“The Street of Lamps.” Written in Madrid. From my book The Green Monk.
“The Street of Lamps.” Written in Madrid. From my book The Green Monk.
Another childhood micro story. From my novel manuscript The Autobiography of Don Whiskers.
Folk surrealism. Experimental electronic. Magical realism. Immigrant stories. Outsider art. A journey!!
A collaboration between UK musician Stephen Emmerson and Madrid-based writer and performer Marcus Slease.
Available over at Bandcamp:
(album cover by outsider artist Grzegorz Wroblewski)
The Grand Tour, back in the day, we based on John Dewey and experiential education, at least partially. It was also based on ideas of high culture, and the lack of it in England. Also class and privilege, since mostly it was some aristocratic females and of course upper class males. Get out of the classroom and experience your culturally rich education. Come back to England and show it off with your culturally rich mind and artefacts to prove you have been there, on the continent, and have become a gentleman, or in some cases a noble lady.
Of course a dose here and there of so called high culture is fine. I also like the idea of experiential education. But not The Grand Tour. The Grand Tour evolved into a kind of package holiday, a list of famous sites to see, take a selfie, and tick the box.
The experiential is not separate from the imagination. Science is finally catching up, at least partially, with the science of the mind in the east. And also the imagination. The imagination can also be swallowed up by measures and testing. The ultimate enlightenment masculine dream of control (e.g. the idealisation of science).
Wallace Stevens understood this. And after him John Ashbery. Both influenced in varying degrees by Surrealism and Romanticism. It is the interplay of so-called reality and so-called imagination. But, as usual, we are naturally bi-polar as a species, swinging from one extreme to the other. But that’s OK. Sometimes we find nice interplays. We need an out there and in here to bounce off each other. When one loses touch with the other, we lose our grounding. This goes for dry scientific reasoning and objectifying and measuring everything, as well as imagination without any grounding in the everyday.
Stevens wrote, “The imagination loses vitality as it ceases to adhere to what is real… There are degrees of the imagination, as, for example, degrees of vitality and, therefore, of intensity. It is an implication that there are degrees of reality. ”
Yes there is Naples, all fine and dandy, but there is also NAPLES! And the Naples of one influences THE OTHER NAPLES! There are many Naples. Why try to limit yourself to just one. The one that was prepackaged for you.
Imagination, it seems, is being downplayed in education. Science and technology, and of course the world of buying and spending, are numero uno. We need imagination. Maybe we need to become more like children (not actually children maybe). Maybe that is one of the cures for what is ailing more and more. At least, that’s what I have found!
The ultimate travel involves the active imagination. It is very powerful, and many children, before it is drilled out of them, travel freely from place to place.What is travel anyway? The actual movement of the body from one place to another? Perhaps. But you can also travel alone around your room. See A Journey Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre. And also many others!
When Ewa and I first arrived in Madrid, Christian Pérez, his wife Megan, and their son Oscar welcomed us. Showed us around their neighbourhood of La Latina, lollies and neighbourhood festivals with sweet meats, up on their rooftop terrace, an introduction to mighty fine Spanish olives, wine, and cheese. And much much much more. They are great friends!!
Christian is a terrific musician, so versatile and expansive and curious with his instrument, it is more than an instrument, both Ewa and I love attending his performances. One of the first ones we experienced, and experienced is the right word, it is fully immersive, you feel it with your whole body, expansive, was at the old tobacco factory, a kind of network of cave street art and music, a lively place, and Christian and other musicians collaborated with dancers, improv, the dancers moved in and out of the instruments, around them like snakes, slithering and bendy, it was all very sensual, and also beautiful.
Last Sunday, 3rd June 2018, Christian played some terrific improv/free jazz with some visiting avant-garde musicians from Canada, Francois Carrier and Michel Lambert, and it was a spaceship, my pineal gland was vibrating.
The concert was at Cafe El Despertar, one of my very favourite places in Madrid for experimental music, tons of pictures of various legendary jazz musicians on the walls, and the room for concerts is intimate and cosy, there is direct interaction with audience and musicians, a nook.
At the beginning of their second set, Christian invited me on stage to read my balloon poems, from my latest book The Spirit of the Bathtub, an improv collaboration with these stellar musicians. It is just what the doctor ordered, feeling that energy, something larger than small mind self, by the time I started the second poem I was letting go, feeling the hula hoop, it is the best kind of nomadic travel. I am still riding those waves!
Super happy to have my poem “Feedback” in Poetry magazine. It is part of my manuscript The Green Monk, forthcoming from Boiler House Press in November 2018. It was composed while ingesting everything written by the great Lydia Davis. I can’t help wondering if some of her approach to writing leaked in there, but also other writers of course, there are always others, and also whatever was happening around me, the influences, how can we frame them. What is influence anyway? It accrues and accrues, but does it disappear? Who gets to decide who is influenced by whom? Readers feel some influence of maybe something else they have read or watched or experienced, the writer feels the influence of some writers. We need an audience to hold up the mirror. And also the artist is a mirror. We are all mirrors reflecting each other’s influences. Of course art, like everything, never occurs in a vacuum, it is interdependent. You can choose how you want to frame the influences. Forget about the isolated romantic genius. Originality is a collaging of influences.
It seems maybe there is red hot writing and there is cool writing, and then there is lukewarm. Or maybe a better way to think of it is some distance. This poem “Feedback” has some distance, via the style and framing of feedback, although the content has some fire, some lyricism. It was partly collaged from feedback on a friend’s slipstream novel in progress. William May and I met in Greensboro, North Carolina, during our days in the MFA programme, and have kept in touch, on and off, since 2005. His novel in progress is a nomadic surrealist journey, with many great mysteries. Without worrying about creating a poem I collaged some of the feedback I wrote for his novel, added some more layers, allowing for some chance operations, and called it feedback.
Isn’t feedback a kind of influence. I am also thinking of feedback in terms of sound. That rumbling, whining, or whistling sound resulting from an amplified or broadcast signal (such as music or speech) that has been returned as input and retransmitted. As in a feedback loop. Our brains are a feedback loop. How do we get out of the loop. That wheel of samsara, as Buddhists call it. And what about the connection between the inside and outside. We have a brain. It goes and goes. And also there are various stimuli happening outside of us, all around us. What do we do with it? Does all it get in there, either into the so-called conscious or unconscious brain. The surrealists, inspired by the breakthroughs of Freud, wanted to tap into the unconcious and create a holistic person. It was an optimistic avant garde movement. How many layers does it take to get to the centre of the onion. I don’t know what is behind our layers, or our words.
“Feedback” is out there in the world now, echoing, maybe reverberating with all the other sounds of poetry, and I hope some folks find some use with it. I hope the words are touchstones for the creation of a reader’s journey.
And yet, how much time do we have, really, to read words. It is my main activity, in terms of my art and life, and yet I get so tired of them. These words. They are never enough.
The only award I ever won, and didn’t even enter, was for a poem called “Mr Whiskers and the Picnic Basket.” It was published in Hayden’s Ferry Review as a winner of the AWP Intro Journals Award. I was completing my MFA at UNC Greensboro at the time. Then it was republished at storySouth in 2004. This time of my life, in Greensboro, North Carolina with the terrific writing community of the UNC Greensboro MFA program, as well as the artist collective The Lucifer Poetics Group, was full of possibilities, wonder, and a sense of coming home as a writer. I mean, that is where my real writing life began. It was also one of the larger turning points in my life journey. Almost two years later, after a lot of personal therapy and marriage counseling, I reduced my life to 15 kilos and flew to South Korea to live. A few months after moving to South Korea, I signed my divorce papers. I also left the United States forever, although I have been back a few times to visit in the last 12 years.
It is 2018. So yeah, 14 years later, that one poem, “Mr Whiskers and the Picnic Basket,” rather suddenly infiltrated my novel manuscript The Autobiography of Don Whiskers, and that manuscript has already been infiltrated many times already. So, in other words, there is a lot of mutation happening. Various forms of alchemy.
For about six years, The Autobiography of Don Whiskers used to be called Never Mind the Beasts, the name of my MFA thesis, mostly coined by a good friend and fellow poet in the Greensboro MFA program, Dan Albergotti.
Never Mind the Beasts is also, of course, the title of this blog, in various incarnations since 2003.
Now my first novel manuscript has become The Autobiography of Don Whiskers. And Mr. Whiskers, from so long ago, is the main character. Of course, it is not quite the same character as the one in the poem. Don Whiskers has become fleshy and fully expanded and full blown. Me and not me.
The Autobiography of Don Whiskers is epic travels and immigration. It begins in Northern Ireland and then travels to Milton Keynes, England. Then Las Vegas, Utah, Washington State, North Carolina, South Korea, Poland, Turkey, England, and then the novel ends in Madrid, Spain. Part two picks up in Madrid. The autofiction of Karl Ove Knausgaard, as well as the surrealism of James Tate, Lukas Tomin, and Leonora Carrington, helped open up possibilities for this trilogy of novels in progress. Part one is called The Autobiography of Don Whiskers and part two, I am already 60 pages into it, is called Hermit Kingdom. It is a hybrid novel, a mix of various genres including prose poetry and flash fiction, but it is quite seamless as well. It is partly autofiction and partly nomadic surrealism. A nice blend.
A terrific launch last night of The Spirit of the Bathtub with Grzegorz Wroblewski reading from his latest work (in English) Zero Visibility (translated by Piotr Gwiazda).
Super nice folks in the audience. Nice chats during and afterwards.
We are not alone folks!
Tomorrow in Madrid, 11th May 2018, at Desperate Literature Bookshop, I am launching my new book The Spirit of the Bathtub, along with visiting poet Grzegorz Wroblewski, also reading from his newest work, Zero Visibility (translated by Piotr Gwiazda).
The fun starts at 8PM. Entry 3 euro. You get a glass of wine (or beer) and support the bookshop. The only one of its kind (except maybe Shakespeare and Company in Paris).
I just reached over half million visits on my blogger website Never Mind the Beasts. A mile stone maybe. Thank you so much for stopping by!!
The blogger Never Mind the Beasts blog has now gone dark to avoid duplicate content.
Never Mind the Beasts now has its own domain and a new site. This is the new site.
I have moved posts from blogger to this site (2003-2018). Over the years, I have discovered some themes/interests in the blog posts: buddhism, NY School poetry, absurdism, indie publishing, surrealism, and especially travel. The travel writing is really a nomadic travel writing from living in many countries. Autofiction sometimes.
Then, a realisation. Most of books of poetry also deal with travel, but often with an absurdist or surrealist angle. Maybe a soft surrealism. So yes, nomadic surrealism. This is a nice label, as far as labels go, for my work. But only as long as it doesn’t become constraining, as most labels, or mean nothing, unless it is the good kind of nothing, the kind of nothing pregnant with possibilities. I like that kind of nothing. And also the nothing of liberation and freedom (Buddhism).
I am still unsure if I should have all the posts from 2003 until 2018. I am tempted to start fresh with 12 or so posts on this new website. Starting fresh is one of my favourite activities. Returning to a beginner’s mind.
It is nice to start fresh. Another reason for traveling. Starting fresh. Seeing things as if for the first time. This can also become a function of art. Starting fresh. A beginner’s mind.
Here are some rainbow puppies to celebrate this author website and blog: