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On Success (and Fear)

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Why is success so terrifying? –Desiree Landerman, Canada

Hi Desiree,

I guess the pat answer would be is that change is terrifying. I’m going to qualify that and say that it’s FAST change that is the most terrifying. Luckily for me, I am not what you’d call a success in the writing world, overnight or otherwise. All of the success I’ve experienced has happened at such a slow pace that I’ve had a chance to process it.

When I was just starting out in the early 90s, I was scared of making a fool of myself. I masked this with bravado and bluster and finally in my 30s, I found true confidence. Still very few publication credits then, though.

I think that decades of writing in obscurity has hardened me a little bit, and taught me a few things. Now, in my late 40s, I’m achieving the success I hoped for, but hadn’t yet earned in my 20s.

There is one big reason why I am personally terrified of success with writing. I hate performing in front of people. I also hate parties, meeting new people, subways, and going for walks on days that end in “y”. Yet I am a public school teacher. Go figure. I think I know why, though.

Every element of my classroom environment is pre-planned and set-up in advance. I know who I’m supposed to be when I’m in that space. When I’m on a stage, I can’t be Josh Medsker, Writer. I’m just Josh Medsker, Awkward Man.

And I know that the more books I write and the more recognition I get, the more I will have to put myself out there. This scares me so much. I am trying to find a good way to integrate these performances into my artistic self-vision, but so far I haven’t.

Thank you for this question. I hope this was a useful answer.

–Josh

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On Happiness

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I kept coming up short on topics to write about, so I put out a call for questions! I took the idea from Nick Cave. On his website, people write in and ask him questions, which he answers at length. So, without further ado, here is my version of that idea. –JM

Are you happy? –John Hocker, Alaska

Hi, John. You know how they say “If you have to ask yourself if you’re happy then you probably aren’t?” That’s me.

I’ve often operated in a fog of self-consciousness. Not my whole life, but for large swaths of it. I’ve found that the times I’ve been the happiest are when I’m focusing on someone else’s needs. Or, if I am focusing on myself, I’m deep in some creative project and don’t have time to contemplate it.

I think that reflection is crucial to being a thinking person, but too much reflection, and you are hamstrung. It can very quickly turn from reflection into neurosis.

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Writing = Faith

It’s an understatement to say that we live in interesting times. So interesting that after work, I just want to go home, grab my wife, my dogs and cat, pull the covers up over my face, and go the fuck to sleep. But somehow, this world just keeps creeping under my blanket.

So what do we do? After the floor is swept, the litter box is cleaned and dishes are done, what do you do to organize your mind, or keep some semblance of normalcy in this DUMPSTER FIRE OF A WORLD c. 2020? As a writer, you write. But that is a feat sometimes. I think the key is to please yourself.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with rising sea levels, or the rise of right-wing populists around the world, or any number of issues that are troubling me… but I do know that I can string words together in a way that pleases me. Getting up in the morning, committing to an idea, putting it down –that is an incredibly brave act of faith. Who will read it? Who will care?

To paraphrase Andy Warhol, “Make art. Let someone else figure out if it’s good or not. While they are doing that, make more.

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The Decline of Northern Civilization: T.C. Ottinger

T.C. was a long-time scene maker in Anchorage, with his impeccable style and 50s and 60s-infused rock and roll. All driven by his ever-present Rickenbacker. Never one to mince words, he had a lot to say about local music history when we caught up via email a while back. He’s been living in Columbus, Ohio for more than a few years now, rockin with the Lee-Enfield Trio, among other projects. The Alaska music scene will never have a more vocal advocate (and critic). It’s my honor to welcome him to this oral history project.

Josh Medsker: When did you first get involved in the local music scene?

TC Ottinger: Going way back to about ’83, my first band was Diagonal Incision, followed by Irrational Youth in college. The precursor to Dead End Kid was The Subterraneans with Scott Comins, Don Schwartz and Tim Lottridge on drums (who would subsequently move to Oly with DEK). DEK was a great band with some fine tunes, equally influenced by Social D’ and The Misfits in addition to the burgeoning grunge element. With our relocation, we broke up (a theme to be repeated ad nauseum). Dean Fryer and I moved back to AK at separate times and he formed Sonic Tractorhead–and then moved again. I hadn’t seen him since–maybe–’92 though when I ran into him in AK in July, I realized why I loved playing with the guy and really did miss him. Too bad our recordings of DEK were fookin’ shite.

As to my involvement in the “scene” of the early ’80’s, I had gone to some punk shows, went to The Warehouse once (no big deal) and bought all the issues of the Warning fanzine, so I wasn’t too into what was going down, although I knew what was up (I was already distancing myself from the “stupid/drunk” punk, by having already owned Gang of Four, The Damned, early R.E.M., The Jam–natch–but that was definitely out of the musical knowledge of the local musicians which sucked when I tried to form a band–another theme to be repeated ad nauseum). More later.

JM: You gotta tell me the full story of you rooming with Kurt Cobain in Olympia.

TC: Cobain was never my roomie though I did get to “jam” with him a few times and eat pizza at Jo’Momma’s and drink pints at KS’s Reef Room and all three of us in DEK moved to Oly in Aug ’90–just in time to witness the last, great, epoch/genre-changing musical phenom (for real: music, fashion, politics AND the bonus of making Warrant, Garth Brooks and Michael “NAMBLA charter member” Jackson completely irrelevant).

Quick note on The Subterraneans: for about a year, we were the only band doing anything. We had some great originals and did covers of Echo’, Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, The Cult… We played on the beach with a generator long before a “coastal trail” existed; we played the park behind Egan before anyone (with a permit, too), we opened the UAA Pub (yawn) and played some legendary house parties. Then we saw The Guests and knew it was time to move on (my opine: The Guests are one of the five greatest AK bands–ever; Skate Death are around #9, if you’re going to ask).

JM: Oh I am.

TC: And by “greatest”, I should qualify that to mean “most-lasting impact”.

JM: Top ten… Fave local bands ever and why… Hopscotch was always in my top 3.

TC: Not in any order and not because I may like them–or not (I fuckin’ hate SD) but: TCOs, The Guests, SD, Psychedelic Skeletons, Tuesday Weld, Roman Candles, Sonic Tractorhead, DEK, Freedom 49 and Dr Zaius. There are some more recent bands but they are so fuckin’ blah on stage.

Hell, too bad The Ambition was only around for a year (until we moved to OH and broke up) because we would’ve been better, bigger and more influential than most of the previous bands previously mentioned. Hopscotch? Hell, we were pretty fuckin’ good but could’ve been so much better if the line-up didn’t fluctuate so damn much! ‘Pretty much 6 lost years of my life…

JM: I’ve always appreciated that you worked your ass off, musically, during that dead time in the late 80s. I’ve been told it was dead. I wasn’t around.

TC: If it could be any deader, this would be that period. I decided to move to Dallas after 2.5 years at UAF (great school in a shitty city) early ’88. When I returned to Anchorage in the summer, I found myself in a band that was quite good (The Subterraneans) and played quite a bit. Very few bands would venture north and those of any local quality would depart even quicker than they would later in AK’s history! One of note–that continues to spark interest among those of us who know talent–was The Guests. At one spectacularly poor “festival” for the University Free Press (which was around for, probably, 3 issues), The Guests were amazing; in a nod to pre-grunge, they should’ve gone on to be much bigger once they moved (but…drugs, ego, women). Their originals were far superior to anything anyone else was playing though, once they closed the show with an incendiary, punk-cover of Gary Numan’s “Cars” (with one Cliff Hall hammering a big sheet of metal), they were nothing short of gods. 

This was also a time of hippy/jam bands starting to take off, in addition to white-funk shit, a la RHCP. When bands like this took off, I knew that the local flavor was really starting to suffer.

Now, this was a time of many venues opening and closing, so the opportunity to play was actually greater than it had been in many years; further, one could put on shows for relatively cheap without too much bureaucratic tape, i.e., cops being cops.

Once, though, that The Subterraneans inevitably broke up (forming some regrettably blah, white-funk bands), I ran into Dean Fryer and we put together DEK which was–since The Guests weren’t around–the best band of ’89-’90. Sure, that’s reads a bit self-centered, but we were fuckin’ mega; live, no one could touch us (too bad our recorded output was stale)! We put on the best rent parties, legendary house parties, rented the Spenard Rec Center and blew it up and–still–the greatest bunker show in AK history before going to Olympia… 

JM: What is your recollection of the Kincaid Bunker Show?

TC: The Kincaid Bunker show (“4 bucks/3 bands/2 stages/1 night”) really was something that should’ve been documented (this, of course, in a time before the ubiquity of digital this and that). I challenge anyone to replicate even half the energy and fun of that night; the “good vibes” will never be duplicated as today’s little fucks would find someway to ruin it with rap, thug-life b.s., baggy-panted misery and just plain ego-play. That, and they’d charge some disgusting fee to “make” money rather than just try to recover their investment. Hell, the pit that erupted in front of our closing set was self-policing, friendly-yet-spastic and–by many–considered the largest ever mosh pit (qualify: not counting the big-money shows that K-WHORE would produce, as the pit at Metallica might’ve been the largest). 
More later…enjoy

JM: So, in your estimation, how were the 90s, compared to the 80s, scene-wise?

TC: The ’90’s were a great time of musical growth for Anchorage with the opening–and the subsequent closing–of many venues; so many places were run so half-ass, there never was any doubt as to their being open for any length of time, e.g., Gigs, Plunking Monkey, The Underground (of course, with some, it was only a matter of time once the wrong element was allowed to frequent the places). So many good bands sprung up at this time that challenged the old guard of Skynyrd and Zep’, Tuesday Weld being one that comes to mind and one of my all-time fave AK bands.

Unfortunately, a great many bands also appeared that were nothing more than terrible musicianship packaged in forgettable stage demonstrations or good musicianship with absolutely no idea of “mach schau” (hell, you can be the greatest shredder alive but if you dress in white tennis shoes, torn jeans and can’t bother to take a shower and are just boring as fuck live, you might as well be playing in your living room). In some cases, a few bands’ over-inflated view of themselves and their attempt to impress the eight fans they had at that moment led to some ugly confrontations (for example, Philipino Haircut–which sucked–vomiting on stage after their usual shit performance, totally disregarding common decency with regard to the following band having to stand around in stench; Kenny Bo’ and I threatened to beat the shit out them– until they cleaned up after themselves. Somehow, we came out as the “bad guys” in the whole mess). Odd, in all this, I was going to school full-time, working full-time, playing in bands, DJ-ing on radio, writing music reviews, booking shows for other artists and yet found time to frequent a number of performances–demanding to pay full admission, as is morally the right thing to do–yet rarely seeing other bands at our shows! How was I viewed as the “evil man” in this scenario? Sure, I spoke my mind on radio and press but that’s because no one should sugar-coat their opinions when dealing with something so esoteric as music; if you think you have the onions to be a rockstar, you might want to listen to what a musical veteran is putting out. I know talent when I hear it and though I may not have been a fan of a certain band’s music (Freedom 49, 36 Crazyfists) I ALWAYS wrote of my admiration and respect for those artists, putting out one good review after another with regard to those in question. 

Obviously, though, the ’90’s gave rise to so many copy-cat bands wanting to be Nirvana or Rage Against the Machine or, later, Limp Bizkit. I was always cheesed at how the local scene was such a vacuum that nothing really original ever grew though there were the occasional gold nuggets, the aforementioned Tuesday Weld comes to mind, again (some bands, like Pikal, are just…yawn).

Sure, I never put anything out that was ground-breaking but I was in a surf-instrumental band before “Pulp Fiction” was released (leading to the resurgence of the genre), my bands would wear suit and tie just about 80% of time (long before “Trainspotting” appeared) and we started the switch to a rockabilly sound…all this before they became nationally fashionable which led to many thinking that–once they finally saw us–we were part of a trend. Sheesh, I even did a rap-thing with just drum, bass and mic that really turned some heads (opening for Cypress Hill, some locals were upset that F’49 didn’t get the slot–throwing coins, shoes, spit, blocks of wood…at my head!– but we lobbied for the gig the same way everyone else attempted but were chosen by CH’s management on the merit of better material…so suck it).

JM: You escaped to the Lower 48 for a while, right? With Hopscotch.

TC: Yeah, even ol’ Hopscotch made it out of AK for a bit to the now-defunct NXNW, chosen on the strength of our tape, bio and press package. Once that band went through its fourth or fifth iteration, I finally had to put that to bed and formed The Tall Cool Ones which is–probably–the best band of the ’99-’02 period (qualifier: with Damian and Clint, not the regrettable Joey Fender version), as we walked away with Best Band honors three years running (without doing any sort of stumping for votes, too, we gobbled up over 60% of votes each year!). 

Another band from the ’90’s that can’t be overlooked is Kevin Smith’s perfect Dr. Zaius, a Dinosaur, Jr. meets Todd Rundgren meets Sonic Youth element. If any one band could have been labeled as the, say, the “best Anchorage band of the ’90’s”, they’d be it, without question. Far and away the most musically gifted trio in the circuit though the only complaint was they were very reserved on the stage (too be forgiven, sure, as their music could have been also labeled as “shoegazer”). 

And then the venues dried up due to poor management, people getting stabbed, bands asking for too much money or just plain disinterest from the locals. Or the rise of the internet. Whatever, apathy had fueled the implosion of a burgeoning scene and it took a few years to recover.

JM: You are originally from NOLA, yes? When did you come up to Alaska? What made you stay for so long?

TC: Born in 1967, the same year as the Saints, my all-time fave sports team regardless of record (unlike 49ers fans who jumped ship the second their team took a nose-dive in the standings…). ‘Rents moved us to AK in ’72 to have a better education and escape racism (not realizing that the indigenous people of AK are some of the most racist turds on Earth). Although we’d visit the extended fam’ a few times over the years, AK became my home as I really hadn’t anything else to which I could compare! But–aaah–once I tasted the freedom of Dallas or Seattle or NY or London, I knew it was only a matter of time until I’d finally find myself permanently out of that musical/fashion/entertainment hell.

The thing that really irked me was the apathy. I already wrote that in an earlier missive but it’s the perfect word for the Anchorage music scene and a majority of its participants. It just seems so many want so much done for them (kind of like residents of Philadelphia, Detroit and Atlanta) that they’ll bitch rather than just finding a venue; hell, so many places in Anchorage would love someone to walk into their establishment and ask to play a show (gratis, of course, at first). Bands in which I was involved played so many different places, at times being the first to play somewhere new or unique (to only be ruined by the onslaught of the “punk” rock attitude that you have to kick holes in walls or pull sinks off walls…). 

I guess another thing that may have bothered me was the frequency at which original thought was shit upon by the local media or–gasp–someone actually voicing their opinion without first consulting the various outlets, venues, artists. Again, as I wrote earlier, who cares about someone’s opinion (from me? Sure, I may have more years under my belt as a professional musician but, inevitably, what I say are just words, or advice, and you should just grow some fuckin’ stones and become a better fuckin’ band).

JM: Do you have any regrets about that time? Anything that you wanted to accomplish that you didn’t?

Tall Cool Ones, c. late 90s. (note: This is a reference to Seattle’s “Fabulous” Wailers, not our man’s initials.)

TC: Any regrets? Not playing more, not playing with musicians that understood what I was trying to do, not putting more shit together for other bands (though I did a helluvalot, mother fuckers, without any thanks). To accomplish— Just to make Anchorage a better and more forward place for music; it’s sad that backward, no-talents think they’re the shit when all they’ve done is play a few shows in AK. Saying they’ve helped some new bands get started or get some gigs and not recognizing what is missing from their “clients” bag of tricks is only hurting said artists. Yeah, I know, what have I done? Not sold out and played Benihana, for one fucking thing…

JM: How did you juggle your regular life during those times? Was it difficult, with jobs, school, GFs, etc…

TC: Fucking hard as shit. I don’t know very many in any scene that had my schedule nor could have maintained my life for as long as I did! Ken Bodensteiner, for one, that’s for sure. But, I would do just about anything to play music, put on a show because the show is all that matters–you never cancel a show (some people need to get that through their fuckin’ heads: if you say you’re playing somewhere–even for free–you play or, well, you lose a great deal of respect in my eyes). As for girlfriends, I am glad to have finally left AK and found my wife. Period.

JM: What are some of your favorite stories from those days?

TC: Too many to list but: opening for Social Distortion, opening for (and destroying) Soul Asylum, the bunker shows, getting kicked out of Talkeetna for playing too loud, being on the radio and educating the masses to better music, The Tall Cool Ones, The Ambition, recording two Hopscotch tracks with Rick Kinsey, recording TCO tracks with Kristian Rosentrater…I know there’s more, just let me finish this shot to clear the cobwebs.

JM: Was there camaraderie among scenesters, do you think? Was it pretty unified, or were there factions, cliques?

TC: There was a comradeship early in the scene, and then it became one big backstabbing, buddy fuck-fest. The cliques were pretty obvious, too, but I was never involved in any (probably because I wasn’t allowed in with the self-imposed intelligentsia or the dirty masses that felt not taking a shower was somehow cool).

JM: What was your overall impression of the music scene up there? How is it different than Columbus?

TC: I learned a great deal of tolerance but the AK scene is sorely lacking in everything–too many “big fish” heads. The best thing I’ve ever done is finally and permanently move to a city where music is diverse, educated (these people know The Wailers are a band from Tacoma…), highly competitive though close-knit (which breeds better musicianship), a high number of musician-friendly venues, working class ethic–all traits that do not exist in Anchorage. Hell, if someone writes that a band or artist isn’t “all that”–any press is good press! The danger is when someone STOPS writing about you; AK bands need to appreciate that little bon mots from someone who actually has lived it.

www.facebook.com/tchristopher.ottinger

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The Decline of Northern Civilization: Jenn Gray of AK INK

(This is an ongoing interview series about the alternative / punk music scene in Anchorage and its attendant culture, from the 80s through the 00s.)

Jenn held down the punk rock fort in Anchorage from 2002-2006 with her zine AK INK. Local music live reviews, attitude, beer reviews? The local music scene needed an infusion of fresh blood, and she delivered. She was kind enough to speak with me a few years ago about her days in the Anchorage scene trenches.

Interview by Josh Medsker

When did you first get involved in the punk scene in Anchorage?

I guess I first became involved in the scene when I was 16. My family moved back to Anchorage from Germany in 1993. I started dating musicians, and going to the local shows.

Who were some of your models for zine writing? What zines (local or non-local) had you read or contributed to before the start of AK Ink? I still remember your Skeeve’s Christmas Story comic! Hahaha! I loved that.

I liked comics a lot, and tried to make some. Not dumb boy action adventures, but more cynical crass feminine humor. I wasn’t interested in zines at first because I had only been exposed to perzines where people drone on about their personal bullshit. I was familiar with the reproductive aspect of zines, and replicated my comics in the same way. I remember NNN a lot because of how the half legal sized pamphlet felt nice to hold. The full sized letter zines were bulky and lame, and the half letter sized zines were too narrow and awkward. I started making AK ink in half sized legal sheets too. NNN seemed to have the right amount of scene coverage, music reviews, and other shit that I found appropriate of a scene zine. I figured if I made one, I could interject all of my drawings and comics in-between the scene coverage. With NNN I could see that the past was documented, but at the same time I could see that no one was documenting the present.

I left AK in 2000, and honestly… from 1996 when I quit NNN, up until then, there didn’t seem to be a lot of zine-ing going on. And by the time you started AK Ink, the Verve had gone kaput, right?  What was the local zine/small press scene like at the onset of AK Ink?

Yeah we began at the end of 2002, and not a lot was going on zine-wise, aside from a few perzines found at Subterranea. There was some scene coverage in AK This Month and the Press, but I wanted AK ink to focus primarily on the local underground punk scene, because there wasn’t much documentation of that.

An important note about the timing of AK ink, was that it began right as the internet was starting to explode. Paper zines were practically already obsolete. So if there weren’t a lot of zines out there, that’s a huge contributing factor. Making copies at Kinkos was all revised; you had to have a credit card to run the machines, so I’m sure that deterred some of the kids. We intended AK ink to be a website zine only because we lived in this new digital world, but we made the paper version just for fun. Then we said fuck it, and made it paper too. Good thing because the paper copy is the only thing that remains.

I don’t know if you experienced this, but during NNN, it almost seemed like–because we were writing about it, more bands popped up, or maybe, the bands that were around took what they were doing a tad more seriously… dunno.  Was that your experience?

I think we noticed more bands pop up because we were searching them out, and collecting them into history. Not everyone remembers the lame band that three of your friends were in back in the early 2000s, but zines do. I think creating a zine is a big contribution to the scene, and compliments the contributions of the bands. Not everyone is a musician. Instead of making music with melody and lyrics, we made visual art with photography and type. Perhaps it does inspire, and encourage some people, but the scene was definitely already alive and kicking by the time we started writing about it. There were lots of mohawks in the pit, and fist banging all around.

Also, looking back on it, it seems like AK can only support one ongoing local zine at a time! Hahaha! I think the Ak Verve/NNN dual run was a fluke.  In the 80s, it was only Warning.  In the 90s it was me and Bmac (an anomaly), and it seems like in the 00s it was only you. Did you find that to be true?

No, I think we tried to encourage each other to create, whether it was in AK ink, or in other zines. Actually, there were several zines going on the same time as AK ink, maybe not as consistent, or in the same vein, or as reproduced and promoted, but we would run ads in each other’s zines to show support. The more perspective, and the different perspective, on the same subject is wonderful for archiving.

Tell me about the birth of AK Ink. What made you want to start a seriously local zine in Anchorage?

I wanted to do several things. I wanted to get my art published, I wanted to have a fun creative enslaving project, and I wanted to document the scene so I could remember it. I have a terrible memory so creating a zine was perfect. I was going to all the local shows and hanging out with band people anyway. I coupled it with my favorite genre, punk rock, and AK ink was born. “AK” stands for the geographically fucked location, and “ink” stands for pen art, type, toner, and the blackness in reproducing art. A nice plus was that it gave me something to do besides drink at the shows.

Why did you fold it up, ultimately?

It folded because I was poor and working with my back. I figured I better get my shit together and finish my bachelors before I got all crippled working manual labor jobs. I quit the zine, and my shitty warehouse job to go back to school.

Do you think you’ll put out #20 ever?

Yes. Everything for it is sitting safety in my attic waiting for my next move. Though, I’m not sure if I will release it this year, next year, or in 10 years, whenever the inspiration and time comes.

What are some of your favorite AK memories?

I’m really interested in subcultural group thought/aesthetic/action, and the conformity of nonconformity. Youth culture and underground communal response might be found in all cities, but we got to experience it, and document it, in Anchorage. I like how the scene doesn’t really pedestal the bands. They are usually just dudes with day jobs dragging their equipment through the snow, keeping the scene alive, giving a reason to congregate. The scene is about the people who come together, the bands and the crowds. Granted, everyone is usually more interested in finding drugs, an after party, or a lay, rather than focusing on the sound, but the music is the soundtrack to this weird intermingling. Sometimes there are tons of people contributing to this collective, sometimes people just stop trying, and go about their lives. It doesn’t matter; the Anchorage underground scene always peaks again. I find this shit fascinating.

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LAURA PAGE (Interview by Josh Medsker)

I’ve known Laura for many years, via literary adventures, and have long been fascinated by her work. Laura, I’d like to welcome you as the very first poet in the Twenty-Four Hours Poetry + Interview chapbook series, which I’m publishing in June.

Thank you!

So, to start, I want to talk about your literary magazine, Virga. What was the inspiration behind it? What made you decide to undertake this crazy endeavor?

In 2015, I saw that a small press, Anchor & Plume, was looking for readers for their lit journal Kindred. I applied, was accepted, and began reading LOTS of poetry, essays, and short stories, and comparing notes with the founding editor, Amanda. It was an exhilarating process and it exposed me to so much that I would not have read otherwise. I noticed as I read that I gravitated toward a certain voice, a certain quality of imagination. Amanda’s and my own aesthetic overlapped very frequently, of course. But while I greatly admired Amanda’s vision for Kindred and Anchor & Plume, which is unfortunately no longer operational, I found myself envisioning space that could foster a more experimental, more lyrical voice. The observations and experiences with A&P were little seeds sown, and Virga grew from that.

Are there any literary magazines that you always come back to… ones that you just thoroughly enjoy?

There are! I’m very happy about so much that I’ve read from a journal, The Bennington Review, that went on a very long hiatus—30 years in fact—and is back in full force as of March of 2016. Benjamin Friedlander, the editor of Robert Creeley’s selected poems, 1945-2005, once said that poetry involves a “zeroing in on those points where particularity gives access to the common and commonalities take particular shape.” I think Bennington is doing this beautifully.

I also love Salt Hill. They just produce, invariably, issues that are full of artistry. The introduced me to writers like Nick Greer and Pilar Fraile Amador.

Some of my favorite new kids on the block, include Human/Kind, which is doing great things with short form poetry, especially the Japanese forms, haiku, tanka, cherita, etc, The Hunger, whose editors, Lena and Erin, curate issues full of pure music, and the Indianapolis Review, which is creating a real space for poets AND visual artists, one that, I think, is focused, more intentionally, on the poetry community, and on being a resource for poets.

What was the impetus to start writing poetry? Had you written in any other genre before poetry?

From a pretty young age, it just delighted me that language had such power to transform, that it seemed like a means of access. I wrote poems very privately as a teenager, but didn’t really begin intentionally developing this passion until later, as a freshman in college, after reading some critiques of Adrienne Rich’s poetry. Rich, and Theodore Roethke were influences that sort of ushered me in, you might say.

How do you know when a poem is working? What is your process like?

For me, a poem is working when the emotional kernel that prompts it can land on an image that soothes me, that validates the feeling, somehow. Or it’s working when the image or subject I’ve landed on can escape, through a trapdoor, maybe – a hidden passage – and emerge somewhere else without its clothes on. In other words, the image or the subject is stripped down and the result is some new insight.

I used to overthink process, used to feel a bit of anxiety about producing “work.” Lately, for better or worse, my process relies on writing very fast, in a very “un-thinking” way. I’ll often abandon these sorts of skeletal things for days or weeks, before returning to them and putting some flesh on the bones.

How often do you write? I know some people have bursts of inspiration… some write every day…

I’ve never been able to regiment my writing. I know it works for some, but I am at the mercy of those “bursts” of insight or inspiration. This has always been the case.

Who are some of your favorite poets? Both established and up-and-coming? Have you noticed any aesthetic/content-based connections between them?

Well, first, I love so many dead poets. Rilke, William Carlos Williams, Ann Sexton, just off the top of my head there. But contemporary established poets would include Norman Dubie, Robert Hass, Sharon Olds, Ada Limon. Favorite newer poets include Danez Smith, Paige M. Lewis.

Connections…that’s a good question. I gravitate toward Rilke and Dubie for their distinct spirituality. Esoteric, I’d call it, sometimes with sexual undertones. Sexuality and Spirituality are, for me, really never divorced in poetry. The other names I’ve listed, I think, combine a confessional aspect with just this thing I can only call wisdom. It’s delightful, because some of them, like Smith and Lewis, are young and just beginning their careers, but the wisdom contained in much of their work can be as grave or mirthful as Olds or Hass.

If you had to pick ONE poet who informed your work more than any other, who would it be?

How dare you. Rather than answer that nearly impossible question, I’ll tell you the name of a poet who has been heavily influencing my recent work. I bought Paul Celan’s collected work, Breathturn Into Timestead, a couple years ago, and was impressed with how much he could pack into such very brief poems. His work relies on what I’d call “impressions.” I just love his idiosyncrasies, the playfulness and innovation in language.

You are also a painter. When you have an idea, a spark brewing… how do you know you have to paint, versus make a poem?

I think I paint when no image or subject is forthcoming for a poem. I don’t plan paintings; I just start painting as a sort of investigatory impulse.

A similar question to number six… what visual artist would you say has influenced you more than any other?

Oh boy, I’m a little obsessed, currently, with the work of a Chicago-based abstract artist, Shar Coulson. She explores the interconnection between humanity and nature, particularly the repetitions of each, over time, and the conceptual movement between reality and perception.

 What is the purpose of art, in your opinion?

I would say that human consciousness always, inevitably wants to push against the limits the natural world imposes. But not just the natural world. Really, it pushes against anything that is said to be “known” about our experience as humans. Art, I think, is a big what-if? What if this or that or the other so-called limit were not present? The purpose of art is to challenge or subvert the grooves we wear in our minds just by living on this planet. I’m kind of obsessed, sometimes, with the idea of collective consciousness, and believe that art is doing something on that level– all these humans, making it, looking at it—and I like to try to imagine what that will enact in the future.

*****

Laura Page is a poet and visual artist from the Pacific Northwest. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including: Rust + Moth, Crab Creek Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Fanzine, Maudlin House, and TINGE.

Darren C. Demarree selected her chapbook, epithalamium, as the winner of Sundress Publications’ 2017 chapbook contest. Laura is founding editor of the poetry journal, Virga. (www.virgamagazine.com)

Categories
creative nonfiction

Me and Lou (and Rhonda)

The first time I heard Lou Reed was in high school. It was 1990, and I was at this girl Rhonda’s house. Rhonda and I were on her bed, and I was wiggling my way up onto her, with one hand behind her head, and the other one fumbling to get the top button of her jeans open. I was a junior and desperate to lose my virginity. She was a cute redhead, running her fingers through my hair. If I’m not mistaken, she was wearing a tie-dyed Jane’s Addiction poncho–one of the ones that looked like a burlap sack. Even this didn’t stop me. She was a fox. Her boombox played in the background. A drumbeat was like a heart… Then a voice.

“I… don’t know… just where I’m going…”

I hadn’t heard this before. The week earlier she had turned me on to The Ramones, but this? The guy couldn’t sing! He was worse than Bob Dylan! What the hell was this? I wanted to ask Rhonda what this was, but I was in the middle of a very important task.

“But I’m… gonna try… for the kingdom… if I can…”

Seriously, what the hell was this? It was picking up a little bit. Now it really sounded like Bob Dylan, but like something else, too. Rhonda pulled back a little bit. A car pulled up the driveway. Fuck. We composed ourselves as best we could. My pants were completely askew in the front. I covered myself with a pillow and quickly saw how ridiculous I looked. I chucked the pillow across the room. We bolted from the bedroom and went to sit on the couch in the living room. She threw a copy of SPIN at me. We started awkwardly chatting about something, I don’t remember what. Let’s say it was something about music. Her father walked in and looked at us askance. We both said hello, voices on top of each other. I introduced myself, ears bright red.

Her father gone from the room, we turned to each other and scooted a little closer to each other on the couch. “Will you make me a tape of whatever that was?” I asked her. She smiled. I do remember that part. She did make me a mix tape. It had New York on one side, and Velvet Underground and Nico on the other side.

That winter, that mix tape–the VU side mostly—was my constant companion. I played “Heroin”, over and over, until the tape snapped and I taped it back together. That first time hearing “Heroin” was like a religious experience. So many times, walked through downtown Anchorage, scarf and collar pulled up around my neck, shivering, lost in my thoughts, happy that someone else understood the coldness and futility I felt. What can I say? I was a melodramatic kid.

“I’m gonna try… to nullify my life…”

The other layer, on to top of the personal connection to Lou Reed’s music, was the artistic connection. The feelings of frustration I couldn’t articulate at the time: about sex, about religion, about my inability to create… all seemed to be wrapped up in this one man’s song. I needed a way to escape the chaos of my teenage years, and Lou Reed stepped through the time-space continuum, from 1967, and said, “HERE, kid. I give you permission to not care so much.” Lou Reed’s un-self-consciousness was really powerful, and brave in my eyes.

“…and I feel just like Jesus’s Son… and I guess that I just don’t know… and I guess that I just don’t know…”

How could three minutes encapsulate so much? I wrote about it in my journal, that winter. I wrote:

Winter, 1992—

Lou really gets it. This isn’t about drugs. It is drugs. I am scared of needles… but maybe if I meditate on the essence of this song, it will transport me to where he was when he wrote it.

I paraphrased there, because I burned the actual journal in 1992, after the emotional turmoil of a girl, post-Rhonda. Lou Reed has inspired me for as long as I can remember. He went on to blow my mind with so many other albums: the gonzo glam of Rock N Roll Animal… the brooding sexuality of Transformer… and on and on… but that first time hearing VU… there will never be anything like that again.

The art that Lou Reed created was so transcendent that it’s hard to believe that his body is really gone. It’s almost enough for an atheist like myself to entertain the thought that Lou’s essence has just dissolved back into the “god ether” from which it came. Because was such a powerful musical force, it’s probably easier to think of him as less of a man, and more of a divinely-inspired demi-god. However, taking his humanity and craft away is doing a serious disservice to what he created. These songs were created with equal doses of hard work, deep thought, and yes, inspiration—and he’s someone I hold up as a creative model.

He walked by me in Barnes and Noble a few years back, in Chelsea, when he and Laurie Anderson were there looking at art books. I was too intimidated to say anything, and honestly… how could I tell Lou Reed what I just told you?

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Uncategorized

I Love The Eagles! There, I Said It.

I first became aware of the Eagles when I was around ten years old. It was 1983, I was just beginning to listen to music, and generally, my tastes were quite diverse. My sister and I particularly liked their live version of Steve Young’s “Seven Bridges Road” from their Greatest Hits Vol. 2, and would try to match their matchless harmonies. We’d play it any chance we got. Family trips up to Lake Wasilla, Christmases, Mondays… Sometimes, at home, I would put on the vinyl and the giant space-age headphones my folks had (the kind that covered half your head) and just marvel at that song. It was my first taste of a cappella. And fingerstyle guitar. And I’ve never quite gotten over it.

Once I got older, around high school age, I became keenly aware that the Eagles were not cool. They were to be openly mocked by the young musical cognoscenti. Too rock for hardcore country fans. Not rock enough for stoners or metalheads. Not street enough for rap fans. And for my crowd? Alternative kids? Too ubiquitous and mainstream. I mean, their first Greatest Hits is one of the best selling albums of all time. Would my Doc Marten-wearing, backcombed black hair sporting, top 40 out-of-hand dismissing friends sign off on that? Not bloody likely.

Dutifully, I kept my Eagle-love hidden until my late 20s when I proclaimed my forbidden love to the world. My love of rockabilly took me deeper into country music, then on to country-rock, and deeper into the Eagles.

I was surprised and delighted to find that their roots in country-rock run deep, with Flying Burrito Brother Bernie Leadon stamping his twang all over their first three albums. His Gram Parsons tribute “My Man” is gold. And those harmonies, with heavy lifting on the high end from Randy “Take It To The Limit” Meisner? Again, they stomp everyone aside from CSNY. This is not up for debate. And the fact that Meisner was in Rick(y) Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band in the late 60s was just… damn.

For me, “Already Gone”, from their 1974 album On The Border straddles their rock and country sides perfectly. Lots of woo-hoos and tight harmonies, with that raucous (yet not quite unrestrained) guitar edge they’d take further as the 70s wore on. Don Felder rips at the end of the song, especially, and when they go up a half step in the coda, it still gives me chills. The song is rocking, pretty, economical and tight.

Generally I lean towards their early work, but I will admit that I once drove around the block 3 times, coming home from Walgreens, just to listen to Joe Walsh and Felder’s mind-blowing guitar duetting on “Hotel California”. Rewind, and rewind, and rewind…

For me, though, these songs, more than any fanboy music geekery, remind me of my family. Invariably, whenever my sister and I have hung out over the years, at some point the Eagles will come out. We’ll drive around Anchorage, Boston, or LA, wherever we are… blaring it, just enjoying, singing along, remembering.

Categories
Reading

Controlled Chaos: What I’m Reading Now

My god… I’ve written and re-written this so many times. Haha! I started to write a post about “the state of literature in 2019” and “why we consume literature in this digital age” and it was just too big of a topic. So, I’m going small.

I have this habit, you might have it too… of reading several books at the same time. Lately, it’s been poetry. For the last couple of years. I have a row of books that I’ve already read on the left-hand side of my poetry bookshelf (yes, I’ve organized everything by genre. I’m working on getting a P-Touch labeler…). And on the right-hand side are all of the books I’m working through. I just finished:

Jack Kerouac – Book of Haiku

Allen Ginsberg – Airplane Dreams

and a few others (I’ll put them in later). I’m currently working my way through:

Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Pictures of the Gone World, 1995 Edition

John Berryman – The Dream Songs

Japanese Death Poems

Seamus Heaney – District and Circle

Sylvia Plath – Ariel

Tomas Transtromer – Collected Poems

Kenneth Patchen – Collected Poems

Denise Levertov – Collected Poems

Marianne Moore – Observations

And I’m also re-reading WCW, picking my way through Pound, TS Eliot, and some others, but these books above are the ones I’m actively reading (or have read). Looking at this list, I came to a realization… there is no rhyme or reason to my poetry consumption… except for the fact that many of these books are put out by New Directions. And this actually fills me with a pleasing sense of happiness. Back in the day, I was quite restrictive with my tastes. If I was into Kerouac, that’s all I’d read, for months… or if I was into avant-garde post-modernist stuff, that’s all I’d read…. or zines, or whatever it was.

I feel like just now, in my 40s, I’ve gotten to the point where I can be a whole person, not needed to belong to any fan-group or subculture, as a consumer of culture… and as a creator, not beholden to these schools either. Now I’m sort of free-floating… but it’s not unenjoyable… just chaotic. 😉 Welcome to my mind.


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Uncategorized

Snacks on Snacks on Snacks – Guest Column by Tony Metz

“But you’re a potato!” Disgusting. (Frito Lay)

I need to bring something very important to your attention. Snack food cannibalism. The taboo of cannibalism is well-established in cultures across the world. There are forces at work which are trying to dismantle this ages-old social more, using our snacks to normalize this repellent, barbaric behavior. I for one, need to speak my mind. You must have noticed the onslaught of commercials slyly promoting this godless liberal agenda. Firstly, there is a Lays Potato Chips ad, where the husband and wife engage in eating one of their own, seemingly as some sort of precursor to intercourse (which is a whole bigger issue, but I digress). The husband catches the wife eating a stack of Lays, and gasps in horror. Rightfully so. However, by the end of the commercial has convinced him to engage in her abhorrent practice as well, and they bond over their sick delight in self-consumption. Are we meant to be convinced as well, through appeals of humor and gluttony? We cannot remain silent while these evil forces chip away at our long-established morality. A similar situation is portrayed in a current Snapple commercial, where a group of 4 Snapple Mango drinks sit, drinking Snapple Mango, which is horrifying enough. One of the Snapples inquires about the whereabouts of their friend, Phil. Upon realizing they are in fact drinking Phil, they shrug off their Snapplephagy and continue their previous conversation. Whatever compunction they had has been sapped by their lust for mango-flavored juice drink. Thanks, Obama. Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to the current series of commercials for the breakfast cereal, Cinnamon Toast Crunch whose tagline is “crave those crazy squares”. This commercial may be the most disturbing of the three, because it shows a series of cereal bits eating each other, one after the other, in what can only be called a bloodthirsty manner. Unlike the characters in the Snapple ad (who were unconcerned) and the Lays ad (one of whom at least started out concerned with his wife’s behavior) the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Squares exhibit any conscience or remorse whatsoever. No, liberal media, and your shills in agribusiness, I will not “crave” these squares or any other food that engages in such reprehensible behavior. Behavior that goes against the very moral fabric that this Christian country was founded upon, and I ask you, reader, to stand up and say NO MORE. Here is contact information for you to make your voice heard:Frito Lay North Americahttps://mcu.pepsico.com/m/Html/Home.htm?brand=fritolay&culture=en-USDr Pepper Snapple Group Consumer Relations(800) 696-5891General Mills (Cinnamon Toast Crunch) Consumer Helpline1-800-248-7310