The Conversation Continues
Welcome to Page 25 of my ďforum.Ē The subject matter here is anything to do with literature, books, reading, and writing, with a little philosophy thrown in, as well as other tangents and revelations that spring naturally from ďintelligentĒ conversation. To participate, send an e-mail. Thatís all there is to it. When I receive your message, I will add it to the bottom of the newest page ó unless, of course, it is rude or crude, in which case I retain the right to not post your message. The same goes for blatant advertising. Pertinent recommendations of reading material and related websites, though, are welcome within the natural context of our conversation. We all have plenty to gain from each otherís knowledge and experience. So, whether you are just reading or actively participating, enjoy your visit. I will post new messages as soon as possible after they are received. Be sure to check in often for the latest responses.
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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: I had an interesting experience a couple of days ago. There was some nice music playing on the classical station. It was music Iíd never heard, by an unfamiliar composer. I was sitting with my mother in her living room, and we were having a non-conversation about something of no consequence ó just passing a little time. I knew Iíd probably never hear that particular piece of music again, and that even if I did, I probably wouldnít recognize it. At the same time, I understood that someone, somewhere, sometime, had labored over it, had devoted his energy to bringing the music to life, and that for that reason alone, it deserved to be noticed. And then I thought about how, as writers, as artists, we cling to the idea of being recognized and known for our work, when in reality we have no idea if it will survive the test of time. And then I thought, well, maybe not knowing is a good thing ó and since we donít know, maybe we should be less jealous and protective of our efforts, and think of them instead as potential contributions to a greater whole ó and imagine, if we can, people fifty, a hundred, or even a thousand years from now experiencing our efforts for the first time and wondering what our lives must really have been like. If we were to think more in those terms, it seems our work would have more spirit. Itís ironic, meanwhile, that so much of what we do protect and promote is really dead on arrival. Life is short. Maybe we need a freer exchange, with less emphasis on who gets the credit, and more on the art and ideas themselves. Unrealistic and impractical, I know. Devoid of common sense ó or at least of common business sense. Threatening, even ó the idea of giving away something that youíve made, and that you strongly identify with, without your name attached. Although, rest assured, Iím not suggesting that we shouldnít take pride in our work, have confidence in it, and defend its right to exist. Anyway, Iíll stop here. Anything youíd care to add to these half-baked thoughts of mine?
John Berbrich: First of all, I identify too much w/ my own works to allow them to be published or distributed anonymously. This may be childish & selfish, but thatís how I feel. And I feel that if I read a poem, I want to know who the author is, & maybe a little something about him/her. When you mentioned ďpotential contributions to a greater whole,Ē I was reminded of something I recently read by Donald Hall, our new poet laureate: ďPoets do not take turns helping each other over difficulties: They work together to build the house of poetry.Ē I see each poet contributing something, one small poem is perhaps a nail. If you write but donít share, you might have great lyrics in your closet, but youíre not contributing to the house of poetry. I was also reminded of our Junk Poem Shop.
William Michaelian: Where anything is possible. I, too, would have a tough time being an anonymous donor. I donít know if I could do it. Quite a few years ago, some poems of mine appeared in a little quarterly thatís no longer published. The editor had a different approach: no bylines. Instead, she had a list in the back of titles, page numbers, and authors. The magazine itself was well edited, and it had a good spirit about it. Thatís probably closer to what I mean.
John Berbrich: Okay. I can see that. The poems arenít anonymous ó but the words stand alone. Thatís kind of clever, actually. Sometimes you simply want the words on the page, alone. No advertisements, no drawings, no bio-notes, no commentaries. No distractions from the vital Word.
William Michaelian: On the other hand, it often seems the distractions are there because the Word isnít vital. What about Donald Hall? I donít think Iíve read a single one of his poems. Heís been around a long time, hasnít he?
John Berbrich: Yeah, heís nearly 80. Heís worked w/ a lot of poets from earlier generations ó W.D. Snodgrass, Robert Frost, Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Frank OíHara, Robert Lowell, & his special long-time friend, Robert Bly. I havenít read a lot of Hallís poetry ó what Iíve seen is okay ó but I like his essays about & reviews of poetry. I have two of his books: one is a collection of essays, reviews, notes, & interviews entitled Death to the Death of Poetry; the other is an actual textbook called Writing Well. Heís been active in the poetry world for 60 years.
William Michaelian: What stands out in his essays, etc.? I imagine him to be a careful, sensible type of poet, whatever that means.
John Berbrich: Well, he generally is rather sensible, like his name, although Hall sometimes rails against the traditional & the ordinary. Hereís a passage from an interview conducted by Liam Rector: ďChronological skeletons ó like somatic or psychological types, like classes, like historical determinism: hell, like the goddamned horoscope! ó provide things to talk about, frameworks for discussion. But if you accept them, if you do not rebel against them, you actively desire the comfort of prison! Everythingís done for you; relax: prison...or tenure.Ē One of the best parts of the essays is the anecdotes regarding people like Robert Bly & Robert Frost. Itís really fascinating gossip.
William Michaelian: And those are included in Death to the Death of Poetry? Sounds like a worthwhile book. How long has it been around? I like his comment about desiring the comfort of prison. Meanwhile, Liam Rector sounds like a name from Masterpiece Theater.
John Berbrich: Death to the Death of Poetry was published in 1994 by the University of Michigan Press. Itís part of their Poets on Poetry series, which includes many volumes by & about people like Charles Simic, Robert Bly, Richard Kostelanetz, and Weldon Kees. Actually Donald Hall was general editor of the series until at least 1997. Second time Iíve read this book, itís now firmly in my mind.
William Michaelian: A third time, and it will actually become part of your muscles ó a fourth, a part of your bones. What happens, you see, is that once itís firmly in your mind, your brain dispatches the information throughout the body via the blood, thereby causing an irresistible desire to repeat the reading experience. In other words, itís a form of addiction.
John Berbrich: Much as I like the writings of Donald Hall, I canít imagine becoming addicted to them. Looking back over my reading career, Iíd have to say that the writer who most stimulated addictive behavior in me was Phillip K. Dick. There was a time in my life when I had no control over my need to read more books by Dick. How about you? How many authors have sucked you in until you had to claw & scrape to escape ó not that you wanted to.
William Michaelian: Not that many, really. Dostoevsky, probably first and foremost. Certain books, though, have made daily life a difficult proposition for me. Finnegans Wake is one. As you know, I was under the influence for six whole months ó and if you count Ulysses just prior to that ó well, I think Iím all right now. But I do like it when I have a hefty volume going. And Iím still on the lookout for geniuses and crackpots Iíve missed along the way. Brautigan is a good example.
John Berbrich: A genius & a crackpot, certainly. Have I ever told you about the time I stole a Phillip K. Dick book from a library?
William Michaelian: I think you did. I seem to recall a confession along those lines. You were living in Connecticut, I believe. So your addiction drove you to stealing?
John Berbrich: Apparently youíve forgotten so Iíll tell you again. I was living in the old mill town of Rockville. Rockville had a pretty good library, w/ a few books by Phillip K. Dick, but the library over in Manchester had a lot more, & really good ones. I had a library card for Rockville. I didnít know at the time that it was good for any library in the state. I figured you needed to be a resident. So Iíd walk or hitchhike to the Manchester Library ó about six miles ó to read. One time I stole Ubik, one of Dickís classic novels. I remember it had a hard gray cover. I brought it back in a few days, when I was finished w/ it. Snuck ó or sneaked ó it back in. And they also had a blue hardcover edition of A Maze of Death. Maybe I need to read these books again ó thatís why Iím repeating the story.
William Michaelian: No, youíre repeating the story because you forgot that you already told it. Wise guy ó you have a lot of nerve, blaming it on me. Unless you were testing me, in which case I understand perfectly. After all, weíve been yammering like this for how long now? Two years? Three? Four? Itís only fitting to conduct a little pop quiz. Anyway, the fact that you returned the book means you didnít steal it. You borrowed it. No one was hurt by your actions. Did you say Ubik? Ubikís Cube.
John Berbrich: The same. An old joke. But you bring up an interesting point. Every now & then Iíve wondered just when we started this dialogue ó your Forum ó but I donít think anythingís dated. Do you have any idea when this whole extravaganza was born? By my reckoning itís at least two years old, a mere infant.
William Michaelian: Actually, there is a way we can trace it. This conversation, as you will recall, began immediately after you published my interview of you in the Yawp. That issue is dated December 2002. So I guess it was sometime in early 2003, which means weíre rapidly closing in on our fourth anniversary. Weíve covered a fair amount of ground in that time ó a good warmup, you might say.
John Berbrich: Wow. Nearly four years. Think of all the great stuff weíve explored ó Rasputin, the mad Dr. Farrago, those wild parties w/ Anita & Judy. Man, those were some high times. Like the night you chased that guy from Homeland Security away. All the great poetry, the Antique & Junk Poem shop, finding that Louis MacNeice poem for that fellow from Africa. And as you suggest, weíre just getting started.
William Michaelian: I have only one thing to add: Paddy Dignamís Hearse. No. Make that two: Jian Brichiam. And I just had another idea: wouldnít it be something to put together a Forum index? Authors. Subjects. Titles. Publications. Each entry could include a link that would take readers directly to the page and paragraph in question. God, what a frightening task.
John Berbrich: Thatís really sick, Willie. You could keep a full time team of clerks busy w/ that one. But you know, the cyberweb indexes at least some of it for you. I just googled Jian Brichiam & came up w/ two hits, both from our conversation of course. I wonder what strange cults are forming now, looking for his books?
William Michaelian: What Iím really afraid of is that some nut will decide he is Jian Brichiam. As for Google and the other search engines, yes, they have already indexed the site, and update that index on a regular basis. Thatís fine for people who already know what theyíre looking for. The Forum index, on the other hand, would be for those who donít. Part of its purpose would be to make people look. When they stumble on the word gatekeeper, for instance, they might be curious as to why there are so many entries. And when they click on them and read about Lord Dunsany and the Antique and Junk Poem Shop, they will be drawn in and lost forever. Their families will need professional help to bring them back to real life ó whatever that is.
John Berbrich: This sounds like the beginning of a crummy cyberpunk novel, except that the novel gets really good when the phantom wanderers discover the REAL Antique and Junk Poem Shop w/ the little stream running across the floor & the drunken poets up on the roof, declaiming, tuning up for a poetry jazz night of fusion under the moon. Even the crickets are tuning up.
William Michaelian: Yes, I can hear them zither and yon. Cyberpunk ó thatís quite a term. What is it, exactly? Isnít it a branch of sci-fi?
John Berbrich: Yeah. Iím no expert, but cyberpunk, I believe, refers to that genre of fiction in which the characters basically lose themselves in a computer world. Or rather the computer world becomes the real world, a network of virtual worlds.
William Michaelian: I see. That would explain the cyber part. Any idea about the punk?
John Berbrich: Maybe cuz punky boys & young men comprise the majority of the players? I had a feeling you might ask that question.
William Michaelian: Good, because I had a feeling youíd have that feeling. When I see or hear the word punk, I think first of something thatís inferior in some way ó undersized, sickly, not quite whole. I wouldnít want to eat a punk watermelon, for instance. Therefore, cyberpunk and punk rock are things to avoid.
John Berbrich: Well, theyíre things to be careful of, thatís for sure. I think that punk rock was a response to ridiculous huge arena-rock bands like REO Speedwagon & Styx. It was a reaction against over-produced, ultra-slick, big money studio products. Like they were trying to get back to the roots or something, you know? Trying to appeal at a purely gut level. Despite the fact that so much of it is crummy, I like punk rock, & I try to play at least two punk songs on every Howie & the Wolfman show ó bands like Agnostic Front, Bouncing Souls, & Bad Religion. These bands inject a lot of energy into the atmosphere & help to keep Howie awake.
William Michaelian: Itís funny ó I couldnít name a single punk band. The three you mentioned are completely unfamiliar to me. I must be stuck in the Sixties. Iíd rather hear Hendrix, Cream, or the Beatles.
John Berbrich: Well, so would I. But itís hard to make a comparison; itís like comparing Mozart to Bartok ó different sounds for different moods. You chose three monsters of the 60ís, amazing artists all. Some punk is so extreme & obnoxious that it smears the entire genre w/ a bad name. But those fellows want to be obnoxious, want to shock those old fogies (us). Somebody once said ó I think it was science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon ó that 95% of everything is garbage. If you keep that figure in mind, youíll rarely be disappointed.
William Michaelian: No, maybe just a little depressed. While weíre on the subject, what is that makes punk music punk? What sets it apart instrumentally and vocally, as well as in terms of subject matter?
John Berbrich: Again, Iím no expert, but here are the salient points Iíve noticed. First, the songs are generally short, three minutes tops. Second, the instrumentation is rather sparse w/ drums, bass, & a couple guitars. Third, each song is packed w/ energy. Fourth, a lead singer w/ a good voice is not necessary. Fifth, the subject matter often concerns adolescent problems, girlfriends & isolation/alienation; however, some punkers send political messages. These bands are almost always entirely male. The songs tend to be peppy, & the best of them feature really catchy hooks. The lyrics stretch from vulgar to hilarious. These are only rough outlines cuz punk sprawls out all over the place. Howieís working on mixing down another show, making a CD. Itís sure to have at least one genuine punk rock song on it. Iíll send a copy when heís done, & after I design the cover.
William Michaelian: Thanks. Iíll look forward to it. From what you describe, it sounds like these boys are harnessed to electricity. Pull the plug and they disappear. Is any punk acoustic-based?
John Berbrich: Iíve never heard of one, but itís an interesting idea. There is a punk band called Me First & the Gimme Gimmes that plays almost exclusively remakes of old songs, things like ďMrs. RobinsonĒ & ďOne Tin Soldier.Ē Surprisingly they do not desecrate any of these songs despite playing them at double or triple the original speed.
William Michaelian: Interesting. Maybe we should organize an album and call it Punk Covers. For quite some time now, Iíve entertained a vague notion that art and artists shouldnít rely solely on technology, or even solely on electricity. We should be able to do without them. If we depend on them entirely, then what happens if we find ourselves in a place where theyíre not available, or if something interrupts or totally prevents their usage?
John Berbrich: Iíve had the notion that we should live our entire lives that way. Hence our wood stove & oil lamps. A lack of electricity would kill this Forum but we could each still scribble poetry w/ pencils or crayons. You should get points in Heaven for avoiding technology, like hanging clothes on the line instead of tossing them in the dryer or walking to the store rather than driving. The entire thrust of consumer culture is more, more, more technology. They pound this into our kidsí heads daily.
William Michaelian: Via that very technology. Punk Crayons would be another good title. For something. I donít know what. Again, though, I picture sickly crayons. But I suppose they could be angry crayons with foul mouths and short haircuts. Electric crayons? What kind of wood do you burn? How much does it take to get you through the winter?
John Berbrich: Our wood dealer keeps us supplied w/ a good variety of hard wood, mostly maple. We probably burn at least 15 cords of wood, but we have an oil furnace too. This house is too big & the winters are too cold to heat w/ one wood stove.
William Michaelian: Fifteen cords is a lot. The first winter we lived in Salem, we left the furnace off and burnt three cords of oak, but that was in an open fireplace. Beautiful fires. Inspiring. Cleansing. Healing. Two more excellent varieties are eucalyptus and sycamore. And orange, believe it or not. Orange wood burns beautifully. Apricot, peach, plum ó not nearly as dense, but sweetly aromatic.
John Berbrich: Those woods do sound beautiful. We canít get those exotic orchard woods up here, although in the past I used to burn apple & cherry, both of which exude a pleasing fragrance. Stay away from cottonwood ó or at least donít pay for it; itís smelly & burns up quickly. Donít you love the names of trees ó hickory, beech, oak. Larch. Loblolly pine. Cedar. We have a huge black walnut in our yard, have harvested thousands of walnuts this fall. Theyíre pretty tasty but tough to crack. Squirrels find a way to open them though. And our cats find the squirrels. The world turns round.
William Michaelian: Fir. Alder. Birch. Spruce. Incense cedar is another good one. Acacia. Dogwood. Poplars are beautiful. Birds, too, will pick up nuts and fly off with them, and then drop them on a rooftop, driveway, or road to crack them open. And then again, along come the cats ó at least those that havenít lost their pride and dignity as hunters. Another beautiful sight is a farm cat sitting motionless in an open field, waiting, watching, listening.
John Berbrich: Yes. A beautiful killer. Or a big blue heron standing motionless on the edge of a creek. Its slender figure sways w/ the cattails in the wind. The neck snaps like a whip when a frog, fish, or small snake moves injudiciously ó the frog filled w/ insects, the fish w/ a smaller fish, & the snake w/ a baby bird. And the world turns round.
William Michaelian: And here we are talking about it, writing about it, all the while subject to the whims of nature ó disease, weather, other creatures, ourselves. And the earth itself is subject to the long-term unreliability of the sun. Like everything, stars live and die and planets go cold. What about the universe itself? Is it expanding, as scientists think? If it is, what is in the space it has yet to reach? Or is that space yet to be born? Is the universe also a living, dying thing? And still we fire our feeble guns. Embarrassing.
John Berbrich: Not with a bang but a whimper. I donít know which theory I prefer, the big bang or the steady state universe. They seem equally implausible. How about the big whimper? Or the steady bang? I like either of those, or both, simultaneously, in consecutive order.
William Michaelian: It might be both. And whoís to say the universe isnít but one of many? Universes could be like galaxies inside yet another universe.
John Berbrich: Thatís one theory. I like that steady bang theory. Iíll have to work on that one.
William Michaelian: A worthwhile endeavor. Where will you start?
John Berbrich: Probably w/ a definition. Then Iíll devise some equations to fit the definition. Then Iíll gather empirical evidence to support the equation. Iíll try to come up w/ something better than string theory.
William Michaelian: By gum, you should have the universe whipped into shape in no time. I tried to read about string theory once. I couldnít understand a thing.
John Berbrich: No one else does either. I think that the universe must have 10 dimensions for string theory to be an accurate representation of the universe. In other words, to validate the equations. My theory will be better, or at least understandable by BoneWorld elite.
William Michaelian: I wonder what life is like for advocates of string theory. Are they a militant group? Do they have conventions? More important, how would they fare in a tackle football game against the BoneWorld elite?
John Berbrich: With our galaxy of stars, weíd bash them into a black hole. Youíll be our ferocious middle linebacker.
William Michaelian: Itíll be an honor. Weíll tie íem into knots. They wonít stand a chance, especially on the frozen playgrounds of upstate New York. Crunch goes the ice. Crunch go their bones. I can see it now: the string theorists, trembling and pale; the BoneWorlders, bronze, muscular, breathing fire. After the slaughter, weíll gather for a raucous poetry reading at the Partridge Cafť. In fact, why wait? We can do that in the huddle.
John Berbrich: Iím getting psyched for a good game. I prefer a strong ground attack. Keep hammering at their defensive line w/ your toughest runners over & over, then toss a long bomb over their heads for the score. Thatís the best way to play. Occasional razzle-dazzle, but mostly good, hard football. On defense, hit íem hard & clean. When you blitz that quarterback, Michaelian, I want him DOWN. You unnerstand? DOWN.
William Michaelian: Donít worry. Come spring, after the last snow melts, his imprint will still be visible on the ground. String theory, indeed.
John Berbrich: Ptttt! I spit on its general hypotheses. Say Willie ó weíll put #8 on your jersey, okay? Only Iíll have them turn it sideways so it reads infinity.
William Michaelian: Iíll try to live up to it, although I was kind of expecting to have a question mark. How about for yours? How does a lightning bolt sound?
John Berbrich: Kinda like BOOM or CRACK!!!. This is a good idea. The Junk Poem Shop needs a football team too. Weíll play other artistic groups ó & weíll definitely clobber the German Expressionist Nudist Colony. Oh, my number? How about the square root of negative one?
William Michaelian: i . . . i . . . think itís perfect. But what, exactly, are those Germans trying to express?
John Berbrich: Thatís what art critics have been trying to figure out for decades. Whatever it is, theyíll be expressing all over the place when we get through w/ them.
William Michaelian: Speaking of the critics, howís their record this year?
John Berbrich: Abysmal, as usual. Theyíve been severely criticized by their fans.
William Michaelian: Critics have fans?
John Berbrich: Fans who love to hate them.
William Michaelian: Love to hate. Quite the contradiction in terms. If you love to hate, do you also hate to love? I wonder if either is really possible.
John Berbrich: Well, it makes sense in a way to love to hate something, but Iím not sure that love is quite the proper word; to hate to love something makes perfect sense. Again, to love to love something is quite clear; however, to hate to hate a thing gives me a little more difficulty.
William Michaelian: Then again, itís only natural that one would hate to hate love, and love to hate hate. But I think I would question the love of a person who loves to love hate. As you said, maybe love isnít the proper word. Or hate, for that matter.
John Berbrich: Here we go, splitting analytical hairs again. Thatís the best thing about a rough game of football ó or a good drunk ó it flattens out all of these uncertainties w/ a penetrating logic of its own. After an experience like that, the world seems like a good place. Even a nasty hangover reminds you that you are alive.
William Michaelian: That it does. Are you suggesting, by any chance, that we tie one on before the big game? Or should we wait until after weíve thrashed the Expressionists?
John Berbrich: Iím thinking that itís better to wait until after the game. Although arriving pixilated before entering the contest is a great excuse if you lose. But weíre not going to lose ó weíll take no prisoners, as they say. Now if we could just get this team started.... Do you know anyone whoíd be willing to play? How about that old reprobate Hinshaw?
William Michaelian: Iím sure heíd go for the idea. For the rest, all you have to do is publish an announcement for tryouts in the Yawp. You can word it in such a way that it also serves as a call for manuscripts with a football theme.
John Berbrich: Thatís a pretty good idea. I donít get a lot of sports-related material. Okay, Iíll work on this. Weíll need a squad of good-looking cheerleaders too. Poetry readings at halftime. Home brew on sale at the refreshment stand. This is gonna go.
William Michaelian: Oh, itíll go, all right. The question is where ó which is the best reason for doing it. Speaking of cheerleaders, do you have any idea of the ratio of men to women in terms of Yawp readers, subscribers, and contributors?
John Berbrich: Well, Iíve checked w/ our Boneworld statisticians & it turns out that our ratio of subscribers is very even, about 50-50. The Yawp always contains more men than women, probably 2 to 1 or even 3 to 1. This disparity is explained in part by the fact that we receive more submissions from men than women. Perhaps the name Barbaric Yawp puts the ladies off. I think that I read manuscripts w/ an open mind, without a bias either way. I expect that most of our cheerleaders will be women, although I once read that the first cheerleaders were all guys from some Ivy League college, Yale or Harvard, somebody like that. Personally, Iíd prefer the ladies.
William Michaelian: By far. The men can carry foaming buckets of beer on ridiculously long poles. I hadnít thought of it before, but you might be right about the Yawp name putting off the ladies. It probably puts off some men, too, who are seeking what they think will be a more refined venue. But maybe thatís a good thing, because the writers the Yawp attracts, men and women both, have proven themselves capable of heartier poems and prose.
John Berbrich: Well, yeah. Like I said, I prefer a tough running game, brutal & penetrating. Not the sort of strategy that would include delicate couplets, trembling spiritual rhymes, or complex sonnets. We like to pound & slam the message home ó w/ the occasional razzle-dazzle, of course.
William Michaelian: A long pass that returns to earth glistening with ice and snow. Tell me, coach ó before you started the Yawp, did you consider any other names for it?
John Berbrich: Good question. When Nancy & I decided to go ahead & get our little magazine going, we realized that we needed a name. I remember clearly the night we sat in the kitchen, waiting for inspiration. No lightning bolts. Suddenly the words ďBarbaric YawpĒ zapped into my head. I ran for my copy of Leaves of Grass & searched until I found the passage: ďI too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable, / I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.Ē We knew right then what the name of our little magazine would be.
William Michaelian: Great lines, and a great name. And Iím sure old Walt would approve. But what actually prompted you to start the magazine in the first place? Did you think something was missing from the small press realm? Or was it more for the adventure? Had you been involved in publishing and editing before?
John Berbrich: There had been no previous publishing experience. Nancy & I had both had a few poems published here & there. We loved reading the zines we received as contributorís copies & sometimes said wistfully that it would be so much fun to publish our own little mag when we retire. That idea simmered for maybe a few months until I thought to myself ó hold on a minute, why wait? We talked the proposed enterprise over & decided to just plunge into it. Thatís what we did, & things have worked out pretty well.
William Michaelian: Definitely. Itís beginning that counts. The decision itself sets things in motion. There are always dozens of so-called practical reasons to wait, but waiting is like a dangerous drug. It can infect your life in all dimensions. When you rely too heavily on a future that might not exist, you often trade away the present.
John Berbrich: Yeah. Too many people live life like theyíre buying some kind of insurance policy ó donít want anything to go wrong. Great to plunge now & then. Plunge w/ your eyes closed, even better.
William Michaelian: Itís not only exhilarating, but a great way to find out what youíre capable of. Say, have you ever involved any of your kids in the editorial process? ó encouraged them to act as manuscript readers, for instance?
John Berbrich: That has never worked out. I have encouraged the kids, gently, but no one seemed particularly interested. I expect that their interest level would have been higher had the Yawp been an electronic journal. One time a niece helped to fold & then squish the magazines so theyíd lay flat. Her official title was ďSquisher.Ē I still call her that sometimes. My son Jake did do a little artwork for the Synergyst.
William Michaelian: Folders and squishers are important, and good ones are often hard to find. Then there is the Folders and Squishers Union to deal with ó separately, of course, from that lousy Staplers Union, a tacky organization that always drives a hard bargain. I take it youíve never been directly involved in printing. Personally, I need to stay away from print shops. The smell of ink and paper always makes me want to launch a magazine. The sight and sound of a working press arouses the manifesto in me.
John Berbrich: Aye, Iíve always sensed a rebel in ye, Willie. I believe that it was several pages back that we discussed writing a manifesto. Nothing came of it. However, to pursue a relative non sequitur, we held a successful poetry reading last night at the Partridge Cafe in beautiful downtown Canton. Iím sure you attended in spirit.
William Michaelian: So thatís why I couldnít sleep. Tell me about it.
John Berbrich: There were four readers: Sarah Gates & Bob DeGraaff, professors at nearby St. Lawrence University; Robin Merrill from Maine, editor of Monkeyís Fist & president of the Maine poets Society; & me. The vibes were good & everyone had a great time. The readings lasted just over an hour.
William Michaelian: Sounds great. How are things going in the new location? Were there quite a few people?
John Berbrich: Unfortunately the crowd was sparse, maybe a dozen people. This I attribute to at least three factors: 1) proximity to Christmas; 2) colleges on break; 3) local apathy. In general though the new place is doing very well. Last weekend they had a magician who performed amazing card tricks for an hour. I was totally flabbergasted. The poetry, of course, has a magic of its own.
William Michaelian: May it never be explained. Iíve seen Robin Merillís website, which serves as a friendly invitation to her writing, Monkeyís Fist, and other involvements. Do you think youíll ever go online with Barbaric Yawp? ó not with the whole magazine, necessarily, but just as a way to open the door to more readers.
John Berbrich: Weíve talked about a website but it hasnít gotten beyond the discussion stage. I can see posting guidelines along w/ a list of available chapbooks & perhaps samples of outstanding work weíve published. But I cannot imagine actually accepting submissions online. We receive enough as it is. But the website is a plausible project.
William Michaelian: It does have potential, but it would also be time-consuming and take a lot of work. As for accepting submissions online, doing so might change the complexion of the magazine, because youíd be reading stuff from all over the world. But in general I was thinking more in terms of attracting readers, and of making the writers you publish more visible.
John Berbrich: Well, itís still an idea on the shelf for now. Iíd definitely enlist the kids for help. Iíve seen some really nice colorful websites for small press magazines. Some of them have cool sounds & music. By the way, weíre nearly finished w/ the December Yawp. We might be able to mail some out before 2007 arrives w/ its blare of trumpets & drums.
William Michaelian: Hey, thatís good news. And with any luck, this year the trumpets and drums will be joined by bagpipes. I love their joyous lament.
John Berbrich: Yeah. Itís one of those sounds from the past. I always associate bagpipes w/ the drone of ancient warfare.
William Michaelian: I know they were used to good effect in the Animals song ďSky Pilot.Ē Itís an odd instrument, no doubt with a fascinating history. I also picture uneven green fields framed by crumbling stone walls. Remote cemeteries, names erased by time.
John Berbrich: Exactly. Old stuff. The sadness of the disappeared past. Eroded tombstones. A crumbled foundation. Rust eating everything like a cancer. In Loch Ness, the weary monster slumbers, dreaming of glorious raids on villages, so long long ago.
William Michaelian: The poor thing is still waiting for its eggs to hatch. Hereís another scene: as a wave of barbarians approaches a city, it comes face to face with an army of men playing bagpipes. The barbarians are overwhelmed and retreat in fear without a drop of blood being shed.
John Berbrich: I like it. Donít think a tactic like that would work today, though. Weíre all so sophisticated. But I do wish olí Nessie would snag a tourist now & then. I like to think that there are other monsters on the planet besides us.
William Michaelian: Me too. We feel far too safe in our snug sedans. And the more I think about it, itís a shame warfare didnít develop along musical lines. There could be flute divisions, drum divisions, the trombone corps, and the fiddle brigade, all meeting on the battlefield. Clarinet-playing spies stealing sheet music and leaving clumsy arrangements in its place. Harmonica-playing sentinels. Timpani nestled in the hills, making the sound of an approaching storm.
John Berbrich: Great idea for a blockbuster Hollywood musical! Hard to figure what effect the John Cage Platoon would have on the enemy.
William Michaelian: It is, but I can almost hear them now, off in the dissonance. How about the elite sitar patrol? Or harpists, imitating the breeze at night, lulling the enemy into a deep sleep, from which they are awakened suddenly by a loud crash of cymbals
John Berbrich: And then one tremendous blast of the gong, after which everything stops. Then we hear an angelic choir, a cappella, singing its way round the moons of Jupiter. An icy violin, a chortling cello, & after an interval the laughter of a demented woman. We can hear only her voice, yet know sheís wearing a tight orange dress w/ green shoes & a black pullover sweater. She begins to speak, her voice approximating the glowing fluid tones of the kalimba, water & moonlight. Thereís a pachydermatic trumpet blast from an elephant & no one can find the remote.
William Michaelian: Brilliant! Happy New Year! Oops ó Iím still a few days early. What century is this? What strange beautiful new world in which all things tremble and dance, in which all creatures are plaintive echoes across a cosmic canyon, in which all footsteps are accompanied by the barely perceptible ringing of tiny, delicate bells, in which invisible wings keep rhythm with the heart?
John Berbrich: Itís the world of poetry, my friend ó true poetry, celebratory & magical. Digging deep into your heart.
William Michaelian: Celebratory and magical ó once again, youíve hit the nail on the head. Hereís a short poem I wrote today:
I see faces floating
on the pond:
will be my own?
before the answer:
the pond grows
John Berbrich: Lovely. Willie, youíre really developing a thing for these brief nature lyrics. They are a lot more than mere descriptions of the landscape. The pond does grow in the rain, but it seldom seems to get any bigger. I can see those floating faces....
William Michaelian: And after the rain, there will be even more of them. The question is, later on when we return to the pond, will it remember us and show us the face that is ours, or will it make a mistake?
John Berbrich: Perhaps another poem will tell us....
William Michaelian: Perhaps. Hereís one from Songs and Letters, written March 15, 2006:
I Call Out Across the Lake
Since I cleaned my work table yesterday,
the earthworms, gophers, and ant lions
have been in open rebellion.
Sirocco! they cry, as another tumbleweed
rolls by, and clouds of dust blot out the sun.
But I will survive. Yes, I will survive.
Seven twenty-seven a.m. Alone.
Adrift. Sand in my eyes and teeth.
The restless creaking of dry windmills.
Landmarks, roads ó obliterated.
Only a few derelict structures remain:
my books, their mouths agape.
Seven thirty-five. Ravaged by dust mites.
Airborne tortillas twirl and attach
themselves to my bare torso,
extract the juices beneath my skin.
A weaker man might become unhinged.
Seven forty-six. Squirrels. Tarantulas.
Door knobs. Herds of banjo players
plucking in a minor key. How mournful!
How sad! Itís as if they play for me.
Seven fifty-four. Daylight hangs in shreds.
My funeral begins. But I still live!
Exactly eight. Caressed by many hands,
then lowered into a yawning grave.
Until the very end, calling out their names:
Forgive! Forgive! ó then bang! goes the lid,
and crash! go the clods ó and yet my weary
lamp does burn, and my chair has four legs.
It gets up and runs away.
Eight oh-seven. I must have been mistaken.
My feet have grown new toes. The lizards
have new clothes, and the laundry has come in.
Eight nineteen. The calling of many geese.
Friends? Or do they bring dire warning?
They bear the ocean on their wings,
and the breeze in rainfed trees with children
in their arms ó how far they have flown!
Eight twenty-seven. Another hour gone.
Rain. Blessed rain. My wounds are healed,
a world is born, the creatures bend to drink.
The table shimmers, I call out across the lake.
My echo returns with blossoms in its hair.
John Berbrich: Nice to know that my office isnít the only one that looks like Wild Kingdom. Willie, thatís one beautiful hour of fantasy and poetry. And blessed water ó the ocean, rain, the lake. Someone once said that if there is any magic on Earth, it is to be found in water. I wonít dispute it. Water poems.
William Michaelian: Yes ó water, too, is celebratory and magical. Itís funny, but just now, seeing those two words together, water poems, the word poems seems a lot like a verb: water runs, water falls, water races, water trickles, water pools, water poems.
John Berbrich: I can see that. Under sunlight, moonlight, or starlight, water poems. They say that our body weight is what ó 80 or 90% water? That alone makes us pretty magical beings ó at least we have the capacity, the potential, for magic. By the way, happy New Year!
William Michaelian: Thank you. And the same to you and yours. Hey, I have an idea ó letís read Finnegans Wake. No, wait. We did that last year. Are there any new projects that you plan to tackle this year?
John Berbrich: Projects? Not really, other than to be more diligent w/ my ongoing projects from the past. Iím trying to get caught up w/ a tremendous backlog of stuff. I am setting aside time for my own writing, a deeply necessary enterprise. I expect to lose weight since Iíll be working a lot & wonít have much time to eat.
William Michaelian: Thatís the kind of talk I like. Besides, a full stomach just clouds the mind. All a guy really needs is a big feast between novels, followed by twenty-four hours of deep, unconscious sleep. Then, back to work.
John Berbrich: I canít sleep more than seven hours at a time. Maybe thatís why I can never finish writing a novel. Although I have no trouble w/ the feasting aspect of the creative process. Feasting well is a skill that requires diligent practice & more creativity than is generally realized. In fact, Iím making myself hungry just thinking about it.
William Michaelian: Itís a vicious cycle, thatís what it is. First you think about it, and then the images become so powerful in your mind that youíre driven to the table. In other words, itís like writing. Meanwhile, if we juggle terms a bit, our statements might go something like this: ďI have no trouble with the writing aspect of the feasting process.Ē Or, ďAll a guy needs is a big novel between feasts, followed by twenty-four hours of deep, unconcious writing.Ē Or, ďSleeping well is a skill that requires diligent writing and more feasting than is generally realized.Ē
John Berbrich: I say what I was going to forget. I mean, my scrambled feels brain. I mean, the nonsense seems filled w/ universe!
William Michaelian: Thatís exactly what I mean. Itís a physical law: when the universe is scrambled, your brain fills with nonsense. And when you forget your brain, the universe says what it feels.
John Berbrich: Sounds like some kind of linguistic therapy. Michaelianís Law of Inverse Proportion Ratio Syndrome. Or the Syndrome of Ratio Proportionís Law of Inverse Michaelians. I think weíre getting closer to the truth.
William Michaelian: Possibly. I just hope the truth doesnít turn out to be mathematical, because I wonít be able to understand it.
John Berbrich: I love simple math ó stuff like arithmetic, percentages, decimals, algebra, & geometry ó cuz it always works. And Iím fascinated by imaginary numbers & googols of numbers. Itís that weird useless stuff that I donít like, sines, cosines, calculus. Itís totally useless, I donít care what anyone says.
William Michaelian: Itís certainly useless to me. And itís interesting youíd bring up Nikolai Googol in this context. Isnít a story of his is playing at the Googolplex? Anyway ó I am fairly competent in simple arithmetic. And I did well in geometry, back in my high school days. But that was in my first year, when I was still functioning as a student. Anything past the most basic, beginning algebra was and remains a disaster.
John Berbrich: I believe the Googol story youíre referring to is Dead Soles ó a tale of fallen arches. A real tragedy. But to return to math. I too did well in geometry back in school. And I hated trig. But I donít want to talk about math. Except maybe for infinity, a religious, philosophical, & mathematical concept. If you think too much about infinity you can freak yourself out.
William Michaelian: Mathematical? What is infinity plus infinity? Are all infinities equal? Or is there only one infinity?
John Berbrich: These are valid questions. And hereís another: is infinity minus one as big as infinity? It seems to me that infinity divided by a bazillion is still infinity. Personally, Iím not sure that I really believe in infinity. I think that the word infinity is shorthand for a number so big you canít ever get to it. You canít count it, canít even estimate it. This merely displays our own limitations.
William Michaelian: As if further proof were needed. As a word, though, infinity is also very powerful. Somehow, it makes what could be frightening sound almost comforting instead ó just as we take comfort in all our childish measurements, when what we are actually doing is trying to reduce the infinite, which is life itself ó or existence, or the universe, or whatever you want to call
it ó to digestible, understandable portions that leave us feeling in command.
John Berbrich: Well, yeah, infinity is a powerful word, I agree. It opens a door towards places you canít ever get to. Mysterious vistas. A reminder of how huge everything is. Another word containing gigantic suggestions is ďeternal.Ē
William Michaelian: One of the most obvious being religious. But eternal would also be a good mathematical term. Wouldnít it be great if some numbers were eternal numbers? Not having a mathematical mind, though, I donít know what an eternal number would be. But it sounds good. On the one hand you have number, which connotes, denotes, and promotes the absolute; and on the other you have eternal, which leaves the door open to expansion ó a number thatís gone out of control, and which draws strength from everything around it, thereby creating a gigantic tumult and roar, a displacement, defacement, and replacement of the normal, which leads to ó say, are those new shoes you have on?
John Berbrich: You finally noticed. Iíve been wearing these new gray sneakers w/ the orange stripes for over a month now. Paid pretty good money for them too. The heels are already collapsing & I threw away my receipt.
William Michaelian: Well, receipts are generally pretty thin. I doubt it could make your shoes last much longer.
John Berbrich: Well, if you had enough of them ó if you had an infinite number of receipts, you could pretty much fill up any space you wanted. You could fill up the entire universe w/ thin paper receipts & still have an infinite number of them left over. Wow....
William Michaelian: Youíre right. Itís a retailerís dream. And it would take all of eternity to count them.
John Berbrich: This is way better than string theory. I never liked the idea of string clogging up the universe. Youíd wind up w/ knots, a lot of them. But just imagine the cosmos slowly filling up w/ neat, closely-packed stacks of thin white paper receipts. Itís a beautiful concept.
William Michaelian: Not unlike snow. Folks, is your universe clogged? Try our new Eternal Plunger with Receipt Max and say good-bye to all your problems.
John Berbrich: Money back if not delighted. Be sure to keep your receipt. Offer void in Sector Seven.
William Michaelian: My stars. Thereís no end to our brilliance. But, if you donít mind, Iíd like to change the subject. I donít know why, but early this morning something made me think of the phrase ďa vow of silence.Ē And I got to wondering what taking a vow of silence might actually be like. And does a vow of silence involve more than just the use of the tongue. Can a vow of silence be considered a vow of silence if oneís mind keeps babbling all the time?
John Berbrich: Depends whoís doing the defining, I guess. Itís hard for me to imagine a mind that thinks at all, if words arenít involved. I suppose that someone whoís been beaten down into submissive obedience could obey without thinking or even protesting. If thatís the case, Iíll have none of it. Although, turning off your babbling monkey-mind & just experiencing the sensuous world around you is a sort of Zen thing. And I have attempted that state before, w/ varying levels of success. Experience the actual sensation, not translate it into a string of words.
William Michaelian: Words do seem to be the basis of thought. I suppose one definition of thinking could be ďtalking in your head.Ē Itís what happens between thoughts thatís amazing. As you said, itís a matter of direct, untranslated experience. In that case, the distance between thoughts is of great importance. I still remember taking a certain walk through the neighboring streets about fifteen years ago and suddenly realizing upon my return that I had not had even a single thought the whole time ó about an hour and a half. And it was a natural, unplanned thing.
John Berbrich: As natural as an animal, & I mean that in a good way. When the kids were little Iíd take them for long walks. When Iíd see something noteworthy, a blue heron standing by the edge of a pond or something like that, Iíd touch their shoulder & point, wordlessly. Theyíd look in silence. I felt that in this way theyíd experience the world more directly rather than see some sort of one-step-removed idea of it. The words, the concepts, could come later. The experience is the
William Michaelian: Beautiful. One thing I definitely miss about life on the farm is spending long stretches of time alone outside. The sounds and silences, the rhythm of nature, the work at hand ó sometimes, at the end of the day, it seemed almost a shame to speak again. On the other side of it, though, after spending so much time alone, the sound of a human voice was a great thing to experience.
John Berbrich: Finally, some contrast. Not this constant low babble of modern life, eh? Your story reminds me of an evening also about 15 years ago. I was at an Amish farm, I believe picking up some slab wood for a shed I was building. It was summer & the sun was low, its light slanting across the dusty air in a golden haze. The family was busy. No, busy is the wrong word. Each family member did his or her own job in an unhurried manner. They had a dairy farm & of course horses for plowing the fields, as well as a saw mill. But the mill was silent. Iíd hear the clink of a pail or the rattle of a chain. The father, a strong burly bearded fellow named Ben, broke into a song as he crossed the dusty clearing between the house & the barn. It sounded like a church song. I was struck by the beauty of the scene, the timeless aspect of it. People have lived this way for millennia, & it seemed as though the world would be okay if they were allowed to continue this style of living. A family as a small community, working together for the greater good.
William Michaelian: What a strange concept. And now Iím reminded of a time when I was a kid, maybe ten years old. My father and I were behind our shed making kindling out of some old odds and ends of wood. It was simple work ó splitting, gathering, stacking. But the whole scene was magical. I remember that when we were done, after about an hour or so, I told him how much I had enjoyed myself. His smile has stayed with me all these years.
John Berbrich: Thatís a precious memory. Thereís something satisfying about performing hard, physical work. Not play, but work. Thereís a feeling of accomplishment & a general glow. It does happen after sports too, but the satisfaction is not quite the same. And doing the work w/ a beloved family member, even better.
William Michaelian: Absolutely. It binds you together. As Gibran said in The Prophet, work is love made visible. He also said, ďYou work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of lifeís procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.Ē
John Berbrich: That is a beautiful book. One can open it anywhere & discover a profound & quotable phrase. Though I havenít read it in years, I know exactly where my copy is.
William Michaelian: It really is a treasure. And his drawings are something too. He was quite the artist, all the way around. To top it off, Arabic was his first language. He had to learn to write in English.
John Berbrich: He really developed an amazing feel for the language. And as I recall, Gibran died fairly young.
William Michaelian: He did. He was born in 1883, and he died in 1931. Speaking of vows of silence, hereís part of what he had to say on the subject of Talking: ďYou talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts; And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime. And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered. For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.Ē
John Berbrich: That reminds me of something written by E.E. Cummings. Iím quoting from memory here: ďAll that isnít singing is merely talking, and all talking is to oneself alone.Ē I think thatís pretty close.
William Michaelian: Interesting. It sounds good, and might even be true. I assume that line is followed by a cleverly perplexing goat track of words.
John Berbrich: No doubt. Or it may have come from a lecture. I have a series of lectures (actually theyíre called non-lectures) given at Harvard, & the quote may have come from there. But now that I think of it a little more, I believe that you are right ó the line was discovered amongst a shifting puzzle of ungulate spoor.
William Michaelian: A Cummings specialty. Just remember to clean your shoes. What is a non-lecture, in his case?
John Berbrich: Hold on. I gotta go get the book to see if Cummings actually explains what he means ó & the bookís way the hell downstairs. Iíll be back in a minute.
William Michaelian: If we were at our antique and junk poem shop, you could have gotten Cummings himself. By the way, how many steps are there in your staircase?
John Berbrich: 16 steep steps. These six nonlectures were given by Cummings in 1923 at Harvard. He begins the first lecture thus: ďLet me cordially warn you, at the opening of these socalled lectures, that I havenít the remotest intention of posing as a lecturer. Lecturing is presumably a form of teaching; and presumably a teacher is somebody who knows. I never did, and still donít, know. What has always fascinated me is not teaching, but learning.Ē
William Michaelian: Well, heís off to a good start. Whatís the title of this book? Is it all Cummings?
John Berbrich: The title of the book is Six Nonlectures & itís all by Cummings. 114 pages. In it he reads a lot of his favorite poems by people like Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Keats, Shelley, Burns, Donne, et cetera & then he nonlectures about them. And actually Iím not certain now when the nonlectures were given. It could have been much later than 1923, possibly in the 50ís. Thereís no introduction or explanatory notes. Towards the end he says, ďI am someone who proudly and humbly affirms that love is the mystery-of-mysteries, and that nothing measurable matters Ďa very good God damní: that Ďan artist, a man, a failureí is no mere whenfully accreting mechanism, but a givingly eternal complexity ó neither some soulless and heartless ultrapredatory infra-animal nor any un-understandingly knowing and believing and thinking automation, but a naturally and miraculously whole human being ó a feelingly illimitable individual; whose only happiness is to transcend himself, whose every agony is to grow.Ē
William Michaelian: Zounds. Thatís quite a form of expression. Itís one thing to read something like that, to have it handy at your fingertips, but hearing it must be something like breathing incense, or mist, where the meaning arrives in different ways.
John Berbrich: Iíd have to hear that several times to get much out of it. I have a recording of Cummings reading/reciting his poem ďanyone lived in a pretty how town.Ē You know the poem? He speaks it slowly & w/ incredible inflection, emphasis, & slow vocal ellipses, the voice trailing off..... You can easily imagine the different stanzas & line-breaks, the strange indentation, the improvisational jazzy quality at its best.
William Michaelian: I love the word games he plays in that poem. But Iíve never heard his voice. Can you describe it? Low, high, deep, shallow, musical, raspy, world-weary, alert, eager, modest, arrogant, proud . . .
John Berbrich: The voice is curiously high but not thin, musical, smooth not raspy. Unlike any other. Not tired or weary, he takes his time, careful w/ the pronunciation, like a painter painting the essence of each word onto a canvas.
William Michaelian: So, unlike many others who read and speak before an audience, he too is a listener.
John Berbrich: Yes. One gets the sense that heís feeling every word.
William Michaelian: As it should be. Do you have recordings by other poets?
John Berbrich: Yeah, yeah. I have Whitman recorded on a wax cylinder by Thomas Edison. And a recording of the theatrical Ezra Pound, amazing to hear. I have others: Bukowski, Yeats, Kerouac. We play these on the Howie & the Wolfman show occasionally.
William Michaelian: Amazing. As much as can be experienced and understood by means of the written word, in some cases hearing the authorís voice can add a powerful dimension. Joyce reading from Finnegans Wake is a great example. But I think any kind of recording can be illuminating, not just of performance, or recitation, or formal speech. Dinner conversation, for instance, or talk during a game of cards. In some cases, these might be even more revealing.
John Berbrich: Speaking of voices, I find the slow disappearance of regional accents depressing. Used to be I could tell when I met someone from New York City. I could sometimes even tell what part of the city they were from due to the specific accent. But no more. Another benefit bestowed upon humanity by television.
William Michaelian: Television is a disaster. Itís ninety-nine percent cheap mind-numbing garbage. The thought that at any given moment millions of people are sprawled out watching and hearing exactly the same thing is horrifying. Not only is it killing regional accents, most viewers are no longer able to entertain themselves.
John Berbrich: You are right. This is a subject we could rant about for days. One of the real problems w/ television is the sheer bigness & pervasiveness of it. If we had little tv stations running local programs created & produced by local people, well that would be a different story. Bigger usually means dumber in my book.
William Michaelian: Definitely. The saddest thing is, people have the power to turn off the TV but they donít. Itís like being that close to a revolution and not seizing the opportunity. Meanwhile, the medium itself does have a lot of potential. Weíve talked about KBOO radio before, supported by its listeners and run almost entirely by volunteers. The result is an extremely wide range of programming, some of it quite excellent, and almost all of it stuff you can hear nowhere else. Plus, listeners arenít looking at a screen. Thereís much more room for the imagination.
John Berbrich: Thatís another one of my gripes. When music video emerged I was quite skeptical. I was afraid that the video would detract from the sound. I donít like the idea of watching the same image over & over every time I listen to a song. Some music videos are very well done & really seem to enhance the song, but too many kill that thing you just mentioned, the imagination, by providing that specific image. And then of course the outfits become paramount, the fashions.
William Michaelian: It seems to me that the typical commercially produced music video is just a piece of merchandise thatís meant to sell more merchandise. In other words, itís an advertisement: for CDs, clothes, cars, cosmetics, and even a way of life ó whatever reinforces the desired image. Again, itís a form with potential, but in most cases the potential is wasted.
John Berbrich: I think that most people possess the potential for honesty. But most people are easily led, too. Look at the Germans in the 30ís. I can say that cuz Iím German, although my ancestors left back in the 19th century. Nothing against Germans in particular ó itís simply an example of lots of people being led to a hideous place by a madman. And once that big ball gets rolling, itís pretty tough to stop. And at the other end of the spectrum, look at Christ, look at Gandhi. Look at Martin Luther King. Most people like to be told what to do, & be assured by someone that itís right.
William Michaelian: Thatís an accurate assessment. But most of those very same people wouldnít include themselves. Just about everyone you meet considers himself an independent, discerning individual. The evidence, though, as you pointed out, is to the contrary.
John Berbrich: Whenever I consider independent, discerning individuals, I always think of Henry David Thoreau. What comes across in his writings (& in his life) is that he did what he wanted to do, & he did what he thought was right. His choices were not responses or reactions to what other people were saying or doing. He was a strong individual.
William Michaelian: He was. To live that kind of life, you really have to know who you are and where you stand. Or be damned serious about finding out.
John Berbrich: One wonders how many unknown people have lived just like that. Serious, strong, & unyielding. Every now & then I come across something written by Thoreau, & I am inspired. His essay ďCivil DisobedienceĒ is a masterpiece. Walden is of course a classic. Havenít read that one in years ó I have about five different editions of the book.
William Michaelian: That should see you through. The man also had a great face. Lincolnesque. Or maybe Lincolnís was Thoreauesque. Either way, both are inspiring. I remember Whitmanís comments about Lincolnís face, how in his opinion no likeness heíd seen had captured all his kindness and concern, his wit and intelligence.
John Berbrich: I remember those comments. Havenít had a president like that in years. Have you read Ralph Waldo Emersonís essay on Thoreau? Itís maybe 15-20 pages. The man comes alive before your eyes. Yes, I need to read Walden again. One thing that I love most is that Henry views the world directly around him as significant. Every corner of his world is filled w/ wonders. Why bother traveling? Although travel he did, to see new wonders, deep in the woods of Maine or out on Cape Cod. He was a great noticer & careful note-taker, afterwards writing philosophically & in detail about all he had seen. Although the book leaves some people cold.
William Michaelian: Well, after all, itís not entertaining. How long can you hang around with a thoughtful resolute guy who wonít budge from his convictions and who sees through your own motives and understands them better than yourself? I havenít read the Emerson essay. The funny thing is, I saw it just two days ago at the used book store when I was there with our youngest son. He got a slim volume of poems by Gary Snyder, and I picked up a copy of Saul Bellowís Humboldtís Gift.
John Berbrich: Ahh. Few things can top wandering around a used book store. Snyder is an interesting character. Iím acquainted w/ only a small fraction of his poetry, but he has been featured on the Howie & the Wolfman show more than once. He was into that Nature/Zen/Beat thing. I have not read that novel by Bellow (what a great name for a writer ó Bellow!) but I believe itís considered to be one of his best. Let me know how it turns out. I have a real problem at book stores though ó I usually canít get away w/ only one or two books. Sometimes I end up walking out w/ a whole bag of them. And I have to build another shelf, thereby keeping my carpentry skills well tuned.
William Michaelian: Someday, none of the walls in your place will be visible. A laudable goal. I've read fifty-four pages of Bellow so far. Bellow! ó I agree, a great name. And Snyder, Zen, Nature, the Beats ó all of this we can discuss further on the next page.