Monday, July 14, 2014
In the long distant, burning moss-covered '80s in Baltimore it was extremely rare that anyone got out. Even by the costly route of Death. Those who somehow found themselves here - MICA grads/dropouts, Hopkins grads/dropouts, seekers of cheap rent, those who spent too many long drunken nights at The Marble Bar and forgot how to get back to the suburbs - seemed bound to the grotesquely beautiful streets that often raged.
But in the '90s arts scene that began to change. There was also the old saying "they always come back". That too changed. Gavin the Gelding started up a wonderful small press, publishing Mok Hossfeld's Dona Juana, then loaded up the family and left for Albuquerque. Standing in the parking lot of some faceless housing division as they drove off is a bittersweet moment of heartbreak that will never leave me.
Then Mok Hossfeld, a mainstay of early Shattered Wig Nights, readings at the old Cultured Pearl, co-creator of the BAUhAus, himself left, a toasty crumb after pulling double shifts with Louie's Bookstore and the short-lived Bow Wow House (whose old space the Charles Theater expanded into). Eventually Pappy Mok would come back, but only long enough to say, "No, I'm really gone still." Choosing wild dysentery filled adventures teaching in rural provinces of China over sweating out the grim economy of Baltimore.
Now it is the 21st Century and my head is a near hairless imploding pumpkin and the Baltimore writing scene builds and collapses like a box of marvelous interplanetary snow globes in the hands of a ten foot baby.
Our collective eyes were barely dry from the departure of Adam Robinson, whose dynamic Publishing Genius first sprouted in our strange city, when a final reading date was set by Artichoke Haircut to be held at Normal's. The AH collective, originally (still?) composed of three drunk lads and one drunk lass, graduates of the University of Baltimore, was active for around 4 years and published five volumes of their small well designed perfect bound oblong paperbacks.
Their reading series nights, held at Dionysus, then the Yellow Theater, were warm, energy-filled, receptive bacchanalias. Yes, there was a touch of frat to the readings, but a cosmic frat dedicated to the word and its permutations. And no matter how pickled the readers or crowd or both were, ears and minds stayed focused on the writing.
(Michael Kimball, reading from his brand new book Galaga)
I had a great time reading for them and felt loved, plus I discovered new writers that blew me away like Cort Bledsoe and Lily Herman. Lily escaped Baltimore for a while, but was pulled back in. She has now shaved her head and is working on a stage play with Patty Hearst and Joaquin Phoenix. Cort pretends he has left Baltimore by living in Alexandria, VA, where even bowel movements are strictly regulated and come with an enormous fine if they are not solid.
The final reading was a blast as always. Cort Bledsoe in particular was a lightning rod. Eleanor Levine, a writer who had been published in multiple issues of AH, but whom none of them had ever met, drove down from Philadelphia to read. Slim matinee idol and part time William Faulkner impersonator Michael Kimball read from his brand new book Galaga while fiction writer Timmy Reed moaned and cried out in man crush agony.
It was a treat to finally get to hear Melissa Streat and Justin Sanders, two of the AH editors who are even more shy than Adam Shutz about presenting their own work. Justin did a sharp staccato-paced reading of a short story, based on the "Black Aggy(i.e.?)" horror myth, giving it more sociological resonance. Melissa read two poems, one of them about her father and his lack of borders. Of course I had to corner her outside after the reading to get the lowdown on him. The endless permutations of parental weirdness and parent-child relationships always fascinating for me since it's been said mine might be on the more Addams Family end of the scale.
Also no stranger to emptying a devil-filled bottle is writer Timmy Reed who was the grand finale. He has finished a novel that he read from, but he wanted to only to read to us of the haints in it, not the humans. Here in the photo, thanks to the camera blanking his eyes and his petite frame, he looks like "The Fish Mask Haint of Holly High". I first saw Timmy read at a WORMS night in the beloved Metro space, but he is also an Artichoke Haircut regular and his liver is most likely more swollen than theirs.
I used to see him at many readings butt scooting on floors, swooping like a bat over the stage, peeping through holes in bathroom doors, then I heard his tale of the family waiting on an apocalyptic storm and read his wonderful book Tell God I Don't Exist, which is a big seller at Normal's. Turns out he is also quite the history buff. He spoke at great length on Record Store Day about Anne Frank and the uncensored edition of her diary that came out containing the entries that dealt more with the universal sensual side of a teenage girl. At the Artichoke Haircut finale he dipped a little into Maryland history and how his family fits into it.
Adam Shutz and Melissa Streat will be heading out to Texas in less than a month, Justin Sanders will turn his back on literature and become a maker of virtual reality software, Artichoke Haircut placing a lead hat over its pulsing wig to forever silence transmissions. But the Baltimore stew of a writing scene will continue to simmer with alien spices. Insh'allah!
Friday, July 11, 2014
My Sears-Roebuck 1960 model heart has been in the shop a lot of late and here is another blow: Adam Shutz, the wry sophisticate who resembles one of the cast from the '70s BBC show "UFO" is deserting Baltimore for even more gun-laden Texas to study with Tim O'Brien. Thusly and thrustly Artichoke Haircut is placing a lead cap over their wig to forever silence transmissions.
Come to Normal's Book & Records tomorrow night at 7:30 to celebrate? vilify? them for their final reading. All star cast of Timmy Reed, Lily Herman, Justin Sanders, Adam Shutz, Cort Bledsoe, and Michael Kimball. Plus! To show what kind understanding word loving folks they are, there are going to be book and drink specials to pry a few dollars from your hemp wallets. Buy a $5 and under book, get a beer, buy something a bit pricier and get a mixed drink. And if you know Artichoke Haircut surely you know they don't drink watered down beverages.
The reading coincides with our poetry section being at a highwater mark. Just got in another batch of great modernist and postmodern work, which I'll be posting about. Charles Olson's Maximus Poems and Pound's Cantos for starters. And some Ron Silliman and Zukofsky. Your body is already hurting from July Baltimore punishment, make your brain hurt also! Show the Art Chokes they're not in a city of mopist non-readers.
Monday, June 30, 2014
This is my piece for LitMore's "The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions", an art show inspired by lines from Chris Toll's poetry. My line was "The Starship Lands In a Clearing".
Friday, June 27, 2014
Now Let Us Finish Up Praising Genius Guy and Return To A Daily Life With Slightly Less Pixie Dust & Baseball
Okay, this final piece, my own fairly corny one, will wrap up Shattered Wig's adieu to Commander Adam Robinson. I mourn (in a reasonable way, knowing he'll be quite happy in Atlanta and how often did I truly get to see him with my own bulging eyes in Baltimore anyway?) not only his leaving, but the end of one of the high-water marks of the Baltimore writing scene (at least in my view/world). Chris Toll and Blaster transmigrated, Bob O'Brien moving, Amy Peterson moving, Adam Shutz of the cocktail-fueld Artichoke Haircut soon to be in Texas.
But Hell, there have been many high-water periods here or at least a lot of highed up folks. The Andrei Codrescu, Anselm Hollo, Joe Carderelli, Sandy Castle, David Footlong Franks in his prime period surely has to be a favorite of many. I came in on the end of that, but I did get to hear Anselm Hollo savor and play with the name of my poetry/sound tape project with John Berndt, "Readings From Nether Lips". I was working in Second Story Books on Greenmount, around 1984, and Hollo and Codrescu came in. There was a little magazine rack by the door and I had placed my tape prominently at top. "Nether Lips", he said, slowly rolling the words off his tongue, "nether lips". That was truly a nice payoff moment for a lowly poet.
Let us now slowly close the glorious rumpled gilt-edged curtain of Adam's period here in Baltimore when Publishing Genius took spark and went from being a little peeping chick to becoming a re-tooled Godzilla whose feet are sticky with the corpses of action heroes.
"Have you seen Adam caper? I swear, he is so light-filled he capers," the Sun remarked to the Moon. "He reminds me of myself, how I dapple the leaves bringing artists and lovers joy. He is at play in the fields of the Lord and the little bit of pale flesh visible above those really long sports socks are quickly reddening from my powers."
"I don't know about him prancing about or what have you," replied the Moon, "but I have seen him bearded and bitching about bottled water in that book of his, the book with the cover that reflects his visage in an acrylic smorgasbord of colors. He is pulled by unseen tides and draws strength from the darkness he escapes into to desecrate statues and rile his soul with strong liquid spirits. In that way he is like me, for I disturb even the great oceans and when I get full so do the emergency wards."
"He passes through things easily," said the Stream. "He brings clarity and refreshment to those he encounters. And just as people don't mind their feet wet passing through me, they don't seem upset when he leaves a little something on their shoes at late night parties or bbq's after softball."
"He quite often pats my logs," said the Beaver. "Like myself he is consistently constructing, the people he encounters are his environmental tools. But he is not graced with my fine protruding teeth."
We interrupt this sagging Nature Trope to let backdoor phrenologist and former cricket impersonator Rupert Wondolowski have a word as he is wheeled out into the hospital courtyard for his daily airing.
"Yes, to fully appreciate the storehouse of creation that is Adam Robinson, we must scale the mighty fortress that is his forehead. Whereas fellow poet and Publishing Genius stablemate Chris Toll had a vast lunar landscape of a head, Adam's forehead rises formidable and imposing as the front of the mighty Alcazar of Segovia. Not grotesquely cone-like or too high up there, nothing that needs to be covered with a stovepipe hat, just an impressive, strong facade that gives notice that great things are formulating behind it.
To not frighten civilians or the weak of mind he often covers it with an old Milwaukee Brewers hat that has been repeatedly trod upon in the mosh pits of Christian Rock concerts. When tiny Mike Young lived in Baltimore he would often curl up into the overturned hat and take naps in it while Mark Cugini took selflies beside it.
What was I speaking of? Adam Robinson? He was very kind to me once, he published a book of my writings. Did you know I was a writer? Why are you turning my chair around? It's such a beautiful day, why is that orderly taking his belt off and giving me that hideous look? Oh what a world, what world!"
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
A few more goodbyes to Adam Robinson from his writer friends in Baltimore.
ADIEU TO ADAM, BON JOUR TO ANOTHER BALTIMORE SUMMER (a rip-off of Frank O’Hara’s “Adieu to Normal, Bon jour to Joan and Jean-Paul”)
It is 8:50 in Baltimore and I am wondering
if I will finish this in time for the party for Adam who is leaving
ah parties! I think I am going crazy
what with my terrible commute and the weekend coming up
and Joan’s Swedish dance party for Bonnie who is coming back finally
I wish I were coming back from somewhere but I’m glad I’m here
I wish I could get some new writing to come out
for a new book by some new press somewhere
which they will probably not print
but it is good to be up in the study at night
wondering whether you are any good or not
and the only decision you can make is that Frank O’Hara did it so you’ll always have that
yesterday I looked up Oakhurst on a map
and was happy to find it like a bird
flying over Atlanta and its environs
which unfortunately did not include Decatur which I don’t know
as well as a number of other things
and Ian is back bitching about Baltimore a lot
and Bonnie is coming back and might be sad about it
and not everyone can come to Adam’s party
although everyone knows he is leaving
I suspect they are avoiding this fact
well, who isn’t
I wish I were reeling around Atlanta
instead of reeling around Baltimore
I wish I weren’t reeling at all
it is Spring the ice has melted the Yeungling is being poured
we are all happy and aging and counting our teeth
it is the same as old age
the only thing to do is simply continue
is that simple
yes, it is simple because it is the only thing to do
can you do it
yes, you can because it is the only thing to do
blue light over Lake Montebello it continues
Club Charles stays open it hardly closes at all
Hampden continues to be aspirational
Stephanie Rawlings Blake continues to attempt to be inspirational as does Obama
and S. Barber continues to be Stephanie
and Mark Cugini continues to be Michael Kimball’s love child
and Jamie Gaughran-Perez continues to be Jamie Perez (I think!)
and Rupert Wondolowski continues to be the king of Baltimore
and so do we (sometimes I think I’m “in love” with Baltimore)
and surely the Harbor continues to have water in it
and Normals continues to have shelves of books and bins of records and people poring over them
and surely we shall not continue to be unhappy
we shall be happy
but we shall continue to be ourselves everything continues to be possible
Lauren Bender, Joe Young, Adam Robinson it is possible isn’t it
I love Adam for saying yes, though I don’t believe it
Dear Adam Robinson,
Do you remember that night we played pool at Frazier’s while they broadcast a replay of the Orioles/Tigers game up on the big screen TV? We both knew the Orioles had lost to the Tigers 7-5 earlier that afternoon, but we couldn’t help rooting for the O’s anyway. In the bottom of the eighth inning, your favorite player JJ Hardy had a one-out single to left field and then the backup catcher Clevenger singled to left too. Schoop struck out swinging, but Lough drew a walk. So the bases were loaded and there were two outs when Markakis stepped into the batter’s box and we wanted to feel hopeful. It seemed like anything could happen even though we knew exactly what would happen. A single probably would have tied the game and an extra base hit probably would have put the O’s up, but Markakis ended the inning again by flying out to centerfield, just as he had earlier that afternoon. The Orioles didn’t even threaten in the ninth and the game was over for the second time for us. You can replay the baseball game as many times as you want, but the final score never changes. What I’m trying to say is exactly the opposite of that: Nothing will be the same after this and I’m hopeful for what that might be.
- - Michael Kimball
Can you take me to the bus station? Yes. Put your bags down. I’m afraid I’ll be late. You will. Everyone is boarding group A.
- - Joseph Young
Friday, June 20, 2014
Dear Diary, can it really be a month since Adam Robinson left us? Since the skies of Baltimore turned gray and creased like a hobo's hat, choked full with squawling ravens? Is there a connection between his desertion and the bull running loose last week on Preston St.? I am neither a Zoologist or a traffic cop, so I cannot say for sure.
Is Atlanta holding him tight against its sweatervest, putting Publishing Genius titles in the front window of all its bookstores, having him sing the National Anthem at Braves games? Does he ever think of us (other than when he is in his room hearing police sirens)?
A month ago we threw a going away party for Adam at Normal's and he did a great extemporaneous history of Publishing Genius and writers that he's published read in the chronological order of when they were published by him. I asked the readers to write an homage piece and I gathered them into tacky pamphlets. Now here they are in glimmering Web Space.
Man, Are You Serious?
I'm not going to take this sitting down
I'm not going to walk this around the block to a car waiting out back
Fox, box, mouse, house, not, not, not, etc.
Everyone closes their eyes and then everyone is invisible
Our hearing gets better
We lost track of days and nights
So many unexpected things are all the rage
Keep it going
Something about God in his infinite wisdom
just his wisdom
created the fly, sure
and then forgot to tell us why
Would you ever laugh at someone with an
What if they were in a physical comedy troupe?
What if they didn't know they were in
a physical comedy troupe?
That's when we started laughing.
Adam Robinson, there are no parallels.
Things are still like other things --
everything just like a mowed left field.
-- Lauren Bender
Wednesday, June 11, 2014
“You helped to ease the pain!” says the human covered with the bed sheet. “I can not explain, the times I thought I’d end it all, you broke down my door like a wrecking ball.”
So says the back of a postcard from the Yates Keeper of Gape House, located at some undisclosed home in Seattle. About a year ago, Normal’s Bargain Cobbley World started receiving mysterious one sheet cartoon transmissions old school style, via a smiling or scowling or pre-occupied postal carrier.
DJ Shorty II, The Fist Transmission and I were pissed pants happy with these newsletters. For months we got a new one each week - one side with multi-panels of black and white comics and the other side with a full size full color illustration. Frustratingly, they arrived with only a Seattle postmark, no return address. “Damn, I want to send the Yates Keeper my rap sheet,” DJ Shorty would squeal between hacking cig coughs.
Then one day in between vicious elderly suburban swing vinyl lp sellers, we received a surprise phone call. The voice sounded, as Blaster the supreme mail artist would say, “sepulchral”, as if “emanating from the bottom of a jar”.
“Is it really you?!” DJ Shorty said. “We love your drawings! What’s your address so we can send you things?” “I’d prefer at this time not to disclose that,” the anxious youngish sounding lad responded. This did not seem like a prank, it seemed like an extremely private person with a great imagination teetering just short of the magically grotesque (right up my alley) had for some reason become our special angel.
But then, just as mysteriously as they started appearing at great frequency, they completely stopped. The last issue went from perversely dark to past midnight dark. DJ Shorty and I watched the daily mail carrier with great anticipation for weeks. Then we got caught up in daily life, Shorty moving on to a guardpost in the Baltimore penal system. I hobble on knee deep in books, but the knees grow stiff and groany.
The day after Normal’s 24th anniversary, though, in with the bills and inquiries about Black Oak Arkansas lps, there was a hand made postcard of a High Priestess drawn in an unmistakable style: “You say you want to run this town like King Solomon? / The steps you’re taking! Moving up the ladder! / You’ve got the discipline and we are a fan of it.”
The next day brought a leering gent in a Fez, followed by a scary clown, a figure in a sheet hood and then the Magus with a candle in its rack.
The gentle mystery lives. I took the card back to the Blaster sofa where his manual typewriter and soap carvings sit beside it on a milk crate. Pouring half a Schlitz out onto the spotted rug, I leaned the High Priestess up against his pyramid of empty tuna cans.