Myles Dannhausen Jr. | How Norb Blei Found the Internet

30 01 2015

Monsieur K.

How Norb Blei Found the Internet

In his final years, the writer found an audience online through a transatlantic connection
By Myles Dannhausen Jr.

If an editor had worked up the guts to suggest that writer Norb Blei start a blog in say, 2002, Blei probably would have blasted her with an avalanche of disgust for suggesting he acquiesce to the whims of the day, to fit his prose into some new definition of what the reader would buy.

Blei’s relationship with that editor might end right there.

Blei acquired a love for the web the only way he could, in a stroke of serendipity, improbability, and with a great story.

In August of 2007, Norb Blei sent out his Poetry Dispatch newsletter to his email list of devoted readers, This one, edition 179, included a review of a poetry chapbook by Los Angeles-based Mark Weber and Ronald Baatz. That email made its way to the inbox of a man living on the beach of Saint-Nazaire in Bretagne, France, who goes by the name Monsieur K. A fan of jazz and poetry, Monsieur K. had a website, Metropolis Free Jazz, where he sold hundreds of jazz, free jazz, improvisation and other obscure genres, including work by Weber.

Monsieur K. dropped Blei a note to let him know more about Weber, whose website he managed. Blei was fascinated both by Weber and by this strange new connection.

Blei wrote then that he “immediately loved everything [Monsieur K.] did on Weber, not to mention the beauty, design, quality of the website itself. Somebody doing something thing like this, somewhere outside one’s own country, immediately removes chapbook-poet Weber writing from Albuquerque, New Mexico and puts him and his work in a whole other dimension.”

Blei and Monsieur K. exchanged emails, leading the then 72 year-old Blei to take his words to a new realm.

“After catching up with Norbert Blei I came up with the idea to transform his Poetry Dispatch email list into a web page,” Monsieur K. explains. “That’s how poetry Dispatch was born. Norbert sent me all the dispatches and Notes from the Underground in his archives so I could add them to the web page, and we began adding new posts as he produced them.”

Monsieur K. took the text from Blei’s “old fashioned” emails and posted it to the website, adding images, additional information, links, and a visual touch. He had the relationship with Blei that a long line of editors only wished they had.

“Norb always gave me carte blanche,” he says. “It was really easy working with him. We were in contact on a daily basis and I still have thousands of his emails stocked on my computer.”

Now the words of an aging writer, one disenchanted with the deteriorating state of the publishing industry, made their way out of an old chicken coop tucked into the lonely woods at the tip of Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula to readers worldwide. The blog has since been visited 642,000 times and still gets 250 more visitors every day, about half from the United States, but the rest from England, Canada, Italy and dozens of other countries.

Blei was enthralled by this worldwide audience. He learned the language of the web – links, trackbacks, CSS. “He was very keen on following up new web techniques,” Klaus said. “Sitting in a converted chicken coop didn’t make him unaware of new forms of communication.”

The lone day I got to spend with Norb in his coop, he was energized when he talked about the blog. Where a typewriter once sat on his desk, a flat-screen monitor now held his words. It took him a while to make that switch (he loved the sound of the old ones. “It seemed like you had more ownership of the manual typewriter,” he told me.) but the ease of editing sucked him in. His first computer was a Tandy with a green screen, found up down the road in Sister Bay, at Hammersmith’s Radio Shack.

Twenty-five years later he found the internet. Being discovered anew by readers in far-flung countries in the age when the book was dying gave him hope for the writer, hope for himself. The blogs brought him new followers, new people with which to communicate, to talk writing and words. But to some who had come to correspond with him over decades, something was lost.

“He got lost in the internet,” said his close friend Jean Feraca, the longtime host of Wisconsin Public Radio’s Here on Earth. “I hate to say this, but it became almost annoying to get so much. When he was sending me stuff in the mail it was so personal. Before the internet came along he would send copies of articles. I missed that.”

Dave Pichaske, Blei’s longtime publisher, thought the blogs took Blei’s attention away from his books, and lamented the work left incomplete.

“If he had got the projects together I would have published the books,” Pichaske said. “But as a writer, you need an audience, you need to perform. At the end he didn’t have that in print. He did blogs, and that made him happy.”

Still, Feraca realized that the blog, email and this new audience were doing for Norb what the publishing industry no longer could.

“He saw it as the antidote to his isolation. The Internet was the way he could really be a contender.”

One good reason today’s writer might hope to be heard in our world of constant distraction, diminishing readership, a culture gone kaput, rests in what you are now reading on the screen : the community of cyber communication which as writers we’re going to have to live with, study, understand, and utilize if we expect any audience at all. The time when editors, publishers, and agents rang you up for work, courted you with lunch, drinks, promises and blank checks is long gone– if you were fortunate to experience any of this at all. “You’re just going to have to do it yourself” is as true today as ever. Yes, there are still, and will always be publications out there to sell (basically give) your work to, and a handful of quality publishers large and small that might conceivably even invest in your work at their expense in the hope that it might make a little money for them – and maybe you. However, it’s increasingly unlikely these days you will find a publisher who truly believes in your vision as a writer.

Dannhausen_mugMyles Dannhausen Jr. wrote a profile of Blei in the winter 2015 edition of Wisconsin People & Ideas magazine. Dannhausen is a freelance writer who lives in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. He is a native of Door County, Wisconsin.


norbert blei | used books / old friends

25 01 2008


NOTES from the UNDERGROUND… No.130 | January 24, 2008

Used Books/Old Friends by Norbert Blei

As much as I love the sight, smell, feel, surprise, seduction of new books; as much as I welcome a brand new hot-off-the-press-book from a publisher with my own name on it; as much as I enjoy publishing new chapbooks for others…the anticipation of tearing open the first box, How will it look? grabbing the first copy, Is it what I envisioned? checking the cover, sifting through the pages, there’s something about old, used books that call you home. Remember me? Have you ever read me? Heard of me? Been meaning to read me for the past twenty years?

Once upon a time many of us, readers for sure, writers in particular, thrived on used bookstores, old books, because that was all we could afford. Used books were treasure hunts–more so than today where everything appears easier, affordable, more accessible. If you were reading seriously, if you were on that path, some books you searched for, yearned for, were hard to come by. Certain titles almost sacred–books we absolutely had to own or our lives as ‘writers-in-progress’ would be sorely diminished. We really couldn’t survive without owning a copy of…Kenneth Patchen’s, JOURNAL OF ALBION MOONLIGHT, whatever shape it was in.

Battered, beaten, torn covers and pages, pages yellowed with age, missing, coffee-stained, under-lined, marginal notes in pen or pencil, rejected/stamped by libraries from god knows where…50¢, 75¢, $1.00. Diagonally creased/turned corner-tops of a page to mark one’s place in a story that had become ours. And those of us (who were extremely lucky) had favorite used bookstores not because of the pricing or quality of stock, but because the place felt good, smelled good, welcomed us into the silence for minutes or hours, and possessed just the atmosphere we craved—to be alone with books. And, if one were really lucky, had a bookman who was always there, sort of recognized you, and who, if he was as good as the ones I was fortunate to know, (one bookman in particular that I have written about before, “Paul Romaine” in CHI TOWN), could introduce you to authors, literary movements, languages, places in the world a writer needed to know, art and artists, rare books, first editions, political philosophies, small presses, music…a man who so loved books, that when he slowly took one off the shelf, held it in his hands, carefully opened it to something he wanted to show you, you felt he was handling something ancient, rare, holy…a sacred text that held the answer to everything you needed to know.

Occasionally someone will tell me he was in a city, or another part of the country entirely, walked into a bookstore, found an old book of mine marked down to $5. At first, I wasn’t exactly sure what the message was, but in time I came to love the fact a book of mine had attained the status of ‘used’ or ‘old’—or even ‘bargain.’ And had traveled to those places! I am more than pleased to know that a used copy of one of my short story collections in on the shelf in Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books in San Francisco. Not to mention other works in well known New York bookstores. I almost hope no one ever buys them, I’m so pleased to find a home, be marked down (sometimes ‘up’), denoted used in those locations.


Lawrence Ferlinghetti | Photo: Mark Weber

That’s a whole other life and time-frame for something you spent a good part of your own life trying to put down in words…the best words possible. The best story or poem or essay you could write to communicate what you thought was important then—and hopefully will continue to register in the minds and hearts of others, years down the road, regardless of the price of admission. You want and need your words to live. If not on the shelves, in the private libraries of families and friends and people you never met—then that vagabond book life…torn dust jackets, marked pages, books feeling and showing time… books on the road–left on planes, buses, trains, cars and trucks, the waiting rooms of dentists and doctors, books in restaurants and coffeehouses, books in bars. Books For Sale in libraries, and garage sales…just as long as the words are still there, and the meaning waiting to be delivered.

Some of you may have received a used book from me at various times in the past…some of you may still be waiting. No promises. It’s always a spur of the moment thing. I look at a book and something clicks. Yeah, this is for…so-and-so. I often buy used books at library and garage sales. Sometimes the book is one I love and in such perfect condition that I know, just know, somebody out there should have this book. Sometimes I spot a copy and immediately associate something about that book with—a writing student who once took a workshop with me; somebody in my immediate family; an established writer-friend that THIS book would be perfect for (and I know or suspect he or she has not read); a friend who loves the work of a particular author as much as I and to my knowledge has never seen this hard-to-find book; a beginning writer who needs to know this book; a woman I once shared time with and shared a writer’s work with; someone I just met who expressed an interest in the material, ideas found in the book I am presently holding in my hand—yes, this is the right book for him/her.

Books never die. They are always out there, waiting to be rediscovered.


Sometimes I just add another copy of a book (let’s say Camus’, THE STRANGER) to the two or three other copies on my shelf. I stockpile the great ones. Sooner or later THE STRANGER will find its way from my shelf to someone who will take him in. Make him a friend. Give him warmth, care, the loving attention he deserves. Make a home for him, for keeps.

mark weber & ronald baatz | 1 + 1

11 11 2007



Poetry Dispatch No.179 | August 4, 2007


1 + 1 | Mark Weber & Ronald Baatz

This is a chapbook featuring two separate books in one, which you don’t realize till you flip the cover and discover a different title, different cover, different writer.

Mark Weber, whom I do not know and have not read before, hosts a jazz program on KUNM 89.9 FM in Albuquerque, New Mexico, writes a good, honest poem not without music of his own and considerable wisdom. The writing world can use more Mark Webers – even though he claims in one poem, “The Heat: “there are too many gawd damn’d Mark Webers in the world.”

ZERXPRESS, 725 Van Buren Place SE, Albuquerque NM 87108 and will no doubt put you in touch with him. 400 copies of this chapbook (#59) were printed in June, 2007 No cover price. Whatever he’s asking, it’s worth it.

Sharing the same staple binding (flipping it over) I discover a writer I do know and much admire: Ronald Baatz. There are 16 poems in “his book” called OUT OF CHILDHOOD (in this book)…all of them winners. Baatz always writes a beautiful poem.

I remain a firm believer and true lover of the unpretentious, common chapbook such as this, held together by two staples and a simple cover. Though most writers seek (demand) a more professional “perfect-bound” production of their work, there is a long, literary history to the common chapbook. Almost every writer of note has found comfort and small fame in the pages of a chap. Some outgrow the format in time. While others remain at home there forever. Norbert Blei


I was telling Bradford that
I prefer my jazz musicians to be
a little beat up, have an eyeball gouged out
a few scars, a couple divorces, to know
what it’s like to stand on a freeway berm
with a broken-down jalopy in the middle
of the night, to have had some life
happen to them —
I’m not interested in listening to
what they have to say otherwise —
I know it’s a prejudice, but I can’t
help my prejudices, they exist outside
my control, maybe that’s why
black men make some of the most interesting
jazz music? to be a black man in America
is an extreme outsider position to find oneself—
you know, why do I
care what a milktoast chubby mama’s boy
in a cardigan has to say? there’s nothing
about that, black or white, that
interests me —
which begs the question: are not the
vicissitudes that visit upon every life
of some meaning? even if
they’ve never stood in a welfare line before?
certainly, everybody has a soul
and each individual is important
this poem is about prejudice
mine, in particular

Mark Weber from POEMS & DOODLES


I can see it up ahead, not
far distant. A kingdom, and
something written upon the gate.
A person who spends their entire
life scribbling poems is
known as a poet. Poets are
vastly over-rated. They are good,
honest, slightly
naive people who write these poems,
for­ever holding the candle
of idealism. But, mostly, say
98% of those who (proudly) call
themselves Poets, are, in reality, idiots.
And they run all over town
putting up posters for
their next public readings.
They have things
they want to rant about, certain
things, maybe
they’re indignant somebody pissed
on the flowers?
Even though, I have written 10,143 poems,
and am in fact writing one right now, I do
not allow myself to be called a poet, capital P
or otherwise. It is
too embarrassing. One can’t help
wonder if one is also an idiot? or
am I a member of the 2% who
bring some dignity to the craft?
(Even if it was me
who pissed on the .flowers.)
(Hard to see in the dark.)
Nevertheless, up
is that kingdom and as the years
clear away the fog
it is for me to
walk through that gate marked:

Mark Weber from POEMS & DOODLES


Mark Weber | Photo by Janet Simon on the Acoma-Zuni Trail 28may07 – The Malpais



I find it is a good time in my life to be reading
the autobiography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
When Marquez was a child he was able to gain
and hold the attention of adults by telling stories
in which he had greatly magnified details.
As an adult he carried this tendency into the writing
of his books, even when it came time to tell the story
of his life. I find the many magical occurrences,
that take place in this telling, make it much easier
for me to accept what my father is going through: the
unbelievable distortion of his memories, hallucinations
that plague him night and day. Unfortunately,
Marquez is of no help to my mother whatsoever.
Right now it seems as though his disease will be
the death of her before it is the death of him.
The amount of patience and understanding required
other is almost too much to ask of one person.
Besides, she tells me, it is all so incredibly boring. Yesterday
when she left him at home for a short period of time,
in order to run into town, she found herself
sitting in the bank crying to the teller. This crying
in public for her is becoming more and more frequent.
When I call her at night I am almost afraid to hear
what the news of the day is. It’s questionable
whether we will have a birthday party for him in June.
Would he recognize anyone who has come to
wish him a happy birthday? Would everyone
appear to him as being a frightening stranger?
Would the gathering throw him into further sorrow?
He has always said that he wanted to live to be
a hundred, and now it does look as though he’ll
do exactly that, if only because he thinks in June
he will be a hundred. And if he recognizes no one
at the party, then I’m sure it will indeed feel to him
as though he has lived “a hundred years of solitude.”



APRIL BEGINS by Ronald Baatz

I took my mother to the lawyer’s office
to see about having some papers signed.
It’s been decided I should be given “Power of Attorney”
and the right to determine what will happen to my father
when it’s a matter of keeping him alive by medications
or other artificial means. Before approaching my father
my mother and I thought it best to talk a few things over
with the lawyer, without my father being present.
The lawyer turned out to be rather a decent guy.
So did one of his secretaries, the older one.
The younger one seemed obsessed with making sure
that she was able to have her breakfast at her desk,
undisturbed. We were there maybe half an hour,
charged a hundred dollars which I thought cheap.
Afterwards I suggested my mother and I have coffee, but
my mother said she had to get back to my father since
my father was being watched by a neighbor.
So, crossing a busy street, I walked her to her car.
She took my hand. It felt so diminished and bony, and
never had I felt a woman’s hand hold my hand so firmly.
I felt like weeping right there in the street, stopping traffic
and just weeping, but of course that didn’t happen.
She got into her car, made a u-turn and drove off.
I stood there, rooted in front of a closed movie theater
in a decaying town in Upstate New York, on a morning
April had begun. I was well aware that
the horrors of Alzheimer’s required many of its victims
to enter a nursing home. I dreaded the day when, after
their sixty years of marriage, I’d have to separate them.
It’ll be like tearing the wings off a homing pigeon and
throwing the parts up into the air and expecting them to fly.



mark weber | 3 poems

6 10 2007


Poetry Dispatch No. 195 | October 6, 2007

Special KEROUAC Anniversary Edition, #2

In Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of ON THE ROAD



In the On the Road tradition…the voice, the beat within us still… today’s featured poet: Mark Weber | three poems by Mark Weber from AVENIDA MAñANA, Zerxpress, 725 Van Buren Place SE, Albuquerque, NM 87108…Norbert Blei


it’s lightning, son
you don’t want it close
it’ll turn you cross-eyed
and evil, thirsty for
what the Lord can’t provide
something down at
the bottom of the well
clarified, but
with hands grabbin at you
no, it’s way too late for
the sign of the cross, brother
you best fire up that Pontiac
and burn rubber


the older i get the more
i find out how much i
don’t know
i mean, i feel positively dumb sometimes
dumb and dumbfounded
the things you see
and hear
that leave you nonplussed
uncertain whether you have any grounds
to venture an opinion at all?
that’s why i found out on this trip
how much i dig driving at night
just driving
on some lonely backroad of Nevada desert
or north up 395 in California
all of Utah, Arizona
driving way into the night for hours
like alternate reality
suspended time, haunted


some time ago
I read this essay where this poet
was saying that a poet’s job was
to be at leisure as much as possible
and i thought to myself Where does a person
sign up for a job like that? i can malinger
with the best of them, loaf around counting
clouds, wallowing in sloth & indolence, all
are my specialties, but i’m a house painter
and i got a lot of work to do
i take the winter off every year
to hone my dilatory skills, refraining from
as much activity as possible, vegetating
and i like to take trips like this
because i’d drive anyone else
because i like to stop
at all the places
that make no sense
and look around
and besides, i’m
so jacked up on Lipton tea that
I’ve got to stop every so often to take a leak
and at night the stars out here
in the middle of nowhere, the deep desert
perfectly assimilate you into
everything all as one
so, i rent this stereo on wheels — 2005 silver
Pontiac Grand Prix — throw my guitar in the
back seat, fill the trunk with water, tea, and
grape fruit, and drive to nowhere in particular


The Autobiography (So Far) of MARK WEBER

my blood comes from Celts to Ulster-Scots to Okies. Straight Line. loss in some Swiss-German, a dash of Swedish, a smidge of Ashkenazie, a pinch of raccoon, tincture of wildebeest, some 4/4 time, and a couple shots of Jack Daniels, and there I am: pure bred mongrel. Six degrees of endocrinological mayhem. As independent as a hog on ice. Born 1953 thirty miles east of Los Angeles, lived there 32 years. Beneath the mighty San Gabriel Mountain Range. Raised homing pigeons as a kid. Had a glorious childhood in Cucamonga, good parents (Don & Joy), trouble didn’t start till later when the cops wouldn’t quit picking on me. Learned guitar and played with my honkytonk grandfather.

Thanks to radio station kppc in the 6os I discovered a whole world of music. Entangled in the California Penal System for awhile (can you say gaol?) Bail. Wrote a column for international jazz mag coda covering Los Angeles years 1976-1986, kept writing for coda from other locales thereafter. My first published poem was in high school newspaper. My first poetic influence was Ferlinghetti’s pictures of the gone world. Come 1986 the police made it impossible to stay in California & thanks to God and Greyhound I made tracks. Went north for awhile, then east, then back west, then south. Lived in Redding, ca (met Janet nearby at Whiskeytown Lake), then Cleveland (3 tremendous years), then Salt Lake City (2 unbeliev­able years), eventually Albuquerque 1991 where I paint houses and do the jazz show Thursdays on kunm radio. And run Zerx Books & Records. You can see my archive of jazz photos & related papers & recordings via ucla website and on metropolis.