alan catlin | one book

25 01 2010

Poetry Dispatch No.309 | January 25, 2010

Alan Catlin

DRUNK AND DISORDERLY, Selected Poems (1978-2000), by Alan Catlin, Pavement Saw Press, 2003

Imagine if you will, a young man walks into a bar, the bar where I was working, asks me, the bartender, ”Remember me? I’m Dave Baratier and I have a small press . I want to do a book of your selected poems.” No, that isn’t a standard bar joke but how the idea for and the book, “Drunk and Disorderly” came about.

Needless to say, it was nowhere near that simple. This is the world of small presses and absolutely nothing is simple. Over the years, and I do mean years, several of them, Dave and I hashed out what we wanted to include in the book on the telephone and by e-mail. As we had close to thirty chapbooks and books to choose on a wide variety of subjects, this was an arduous project. Dave was up to daunting projects having transcribed, often copying hundreds of pages from delicate limited edition of Simon Perchik’s work, for a previous major book. However, prior commitments, personal issues, work and attempting to run a fine small press and write as well, drew the process out longer than either of us would have expected or liked.

Of course, we had favorites from my work, pieces Dave liked and ones I was no longer fond of. Dave was partial to the early prose poems in “Joyce in Hades” and I was not. I was partial to the war poems in “An Experiment in Terror” and he could not abide war poems of any sort no matter how well they were done. As with any effort of this sort compromises were proposed and accepted and the book began to take shape. And then I didn’t hear from Dave for well, many months that became years.

As Dave had promised me this book would be a fine art edition and that he would keep it in print and that it represented, not only the past work but new, bolder, totally different directions my writing was taking in a generous uncollected new work section, the book had great importance to me. More than any other by far, as I knew, realistically, who else was going to do a book of my selected poems? During the waiting time, Simon assured me I shouldn’t lose hope, to stick with and Dave would reward you with a fine book you would both be proud of. Of course, he was right, but waiting is a bitch no matter how you slice it. And what you become accustomed to when you play the small press publishing game. Anyone who is in it for the fame or the money or for ego gratification should find something else to do like try out for American Idol; the chances of making it are about the same but the rewards are infinitely less than anything you could possibly expect on TV. Well, theoretically, anyway; it all depends upon your priorities. Writing is a love affair and the small presses are the mistress. I’m not sure what American Idol is in the scheme of things.

The last piece of the book puzzle was the cover and the title of the book. I was fortunate enough to enlist the fine poet and artist David Chorlton to provide a remarkable original piece of art for the cover. The title was more difficult. Dave didn’t want something totally bland and predictable. I couldn’t think of anything I was love in with and neither could he. Eventually, I wrote down a list of possible titles ranging from the frivolous to the pretentious and said pick one. “Drunk and Disorderly” was chosen, I think, for two basic reasons. One, that it reflects the raucous, hell raising barn burning bar poems and the other that the poet is drunk or had been drunk, at times, not only on booze but on words. Considering I neither drink nor work in a bar any longer, we’ll have to assume the title refers more to the words than the booze.

I have found that my work is an ongoing process of evolution, of growth and new understandings leading to sometimes startling discoveries that make the process beyond material reward. Directly in the center of that process, not necessarily chronologically, but intellectually. “Drunk and Disorderly”, is for me a backward glance to what has been done and a forward look into what the future has to offer. Hopefully, the process will continue well into the foreseeable future.

Book Publications

  • 1980- Joyce in Hades-chapbook of prose poems
  • 1982-The Monkey’s Raincoat, Realities Library chapbook
  • 1983- Visiting Day on the Psychiatric Ward-chapbook runner up in Looking Glass Chapbook Competition
  • 1984-Animal Acts-Quality Press-book
  • 1984-My Son and I-Timberline Press chapbook
  • 1986-A New Year’s Eve Bash-chapbook Co-winner of Gypsy Chapbook Competition
  • 1986-An Unresolved Argument with Shadows-Chapbook Geryon Press
  • 1987-A World Out of Balance-M.A.F. Press chapbook
  • 1990-A Ghost Story-Kindred Spirit Press-chapbook
  • 1990-Bar Wars-Kindred Spirit Press-chapbook
  • 1993-A Confusion of Giants, East Coast Press- chapbook
  • 1993-Down and Out in Albany New York-Green Meadow Press-chapbook
  • 1993-What I Would Do If I Owned a Motorcycle-Green Meadow Press-chapbook
  • 1993-Lorca in New York, Iota Press-chapbook
  • 1994-An Experiment in Terror-Mulberry Press Award-chapbook
  • 1995-Marching North-Mulberry Press-chapbook
  • 1995-Shelley and the Romantics-Adastra Press-chapbook
  • 1995-Downwind of the Dumpster-UBP- chapbook
  • 1995-Demonology-Mulberry Press-chapbook
  • 1996-Black and White in Color-winner of the Mississenewa chapbook award
  • 1996-Self-Annhiliation with Shopping Bag Ladies-UBP-chapbook
  • 1996-Neo-Runes, Art Mag chapbook
  • 1997-Killer Cocktails-Four Sep Press, chapbook
  • 1997-Terminal Beach at Sunset-UBP chapbook with illustrations by Michael Shores
  • 1999-Celtic Twilight-JVC Books chapbook
  • 2000-Hair of the Dog That Bit Me-Four Sep Press chapbook
  • 2000-Stop Making Sense-March Street Press-chapbook
  • 2000-ESP-Phyrgian Press chapbook
  • 2000-Ghost Road-winner of the Main Street Rag chapbook contest
  • 2002-Death and Transfiguration Cocktail-Lummox Press Little Red Book
  • 2002-The Leper’s Kiss-Four Sep Press-chapbook
  • 2003-Greatest Hits-Pudding Publication chapbook
  • 2003-Drunk and Disorderly, Pavement Saw Press selected poems book
  • 2003-Last Bus to Albany-Pudding Publication-chapbook
  • 2004-The Schenectady Chainsaw Massacre-Staplegun- book
  • 2004-Views of Mt. Greylock-Snark Publications chapbook
  • 2004-Screaming Mimis-Butcher Shop Press-chapbook
  • 2005-Dawn on the Beach-Snark Publications-chapbook
  • 2005-Playing Tennis with Antonioni-March Street Press book
  • 2006-Thou Shalt Not Kill-Chiron Review Press-long poem chapbook
  • 2006-Our Lady of the Shipwrecks-Finishing Line Press-chapbook runner up chapbook contest
  • 2007-Still Life-Black Buzzard Press-chapbook
  • 2008-Self-Portrait of the Artist Afraid of His Self-Portrait-March Street Press book
  • 2008-The Effects of Sunlight on Fog-Bright Hill Press chapbook runner up chapbook contest
  • 2008-Men in Suits-MadmanInk, chapbook
  • 2009-Only the Dead Know Albany-sunnyoutside, chapbook
  • 2009- Brain Damage-Propaganda Press chapbook
  • 2009-Short Shots-Alternative Press mini chapbook
  • 2009-Suffering Bastards- co winner Evil Genius Chapbook award
  • 2009-Insomniac’s Gift-SharkArt chapbook with illustrations by Michael Shores
  • 2010-Near Death in the Afternoon on Becker Street-March Street Press-book

Prose Publications

  • 1993-Dead Letter Office-Green Meadow novella
  • 1995-The Apology short stories
  • 2000-From the Waters of Oblivion-Chiron Review Press- novel
  • 2004-Death Angles-short stories Four Sep Publications


  • The Poet’s Job: To Go Too Far Sophie Books 1985
  • Gate’s to the City: Albany Tricentennial Anthology 1986
  • Puerto del Sol 25th Anniversary Anthology 1988
  • New Geography of Poets University of Arkansas 1992
  • Beyond Bad Times Snow Apple Press 1993
  • In the West of Ireland Enright House 1994
  • Sulfur & Sawdust Scars Publication 1995
  • Best of Impetus Implosion Press 1996
  • Slate & Marrow Scars Publication 1996
  • Diner Anthology Future Tense Press 1996
  • Joyful Noise King’s Estate Press 1996
  • Word Thursday Anthology Bright Hill Press 1997
  • A Scent of Apple; anthology of poetry on family relationships Pittenbrauch Press 1997
  • Blister & Burn Scars Publications 1997
  • Second Word Thursday Anthology Bright Hill Press 1999
  • Rinse & Repeat Scars Publication 1999
  • Beers, Bars & Breakdowns Staplegun 2000
  • To Life, King’s Estate Press 2001
  • Northern Muse; poems about and inspired by Glenn Gould James Gordon Burke Publisher
  • 2001
  • Draft Specials & other atrocities Staplegun 2002
  • No Restraints: an anthology of Disability Culture in Philadelphia 2002
  • Great American Poetry Show 2004
  • Roque Dalton Redux Cedar Hill 2005
  • Poet’s Bookshelf Barnwood 2005
  • Unexpected Harvest King’s Estate Press 2005
  • Contrarywise King’s Estate Press 2008
  • Poet’s Against the War Ars Poetica 2008
  • Poems for a Buck Twenty Nine Rusty Truck 2009
  • Empty Shoes: Poems on the Hungry and Homeless Create Space Publishers 2009
  • The Long Way Home: Best of Red Book Series 2009
  • Bar Code, Little Eagle Press, 2008


Nineteen Pushcart Press Nominations, Three Rhysling Award nominations (Science Fiction Poetry) One Bram Stoker nomination (Horror book award), finalist in Quercus Review Poetry Book Contest twice, Brittingham Award, Lila Todd Weaver Awards (Pleiades Press). Two books were chosen by Marvin Malone of Wormwood Review fame as most neglected books of the year, “Animal Acts” and “Barred on Both DES” written with Paul Weinman.

nancy caldwell sorel | herman melville & nathaniel hawthorne

20 01 2010

Illustration by Edward Sorel

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND # 206 | January 21, 2010

First Encounters:


by Nancy Caldwell Sorel

THE time was midsummer, midcentury, and the place—the Berkshires—was a magnet for the literati. Mr. D. D. Field, a mere lawyer, had conceived of a social climb up Monument Mountain and collected a few illustrious residents of the area for that purpose. Among them were poet-raconteur-physician-on-occasion Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Mr. James T. Fields, publisher to Mr. Nathaniel Hawthorne, novelist, also present. Then there was young Mr. Herman Melville—known as “the man who had lived among the cannibals”—author of books with strange titles like Omoo and Typee, and current¬ly at work on a tale of his whaling voyage. Two young women were in attendance, as was—in spirit only—William Cullen Bryant, poetical elegist of an Indian maiden thwarted in love who, legend said, had thrown herself off a precipice of this same mountain.

After ascending as far as they could by carriage and wagon, the party set off on foot. It was a jolly venture. A thunder shower was not allowed to dampen spirits: sheltered under an overhang, the climbers sipped iced champagne from a silver mug and heard a recitation of Bryant’s poem, made more dramatic by thunder and flashes of lightning. When the rain stopped, they trekked on. At the summit an exuberant Melville stood boldly on a projecting ledge as on a ship’s deck and demonstrated hauling in sail, while the usually reserved Hawthorne playacted at scanning the horizon for a whale’s hump.

A three-hour dinner laced with wines and fine conversation followed, and by day’s end the very private Hawthorne, age forty-six, had invited Melville, thirty-one, to spend a few days with him. As it turned out, the man whose life had been defined by Salem’s insularity, but whose just-published novel, The Scarlet Letter, explored the depths of the human psyche, had a lot to offer the man whose formulating experience was “the sky above, the sea around, and nothing else.” Under the spell of Hawthorne’s bent toward allegory and the seductive persuasiveness of his handsome person, Melville rewrote his whaling story and dedicated Moby-Dick to his friend.

[from THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY, January, 1993]

jackie langetieg | one book

15 01 2010

PoetryDispatch No. 308 | January 15, 2010


Jackie Langetieg

From age 6 when I punched letter by letter type into a neighborhood newspaper, I have written something—In my teens through an understanding English teacher who looked beyond the surface of my tough-girl attitude and acts, I entered into the joy of writing—both prose and poetry. My first book of sorts was done then—probably filled with mash notes to some boy or other but the words wanted to have their proper place. Then came the alcoholic years—mostly blurs but yet poems by the cartload from such phrases as the soul cried tears of blood to bucolic ramblings, usually ending with holes in the paper from frustrated pounding of pen or pencil. For years when I worked in State Government, I penned anonymous responses to bureaucratic bullshit memos about how to turn on the radiators or to keep the blinds drawn in place of air conditioning. I had a following; people enjoyed my sense of things. Two marriages and two children softened my edges as did the passing years, but still I was seeking the inner smile of writing accomplishment—The Book.

Enter The Clearing [Ellison Bay, Wisconsin]: I was looking for a quiet place to “find myself” in some safe place mentally and the music week was full—so the writers’ week it was. Every writing theme and effort I’d had became a legitimate benchmark on my journey. I began to tell people I wrote poetry, put work into little books so I could carry it around and savor it. What a high! Over the next 15 years, I wrote all the time and admitted to it; three books and two that I was working on, all lovingly typed, copied and stapled together with a cover carrying My Name.

It would be difficult to select a favorite book from those I’ve put together over the years—beginning in 1984 and having one I’m working on now. All these little books say something different about me—my first stumbling steps in writing poems; coming out of the poetry closet in the 1990’s and joining a group.

I tried sending poems out to little magazines as everyone seemed to be doing, but I was less than successful and each rejection was a death knell for that poem—I had no confidence at all when it came to accepting rejection or criticism. Reading helped; I began to enjoy the company of poets and began to read my work out loud at coffee houses. A great venue for being told I had a great poem, or many times, “a great reading voice”!

The real book, the book that made me a poet was White Shoulders. A real press published work, with credits and acknowledgements. This was my truth—I’d begun it as an exercise in different genre—a transition between poetry and prose. All my adult life, I’d given my mother the back-handed remarks that made me who I became—the teen who acted out, got drunk, the failure at marriage and alcoholic—all her fault. Suddenly, it became important to me to give her the chance to respond to my accusations—difficult because she had died 12 years earlier. So began the book, originally titled, Mother’s House. It is a lovely book with a beautiful sensitive cover and a content of absolute honesty, much of which tears away the years of excuses I made for my screwed up life. It was cathartic writing it, editing it and finally seeing it as a finished beautiful product, and I had begun to hear her voice explaining to me what her life was about during those years—I’d write something bitchy, and she’d respond by telling me of her fears and life as a single parent; this was a revelation to me and my truth began with the telling of that story, which became White Shoulders, a conversation between a daughter and her deceased mother, published beautifully by Cross+Roads Press. At last I had a legitimate book of my own to hold close and share with others, and the absolute thrill when I first saw it come alive through the brown paper packaging will remain as the most exciting and emotional event of my life.

The important part of my writing is keeping the truth of the poem and my own dignity in the writing. I’ve never considered myself anything but an individualist, feminism is grand for those who have carried me along, but I’ve had my hands full staying true to me. I’m a decade past the baby-boomers and have had to bear the guilt of the fifties ingrained in the back of my left knee whenever I’ve tried to be a woman of the times—usually overdone with my lack of perspective. I’ve recovered from most negatives in my younger years, abuse, alcohol, tobacco, divorces. I live alone now and enjoy every minute of it—and it’s safer than getting involved with the old people-pleasing games of my youth.

There have been two more books since White Shoulders, and one: Just What in Hell is a Stage of Grief? is my story of losing my 33 year old son to booze and sleep apnea. It was important to me to have a written dialogue with him and myself about the days following his death and I’m very pleased with the book; it’s not everyone’s choice for reading, but the purpose has been completed. I hope to complete another book within this year and perhaps if I write again about The Book, it may be about one to come—but for now White Shoulders defines my library and influences each poem I write with truth.


  • Bar Code, Little Eagle Press 2008, and Peninsula Review, Sister Bay, WI 1989: “The Staring Contest”
  • Rosebud, Cambridge, WI, Issue #1, Winter 1993-94: “Choices”
  • Women’s Recovery Journal (?), 1993: “My Name is Jackie”
  • Cats’ Meow, Maine Rhode Publ. Woolwich, ME 1996: “Business Venture”
  • Tasty Morsels, Lonesome Traveller Publ. Madison, WI, 1996: “Camellia” and “Role Model”
  • Poetry of Cold, Home Brew Press, Fish Creek, WI, 1997: “Darkness of an Early Morning Snow”
  • Detours II, Lonesome Traveller Pub.1998: “The Shoji Screen”
  • Coming Home to Door, Home Brew Press 1998: “The Dinner Party”


  • Three Legged Cats and Other Tales, Wheels Press, 1989
  • Private Thoughts, Wheels Press 1991
  • Coming of Age, Wheels Press, 1992
  • White Shoulders, Cross+Roads Press, Ellison Bay, WI 2000
  • Just What in the Hell is a Stage of Grief, Ghost Horse Press, Verona, 2008
  • Confetti in a Silent City, Ghost Horse Press, 2008


  • 1988: Joyce Web Poetry Award, Wisconsin Regional Writers Assoc. “Shoes”
  • 1997: First Place Poem, Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Trophy Award. “Living Separated from Him”
  • 1999: First Place Poem, Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences & Letters Annual Award, “Tai Chi in Four Movements”
  • 2000: Jade Ring, Wisconsin Regional Writers Assoc. “Casals’ Cello”


  • Barefoot Grass Journal, Vol 1, Fall/Winter 1997: “Stone,” “Invitations,” “Generations”
  • Writing Across the Boundaries Between Poetry & Prose, Lonesome Traveller Pub., 1999: “Mother’s House”
  • Reflections on the Train, Detours: Poems of Travel by Land, Sea, Air and Mind, Lonesome Traveller Pub., 1997; RobinChapman’s Blog, 2006: “Reflections on the Train”
  • Poems of Love, Lonesome Traveller Publishing,1998: “If I Were to Take a Lover”
  • Wisconsin Academy Review: Summer, 2004: and RobinChapman’s Blog, 2006: “Father Writes to Mother From California”
  • Wisconsin Academy Review: Spring, 2003 and RobinChapman’s Blog 2006 “Letter to My Daughter”
  • Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences & Letters: Spring, 1999 and Taijiquan Journal, Minneapolis, 2004: “Tai Chi in 4 Movements”
  • Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences & Letters: 1996 “The X-Ray”
  • Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences & Letters: 1998 “Ablutions”
  • Word of Mouth, May 1993 & Spondee Internet:“Jason at 23, White, Adriatic Sea”
  • Poetry Dispatch #118 Norbert Blei, Ed Internet 2007, “Once Again I Fail To” and Excerpt from White Shoulders
  • 100 Words, University of Iowa, ** “Second Sight”
  • Midland Review, University of Oklahoma, May 1993 and Spondee Internet Site “Jewels”
  • Looking Out the Window, The Writers’ Place, 1994 and Spondee Internet Site “In the Party Room at the Nursing Home”
  • Peace Project, 2003 Exhibit: “Women Drumming”
  • Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Calendars 1991-2010: Various poems –
  • Slender Thread, Little Eagle Press, Bailey’s Harbor, WI 2008: “Universal Sorrow on City Street,” “Old Woman Lays Husband to Rest,” “Paper Pink Iris”
  • Tiger’s Eye, Tiger’s Eye Press, Oregon, 2008: “Old Woman Lays Husband to Rest”
  • The Aurorean, Encircle Publications, ME, Vol. XIII 2008-2009: “Seasons”
  • Silk Road, Pacific University, Oregon, Vol. 3 Spring 2008: “Pentimento II”
  • Chaffin Journal, East Kentucky University, 2009: “Aneurism”


  • Volunteer and President of Board of Directors for The Writers’ Place, Madison, WI 1996-98
  • Editor, Looking Out the Window, The Writers’ Place First Annual Literary Anthology, Madison 1995
  • Co-Editor, 2004 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Annual Calendar

william saroyan | part II

13 01 2010

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 205 | January 13, 2010


Further Notes…

  • The overwhelming response to the previous Saroyan posting suggests I add a few more words…more memories. Including a slightly excerpted text of “A Writer’s Declaration” which many readers have asked about.
  • Judging a book by its cover. (Sample, above.) I am a reader, lover, and a collector of books. I know the respect they deserve, especially in the hands of collectors. But as a writer and sometimes teacher, I know too that some books, through time and constant reference, take on the ‘the holy.’ Their future value (‘rare’) as first editions, signed, mint condition, etc…none of this matters. Certain holy books are pulled from the shelves time and again, sometimes frantically, to be read when I need them. They show the ‘suffering’ in my hands in transit to desks, reading chairs, lecterns, not to mention the wear and tear of loaning them, passing them on to the hands of others. I make no apologies for their haggard appearance. They are vulnerable, yes. And the sadder they look (pages loosening from the binding—the worst!) the more beloved they are to me.
  • Have I emphasized enough how important writers like Saroyan are to writers first starting out? To writers, depressed, despondent, discouraged? To teachers trying to lead students through the entanglement of ‘literature’?
  • Henry Miller is another who can both encourage and save a writer’s life. (I was lucky. I had both Miller and Saroyan at my side from the beginning. Where they remain today.)
  • In praising the ethnic connection I experienced through Saroyan’s writing, I neglected to mention the writings of the Greek-American (Chicago) writer, Harry Mark Petrakis, who was equally important in bringing the human spirit alive in his stories that hummed with passion—and seeing that the same spirit entered you. Petrakis, who became and remains a close friend, someone I dedicated my second collection of stories to. Petrakis—I promise to get back to him in more detail sometime soon.
  • There is a quote from Act I of Saroyan’s play, “The Time of Your Life” that infuses my work. Appears, on one or two occasions word for word in my writing. Not to forget that (this):
  • In the time of your life, live—so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have been driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world. Ignore the obvious, for it is unworthy of the clear eye and the kindly heart. Be the inferior of no man, nor of any man be the superior. Remember that every man is a variation of yourself. No man’s guilt is not yours, nor is any man’s innocence a thing apart. Despise evil and ungodliness, but not men of ungodliness or evil. These, understand. Have no shame in being kindly and gentle, but if the time comes in the time of your life to kill, kill and have no regret. In the time of your life, live—so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it. –norbert blei

by William Saroyan

On October 15, 1934, my first book, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze and Other Stones, was published. The year 1934 seems quite near, but the fact remains that it was twenty years ago, as I write. Many things happened in those twenty years, several of them to me.

I didn’t earn one dollar by any means other than writing. I wrote short stories, plays, novels, essays, poems, book reviews, miscellaneous comment, letters to editors, private letters, and songs.

Nothing that I wrote was written to order, on assignment, or for money, although a good deal of what I wrote happened to earn money. If an editor liked a story as I had written it, he could buy it. If he wanted parts of it written over, I did not do that work. Nobody did it. One editor took liberties with a short piece about Christmas, and the writer of a cook book to which I had written a free Preface added a few lines by way of making me out a soldier-patriot. I protested to the editor and to the writer of the cook book, but of course the damage had been done. During the Second World War I wrote no propaganda of any kind, although I was invited several times to do so. The point is that for twenty years I have been an American writer who has been entirely free and independent.

I consider the past twenty years the first half of my life as a published writer, and the next twenty I consider the second half. At that time I shall be sixty-six years old, which can be very old, or not. I expect to be more creative in the next twenty years than I was in the first twenty, even though I start with a number of handicaps. To begin with, I owe so much in back taxes that it is very nearly impossible arithmetically to even the score by writing, and I have acquired other personal, moral, and financial responsibilities.

I have never been subsidized, I have never accepted money connected with a literary prize or award, I have never been endowed, and I have never received a grant or fellowship. A year or two after my first book was published I was urged by friends to file an application for a Guggenheim Fellowship. Against my better judgment I filed an application, which was necessarily if not deliberately haphazard. How should I know what I wanted to write, for instance? I couldn’t possibly describe it. My application was turned down and I began to breathe freely again.

I am head over heels in debt. I expect to get out of debt by writing, or not at all. I have no savings account, no stocks or bonds, no real estate, no insurance, no cash, and no real property that is convertible into anything like a sum of money that might be useful. I simply have got to hustle for a living. I mention these matters impersonally, as facts, and not to arouse sympathy. I don’t want any.

Had my nature been practical I might at this time know financial \ security, as it’s called. There is nothing wrong with such security, I suppose, but I prefer another kind. I prefer to recognize the truth that I must work, and to believe that I can.

I squandered a great deal of money that I earned as a writer and I lost a lot of it gambling. It seems to have been my nature to squander and to gamble, that’s all. I gave some away, perhaps a great deal. I am j not unaware of the possible meaning of the discomfort I have felt  when I have had money, and the compulsion I have had to get rid of it somehow or other. I think I have felt the need to be only a writer a writing writer, and not a success of any kind.

The ability or compulsion to hoard money has always seemed to me a complicated if not offensive thing. And yet I have always had sympathy for those who have been experts at hoarding, at legal means by which not to pay taxes, at timely thrusts into new and profitable areas of money-making, such as investments, real estate, inventions, oil, uranium, government contracts, the backing of plays, manufacturing, and marketing. The noticeable shrewdness of such people has always amused me, even when I myself have been the party to be outwitted. …

Before my first book was published I was not a drinker, but soon after it came out I discovered the wisdom of drinking, and I think this is something worth looking into for a moment.

In 1935 I drank moderately, and traveled to Europe for the first time, but the following nine years, until I was drafted into the Army, I drank as much as I liked, and I frequently drank steadily for nine or ten hours at a time.

I was seldom drunk, however. I enjoyed the fun of drinking and talking loudly with friends—writers, painters, sculptors, newspapermen, and the girls and women we knew in San Francisco.

Drinking with good companions can be a good thing for a writer, but let a writer heed this humble and perhaps unnecessary warning: stop drinking when drinking tends to be an end in itself, for that is a useless end. I believe I have learned a lot while I have been drinking with friends, just as most of us may say we have learned a lot in sleep. There is, however, a recognizable limit to what may be learned by means of drinking.

In the writing that I have done during the past twenty years, what do I regret?

Nothing. Not one word.

Did I write enough?

No. No writer ever writes enough.

Might I have written differently? More intelligently, for instance?


First, I always tried my best, as I understand trying. Second, I believe I was quite intelligent all the time.

Then, what about the theory of certain critics and readers that my writing is unrealistic and sentimental?

Well, I think they are mistaken. In writing that is effective I don’t think anything is unrealistic. As for my own writing, I think it has always been profoundly realistic if not ever superficially so. I don’t think my writing is sentimental either, although it is a very sentimental thing to be a human being.

As I write, I am back in San Francisco, where I lived when my first book was published, where I have not lived in six or seven years, and the day is the thirteenth of October. I drove up from Malibu two days ago for a visit of ten or eleven days while my house on the beach is being painted inside and out. I did not drive to San Francisco in order to be here on the twentieth anniversary of the publication of my first book, but I shall be here on that day nevertheless.

Already I have walked in the various neighborhoods of San Francisco I have known, to notice again the various houses in which I have lived: 348 Carl Street, 1707 Divisadero, 2378 Sutter, 123 Natoma: and the various places in which I worked before I had had a story published in a national magazine: various branch offices of the Postal Telegraph Company—on Market Street in the Palace Hotel Building, on Powell Street at Market, on Taylor at Market in the Golden Gate Theatre Building, and at 405 Brannan, near Third. I was a clerk and teletype operator in the first three offices, but I was the manager of the office on Brannan. I have always been a little proud of that, for I was the youngest manager of a Postal Telegraph branch office in America, nineteen years old and without a high school diploma. …

It was at 348 Carl Street twenty years ago on this day, October 13, that I opened a package from Random House and saw a copy of my first book. That was a hell of a moment. I was so excited I couldn’t roll a Bull Durham cigarette. After three tries I finally made it, and began to inhale and exhale a little madly as I examined the preposterous and very nearly unbelievable object of art and merchandise. What a book, what a cover, what a title page, what words, what a photograph—now just watch the women swarm around. For a young writer does write in order to expect pretty women to swarm around.

Alas, the swarmers aren’t often pretty. This is a mystery that continues to baffle me. Pretty women swarm around fat little men who own and operate small businesses. They swarm around chiropractors who are full of talk about some of their interesting cases and achievements. They swarm around young men who wear black shirts and have five buttons on the sleeves of their sport coats, who have no visible means of support, who spend hours chatting amiably about last night’s preposterous trivia as if it were history.

Pretty women swarm around everybody but writers.

Plain, intelligent women somewhat swarm around writers.

But it wasn’t only to have pretty women swarm around that I hustled my first book into print. It wasn’t that alone by a long shot.

I also meant to revolutionize American writing.

In the early thirties the word revolutionize enjoyed popularity and was altogether respectable, but a special poll invented by a special statistician would be the only means today by which to measure my success in revolutionizing American writing. To pretend that my writing hasn’t had any effect at all on American writing, however, would be inaccurate. The trouble is that for the most part my writing influenced unpublished writers who remained unpublished, and to measure that kind of an influence calls for a lot of imagination and daring. The good writers that my writing influenced were already published, some of them long published, but the truth is that my writing did influence their writing, too, for I began to notice the improvement almost immediately. And I didn’t notice it in short stories alone, I noticed it in novels and plays, and even in movies.

What did my writing have that might be useful to writing in general?


I think I demonstrated that if you have a writer, you have writing, and that the writer himself is of greater importance than his writing— until he quits, or is dead.

Thus, if you are a writer, you do not have to kill yourself every time you write a story, a play, or a novel.

But why did I want to revolutionize American writing?

I had to, because I didn’t like it, and wanted to.

And why, as a writer, was I unwilling to act solemn? Didn’t I know that unless I acted solemn the big critics would be afraid to write about my writing? I knew. I refused to act solemn because I didn’t feel solemn. I didn’t feel I ought to feel solemn, or even dignified, because I knew acting dignified was only a shadow removed from being pompous. Some writers are naturally solemn, dignified, or pompous, but that doesn’t mean that they are also naturally great, or even effective.

There simply isn’t any mysterious connection between solemnity and great writing. Some great writers had great solemnity, but most of them had almost none. They had something else.

What is this other thing?

I think it is an obsession to get to the probable truth about man, nature, and art, straight through everything to the very core of one’s own being.

What is this probable truth?

It changes from day to day, certainly from year to year. You can measure the change from decade to decade, and the reason you can measure it is that there have been writers (and others) who have been obsessed about it, too.

To become free is the compulsion of our time—free of everything that is useless and false, however deeply established in man’s fable. But this hope of freedom, this need of it, does not for a moment mean that man is to go berserk. Quite the contrary, since freedom, real freedom, true freedom, carries the life and fable of man nearer and nearer to order, beauty, grace, and meaning—all of which must always remain correctable in details—revised, improved, refined, enlarged, extended.

Intelligence is arriving into the fable of the life of man. It isn’t necessarily welcome, though, certainly not in most quarters. In order to be a little less unwelcome it must be joined by humor, out of which the temporary best has always come. You simply cannot call the human race a dirty name unless you smile when you do so. The calling of the name may be necessary and the name itself may be temporarily accurate, but not to smile at the time is a blunder that nullifies usefulness, for without humor there is no hope, and man could no more live without hope than he could without the earth underfoot.

Life rules the world, impersonal and free life. The anonymous living tell their story every day, with the help of professional or amateur writers, but the greatest story-teller of all is time and change, or death. But death is not our doom and not our enemy. Next to birth it is our best gift, and next to truth it is our best friend.

I am back in San Francisco on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the publication of my first book—the beginning of my life as a writer, as a force in the life of my time, as a voting representative of my anonymous self and of any and all others whose aspirations parallel my own—to live creatively, to live honorably, to hurt no one insofar as possible, to enjoy mortality, to fear neither death nor immortality, to cherish fools and failures even more than wise men and saints since there are more of them, to believe, to hope, to work, and to do these things with humor.

To say yes, and not to say no.

What advice have l for the potential writer?

I have none, for anybody is a potential writer^ and the writer who is a writer needs no advice and seeks none.

What about courses in writing in colleges and universities?

Useless, they are entirely useless.

The writer is a spiritual anarchist, as in the depth of his soul every man is. He is discontented with everything and everybody. The writer is everybody’s best friend and only true enemy—the good and great enemy. He neither walks with the multitude nor cheers wit]h them The writer who is a writer is a rebel who never stops. He does not conform for the simple reason that there is nothing yet worth conforming to. When there is something half worth conforming to he will not conform to that, either, or half conform to it. He won’t even rest or sleep as other people rest and sleep. When he is dead he’ll probably be dead as others are dead, but while he is alive he is alive as no one else is, not even another writer. The writer who is a writer is also a fool. He is the easiest man in the world to belittle, ridicule, dismiss, and scorn: and that also is precisely as it should be. He is also mad, measurably so, but saner than all others, with the best sanity, the only sanity worth bothering about—the living, creative, vulnerable, valorous, unintimidated, and arrogant sanity of a free man.

I am a writer who is a writer, as I have been for twenty ears, and expect to be for twenty more.

I am here to stay, and so is everybody else. No explosive is going to be employed by anybody on anybody. Knowing this, believing this, the writer who is a writer makes plans to watch his health casually, and to write his writing with more purposeful intelligence, humor, and love.

I am proud of my twenty years, undecorated as they may be. I am proud to be a writer, the writer I am, and I don’t care what anybody else is proud of.

[From: THE WILLIAM SAROYAN READER, Braziller, Inc., 1958]

william saroyan | saroyan lives & breathes

10 01 2010

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 204 | January 10, 2010
from the Blei archives:

Saroyan Lives & Breathes

August 31 is the birthday of William Saroyan, who was born in Fresno, California in 1908 and died in 1981.

Anyone who knows me as a writer, teacher, friend, knows that Saroyan has been a big part of my life since I began to write. A mentor, a role model, an influence, call him what you will. I found him (first) in THE HUMAN COMEDY, where the main character, young boy, named Homer, was a telegraph messenger–a perfect witness to the joys and sorrows of man.

In time he helped me realize the depth and life of the ethnic culture in America, and how it could inform one’s storytelling art–setting, plot, character, theme–to last a lifetime. If Saroyan had the Armenians in Fresno; I had the Bohemians (Czechs) in Chicago. And all the other ethnic neighborhood cultures that I began to explore, move in and out of, turn into personal essays for Chicago newspapers, and short stories for literary magazines. There would be no books of personal essays by me called CHI TOWN and NEIGHBORHOOD; no collections of short stories called The GHOST OF SANDBURG, and THE HOUR OF THE SUNSHINE NOW; no novels, ADVENTURES IN AN AMERICAN’S LITERATURE and THE SECOND NOVEL, or works-in-progress without Saroyan.

I even adopted his walrus mustache early in my writing life and still display this once brown, now gray-white, [now white and unruly] old European whisker banner, proudly for over 40 years–razor free. There’s a discolored, tattered newspaper photograph of Saroyan which has been on the wall above my desk since 1976–a profile of him: left hand in his back pocket, head bowed, tilted forward, right hand tipping his fedora. And a big Saroyan smile under his mustache. He’s gesturing “hello” or “goodbye.” He was always saying hello or goodbye. I USED TO BELIEVE I HAD FOREVER NOW I’M NOT SO SURE was one of one of his books. “Everything fascinates Saroyan,” said his publishers, “a pebble on the beach, writing and writers, a stray dog, communism and capitalism, gamblers and poets, the streets of New York, the mountains of Armenia.”

I longed to meet him, damn it! But at least had the chance to write reviews of his later works for major newspapers while he was still alive. And I was certain he read them and knew there was a young-writer-kid out in the Midwest who loved his style, worshipped his words, believed in his writing regardless if major critics on the East Coast thought he was sentimental, passé, pretty much dead.

“It is not necessary for my stories, my writing, to be chosen by the critics. It is not necessary for it to last forever. It is not necessary for it to be great. And I myself don’t have to get to heaven. But necessary or not, I write my writing, and it is there. It is apart from any school. It is supported by no group of erudite literary critics. It is acclaimed by no critic at all. It has relatively so few readers, it might be said to have no readers at all. But for some reason, perhaps a preposterous reason, I believe in it. With all of its terrible flaws and limitations, including horseplay and hooliganism, and in spite of its ineptitudes. inconsistencies, and disorganization, I believe in it, and I believe in it for this reason alone, that my writing is simultaneously uniquely my own, and not mine at all….It doesn’t need to be great, it only needs to happen.”

For a young writer starting out (for any writer with thirty or more years of literary battle scars, and still more blood to let) Saroyan was, and remains, one of the few writers who consistently delivers hope to one’s desk, day and night.

I still read from his piece, “A Writer’s Declaration” (THE WILLIAM SAROYAN READER, 1958) whenever I teach a Beginning Writer’s Workshop:

“What advice have I for the potential writer?
I have none, for anybody is a potential writer, and the writer who is a writer needs no advice and seeks none…The writer is a spiritual anarchist, as in the depth of his soul every man is.”

I carried his first collection of short stories, THE DARING YOUNG MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE, all through Europe on my first odyssey of “writer in search of himself.” A very young, unpublished writer, unsure of himself, who knew Paris, was one of those rites of passage all writers had to make. A place to begin.

There was a comfort to Saroyan’s words. A confirmation that no other life but a writer’s life had meaning:

“Years ago when I was getting a thorough grammar school education in my home town I found out that stories were something very odd that some sort of men had been turning out (for some odd reason) for hundreds of years, and that there were rules governing the writing of stories.

“I immediately began to study all the classic rules, including Ring Lardner’s, and in the end I discovered that the rules were wrong.

“The trouble was, they had been leaving me out, and as far as I could tell was the most important element in the matter, so I made some new rules.”

That, for openers, from the original preface to THE DARING YOUNG MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE, published in 1934. If you’ve never read it, or don’t own it, I recommend the edition published in l964: AFTER 30 YEARS: THE DARING YOUNG MAN ON THE FLYING TRAPEZE, which contains the original preface (4 pages) plus the new one he wrote specifically for the 30th anniversary edition (129 pages).

So you’re a young, wannabe writer, alive on the streets of Paris, day and night, never before feeling so alive in your skin…cafes and flowers and art and boulevards and book stalls along the Seine, wine and food and women and language, jazz, and… it’s so overwhelming you can’t find the words to describe it.

So late at night, down streets, over bridges, sights, sounds, the city of light, a search for Miller’s, noir neighborhood, Rue St. Denis, a walk down Montparnasse looking for Hemingway’s Le Dome, a late outdoor café–coffee and a French cigarette…hours and hours…finally finding the way to the door of your fifth floor walk-up in St. Michel, the sullen concierge with the cat on her desk lifts her tired head as you bid her good night in French, ascend the narrow staircase to the broken #3 on the door of your tiny room, turn the key in the lock, step in, and throw open the shutters wide to the streets of Paris at night, inhale the stars, pour some cheap red wine…breathe it all in…taste…then open the book of Saroyan again…to confirm you are where you belong…waiting for your own words to come.

“A writer can have, ultimately, one of two styles: he can write in a manner that implies that death is inevitable, or he can write in a manner that implies that death is not inevitable. Every style ever employed by a writer has been influenced by one or another of these attitudes toward death.”

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.

john bennett | one book

5 01 2010

PoetryDispatch No. 307 | January 5, 2010


John Bennett

Poetry Dispatch begins the year 2010 with a new series that will run periodically in the continued hope of advancing good writing, good writers, good books with as much www exposure I can attract from my corner of the world. Good but too often obscure, little known, little read, misunderstood, somewhat forgotten writers and their work. As opposed to the fashionable professionals heralded on national talk shows, USA TODAY bestsellers lists, their books bountifully displayed in discount bookstores, or boldly beckoning weary travelers to throw down their charge card and partake of some forgettable airport terminal-reading for a glossy-colored hardback at $25 a pop or more.

I have a number of seasoned writers in mind, writers with a significant history of publication, many of whom I have never met, know only through their work; writers I will be asking to introduce themselves through only one book of theirs.

Perhaps a book they feel best describes what their life-work is all about. Or a book they felt never received the attention it deserved. Or one that is a particular favorite of the author’s.

Still another possibility is one that many writers experience. An acquaintance…a complete stranger approaches: “So you’re a writer? Tell me a book of yours I should read.”norbert blei

ONE BOOK—-by John Bennett

“Which of your books do you think I should read?”

A question that when asked fills me with despair. Frustration. Cynicism, anger and sarcasm. A string of negative emotions. Why? It has to do with how much of my existence is tied up in my writing (by this point, nearly all of it) and how little of the person asking the question (a lifetime of experience tells me) is likely to be tied up in what the writing is tied up in.

It’s all been leading somewhere, I see now, at the age of 71, with a lifetime of writing behind me. I’m obviously not in it for the money. I’m not in it for the fame. I’m in it for the recognition, not of me but of the writing; of the direction the writing is going in, of the destination it leans toward. I didn’t plan it this way, but this is how it turned out. I seem to be at something’s disposal.

Important to know: When I went into the first grade, I could read and write; when I came out the other end, I couldn’t. By the time I was ten I was writing poetry in secret.

Over the years I’ve written many stories, novels and poems, most of it fitting within some already established framework. Some of it was highly praised. None of it sold well.

My writing made a quantum leap in the mid 1990s. I began writing Shards. Shards are defined not by the form they take (most “look like” prose poems) but by the energy that drives them. There was a psychic eruption in my mind and spirit that left acquired skills and native talent intact but shattered societally-imposed constraints and assumptions, subliminal or in-your-face. The outpouring of writing this phenomenon brought about was (and still is) almost more than I can keep up with.

There’ve been numerous collections of Shards published. I recommend any of them over anything I wrote earlier, if you’re curious about where my writing is at and where it’s heading. But if I had to recommend one book, I’d choose Tire Grabbers, a novel driven by Shard energy, an allegory for the times we live in and the times we’re moving into, a prophecy with children as its heroes, fueled by cynicism and anger, humor and hope–a little something for anyone with the desire to shatter chains. Tire Grabbers has been embraced by a passionate sub-culture of young people, mostly artists and musicians and high-school dropouts. It has not sold well.

Tire Grabbers is available from Hcolom Press (Hick-o-lum) at either by direct mail or credit card.


(December 2009) Author: John Bennett, 605 E. 5th Ave. Ellensburg, WA 98926 | phone: (509) 962-8471 | e-mail: | web page:


  • Drive By (shards) Lummox Press
  • Children of the Sun & Earth (novel) Hcolom Press


  • Cobras & Butterflies (shards) Mystery Island Press, 2008
  • Firestorm (shards) Pudding House Press, 2008
  • One Round Robin (shards) Green Panda Press, 2008
  • Tire Grabbers (novel) Hcolom Press, 2006
  • The Theory of Creation (shards) Vagabond Press, 2005
  • War All the Time (shards) Vagabond Press, 2005
  • The Birth of Road Rage (shards) Vagabond Press, 2005
  • Cheyenne of the Mind (shards) dPress, 2004
  • The Stardust Machine (shards) Mt. Aukum Press, 2002
  • We Don’t Need Your Stinking Badges (shards) Butcher’s Block Press, 2001
  • Fire in the Hole (shards) Argonne House Press, 2001
  • Greatest Hits (poetry) Pudding House Press, 2001.
  • Betrayal’s Like That (prose/poetry) Vagabond Press, 2000
  • Domestic Violence (shards) FourSep Publications, 1998.
  • The Moth Eaters (stories) Angelflesh Press, 1998.
  • Rodeo Town (personality profiles) Vagabond Press, 1997.
  • Karmic Four-Star Buckaroo (stories/essays/shards), Pudding House, 1997.
  • Bodo (novel) Smith Publishers, NYC, 1995. Quartet Books, London, 1996 Mata Publishers, Prague, 1997 (Czech translation)
  • The Names We Go By (novella & stories), December Press, 1993.
  • Flying to Cambodia (novella) Smith Publishers, 1991.
  • The New World Order (stories) Smith Publishers, 1991.
  • Crime of the Century (social commentary) Second Coming Press, 1986.
  • Survival Song, (journal–three volumes) Vagabond Press, 1986.
  • Tripping in America (travel journal) Vagabond Press, 1984.
  • The White Papers (essays –four volumes) Vagabond Press–1982/83.
  • Crazy Girl on the Bus (poems) Vagabond Press, 1979.
  • Whiplash on the Couch (stories/poems) Duck Down Press, 1979.
  • The Adventures of Achilles Jones (novel) Thorp Springs Press, 1979.
  • La-La Poems Ghost Dance Press, 1977.
  • The Party to End All Parties (stories) Fault Press, 1976.
  • The Night of the Great Butcher (stories) December Press, 1976.
  • Anarchistic Murmurs from a High Mountain Valley (prose poems) Vagabond Press, 1975.


  • Rug Burn (CD) (shards) Vagabond Press, 1999


  • Adam in the Year One (surreal Vietnam drama) Vagabond Productions, 1987


  • The Living Underground, Whitston Pub. Co., NYC, 1973.
  • Wormwood Review #55, Special Section, Stockton, CA, 1974.
  • Poets West, Perivale Press, Van Nuys, CA, 1975.
  • The Pushcart Prize Anthology, Pushcart Press, Wainscott, NY, 1976.
  • The Vagabond Anthology – Best of the first decade of Vagabond magazine, Vagabond Press, 1978.
  • Editor’s Choice Anthology – Best of the Small Press, 1965-77, The Spirit That Moves Us Press, Iowa City, IA, 1980.
  • Fiction/82, Paycock Press, Washington, DC, 1982.
  • Green Isle in the Sea (small-press personality profiles), December Press, Chicago, 1986.
  • Stiffest of the Corpse – Best of the Exquisite Corpse, Baton Rouge, LA, 1989.
  • The Party Train (prose poem anthology), New Rivers Press, Minneapolis, MN, 1994.
  • The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, Thunder’s Mouth Press, NYC, 1999.


  • Iron Country Anthology (Washington state writing competition — 1st prize in fiction), Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA, 1978.
  • The William Wantling Award (for Crime of the Century ), Second Coming Press, San Francisco, 1987.
  • The Darrell Bob Houston Award Tom Robins, committee chair (for the essay “De-euphemizing the Sixties,” Clinton Street Quarterly, Portland/Seattle, 1988).
  • Drue Heinz Literary Prize (finalist), University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991