recent posts

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book Review/ Interview Todd Cirillo Burning the Evidence (Epic Rites Press, 2017) 70 pages


Burning the Evidence is the latest collection of poetry by the New Orleans resident and co-founder and editor of Six Ft. Swells Press Todd Cirillo. Some of the poems have originally appeared in small press mags such as Red Fez, Lummox Journal, Tree Killer Ink, Heavy Bear, Rattlesnake Press and others.

The collection consists of 45 poems, mainly free verse narratives written in a simple, pared back confessional style. The poems characteristically sparkle with good humour and a cheeky self-awareness. The subject matter often focuses on his relationship with women, flirting with gorgeous bar staff, chance meetings and his humorous observations of his life as a poet.

In a recent interview with BM, (which appears at the end of this review) Todd Cirillo says candidly about his writing method, “I hold no regular writing routine except for carrying around a small notebook, placing myself onto the railroad tracks for inspiration or creativity to roll over me and having the guts or stupidity to write it down.”

Cirillo typically sees things in terms of images, as snapshots, “I write when inspired, which usually takes the form of an image. Almost like a still polaroid that appears before me, could be an actual image or sound, a line someone says, or the way she stands, a simple shiny moment that I pick up.”

Cirillo certainly takes a lot of snapshots of women, perhaps a dozen or more different women appear in this collection. He is characteristically affectionate, good-humoured, respectful and highly appreciative. Asked about his serial attraction to women, Cirillo adeptly says:

I do write about women often. I say that with pride. I create composites or become inspired by a single person who shines and offers me something extraordinary, whether they know it or not; strangers or significant others. I might add that I also write poems about males as well but females have always been my touchstones. Women can provide pure comfort or chaos, sometimes both and that’s wonderful for me. I tell people that everything I write is a love poem in some form or another and I believe that. I’m in this constant search for love and always hold the belief that it’s going to happen this time or….the next or…the next, no matter how bruised, broken or betrayed I get…I am a true sucker for punishment or possibility.”

In the poem “Those Little Words That Change Everything” the speaker closely observes a young woman he chances upon in the street handing out flyers for an upcoming concert.  Cirillo raises our expectations in how “little words can change everything” but in the end, he is cool and moves on from there.

Those Little Words That Change Everything

She is stunning
with a dishevelled style,
wears purple glasses,
no ring,
flashes a great smile,
bounces through the crowd
with an athletic way
handing out flyers
for a free concert
this weekend.
I promise myself
that if she comes my way
I will tell her
Those little words
That can change everything.

I watch her
move through the people
and don’t care what they are thinking,
then she is in front of me,
smiling,
small hand with flyer outstretched.
I take it and ask her name,
introduce myself
and fulfil my promise
by saying all those little words
to her.
She keeps smiling.
At the end I ask,
“Do you have a significant other?”
she touches my shoulder,
leans in close
and whispers
those little words
that change everything,

“Of course I do.”

(reprinted with the permission of the poet)

In this collection, Cirillo is certainly in search of the next girl. Or his next drink. Or his next poem. The poems typically have a feel-good flavour about them which refreshingly tend to gloss over or avoid darker thoughts and the inevitable complications which spark from evolving relationships.

The poems are usually anecdotal or fuelled by the use of an extended metaphor. There is often a wry and knowing tone when relationships inevitably fall apart. Cirillo’s voice is resolutely cheeky but sometimes self-mocking.

In the opening poem “Perspective”, for example, the persona, presumably Cirillo,  admits jokingly that although he has split amicably with his girlfriend they may later explain to their friends:

We agree to say
it was not you
and it was not me.

But really,
we know,
deep down
that next time
we are at the bar
telling our story,
we will say
it was definitely
you.

In one of the better poems in the collection “Who Knew”, Cirillo provides us with an intimate, ironic portrait of how a couple can come to love the blues:

Who Knew

There are days
when we
will put on nothing but
Sonny Boy, The Wolf,
Mississippi John Hurt,
Muddy, Son House,
John Lee Hooker
And, of course,
Robert Johnson.

She will pick an album
then I will pick an album.
We will go through
breakfast, lunch
and dinner,
kissing in between,
laying in the grass
talking about clouds,
holding hands,
alternately putting
our heads into
each other’s lap.

In the background-
cotton fields, trains,
devils, jealous lovers
and broken hearts.

Who knew
the Blues
could make us
this happy?

(reprinted with the permission of the poet)

Asked about the good humour and levity in his writing, Todd Cirillo says, “First off, my overall life view is pretty optimistic. I love a good time and enjoy the lighter and more relaxed side of existence to be sure. Humour is a necessity for poetry because it is rare. I think that some poets tend to kill poetry mostly, especially at poetry readings. I say let the audience have a good time, give them a good time. We know horrific things exist in the world but sometimes it is good to just be reminded of the fun side too.”

As a public performer and poet Cirillo’s main purpose is to entertain his audience. His style is exceedingly clear and it is easy to understand his work upon first reading. This is a philosophy he has deliberately adopted with the influence of other West Coast poets, such as Bill Gainer, Will Staple, Julie Valin, Matt Amott and Annie Menebroker in the After-Hours Poetry movement which began as early as 2003 with the publication of the book ROXY (R.L. Crow Publications).

Cirillo continues this legacy. He says selflessly of his own commitment to bringing art to the masses:

“The philosophy remains, if the poet has to explain their poem to the audience then the poet has failed. This is poetry for truck-stops, bowling alleys and barrooms. We became known for not only the accessibility of our poetry but the shows we put on, which were rowdy and unpredictable (in the best way) and the support this group of poets have for one another. We also share a deep love for drinking, late-nights, craziness, barrooms, jukeboxes and Tom Waits.”

Cirillo says that the title poem “Burning the Evidence” was the last poem to be slotted into the collection and it is far more serious, and in some ways, more complex and powerful than the feel-good poems which crowd it. A couple of days ago, Cirillo explained the political context in which the poem was conceived:

“The poem was written in mid-October and I suppose the U.S. election was in my psyche in as much as I had a gross and twisted thought Trump would win. Maybe the underlying thought is, the rich stay rich, the poor stay poor and those with power like to hold onto that power at all costs. The last line really reflects that feeling; this election especially was a “filthy set up” but then again most of this life is as well; the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. People vote or act against their own interests for the sake of feeling right or powerful, politicians do not give a shit about main street, especially today. Politicians have zero integrity and even if individuals attempt to live with integrity and get away with even that little bit, some sonofabitch will slap us down in one form or another. When I wrote the poem, I felt we (this nation) was on the verge of a national disgrace and now I believe Trump validates that almost daily. It’s disgusting.”

It’s difficult to disagree with Cirillo no matter your political leanings. The poem “Burning the Evidence” is about 100 lines in length and is easily the longest in the collection. It is a lament in which Cirillo voices his concern, that despite all our efforts in trying to beat the system- “feeling that we are winning/ one step ahead”- that the “odds are stacked against us” and “the world comes out on top” and “it will take away/ all we have/ and all we ever want.”

Cirillo’s solution is surprisingly anarchistic, perhaps a melancholic slip of the cog. He more or less says in a moment of desperation to fuck it all, to burn the “whole filthy/ set up” down:

Those moments
when it feels as though
the odds are stacked against us,
our motorcycle hits loose gravel,
and we hear the hounds closing in.

Perhaps, our only option
is throw gasoline all around us,
flick the Zippo
high into the air,
burning the evidence
of ourselves
to become stars.

Let the world
make its perfect getaway
leaving us
with only the ashes
of what we thought
was a clever
and brilliant scheme-
forever shining down
on the whole filthy
set up.

Yet Todd Cirillo makes it clear in the following interview with BM that his overall intent is not political but personal– that we need to return to establishing connections between people:

“I am not a poet who believes that a poem will/can change the world any longer, that time has passed for poetry. Poetry was once the top of the creative mountain but has been replaced with expediency and other art forms. My thought/feeling is that poetry has to return to the beauty and necessity of an interpersonal connection between two people, transmitting a feeling or emotion and allowing the other person to take it with them and hopefully, if the poet is good, that individual did not begin as a poetry fan but they are now.”

In Cirillo's insightful podcast with Marcia Epstein “Talk With Me” (December 2016), he compacts this salient idea, “I’m not big on political poetry. There is enough war and tragedy in the world, but as a poet, it has always been important for me to write from the heart- be it laughter or something sensual. You have to laugh to fall in love.”

Burning the Evidence is a highly accessible and enjoyable collection to read. You can read it countless times and continue to get more out of it and to change your list of favourite poems. Yet lurking at the back of our minds is Cirillo’s impulsive, crazy idea, as represented in the title poem, that life’s fucked, and perhaps in moments of existential crisis, there is always the temptation to flick the Zippo and incinerate ourselves.


Biography: Todd Cirillo loves good times and shiny moments. He lives in New Orleans so there are plenty of those to be found. His latest book is Burning the Evidence (Epic Rites Press). He can be found at afterhourspoetry.com


Further Resources:

Interview with Marcia Epstein “Talk With Me” (Kansas, 13 December 2016). The podcast is approximately one hour long: https://afterhourspoetry.com/2016/12/20/if-something-sucks-tell-the-poet/

Home of After Hours Poetry: https://afterhourspoetry.com



AN INTERVIEW WITH TODD CIRILLO 19 MAY 2017

When did you first develop an interest in poetry and in writing the stuff?

Poetry was something that strangely appeared one day as a teenager. I was feeling some type of way and the words went from pen to paper before I even knew it was a poem. I became more interested as I met teachers, professors, writers who began to take an interest in the words I was putting down and they helped me craft the words into poetry.

Do you have a regular routine in getting the word down? How do you usually go about crafting a poem- from its inception to its final draft? Do you do much re-writing?

I hold no regular writing routine except for carrying around a small notebook, placing myself onto the railroad tracks for inspiration or creativity to roll over me and having the guts or stupidity to write it down. I write when inspired, which usually takes the form of an image. Almost like a still polaroid that appears before me, could be an actual image or sound, a line someone says, or the way she stands, a simple shiny moment that I pick up. I also tend to write in bursts, especially if I have someone or something to focus on, the floodgates open and I’m putting down many poems in a short period. I just have to let it happen.

I revise as much as needed to convey the emotion or feeling of that moment/scene. I see revision as necessary to the craft of poetry. I think it is so easy now people to just spit something into their Iphone or blog, call it a poem and put it out there or get up onstage and read what they just wrote two minutes ago, that people forget poetry is a craft. I want my poems to be good enough to work both on the page and the stage. I love to perform. I like to have fun up on stage.

To what extent is your poetry confessional? Do you make stuff up?

Yes my poetry is confessional, based in some twisted truth, with a dash of sincerity, hope, desire and bullshit. Most of the time I get inspired from my own situations/relationships for good or ill and put down what I thought may have occurred. You know what they say, unlucky in love, jackpot in poetry.

You write a lot about women. What’s the attraction? Do you create composites or strictly individuals?

I do write about women often. I say that with pride. I create composites or become inspired by a single person who shines and offers me something extraordinary, whether they know it or not; strangers or significant others. I might add that I also write poems about males as well but females have always been my touchstones. Women can provide pure comfort or chaos, sometimes both and that’s wonderful for me. I tell people that everything I write is a love poem in some form or another and I believe that. I’m in this constant search for love and always hold the belief that it’s going to happen this time or….the next or…the next, no matter how bruised, broken or betrayed I get…I am a true sucker for punishment or possibility.

Your poem “Me, You, Bob Dylan and the Bottle” is written for the poet Bill Gainer. I loved his collection “Lipstick and Bullet Holes” (Epic Rites Press, 2014). What have you learnt from the man and his poetry?

I would answer your question this way…I would say that Bill has probably learned as much from me as I have learned from him. Bill and I have been close friends for 17 years now. I bet we each have at least a book’s worth of material about the other; creativity begets creativity. We tend to share a like-minded view of what poetry is/should be/can be and our creative and personal friendship has a genuine appreciation to it that I am grateful for and most of all we have fun together. We have both been called masters of the short poem, a track he put me on many moons ago. Bill taught me the importance of clarity in a poem, economy of language and to give the reader a complete story in a poem. I also learned to be a great editor through working with him. I like to think that I inspire him and he gives me direction or bail money. I would do the same for him. Together we are widely known to put on legendary performances and put out legendary books such as the acclaimed book ROXY (R.L. Crow Publications 2003) which was Bill, myself and Will Staple.

Your poetry sparkles with good humor and levity. How do you keep this up in a world of growing darkness?

First off, my overall life view is pretty optimistic, I love a good time and enjoy the lighter and more relaxed side of existence to be sure.

Humor is a necessity for poetry because it is rare. I think that some poets tend to kill poetry mostly, especially at poetry readings. I say let the audience have a good time, give them a good time. We know horrific things exist in the world but sometimes it is good to just be reminded of the fun side too. If you are going to write a heavy poem with a serious topic, I say, try to write it in a different way than what has been written before. Full disclosure, I am not a poet who believes that a poem will/can change the world any longer, that time has passed for poetry. Poetry was once the top of the creative mountain but has been replaced with expediency and other art forms. My thought/feeling is that poetry has to return to the beauty and necessity of an interpersonal connection between two people, transmitting a feeling or emotion and allowing the other person to take it with them and hopefully, if the poet is good, that individual did not begin as a poetry fan but they are now.

Turning to your book “Burning the Evidence”, can you briefly describe your dealings with Epic Rites Press and the process in getting the book published?

The process was exquisitely simple. Wolfgang Carstens, the publisher and mastermind of Epic Rites Press, commented on a poem of mine that someone posted on social media and we began to correspond and I am a believer in shameless self-promotion so I offered him more poems. He read those and requested more, published the chapbook, SEXY DEVILS, as part of his excellent punk chapbook series and offered a full book deal which became Burning the Evidence. I cannot thank him enough. Wolfgang Carstens/Epic Rites Press is publishing some of the best poetry that is being written today. As a promoter he is unbelievable and when one steps into the poetry ring, he is one of the best cornermen in the business.

I note the front cover was designed by your friend Julie Valin from a Matt Amott photo. Can you explain the background to the design and the choice of the title, considering the tone and political subject matter of the title poem is strikingly different to the rest of the collection?

The cover design of this book and most of my books is always a collaborative effort by the best in the business, Julie Valin and Matt Amott, both top-shelf poets themselves. I have worked with Julie and Matt for over 12 years. I usually come up with the titles, which I did with Burning the Evidence, Matt took a photo, and Julie provided the graphic design and then Robert Hansen completed the back cover. Again, I have a strong belief that, with the right people, creativity begets creativity. It means so much to me to create with these people. I encourage everyone to look these poets up online.

In “Burning the Evidence” you suggest that the “whole filthy set up” should be burnt down. What was the context in which you wrote the poem? How did you come to reach that stage?

As you pointed out, the title poem holds a different tone and subject matter than other poems in the collection. I wanted to write a title poem, which I did not have, in fact Burning the Evidence was the last poem to be written and added to the book. The original version of the poem went in a completely different direction than the final version. I followed the poem where it needed to go and after about 3-4 revisions the final version arrived.

The poem was written in mid-October and I suppose the U.S. election was in my psyche in as much as I had a gross and twisted thought Trump would win.  Maybe the underlying thought is, the rich stay rich, the poor stay poor and those with power like to hold onto that power at all costs. The last line really reflects that feeling; this election especially was a “filthy set up” but then again most of this life is as well; the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor. People vote or act against their own interests for the sake of feeling right or powerful, politicians do not give a shit about main street, especially today. Politicians have zero integrity and even if individuals attempt to live with integrity and get away with even that little bit, some sonofabitch will slap us down in one form or another. When I wrote the poem, I felt we (this nation) was on the verge of a national disgrace and now I believe Trump validates that almost daily. It’s disgusting.

Together with Julie Valin, you are one of the originators of the After-Hours Poetry movement and a co-founder and editor of Six Swells Press. Can you briefly outline your involvement in those projects and where they are headed?

The After-Hours Poetry movement really began with the publication of the book, ROXY (R.L. Crow Publications 2003) by myself, Bill Gainer, and Will Staple and the shows that we did all around. It was a style and support that hadn’t been seen before. It became a group of West Coast poets and writers like myself, Bill, Will, Julie Valin, Matt Amott, Annie Menebroker who was our poetic North star in a way and some others that really held a similar belief in what great poetry was and who it could be for. The philosophy remains, if the poet has to explain their poem to the audience then the poet has failed. This is poetry for truck-stops, bowling alleys and barrooms. We became known for not only the accessibility of our poetry but the shows we put on, which were rowdy and unpredictable (in the best way) and the support this group of poets have for one another. We also share a deep love for drinking, late-nights, craziness, barrooms, jukeboxes and Tom Waits.

I’ve been involved in every Six Ft. Swells project since we began in about 2007. Myself, Matt and Julie each have roles in the press that our talents lend to a project. Currently we are working on a couple beautiful poetic projects to be released later this year that will make the poetry world smile, whether it wants to or not. You can go to www.afterhourspoetry.com  and sign up to get updates.

Have you recently stumbled upon some new authors you haven’t read before whom have impressed you?

I am having a wonderful time getting into some of the other Epic Rites authors. They are putting out top-shelf material and the support they give to myself and one another is really refreshing.

What are you working at the moment?

Poetically, I am helping some others with their manuscripts for publication by Six Ft. Swells Press or elsewhere and just editing poems for people, which I enjoy doing because it inspires me to write…most of the time. I am also working on my own next book, other poetry projects and saving up bail money for a weekend of readings I will do in July with Bill Gainer and Matt Amott in Dallas, Texas. Other than that, I am currently opening a beer, listening to Howlin Wolf and heading out to a crawfish boil. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Featuring Ron Lucas


ELMER’S GLUE

I am no delicate flower.
I am a shattered, fine goblet.
Pieced back together with
Children’s paste.

The slightest touch.
The lightest breath.
And I may collapse into
An irreparable heap
Of tiny shards,
Too small,
Too sharp,
And dangerous
To ever
Even be

Picked up
Again.

Please,
Gently pad to the
Open window,
And door,
And close them softly
With your bleeding
fingers

on your way
out.


INFLUENZA AND… SOMETHING MUCH WORSE…

Have been ill of late,
Quite ill.
Wake each day with
A gasp,
Feverish, shivering,
And one
Word
Escaping dry, cracked lips.

I laugh.

It’s funny.

Apparently, I shall die
One day
With your
Name
Upon my tongue.

And I have not
Seen your
Face
Or
Heard your
Voice
For
Fourteen years.
… AND NOT CRONSHAW’S PERSIAN…

In the hall,
Outside my door,
“Big Steve” begs
For his life
At gun point.

“Shoot this mother—
Fucker, babe!”
Screams the man
Beating him, to
His lady,

Over and over.

“No, please, don’t!
Please don’t!”
Sobs Big Steve to
The man and
The lady,

Over and over.

In my place,
Inside my locked door,
I had no phone.
I could not help or
Even dare to make
A sound.

It was all over
In five minutes;
An eternity.

It was all over
A five dollar
Rug.


ANGEL OF MUNCHAUSENS

Where are you tonight?
No one knows.
As usual.
Who are you tonight?
I no longer know
Your name.
Your birthday is in a
Week.
I think.

We were young when
We met.
You were younger
Than I.

Are you in a hospital
Somewhere?
Are you comforted by
The sounds?
The sterile smell?
The needles
Piercing?
Does it take you
Home?
Wherever that
Was?

Our daughters are
Doing well.
Our granddaughter
Is cute,
Sweet, and smart.
I am doing
Okay.
Not that you should
Care.
My shrink asked
After you
Today.
Thought you might
Like that.

Well, I hope you enjoy
Your stay.
Get well soon.
Happy birthday.
I think.

Featuring Jon Bennett


My Work is Done

I was sober 6 months
before fixing
my smashed chairs
I went
to the hardware store
bought brackets
drilled holes, etc.
When it was done
I was still sober
but with
mended furniture
So I did
what I always do
these days
I sat down
to wait
for tomorrow.
--

Face Time

It was the heater core
you turn the car’s fan on
and if the windshield fogs up
and it smells like coolant
it’s the heater core
So I went to the Chinatown mechanic
and said, “look, it’s the heater core”
and he looked at the fogged up windshield
and said, “ok, $700”
which is cheap, you have to take
the whole dashboard out to get at it
When I came back the mechanic said,
“I broke the dashboard lens,
but I ordered one off eBay, come back
when I’m not so busy and I’ll
stick it in”
so I said, “ok”
A month passed, he didn’t call
I went by the place
it wasn’t busy, and I said
“look, put it in, you said you would
and change the oil
while you’re at it”
He didn’t like that
me ordering him around
in front of his assistant
he didn’t like it at all
but he said, “ok”
I’d heard about ‘face’ in Chinese culture
and I was worried 
when I picked up the car
Back home I checked the oil
he’d overfilled it by five quarts
which is bad, it’ll rupture your gaskets
and when I went to drain it
the nut was barely finger tight
ready to go
at any time
I changed it out
and never went back
to the C-town mechanic again
He was cheap, but in a way
I got what I deserved.
--

Skin Tag

“You smell like a man,” I said
it was the meanest thing
I could think of
“No, no true!” she said
Her scars were healed,
her ass was
a little too pumped up
but other than that
she was my type
 “You do, like a man...” I said
she didn’t really
and although she could still
hit like one
I always hit
where it hurt
worse.