Over the summer, I was pleased to do an interview for Nothing. No one. Nowhere magagzine, edited and published by Michael Aaron Casares through his Virgogray Press. I appeared on Michael’s radio show three or four years ago, and we have done a number of joint readings in Austin since then. He has written many first-rate poems, he operates a first-rate independent Texas-based press, and he is a human dynamo who works constantly to make poetry available and relevant here in Central Texas. KSE and Virgogray are certainly brothers-in-arms.
I turn down most interview requests about KSE or my own work, so it’s been a while since I’ve done a print interview of this length (I’ve done some radio interviews in the last year). Hope you find it interesting and worthwhile! Thanks again to Michael for taking the time to do this. You can order a beautiful print edition of NNN #4 including the interview at the following link: http://www.nothingnoonenowhere.com/p/purchase.html
NNN:- Bill, it is gracious of you to participate in this interview. How are you?
BILL: Melting in the 100-degree heat in your former hometown, San Antonio! Working on getting the next few Kendra Steiner Editions CDR’s ready for release…working on a new multi-part poem set in Florida…
NNN: For starters, tell VGP audiences a bit about yourself, biographically speaking.
BILL: I’ve lived and worked in San Antonio, Texas, for 21+ years, although before that I’ve lived in Colorado (where I grew up and went to high school/college), Massachusetts, Virginia, and Oklahoma. When I was still in high school in the early 70’s, I discovered the then-cutting edge poets of the 50s/60s such as Ted Berrigan, Paul Blackburn, Larry Eigner, Diane Wakoski, Frank Samperi, Robert Creeley, and the various beats. I’d already written jazz criticism and done journalism, so writing was something I knew how to do, and under the influence of the above-mentioned poets, I began to write my own poetry. I did some readings and had some small publications in the Denver of the mid 1970’s, and around 1977 or so, Allen Ginsberg (who lived up the road in Boulder–I lived in Golden at the time) read some of my poems and gave me some positive encouragement and some good critical advice.
My life took a sudden turn in 1979, when I moved to Oklahoma and found myself working multiple jobs and going to graduate school part-time. I continued to read contemporary forward-thinking poetry all the time, and I continued to write non-fiction, but I did not write poetry for a number of years in the 80’s and 90’s. Eventually, I went back to active poetry writing when I composed TWELVE GATES TO THE CITY: THE LABOURS OF HERCULES IN THE LONE STAR STATE, which was featured at a mythology conference in London and published by Word Mechanics, of California. Since then, I’ve been actively writing and publishing a lot of poetry.
NNN: How long have you been writing?
BILL: I started writing in High School, in the mid 1970’s. I remember that I brought some reviews of avant-garde jazz albums to the college newspaper of a local college that I did not attend (I was still in high school), and the editor was impressed by my enthusiasm, so she published them. That got me going, I suppose.
NNN: The KSE website is filled not only with information about KSE artist and publications, but other cultural gems of both literature and music. Who are some of your inspirations in those fields when it comes to your poetry?
BILL: Poetry is rooted in particulars, REAL particulars. It’s almost like speaking in a code, where the code consists of THINGS. That is the foundation of what I do in poetry. Also, the post-1950 poets whose work was most influential to me as I was learning my craft are those who treat the poem as a sculpted object, an object with a unique form that serves the delivery of the poem, a functional form, a poem that forces the reader to read it in a particular way.
The triadic, “stairstep” line of the later William Carlos Williams was for me the liberating force for that realization, and then the work of Paul Blackburn, particularly his later work such as “The Journals,” Ted Berrigan’s poems such as “Tambourine Life,” the poems of Larry Eigner and John Wieners, and many many others. I use the KSE blog, and more often the KSE Facebook page, to champion the writers and musicians and film-makers and painters I admire and whose work I feel would be of interest to others. Looking at the recent entries in the KSE blog, you’ll see material on various Jandek albums, vintage B-movies and exploitation films, thoughts on poetics and on my own work, discussions of free-improv and psychedelic and noise-drone music, etc. The blog seems to be a reflection of my own aesthetic and an extension of my own work as a poet.
NNN: To say you have several publications is an understatement because you really do have a vast body of work. What are some highlights of your personal chap collection?
BILL: I have two book-length poetic works, one of which is 3300+ lines (POINT LOMA PURPLE), but most of my pieces are composed for the five-to-eight page chapbook, and I’ve done over 60 of those. I’m like a painter who got a good deal on odd-sized canvases and then adapted his art to fit what he had available. KSE is a DIY press and label—everything we do is done by hand at my home—and because that chapbook size is what we do best, that’s the form I use to compose my pieces. As far as favorites go, most artists of any sort would say that the present work and the work after that would be the work most important to them, and that’s true for me too. But since you are asking about older pieces that I am particularly proud of, I’d mention a few: LAMENT FOR THE LIVING: CHET BAKER’S FINAL SESSION captured the last days of the great jazz trumpeter; TWOMBLY’S SIRACUSA, co-written with Polish poet A.J. Kaufmann (a man with whom I’ve done three collaborative chapbooks, and we’ll be working on a fourth, inspired by the music of Sun Ra, this coming fall), was an attempt to capture the technique and the themes of painter Cy Twombly in poetry; SEAWALL dealt with the BP Gulf Oil Spill, and I’ve received some strong feedback about that one; THE MOSQUITOES OF LA MARQUE seems to be a favorite among readers, and it’s my “core sample” (as a geologist would say) of contemporary America through a close-study of the town of La Marque, Texas, located between Houston and Galveston. I’ve recently been working with an old chapbook of mine from 2007, OBJECTLESS, which was inspired by the work of painter Kazimir Malevich and which included no nouns are pronouns, no OBJECTS. That is being adapted by composer Marcus Rubio to electronic music, so OBJECTLESS has come out of the woodwork recently and I’ve gained a new appreciation for it.
NNN: Tell us about KSE – how it started and why you chose to go into publishing?
BILL: It began in early 2006. I’d just had a poetry book, TWELVE GATES TO THE CITY, published by a press in California, and from submitting the finished manuscript to having the copies in my hand, it took about a year. I’d written some new pieces I wanted to get out NOW, while they were still fresh, and in the form I wanted them. So I put out myself a piece I’d written called FOUR TEXAS STREAMS, to have some copies ready for a reading I was doing at Viva Books here in San Antonio. That did well locally, copies were being sold by mail, a few distributors picked it up, and that encouraged me to keep going as a publisher, both of my own work and of other poets whose work I believed in. A few years after that we took the same approach with issuing experimental music on CDR, and that too has taken off well. Again, this is a small DIY operation. Everything is done here at my house, printing, cd replication, assembling, etc. That keeps costs low and helps to get the material out there for people to enjoy, without having high overheard and worrying constantly about money. Having a DIY approach to our books and cdr’s keeps them out of some book stores/record stores/distribution channels, but why would I want to support a closed-minded outlet that, literally, judges a book by its cover? My experience has shown me that the so-called “alternative” distribution channels are as closed-minded and lacking in taste as the majors. It’s just a matter of scale. They are smaller philistines, less successful hacks. From the beginning, we’ve had the support of outlets such as Arthur Magazine, Volcanic Tongue, The Wire, and many independent arts blogs and magazines. And the music has gotten a lot of attention internationally and in the US. So things have been going well, and we are just where we’d like to be.
NNN: You have set up several shows for KSE and its range of poets, artists and musicians who frequent Austin, aside from our annual shared read, can you tell us about some of the events KSE is involved in?
BILL: Well, as a poet I do a few readings each year. I don’t pursue that aspect very much because it does not really generate long-term interest and sales. I do it to keep my face and name out there and to keep in practice. I also choose sympathetic venues.
We’ve done three KSE events in Austin where musicians from the label have been showcased, two of these being sponsored by the Church of the Friendly Ghost. KSE has a strong line-up of Austin-based experimental musicians on our label, and I wanted to highlight their work, which is what we did at those concerts.
There was a poetry element to two of the concerts, and they all were very successful. I’m giving the KSE concerts a break for a while, though, as I’m focusing on my own music-and-poetry performances and recordings. I have done some of those shows in Austin and in New England and New York State.
My poetry-and-music recordings and performances have been well-received, so you can expect more of those in the future…as well as our usual output of poetry chapbooks and music cdr’s.
NNN: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming poets?
I see a lot of bad poetry online and in anthologies, and while badness comes in many forms, one particular form of badness I see often is poetry rooted in ideas and in reading, but not rooted in the textures of everyday life…also not written in a natural voice, and not utilizing an organic structure, or any structure. Poetry that’s just anecdotes or bumper-sticker observations or laughable tough-guy (or gal) posing.
I think a good exercise for an apprentice poet would be to limit yourself to a small area…the alley behind your apartment, the parking lot of the convenience store in your neighborhood, a city park…and take notes on the THINGS of that environment. The ground, the walls, the trashcans, the insects, the animals, the patterns to the discoloration of the paint, the ripped screens, the smells, the sounds, the textures. Then use those notebooks as the raw material from which you sculpt your creation, with each particular resonating and functioning as a deep image in your well thought-out, intelligently designed construct. That’s how poetry is constructed, and it’s hard work.
If a beginning poet is not willing to do that, s/he will never amount to anything, and will remain the poetry equivalent of a bar-band. Internet poetry sites are full of bar-band level crap masquerading as poetry, except instead of covering Springsteen or Nirvana badly, they are channeling Bukowski or Raymond Carver…badly. And thinking of themselves as some kind of “outlaws” while they are doing it! Really, what you aspire to become has a lot to do with what you do actually become, and once you become that, you can then transcend your one-time goals and take off into the stratosphere and do really original and pioneering work. Why do what’s already been done?
NNN: Bill, which poem have you chosen to accompany this interview?
BILL: This is a piece called “Copper” from a chapbook called “Suspension,” from 3 or 4 years ago, which was a collaboration with a Polish artist and photographer named Mira Horvich. I’d used her artwork on some chapbook covers, and I invited her to submit a suite of related photographs, which I would then use as prompts for a suite of poems, and we’d publish the two side by side. Mira submitted a series of photographs of wind chimes, made from different metals. I then used the type of metal of each set of chimes as the “seed” for each poem. It was the poem’s title, and I also worked the metal into the poem. This is the final poem in that chapbook, “Copper.”