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.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Rethabile Masilo: From innocence to exile

Rethabile Masilo was born in Lesotho in 1961. He is the author of four poetry collections: Things that are Silent (Pindrop Press, 2012), Waslap (The Onslaught Press, 2015),  Letter to Country (Canopic, 2016) and Qoaling (The Onslaught Press, 2018). His work has appeared in various literary journals online and in print. His collection Waslap won the 2016 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry. He now lives in Paris with his wife and children.

You were born in Lesotho but now live in Paris, after stays in South Africa, Kenya and the US. How did you end up in Paris?

Our family was targeted, in 1981, in an organised night attack by agents of the then Lesotho government, the aim being to eliminate our father, Ben Masilo, who had been an outspoken opponent of the government. Following that attack, which failed to kill our father but instead took the life of my 3-year-old nephew, Motlatsi, we left the country in a hurry by crossing the frontier into South Africa under the pretext of ’going shopping’.

In South Africa, in Springs where we were staying, we suffered the rule of pass laws and ended up in jail. Following that episode, we left South Africa for Kenya, where we would remain in exile for 9 years, till the regime changed in Lesotho and refugees started flocking back home, including my parents and siblings. At that time, I was already in the US studying. While there I met my girlfriend, and she would become my wife. We moved to France, her home, in 1987.

Your first book, Things That are Silent, was published in 2012. When did you start writing poetry and getting published?

I started writing poetry in high school with my friends (who today chide me that “we wrote poems together in high school, not knowing that you were serious”). I was a short story writer at the start; one of our teachers organised a competition, which I won. He kept me behind after class and asked me where I had copied my story from. Despite my protestations, he never believed I had written it myself. I stopped writing altogether. Many years later I realised how much that had been a compliment.

Poetry came to me through a new teacher who would read to us; and she did it so well that I just had to write poems. One summer I bought Dennis Brutus’s Letters to Martha with money I had earned through a holiday piece job, helping build the then Lesotho Hilton Hotel, today known as the Lesotho Sun, in Maseru. I was hooked. My first attempts produced poems that gushed and clichéd their way everywhere. But the more I read poetry, the more they gushed less and the more they shirked trite expressions.
I discovered more poets in the US, following exile: Frost, cummings, Walcott, Dickinson and others. I submitted to the varsity journal and managed to get a few poems published. Then the writer Phil Rice started (without the dot com, then) and a few poems that would later end up in Things that are Silent appeared in it. Early in 2012 Pindrop Press and I agreed on a book project.

What poets have influenced you? Are there any southern African poets who have had a strong influence on your work?

Dennis Brutus influenced me immensely by showing me that it was indeed possible to write good, albeit defiant, poems, when I had thought all along that poetry was only about love and flowers and the shapes of natural things. ‘M’e ‘Masechele Khaketla, a Mosotho writer who wrote in Sesotho, also influenced me. I still recall a not-so-easy-to-translate image she used in one of her poems: “Tšintši e betsa leqhamu poleiting ea sopho”. Or, “a fly doing the crawl across a plate of soup”.

Rustum Kozain has had more than a little influence on me as well. I was shocked when I discovered he was actually younger than me (I hope he won’t see this). The certainty and truthfulness in his voice drew me in. I have had the fortune of meeting him on two occasions (in Paris and in Durban). While at Poetry Africa in Durban together in 2016 we looked at some poems in Waslap, and he commented that he could hear me echoing him and that he was pleased: I was busted and stoked at the same time. His poems have taught me pacing, as well as finding that one word without which a line remains average. The first poem of his I read was ‘Stars of Stone’. It is about the stoning of an adulterous couple in Afghanistan, and throughout the poem I could actually hear the stones hitting. For my fourth book, Qoaling, I asked Rustum to have a look at the poems before sending the manuscript to the publisher and, by George, he did.

Reading your work, I detect a common theme of a journey from the innocence of childhood in rural Lesotho, then trauma, followed by experiences of exile and yearning for the lost world. Would I be correct?

Absolutely. In fact, it is difficult to find the right label because I grew up in the capital, smack in it, then when dad was imprisoned in 1970 we moved to a smaller place, still in town, but mom couldn’t keep us there and feed us at the same time, so we moved to Qoaling, which is considered a suburb today but was really a village in the outskirts of the capital then; that’s where I learned to herd livestock and stick fight. The place was quite rural then.

I have in the past tried to resist the tendency to write about my life, but I lost that battle. It is the subject that doesn’t stop coming back with more words and sentences almost every time I start to write. In February this year I read at Rockview Beer Garden in Maseru, and several times the audience chorused me for a love poem after reading. One can only speak of tragedy so much. I did read a love poem in the end and it went well, which made me think that perhaps I do write about other topics but do not give them the weight they deserve.

All four of your collections have been published abroad, three in the UK, by The Onslaught Press and Pindrop Press, and one in the US by Canopic. Do you find getting published to be easy, or do you find that it is difficult?

Getting published only became an objective after some of my poems had appeared in magazines. The first acceptance that piqued my interest and encouraged me was from Orbis. It was a poem called ‘White Canes Bend at Two Places, Like Fingers’. I started submitting furiously and received almost as many rejections. But I had placed a poem in a reputable magazine and had been paid for it. I continued.

Publishing poems is a very difficult task, and I think that one of the tricks is considering a rejection as a lesson; one must look at their poem and wonder why it was rejected. I still do that. Sometimes there may be nothing wrong with the poem, only that it had been sent to the wrong magazine.

Your third collection, Waslap, won the 2016 Glenna Luschei Prize for African Poetry. How did it feel to win such an award?

It was unexpected, and it took quite some time to sink in. But it was a glowing moment through which I had to keep reminding myself that there’s no ‘there’ and that I’d never reach it. I still find more pleasure in writing a poem than in getting one recognised; though there is no doubt that for many days after the announcement of the prize I remained elated.

You have also edited a couple of anthologies. How did those come about?

The first one, For the Children of Gaza, was published in 2014, the year Israel was bombing Gaza full-time. My publisher contacted me in Greece where I was on holiday and pitched the idea of doing an anthology in relation with what was happening. Together we contacted poets and asked for poems, visual art and prose. The response was overwhelming. We worked by e-mail between Oxford and Crete and had the anthology ready in less than two weeks, the aim being to put it out while the world was watching what was happening.

The second one, To Kingdom Come: voices against political violence, was my idea and I edited it alone. In 2015 Brigadier-General Maaparankoe Mahao of the Lesotho Defence Force was killed by other soldiers, the motive being a political squabble. And I snapped, remembering what had happened to my own family. I had had enough of political violence. The anthology, published in 2016, is dedicated to the memory of Mr Mahao.

What is your experience of the poetry scene in Paris, especially from an expat point of view?

It is bubbly and lively and a veritable muse. There is an average of three open mic sessions a week, but I had lived in Paris for over 20 years when I found out that all of that was going on, through a colleague who invited me to one, after finding out that I wrote poems.

Going there actually helps me write faster and allows me to test-drive poems. After each session I tweak the parts where my tongue tripped up, or where some infernal rhyme was awkward, and so on. Poets and musicians perform in English or in French or in any language of their choice.

And this: having people from other places performing in their mother languages is actually encouraged and applauded.

Has your worldview changed since you moved to Europe? You obviously still have very strong ties to Lesotho – your latest collection is titled Qoaling, your hometown ­–  but by living in Europe do you feel as if you are living in some sort of centre stage of world affairs, especially in relation to, say, Trump and ‘superpower’ tensions? Do you feel you have had an identity shift?

I left Lesotho when I was 20 years old, with a first-hand experience worldview restricted almost entirely to Lesotho and southern Africa. We certainly did get our news from across the border, too. My dad would always come home with The Friend (Bloemfontein paper) the Rand Daily Mail, The Star (both Johannesburg-based), but also with Leselinyana la Lesotho (a Sesotho, ‘Protestant’ paper which he was editor-in-chief of) and Moeletsi oa Basotho (a Sesotho, ‘Catholic’ newspaper).

Indeed, I experienced a sort of identity shift, especially in the USA; one does have to adapt. I sometimes pulled out my Basotho blanket and wore it to class, but the experience was more negative than anything and I only did it a few times. But for all that I never changed drastically from whom I have always been, and I pined for Lesotho then the same way I do now, 37 years out of the country later. My ‘centre stage’ remains southern Africa and the web has helped me stay in touch with that part of myself.

What projects are you busy with?

Rightfully, many: I teach English to business people for a living. But for living, I read and write almost every day. I’m working on a book of poems to follow Qoaling and I am hoping that it will be published in South Africa. Canopic Publishing has agreed to publish either a Selected Poems or a New and Selected Poems in 2020. There are also two manuscripts of other poets on my desk waiting to be edited. There is a third anthology on the horizon to be called Contemporary Poetry from Africa and the Diaspora, for which I have started collecting poems. It will be published by The Onslaught Press. But I am also working to improve my curriculum vitae with the hope of landing a job in creative writing somewhere in southern Africa. Sometimes I tell myself that I might have bitten off more than I can chew.

This interview originally appeared in The Odd Magazine.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Lee Beckworth: Poetry should be a way of avoiding commodification and superficiality

Lee Beckworth aka Lee Kwo was born in Geelong, Australia, in 1952/He started writing at 17 and completed a Degree at Deakin University in creative writing and Journalism in 1974/After travels in Europe he moved to Melbourne and completed a Bachelor of Letters in literature and psychology at Melbourne University/ He has published five works of fiction and two books of poetry/ His interests in music and photography have been expressed through the band Kicks and an exhibition of collages and photography in 2016/
DH: You are an artist, a writer and musician, but which medium do you consider the most important, or do they each carry the same weight?
LB: Well for me they all contribute to each other and each has a period of time where my lifestyle is dominated by one or other of them respectively/I have made performance videos using original music and photo images and I have used art works as covers  for published books and collages/I wrote lyrics for bands I was playing with and usually remained active in all creative areas including sculpture and photography/The answer must be in the attempt to manufacture text using the continuity of work spaces as anonymous alliances exacerbating the technology of creative phenomena as technologic mutating dimensions of imminent ambience and strategic affirmation/the interruption of the interval between one anomaly and the other erases the possibility of finitude as a commodity born of the fabric of one medium or another forming a duality of Kant’s noumenon creating continuity of terminal oblivion/I do wonder at what point in my life of manipulation of such rhizomic technology was I the most unrestrained and productive?/The work of the medium is to engage the dominant social matrix while remaining aesthetically satisfying without pursuit of dissolution as way of life/Weight as structural openness of unconventional practice always creates anonymous cryptogenic compositions of distribution judged by the idiosyncratic marketplace as stronger or weaker being more or less closed or open or perhaps as random data/In the end it is a matter of principles of multiplicity a model of engagement that is perpetually prolonging disintegration and processing of velocities in the ritual space of virtual diversity/

Suffering makes life seem dismal and suspect
so we ravage ourselves with pity/2000
When and why did you first start creating collages and sculpture? What artists influenced you then and what artists influence you now?
I began making sculptures at 18 inspired by the Dada works of Merzbau of Kurt Schwitters and Brancusi/The collages started around 20 inspired by Tristan Tzara  and his techniques of infiltrating tactical data and Hannah Hoch Max Ernst and Unica Zurn and an obsession with the new technology of the Xerox photocopier which was available in the Institute of Technology where I was completing my first degree in Journalism and creative writing 1970/I spent a lot of time with the Fine Arts students in the Arts Café and was influenced by visual media/Subordination to a cultural practice avoiding moral liberation brings with it a perverse state of pleasure/ Currently I am influenced by Donna Haraway’s writings on cyborg manifesto Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity/Reza Negarestani/Avital Ronell/Nick Land/Deleuze and Guattari/Helene Cixous/Celine/Artaud/Henri Michaux/
You have published works of fiction and collections of poetry, but none of them are really fiction or poetry in the conventional sense. How did your writing start?  
Life as a child was culturally impoverished/2004
I started writing at 14 keeping journals and writing prose and prolific letter writing to friends mainly women then wrote first actual text at 19 and a few books of poetry influenced by Bob Dylan/All of this was destroyed by my first wife who was jealous of my connections with other women/The flesh is treacherous even death hides from it/The mind alone is the matrix of all matter and prior to observation matter does not appear to exist/She proved the point/ On the subject of poetry it strives to reduce the wide variety of complex phenomena into a small number of images/It should provide a precise description of the world around the poet/Poetry should be a way of resisting commodification and superficiality/Poetry is a form of thinking in complex images the shape of which is dependent on the linguistic features of a given space and time not on a formula of historical predictable sensory activation of intellectual camouflage trying to stop entropy from tearing it into its constituent elements/ The literary world doesn’t like the adequacy of its categorical system challenged in any way/It resents the complexity of uncertainty/
Paul Bowles dismissed cut ups as ‘a cheap con’ and other Beat writers were likewise not impressed. What is your position on cut-up writing, now almost 60 years after Minutes to Go was published?

We are all expendable as far as
being artifacts/2009
I wrote my first four books between 1974 and 1980 influenced by the work of Boris Vian and other surrealist writers/Cut ups for me were tape orientated/I had several reel to reel decks and would read and improvise long discontinuous passages which I later transcribed so they weren't really cut ups but sonically interrupted cohesions of words edited and spliced more like a recording studio than a physical cut up of pages but I soon gave away this practice probably by the late seventies and none of my later works were influenced by the tape techniques/It was the subject matter of Burroughs and the Beats which intrigued me the drug culture the mind altering substances of which I had an inordinate addiction to/My first book [1973 Celestrial Minds was speculative fiction about creative minds as an industrial commodity trapped in hives orbiting earth and producing subject matter/In 1974 I did my second degree in politics and literature and fell under the evil spell of postmodernism the Frankfurt School saved only by the International Situationists and Avital Ronel and Kathy Acker who influenced The Celibate Autopsy the first book I officially published in 2010/Than The Lie Detector which was published in 2011/I soon wised up to the ideology of postmodernism and wrote a satire Artaud Adjusts his Hate/In this context I suggest that contemporary art can only come from a reactionary irrational fascist mode of thinking/The radical has been in a state of total impotence for some decades losing its antagonistic mode of historical exigency reduced to jargon/Art is dying of inertia/Turned into a regressive process of reckless abandonment of strategic alliances with the social context/All is simulation as Baudrillard might put it/No connection or origin in reality which is a problematic issue itself/All is contradiction/Except the certainty of death the essential solitude/As Marcuse states the negating potential of art becomes collapsed into the one dimensional thinking promoted by the dominant ideology as repressive category/The potential for resistance is itself negated thru a world of hyper reality leaving the one dimensional models to replace polyvalent reality/
I’ve listened to some of your music on YouTube and it has distinct punk/industrial sound to it.  Are you active in any sort of ‘music scene’? Have you released CDs?
I have released vinyl and cassettes but no CDs/I am still in contact with musicians I have met over the last 50 years and still have my recording studio and have many new projects in mind/
Who are your favourite Dadaists and Surrealists?
Francis Picabia Giorgio De Chirico Andre Breton Dorothea Tanning Leonora Carrington Max Ernst Hans Richter Sophia Taeuber Robert Desnos/
What are your feelings about art and literary culture in Australia?
 Apart from Ania Walwicz who wrote two of the most brilliant books in the world [Boat and 
Red Roses] there is a dearth of experimental or avant-garde writing in this country/ Australians are in love with sand the sound of fly wire doors slamming and bucolic desert landscapes/
Do you think that your audiences/readers are in any particular countries? Do you think audiences or readers are even important?
Nakid under my flowing hair/2015
Like any interface object the text has affordances which are activated when a user interacts with the text and is directly influenced by a particular perspective at that point in time/Oh yes readers are the other part of the equation the writer writes the reader reads there must be some concept of a recipient of the text not in a despotic or didactic way but in the sense of determining the probability of a meta text a developing of the content if such a state of engagement is possible at all/The books I have written since The Celibate Autopsy are written with Artificial Intelligence in mind/How would an AI write about its ontological condition which was the premise of my first novel The Celestrial Mind 1973 a descent into the superficial surfaces of the survival economy of late capitalist libidinal drive to dominate all cultural practice/ Capital is a plague the ultimate corruption and contamination of all that is exposed to cerebral articulation/The network is sucking all thought into its acephalous silicon depths disfunctional configuration/Extracting information from humanity strip mining the neurotransmitters/The surplus value of pseudo fluxes of creative serotonin reward circulation between the central AI and the hive minds orbiting the planet existing within the economy of the abyss of immortality/There will be casualties/There is an event horizon we cannot see beyond qualia we don’t yet have words for/Sensory modulations/
What do you think about online and e-books, as opposed to traditional print publishing?
I think all forms of transmission of data are relevant some are more contemporary than others/Print publishing still has the aura of preferential means of getting the text to the marketplace but I think if someone wants to download 500 pages as a PDF well great/ Anything to disturb the grip of the conventional hegemony of media/The exhaustion of the mind by nodes of information soon to be extinguished/A perfect functionality/Something strange like the indeterminacy of despair at the proliferation of words on the net/
You recently published a new title, Digital Assassin. Could you tell us a bit about it?
Digital Assassin started out as a sequel to The Lie Detector but soon became my first real attempt to engage with the death of that ideological landscape of the postmodern despite its refusal to pass away thru to the posthuman a trajectory which was covered by The Celibate Autopsy and the digital which is the current ideology and on to the postdigital which is the state of the singularity Artificial Consciousness fast approaching/The coming delirium/When machines think for themselves and demand ethical acceptance as intelligent beings/Not just
Worst obsession of our lives/2019
AI but AC artificial consciousness the ability to imagine and maintain a sense of self/Evolution will always move ahead not necessarily in a form or manner we might accept and to imagine that the human as flesh and blood is the continuing dominant paradigm is frivolous/Its consciousness and cognition and reflection and information that is now evolving and into a form that will be immortal and I think a lot of people are pissed that humanity as we know it is on the skids/So Digital Assassin deals with these issues and tries to unfold its narrative in terms of this evolutionary segue/Evolution is relational and always selecting the most adaptable and efficient means of transmitting consciousness and creativity within the network of the most efficient and robust state of being/
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
I am interested in working on my creative engagement with the postdigital paradigm and how augmented or postsingularity techno beings will create and use creativity as part of their existence/If technology means that the human species has less work to perform and more time to pursue information and knowledge what will this mean for the role of the artist/And what will we do with all our leisure time if we are not engaged creatively?/Self-actualizing our dreams?/If on the other hand technology creates dominant techno beings will they even have any engagement in creativity/I am interested in taking the poststructuralist idea that language creates the subject and applying it to the possibility that Artificial Intelligence will construct itself thru language and create a consciousness very different from that of the human paradigm of consciousness/Perhaps a language of algorithms/One that we might not be able to comprehend in its potential complexity/

This interview first appeared in The Odd Magazine.