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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Book Review: Bill Gainer The Mysterious Book of OLD MAN POEMS (Lummox Press, San Pedro, 2018) 120 pages


One of my favourite poetry books over the last five years has been Bill Gainer’s Lipstick and Bulletholes (Epic Rites Press, 2014) so I was excited to learn that he had recently published a new book The Mysterious Book of Old Man Poems through legendary Lummox Press https://www.lummoxpress.com/lc/). The book is a collection rich in observational & narrative poems, told from Gainer’s perspective, a man in his late 60s. Gainer writes about mundane things, such as, bookstore cats, listening to the falling snow, pissing off his porch, but he also attempts to tackle the big issues- of love & death- usually with great warmth, depth & humanity.

There are 89 typically short free verse poems in this collection. The writing is fresh, pared back, intimate and always full of surprises. Gainer gives us just enough detail, without providing the specifics of his own experiences, to allow the reader to reflect on our own pasts & how we might have stuffed up & perhaps impulsively thought about “reaching for the pistol.”

The collection is the by-product of the long lasting relationship between Gainer  and his publisher RD Armstrong. Asked about his previous involvement in Lummox Press and the process of getting the book published Gainer explains in the interview which follows this review:

“Armstrong and I go way back.  Probably close to 20 years.  Though RD has long called Southern California home, his dad lived up north here, close to me, and before he passed, RD would visit him a couple of times a year.  I was running the Nevada County Poetry Series back then, and got a call from RD about him possibly doing a reading for us the next time he was up visiting.  We went to lunch, and struck up a friendship that has lasted over the years. 

“Over the years we have supported one another in a gang of ways: doing readings together, visiting back and forth, mutual publications and different things.  He has always been generous in asking me to send a poem or two for various anthologies and magazines he was publishing.  And whenever I had the opportunity, I would go down south to support their releases.  A while back we were on the phone talking about me coming down to be part of a release reading for Lummox #6.  He asked if I had anything new in the works.  At the time I was shopping around The Mysterious Book of Old Man Poems, and had two publishers who wanted it, one in Canada and the other in Kansas City.  For various reasons, neither fit my needs.  I really wanted to get someone out here on the coast who had good distribution.  Though Lummox fit both of those requirements I hadn’t thought about making an inquiry.  RD asked to see the manuscript, liked it and we hammered out a deal. 

“As for working with Armstrong, I couldn’t ask for a better situation.  Though he can be a very straight talking, blunt, grump at times – I find him a pleasure to work with.  Let’s face it, the relationship between a writer and his/her publisher is a very intimate affair – one based on trust. I trust him.  RD does all the back work, I go out and sell books.  It works well for both of us.”

Despite the outward simplicity of Bill Gainer’s poetry it is awkward & limiting to sum up what he has achieved in this book because his work is so varied and there are so many different cogs churning in his work. Upon first reading when you think you have him figured out & begin to consider that in some of his poems he has become complacent, trite or tired- he then tosses us another incredible gem or two our way to feast upon.

Gainer says in part about his writing, “I have no set method for writing.  I am relentless about taking notes, I rewrite and edit continuously – most of which is done late at night and early into the morning.  I do not write every day.  Though, most days, I am working on something.  

“I seldom write political stuff… I write about how I feel about things, not what I think I know about things. I’m not a journalist – my job is not to fill the page, but to fill the heart. Hard work for an old man who, these days, wishes more than he prays.”

 The title of book The Mysterious Book of Old Man Poems is coolly enigmatic and I was curious as to what Gainer meant by the word “mysterious.” In the interview which follows, Gainer implies that “mystery” shapes his experiences and enables him to see people & things in a romantic hue & he has no need to try to rationalise these feelings,“I mostly live in the moment, and don’t like to complicate things. Mysterious events, people and things tend to take on a romantic connotation for me.  I like to leave them as they are – mysterious. It allows me to dream my way into the back story, to dance close in smoke filled barrooms, drink bourbon slow, and sometimes whisper a secret to a stranger.”


 The front cover is designed by Hungarian photographer Sarolta Bán (http://www.saroltaban.com/prints ). Asked  about the design of the cover Gainer replied: “A friend showed me some of Bán’s work and I was enthralled.  I fell in love with the Three Crows and the Old Man piece.  It seemed a perfect representation of The Mysterious Book of Old Man Poems.  We ran down Bán’s agent, and cut a licensing agreement to use the picture.  All I know about the picture is that Bán is a digital artist and I am assuming she combined three or four photos to create the piece.  Check her out, her work in enchanting.”

As you might expect, OLD MAN POEMS often deals with an old man’s concerns: such as sitting around doing nothing (“The Great Mysteries of Nothing”), gardening (“The Digging”), thinking about friends & acquaintances long since deceased (“Franks Bicycle”, “A Fellow Traveler”, “The Wrong Side of Dirt”), reading obituary columns (“Ruby S.- the reincarnation of”), outlining the type of funeral he wants (“The Someday Plan”) and imagining the incredible solitude which will be ushered in with his last breath (“A Place in the Quiet”).

Gainer’s work is never clichéd or predictable. These are certainly not the poems of an old man on his last legs as you might find in Clive James’s Injury Time (Picador 2017). These are poems full of yearning, hopeful love and abundant humour. Gainer breathes humanity on every page through his diary like collection of feelings, thoughts, insights and impressions.

“The Someday Plan” is a typical and highly memorable “old man” poem which reveals Gainer’s clear, free verse style & cheeky humour. He uses an intimate, conversational tone. It is as if he is talking directly to the reader. The last stanza adds a nice personal touch when he casually invites us to his wake.

The Someday Plan

I want my ashes
in a cocktail
shaker
silver plated
knocked around a little
vintage.
Just so the lid
stays on.

At the funeral
plays the Stone’s
“Sympathy for the Devil”
and maybe Solomon Burke’s
“Can’t Nobody Love You”
just so Kae St. Marie knows
I do…
Otis’s- “I’ve Been Loving You
Too Long”
Because you gotta have
Otis.
Close it out
with the Isley Brothers
“Shout.”
Join in
Raise your arms up, shout- loud.
I like a noisy crowd.

A dear friend
out of New Orleans
says he’ll hoist my final
toast

something legendary
make the old men
sit quiet, reflect
the ladies sip their bourbon
ask for another- smile, blush
and the lovers pull close
not caring who sees.

I’m hoping
he doesn’t miss
the show.
There have been
a couple of
nasty incidents.
He likes to chase
crazy women.
Most of them
carry knives.

When it comes around
you’re invited.
Stop by
have a cold drink.
It could be a potluck
would be nice
if you brought
a little something.

Time is also an important motif which Gainer often personifies in his poetry. In “A Better Place to Be” the speaker regretfully reflects that he has spent “too many years/ on the assembly line” and he concludes sarcastically:

We grow old
and time wars on.
We’ve built our empires-
the young ones
are building theirs.

These days- it’s different
the factories- gone.
All that’s pulled
from the past
rusts.

It’s a new world,
some say
A better place
to be.

 In “A Night Wish” the speaker thinks about a former lover and realizes that “she’s mostly gone./ Time shuffles/ memory.” In the excellent poem “Hushed in Loneliness” Gainer contemplates how a painful, suppressed memory from childhood can resurface to make “reaching for the pistol/ that much easier.”  Despair & loneliness emerges, then as it does now, through the realization that:
“all time does/ is push/ all you want/ father away.”

More subtle perhaps are Gainer’s ruminations on time which are often metaphorically linked, like Robert Frost, to the seasons. “The Disappearance of Time”, “In the Time of Wind”, “Surrendering the Leaves”, “The Last Light of Summer”, “The Sounds of Snow” and “The Hands of Winter Reaching” are short, highly evocative poems which operate on both a literal & metaphoric level.

The highly impressive “The Hands of Winter Reaching” is an ominous poem in which the speaker foreshadows his own death:

The Hands of Winter Reaching

It’s nights like these that bother me
the cool breeze of fall has arrived
not threatening, but warning.
The threat comes later
along with the promise.
Know winter smiles
with one tooth missing
but bites just as hard.
And tonight’s breeze
just a warning
winter is coming
for you.

Asked about how he is going as a man in his late 60s, Gainer candidly remarks, “Yeah – by chance I just happen to be born into the first generation of life’s new paradox:  ‘You may have the great good fortune of living to be 100 years old, or you may have the grave misfortune of living to be 100 years old.’  Me, I’m good with things, the poems tell the stories. Yeah, there are a few folks I’d like to see dead before I go.  I got a list – it’s kind of private.  Don’t worry, you’re not on it.  Other than that – it’s been a good-crazy-mad-run ... I’m good.”

At the heart of Bill Gainer’s poetry is his exploration of love in its many facets- the yearning for love, both real & imaginary (“Women I’ve Loved”, “NOLA- Sings to me”, “Ruby S. – the reincarnation of”) the suffocating expectations & hatred love can sometimes bring (“The Joy of Crows”, “Christmas Eve with Her”) the nostalgic glow of lost or fading love (“Kissing Shadows”, “A Rickety HOTEL- a CLIFFSIDE, HWY 1, LONG AGO”) and the importance of keeping the flame alive (“Blame it on the Gardenias”, “A Magical Thing”, “A Last Drink of Water”).

Gainer never tries to dumb it down, fuck with our emotions or pull a swifty on us. His writings on love are always deeply grounded, and on occasion, emotionally profound.  “A Night Weeping- San Francisco” is an outstanding poem in which the speaker quietly observes a young couple and senses through the missed signals of their subtle body language that their love is doomed. The poem concludes:

The chill
of a night weeping
holds her tighter
than he
ever will.

A looser, more sophisticated love poem is aptly entitled, “A Different Kind of Love Poem” which appears early in the collection. The transitions made by Gainer between the personal, cultural and political spheres are seamlessly & brilliantly handled. His wry, dismissive tone, and by contrast, the intimate second person narration & contemporary referencing add to our total enjoyment of the work.

A Different Kind of Love Poem

The world is full of them
the fools.
I’ve been there myself
sometimes wishing I wasn’t
sometimes wishing I was
and sometimes
just not knowing the difference.
They’re there.
Some waiting to push the button
just to hear the boom
and some waiting
to dust off their champion
after the loss
just because
they need
someone to love.

That’s what I’m doing
trying to write a love poem
about you and me
with the shades pulled
and the doors closed
sitting in the cool
alone- together.

You in your slip
one barrette in your hair-
me in my shorts
one sock on
trying to figure a way
to steal a line
from John Prine
just so I can tell you
if you need a fool
to love you
I know one.

Asked about his interest in writing poems about love and what he has learnt about it, Gainer quips, “It has long been a part of what I do.  What I have learned about it – nothing!  What one loves another hates.  If that isn’t the architecture of battle, what is?  It is beautiful. Touching another’s finger tips is nice thing to do now and then though ... I’ve found a bit of magic hidden there.”

As you can see through this brief review of Bill Gainer’s poems, he is comfortable with who he is and how he can unleash nuanced but powerful immortal poems on the whim of a conversation, personal reflection or observation. His capacity to tap into the blurred, often ambiguous side to our emotional states is uncanny and this is essentially what makes Gainer’s poetry so compelling to read over and over again. Gainer is at his best as a poet when he is sipping on a bourbon, drawing back on a smoke, having a good look around, abandoning all notions of ambition and simply and authentically commenting on the quiet mysteries of the moment.

 Bio: Bill Gainer is a storyteller, humorist, poet and a maker of mysterious things. He earned his BA from St. Mary's college, and his MPA from the University of San Francisco. He is the publisher of the PEN Award winning R.L. Crow Publications, and is the ongoing host of Red Alice's Poetry Emporium (Sacramento, CA). Gainer is internationally published, and known across the country for giving legendary fun filled performances. His work is not for sissies. Visit him in his books, at his personal appearances, or at his website: http://billgainer.com



INTERVIEW WITH BILL GAINER 22 FEBRUARY 2018

Can you outline your involvement with Lummox Press and the process of working with RD Armstrong in getting The Mysterious Book of Old Man Poems published?

BG –
Armstrong and I go way back.  Probably close to 20 years.  Though RD has long called Southern California home, his dad lived up north here, close to me, and before he passed, RD would visit him a couple of times a year.  I was running the Nevada County Poetry Series back then, and got a call from RD about him possibly doing a reading for us the next time he was up visiting.  We went to lunch, and struck up a friendship that has lasted over the years. 

Over the years we have supported one another in a gang of ways: doing readings together, visiting back and forth, mutual publications and different things.  He has always been generous in asking me to send a poem or two for various anthologies and magazines he was publishing.  And whenever I had the opportunity, I would go down south to support their releases.  A while back we were on the phone talking about me coming down to be part of a release reading for Lummox #6.  He asked if I had anything new in the works.  At the time I was shopping around The Mysterious Book of Old Man Poems, and had two publishers who wanted it, one in Canada and the other in Kansas City.  For various reasons, neither fit my needs.  I really wanted to get someone out here on the coast who had good distribution.  Though Lummox fit both of those requirements I hadn’t thought about making an inquiry.  RD asked to see the manuscript, liked it and we hammered out a deal. 

As for working with Armstrong, I couldn’t ask for a better situation.  Though he can be a very straight talking, blunt, grump at times – I find him a pleasure to work with.  Let’s face it, the relationship between a writer and his/her publisher is a very intimate affair – one based on trust. I trust him.  RD does all the back work, I go out and sell books.  It works well for both of us. 


You seem to have a fascination with the word “mysterious”. You previously published a chapbook in the Lummox little red book series “The Mysterious Woman Next Door” and the word appears a few times in your latest book. I was wondering if I could pin you down on what you mean by the word “mysterious”, particularly in regard to the title of the book. For instance, are you referring to the mystery of the creative process, of how inspiration & persistence can lead to ink on a page or how each reader mysteriously translates/ interprets your poetry according to his/ her own personal experiences or are you talking about life in general?

BG –
Well, it does pop up now and then – doesn’t it?  The short answer is, none of the above.  I am a very pragmatic kind of guy. Actually, I am a dyed in the wool “Utilitarian”. I mostly live in the moment, and don’t like to complicate things. Mysterious events, people and things tend to take on a romantic connotation for me.  I like to leave them as they are – mysterious. It allows me to dream my way into the back story, to dance close in smoke filled barrooms, drink bourbon slow, and sometimes whisper a secret to a stranger.  That’s all.

What’s the story behind the front cover design? It is designed by the Hungarian artist Sarolta Bán and features a surreal appropriation of a photo of an old man walking amongst three giant ravens.  Do you know where the original photos are taken from?

BG –
A friend showed me some of Bán’s work and I was enthralled.  I fell in love with the Three Crows and the Old Man piece.  It seemed a perfect representation of The Mysterious Book of Old Man Poems.  We ran down Bán’s agent, and cut a licensing agreement to use the picture.  All I know about the picture is that Bán is a digital artist and I am assuming she combined three or four photos to create the piece.  Check her out,
her work in enchanting.


Can you give us the run down about your present methods of getting it down on the page? Do you write every day?  Do you do much editing? Where do you find sources of inspiration?

BG –
I have no set method for writing.  I am relentless about taking notes, I rewrite and edit continuously – most of which is done late at night and early into the morning.  I do not write every day.  Though, most days, I am working on something.  

I seldom write political stuff. The regurgitation of the evening news is not what I do. As a citizen I have a lot to say about those things – as a poet, not so much. I recently reread 1984.  If you want write about politics start there. Though it does have its own beauty, 1984 is an ugly book with an ugly ending.  Isn’t that what politics are? Ugly. I write about how I feel about things, not what I think I know about things. I’m not a journalist – my job is not to fill the page, but to fill the heart. Hard work for an old man who, these days, wishes more than he prays.

Many of your poems are about love, including the ongoing longing for love and lost love. Any pointers about what you’ve learnt about love so far? (As an aside, who is Kae St. Marie?)

BG –
Yes, that alliteration – “Love, Loss, and Longing.”  It has long been a part of what I do.  What I have learned about it – nothing!  What one loves another hates.  If that isn’t the architecture of battle, what is?  It is beautiful. Touching another’s finger tips is nice thing to do now and then though ... I’ve found a bit of magic hidden there.

Kae St. Marie and I have run together for a lifetime.  We were high school sweethearts, and remain so.  The deal was, whoever left first had to take the kids, neither of us had that much courage.  So here we are.


Many of your poems are told from the point of view of an old man who increasingly thinks about death. What’s your personal experience of life in your late sixties?

BG –
Yeah – by chance I just happen to be born into the first generation of life’s new paradox:  “You may have the great good fortune of living to be 100 years old, or you may have the grave misfortune of living to be 100 years old.”  Me, I’m good with things, the poems tell the stories. Yeah, there are a few folks I’d like to see dead before I go.  I got a list – it’s kind of private.  Don’t worry, you’re not on it.  Other than that – it’s been a good-crazy-mad-run ... I’m good.

You’ve been doing readings for the book. How’s the book faring so far? What has been the reaction of the community?

BG –
The Mysterious Book of Old Man Poems is doing amazingly.  The reviews have been great and sales over top.  It is selling in the numbers I wish others were blessed with.  

And yes, I am hitting the bricks doing a gang of readings to support it. I’ll have hit most of the county (U.S.) by the end of the year. The truth is, a publisher can’t sell a book for you.  Once it is in print, and the publicity laid down, it is time for the author to go to work.  You have to get out there and sell it, do the readings, and shows – put the time in.  It is all part of the commitment the writer makes to the publisher.  I’m looking at doing at least two years of support for The Mysterious Book of Old Man Poems.  Lummox has packaged the work in a product I am proud of, they have stretched out for me, now it is my turn. It’s the job.  

What do you read these days? Found any good new writers lately?

BG –
The poets Rebecca Schumejda, Heather Bell, Tyree Daye and the novelist Joshua Mohr.  These young writers are marvelous. They all take different approaches to their work, storytelling, and the expression of their experiences and feelings.  Just wonderful.  Check them out.


What’s next for you?

BG –
I continue to write poems, do readings, and have fun.  Maybe get another poem book out in two or three years.  I’m not one of those guys who needs to have a ton of titles out – doing three or four books a year.  Competing with yourself in the marketplace is silly, the folks give up on you.  

I am working on a longer project, The Penny Hoarder. It has a few more years of work waiting.  I am having fun with it though.  

That’s all I got for now.  Thanks for asking.

Thanks for taking the time Bill.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

New Release: Holy&intoxicated Publications: Poetry Card Series 5

John D Robinson’s Holy&intoxicated Publications are very pleased to present another searing and soaring Series of the Poetry Cards: Series 5:

Contributors to this stunning quality Series are the quality poets:

Hosho McCreesh
John Dorsey
Casey Renee Kiser
Scott Wozniak
Charles Joseph

Here are a few examples:


Unlucky

"You make your own luck,"
they say.

Tell that to the woman,
ravaged by hard years,
and hard men, and next to 
her cigarettes, a stick of 
beef jerky broken into
bite-size bits spread out 
on a bar napkin, squeezing
the lime from her Corona 
on each rough-torn hunk,
then a shake of 
stale black pepper 
from a tiny paper packet, 
tell her that when 
she says that's her dinner,                           
and the shot glass of 
maraschino
cherries
"dessert."

Hosho McCreesh © 2018



This Street Feels like Redemption
for ray swaney

the morning comes to you
like a lover
offering no apologies
for its scars

the wind is strange fruit here

the sun beating down
is a crucifixion
not unlike the end
of the world

just a few blocks away
huddled in the rain.

  ©  2018  John Dorsey


                                               Show Me an Option
Two kids
and a wife
who need
the money
brought in
by illicit
sales
of false hope.

He wants
to quit,
knows
his habit
is slow death.

But who can go
to rehab


for sixty days
when there’s
bills to pay

and three mouths
to feed?

It’s not about
getting high,
it’s about
responsibilities.


© 2018 Scott Wozniak

Published by John D Robinson Holy&intoxicated Publications:

Holy&intoxicated Publications Poetry Card Series 6 has been overseen by special guest editor Martin Appleby (Paper and Ink Zine) and will appear some time in summer 2018. Each Poet receives 20 Copies of the Card and may distribute as they wish: