What books are currently on your nightstand?
It’s more like a night-table part of the bed thingy…
- ‘The Works of Robert Fergusson’
- ‘Vieux Carre’ – Tennessee Williams
- ‘The Diaries of Paul Klee 1898-1918’
- ‘Autobiography of Mark Twain’ Vol 2
- ‘The Amen Corner’ by James Baldwin
- ‘Stages in the Revolution: political theatre in Britain since 1968’ Catherine Itzin
- ‘Joy Ride: Lives of the Theatricals’, John Lahr
- ‘Selected Poems’ – Harry Fairlight
- ‘Mark Dirt’ Nicole Katz, ed.
- ‘Notes on a Thesis’ Tiphaine Riviere
Who are your favorite authors of all time?
Oh dear. I think you mean fiction? I hope I don’t disappoint, but I don’t think I’m a big fiction person, so my reply here may be dull. Since I was a kid I’ve been captivated by memoir and biography. Montaigne, EB White and Gore Vidal woke my imagination. I never went to the lake, or considered the preciousness of time, until I walked with White.
The fiction I most enjoy is in the theatre, where the characters can be explored through a live actor in front of a live audience. Tennessee Williams is my basis for inspiration in the work I’m currently doing. Harvey Fierstein, Tom Stoppard, Tony Kushner, Oscar Wilde & Samuel Beckett are never far from my fingertips.
There has never been a better contemporary conversation on fathers & sons than James Baldwin’s play The Amen Corner, which he eloquently revisited in Giovanni’s Room. My experience is that young men in society are many times left to figure things out on their own, and these works are timeless road maps through the jungles of ‘don’t feel’, ‘be a man’, and my all-time favorite ‘boys don’t cry’.
Theatre also gives me oxygen for my literary world. Early on, some people who are supporting my development of Pretty Broken Punks into the London stage play expressed concern about the 17 minute opening monologue, that it might be too long for today’s audiences.
Not long after, I went to see This Will End Badly, by Rob Hayes at the Southwark Playhouse. In a nutshell, the entire piece is a one-man, no-intermission, hour and fifteen minute monologue; delivered in three (three!) interwoven dialects — English, Scottish and Welsh; within a play about contemporary men’s issues. The show was sold out for the run, extended, and filled with eager, enthusiastic audiences who yelped for more. Taking my cue from this success: watch out. I’m going to make you wet.
But back to your question on books. Isherwood is also important to me — novels cum play cum memoir cum diaries: delectable. I love the work of Alan Snow, ‘Here be Monsters’, and was also influenced early on by Douglas Coupland, Joan Didion, Susan Sontag, Armistead Maupin and Virginia Woolf. I’m growing to really appreciate the work of Eudora Welty… I greatly respect Jamaica Kincaid’s work about her childhood in Antigua.
Perhaps I do like fiction, just please don’t tell me.
Have you read any good poets lately?
Trick question… “Good,” indeed.
Yes, one is a current obsession named Robert Fergusson. He was an 18th century Scottish poet, a contemporary more/less of Arthur Rimbaud. Declared a superior artist by Robert Burns (who took a lot of inspiration from RF, and gets all the credit); and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Fergusson was not only a master of the verse, but also a raucous critic of those who administered art & culture from way up on high. “On Scotias plains, in days of yore / When lads and lasses tartan wore / Soft Music rang on ilka [every] shore / but harmony is no more / And Music, Dead.”
The Morrissey line “Hang the DJ […] because the music they constantly play, says nothing to me about my life” comes to mind — both are much deeper than at first glances actually, having to do with their culture being occupied and overwhelmed by outsiders, and so forth. That’s the value of good work to me: delivering a full banquet in one course.
However, I’d really like to know more contemporary poetry, but I find navigating between the wannabee pop-celebs a bit daunting. I’m not much for being slammed, I prefer to be liberated by the word. I never tire of Angelou, and will never stop Howling with Ginsberg and the Beats. Ted Joans, the one Beat who remained in Paris has some good stuff. Ferlinghetti, in his own right, is pretty forward-thinking.
I also love the French scene: Paul Verlaine,Victor Hugo (so much more the poet & painter), Baudelaire, Cocteau, Jean Arp — and who can forget Rimbaud’s ‘notebook of the damned’? I’d also place some musicians in here as well – certainly poets. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the true mother of Rock ‘n’ Roll; Woodie Guthrie, whose guitar kills fascists; and there could be no Beat Poetry without Miles Davis and modern Jazz…
Are you a rereader? What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?
You’ve been a editor and publisher in addition to an author. What, to your mind makes a good book review?
First, a reviewer that’s actually read the work, not just browsed a press release and a sample — who offers something beyond a keyboard-warrior opinion. The world doesn’t need any more opinion, it needs consideration. This is why I rarely write reviews: it’s a responsibility. If I do, it’ll be about something that’s successful and important – too much schlock out there to be bothered with. John Lahr, the former theatre critic for the New Yorker knows how to review things – a rare breed.
Second is knowledge of the context. Having an idea of what the writer has come to say, (to paraphrase Vivian Gornick), is helpful.
Third is then a complete dismissal of said context when it comes to grammatical and technical ability — it stands, or it falls. I’m not interested in people’s dress rehearsals, my own included — get it right or get lost.
Which books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?
What is your favorite book that no one else has ever heard of?
What were your favorite books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero from those books?
What book did you feel you were supposed to like, and didn’t?
It’s like when Fran Liebowitz told one of her audience members who asked advice for young aspiring writers: “Don’t write any books. The world doesn’t need any more books. I’m glad you went to college and got some self esteem, but now go out and do something with your life.”
Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?
Of the books you’ve written, which is your favorite?
Well, my only published book, Pretty Broken Punks has overwhelmed the past twelve or so years. But I’m about to turn a short story into another chapbook and stage play, called 105° Peach — about learning how to live by picking peaches in the mid-Atlantic south with my grandmother, Miss Ruby.
I’m dismayed at the dismissal of the entire population of the south by the bourgeoisie pseudo-intelligentsia as nothing more than Duck Dynasty gun-toting racist, misogynist homophobes. The same south that produced Tennessee Williams, Edward R Murrow and Charlie Rose, to name a few.
I’m going to speak to this, and challenge people.
That will be my favorite.