All kids are abstract expressionists.

This Pollock sold for $32million. My stuff is considerably cheaper

This Pollock sold for $32million. My stuff is considerably cheaper

I'm having an altogether undeserved amount of fun preparing for the May First Friday (6th) opening at the Hilliard Gallery. Oh, there's been some angst. A couple of uglies hit the scrap pile for deconstruction; I cut them up and find uses for the pieces that didn't work. Sometimes they fit elsewhere, sometimes not. But the rest of the pieces are coming together in ways that delight me. Whether they'll affect the viewer, or a potential collector in a positive way remains to be seen.

Sculpture, in childhood, was easy. I found stuff and lashed it together, tied it, glued it, bolted it. The creations were made of old radio chassis, light bulbs, wooden shaving bowls, discarded auto parts, shoe boxes, cigarette tins. A certain design intuition crept in making the pieces harder to fit together but resulting in better assemblages. Better to me, and that's what counted.

I didn't know it but I was a kiddie abstract expressionist of The New York School. Like Al Gore invented the internet? I'm sure I invented Abstract Expressionism (The Kansas City School) Junior Division.

Xray Glasses! How to hypnotize! Of course I sent for this free sealed book.

Xray Glasses! How to hypnotize! Of course I sent for this free sealed book.

Others looked at them like they were emitting bell music, or like they were supposed to work. Which they did, to me. But I was a goofy kid. World of my own. I sent for Rosicrucian pamphlets because they were free. I decoded Little Orphan Annie messages. I kept a sharp eye out for communists because the summer McCarthy hearings told me to on black and white TV. But art and writing were my mainstays. I had a little printing press with rubber type, and put out a newspaper with outlandish lies about neighbors. Fiction? Precursor to mainstream media? Again on the cutting edge, this time, ungrounded journalism.

Later, after a couple years at a midwestern college, then a southern university, I ended up at art school. Nirvana! How can I explain it? Late 50's, early 60's with all that implies. Plus Jack Kerouac, Evergreen Review, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Howl, what a time. Late nights listening to Joe Williams, Joan Baez, modern jazz, passionate arguments about classic art as an underpinning, our own revival of Dadaism. Home made beer in (some of) our paint cans in class, along with brushes. (Micro Brew? Hint of yeast, current of Cerulean Blue.)

 GW wall piece titled "Parade Route." Colorful, childlike, happy. Abstract Expressionist, with a little Dada thrown in.

 GW wall piece titled "Parade Route." Colorful, childlike, happy. Abstract Expressionist, with a little Dada thrown in.

And now, with the sculpture I'm doing, that time is back. I am reveling in bright primary colors and chrome accented with rust and old signs. It has that feel to it, the free expressive content and spontaneity of The New York School I so admired. Full circle. And such an unfettered joy to make.

So, that's it for now. Back at it. This is better than all the decoder rings and weird secrets of the universe tracts ever made! I hope you are having as much fun. G

This just in from Pitch: May 4 Metalsmith Guinotte Wise keeps cranking out the ab-ex sculptures — and has just completed his first novel. He’ll be on hand to sign copies of Ruined Days during the opening of SLAG at the Hilliard Gallery (1820 McGee).

Yonder Stands Your Orphan

This bank of the Wabash, but a different time of year...

This bank of the Wabash, but a different time of year...

This is years ago. Late summer. I'm sitting on a park bench facing the bucolic Wabash River in a picturesque setting in New Harmony, Indiana. Sitting next to me is a giant. Not a literal one but a literary one: Barry Hannah. His legs are stretched out in front of him and he's musing, "Why would anyone want to write a novel?" He's saying it quietly and it requires no answer. He wears jeans, a shirt open at the neck, a blazer, loafers, maybe Chucks, time has rusted my image of everything but his manner, his eyes, his sudden smile.

This is the guy who wrote "Yonder Stands Your Orphan," "Ray," "The Tennis Handsome," Eight novels, Five short story collections. I'd brought "Bats Out Of Hell," my all time favorite short story collection for him to sign. All of his writing is stunning. I won't go on about it, but if you've not read him, just do. Just do.

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Deciding for the workshop in Indiana was not a struggle; I would have two instructors, Mr. Hannah and Bob Shacochis, two scary-ass lions in my opinion. Two sui generis (generi? Can't be a plural since it means one of a kind, but there you are. Two ones of a kind.) The struggle I'd have would be showing them anything I'd written. I half expected guffaws turned to laughter-disguising coughing.

The materials said I would have so many classes (small) with each, then a one-on-one half-hour with each.

My alone time with Mr. Hanna was by the gently rolling Wabash River. With Mr. Shacochis the time was in a bar booth with sunlight slanting in at our table through windows that could have used a washing. He slapped my papers, said "Silver bullet, front to back. Keep writing. Stay away from the passive voice you fall into." Then we just talked. Both took longer than the half hour. Neither looked at his watch. I'm sure it was the same with all the attendees. These are (were, was, in Barry Hannah's case, the world lost a great talent in 2010) gracious authors, charismatic and confident, humorous and empathetic. Back to Mr. Hannah.

"A novel," Hannah went on to say, "is tough work." He thought for a second, looked at me, and said "You know, the cruelest thing I could do is to tell someone who didn't have what it took, to write a novel." And he looked at me. "My God, that would be mean." He smiled as though he might tell a sworn enemy to write a novel. Then he said, "You, I'll tell, write one. Although I'm not sure why anyone would want to. Why do you want to?"

"I just do. I really do. Not just one."

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"Do it!" I thought our meeting might be over. Then he said, musing again, chuckling a little, "There's a person writing about the Ozarks and a wise old toothless granny that imparts wisdom and so on, and I said, wait a minute, if she's so damned smart why doesn't she get her teeth fixed? Why isn't she driving a red Sebring convertible?" Then he looked at me and laughed. "I have a red Sebring. I get my teeth fixed. And I'm not very damned smart at all!"

We walked away together. He with his hands in his pockets, looking about. Me on a cloud with my autographed copy of "Bats Out If Hell." Later on I wrote some stories. And a novel And I'm working on more. Thanks to this gentleman. Although he's right. Why would anyone set out to write a novel?

 

 

If You Ever Plan To Motor West. A Dustbowl Saga.

That's dust behind the vehicle. Hard to believe, the godawfulness of those storms...

That's dust behind the vehicle. Hard to believe, the godawfulness of those storms...

I don't know where this one came from. I don't have any relatives affected by The Dirty Thirties, the terrible dustbowl days and the migration to California. Other than how everyone, anyone, was affected. And the subject of this hybrid prose (prose poem?), John Stark Settle, is no one I knew or knew of. When I moved out to Los Angeles some years back, I took some back roads, desert roads, and old Route 66 some of the way, and imagined the trials of people I'd seen in photos taken by Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. The past has always been with me, and previous lives are not something I'd argue against. In Chino, at the old air museum, I felt their presence, those people thrust into WWII. Strongly. A book could come out of that place, the people talking to me over the years in that otherwise empty museum, with "Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree" piped in, old fighter planes sitting on polished floors. The cockpits seemed so small, but they held real people. Vital people who still shared their energy.

            Anyway, out in LA with my Kansas plates, I happened to meet a couple of dustbowlers, oldsters who had motored west, gotten their kicks on Route 66. One had started a motel after surviving the migration. I wish I had talked to him more, heard some more, but I was anxious to start my own California Dreaming. And I'll say this; the place was good to me.

            So here's a 500-word piece that jumped onto the page, started out as flash fiction, but turned a corner somewhere and got all hybrid prose/poetry on me. A saga in sixty lines. A word here: John Settle's worldview is not mine, though I envy him his time with the early Beat generation. This piece got picked up by Shotgun Honey, I'm proud to say, as I regard them as the Paris Review of noirish badassery. Give 'em a read when in that mood. And, of course, a plug for Ruined Days, another journey from Kansas in novel form.

 

Settle

         

            Eighty-seven. Full life they'll say. Full, anyway, of something.

Settle came to California in 1935.

                        propelled by dust storms like great roiling theater curtains, bulldozed shotgun shack, shared cotton crop zeroed out

            Now California is trying to be Kansas eighty years later. To dust.

Thought it was the green and promised land. Seen so much.

            Shuffle-stepped, soft-shoed humming, singing, "Getcher kicks. On Route sixty-six."

            He had.

                        Kicks to the head as a seven-year old.

Khaki-clad men, crop cops for the landowners, his mother going with a pair of them at night.

            goddamn why would you think of that? Migrant whore, they said.

            Spat it, didn't just say it.

            Fear. Hate. Pain. Rage. "Don't forget Wy-nona, San Bernadeeno, kicks, ever plan to motor west..."

            Hummed it, little jump step, his knee hurt. 

                                    "Hell to get old," he said to the dog that watched him.

                        "But you know that."

            The dog's tail moved once, he thumped over on his side, exhaled, closed his cloudy eyes and slept.

            Early on, the scene, man. Seemed right, seemed cool. Got high. Read a lot. Jack, Howl, Bill, Road, Steinbeck stuck with him but a 1930's copy of Napoleon Hill in tatters thrust him forward, shot him at the moon. He shed the jungled friends.

            Jobs. Warehouses. Bridges. Boomtime. Scraping. Saving.

            Settle Inn Motels, all over the west, the dream. Three of them the reality.

Torrance,

Culver City,

San Pedro.

            Prosperous, then not.

            Fling with Vegas in the fifties. Part owner Cactus Flower Casino. Kicked out by eye-ties, the mean-eyed jew, muttering through cigars.

            had the knack for a few years, lost it.

            John Stark Settle. Back to the wall.

Splash.

Ol' Kentuck into the glass, two fingers. Cheap. Burning.

            Drink from a glass, not the bottle and you're not a shitbum.

            A clean glass.

Weighed the cold Smith and Wesson 357, released the cylinder to gravity, checked the loads.

.38 pluses. Hollowpoints.

Solid gun. A Burroughs piece.

            Snap the cylinder shut, click like an old Cadillac door. Pink convertible.

The dog's front feet moved. Chasing something in a dream, Settle thought. I was always doing that.

            Damn near caught it, too.

            One stored number on the cellphone. "Come pick up the dog tonight," to Marie's voicemail. She had dogs, a little land. "I'm going back to Kansas."

            Closed the door softly behind him.

Walked to the empty ruined pool, climbed down the chromed ladder. He'd sold this motel thirty years before. To be demolished next month. The sign said a health clinic. Coming soon.

            He remembered the chromed ladder and how much it had cost. Blisters of rust scraped his hands as he descended.

Expensive chromed steel. Custom made.

            Made irrelevant.

The pocked and gray and spray-graffitied pool wall obscured all but some of the faded steel turquoise sign from where he stood in the leaves and trash.

            Amoeba-shaped they'd called it.  the sign. when bright.

Settle Inn. "For the Best Rest in the West," said a smaller sign.

Beneath it.

 

 

The Heap, St. James and the Gospel of Comics

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I'd smuggled it in, but there was no way to read "The Heap" comic book, sitting between my grandmother and my aunt, and sometimes, my father, in St. James Catholic Church off of 39th and Troost in Kansas City.The service was long, interminable, for a boy who, nowadays, would be classified as suffering from ADHD, and the church was stuffy in summer, the heavy air aswim with mingled perfumes, aftershave, musty clothing, and the cloying incense from the service itself.

I soon discovered that I could avoid church altogether by disappearing at a strategic time: the time between readiness and firing up the old family Dodge. They'd holler my name a few times, then go without me, shaking their heads at my insouciance. The summer was now total enjoyment, church being the only dreary thing about it.

The old neighborhood was a playland. Feral cats who followed me around. Neighbors with foreign accents and strange behaviors. Overgrown lots and garages with power mowers and half-built cars. A Zesto sold soft ice cream with a hard chocolate shell, and a seedy old used bookstore and candy emporium supplied me with comics, trading me one for my two. Sometimes I'd pull a whole wagonload of Air Boys, Actions, Supermans, Captain Marvels, and Green Hornets and trade them in.

On the way home, I'd hang around outside the pool hall on Troost, invisible due to my age, and pick up some colorful language from the ducktailed toughs smoking and talking, cupping their cigarettes in their hands, one foot against the building. I would do the same, at a distance, with chocolate cigarettes wrapped in white paper, but I wouldn't flip them out into the street like they would. I'd eat mine. Then head back to the old stucco house on Manheim Road, with my Western Flyer full of adventure, lighter by half. I supplemented my diminishing stacks by buying new ones from the drugstore rack.

The origins of The Heap are fuzzy in my mind, but I recall he was a downed German ace who somehow made it into the swamps of the south. He was a mass of vegetation, leaves, bayou creatures, and he was dedicated to ridding the world of evildoers. He would envelop the bad guy in his compost pile and move on, looking for more. He usually saved scantily-clad beautiful women, who would shakily repeat the tale to unbelievers, while he watched from the shadows, never to be rewarded for his deeds. I met this heroic trashpile through Airboy Comics. It seems that during WWII The Heap flew against the Luftwaffe, through some stretch of comic book writing, easily accepted by my malleable mind. Sometimes Airboy was pitted against him in these sorties, and that frustrated me.

If they'd made these comics small enough to fit inside a hymnal I might have had a better church attendance record, but what goes around comes around. I was later forced to endure the whole confirmation process in the Episcopal Church by my stepfather and mother. My stepfather's old man was an Episcopal minister from London, England. There was no escape, when I was sent to live with them for various periods of my life, in Louisiana. But I was also free to roam the fringes of bayous and swamps to search for The Heap. I never saw him, but was probably watched over. By a higher power, or the leaf pile who moves through the cypress roots in search of miscreants. Or both.



F***ing poets, man

I own a t-shirt from Barrelhouse Literary Review that says that with no asterisks. I'm not sure why I bought it, as its sentiment seems to express frustration with poets, and I've never felt that. I guess I just thought it was funny, that perhaps I'd wear it to a poetry slam at the Uptown Theatre or somewhere. A long odds possibility, since I only leave the compound to get groceries or welding supplies.

I do have an issue with some of the sycophantry that surrounds Maya Angelou, mainly by those who've read maybe one of her lovely poems. And the reason is this. Years ago my brother-in-law attended a reading by Angelou at Unity Auditorium in The Plaza, as a volunteer helper. The main guy who'd set it all up was steering Angelou to the easiest access to the auditorium, and said something like,"Maya, this door over here is..." at which point she drew herself up imperiously and snapped at him, "Do NOT call me Maya. I don't know you. Call me MISS Angelou." Jeezo capeezo. Give me a break. Dissing the help is just bad manners.

I asked my brother-in-law if he encountered any of that huff and he said no, she was quite nice to him, but there was a little group of admirers standing around which sort of dispersed at that point, looking startled. Maybe she'd had a bad flight or something. (Free, but maybe not First Class) Let me be clear on this: I wholeheartedly admire Ms. Angelou for many things: talent, creativity, the survival and triumph over the godawful crap that blacks have had to withstand over many years, making it to the top. She can certainly be forgiven for flashes of attitude. She fought the good fight, as did thousands before her, thousands after her. She doesn't need my whitey approval. Greatness was hers and the legacy endures.

I'll leave it at that, dead poets and all, but I think there is a limit to how much one believes in one's own press and well-wishers. Her real name is Marguerite Johnson, by the way. And William Least Heat Moon's is William Trogdon.  He takes his name from his father's experience in the tribe of Mic-O-Say, a Boy Scout Council. I briefly bumped against Mic-O-Say at Boy Scout camp in Locust Grove, OK as a kid. Look for my name change soon. I hope it sells books like crazy.

I had the honor of attending a reading by Robert Frost years ago at Rockhurst College. He didn't take umbrage at anyone, just read a goodly amount of his wonderful poetry. At the end, Monsignor somebody said "Please stay seated, then Mr. Frost will pass out, and I shall pass out after him." To which Frost said, "It must be all that communion wine, as I'm usually the last one to pass out." What a grand old dude he was. I passed out after them and felt quite good about it. I later checked out a record album of his from the library. I still have it. The late fees would probably pay for a new Corolla. It was about worn through anyway, very scratchy.

I'm happy to say that I've submitted some poetry of my own and, so far, two have been accepted by widely diverse journals: Shotgun Honey and Straight Forward Poetry Review. Both pieces are prose poetry, in which I was careful to link words and phrases in a way that appealed to me and which, I believe, took it out of the purely prose realm. I don't call myself a poet, and still go by any name anyone wishes to holler. Usually, "hey." That may change when the next president appoints me poet laureate.

One piece, "John Settle," is about a Kansas migrant who goes to California in Dustbowl days, later starts a string of motels, goes belly up. The other, "The Wildcatter," about an oil field entrepreneur who asks a young lady for a dance and wins her heart. They're both from "The Dancing Men" series, some of which are awaiting acceptance--or the "R" word. (Help me out here, Maya, I mean Miss Angelou, you ever get any of those rejections?)

Just got one! Bennington Review. They appreciate the time I took to send it to them.  Hey what about the time it took to write it? Oh well. Anyway, I regard Shotgun Honey as the Paris Review of noir and badassery, and for them to accept a prose-poetic, not firmly in-genre, piece is unusual. Straight Forward is the first pure poetry journal to accept my stuff, and I've perused their fare. I am humbled indeed. Real poets are to be found there. And, now, me too.

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My favorite poets? Frost. Dylan Thomas. Anyone who writes at all should read Dylan Thomas. James McMurtry (lyrics to Choctaw Bingo are stellar) Langston Hughes. Rimbaud. Ginsberg. Bob Dylan (Allan Zimmerman) is a huge favorite. And Thomas McGuane. McGuane writes only fiction, you say? Well, it's how he writes it. He turns a phrase that moves like the workings of a very fine watch. His pages flow. His words fall into place. I will review his "Crow's Fair" in an upcoming blog. And that, as they say, is that. Until then, don't diss the help if you can help it.

Love, G.

 

 

 

A shifty, shiftless sort of review of three books. Four if you count American Rust. Five if you count The Horse's Mouth. But why would you?

I had to go into KC for a haircut, a fifty mile drive one way, so while there I do other stuff. Pick up bug bombs and floodlights at Ace. Books at Half-price books. Etc.

At the used book store, I listlessly combed the lit section. I had ordered American Rust from Amazon, and found my interest in it flagging after the third mention of fake wood in the doublewide trailer in the woods. I knew I would never finish that book, reviews not-effing-withstanding.

It should say (not for) right above the title...

It should say (not for) right above the title...

So I'm mainly picking aisles with no one in them, and just looking at titles, spines. In the Ps and Rs aisle. I slide a book by Pillip Roth off the shelf, a small black book. Can't go wrong with Roth, right? He's won every prize in the literary world, some twice. Wrong. You can go wrong with Roth. At least I can. I labored to page 73 in this slim 173-page book. Good God. It's title is Everyman. The main guy, probably Roth himself, has long periods of good health, then pow, gets hit with death's doorways opening wide, and the descriptions are like those old Christmas newsletters about some relative's gall bladder removal.

Like I said, I skidded to a stop at page 73. I have to think the protagonist is slamming bacon cheeseburgers and Manhattans every chance he gets and just not telling you. But he delights in the explanations of octuple bypass surgeries. Enough.

The second of three books I pulled from P through R was a Tom Robbins. Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. I figured it would be kind of a mystical romp like that love story in a Camel package was (Another Roadside Attraction), or, at least, Jitterbug Perfume. A couple pages in and I find it's purportedly about an alcoholic, multi-addicted CIA agent in a wheelchair. His challenges are a bit of a stretch for me to follow. So I set this one aside. There's a slim chance I may pick it up again.

A note here: the little I read of it smacked of a very long redo of Joyce Cary's The Horse's Mouth, a classic from 1944. And didn't I just read a quickie review of something about a guy named Jernigan who, Gulley Jimson-like, drinks and bumps his way through a lot of bizarre behavior and funny business?

BUT one line from The Horse's Mouth, I must share: Jimson is failing, or in some kind of alcoholic seizure, and in an ambulance racing to a hospital, awakens to see a nun sitting beside him. She says something to quiet him, making him lie back down, and explains, "You're seriously ill, Mr. Jimson." To which he replies, "Not so seriously as you're well, sister."  It struck me as funny. Onward.

The third book, Chuck Palahniuk's novel titled Diary, snuck up on me; I was on page ten before I realized it. I laid it down and said, "That's more like it. Sumbitch can write."  But so can all those guys above. Why the ennui when it comes to their books I mentioned? Who knows? Preconceptions maybe. Although I can't imagine a day when I will reopen Everyman. Rust. Maybe Invalids, Tom Robbins and all. But I'm inclined to believe Diary's blurb now, from the LA Times: "Madly inventive...It simply, exuberantly, escapes literary categorization." Which, if you examine that, it may be saying it's not so hot. Exuberantly escaping something may not be high praise. And it may not be for everyman.

But I like it. Until next time. Best, GW.