THE OUTLAW POET'S SUMMIT READINGS
WITH: Mike Adams, RD Armstrong, Art Goodtimes, John Macker & Tony Moffeit
And the 2 Poets from the LBC Tour With G. Murray Thomas & RD Armstrong
Featuring: RD's Sofa Surfing Road Diary
Celebrating the publications of the Lummox Press,
RD Armstrong, & G. Murray Thomas
15 days, 4 states, 11 cities & 8 readings
See Murray and RD read
How this all came about...Mike Adams invited me to come to Boulder, Colorado to read at the Innisfree Bookstore. The reading would focus on Working the Wreckage of the American Poem, an anthology of poetry, photos, essays and remembrances of Todd Moore that I had published in March of 2011 on the anniversary of his death in 2010. Todd Moore was a poet from Albuquerque, New Mexico, whom I had come to know. He was co-founder of the "Outlaw School" of poetry (along with Tony Moffeit). Mike was in it, along with Tony, John Macker, and Art Goodtimes (and many others).
Well, I decided to make it a longer trip...why do something easy when you can make it more interesting and more complicated? I knew I would drive there, so I started saving for the car rental and the gas, etc. I figured I'd need around $1200. I started fundraising it and trying to raise extra $$$ on my own (since I'm living on next to nothing...been out of work for over a year and a half and just barely making ends meet). Then, in June, at a reading here in Long Beach, CA, a friend of mine and fellow poet, G. Murray Thomas, offered the use of his car if he could come along!
This was great news. All I had to raise now was around $500; and through my fundraising efforts I was able to do that. Next I set up a series of readings besides the ones that Mike had arranged (one in Boulder and one in Denver at the Glovinsky Gallery). Tony Moffeit set one up in Pueblo, CO where he lives; and John Macker set one up at his home in Las Vegas, NM. I arranged 3 more readings (Norwood, CO; Telluride, CO & Flagstaff, AZ) and Murray got us one in Albuquerque. We had an informal reading in the living room of a house in Taos, NM where we visited a couple of Murray's friends, too (Peter Rabbit & Anne MacNaughton - they ran the Taos Poetry Circus for about 23 years).
I must thank Doris Vernon, Terry McCarty, Amy Henry, Laurie Soriano, Ed Nudelman, j/j hastain, Chris Armstrong, Ryan Guth and Denise Loubert for helping to make this trip possible!
Just getting ready to leave for our (G. Murray Thomas & RD Armstrong) epic tour of Colorado, New Mexico and Northern AZ. It's foggy, my Sciatica still hasn't gone away, I've packed everything but the kitchen sink (tho I still think I'm missing something), gotta shower and grab a bite and wait for Murray to drag himself over here so we can get out on the Mother Road.
Next stop, Flagstaff, AZ. I'll try to keep these down to a dull roar. I'll be updating my FB too so, if you want to opt out of these daily reports, just let me know.
Hasta la bye-bye
See Pictures 1 for photos through day 5
thanks to this wacky internet thing and my "gently used" lap top, we can all travel together (swell...). Murray and I made the desert crossing in record time, LBC to Flagstaff in about 6 hours. The car is humming and the music is fine (Murray and I have similar tastes as it turns out). Urban sprawl has come to some parts of the landscape, while urban blight has come to others. In Newbury Springs where I stopped for gas in 2006 & 2000, there's only two businesses left, a general store/bar called Duff's and a very expensive Chevron station where I paid $4.29 a gallon for gas! Fortunately Murray's Honda is getting around 30 MPG.
Kingman has spread out like a fat guy loosening his belt (I know from experience); but Williams is still picturesque. Altho Williams has a new tourist attraction...Bearizona. It's a animal theme park maybe on a par with that one down San Diego way? We didn't stop. We have to be content with viewing our slipstream world from a distance. We have seen a giant golf ball-like structure just over the border from Cali. We've also seen a truck on a pole and a car on a pole, (later we would also see a tricycle on a pole) but couldn't find adequate info on this phenom...perhaps some research is in order.
Nothing much otherwise. Not yet anyway. Tomorrow we head north past the Hopi mesas and into Monument Valley, which I don't think I've seen since the mid 70s; which is why we are heading up that way, even tho it's not the fastest way into CO. We also go near Arches Nat. Park so we're going to get our scenics in early. Tomorrow night we read in Norwood, which I'm told is about 2 blocks long...
Again I say thank God Al Gore invented the Internet, I
don't know what us big time city dwellers are going to do for entertainment in a
town 2 blocks long! Probably, we'll get to town, splash some water on our faces
and go do our reading. With any luck after that, we'll go to Art's house and
crash for the night (Art, being Art Goodtimes, our intrepid host and guide). So
that oughta do it for now.
Good night and God Bless
We're baking in Art Goodtimes livingroom right now. Not on LSD; the wood stove is cranking...Left Flagstaff this morning and headed north towards the Navajo Rez and Hopi too. Took a scenic route today, driving thru Monument Valley and up into the canyon-lands of Utah before heading east into Colorado.
Lord have mercy,
the monuments looked exactly the same as I last saw them, maybe 30 years ago.
And the canyon-lands...it's really hard to explain the majesty of the rock
cliffs. The sedimentary layers offset by the thicker layers, the variations on
adobe brown with sudden hues of lilac and alabaster. It's too much to take in
all at once! After a while it begins to become a big blur...a big ho-hum. The
individuality of the special features blends into the general specialness of the
landscape. Ah, but we did take pictures. So at least there's that.
We got into Norwood, which is not actually 2 blocks long (more like five) around 5pm. Had dinner with Art and started to get ready for the reading (our first one) and that's when I discovered the thing I forgot to bring...the ten copies of the anthology that this reading tour was based on! OY! I had all my books and some other books too, but I forgot Working the Wreckage of the American Poem...What a PUTZ! So because of that, I wasn't really prepared for the reading. But I hit the ground running and it turned out okay. My main concern was that Murray (Thomas) and I would be an odd match (which we are), but the audience feedback was that it was a nice mix. Murray was, of course, excellent. He's a fine reader/performer. I always feel I'm a bit too rough around the edges, but perhaps I should run with it. We'll see...we've got 7 more chances to get this thing right.
Attached is some thoughts from after last nights dispatch.
Things that make you go hmmm
Is it my imagination or is every motel run by an Indian family? I think I stayed in one in San Luis Obispo once that was run by an Anglo, but it was one of those big chains. But every other one that I can remember from the past 10 years seems to have been operated by someone from the sub-continent of Asia.
Every time I get that whiff of curry, I flashback to a trip I took in ’96 (I think) with Jay Alamares and Donna Gebron. We were reading at a bar in the Mission District and we basically drove up, rented rooms, got some dinner, went to the reading, returned to sleep and drove back to L.A. the next day. I used to do crazy things like that.
What makes this memory so strong is that the place we stayed in, the “hotel” (which was located above the Condor Room, a semi-famous strip club in SFs North Beach area, and just across the street from City Lights Bookstore) was also run by Indians and was also populated by numerous long term Indian guests. I guess they also did a brisk business in hourly rentals, because when we tried to rent 3 rooms for the night, the clerk behind the wire cage just looked at us funny, like we were speaking Urdu or something. They just couldn’t grasp why 2 funky looking dudes and one statuesque blond would need 3 rooms…and for the whole night? Wtf?
We finally convinced them that we weren’t crazy and they rented us the rooms…not that I wouldn’t have minded a quick romp with Donna, but we remained platonic friends right up until her death last year. I have no regrets, except that she was too young…but when it’s your time, what are ya gonna do?
Here’s another thing: at this motel in Flagstaff (AZ) the ice machine is in a locked room and you use your key card to get to it. What I wonder is this, do they lock the ice up to keep non-guests from getting into it, or do they lock it up to keep street people from having a nice warm room to sleep in on the cold winter nights just ahead?
Okay all you Weebloes*
Here’s the latest news from your wandering poet and itinerant publisher…We just got in from Telluride, which is a fantastic town located in a geological cul-de-sac nestled up against some ultra steep mountains. It is a quaint village, somewhat reminiscent of Nevada City (Northern California)…an old mining town established in the late 1800s. It is home to numerous festivals, the Sundance Film Festival being perhaps the most famous; great (so they tell me) winter skiing and a sizable “hip” population. In the summer it is a mecca for tourists. However this is the “off” season and many of the town’s “regulars” are out. So, needless to say, it was a small crowd tonite.
We were much more prepared. Our books were laid out very nicely on a beautiful wooden table; Murray and I had prepared what we would read, and we were ready for the crowd to show up. The reading was even videotaped so it could be seen on the web live and it was beamed into households on a Public Access channel. I hope our viewing audience was larger than the 5-6 people who showed up. It’s too bad because our reading went well, very well I thought. We were composed…cool and calm. This was due, in part to us arriving at the Wilkerson Library (a beautiful building and perfect location for a couple of “street” poets, of which we aren’t, but what can you do?) early so we could settle in. It was also due to the fact that I discovered I hadn’t forgotten the Todd Moore Anthology that I thought I'd forgotten – I did bring them after all! That took a big load off of my shoulders.
So, we both read. Once again Murray was the hit of the evening. I tried to be funnier, but it’s not really my style, you know? I’m more of a reader than a performer and to that extent I’m more serious. I’m not an entertainer. I have nothing against entertaining poets…I’m just not one of them. It’ll be interesting to see what happens on Thursday night when I read with Tony Moffeit, Art Goodtimes, John Macker and Mike Adams. Most of them are pretty serious writers. Maybe I’ll end up being the joker…Anyway, by the time we had finished it was dark and rainy (appropriate I suppose). I sold one chapbook and that was it. Norwood was much more receptive to buying books, but then there’s not much going on in Norwood, culturally speaking. There is elk & deer hunting season, but that’s a whole different artistry altogether. Tomorrow, we head up to Lafayette, near Denver, and hopefully we make it over the pass…there is a real possibility that it could be blocked by snow. So another adventure awaits us. I’m planning on downloading pictures once we make it up to Lafayette, so you will be able to see what we have seen. Until then, keep working on those merit badges…
*A Weebloe is a camping auxiliary of the Boy Scouts, if my memory serves me correctly.
Things I notice #2
The law of decay seems to be at work more greatly than usual on this trip. First of all, my absolute faith that I could sleep anywhere, turns out to be untrue. I’m ten years older than my prime and five years older than my last ‘big trip’ (where come to think of it, I slept on nice beds and wasn’t plagued by insomnia or Sciatica or the general stiffening of ’old age’).
Been up since 3 (again). I tried reading (the Canon of the Lone Ranger), tried cataloging my equipment (need to reorganize into a more cohesive outfit), tried massaging my right leg, spent about half that time trying to find a comfortable position (to no avail), and now it’s nearly five AM and still no sleep in sight. Is it really so hard to sleep when you are aching? I already know the answer.
But to have all this going on and be in a new environment every couple of days is asking too much of the old rickety body. This may well be my last big trip, my last hurrah. That is, unless I can ‘upgrade’ my travel plans and move into a more upscale locale…a nice motel room, perhaps, or a car with adequate leg room. Small changes, but in significance, huge!
I used to be able to sleep just about anywhere and in any position, but like the toys of my youth, I have moved on.
As to the other signs of decay, the batteries for this computer are generally useless, holding their charge for less than an hour…requiring me to have access to AC whenever I want to use it and rendering the idea of portability useless unless there’s an outlet nearby. Also the bulb in my maglight has given up the ghost. The bulb? It’s all coming together in a sort of perfect storm…
And speaking of storms, there’s a doozy heading our way…freezing temps, rain, sleet, snow the whole bit. We will see how well I do in that harsh life…
Catch phrases for the past few days…Murray: “Well, that was certainly interesting.” And RD: “Oh my God! Oh my God!” Usually followed by a groan or an “Ouch!”
Well, campers, yesterday saw us scooting over the Rockies (it was a grueling drive, nearly 9 hours from Norwood to Lafayette). When we got up, a light sticky snow was falling covering everything with a couple of inches of soon to be white mush. We packed up our gear, praying that we wouldn’t lose anything in Art’s house of chaos (I’d already thought I had lost those books, remember) and got on the road as early as we could. We had a long drive ahead of us, even in good weather, and we both knew that we might not be able to cross the pass at the Continental Divide (11,990 feet high). Not long after leaving Norwood, the snow turned to rain and it rained off and on for the next two hours while we navigated our way to I-70.
A little side thought about snow…Being a SoCal boy and mostly a hugger of the coast, I have very little experience with fresh snow, or falling snow or roads covered with rock salt and ice. So, this was all new territory for me. One thing I noticed while in Norwood, was the way the falling snow has such depth as though it was three dimensional! Now I’m not saying that it’s not 3 dimensional, because that would be stupid (or at least would indicate that I had a definite vision problem). But if you think about it for a moment, I think you’ll see what I mean. When it rains, it comes down in sheets; there is no depth to it. But when it snows, you can follow each piece to the ground. Maybe that’s the difference…snow falls more slowly than rain and that’s why you “can see into it.”
Anyway, we got to Grand Junction and headed east on I 70. despite our best efforts we couldn’t find out if we were going to make it over the pass…so on we went, slowly climbing from GJ’s 5500 feet. The higher we went, the lower the snow line dropped, until, about an hour out of Vail, the snow line became our horizon line. The snow was at least a foot deep and everything was covered in it. It wasn’t snowing on us just yet, but the roadway was covered with icy salt and oily dirt that was being kicked up by trucks and cars alike. This would have been fine except it was so cold that the residue tended to freeze on the windshield. It was so cold that the wiper fluid froze in the lines and we couldn’t see half of what was going on, most of the time.
Just before we hit the pass, we hit the snow, but fortunately it was a light snow and didn’t seem to phase Murray, who kept repeating the phrase above, whereas I was muttering “Oh my god!” about every five minutes! Like I said, I’m a stranger here myself. Eventually, we got down off the great divide and made it to Mike’s house (numerous wrong turns later). Mike greeted us along with his wife Claire and their dog, Tara. And we commenced to getting to know each other. So far, on this trip, I’m getting along with everyone…odd considering how hard it is for me back home. But so far, so good.
Mike Adams and family live in a nice little two story home in Lafayette, CO, just about 20 minutes east of Boulder (where we will be reading tonight – at Innisfree Bookstore). It seems to be a quiet little town, maybe a bedroom community adjacent to Denver or Boulder. I didn’t have to use my earplugs last night, that’s how quiet it was. I published Mike in 2010 (Steel Valley) and am very glad we finally met, although he claims we met in 2006 (I don’t remember). A real down home guy if you ask me.
I’ll have to wrap this up soon because I have to decide what I’m going to read tonight (I have less time than usual), but as promised I have some pictures for you all to look at. So, please enjoy!
See Pictures 2 for photos through day 9
Somewhere out on the road…
A disembodied head
Floats before me
I’m half awake and
Realize that it is
Only my reflection
In the window
Not some specter
Come to bug me
About some past
Another too early morning catches me up and sweeps me away from cobweb-city. At least it’s only a 5 AM reverie that shocks me awake. 5 AM in northeast Colorado, another day to pack it up and move it along, heading south now. It is voluntary, at least, not a forced migration…not searching for some golden carrot: a job, a life without persecution, a new love or merely some companionship.
And yet I am somehow slightly depressed. Perhaps it is the post reading slump or the ache that follows seeing an old and cherished friend after a long separation. Or perhaps it is that I grow weary of waking to pain…my lower right leg pulses with angry spasms, despite my best efforts to tolerate it. It seems untreatable, this post Sciatica condition. It nags me like a frustrated spouse and I’m afraid it may never go away. Will it become another layer of pain to be tolerated? Or will it be the final stone in my pocket that drags me down?
I grow tired of this daily pain. It is a helping much greater than I want to digest. But it is my lot, I must accept it, there’s no going back. That life before is a broken down shack, collapsing into rubble, disappearing under the weight of time and tide.
Perhaps I’m just tired…it is 5:40 AM after all.
Last night’s reading at the Glovinsky Gallery in Denver’s Santa Fe Art’s District was the best of the trip, so far. Even though it started kind of roughly: small venue, the audience trickling in, but everything clicked. The readers were John Macker, G. Murray Thomas (sitting in for Art Goodtimes), Mike Adams, Tony Moffeit (with Rick Terlep accompanying him on guitar) and myself, working two roles, that of master of ceremonies and simple poet/publisher. It seemed the level of craftsmanship had jumped up another peg or two, as if all the readers were getting comfy with their ‘reading’ selves.
It’s one thing to feel good about what you write, but it is altogether different to come to terms with the ‘performing’ of one’s work. Last night I felt at ease with myself, my material, my patter between each reader. Instead of intros I mostly did outros, after thoughts about the previous reader. For example, after Mike Adams read, I was so moved by his reading of some of the poems of our book Steel Valley, that I said this about being a small press publisher:
“Because I am essentially a one man operation, I view each book as a child that I have helped into this world. It is a personal thing to me, this publishing of someone else’s dream*. But, you know how it is with children…sometimes they make you proud and sometimes they disappoint you. And when they disappoint you, it hurts. Needless to say, tonight I am very proud of Steel Valley and very proud of Mike Adams.”
And I meant it.
It is a group effort between the poet, my layout master and myself (in the role of tough-love parent, proof reader and copy editor). Then after the book is published, I become the encouraging parent coaxing the book (and of course the author) to go out and meet the world. Eventually the author with book clutched tightly in hand steps out into the world without assistance, making me proud. Sometimes though, as with some children, the author cannot or will not make the effort to ‘leave the nest’ and, because it is personal, I feel as if I have done something wrong. I don’t think I have but if I have I’d like to know what it is. Unfortunately it is next to impossible to find out since most children (like adults) these days, don’t want to get all psychological about their process. So, we stumble forward and make the best of the situation...
But back to the reading. It seemed to me that I was more moved by the poems than I had been previously, as if I was truly hearing them for the first time. And each poet spoke about some of their poems, so there was a glimpse into the ‘poet-mind’ (which I have always found interesting: seeing the creative process first hand). John Macker read poems about Apache chiefs and explained how he imagined them being, based on his own interactions with the land…a harsh mistress sometimes. It was fascinating. I came away with a new understanding of him and his gift.
I probably should stop this line of thought. It’s probably too emotional. I am a man…I’m supposed to be rough and tough and unmoved by such things. This will most likely be my downfall. I know I’m too sensitive; and way too hard on myself (too critical). In the past, my style has cost me a few relationships and more recently, it has cost me at least one writer (perhaps more).
So, let me end this dispatch by saying that if last night was to be the last stop on this ‘tour’ – I would consider it a success. Of course, there are many more stops before the end, with 4 or 5 more chances to improve my ‘presentation’ to the audience. And with sales averaging around $100 per reading, I already know that it will be successful, which makes the "bean-counter in me" very happy. Hasta la bye-bye.
*I know it’s a dream because I too am a writer, so I
know both sides of the coin. Murray has a poem in his new book, My Kidney
Just Arrived, that is about his two names and how each has its own alias…I
could write a similar poem about my two roles.
Slept like a log last night! Oh my God! It was fantastic. 7 hours uninterrupted. OMG.
Murray and I left Lafayette yesterday and headed down to his friend’s house in Colorado Springs for some R & R. I got the R part last night. We’ll see if the other R happens today. Either way, we’ll be heading down to Pueblo tomorrow for a reading with Tony Moffeit. Then we’re off to Las Vegas, NM where we’ll hook up with John Dorsey.
I have to say it was hard to leave Mike and Clare’s house. I felt so at ease with them both. I would have liked to have had a ‘hang out day’, but it wasn’t in the cards. So, yesterday as we were preparing to head out, Mike was downstairs with a friend of his practicing their bluegrass…turns out Mike plays a pretty fair banjo!
We left around noon. Drove past Denver and some other towns…nothing much going on here, or I am just deadened to the sights. Either way, I’ll be happy if I can just blow off some steam here and get ready for the next reading.
One night of good sleep is better than no nights…needless to say, I didn’t sleep as well as the night before. I guess there’s just no formula for a good nights sleep. That said, I did at least get 6 hours in before it was time to rise and shine, but I get up far too early for this crowd and that’s no lie.
Murray had a great time visiting his friend Kathy in Colorado Springs. We all went up to the scenic little town of Manitou, just below Pike’s Peak and poked around town some after Murray and Kathy revisited their childhoods by playing pinball at The Arcade, a game paradise that has existed there since 1931. I’ll post some of the pictures from the arcade. Manitou is also home to The Garden of the Gods trailerpark and tourist sight, as well as the Emma Crawford Coffin Race (it’s a long story). There’s a casino up on the side of Pike’s Peak and Indian ruins outside of town. They also have a lot of pot dispensaries…in short, it’s a partying kinda town! Lots of knick-knack shops and other touristy kind of attractions abound. I hear the coffin race drew between 12 and 16,000 people this year! Unfortunately, we missed the race and the Estate Auction (1st annual).
We stopped for lunch at the European Café (a Polish establishment) where I had an excellent Borsht and French Dip combo, while Murray had potato soup and bagel and fruit, and Kathy had Apple pie ala mode (continuing her foray into childhood, I guess).
We strolled around town for awhile (I’m afraid I overdid it – my leg ended up hurting like a mofo) then decided to go home before heading out on our next adventure. I begged off on the second adventure and it was decided that if we wanted to see the sights we could look them up on the internet…besides there was Scrabble to be played. I got my ass kicked so many times my leg stopped hurting.
I crapped out by 10:30, but Murray and Kathy kept going into the wee hours.
Next morning, we got up, ate some breakfast (like we were going out to cut down trees or something – I don’t know why Kathy and her husband are so tiny, given all the food they eat…) and prepared to head down to Pueblo.
About an hour later, we were sitting in the coffee house where we were to read that night (last night) waiting for our host, Tony Moffeit to show up. We couldn’t check into our motel (Tony was kind enough to put us up at the Marriot, Pueblo – now that’s sofa surfing at its most luxurious!) until 3 PM so we were looking to kill some time. We met Tony’s girlfriend, Kyle Laws (whom I’ll be publishing next spring) at lunch and sat around and giggled for an hour or so while our food was being prepared.
I gotta say that it is damned near impossible to stick to my diet out here in America’s heartland where they serve nothing but the ‘white’ foods that I’m supposed to avoid: pasta, bread, rice, spaghetti…meals all over laden with carbs and sugar. But I persevered and ate salads where possible and drank gallons of water to keep my system flushed and makeup for the lack of humidity. It’s so dry up here that my nails are cracking and breaking everyday.
We finally got into our motel and in no time we had to get over to the coffee house for some pre-show grub and to get set up. I laid out the books, adjusted my beret (I was a "poet" for Halloween) and got the show underway. There were about 20 people, mostly older, tho a few “youngsters” were there too. And groups of disaffected youth roamed around looking sullen, no doubt because their hangout had been taken over by a bunch of old poets (couldn’t they see that we’re all a bunch of old punks?) on this special night…
Murray read first, followed by Tony (accompanied by Rick Terlep and Raindog, on harp). I was last. It was another good night, reading wise. And then, when it came time to sell books, it proved to be another good night. So far, I’m averaging around $105 per night in booksales. At this rate I’ll make a profit!
We returned to our room at the Marriot and hit the hay for another night of uneven sleep. Well, I got the uneven and Murray got the sleep. That guy could sleep through the second coming I think.
Today, after brunch with Tony and Kyle, we’ll head down the road towards Las Vegas, NM to stay with John & Annie Macker, before heading into ABQ (Albuquerque) for our next reading on Wed. night.
More adventures to come…
See Pictures 3 for photos through day 12
There’s something about John Macker’s house that leads to conversations that are so fascinating. Everytime I’ve been here, we’ve sat around this table and just had the best time talking ‘shop’. This is perhaps the best part of any visit to John’s house (aside from seeing John and Annie) (oh and seeing the countryside around their place – which I thought was in the mountains but is actually on a large mesa).
The mesa extends from just below the New Mexican border, outside of Raton, all the way south to Bernal (outside of Las Vegas, NM). When you leave Colorado, you drop down about a 1000 feet onto this plain. It’s very monotonous, but not boring, if you stay alert. There are old volcanoes to the east and long lava flows stretching out across the plain and there are snow capped mountains to the west. I 25 follows the old Santa Fe Trail, a stage line established in the 1850s, but probably used as a trail prior to that, as well. It’s a long stretch of beige that is crisscrossed by the Canadian River (tho what a Canadian presence is doing this far south is a mystery to me).
It took about 3 hours for us to travel from Pueblo to Las Vegas, to the Bernal exit down the road from John’s place. I was under the impression that it had been an old stop for the stages traversing the SF Trail, but found out it was built in the 1940s as a bar/roadhouse. Still, I’m sure the road outside of John’s comfy table was a simple two lane back then not the modern four lane that zooms past today. I know the classic shot of the road leading into Monument Valley that I sent a few days ago, was just a simple dirt road in the 1940s, so even if the roadhouse is only 70 years old, it has still seen its share of drama.
We didn’t go into Las Vegas (will do that today if there’s time) as we were just “laying over” on our way down to ABQ (Albuquerque) where our next reading was to take place. So, in the morning, after surveying John’s back 40 and visiting the shrine to Tony Scibella (one of the last, great Venice Beat Poets who ended his days up in Colorado), we headed down to Santa Fe and onto ABQ.
Gary Brower met us in Placitas, a little ‘bedroom’ community outside SF, and took me on a tour while Murray headed into ABQ to meet an old chum from his days in Rochester, NY. Gary publishes the Maipais Review, a sharp little magazine that features the work of a lot of writers from New Mexico, and a few outsiders, as well. Every issue gets bigger and better. You should check it out if you get the chance. Look for it on Amazon.
Gary knew Todd Moore, even hung out with him and speaks reverently of him. He also knew or knows just about everybody in the lit biz here in New Mexico AND he’s bilingual! So, he’s hip to all the Spanish and South American poets, as well. So he bombarded me with info for about 2 hours. I shoulda had a stenographer to help me digest all the info (my being a literary stumblebum).
Eventually, we hooked up with Murray in ABQ and got ready for our reading that night.
The Blackbird Buvette is a bar w/kitchen (pretty good grub too) in downtown ABQ. It’s a long narrow bar with a stage near the door, where we assumed we would be reading…but NO! We were to read in the patio, out back. And we did it, as the host noted, on the first cold night in ABQ! And it was fuckin’ COLD! Not quite freezin’ but damn close!!!
It’s funny, Murray and I have noted that we’re reading in almost every venue possible on this trip (except a church) and I suggested that we only needed to read in heaven now to complete the list because last night, it was colder than hell…so we can cross that off our list…one less thing on the bucket list, one more for the fuckit list!
It was a little disappointing because it was under-attended (because of the cold), but we still made out okay with the book sales. So, imagine what we could accomplish in the warmth!
Today we head out to Las Vegas to read at John’s and tomorrow we head to Taos. So, see you all later.
Day 11 finds us, two intrepid travelers, having survived the rigors of being half frozen in ABQ too wired to sleep at 12 AM as we move into day 12 (I keep trying to move ahead a day, as if I want this trip to conclude so we can head home – I’m getting homesick…not homesick for my crappy life in the LBC, but for the stability of it, the sameness…).
Today we left ABQ and headed up to Las Vegas to stay again with John and Annie Macker. But not before we stopped at Alamosa Books to meet Richard Vargas, whom I’ve heard so much about. I gave him the Lummox Press catalog and some info, we chatted about the state of book selling (not good) in NM and then we were off again…going down the road feeling…? Glad? Sad? Not mad, surely.
We had been invited to participate in what turned out to be a poetry ‘salon’…a room full of poets reading to each other, but not informally as in sitting in a circle but a standard reading with poet and audience. Kind of like an open reading with the exception that most of the poets were remarkable. Here’s the lineup: John Macker, G. Murray Thomas, Raindog, Jane Schoenfeld, Donald Levering, Tony Moffeit w/ Rick Terlep & Raindog (guitar & harmonica), Stewart Warren and Amalio Medueño.
As always, it was an amazing evening…Annie prepared a delicious meal of Molé, Posole, beans, and tortillas. Yum! There was great conversations and talk of the ‘old’ days, of poets gone. A vibrant tapestry of memories. And then, there was the reading…though I have heard John , Tony and Murray a lot in this last week, each time their work is refreshing, as if one was to drink from the same well over and over…somehow the water is always refreshing, even though one has tasted it before. This was how I felt last night listening again to their poetry.
The others were a new taste to me. I had heard of Don Levering but didn’t know his work. It was moving (I’m trying to find new words to describe these moments of ‘wow’ – wondering if one ever gets used to the landscape of wow, if it ever becomes mundane, or if one eventually succumbs to a state of grace, yielding to the ever unfolding WOW that this place seems to represent).
Stewart Warren, a Lummox Press supporter, that is a person who is a repeat customer, was probably about as close to a thinking man’s Cowboy Poet, as could be found within a hundred miles of the ‘roadhouse’. His poetry, a folksy blend, satisfying and thought provoking; not much different than himself…honest, with a tinge of the tall tale.
Jane Schoenfeld was caught off guard, ‘drafted’ as it were, into the reading and read only one poem, but recited another. Both were poignant, a simple but beautiful contribution, like Annie’s Pasole, if ever there was a natural poetry, then cooking a tasty meal, must certainly qualify.
The evening was rounded out by the poetry of Amalio. He claims to be the son of Yaqui Indians and is known as ‘Mexican Bob’. He writes of the southwest, the frontera, the coyote, and the eagle. Like John, the landscape of these mesas and mountains play an important, nay crucial, role in his poems. He is an important voice (so I’m told) in this region. And his poetry was just plain solid. Maybe he has some confrontational work, but it wasn’t present this night. His work was vivid, ripe with metaphor, rich with history and vibrant with language. The man can write!
Afterwards there was more discussion, desserts and coffee, reminiscence, and fraternity (not the animal house variety, either). Everyone trickled out into the night, except Murray and I who were staying over again, to leave tomorrow for Taos.
Until then, dear reader…
See Pictures 4 for photos through day 14
Days 12 & 13
Awoke at the crack of dawn. Chatted with Annie and John while waiting for Murray to rise and shine. Ate some breakfast and got ready to head out for Taos. Planning on taking the scenic route, 518, over the mountains and into town via the ‘back door’. Might hit some weather tomorrow. Not too sure.
Scenery on 518 was vast and sweeping, climbing out of the mesa floor up and over the mountains. On the other side, descending towards Taos, the old Indian pueblo and settlement where Murray’s friends Peter Rabbit and Anne MacNaughton live (they ran the Taos Poetry Circus for about 23 years). I’ve never met them, but have heard of them and the circus for years.
The weather is clear, but cold. We drive through these tiny, rundown towns that look like they could be located in the Ozarks, not central New Mexico…Cleveland, Mora, Dixon. There is snow on the shady side of the hills, remnants of yesterday’s storm…early snows out here, don’t know what it means.
I heard from Gary Brower that Kell Robertson is on his deathbed with a failing liver (Kell died a few days later - another sad loss for the poetry legacy of New Mexico). Those who know him will know the loss…those who thought him already dead, will finally be right. Read “A Horse Called Desperation” to find out more about Kell. He was a hard-assed motherfucker who lost friends as quickly as he made them, but lived life on his own terms…Adios Kell.
The Swirling Dust
The body that was once a man
That waits for the embrace
Of the cool earth
Lays on a simple platform
Surrounded by a few friends
Waiting for the service to end
Waiting to be lowered
Waiting for the first thud of dirt
This is not the Streets of Laredo
There was no final gun fight
Only a life-long rebellion
No one bangs the drum slowly
Or plays the pipes lowly
But the body draped in the
White sheet still deserves
The dust swirls around
Both the living and the dead
It doesn’t differentiate
Nor does it judge
The death of an old alcoholic
A rumpled old poet
Adios mi amigo
We get into Taos in the late afternoon. Murray takes me on a little tour of old town and shows me where the “circus” happened, Café Tazza. Then we head over to Peter and Anne’s place. It’s getting colder. But inside their modest home, it’s nice and warm, partly because of the iron stove in the living room and partly because of Peter and Anne. He’s about 85, as big around as a minute, but with a heart of gold. She’s in her 60s I think, and full of life (needs to be to keep up with him, as spry as any 70 year old can be). Big smiles and hugs all around when we arrive.
While we wait for dinner to cook, Murray talks about the old days they spent together and I listen, dozing off every now and then, tired from the drive. Peter lights up a joint of ‘medical’ maryjane and puffs away on it. He’s got a couple of major health issues going on and needs the weed to help him with his appetite. Plus it’s nice to be able to laugh about life.
After dinner, and more talk about the old days (the good ole’ bad ole’ days) and after Murray tells them about his kidney transplant, we all settle down in the living room to read poems to each other in a sort of round robin affair. It seems to me that the poem selections begin to respond to a previous theme, building organically on that theme. There is no time length, but there is a respect for each other, so the flow is smooth and the transitions are almost seamless (like in music when everything ‘clicks’). Finally, Peter says he’s tired and Anne says, let’s stop. We toddle off to bed.
In the morning, I rise first and check the weather. It’s cold and windy and looks like it’s going to storm, which, at this altitude most likely means snow. We’re at 7200 feet, the mountains in the distance already ragged with snow. To the south, in a low cloud bank, I see the tail end of a rainbow, as the sun peaks over the mountains. That cloud mass is definitely coming our way (out on the road, on I-40, we will encounter a similar cloud mass, but it will be a dry snow storm…like a dust cloud, creeping along the mesa floor… something I’ve never seen before).
After tea and toast, we plan on heading out. Anne has to judge a student debate so she leaves before we do. Hugs and pictures. I was talking to Peter about a photo in the room I was in and he told me it was of a local pueblo man who was his mentor when he first came here in 1954. He kept saying that this pueblo Indian was a perfect human being and he obviously revered him. At one point, he said to me, “if you want to understand the Native American mind, stare into a fire for 5000 years!” Then he laughed. It was pretty preposterous. Who has that kinda time?
I don’t know about this idea of a perfect human being, but on this trip we’ve met some pretty special ones, and Peter and Anne are a good example.
So, after more chatting and final goodbyes, we headed out of Taos in a heavy downpour, as if the weather was a metaphor for the heaviness in our hearts…at least that’s how I felt.
As we descended out of Taos, the weather changed to snow. We had planned to take the "scenic high road", which would have taken us through some of the small towns ignored by the interstate, but decided against that for safety sake. Too many cars end up in ditches out here in bad weather and we didn’t want to be one of them. We descended even further, along the Rio Grande, into Española, where the snow turned back to rain and continued south, trying to decide where we would grab a real meal (toast not being more than a belly warmer).
This whole area of New Mexico has been economically depressed for a lot longer than the rest of the US, but now, in these times of ‘less’ these little Indian towns are really on the skids. Even in Taos and Telluride, these tourist towns show signs of trial. Tourism is down and ‘for rent’ signs are up.
In Española, even the ‘dollar’ stores are boarded up; though I did see one oddity in the parking lot of a Wallmart: an old Fotomat kiosk with a sign over the window that read “WE BUY GOLD”. Business didn’t look too brisk, but it was early on a Saturday morning.
More scenic countryside, blah blah blah – how many times can you catch your breath in the land of WOW before you hyper-ventilate? Then, sunlight through broken clouds…could this be the end of the storm? Everywhere we look, the land is dusted in white, the snow must have come down pretty hard here outside of Santa Fe, we see 2-3 inches of snow on the side of the road. It seems that now would be a good time to stop and get some gas and something to eat…so far, haven’t had the opposite yet. We find a little diner, “the Family Diner” and settle into breakfast. It’s probably the best breakfast we’ve had ‘out’ the entire trip, and cheap too! On the menu I spy the local ‘dish’: Frito Pie. Murray thinks it’s kinda like Nachos but with Fritos instead of chips. I don’t order it.
By the time we hit ABQ and I-40, the storm was behind us. I was listening to the Zerx recording of “The Corpse is Dreaming” as read by Todd Moore (with soundscape by J.A. Deane). I thought it fitting that we listen to the man that indirectly made this trip possible. However, the droning soundscape put Murray to sleep, so only I appreciated the last moments of Dillinger, in the alley beside the Biograph theater. So, as we crawled up the I-40 in the windy aftermath of the storm, I listened as Todd counted the last moments of Johnnie D’s life, like a ref counting out a downed boxer…
And it’s westward ho! More freaky weather, more tunes, more strange sights, more OMG sightings in the land of WOW and eventually, by late afternoon, we pull into Flagstaff on the tail of another wave of this storm system that has dropped 4-5 inches of soggy snow in town. And it’s bone-chilling cold! Uncle Don tells us that another wave is due on Sunday night/Monday morning and we hope that by heading down to Phoenix we can avoid it. But Don, ever the pragmatist, doubts it. The man is so serious, it’s hard to joke around with him, unlike Peter, whom it was hard to be serious with. Whatever.
Tomorrow, we read at our last “gig” in Flagstaff at Uptown Billiards. And on Monday, we head out, back to L.A. For me, it means returning to my near anonymity (after being treated like a star for two weeks). I hope I can make the transition without too much rancor. For Murray, I hope it won’t be just back to business as usual…we had many adventures and met numerous new people and made or remade many new friendships.
I know I will hold onto this trip as long as I can. And for my FB friends, I’ll be putting pix up as soon as I get back.
See you on the trip back…
See Pictures 5 for photos through day 15
Well, as we were told, it started snowing sometime in the night. And when I looked out at 5:30 AM, the car was a mound of snow with wheels. It still is now at almost 7 AM but the streets have been plowed so, at least, we can get out of town and head south to a lower elevation…and rain. What’s going on? Snow in early November? Even the locals are stumped…
Yesterday, we had the best sales at any reading on this trip! Even though the crowd started out smaller than our average of 15, it grew to around 12 by the time we were through (we actually pulled a few of the pool players over to listen…it was a pool hall after all). Between the two of us Murray and I sold about 30 books! I’ve sold more books in 8 readings than I’ve sold in the last 2 years worth of readings! It’s gonna be hard to return to that kind of poor showing, but it’ll be good to sit with “the morning crew” and have a cup of tea and a bagel, every Goddamned day for the rest of my life…at least until my next tour.
I brought 70 books plus 10 of my special thank you books (for ‘thanks for putting us up’ gifts). I sold 62 books, including 6 of the 7 ‘thank you’ books (I ran out of E/OR in ABQ). I think I’m coming home with about 18 books. All in all, it has been a very rewarding trip. So if we can just get through today okay…in fact, if we can just get out of AZ and across the desert back towards Palm Desert, okay…maybe we’ll get caught in some lovely rush hour snarl, and won’t that be a perfect way to come down from the high of being as free as a couple of old crows.
I’m gonna have to go scrape off the car as soon as Murray wakes up. The guy is an absolutely perfect sleeping machine! I envy his ability to ‘drop off’ anytime. I can only do that when my blood sugar gets low…or I’m driving…
Well, I guess I’ll go down to the office and get a hot cup of tea. I don’t seem to have much to write about this morning. Oh yeah, I’ve started loading pix on my Facebook page, no particular order, the signal here is kinda sporadic so I have just been dropping them in as fast as I can. Will edit later. So, if you are one of my FB buddies (or if you are on FB but not my buddy, please ‘friend’ me) you can share in the bounty of pix from this trip. Don’t worry; I’m only posting about 1/3 of the shots I took. And I hope to have video of us reading, as well, up soon.
Before I could finish this, the power went out altogether, so I had to stop...
To finish off the day, we headed south through the canyon that skirts Sedona, on I-17 towards Phoenix. It took us about 3 hours because the snow was coming down pretty heavy and in some places the snow plows hadn’t come through…in fact at one point the second lane had disappeared altogether under a blanket of snow & ice. But Murray’s years spent in upstate New York and Idaho served us well on this trip…I hardly ever noticed that we weren’t going straight!
Once we dropped below 5000 feet, we hit rain and soon after that it was sunny with intermittent showers & mixed clouds all the way to Phoenix, where political disagreements are sometimes settled with gunplay. No gunplay for us, though, and soon we were headed west on I-10, towards SoCal.
I gotta confess that I only driven this highway once before and that was in 1975, I think. I’ve always gone out I-40. But I-10 has won me over. It’s a beautiful drive, shorter and more scenic than the I-40 route. And I’m sure the jog from I-10 up to Flagstaff on the I-17 is gorgeous when it isn’t buried under snow! So my next trip out that way will be on the 10, for certain.
As predicted, we got into the LA basin just in time to hit rush hour, but it wasn’t too bad, except for the setting sun (it being an hour earlier now). We got back to my house around 6 PM, only about 9 hours on the road! It felt good to be back. I unpacked, had some dinner and went into a vegetative state in front of the TV. Got a solid 7 hours (second best night of the trip!) before getting up this morning and getting back into my old routine.
It’s good to be back…but I have to say, it’s going to be hard to go back to being “plain Raindog” anonymous poet and everyday citizen, after being treated like a celebrity for 2 weeks. I’ll just have to start planning another poetry tour, I guess!
Thanks to everyone for their positive thoughts and support on this trip…and to all who hosted us and/or housed us (it was a tremendous lift for both of us, especially myself). November Lummox Update coming soon. See you then.
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