underrated, underappreciated in the world. Her autobiography will be released by Viking Penguin in April '97. I hope she'll finally receive credit that's long overdue.
WSB: Yes, I hope so too.
Whitehead: You've had much to say about Samuel Beckett. Beckett's mentor, James Joyce, was an anarchist who devoted his life work to undermining and deconstructing the dominant paradigm of patriarchy in government, religion, family and literature. I'm doing research asking The Beats what influence James Joyce had, if any, on their writing. How do you feel about Joyce?
WSB: Well he's great, a very great writer. Any modern writer is bound to be influenced by Joyce. Of course, by Beckett as well.
Whitehead: I had a long conversation with Allen Ginsberg about Bob Dylan. Allen talked about his personal feelings towards Dylan and also about Dylan's work. Allen said he felt like Dylan would be remembered long after The Beats and he added reasons why. This is a strong statement, especially coming from Allen Ginsberg. Do you have any comments on this?
WSB: No, I don't. Not in any cursory way. Of course, I've listened to and know his music and met him a couple of times, but I don't have any strong statements to make.
Whitehead: John Giorno is giving me an out-take from The Best of Bill CD box set he's producing. As part of White Fields Press' Published in Heaven series, I'm producing a 7" vinyl recording with you on one side and Sonic Youth on the other. Lee Ranaldo has stopped by to visit you. How much are you able to keep up with music today?
WSB: Some much more than others. I've worked with and am very good friends with Patti Smith and Jim Carroll.
Whitehead: How do you feel about this historic marker?
WSB: Fine. Fine. It's an honor like the French Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. Commander of Arts and Letters. Commander of Arts and Letters.
CALLING THE TOADSHummm Hummm Hummm Hummm Hummm Hummm Hummm Hummm Calling the toads Calling the toads We shall come rejoicing Calling the toads one step out the door off the step goin down swingin in a peyote amphetamine benzedrine dream I'm five years old I am the messenger holdin William Burroughs' Bill Burroughs' Old Bull Lee's hand holdin Bill's hand on some lonely godforsakinuppermiddleclassSt.Louisstreet and we're hummin we're hummin we're hummin in tones we're hummin in tones callin the toads oh yeah we're callin the toads Bill's eyes twinklin glitterin a devilish grin crackin the corners of his mouth and I'm lookin him right smack in the eyes deep in the eyes I'm readin his heroined heart yes I'm readin his old heart but it ain't the story I expected as we move this way and that raisin and lowerin out heads our voices callin the toads and here they come marchin high and low from under the steps from under the shrooms of the front yard from round the corner of the house fallin from the trees rainin down here come the toads all sizes and shapes all swingin and swayin and dancin that magic Burroughs Beat yes here come the toads singin and swayin and swingin their hips now standin all round us hundreds thousands of toads eyes bulgin tongues stickin out hard dancin a strange happy vulgar rhythmed dance for Burroughs and me yes Burroughs yes Burroughs yes Burroughs I see his heart and I know his secret a secret no one has discovered til now but I'll never tell never reveal as I witness this sacred scene this holy ceremony this gathering this universal song and dance I witness through the eyes the heart of William S. Burroughs King of the Toads Calling the toads Calling the toads We shall come rejoicing Calling the toads hummmm