In which I release a poet’s chapbook

This month I released Charles Edward Payne’s chapbook under the Retirement Plan banner.  There was a well attended Zoom launch. And the copies are selling! This is the fifth print-based item I’ve worked to bring into the world.  It feels good to make things.

When I moved out of South Bend I put the Retirement Plan series to bed.  I made a WordPress site for the back issues. While I was proud that I was able to create a DIY print zine, I was secretly content to be done with it.  I printed and stapled every issue by hand and distributed them around town. It’s a ton of monotonous work.Everyone seems to have their own WordPress-based lit zine nowadays, and while that’s created innumerable opportunities for writers and artists to share their work (and isn’t democratization what the internet was supposed to be all about?), it’s also signaled the death of the local DIY zine.

I was inspired to start Retirement Plan after reading this Guardian article from 2010 about the death of the music scene. Not the death of music, mind you, which is alive and well, but the death of the local scene.  Hardcore in DC in the 80s.  Madchester and the Second Summer of Love.  Grunge in Seattle.  A couple of bands start playing, they attract and inspire a few other bands, and a scene starts that explores a particular sound.  Eventually word spreads and people start to seek the scene out, and very soon after that it becomes diluted and “dies.”

Now, with the internet, everyone can access all of the music in the world instantaneously.  It doesn’t matter if you live in Brooklyn or Tishomingo, Oklahoma.  There’s no seeking out that needs to be done.  No geographic pilgrimages.  It’s the same with poetry. The New York School of poetry or the San Francisco Renaissance, the Beat Generation of poets, the Lost Generation, nothing like that will happen again.  Everyone works together online to produce journals and everyone finds journals to publish in via \submittable.  I’m a  reader for the After Happy Hour Review and will likely never meet any of the people involved in the journal, at least not in person.

That said, I became a reader after participating in a virtual reading after publishing a piece there.  I might not have found this wonderful Pittsburgh magazine if not for Submittable. Might not have ever published in it if not for the Submittable. Certainly wouldn’t have been able to do a quarantine reading if not for the internet.  So don’t think I’m being a Luddite and succumbing to nostalgia.  Ok I am a little tiny bit.  Because what we’ve lost, along with scenes, are the unique voices that become attributable to those scenes.  Not the individual poets but the feeling of the scene as a whole.  The San Francisco Renaissance and the New York School were both poetry scenes in the 60s but, separated by such distance, developed their own unique voices.  That sort of scene-based distillation can’t really happen any more.

And, coming back around to the zine, I’m sad I missed out on the opportunity.  I’ve always tried, everywhere I’ve moved, to become part of the local scene, such as it existed in each place.  Macomb, Bloomington, South Bend.  And I’ve never had much luck. I’m just not good enough at socializing to do it.  Introverts have a hard time getting into a the local scene. Maybe I would have had more if I played an instrument.  That always seems to be an in.  I came closest in South Bend through poetry.  For a moment, a few years back, it seemed as if there was *almost* a poetry scene tipping point about to happen in South Bend.  It never quite took, though.  I couldn’t get anyone but the same dozen or so people to show up at my events, another organizer of events started doing stuff at Notre Dame instead, Langlab stopped hosting poetry events.  Pam is still there, awesome and dynamic as ever, doing her thing.

I like to imagine that, had I been born earlier, had I happened to be in the right place, I could have been a member of an actual, honest-to-goodness scene.  Doing the Retirement Plan zine felt like tangible evidence of that fantasy.  In the 90s I used to go Quimby’s bookstore in Chicago and buy up a bag full of the weird, DIY Xeroxed zines they’d stock on the shelves.  Such a fascinating array of creations by all of the young, bohemian artist kids of Wicker Park, which it was still edgy, before it became a shopping center.  Haphazardly put together, often taped, scribbled upon, one-offs or zines that ran for only a few issues, this seemed a thing of scenes to teenage me.  Something to read on the Amtrak back to Macomb, watching the soybean fields roll by and fantasizing about bohemian futures some city where I’d certainly find my people. These zines, these furious little expressions of whoever was around, other there in that city, living.

For what it’s worth, people still make zines in Chicago. Quimby’s still stocks them.  The last time I was through there didn’t seem to be as many as I remembered in the 90s.  This may all in fact be nostalgic misremembering, I know.  But I do also remember local zines in tiny little Macomb.  Or one my friend Lee gave me that he put out called Hunger. If it is true that there are fewer zines being put out now than in the 90s, it must be because of the internet.  If it’s not true, than I’m just a Boomer-in-training waiting to complain about kids today.

I think when I started putting out the Retirement Plan issues that I hoped it would become something.  Establish myself as a maker of things in the South Bend poetry scene.  It didn’t.  I printed up a couple hundred copies per issue and left them around town with contact information in the interior.  No one ever contacted me. I don’t even remember the password for the email.  Still, it felt nice, to hold the copies that I’d stapled at home.  Feel the paper.  Even lacking whatever qualities need to join a scene, if there are still scenes to join, I could imagine while driving around that I was later to join the other poets for coffee and cigarettes and meaning to make out of life.

On being a bad member of my literary community

The last two months have been so fucking strange.  I’ll confess that I selfishly thought that once everything shut down and I had to work from home that I would be so much more productive, as if the fact that people dying in a pandemic was a great excuse for me to write some pretty poems.  Then, I felt guilty about that.  Then, I felt guilty because I didn’t end up producing much of anything for a solid month.   I did end up firing off a small COVID-19 poem, one of those poems you write in one go, and to my surprise it was almost immediately picked up a new poetry journal called Passengers, with a first issue planned for July 1, 2020.

I tried to write a few other poems but nothing seemed to take, so I started thinking of other ways I could do poety works.  First, I’m going to be a reader for a journal.  A prose poem I wrote for my fiction workshop last year is now out in the After Happy Hour Review. We did a live zoom reading on May 5 and afterwards I volunteered to be a poetry reader for them.  Second:  I’m putting out a chapbook.  A poet I know from South Bend (now Arizona), Charles Edward Payne, has finished a chapbook and we’re working with Marcos Guinoza, a visual artist, to put out a chapbook under the dormant Retirement Plan brand. I’m organizing a live virtual reading that will take place in a month.

I know I need to be doing more.  I could start reviewing chapbooks, for one.  Ok, I’m going to order some chapbooks right now.  Ok, I just ordered three chapbooks.  I’d like to start writing a few reviews per month.  If nothing else I’ll *feel* more connected, you know?

 

 

 

Oklahoma Day Flurmteen

Today all I ate was biscuits. I made a tin of Buttermilk biscuits and spent the day eating them all. I used an entire stick of butter. While I chewed I thought of wheat and soil, farmers. I smiled, pretending someone could see how wholesome I was being. Like when I went to the movies alone in Tishomingo last night, a small one-screen theater built in 1938, with my popcorn and my soda. I ate the biscuits after they were cold, I ate them after I was no longer hungry, I ate them when I felt sick. I’m eating one now. Baking is wholesome, right? I figured it must be. I feel like I don’t know how to do anything and really mean it. Anything at all but drink and be alone and fuck women who never speak to me again. Baking, though. That’s a thing of home. A good, admirable thing. And I think that if I could only eat enough of them I could become a nice way to spend a Sunday afternoon, too. Sometimes I picture an apple tree, straining toward the sun whenever someone happens through the orchard, hoping people see its fruit. Look, it says, see what I can do with only some sun, some soil, some water. You must think it a good thing I was planted here.

Oklahoma Day 9

Oklahoma Day 9: I was hoping for more stars once I moved back to the country, but it’s been too cloudy and rainy to see much. I’m sure it will come but I’m impatient for them to arrive. Our cities scream back at the night sky, an amplified reflection, and sometimes nothing at all gets through. Once, while visiting my hometown of Bushnell from Chicago, I’d forgotten what a dark sky looked like. I was on a late night run and happened to look up right at the spot where Mr. Alexander, the art teacher, died suffering a heart attack while driving to school. I think I’d never been stopped in my tracks before. And yes, they were beautiful and humbling and vast but that wasn’t what struck me. How angry, I thought, the starlight must be. How angry when, exhausted, faint, and stumbling to the finish, it finds itself upstaged by a thousand watt halogen at a Chrysler dealership. In Las Vegas the spire of light atop the Luxor Casino pyramid has created its own ecosystem. First insects, then bats to feast upon them. A tiny sun, drawing into itself an orbit of life from the blackness.

Oklahoma day 8

Laundry day in Tishomingo. I don’t have a washer or dryer so I head to the laundromat. It doesn’t have a name, it’s just “The Laundromat.” There’s no one else here. The lights weren’t even on when I walked in. Parts of the ceiling have collapsed. On first glance I thought it might be abandoned. There is a vending machine that says “laundry aids” in that playful 60s font used for Hanna-Barberra cartoon, features mid-century abstract splatter effect daisies. There’s nothing in it. An austere black sign prohibits oil field mechanic’s grease soiled clothing. The oil fields apparently went bust years ago. There is no change machine so I had to walk over to the gas station that sells knives and throwing stars to get quarters. The machines groan in protest but struggle to life when prompted. There’s something heroic about this place. Something deeply human. Clean. To be clean. I like to imagine a shattered landscape decades hence. Bandits roam about in improvised vehicles. First came the droughts, then the wildfires. The dust and ash gets everywhere. The Laundromat is mostly destroyed at this point but a few machines call out, to a solitary figure picking through the rubbish, “Hey, it’s okay. Let’s get you in here, get you out of those clothes, get you clean.”

Oklahoma Day 3

In Illinois I passed tiny a field of active oil pump jacks on I70. I always forget that Illinois is an oil producing state until I see them, the heads in smooth movement, up and down, like a bowing monk forever giving thanks to the fields for this gift. In Oklahoma all of the pump jacks I’ve seen are stationary. I don’t know if they’ve just been given a break but a few are rusting and overgrown with thin, twisting trees that force their branches through the joints and the scaffolding and eventually cover the thing entirely. The effect is rather like a scar. Skin enveloping a rusting needle left in the vein after the blood ran out. And that’s not what saddens me about them. More, it’s that they put me in mind of a poet who publishes a single book and then stays that way, bowed in some type of adoration.

Oklahoma Day 4

There is a statue downtown, in front of the bank. A little girl, her arms at her sides and hands balled into fists. Her head his thrown back and her mouth open. A plaque says the sculture is called “The Raincatcher,” and captures the bliss of a child drinking rain. She doesn’t look blissful though. She looks like she’s screaming at God. Her scream is mute, and eternal. It is thought that the deep red sky of Munch’s The Scream is a repersentation of the brilliant European sunsets that followed the 1883 eruption of the Indonesian island of Krakatoa. The eruption was the loudest sound in recorded history. It circled the world three times. Sailors 10 miles away were deafened. In Perth, Australia, people thought ships in the harbor were fring canons. But by the time it reached Norway? Barely a whisper. The scream had already gone silent.

There is also a statue of a young boy with a baseball glove about to catch a fly ball.

Eep!

Got the cover for the book today.  My first published collection The Very Small Mammoths of Wrangel Island, will be published in just a few months by Urban Farmhouse Press in Windsor, ON.  It’s so strange.  When I started to get serious about this poetry stuff in 2014 the idea of publishing a book was so remote as to seem impossible.  Now I just need to keep the momentum going.  I’m leaving to move to Oklahoma in three days and hoping the change of scenery and routine allows me to build a new routine from the ground up.  Dedicated time for exercise and writing, every day.   83987391_1802805289852659_3507748907889197056_o