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: Hello again. Itís hard to believe itís already the first day of March. This means we have been reading Finnegans Wake now for two whole months. As I said at the beginning of January, we will be at it for several months. Iíve managed to read my way through about 360 pages, so Iím a little past the halfway mark. Owing to several side excursions that include The Book of Blarney and Poets on the Peaks, my partner in conversational crime is running a few pages behind. I myself broke away recently and quickly absorbed Yevgeny Zamyatinís We, a chilling novel set in the twenty-fourth century, and have begun Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. Iím five chapters into that. Meanwhile, at the end of the last page, we had somehow managed to start talking about poetry again. Oh. I know what got it started. I brought up the fact that Oregon has a new poet laureate. This led us to the idea Billy Collins had when he was poet laureate of the U.S. to broadcast a poem a day in Americaís high schools. Then we got to talking about the stilted language used by some poets. This is definitely not the case with Maine poet Nancy Henry, whose chapbook, Hard, Iíve also just started to read. Mr. Berbrich, as Nancyís editor and publisher, what do you think sets her poems apart?
John Berbrich: Well, her poems are clear on the surface. The reader never has to struggle to figure out whatís going on. And youíll usually find a deeper level, something people are always talking about when discussing poetry. And I find that I relate very well to her work in a personal way, even though sheís a woman. Weíre each a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a son or daughter, a friend, a writer. And in so many of her poems I reach that point where I think, yes, I know exactly how you feel. Because Nancyís poetry is so clear & almost casual, itís easy to be drawn into the life of each individual poem. She has a playful sense of humor, but usually writes about subjects dear to her. One gets the feeling that these poems are significant, not trivialities. Nancy has a broad sympathy for those beaten & neglected in life. Sheís had a ďhardĒ road herself, yet doesnít whine about it in print. She has a lot going for her. I respect her a great deal & hope to be able to continue working with her in the future.
William Michaelian: One thing Iíve noticed in the poems Iíve read so far is that most of them tell a story. There are little breaking points and resolutions, and, even though in most cases no overall resolution is possible, there is an arrival at what you might call a place of calm, or shelter, which in turn might be considered a starting point ó something on which to build an understanding. The situations are psychologically and emotionally painful and complex, but the poems are really simple. I think they have to be.
John Berbrich: They are more effective that way. Why dilute the punch of the poem with unnecessary obscurity? The poems arenít dealing with abstract concepts. Thereís the boy, standing right in the classroom. As you say, the situation is complex but the immediate scene is vivid. You could talk all day about kids messed up due to abuse, neglect, or chemical imbalance; but to show that child, to see that child, is so much more effective. Itís one grand method of poetry: to show particulars and suggest universals.
William Michaelian: I see the same thing developing in Zorba the Greek, although the writing there is more lyrical ó something you would expect from the author of a 33,333-line sequel to the Odyssey. The story is set in Crete, and you can hear the waves washing up onto the shore, the chickens cackling, and the children playing in the village. By the way, you should be receiving We any day now, if you havenít already.
John Berbrich: Just received it today, all in one piece. Thanks a bundle, Willie. I did a little research in the Russian section of my library. Zamyatin is mentioned on page 516 of my copy of A History of Russia by Basil Dmytryshyn, who calls We ďa fantasy critical of totalitarianism in the Orwellian manner,Ē which confirms what youíve already told us. I also found an old browning paperback I havenít gotten to yet containing 14 stories by Soviet authors, one of which is ďMamaiĒ by Zamyatin. Iíll read that & report back to you. Thanks again.
William Michaelian: My pleasure. Itís funny, the things one finds on the old groaning shelves. When you said a browning paperback, the first thing I thought of was Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning ó more reading I havenít done. Several years ago when my brother was visiting friends in Australia, he brought back a couple of very old Browning volumes as a gift for my mother. Theyíre bound in soft, pliable leather. Very appealing. Itís obvious that once upon a time they were someoneís treasure. Knowing that is just one more reason to take good care of
John Berbrich: I actually did think of Robert Browning when I typed in that phrase, but not the poet. My auto mechanic who lives a few miles from here is named Robert Browning. I thought of him; maybe thatís a bad omen, like heíll be working on my car soon. Words and phrasing are tricky. If I had said ďbrowning old paperbackĒ instead of ďold browning paperbackĒ you may not have made that connection.
William Michaelian: Maybe not. But another thing that caught me was the use of the word ďbrowningĒ instead of ďyellowing.Ē I donít think Iíve heard that before, even if browning is more accurate. Is your mechanic aware of the other Robert Browning? A distant relative, perhaps?
John Berbrich: I donít know if the current Mr. Browningís knowledge extends very far in the literary world. Heís home schooled, I believe, and mostly self-taught as a mechanic. Give him a few symptoms over the phone & he can generally deliver a pretty accurate diagnosis. A very smart fellow, amazingly clever with his hands. Reasonable with his prices too. Anyway, I used ďbrowningĒ because the pages are indeed turning brown rather than yellow. Iíve started We, am up to page 24.
William Michaelian: Good. I hope you like it. In the meantime, have you heard of Georges Perec, born 1936, died 1982? He wrote Life: A Userís Manual. I just read about him. Once, he wrote a 466-word story that excluded all vowels but ďa.Ē He also wrote a 100,000-word novel that excluded the letter ďe.Ē He was a member of Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle ó the Workshop of Potential Literature ó founded in 1960. Iím not sure what we are to do with this information, but I thought Iíd pass it along.
John Berbrich: Yeah, Iíve heard of him & his fiendish experiments, extracting the vowels of helpless language. Never read him though. Iíve thought of a great title: Vowel Movements. Sorry. We reminds me of a book I read last summer, Moderan by David R. Bunch, published by Avon Books in 1971. The story takes place in the future, way in the future, in which people are mostly made of steel & all they do is live in Strongholds & fight, one Stronghold against another. Like living in a giant video game, only if you die you stay dead. Hereís a quote: ďThere is something chill, something particularly arresting about any behavior that proceeds without deviation, completely oblivious to surroundings and as though part of a destiny.Ē Compare with Zamyatin: ďWhy is dance beautiful? Answer: Because it is unfree motion, because the whole profound meaning of dance lies precisely in absolute, esthetic subordination, in ideal unfreedom.Ē In Moderan they are flattening out the earth, smoothing out all the hills and mountains, filling in the oceans, covering the entire surface with some kind of impervious white plastic, a better arena for advanced war games. And like D-503ís entries, Moderan is a sort of journal, ďwrittenĒ by a Stronghold Master in a kind of book-tape recording, which is found by a couple of people in an even further future, after these Stronghold Wars have nearly obliterated life from the planet. What strikes me as so similar is the joy of belonging to a strong race of beings, so happy to leave weak, puny, fallible humanity behind.
William Michaelian: Sounds like Bunch imagined quite the cheerful future ó inspired, of course, by his own times. Speaking of dance, in Zorba the Greek there is a conversation in which Zorba tells the narrator of the story how he and a Russian he had known had danced for each other as a substitute for language. Zorba knew only a few words of Russian. The Russian knew only a few words of Greek. Whenever one lost the thread of what the other was saying ó they were always drinking at the time ó he would shout ďStop!Ē and the other would get up and dance what he was trying to say. And Zorba said that at that point, the manís meaning became clear.
John Berbrich: Dance is one form of artistic expression Iíve never been hooked by. Is Zorba a novel?
William Michaelian: Yes, and itís shaping up to be a good one. In Zorbaís case, we need to think of dance in terms of immediate, spontaneous release, and, at the same time, as a form of natural folk expression. As he says in the book, if he didnít dance, heíd go crazy. Compare this to what has happened to such a great extent here in this country, where fewer and fewer people ever really sing or dance or play instruments within family circle situations. Nowadays, people are embarrassed, or think itís silly.
John Berbrich: Weíre so self-conscious. Modern society has really sliced people into two groups: performers/entertainers & spectators. The audience needs to start singing & dancing.
William Michaelian: Thatís it exactly. Otherwise, itís like living life one step removed. These forms of primitive, basic expression are available to everyone, twenty-four hours a day, and can help a person survive almost any type of ongoing hardship or ordeal. Something magical happens when a human being lifts his voice in song. What is it? Does the vibration carry him away, take him to another place? Itís as if he is on a hill, looking down on his troubles.
John Berbrich: Well, I wonít call what I used to do singing exactly, but when I played bass & handled the vocals for a couple of experimental rock bands, I felt sooo good after a sweating performance. Just the physical aspects of singing are cathartic ó the vibrations in your lungs and chest and throat, the heavy controlled breathing, the intensification of emotion. Even at the poetry reading the other night ó reading for 30 minutes in a loud half-dramatic voice turned out to be a surprisingly physical experience. And real physical experiences almost always are good, except for falling down stairs. Itís the difference between reading about the beach and actually diving into the waves ó you tell me which is the greater experience.
William Michaelian: One seldom gets wet while reading about the beach, or ends up with sand and salt between his toes. I blame this first on the writer, then on the reader. I think both experiences are equally great. Both are experiences. Now, if Zorba were to hear this kind of talk, he would roar with laughter. He is so sensual, so physical, and so much a part of his surroundings and in tune with them, that he is like a wild animal with nothing between him and his senses. In fact, there is a beautiful scene in the book where Zorba goes swimming in the ocean, and the narrator can see him thrashing around out there and hear him uttering wild cries. Very inspiring.
John Berbrich: I like the way you describe Zorba. He sounds like one of those old Zen lunatics, part animal, part poet, taking physical pleasure in all sorts of simple everyday things. Donít you just love people who let themselves go like that? The ones who start to sing in a bus, who dance in the street, who hug muddy dogs and donít care about their clothes. People are so uptight; they race through the day, muttering perfunctory greetings to everyone they meet. ďHow you doing?Ē ďFine.Ē ďFine.Ē ďFine.Ē Everything is fine. I canít say much cuz I do it too.
William Michaelian: Ah, but youíre aware of it. Thereís a big difference. At the same time, we mustnít burden our fellow human beings with the truth. They donít want to hear it. ďOh, so you think you have problems. Well, let me tell ya.Ē Blah, blah, blah. ďWait a minute ó why did you step in that puddle? Are you crazy, or what?Ē ďNo, I stepped in it because I wanted to step in it. I wanted to see how high the water would splash. Look. Iíll show you. See? It almost reached the curb. Oops. Sorry about your pants. Here ó you can have mine.Ē
John Berbrich: Sounds like the beginning of a William Michaelian short story. I love stories about people being compelled to do things by inner forces that they do not understand and are not even aware of. Like D-503. He is drawn, as he says, to I-330 as iron to a magnet. He tries unsuccessfully to fight this attraction. It seems as though the seeds of his revolutionary behavior were already inside him, waiting for a catalyst, I-330. Iím halfway through the book. We need more I-330ís.
William Michaelian: That we do. And what a potent character she is. One thing for sure, Zamyatin keeps you turning the pages. As with Dostoevsky, you feel a real sense of urgency, as if you are rushing to embrace your destiny, whatever it might be, self-understanding or chaos, knowing that either will be a triumph.
John Berbrich: Hardly a chance to catch your breath. Do you think that R-13 was in any way inspired by Pushkin, a revolutionary poet with Negroid lips?
William Michaelian: Dunno. Probably. Maybe. Must be ó when you think about Zamyatinís background and circumstance, it couldnít be mere coincidence. Kazantzakis update: today I brought home a used paperback edition of The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel. Talk about a serious-looking pile of verse. Reading this will be another big project. The shop also had a hardbound edition, but there were so many pencil scribbles in it that I had to go with the paperback ó which is yellowing, by the way. There is a lengthy introduction by the translator, and as part of the appendix he has included a book-by-book synopsis. There are twenty-four books, if I remember correctly, one book for each letter of the Greek alphabet. Meanwhile, the farther I get into Zorba, the more Iím sure youíll like it.
John Berbrich: Look, donít start, Willie. When I finish We Iíll return to Joyce for another go at Finnegans Wake. You give me a brief synopsis of Zorba and the Odyssey-sequel and Proust and even James Michener if you want to. Listen ó thank you with all of my withering heart for inviting me to read Ulysses. That was an experience. I donít wanna sound ungrateful. . . . But I am curious about this sequel to the Odyssey. 33,000 lines of poetry is an awful lot of work. The author must have been driven by something to say, or something to explore, discover. Thatís quite a bookstore youíve got there.
William Michaelian: That particular one is small, but I like the selection. There are two or three other good ones in town. From what I gather, Kazantzakis worked on his sequel for twelve years, and really meant it to sum up his lifeís thought and work. But donít worry, Iím not about to inundate you with reading material. Iíll just send you a book each week, and if you like the selection, just return your payment of twenty dollars. If youíd like to choose something else from my catalogue, simply circle the title and Iíll bill you, bill you, bill you . . . anyway. You get the idea. With the pile of books I have around here, I sincerely doubt Iíll be reading Proust anytime during the next ten years. Michener is completely off my radar. Finnegans Wake, now, thatís what I call reading. Iíve made it to Book III, a little past the Page 400 mark. I donít read it every day. I read it only when I feel Iím in danger of losing my sanity, which is pretty darned often. Sometimes I read it twice a day. Sometimes three.
John Berbrich: I really donít have time for that. I can read maybe 10-12 pages of Finnegan in one hour. I read pretty carefully, and am usually thoroughly exhausted by the end of sixty minutes. Iím somewhere around page 260. Say, I was thinking about Salem the other day. I mean, it is the capital of Oregon, right? Why donít you give me the grand tour, like I did with Russell a while back. You know, downtown, slums, sports franchises, traffic, interesting sites, prominent citizens. I read somewhere not too long ago that Salem was the cleanest city in the USA. New York was right at the bottom.
William Michaelian: Well, I guess thatís bound to happen when you cram that many people together. But the Fresno area, which we left behind, was quite foul itself, being situated in a deep bowl where all the poisons were trapped in the air. Not so in Salem, which I think these days has a population of about 140,000. The ocean is only an hourís drive away. The mighty Pacific is our ventilation system. Fresh air is why we moved here. The air gets a little thick now and then in the summer when we have an offshore flow, but after a few days the breeze turns around and clears it out. Salem is indeed the capital, so a great many people here work for the government. Soon the dense grove of cherry trees near the capitol building will be in bloom ó a wonderful sight. The Willamette River, which runs south to north, divides the town and serves as a county line. In West Salem, on Edgewater Street, there is a good used book store called The Readerís Guide to Recycled Literature. Thereís also a small branch of the public library. Downtown Salem has wide streets and a lot of old two-story brick buildings. It definitely has a Western atmosphere ó it isnít hard to picture horses and wagons in the dust and mud of old. Due to a less than exciting economy, there are a number of large vacant buildings. Plenty of coffeehouses, several with live music. Lots of antique shops, a bunch of watering holes, clumps of kids hanging around with hardware in their noses and eyebrows ó one day when I was driving through, I saw I guy with a brown paper bag over his head talking to passersby. An occasional guitar player, but not nearly as many as there should be. No shortage of homeless people. A couple of old cemeteries that used to be in the country, now surrounded by commerce and traffic. Gentle hills around, lots of trees, birch, oak, maple, plum, cherry, poplar, fir. In general, a peaceful atmosphere. Thereís even a Wednesday farmerís market that takes up a couple of blocks during the summer. The biggest park in the city proper is Bushís Pasture Park, an eighty-acre grove of oak trees with a creek running through, and a big Victorian house called the Bush House, the home of an early prominent banking family. Of course, the further you go from downtown, the more generic the city becomes ó the malls and shopping centers, the office buildings and apartment complexes, the houses, garages, and lawns that all look alike. Luckily, the countryside is never far away. There are grass seed fields, some hops, a few orchards, little towns, crossings, old churches, and cemeteries. Iím sure Iím leaving a lot out. For instance, I should mention the decaying State Hospital, where One Flew Over the Cuckooís Nest was filmed. Ken Kesey lived south of here, near Eugene.
John Berbrich: Thanks, Willie. Salem sounds like a very livable place. Interesting enough to avoid dullness, yet dull enough to avoid danger and paranoia. I love the old parts of cities, the ornate architecture, the empty buildings, the dumpy neighborhoods. I hate gleaming new places. I guess they just smell like money. I remember that movie, based on Keseyís book. Speaking of movies, you know Wes Craven, the fellow who made Nightmare on Elm Street? Well, that flick was filmed in Potsdam, right on Elm Street, a main thoroughfare downtown. And even cooler, Craven was a DJ at the WTSC radio station, where Howie & the Wolfman spin their disks every Saturday. I found this out not too long ago. Same studio we work in now.
William Michaelian: Interesting name, Craven. Maybe thatís why he makes weird movies. Actually, I never saw Nightmare on Elm Street. There was a fairly well known movie filmed about fifteen miles east of here, in the little town of Silverton. I forget the name. Seems like it had to do with a bank robbery. Odd about the studio coincidence, especially. I can imagine all sorts of spooky things happening at low-power radio stations in the middle of the night, like ghosts visiting lonely DJs and using the equipment to send messages to loved ones theyíve left behind.
John Berbrich: Oh, I know it. If I were younger and lacking family responsibilities, Iíd definitely have a Midnight Show. Iíd say: ďThis is Johnny B, with the Midnight Show. Remember, itís always Midnight, somewhere in the world.Ē The ghosts would visit & weíd enjoy a grand old spooky time. I envision a coterie of dedicated listeners: insomniacs, poets, jilted lovers, drug addicts, mothers with screaming babies. It would be our middle-of-the-night family, our society built around the hub of wonderful sounds.
William Michaelian: By gum, Johnny, I do believe you have radio in your blood. And you know, there would be listeners, and lots of them would call in and read strange love letters and poems over the phone. I think I mentioned before how inspiring it was years ago to hear Wolfman Jack howling on a warm summer night. I suppose you saw American Graffiti back in the day. Well, youíd be ideal to play Wolfman Jackís part. Of course, I havenít heard you howl ó which reminds me: our youngest son brought home a copy of Ginsbergís Howl the other day, along with Kerouacís Big Sur, Burroughsí Naked Lunch, and Dostoevskyís Crime and Punishment ó not to mention a recording of John Lee Hooker made in 1949. Well. Anyway. One thing leads to another. You do howl, donít you?
John Berbrich: I certainly do. Sometimes without provocation. I would love to do that radio thing, but I donít see how itíll happen. Most of the stations in the country tell you which songs to play. Itís all preprogrammed, dictated by advertising. Thatís the beauty of college radio ó we play whatever we want. And with most stations youíre playing songs that are stored in the memory banks of a computer. You just type in the song title and artist ó the computer does the rest. WTSC has the capacity to play CDís, cassettes, even old LPís. I bring a half-dozen of my records to every show. And Iíve developed a fondness for CDís. They are still disks and you still spin them. Willie, why do I have such a hatred for computers?
William Michaelian: Probably because they remind you of TVs. They represent something offensive, even destructive, something capable of stealing our humanity ó even though humans invented them in the first place ó by taking us further away from nature and lessening the need for us to meet face-to-face. The corporate radio thing is a serious outrage. As it happens, there is an outstanding listener-owned radio station in Portland, KBOO, that is run almost entirely by volunteers. The programming is fascinating, challenging, and highly eclectic, and features music and subject matter from all genres, persuasions, and viewpoints. It is literally like having the world at your doorstep. The programmers are all volunteers. Twenty-four hours a day, they play and say what they want, and answer to no advertisers. Everything is live. During call-in shows, callers are not screened according to their viewpoints. Everyone is free to disagree. If you lived here, I know you would want to get involved. They are always open to new programming, and are willing to teach you the ropes. Iíve thought of doing it myself, but due to various time-consuming circumstances, it isnít possible. Not that I have an idea for a show, but I think it would be a great experience.
John Berbrich: Oh, Willie ó how can you resist? I checked out your link. Pretty cool stuff. Youíre right, I would have to do something, do a guest DJ appearance or maybe conduct a live interview with local writers or musicians. There is something inside of most people that wants to be part of something bigger than they are, something worthwhile, and this sounds like a worthwhile enterprise. I give all praise and honor to those energetic visionaries who got the ball at KBOO rolling and keep it rolling. They didnít just say, ďGee, I wish somebody would do something....Ē They went and did it.
William Michaelian: Well, I am a member, if that means anything. And, for that matter, you could be too. There are members scattered all over the country, and even some around the globe. KBOO also broadcasts on the Internet. Itís pretty easy to get hooked on some of their shows. There is also some good ethnic and foreign language programming ó Spanish, Yiddish, Persian, Italian, Native American ó the list goes on. I love listening to people speaking languages I donít understand. No wonder I like James Joyce. Itís that whole music thing all over again.
John Berbrich: Music transcends intellect. But sometimes we desire merely intellect, and I guess thatís when we read. Joyce does both, youíre right. Iím returning to his pages soon. By the way, I finished We. Poor D-503; I didnít expect the ending. The book seems to have been written in a frenzy. Chalk up another victory for the passionate Russians. A frightening presentation of dystopia.
William Michaelian: Indeed. I thought the closing pages werenít quite as sharp as they could have been. It does seem that Zamyatin was writing frantically. A tragic ending for D-503. A chilling message, every bit as pertinent today as then. I would like to read a little more by Zamyatin. It was apparent that he was keeping a short rein on his natural poetic leanings. Everything blossomed on the page, even the precision and sterility of the bookís setting.
John Berbrich: Oh, yeah ó the guyís definitely a poet. The poetic tendencies seemed to be part of D-503ís character. But he kept fighting these natural inclinations; that was his conflict, the battle between his nature and his training. In the end, we know who won. And yes, the book is still timely, its message vital. Could make a great film.
William Michaelian: Yes, the ingredients are certainly there. Seems like someone would have done it by now. Either way, the next time Iím at a book store, Iíll see if I can find something else by him. Now I wonder ó how many authors have last names that begin with Z? Thereís Zola, and Zamyatin, and Zoschenko, and . . . oh, well. I give up.
John Berbrich: Weíve published a fellow named Fred Zydek a couple of times in the Yawp. Thatís about it. Iím curious about Zamyatinís collection of essays. I enjoy a good essay, something personal and speculative, precise and foggy, detailed and universal. You can do anything in an essay. The mood ranges from serious to playful. I expect Zamyatinís would tend towards the serious side, him being Russian and all, with some seriously stern social and political forces to deal with. Iíd like to read more by 20th century Russians; Iím sure there are plenty of excellent writers over there Iíve never heard of.
William Michaelian: There would have to be. And now I have a special treat. Do you remember when we first started reading Finnegans Wake and I said it would be nice to hear Joyce reading from his own text? Well, it just so happens that he recorded a long passage way back in 1928 ó the last several pages of the Anna Livia Plurabelle chapter. Go to this page and click on the ďListenĒ link. The text is there, and youíll hear Joyce reading for over five minutes. Prepare yourself. Itís absolutely amazing.
John Berbrich: I donít seem to have an mp3 player around at the moment. Until I am able to discuss the problem w/ one of the younger members of the clan when he rolls out of bed later, listening to Master Joyce is to be considered a pleasure deferred. I am expecting great things, however.
William Michaelian: How well I know this situation ó trying desperately to make things work while the geniuses are in sawing logs. Very well. Hereís another quote from Samuel Beckett regarding Finnegans Wake. I think it makes darned good sense. ďYou cannot complain that this stuff is not written in English. It is not written at all. It is not to be read. . . . It is to be looked at and listened to. His writing is not about something. It is that something itself.
John Berbrich: Beckettís words complement quite nicely what you said earlier about literature being an experience in itself. This reminds me of something from a Wallace Stevens poem. Just a second. . . . Well, of course I canít find it now. I know that I wrote the lines down in a notebook but now I canít find the notebook. But trust me, Stevens utters similar sentiments in an oracular tone. Anyway, Iím still waiting for instructions on the MP3.
William Michaelian: Hmm. Did you try clicking on the ďListenĒ link? Most computers have a program that can handle music files, and which open automatically. Iím nearing the end of Zorba. When Iím done, probably in the next two or three days, Iíll write up a short summary. Hereís hoping Farrago didnít steal your notebook.
John Berbrich: Donít remind me of that orthodontic fiend! Our resident tech support member did indeed direct me to the ďListenĒ link. Believe me, itís not as simple as it sounds. Anyway, listening to Joyce himself was certainly worth all the fuss. I donít know what to say except that you are right ó it is amazing. Hearing Joyce trilling his rís reminds me of Nancyís audio book written and read by Frank McCourt; I think itís Angelaís Ashes. His brogue is not quite as alien as Joyceís, yet itís surely recognizable as Irish. McCourt has an excellent voice for story telling. I think that you mentioned something much earlier about falling asleep to the sound of Joyce reading Finnegans Wake. I would love to drift off to that voice and those crazy words, that linguistic symphony. I wonder what sort of dreams would emerge?
William Michaelian: I can imagine dreaming Iím a shepherd, and that the words are stones in a laughing stream. When I lead my sheep to the stream to drink, the stones come to life. I cup my hands, let them fill with water, and drink. When I open my mouth to speak, it is in the language of Finnegans Wake. Pang! Did you notice the way Joyce spoke that word? It sounded almost like a question. Beautiful. McCourt Iíve heard. He does have a nice voice ó more modern, somehow. Itís amazing, the subtle changes that languages undergo over time.
John Berbrich: Yes, changes, like that stream. I didnít quite notice ó Pang! ó but I did recognize the passage Joyce was reading so I guess thatís something. Even if the words make little sense and you canít really hear some of them anyway, Joyceís inflection and tone of voice are perfect ó the way he lilts back and forth during the conversation, how he grows excited and petty, peevish, sympathetic, expansive. Thereís not really a word for what he does, or if there is I donít know it.
William Michaelian: Well, Iíd hate to use the word perform, especially knowing how hard it was for him to read in that situation, between his failing eyesight, the bad lighting, and the half-inch-high letters prepared for the occasion. It really seemed that he was living the text, that he remembered it and knew it by heart as if it were an old love letter. The words were intimate. He spoke them as if their meaning were logical and inevitable.
John Berbrich: That makes the words sound almost scriptural, revelatory. They do possess that strange magic that imbues the best of literature. Itís as if theyíve always existed in some bizarre dimension, accessible only to great literary pioneers, mad poets, seers, and the like. And then some dusty prospector like Joyce chisels out a few words amongst the barren rocks and suddenly finds that heís tapped into this vein of glittering linguistic magic. Stars and nebulas emerge with wings from the stone.
William Michaelian: Beautiful. I know one thing: I feel fortunate to be reading Finnegans Wake. Itís like acquiring some unexpected wealth. Listening to Joyce read was inspiring. As I told everyone at the table shortly afterward, I suddenly felt Iíd reached a turning point in my life. They laughed, of course. So did I. And then I told them that the same thing happened years ago when my parents gave me a heavy long black wool coat ó a coat I still treasure and wear. Itís hard to explain. But when I first put on the coat, I immediately felt a surge of possibility and hope. Who knows? Maybe the coat is a reincarnation of something Joyce once wore. Oh, man. Now Iím really cracking up. Tell me, doctor. I can take it. Is there or isnít there hope?
John Berbrich: Ja. Always there is hope. Just read these three poems, one every four hours, & call me in the morning. Better yet, donít call me in the morning. Now stick out your tongue. Yah, just as I thought. Itís coated, with this long black stuff. You need lots of rest, son. In fact, Iím feeling a bit sleepy myself. Gonna lay down & catch a little shut eye. Hope, he says. Hope. Hope I have good dreams. . . .
William Michaelian: Johnny? Hmm. Asleep. How utterly peculiar. Itís almost as if he were going on a long journey. Gee. The least he could have done was invite me. And the poems arenít even in English. Oh, well. I guess Iíll just have to wait for him to wake up. . . .
John Berbrich: .....Huh?....Wha-....?? Where am I? Oh, Willie......did I have a weird dream or what. I dreamt I was out in Utah driving through a canyon in a snowstorm between two mountains. Then when I looked out the window, I saw the ground covered w/ little orange villages twinkling like stars ó the lights made constellations like Starbucks Coffee & Napoleon Dynamite....then I dreamed I read one of Edgar Rice Burroughsís Martian novels & a book of short stories by Dorothy Parker. Parker was far superior to Burroughs, although contained a lot less bloodshed. Then I dreamed I was in a crazy airport in New York City, then I was floating above the clouds, then nice-looking women in blue uniforms kept handing me snacks and smiling a lot, way more than most people. Then I dreamed I wasnít getting enough sleep, my car was leaking transmission fluid, and some guy handed me a white business card which said ďMy CardĒ on one side & on the reverse was blank which he said was two people dressed in white standing in a snowstorm. What does it all mean, Willie?
William Michaelian: Well, my first impression is that the spirits of Zane Grey and Dorothy Parker are waging battle for your soul. Why this should take place in the air is a mystery. The uniforms and smiles are frightening. Uniform smiles could be a sign of Zamyatinís Disease. The leaking transmission fluid is simple: you need to go to the bathroom. Also, as a matter of precaution, check through all of your business cards. If there is one like that in the dream, tear it up immediately. Now. How are you feeling?
John Berbrich: Better. You were right about the transmission fluid. I like this dream-therapy stuff. Your turn.
William Michaelian: Okay. But first, a question: Am I supposed to be awake, or does it matter? Because at the moment, I canít quite tell.
John Berbrich: It doesnít matter. Tell me your troubling dreams, Willie. What monsters lurk within you?
William Michaelian: Good question. I suppose we could begin with a couple of my all-time classics from childhood. One was recurring. I had it several times when I was in second grade, after a ten-day stay in the hospital for what my parents were first told was leukemia, but which turned out to be a massive platelet deficiency due to an allergic reaction to a new penicillin-like drug. In the dream, I was playing marbles with one of the boys who had stayed in my hospital room. The dream began pleasantly enough, but by the end the boy always turned into a skeleton. I was playing marbles with a skeleton. Very disturbing. The other took place during the summer when I was a little older, on a warm summer night when I was lying in bed listening to the trains rattle around a mile or so away at the edge of town. I thought I was awake. There was a man in the room, dressed in black, holding a lantern, and smoking a cigarette. I could see the end of his cigarette glow when he drew on it. I wasnít really scared, just sort of mesmerized by his presence, and the lantern and cigarette. I assumed he worked with the railroad and had come from the trains. I donít remember how the dream ended, or waking up. Who knows. Maybe I never did.
John Berbrich: Ominous dreams, my friend. Each has left a strong impression in my mind. Marbles with a skeleton. And I wonder about the fellow from the trains; itís as though he was coming for you, as though the time had arrived for your trip to some unknown region. Just doing his job. He had picked up many more children on many dark nights such as this. In my mind I see him wearing a black hat, something sloppy and fuzzy like youíd wear on a boat in the fog. Heís drawing on the cigarette, waiting for you to awaken fully. Heís kind, I think; yet he will do his job. He has no choice.
William Michaelian: I forgot to mention, he was wearing a black hat, but it was more along the lines of a top hat. I wonder if he did succeed, or if heíll be back again someday. I always remember him fondly, like a childhood friend.
John Berbrich: Exactly the feeling that I have. The man in black is gentle. And he is patient. Itís as though his presence is some sort of reassuring message that a particularly dreaded and entirely unavoidable event may not be quite so bad as expected. There is nothing like a lonely train whistle at night for stimulating the imagination. Myself, I have always loved to fall asleep listening to traffic drone by, especially in the rain when the tires hiss and sizzle. Itís like a kind of strange river, rolling and flowing along to some incomprehensible destination.
William Michaelian: Traffic in the rain definitely has that effect. How about you? Any dreams that still linger from childhood?
John Berbrich: I did have one recurring dream on some feverish nights when I was a kid. I wrote about it in my chapbook Balancing Act. I was in this Limbo sort of place ó all clouds and vagueness and blank spaces ó with some other people. We were given the task of constructing the Empire State Building, and we were allotted a tremendous amount of time in which to accomplish the job, like maybe one million years. So of course, with so much time in which to work, no one really got busy. We all slipped into a kind of stupor. The eons passed. I gradually came out of my stupor ó like driving out of the fog ó and realized that there were only a couple of minutes left. This huge clock was pounding out the seconds. We had only gotten the building maybe five feet high. There were piles of bricks lying around, construction material, and so forth. Frantically, I ran around trying to rouse people, get them going on the job. But of course there wasnít time, and anyway I could not rouse these people from their lethargy. The seconds ticked down, louder and louder. I didnít know what would happen when we ran out of time, but I knew it would be bad. I always woke up just before the final second, sweating and afraid.
William Michaelian: Wow. Thatís a potent dream. No wonder you remember it. Over the years, Iíve had a lot of dreams that involve that sort of struggle. The settings vary, but the difficulty and high stakes are always present. I still have them ó pedaling or rowing upstream in order to save the lives of others, wandering off onto a misty path that suddenly leads me on a strange journey to a mysterious, recently abandoned city ó that sort of thing. I think an interpreter of dreams would have a field day with this stuff.
John Berbrich: Yeah. We could have a field day with it, and I donít mean Zamyatin. I like the idea of the abandoned city. Oh, I used to have dreams about riding the subway all night long. This is when I was a bit older. There was never anyone around. Iíd just ride, ride, then get off and climb the stairs to the street, where Iíd find myself in a deserted and terrifying section of Brooklyn. Then Iíd head back down and resume my riding. Donít know what I was looking for, but I never did find it. Or maybe I did, for the dreams have stopped.
William Michaelian: Maybe moving to Russell was a good idea. Iíve also had dreams that Iíve been grateful for, which involved friends and family members who have passed on. Fascinating. Some dreams are specific and seem profound, while others are more like a collage, as if they are the result of the brain sorting things out while it isnít busy with the stuff it has to do during the day.
John Berbrich: Thatís what my dreams seem to consist of ó bits of experience slapped haphazardly together. I donít dream about my deceased family much. I had one whopper of a nightmare many years ago, involving a dead family member, and I donít really want to get into it. Just think about a dead person holding a revolver to your head and saying over and over with terrifying vehemence, ďI hate you. I hate you.Ē I still get chills.
William Michaelian: Go no further. I understand. Incidentally, I had quite a dream last night, but now I only remember the part that was happening when I woke up, but nothing that led up to it. A young man I didnít know had been hurt somehow ó I was aware that he was hurt, but I didnít know in what way. This is very strange: I reached out, touched his shoulder, and said, ďLet me heal you.Ē And I did heal him. At that moment, I believed that it was in my power to do so, as long as I didnít doubt the outcome.
John Berbrich: The power of Faith, huh? The young man would also have to believe in your powers for them to work. Good for you, Willie. I hope the fellow is feeling better. I once read about this native tribe in South America that considered dreams very important. Every morning, the first thing the members would do is exchange dreams and discuss the possible meanings. That would be a good way to get the day going, better than scrambling to shut off the alarm clock, jumping in the shower, flicking on the radio so you donít miss any bad news. Iíd say to you that today you should make your dream come true ó seek out the wounded young man & heal him. You can do it, & perhaps w/ only a touch on the shoulder. Could be the most important thing you do all day.
William Michaelian: Definitely. As I always say, get the healing out of the way first thing in the morning, before you get busy with other things. I just remembered something else from that dream: I was the one responsible for his injury. So, I guess healing him was the least I could do. I like the idea of discussing dreams upon waking, while a person is still within their spell. The dreams would become even more real, and life during the day would be more like a dream ó that is, if it isnít a dream already. Under those circumstances, it seems one would go to sleep at night very eager to find out what the nightís dreams would be.
John Berbrich: Yeah. I used to try to direct my dreams by thinking hard about something I wanted to dream about as I was falling asleep. Seemed to work sometimes; perhaps Iíll try it tonight. Speaking of the dream state, do you generally write in the morning when you are half in the dreamworld, or do you wait until later when you can think straight?
William Michaelian: Well, I am an early riser by nature. But life is such under our roof that Iím generally unable to go straight to work. So my head is usually pretty well cleared by the time I start in ó as clear as itís likely to get, anyway. If I had my way, Iíd start in earlier. Iíve done it before. I like to write through all sorts of mental weather, so to speak. A couple of evenings ago, I purposely did a little writing after nine oíclock. Because Iím always up by four or five, I hardly ever stay up and write late at night. Someday, though, I plan to do just that, maybe for a few months or a year, to see if the writing and subject matter differ in any way. I know my writing is affected by the seasons ó this is one of the things I noted when I was working the other evening ó and that I am more likely to remember and think of certain things according to the time of year. I suspect there might be similar differences between day and night.
John Berbrich: I believe youíve read my chapbook, A History of Post-Contemporary Poetry. In it, Bobby Kogropnik drives his poetry slaves to write under all sorts of unusual conditions: he forces them to stay outside on a long cold winterís day & write about that; he forces them to write while engaging in sexual activities; he forces them to write write write while staying awake for days; to write after a tremendous amount of physical exercise; to write after ingesting enormous amounts of particular foods. Kogropnik was an experimenter, a kind of scientist, recording his observations under particular conditions. I imagine writing day or night would make a big difference. With me, the place matters; even the pen matters, the type of paper is important.
William Michaelian: I think the main thing is to not depend on certain conditions ó locations, noise levels, times of day, rest, freedom from pain, weather, large stretches of time ó you name it. It might take awhile to adjust to a major change, but one shouldnít allow himself to become crippled because his world was altered in some way. Change is a common excuse not to write, but it is really a challenge and an opportunity.
John Berbrich: Sounds like Kogropnik was really on to something. Thatís the way to live, Willie ó turn a crisis into an opportunity strictly by an act of will. It really is true, how attitude is like 90% of everything. Half-empty, half-full, you know. Turn everything to the good.
William Michaelian: Thereís one extreme case I think I might have mentioned before. When Solzhenitsyn was freezing in the gulag, he taught himself to write and memorize without recourse to paper. Instead, heíd keep pebbles in his pocket and click them in rhythm, first committing words, then sentences, and then finally whole passages to memory. Doing so kept him alive and sane.
John Berbrich: Those amazing Russians! It must be the centuries of adversity that have helped to chisel & form so many passionate writers & artists. I admire a person like that ó someone who has next to nothing and makes the absolute best of it. Reminds us to be grateful for what we have.
William Michaelian: Yes, and to realize the unimportance of much of it. Solzhenitsyn lived for a number of years in the U.S. ó in Vermont, I think. Went back to Russia in the Nineties. Definitely a powerful writer. Letís see . . . I did read two or three volumes of his Gulag Archipelago twenty some-odd years ago, and Cancer Ward, plus a memoir called The Oak and the Calf. All are compelling. You can picture him in Vermont working outside at an old wooden table, surrounded by birds and grass and trees, astonished at the miracle of his survival, refusing to be silent.
John Berbrich: Havenít read anything by him. By the way, have you received back your copy of We? Thank you for lending it. Speaking of the Russians, it seems that life for them is beautiful and filled w/ promise, only to turn to disaster & ruin. Zamyatin must have caught Stalin on a good day, to be allowed to leave.
William Michaelian: I think I read that Maxim Gorky helped convince Stalin. Like Solzhenitsyn, Zamyatin was imprisoned and exiled several times, in the early part of the twentieth century. We arrived in fine shape many days ago ó another of those two-day turnarounds from New York.
Oh ó and I did write up a brief summary of Zorba the Greek. You can read it here when you have the time and are in the mood.
John Berbrich: Iíll check it out. Iíve read one book by Gorky, an autobiographical account of his early years entitled My Life. I read the book a long time ago, and remember lots of relatives living together; a huge fire demolished some building they had that was filled w/ paint, I believe. The fire was spectacularly colorful & destroyed the family livelihood. There was also some uncle, a strong light-hearted young man whom the youthful Gorky looked up to. The uncle is injured in some kind of accident, & we see him later in the book, shriveled & weak. The change is very disturbing.
William Michaelian: Itís funny, isnít it, how we can know what happened long ago and thousands of miles away to Gorkyís uncle, for instance, and be moved by such experiences, and yet not know a thing about people living nearby. In the early pages of the Odyssey sequel, Odysseus looks upon his father, who has become a shell of his former self, and he feels a mixture of pity and disgust. I must say, Kazantzakis wrote some fantastic poetry.
John Berbrich: Very impressive. How long is this book, like 800 pages? In what form is the poetry written ó rhyme? meter? stanzas? And this book was translated you say? What a monumental task, flipping poetry from one language to another. Whoís the translator?
William Michaelian: Kimon Friar, a man who was clearly gifted in his own right. Born in Turkey in 1911, father American, mother Greek, died in 1993. The poem is 776 pages long. With front and back matter, the book has about 850 pages in all. The poem is divided into twelve ďbooks.Ē As part of the appendix, Friar has included a book-by-book synopsis, which I donít plan on reading until later. According to Friar, in his original, Kazantzakis used an unusual seventeen-syllable unrhymed line that consisted of eight beats. Explaining himself to critics, Kazantzakis said, ďI wrote in the seventeen-syllable line because this followed more truly the rhythm of my blood when I lived the Odyssey.Ē Friar varies from the approach slightly, stating some technical reasons that have to do with the English language, but the translated verse still has a great rhythm.
John Berbrich: Yes, some poetry has a great rhythm, strong & steady. One night about a month ago I was reading poetry to myself in a coffeehouse. This guy I didnít know came over to me, smiled, & said, ďYou are reading poetry?Ē ďYes,Ē I said. He could tell, he said, by the way I bobbed my head rhythmically as I read. Itís an important blend of music & language ó which I think loops us around to Joyce again.
William Michaelian: Yes, it does. I am certainly enjoying Finnegan. More than ever now, I think, since hearing Joyce read. But we need to get back to dreams for a moment. The one I had last night will knock your socks off. Here ó I wrote about it in my latest entry to Songs and Letters. What do you think?
John Berbrich: Wow. Whatís really funny about this dream is that you didnít resist. I mean, you did question the fellow a bit, but that was all. Was this dream extremely intense? Sometimes a dream that seems horrible wonít really feel so bad as youíre having it; another is terrifying even though nothing in particular really happens.
William Michaelian: Oh, it was intense enough. Knowing I had four minutes and fifty-five seconds to live, and feeling myself getting warmer and warmer as I ó anyway. The dream stayed with me all day. Even during conversation with others, I was thinking, Am I really here? And, if I am, will I still be here a minute from now?
John Berbrich: Well, we never really know, do we? When my dreams turn sour, it seems that I can usually tell Iím dreaming & that itíll all be over soon. But then sometimes this doubt assails me ó perhaps this time itís the real thing. Your dream reminds me a little of one I had a few years ago. I was in this huge dark room, like an arena w/ a few cracks of light slipping in through the walls. I could see a little. The floor seemed to be made of this white substance, w/ lots of little hills and valleys. After walking around for awhile, climbing the hillocks & bumps, I realized that this white stuff was bones, bones & machines, & that beneath the white layer were memories, bad ones. My feet were bare, & they dug down beneath the surface, my soles rubbing up against the hideous memories. Unpleasant sensations embraced me. I woke up.
William Michaelian: It almost sounds like you were walking through an area where something awful had taken place, a battle or slaughter of some kind. Iíve also had some interesting dreams that developed inside gigantic buildings, with elevators, and different levels, and fountains, and casts of hundreds, and long ramps and freeway overpasses leading to indoor and outdoor situations. There was one I had a couple of years ago that was inside a machine shop with metal shavings all around, and grotesque machines, and peculiar jobs waiting to be done, and I was the only one there to do them. Come to think of it, Finnegans Wake often has, in addition to its musical qualities, a really dream-like feeling and atmosphere. There are passages that make me feel like Iím drifting, partly awake, partly asleep.
John Berbrich: Same here. And the words drift in & out of meaning, & itís like recalling a dream where some parts make sense & others either donít or simply cannot be remembered. Occasionally it all starts to come together in the Wake, & Iím thinking yeah, yeah. Yesterday I was reading it in the park on my lunch hour, then walked to the post office to mail a small package. Joyceís strange song was running through my head, flowing like a river in the fog. I almost said to the counter girl, ďFarst class, me lass.Ē It seemed so right. I wondered what would happen if we all started speaking Joycean, singing & joking & rambling like that, all the time. Instead, I settled for the more common, ďFirst class, thanks.Ē But still it seemed like something was missing.
William Michaelian: I know the feeling. On the other hand, someone has to go first. Iíll bet the counter girl was just dying for a bit of comic relief, whether she knew it or not. Had you said, ďFarst class, me lass,Ē she would have responded with a smiling, puzzled expression, and then you could have told her youíre reading Finnegans Wake. ďI read it in the park in me lunch hour, among the birds nísquirrels, and to the laughter of the trees.Ē And then she would have set your package aside for examination by the postal authorities. And when they opened it, they would have been greeted by words that had turned into fluttering moths.
John Berbrich: Well, yeah ó ítis a good way to git yerself in trooble, acting uncommon like that. I do try to size up cashiers at local stores to determine if they have a sense of humor. I excel at general unexpected goofiness. Some people look at me like Iím a booger on the end of their finger, while others appreciate the break in the tedium. Like you say, the girl wishing for comic relief, whether she knows it or not. The world is filled with counter-girls like her, waiting for a goofy comic, or something, anything.
William Michaelian: It seems to me that everyone is in need of entertainment ó a light moment, some humor, a play on words, and all of it done in a way that makes us think and provides encouragement in this strange world of ours. But youíre right, not everyone is ready, willing, or able to laugh. Some, poor souls, think itís unsophisticated and beneath them, or that itís a sign of weakness. On the other hand, itís easy enough to tell when to play it straight, when joking isnít appropriate. Say ó not to change the subject, but are you getting Rain Taxi these days? The Spring 2006 issue arrived today. Looks interesting. It includes the first installment of an ongoing column dedicated to the poetry chapbook.
John Berbrich: Ah me, procrastinator that I am, I havenít subscribed. Sounds fascinating. Youíll have to fill me in on the bloody details. Rain Taxi is a fine publication, a league higher than the small press, yet apparently aware of the small pressís existence. Iím amazed at the price ó what is it, $3 or $4 an issue? The publishers must make their money on advertising. Yes, keep me informed. Or if youíd like to swap, Iíll send you the April Yawp for the spring Rain Taxi. Iíd like to read that chapbook column.
William Michaelian: Absolutely. In a few days, Iíll send it along. The magazine has some advertising, but not a huge amount. Theyíre a non-profit organization, and survive on subscriptions, donations, and grants. Of course, the ads are all book-related, so even those make for good reading ó although, I have to admit, I always get a chuckle out of the ads for writing conferences, workshops, and programs. What an industry that is. Anyway. The first chapbook column has two parts. There is a history of the chapbook, followed by brief reviews of seven titles, generally priced around six or seven bones. Havenít read those yet.
John Berbrich: Sounds good. What is Rain Taxiís circulation ó do you have any idea?
William Michaelian: Their official circulation is 18,000 copies, I believe, some of which is free distribution. I read an article that said after ten years, they were still basically hanging by a thread ó not an unusual thing, unfortunately. It gets to be a way of life.
John Berbrich: Keeps one alert. 18,000 is pretty extensive. Iíll say it again ó great publication. I had dreams last night, canít remember them. Iím really enjoying the annotated chapter of Finnegans Wake. So many good jokes, excellent puns. Most of it sails over my head, Iím sure. Youíll read a word spelled in some unusual way, then you stop & take another look only to discover just why Joyce chose the unorthodox orthography. I wonder just how many times he rewrote the book.
William Michaelian: Actually, I was under the impression that he rewrote it the first time. It is truly masterful. The more I read, the more I like it. Iím on Page 480 now. I enjoyed the chapter youíre in, and following each of the notes wherever they led. These days, I am reading just the two books ó Joyce and Kazantzakis. I find the two are easy to switch between. They go together somehow. And I am taking my time, a few pages here, a few pages there. But Iíll probably add something else to the mix before long. Recently, I bought a little paperback that contained Gogolís ďThe OvercoatĒ and ďThe Nose.Ē Iíve started both stories three or four times, but each time I found I wasnít in the mood, or that I couldnít stay awake. Maybe I should take the book downtown one of these days and read it at the bus or train station. I kind of like the idea of reading Gogol on an old wooden bench surrounded by travelers and their luggage.
John Berbrich: Gogolís absurd. I mean that as a compliment. If you read his work aloud, the travelers may let their trains & buses go, & sit there, riveted, listening. There may be trouble if you close the book & try to leave the station before the end of the story. Speaking of parallel reading, I too have a few books going in conjunction w/ Joyce. And youíre right: it is hard to switch back & forth sometimes. Yesterday I tried going from Finnegans Wake to some poems of Wallace Stevens, & it didnít work. The poems sat there, curiously dead by comparison.
William Michaelian: Poor things. I think when I finally finish Finnegans Wake ó a moment I am not looking forward to ó that I might keep it out to read and listen to occasionally at random. Iíve found that Kazantzakis is also very listenable, that his Odyssey is better when read aloud. His voice is very warm, the kind of voice youíd expect from someone who loves nature, and who doesnít see himself as being apart from human folly.
John Berbrich: Quite a feat to capture all that in a verse translation. Is his Odyssey written in first, second, or third person?
William Michaelian: Third. And itís not at all hard to read. That was one of the authorís aims. In his introduction, Friar talks extensively about the language Kazantzakis used, the style and structure and so on. I plan to read that carefully from beginning to end later on. He also tells about working with the author, and how Kazantzakis would pound the table in delight over certain passages and proclaim in a loud voice, And thick black blood dripped down from both his murderous palms! Sounds like they had fun.
John Berbrich: Nothing wrong w/ peace, but itís hard to beat ďthick black bloodĒ & ďmurderous palms.Ē Sounds like fun indeed. I love to hear about authors who love their writing, not squeezing out a few hundred words for some hack deadline but basically rolling in their own words for the sheer joy of it. One hears about authors who say they write because they have to ó speaking of internal compulsion, I believe ó & yet how could someone be compelled to write something so inane & lifeless? Still I suppose it all means something to them. Live & let live, I say! If someone wants to write ó no, is compelled to write ó drivel, then write reams of the stuff. And hold it close to your breast, like a helpless child. Orphan poems.
William Michaelian: Yes, orphan poems and rivers of drivel. Itís all part of the human/literary experience. I certainly get that impression from the current issue of Rain Taxi. Most of what Iíve read so far can be boiled down to a couple of sentences. Everyone seems to be tangled up in their ideas, crippled by their learning, and unable to see past the words they use to try to explain what they mean. Restless, troubled spirits with clipped wings.
John Berbrich: Well, I canít wait to read it. I need to work hard on the Yawp for the next couple weeks, else it wonít hit the newsstands until May. And that would be totally unacceptable. I hope you find no clipped wings in the issue, although an orphan poem would be welcome. A home for unwanted poems. Keep them out of the gutter.
William Michaelian: Orphan poems. Orphan trains. Long trains, winding through the night, loaded with poems that have lost their way. Maybe that was why the man with the lantern visited me that night. He thought I was an orphan poem. Or maybe he was a poem, looking for an orphan to write him. So. Do you have the Yawp contents all lined up, or do you still have some deciding to do? Funny. I almost said Yawptents. ďThey are a nomadic people, made up primarily of orphan poets living in yawptents.Ē
John Berbrich: I remember that from Social Studies although I hadnít thought of it in years. Yes, the Yawptents are almost ready. Several inhabitants have been selected. The remaining candidates have been trimmed down to a small group, some of the members of which will unfortunately be turned away. Where do they go, the rejectees? Back on the train, looking for a home.
William Michaelian: Dear Editor: After careful consideration, I regret to inform you that I am unable to use your rejection at this time. Good luck in placing it elsewhere. With very best wishes, The Author. Choo . . . choo . . . chuff-chuff-chuff . . . Yes, it is a rather strange position to be in. Dear Baker: I reject your loaves. I am unable to stomach them at this time. Dear Mechanic: Thank you for thinking of us. We have read your tune-up with great interest, but . . . but . . . ahhhhhh!
John Berbrich: Willie, I fully accept your rejection. Time to head back to the yawptent, fire up the samovar, listen to the lonely train whistle over the hills. Rainy drizzly poems tonight, no form nor rhyme. Resolutions are cloudy. Blue, blue, blue. Deep red slash on the horizon, Sol bids adieu. Between the cracks of cloud. Slates hold up the sky. Gray, gray. Ah, the water is boiling.
William Michaelian: Good timing. You know, if you grind up some of those orphan poems and mix them together, theyíll make an excellent tea. Dear Author: Thank you for your interest in our publication. Although your work does not fit our present needs, we hope you will enjoy the enclosed complimentary tea bag. The Editors.
John Berbrich: Ah, Willie ó we never send form letters. And I have received tea bags from a small press editor, Greg Edwards of Naked Knuckle. Actually the tea bag accompanied not a rejection but an acceptance letter. Although the tea was some kind of Oriental spice, not orphan poems, a rare delicacy. Or is it Armenian?
William Michaelian: Interesting thought. Are you saying you think Gred Edwards might have sent you a tea made of ground up Armenian poems? Or ground up Armenians? Perhaps he should be investigated. Did you drink it? How did you feel later?
John Berbrich: Yeah, I drank it. It was pretty good too, the tea. But what I meant was that perhaps the grinding of poems is an old Armenian cure, just add a little treacle. Great for chilblains, ague, shingles, gout, and other Old World conditions. Thatís what the samovar was for.
William Michaelian: Ahkh ó wouldnít you know Iíd come up with something so warped. But now, I think the time has come to put these rejected tea bags and ground up Armenians behind us. I say this not because the subject isnít fascinating, but because the darned page is full ó of what, Iím not saying. So, if you and our throngs of delirious readers and potential conversationalists are willing, what do say we meet on yet another new page?