EUREKA POZ -- May 22, 2008

I am reposting this in support of Richard McDowell's nomination for 2009 Downtown Poet Laureate.

I first met Downtown writer and artist Richard McDowell at Banquette on Main Street. He lived in the Canadian Building at the time, but he told me about other places he has lived in Downtown. He also spoke of some of the adventures he has had while living Downtown.

When he found out that I was an English teacher, he went to Parks Market (now closed) and returned with a copy of his book Thirty Days on Spring (A Junkie Needs Relief). He gave the book to me but asked for one thing in return. He wanted my critical feedback as a teacher of writing.

What English teacher could refuse a quid pro quo like that? I gave him a formal, old-school thesis paper based on the symbolism of rain in his book as my end of the deal.

McDowell's book can be purchased from Metropolis Books. I suspect he can sell a copy to you also. He can often be found outside at Banquette early in the morning.

This is what I gave him:

"Richard McDowell's Punctuation of Rain"
A review of Thirty Days on Spring (A Junkie Needs Relief)


By Joe Cornish

Artwork by Richard McDowell

"It's raining again. The streets, like the source of my difficulty, merge to retain and share a moment of melancholy, a moment of happiness, rejoicing while I believe all is lost. It's quiet out there. Has anything changed? Not really. Only the coming and going of restless souls, the souls of this building, while I remain the same. Some are content, along for the ride, asleep. They've left it to me, to keep watch, to write it all down on scraps of paper, to record what is happening, what comes to pass on this ship of fools."
--From "This Sinking Ship," Thirty Days on Spring

Rain, a recurring symbol in Richard McDowell's Thirty Days on Spring (A Junkie Needs Relief), is used in two traditional symbolic ways. It sometimes reflects the unhappiness or desperate confusion of the author, while serving at other times as a nourishing force from above. Rain in this latter role not only mirrors good things for the protagonist, but also contributes to his outlook and emotions in a positive way. These contrasting symbolic interpretations of rain clearly punctuate the author's reflective narrative in significantly meaningful and important ways.

The journal's first use of rain is in the beginning entry "I'm Wearing a Hat." It has been cold lately, the author writes, a cold partly caused by his surroundings of "insane to soulless, poverty, drugs, trash, filth, dirt and garbage." The chill is also due to his personal anguish, deprivation and search for answers. All this time the rain is constant for a day and a half while it provides a backdrop for his uncertainty and disturbing environment.

The nature and effect of rain change when it falls again in "The Lady in Black," a chapter with a theme of relief. McDowell's mood and outlook now is mostly positive; he mentions the comfort of home for two people he gifts with twenty dollars, all the money he has with him. He perceives that this act "makes(s) (them) feel better" and when he walks out into the rain, he senses it as being good, something that "washes away the scuzz of this heaven." Even as a woman's urine mingles with the rain on the concrete, the author feels "relief, an untimed release" while the cleansing "drops of rain (fall) from the trees."

The rain falling again in "This Sinking Ship" functions in duel symbolic ways within just one sentence. The wet streets hold "a moment of melancholy (and) happiness" for his content neighbors even while the damp streets are "the source of (his) difficulty," leading to the author's "belie(f) all is lost." He is cold again and metaphorically links water to an iceberg. Now the rain floods overhead while the wet night accompanies his feelings of loneliness, deprivation and near madness.

The duel symbolic uses of rain are similarly summed up in the later entry "Like Dying Rats" when the journalist writes of rain's misery even as he longs for the descending water's companionship.

When McDowell wakes to rain's sound in "Listening to Raindrops," it symbolically serves as a good friend, an enchanting escort. Here the rain assumes its nourishing function; the writer likes it and finds peace and comfort in its real emotions as he listens to it and watches its fall. He now feels like writing. Rain, "come sit with me," he asks. It is an enjoyable rhythm, one that gives him pleasure and dances with his appreciative mood.

Just as Richard McDowell's Thirty Days on Spring (A Junkie Needs Relief) reflects two sides of his personal feelings, observations and reactions, the dominate theme of rain is similarly paradoxical. In just thirty days it periodically supports, enhances and accompanies even as it chills, floods and causes misery. These polar uses of rain clearly constitute important and parallel elements in McDowell's journal.


Joe Cornish: I'm a retired high school English teacher who lives in Eureka, California. I have been HIV+ (POZ) and healthy for over 23 years and I am addicted to weight lifting. I live with a bull terrier named Ruby. Read more at citycenterpoz.blogspot.com.

Thirty Days on Spring
available at www.lifeasapoet.com.

MALIBU ARTS JOURNAL -- May 20, 2008

"From Lower Topanga, Tool's Snake Pit"

By Josh Hastings

Tool’s Snake Pit, published by local Pablo Capra’s outlet, Brass Tacks Press. You know him. He is the publisher who brought us the little green covered poetry book, Idlers of the Bamboo Grove. You’ve seen it in a bucket at The Reel Inn and all over Topanga , Malibu and Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center. Most of us here know the Snake Pit as part of Lower Topanga near the Rodeo Grounds. Most outside of the area have not even heard of Lower Topanga. They know Topanga as a whole, as a place of Hollywood movie and music star history, past and present. After all Oingo-Boingo’s old place is here, along with a multitude of other icons. There is a part of Topangan history that the outside only knows from some old, crinkled newspaper articles or the take-over of the Rodeo Grounds – that is Lower Topanga.

Tool is an alias for a man who lived in the Snake Pit in a house that did not even have a real roof. It was “just quarter-inch plywood that was warped and never nailed down.” He was in the business of making secret doors. His secret doors were works of art for drug dealers and those who wished to traffic drugs across the border. He got into the idea of manufacturing fake aerosol cans that could traffic drugs across the border. And he could manufacture a spring-loaded gun holster.

But Tool is not all hardcore. He had a heart. He fell for a lady named Holiday. When he could not get in touch with her because she left for Palm Springs with another guy, Tool went on a binge. He was dealing and doing LSD (“L”), at the time of this bad news. He decided to head up his hill, a place we’ve all seen but rarely trek up. He went up there specifically to “forget” about Holiday via a drug-trip. Once there, his walkman ran out of batteries. He had to try and high-tail it to George’s Market for a battery refill before the trip set-in. Unsuccessful he made it back to his sleeping bag on the hill on his hands and knees only to be arrested as a Topanga Sniper. Mistaken for a freeway sniper shooting people in Los Angeles, off to the local pen Tool went.

These are merely excerpts from an ongoing series of beat prose stories about Surfers, drug dealers and artist who lived together in Lower Topanga in the '70s and '80s. At once nostalgic and realistic, the prose is moving, revealing and a hippie rhythm of modern times. Panoramic and lacking self-indulgence, the work is true and refreshing vintage prose. There are not many left who can tell the tale of Lower Topanga from a been there, done that perspective. Tool was there, lived it and survived to tell the story.

Along with the beat prose is a series of comics from the underground by Toylit. In true subculture motif, these are original works of art in an authentic and humorous, hippie-inspired comics that deal with social and political subjects like sex, drugs, rock music and various forms of protests. Toylit is the author of the "Crap Poetry Manifesto," The Last Nowhere, Craplexity, The Children’s Guide to Astral Projection, and Prevenge of the Androgynous Cyborg Pyrates from the Future; and the illustrator of Idlers of the Bamboo Grove, Rat Tales and The Snake Pit, the issue prior to Tool’s Snake Pit. Toylit’s work is part of the re-emergence of a strong California subculture that has made its way back up from the cracks.

Tool’s Snake Pit is available from Brass Tacks Press at www.lifeasapoet.com for $5.


LA WEEKLY -- May 16, 2008

"LA People 2008: James Mathers"

by Dani Katz
Photo by Kevin Scanlon

Art-Fiend Love-Bunny

As subtle as a glitter-caked brick to the forehead and as sharp as a Samurai sword etched with butterflies, Mayan glyphs and Hindu deities in compromising positions, James Mathers has this to say for himself: “My name is Toylit. I am a fuck-off scientist. I make rectangles for money.”

As an ontological terrorist/wordsmith/anarchist, Mathers exists so far outside the proverbial box that standard characterizations such as artist/poet/writer/philosopher prove reductive and bland, while the apt ones, such as idiot-genius/slacker/art fiend/neologist/love-bunny extraordinaire sound sensational. But he’s earned them.

In the ’70s of his youth, Mathers was a Topanga Canyon rabble-rouser. He migrated to New York in 1981 at the age of 17 to pursue painting and was noticed by Andy Warhol, who organized Mathers’ first solo show in 1983. Soon, Mathers was showing on both coasts and in Europe. He spent the ’90s as an ex-pat filmmaker living in Ireland.

The shadow of the impending millennium brought our slippery hero back to Topanga’s own Rodeo Grounds, an infamous, idyllic art community, where he set up camp in the Airstream he still calls home (though since the community’s tragic demise, he’s moved his trailer to a Venice parking lot). Mathers has directed films, made countless paintings and drawings, and written and illustrated several comic books, including the local cult classic The Children’s Guide to Astral Projection.

These are but résumé bullet points. Mather’s real mojo is in his mind, perspective, presence, style, and above all else, his words, which he uses, through lolling leaps of intellectual gymnastics and lingual acrobatics to stretch the paradigm to its outermost limit until it’s taut and transparent and provides glimpses of the transcendent beauty and magic that are Mathers’ everyday reality. James Mathers is, hands down, the best conversation in town.

These days, Mathers, 43, is a Venice staple, flitting between his “office” (a patio table at Abbot’s Habit), and his “home” (the parking lot behind artists’ collective Cre8ivity). He is easily recognized in his signature thrift-shop suit and flip-flops, crayon in one hand, hand-rolled cigarette in the other.

Between conspiring to redevelop Lower Topanga Canyon as an Eco-Arts Park (a no-brainer for any local art institutions paying attention and looking to invest in the community) and working with his cohorts at the Psycho-Iridescent Space/Time Agency to launch us into space with “whatever resources we can find, from the chemical binoculars of hallucinogens to standard scientific tools — rocketry, optics, semantics, linguistic tools . our neology department is especially fecund,” Mathers draws, paints, writes and “enjoys the journey.” You’re as likely to find him panhandling on Main Street as you are to see him on the red carpet at a celebrity-studded film premiere. Mathers embodies the incongruity of Los Angeles, which he laughingly describes as “the narcissistic wound of the planet — a beautiful vacuum where anything is possible, and nothing has any value or significance.”

Sitting cross-legged on a tiny expanse of grass on a Venice sidewalk in a waning patch of late afternoon sun, Mathers launches into an inspired diatribe on the relationship between our desperation for fame and loneliness. “What if our narcissism is actually a twisted expression of our desire for community? If everyone around you acknowledges and recognizes you, is that not fame? I think it’s the ontological crisis of not being recognized in your community that drives us to seek a broader and broader form of acknowledgment in the press or on film. It’s the absence of community that has created the mechanics of the fame game. We’re consumers on that basis, we employ services on that basis, we undergo surgeries on that basis, we seek objects, possessions and properties on that basis. It is really the core isolation, the annihilation of the paradigm of community that is driving us into narcissistic bondage and ecological collapse. It’s sort of amazing. The Permian event may or may not have been a meteorite or a shift in the weather, but our extinction may actually be an outcome of loneliness.”

“Where’s the hope?” I ask.

Mathers wrinkles his nose, grins his mad-hatter, cute-as-a-maniacal-bunny grin and says, “It’s as close as your little friend in front of you. It’s as immediate as the people who live across the street. The answer is in caring and sharing, right?”

ARTHUR MAGAZINE -- May/June 2008

"Bull Tongue:
Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds Since 2002"

by Byron Coley & Thurston Moore

An interesting batch of small 'zines and booklets arrived from Brass Tacks Press, out L.A. way. They've got an extensive list of publications, and the few we saw are pretty whacked. The Snake Pit by Baretta is a memoir of life in a weird derelict surfer/hippie commune/village in Lower Topanga Canyon. It's a casual read, but presents a side of the greater L.A. experience that had previously eluded us. The Last Nowhere is a collection of "Crap Poetry" by Log and Toilet, who also authored the bilingual 5 Poèmes Crap de Los Angeles. The poetry isn't particularly good, but we're not sure it's supposed to be. What it actually reminds us of is record reviews by the great Rev. Norb in the pages of his legendary Sick Teen fanzine. Last up is Voyage of the Timeship Medusa, a comic book by Toylit. Voyage is a very stoned-feeling post-hippie image/word blur about rabbits and cops and puke and we-know-not-all-what. Suffice to say, it's good readin'. Also extremely notable from a visual standpoint…

POETIX -- May 1, 2008

"Crap Poetry"

by Pablo Capra

The defining characteristic of poetry these days seems to be that it's crap.

The word choice is provocative, but coldly accurate if taken to refer to poetry's worthlessness, not only in society but even among poets themselves. Most poetry has become so obscure, narcissistic, or banal that it has lost the power to really the grab reader. 

In fact, I don't think you can write real poetry anymore without acknowledging how worthless it is. Or, at least, I'm very wary of poetry that doesn't somehow address this concern.

Poetry has truly become "the last nowhere," as Log and Toylit put it in their book of the same title, kicking off a small literary movement of authors with funny pseudonyms called Crap Poetry (see the "Manifesto" below).

The point of their book is that because poetry isn't sexy, lucrative, or even that entertaining, it's the last place where an artist courageous enough to renounce these things can work with complete freedom and integrity.

As the publisher (Brass Tacks Press) of Log and Toylit's book, I immediately became a promoter of, and participant in, the Crap Poetry Movement, helping them to republish their work in French (to make it more obscure) as well as on rolls of actual toilet paper.

The first thrill that writing Crap Poetry offers is the freedom to be playful, to not take anything seriously, and to rub it in the reader's face. When was the last time you had this much fun writing a poem?...

Intentional Splooge

Failure is not Random
The Drool of the Sputtering
Nympho Retard Lubricates
The Barf of the Beaten
Addict Decorates
The Endless Processing
PLART PLART SPLURT
of the Insatiate Lesbian Interrogates
and so Love and Poetics
Can Only be Measured in Loss.
Dental Floss. I’m the Boss
of Gently Laying my Scrotum
on Your Eye Socket

—Log & Toylit, The Last Nowhere (2005)

Writing Crap Poetry also allows for more feral expression and darker soul-searching than your wonted comfort level might desire. It takes its appreciation of ugliness from punk rock. Dig these monstrous metaphors….

From "What the Jesus?"

…Broken, I have Found
Almost all of my Extremities
But lost most of my Identity
On the Blood-Wet Chopping Block
Of your sacrificial Anus.
Assassin, Assassin, go find your
Next Mark suck shit
In the Dark
Find a Warm Place to Park
The Liquid Chainsaw
Of your Unwholesome Affections.

—Toylit, Obliterature (2008, forthcoming)

On the other hand, I – and the Crap poet known as Tushy – discovered a feeling of Zen perfection in effortlessly composing lines of utter uselessness….

Untitled

I'd rather just write
this poem than stop
to think about what
I'm going to say.
The pen is moving and
I'm watching it move.

—Two, Nothing Next to Nothing (2006)

Lamp

If you think about it,
this word is almost
a girl's name spelled
backwards: Pamela.

—Tushy, Herzog's Pig (2008)

I also find Crap Poetry liberating because it allows me to write without having to wait for inspiration to strike. It helped me realize that there are substitutes. Here is part of an email exchange I had with Michael Lynch, author of Omelet Shark (2005), where he nicely elaborates on this subject….

"I don't have much confidence in inspiration. That shit is for suckers. The sorts of people that are content writing paragraphs about a tree or how sad the death of their dog made them. Plus, I don't have any time to wait around for inspiration. Sometimes I think I write because I just love the way it sounds when the keys on the keyboard go CLACK, CLACK, CLACK. I'm very glad that you brought up stupid inspiration, however, because I think it is a very legitimate concept. It's very anti-serious. Like, “Fuck you – they're my words. I'll do whatever the fuck I want to with them. It's my story, and I like bears, so there's gonna be fucking bears in the fucking story. And magnets. And pizza. Etc., etc….."

Finally, Crap poets Mao Thing Awf and Andy Comess have found that writing Crap Poetry helps to get over the frustration of comparing yourself to history's literary giants, and to exorcize your own self-critical inertia….

21st Sensory

Shakespeare was a Catholic
Rimbaud was a fag
Homer blind and
Sappho on the rag.

Hemingway a redneck
Proust was really sick
and Henry Miller couldn't write
enough about his dick.

Whenever we try to write a line
They make us look like crap.
The 21st century is eight years old
and sitting on your lap.

—Mao Thing Awf, The Crapture (2008)


Untitled

selfish shellfish swim
Slim rocks
cocks are dicks
hicks lick balls
in the hall of fame
I came.

black sluts
have a knack for my nuts.

I write every day
I don't fight
no way.

—Andy Comess, DryJerkHeartbreakNitwit (2008, forthcoming)

Visit the Brass Tacks Press website at www.lifeasapoet.com.

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Official website at www.lifeasapoet.com