Sunday, March 29, 2020

karl kempton and Philip Davenport: Reconnecting the links

karl kempton
karl kempton lives happily with his beloved wife, Ruth, in Oceano, California. Over 45 lexical and visual poetry titles of his have been published nationally and internationally.New series have been published by Otoliths 52 and Tip of the Knife 32. His environmental activism includes marine environment and sacred Chumash site protection. 

Philip Davenport
Philip Davenport is a poet who often works off the page, in galleries and streets; he runs the small press Apple Pie Editions. His anthology The Dark Would (2013) gathered and exhibited world-leading text artists and visual poets. Philip co-directed mass-collaboration The Homeless Library in 2016, the first ever history of British homelessness. It was inscribed into handmade books by contemporary homeless people and launched at the Houses of Parliament and the Southbank in London, UK. 

DH: karl, what motivated you to start compiling A History of Visual Text Art, and how did you, Philip, get involved from the publishing aspect?

karl: In 2004 Dan Waber asked me about the differences between concrete and visual poetries. From that question came my long overview, “VISUAL POETRY: A Brief History of Ancestral Roots and Modern Traditions,” that he published, containing many hot links for those interested in examples and supporting text sources.  As far as I am aware, no English language individual has attempted another comprehensive global overview beginning with rock art to add to or correct my “Brief History.” Over the years some links broke or died.

I have many interests and activities outside visual poetry; this includes working as a marine environmental activist and protecting sacred sites of the Northern Chumash.  In 2013 I turned over my efforts (23 years of research: writings, tables, and maps) to a skilled committee. Years of monthly articles summing portions of these materials can be found here.

That is when I turned to correcting the broken links and to add more commentary for “Brief History.” I was also asked to write an introduction to the Renegade Anthology. I soon realised there was more to learn in order to further the history of what became not a history of visual poetry, but rather a history of visual text art. Visual poetry is but one approach within this wider context. Understanding the wider context meant not only rewriting but widening my understanding of text usage in visual arts. I began the book in March 2013.

Dona Mayoora: Without title 

Philip: I’ve been fascinated by poems as and with images ever since I was a kid, reading Alice in Wonderland. When I was first published it was a set of poetic missing persons notices, which were in part image. I’d been chased by the police, billposting them. The British poet Bob Cobbing liked them and when he published me, he also introduced me to this world of seen words. In 2013, I made a language art anthology called The Dark Would, which brought together leading contemporary visual poets and text artists from around the world. In the virtual Volume 2 were 40 essays and interviews, but it still didn't feel enough. When Márton Koppány showed me karl's book, I knew that this was the prequel to The Dark Would

The relationship between this new book and The Dark Would is important because they share many characteristics. Both try to widen the field, the spectrum, we are in. Both try to restore silenced histories. Both work outside the academy, bringing in a different kind of knowledge. Both share this knowledge in a way that prioritises practice rather than theory exchange. And karl and I as people both define ourselves through this kind of art-making ... It’s why this project has worked so well, despite other differences we have.

Dona Mayoora: Asemic Zen Bull

Philip, you say that karl’s approach to the book is ‘unrepentantly non-academic’ – in what way?

Philip: This is a book from outside the academy. It represents voices and visions of people who were “outsidered”, because they were outside academic institutions, on the edge of artistic movements, and frequently marginalised by society itself because of their mental or physical health, or political or other beliefs. karl's work is not academic in the traditional sense and several other senses (including visual!) He also is outside the academy, even though he represents a huge body of specialist knowledge. Mostly he adds this to his palette of visual/poetic expression. And to help him navigate an inner journey, which is not an academic pursuit, at least not in the western sense.

karl: The book is both objective and academic, subjective and autobiographical. The objective “academic” portions are attempts to present as accurate a history I am able on sourced accepted factual evidence. Some of the facts are parts of the often-repeated history of concrete and visual poetries; others are found among visual poetry histories ignored by concrete histories; and others belong to the wider history of an unwritten visual text history that provides a context for the concrete and visual poetry histories. Moving off the accepted academic story lines, though based on textual evidence, is perhaps where the more subjective portions of the book may be classified. The last section, “Among the Seers,” though based on factual materials may be considered the main subjective materials. Inserted throughout are autobiographical moments presenting direct experiences within the wider context. Some may look upon it as a visual poet’s or visual text artist’s personal statement, perhaps even a manifesto.

Dona Mayoora: Without title

If somebody were to talk to me about the origins of visual text art, I would think of Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, the visual text experiments of Mallarme’s Un Coup de Des, or (a little later) the work of artists such as Henri Michaux. But you point out that the origins of visual poetry can be found even in cave art or in the calligraphic scripts of the Arabic world, southern Asia and the Far East.

karl: The actual answer is unknown. I suggest that if the myths of the inventions of writing are visited, we see roots in many cases from nature or natural patterns. We do not know the oral context of rock art and thus whether or not visual poetics or an older parent were in use. It has just been announced that many rock art panels spread widely across Europe contained constellations and alignments to their stars. I am not surprised having found my first Chumash solar and polar star aligned site in 1978 with a later associated burial site dated of 9,500 years old.

Early patterned alphabet and language is found on ancient charms, amulets, and yantras. Some have iconographics associated with them. Other early amulets were composed with hieroglyphic and ideogramic forms. Some of these shapes, alphabet and iconographic, have moved from rock art to pottery to other portable objects before parchment and then paper.

What is the relationship between visual poetry and concrete poetry?

karl: With Dick Higgins, publisher of the avant-garde Something Else Press, I co-guest edited a special visual poetry issue of the Canadan magazine, 10•5155•20, in 1983. That was the moment a concrete and fluxist publisher and poet agreed with my definitions of concrete and visual poetries. I have fine-tuned the definitions since. Both use fissioned particles of the stuff of language; concrete poets only create with text and its particles; visual poets fuse text and its particles with other arts. Concrete and other purists reject iconography mixed with text.

I forget who asked the wider community who first used the term visual poetry as a specific type. Both Higgins and I pointed to the same date, 1965. In my book I go into greater detail to point out that contrary to its written histories, concrete poetry was not new as a visual text expression. Before concrete poetry were concrete art and concrete music. Nevertheless, it was the first global poetry movement. Many of us view concrete poetry as a specific movement and later a specific type of expression under the wider umbrella term visual poetry, a poetry composed that requires the reader to see the poem for a complete experience.

Dona Mayoora: Without title

Because of the self-imposed confines dictated by concrete poetry, many around the globe rebelled. To stand apart they embraced the term visual poetry. This should not be confused with a recycled term in current usage, vispo, a continuation of text-only concrete poetry.

Kenneth Patchen is one American poet and artist who gets quite prominent coverage in the book – and rightly so. But what about Ezra Pound? I am thinking of his introduction of Chinese characters into some of the cantos.

karl: My brief discussion of Pound focused on three concerns: 1) his knowledge and comments concerning one of many disappearing acts by concrete theoreticians and history myth-makers, the erasure of Henry-Martin Barzun, who Pound knew and was familiar with his visual poetry; 2) Blast; and 3) the Chinese ideogram error.

His use of ideogram images as a visual poetry is suggestive and perhaps considered so by some. Not me. They can be considered illustrations of what he wrongly viewed in the context of his imagist poetic where the ideogram exemplified for him a purer poetic moment than available with alphabetical-based text. His use as illustrations, it seems to me, was to support his erroneous claim that Chinese ideograms were a visual language. Embedded in this approach one finds his mistaken view that the written form was a higher ideal than the spoken. He embraced Confucianism at the time when his peers, those also interested in Chinese culture, were pulled not towards hierarchy but Ch’an and Taoist poetics, they being anti-hierarchical.

Philip: Pound is important, but he’s already given huge attention at the expense of other people. What karl brings is fresh news — people whose ideas haven’t already been ingested, Barzun is one, but the book contains a host of others. There’s also a renewed problem with Pound’s Fascism, given that we are in an age where the far right is resurrecting as populism, the alt right, etc. Those ideas don’t need any more oxygen, they need challenge. This book offers another reading of the history of visual poetry that includes traditions sometimes seen as threatening, like Arabic word painting, which has Islamic roots and would be considered “alien” by a European alt right organisation like Pergida.

The book also covers asemic writing, though I have noted that some visual poets are quite critical – if not dismissive – of asemic writing.

karl: I needed to address asemic writing because of its current popularity. I assume most of its composers remain, as most visual poets, uninformed about the history of visual text art on the one hand and the damage caused to all the arts by the philosophical arguments found in non- referential art.

What were the challenges in compiling and editing the book?

karl: The vastness of the subject matter is beyond one individual. Individual segments have been skillfully covered, but not the entire spectrum. Without the internet this project would not have been possible. In 1975 I consciously removed myself from active literary centers to pursue my poetic close to the ocean here in south San Luis Obispo County. There are no nationally ranked local research libraries. I do not have academic access or financial assistance for extended periods of time for library research. I also refused to venture out to research libraries, not wanting to add to my carbon footprint. Thus, throughout the six years of writing and researching, I added a significant number of books to my library. It took over a year familiarizing myself with some of the Russian Futurists and their influences, including a deep dive into ikon art from its beginnings. I uncovered an error that Orphism was an idea from Apollinaire; it came from Barzun. Correcting the Apollinaire contribution to visual text art required much research and the help of Michael Winkler, who visited the Barzun archives at Columbia University to photograph some of the vast collection of his visual poems.  The error in the standard history of Orphism, many references to Plato, and the Islamic Science of Letters pushed me to look afresh at the Greek philosophers and Orpheus. Many other jumped-through hoops are found in the book presenting my findings. These few examples illustrate my primary challenge, to present in-depth commentary on this complex subject matter.

Copyright law presented a maze I did not want to run. That is the reason the book is an internet-published pdf with over a 1000 hot links to individual works and various texts ranging from essays to books. We plan an e-book edition later in the year.

Dona Mayoora: Sea

Another challenge is my dyslexia. It requires me to burden others to be proofreaders. Also, in order not to become trapped in mistaken concepts, I need knowledgeable readers. Karl Young died during the writing. Márton Koppány has been an indispensable sounding board over the years for this book. Harry Polkinhorn has been generous with his time, especially proofing and assistance with Latin American issues. Gerald Janecek has been essential regarding Russian Futurism. Others noted in the Acknowledgements have also been of great help. And, Philip Davenport, my editor and publisher, has added to the project making it far more than I first planned. Part of the addition was associating the book with the blog Synapse International online anthology, the first of its kind in India, thanks to its host Anindya Ray.

Some of my peers regard this as a life-long work. They are not wrong. Without my many interests, including rock art, symbols, calligraphy, Vedanta, Sufism, Ch’an/Zen, North American First People Ways, the history of ideas, economic history, and the history of religions, the book would not have provided the wider context throughout history around the globe. Such context seems to me to be generally missing. The reasons for this are discussed in the book.

Philip: The problem for me was not to be an editor in the usual meaning of the word. The discussion within it had already been chewed over with two other editors: Karl Young and Márton Koppany. In addition, I wanted to respect karl as a dyslexic writer because I thought this was an essential part of his aesthetic, which affects how he sees words, sometimes in three dimensions and with inner light. Therefore, while I did some work on the text, it was with a delicate touch. Instead I brought in contrasting elements.

My most visible editorial role was to insert sequences of poem/images in the book, by varied invited practitioners; then secondly to work on the blog Synapse International which we decided would be a kind of second volume to the book, showing hundreds of works by contemporary visual poets and artists. 

Pondering, I also want Apple Pie to be a publisher in a different sense, not to own the work, but rather to be encouragers and instigators. Therefore this book is distributed in a scattered way, via various outlets. It will be first available as a download from artists’ websites, then have various iterations as a print-on-demand book and an ebook, each time slightly reinvented.

Philip, you say in the introduction that you don’t agree with all the ideas in the book – could you elaborate on your differences of opinion?

Philip: Collisions produce energy and there are some differences that have fed into the book. I grew up in a so-called religious war in Northern Ireland and that makes me suspicious of any religiosity, whereas karl’s worldview has spirituality as a touchstone. We have joked a few times about the fact that my gurus were the Sex Pistols and the poetic experimenter Bob Cobbing, rather than anyone from esoteric religious traditions. Therefore, I brought scepticism, a certain amount of humour, and a different set of references.

Dona Mayoora: Shidarezakura

But if this is anything, it’s a book that allows space for difference. It is full of stories of poets, artists and others who didn’t fit with the orthodoxy of their time. From the medieval mystic Marguerite Porette, who was burned for heresy, through to members of the Stieglitz Circle, who were silenced by critics, there’s a theme of people being silenced, or even erased. One of the unusual things about karl’s book is that it contains its own dissenting voice too, a series of letters from the remarkable visual poet Márton Koppány; it is only a short section, but it ripples through the whole thing. What is crucial is that it all serves to bring to light poets, artists, whose opinions differ from the official histories.

What is the relevance of such a book today? What is the relevance of visual poetry itself?

karl: It has relevance for those interested in the history and context of visual text art. I wrote this to correct what I saw as misinformation and missing information.

Visual text art has the relevance of any art. Text wedded with image, because of available technology, has become ubiquitous. Stated above, discussions on concrete and visual poetries lack context and are guilty of misrepresentation (in my opinion). Also, the writings generally are caught in the centric web of concrete and or visual poetry points of view. Individuals wanting to move beyond cliché may find it relevant.

Philip: Linking words and visuality together is an ancient practice that goes deep into all of our pre-history. That crossover doesn't stop at language and image. Making signs, making marks, leaving traces, making patterns, communicating through gesture, dance, all of these things are possibilities. And as our tech and our needs evolve, more possibilities will be added, not subtracted. (Do you know Christian Bok’s poem “Xenotext”, written with a bacteria?) The mistake is to think that any of the differences between media are barriers. They’re simply reservoirs of material for us to unlock and use. Advertisers, propagandists, signwriters, website designers, filmmakers, games designers... all combine media to add complexity, depth, power, resonance.

Why wouldn’t poets want to use these materials too? We speak with the means that speak most deeply to us.

Dona Mayoora: Without title

The book A History of Visual Text Art can be downloaded here 

This interview first appeared in The Odd Magazine.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Musawenkosi Khanyile: A circular journey

Musawenkosi Khanyile was born in 1991 in Nseleni, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. He holds a Master’s in Clinical  Psychology from the University of Zululand, a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of the Western Cape and is currently studying towards a Master’s in Public Health at the University of Cape Town, where he also works as a Student Counsellor. His chapbook, The Internal Saboteur, was published as part of the African Poetry Book Fund’s 2019 New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Sita).  His first full collection, All the Places, was also published in 2019, by Uhlanga. His work has appeared in literary journals, both local and international, such as New Coin, New Contrast and Five Points. He currently lives in Cape Town.

DH:You have two master’s degrees – one in clinical psychology and the other in creative writing. What drew you to these two fields?

MK: Poetry found me in high school. I started writing poetry in Grade 8. Then years later, I stumbled upon psychology. It was one of those experiences where life chooses a path for you when you were not wise enough to choose it yourself. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with psychology. Now when I reflect, I think the idea of psychotherapy the form of treatment offered by psychologists resonated with me since I was already accustomed to the idea of healing that comes from words, having already experienced that in writing poetry. Poetry and psychology share the common appreciation of the power of words. I studied psychology all the way to master’s because that’s the minimum requirement needed to practice as a psychologist in this country. When I learned that one could work on one’s  writing under the supervision of an established writer and then be awarded a master’s degree afterwards, I thought the universe is so generous after all! And then hunted down Kobus Moolman, who ended up being my supervisor for my Master’s in Creative Writing at the University of the Western Cape. So, in short, my passion for words and the appreciation of their power, particularly their healing power, is what drew me to these two fields.

You have said that South African poet Mxolisi Nyezwa has been a big influence on your writing, but what other South African poets have attracted you? Do you prefer local poets to international poets? 

Mxolisi Nyezwa has been such a wonderful inspiration to me over the years. I cried tears of joy when I finally managed to get all his collections. There is something about his work that moves me, that is relatable. I can see his influence on Ayanda Billie, whose work has followed the same path of being relevant to people who live or grew up in the township. The local poets whose work I keep going back to include Mangaliso Buzani, Sindiswa Busuku, Vangile Gantsho, Thabo Jijana and of course Kobus Moolman. This is by no means an exhaustive list. I prefer poetry that moves me, whether it is the work of a local or international poet is irrelevant. I keep returning to Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, and to Kayo Chingonyi’s Kumukanda, and to Nicole Sealey’s Ordinary Beast, all of which are international offerings.

I recall reading somewhere that your original focus was on performance poetry, but then shifted to ‘page poetry’. Is this correct?

My initial focus was the page, and then I drifted to the stage after a positive reception of my performances in high school. I became popular in high school for my poetry performances in the morning assembly. I continued performing poetry at varsity and went as far as representing KwaZulu-Natal in the Drama for Life Poetry Competition held in Johannesburg in 2013. Dashen Naicker, who lectured in the Department of English at the University of Zululand at the time, introduced me to the works of Mxolisi Nyezwa and Kobus Moolman. That’s when I started going back to the page. He is the one who advised me to submit my work to literary journals such as New Coin. Having my work accepted by the editors of different journals, including yourself Gary, validated my decision to focus on the page.

You have had a chapbook titled The Internal Saboteur published. How did that come about? Chapbooks don’t seem to be recognised as ‘real publications’ in South Africa, for some reason. What is your opinion about chapbooks?

An email from Kwame Dawes landed in my inbox in 2017. I remember it was a Friday afternoon when this email popped up on my cellphone screen. I was on a bus from Eshowe, where I had just started community service as a clinical psychologist at a local hospital. Kwame had just sent me an invitation to submit a chapbook manuscript for consideration for inclusion in the New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set. I had sent a manuscript for the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poetry the previous year, which had caught his attention. A few months later I got a rejection email, Kwame informing me that my work had not made the cut. But then after that he approached me about publishing my chapbook. I see chapbooks as equivalent to what is called an EP in music. A musician who hasn’t released a full album may try to test waters or introduce themselves to the market by releasing a few tracks that are not enough to make a full album. This is what the African Poetry Book Fund is doing for poets who haven’t published a full-length collection  introducing them to the literary world. Chapbooks are therefore necessary, not only as platforms for poets to introduce themselves to the literary world, but as other ways of creating and publishing. Kobus Moolman, the multi-award-winning poet who has published several collections, is working on a chapbook. Therefore  chapbooks are more than just ways to test waters.  I think them being deemed less than “real publications” is more a reflection of the crawling local literary scene, which still has a long way to go.

Your first full collection All the Places traces a protagonist’s journey from rural and township experiences to an urban environment. But the first poem deals with the urbanised protagonist’s return to the rural environment, so the journey could be circular rather than linear.

The book starts, come to think of it, like those movies that begin at the end and then go back in time to show how things got to where they are. In the first poem, “A school visit”, the speaker returns to the rural context as a visitor. After finishing the book, one can deduce that the speaker who now resides in the urban area is the same one visiting that rural school in the first poem. This, in a sense, speaks to that circular journey you are referring to. My initial goal with this collection was to capture how identities are moulded by place. I decided to divide place into three environmental contexts, namely rural, township and urban, in order to show how the everyday experiences of people living in these environments differ. There is an interesting dynamic that then ensues, some of it stemming from our history, where place and identity clash. In the “UCT” poem UCT being the University of Cape Town which was historically built exclusively for white people one can see how some identities feel unwelcomed in some spaces. There is also a sense that identities, being used to the complexities of the spaces they used to inhabit, need to readjust and perhaps unlearn some patterns of behaviour, in order to adapt to new spaces.

There are also themes of identity and place in the book – could you elaborate on this?

The collection was inspired by the interplay between place and identity. As I have already mentioned, I divided place into three environmental contexts to show the unique everyday experiences of each context. I wanted to show that, just by merely existing in different environmental contexts, we navigate and see the world differently. There seems to be a yearning for something better, where identities inhabiting the rural context feel that the township has something better to offer; and people in the township feeling a need to escape to the urban context. Interestingly, the urban dishes its own challenges, with identities having inhabited either the rural or the township, now struggling to feel a sense of belonging. There is a line in one of my favourite Mxolisi Nyezwa’s poems that goes: “We will go back to the township where our lives are waiting for us”. This implies that people leave themselves behind when they exit the places they grew up in. It’s not easy to let go. There’s the letting go that must happen when identities change places. If one is not ready to let go, they must deal with the feeling of unbelongingness.

What is your opinion of writing as therapy/healing?

One interesting coincidence with poetry and emotional trauma is that they are both housed in the same brain, the right one. Human beings have two brains, the left brain and the right brain. The left brain is the thinking brain, the calculating brain, the logical brain. The right brain is the emotional brain, the creative brain, the brain that uses metaphors, that composes music and writes poetry. It is such an interesting coincidence that the brain that is emotionally traumatised is the same one that is creative. Why would it not heal itself by writing itself out of trauma, by singing the pain away? So, in short, I believe that among the things that move us to the pen and paper, is the unconscious need to heal ourselves.

You have been up and down South Africa doing launches of your collection – from Johannesburg and Pretoria to Cape Town. How have audience responses been like? Do you feel that events are essential to boosting poetry sales in South Africa?

My first launch was in Pretoria. I was nervous, despite knowing that the many friends I grew up with, who now work and live in Gauteng, would show up for me. It’s been such an amazing journey, seeing people engage with the work, signing books and getting positive responses about the work. I think the reception has been heart-warming so far. Book launches do boost the sales. People bring friends who think they don’t love poetry only to discover that they do. I received a message from one of the people who bought the book at the Pretoria launch, saying she didn’t even know about my book launch and was in the store looking for her next read when she heard me responding to the questions that were put to me during the launch and decided to get herself a copy. These events are very much effective.

What are your feelings about overseas readership? Do you feel South African readership is enough for you? 

The interesting thing that happened to me is that the first publication contract I ever signed was from a publishing company named Akashic Books, based in Brooklyn, in the United States. This was for my chapbook, The Internal Saboteur, which Akashic Books published in collaboration with The African Poetry Book Fund.  Another interesting thing is that both my chapbook and debut collection were released to the world in the same month this year, so there was a simultaneous introduction of my work to the South African readership and the overseas one. I think that there is a lot more happening overseas that is exciting and inspiring. I want to be part of it.

This interview was first published in The Odd Magazine.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

John Dorsey: Hittin' the road

John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw's Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015), Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017).  More recently he has published a limited-edition chapbook titled Dying like Dogs, published by Tangerine Press.  He is the current Poet Laureate of Belle, MO. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He can be reached at

DH: When did you start writing poetry? When was your first collection published?

JD: I started writing very bad poetry about 30 years ago. My first collection, which contained much of that early work, was published in 1995 by Jesse Poet Publications, and was entitled When It's Over and Other Poems.

Who are your main influences and why?

My early influences were girls who were much cooler and more well read than I was. In terms of poets, though, I would have to say Ted Berrigan, Joe Brainard, Richard Hugo, Jack Spicer, Everette Maddox, Gregory Corso, Kell Robertson, Todd Moore, Scott Wannberg, DR Wagner, and Ann Menebroker. I admire them all for different reasons, but mainly because when I first read each of them they knocked the wind out of me with words and in the end helped me to find my own voice as a writer.

Do you consider yourself an outlaw poet?

While I have been called one of the youngest card-carrying members of that whole movement, I'd have to say no. I mean, I do write outside academia, that's true, but if I had my way everyone would be writing poetry, I love it that much, and I don't see what's so outlaw about that, all it requires is an open heart.

In addition to full, perfect-bound collections, you have also had a number of chapbooks published. Do you prefer chapbooks over perfect-bound books? Do you think chapbooks have limitations? Chapbooks are not taken seriously here in South Africa.

First, I love chapbooks as well and will keep doing both until the day I die. Nowadays, it seems like most of the younger poets here are just going straight to full-length collections and skipping the chapbook altogether.  For me, though, they were a proofing ground, they let me figure out who I was and who exactly I was writing for, besides myself, and build an audience. Also, because they can be cheaper to produce they allow the publishers to take chances, for the book itself to become a work of art, which in my opinion is a rare thing, and rarer still with perfect-bound books, many of which are made through a print-on-demand service now. So I really think they have less limitations than perfect-bound books, they are pretty fearless in this day and age.

Dying like Dogs has been published in a limited edition of 53 copies. Some people would feel such a small number is negligible and that a book or chapbook should at least be 120 copies. What are your thoughts on that? What do you feel is the value of limited editions?

I am a huge believer in limited-edition books for several reasons. First, there is the investment factor, the whole collector culture, limited editions create a sense of urgency, people say, I have to have that, and I'm a firm believer in making sure my publishers at least break even and these days, thankfully, they tend to do a little better than that. Let's be honest, a lot of the people who look down on limited editions couldn't sell 120 books to their grandmother, anyway. What's really important is that the books that are printed reach the right people, those who really connect with what the author has to say, whatever they happen to take away from the work. I always tell people when I read in public that if I truly reach one person each time, then I take that as a huge victory. Also, like I said above, there's the work of art factor and limited-edition books usually fall into that category.

You seem to go on the road a lot, doing readings around the US and selling books. In South Africa poetry sales are generally event-driven, rather than through bookstores. Is it the same in the US?

I do travel a lot, I generally give around 100 readings a year. Sales are generally event-driven here too, though I sell a lot online as well. I wish I sold better in bookstores, though my local store tends to sell out of my work.

What importance, if any, do you place on recognition and from who?

I don't know, I'm still surprised every day that people pick up my work at all. The nicest form of recognition I get is a random email or letter from someone telling me they picked up a book of mine and that they enjoyed it, that's better than all of the awards I'll never win.

Could you tell us something about your work as a playwright and screenwriter?

I went to college for screenwriting, and that's all I did for a while, and then poetry kind of took over my life again. Now I only do the screenwriting and the playwright thing whenever poems won't pop into my head. I've had two plays produced and just started a third, and as a screenwriter had a feature film shot last year by a friend's company that is being edited together as we speak. Also had a short film featuring my poetry made by filmmaker Carson Parish, am hoping that will be available to the public soon.

What projects are you currently busy with?

Well, a lot of my work is being reprinted right now by various publishers, including my reader Appalachian Frankenstein, which was originally published by GTK Press in 2015, and was recently put back into print by Outlandish Press. I also have a small split chapbook with Scot Young due shortly on Rusty Truck Press, a small chapbook entitled Chicken Wings & Bad Decisions due on Moran Press in 2019, a full-length split book with my friend and road partner Victor Adam Clevenger, a book with my friend from England, the great Bobby Parker, and am finishing work on my New & Selected Poems.

This interview was first published in The Odd Magazine.