Brian Spears

Poet, Editor, Teacher, Blogger.

Going Overboard

I can’t say I’ve ever been a huge fan of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry, though I should probably give it another shot one of these days, since my tastes have changed a good bit since the last time I gave him a try. But even if I don’t end up liking him, there’s no denying that he’s one of the major poetic forces of the latter half of the 20th century. But he’s not this big.

It is no exaggeration to say that the dynamic rhythmic momentum of “Howl” led to rap and hip-hop.

Let me preface what I’m about to say by noting that this is a throwaway line at the end of a paragraph discussing the way Ginsberg performed his poetry, and that the author of this piece, John Tytell, doesn’t follow this up and try to make an affirmative argument in favor of this idea.

Which is just as well, because it’s patently ludicrous. In fact, I’d suggest it’s far more likely that Ginsberg was influenced by the jazz rhythms he was aping than it was that hip-hop pioneers were influenced by “Howl.” And I would hope that Ginsberg would be similarly horrified at such a suggestion.

It’s not just a ludicrous suggestion, though. It’s a bit offensive since the statement, whether Tytell intends it this way or not, traces the lineage of the most vibrant and influential musical and artistic movement to come out of the African-American community since jazz to…a white male poet. Not a good move. It’s an act of gross appropriation.

And the really dumb thing here is that there’s just no point in it. Ginsberg’s reputation would not be diminished one iota by leaving that sentence out, and neither would Tytell’s. (On a side note, I wonder where the editor was on this one, too.) Like I said, it’s a throwaway line. And boy oh boy, should Tytell or his editor have thrown it away.

January 31, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two Weeks

What you see is the cover of the e-anthology I tweeted about a couple of weeks ago. It’s titled Two Weeks, it’s published by the great folks at Linebreak, and you can get your copy here for five bucks.

It’s called Two Weeks because that’s how long it took to put together, basically. Johnathan Williams and the people he worked with took and read submissions, made decisions, and coded the whole thing in two weeks, which is impressive on its own. But it’s not everything.

Because Linebreak does this thing where they get other people to read the work aloud. If you want a sample, just scroll down the Two Weeks page and you can hear Dorianne Laux reading Christina Stoddard, or James Tolan reading Joe Wilkins, or others. And if you buy the book, you can hear Rachel Richardson reading my poem in a far funnier way than I do–and that’s a compliment. The poem is meant to be funny. I actually read two for the anthology–Oliver de la Paz’s “Hendrix on Vinyl” and Piotr Gwiazda’s “Dante on a Plane.”

I haven’t seen it on a Kindle reader yet, or for that matter, on anything other than my phone, but it looks good on my phone at least. It’s worth the five bucks. 58 poems with 58 recordings of those poems–that’s less than a dime per poem! How can you go wrong?

January 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The other poetry project

I’ve got poems running all this week at No Tell Motel, as I mentioned a couple of days ago, but they look nothing like the ones from A Witness in Exile. And I don’t know if they’ll end up looking like anything I do from here on out. But I want to talk a little about where they came from and how they fit into a larger project I did last year.

It’s last spring, opening day of the baseball season, and I’m doing the poem-a-day project for National Poetry Month, using the prompts Robert Lee Brewer provided at Poetic Asides. His prompt for that day was to write a “TMI” poem. But most of the poems I write delve into my personal life, often to an uncomfortable degree, and I didn’t want to do more of those. I was stuck for a while.

I’d been reading a lot about the negative effects of multitasking on everything from mood swings to short term memory loss, and as I stared at my computer screen, with twitter notifications going off and email alerts dinging, Facebook updating and headlines scrolling down an RSS feed, all this combined with the sound of a baseball game in my headphones while an episode of Star Trek: Voyager played on the tv (Amy was watching it) and our cats begging begging for attention–well, you get the sense of chaos on some level, I hope.

So I started grabbing text from all of these sources and dumped it into a Word file. It started to mount up pretty quickly, and it didn’t make sense and I quickly discovered I was getting all of these funny potential combinations of words and phrases that wouldn’t naturally occur next to each other. When the inning ended, and the announcers went to commercial break, I stopped to see what I had. I toyed with a word here and there, but mostly just fixed typos and cut extraneous articles or conjunctions, then minimized it and went back to what I’d been doing before.

Later that day, as I was talking to Amy about it, I decided I wanted to do more of these. I had no idea where they were going, but I knew I wanted to structure them in some way, so I went back to my computer and sketched out some rules for myself. I would do one for every game that the Chicago Cubs played. The point in the game when I would do this was determined by the rest of my schedule. I wouldn’t revise them except to edit them for typos, and I wouldn’t title them except by the current record the Cubs had at the time. And I would do this with no expectation of ever publishing them. It was a project for me.

That last one changed as the project started to take shape. I came to understand as it grew that I was going to have a book-length collection here, if I managed to hold fast to completing the season, and I did. In fact, the final poem is of an entire game, which did serious damage to my psyche by the time it was over.

The five poems at No Tell Motel this week are the first individual pieces to be published, and I want to thank the editors there for being open to the project. And now I’m shopping the whole thing to publishers. Anyone interested?

January 26, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Here’s what you’re doing on Saturday

if you’re in the Fort Lauderdale area at least.

Amy’s in this show–it’s her first–and when we dropped her piece off yesterday, we got to see some of the stuff that’s already installed, and it’s really cool. Without giving too much away, one piece is modeled on the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. It includes wallpaper just like the stuff in the story, and mosaics made of pills–drugs used for treating schizophrenia among other things–and multiple layered voices coming from speakers embedded in the walls. Leah Brown, who runs 18 Rabbit Gallery, turned it on for us and the experience was incredible.

So come down, or up, or over. Saturday night. There will probably be some drinking afterward at one of the local taverns.

January 25, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blowing Up Big Time Around Here

So not only do I have a book out a week ago today, and new poems up all this week at No Tell Motel, but I’m also the new Potty Mouth interview at Almost Dorothy (and I took that categorization to heart, let me tell you). And I’ve gotten a couple more interview requests just in the last day or two, so there’s more on the way.

But seriously, go read the Almost Dorothy interview. We had some fun with that.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

And now for something completely different

Or at least, for me, the next thing. Or the intermediate thing. It’s a little confusing.

Since my book came out, people who are reading it will have a particular idea of what my poems are like. But some of those poems are six or seven years old. They’re still representative of me as a poet, and I’m not ashamed of any of them–indeed, the final cut of the manuscript only happened last October–but in the meantime I’ve done some other types of writing and experimenting, including a significant conceptual project last year.

And now some of that conceptual project is getting a little play, thanks to No Tell Motel. This is my week there, and the poems they chose are from The Cubs Project, a season-long collection of poems loosely structured around a half-inning of each 2010 Chicago Cubs baseball game. They combine found text from news items, tweets, Facebook status updates, snippets of noise around me and occasionally my own brain intrusions on the absurdity of all this information hitting us at the same time.

In connection with these poems, my partner Amy and I are working on a sound component to accompany them. Unfortunately, while recording was completed on one of them a while ago, other projects have kept us from finishing the editing on them, but we hope to be able to return to them in a couple of weeks, once the AWP convention is over and we’ve caught up with the paying jobs.

But in the meantime, if you’d like to see a completely different side of my work, check out No Tell Motel this week for my information overload poems.

January 24, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Which is which?

This is a good example of the kind of musical acts we get here in south Florida. That’s an image from the Ticketmaster email I got last night. Now I will cop to having had (and probably still having, to some extent) a Stevie Nicks crush starting back when I was, oh, 9 or so. But I’ve never been a Rod Stewart fan, not in any of his incarnations, though I find his “Every Picture Tells a Story” phase the okay-est of the bunch.

In case you think I’m just taking a single act and extrapolating, here’s what else is on the menu according to Ticketmaster: Kylie Minogue, WWE Monday Night Raw, Julio Iglesias, and Foreigner. On the plus side, Interpol and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings are also playing, so it’s not all bad.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If you borrow this book…

Matt L. Rohrer over at We Who Are About To Die invited some people to to write about books which mean a lot to them–not the stories/poems/images in the books, but the books themselves. The idea is “if you borrow this book, you have to return it.” Well, the book I’m going to write about doesn’t exactly qualify, but only because I wouldn’t let anyone borrow it, ever.

I came into contact with Mr. Cummings in my junior year of high school, Ms. McKee’s class. We’d been dragging ass through US Lit, grumbling and moaning the whole way when Ms. McKee, in what I presume was an act of desperation, started writing “in Just-“ on the chalkboard. She didn’t remember it completely, and she didn’t have room to fit it all on there, but I saw and heard “mud-luscious” and “bettyandisbel” and the “goat-footed balloonman” and I was done. I had to read more.

There wasn’t much in the way of bookstores in Slidell, Louisiana in 1986, but I went to the one there was and ordered (paid in advance) the book you see in that photo. I devoured that book from the day I picked it up. I remember seeing some of the poems in that book and saying “you can do that?” and thinking I wanted to do that. I spent the next few years trying to emulate Cummings, and while I’m glad I outgrew that desire, I’ve never stopped loving what his work meant to me at that moment.

It was the first book of poems I ever bought, and I’ve never lent it out. It’s come with me through every move, every failed and successful relationship, every facet of my life. It’s not the oldest book I own, but it is the book that means more to me than any other. I do believe that if my house was on fire, I’d jam that book in my waistband while running to save Amy and the cats and get them to safety.

Okay, I’d wake Amy up first and then grab the book. I know my priorities.

What book do you love like that? Maybe this could be that book for you.

Was that pathetic? I’m trying to be good at this begging-people-to-buy-my-book thing, but I can never tell.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Guess What Showed Up Today?

Yes, I changed my shirt before taking that photo. 🙂

It’s here, A Witness in Exile, with a beautiful book and cover design by Amy Letter, an incredible cover image by Judith Berk King, all done by an awesome press at LaLit run by Jack Bedell. You can get copies directly from me, and soon, you’ll be able to get them from the LaLit website as well as Amazon. I’ll make sure to update this as those options come available.

And I’ll be spending some time (probably today) setting up a page here where you can buy them via Paypal. I’ll sign any books I sell directly, and I’ll cover the shipping too.

And of course, I’ll be trying to set up some readings where you can get copies, and I’ll have them with me at the AWP Conference in Washington DC in February. It’s all very exciting, I have to say.

January 17, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 8 Comments

Some People Just Suck

For the Thanksgiving holiday of 2003, Amy and I planned a trip to her brother’s house in northern New Mexico for the holidays. Actually, Amy planned the trip–she’s far more adventurous than I am and likes finding new ways to get to places she’s been to before–and in this case, she discovered US Route 50 in Nevada, also known as the Loneliest Road in America. So we drove it part of the way there, and sure enough, it’s the loneliest road in America.

And on that road, there was a shoe tree. What’s a shoe tree? This is a shoe tree.

It’s seems like nothing spectacular on its own–just a tree with hundreds of pairs of abandoned shoes hanging from it–until you realize that no one lives out here. We would drive miles between houses. So almost everyone who’d donated to the shoe tree had gone out of their way to do it. It was one of those slightly cheesy Americana things, but no one was making a profit off of it. There was no one offering to take a Polaroid of you with the tree for five bucks, no side road with a gate charging ten bucks a carload. It was just a tree by the side of the road, and people flinging their shoes into it.

That’s Amy holding her shoes, the ones she brought specifically to sling into the tree, and that’s me trying to get them up there as well. We were standing in near zero degree temperatures, and for a couple of people who don’t particularly like it when it gets down to fifty, that’s a major sacrifice.

So why do I bring all this up? And what’s the point of the title?

Some vandals have cut down the shoe tree. And those people suck.

I know, it’s just a shoe tree–we’re not talking about a crime against humanity or a tragedy of epic proportions. But it still sucks and it’s still bullshit and it’s still going to bother me for a while. And in the meantime, here’s a link to a poem I wrote about US Route 50 which was published in storySouth in 2008 and which will appear in my book (coming very soon!) A Witness in Exile.

January 5, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment