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: Good news. Thanks to our youngest son, Iíve started reading Woody Guthrieís autobiography, Bound for Glory. What a treat. If you havenít read it, I recommend you add it to your list.
John Berbrich: Iím sure that is a good one. A real person writing about real things. Is that a big book; Iím guessing roughly 700-800 pages. A long, adventurous life.
William Michaelian: Long in miles, but not in years. Guthrie was only fifty-five when he died, after being hospitalized for many years and robbed of his mind and abilities by Huntingtonís Chorea. A real tragedy. The book runs around 300 pages and is illustrated by Guthrie himself. Iíve read four chapters so far. Bound for Glory is more than an autobiography. It reads like a novel, and is full of wisdom, pain, humor, and poetry.
John Berbrich: Sounds like a worthwhile read. 55? That surprises me. The 300 pages surprises me too. Iíll bet he lived enough for 3000 pages, easily.
William Michaelian: Indeed ó thatís where the songs came in. And what lyrics, like these at the end of ďDust Pneumonia BluesĒ:

Down in Texas, my gal fainted in the rain,
Down in Texas, my gal fainted in the rain,
I throwed a bucket oí dirt in her face just to bring her back again.

And of course he was Bob Dylanís earliest and biggest influence. You can hear it in the songs of both, especially in the phrasing and some of the long versifying.
John Berbrich: I wonder who Guthrieís influences were? Right now Iím gonna run around the block. Be right back.
William Michaelian: Wait ó oh, well. As Donovan once said, I may as well try and catch the wind. . . . Wow ó that was quick. I think Guthrieís influences were basic: family and the people he grew up around. His music was the natural result of his restlessness and observation.
John Berbrich: A lot of those older gents like Guthrie & Pete Seeger made music that seems so relevant to society. I suppose we still have people like that, U2 and...and...
William Michaelian: Oh, well. I think Iíll stick with Guthrie. And some of those old-time bluesmen weíve talked about. Iíll tell you who I really admire: Alan Lomax. Youíre probably familiar with how he traveled around the country and the world recording folk music for the Library of Congress. He made something like 10,000 recordings.
John Berbrich: That is amazing. One recording per day for nearly 30 years. I donít know much about Lomax. Was he a musician, do you know?
William Michaelian: He played guitar, but I donít know how well or in what capacity. His father, John Lomax, was a folklorist. They worked together for a time. Early on, Alan warned against the danger of TV and radio ó transmitters owned by a few, receivers owned by many ó the power to homogenize and destroy cultural diversity.
John Berbrich: Lomax certainly had a point. Say, by pure chance I came across this magazine article today that mentioned Dylan & Guthrie. Apparently young Bob visited olí Woody pretty often at the hospital in New Jersey where Guthrie was dying & played songs for him. Pretty gutsy, considering Dylan was only 19 years old at the time.
William Michaelian: Sure. Dylan did not lack confidence. ďIíll know my song well before I start singing.Ē On the other hand, the cultural climate was different in 1960. It was a natural thing to do. Playing together, singing together, and swapping music were a healthy part of a folk-musicianís life. Dylan even wrote a song for Guthrie and recorded it on his first album.
John Berbrich: Which song was that?
William Michaelian: ďSong to Woody.Ē Here are the lyrics:

Iím out here a thousand miles from my home,
Walkiní a road other men have gone down.
Iím seeiní your world of people and things,
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings.

Hey, hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
íBout a funny olí world thatís a-cominí along.
Seems sick aní itís hungry, itís tired aní itís torn,
It looks like itís a-dyiní aní itís hardly been born.

Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know
All the things that Iím a-sayiní aní a-many times more.
Iím a-singiní you the song, but I canít sing enough,
íCause thereís not many men that done the things that youíve done.

Hereís to Cisco aní Sonny aní Leadbelly too,
Aní to all the good people that traveled with you.
Hereís to the hearts and the hands of the men
That come with the dust and are gone with the wind.

Iím a-leavingí tomorrow, but I could leave today,
Somewhere down the road someday.
The very last thing that Iíd want to do
Is to say Iíve been hittiní some hard traveliní too.

John Berbrich: Dylan really has a talent for turning a memorable phrase. While some of his lines seem sophomoric, others are gems. He sure gives high praise to Woody.
William Michaelian: Guthrie liked to pose as a hick, but he was a great talent. When you have a chance sometime, take a look at Bound for Glory. He wrote the book while still in his twenties, but his voice is much older ó a lot like Hank Williams, Sr., come to think of it, who died at twenty-nine, but sang like he was sixty-nine.
John Berbrich: Packed a lotta liviní into a few years. I will read that book ifín I come across it. Meanwhile, what do you think of Pluto being deposed to the rank of dwarf planet?
William Michaelian: I havenít slept a wink since the announcement. My life, my childhood, my hopes and dreams ó all shattered. I hope youíre coping better.
John Berbrich: Well, it has been a low impact shock. I understand, I suppose, why they demoted it. But the change doesnít really sit well in my brain. Like somethingís missing. Showís you how important classification is. Pluto itself hasnít changed a molecule due to the announcement.
William Michaelian: Right. And meanwhile, a million things go unnoticed right under our noses. I know a lot of people were pretty shaken by the news. But as I see it, there is so much more out there, both in our minds and beyond this solar system, that the classification of Pluto, beyond its scientific usefulness, hardly matters. On the other hand, it is part of our quest to understand. Itís a piece of the puzzle. We humans might be out there someday, if we havenít been already.
John Berbrich: Pluto ó a cool, dreadful place. Personally, Iím fascinated by the moons of some of the outer planets, Saturn & Uranus in particular. What would it mean if we find life there? It could be in such a different form ó would we even recognize it? I still say that we should have planted a United Nations flag alongside Old Glory when we landed on the Moon. Would have been a nice gesture.
William Michaelian: Donít get me started. Flags make me nervous. I could see having one that somehow represented the entire Earth and all it contains, but if we truly saw things that way a flag wouldnít be necessary at all. Whenever a flag is planted, trouble follows. But those moons ó imagine being alone on one, and having nothing to do but listen . . . listen . . . listen. . . . and wonder if the universe has eyes.
John Berbrich: Iím trying to imagine it. Yes, the quiet. All youíd hear would be the electronic hum in your helmet. And the stars glittering across the black sky, a magnificent spectacle. Iím sure I would be speechless.
William Michaelian: A natural, appropriate response. In my simplemindness, of course, I didnít stop to think about needing a helmet. Darn. That really wrecks the aesthetics. Meanwhile, Iím reminded of how some people, even when they find themselves face to face with the wonders of nature, go on with their babbling and noise-making. Even at dawn or dusk I feel the hush and am reluctant to speak.
John Berbrich: Something sacred about silence. Noise is just so human. This reminds me of all those old sci-fi movies. The Earthmen land on an unknown planet & to test the atmosphere one of them takes off his helmet & starts sniffing around. ďItís okay,Ē he says to the others. I always found this hilarious as a kid & still do. They never really seem surprised.
William Michaelian: Ah, yes. Simple courageous men, sure of themselves, superior to everything, astonished by nothing ó real heroes. After wandering around awhile, they get back to the ship and find out that one of their crew has been reduced to primitive salts. ďThat is Ensign Dilby,Ē the shipís doctor says. ďOr whatís left of him.Ē Again, the onlookers register no surprise. Now they are sober angry men with a purpose: get the evil creature who did this to one of our men. Challenge it face to face. But first, a proper send-off for the young ensign ó poor lad, it was his first assignment. The doctor scrapes him into a salt shaker. Gritty realism.
John Berbrich: Iím pretty sure I saw that one. One by one the other crew members are morphed into ordinary kitchen spices & condiments ó basil, pepper, a touch of thyme. I thought that was real clever when I was young, the scene where the macho young space jock Giametti is turned into a ďtouch of thyme,Ē as the doctor puts it. That phrase opened temporal vistas never before considered by my young mind.
William Michaelian: These are the voyages of the spice-rack Enterprise. As the crew members slowly fell victim to the aliens, I remember thinking, why basil, why oregano, why cayenne, why mustard, why coriander. Was each herb or spice meant to represent some human trait or flaw, or were the aliens simply replenishing their spice supply?
John Berbrich: That last is a gruesome thought. And what if their dairy runs low? Imagine being turned into a block of Limburger Cheese? Iíd hate myself.
William Michaelian: Youíre right. In a situation like that, one couldnít help feeling bleu. Interesting thought, to be turned into a pile of garlic powder or dried mint or cheese, and yet to know it. What would it be like to feel yourself dwindle shake by shake, or be cut and eaten slice by slice?
John Berbrich: Probably there arenít words to express the feelings. On the other hand, ďimagine the pleasure that you are giving others,Ē says the missionary in the cauldron.
William Michaelian: There probably arenít words for that either. How about this scene: a group of unlucky travelers is simmering slowly in a giant cauldron, and, much to the amusement of the natives, they get into a religious-philosophical argument as they are being cooked. Only later, at mealtime, do the cannibals realize the soup is bitter, ruined.
John Berbrich: Fortunately the visiting aliens lend the natives those spices theyíve been accumulating. Sounds like an old Monty Python skit, philosophizing amidst the tawdry.
William Michaelian: Tawdry is another great word, a word that should be used more often. It also sounds like a womanís name: Tawdry James. Millicent Tawdry James. Could be a snobby actress, playing opposite Ryan …clair.
John Berbrich: Actually I believe that the word does come from a womanís name. I once read somewhere that there was a cheap bazaar in London hundreds of years ago called St. Audreyís. If you say the name over a few times & place stress on the T you will end up w/ tawdryís. A good word for a cheap product. But I donít know where Ryan Eclair comes from.
William Michaelian: Itís simply the spontaneous product of a warped mind. I do like the idea of a bazaar being associated with a saint. Audrey, the patron saint of rummage sales. Or should that be matron saint?
John Berbrich: Yeah, youíre probably right. Saints are pretty useful after all. I think itís St. Joseph you invoke when you want to sell your house. You buy a little statue of the good St. Joseph, then bury him in the ground in front of your home, upside down & facing your house, & youíll sell it within three days. Something like that. Supposedly it works for people around here.
William Michaelian: Amazing. St. Joseph, the patron saint of real estate. And what do you do when your house sells? Dig up the statue and take it with you, or leave it behind? That would be funny if you left it behind and the new owners didnít know about it, and strangers were forever stopping by and making offers on the house. What a nuisance.
John Berbrich: Great idea for a story, Willie. I hadnít thought of that. If you bury him wrong side up or turned the wrong way you probably couldnít give the house away. Nasty trick to play on someone you didnít like, although in that case you probably would want them to move away. Hey, I got it! This hot woman is selling her house & the guy across the street doesnít want her to move so he buries poor St. Joseph the wrong way ó only something goes wrong. Except what could possibly go wrong w/ a great scheme like that? Maybe he buries St. Audrey by mistake & the place turns into this giant rummage sale. Could happen.
William Michaelian: You bet it could ó especially if the guy who owns the shop that sells the saint statues sneakily stirs up situations to increase his sales. Then again, what if St. Joseph is a real live person, and he goes around madder than hell digging up these statues of himself. Or what if the shop owner is St. Joseph, and heís lost his mind and wants to have the statues buried in front of every house in the world? What if the statues contain pickled cabbage? Or what if St. Joseph and St. Audrey are really a pair of ruthless criminals out to steal jewels and manuscripts from the Vatican?
John Berbrich: Donít let Dan Brown get a hold of this idea. Speaking of that, if the evil genius of our tale buries St. Joseph in front of the Vatican or maybe the White House, think of the possible consequences. We need some new saints anyway. I donít even think that thereís a saint for writers, someone to watch over manuscripts & iambs & things. Iíd light a candle to a helper & guardian like that.
William Michaelian: Well, get your candles ready, because itís St. Francis de Sales. I found it on a list of saints. Here are a few others: St. Fiacre, patron of taxi drivers; St. Boniface, patron of brewers, tailors, and file cutters; and St. Antony the Abbot, patron of gravediggers. Oh ó and hereís one especially for you: St. John Bosco, patron of editors.
John Berbrich: Next youíll tell me thereís a patron saint for thieves & pickpockets. St. John Bosco, I really like that. Well, I do have some candles..........You got a match?
William Michaelian: Sure. A whole box of íem. Meanwhile, Iíll have you know that years ago, we had a dog named Bosco. My father came up with the name, but I donít know what inspired it. So weíll light a candle for Bosco too. St. Amand is the patron of hotelkeepers. St. Elizabeth of Hungary is the patroness of bakers. St. Giles is patron of cripples, blacksmiths, and foresters. But now it occurs to me that another saint is needed: one for writersí spouses.
John Berbrich: Hmmm. Any candidates? Being dead is a requirement for canonization as a saint, right?
William Michaelian: I think so, although I donít know why it should be. Maybe saints should be saints only when they are alive, and then, when they die, they should pass the torch to other
saints.
John Berbrich: Yeah, but then youíll encounter the dilemma weíll call the Pete Rose Syndrome: Saints who were really great Saints in their day, but after the canonization they start playing the horses & visiting local taverns all too frequently. Rescinding Sainthood could become a real problem in the 21st century.
William Michaelian: Well, that would only prove how lousy the selection process was in the first place. On the other hand, if a saint decides to loosen up a little later on in life, that should be his prerogative. Anyway, I kind of like the idea of saints whooping it up. Itís more realistic.
John Berbrich: Well, I like the idea too. But not everyone does. By certain definitions, Saints are people who DONíT whoop it up. I think crazy celebrations are divine. We need more of them.
William Michaelian: And far less of some of the things that are excused or condoned in the name of religion. I wonder. It would be interesting to know when, where, and how the idea of sainthood first arose. Do you have any idea?
John Berbrich: As far as I know, & Iím just talking off the top of my head, as they say, a rather odd expression ó I say, the Catholic Church is the only religion I know of that has Saints in the strictest sense. Lots of other religions have people to look up to as models & so forth, but I donít know how official their status is. St. Stephen was the first saint, I think, being the first known martyr. But hold on, I have a fat book of Saints downstairs. Just a moment. *** Okay, back again. Itís a big hardcover, 500 pages, lavishly illustrated. Hereís one, St. John the Dwarf. The text reads: ďOne of the famous saints of the Egyptian desert, he was remarkable for his simplicity and absent-mindedness.Ē His feast day is October 17th, & he flourished in the 5th century. In the introduction I find that the first Saint to be canonized was St. Ulric, who was officially recognized in 993 AD by Pope John XV. His feast day is July 4th. Doesnít say what he did to earn his Sainthood. Well that shoots my nominee of St. Stephen all to heck.
William Michaelian: Fascinating. So it was that long before the Roman Church started naming saints. The Armenian Church, too, has a number of saints. But there have been none added since the fourteenth or fifteen century. I donít know when the first Armenian saint was canonized, but I do know that Armenia was the first nation to declare Christianity as its official state religion. That was in 301 AD. If you ever visit Jerusalemís Old City, youíll have to go to the Armenian Quarter and the Monastery of St. James, as well as the Holy Sepulchre, where the Armenian Church, like the Greek and the Roman, is custodian of several major sites.
John Berbrich: You speak as someone whoís been there. Have you visited the Middle East? By the way, I found your St. John Bosco. The article doesnít mention anything about editors, but Bosco, from northern Italy, apparently had a lot to do w/ setting up schools for destitute boys & girls, working w/ orphanages & prisons. It says that Bosco never slept ďmore than five hours a night,Ē had ďconsiderable intellectual talentsĒ & an ďastounding memory.Ē His write-up is a good deal longer than St. John the Dwarfís. His years: 1815-1888. His feast day is January 31st.
William Michaelian: Sounds like you have an interesting book there. His tie to editing must come under the heading of Memorable Five-Hour Intellectual Nights. I did go to Jerusalem once, long ago in the early Eighties. Spent a week with the seminarians at St. James, saw shopkeepers playing backgammon for hours in their narrow doorways, saw Arab bread-boys balancing their loads of freshly baked bread as they skated down the winding streets, saw young ultra-Orthodox Jewish men spitting at the feet of seminarians from other sects, saw soldiers keeping watch from the Old City walls, felt tangible waves of hostility in the atmosphere. An interesting trip I never care to repeat.
John Berbrich: Wow. Sounds like a trip through time as well as through space. Growing up in New York I saw hints of these other worlds ó cramped outdoor markets in Chinatown, black-garbed long-bearded Hassidic Jews in Brooklyn, along w/ the usual assortment of transvestites, drug dealers, gangs, all the dying. But Jerusalem, thatís the real thing. If I may ask, what were you doing at the seminary?
William Michaelian: Odd as it may sound, we were considering spending some time in the Armenian Quarter when the kids were small, maybe a year or two ó in fact, our youngest wasnít even born yet. I went to see what it was like. The then-bishop of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church promised to write a letter to the appropriate bishop at St. James, telling him Iíd be staying awhile and to make me welcome. Of course, when I arrived, there had been no letter, and so I just sort of showed up at the monastery gate with my suitcase. They let me in, naturally, because the seminary was always in need of new ping-pong players. And so after a delightful supper with the boys, we adjourned to the ping-pong room, where I proved myself an able opponent, even after being awake for twenty-four hours and reading The Brothers Karamazov on the plane. Then, for the next several days, I stayed in one of their rooms, ate with them, participated in services in the monastery and at other holy sites in the area, and was shown around the Old City. Meanwhile, the bishop who was to have received the letter of introduction was quite a comedian. A heavy bubble-eyed chain-smoker, he took great pleasure in pointing out what a soft life his colleague had in the States ó playing golf, as he put it, and riding around in a Cadillac, while he ďhumbly served the ChurchĒ in Jerusalem in squalor. His little table was piled with papers and books. His ashtray was overflowing, and he was quite pleased that I was enjoying his little performance. Well. Anyway. I could go on and on. But Jerusalem was no place to bring the family, so I left.
John Berbrich: Fascinating. I wonít soon forget the image of that chain-smoking bishop. Well, I have found several pages of St. Williams, the most interesting of whom is a St. William Firmatus. The entire article reads: ďBorn at Tours, he lived as a hermit at various places in France. He is said to have had exceptional power over animals, so that the country people used to apply to him for help against the creatures that raided their crops.Ē He flourished in the 11th century. Feast day, April 24th.
William Michaelian: My uncleís birthday. But I never knew him, because he was killed in the war. So. St. William, eh? I donít know if Iíve told you this, but one of my fatherís uncles used to hypnotize dragonflies. When he had them under his spell, heíd catch them and tie a piece of string to their tails, then let them go. After that he called them tie-tells. As the summer progressed, whenever someone in the family saw a tie-tell fly by, they knew it was one of Uncle Archieís pets.
John Berbrich: Thatís amazing. No, youíve never told me about Uncle Archie. Do you happen to know his method for hypnotizing the dragonflies? I must say, the entire endeavor sounds pretty astonishing.
William Michaelian: Archie was ten years older than my father, a poet and painter. Occasionally, a dragonfly would land on something like a clothesline or twig, and from a few feet away Archie would jerk his head repeatedly until the dragonfly noticed and became fascinated by the motion. Over a period of several minutes, Archie would move closer and closer, all the while jerking his head. Finally, when he was within reach, heíd grab the insect and tie on the string. His reflexes were amazingly quick. Everything about him was quick. He also smoked ten to twelve cigars a day, with a violence and joy that was inspiring to behold.
John Berbrich: The members of your family sound like mythological characters from some joyous, primordial novel that should have been written by Richard Brautigan & Kurt Vonnegut when they were both in good moods. Any other bones rattling in the closet?
William Michaelian: No, they rattle right out in the open. All the aunts and uncles on my fatherís side carried on in pretty much the same fashion. The women were amazing ó intelligent, wise, strong, fierce, motherly, quick-witted, simultaneously patient and impatient, keen senses of humor. The men remained children all their lives. They were great storytellers and impressionists, true comedians. Aware of every detail. Widely read. Extremely loud. Wild mustaches. Indomitable spirits. Forever creating situations in which to perform, involving pleasantly surprised innocent bystanders, massaging their egos, leaving them befuddled.
John Berbrich: How well do you fit in w/ this batch of characters?
William Michaelian: Iím nothing but a pitiful hollow imitation. But of course itís not really for me to say. I feel quite comfortable being insane. I really do.
John Berbrich: R.D. Laing said that insanity is a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world. I salute you, Willie! Whatís your secret? Maybe you should give classes or seminars or workshops. Perhaps you could get a government grant to spread insanity across the land. But I fear itís already too late. The world is crazy on its own.
William Michaelian: Thanks, friend, for your vote of confidence. Iím not the seminar or workshop type, but maybe we can all learn something from the dream I had last night. I entered a large building, and was attracted to the stairs, which had thickly painted metal pipe railings. I was curious about something, asked directions of someone, and was told to climb up several flights, which I did. I came upon an auditorium, the seats sweeping up away from me toward the back, and in every seat there was an insane person. Many were young, a few were even kids. Their faces were all very disturbed-looking ó no one was wearing a peaceful expression. Upon seeing me, several among this strange group became anxious, then agitated. They got up from their seats and started walking down toward me. As quickly as I could, I retreated to the stairs, but there were already several crazy people there ahead of me. I muscled my way down past them back into the safety of the main corridor. Somehow, I knew they wouldnít follow me beyond the stairs. I met the person who had first shown me the way. She smiled, but didnít say a word.
John Berbrich: Woooo. Was she a young, good-looking girl, the one who showed you in? Sounds to me like a hermit venturing out into the real world for the first time in years. Canít be a family reunion ó no cigars or mustaches. At least you retained your muscle & were able to get away. Some dreams I am helpless. What do you make of it?
William Michaelian: I donít know, but none of it really surprised me. The woman was in her thirties. Thatís all I remember about her. But now I do remember something that took place earlier in the dream ó if, in fact, it was the same dream. There were three or four smaller rooms in which unrelated speeches were being given. One of the speakers, strangely enough, was my eldest brother. He, too, seemed more than a little bit nuts, and was enjoying his talk far more than the situation called for. The rest is vague. Maybe Iíll go back tonight and meet some more loons. Could be my relatives are still waiting for me in the auditorium.
John Berbrich: Itís your job to paint mustaches on them & pass out exploding cigars. Maybe youíll have to climb on stage & entertain them: ďI just flew in from Las Vegas. Boy are my arms tired...Ē Or this could be an opportunity to whip out that guitar & perform as Blind Willie McTellian. Sing some blues to the dream audience.
William Michaelian: Iíve done some strange things in dreams before, but Iíve never sung blues in one, or performed as a stand-up comedian. Floating and falling are common, and landing in soft green meadows. I still have dreams set on our old farm, the place where I grew up. But thatís an interesting job description, painting mustaches on people in dreams. For quite awhile, we couldnít pick up a newspaper or magazine in our house in which the faces in pictures werenít wearing glasses and a mustache. Those kids of ours. It was an improvement, really.
John Berbrich: Kids are natural artists, poets, & comedians. How we crush their tender spirits! Make them sensible economists living in a mud world. Iíll tell you this: whenever I see a mustache added to any photograph or painting, I cannot resist a smile, thinking of that high-spirited young heart, the artist as a young dog.
William Michaelian: I find it inspiring myself. The other evening, a couple of kids from down the street knocked on the door. Next thing we knew, our two guitar-playing sons were hauling in this complete disaster of an old worn out drum set the neighbors wanted to get rid of. The mess filled an entire bedroom, and was patched up here and there with duct tape. The big drum was stuffed full of old sweatshirts. Quite amusing ó the drums were free, and the boys couldnít resist the humor of taking them. I said, ďWhat are you going to do with that pile of junk?Ē Today the drums were hauled off by another kid they know, who was only too happy to have them.
John Berbrich: I might have taken the drums, if you had asked ó & if youíd deliver them. A drum set is a marvelous thing. Nothing like it for making a rock song sound like something. A bass & guitar can noodle about for hours, but add a halfway decent drummer & youíve got direction, a beat, & sis-boom-ba! Hope the kid has fun w/ them.
William Michaelian: Oh, he will. But heís big and strong, and will probably finish them off in a week. He carried out the whole set in one big armload, as if it were a stack of dishes. Unless I dreamed it all, and the drums are still in the other room. Meanwhile, thanks for the Yawp you sent. I read your fine introduction, and Iíll be digging into the rest soon.
John Berbrich: Hope you enjoy it. Several mini-themes developed during the sequencing process, a serendipitous wonder that happens every issue.
William Michaelian: Well, you did say that each issue takes on a life of its own. Paging through, I see several familiar names, and a few unfamiliar ones. Still receiving as many submissions as ever? Any noticeable changes in style or subject matter since the magazineís early days? Whatís your prognosis, doctor?
John Berbrich: Just take a few of these & call me in the morning. Submissions have been rolling in at roughly the same pace for years. Occasionally we get a bad week & I think What is happening??? as we are deluged. But then the next week is slow. I take a breath & go on. No big trends that I can see. I think we receive more from younger poets, high school age, than in the past. People keep coming up w/ new things, which always astounds me. It seems that the possibilities are truly endless, infinite, so that thereís no fear of ever reaching the point where someone says, ďWell, thatís the last poem,Ē & itís true.
William Michaelian: Hmm. Nevertheless, someday, somewhere, there is the chance that someone actually will write the last poem. Imagine being that person. It would be one thing not to know it, but another entirely if you did. Could make quite a good story.
John Berbrich: Or a good poem. I can easily imagine several possibilities. But so can you. ďThe Last Poem.Ē The last poem possible or the last poem allowed? And at the conclusion thereís someone off in a corner scribbling just one more little one....
William Michaelian: Ah. And then there is this to consider: any individual or government that would disallow poetry would be incapable of recognizing poetry when they saw it. What about a brilliant scientist who somehow manages to quantify poetic energy and succeeds in harnessing its awesome power? What the heck do I mean by this, anyway?
John Berbrich: Itís simple, therefore above my head. Sounds like another good story. Willie, youíre a regular machine, cranking out these ideas. But thatís how we should run the junk poem shop, capturing the poetic energy of which you speak. Probably weíll need a room that houses the machinery, w/ the filter, hoses, crank, tangling cables, laser beams & so forth across one wall & a poet adjacent to it declaiming his/her verse. We might need someone there 24/7 so the poets will have to take turns on a schedule. And on cold nights we might need two or three poets in there. This has possibilities.
William Michaelian: Definitely ó as long as we remember to vent the exhaust. You know how it is when you have several poets in the same room. Even one is enough to foul the air. I like the combination of hoses and lasers. We could also use a huge bellows and some blacksmith equipment. Loud voices, banging, clanging ó combined with an abundance of raw elements: wind, flame, starlight. A mechanical ethereal heart, throbbing, pulsing, breathing.
John Berbrich: Wow. Sounds like we could power a small town or a nudist colony of modest size. Almost sounds strong enough to be used as a weapon. Man, I canít wait.
William Michaelian: Hey, congratulations ó you donít often hear the words ďnudistĒ and ďmodestĒ in the same sentence. I like the way you snuck that in there. Wait. Is snuck a real word?
John Berbrich: It sounds better than sneaked, in that context. Let me check my hefty Websterís New World dictionary. Ah, letís see. Spermiogenesis. Softy. Smoker (went too far). Snarl. Ah, here it is, sneak. And snuck is indeed included, as a colloquial equivalent of sneaked. I definitely prefer snuck, although the spell-check on my computer doesnít recognize it, suggesting snack as an alternative. And I purposely inserted the nudist/modest connection for your personal amusement, you old word-meister.
William Michaelian: Iím touched.

Mister Meister mixed a mound
of muddled mustard,
maybe yellow, maybe green;
when Mister Meister missed
his midnight train,
he mixed his mustard up again.

Not that you needed proof. Arenít dictionaries wonderful, though?
John Berbrich: Absolutely. If I was going to live on the moon & could bring only 10 books w/ me, I think one of them would be a gigantic dictionary. A good dictionary is actually fun to read.
William Michaelian: It is. My favorite is a monster Webster from 1924, to which Iíve devoted a page in my Favorite Books section. Dig these stats: weight, fourteen and three-quarters pounds; page count, 2,700; number of illustrations, 6,000; number of words defined, more than 400,000. I often use the thing as an encyclopedia.
John Berbrich: I have the 1939 edition of that one. Listen to the improvements: 3208 pages, 600,000 entries, 12,000 illustrations, 16 pounds. Ours is held together by duct tape. Donít drop it on your foot.
William Michaelian: My, my. That is impressive. And, not counting the duct tape, thatís exactly the weight of a bowling ball. Say, I wonder if anyone has toyed with the idea of creating a spherical book that you would peel in layers like an onion, reading your way to the center and eating as you go. What a tremendous imprint ó Edible Tomes.
John Berbrich: Thatís great, but youíd be crying all the way.
William Michaelian: Wait a minute. I didnít say it would look, smell, or taste like an onion, I said ó well, never mind. But just picture the printing press capable of producing such a book. Of course, instead of ordinary shelves, youíd need some sort of pedestal or other framework to hold them up. But it would be a great design opportunity. You could have a little statue of Atlas holding up the book, or the book could be an apple hanging on a miniature Tree of Knowledge, complete with serpent daring you to read it.
John Berbrich: Sounds like another project for the good folks at the junk poem shop. You do have an interesting idea there, Willie. As you say, ordinary shelves would become obsolete. And it would be tough to write on a spherical-shaped notebook. And how would you staple the thing? Some kind of glue, edible as you say. We could publish a great philosophy series called Food for Thought in several appealing flavors.
William Michaelian: Excellent idea. We might even go a futuristic step further and create Hovering Tomes: spherical books that remain suspended in mid-air, and that drift gently through the rooms, lit faintly by colored light from within, a comfort on long dark winter nights. This would be another imprint, apart from our Edible list. Who knows? Someday, in a far-off galaxy, something just like this might come to pass. Maybe it already has. Imagine composing a work of literature entirely in your mind and having it materialize in delicate spherical form ó a piece of artistic pollen, like the puff of a thistle or dandelion. At that point, reading would no longer be reading. When a Hovering Tome is chosen, a person would simply enter the sphere and live the ďtext.Ē
John Berbrich: Youíd need to be quite a thrill-seeker to ďliveĒ a Stephen King book. Might not get out alive, or sane. Hovering Tomes. Quite an admirable idea, but I figure someone would find a way to mess it up. The Tomes would include advertising, the professional ones would anyway, & the amateur Tomes would be of poor quality, always cutting out or going fuzzy. And imagine a mislabeled Tome. Youíre going for Anne of Green Gables & suddenly youíre on top of a parapet of Troy & the Greeks are attacking. But at the Antique & Junk Poem Shop, weíd do it right!
William Michaelian: Naturally. But you are a gritty realist, sir, if you donít mind my saying. Stephen King indeed. I confess I was dreaming the future without him, and without advertising. And I realize now that when I said live the text, I should have said witness the text. Otherwise, just a few chapters in, a guy could end up with a spear through his chest.
John Berbrich: Now the Tomes sound like enhanced 3-D video. * * * I was going to say something semi-cynical, but being a non-cynic I stopped myself. Did you see the film West World? It was about an amusement park in the future where things go awry. That spear through the chest remark reminded me of it.
William Michaelian: Iíve not only not seen it, Iíve never heard of it. Then again, I live a sheltered life. And Iím certainly glad you refrained from cynicism, because a cynical word has yet to appear anywhere in this conversation, or, for that matter, even on this entire website. So your asterisks have saved me the trouble of editing your remarks. That said, it seems you arenít quite ready to take my Hovering Tomes idea seriously. Come to think of it, I can picture these floating orbs getting way out of hand myself ó keeping people awake at night, leaking raw, corrosive text onto the floor, humming out of tune, dissecting pets, raiding the refrigerator. Until this thing is perfected, the world will not be safe.
John Berbrich: Very sensible. It appears that the world is not ready for this evident advancement. In the mean time, Iím reading this standard novel ó itís sort of flat & constructed of paper ó called Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach. Originally published in 1975. The action takes place in the near future, right in your area. Northern California, Oregon, & Washington have seceded from the USA. They are running things in an ecologically sustainable way, a method that seems to affect the residents psychologically. After 20 years, following delicate negotiations between the two nations, a reporter from the U.S. is allowed to enter Ecotopia to sort of check the place out. At this point in the book, the reporterís been there for a week. He is impressed by certain things, confused by others. This may turn into a dystopia, but I donít think so.
William Michaelian: How very quaint. I, too, have some of these archaic reading devices ó these ďbooks,Ē as I believe they are called. But Ecotopia is not among them. I assume the main characters are enlightened hippie-types who follow a sort of you-are-what-you-smoke philosophy. Then again, there must be some pretty heavy politics and economics involved if Ecotopia managed secession. Under what circumstances did the two nations part? If Central California remains outside Ecotopia, that would give the US an important agricultural edge.
John Berbrich: San Francisco, the capital city, is within the Ecotopian boundaries, along w/ all of the agricultural land to the east. I donít know exactly where the borders are. Ecotopia seems to have a surplus of food. The actual secession is not explained in detail. It seemed to happen almost spontaneously, like the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is illegal to manufacture plastic, since it isnít biodegradable. Microwave ovens are outlawed. Iím not certain that dishwashers are illegal, but no one has them. People seem to be clever & independent, although everyone belongs to a fairly large extended family, whose members are not necessarily relatives. I havenít seen anyone smoking dope yet. Cars are outlawed, but there are plenty of trains & slow trolley-like things that you can ride for free. People love wood & water, trees & streams. Life is a little slower, & everyone works a 20 hour week.
William Michaelian: Hmm. Something tells me the reporter will decide to stay. Iím trying to think up a storyline for this setting. Maybe the reporter doesnít decide. Maybe he winds up being recyled. How is Mr. Callenbachís writing, overall?
John Berbrich: No frills, but fine w/ the nuts & bolts. In the book we are presented w/ alternating columns & diary entries. The journalist writes for the New York Times-Post, & sends a column to the newspaper every day or two in which he describes another facet of Ecotopian society. This is straight, journalistic stuff. Then we get a few pages from his diary, in which we can see his attitudes slowly change from one of complete skepticism to a grudging admiration. Plus we learn the details of his love affair w/ an Ecotopian woman, a subject not divulged to his Times-Post readers. He will not want to leave Marissa, I can tell you that. One curious event: about 50 pages ago great clouds of radiation were detected moving in from over the Pacific. There was speculation of an accident at a Chinese or Japanese nuclear plant, but no one knew the real story. This was a big deal for a few pages of his diary, then abruptly dropped. Weíll see if it returns, perhaps w/ a vengeance.
William Michaelian: Seems like it will have to figure in eventually. Well. It sounds like youíre into some interesting reading, as usual. I, meanwhile, am just creeping along these days. I did finish going through the Yawp. What a strange collection of prose this time. Pleasantly weird, sick minds. I think my favorite poem was the short one by Rachel Brewer, ďAn Amish Doll.Ē
John Berbrich: Ah, yes. That was indeed one of my favorites as well. I love the turn between stanzas from abstract to concrete. An excellent little piece. More words would not add anything. And yes, I did notice that a lot of the prose was sick. But thereís a place for that. And I also especially like the St. Paul & the Witches poems. Old Roman days. They belong juxtaposed.
William Michaelian: Funny how some manuscripts just naturally seem to arrive at the right time, in the right combination. I was intrigued by the poem written by two people. Do you know if they simply traded verses, or took some other approach?
John Berbrich: I donít know their mode of composition. That was an interesting poem too. The first time I read it, I just said ďWow.Ē They had some other goodies also, shorter poems that worked really well. But that ďMachines in NoirĒ is unique. If I get into a correspondence w/ these guys Iíll try to discover their writing method.
William Michaelian: Oh, so this isnít an isolated incident. Wouldnít it be interesting if the poems were actually written by a woman under the name of two men?
John Berbrich: I hadnít considered that. Yeah, it would be interesting. I do get requests from authors to publish their work under a pseudonym, but I canít recall any gender changes.
William Michaelian: Well, I suppose most writers are content to write under their own names. A name is something you kind of get used to. By the way, one of these days, if youíre interested, Iíll send you the latest issue of Rain Taxi. There are a few decent articles this time around.
John Berbrich: Send it, by all means. Iíve been following that series on the history of the chapbook. By the way, I finished Ecotopia. The conclusion was rather disappointing though not unexpected. The journalist becomes a convert, an Ecotopian by choice. There is a big scene at the end where everyone is crying together, they are all so happy. Itís like a religious conversion. The books reminds me of Moreís Utopia & Baconís The New Atlantis, w/ a traveler being shown around this great land where the author makes everything work out for the good. Heck, anyone could do that. And that radiation fallout thing was never mentioned again. The Ecotopians have some good ideas, but the citizens are nothing like the people I know. Any system would work if you were dealing w/ people as reasonable & fun-loving as they are.
William Michaelian: Yep, I figured the reporter would stay. Judging by your description, I donít think Iíll bother to chase down a copy. Coincidentally, thereís a review in Rain Taxi about a book of poetry written by ďtwo acclaimed young poets,Ē Geoffrey G. OíBrien and Jeff Clark. Along the way, the reviewer mentions that there are no signatures on the poems and says, ďThis game of guessing their strategies of composition or imagining how the final text was created is not distracting but rather exciting; wanting to know who wrote what makes 2A even more addictive to read.Ē
John Berbrich: Exciting? Addictive? Rather strong words, donít you think? I would almost call it annoying, not to know who wrote what. A nuisance. How do you feel about it?
William Michaelian: I donít know. Iíve never been rather excited. Iím either excited or Iím not. But if I were reading something I really liked, I would most surely want to know who wrote it. And if I were reading something I didnít like, I would still want to know. Unfortunately, there are similar comments scattered throughout the issue. As you know, thereís a lot of navel-gazing going on out there. But there is still some worthwhile stuff in the issue.
John Berbrich: Iím rather excited to see it. Any further thoughts on the Yawp?
William Michaelian: Before I answer that, let me say that I found another issue of Rain Taxi, the previous one, unread, sitting under a pile of books and papers. Iíll send you that one too. Iím finding their chapbook review section a bit less than somewhat rather exciting. Now, the Yawp. I enjoyed the issue, but this time around no one piece grabbed me by the collar and dragged me around the room. The poetry, in general, I liked better than the prose. A missed opportunity here and there musically and rhythmically speaking, but some well expressed, potent thoughts. Michael Kreiselís short works are always good to read. What are your feelings on the issue?
John Berbrich: Well, it certainly asserts its own personality. First off, I love the cover. Will Nixonís ďUtopian PoetryĒ stands up very well after repeated readings. ďThe Conversion of St. PaulĒ & ďWitches & RomansĒ are both strong poems & complement each other neatly. ďWhy Bobby Worries MeĒ by Ken Haponek is perhaps the most powerful piece in the issue; you can sense that inevitability through the entire poem. I like Francine Witteís short fictions. In conclusion I love how the issue opens w/ my rambles on Nothing & ends w/ Joshua Sapanís ďeverything I ever dreamed of.Ē It all seems to make sense. Of course I like the other pieces, in varying degrees.
William Michaelian: They all contribute something to the issue. The way you have them ordered really works. If the poetry and prose were in separate departments, you would lose much of the flow, which is part of what makes the Yawp the reading journey it is.
John Berbrich: Thanks. A lot of people say that the Yawp is really something different. I only hope that people read the pieces in order, as mixing them up would disturb a vital element.
William Michaelian: My guess is that some do, but most donít. Readers like to jump around. A certain title will catch their eye and they will go straight to it. Or they prefer poetry, or prose. Over the years, a number of people have told me they read magazines from back to front. The same things happen frequently here on my website. But I think that can be good, too. If nothing less, itís a reminder that each piece needs to stand firmly on its own and carry its own weight.
John Berbrich: I do that sometimes, read from back to front. And youíre right; in the end, each has to be judged individually. Which we do towards the end of each year, when it comes time to nominate poems & stories for the Pushcart Prize. Every November we study the previous issues from that year & pick out the best, then send those in for consideration. No winners yet, but itís a fun process. Itís a particular pleasure to notify writers that weíve selected their work to represent BoneWorld.
William Michaelian: Itís been a long time since Iíve read a collection of Pushcart winners. If I remember correctly, they list all the nominating publications. One of these days, Iíll make it a point to study one of the later editions at the library. As quickly as small press publications come and go, the books are like snapshots taken at an annual literary reunion. So whether you and one of your authors wins or not, itís well worth the time and effort it takes to be involved. I forget ó who makes the final Pushcart selections?
John Berbrich: The Pushcart is run by this guy Bill Henderson. I donít know who makes the selections. I have noticed that the winners are not small press people. I get plenty of authors who tell me in their cover letters that theyíve been nominated for the Pushcart like six times or 14 times. But never have I heard from anyone whoís actually won. I think that those people are from a higher league.
William Michaelian: Or so they like to think. Well. We shouldnít concern ourselves too awfully much with prizes. Meanwhile, a couple of days ago, I paid a dollar fifty for a copy of Henry Millerís Tropic of Capricorn. I havenít read a thing by him, so I thought Iíd better give it a try. I read the first dozen pages or so this afternoon, but Iím not sure yet if Iíll continue, though Iíll probably give it one more sitting. I know heís supposed to be great, and maybe he is, but so far he sounds kind of like a frustrated cross between Dostoevsky and Saroyan, without the heart. Mind you, this is just a first impression ó made, no less, shortly after spending almost four hours in a dentistís chair.
John Berbrich: Lucky you. I read a 300-page sampler of Millerís work a couple of years ago. Iíll withhold my impression until you either get a little further in your book or put it down. And regarding the Pushcart, I donít much care for prizes either, but if selected you do win a free hardcover copy of that yearís edition. The main reason for participating, for me, is so younger writers can feel that someone has really noticed their work, that someone is paying attention. Iíve received some delightful phone calls from authors weíve nominated.
William Michaelian: Such notice and encouragement can make a big difference. Itís also good to go on record, so to speak, by making your nominations. I just looked up the Pushcart website. They still bill themselves as The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses. But they give no defintion of what a small press is, in terms of circulation, etc.
John Berbrich: Theyíre rather vague about certain things, in a good small press way. Yeah, they donít really define small press, & theyíll take poems & stories in any form, even rough photocopies. Howís your Miller coming?
William Michaelian: I made it to Page 30. Iím still not all that impressed, although I wanted to be, and was ready to be. I remember reading once about when he was much older, carrying on and playing ping-pong in the nude ó somehow the writing jives with that image. Iíll read a little further. Still havenít gotten my dollar fiftyís worth.
John Berbrich: I found Miller to be a pretty good word mechanic, but something really vital was missing ó for me at any rate. After finishing the book, I felt that here was a writer who could never be important to me.
William Michaelian: After thirty pages, I already feel that way. As you said, he knows how to turn a phrase, but there seems to be more pose than substance. A random paragraph or sentence by Woody Guthrie easily outshines anything of Millerís Iíve read thus far.
John Berbrich: I almost thought you were going to say Woody Allen. Too bad, I like Woody Allen. Anyway, itís funny how an author will speak to one person but not to another. I like Tolkien, while some people canít stand him. Which reminds me, have you heard from our friend in north Africa, the one who liked Louis Mac Neice?
William Michaelian: Not a word. And to think how I slaved over that piece, typing and formatting for hours. Oh, well. I hope heís happy with it. Thatís the main thing.
John Berbrich: You are a good man, Willie. You know, I donít usually care for the poetry found in the New Yorker, but I found this by a Korean poet named Ko Un. What do you think?


Four Poems

Iíd like to buy her some toffee
but I donít have a daughter

as I pass a sidewalk store in autumn.

     *


Exhausted
the mother has fallen asleep
so her baby is listening all alone
to the sound of the night train.

     *


Frogs croaking in flooded paddiesó
if there really is a world beyond,
echo far enough so my dead brother can hear.

     *


A boat whistles in the night.
For a moment I too long to sail away

but merely pull the blanket up over the kids.

William Michaelian: I like them. Each is full of longing, beautifully expressed. And each suggests, or represents, an entire story.
John Berbrich: Yes. They are collectively a perfect example of the art of oriental poetry. Very suggestive, as you say. Each tells a story, expresses a scene, implies a background. You can sink into each one. Each its own universe.
William Michaelian: I really enjoy this kind of poetry. Here are three I wrote on the fourteenth and fifteenth of last May. Theyíre part of Songs and Letters.


Miracles

A still evening in May,
the sound of a lonesome dove:
each day contains its pleasure and its pain.

Oftentimes, they are the same:
icy water trickling over rock,
to cleanse the wound it makes.


Seeds

While my mother
drinks her tea,
I eat a tangerine.

My dish is full
of pale-hard seeds.

She tells me
I should plant them.

I see her in a garden
on her knees,
waiting, looking down.


Changes

Spring to summer
in a day, no lemonade
will quench the way
I feel, a shy stone
suddenly revealed
when its forest
is cut down.

John Berbrich: Wow. Willie, these poems are quite excellent. Again, you can visualize the scene, easily imagine the background, & sink into the universe of the poem. I love the little rhymes hidden in ďChanges.Ē This is the sort of poem I could read over & over.
William Michaelian: Thank you. Tell me ó is this the first time youíve read anything by Ko Un? It is for me.
John Berbrich: Yes. Never heard of the guy before. Makes one wonder how many remarkable poets are out there whose words never reach us. And all through history, how many truly marvelous poets have been buried in the detritus of time, their voices stilled forever.
William Michaelian: A great many, no doubt ó poets, musicians, artists of all kinds. Ko Un ó I looked him up online. Born in 1933; widely translated author of more than 120 volumes; winner of several literary awards; a Buddhist monk for ten years before returning to secular life; twice attempted suicide, the first time by pouring acid in his ears after losing many friends and relatives in the Korean War; imprisoned four times for his political activities between 1974 and 1989.
John Berbrich: Sounds like his biography would be turbulent & amazing. Acid in the ears ó thatís a new one. Very creative. He must have sustained permanent damage of some kind. Just thinking about it gives me the creeps.
William Michaelian: Indeed. And still he carries on. While he was in prison, secluded in a darkened cell, he began to remember and think about all the people he had met ó the list included close friends, chance meetings and observations, even historical personages. He decided then to write a poem about each and every one, and has been working on the project ever since. The collection is called Ten Thousand Lives, and already runs twenty volumes. I read somewhere that he projects another five volumes or so.
John Berbrich: Thatís quite a project. Iíll have to keep my eyes open for this guyís books. If those four poems I sent you are a good indication of his work, well, heíll top Henry Miller in my book.
William Michaelian: Hands down, in fact. Good old Henry. I donít know about him. Iíve read about sixty pages now. Every so often, it seems as if heís about to break through, but it never quite happens. He either likes himself too much, or thinks too little of his fellow human beings, or is unwilling to admit he might be wrong about both.
John Berbrich: Heís quite an icon among many small press writers. I suppose there is a place for him. By the way, how did your altercation w/ Farrago turn out? You say you were recently imprisoned in a chair by him for four hours? Fiendish.
William Michaelian: Fiendish is right. To rub it in, he said I was free to leave at any time. But whenever I tried, he came at me with another needle, or a drill, or one of his wicked little crowbars. Worst of all, Iím still not done. He has me down for at least another half a dozen visits. Thatís what I get for not going to the dentist for twenty-five years. But what was I to do? My old dentist, the one I grew up with, died. Then we moved to Oregon. Shortly after that, I lost my mind. Another icon, as we mentioned before, is Bukowski. I tried reading him with similar results.
John Berbrich: I havenít read an awful lot of Bukowski, although I have read some of his poetry. His two chief virtues, from what I can see, are brevity (the soul of wit) & humor. He can also capture the essence of the mundane in a beautifully ironic way. Bukowski sets his sights low & hits his target pretty often. Miller shoots for targets beyond his range.
William Michaelian: Well, I guess a guy canít be faulted for that. Youíre right about Bukowskiís sense of humor. And he played his part to the hilt. I guess his twelve-pack poetry readings were quite a show ó until later, when he could afford good wine. Then they were good wine readings. Speaking of readings, have you been involved in any lately?
John Berbrich: No ó but soon, I think. I donít know if I told you but the Partridge Cafe has moved into a bigger venue. Itís right across the street from the old spot but regrettably no longer underground. On the bright side, the place used to be a video rental joint & the kitchen is where they kept the porn. Anyway, they moved in early September & have had three musical shows thus far, all quite successful. Sounds like Luke is trying to arrange a poetry reading sometime soon. I canít wait.
William Michaelian: Porn room aside, itís a shame to waste that underground spot. Maybe we should rent it. It wouldnít be big enough for the junk poem shop, but we could open an art school or something. We could hire a few derelicts to be teachers. There are plenty of derelicts around there, arenít there?
John Berbrich: Well, there are plenty of fringe characters, wildly-bearded guys who walk around in heavy coats in the middle of July, that kind of thing. Theyíd probably know as much about art as anyone. Actually that could be considered a public service, since it would give these guys a place to sleep. We could call it the Art Bunk, something like that. I can see this happening, Willie.
William Michaelian: You can? Then youíre in as bad a shape as I am. Art Bunk is catchy, but maybe a little too trendy. Just a simple sign on the sidewalk that says Art School will suffice. And beneath that, a list of the faculty. Maybe we could have a little brochure holder, and a brochure that has a picture of each faculty member. That way weíd be sure to attract the best students.
John Berbrich: Okay, & Iíll be Vice Principal ó that is, Principal of Vice. Derelict-looking people would make great subjects for photos for an art school faculty. Theyíd look insane, focused, totally lost in their creations. This has possibilities. How do I let you talk me into these things?
William Michaelian: Thatís easy ó you know a good idea when you see one. Either that, or youíre awfully bored. Personally, I think youíre a man of action. Itís simple: a basement coffee shop is vacated and so a new possibility is born. Not only is it born, but like any child it demands to be fed. And, as we both know from experience, the more itís fed, the bigger monster it becomes. Itís a wonderful thing. Absolutely wonderful.
John Berbrich: Absolutely absolutely. Iíll start this weekend recruiting local weirdos. I guess Iíll take over as manager, seeing as how youíre safely three-thousand miles away. Weíll need a web page. You wanna get started on that?
William Michaelian: I am virtually ready. But I confess I was hoping to have a more hands-on role. So itís only logical that I move into your place for awhile and help you interview prospective teachers. I hope you donít mind. If the school works out, which I know it will, Iíll send for the rest of the family after a few months and we can all live together and eat lots of hummus.
John Berbrich: Weíre ready for you. You can use the same closet as last time; weíve kept it free in case you ever returned. And our place is big enough for your whole family ó I mean your immediate family, like Dollface & some of the boys. Not your crazy uncles. Iíll interview prospective derelict instructors today. Iím getting rather excited about this, Willie ó when do you think youíll be here?
William Michaelian: Rather excited, eh? Well, Iíll have to tie up a few loose ends first, so I probably wonít make it until later this afternoon. I appreciate the use of your closet. Itís a little tight, but thereís something refreshing about sleeping standing up. Great for the spine. By the way, there is the little detail of renting the place before someone else does. Or do we need to sign a yearís lease? Whoís the landlord, anyway? An old moneyed family who owns half the town?
John Berbrich: Youíve pretty much pegged the landlord right on. I forgot to mention that the place has already been rented. They are running a wrap & coffee establishment, like the cafe, only substandard. We may have to break a few legs if we want to muscle our way into the building.
William Michaelian: You know, you might have mentioned this little detail earlier. And you call yourself a manager? Here weíre ready to launch a revolutionary new underground art school, but the place we want has already been rented. This is a real disappointment. Oh, well. I guess the derelicts will have to wait. But letís keep this idea in mind, along with the junk poem shop and that Joyce-inspired movie we were going to produce, and the magazine we were going to publish on paper bags, and the . . . and the . . .

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