The Conversation Continues
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To return to my December 2002 Barbaric Yawp interview with John Berbrich, click here.
To read our original 2001 interview, click here.
William Michaelian: Whew. What a life. That last page was the weirdest of all. It occurs to me now, though, that during all this time, no one has said anything about works written for the stage. Do any of you like to read or attend plays? Or do you find our own little performance here to be quite enough?
John Berbrich: Not really crazy about plays. The Shenandoah Shakespeare Express comes to town every year for a week in October and we usually attend a night or two. Usually hilarious, except of course for the tragedies, which are generally, uh, tragic. Plus we occasionally attend a performance at a local college. I recently read a book of plays by Beckett of which I thought Krapp’s Last Tape was rather amazing.
William Michaelian: I haven’t read that, but I’ve read about it, and about Beckett’s sense of futility when it came to communicating. This quote of his that I jotted down some time back is a good illustration of that: “There is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.” It seems that feeling of his prevailed until the end — the desire to say something accurate and true, and the apparent impossibility of the task. And yet I’ve read that he wasn’t bitter, and could be quite the conversationalist, especially in the company of a nice glass of stout. Did you also read Waiting for Godot and Endgame? I haven’t read any of Beckett’s plays, only his rather strange The Unnamable.
Judy: Bozoville has a very active Shakespeare in the Park. The only one I attended was Midsummer Night’s Dream which was held in the park a block from my home. Because the dream and the story are the same, it was like watching the exact same play twice in a row. I’m guessing it seems that way more with a local production than it would with a bunch of professionals on a stage. Anyway I was bored silly, and there was no way to gracefully leave from such a small intimate audience. I felt like crawling away on all fours, but that would have been very obvious. I guess I should have run like crazy with my hand over my mouth away from the group. Anyway . . . a play every once in a great while does me, and they’re not fun to read either, unless I’m glancing at screen plays at work when I’m supposed to be cataloging them. We did have a local production I enjoyed very much though: The Court Marshall of General Custer. Imagine that Custer had suffered the misfortune of not having been killed along with all his troops and that he had to stand trial. It was of great interest here because the Little Bighorn Battle field is only about two hours drive from here.
William Michaelian: Interesting idea. Indeed, some plays are harder to read than others. I read Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night a few months ago, and that went pretty well. And Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author is quite entertaining. I think some playwrights are less concerned about how their plays will appear in print, while others go all-out and make their stage directions an entertaining part of the story. If you haven’t, you might try William Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life or My Heart’s in the Highlands — not meaning to bring up Burns again. Those read extremely well, very much like stories.
John Berbrich: I haven’t read those, but now I’m remembering all those marvelous Greek plays. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one performed, but I loved reading Aeschylus and Sophocles then Euripides, exactly in that order. For me, Aeschylus ranks close to Homer. I prefer Chekhov’s stories to his dramas. And last year I read Moliere’s Tartuffe — that was quite brilliantly funny. Thus is the history of my life with the stage.
William Michaelian: Now I remember — we did mention Iphigenia in Tauris by Euripides early on, and how it related to your own fine poetic drama, The Shade Returneth. Two or three months ago I found a nice oversized used copy of The Oresteia by Aeschylus, but I haven’t read it yet. Then I realized I already had it in an old collection of Greek plays, but in another translation. I compared the two, and the translations vary quite a bit, so I’m not quite sure what to do — read them both, I guess. What I like about plays in the modern sense is the demands made on dialogue. It’s always interesting to see how writers meet that challenge, and what kind of stories they can build in the process. Of course, there’s nothing like bad acting to ruin everything — a major complaint of many playwrights, and often a convenient excuse for something that probably should have failed anyway. As a footnote, Gene Kelly played the part of an earnest hoofer in Saroyan’s The Time of Your Life way back in 1939. The play was set in a San Francisco waterfront saloon. I’ve been looking for a saloon like it for years now, but all I find are places with video poker machines and big-screen TVs. At least those are the only places within staggering distance. Still, it’s possible to see good performances even there — which was one of the points Saroyan was trying to make. How old were you when you first discovered Aeschylus and the boys?
John Berbrich: You would make me think, Willie. Let’s see, I first encountered Homer when I was about twenty-seven or twenty-eight. For the others I was perhaps thirty-eight. Homer I reread periodically. They may be dead white males, but it is still good stuff. In fact, they weren’t even dead when they wrote or collected or spoke these stories, poems, and plays — they didn’t die until later, something Phil might understand. If I had more time now I’d read them all again.
William Michaelian: Actually, I was hoping you’d read one of them to us now. The Odyssey will do. I was also in my late twenties when I discovered Phil — I mean Homer. Have been tossed about on the wine-dark seas ever since, thrown overboard several times, and washed up onto mysterious, uncharted islands. I think we’re on one now. At least it seems that way. You’re not a god in disguise, are you?
John Berbrich: Jeez, I don’t feel like one. I suppose you’d know if you were a god, Big G or little g. But imagine if you were a god yet didn’t know, until maybe later in the story, after you’d accomplished something totally amazing and rescued all the girls from the zomboids. According to the accounts, Jesus knew when He was young that He was a god/God. I suppose your kids would turn out to be semi-gods, half-gods. Unless you had unwittingly married a goddess/Goddess. Master race? Selective breeding? What’s next?
William Michaelian: God, I don’t know. But I love your story idea. In a way, it describes just about everyone. I can’t help thinking sometimes that by assuming we are imperfect, we in fact betray ourselves. In Walt Whitman’s Reply — one of the entries in my Songs and Letters — Walt writes:
“. . . You are like a god standing at his forge, with powerful arms and chest and shoulders, mad and black with soot, with eyes that see the world and all the savage joy that is in it — the coursing rivers, the wild tribes of men, the snow-covered mountains and desolate valleys vibrant and teeming with prehistoric life. It is up to you to make your vision sing. Make the sky your bride, and the earth will be your pillow. Take cosmic pride in all you say and do. Fear not your own perfection, for you come by it rightfully. Do not listen to the ministers of failure, who promise redemption for their imagined sins. They are bitter and small, unequal to living, the miller’s dross. Instead, bathe them in your sunshine. It is what they least desire. Lift them up against their will, let them see their faces in your mirror. . . .”
Granted, this is taken a little out of context. But maybe there is a clue here — at least to my own insanity.
John Berbrich: But remember the words of Emily Dickinson:
Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.
I know I mentioned this poem earlier, but it’s one that bears repeating. So I don’t mind your craziness, Willie. After all, I attend this Forum regularly. And Whitman keeps turning up in our Conversation like Scripture to be quoted. He seems to straddle both Old and New Testament, with his fiery prophet’s eye and his love for all mankind. I could join a religion based on Whitman’s writings; in fact, I may start one.
William Michaelian: Who knows? It might already be under way. In my opinion, it would make far more sense than the religions we have inherited thus far, and to which we cling through fear. And that poem of Emily’s is wonderful. I’m glad you brought it up again. Not only is it brilliant and true, but it is inspiring to see and hear words so beautifully and irresistibly combined, as in “Much madness is divinest sense,” or “Much sense the starkest madness.” And yet, if I remember correctly, wasn’t she rather offended by Whitman?
John Berbrich: That I don’t know, although it certainly is possible. Many were offended by Whitman. I know that Emily was to some degree inspired by Emerson, as was Whitman himself. I find it rather amusing and puzzling that many were so offended by the raw sexuality in Whitman’s poems that they overlooked his message. Whitman handled religions gently, not wishing to belittle anyone — he seemed to believe in some huge cosmic force, but didn’t think that any human religious institution got it right. He is bigger than any religion. As he himself wrote:
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Anita: Not such a wild idea to start a religion based on Whitman’s writings. After all he is considered a mystic poet. In his classic study of historical grammar of poetic myth, The White Goddess, Robert Graves writes:
“European poetic lore is, indeed, ultimately based on magical principles, the rudiments of which formed a close religious secret for centuries but which were at last garbled, discredited and forgotten. Now it is only by rare accidents of spiritual regression that poets make their lines magically potent in the ancient sense. Otherwise, the contemporary practice of poem-writing recalls the mediaeval alchemist’s fantastic and foredoomed experiments in transmuting base metal into gold; except that the alchemist did at least recognize pure gold when he saw and handled it. The truth is that only gold ore can be turned into gold; only poetry into poems.
“Originally the poet was the leader of a totem-society of religious dancers. His verses — versus is a Latin word corresponding to the Greek strophe and means ‘a turning’ — were danced around an altar or in a sacred enclosure (temenos) and each verse started a new turn or movement in the dance. The word ‘ballad’ has the same origin; it is a dance poem, from the Latin ballare, to dance. All the totem-societies in ancient Europe were under the dominion of the Great Goddess, the Lady of the Wild Things; dances were seasonal and fitted into an annual pattern from which gradually emerges the single grand theme of poetry; the life, death and resurrection of the Spirit of the Year, the Goddess’ son and lover. At this point it will be asked: ‘Then is Christianity a suitable religion for the poet? And if not, is there any alternative?’
“Welsh poet Alun Lewis wrote just before his death in Burma in March 1944, of ‘the single poetic theme of Life and Death . . . the question of what survives of the beloved.’ Perfect faithfulness to the Theme affects the reader of a poem with a strange feeling, between delight and horror, of which the purely physical effect is that the hair literally stands on end.”
William Michaelian: And so here we are again, back at poetry. It seems an irresistible subject. To me, the only “religion” suitable for a poet is living, is life itself — and anyone who understands this, and who isn’t afraid of it, is a poet, whether he writes it or sings it or dances it or not. I also think contradiction in the Whitman sense is wonderful, and a sure sign of an open mind.
John Berbrich: Willie, strange but your words remind me of a line from an old Bruce Springsteen song: “The poets down here don’t write nothing at all, they just stand back and let it all be.” I think it was Keats (I could be wrong) who said that poets are the greatest Lovers of the World — something like that. Not necessarily trying to fix life or improve it, but rather to wring all of the relish possible out of experience. Anita, I’m glad to see you’ve gotten that duct tape off. I’ve recently read a few articles about Robert Graves in which he comes across as a fascinating character. I’ve read some poems and one essay by him, that’s all, but I’m looking for more.
William Michaelian: Anita is like Houdini — she can wriggle out of anything. Robert Graves is an interesting character, all right. Wrote a pile of books, histories, gospels, poems, and covered a lot of mental and physical territory. I read where David Lean, the director of Lawrence of Arabia, consulted Graves before starting on the movie because Graves knew T.E. Lawrence. He said Graves sat there, “looking eccentric.” It didn’t sound like they got on all that well. But I guess for Graves, poetry was by far his preferred medium, and his prose was written to meet his poetic principles. It’s interesting what can happen when a person lives a long time and is able to keep working and thinking. Not that a short time, even a minute or two, can’t also suffice.
John Berbrich: The essay I read by Graves was about an experience he had while serving in France during the First World War. He was in a trench, with a trench of Germans not far away. There were occasional exchanges of gunfire. Eventually the Germans engaged Graves and his fellow British soldiers in a sort of shouting match, conducted if I remember correctly in French. The evening (or at least the essay) concluded with the Germans singing a song, quite loudly, in their native tongue. It was a strange scene painted by Graves, with machine guns, knives, and boobytraps. Plus the singing.
William Michaelian: What’s the essay called? I’d like to read it. I’ve stumbled on similar war accounts, where enemy soldiers suspended hostilities for a time and ended up singing and talking about home.
John Berbrich: Okay, I’ve found it. It turns out that the essay is an excerpt from his autobiographical Goodbye to All That. Apparently, according to the introductory blurb, his book contains a lot of material related to the war. The essay I read is in a book called Ten Masters of the Modern Essay, published in 1966 by Harcourt, Brace, & World, and includes D.H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, W.H. Auden, and others. So Graves is in pretty good company, an indication that his work is held in high regard.
William Michaelian: Here’s a short biography on Graves written by Petri Liukkonen in Finland. I’ve mentioned his site before — it contains a mountain of biographies, and it’s well worth visiting. Mr. Liukkonen says Goodbye to All That came out in 1929, and was a huge best-seller that alienated the author’s friends, Siegfried Sassoon and Edmund Blunden. Graves later said the book “paid all my debts and enabled me to set up on Majorca as a writer.” I’ll see if I can dig it up somewhere, not to mention the book of essays. I see on the same site that during the 1920s, D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley did some traveling together in Italy and France. I think that’s what we need to do — not across the pond, necessarily, but all over this strange land. How about it? Can you take the summer off?
John Berbrich: Unfortunately, no. But it sounds like a great idea. Maybe you can get Phil to accompany you — if he’s still alive. The thought certainly has its appeal. My gods, but we dig out deep ruts for ourselves.
William Michaelian: That we do, friend, that we do. So, then — we’ll stay here in the asylum. I don’t mind, really. I’m used to it. But I do think we should break away the first chance we get — even sooner. When we get back, I’ll bet we can turn it into a couple of good books. Or, better yet, we’ll write them along the way. We’ll give Kerouac and Cassady a run for their money. Oh, wait — they’re really dead. Well, that’s not our fault. . . . Uh-oh. I just thought of something else. Instead of burning gas, what if we make it a walking tour? I’ll walk to your place, and then we can start from there. We can be like Coleridge and Wordsworth, discussing our bunions. Which reminds me — I was looking at a photograph today of Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. It was taken forty-five years ago to the very day at the Library of Congress. Two white-haired poets, discussing their bunions. Two tramps in mud time, on the road less traveled. Fantastic. They were sitting on a leather couch, looking uncommonly common, trying to digest their lunch. I’m still trying to figure out what it means. Any ideas?
John Berbrich: Not a one. Except that these things seem to happen in pairs — or is it pears? I do know that a good pear is a drooly thing. Okay, Willie, you walk to my house and then we’ll make some plans. You can stop at Judy’s along the way, and then we can walk to visit Anita. Tell me, can you walk on water?
Anita: Well, sounds like you are thinking of going on a pilgrimage. I’ve been planning an essay on pilgrimage for the major assignment in my religion studies. It’s tentatively titled “The Holy Bunion.” A tongue-in-cheek reference to Paul Bunyan who wrote A Pilgrim’s Progress.
William Michaelian: I’m guessing you mean John Bunyan, and not his distant cousin the lumberjack. “The Holy Bunion” is a promising title, and evokes “The Holy Grail.” As for walking on water, I could do it as a child, but as it was considered abnormal I became the object of ridicule, and so stopped in order to be accepted by my peers. In time, I lost the ability, though not in dreams. The funny thing is, I still wasn’t accepted by my peers. These days, I can walk on water as long as there’s a sidewalk underneath. Do pears really drool? I know peers do.
Judy: Do they make schnapps out of pears? We seem to be out of the peach.
Anita: John Bunyan is it. Guess I’ll have to go over the material I reference in this essay with a fine-toothed comb. Be just my luck to write a fantastic essay and bomb out in the final quarter.
William Michaelian: As a matter of fact, they do make schnapps out of pears. Here’s a recipe.
The page says it blends well with lemon schnapps and cranberry schnapps. Lemon I can imagine. I don’t know about the cranberry, though it might be useful for treating holy bunions.
John Berbrich: Anita, wasn’t Paul Bunyan’s companion Babe, the gigantic blue ox? Surely you can find holy symbols here? Or was it cymbals? Babe the blue ox represents St. Thomas Aquinas, called the “dumb ox” by his classmates cuz he seemed to be dense. Aquinas was blue because he couldn’t walk on water or he ran out of schnapps — could be either, leave it ambiguous.
William Michaelian: Good idea. If we start clarifying things now, there’ll be no end to it. Was Aquinas really called the dumb ox, or were you just making that up? I can’t explain why, but I desperately need to know.
John Berbrich: That’s what I was taught in sixth grade in Catholic school. But there’s more to the story. Apparently the teacher, having overheard young Thomas being ridiculed by his fellow students, reprimanded the young reprobates and said that one day this dumb ox would make a bellow heard round the world. I swear it’s true.
William Michaelian: Fascinating. She had probably taken notice already of his husky vocal cords. Or is it chords? Anyway, I just found out on Google that your old buddy, G.K. Chesterton, wrote a book called Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox. Are you familiar with it?
Anita: The dumb ox huh? Man, you catlicks learnt stuff as whipper-snappers that us mystically-deprived proddies never got to hear about. The sum total of any stories I learned came from the Bible Stories for Children books at the local dentist. Over the years I got to read the whole series.
John Berbrich: Anita, you had maybe a sweet tooth? No, I haven’t read that Chesterton book, but I did read his gentle little book on St. Francis. If you do find that Aquinas dumb ox book and read it, let me know how it is.
William Michaelian: I’ll do that. In the meantime, here are a couple of review excerpts on Emily Dickinson’s poetry written in 1890:
From the London Daily News: “. . . a farrago of illiterate and uneducated sentiment. . . . It is clearly impossible to scoop a tankard from pearl. . . . This is no more English than it is Coptic.”
From Atlantic Monthly: “. . . a queerness and a quaintness that have stirred a momentary curiosity in emotional bosoms [but] oblivion lingers in the immediate neighborhood.”
Success! Boy, one doesn’t hear the word farrago very often.
Anita: John, there’s nothing maybe about my sweet tooth. A bit of trivial information here. My childhood dentist was the brother of John Bertrand (or was his name Paul?) who was the skipper of the Australian yacht that snitched the first America’s Cup waaaay back in the early Eighties. My dentist mentioned once that he financially supports his brother’s yachting ambitions and that one day, the name Bertrand would be feared in other circles. My poor old dentist. I think my screaming used to disconcert him. I believe he took an early retirement to go sailing around the Whitsunday Passage.
John Berbrich: I wonder if Emily Dickinson wrote any poems about her dentist? Dentists are almost universally hated men — especially by children. I was terrified by my childhood dentist — a Dr. Green. His office was a mess (possibly a farrago), and I swear he had a human skull grinning from a table top.
William Michaelian: One of his former patients, no doubt. My childhood dentist was a man who hummed while he worked and smelled like after-shave. He didn’t charge for check-ups, and had quite the gentle touch. He also made his own gold crowns — charged my father fifteen dollars for one once. Of course, this was back in 1962. Later, when I was about twenty, Doc Oh died of cancer, and I stopped going to dentists, until about four years ago when I had two wisdom teeth removed by an egotistical loon who said I should trim my mustache to limit chances of infection. I smiled, but didn’t say a word. He got the message. Then the dentist who had referred me performed a root canal on the tooth one of the wisdom teeth had destroyed. When I told him what the other guy had said, he said, “That’s ridiculous. We don’t tell people to trim their mustaches.” The job went well. He put in a gold crown. But it didn’t cost fifteen dollars. Still, I haven’t been back since. Some day, I know, there will be a day of reckoning. Wouldn’t Dr. Farrago be a good name for a dentist, or maybe even a story or play?
John Berbrich: Yeah — a mad scientist! He loves to put everything in a horrible muddle. Perhaps he’s designed the zomboids — remember them, the creatures that have captured all the girls? So that’s where all the duct tape’s gone. And Willie, we have to rescue the girls. Just imagine how grateful they’ll be. . . .
William Michaelian: That will take some imagination, indeed. How could I forget the zomboids? I’ve been thinking about them ever since. Their existence explains a lot. But was it really Farrago? Oh, how I hate that man, constructing a race of beings out of people’s discarded teeth. And let’s not forget his faithful assistant, Muddle the Hunchback. “Yes, yes, Muddle, if you promise to be good, I’ll let you look at Liberace’s molars.” How will we take on such an evil force?
John Berbrich: We’ll smear the zomboids with sugar candy. They’ll rot with cavities like hideous sores all over their bodies. Of course, it could take awhile. Muddle is a fool — we could certainly outsmart him. But Farrago — ah, he’s sly, cunning. Perhaps we could capture him with a net of floss, the peppermint kind.
William Michaelian: Yes, but can we really expect the zomboids to stand by while we smear them with candy? They’re relentless. They keep coming at you, and at you, and at you . . . but you’re right — Muddle is the key to Farrago’s inner sanctum. That freak is desperate for attention, and could probably use a raise, just like everyone else. Eventually, he will do our bidding. Your floss idea is good, but far too expensive. And it’s just the kind of trap Farrago will expect, even enjoy. What do you think about using brussels sprouts?
Judy: Can the brussels sprouts simmer in pear schnapps for a while? I have already paid the price for avoiding dentists for too long. Now I go to the dentist and even the periodontist so often I almost fall asleep in the chair. I am not particularly well pleased with my dentist’s office staff at the moment. Shortly after the election that shall live in infamy they let it be known what their political leanings are, and they are not the same as mine. That’s fine as long as they keep it to themselves.
William Michaelian: Yes, politics and teeth don’t mix. Then again, they might be zomboids. It would be just like Farrago to dress some of them as dental assistants, and arm them with suction and those little appointment cards. He’s mad, I tell you, mad!
Anita: Bonbons anyone?
John Berbrich: Are they high in sugar? Those bonbons could be used as weapons. About the brussels sprouts, I really don’t know how much help they would be. Whatever we decide to do, we’ve got to act fast — I have a dentist appointment in June!
William Michaelian: Who is your dentist now? Young Dr. Green? Does he also cut hair and apply leeches? Have you noticed other patients leaving his office with circular patches of skin and hair missing from the top of their heads? These are sure signs of trouble. Also, what kind of reading material is on hand in the waiting room? If you haven’t already, I suggest you take several copies of your Barbaric Yawp with you, to ward off evil, and then leave them behind so others might also fight this menace. And then, when you . . . uh . . . what were we talking about again?
John Berbrich: It is hard to remember, what with all these time zone changes. Some sort of muddle about toothpaste and iambic pentameter, or was it a farrago regarding peach brandy and dentures? No, it wasn’t toothpaste, it was bunion-paste. No, that’s not right either.
William Michaelian: Oh, well. At least I’m not the only one in bad shape. Hey, I know what it was. You mentioned a book by G.K. Chesterton, something about St. Francis. What sort of book is that?
John Berbrich: The images have dimmed with the years, but I recall chapters devoted to various aspects of Francis’s character: Francis the builder, Francis the Saint, Francis the wandering mendicant. Apparently Francis was an unlettered and untutored poet, singing morning songs of the glory of Jesus to the birds in the trees. It’s an appealing picture, the poor poet singing in the morning sunshine.
William Michaelian: Yes, what better way for a poet to remain poor, and therefore rich in ways most people cannot understand? What brought Chesterton to write such books? Was it a matter of faith, or was he simply fascinated by these men?
John Berbrich: Chesterton was born into the Church of England. He began to consider converting to Catholicism around World War One, and actually did so in the early Twenties. As early as 1903 Chesterton was asked by a sort of rival journalist named Blatchford why he believed in Christianity. Chesterton answered: “Because I perceive life to be logical and workable with these beliefs and illogical and unworkable without them.” Years later Chesterton clarified: “It was not that I began by believing in supernormal things. It was that the unbelievers began by disbelieving in even normal things. It was the secularists who drove me to theological ethics, by themselves destroying any sane or rational possibility of secular ethics.” He spent a great deal of time defending and trying to prove the truth of Christianity, for the good of all. As he saw it. I think that he was trying to balance things, as I often try to do. Hence my chapbook, Balancing Act.
William Michaelian: Thank you. In a sense, our whole life is a balancing act. On the one hand, we know so little, and on the other we know so much, I think far more than we dare to admit. And so we are afraid of the unknown and the known. For many, religious belief, or faith, or whatever you want to call it, brings a sense of order. For others, those same beliefs seem silly or illogical. The dangerous thing in both cases is that we often deny all sorts of possibilities — we impose ourselves on the universe. We demand the safe haven of a final answer, even though we are but a small part of something that is ever-changing, powerful, mysterious, harmonious, mischievous, gentle, cruel, and unfinished, otherwise known as Life. I see your Balancing Act, therefore, as something very small, which, because of its honest search for truth and self-understanding, is also a vessel that contains all our hopes and dreams.
John Berbrich: That was nice, Willie, thank you. The balance question reminds me again of Whitman, with his acknowledged contradictions. Contradictions are at least balanced, with weight on either side of the scale. If all the weight were on one side, there would be no contradiction. I once read in a zen book that there are no contradictions in nature, only in the mind of man. Our universe is in the mind. The safe, predictable, orderly universe may seem desirable to some, whereas to others it would be a deadly numbing bore. You never will get everyone to agree on anything, even by force — you may influence someone’s actions, but not necessarily the mind. This is one of the principles of the Lao Tzu — when everyone agrees on what is beautiful, already there is ugliness. Paradox, contradiction, mystery, the UNKNOWN. Who could ask for more?
William Michaelian: Ironically, by asking for more, we are demanding less. And how well we succeed! By reducing life to systems and rules — religious, political, philosophical, mathematical, or otherwise, we keep freedom at bay. It is Farrago’s ultimate dream for the world, and we have fallen right into his trap. Lao Tzu: “Stop thinking, and end your problems.” Farrago: “Vote for me, and I’ll set you free.” Rap on, brother, rap on.
John Berbrich: Right on, Willie-type dude. One more thing. You mentioned possibilities a short while ago. That’s the key. I think that the universe is partly illusion, yet even the small amount of truth we may have found is but a tiny fraction of all that is out there waiting to be discovered. Seriously, what are Farrago’s goals? Is he simply evil, or has he embarked upon a personal quest? Is he hounded by some inner devil who is whipping his soul to destroy the good works of mankind, or is he a seeker of truth, albeit in an unusual form? Is he the puppet of some unimaginable cosmic demon, or simply a misguided genius? I know the zomboids are idiots. But what of Farrago himself, the gentle monster, misguided, abused as a child, given nothing but giant plastic teeth to play with? Doubtless he suffered from some acronymic learning disorder. Rode the short bus to school. Got beat up by the cool guys. Wore thick glasses. The story needs to be told.
William Michaelian: Very well, then, let’s start with what we do know. Farrago has been around forever, or at least as long as men have been walking upright and buying coffee at the Automat. He is able to change form. Some say he was with Washington when he crossed the Delaware. The truth is, Washington was Farrago — but only until they reached the other side. This is all recent history. Farrago was banished by the gods when he insisted on examining their teeth. At first they thought it was innocent and merely annoying. Then he started pulling them. Farrago kept the teeth. He studied them. He planted some in soil, kept others in glasses of nectar, and waited. The teeth had curious regenerative powers. They sprouted, grew, changed form. Hence, Farrago’s fascination with teeth. Naturally, these are just the highlights. The strange part is, it is also illusion. It is what Farrago wants us to believe. How do we know this? Because it is the only logical explanation. You see, it says here, in the Holy Book of Farrago . . .
John Berbrich: Ah yes, the section of the clean mountain hermit, High Gene. It is sad that this ancient wisdom has been largely lost in our secular world. When Ezra Pound lamented in “Hugh Selwyn Mauberley,”
There died a myriad,
And of the best, among them,
For an old bitch gone in the teeth,
For a botched civilization.
He wasn’t kidding. References to Farrago can be found at least as far back as Shakespeare. Consider the following chilling line from King John: “Now doth Death line his dead chaps with steel; The swords of soldiers are his teeth, his fangs.” Obviously, Death is a metaphor for the mad Farrago. The soldiers are the zomboids. But I cannot read from the Book of Farrago; when I do, I get this pain in a molar way back here. . . .
William Michaelian: My goodness. Will you look at that. But that can’t be your own. It looks like some sort of transmitter. Just a moment. Wider, please. . . . No. Stop. I can’t bear to look. And now I know why Farrago likes to play the piano — all those elephant tusks. But let us cast aside this foul book. By reading it, we are playing into Farrago’s hands. Yet it is fascinating . . . especially here, where it says — no! I won’t read it!
Judy: No wonder the answer was so difficult when my son asked me if the Tooth Fairy was real.
John Berbrich: Ah, the simple tales we tell our children. We’ll all be consigned to an eternity in a dentist’s waiting room. What worse Hell can there be? And for reading material — we’ll pass around a tattered copy of Dental World — By Gum! I can’t wait to read the article on root canals for the four-thousandth time. If we ever get in, the drills will be dull and they’ll be completely out of novacaine. The girls in the office will all be ugly. And there perhaps we will come face to face with the mad Farrago, in the underworld, him holding his hammer and chisel, waiting to get a crack at our mouths. Ohhhhh . . .
William Michaelian: There’s one thing I forgot to mention. It says here that the real Farrago, the Farrago in his original form, is two feet tall, and looks like a hairy Armenian bus driver. I don’t know. Do you think it’s important?
John Berbrich: Depends on where you’re getting your information from.
William Michaelian: Oops — wrong book. This is the Oregon drivers’ manual. Sorry about that. Still, it might be a clue. And don’t forget the root canals on Mars. They didn’t get there by accident, you know.
Judy: Maybe they’ll have a nice handsome male hygienist. Might not be all bad for me. . . .
Anita: Ah, but Farrago is now a disciple of Extreme Makeover and has forsaken his hammer and chisel for teeth-whitening solutions and veneers. Prosthetic limbs have increased his height to 5'7" and an ancient depilation technique, using sugar, has removed his hirsute countenance. He travels afar with his trusty glue gun and mouthguards filled with a secret formula entrusted only to him by the Genie of Hy transforming yellowed, nicotined enamel and snaggle-toothed harridans into creatures of beauty. Ssshh . . . I hear a scraping at the door and a faint refrain from the Girl of Ipana. Quickly everyone! Close your mouths!
John Berbrich: ................
William Michaelian: Uh, John? John. Really. This won’t work. Anita’s just kidding. Either that, or she’s quoting from an unauthorized edition.
John Berbrich: You m-m-mean it’s okay? I’ve harbored an irrational fear of Farrago since childhood. Anita, stop trying to scare me. I liked it better when you just picked on me.
William Michaelian: Irrational? There’s nothing irrational about it. We’re talking about Farrago — the being who, in one way or another, has a grip on us all. Say, those marks on your neck. Were they there before? They look like they were made by teeth.
Anita: Aww John, where’s your ring of confidence?
Phil E. Buster: Next.
William Michaelian: Aaaahhh! Oh. Phil. It’s you. Where have you been? You haven’t seen any short, hairy Armenian dentists lurking about, have you?
Phil E. Buster: Funny you should ask. Looks like somebody hit one up on the highway. Friend of yours?
William Michaelian: That depends. Is he dead?
Phil E. Buster: Couldn’t quite tell. He had his fangs sunk pretty deep into the front left tire of a crumpled-up Hummer.
William Michaelian: Yep. Sounds like Farrago, all right. That means he’s getting closer. Oh, why couldn’t this have been a regular forum, where we just talk about books and leave it at that?
Judy: Well, we can try to talk about books. I finished rereading The Translator by John Crowley just in time so I could lead the discussion at book club tonight. It’s about a young woman off to college in the early 1960s who becomes friends with an exiled Russian poet. The book leaves the reader with a lot of ambiguity. Why was the poet allowed to leave Russia? Whose “side” was he on? Did he die or did he fake his death? Did the young woman and the poet become lovers or not? Questions, questions, everywhere, and nary an answer to be learned. One thing that fascinated me was something from an interview with the author. Crowley said he felt uncomfortable writing poems on behalf of a character who was a highly esteemed poet. Then someone pointed out that what he would be writing would be English translations, and no one expects a translation to live up to the original, so then the whole thing didn’t seem as daunting. In reading closely, watching for clues, I saw no reference to Farrago, but I may have missed it, I was so busy trying to learn if the poet died or not.
John Berbrich: It’s easy to miss, Judy, Farrago has many names. But if we’re discussing translations, I’m reading a collection of stories by Italo Calvino, translated from the Italian. Some of them are amazing, bizarre and precise and sort of friendly, even some of the World War Two stories where people are getting killed. The collection is called Difficult Loves. Has anyone realized that Farrago backwards is Ogarraf? Spooky. An anagram would be A Rag For, but for whom it doesn’t say.
William Michaelian: For whom the rag tolls. And here’s something else I’ve learned. There is also a piece of music called Farrago Suite, by a composer named E.J. Moeran (1894-1950). So the tension continues to mount. I haven’t read anything by Calvino. Wasn’t he known for his “fantastic” stories? And The Translator — I wonder if it’s been translated into Russian. When did that book come out, Judy?
Judy: It came out in 2002. It isn’t as well known as the Harry Potter books or Da Vinci Code, for example.
William Michaelian: That’s because those books were really written by Farrago. You know, Ogarraf almost sounds Russian. Ogarov is similar to Oblomov, by Goncharov, not to be confused with Gogol, who wrote Dead Souls. Hey, that almost rhymed.
John Berbrich: Willie, you’re just a fool for poetry. I swear you breathe in trochees. Have you read that Oblomov book? I picked it up recently but haven’t gotten to it yet. Dead Souls I read years ago. Gogol is excellent. Weirdly realistic and fantastic simultaneously.
William Michaelian: Both are excellent reading. You’ll like Oblomov. Goncharov definitely has a sense of humor. If we survive this Farrago situation, tell us what you think when you get done. Goncharov was also paranoid, and once accused Turgenev of stealing his plots, one of which he said was passed on to Flaubert, whom he claimed made use of it in a novel. Dostoevsky admired his work. I haven’t read the word “trochee” in years. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it used in a sentence. Pass the iambs, please.
John Berbrich: I think you’ve had enough, Willie. Besides, you’re hogging the entire jar. Save some for the girls, will you please.
William Michaelian: Okay, how about these dactyls, then? Somebody ought to have some before they get old.
John Berbrich: Yeah, but just think — maybe they’ll start fermenting.
William Michaelian: That’s what I like about you. Always looking on the bright side. I guess it’s safe, as long as they’re not pterodactyls. That could prove bothersome if they hatch. Did you finish Oblomov yet?
John Berbrich: Jeez, I can’t find it now. Did I lend it to you?
Phil E. Buster: Belch.
William Michaelian: Nope. There’s your answer. Phil ate it.
John Berbrich: Oh, I get it. I lend you a book, you throw it in the dumpster, and then Phil gets hungry for something Russian. You never know what’s going to happen around here.
Phil E. Buster: Borscht.
William Michaelian: No, Phil. That’s Oblomov. A nineteenth century delicacy. But you were supposed to read it, not eat it. . . . Phil? . . . Really, J.B., I don’t know what’s come over our friend here. He seems despondent, not unlike Oblomov himself — but we’d better not go into it, since you haven’t read the book. What about Pushkin? Have you read anything by him?
John Berbrich: Just about everything. Read Eugene Onegin twice, also read the short novels Dubrovsky and The Captain’s Daughter, plus loads of his short stories and lyric poetry. His language is supposed to work like magic in the original Russian but of course this is difficult to transmit in a translation. All are agreed he’s a great writer.
William Michaelian: Yes, even Farrago would not dispute Pushkin’s genius. I have a hefty old collection of Pushkin’s work, The Poems, Plays and Prose of Pushkin, and marvel at the toil that must have gone into the translations. Here’s a short poem I like that was translated by Babette Deutsch:
When noisy day no more assails the ears of men,
And on the silent city slowly
Night’s pallid shadow falls, while after toil again
The wage of sleep repays them wholly —
Then in the hush my hours drag out their dismal course,
No peace my weary vigils bring me:
But through the listless night the serpents of remorse
With piercing fangs more shrewdly sting me;
Obsessed by seething dreams, the over-burdened soul
Can neither bear its pain, nor cure it;
In silence Memory unwinds her lengthy scroll
Before me, and I must endure it.
And loathing it, I read the record of the years,
I curse and tremble like one baited;
For all my bitter groans, for all my bitter tears,
The lines are not obliterated.
Of course, this is a relatively simple project compared to Eugene Onegin. Imagine translating something like Don Juan into another language, and trying to preserve the rhythm, music, and humor of the original.
John Berbrich: Willie, I think we have the same book. Is yours edited by Avrahm Yarmolinsky? The copy I have is indeed hefty, a 1936 edition by Random House. In notebooks I keep many quotes I stumble across in books. I have here the final six lines of “Remembrance,” obviously the work of a different translator:
In silence memory unfurls
Its lengthy scroll before me.
With loathing reading there my life
I quake and curse and bitterly lament.
But all the bitter tears I shed
Will never wash away those lines.
I don’t know where I picked that up, but I unfortunately neglected to jot down the translator’s name. Similar to Babette’s yet w/ a different feel. She of course keeps the original rhyme and probably the meter. These are powerful lines, in both versions.
William Michaelian: No question about it. But my first impression is that Babette’s is better. I wonder what she would think if she heard us calling her Babette. Oh, well. That we’ll never know. Indeed, I have the Yarmolinsky 1936 edition. Ah — smells good, too. I don’t keep my findings in a notebook. They always end up on little scraps of paper that I randomly discover later on. You sound more organized than that. I’ll bet you have whole shelves full of notebooks, separated into different categories, like Philosophy, Poetry, and so on.
John Berbrich: Sort of. I have over 1000 pages of notebook journal entries, close to 1000 pages of scribbled quotations (like the Pushkin), plus a number of disorderly notebooks filled w/ philosophy and poetry, just as you suggested, as well as a couple of partially-completed novels. I have a lot of files on my computer too, writings on various subjects, things I print off in little booklets now & then. I wish I had time to write more, but I simply don’t. There’s more in my head, but it’s stuck in there for now. I don’t like to get too organized, cuz it seems as though I’d be sacrificing something important.
William Michaelian: True — it’s possible to organize oneself into a state of utter dullness and boredom. When I see them in a store, index cards make me nervous, even a little angry. It’s too easy to become a slave to what’s written on them, as if once it is written, the words somehow become sacred. Speaking of spontaneous combustion, did you read A Clockwork Orange? Or anything else by Anthony Burgess? I haven’t, but I was reading a little about him awhile ago. It seems he had quite a varied career, which included musical composition. At one point he collapsed, and was given a year to live, and that’s what spurred him to write A Clockwork Orange, and to pretty much adhere to writing a thousand words a day thereafter.
John Berbrich: I haven’t read A Clockwork Orange, although the film is one of my favorites. I’ve read only two books by Burgess, one a novel called One Hand Clapping, and the other a big picture book about New York City in some expensive series like Time-Life or something. Burgess compared and contrasted New York and London, and I recall that he found New York to be much more interesting. He said that if you publish an article in a London newspaper or magazine, it’s like casting your words into a void, but if you publish the same article in a New York periodical, you’ll get letters, phone calls, outraged rebuttals, death threats, marriage proposals — the city is so intellectually alive.
William Michaelian: Wow. Sounds like he’s referring to the Yawp. Meanwhile, all we have here in Salem is the annual Index Card Festival. I’d tell you about it, but I’ve never been — can’t stand the excitement. Did you like One Hand Clapping? That came out after A Clockwork Orange, didn’t it?
John Berbrich: Yes, it did. My brain has retained very little of that book. Some guy wins a big lottery and for some reason plots to kill his wife. I think that’s the guts of it. I wasn’t impressed at all. I recall talking to a friend about the book; he was a big Burgess fan and said that One Hand Clapping was one of his worst. But I never got around to reading another.
William Michaelian: Sounds like quite a plot. By the way, I did find a little information on Babette Deutsch. She was born in New York City in 1895, and died in 1982. In addition to her translations, she wrote poetry, novels, and criticism, and was married to Avrahm Yarmolinsky. Among other things, she penned a study guide for children called Walt Whitman: Builder for America. And then there’s this not-so-related tidbit: Gogol and Pushkin were friends. Of his own work, Gogol once said: “I am destined by the mysterious powers to walk hand in hand with my strange heroes, viewing life in all its immensity as it rushes past me, viewing it through laughter seen by the world and tears unseen and unknown by it.” It’s a shame he burned the rest of Dead Souls.
John Berbrich: Yes. Have you ever read Gogol’s novel Taras Bulba? It’s short and vigorous. I’m feeling the urge to read it again. I recently picked up a used collection of his short stories. It’s a hardcover, actually published and printed in 1989 in Moscow. The text is printed in English, but the information pages are a mixture of English and Cyrillic. In the back is a quote from Gogol that I love: “In ‘The Government Inspector’ I decided to gather in one pile all the bad in Russia of which I was then aware, all the injustices which are committed in those places, and on those occasions where justice above all is demanded of man, and at the same time, to laugh at everything.”
William Michaelian: That sounds just like him. I’ll bet “The Nose” is in that collection from Moscow. I haven’t read Taras Bulba. I know it’s different than his later work dealing with cheats and bureaucrats. It’s been some time since I’ve read any of my favorite nineteenth century Russian authors, though last year I re-read Dostoevsky’s The Adolescent, also known as A Raw Youth. The first time I read the Constance Garnett translation. The second time, the translation was by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, and I thought it was extremely well done.
John Berbrich: I highly recommend Taras Bulba. It is all speed and action. Yeah, “The Nose” is in that collection, along with a half-dozen others including “Diary of a Madman.” What a great name for a story. I've read some of Garnett’s translations. I think my favorite Russian translator is Charles Johnston. But we don’t know which is more accurate, only which we prefer to read. I occasionally despair of translations and read only American and British authors. But eventually I return to my senses and try the French or the Romans or the Japanese.
William Michaelian: David Magarshack is also a good Russian translator. Not to change the subject, but about a hundred years ago you mentioned Billy Collins. I was reading an interview of his that was interesting. He talked about how he begins his poems with some basic information to ground the reader, then continues working line by line, trying to make each line count and move the poem forward. Basically, he said he views each poem as its own little journey, and wants it to be immediately accessible, as opposed to requiring multiple readings. I read several of his poems. All were indeed simultaneously easy to understand and easy on the ear, though a few seemed merely clever. Toward the end of the interview he said he wasn’t really interested in developing, that he would be satisfied to write the same type of poems for the rest of his life, as long as he could find new things to write about. I think he said something like “Development is over-rated. Emily Dickinson didn’t develop.” Interesting.
John Berbrich: Hmmmmmm. I don’t know, certainly some writers develop. Lots of writers modify their approach, until they find a comfortable or successful methodology. I suppose we could consider this as a type of development. Yes, Collins’s poems are easy, but every one contains something startling and often they ring a quite surprisingly elegiac tone. I think that Collins is still New York State’s poet laureate, although I’m not sure of this. Who is Oregon’s poet laureate, and don’t tell me it’s Phil E. Buster.
William Michaelian: Phil has always been a contender, but he’s still developing. Until his death, William Stafford was Oregon’s poet laureate, and I think he is still considered as such, though I don’t know — can a poet laureate be dead? Is it allowed? As in, “Wake up, Bill, you’ve got a job to do. Get out there and make the people read poems.” Anyway, Stafford was also the U.S. poet laureate back in about 1970, before the post was described as such. The title was Consultant in Poetry for the Library of Congress, or something like that. Recently I heard he wrote a poem a day for fifty years. Let’s see, that would be 18,250 poems. So the guy probably knew a little something about poetry. I’ve read very little of his work. What I’ve seen has been short, contemplative, with images neatly bundled, as in this one:
Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.
I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
What do you think? What would you do if you were poet laureate? Billy Collins said poetry should be everywhere, at bus stops and so on. I appreciate his wanting to get poetry out of the classroom and into the streets, so to speak.
John Berbrich: Reminds me of the poem we published by Michael Kriesel:
On one level this might seem like a good idea, but taking a harsh realistic look at things, the idea of being surrounded by music sounds (no pun intended) like a good one, but then we got Muzak. Don’t you hate those vapid remakes of your favorite songs. The most ironic piece of Muzak I’ve heard was the travesty that was made of Melanie’s “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma.” Couldn’t you just put your fist through a wall. The Stafford poem you quote is characteristic of his work, at least what I’ve seen. Quiet, thoughtful, winterish — quite willing to be read several times. A noble poet laureate.
William Michaelian: Musak — reminds me of that line from John Lennon’s song “How Do You Sleep?” that goes, “The sound you make is musak to my ears / you must have learned something in all those years.” Of course that was directed at his old buddy, Paul McCartney. Fist through a wall — not a bad name for a poetry magazine. We could leave it in elevators. Or stuff it in Mr. Kriesel’s grocery bags and make it a double-whammy. Do you think he’d mind?
John Berbrich: Fist Through a Wall. I do like it. I don’t think Mike would mind. He’s a good fellow, very generous. Are you managing editor? I hope this will be a paper magazine, not some ephemeral e-thing. What sort of poetry are you looking for?
William Michaelian: Well, Mike’s poem contains seven words — that’s a little long, don’t you think? Although I suppose we could have a section for longer poetry, if it’s as good as his. And yes, let’s make it a paper magazine. Very difficult to stuff an electronic publication into a grocery bag — I’ve tried it. The cashiers don’t mind so much, but the management goes crazy, because when they look in the bags they can’t see anything, so severely maimed they were by their education. And then there’s this whole movement toward using plastic bags anyway. So you see, Mike’s poem, as good as it is, is severely dated. Tell him if he wants “Someday” to be published in Fist Through a Wall, he’ll have to do some heavy revision, or write something else. After all, this is serious business.
John Berbrich: I have written a few short poems. Here’s one:
Advice to Farmers
What do you think?
William Michaelian: Amazing. On the surface, it seems like an herbicide slogan. But after several dozen readings, I can smell the earth that clings to the newly uprooted weeds, and see the hope on the farmers’ faces as they look forward to a bountiful harvest. It’s deeply moving — almost profound. Now, how much will you pay me to publish it? Hey, wait a minute. I just did. You’re slick, J.B. Slick.
John Berbrich: You like? Here’s another:
Only a dollar.
Willie, even with the small poems this new zine is gonna be BIG! One of my favorite shorts (I didn’t write it) is:
Can anyone top that?
William Michaelian: Hmm. Maybe we should scratch this idea. Then again, there is this vivid and disturbing poem of mine that you published in the Yawp way back when:
pushing ugly babies
Granted, it’s the same length as “Someday,” and therefore far too long to appear in Fist Through a Wall. I’m thinking we might have to print up an occasional broadsheet to handle the overflow.
John Berbrich: Oh yeah, I remember that poem. A great visual — is that the sort of scenery you guys are treated to out in Oregon? Unfortunately, you can (and do) see the same thing in northern New York — southern New York too, if I remember correctly. It is rather lengthy — we’ll call it a Fist epic. I think I have another bit of brevity around here somewhere, hold on.........Got it:
What do you think? Too political?
William Michaelian: Heck, no. We might issue it on T-shirts. In fact, we could print an entire issue on T-shirts, front and back. And your Fist epic idea has great potential. Which reminds me — we’ll also need a section called “Short Poems.” You know, for works of one word or less.
John Berbrich: Jeez, Willie — this brings us full circle. If you check back to the top of the very first page of the Forum, you’ll see that we were discussing the one-word poems by Richard Kostelanetz called monopoems. And not only that, speaking of poems of less than one word — in his collection entitled Rommel Drives on Deep into Egypt, Richard Brautigan has five or six poems that consist of only a title, no other words. So it’s already been done. Darn.
William Michaelian: In fact, I was remembering what you said about Kostelanetz when I suggested that. Good old Brautigan. I don’t know. I kind of think that’s cheating. To me, a wordless poem means a blank page. I’m reminded here of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy. At least once that I can remember, he left a blank page for the reader to draw his own conclusions, both literally and figuratively. The funny thing is, it worked quite well, as did his insertion of a preface after the book was already under way. Don’t you love people who aren’t afraid to think?
John Berbrich: Yes, someone to keep you wide awake.
William Michaelian: Or, more importantly, to wake you up for the first time.
Phil E. Buster: Snore.
William Michaelian: All right, Phil, can the wise-cracks.
Phil E. Buster: Look who’s talkin’. First it’s seven-word poems, then it’s six, then pretty soon ya got ’em whittled down to one, and then — bingo — no-word poems. With titles, no less. Who’s leg ya tryin’ to pull? What’re ya goin’ to do, print up a blank magazine?
William Michaelian: Say, that’s not a bad idea. We could save a lot of money that way. But you know, I just thought of something else. Who’s to say whether a no-word poem is short or long? We might not be able to make them fit, even in a blank magazine.
Phil E. Buster: Oh, fer — never mind. I give up.
William Michaelian: I wish you wouldn’t. I think I’m on to something here. Seriously, just yesterday I asked myself the question — wait. I even wrote it down. Here it is: Will the poem I don’t write today be different than the one I don’t write tomorrow? Now, how does one answer a question like that?
Judy: I don’t know the answer to William’s question, but I have another question I’ve stolen from The Translator. Is a poem that isn’t read still a poem? Where’d Anne go?
Anita: I think the only way to answer that question, William, is with silence. By the way, many years ago I recall a book of blank pages was published, with the title What Men Know About Women. Ouch . . . who smacked me?
John Berbrich: Will the answer I don’t give you today differ from the answer I don’t give you tomorrow? The blank page zine has a curious appeal, suggesting audience participation. I know — we publish our zine, Fist Through a Wall, say thirty pages, with titles only, like a title at the top of every page. Something evocative, like “Dog Man” or “Orange Tuesday.” Then we mail them to our subscriber(s) who simply fill in the poems, then send the completed book back to us and we do something with it, not sure what. There are a couple of different ways we can go with this.
William Michaelian: Judy, your Translator question is a lot like that one about a tree falling in the forest. But is there such a thing as an unread poem? Because when a poem is written it is at least read by the poet. Anita, that’s a nasty bump. Looks like you were clobbered by Farrago.
Phil E. Buster: One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. Bertrand Russell said that, whoever he is.
William Michaelian: Where did you find that — inside a bottle cap?
Phil E. Buster: Nope. I read it in a book of unprinted quotes.
William Michaelian: Oh. I should have known. Which brings us to “Orange Tuesday.” Not only is that a title just begging for a poem, it would be a great name for yet another publication. J.B., I like what you said about our subscriber(s) simply filling in the poems. It turns Academia right on its head.
John Berbrich: Exactly. Allows our publication the opportunity of being interactive, while avoiding the world of cyber intrusion and surveillance. Like our cozy little corner right here. By the way, nice to have the girls back. My neck needs a bit of rub. Over on the side there.
William Michaelian: Wow — I’ve never seen a neck rubbed with an axe before. Usually, I just use the thing to open bottles. You all right, J.B.? Or should I call an ambulance?
John Berbrich: No, just get me a drink and everything will be fine. If one or two of the girls would sit on my lap, that would be even better. Is Farrago still around here? My molar is acting up again....
William Michaelian: And so ends another nail-biting episode of “As the Conversation Turns.” To find out what happens in our search for the mysterious Dr. Farrago, and to see if the revolutionary Fist Through a Wall ever makes it to press and into grocery bags, please turn the page.