I caught up with the author of um.. via g-chat the other day. The author of this work purports to be one called Rumpelstiltskin. This is the first issue from Deep Throat Giraffe Publishing, and a remarkable read. I had questions about the persona of Rumplelstiltskin and the delightfully odd choice of including an index to the work.
DH: Such wizardry.
We are chatting. Cool.
rumpelstiltskin: yes um..
DH: Let's go ahead and start, shall we?
rumpelstiltskin: lets do
DH: First, thanks for this interview, Rumpelstiltskin. May I call you rumpy?
rumpy: yes of course thank you
DH: I want to congratulate you on your book, um.. I think it's a great read.
rumpy: wow thankyou very much!
im glad you like it
DH: It's difficult to classify this book. Part poetry, part fairy tale, part autobiography... it reminds me of the works of Milorad Pavich among others.
I wondered whether you had any particular model in mind when you were writing
rumpy: i dont know pavich, ill check it out.. i did not have a model..
sorry, this feels like a chess match.. i have more
DH: sure, take your time
rumpy: i did not have a model, but i copied people.. sometimes deliberately.. lautremont’s moldoror and borges were major influences.. i read waiting for godot a few times while writing um.. and im sure this influenced the work
DH: I can see that.
In Um.. you often break the narrative thread to include poetry. I loved this. Did you plan to include poetry from the start?
rumpy: i did plan to
im very glad you liked this it was a difficult choice
it is kindof a step back, between each indulgence into the narrative
DH: The book is dedicated To You. Is this meant to include the reader or did you have someone specific in mind?
rumpy: the reader specifically
im a silly person, forgive me
DH: Your persona in literary history is rather a frightening one. Yet, after reading your book, I didn't find you frightening. Was Um.. written to change the impression that people have of Rumpelstiltskin in general?
You are silly at times, warm, and often very humorous.
That is not the rumpy we know from literature.
rumpy: i am writing from an understanding that there are misconceptions about me.. they are welcome and there are parts in my story to contest those misconceptions but that is not why i wrote um..
thankyou, I like your questions
DH: You mentioned Borges. One of the characteristics of his work is to hide the true purpose of his narrative, disguising his fiction as essay, for instance, and he himself often appears as a persona in his work. To what degree is Rumpelstiltskin a persona?
rumpy: most of the degrees yes
i didnt punch the buzzer wait
i like the way borges diverts the attention of the reader.. the way he can be illusive but stay in your head for a very long time, perhaps because your mind is trying to see him..
this is like chess
i think i realized that i identified with rumpelstiltskin's alienation at the same time i was searching for a pen name.. when i was small i was not afraid of him.. i pitied him and wondered what he does in his secret lair.. i was sure he didnt boil children like the stories tell
DH: pawn to king four
DH: You mention alienation and this is a strong theme in the book, particularly in the episodes that deal with your education.
rumpy: i like how rumpelstiltskin’s whole story is in just his name.. i like how the reader’s misconceptions about me, prepare the reader for my story.. yes, alienation is a prominent theme in um..
DH: The title of your book, um.. is a sound we often use to express uncertainty or hesitation. Did you feel uncertain about what you wanted to say?
rumpy: it is used to express uncertainty and sometimes anxiety..
i thought it was very fitting to the story without puting too fine a focus on a particular point
DH: Your book features a vagina on the front cover and a conch on the back. Are these images related in your mind?
rumpy: yes, they represent where life comes from.. they are symbols that should be revered and respected.. though they are not usually
DH: The other main character in your book is Heckedy Peg. Why did you choose this persona for that character?
rumpy: as a child this was another character who intrigued me..
another whose life i wondered about..
whose story i doubted from a feeling of pity..
the idea of a romance between the two is funny to me
DH: Tell me about the index, please. This is unusual in a fictional work.
rumpy: haha! ok um..
it is meant as a joke of course, but it was conceived in an attempt to be practical.. i hardly ever remember the names of stories or poems.. i remember phrases or words from what I read, but never what is necessary to find the piece again.. with my index, a reader can easily find any little bit they remember..
also a reader may enter the book by way of the index if they wanted.. I enjoyed cortazar’s hopscotch and i like the idea of multiple ways to experience a book..
hopefully some people enjoy it as much as i do
DH: What is your favorite word in the index?
rumpy: maybe gullible or holiday..
or water pistols
DH: Can you tell us a little about how this book was written? What was your working method?
rumpy: i was in bed with an ulcer having fever dreams thinking about death and mortality.. this gave me the gumption..
I've been reading writers closer to my age for the first time.. Miranda July, Scott McClanahan, Noah Cicero, Tao Lin and Sam Pink.. reading great writers close to my age made it easier to conceive of myself as a writer, much more so than compliments or encouragement. though crucial, i could have waited till i was 50 to utilize any encouragement i have received. i think It took young people actually doing it to give me the proper motivation.
i wrote mostly on my phone and some on borrowed computers.. I printed and used scissors.. I made maps and skeletons and lists.. I had the computer read to me in a robot voice.. friends were very helpful with their criticism.. writing seems like mostly thinking to me, so I thought.. this was my working method
DH: um.. includes snatches of fairy tales, childhood reminiscences, poetry, dietary oddities, and much more. If you had to pick one theme, what would it be?
rumpy: inevitability ..
im sortof confused
Over the past year, Imagine has dozens of live events. Many of these performances were captured on video but they have not been collected in one place. Here are a few of the best! I'll be adding more as they come in.
Halcyon, featuring Gary Davenport
Shamans Among the Machine
As we approach the end of another year, it’s the perfect time to look back over the past 12 months. A year ago, Imagine has just opened its doors. It was a great holiday season full of promise for a new beginning. We were also about to host our first show, the inaugural edition of Dali’s Moustache.
I always had in mind that Imagine would be something like a miniature version of City Light’s Books in San Francisco. This legendary bookstore is owned by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, one of the world’s finest poets. It is much more than a bookstore. City Lights is also a fine press and has published many important and controversial titles over the decades. In addition to this, the store also features many readings and live performances each year.
While Imagine cannot boast a world-famous poet and our publishing venture is just getting under way, I am proud to say we have now hosted more than two dozen shows, in our first year alone! And there’s so much more to come. This spring, we will offer our next title from Toad Press, A Studebaker to Bristol by the poet Larry E. Engle. We have four shows already slated for the month of January. There might even be a new spoken word release on our Red Wheelbarrow record label.
The future looks bright, and once again our holidays are filled with a sense of gratitude to all those who have made this dream come alive. As the new year approaches, we are committed to brining even more poetry and music to our stage, to supporting the arts as no bookstore in San Antonio has ever done. So Merry Christmas to all and best wishes for a new year from the Hurd Family and all of us at Imagine Books and Records, the City Lights of San Antonio (well, sort of).
Fernando Flores is a terrific poet and a good friend of Imagine. At the last Dali's Moustache, Fernando read a great poem especially written to celebrate our monthly poetry/music performance series. I'm really honored to present that poem here.
(Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech)
The name itself
Is quite the ride
& if that is not enough
Can anyone remember
What soft melting pocket watches
Have to do with The Persistence of Memory
In a most prominent painting
On display at the MoMA NYC
& can you imagine anthropomorphic bread
Instead silly elephants
Plod ridiculously stilted on mosquito like legs
Through a Martian desert
Any step might be their last
& that bust-like portrait of Picasso
With a monolithic cube balanced on his head
As his brain stem lolly gags out his mouth
Ending in a spoon with a tiny mandolin on the
Tip while his tongue dips down
What fun surrealism
Must have been
Painting what popped into
Your questionably unsuspecting head
The dubious unconscious
Hovering highly conscious
Of where the ego was headed
—ergo—conscientious of its
The liberation of the artistic
Dream—a mish mash scheme--
As unconscionably cool as
© 2012 Fernando Esteban Flores
There are those remarkable books that open up the world of reading for us. Here are a just a few. Which book did this for you?
I doubt many of you will remember this, but this was my first venture into the world of small business. Earwax Records was located in the Eisenhauer Road Flea Market. We were only open on weekends because I was still teaching at the time. My partner in this venture was Rusty Hoke. We each invested about $500 in acquiring our stock and the record cabinets and opened up the world’s smallest record shop. I think we had about 1000 records at our peak. We were only open for 6 months before I lost my partner! I had a great time, though we never made much money out of it. My fondest memory is when Rusty and I bought more than 3000 records from a thrift store in Natalia, Texas. We loaded them all into my van and drove home where I had my wife, Irma, round up all the neighborhood kids to help unpack it all into the garage. One other unforgettable moment involved a house close to where my parents lived that was about to be torn down. My mother called to tell me she’d heard there were some records that had been left behind by the previous owners. When I got to the house, the workers told me to check one of the closets. I still cannot believe I actually went into that darkened hole and began to pull out armfuls of records, brushing insects and spider webs away from face and arms. But I got them all out. Of course, most of them had to be thrown away because they were too far gone (warped, water damaged, eaten by the aforementioned insects). The real prize however was an original pressing of Magical Mystery Tour! I still think back on Earwax Records fondly. Rusty and I had a great time together and we met some great record people along the way. Hey, we opened next door to a pirate shop! It doesn’t get much better than that. Today, the Earwax sign my wife made for our humble shop hangs in the office at Imagine.
I first came across the music of Esquivel when I was managing Apple Records and his CD Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music came in one day. This was at the height of the Lounge craze. After languishing on thrift store shelves for decades, records by Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, and Les Baxter had become cool again. Stereophonic in the extreme, these recordings featured outrageous panning, Latin rhythms, exotic bird calls, and zany orchestrations. Esquivel was among the best, even employing on one occasion two separate orchestras in two separate studios recorded simultaneously.
Juan Garcia Esquivel was born in Mexico and educated at the UNAM where he took a degree in electrical engineering. Fortunately for us, his engineering career never took off and he turned to music. So successful was he as a recording artist/arranger/composer that it is rumored women would remove their underwear and throw it onto the stage when he performed! His most famous vocal arrangements were often as simple as “zu zu zu” and he was known for injecting vocal punches like “Pow!” into his songs.
I am not always in the mood for Esquivel, but when I am it is so easy to get caught up in the sway and swag of an Esquivel arrangement. I love the horns, the choral work (usually by Van Horne singers!) and the Latin beats joined with lush, sometimes wacky orchestral work. This is the music Don Draper would have played if he’d been a little less of a tight-ass.
Though his music is hard to find on vinyl in used record stores, you can still run across a stray album here and there. The covers are works of art in themselves. Some of my faves are pictured below. If you want a quick introduction, check out Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music on CD. There’s a great, informative booklet included, and some of Esquivel’s best work is featured: Mucha Muchacha, Anna (El Negro Zum Bon), Latin-Esque and many others.
If you can't judge a book by it's cover, what about the title? Have you ever bought a book because the title grabbed you by the collar and refused to let go? Here are some of my favorites.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
In Dreams Begin Responsibilities by Delmore Schwartz
One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien Anos de Soledad) by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream by Harlan Ellison
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Dark as the Grave Wherein My Friend is Laid by Malcolm Lowry
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
Know of any other great titles?
Fredric Brown was one of those rare writers. He was at home in both Science Fiction and Mystery. His short story, “Arena,” was the basis for the Star Trek episode of the same name. Many of his stories are less than 500 words. His story “Knock” contains as its premise one of the shortest stories ever written (also penned by Brown):
The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door...
Brown goes on to build a complete story around these two sentences, but it’s the sentences themselves everyone remembers.
I first came across Brown’s stories in a volume called Before She Kills. I devoured every story in this slim volume and went looking for more. I got lucky because the next book I found was The Lenient Beast. This novel features a homicidal maniac who kills only those he perceives to be in extreme pain, either physical or emotional. In his mind, these are mercy killings, and he believes himself the instrument of God in ending the lives of tormented people. What fascinated me about this book is that chapters are written from the alternating perspectives of different characters. Still more fascinating is Brown’s depiction of an Hispanic detective who does not fit 1956 stereotypes. His novel, Here Comes a Candle is part narrative, part radio scriLike Jim Thompson and Cornell Woolrich, Brown defied expectations. I often wonder what the general reader who purchased a book by any of these authors off a rack at a bus station must have thought.
Brown was a stickler for plot and was known to hop on a long bus ride to work out the details whenever he got stuck. Many of his works feature surprise endings and unusual twists. I have never found his plots to be artificial, but what I love most are the characterizations.
Brown’s career began in the 1930s and he wrote across genres for decades before his death in 1972. His books are difficult to find used, but I have had good luck checking the clearance sections of major chains; they just don’t know who he is. Below are some of the really great covers to his most famous books.
I first discovered Weldon Kees when I was in my twenties when I read a number of his poems in the anthology, Naked Poetry. As poor as I was in those days, I dug deep and had the Twig Bookshop order me a copy of his Collected Poems published by the University of Nebraska. It’s amazing that I bought this book in the 1980s, and Kees had disappeared nearly thirty years before (more on that later), and it was still in only its second printing. Years later, I discovered Kees has been dropped from the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, the standard college text used all across the country. Kees was not being read, it seemed, and he certainly was not being taught.
Kees was one of those Mid-Century writers, like Berryman and Jarrell, Elizabeth Bishop and Anne Sexton. He stood apart from these other writers because his work was not overtly confessional. Filled with pathos and humor, Kees’ poems deflect more than they reveal, unless closely read. His greatest achievement is the Robinson poems about an alter-ego who seems to be so marginalized that even his physical presence is in question:
The pages in the books are blank,
The books that Robinson has read. That is his favorite chair,
Or where the chair would be if Robinson were here.
All day the phone rings. It could be Robinson
Calling. It never rings when he is here.
Outside, white buildings yellow in the sun.
Outside, the birds circle continuously
Where trees are actual and take no holiday.
Kees was not just a poet, he was also an accomplished painter and jazz pianist, and he wrote short stories as well as poems. By the mid 1950s, he seemed poised to become a major figure on the American literary scene, and then something happened. Kees disappeared. No one is really sure what really happened, but his car was found parked at the Golden Gate Bridge. He’d spoken to friends about suicide. He talked about running away to Mexico. Whatever actually transpired, Kees was gone and never heard from again.
There has been something of a reawakening to Kees over the last ten years, and while it is still hard to find his work on used bookstore shelves, new editions can be readily obtained.
I’m amazed no one has ever made a film about his life, especially given the mysterious ending. He’s still one of my favorite poets. Here is a passage from another favorite, “Obituary”:
Boris is dead. The fatalist parrot
No longer screams warnings to Avenue A.
He died last week on a rainy day.
He is sadly missed. His spirit was rare.
The cage is empty. The unhooked chain,
His pitiful droppings, the sunflower seeds,
The brass sign, “Boris,” are all that remain.
His irritable body is under the weeds.