Notes on a Hair Club for Poets Reading – Ronnie at Number 34 – 25 February 2012

Roy Anthony Shabla was elsewhere. But Eric Lawson was very much there. Dude, Eric Lawson got there at, like, Tuesday o’clock in October, he got there so early. Also there were host John Brantingham, his super wife Ann, lLöyd Aquiño™, Michaelsun Knapp, Michael Torres, Natalie Morales, Alexander Vogel, Luke Salazar, Marta Chausée, Kevin Ridgeway, Jason Brolliar, and John’s former RA Deron Grams, from England back in 1991. I don’t know how they found that last guy.


  1. Michaelsun started the open reading with a poem about his Irish or Irish-American grandmother. I forgot to pay close attention when he mentioned the title, so I just wrote down “[something something] Wild Irish Rose.” The poem involved Mikey periodically singing. He also read “Cartographer.”
  2. Alexander Vogel Alexander-Vogeled an Alexander Vogel from an Alexander Vogel of Alexander Vogels: “#12.” It was Alexandervogelacious. He also read “Hardcover Paperback” and Gordon Lish’s “How to Write a Poem.”
  3. I read “Operation: Overshare” and “Amity,” receiving a healthy response.
  4. Luke Salazar began with a poem I think is titled “Trash Digger.” Then came “To the Curb” and “Word for Windows Saved My Life.”
  5. After a brief announcement by John Brantingham about the upcoming (February 2013) San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival in West Covina and its audio-chapbook fundraiser, lLöyd Aquiño™ read one of his favorite poems that he hasn’t published, “A Boy Imagines Himself.” The Valentine’s Day-themed “Candy-Coated Hate” and “Solitary Dance” followed.
  6. Eric Lawson read “Residual Breeze from a Passing 747,”“Stunt Buffalo,” and “Hot Mess in a Cow Costume,” a true story about a very drunk woman in a cow costume.
  7. Kevin Ridgeway read “Comparing Imaginary Hit Men,” a poem from his new chapbook Burn Through Today. He also read “Sunday School Blues” and “Creepy Dolls.”
  8. Denise Weuve read “Chiwa Master the Palm Reader” (I hope I got the title right.), “Little Fifteen,” and “Iscariot.”
  9. Michael Torres read “The Coltrain” and “Remember Me Like This.” He had copies of his chapbook to sell, too.
  10. Natalie Morales read “My Mother’s Advice” and a poem describing a song she’d heard.

Adrienne Silva was the first feature. It was her first time as a featured reader and she acquitted herself quite well, despite the anxiety. Her set went as follows:

  1. “White Boi.”
  2. “A Slice of You.”
  3. “Broken Neck”
  4. “Paint,” which she dedicated to Mikey and lLöyd
  5. “If There’s Any Love in Me, Don’t Let It Show,” titled after lyrics from Noah and the Whale’s “Shape of My Heart”
  6. “Sequel”
  7. “Red”
  8. a piece that began “No man can serve two masters…” and was based on something her father tried to teach her
  9. a fifth-grade journal excerpt
  10. another fifth-grade journal excerpt
  11. “At the House of Plenty”
  12. “Hungry”
  13. a song, complete with guitar: “Sixteen to Nineteen”

Next up was G. Murray Thomas, whose first feature it was not. His set had a very cool feel-good energy augmented by haiku scrumptious lysergic acid (in the poems, not the poet):

  1. “My Typewriter Has Not Healed Yet,” inspired by a conversation about a tattoo
  2. “Life Is So Much Easier Now That I No Longer Know Everything”
  3. haiku
  4. haiku
  5. “Prejudice,” inspired by a true story about an open-mic he attended
  6. a piece that begins “In India, drunken monkeys have taken over an old plantation…”
  7. haiku
  8. haiku
  9. Someone next to me uttered something, so I missed hearing its title, but the next piece was about a trip Murray took twenty years ago.
  10. “Coyote on Acid” for his friend John Gardiner
  11. his friend Tom Foster’s “Why I Don’t Take Acid Anymore”
  12. “Butterflies and Bridges” about quantum mechanics, and probably acid
  13. “Dolls on Drugs,” definitely about acid
  14. haiku
  15. haiku
  16. a poem about recycling”
  17. haiku
  18. “The Last Call Haiku”
  19. “The Morning After”

After the reading came the nominations for next month’s feature. Various people spoke up for lLöyd, Luke, and me. But I just featured last month and didn’t want to be greedy, so I demurred. Natalie Morales then became the third nominee. During a grueling session of rock-paper-scissors, lLöyd took out his competition and won the crown for March. Le roi est mort; vive le roi!

Calling Out for Possession: “Message to an Imaginary Stepfather”

Like “Cancer Is the Answer” and “How to Be a Drunk,” “Message to an Imaginary Stepfather” first appeared in Pear Noir! Number 4 (Summer 2010), all three poems having been both submitted and accepted on April 10, 2010. The third in the trio was originally written July 24, 2009, in the middle of that mean summer when I had no job, little money, and less hope.

I really, really like “Message to an Imaginary Stepfather.” The poem combines creepiness, poignancy, surrealism and wit in ways I still seek to replicate whenever I set out to write a new one. I really enjoyed writing it, wondering afterward, “Where did that come from?” After my nth rejection slip, I remember wondering whether it was perhaps a bit too disquieting — the relationship between the narrator and his stepfather verges on the incestuous, and is almost certainly exploitative. But I think the poem nevertheless retains a kooky charm and a saving loophole — the abusive relative is wholly a figment of the speaker’s imagination — that leavens the mix. Plus, I really like some of the lines. Plus, while I typically struggle to end poems gracefully, I pull off a decent conclusion here.

I don’t know what else to say. It came from you-knows-where. It went in unexpected places. I finally brought it in for a successful landing. So there you go. Fun ride.

Notes on a Tebot Bach Reading – Goldenwest College – 24 February 2012

I wish more people had shown up tonight, especially to support my friend, first-time feature Karie McNeley. But I did see a few familiar faces. I chatted with Eric Lawson about the Factory Readings at Santa Ana’s The Gypsy Den, where I will be featuring next month (Tuesday, March 6th, 8:00 PM). I talked with Thomas R. Thomas for a while about jobs, school, and money. Cory De Silva and Zack Nelson Lopiccolo, Karie’s partners in Bank Heavy Press, showed up. So did Karie’s mom, dad, and little sister Kelsey. Then there were a couple of Tebot Bach reading regulars, as well as prime mover and shaker Mifanwy Kaiser.

Because there weren’t a ton of open readers, they jumped right into the first feature, Karie, whom Tom introduced after reading a short poem, “Heavy Inertia” by Brisbane, Australia’s Matthew John Davies, which appeared in Bank Heavy Press’ fourth iteration, Husbands and Malfeasant Dogs. Karie herself began by reading “McSomething,” about nothings and somethings. Then, from Bank Heavy’s third collection, Pom-Pom-Pomeranian, she read “Country Time for Lemonade.” That was followed by “The [Last?] Garage-Sale Bargainer Doesn’t Understand the Word ‘Free’,” “Bodies Based,” and a poem she wrote for class last semester, “Bang Boom.” “The Sleeping Poem,” written in a form called a zaka (which Zack and Karie invented), followed. Next came the humorous “Cat Box” and “Thoughts on a Kissing Picture.” The last two poems have recently been accepted into other people’s journals. “Shotguns and Seagulls,” one of her first poems Zack and Cory helped edit, will appear overseas in David Caddy‘s Tears in the Fence [UK]. And Pearl has accepted “Chubby Girl Rant.”

The second feature, Gayle Kaune, most recently from Port Townsend, Washington, gave us our money’s worth. She read for a good thirty to thirty-five minutes, beginning with “Hanford Reach.” She then read a poem about ballet and about her childhood and adolescence in Las Vegas. A “bloody” poem followed, along with a poem partly about trendy poetry descriptors du jour, such as capacious, muscular, and paradigm. Her next, more serious piece, “Also the Rising,” addressed her father’s dementia and death. While “Orvietto” described an excursion in Italy, “The Stones and the Weather” was set in Port Townsend. Next came “Alchemy,” then a poem about the surreptitious prostate-cancer epidemic in this country. Her last two poems were “Ketchikan” and a partly ekphrastic one set along the Columbia River. Overall, she showed a lot of prowess in discussing nature, family, life, and death.

After a ten-minute break, Cory De Silva began the open-reading portion of the night with “A Chance at Immortality” and Clint Margrave’s “In Our Twenties.” David Rosenfeld, a Tebot-Bach regular, read two nature poems, “Maiden Flight” and “Rumors.” Then Paul Sandor, another regular, who sat at the same table as I, read “Romeo and Juliet Redux.” For my turn at the mic, I read “The Authority Figure” and “Truthful Wishing about Oregon”; I should have drunk some water before going up, because I stumbled a bit. Tom Thomas read “Late Shift,” “The Swallows Come on Her Birthday” (?), “Scotch,” and a poem beginning “I find it slipping…” Next, Eric Lawson read “Love Is Like a Tweaking Ferret with Tourette’s” and “Poets for Sale.” Finally, Zack Nelson Lopiccolo read “Skit,” which appeared in Short, Fast and Deadly, and “Girlfriend Poem,” which will appear in the next issue of Carnival.

After the reading, I stuck around long enough to chat a bit with Mifanwy, who said she liked my poetry. So I guess I’ll keep showing up, paying my dues, and hoping it’ll all lead to something. Fingers crossed.

Notes on a Bank-Heavy Variety Show – Gatsby Books – 23 February 2012

What a treasure Gatsby Books is! Now it hosts not only Kevin Lee’s Hump Readings smack-dab in the middle of each month, but also, starting tonight, Bank Heavy Press‘ variety show on the last Thursday of each month. (It hosts other events, too, but I’m most concerned with the poetry stuff.) Anyway, go there and thank them for being such great supporters of the Long Beach literary scene by buying their books.

Tonight’s event was attended by a number of familiar faces — feature Daniel Romo, Luke Salazar, Marianne Stewart, Jeff Epley, Tamara Madison, John Schlegel — as well as many of Daniel’s students from Lakewood High School and Cerritos College. And, of course, there was the Bank Heavy crew, albeit not in their usual togs. Zack Nelson Lopiccolo sported a dress and eyeliner. Karie McNeley wore a brilliant homemade reptile outfit, complete with Day-Glo talons. Corey De Silva dressed like a hillbilly, complete with stuffed pig. Their costumes added one more degree of razzle-dazzle to the affair. Or it spoke to deep-seated neuroses. Or both — they really aren’t mutually exclusive options.

  1. Luke Salazar started the reading with some recent familiar crowd-pleasers: a poem about certain phrases’ being romantic codependents that really should break up; “Babble”; and “Even My Bad Ideas Are Pretty Damn Good.”
  2. Jeff Epley read two pieces from his featured section in Bank Heavy Press’ Husbands and Malfeasant Dogs: “No Seventh Street Departure” and “Head Case.”
  3. Sergei Smirnov, one of Daniel Romo’s former and Jeff Epley’s current students, read “V-Day 2012,” “Logic,” and “I Overheard Two Idiots.”
  4. I read “Scenes from a Picnic” and “Spud.”
  5. Marianne Stewart, who gets extra points for having made Bank-Heavy Press buttons for the trio and she to wear, talked first about being a bit neurotic regarding her poems. She read “The Now and Then Girl,” “That Christmas,” and “My Damn Door.”
  6. Jonathan Bauer read “Refusal” and an untitled poem written for a literary blog created in Daniel’s creative-writing class at Lakewood.
  7. Melissa Wells read “It’s on Me.”
  8. Tonight’s first feature, singer and guitarist Grace Davis, performed three songs. She didn’t offer their titles, but I read some names off her set list, which lay upside-down on the floor in front of her: “Just Like We Do,” “Time,” and “Tired.”
  9. After a five-minute break, during which I discovered his poems were published with mine in the same issue of Pear Noir!, Daniel Romo took the stage. He read pieces from both of his forthcoming books, poems from Romancing Gravity (Pecan Grove Press) and prose poems from When Kerosene’s Involved (Black Coffee Press): “Listen,” “How to Do Your Makeup Like a Chola,” “French Kiss,” “1.21 Gigawatts,” “Word Problem #37,” “Formal,” “Reliving,” “At First Sight,” “Clairvoyance,” “Thesis,” and “Dreamcatcher.”
  10. Steve Bramble read an excerpt from his novel Grid City Overload.
  11. John Schlegel read “My Hair Poem” and a piece beginning “Pythagoras carefully measured his triangles with preciseness…”
  12. Coco Magik, AKA Gatsby proprietor Sean Richard Moor, read two selections from Todd Moore’sThe Riddle of the Wooden Gun, a large array of poems about John Dillinger.
  13. Maury Long, another one of Daniel’s students, read “Just Another Day.”
  14. Into the spotlight with her, Gatsby proprietor Alisha Attell brought her daughter and a vacuum cleaner, a new Bissell Cleanview Helix, and subsequently stole the show. Alisha read from the vacuum cleaner’s user’s guide while seductively handling the appliance, playing hazardously with plastic wrap, and otherwise delivering a deadpan, arch performance.
  15. Matt White read a piece written for a high-school psychology project on bipolar disorder.
  16. The Bank-Heavy trio closed out their inaugural event by each reading a poem from their various anthologies. Zack covered Kevin Lee’s “A tall black guy sipping red wine, reading a novel, a parrot on his shoulder sits on a foldout mesh lawn chair on the sidewalk outside a pale green apartment building with a ‘For Rent’ sign dangling above a garage door.” Cory did his own “The Killer Sits.” And Karie read John Gray’s “5 PM and the Rain Won’t Stop.”

I was actually in a mood to stick around after the reading, but I had promised Raquel not to stay out too late, so I skedaddled after saying good bye to various folks.

Notes on an On Common Ground Event – Whittier Law School – 23 February 2012

I arrived on campus just a few minutes before the event and bumbled around a bit before discovering Classroom 1 at Whittier Law School, where I was greeted by host Shannon Phillips and introduced to poet and Whittier College professor Tony Barnstone. Barnstone, in collaboration with local musical duo Genuine Brandish (John Clinebell and Ariana Hall), has created a show called “Tokyo Burning,” which combines Genuine Brandish’s songs with poems from Barnstone’s collection Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki.

Wow. What a potent show! I’m so glad I came. Powerful poems, powerful songs. Barnstone’s poems masterfully explored an array of perspectives from the Pacific theater of World War Two. Genuine Brandish’s songs displayed excellent musicianship and beautiful harmonies, despite the sometimes disturbing subject matter. I wish many more than fifteen people or so had shown up, but the event’s 12:30-1:30 time did fall right in the middle of the work day.

  1. The first poem, “The Battle for Saipan,” went with Genuine Brandish’s song “As If We Weren’t Americans.” Written from the viewpoint of a Japanese-American intelligence officer whose family back home has been interned in a camp, it explores the hysterical response of many Japanese nationals in Guam to the invading Allied forces, many jumping off so-called “suicide cliffs” to avoid the imagined inhuman depredations of American soldiers.
  2. “A Black Rain Fell” describes the precipitation that fell, as dark and sticky as tar, in the wake of the atom bombs’ pulverizing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Three or four such poems were condensed into the accompanying song.
  3. As the Americans drove the Japanese from New Guinea, the imperial forces were cut off from their supplies, sometimes resorting to cannibalism to fend off starvation. The poem and song both titled “White Pig, Dark Pig” are named after Japanese euphemisms for the Western POWs and native New Guineans used as meat by soldiers who found themselves in dire straits.
  4. “The Perfect Life” was particularly inspired by the experiences of a Dutch colonial woman living in the Dutch East Indies, who was taken by Japanese forces and forced into sexual slavery as a “comfort woman.” Over 250,000 women across Asia were thus kidnapped and abused, only a quarter of whom managed to survive starvation and gang-rape. Hall added that to this day, human trafficking remains the third largest international criminal endeavor.
  5. “The Thin Man” discusses a military nurse in West Virginia who learns the war is over, jubilantly kisses a nearby soldier, the eponymous ectomorph, and eventually becomes his wife for forty years.
  6. Let’s see whether I get this right. The song “Tokyo Burning” is based on the poem “Tokyo Burning” and another poem that Barnstone read, “Fireflies Over Tokyo.” They concern the 1945 campaign of firebombing major Japanese cities, prior to the atomic bomb attacks. More than 100,000 people, mostly civilians, were burned alive. The firestorms were so intense that they boiled the rivers, cooking those who jumped into it to try to cool off. The song covers the perspectives of both an American airman dropping the bombs and napalm and a Japanese housewife on the ground.

After the performances came a brief Q&A. Clinebell mentioned that he met Barnstone at a house party a year and a half ago, and that he wanted to involve himself in a musical project that could help people and spread awareness. Hall was initially ambivalent about becoming involved, about being a woman singing about such violent material, but then she changed her mind, recognizing the importance of the endeavor and its ability to promulgate information and peace. Barnstone had been researching this material for fifteen years, ever since dining with retired brigadier general Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gay. Barnstone’s then-wife was Japanese — his former mother-in-law had survived an Allied firebombing — while his father had been drafted into the American military near the end of World War Two. He thus had a complex perspective of the war’s events, a perspective that provoked his interest more deeply and significantly as time passed.

I do encourage everyone to experience this show. In the future, the trio will appear at Beyond Baroque and may appear at the Los Angeles Book Festival.

Notes on Two Idiots Peddling Poetry – The Ugly Mug – 22 February 2012

Why does licorice spice herbal tea taste a bit like shaving soap? Owner Phil at The Ugly Mug was out of peppermint tea again, so I had to make do. I should have learned from last week’s cup.

What was different about tonight? Graham sat at my window corner table with me. I learned he’s always in a suit and tie because he does legal work in Lake Forest, not because he’s the secret president of nearby Chapman University. So much for using my poetic prowess to get a job over there.

Who else showed up? Martha Stothard. LilBob. Michael Miller, the publisher of Moon Tide Press, which recently published tonight’s feature, Susan Davis, who came with her husband. Seth with the glasses and Mike with the beard. James Kelly. Heidi Denkers and friend. And a special guest from the East.

  1. Ben started the reading with Ricki Mandeville‘s “Fractions” from Don’t Blame the Ugly Mug.
  2. Michael Miller, who had set up two stacks of Susan Davis’ collection, I Was Building Up to Something, on a neighboring table, read the funny “Meet Up,” which he dedicated to anyone who has ever been to a meet-up group to get a date.
  3. Martha read “The Bully,” about a police detective with whom she had a bad experience connected to her leaving the employ of Walmart. Then she read a piece by Albuquerque poet Gail [Somebody], “Valerie the Bat.”
  4. I read “Recessional” and “A Fable.” While reading “Recessional,” I received some gratifying gasps and cries in response to the stanza about the wasp and the apple. Graham and James later gave me positive feedback on both poems, though I usually don’t think of them as among my best work.
  5. Graham read some more haiku. He keeps getting better and better at them.
  6. Jacob Slobodien read two impassioned, downbeat love poems, “Broken” and “One Year.”
  7. James Kelly read an untitled piece beginning “The universe moves in chemistry and gravity…,” “Superman Versus the Pomegranate-Throwing Monkeys of the Eighth Dimension,” and the quasi-sonnet “Donna,” written in response to a decades-old assignment from undergraduate days.
  8. Susan Davis then took the stage. An initially unprepossessing presence, she came off as modest, thoughtful, dry/wry, solemn, wise, and funny. I really liked her poems; I wish I’d had money to buy her book. She began with “Bachman’s Pond,” which ended on such an unexpected note that we were at first too surprised to clap. She then read “Domestic Expectations,” “School Morning Drop-Off,” “Still Life,” “Gravity,” “Memoriam,” and “Curses.” Then came a Valentine’s day poem for and about her dogs, “Social Contracts,” as well as “Sums,” “We Know,” and the divorce poem “Undertaking.”
  9. During the break, Seth collected money for the feature. Then I got the bathroom key and unlocked the door, only to have it slammed back shut from the other side; how had they gotten inside without the key, and why didn’t they take the key inside with them? I came back to my table to find one of The Mysterious Other Buckleys, Kate Buckley, whom I’ve heard of numerous times but never seen in the flesh, who had come all the way from Tennessee, sitting in Graham’s chair and chatting with Michael Miller. She paid me no mind. Finally, Ben signaled the end of the break by reading Daphne Gottlieb’s “open water” from Don’t Blame the Ugly Mug.
  10. Seth read “Is It Me?,” “Thank God for Toilet Paper,’ and “The Mirror.”
  11. Kate Buckley read a few poems from her iPhone; she said she usually makes fun of people who do that, but she couldn’t get the printer to work at her “work condo.” She read “The Haunt,” quickly moved on to “”Winter Garden” before we could applaud, and finished with “Polarity: A Polemic.”
  12. Steve Ramirez read “Ode to a Brownie” for Seth, “Dictionary Entries About Ex-Girlfriends,” and the potent “Thus Spoke Aquaman.”
  13. Ben Trigg closed out the night with two poems, one that started “She Didn’t Mind the Lack of Premarital Sex, But…” and one that started “Every Dress You Own Is a Loaded Gun,” which he had dedicated to Martha and last read at her feature on October 26.

Okay, so there you go. I shook Graham’s and Martha’s hands goodbye, waved to a couple of others, and hit the road.

Running Towards, Running Away: “How to Be a Drunk”

I used to teach a couple of doors away from Ted Archer. Before he left teaching for the business world, before I exchanged eighth-grade writers for college ones, we worked together for a year at The Harker School in Silicon Valley and remained friends afterward. Ted was quite an amazing guy. He received two degrees in four years from Stanford University, where he played varsity soccer and was the president of his fraternity. He also liked to run.

In fact, Ted still likes to run so much that a few years ago, he began participating in Marathon des Sables, a six-day supermarathon of over 150 miles through the Moroccan Sahara. The first time Ted ran it, he was the first American to cross the finish line.

He wrote and published a book about his experience, Carved by God, Cursed by the Devil. While it discusses Ted’s preparation, his running, it also discusses his complex relationship with his alcoholic sister, who seemed to tap her potential in inverse proportion to Ted’s tapping his. As someone who left Harker under somewhat of a cloud because of his own drinking, as someone who had begun writing again after many years, I was inspired to fuse alcoholism, desert running, and commitment into a poem.

I wrote “How to Be a Drunk” the night of April 4, 2009, bolstered by a 7&7 or two made with diet cherry 7Up. I sent it to Ted; I never heard back. I submitted it to journals. I felt odd about sharing “Ted’s” poem with the world, just as he felt maybe a bit conflicted about sharing his sister’s story with his audience. I felt odd about the probability that I was “writing what I know”; I have usually been cagey enough never to admit just how much regularly got poured down my throat.

On April 10, 2010, the poem was accepted. “How to Be a Drunk” first appeared in Pear Noir! Number 4 (Summer 2010). I still drink, though not nearly as assiduously as I once did.