The Conversation Continues
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To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: If we keep this up for several more years, this conversation of ours will end up being the longest literary chat on record. At the moment, though ó and who knows what made me think of this ó Iím wondering if youíve read many seafaring books, like Moby Dick or The Sea Wolf. Of course, the greatest of them all would have to be The Odyssey.
John Berbrich: I have thus far avoided Moby Dick. However, I have read The Sea Wolf, which I enjoyed but felt that too many coincidences occurred, really stretching my credulity. I found it difficult to continue to suspend disbelief. The Odyssey Iíve read several times, one of my favorites. While weíre on the topic, letís not forget the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
William Michaelian: In fact itís time for me to read that again. But it has to be the edition with the Dorť artwork, which I howled about here many moons ago. I have an old paperback edition of Moby Dick, but Iíve never read past the first page or two. Something puts me off each time, I donít remember what. And youíre right ó as pleasant as old Jack can be, The Sea Wolf leaves something to be desired. And if youíve seen the movie, then you canít get the image of Edward G. Robinson out of your mind. The Odyssey, of course, is one of the supreme gifts, from humankind, to humankind.
John Berbrich: It is. The sea crashes and tumbles on nearly every page. Whitman evokes the sea powerfully in his poetry, the long rolling breakers, the moon shining on the waves at night. The ocean ó a place of mystery and majesty: huge, untamable, deep, and wild. How far are you from the coast?
William Michaelian: Only about an hourís drive, about fifty, sixty miles. When youíre here, weíll go. Just make sure you bring something warm to wear. Itís usually windy and cold on the beach. Sometimes my ears whistle, due to my hollow head.
John Berbrich: I donít have that problem; my head is usually full. When I was sixteen I worked one summer flipping burgers at Jones Beach on Long Island. I just love the ocean. The thought struck me when I was young, that the sea appeals to all five senses. It is amazing to look at, humbling to listen to, invigorating to smell, energizing to taste, and fun to touch. Going to the ocean is a total sensory experience. Anita, you find that key yet?
William Michaelian: Donít worry, youíll get used to those things. The ocean, as loud as it can be, is also another definition of silence. But I prefer the stretches of beach in the southern half of California, where it is warmer and calmer. The Oregon coast is beautiful, though. There are places on Highway 101 where you need to stop and get off the road just to absorb the view. And there are lighthouses to ponder, with gulls swirling all around, and strange life-forms slopping at your feet as the wind scours your pores and peels away the detritus of your grimy inland life. That said, I really like the mountains better, especially the high altitudes, the mysterious shaded paths, the tiny lakes that shine like mirrors, the towering redwoods and pines, the silent walls of granite transformed by ice. The ocean is wonderful, but I feel more at home in the mountains. Ahoooo . . .
John Berbrich: Amazing planet. Iíve never been in really big mountains, just the punky ones of northern New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia were pretty impressive, with their long pine-and-cattle-covered slopes. Actually any type of landscape devoid of people is beautiful and profound. A rolling grassland resonates of the arms of the galaxy, going on and on and on. . . . A bleak, gray swamp reminds you of millions of years of unwritten history. A duck, a beaver, a hawk. Strange ripples of water. At night the loons, demented, sad, lonely. I need to get away from people for awhile. Find me a cozy cave or ravine, open to the stars. Eat tree-bark and drink spring water. Hop a freight train for 1938. Become a hobo, sit around campfires drinking grog, exchanging stories with other veterans of the rails. The morning dew my ablutions, any sunny warm day I call heaven.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. Beautiful. By the time I was thirty, I had absorbed so much sunshine that, like Robert Frost, I thought, fire is nice, but ice will surely suffice. At least I think it was Frost who said that. I have a brother in Edmonton ó he knows a thing or two about ice. The prairie land there is beautiful. Seeing it was quite an experience. November it was; the sky was rearranged and swept clean every few minutes. Massive white-faced cattle with dense hides watched us from the roadsides, ancient, snot-encrusted, blowing steam. As you said, thereís so much to see. These places shape us, without a doubt ó the weather and terrain, the way the sky looks at night. In Edmonton, we stopped at a used book store, where I picked up a two-volume hardbound set of stories by Maugham in a nice case, for less than ten American dollars. I tried a story or two and found them densely dull. But I still have the books as a pleasant reminder of my visit there and the time we spent.
John Berbrich: Maugham is another of those writers Iíve managed to avoid thus far. The name sounds so dull; just say it slow ó M-a-u-g-h-a-m. Sounds overly serious too. Funny about names: I stayed away from Evelyn Waugh due to the name. First of all, the syllables donít chime at all; they sound simply dreary. Second, how does one pronounce Waugh? I have no idea, and if someone asks me Oh, what are you reading? how do I respond? I shall probably mispronounce the name horribly and be disgraced forever. And then I found out that Evelyn Waugh was a man, and I thought, ridiculous name for a guy, now I certainly shanít read it. But then I read a lengthy review of Waughís works by Anthony Lane, a reviewer for The New Yorker ó Lane made them sound so appealing that I purchased a used copy of Brideshead Revisited. I havenít actually read it yet, but the novel is on my shelf of books to read. Thereís so much in a name.
William Michaelian: I went through exactly the same thing with Waugh, except for the Lane review and buying his book. If you actually do read Brideshead Revisited ó a title I like as little as his name ó let me know how it goes. I have assumed all along that Waugh is pronounced Wah, and wouldnít be surprised at all if thatís wrong. Same with Maugham ó Mom? Dear Maugham: Iím having fun at camp, I ate all my cookies the first day. Actually, a rude boy named Evelyn ate them.
John Berbrich: Oh, Willie ó you do tickle my chuckles or whatever. I agree about Brideshead Revisited; itís an awful name, which is why the novel has made it to my shelf of books to read but no further. Then you find writers with excellent names like Balzac, Voltaire, Lord Byron, and Mark Twain. And the Russians! Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Vladimir Odoevsky. Excellent monikers for wicked penmasters! Oh yes ó Anton Chekhov, Oscar Wilde, and Lord Tennyson. All of these names are evocative of power and mystery. I canít read Hart Crane simply due to his dull name, even though itís so close to Mark Twain, which to me rings and sparkles. Another magical marvelous moniker: J.R.R. Tolkien.
William Michaelian: Indeed. And letís not forget Marina Tsevetayeva, William Carlos Williams ó whence Carlos? ó and Langston Hughes. D.H. Lawrence isnít bad. How about Morley Callaghan or Albert Camus? Naturally, Robert Frost couldnít have gone by Bob, and Jack Kerouac couldnít have been John. Hereís a good one: Ring Lardner. And then of course there was Ring Lardner, Jr., who wrote the screenplay for the movie M*A*S*H and was blacklisted by McCarthy. When asked, ďAre you now, or have you ever been, a member of the Communist Party?Ē Lardner replied, ďI could answer it, but if I did, Iíd hate myself in the morning.Ē Anais Nin. Walt Whitman. Tennessee Williams. Iím going down the alphabet. There are others. But I think Iíve got my Wordsworth.
John Berbrich: Willie, youíre a long fellow. Funny, I avoided William Carlos Williams for years precisely because of that Carlos you mentioned. It always made me think of whining multi-culturalism. Jack London is another great name. How about Soren Kierkegaard? Or Nietzsche, even? But I think weíve exhausted the subject. Do I hear someone howling Virginia Woolf? How about Vladimir Nabokov? And that reminds me ó Shelley isnít too bad, but I canít put up with Percy Bysshe, Iím sorry.
William Michaelian: And thereís no reason you should have to, especially when there are names like Jian Brichiam to fall back on. Meanwhile, I suppose itís small of me to dismiss authors because of their names, but Iíve done it many times. For me, some names are just too lightweight to bear ó I know they canít be attached to powerful works. Isnít that ridiculous? Now that I think of it, I should probably make a point of reading books by writers with simple, dull names. It would be a good experiment. On the other hand, thatís what pen names are for. If a writer with a dull name doesnít have the decency or brains to come up with a great pen name, then it follows that his stuff will be lousy. Anyway. Your turn. Itíll take me awhile to get my foot out of my mouth.
John Berbrich: Well, Iím sure weíve pissed off plenty of people, assuming anyone is reading this. We did a spot on pen names a few pages back I think. O. Henry is ringing in my mind. How about you, Willie. Is your name really William Michaelian? Couldnít you come up with something a bit more interesting? Isnít your name really Rusty? Rusty MacPherson? I thought about using initials, like J.A. Berbrich ó or my full name, John Anthony Berbrich. Or my full full name, John Anthony Thomas Berbrich. J.A. Berbrich isnít bad; it sounds British. But I felt uncomfortable with all of these varieties, and none was really a marked improvement. So I just kept it simple.
William Michaelian: Honestly, I donít mean anything by it. Just painless empty-headed talk, you know. Iím a nice person, very tolerant, magnanimous even, grateful for the accomplishments of humankind, the flower and the thistle side by side, come Smith, come Jones, or the fiddling Abernathy. íTis is a wonder-riot, this crazy wheel with myriad shining spokes. A lot of people call me Bill ó good old Bill. Could anything be more common? Sir John Anthony OíBerbrich ó but they called íim Tom. What?
John Berbrich: Youíre a big shopper too. Ah yes, but the wheel turns round ó and it is just, never swerving a hair. Bill, huh? I never would have guessed. Somehow you donít look like a Bill. A Willie, yeah. And Rusty suits you, as I said earlier. No one has ever called me Tom.
William Michaelian: I look not like a Bill, you dasnít look Tomish. Me Willie, you John. Others may say what they wish. Rusty Iím not, or so Iíve been taught, while you, my friend, are Berbrich. But I think I know where you get the MacPherson. When I was in the sixth grade, a guy named MacPherson tried to teach me the trumpet.
John Berbrich: Ah, yes ó MacPherson. He played a fine strumpet. But you never caught on, did you Willie? Did you play any instrument in school, or after, or ever?
William Michaelian: Hey, I just remembered something. Didnít I once sign a letter to you Rusty MacPherson? There is something very strange at work here. Anyway, MacPherson was a fine man, with dark hair trimmed in a flat-top, and those black-rimmed glasses so common back in the Sixties. White shirt, narrow tie. But hereís the short version: I had already learned to read music and play the piano, allegro con moto, and so thought Iíd try my hand at something in school. There were plenty of dented trumpets available. MacPherson signed one out to me, showed me how to use the spit valve, and I was on my way. Trumpet-playing came easy, but I quickly realized it wasnít for me, so I turned in the brass and went back to the piano. We have a piano in our house, an old upright my grandmother bought back in the Forties for twenty-five dollars. Havenít touched it in years. Itís in a tight corner and needs tuning. How about you? Donít you play the guitar or something?
John Berbrich: Messed around on it. I played the bass (& sang lead vocals) in several brilliant subterranean rock bands years ago. Havenít touched the thing in years. Itís gone. But the Rusty MacPherson thing ó I do remember that letter, and Iíve wondered over the years what could it mean, why did you sign your name that way? There was some hint that perhaps your true personality was leaking out onto the paper. As though you had a mental problem, and were repressing your true identity. But this is clearly not possible. No one is as stable as old Willie.
William Michaelian: Well, in my own peculiar way, I am stable. Iím crazy, but in a predictable way. Bats, you know. In the belfry. Sagely squeaking, beating their greasy wings on the walls. Of course, that doesnít mean Iím not repressing my true identity. Maybe I am, maybe Iím not. How would I know for sure?
John Berbrich: Exactly. Weíre all mad, in a way. I suppose the thing to do is to proceed as though you were entirely sane, or at least mostly sane. Is a person sane who doubts his own sanity? Or is the belief that one is completely sane, in itself insane? Willie, help me out here.
William Michaelian: Your request concerns me, but Iíll try. Short answer: I donít know. People completely sure of their sanity frighten, sadden, and amuse me, and their need to be sane strikes me as pathetic ó as if all one has to do is buy enough mental insurance and everything else will fall into place, despite abundant proof to the contrary. In that sense, sanity is easier than thinking, easier than trying to know oneself. In other words, sanity isnít sanity, itís laziness and fear.
John Berbrich: That really is a beautiful answer. Smug self-complacency. Sometimes you look at the world and you want to either laugh or cry it is so insane. Thatís the world of people. The Natural world is neither sane nor insane ó it simply is. Perhaps thatís why most people find it so refreshing to walk in the woods or sit by a river. Thereís no laziness and no fear. Just life rolling on and on and on.
William Michaelian: Without judgment. People love to talk about progress. Technology aside, do you think humans have made much or any psychological progress during the past several thousand years?
John Berbrich: Good opportunity for cynicism. Or optimism. Or realism. I donít know what individuals were like 2000 years ago. We have the writings of only the smartest. I suppose people were superstitious, selfish, and mean. They still are superstitious, selfish, and mean. But people can also be kind, generous, and loving. Which I suppose they were 2000 years ago. Deep in my heart, Iíve always felt that if you gain one thing you lose another ó that any step forward is a step backward when viewed from the opposite direction. I suppose that this view can be considered cynical, or optimistic, or realistic. An example: as a recent development we are quite adept at multi-tasking now, but by fragmenting our consciousness, what have we lost? On the other hand, I canít believe that people were as complex thousands of years ago as they are today. Going back thousands and even millions of years, there must have been a point when humans were less human, more like animals. And how do we define human? Iím not sure, but complexity is part of the definition. And Iím not certain that complexity is really progress. To me, progress exists only if you are advancing towards a specific goal. Otherwise, itís all simply change, modification. My answer on psychological progress: a cautious NO.
William Michaelian: Good points, good questions. I think with psychological progress there is a goal implied, and that goal is self-understanding. It does seem we are fragmented, even imprisoned, by our technological advancements. Our attention is tragically divided; we miss out on so many things. It would also seem that we have arrived at the present moment with our basic fears intact. And yet, as you said, we donít really know how people thought and felt thousands of years ago. As it is, the person next to us on the bus remains a mystery. Still, I wonder about things like war. Will we ever move beyond it? Or is it something in our wiring left over from ancient times, when we were, as you put it, less human? So many of us think we are the pinnacle of creation or evolution, and yet we accept and glorify this primitive behavior. One thing Iím sure of: We are a work in progress.
John Berbrich: Again, progress towards what? Peace, Love, and Understanding? Ethereal beings? Creatures of light and spirit? I canít see any of that happening. My three Cardinal Virtues: Faith, Charity, Gratitude. My Faith is a tempered optimism, a kind of jolly skepticism. Charity is simply cutting others some slack, which translates to kindness and tolerance. Gratitude is the understanding that you are owed nothing, that you deserve nothing, and yet in most cases you have so much. Iíve often thought (somewhat optimistically) that people invented gods in order to show gratitude to someone or something for the joys and pleasures of life. On the other hand, they could just as easily have invented them because they need someone to complain to, or someone to curse for their unhappiness.
William Michaelian: Man, that word progress really gets you going, doesnít it. All I really meant was, we are unfinished, and who knows where it will lead? I suppose I could have said that, instead of falling back on a convenient writing term. Your outlook and view of life is beautiful, and, it seems to me, very stable and realistic. It sounds like youíve arrived at your three Cardinal Virtues through long and thoughtful observation, and through humility born of trial and error. I am not nearly that well-adjusted, but I do subscribe to your Virtues, to the extent that my strange wiring allows. Tell me ó do you think Peace, Love, and Understanding really exist? Or are they just relative terms?
John Berbrich: Jeepers, Willie, whatís with the simple questions? Okay, what is Peace? Does it mean a lack of disturbance, a lack of conflict? Does it mean contentment? How about Love? Poets have danced around that one for thousands of years ó and so have lovers ó and I donít think any satisfactory answer has yet been given. I donít see how I can love people Iíve never met. Love is powerful and profound and mysterious. And real understanding? These three terms do have meaning, but only as fleeting glimpses into another, unreachable, perhaps imaginary universe. They are Platonic forms ó you can find only twisted mutated versions of them in our world. Itís like golf. Even the best players end up around par. Once in a great while someone nails a hole-in-one, but itís rare. I honestly canít imagine living in a world saturated with Peace, Love, and Understanding. Seems like it would be unbearably dull. But I donít think we have to worry about it happening any time soon. These sound like good targets to shoot for, even if we usually fall short of the mark.
William Michaelian: Well, I think they do exist, apart from the words weíve given them, apart from the meager designations. They exist the way a flower exists, if we come to that flower in an eager childlike state, which is to say, without judgment. They exist if and when we permit them to exist, when they are least expected, and when we forget ourselves, for however long. I think we know them in fleeting moments, and that we spend much of the rest of our time betraying them. The betrayal might be innocent, or helpless, a natural part of being human, at this stage of our humanity. Someday the words might cease to exist, or exist only as relics, having served their purpose, having given way to the reality they are meant to represent. Why speak of peace and love, in other words, when we are living them? Say love, and love is chased away. Say peace, and a dozen arguments spring to life. Now, thereís another facet of this subject that always amuses me, and that is our arrogance. A child knows better. So does the family dog, taking care of her rambunctious little pups. As adults, we complicate everything. We take something simple and beautiful and beat it to death, or we define it into submission. It is easier to talk than it is to act, or to simply let things be, which they go on doing anyway. But this brings to mind another question. If everything is acting inevitably according to its own nature, why do we, or some of us, think we are acting against our own? Maybe itís natural for us to torture ourselves. Maybe thatís what being human really is. And if it is, that still wouldnít mean it was always this way, or that it will always be this way. It would only mean thatís the way it is now.
John Berbrich: Well, yeah ó and maybe thatís why I say that it seems a world of Peace, Love, and Understanding sounds unbearably dull ó because I am human. Although if itís natural for us to torture ourselves, then maybe a dull world would be torture enough for us. But as you say, this all can change. The truest remark you made is the part about the child and the dog. Thatís the Zen part about defining and not defining. When you define, you limit. And whenever you make a law, you create more loopholes. You train smarter crooks. Maybe thatís why Ezra Pound refused to speak during the last decade or so of his life. Apparently he consented to do an interview and when the interviewer arrived Pound told the guy ďWords no good,Ē and wouldnít say anything else. I donít know what peopleís natural nature is. Like I said earlier, we seem to be moving towards a greater complexity, but even that statement may be way off. We should learn from dogs. Whitman writes: ďI think I could turn, and live with animals, they are so placid and self-containíd, / I stand and look at them long and long. // They do not sweat and whine about their condition, / They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins, / They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God, / Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things, / Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago, / Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.Ē
William Michaelian: Words no good ó I love it. And those Whitman lines are great. Meanwhile, if I said anything that is true, I consider it a miracle. What you say is guided by sound reasoning. What I say is whatever I am able to scoop up in my dented little pan from the river as it swiftly passes by. Sometimes itís enough to wash my face, or an arm or leg. Often, though, itís full of mud, writhing with mysterious life. We see and approach things differently, yet we frequently arrive at the same place, or at least in the same neighborhood. This in itself is a miracle. Communication is always a miracle. Hereís another quote of Poundís that I came across. Commenting on his thirteen years in St. Elizabethís Hospital in Washington, D.C., he said: ďHow did it go in the madhouse? Rather badly. But in what other place could one live in America?Ē Maybe you know the background of that statement. I donít.
John Berbrich: Well, I do know why he was in St. Elizabethís. During World War Two, Pound lived in Italy and broadcast pro-Fascist, anti-USA radio programs. He was captured by Americans and brought back to the States to be tried for treason. He could have been executed. But he was found insane instead and, not being fit to stand trial, was committed. Pound was obviously brilliant, one of those fellows who writes like a polymath. But he had some strange ideas that I can never agree with. He was hilarious though. His work was published by New Directions. By changing the emphasis slightly, he called it Nude Erections. I think that is a scream.
William Michaelian: Iíll bet New Directions thought so too. Does your home library include a Pound section?
John Berbrich: Yeah, but not an extensive one. I have one collection of poetry and three collections of essays. His writing runs from funky slang to flawless erudition. And of course he peppers his prose with Latin, French, and Italian. He inserts Greek and also Chinese ideograms into his poetry, musical notation too. Quite a trip to read, often a rewarding experience. One of the brilliant animals of 20th century literature.
William Michaelian: Interesting. Are the ideograms and musical notation there strictly for visual purposes? And you mentioned strange, hard-to-swallow ideas. Such as?
John Berbrich: Regarding the ideograms and musical notation, I honestly donít know. After looking at these poems, I decided they required too much study and effort. So I glossed over them. The ideas I canít agree with are his anti-Semitism and his Fascist Socialism. I canít abide Socialism, sorry. I donít mind if people practice it, but it always needs to be forced upon the populace by a stern and rigid government. I canít see the benefit to that. And I can not understand anti-Semitism. Apparently at least several big 20th century authors felt this way, writers like E.E. Cummings. I just donít get it.
William Michaelian: There isnít much to get, really. I know Iíve been surprised and disappointed on occasion when I learned that this or that author subscribed to whatever convenient form of hatred. Anti-Semitism is one, hatred of women is another. In the early part of the twentieth century, Armenians were despised in Fresno, were not allowed to live in certain neighborhoods, and were referred to as Fresno Indians. My fatherís uncles had to fight their way through school ó your mother is this, your mother is that. Naturally, there are individuals within all races and nationalities who go out of their way to be hateful and disgusting ó another wonderful dimension of our humanity. As far as Socialism goes, Iím not even sure I know what it is. Socialism, Communism, Botulism ó all systems look good on paper and have something to recommend them. But, as you said, they have to be rigidly imposed, and they are set up in a manner that the corrupt and powerful can always take advantage. The best system I know of is to be responsible for oneís own actions and to try to understand the consequences of those actions, and to be considerate of your neighbors. It wonít solve all problems, but many other things would fall into place.
John Berbrich: Exactly. If you have decent people to work with, any system will work. If the people are irresponsible and mean, every system will fail. Quite simple. Maybe too simple, but I think a tad of truth lurks within somewhere. I honestly havenít uncovered a lot of hatred of women in literature. I find a lot more hatred towards men, recently anyway. And I had no idea Armenians were so discriminated against, although I suppose most ďgroupsĒ have had their turn on the rack. Of all the animals, people are the most awful. They are consistently, and without clear purpose, awful. If a person simply leaves his neighbors alone, we call him virtuous.
William Michaelian: Then I am the pillar of virtue, the rock of neighborly goodness. But whenever I have been called upon, I have willingly helped. A lawn mowed here, a couch lifted there, mail and newspapers gathered while someone is away. One of the toughest things I was asked by a neighbor years ago was to tell his wife that their son had died. She was terminally ill herself, and wouldnít believe her husband. It was a strange spot to be in, but I did as requested. On the other hand, all my neighbors could be Armenians ó then Iíd never get any rest. When I said hatred of women, I wasnít really thinking in terms of literature. I was thinking of an attitude. Some men have horrible, ignorant ideas about women, and some women have horrible, ignorant ideas about men ó as if we belonged to two different species. It is very small-minded, unproductive, and pathetic, the railing, the choosing of sides, the stupid jokes that are not really funny, but designed to hurt. It is an incredible waste of precious attention and energy.
John Berbrich: Well, we need to strike a balance here. Men and women are different, but both should be treated with respect. I see nothing wrong with genders having different roles in society. Of course women should be allowed to pursue courses traditionally traveled by men, at the same rate of pay and so on. But this is a tedious subject. I hate quotas and the idea of them, yet they are perhaps occasionally necessary. Soft quotas. The assumption is that all men and women want the same things from life, and that ainít necessarily so. But again, I grow tedious. Humans are strange, hard to figure out, fascinating. A great subject for literature.
William Michaelian: An inexhaustible subject. People writing about people, around and around we go. So. Is there any new excitement in the small press realm? Itís been awhile since weíve talked about recent releases.
John Berbrich: Well, thereís a new small press publishing house called Platonic 3Way Press. The initial issue of their magazine, Fight These Bastards, is due out soon. Weíve heard about this press for a year now, so great things are expected. They have released a poetry chapbook by the prolific small press queen Lyn Lifshin, which I reviewed for the September Yawp, due out in maybe one week. I received a nice looking poetry paperback from Leonard Cirino the other day. Do you know him? He runs Pygmy Forest Press over in Springfield, Oregon, which is just down Route 5 from you, what, maybe 90 minutes?
William Michaelian: At the most. I donít know Mr. Cirino. This is the first time Iíve heard his name. Has he been at it for quite awhile? Was the book he sent you written by him, or someone else? Fight These Bastards ó thereís an attention-grabber.
John Berbrich: Yeah, I think thatís the idea. I have one poem scheduled to appear in the first issue. Regarding Cirino, heís a small press veteran. He runs Pygmy Forest Press and has published his own book, Glossolalia, poems 2002-2003. Nice looking paperback, 152 pages, totally professional, $15. Hereís a sample, chosen at random:
Essence Precedes Existence
in memory, Wallace Stevens
The idea can be difficult.
Not beautiful like things,
The idea canít be false.
Things never own their origin.
Once the idea explodes
It bestows reality,
From essence, to the world.
William Michaelian: I like it. Especially the last three lines. Glossolalia itself is an intriguing title. After reading more of the poems, how does Mr. Cirinoís use of the term hold up?
John Berbrich: I donít know. I havenít read the book yet, just got it the other day. Like I said, I opened it and picked that poem at random, which isnít really true ó I picked it cuz itís short and therefore easier to type. But Iíll let you know. Sort of justifies Plato. Glossolalia is one of those great titles that can fit almost any type of collection, particularly if the book includes a variety of styles and/or subject matter.
William Michaelian: It also sounds like an insect collection. Today, class, we will be working on our glossolalias. What about Platonic 3Way Press? Whoís behind that and what part of the country are they in?
John Berbrich: Platonic 3Way Press is a three-man operation, with headquarters in Indiana. Steve Henn seems to be the main guy, but of that Iím unsure. Heís living in Warsaw, Indiana, I know that much. Another of the triad is Don Winter who currently lives in Alaska and is the author of Things About to Disappear, BoneWorldís latest chapbook, a rather melancholy look at the USA. The third guyís name I canít think of right now. Sounds like a somewhat diffuse organization; nevertheless, good things are expected.
William Michaelian: Well, I guess being scattered all over hell and gone is one way to avoid arguments. Not that people canít argue via e-mail, but thereís nothing like being in the same room. Tell me more about Don Winterís new chapbook. I like the title. Poetry? Stories? Essays?
John Berbrich: Poetry. Hereís a sample:
The end has been
happening for years.
The warped boards
are diaries of rain.
years out of wood.
Sparrows, a concert of them,
suspend in the rafters.
grown tall in a doorway.
Chipped plates fill up
with the moon.
Anita: Breaking news from Down Under. A novel written on a Warragul farm (which is a small country town in the south-west of the state of Victoria), on a computer without a G key has won this yearís Vogel Award. Andrew OíConnor, 26, was presented with the $20,000 winnersí cheque at a ceremony in Sydney on Tuesday evening, for his novel Tuvalu. The novel is about a teacher ekeing out an existence in Tokyo who meets a brazen young rich woman. An early review by publisher, Hilary McPhee, describes the novel as ďengrossing, original, deft. Heís a find.Ē The prize includes publication of OíConnorís book by Allen and Unwin next year. entlemen, could it be that the secret of bein published is to use a keyboard with the G key missin?
William Michaelian: Oh, no ó now thereís going to be a rash of G-less novels, if not a whole G-less genre. Or is it enre? Or merely an immick? Either way, twenty grand is twenty grand. OíConnor should be able to get into some serious trouble on that. If not, then heís still got some learnin to do. Good poem, J.B. It paints a real picture. Iíve walked around in places like that ó places about to disappear, but which often take a human lifetime, or several lifetimes, to do so. Winterís moonlight is liquid.
John Berbrich: Yes, Winter is a talented poet. Heís been writing for only about seven years, beginning just after the time of his messy divorce. Anita, quit fooling around ó get these cuffs off me, pretty please.
William Michaelian: I guess those are really in the way now that youíre in the middle of cranking out a new Yawp. I can picture you collating pages and wrestling with the stapler at two a.m., cursing under your breath. Just remember, we all have our handcuffs to bear, and itís all for the love of literature. Are most of Winterís poems short?
John Berbrich: The longest poems run about a page & a half. Again, I picked that one cuz it was short and easy to type. Hereís another:
Things About to Disappear
For years the land worked us, planned
our cities like shotgun blasts.
Now it gives up, sinks
between hills. Boarded up factories
litter our rivers. It will do no good
to knit your brow. Thereís not enough left
in those hills to buy a meal.
Whatís left are wallets
of lost years, lapels tugged wide
by advice. Weíre old enough to be
our own fathers. We need a place
to be what we have become.
William Michaelian: Indeed. Now, let me remind everyone that all of your chapbooks are available at a very reasonable price, and that a complete listing can be had by writing to you at 3700 County Rt. 24, Russell NY 13684. How much is Things About to Disappear? I am officially ordering a copy. My check is in the mail ó and you know what thatís worth. In the meantime, I am intrigued by those line-breaks. This is something Iím always interested in. Where lines are broken can have a tremendous effect on a poem, on how it flows, on the way it sounds. Naturally, punctuation plays an important part, as does the appearance of certain words in close proximity. And then thereís the length of the lines themselves. It all needs to be considered. Occasionally, when Iím reading a poem, something will catch my eye or ear and Iíll start experimenting mentally with the line-breaks. Itís kind of like working on a puzzle.
John Berbrich: Yes, poetry isnít some slapdash affair where you toss down any old thing in a fit of inspiration. Well, you do, but then you chisel this initial edifice down into something ó what? ó beautiful? artistic? Poetic, thatís the word. Thanks for the plug, Willie. A copy of Things About to Disappear may be purchased for $4.00. For you, Willie, thatís $7.00. Just kidding! Once poets pushed rhyme and meter off the table as necessities, this durable duo was replaced by a whole slew of much more subtle techniques. Any form or unform will work if itís done properly. Youíre quite right, line-breaks are paramount. You could take a great poem, fiddle a little with the line-breaks, and transform that great poem into a mediocre one ó without adding or deleting a single word. Line-breaks create tension. They certainly add weight and/or depth to particular words.
William Michaelian: Wait a minute. I think I have some old rubles around here somewhere. Iíll send you those. They worked in the Soviet Union when I was there. Kopeks? Lance Kopek, Private Eye. Harold Ruble. . . . Anyway. Forgive me. I was just lost in . . . Iíve got it! We could develop a computerized line-break generator and sell it to aspiring poets! It would come with a funnel, and users would pour their poems into the funnel, by which they would enter the computer. And then there would be a little crank to turn, and some sounds and colors, and then, voila! the finished poem would appear on the screen. Iím telling you, we could make millions.
John Berbrich: Millions of what? Rubles? Theyíre worthless. Willie, you constantly amaze me with your crazy schemes. Although I suppose itís the only way to make art and money at the same time. What a great Christmas present. I suppose you could include a dial for rhyme, and the computer would locate the perfect rhyme, every time! You could program in irony, cross-index a long list of metaphors, and even flick a switch for E.E. Cummings mode. You are a genius, pal!
William Michaelian: Yeah, well, youíre not doing too bad yourself. But the rhyme generator is an add-on, to be sold separately. And I really do picture this thing as partly mechanical, with the funnel and crank, and a little steam valve ó writing poetry should be a physical as well as mental undertaking. I believe in the drawings of Da Vinci there was a prototype of this sort of versolator, constructed with a series of pens and gears, along with an ornamental ink well.
John Berbrich: Really? Well, canít say Iím too surprised. Genius explores many strange paths. In a case such as this, the emphasis is on the poem rather than the poet. Reminds me of the aleatory method, whereby chance is introduced into the creative process. Like Dali, starting with ink blots and seeing what they suggest, then turning them into a real painting. I once read an interview with John Ashbery in which he said that he used a deck of playing cards somehow to write poems, but he didnít really divulge the details of his procedure. All of this sounds like great fun, which would only be improved by a funnel and crank.
William Michaelian: Even if they were there just for looks, the funnel and crank would remind poets that writing poems is supposed to be fun. To that end, I think this could be a valuable contribution. Chance is part of the creative process. I think it would also benefit all of us scribblers if we would study the history of printing and paper-making, and even dabble in those arts. In Balzacís Lost Illusions, he takes a glorious side-excursion into those subjects. Itís too easy to sit around being cerebral, reading, writing, pondering, stinking. This should be balanced with rugged physical activity. In our studios, there should not only be books, but oily old printing presses and giant slabs of granite. A chisel and hammer ó by gum, thatís what I want for Christmas. Think of the stuff you could write with those in your hands!
John Berbrich: Yes, yes ó poetry is everything: fun, serious, playful, solemn, cerebral, physical. In this way poetry manifests life, which of course is constructed of these disparate elements. Poetry not only represents life, it is life. I know a guy who has purchased an old printing press. He runs a fabulous bookstore not far from here ó when you get to Russell, weíll have to visit ó and has just built a small separate building to house the press. Of course, the town building code enforcers have had lots of fun at his expense, putting ridiculous restrictions on his building activities which he is now fighting in court. The press is huge and heavy, with lots of different fonts and dingbats. When he gets squared away, we hope to produce something miraculous.
William Michaelian: Do you mean to tell me they play games like that even in Russell? Ridiculous. I definitely have to see that press and visit that bookstore. I wish I was there to join in on your printing project. Plus, this is further proof that wherever you go, whatever street you drive down, thereís always more than meets the eye. By the way, what are a few of the street names in Russell? Or is there only one street?
John Berbrich: There are only two streets, but plenty of roads. One street is Maiden Lane, the other doesnít have a sign but I think itís Water Street (right next to the river). Names of roads include Lazy River Road, Dana Hill Road, Blanchard Hill Road, Kimble Hill Road, Silver Hill Road, Crackerbox Road, Marsh Road, Boyd Pond Road, and Cemetery Road. Notice how each name presents information in a terse, poetic manner.
William Michaelian: Itís a ďrural resonance.Ē I love those names. Lazy River and Marsh I can understand, but Crackerbox leaves me wondering. Iíd be very tempted to take it and see where it leads. Heck ó I want to drive on all of them. What are some of the oldest dates in the Russell cemetery?
John Berbrich: The cemetery is in tough shape. Some local committee is trying to round up volunteers to give it a thorough cleansing ó something that doesnít especially interest me. Cemeteries should be old & mossy, with toppling & cracked headstones. I havenít been to visit in a while, but I can tell you that the town was first settled around 1805, after which Iím sure people quickly started dying. Iíll check it out soon & file a report. The cemetery is right around the corner, going up Kimble Hill. I should take the dog up there for a walk today, even though itís raining. By the way, Crackerbox Road leads to a town called Star Lake.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. Star Lake, home of the Star Lake Free-Enterprise. Which reminds me. Does Russell have its own newspaper? I agree completely on cemeteries. I hate the modern ones with orderly flat stones organized in neat rows that are easily driven over by ride-on lawnmowers. Iíll take moss and rubble any day. When you come to Salem, weíll go on a cemetery tour. There are some nice little ones tucked here and there around the countryside.
John Berbrich: Russell does not have a newspaper. It has a post office, a library, a volunteer fire department, one gas station, a couple of corner stores, and two taverns. All of the necessities. Me and Gumbo have just returned from our field trip to the local cemetery. The rain was slightly heavier than a drizzle and therefore no problem. I made notes. I estimate about 800 graves. Most were gray slabs only slightly larger than a Manhattan telephone directory. I copied down 8 inscriptions. 1) Daughter of E. & N. J. Derby, died Sept. 6, 1893; 2) Warren Earle, 1835-1898, American Ranger; 3) James A. Foster, 1886, aged 8 years; 4) Susan V., daughter of D. & E. Fuller, died Sept. 9, 1863, aged 9 years; 5) Harvey Scott, died Dec. 2, 1860; 6) Frank E. Gotham, died Sept. 23, 1857, 2 yrs., 7 mo., & a day; 7) Hannah, wife of Miles Cook, died Nov. 20, 1848, aged 28 years; 8) Mother. These all are very aged, and seriously weathered, turning green or white with slime and mold and various types of fungus. Some are sunken into the ground, others are sort of pushed out of the earth, leaning precariously towards their neighbors. That number 8 is creepy. There is no date and no inscription other than ďMother.Ē I found some graves that seem to be older but to read the dates is difficult in the rain when a dog is pulling on his leash. Seems like everyone died in the autumn back then.
William Michaelian: Before having to face another icy winter. Itís all very beautiful and very sad. Thanks for going out there. And thanks for the lowdown on Russell. Two more important questions, and then, perhaps, we can move on to other things: First, what kind of trees do you have in the area? Second, what are the names of the taverns?
John Berbrich: Trees. Most of the hills are covered with pine trees, I donít know the specific varieties. There are maple groves everywhere. The river banks are abundantly populated by birches, a favorite of local beavers. We have a beautiful old walnut tree in our yard. Every other year or so we are blessed with quite a crop of walnuts. They are difficult to crack, but worth the effort. As far as taverns go, we have the Wayside, a local favorite for many years. And right across from the Wayside youíll find Pour Satchís, a new place with a punny name. Just outside of South Russell is the Drop Inn, a small country music beer joint. And on the other side of town we have the Turnpike Tavern, closed up for awhile now, and I donít know if they will reopen. Sound good?
William Michaelian: Trees and taverns ó how can you go wrong? The maples must be changing color by now. And so must be the drinkers, turning red before they fall off their stools for the winter. Indeed, Russell sounds like a lovely place. Well. There are many more questions I could ask, but they can wait for a later time. But itís very interesting to hear about where you live ó interesting and important. Someday Iíd like to hear about how you came to live in Russell in the first place. We never know where weíll end up. My grandparents and great-grandparents were born many thousands of miles away, yet they ended up in a strange land where they had to learn a new language, and now their graves are here, and someday their names will be too faded to read when a man and his dog come strolling in the rain, enjoying the beauty of the day.
John Berbrich: Alas, it is so. And now, my dear host, what would you like to discuss?
William Michaelian: That gives me an idea for a literary cartoon. There is this unshaven, unkempt writer with bulging bloodshot eyes, his shoulders slumped and his back bowed by exhaustion as he sits numbly at his typewriter. All around him are crumpled sheets of paper, ashtrays full of cigarette butts, and stale glasses. Standing on his shoulder is a malicious-looking little man in an expensive suit, stabbing the writer in the neck with a pitchfork and laughing into his ear, ďYouíre not quitting already, are you?Ē
John Berbrich: Okay, I give up. Am I the unshaven unkempt writer or the malicious-looking little man?
William Michaelian: I donít know. Do you own an expensive suit?
John Berbrich: No. And I can often be found unshaven and unkempt. But that doesnít explain who belongs to the cigarette butts.
William Michaelian: Youíre right. Well, weíll let those be a mystery. I think it was Renoir, among many others, who said art isnít art if it can be easily explained. He also said a work of art must be enjoyable to behold, so weíre batting a thousand. Maybe the cartoon should be a work of Impressionism. We could move the unshaven unkempt writer out into a dappled sidewalk cafť, next to a shop that sells top hats and canes. And we could replace the little man with a human-looking peacock wearing glasses. No, wait. I think Iím getting my movements mixed up.
John Berbrich: Youíre not a Fauvist, are you? I hate Fauvism. Give me Impressionism any day, along with a side order of Surrealists. Iíd rather live in a house designed by a Cubist than a Dadaist. Wouldnít want to eat anything cooked by Christo, although his portions could be huge. You drawing this yourself?
William Michaelian: No, all I can draw are guys with big noses and droopy mustaches. Who is Christo? With a name like that, he should have painted The Last Supper. And what in the world is Fauvism? I donít like cubes. They make me nervous.
John Berbrich: Christo is this artist-type guy. He specializes in these enormous art-sorta things ó I donít know how to describe it. He set up what looks like a clothesline over some mountains in California and hung what look like white sheets from them. I saw a cool photograph of this, but really it just looks like white sheets hanging from a rope, miles of it. I was thinking of writing a story about this guy who hates Christoís work and calls himself the Anti-Christo. The little I know about Fauvism comes from an art class my wife took about 10 years ago. The word Fauvist means something like ďwild beastĒ in French. This sounds intriguing, yet the paintings bothered me. The movement began around the beginning of the 20th century, maybe earlier, and I wish I could think of this guy who was presented as the primary exemplar of the style. Itís like the reverse of Impressionism ó everything is bold and clear yet completely unrealistic. Gave me the creeps.
William Michaelian: Iíve never been too wild about those Christo-type projects. I looked up Fauvism. The movement lasted from 1905 to 1908. The main artists involved were Matisse, Rouault, Derain, Vlaminck, Braque, and Dufy. Their first exhibit was in Paris in 1905. Their name came about when a critic pointed to a sculpture in the same gallery and exclaimed derisively, ďDonatello au milieu des fauves!Ē which means, Donatello among the wild beasts! But I didnít look up Donatello. Say, what do you think of this quote by Andrť Breton, once known as the Pope of Surrealism? ďThe man who cannot visualize a horse galloping on a tomato is an idiot.Ē Breton died in 1966. Ever read anything by him? I havenít.
John Berbrich: I went through a Surrealist phase some years ago. I have read some of Bretonís work, poems and manifestos. He and his pals were trying to ditch the rational mind during the art process, allowing images to emerge directly from the unconscious. They were great fun to have around, but I donít think that the Surrealists really produced much memorable literature, or art, especially considering their enormous energy and talent. Breton worked in some sort of psychiatric ward as a young man and spent a great deal of time studying the ďinsane.Ē Paul Eluard, Louis Aragon, and Max Ernst were among his sidekicks.
William Michaelian: Itís funny, I remember those names, but with no related information attached. Judging by your description, it sounds like it would be nice if there were local chapters of a Surrealist club, and if one could hire their services for parties. Imagine looking in the yellow pages for Surrealists, or under D for Dadaists, or under P for Philosophers, and then under Philosophers having several branches represented. At the end of the book, Zen. Under B, Baloney. Itís an interesting thought, images emerging directly from the unconscious. They emerge, and then what? Do they retain their startling qualities, or are they immediately transformed once they surface and are in the open air? Do you have any idea what I mean? I almost do.
John Berbrich: I think I know what you mean ó are the images tainted by reality when they emerge, gasping, from the dripping dreamy unconscious? Probably they are, if you donít do things properly. I donít know about having the Surrealists over as party entertainers. They had this crazy notion of art for artís sake. No money involved. Some of them were Communists. One of the Surrealists, I forget which one, appeared on stage in a drama for pay. The Surrealists stormed the theater, rushed onstage during the performance, and started beating people up. The traitor survived with a broken arm. By the way, Donatello was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle.
William Michaelian: Oh? Did he emerge from Bretonís unconscious? Or was it the other way around?
John Berbrich: That sounds like a question for Jian Brichiam.
William Michaelian: It does, doesnít it? I forget to tell you ó a week or two ago, I heard from an old high school friend of mine. He said heíd been reading our conversation, and claimed he had some fascinating information about Brichiam that he would impart ďlater on.Ē Thatís all he said ó no details, no hints. And I have no idea what ďlater onĒ means. Weíll just have to wait to find out. You know, I was thinking. Those Surrealists sound kind of corny. Art for Artís sake. I picture everyone writing unconscious manifestos and painting weird pictures and giving them all to a guy named Art.
John Berbrich: Thatís a good one. The Surrealists are fun to read about, but most of their productions lack staying power. You mentioned your friend. Do you get a lot of hits on this Conversation? Do you have any way of knowing?
William Michaelian: Iím able to get a pretty good idea by looking at my site statistics, but it would be hard to come up with an exact number. From what I can make out, there is a core of demented followers who check in on a daily basis, often more than once. And I donít mean just the two of us. Maybe around a dozen. Then there are the casual visitors, a much larger, steadily growing number of lost souls who drop by once or twice a week, or even less frequently, and spend time reading and catching up. And every day there are quite a few visitors who land on various Conversation pages because they have been searching for something. Since weíve been covering so much ground, this is happening more each month. When people land on a page, sometimes they read what they came to read and go no further. Others stay and keep reading, and go from page to page, or to other pages on the site. They are curious to know who in the world is crazy enough to rattle on and on like this. And youíll get a kick out of this ó one person actually came to the Conversation by typing in the search term ďJian.Ē
John Berbrich: Really? I guess the word is spreading. I wonder that so many people are regular readers yet they never join in. Maybe they donít feel welcome. Whatís happened to the good old days? The days of Hinshaw, Judy, Anita. Especially Anita, as Iíd really like to get these cuffs off. Probably our regular visitors are part of a government surveillance team, those homeland security boys. That really was a wild party we had last spring. Iíve been staggering around for months since then. Jian, huh?
William Michaelian: Yep. But Iím still waiting for someone to type in ďBrichiam.Ē As for the good old days, all I know is that when a guy runs out of liquor, he finds out who his real friends are. I do hope Judy, Anita, and Mr. Hinshaw werenít rounded up by Homeland Security. And what about Phil E. Buster? You didnít mention him. A poet in the truest sense. As for visitors not feeling welcome, I really donít think thatís the case. If people didnít feel welcome, they wouldnít return. Of course I could be wrong. But the way I see it, time is the big element. It takes time to read these pages, and even more time to formulate and send in a response. It would be easier if this were set up as so many online forums Iíve seen, in which different subjects and their related responses make up separate threads. But Iíve never seen our Conversation in that light. This is a conversation, and as such we willingly follow it wherever it leads. Besides being spontaneous and enjoyable, one reason I prefer this approach is that we are obliged to consider and look into what all the other participants bring up, as opposed to focusing only on stuff we already know and are comfortable with. Iíve learned a lot because of this. Iíve learned something from each and every person who has been willing to play along, and Iím grateful. As far as Iím concerned ó and I know you feel this way too ó there is always room for more at this strange cyber-table. There are worlds yet to explore. More active participants would take us in different directions. Iím sure that somewhere along the way, others will jump in. Not that Iíve given up on Judy, Anita, or Mr. Hinshaw. The last time she checked in, Judy was reading Nabokovís Pale Fire. Iím sure sheís read several other books by then. Iíd like to hear about all of them. So. Anyway. Thatís enough of a speech. Did your sonís girlfriend ever find ghosts at your place?
John Berbrich: Sheís been over only once, and that briefly. She had planned to give the house a thorough going-over, but she hasnít been back. The relationship seems to have soured. Her name is Katie & get this ó her initials are KKK. Imagine saddling your daughter with that sort of shadow. Creepy. Speaking of ghosts, Iím glad I took that trip to the local cemetery last weekend. Itís kind of an eerie place. The cemetery is right next to the old school, abandoned now for nearly 20 years. Most of the windows are broken or boarded over. A local trucking company bought the property & keeps its fleet of heavy trucks out behind the school for storage and maintenance. The juxtaposition of the graveyard and the deserted school is creepy. I should have brought my
William Michaelian: A school and a cemetery side by side ó I like it. Kids walking by the old cemetery every day, and the departed listening to their laughing, mischievous voices. Old schoolhouses often have a spooky quality. So much has happened inside. You expect to hear footsteps, and maybe the sweet voice of a girl reciting a poem.
John Berbrich: Thatís an excellent idea! What a great place for a poetry reading. On Halloween!! This has possibilities. But it wonít happen. Speaking of poetry readings, we have a tentative date set for the reading at the Partridge Cafť in Canton ó thatís October 28th, the Friday night before Halloween. I promise to give a full report.
William Michaelian: Great. Itíll probably be too cold at the cemetery anyway. And where would you plug in the coffee machines? Iím reading Ulysses, by the way. Slowly. Iíll probably have to read it two or three times just to make sense of it.
John Berbrich: Good for you. Iíve read the first three chapters. I have an idea of whatís going on, except that it doesnít agree at all with the critical guides Iíve consulted. Iíve decided to eschew the critics and just read the darn thing. I like the dialogue so far. Itís fun reading the sequential quasi-gibberish in Stephenís mind, which Iím sure has deep philosophical and religious implications. If I read the book a second time Iíll pay more attention to this rambling stuff, which Iíll bet is considered the heart of the book. By the way, my suggestion was that the poetry reading be held inside the old abandoned school. On Halloween! Cool atmosphere.
William Michaelian: Youíre right, and it would be a bit more civilized than holding it outside. As for Joyce, I think youíre wise to throw the critics overboard and face this thing like a man. Personally, Iím delighted by the poetic feel of the book thus far, and Joyceís obvious love for language. Even the gibberish is a kind of music. But Iím going to shift gears this evening and read BoneWorldís new chapbook by Don Winter, Things About to Disappear. It arrived in just two days! This has happened several times now with stuff youíve mailed. After that, during the next day or two, I plan to read the new Yawp. Thus fortified, Iíll be ready to face the world.
John Berbrich: I hope you like Donís book. It has a strong, consistent tone. And of course in the Yawp anything can happen. Always glad to hear your insights. I think this issue is notable for its poetry. But Iíll be quiet so you can read.
William Michaelian: Hey! Stop rustling those pages. How dare you read Ulysses while Iím trying to concentrate? There. Thatís better. . . . Ah. . . . Okay. I finished the chap. Twice. Iíll read it again later, but, for what itís worth, here are a few early impressions: The poetís pyschological pain is evident, but the poetry emerges strong and whole. This is not the writing of someone who has thrown in the towel, or who has allowed himself to be consumed by bitterness, though it seems he has considered those possibilities and moved through that grim territory. There is no laughter ó yet. But there is hope ó remembered hope; a belief in hope. There is also a definite sympathy for the underdog, the down-and-out, those in society who are ignored or brushed aside. Being who he is, it is impossible for Winter not to see them, and then try to give them a voice. Also, I like the way people and landscape merge in his poems ó the way they are informed by each other, so to speak. No landscape is physical only; Winterís landscapes and settings have a brooding, mental quality. Just as one example, take his opening verse from ďJuly, 2004, AnchorageĒ:
the whole town is
a fly on a screen door
waiting for weather
If that doesnít bring a picture to your mind, nothing will. I see by Donís biographical note in the back of the book that heís been on what might be termed a personal publishing mission, which has landed him in a variety of small press magazines, some even scattered around the globe. Is this his first chapbook?
John Berbrich: Yes. I was pleasantly surprised when Don contacted me about a year ago and sent the manuscript. He thinks quite highly of the productions of BoneWorld, evidently, always gratifying for a publisher to hear. Youíve singled out some of the strengths of his book very clearly. Although awful things have happened, the idea is not to drag the reader down to that place where misery loves company. You hit it right on when you talk about hope. Hope gleams in poems like ďThe Dream Home.Ē Shutting down hope is shutting down entirely on possibilities, and when youíve excluded possibilities, you might as well crawl into a grave alongside that abandoned school.
William Michaelian: Thatís one reason I was glad to find ďThe Dream HomeĒ toward the end of the book. In fact, I would have been tempted to make it the last poem. But I am not Don Winter, and besides, the book is fine just as it is. Now, with any luck, I hope to read at least some of the poems in the new Yawp tonight. Unfortunately, I still have a couple of things on the agenda, so I donít know how far Iíll get. Meanwhile, you said you have read the first three chapters of Ulysses. What edition are you reading? My book doesnít seem to be divided into chapters, though there are, if Iíve counted them all, three large numbered sections. In between, divisions are noted either with an oversized capital letter at the beginning of a paragraph, or by ornamentation of some kind.
John Berbrich: Iím reading the 1961 Vintage edition. Yes, the book does seem to be divided into three main numbered sections; in my edition I have found the eighteen chapters are unnumbered, but each starts with a first line printed all in caps. Thatís the only clue. Iím glad to be reading this great book, finally. One thing about Joyce, there is no hesitancy in his prose. You know you are in the presence of someone in control of the words, as each one is written with authority. Not a phrase clunks or stutters.
William Michaelian: Not only is he in control, he seems at times to be a fisherman on the sea of language, pulling up strange things in his net. In the meantime, I see weíve filled up another page. Shall we boldly face another?