Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Interview with Los Angeles Jerry Garcia, author of On Summer Solstice Road

I can’t think of enough good things to say about Jerry “Grateful Not Dead” Garcia, so, I’ll stick with the facts. Garcia, among his many accomplishments, is an L.A. native, a multidisciplinary artist, and one of the finest poets Los Angeles has ever produced. His poetry is magnificent, cinematic, and unforgettable. His first collection, Hitchhiking With the Guilty, is a must read for anyone who wants to become familiar with seminal L.A. poetry, and his second collection, On Summer Solstice Road (© 2016 Green Tara Press), is a long time coming, much to the delight of myself, and many who have been waiting for his next poetic masterpiece. As a multimedia artist, Garcia has also embedded a series of QR codes in his new collection that “link selected poems to short poetry films that can be played on a smartphone or tablet. “(via Grateful Not Dead website).

Garcia was kind enough, between work, writing, and gearing up for the book launch for On Summer Solstice Road, to answer my questions regarding his new collection, and his own artistic process.

1) This is your first poetic collection since Hitchhiking With the Guilty. What inspired the inception and creation of On Summer Solstice Road?

JG: On Summer Solstice Road is a collection of poems rooted in mid-twentieth century America and expands from that era of disruption and exploration. I had seen my parents fretting over the possibility of nuclear war, I saw a president and his brother assassinated and riots  spring up in my home city. I also saw the popularity of television, the rise of rock and roll, especially the Beatles and men walk on the moon. Over half a century later upheaval and terror, mixed with rock and roll, are still watchwords in society; so my poetry strives to balance stories of evolution, redemption and hope.

2) On Summer Solstice Road is set up in four parts: Exposition, Context, Passage, and Re-entry. This, of course, implies a poetic journey for the reader. What are the reasons behind this particular arc, and what message do you hope the reader takes away after reading your new collection?

JG: I spent my childhood fearing the bomb, was a teenager during The Summer of Love and studied film-making at a Catholic University during the Watergate Era. These are the circumstances that inform my writing with references to pop culture and mid-20th Century history.  I'd like to see the reader find his intersection of ideals and perceptions with those offered in my poetry.

3) Your poems document the changing landscape of Los Angeles in a fundamental and heartbreaking way, particularly, the poem "Interstate 60", which describes the destruction of your childhood neighborhood in the name of automotive progress. What are your thoughts on the role of poet as historian/witness to history, and is this necessary to the evolution of poetry? Why/why not?

JG: That is certainly how I chose to write the poetry in this collection.  I like that Michael C Ford calls me “a firebrand observer of urban grit” because it sounds like Carolyn Forché's “poetry of witness.”  But  I don’t think it is necessary to always be an historian or witness to write meaningful poetry and not all poems need to be “meaningful.”  One might ask if a poem is articulate with a good cadence and color, how can it go wrong? Well, to answer my own question, a body of work would be pretty boring if it were all just for fun.

4) You've worked for many years in a visual medium as a filmmaker/photographer, and no more is it apparent than in the gorgeous imagery in On Summer Solstice Road. How does your visual art influence your poetic process?

JG: I like to think that I can exchange one for another.  When my day job kept me busy working on other people's creativity as a film editor, I learned how words could be used to put images on paper as it was not possible to shoot photographs in the absence of light. Ironically, I have now started making short art films using my poems as scripts.  Some of these films can be seen by scanning the QR codes on certain pages of my book.

5) Some of your best poems "Lupe", "Pochismo Me", "Memory Preserved in a Blue Ceramic Ashtray", "Benediction", and "Lexicon", could be described as confessional, but there is an earnest tone that keeps it from falling into the confessional category. Would you agree with this assessment, and if so, why/why not?

JG: I never think of myself as a confessional poet though I like to make use of personal history in my work. Most poems I write about childhood, coming of age or failed attempts at love come from within the writing process itself.  Like the case of "Memory Preserved in a Blue Ceramic Ashtray"  that poem came from a workshop exercise where I stared at this inanimate object and envisioned a story starring a composite of ex-lovers and a particular incident.

6) Your poem "War Without My Heroes" is a summoning of some of the greatest luminaries in history (Diane Arbus, Edward R Murrow, John Lennon), to come back and fill the present day void that is our real/virtual reality. Your stanza,

"Prophets, poets
truth-tellers of our time,
unheard and vexed,
voices hidden'"

is a clearly a warning that the days of art and poetry may be numbered. What advice would you give to present day poets and artists to make their words and images survive an entropic onslaught?

JG: Just keep creating. Strive to instruct, entertain or baffle. You may not be heard globally, but just going through the process to put that energy into the ether supports the cause.  Oh and avoid cliché, triteness and over-sentimentality. (I guess those are three words that mean the same thing.)

7) You've worked closely with Laurel Ann Bogen, and cited her as a direct influence on your work. What other poetic influences have shaped you into the poet you are now?

JG: Ah, yes. Laurel Ann Bogen taught me how to put a poem together and she inspired me to pursue that skill. She introduced me to the greatness of poetry and to the “greats" of poetry. She introduced me to Michael C Ford who has acted as mentor, editor and promoter. He introduced me to the work of Patchen and Carver who gave me a “grown-up” perspective. I never met Ferlinghetti but would like to think he and I would have great ‘woodshedding’ sessions. Then there’s Billy Collins for sentimentality-laden irony, Philip Levine for grit,  Carolyn Forché for her “poetry of witness” and ee cummings, for the way he pictures a poem on the page.

8) Your poem "How to Bury Your Dad", is a humorous, beautiful, and loving last will and testament as to how you want your remains to be interred, and with the hope that your daughters will grow stronger and closer together from the experience of your parting. What prompted you to end On Summer Solstice Road with this particular poem?

JG:First of all, thank you.  I couldn't have explained it better than you just did.  This poem describes the end of a journey and the beginning of a new one which is right where I wanted to leave the reader.

9) Many authors described feeling disconnected/divorced from their completed books once they are published. What are your feelings on the completion of On Summer Solstice Road?

JG: My feelings are mixed because I may never revisit these poems; they are now part of a book that will sit on a shelf to get sold and read and sit on another shelf. I does seem like a child who has left home. Now I want to package a new set of poems. You know, let’s go! On Summer Solstice Road is a compendium of experiences. Perhaps my next collection of poems should focus on the sensations during the experiences themselves.

10) You've got some appearances coming up in the next couple of months. Where will you be performing, and where can people purchase a copy of On Summer Solstice Road?

JG: The official book launch was on October 16, 2016 at Beyond Baroque where you can purchase the book in the Scott Wannberg Book Store.  It is also available at Amazon.com. Future readings will take place at the Studio City Library, Malibu United Methodist Church, The Second Sunday Poetry Series in Universal City and I’ll be leading a workshop at the Pasadena Library in December.  Dates and times can be found on my website www.gratefulnotdead.com.

On Summer Solstice Road, Jerry Garcia, © 2016 Green Tara Press,
  • ISBN 978-1945085031, 108 pages, $14.95

© 2016 marie c lecrivain

Saturday, October 15, 2016

David McIntire's No One Will Believe You: Songs of the Aftermath

“Poets are, in fact, the only real  time travelers that our culture has ever managed to produce.” - David McIntire/No One Will Believe You: Songs of the Aftermath

I’m sure the above quote has been written/will be a thousand different ways by poets past/present/future, but there is truth in these words, just as there is truth in all good writing - it takes the Reader (universal) into a place and time where they’ve not previously occupied. Poetry brings the reader into the truth of the moment, sometimes euphemistically, other times approximately, but the poems in McIntire’s new chapbook, No One WIll Believe You: Songs of the Aftermath (copyright 2016 International Word Bank Press), put the reader square into the savage, instant, raw pain of death and loss.

According to McIntire, No One is centered around two simultaneous incidents: the death of his marriage, and the death of his ex-wife, poet, Cat Angelique McIntire. McIntire states that these poems do not need to be read in a linear fashion, and he’s correct, as death and loss are not a linear experience. Open any page in No One, and the theme of death and loss, the grief that binds them together, is also the fuel that powers McIntire’s passionate poems. This is not an easy chapbook to sink into, and it’s not supposed to be, but the strong and unvarnished tone of McIntire’s words makes it an unforgettable experience, as in the poem “Dark Wind,” which expresses loss that is happening in the moment, and the loss that is yet to come:

the loosened threads should not be pulled
and yet
we pull
we think we know better this time

we do not know better this time

the tatters we call memory
are cruel and sharp
the dregs we call love
are bitter

we simply do not know any better
than the last time we stood
on the edge of this strange darkness
this mourning that ruffles our hair
and loosened threads
and the tatters…

and we pull
and watch as our world flutters to the ground
wet with our regrets

No One is not just about death and loss, but it also answers the question, at least for McIntire, and more likely, for the reader, how/ what the person becomes as grief shapes them into something, or someone else. In a sense, the poems in No One document the rebirth of McIntire as a poet, as he, and the reader, rediscover that part of us which cannot be overcome - our humanity - which, in the end, is all that’s really needed to keep moving forward in life, as in the poem “Death Poem #9”:

i have been instructed
to weep
to wail
to tear the skies
from the broken willows
upon which they drape so sadly
so darkly
i have been instructed
to lean into the grief
to roll the confusion into balls
and learn to juggle
i smile at strangers
and talk to seagulls

this is how I know I am still alive

No One Will Believe You: Songs of the Aftermath, leaves me with only one question. Who will McIntire become, ultimately, as a poet, and as a human being, a question that we all must ask ourselves, if we are to become better than what we are, at any given moment. I look forward to reading more of McIntire’s work in the future.   

No One Will Believe You: Songs of the Aftermath, © 2016 David McIntire, Baxter Daniels Ink Press International Word Bank,www.internationalwordbank.com, ISBN 9781537236490, 99 pages, $10.00    

© 2016 marie c lecrivain

Friday, July 15, 2016

Review of James Benger‘s As I Watch You Fade by Angel Uriel Perales

A quiet dignity arises from the tacit words of the demure. Strong direct declarative thoughts arranged within the stanzas to maximize impact. The beginning stanza from “Counter Jockey”:

I worked in a gas station for a couple of years or so.
I never pumped gas for anyone.

15 subjective poems in the chapbook, the majority told in first person, all strangely bereft of poetic ego. I met the poet once in Kansas City. I mispronounced his last name a few times as “Berger” before he firmly and resolutely corrected me, “my last name is Ben-ger.” He corrected me simply and without judgment, without expecting apology, but in a manner in which I would not soon forget the correction. The poet’s reserved personality translates fluidly into the poems. From the poem, “Mr. Milsap”:

Mr. Milsap opened the door.
He wasn’t wearing his glasses and
his eyes were red and watery.
I held out the basket and said,
For your kids, and feeling the need to fill the silence,
from everyone in the neighborhood.

The poems explore poverty, not extreme hunger inducing poverty but the kind of poverty which grinds down daily considerations of grandeur and personal distinction. This is rural poverty sliding into suburbia type of lower middle, upper lower class grinding subsistence kind of muted continuity. And Benger doesn’t preach. Life is just life in his poems, gas stations, slaughter houses, broken down cars, hand me downs, dirty fingernails, small apartments, rust, rot, alcohol. From the poem “The Ruins”:

We weren’t sure what The Ruins used to
be; nothing’s left but cracked concrete floors,
cinder block walls missing most of their
canary yellow paint and all their windows….

All the relationships described in the poems are affected by circumstance, as are all relationships in actuality, all affected by circumstance. From the poem Before the Job Fair:

She tells me she wants to make it better.
She says this will make it better.
I have my doubts.

Benger’s grandmother seems to be the only recurrent character in the chapbook, the grandmother who gave him a home, the grandmother who worked as a stripper, the grandmother whose advice and love he disparaged because of their shared lot in life. She didn’t have much to bequeath to the poet, a very old station wagon on the verge, a genealogy, her lineage, a due pedigree, poetry, kindred inclinations and temperament. From the poem, Sage Advice:

When she told me
to get my shit together,
I laughed and said,
Look who’s fuckin talking.

(As I Watch You Fade, Poems by James Benger, EMP First Edition 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2, 15 poems, no page count, $5, $7 signed edition, www.facebook.com/empzine.)

 © 2016 Angel Uriel Perales

Bio: Angel Uriel Perales is a writer whose biographical details are not important. Please enjoy his poetry.

Jon Cunningham's Life on the Periphery

We live in the age of excess with a smorgasbord of literary offerings. This wasn’t the case when I was a teenage girl nerd devouring Asimov, Heinlein, Norton, McCaffrey, and Ellison between classes, and on the weekends holed up in my room while I ignored my chores.    
     These names ring true in the halls of my personal literary mythos, and now, there's millions of writers who publish and make their work available to the almost seven billion people on the planet. That’s a lot of material - and chaff - to sift through. Contemporary authors like Neil Stephenson (Seveneves), Megan Elison (The Book of the Unnamed Midwife), Chuck Wendig (Under the Empyrean Sky), Lev Grossman (The Magician Series), Sofia Samatar (A Stranger in Olondria), and Becky Chambers (A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet), are some of today’s modern masters of scfi/speculative/fantasy. There are also unsung masters who quietly write for the sheer pleasure of their craft, and one of them is Jon Cunningham, with his debut short story collection, Life on the Periphery (© 2016 Sybaritic Press).
      Life on the Periphery contains nine stories (or six short stories/three novelettes), that span the gamut of hard science fiction: “Think of England”, an unexpected story about first contact; to speculative, in “Für Wissenschaft!” a cautionary tale about monstrous transformation in the most unlikely place; to light fantasy in “His Cooks, His Bakers”, a feminist hero’s tale retold in the tradition of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. Cunningham, an artist and filmmaker, brings his visual storytelling gifts into a literary gem that is both delightful and thought-provoking. There’s something here for anyone who loves quality literature, and who can appreciate the fusion of old school/new school tropes in scifi/fantasy.
     The intimate narrative tone of Cunningham’s prose, which, while isn’t first person, drops the reader right into the landscape of each story with the sense that they’ve been there all along. And there are no apologies or punches pulled in Periphery, which is punctuated with erotic undertones and graphic scenes of horror that, thanks to Cunningham’s cinematic background, rise full-fledged within the mind’s eye, as in the short story “Join Us For the Coming Feast”, a disturbing and acutely uncomfortable new take on alien invasion:

    Charlotte shrieked. One of them slammed into the window, grasping the frame with its talons. It was big, over seven feet tall, covered in a short black-ish brown fur. It was thin, yet muscular. Its arms were extended into long, leathery wings; that flexed as the creature struggled against the glass. Its head was tall, sharp pointed ears over a screaming jaw. It had a pig’s nose and a shark’s eyes. It had a manic, frustrated manner, unable to understand the nature of the barrier keeping it out of the offi ce. It was staring directly at Dave, and he came to realize it was not looking at him in anger. It was looking at him with hunger.
   I’ve always admired and championed the outliers in literature, and Life on the Periphery definitely falls into this category, though I suspect, not for long. My advice: read Life on the Periphery with an open mind, the lights on, and during the daylight hours… and then, try it again at 3 am with a flashlight, and alone in your house…  you’ll not forget one word. Not one.

Life on the Periphery, Jon Cunningham, © 2016 Sybaritic Press, ISBN 978-1-5323-1138-3, 186 pages, $12.00 (softcover), $4.99 (ebook),  www.sybpress.com.

© 2016 marie c lecrivain
author content © 2016 Jon Cunningham and Sybaritic Press

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Welcome to the Dollhouse: the Poetry and OCD of Cat Angelique McIntire

    There are poetry chapbooks hastily thrown together, due to desperation/laziness, and chapbooks edited within a hair’s breadth of perfection. Then, there are chapbooks that capture the essence of the poet in the “decisive moment” (ala Henri Cartier Bresson), which is exactly the category Welcome to the Dollhouse: the Poems and OCD of Cat Angelique McIntire, © 2016 Baxter Daniels Press/International Word Bank, falls.
    McIntire, poet, and co-host of Poetry Stew, a vibrant reading that showcased some of L.A.’s best emerging and established poets, sadly, passed away in early 2016. As stated by both David McIntire, who curated his wife’s debut chapbook, and Brendan Constantine, who wrote the moving introduction, McIntire tended not to think of herself as a poet (truth: many of us never do, which a universal trait of a poet, imo), but Welcome disproves that assertion in spades.
    Welcome introduces the reader to McIntire's creative process, which, in part, feels like reading directly from the pages of her journal, minus the tears and edit marks. McIntire’s poems appear raw,full-blown, and almost promethean, on each page. Welcome is an intensely private experience, and there’s a a variety of poems to savor: love poems (“they were the oddest 5 seconds of my life”, “keys”); poems written in praise of her favorite inspirations (“wondering about wanda”, “letter to a shipwreck”);  poems written in the final days of her battle with cancer (“cancer ward #1”, “cancer ward #2”), and real life hardship moments filled with humor and self-realization, as in the poem “pawnshop blues”:

I was in my go-to pawnshop yesterday
tryin’ to scrape together some survival funds -
and the was this ol’ hefty black man sittin’
in the corner,
pickin’ and strummin’ blues riffs on a beater
his face was a heavily lined roadmap, and
his porkpie hat looked like it’d traveled
every mile with him.
I said “can you play me the I just pawned my
wedding rings to buy milk and butt wipe
his large laughter filled the small room.
“baby girl,” he said
“I’m an old blues man who’s gotta tuck tail
in hear to play his own damn guitar - it
don’t get no bluer than that.”
and the battle of the blues began -
‘we just went broke on our dog’s back
surgery. we can’t pay rent and just found
out she won’t walk again anyway. THAT’S
I grinned a challenge.
“I lost my job of 42 years to a skeevy little
brown-noser greener than a new frog’s ass n
they took my pension to boot.”
he played an underlying progression.
“I got two different organs fighting over
which one’s going to kill me first.”
I assume a confident hand on hip stance.
he leans back, hands sure in their stillness on
his axe and delivers the kill shot:
“kids ‘r dead. wife’s dead” (blues
progression). “dog died too.”
I shook my head n grinned, a beaten baby
Never try to out-blue a blues man.

    My personal takeaway, after reading Welcome, is mixed. I’ve always respected the poet who doesn’t sacrifice honesty in the name of mainstream appeal. McIntire instinctively followed this rule, which, in the longer view of poetic history, places her in the poetic pantheon of Bukowski, who achieved poetic acclaim (mostly) after his demise. However, in the interest of honesty, I wish this collection had included more of her work. The length and breadth of McIntire the poet is partially conveyed in Welcome. What I hope will happen - eventually - is that a new edition will be expanded/edited into a more comprehensive and complete collection. For a poet of McIntire’s caliber, that is my wish. In the meantime, I thoroughly recommend purchasing a copy of Welcome to the Dollhouse, and enjoy it like an awesome first date - with the promise of more amazing times to come.

Welcome to the Dollhouse: the Poems and OCD of Cat Angelique McIntire, edited by Dave McIntire, introduction by Brendan Constantine, © 2016 , Baxter Daniels Ink Press/International Word Bank (www.internationalwordbank.com), ISBN 9780996393792, 70 pages, $10.

review content © 2016 marie c lecrivain
pawnshop blues” © 2016 estate of cat angelique mcintire