What books are on your night stand right now?
I’m reading 3 books – “Wait Till You See Me Dance,” a short story collection, some more like flash fiction, by Deb Olin Unferth, an author who is new to me, “Idaho,” by Emily Ruskovich, a novel, and a new collection of essays sent to me by my writer friend, Fiona Helmsley, “Girls Gone Old.” I’ve known Fiona for some time, featured her years back at some of my shows. She has kept at it and grown and expanded more than many; she never gave up and keeps developing new avenues and forms. Also on the shelf is a gift I received as an early birthday present, “David Smith, The White Sculptures.” I had just seen his work at the Storm King Art Center – large, white welded steel constructions installed on the grounds. I also just received in the mail Richard Boch’s Mudd Club book and I’m looking forward to his book signing at HOWL Gallery on September 12. (I am a total nerd about getting books signed.) I always have a few books of poetry hanging around. Recently, I featured at the Underground Lit Festival in Michigan City, Indiana, so I have just a few of the books I brought home in the “night stand” pile – Bill Gainer, Michele McDannold, Joel Landmine – all friends.
What was the last great book you read?
“Spent Saints” by Brian Jabas Smith, is killer. Part linked short stories, clearly a bit of memoir, it’s got that rock and roll noir vibe with characters that don’t break your heart exactly, because then you’d be done, it’s more like they twist it to bits. Brian lives in Arizona and is doing an East Coast tour which will include my birthday show on September 15, so I am so excited to have him and hope people show up to experience someone who is in all likelihood new to them. Do you notice that often people want only the familiar?
What's the best classic novel you recently read for the first time?
Does the Williams Burroughs version of “A Christmas Tale” count? It’s called “A Junkie’s Christmas.” I performed parts of at a Christmas show.
Absolutely. And it’s one of Coppola’s greatest achievments.
What's your favorite book that no one else has heard of?
It’s possible that not many have yet heard of “Spent Saints” and if that’s true, I hope that changes. Last time we interviewed, I mentioned “Random Acts of Senseless Violence” by Jack Womack, and “Mr. Touch,” by Malcolm Bosse, both of which cater to my post-apocalyptic obsession. However, with the current administration, it’s seeming to be more truth than fiction and reading what used to be my favorite genre is like watching the news, although I’ve added a new relatively obscure favorite in that genre, “The Age of Miracles,” by Karen Thompson Walker. One book I’ve read repeatedly is Tama Janowitz’s “A Certain Age.” Although she of course is very well known, I’m not sure that people think of that particular book readily when her name is raised.
Who's poetry speaks to you most?
So many and always dependent on the day and mood, I might add. I’ve been fortunate to feature poets in my shows who I think are amazing. Some are recognized, some not. Jeanann Verlee killed when she read and I was more than thrilled when she recently won a prestigious grant. Another friend who featured last Spring, Nancy Mercado, won the National Book Award this year. I’m happy that so many people I know and respect are being acknowledged for their ongoing work. Some of the first poets who ever engaged me continue to be my favorites: ee cummings, William Carlos Williams, Diane DiPrima, Amiri Baraka, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez. Bukowski came a little bit later, and Kim Addonizio is one of my favorite poet/writers – poetry, novels, prose, essays, non-fiction poetry guides – she does it all.
Tell us about your favorite New York stories.
Some of my favorite New York stories are by JD Salinger, especially Franny and Zooey. While the Glass family was nothing like mine, it was the family I wish were mine because, as tortured as the members were, there were connections and relationships, there were books and music, and there was the Upper West Side as opposed to Gravesend, Brooklyn. (By New York stories, I assumed you meant fiction, not my real life stories?)
What's the best book you've ever received as a gift?
I love receiving books as gifts so there are many. Last year, I mentioned SA Griffin’s collection of the late Scott Wannberg’s work, “The Official Language of Yes,” published posthumously. It was a birthday gift from SA and Richard Modiano of Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA and is still one of my favorite gifts. Also, one of my first loves, as a kid, gave me “Siddhartha” by Herman Hesse. I don’t know if anyone had ever given me a book before that.
What is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite anti-hero or villain?
Heathcliff of “Wuthering Heights” is both hero and anti-hero. I read it for the first time when I was very young and it may have influenced my love of complicated characters, both fictional and actual.
You're organizing a literary gathering. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
Writers I have writer crushes on. Richard Price, Hubert Selby, Jr., and my favorite girl crush, Kim Addonizio.
What book do you feel you were supposed to like, and didn't?
Toss-up between Slaughterhouse Five and Catch 22. I like the sensibility but can’t read the book. Sort of like my relationship with Monty Python. I know it’s funny but I can’t watch it.
Whom would you want to write your life story?
I don’t see a need to have it written at all. I’ve said enough in my own writing and whatever I haven’t said can go to the grave with me.
What do you plan to read next?
I have a large pile of books to read next and a long wish list. I sometimes think about the fact that I may die before reading everything I want to read, especially since I don’t read as quickly as I once did. I wrote a poem about it, called “The Cure for a Heart Attack.” I had awakened at 4AM with chest pains and had taken an aspirin and read Bukowski, and was struck with the realization that I may never read all of the books on my shelves, much less the ones I still want to acquire. I don’t have a specific plan on which to read next. It may be Chavisa Woods’ newest collection “Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country and Other Stories” or Chris Morris’ “Together Through Life,” about the ways in which Bob Dylan has impacted him his entire life, or Keith Morris’ memoir, “My Damage: The Story of a Punk Rock Survivor.” Or, even though I claim to have gotten over my post-apocalyptic obsession, I’m just lying to myself and have several new books in the genre on my wishlist, including “My Absolute Darling” by Gabriel Tallent and “Grace” by Paul Lynch. Or maybe just more Bukowski.
Do you have any readings or events coming up? Where? When?
Yes. Puma Perl’s Pandemonium, my quarterly (more or less) poetry and rock and roll series at the Bowery Electric Map Room is coming up September 15, 7PM and is also a combination birthday bash/five year anniversary. I mentioned earlier, I think, that Brian Smith will be reading, also Kat George of Three Rooms Press, and music by a host of characters familiar to the downtown scene, including guest artist Alison Gordy.
PHOTO – PUMA PERL BY ROBERT BUTCHER