The Conversation Continues
Welcome to Page 27 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.
To add a message, click here, or on any of the ďJoin ConversationĒ links scattered along the right side of the page. Iíd rather you use your real name, but you can use a screen name if you prefer.
To return to Page 1 of the forum, click here. For Page 2, click here. For Page 3, click here.
For Page 4, click here. For Page 5, click here. For Page 6, click here. For Page 7, click here.
For Page 8, click here. For Page 9, click here. For Page 10, click here. For Page 11, click here.
For Page 12, click here. For Page 13, click here. For Page 14, click here. For Page 15, click here.
Page 16 Page 17 Page 18 Page 19 Page 20 Page 21 Page 22 Page 23 Page 24 Page 25
Page 26 Page 28 Page 29 Page 30 Page 31 Page 32 Page 33 Page 34 Page 35 Page 36
Page 37 Page 38 Page 39 Page 40 Page 41 Page 42 Page 43
To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: Exactly what we need ó a clean slate. Just so you know, I went ahead and added the page I mentioned a short time back. Itís called And I Quote, and I started off with the three books I mentioned: The Mrs. Dalloway Reader, Manet by himself, and the book about good old Ben Franklin, A Great Improvisation. I really doubt it will measure up to your ultra-ambitious and highly detailed reading journals, but it should prove at least somewhat interesting and entertaining. Then, for good measure, I added another page. This oneís called You Donít Say, and it contains definitions of old-fashioned and obsolete words from my 1924 Websterís dictionary, as well as some neat old literary references taken from the 1948 edition of The Readerís Encyclopedia. Iíll be adding to both pages regularly, in small portions.
John Berbrich: I checked out both of your new pages. Nice. I particularly like the ďAnd I QuoteĒ page. I read ďMrs. DallowayĒ years ago. My thoughts at the time were scribbled w/ pen in a notebook which right now could be anywhere. Those were such primitive days. Pen & ink. Your copy sounds especially interesting w/ the addition of that illuminating commentary by those other authors. I donít know much about Manet, except that his name is annoying cuz itís similar to Monet & I like Monet. The Ben Franklin book sounds good too. I read his autobiography years ago. His adventures in France comprised my least favorite part. The early years were cool: leaving Boston, coming to New York, crossing New Jersey, heading for Philly. At least thatís how I remember it. Old Ben was an amazing feller.
William Michaelian: Indeed. Iíd like to read more about him. And itíll be fun chipping away at the new pages. One thing about making notes like that, it helps me remember what Iíve read. As for the word page, I have a feeling it will reveal a lot about me and my strange thought processes as I push on.
John Berbrich: No doubt. Yes, a journal of that nature will aid your memory. It helps me slow down & think, ďNow what was that chapter all about?Ē The Ben Franklin we read about seems like a mythological character, outrageous accretions gathering over the generations. But most of the stories seem to be true. Again, an amazing feller.
William Michaelian: Hereís something kind of interesting. In the middle of the book, there are ďthree renditions of the fur-hatted Franklin.Ē One is the Nini medallion, widely circulated in France. The caption reads, ďAs Franklinís family noted, the artists seemed more interested in his headgear than in any accurate depiction of their celebrated relativeís physiognomy. In the end the lack of resemblance mattered little. The subjectís sister observed that the face appeared in a thousand variations, Ďhowever if it is called Dr. Franklin, it will be revered.íĒ
John Berbrich: I donít know anything about Stacy Schiff, but I find her prose style polished & quite elegant. Yes, old Ben was one of those figures of history famous in his own time, like Voltaire. Others, like Nietzsche, Kafka, & Dickinson, are discovered by the future.
William Michaelian: Hidden lives. I think I remember reading that Dickinson had only a couple of her many hundreds of poems published during her lifetime. And poor Kafka, who lived with his parents for all but about six months of his tortured life. Nietzsche, of course, was a completely normal, run of the mill character.
John Berbrich: Of course. He was trying to act crazy in a pathetic attempt to gain attention. He was afflicted w/ a severe mother-anxiety complex ó like the guy in the film Psycho only Nietzscheís illness displayed itself in a different form. Half of him wanted to destroy his motherís religion, the other half wanted to preserve it. There was a lot of friction in the middle of his mind.
William Michaelian: If only he had lived in the age of talk shows and self-help books. The poor guy needed a television. Videos. Anything that would give him a little distraction. ďThe middle of his mindĒ is an interesting distinction. It implies an edge.
John Berbrich: He had an edge all right. Nancy always says that Nietzsche needed a good woman to take care of him. He would have been in a better mood. Someone to rub his back & stuff, bake little cookies, soothe away those vicious headaches.
William Michaelian: I picture a woman clinging to her sanity by baking mountains of cookies in self-defense ó literally shoveling cookies out of the kitchen, leaving the serene philosopher half-buried in delectable, aromatic morsels.
John Berbrich: That sounds like a Monty Python skit. If a philosopher doesnít believe in Free Will, how would he be able to choose which cookie to eat? Heíll starve surrounded by treats!
William Michaelian: So even cookies become a problem. I wonder ó were any of the great philosophers happily married? I can imagine one thinking he is, right up until the day his wife slams the door.
John Berbrich: A good question. I think that most of these fellows were bachelors. Iíve made no special study of the subject, but I believe that David Hume was a rather portly, charming, ladies man. Nietzsche obviously went solo, although he had that one girl he was crazy about, Lou Salome. Iím pretty sure that John Stuart Mill had a happy marriage. In fact, it is held by some that his wife was so intelligent that at least a portion of his philosophical productions should be attributed to her. Kant was a loner. Kierkegaard apparently broke it off w/ his beloved Regina, for reasons Iím unsure of. The wife of Socrates, Xantippe, is a veritable cliche for the harrier-wife. So that leaves old Socrates out of the list, which seems to be rather small at this point.
William Michaelian: Well, for what itís worth, I did find this statement made by Neitzsche scattered all over the Voyald Vide Veb:
ďWhat great philosopher has ever been married? Heracleitus, Plato, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Schopenhauer ó not one of them was married; moreover, it is impossible to imagine any of them married. I maintain that a married philosopher belongs in comedy, and as for that great exception, Socrates got married in a spirit of irony, precisely in order to prove that contention.Ē
John Berbrich: He wrote that right after Lou Salome dumped him. Hey, not to change the subject but ó we just got our first issue of Poets & Wrtiers magazine. Guess whoís on the cover w/ an interview inside? ó Give up? Our old pal Lawrence Ferlinghetti!
William Michaelian: Really? Iíll have to rustle up a copy. Quite some time back, maybe a decade or more ago, I took the magazine for a year. I might be mistaken, but it seems like they carry it at Borders. Then again, I might have seen it at one of the used book stores downtown.
John Berbrich: Thereís some good stuff in the interview. Ferlinghetti was in Cuba in 1960 during the Revolution. He met Castro briefly, & Pablo Neruda. He talks about Pound. And he says, ďthereís too much emphasis in all the arts on the method and technique rather than on the subject matter.Ē Something to ponder.
William Michaelian: Definitely. Hollow forms. Empty shells. How something is said should grow naturally out of its need to be said.
John Berbrich: Itís good to try new things, but not all experiments can be considered successful. And what you say is true ó certain pieces cry to be written, & they often insist on particular forms. Suddenly you find yourself writing a play or a sonnet or a haiku, because the subject demands it.
William Michaelian: Thatís part of what makes it so much fun. Meanwhile, how many times have you read something that was technically perfect, but lifeless, and that had no real reason for being?
John Berbrich: Way too often. Hey, get this ó for the 15th anniversary of City Lights, Ferlinghetti managed to change the names of a dozen San Francisco streets. New names include Mark Twain Plaza, Jack Kerouac Street, & William Saroyan Plaza. Anyone you know?
William Michaelian: Well, the names are all vaguely familiar. Come to think of it, about thirty years ago, Saroyan sprayed water all over my fatherís shaving mirror when he washed out his mustache after lunch.
John Berbrich: Quite a character. He was probably celebrating that new plaza named after him.
William Michaelian: Hard to tell. Most everything he did seemed like a celebration, or the expression of some sort of anger, joy, or outrage. What year did the name changes come about? Iím surprised no one in the family ever mentioned it.
John Berbrich: Ferlinghetti says that the renaming of the streets was part of the celebration of 15 years of City Lights, which started up in the early to mid 50ís. So I estimate 1968-70, somewhere in there. You would have been 14-16, something like that. Yes?
William Michaelian: Right. And we did see Willie some in those days, because he was spending quite a bit of time in Fresno and would drop in with the cousins. But he never talked about stuff like that when he visited. It was all family stuff, with an emphasis on the old-timers and the old days. And I certainly had no idea who Ferlinghetti was back then, or that there was even a City Lights book store.
John Berbrich: Well, he must have been held in high regard to be considered for such an honor. And to be mentioned by Ferlinghetti in the same sentence w/ Twain & Kerouac. Absolute icons!
William Michaelian: And it happens that thatís where he wrote himself to fame as a young man. When you have the chance, read his first story collection, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stories. It came out in 1934, and has been back in print for a number of years. Are you finding anything else of interest in Poets and Writers?
John Berbrich: Okay. Thereís an article by novelist Walter Mosley that emphasizes the importance of writing every day, particularly if you are writing a novel. He suggests 90 minutes per day as a minimum. Then thereís a big article about writers retreats. Iíd heard of Yaddo but didnít realize that itís in Saratoga Springs, only a three hour drive from here, maybe two & a half. For northern New York, thatís practically just down the road. There are a bunch of inspiring little articles about writing, its joys & difficulties. And a few pages of markets, just burning for new poetry.
William Michaelian: Hey, I have an idea. Letís rent a dump truck, fill it with new poetry, and deliver it personally. What about Yaddo? Any idea where the name comes from? Is it a place, or a state of mind?
John Berbrich: Sounds like a little of both. According to the article, the Yaddo Corporation was started in 1900 by the wealthy financier Spencer Trask & his wife Katrina, a poet. All four of their children had died. Having no one to leave their 400-acre estate to, they decided to create a retreat for artists. The word ďYaddoĒ was coined by one of the daughters, apparently a rhyme for ďshadow.Ē Anyway, Yaddo began receiving guests in 1926, & itís still doing so after 81 years. The main mansion on the property has 55 rooms. The entire estate has 16 buildings. Sounds like the Antique & Junk Poem Shop, only on a much smaller scale.
William Michaelian: Much smaller. In fact, it sounds rather confining. Imagine ó fifty-five rooms, and in each a writer, dreading the day he has to return to daily life. At our shop you never have to return, because you never have to leave. Daily life is an all-inclusive poem. Rooms and walls grow and fall away in rhythm with the imagination.
John Berbrich: And donít forget that sparkling stream that runs through the living room. A place for Brautigan to catch his magnificent trout. You know, someone could write a fascinating series of poems or stories based on the Junk Poem Shop. Iím not volunteering, just so you know.
William Michaelian: Oh, God ó Iím having the strangest vision. I just might have to pursue this.
John Berbrich: Thanks for volunteering. I canít wait to read them.
William Michaelian: Really? Youíd better be careful. Iím even more dangerous when I receive encouragement.
John Berbrich: Go for it, dude. These are works that simply must be written. They will be required reading for every student of literature in the near future. Entire English departments of major universities will be making pilgrimages to the Junk Poem Shop.
William Michaelian: Well, I do envision a handbook of sorts. But I wonder if itíll fit between two covers. It might vary in size depending on who picks it up and reads it. Which reminds me ó how are things coming with the March Yawp?
John Berbrich: You havenít received yours yet? I mailed your package out last Saturday, the 10th. Usually the trip across country takes only two or three days. Hmmmmm.
William Michaelian: Hmmmmm, indeed. Theyíre probably reading them at the post office and trying to decide whether or not to file charges. Unless you mailed it at the book rate, in which case it always takes a few extra days.
John Berbrich: Well, yeah, I did send it book rate. Hopefully youíll get it before the June issue. Hey, weíre having a big snowstorm tonight. Lots of wind, blowing snow across the roads & yards. Sort of comforting. Iíve got the wood stove cranking.
William Michaelian: Beautiful. I wish we were there. It topped out at seventy in Salem today. Plum and cherry trees blooming like mad, daffodils everywhere, a real perfume in the air. But at the moment, nothing sounds better than baking the old bones by the fire. Yesterday we received word that my motherís sister passed away in Stockton, California. She was eighty-seven ó the first of my motherís three sisters to depart. My mother is youngest at eighty-four; the others are ninety ó ninety-one in a couple of weeks, actually ó and ninety-three.
John Berbrich: Wow. Iíll bet they worked hard, too. Farm girls or city girls or what?
William Michaelian: They started out as farm girls, but my grandfather lost his farm in the Twenties. Then they became small town girls. From there they graduated to bigger towns, like Stockton and Napa. My mother was the only one who ended up back on the farm, where I grew up and she stayed until my father died, back in 1995. And yes, they were all workers. The sister who just died worked in an office until about a year ago.
John Berbrich: People were made of tough stuff in those days. Reminds me of some of those tombstones in Spoon River. Ah, here it is ó an excerpt from ďLucinda MatlockĒ:
We were married and lived together for seventy years,
Enjoying, working, raising the twelve children,
Eight of whom we lost
Ere I had reached the age of sixty.
I spun, I wove, I kept the house, I nursed the sick,
I made the garden, and for holiday
Rambled over the fields where sang the larks,
And by Spoon River gathering many a shell,
And many a flower and medicinal weed ó
Shouting to the wooded hills, singing to the green valleys.
At ninety-six I had lived enough, that is all,
And passed to a sweet repose.
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you ó
It takes life to love Life.
William Michaelian: Thatís really nice. Iíve known a lot of old-timers with that attitude. It feels good just being around them, hearing their voices. Well ó it happened. The Yawps arrived, and in fine condition. The issue has quite a cover. Have the complaints started rolling in yet?
John Berbrich: Nothing of a litigious nature, but then again itís still early. The only feedback thus far is from Vanessa Kittle who thought my review of her chapbook was ďreally cool.Ē She somehow neglected to mention the cover. I shall redirect all comments your way.
William Michaelian: Nice of you to use the word comments instead of complaints. Thatís positive thinking. Anyway. Iím looking forward to reading the issue, as always. The last issue was strong, a hard act to follow.
John Berbrich: I agree, but this one has some special moments too. A good mix of the crazy, the profound, & the lyrical. Where do your poems fit in?
William Michaelian: At the bottom of Page 44. . . . Oh. You mean in which category. Iím tempted to say all three. But surely I flatter myself. Iíll tell you which poem I really liked, though ó the one by high school senior, Jessica Stern, ďGrandmother Tree.Ē Weíd better keep an eye on this girl. I think sheís going places.
John Berbrich: I agree. Jessica sent us five poems, all of them strong stuff. It was hard to pick the best. Itís funny but you never know how big some of these poets will get, w/ their poetry I mean. We may have published several future poet laureates already. But some of these young poets, we never hear from them or see the name again. So keep looking for Jessica. Right now there is no way to know how high up the mountain she can climb.
William Michaelian: No way at all. But Iíll tell you, Iíve seen far too much work by polished veteran poets that just lies there dead on the page, a victim of its own short-sighted, narrow-minded, self-indulged arrogance. If they had the courage, a poem like ďGrandmother TreeĒ would make them jump up and shout.
John Berbrich: Willie, I can hear you bellowing across 3,000 miles. I agree entirely about dead poetry ó Iíve seen far too much of it. We try very hard not to publish any. Some works wiggle w/ life & thatís all there is to it. Funny what catches a readerís eye. Some poems simply appeal to me & itís very hard to pin down exactly what the attraction is. Itís often easier to tell why a poem doesnít appeal.
William Michaelian: Right. Thereís always a betrayal of some kind: laziness, lack of content, hasty word choice, distracting line breaks, contrivance, stylistic conformity, erudite or recycled references instead of direct personal observation ó itís a long list. But itís all immediately apparent. Thatís why reading a good poem is so exciting and brings so much pleasure. It exists because it needs to exist.
John Berbrich: Like a tree growing out of a page ó or something. You want to learn the rules & conventions but then toss them all into a corner & simply write. Write a lot, loosen up that dam, break the obstacles ó till all is fluid & electric, flowing & glowing.
William Michaelian: It seems to me that the best writing, and the best art in general, retains a healthy measure of the primitive ó a little painting on the cave wall, so to speak. When I was a kid on the farm, I used to write and draw in the dust with a stick. Quite often when I work, it still feels that way.
John Berbrich: Primitive art retains primitive vigor. Sophisticated art may be clever but lacks that barbaric physical aspect. Whitman sounded a barbaric yawp, not a cultured yip.
William Michaelian: Youíre right ó I sound my cultured yip over the roofs of the world doesnít quite cut it. Say, Iíve found some other neat things in the current Yawp. Stories like ďUnder the Bedroom DoorĒ by Frank Kennedy, ďUnseasonable ShadowsĒ by Charlotte Jones, and ďTwenty-six to LifeĒ by Ross Mikesell, the latter of which runs longer than you usually publish.
John Berbrich: I know, but I loved that story so much I had to take it. The guy putting his dog to sleep towards the end really clinched it. The author makes some fairly subtle observations to keep it interesting, funny, & admonitory. What more can you ask for?
William Michaelian: Oh, I donít know. Maybe something blue, blue, blue. Yeah, thatís it. A nice blue poem, like the one by Neal Zirn. I know this: if I ever need a chiropractor, Zirnís my man.
John Berbrich: Hey, I met Neal Zirn the other night at a coffeehouse in Potsdam. Oh, we had a great talk. Heís from the Bronx, lived in Manhattan in the 60ís. Very interesting guy. Heís also an artist of some repute. It was one of those meetings where stories just roll back & forth effortlessly. A very easy guy to talk to. Plus he can crack your back if you need it.
William Michaelian: Up in Astoria, I think it is, on the extreme northwest corner of Oregon at the mouth of the Columbia River, thereís an annual gathering of fisherman poets. Maybe Zirn can organize a similar get-together for chiropractors.
John Berbrich: Coincidentally, Zirn will be attending a chiropractor get-together next Wednesday night, so will be unable to meet me at the coffeehouse. Iím not sure of the location of this shindig nor of the exact nature of the celebration. If they do any fishing, it may have to be ice-fishing.
William Michaelian: Nah, the fishing can wait. But it would be interesting to know how many chiropractors there are who are also poets and painters. Such things are fascinating. Also farmers. Thereís a Japanese writer who farms in the San Joaquin Valley, not too many miles from where we used to live ó I forget his name now ó Masumoto, I believe ó who writes about farm life. I think one of his books is called Epitaph for a Peach. Havenít read it or seen it, but as I recall heís about our age and has a nice little following.
John Berbrich: Well you should check it out, Willie. Local writers need our support. A farm ó complete w/ garden & orchard ó would be a wonderful poetic world to explore. So much life & death, so many surprises. Close to nature, the roll of the seasons. One learns prudence ó putting food up for future need, like a squirrel gathering nuts. A family learns to work together. Sort of reminds me of that poem by Richard Luftig in the latest Yawp, ďA Year in Iowa.Ē
William Michaelian: I like that one too. Each month is like its own short poem. And yet if one were left out, the whole poem would be missing something.
John Berbrich: Everyone sounds so tired of the farming life. My favorite month might be October:
Stars get lost in tractor light.
There is a scent of football, a wisp
of marching band in the night air.
Halloween leaves are ready to give up the ghost.
William Michaelian: October is well done. I also lingered over August:
Soon it will be the autumn of wheat.
The osage orange drops its hedge apples early.
Late afternoon lightning makes faces
in the shadows of the fields.
I like those two words side by side, ďosage orange.Ē
John Berbrich: Indeed. Letís call it a felicitous phrase, shall we? Another is ďclumped and stubbled fields.Ē I feel like Iím tripping over some sturdy root-end jutting from the jumbled furrows.
William Michaelian: That reminds me of something that happened years ago. It was in the fall, and I was walking hrough an open field on our farm with a friend of mine from the city. We were in an area where the soil was very heavy. There were massive clods everywhere. Unfamiliar with these rock-like clumps of earth, he laughed and kicked one. He nearly broke his foot.
John Berbrich: City slickers deserve what they get. My wife still teases me ó when I first moved up here I couldnít tell a broccoli plant from a tomato plant. In my own defense, I have to say that theyíre both green.
William Michaelian: Hey, give yourself some credit. At least you knew they were plants. And speaking of vegetables, hereís another funny one: Yesterday Dollface and I were at the grocery store. We needed a head of red cabbage, but the few cabbages they had were old, small, and not worth buying. After Dollface had examined two or three, I said, ďOh, well. If thatís the best they can do, then the hell with them.Ē Not one second later, a voice over the loudspeaker cheerfully exclaimed, ďThanks, Bill.Ē
John Berbrich: The voice of God?
William Michaelian: That, or the osage orange.
John Berbrich: Which reminds me of Zane Greyís famous novel, Riders of the Purple Sage, one of the great titles. Havenít read the book yet, myself. Phillip Jose Farmer wrote a remarkable novella called Riders of the Purple Wage. It was filled w/ puns, jokes, & even some slapstick. I think Iíve mentioned this before. Osage orange.
William Michaelian: Hedge apples. Purple Sage is okay. I like the Zane Grey section at our local library. Itís several feet long, and the rusty old hardcovers are lined up there with their identical covers. But now I have a question. What would you do if someone sent you the following story? I found it in the introduction to Twelve Short Novels, an anthology I just added to my And I Quote page. Itís by H.L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. Here it is: Late the next morning, as they breakfasted together in his apartment, a tear stole down her cheek.
John Berbrich: Iíd instantly accuse the person of plagiarism, seeing as how the story was written by Mencken & Nathan. But if I didnít know that, Iíd mull the possibilities over. I might take it. Does the story have a title?
William Michaelian: I donít know. The book doesnít say. Maybe itís ďToo Many Onions.Ē
John Berbrich: Youíre a romantic old dog,Willie. I can recall at least one one-sentence story by Brautigan that worked very well. To answer your question ó I might take it. Oh, now I see your game. Youíre thinking of submitting a one-sentence story to the Yawp yourself.
William Michaelian: Shucks. Youíre on to me. Itís like this, see ó Iíve been writing these one-sentence stories for about a year, and now I have about a hundred of íem saved up, so I thought Iíd send íem all your way. When you see íem, Iím sure youíll want to publish a special issue that contains nothing but my one-sentence stories. In fact, some are pretty long, so you might want to publish two issues. Remember the ending of Ulysses? Theyíre kind of like that.
John Berbrich: That ending of Ulysses was pretty damn long. Why donít you send along some of your shorter one-sentence short stories, not the epics. And try to limit the titles to maybe six or seven words, like no more than a line.
William Michaelian: Hey, man ó whatís with all these editorial roadblocks? Iíll bet you wouldnít talk to Brautigan this way. Then again, Brautiganís dead. You donít have his one-sentence story handy, do you? Iíd like to see it.
John Berbrich: Jeepers. That means I gotta go all the way down the stairs, find the book, & then come all the way back up. Hang on. * * *. Okay, hereís ďThe Scarlatti Tilt,Ē by Richard Brautigan:
ďItís very hard to live in a studio apartment in San Jose with a man whoís learning to play the violin.Ē Thatís what she told the police when she handed them the empty revolver.
Hey, wait a minute ó thatís two sentences. Iím sorry, Willie. Brautigan could have very easily turned that into a one-sentence story. What was he thinking?
William Michaelian: I donít know. It wasnít like him to use so much padding. But I still like it. Itís classic noir. In fact, paired with the right cheese, maybe a very dry jack . . . but you know, I was just thinking ó that must be a tiny book.
John Berbrich: Actually itís 174 pages. Revenge of the Lawn, a collection of stories written between 1962-1970. Some of the stories run to several pages, practically epics.
William Michaelian: Okay. I want that book. Iíll bet thereís something strange and delightful on every page. He combines the oddest images. Whatís the shortest story youíve ever written?
John Berbrich: Iíve written a couple that are under a page, but still run to maybe 200 words. Iíve never tried to compress fiction down to a couple of lines, but it would be a good exercise. Youíd like Revenge of the Lawn. There are lovely, unexpected images & juxtapositions.
William Michaelian: Thatís Brautigan. Awhile back, I came across a website that publishes stories that are exactly fifty-five words in length ó ďshort enough to be tricky, but long enough to tell a story,Ē according to the person who runs the site, Rosemary Mosco. Hereís her About page. Guests are welcome to submit.
John Berbrich: Cool beans. Looks interesting. Perhaps Iíll fiddle w/ that 55-word limit & see what happens. How about you?
William Michaelian: I donít know. At the moment, Iím more intrigued by the one-sentence story. At least the sentence can vary in length. Hey ó I picked up a copy of Poets and Writers today, the one with the Ferlinghetti interview. I got a kick out of the gentleman who impersonates Walt Whitman. Remember him, near the front of the magazine?
John Berbrich: Yes, indeed. As I recall heís from Long Island, lived about three miles from me. Years ago I saw this guy who was an Edgar Allan Poe impersonator. He was absolutely amazing. People who can memorize things amaze me anyway, & to stand up there & declaim 60 or 90 minutes of poetry all alone, w/ great dramatic passion, in front of hundreds of people ó well, the guy deserved my applause.
William Michaelian: Some of these guys really get into their role. I assume youíve been to Whitmanís gravesite. It looks huge in the picture.
John Berbrich: Never been there. Iím guessing itís in New Jersey...?
William Michaelian: Right. In Camden. Harleigh Cemetery. The magazine has certainly changed in appearance over the years. Now itís slick, perfect-bound, stocked with enough ads for conferences, workshops, and retreats to choke a horse. Thereís a blurb from one I remember that goes something like this: ďI learned more there in a week than I did in a whole year of college.Ē
John Berbrich: We decided to subscribe just to check it out. This was our first issue. Like you say, they certainly concentrate on ads, workshops, & retreats. If you look in the Letters to the Editor section, youíll see a note from one of our long-time subscribers & contributors, George Held. Heís the fellow who wrote our MetroBeat poetry column a few issues back. If you stop & think about it, a good strategy for spreading your name around would be to write letters to the editor of some big magazines. Not that Iím suggesting that this is Georgeís plan. But I might try it.
William Michaelian: The Letters section is always popular. A lot can be learned about a publication by reading its letters to the editor. Some print only praise, which is irritating, others are as lame and stuffy as the contents, which is somewhat amusing but mostly boring, and still others are insightful, genuine, and down to earth. The latter, of course, is where yours will fit in. All you need to do now is find the right magazines.
John Berbrich: Iíve had one letter to the editor published. That was last year in Bathtub Gin, a really fine small press periodical. Actually I wrote a personal letter to editor Christopher Harter regarding something that was published in the Gin, after which he wrote back & asked if he could publish it. My letter sounded good, reasonably intelligent, but I donít think it stirred anything up or provoked any response.
William Michaelian: Well, Iím sure it provoked thought. When you think about it, though, itís really a tiny percentage of people who actually go to the trouble of writing, even when their initial reaction is strong. Life intervenes; there are distractions; the mood cools. I did notice in your latest From the Marrow that Harter is going ďon hiatus.Ē I know heís been at it for quite awhile.
John Berbrich: Yeah. He moved from Indiana to Erie, Pennsylvania, a year or two ago & now heís moving again. Bathtub Gin is a fine magazine, very carefully assembled, always of the highest quality. Harter is working on a book, something about small press in the 60ís I think. Heís one of the most conscientious editors around.
William Michaelian: Who, in your opinion, are some of the other best and most influential small press editors these days? And which magazines?
John Berbrich: Thatís a tough one. Iíve always respected Phil Wagner at Iconoclast. Every other month he assembles an intelligent magazine filled w/ a variety of interesting & experimental material. Small Press Review, edited by Len Fulton, has been going for something like 40 years, its pages always packed w/ information about & reviews of new books ó although it is occasionally a bit political for me. R.D. Armstrong has had a real strong influence on West Coast poets w/ his Lummox Journal over the years. And Charles Potts in the Pacific Northwest has been a one-man publishing house for a long time. There are plenty of others, but these guys came to mind first.
William Michaelian: And I see Armstrong, aka Raindog, is now moving his Lummox show into cyberspace, where heíll be joining legions of other online publishers. Have you seen NewPages.com? Editors Casey and Denise Hill maintain a huge, well organized site thatís chock-full of reviews, lists, and links to dozens, if not hundreds, of independent and alternative online magazines. Itís well worth a visit. You might even strike a deal and do some reviewing for them.
John Berbrich: Wow. Thereís a lot in there. One could browse for days & still find new items. I did see a listing for Small Press Review. I did not find Barbaric Yawp, but Iím hardly surprised. Do you still toy w/ the idea of starting some kind of literary periodical? I keep thinking that youíre going to surprise me someday.
William Michaelian: I still do think about it now and then. But time-wise, Iím in no position to actually do it. Or even to fully ponder the pros and cons of paper publishing vs. electronic. Paper is my preference, but when itís done right, thereís a lot to be said in favor of publishing online. Every now and then, I stumble on a cyberzine thatís really well done. So many are just hideous jumbles. The same people who used to make a mess of things on paper are now doing it online. But the good ones, like their paper counterparts, have a lot to offer. One thing about publishing online, you can reach far more people, from all around the world.
John Berbrich: Thatís true. I like to think that cyber & paper can coexist peacefully in the same world. Thereís nothing to fight or squabble about. One of my greatest fears about opening Barbaric Yawp to online submissions is an absolute metaphorical avalanche of electronic poems & stories. Perhaps it all wouldnít be as bad as I expect. What do you think? We average two or three submissions per day right now, through the postal mail service.
William Michaelian: That level is definitely manageable. I donít think publishing online means that you would automatically receive a mountain of e-submissions ó or maybe emissions would be a catchier term. It depends on how well connected you are, how many links you have scattered around the Web, and, to some degree, how the site is set up. In time, though, it could become quite the literary magnet ó a good thing, because youíd be building a larger readership for some deserving writers. One way to control the flow of emissions would be to accept them only during certain months. Some editors take the summer off, for instance, to do some catching up or work on other projects.
John Berbrich: Thatís not a bad idea. Of course weíre always working on chapbooks, too ó you have to figure that also. But taking the summer off sounds good. Anyway, I feel like I need a new project. Donít wanna become stagnant. Any ideas?
William Michaelian: Well, thereís really no end to the possibilities. How about leaving the Yawp just as it is, and building a website around another subject thatís near and dear to your heart? Poetry, for instance. It would even be possible to include readings.
John Berbrich: True. Thatís sort of what I did w/ the Synergyst. A poetry zine. Got some good reviews. Havenít put out an issue in three or four years ó it just got to be too much. I loved that little magazine. I ó I ó I need something else, something different. I donít know what.
William Michaelian: I know the feeling. What youíre after, in essence, is the Antique and Junk Poem Shop. Hmm. I wonder about a Web version of that magical world.
John Berbrich: Let me ponder that. How would you get that stream running through the living room & how would Brautigan catch trout in it?
William Michaelian: I donít know. Or maybe I do know, but I donít know I know. But somehow, the infinite nowhere of cyberspace seems like the perfect place for it to happen. To some extent, in fact, it already has.
John Berbrich: Well, yeah ó we are sort of constructing it idea by idea. And imagination is a pretty strong force. People convince themselves of a lot of crazy things. It seems like when you write a poem, a similar virtual universe is constructed. Itís not cyber, but it is psychological. Psyber. Cychological. I suppose that Brautigan can catch fish bigger than the stream, if someoneís imagination is strong enough. So weíd have plenty to eat.
William Michaelian: Sustained by invisible forces. The way I see it, our shop already exists. The more fully and faithfully we record what we imagine, the greater the number that will be able to experience it, and even dwell there.
John Berbrich: Wow. Thatís a cosmic thought. And true. Wonder how many readers have visited so far? We may have to build several additions, maybe underground. Yeah, real underground poetry.
William Michaelian: Brilliant. Underground rooms and passages, naturally occurring, lit by the poems themselves. Lit by searching, eager, receptive minds. I donít see the place as being of a fixed size. I think it expands and recedes according to who visits it. Of course there will also be the shared experience, which will generate other developments.
John Berbrich: Sounds organic, Darwinian. And Romantic in the sense that youíll find wonder around every corner. All perfectly adhering to unwritten but inviolable laws of the hidden cosmos. And perhaps in time transcending those metaphysical regulations & restrictions. In the end, poetry acknowledges no rules.
William Michaelian: Because itís a primal force. A key ingredient, like music.
John Berbrich: Yeah. Music is a primal force, very good. Those two items go together, poetry & music. This just keeps getting better.
William Michaelian: And water.
John Berbrich: Right, & water. I wasnít thinking.
William Michaelian: That makes two of us. Is thought a primal force?
John Berbrich: Possibly, but only if God is rational. Is force a primal thought?
William Michaelian: Possibly, but what if God doesnít exist?
John Berbrich: Then, as Dostoyevsky said, everything is permitted.
William Michaelian: You mean it gets worse? Or does ďeverythingĒ mean more of the same?
John Berbrich: He doesnít specify. You fill in the blanks.
William Michaelian: No. You go ahead. I have enough trouble with the one between my ears. Iím still trying to figure out what made me say water. I mean, why not air, or sunlight? Color, even.
John Berbrich: Itís obviously some Freudian devil lurking in your subconscious, Willie. Or else, in a deterministic universe, it all can be explained by events occurring around the time of the Big Bang. Choose your favorite explanation.
William Michaelian: There you go, giving me a choice again. It either is, or it isnít. And if it isnít, then something else is. Or is it?
John Berbrich: Well that depends on how you define is, it, & something. I feel like weíre making little progress here.
William Michaelian: Yes. The sound you hear is my barge sinking. Oh, well. It was fun while it lasted. But while weíre on the subject of the subconscious, hereís a little poem I wrote two or three weeks ago:
A Working Arrangement
I trade shifts with my subconscious.
Thatís been our arrangement for some time.
I die at night, he toes the line.
When morning comes, my chair is warm.
The room is strewn with all that heís imagined.
A river runs, trees are down, a rooster crows
From the window sill. I find myself alone.
Sometimes thereís a note: Go home,
It says, go home. Iíve done everything you could.
Let someone else clean up the mess.
And someone always does ó though who,
Iíve never known.
John Berbrich: I like it. Sounds as though it was written by a poet renting a room at the Junk Poem Shop. These cool, mysterious things happen there. Thereís no real explanation ó but then again no oneís trying to explain anything. Everyoneís busy exploring.
William Michaelian: Like the guy whoís painting the sunset on his wall while the sunset poses for him on a chair by the window ó the window that heís forgotten wasnít there when he moved in, because he painted it too, and which he made so real both he and the sun were fooled.
John Berbrich: Imagination trumps reality ó trumps what is ordinarily defined as reality. What does the Junk Poem Shop smell like?
William Michaelian: Fresh doughnuts in an elevator stuck between floors high up in a skycraper. Sometimes. Other times, pan-fried trout topped with bell pepper rings and slices of lemon. Pine. Eucalyptus. Muddy riverbanks. Tobacco. Liquor. Books. Ink. Paper. Rain. Night. Surprise. Among other things.
John Berbrich: Ah, pretty much what I figgered. Itís the sort of place thatís always a bit different every time you go there. Every day, in fact. A room you hadnít noticed before or a new door. And that enchanting liquor & tobacco aroma. And lemon-slice. And nature must send out Her tendrils everywhere ó roots, vines, moss. In a light rain, the fragrance will send you directly to Heaven (thatís the attic).
William Michaelian: Where it smells like the first fall rain on dry fields for some, on bricks and asphalt for others, on faraway childhood haunts. I suppose there will be a few tired souls who assume the place smells like nothing but a bunch of musty old books ó as if that in itself werenít enough. But when they step back out on the street and find that their lives have been rearranged, they will begin to understand ó and will eventually realize that the street, too, is but another room in the Antique and Junk Poem Shop.
John Berbrich: A room without walls. Wonder whatís down the cellar?
William Michaelian: Hades. Atlantis. A giant forge. Gutenbergís press. Mark Twainís typewriter. A great card game. . . .
John Berbrich: Oh, & thatís where we brew & store many barrels of delicious dark foamy home brew. Fuel for that poker game.
William Michaelian: Yep. The barrels are lined up. And wouldnít you know it, the stairs leading down from the ground floor vary in number from just a few to dozens of flights. Of course, someone is bound to paint some windows to let some light in. Speaking of which, I had an interesting window experience just yesterday:
More Than I Pretend
The wind came back again.
I found her going through my things.
Restless, I thought, and curious,
Just like me.
Then I remembered: the window was closed.
So I asked the wind, How did you get in?
And do you know what she said?
She said, You foolish man.
What makes you think I ever leave?
Now I see the wind quite differently.
For one thing, she knows how to open windows.
And when I go, you should see the way
She looks at me: with deadly calm,
As if Iíve never been.
John Berbrich: Man, weird stuff happens out on that West Coast. I like the poem. Itís a new way of looking at something familiar. Hereís a wind poem I wrote years ago.
Writing in Yard, at Table
A cool breeze
Turns the pages, anxious
To read ahead.
Patience, dear Aeolus,
Iím writing as fast
As I can.
William Michaelian: A fine poem. Fresh. Immediate. Musical. But you must have an awfully big window. Or a big room. Iím not sure which.
John Berbrich: No, as the title suggests, I was writing at a table out in the yard. In the spring I love to open the doors & let the wind rush through the house. But itís not spring yet.
William Michaelian: Well, hang in there, friend. A few more snowstorms and youíll be there. Do you do much writing outside? Oddly enough, Iíve never scribbled more than a few lines outdoors. I canít even remember when I did it last. Another thing I never do is write with the radio or stereo on. If thereís music, I have to stop and listen to it. The only music I can write to is the music that sometimes plays in my head.
John Berbrich: Good questions. Itís not something I do often, but occasionally I drag a folding card table out back & write. Itís a whole new perspective. As for music, I can write if itís playing though only instrumental music. If someone is singing then I feel compelled to listen to the words. I have a number of voiceless blues, jazz, & classical recordings that serve the purpose. I find that music masks the little sounds of the day ó traffic, dogs barking, telephones ó that often distract me when I write. Music helps me find my writing trance-zone.
William Michaelian: Interesting. The random sounds of the day often help me do the same. Sometimes they carry me off; other times, they find their way into the work at hand ó even become the work at hand. The telephone, though, is one thing I despise. Itís a handy tool, but I resent it just the same.
John Berbrich: I feel the same way about the phone. By the way, I think we need to mention the passing of Kurt Vonnegut.
William Michaelian: That we do. One look at his face, the sound of his voice ó he was the genuine article.
John Berbrich: That he was. Iíve read 10 or 12 of his books. A gentle human being, despite all the cynicism. Nearly every novel contains an element of striking originality, something youíve never seen before. From what I remember, his favorite author was Mark Twain & he considered Huckleberry Finn the great American classic. Considered New York City the capital of the world. In his book A Man Without a Country, published in 2005, he says: ďIf I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
for the existence of God
William Michaelian: Beautiful. Especially coming from a man who survived the bombing of Dresden in an underground meat locker and the grisly aftermath. Then again, maybe God was inspired to create by music itself. Which, when you think about it, doesnít change Vonnegutís epitaph one bit.
John Berbrich: In Tolkienís The Silmarillion, the gods create Middle-Earth precisely by the power of music. Itís perfect. How familiar are you w/ Vonnegutís work?
William Michaelian: Iíve still read only bits and pieces. But since you mentioned his admiration for Mark Twain, earlier today I copied down the last part of his ďOpening RemarksĒ to The Unabridged Mark Twain, a hefty tome I have on hand that was published by Running Press in 1976. Maybe youíre familiar with it.
ďTwain was so good with crowds that he became, in competition with singers and dancers and actors and acrobats, one of the most popular performers of his time. It is so unusual, and so psychologically unlikely for a great writer to be a great performer, too, that I can think of only two similar cases ó Homerís perhaps, and MoliŤreís.
ďAnd I will guess now that the pessimism and religious skepticism and anti-patriotism of his writings would have been unacceptable to his contemporaries, if he had not dared to make public appearances as well.
ďTrue ó within the body of his writings, he softened his harsh opinion of humanity with his adoration of the women in his life, and with his wide-eyed enchantment with the beauty of the planet itself, especially with its waters. Also, as I have already said, he was the most able lover the American language had so far had.
ďBut it was the personal appearances, I am sure, that persuaded his fellow-citizens that the holder of often-monstrous opinions was not a monster after all. As Twain presented himself in lecture halls, in fact, he was an utterly winsome sort of teddy bear, in need of all the love he could get.
ďIf I am right about this, then every present-day comedian who says after mocking something supposedly sacred, ĎBut Iím only kidding, folks,í is following in the footsteps of Samuel Clemens, of the uxorious, Victorian American gentleman, diligent in business and often depressed, who became a world citizen while necessarily disguised as Mark Twain.Ē
John Berbrich: No, I donít know that book. From what Iíve read, Twain liked individual people but didnít think much of humanity as a whole. This idea surfaces again & again in Vonnegutís books. I have always felt the same way ó I like individuals, some individuals, but distrust the mass of humanity, even though I realize that humanity is composed of individuals worthy of my affection. Anyway, I donít know who is going to take Vonnegutís place.
William Michaelian: No one. He played his part, and will go on playing it as long as others are inspired by his work. Meanwhile, other giants will rise up, and their voices will be heard. About Tolkien. You said that in The Silmarillion, the gods create Middle-Earth by the power of music. Could you elaborate just a little?
John Berbrich: Sure. The chief God is named Eru or Iluvatar. Out of his thought sprang the Ainur, the Holy Ones. He seemed to offer them themes of music, which they in turn sang alone. In time Eru called them together & proposed a mighty theme. The voices of the Ainur were ďlike unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs.Ē They sang & sang & created a new World. Except that Melkor, mightiest of the Ainur, sang a self-aggrandizing song, & thus was discord introduced into the world. The singing of these godlings, based upon Eruís theme, actually created the world.
William Michaelian: I like it. And what and where is Middle-Earth?
John Berbrich: Okay. Apparently an entire planet is created, much like our Earth, w/ forests & mountains, & vast oceans. I know of at least two gigantic land masses on this planet, one of which, the Undying Lands, is designed as the ultimate home for elves & other such folk. The other huge land mass is Middle-Earth, where the Hobbits live, along w/ orcs, dwarves, elves, trolls, & an occasional wizard. Itís quite a marvelous place. Oh, yes ó Men dwell there too.
William Michaelian: Fascinating. In a place like that, poets must have held a special place of honor. Or are poets even mentioned?
John Berbrich: Oh, yes. Ancient poets of Middle-Earth, both men & elves, are always being quoted & their poems sung or recited. Some of the poems are extremely lengthy, say 50 pages, & only small excerpts are provided. However, all of the poems, in their bardic entirety, have been published in a number of later volumes. Some of them are really quite delightful, epics of adventure, battle, & loss. Tolkien was a Beowulf specialist.
William Michaelian: Well, that puts him in select company. This is wonderful. I assume you have an entire Tolkien library. I think I mentioned two or three years ago that I had tried to read Tolkien when I was in junior high, that his stuff didnít register in my pitiful, unformed mind back then, and that I never went back to his work. Now that my mind is ill-formed instead of unformed, you have me thinking I should.
John Berbrich: I donít think youíll be sorry. Start w/ The Hobbit, that delightful introduction to the Lord of the Rings, which is written on a higher literary level. Iíve read the entire four-volume set at least five or six times. Since Tolkienís death at least 10 further books have appeared, filled w/ poems, ďlostĒ tales, histories of Middle-Earth, & so forth. Thereís enough to keep you reading forever.
William Michaelian: Wow. Sounds like Tolkien lived in another world, of his own making. In the meantime, Iím still intrigued by the idea of music existing before anything or anyone else, God or gods included. But I donít quite know what to do with it yet.
John Berbrich: If youíll forgive the pun, it sounds like another poem brewing.
William Michaelian: I suppose youíre right. Meanwhile, Iíve also begun work on a one-word song, but Iíve yet to choose the word. Such is my life. Or, as Mr. Vonnegut would say, so it goes.
John Berbrich: I remember the first time I read Slaughterhouse Five. I was so annoyed w/ Vonnegut about that ďso it goesĒ phrase. He uses it on nearly every page, sometimes twice in the same paragraph. It just annoyed the hell out of me. But now I get it. At times, what else can you say?
William Michaelian: A little humor, a little helplessness, a little defiance. Was Slaughterhouse Five the first work of his that you read?
John Berbrich: Yeah. I was like 18 years old. Later on I read The Sirens of Titan & Player Piano. I was hooked. You have got to read his short story ďHarrison Bergeron.Ē Itís a killer.
William Michaelian: I did ó about four years ago. In fact, you sent me a copy and we talked about it briefly way back on the first page of our Conversation. But itís been so long I think Iíll read it again. An awful lot of water under the bridge since then, literary and otherwise. All I have to do is find it. But I think I know where to look. Hey ó I picked up another of those Dylan Thomas stories today. This oneís about a holiday at the beach. Itís prose, but even more rhythmic and poetic than the other piece of his that I mentioned awhile back. And I found this neat Penguin book that came out in 2006 ó Jack Kerouacís Book of Sketches. It runs around 400 pages and contains a couple yearsí worth of his spontaneous notebook writings. The book is almost square ó which is kind of funny when you think about it, since he was one of the Beats. But itís really a neat volume, with rough-cut pages. Iíve read the first fifteen or so. Good poetry ó observant, sympathetic.
John Berbrich: Cool. Despite all the nonsense, Kerouac was a real poet. Several years ago I read in the New Yorker something about a Kerouac notebook. They printed a few excerpts, which I recognized as turning up in On the Road in altered form. Sounds like the book has finally come out. Iíd forgotten about already having sent that Vonnegut story ó but itís all coming back to me now. Man, was that four years ago? I feel positively Mesozoic!
William Michaelian: I know what you mean. In a way it all seems like it was just yesterday. What we need is a drawing of two guys sitting at a table, surrounded by stacks of books and empty bottles, hair wild, eyes bugged out and bloodshot, surrounded by the reveling ghosts of great writers.
John Berbrich: Sounds like a typical Saturday night at the Junk Poem Shop. Great idea for a future Yawp cover, Mr. Michaelian.
William Michaelian: Ah ó it is at that. Is that a dare, or just a simple observation?
John Berbrich: Somewhere in between a dare & an observation. Letís call it a challenge, shall we.
William Michaelian: Well, it stands to reason that if I can picture it in my mind, I should also be able to draw it. Then again, I could elaborate on my description just a little and render it in demented but legible script, and you could print that on the cover.
John Berbrich: Indeed. If itís suitable.
William Michaelian: On the other hand, why not a cover that inflates and turns into a raft? Or one that glows like a lantern in the dark? Or one that has a tiny speaker and a button that you press, and you actually hear us talking?
John Berbrich: So youíre already working on these exotic designs, my friend?
William Michaelian: Definitely. Because in the process, who knows ó I might even come up with something you can use. Of course, in my case, since I donít possess much technical know-how, the cover will only seem like a lantern or raft ó which, when you think about it, might be more of an accomplishment. Even better, the Yawp could be an ancient wooden ship, and you could be Odysseus at the helm.
John Berbrich: Lashed to the mast, driven mad by the Sirens.
William Michaelian: Yep ó same old, same old. Which reminds me ó do you realize I am still reading that sequel by Kazantzakis? Iíve passed the 500-page mark. Only another 250 or so to go. Itís truly outstanding. Inspiring.
John Berbrich: Wow. Good job, lad. You must be thirsty. Here, let me buy you a drink & you can tell me all about it.
William Michaelian: Much obliged. Ahhhhhh. But you know, thatís a tall order. Odysseus is one restless dude. After knocking up an eager young virgin on his way out of town, he nearly drives his cohorts mad with his arrogant, restless behavior, plunging into the heart of Africa, overthrowing kings, mocking the gods, founding cities, starting wars, surviving volcanoes, living as a hermit, and so on.
John Berbrich: Iíve always liked Odysseus, as a character. He can defeat you in so many different ways. He can out-fight you, he can out-think you, he can out-drink you, he can charm you w/ his wily tongue. And he knows how to have a good time. A perfect embodiment of all the manly virtues. Here, Willie ó drink up!
William Michaelian: No, Iíd better not. Iíve already had 637. Or was it 638. Oh, well, what the heck. I guess one more wonít hurt. Odysseus has the biggest heart, the biggest disdain, the biggest impatience. Heíd also make a great elevator operator: Okay, people, youíll get out when I say you're getting out ó and off they go through the roof, or down they plunge into the basement and beyond, passing through scenes of carnage, overturned water coolers, and mangled brief cases.
John Berbrich: Perhaps weíd better not hire him to work at the Junk Poem Shop. Sounds like an awful lot of turmoil. If you could hire one ancient Greek figure to work at the Shop, who would it
William Michaelian: Well, maybe we should consult Ingri and Edgar Parin DíAulaireís Book of Greek Myths. Letís see, here. . . . Ah. Prometheus would be nice to have around. And Orpheus. Heíd probably be willing to work for donations. Hephaestus could run the print shop in the basement. And Pan, when heís not too busy cavorting, could look after Brautiganís fishing stream and keep it stocked with trout. Euripides? Aristophanes? Sophocles? Aeschylus? They could all sweep up peanut shells in the amphitheater.
John Berbrich: I was thinking of making Pythagoras the bookkeeper & Dionysus the brewmaster. Hey, we need a cook. Anything in that book about great ancient Greek chefs?
William Michaelian: Well, Hestia is considered the goddess of hearth, home, and hospitality. But I donít know how good a cook sheíd be. For our daily sustenance, we might have to settle for nectar and ambrosia.
John Berbrich: Ah, the sacrifices one makes for art. All this talk of food is making me hungry. Thatís what we need at the Junk Poem Shop ó a garden. And itís April now, perfect time to start planting. Why donít you gather up a gang of old poets ó there should be some rusty hoes & pitchforks in the shed ó & break up the sod behind the building, on the sunny side. Plant whatever you like.
William Michaelian: Excellent idea. A row of sonnets near the building, snug beneath the moonlight falling, in the distance the wolves all howling, the poets crawling on their knees, drunk to be so pleased.
John Berbrich: Harvest time is gonna be a blast. We need to establish an annual Harvest Moon Festival or something at the Junk Poem Shop.You know, we all get together, under that moon you mentioned, & sup & suck & sip on the juices of the fruits of our good earth. Itís positively inspiring, it is.
William Michaelian: Iíll say. Sort of a harvest Woodstock for poets ó thick with images, a feast for all the senses, no lines drawn between the imagined and the real.
John Berbrich: The neighborsíll call the Riot Squad, but doubtless theyíll be absorbed into the festivities ó bullhorns, billyclubs, & all. This could be the big revolution everyoneís been waiting for. Is the world ready?
William Michaelian: Are you kidding? After years of eating plastic tomatoes, withered lettuce, and tasteless waxed cucumbers? People will be ecstatic. Their eyes and ears will be opened for the first time. Fresh ripe strawberries will spring up in their footsteps. The more they consume, the more abundant the harvest will be.
John Berbrich: This is better than I expected. Better than solar panels. Better than windmills. The power of poetry. What happens when we wake up?
William Michaelian: By then itíll be time to start sifting through the seed catalogues for next yearís garden.
John Berbrich: Sounds like business as usual. Ready for drink number 639?
William Michaelian: Not quite. But I will be on the next page.