sharon auberle | saturday nights at the crystal ball

12 02 2009

Poetry Dispatch No. 270 | February 11, 2009

Sharon Auberle: Saturday Nights at the Crystal Ball
(An Overview, Interview, Book Review)
by Norbert Blei

Sharon AuberleSaturday Nights at the Crystal Ball
by Sharon Auberle
Cross+ Roads Press #31
PO Box 33
Ellison Bay, WI 54210
$12 plus $2 S&H

Of the thirty-one books published by Cross+Roads Press to date, half of them were written by women. Not that I’m counting, not that political correctness or anything else matters when it comes to choosing a book I like, introducing a writer I feel deserves greater exposure. I’m aware that more women are interested in literary work than men. And it’s no surprise that writing workshops students are predominantly women.

When I look at the list of women I have thus far published, consider their books of poetry and stories, certain common themes emerge: family, relationships, the search for selfhood. Not that the men do not exhibit an interest in these same themes, but that their approach is often different in style and perspective. Sometimes, radically so.

It’s my contention, however, that if only men would pay more attention to any of the women I have published by Cross+Roads Press, they would learn so much more about themselves…about family…about relationships …about the art of writing…perhaps even gain a little more knowledge toward that age-old question: “What does a woman want?”

Sharon Auberle doesn’t have all the answers in SATURDAY NIGHTS AT THE CRYSTAL BALL, but she asks many of the right questions and leaves the reader with plenty of insights to carry around for a long time.

Just prior to publication, I asked her to explain a little about the book:

this is a book full of ghosts…once, during the deathwatch, my mother looked up at me (she was perfectly lucid) and said who is that woman behind you? there was no one, and I said so, but she insisted, oh yes, she has her hand on your shoulder… the death of a parent is enormous

“We are all victims of our childhood”… I read somewhere

as I sat by my mother’s bed those two weeks while she was dying I knew the thing I’d feared most as a child, her leaving me as my father had done, was happening and I became that child again…

a child who, nevertheless, could sit at her bedside in a darkened room and scribble in my black journal… didn’t know why I was doing it, never thought it would become a book…just knew I had to it started as my mother’s story…but my father needed to be in it too, though I didn’t know him…how can I write about him?

I did…and began to feel as if I had known him. certainly better than I ever had…felt compassion for him…would not go so far as love, but, more importantly, forgiveness the realization that in my own life, in a different, yet same way, I’d done the same as he…

…the more I wrote of their failed love and marriage, the more I understood it, though much, of course, was imaginary…who can ever know another person’s heart?


CONFESSION

At the age of eighty
my mother confesses
riding with me through the town
where a man she knew once lived:
/ should have married Luke
he sent me roses every week
and wrote in the most lovely hand…

The road tilts for a moment
in the copper autumn light.
I could let the words pass
pretend I’m intent on driving
forget there was once another
man meant to be my father.
Not that tall man
who kept love he couldn’t give
because of the man with a fine hand
who sent roses every week.

I could forget her words
and just go on loving
white roses and autumn
my mother, my dead father, unaware
of this sunlight kindling October maples
and old, unforgotten desires.

strichstrich

I decided to continue the dialogue with Sharon now that the book has been published and so well received. What follows is an extended conversation about one writer, one particular book, all that transpires once the work is set free.

Now that the book is out, I feel strangely removed from it–almost as though someone else wrote it–that surprises me. That, and my children’s reaction, which, though my daughter said it made her cry–was mainly discomfort: ‘ tmi,’ they both said: “too much information”

Some writers, both published and unpublished, choose to hold back when their work either borders on or delves too much into the personal. Did she experience any of this?

It may be that, because there was a good bit of distance between the time I wrote most of these poems, (at least the very painful ones), and the time of publication, I was able to stand back, distance myself from the pain. And I could never have put this book out there while my mother was alive. She was a private person and would have been appalled. Even now, I wonder if it was the right thing to do. Yet, I feel its important for people to stand back and look at their own parents, apart from the parent/child connection and see them as vulnerable human beings with love stories, heartbreaks and circumstances that shaped their lives. Time does give some objectivity and discretion.

I’ve been very surprised at the male reaction to this book. I thought women might relate to it with understanding, connect to it in a more personal way than men. But, in fact, from the feedback I’ve received from men (admittedly a small number), there has been strong and positive reaction, including tears, from a close personal male friend–someone from whom I would never have expected such. And it touched me deeply.

DANCING IN THE DARK

Someone said the best thing
my parents did together was dance.
When the two were out together
people would stop and watch
the tall man and the laughing girl
who never missed a step
but then their music ended
and my father left
to marry a woman
who looked up at him
in a pleading way
and though she didn’t dance
he could not stop
and this may be the softest thing
I know about my father:
they say he kept on dancing
to those old seventy-eights
on moody nights at home
alone and lonely, circling
endlessly in the smoky dark.

strichstrich

The book began with memories, dreams, and unresolved questions about my parents. There was a time when I felt a very great need to know that my parents had actually loved each other once. And then I had the actual dream described in “Love Song.” That and “Confession”, the first poem were the key poems to the story. I then began collecting little snippets of actual facts I knew about them from before I was born, enlarging those, and certainly imagining some. I foraged through all the old poems I’d written over the years, old journals, etc., to see what might fit. Those writings fueled new poems, and though this sounds implausible, I actually felt that there were times there was “guidance” in my writing,, particularly about my father, whom I barely knew. The physical laying out of all the poems, old and new, alongside old photos brought it all together.

Other than the previous poems that, ultimately, went into this book, much of my poetry was less painful to write–though about love and relationships, I was NOT writing about these deepest, oldest parts of me.

Do you see another book pattern emerging? Has the poetry changed? Is there something you would like to do with the poem that you, for whatever reason, have not yet been able to do? And are you working with that?

Every year I start a new notebook of poetry on Jan. 1. At the end of that year, I have a variety of poems, and it’s interesting to see what, if any, patterns emerge. That’s where I am now, considering. But, upon seeing how SATURDAY NIGHTS AT THE CRYSTAL BALL has touched readers in its universality, I’m definitely striving to do better with that in all my work. I was aware of the importance of that, of course, but the deep response to this book really opened my eyes to the beauty of it. I think that’s the main change in my writing. Last year’s collection of work shows that a new chapbook, should I choose to do it, could be about some very difficult things to write about in the relationship area. I’m still wondering why and if I should consider putting that out there. But then, why do any of us write, if not to be read? To share where we’ve been, what it was like, and how we got back, (if we did). I don’t know the answer, but the words seem to be leading me back out there.

WASHING MY MOTHER’S BACK

My mother does not revel
in excess pleasure.
She sleeps in a narrow bed.
Her food is sparse
she drinks no wine.
At eighty-two
her body is honed
of every excess inch or process
yet I am surprised by sudden joy
rippling beneath my hands
over the tender bow of neck
down the white-lathered curve of spine
into that naked place
where pleasures live
unforgotten
and swans sing
their final song.

strichstrich

Take the reader through this poem…washing your mother’s back…

I think it happens to many of us—that the child becomes the parent, and that is heartbreaking. We don’t want to be the parent, we still need our parents. The poem first came to me, as I was helping my mother to bathe. She was very weak, recovering from a heart attack, and all defenses were gone. She sat in the tub, and her tender back was bowed, her head bent, as I lathered the white soapsuds over her. The image of a swan came vividly to mind, which is, of course, in the last two lines, not the first.

I certainly wasn’t thinking of a poem at that moment, but the image stayed with me. I don’t remember how much time passed before the poem was actually written. My mother recovered, and was back to her sturdy, no-nonsense self, but I could not forget her vulnerability in that time and the contrast between those two selves. Very few of us want to think about, let alone write about, the sexual side of our parents, yet I think I wanted to explore this idea—that there is this place in all of us, no matter how old, where memory and sensuality still reside. I wanted to show the beauty of that, for my own approaching years, as well. Since it was my mother I was writing about, I still needed to maintain that distance and respect. So the swan image seemed right–pure and beautiful–yet also sexual.

In writing this poem, using this image that still lingered in some corner of my mind, I came to understand that it was honoring that place in my mother/child, that this place exists in all of us, and it seemed that no further words were needed.



Review: Saturday Nights at the Crystal Ball
by Ralph Murre

Sharon AuberleThere’s a new book on the shelf that I reserve for the fine work of my friends over at Cross + Roads Press. Not that I expect Saturday Nights at the Crystal Ball to spend much time on the shelf. Far too much good material to set it aside for long.

Poet Sharon Auberle, on the surface, tells the story of her mother’s last days on this earth; that of a woman who danced her way through an uneasy life. Anyone who’s ever lost a parent, or ever will, can benefit from the reading. Just beneath the surface, the writer finds other tales about to finally break into daylight: the story of a father who left early, in a time when that was the exception; the subsequent effects on the lives and loves of the author and her mother; the perhaps too quickly passed judgments all around; all told in the voice of an accomplished artist of the written word, and through it all, there is the dance. In “Spring Came Late That Year”, we read:

Maggie danced
the night Edward left
whirling
her baby girl
about the kitchen
their mingled tears
spinning out
bouncing off windows
like the freezing rain
falling that night

and later, in Legacy:

What my mother left me
was not dancing shoes
or diamond rings
or bad luck with men

it was the way she stood
so straight
barely reaching my shoulder
but tall
on days when life
bends most people low

and that quickstep of hers
forward always
to music only she could imagine

Sharon Auberle is storyteller enough to find and relate what is unique in her life. She is poet enough to show us what is universal. She has deftly tackled subject matter that in lesser hands could have been maudlin, even trite — but has triumphed in a way that elevates us. Her luck in collaborating with editor/publisher Norbert Blei assured an elegant book to stand beside the thirty others from his press. Blei’s decision to reproduce pages from the author’s journal, written in the days immediately preceding her mother’s demise, was a brilliant one, giving us a very palpable connection to the writer in a time of vulnerability juxtaposed with great strength.

Much more on Sharon Auberle can be found on her website. Just click on Mimi’s Golightly Cafe





special edition | celebration

14 11 2008

cigarette

Poetry Dispatch | Notes from the Underground

Special Edition:

CELEBRATION !!!

strichstrich

Dateline: November 14, 2008:

Late breaking news from Monsieur K in France:
“We are already over 50.000
Do we miss the party ????”–MK

strichstrich

Thank you, Monsieur K, and thank all you readers and writers on the world-wide-web for your attention and appreciation of this site.

By way of “Thanks for 50,000 visitors since September 2007 (so far)” –a special contest offer.

Complete the following sentence in 50 words or less:

“Poetry Dispatch and Notes from the Underground (Basho’s Road) have added to/changed my life (done something positive) by/because…”

(If you care to mention your location in the world and the number of people you occasionally dispatch it to…that too would be greatly appreciated.)

1st Prize:

A hand-written, in French (or German, Spanish, English, etc.) French postcard from the elusive, mysterious, wise, and wizardly Monsieur K himself, postmarked from his secretive domain: La Baule, France. ( A collector’s items for sure.)

2nd Prize:

A used book, in pristine shape (poetry, fiction, or nonfiction) from the private library of Norbert Blei, with a personal note of thanks (in English—or Czech).

3rd Prize:

Something from Blei’s private desk/junk drawer, crammed with all sorts of treasures—from a brand new yellow Dixon Ticonderoga, No.2, Soft, never-sharpened pencil, circa l950, to…who knows? A hand-scribbled note…an old photograph, a Turkish cigarette, circa1976?

ALL entries (one per person) to be e-mailed only:

ngbleiatgmaildotcom

Deadline: November 22, 2008 (Please include your regular/snail mail address).

All winning entries will appear in a future dispatch. (Maybe all losing entries as well.)

Merci,

– Norbert Blei (America) & Monsieur K. (France)





donna balfe | I thought I had confessed everything…october

23 10 2008

Poetry Dispatch Nr. 255 | October 22, 2008

DONNA BALFE

I Thought I Had Confessed Everything…OCTOBER
by Donna Balfe

October is my best month:
And I’m living it up again in Indiana, driving the back roads,
storing up images for winter, for emergencies, times of tragedy
or sadness, for the final illness—for dying. But in October
I never think about dying. It would be wrong to die in October,
there is so much to do. I’m a kid again with my grown-up
daughter.
We scour the county in her pick-up, windows down, twanging
country
songs at the top of our lungs and laughing while we search out
wild
asparagus, teazle, milkweed, cattails, sumac, and bittersweet.
My depression is in remission, and I am the big believer in life.
How long can this present last.

How long can the present last?
The first week in October is like late summer. I’m making
and breaking schedules, going a little crazy trying to categorize,
organize, prioritize, arrange my affairs. I resort to bar graphs
and pie charts…my life is a statistical nightmare. I buy
a Franklin Planner and spend the second week transferring
addresses,
phone numbers, insurance information. I list blood type, dress
and glove sizes of next of kin, identify special dates
and deadlines. I create the master plan of my life.
David reminds me that we have a computer program
that does it all.

from THE LAST HOUSEWIFE IN AMERICA, Cross+Roads Press, #19, 1997

Donna Balfe | The Last Housewife in America

“…another in the series that will appeal particularly to women… Donna Balfe takes readers through a year of moods, challenges and reflections.” – Harris/ADVOCATE

more on Donna Balfe can be read here…

(out of print) limited number of archived copies only. | 1997

25 Euro incl. shipment world-wide

50 Euro incl. shipment world-wide for a signed copy.

If you are interested in buying this book please go here…





norbert blei | notes on the publishing life…continued

2 10 2008

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 155 | October 1, 2008

“Notes on The Publishing Life” …Continued

I guess it would be in my best interest to put a WARNING LABEL on this one, as the language gets a little rough in places. So those of you who may be uncomfortable with ‘street language’ in print—take a pass on this one. (Or re-read yesterday’s dispatched Underground Notes, #154).

But for readers appreciative of style and cogent content–and writers, especially, who have ever (or too often ) been at the mercy of questionable editing—this little exchange between a writer and his sub-editors is beyond priceless.

Bear in mind as well, that this appeared in the esteemed English publication, the Guardian. And you have to admire the English and their way with words. Norbert Blei

[Exchange]

THE JOKE IS GONE

From two letters published, in July in the Guardian. The first, from Giles Coren restaurant critic for the London Times Magazine on Saturdays since 2001 to his subeditors at the Times, was leaked to the Guardian. The second is a letter to Coren from Times subeditors Mia Aimaro Ogden and Joanna Duckworth.

Chaps,

I am mightily pissed off. I have addressed this to Owen, Amanda, and Ben because I don’t know who I am supposed to be pissed off with (I’m assuming Owen, but I filed to Amanda and Ben, so it’s only fair), and also to Tony, who wasn’t here if he had been, I’m guessing it wouldn’t have happened.

I don’t really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. I do not enjoy the suggestion that you have a better ear or eye for how I want my words to read than I do. Owen, we discussed your turning three of my long sentences into six short ones in a single piece, and how that wasn’t going to happen anymore, so I’m really hoping it wasn’t you that fucked up my review on Saturday. It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. They are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend.

I wrote: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rose and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh.” It appeared as: “I can’t think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rose and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh.” There is no length issue. This is someone thinking, “I’ll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and I know best.” Well, you fucking don’t. This was shit, shit subediting for three reasons.

1) “Nosh,” as I’m sure you fluent Yiddish speakers know, is a noun formed from a bastardization of the German naschen. It is a verb, and can be con¬strued into two distinct nouns. One, “nosh,” means simply “food.” You have decided that this is what I meant and removed the “a.” I am insulted enough that you think you have a better ear for English than me. But a better ear for Yiddish? I doubt it. Because the other noun “nosh” means “a session of eating” in this sense you might think of its dual valency as being similar to that of “scoff.” You can go for a scoff. Or you can buy some scoff. The sentence you left me with is shit, and is not what I meant. Why would you change a sentence .so that it meant something I didn’t mean? I don’t know, but you risk doing it every time you change something. And the way you avoid this kind of fuck-up is by not changing a word of my copy without asking me, okay? It’s easy. Not; A. Word. Ever.

2) I will now explain why your error is even more shit than it looks. You see, I was making a joke. I do that sometimes. I have set up the street as “sexually-charged.” I have described the shenanigans across the road at G.A.Y. I have used the word “gaily” as a gentle nudge. And “looking for a nosh” has a secondary meaning of looking for a blow job. Not specifically gay, for this is Soho, and there are plenty of girls there who take money for noshing boys. “Looking for nosh” does not have that ambiguity. The joke is gone. I only wrote that sodding paragraph to make that joke. And you’ve fucking stripped it out like a pissed Irish plasterer restoring a Renaissance fresco and thinking Jesus looks shit with a bear so plastering over it. You might as well have removed the whole paragraph. I mean, fucking Christ, don’t you read the copy?

3) And worst of all. Dumbest, deafest, shittiest of all, you have removed the unstressed “a” so that the stress that should have fallen on “nosh” is lost, and my piece ends on an unstressed syllable. When you’re winding up a piece of prose, meter is crucial. Can’t you hear? Can’t you hear that it is wrong? It’s not fucking rocket science. It’s fucking pre-GCSE scansion. I have written 350 restaurant reviews for the Times, and I have never ended on an unstressed syllable. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

I am sorry if this looks petty (last time I mailed a Times sub about the change of a single word I got in all sorts of trouble), but I care deeply about my work and I hate to have it fucked up by shit subbing. I have been away, you’ve been subbing Joe and Hugo, and maybe they just file and fuck off and think, “Hey ho, it’s tomorrow’s fish and chips”— well, not me. I woke up at three in the morning on Sunday and fucking lay there, furious, for two hours. Weird, maybe. But that’s how it is.

It strips me of all confidence in writing for the magazine. No exaggeration. I’ve got a review to write this morning, and I really don’t feel like doing it, for fear that some nuance is going to be removed from the final line, the payoff, and I’m going to have another weekend ruined for me.

I’ve been writing for the Times for fifteen years, and I have never asked this before I have never asked it of anyone I have written for but I must insist, from now on, that I am sent a proof of every review I do, so I can check it for fuck-ups. And I must be sent it in good time in case changes are needed. It is the only way I can carry on in the job.

And, just out of interest, I’d like whoever made that change to email me and tell me why. Tell me the exact reasoning which led you to remove that word from my copy.

Sorry to go on. Anger, real steaming fucking anger, can make a man verbose.
Giles

Dear Giles,

Subediting is a noble profession. It is also a thankless one particularly when your writers call you a “useless cunt.”

There was a sharp intake of breath when your email hit the inbox of subs throughout the in dustry this week that was after we’d stopped laughing. Not that we didn’t think you had a point. Yes, tinkering with copy just for the sake of it and without consultation is wrong. It is disrespectful and arrogant. And we can see why you’d be furious at the loss even of an indefinite article.

There is nothing more irritating than a subeditor who thinks he knows better than a writer, particularly one who cares deeply about his work. But did you really have to be so rude?

If you could only see the state of some of the raw copy we have to knock into shape. It’s badly structured, poorly spelt, appallingly punctuated, lazily researched. We’re not saying your writing falls into that category on the contrary, your journalism is highly accomplished. Never having worked on your copy, we can only take your word for it that it is beyond improvement in its pre-published state. Strange as it may seem, many writers do not possess your grasp of language; indeed, it is sometimes difficult to believe that English is their mother tongue, and they don’t give a damn about what they produce because they know that a good, often highly educated subeditor will correct it, check it, and turn it into readable prose.

None of this can excuse your nasty, bullying, “know your place, you insignificant little fuckwit” email. Yes, it’s funny, in a way that pieces that use “fuck,” “shit,” and “cunt” so liberally often can be, but, please someone made a mistake. He surely had no intention of sabotaging your deathless prose. So you don’t like what happened to your piece have a word with your editor. The hapless sub will no doubt already have been soundly thrashed and had his dictionary privileges removed.

Some years ago, a colleague of ours had a T-shirt printed up with the legend XXXXXXXXX XXXXXXX IS A CUNT, which he wore every week when having to deal with the writer to whom it referred, because he, like you, became so disproportionately abusive when his use of language was questioned. We’d hate that to happen to you, because you can actually write, and having GILES COREN IS A SANCTIMONIOUS LITTLE TWAT WHO NEEDS TO GET OVER HIMSELF could be quite costly in T-shirt lettering. Subs are no more infallible than writers. So let’s all try a little mutual respect, shall we?

All the best, Mia Aimaro Ogden, Joanna Duckworth

from HARPER’S MAGAZINE October, 2008





david pichaske | 3 poems

16 06 2008

Poetry Dispatch No. 241| June 15, 2008

Poems for the Father #5
David Pichaske
in celebrations of Father’s Day, June 15, 2008

On my small shelf of poetry books devoted entirely to “father” this one, THE FATHER POEMS by David Pichaske, is among my very favorites–a book I open throughout the year and discover yet something else I needed to know about fatherhood. It’s also a favorite because I pursued the possibility of this collection, having read only a few of the individual poems, and happily, proudly, finally published a limited edition in 2005. They deserve a wider, appreciative audience, simply because they are so damn good. They speak to our age, our time, the role of parents on our own families. In fifty-five pages, twenty-seven perfect poems, David Pichaske covers the entire spectrum of the father experience, with heart, humor, and head. I especially love the last poem included here, “Opinions and Facts”—where the poet brings in the Grandfather’s voice as well. Norbert Blei

Teach Your Children Well

“and feed them on your dreams”
—Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Can tell you only what I have come to know:
clean, black cut of new-paved road
(always north and always uphill)
flanked by yellow beans and khaki corn;
behind, hollow moon dragging her sullen face
toward dark tangle of the Yellow Medicine River
(cottonwood, deer, fox, and pheasant);
ahead, flame of northern lights, aurora borealis,
and, always, firm distance of the pole star.

The Raised Fist of the Father

“I am speaking of heights more than fathers,
though the two tend to go together.”
—David Allen Evans

We have seen him only in the briefest moments,
distanced, silhouetted against the setting sun.

His head is thrown back, his mouth open
in a cry of anger, pain, or exaltation,
his fist clenched in admonition, defiance, or joy.

His hair is full, the body without sex,
that of a Sioux warrior or the young Christ.
The clothing is indistinct, and
the voice too remote to be understood.

Perhaps it is the surprised cry of the soldier
felled by a sniper in Iraq or Vietnam.
Perhaps it is a cry of triumph,
at Marathon or after the last game of the World Series.
Perhaps it’s a warning: do not come where I am.

Sometimes we hear in it nothing more than a toast,
in French or Gaelic,
in a Montmartre cafe or a Dun Loaghaire pub.
Maybe this is Martin Luther
hammering his theses to a church door.

Perhaps this is Pete Townshend,
throwing the neck of a broken guitar to fans.
Perhaps this man is singing or dancing,
or possibly he is just sore at his kids.

Maybe he’s drunk or unsteady, or
has twisted his ankle and is falling backwards.
At this distance, who can tell?

Perhaps the fist is not a fist, but a waving hand;
perhaps the voice is not a cry, but a call.

Opinions and Facts

“We’re learning about opinions and facts.
This is very hard stuff.”

—Megan Pichaske

You’re darned tootin’.
Half the teachers at my school
wouldn’t know a hawk from a handsaw
whichever way the wind was blowing.
Feelings pass for ideas these days,
and ideology masquerades as truth.
Put that down for a fact.

Scientists usually get things right:
organic chemistry is not “how I feel.”
The speed of light is not “gender biased.”
The etiology of AIDS is not “homophobic.”
And the athletes—they understand:
You kick this ball into that net.
Throw the ball, hit the ball, catch the ball.
It wasn’t post-colonial racism blocked your spike,
Not the patriarchy blocked that free throw.
These are facts a smart girl knows.

Here’s a few others:
Megan Pichaske is the smartest kid
in the whole second grade.
Matthew Pichaske rocks.
Addison Pichaske rules.
Your mommy and daddy love you.
God exists—without qualms.
You can’t argue with an ideologue,
because they’re not very smart.
Put these down as facts.
Your grandpa told you so.

from THE FATHER POEMS, David Pichaske, Cross+Roads Press, PO Box 33 Ellison Bay, WI 54210, $10





curt johnson | gott ist gross und gott ist gut.

10 06 2008

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND… No.143 | June 10, 2008

Curt Johnson: 1928-2008

Gott ist gross und Gott ist gut.

Dear Friends,

I just learned that Chicago writer and publisher, Curt Johnson, died.

I was a friend, we were friends, for over 40 years. He was one of the best writers out there, and never received the attention he deserved, slugging it out for so many years with his own small press and magazine, december, for so many of us who looked forward to reading whatever he was up to, as well as hoping to some day get the official nod from Curt, to be included in anything he edited and published. Among his early ‘finds’ Ray Carver.

I can’t imagine the literary small press scene in America without the no bullshit attitude of Curt, always hovering over the scene, separating the crapola (Academia and government grants) from the writers who wrote solid, lived the little mag/small press life–no strings attached. Curt had an eye for those folks. It’s no wonder his heroes were writers like Nelson Algren and Jack Conroy. The poetry of the streets, the working stiff. The school of hard knocks.Tell it (in writing) like it is–is something Johnson wrote and lived, long before it became the popular thing to say

As the publisher and editor of Cross+Roads Press, one of the projects and books I’m proudest of is SALUD, Selected Writings by Curt Johnson. It was a bear of a book to work on, there was so much of his writing that deserved to be to included, it took far longer than I imagined, but luckily Curt was alive (though not well) and in touch via phone, snail-mail, and his daughter,Paula. I wanted him around to see this book happen, introduce him to young writers and readers who never heard of him, or may have forgotten he was still around. Which happened, to some degree. And that was just last year–2007. I’ll never forget his smile, when I delivered the first copy to SALUD to him and his eyes began to well, standing there in the kitchen of his small house in Highland Park, Illinois. “It’s beautiful, Norbert…beautiful,” he whispered in his gravely voice. One of the small satisfactions of small press publishing that few will understand or experience. To print something to make sure that writers like Curt are not forgotten.

But I remain more than unhappy over the reception of SALUD in the hometown, Chicago. Not one goddamn newspaper or literary magazine gave SALUD or Curt the print he deserved. Believe me, I contacted all of them. It was like tossing copies over a cliff. Granted, he had made some enemies in the media world in his time. He did not suffer fools or what he perceived as injustice. But for all the time, effort, concern that he put into ‘the city of the big shoulders” that they should give him the cold shoulder pisses me off considerably, to this very day.

Only the little mags and newspapers, publications read mostly by other writers gave it some print–and continue to give it some attention (one even featuring Curt at their writer of that issue)–most of this thanks to the tireless efforts of Milwaukee writer, Charles Ries, who maintains a passionate mission to ‘get the word out there.’ For which I thank him again here.

But I’m still waiting to hear more than wind from the Windy City. Chicago, where the hell are you? You lost a champ. Somebody, please wake up Oprah. Not to mention the Trib, Sun-Times, Chicago Magazine, all the alternative newspapers, all the literary mags still riding whatever small wave was once the Chicago writing scene.

Rest in piece, old friend. The important thing: You got it all down on paper, kept the faith, said it well. It’s their loss.

Salud,
norb blei

Let us turn over the page

And see what is written

On the other side of the night.

—Thomas McGrath

P.S. Copies of SALUD are still available. $15 plus $2 postage from CROSS+ROADS PRESS, PO Box 33, Ellison Bay, WI 54210. Blatant advertising. An out-and-out pitch. (Curt would have loved it. I can see him grinning). For those of you who enjoy reading essays, short stories, memoirs, novels, satire, political commentary, etc. For anyone out there who wants to become a writer or a publisher, or knows someone who is entertaining the notion of writing seriously, here’s the book. Not “How To” but “How It Is”. Curt wrote this one for you.








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