Tag Archives: Readings

Good Old Fashioned Letters (Or: I Thought Reading Was Boring)

This past weekend, I was part of a panel discussion on zines at the downtown Portland library, which was super fun and informative (Fun facts: Nicole Georges’s first zines were about ska music and Chloe Eudaly’s idea for Reading Frenzy started outside of a Nation of Ulysses show she couldn’t afford to get into).

During the Q&A, people asked us about the future of zines, what our favorites were, and if podcasts were “the new zines.” But one of the questions that got a lot of us talking was about postal mail. As in, do people still just write personal letters any more? Of course, the answer is yes, though not as much as pre-Internet days. It made me think of The Rumpus Letters In The Mail, the awesome subscription idea brainstormed by Stephen Elliot three years ago. If you sign up you’ll get actual POSTAL mail from a different author every two weeks. I highly recommend it. You can even sign up for letters for your kids.

LITM_postcard_v3

Anyway, last year I wrote a letter for subscribers and it was really fun and I thought I’d share it here. I even got a bunch of letters back (including one from a death row inmate).

So pretend you’re opening an envelope and pulling out this folded missive. Here’s the letter I wrote (I added some pics for this Internet version). Enjoy!

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Rumpus Letter in the Mail (January 2014) 

Dear Reader,

I did not turn out the way I expected to. I mean, I probably grew up thinking I wanted to be a football player or a radio DJ or a cheesy pop star like Donnie Osmond. I don’t remember reading when I was a kid. I don’t remember being read to at all. I don’t remember learning how to read or write. But I do remember drawing fake football cards of my favorite players, complete with factoids about each one. I would steal football cards at the store and try to copy them.

But I was not an artist.

I think I wanted to be a reader. I wanted to absorb, if it were as easy as absorbing. But reading is not. I joined a book club thing out of the back of a magazine. I ordered fantasy books because I liked the covers—the strange creatures and mysterious landscapes. The bronze bodies rippled and set in heroic poses. This club was like those record clubs where you could order ten albums for a penny if you bought five more at regular price the next three years. I did that club too—I listened to the cassettes or eight-tracks or albums and I memorized every bad song. The books I set around the house, unopened. Maybe I showed them to friends, or possibly my older brothers read them. I’m not sure. I thought reading was boring. I’m embarrassed to say that now. I thought reading was fucking boring.

I remember seventh grade being the worst. What year was that? I guess that would be like 1980-81. Was that a good year for anyone? The thrill of the 1980 USA hockey team’s Cinderella story had worn off and people all around me seemed confused about the disco vs punk debate. I was probably listening to Fleetwood Mac or The Bay City Rollers. A Reagan-esque malaise had set in, though at first I kind of liked the president’s stern cowboy demeanor, his hostage-freeing power. My skin and hair seemed to be spouting grease and sweat and general grossness the whole year. Maybe I was afraid to take a shower.

7thgrade

I remember not wanting to shower after gym class even though we were supposed to. I didn’t want anyone looking at me or my penis, which I had become very intimate with around that time. I would sometimes get quick looks at other boys’ penises. Ugly snails, all of us. There was one fat kid who appeared to not have a penis. I felt mortified for him. No one would talk to him. I felt like I should be his friend, but I was afraid. (for some reason, whenever I write about this time period I have a feeling of déjà vu, like I’m about to remember something traumatic or important. I can’t put my finger on what it could be.)

It was the summer after that school year when I suddenly went through my one and only teen reading phase. I’m not sure what started it, but I read Brian’s Song in one day. I was in my parents’ bed for some reason and (spoiler alert!) I cried when Brian Piccolo died at the end.

brians_song_book

After that, I read a couple of horror books that titillated me in some strange way. One of those books was called The Funhouse or something like that—it was set at a carnival. I recall a scene where a guy feels up a girl, maybe in a haunted house. I wonder if that was the first time I’d been “turned on” by words.

But despite reading books that inspired tears as well as boners (sorry, but teen slang probably works best right there), I didn’t really keep on with the reading bug. It wasn’t until a girlfriend of mine made fun of me (when I was twenty-one) for not reading books that I started reading—probably two months after breaking up with her. Still unsure if I felt like that was revenge or something. Like I’d see her out somewhere and say, “Hey, I’ve read ten books so far this summer. How many have you read?”

When I did start reading books (and therefore writing more seriously) I entered a sort of Phase Two of my life.

I taught myself a lot through books. I learned that we all build ourselves through them. I learned that they make me want to write. I never understood people who say they don’t read other books while they’re working on their own. I call bullshit on that. If you’re a writer who becomes so easily influenced by other writers’ books and worry about “starting to write like them” than you must not have found your own voice yet. You must not be confident in yourself.

I’m sorry. I don’t want to turn mean here. But it is kind of a cop-out. You must never stop reading.

So, I’d like to end this letter by asking YOU what book was the first to make you cry and what book first sent warm sexy waves through your blood.

Right now, as I write this, it is nearly Halloween (2013). In Portland, where I write and read and work (at Powell’s Books as luck would have it) it has become the gray season. This may last a few months. I’ll spend the season listening to music, watching football, doing some readings for my book (obligatory plug: This Is Between Us, Tin House Books), editing the next book on my press (another plug: Excavation: A Memoir by Wendy C. Ortiz, summer 2014, Future Tense Books), hanging out with my wife and going to her shows (she produces an awesome storytelling show called Back Fence PDX), reading, and eating a lot of fine food (In Portland, the foodie scene is as big as the book scene).

I didn’t become a football player or a pop star. I was a DJ for a while but that’s another story. What I became was a reader and a writer and that’s something that will last, something entirely satisfying. I’ve made my life what it is and it’s pretty great. I hope you’re as happy as I am. Thanks for reading.

Kevin

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Three Things

Friends! Some news tidbits I should share with you…

1. I’ve started a new reading series. Yeah, I know there are already dozens of others in this little town, but I think my idea is pretty sweet. I’m calling it Two Essays & A Poem. It will happen whenever I get the gumption to set one up. Maybe like once a month-ish. It may take place at rotating locations and maybe even with rotating hosts/curators–maybe even in different cities.! The first one is this Saturday at Glyph Cafe in downtown Portland. It will be exactly as advertised: Two people will each read an essay and then the evening will finish with one poem from someone else. No more looking at the clock, wondering when it will end. Each 2EAP will be about the same length as an episode of The Daily Show. Short reading. No nonsense. Maximum impact. The first one features Instant Future author Litsa Dremousis, Check out the Facebook event page for more info.

2. Instant Future has launched! This is the new eBook venture I’m doing with Matthew Simmons, Bryan Coffelt, and a bunch of awesome writers ready to rock your world. Check it out. The aforementioned Litsa Dremousis is our powerful first author, and her book, Altitude Sickness has already garnered many great reviews as well as debates on the sanity of mountain climbing culture.

IFLOGO

3. I’ll have a collage show in January at Powell’s City of Books, in the Basil Hallward Gallery. I’m so excited that so many people will see my work there through the month. I just have to think of a cool name for the show. Hmmmm. I’m also writing an essay about my “rookie season” as a collage artist and it will appear in the January issue of Kolaj Magazine (a publication I adore). Speaking of collages, I have collage work in the new issues of JerkPoet and The Lazy Fascist Review. And my collage column at The Rumpus is still going strong. This whole collage mania has been so fun for me this year. Thank you so much to everyone who has shared my enthusiasm for it. I plan to do so much more in 2015. Sometimes I feel like such a nerd about it. :/

Tricky Dick Fish

The Wilson Sisters’ Shoulders’ Blades

The other night I read a new essay at a show at the Ash Street Saloon with Heart cover band, Heartworm (comprised of Portland writer friends Kerry Cohen, Greg Robillard, Laurel Hermanson, and others). The band asked me and a few others to write something that we could read while the band improvised behind us. So me, B Frayn Masters, Brian Tibbetts, Monica Storrs, and Reuben Nisenfeld all took turns rockin’ some stories and poems out for the audience before the fake Wilson sisters came out to belt out the hits.

I actually loved Heart when I was a kid and Little Queen was the first album I ever bought. So I wrote about that experience.

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I told the band to play “something Ren Faire-ish” and they nailed it. Here’s what I read…

Wilson Sisters’ Shoulders’ Blades

Was I really a ten-year-old influenced by two sisters in Ren Faire clothing? Staring at me steamy-eyed, the blonde and brunette. The velvet and lace. The slight suggestion that maybe they were wearing a corset and push-up bra underneath their clothes and capes.

Yes.

I was influenced and I forked over the $5.99 at the Grigg’s department store in Pasco, Washington to buy Heart’s Little Queen, my first ever record.

I wanted to be in that photo on the front of the album, with those women, even if I were just another one of the guys in the background. I figured they were the rest of the band, but they were just peasants compared to the two sisters, Ann and Nancy Wilson. I could see the dejected look in their eyes like co-stars, like studio musicians, like guys who still rented their apartments in Tacoma.

What the hell were they doing back there anyway? Feeding the horses? Cooking some chili? Stoking a pathetic campfire? Did they at least have a bag of marshmallows nearby? And wasn’t that goat dangerously close to our precious lady heroes?

I wanted to serve those beautiful rock-n-roll ladies in other ways. In ten-year-old boy ways. I wanted to polish that hand mirror; I wanted to comb that straight black hair, that wavy blonde hair; I wanted to rub their shoulders with my little hands.

Heart’s first album, Dreamboat Annie (1976)

Because shoulders were the sexiest things in the world when I was ten. I wanted to rub my nose on them, the Wilson sisters’ shoulders’ blades. I wanted to skate my tongue across them like a skateboard made of tongue and drool. I wanted to give them hickies there.

I was in love with many shoulders around that time—Linda Ronstadt’s, Farrah Fawcett’s, Joyce DeWitt’s, the prize girls from The Price Is Right.

I think I had this Linda Ronstadt poster

But the Wilson sisters’ shoulders were like the shoulders of angels… and devils—rock star women like none other.

They made music and that made me want them more. I was obsessed with music as a kid and would sit in my room for hours with headphones on, rocking back and forth on my black mushroom chair, burning a divot in my red shag carpet. I’d let my mind wander around in the music, even though I couldn’t really fathom the obtuse, somewhat mystical lyrics of those early Heart songs. But I would imagine myself the drummer, watching them from behind and trying to keep the beat while they juked around the stage.

I looked at the tiny details of the Little Queen album cover and I later became even more fascinated with the back cover photo. I’d stare into Ann Wilson’s eyes and into the crystal ball she holds in her left hand. I daydreamed about what could be in that treasure chest. I wondered if the guy with the bow and arrows was about to shoot some intruder… or maybe the goat. I coveted the cool red jacket of the one guy who I didn’t even notice on the front cover (he was almost blocked out by the Wilson sisters’ beautiful hair). It’s funny how you become infatuated or haunted by the nuances of classic album covers.

That music may have been the first thing I thought was sexy—those women belting out rockers like Barracuda, the funky swagger of the title track, the soaring harmonies of Say Hello, and the two sad songs with the word “cry” in the title: Cry to Me and Go On Cry.

They weren’t just women with beautiful shoulders. They were artists. I was genuinely influenced. I was swayed. I was moved.

***

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By the way, this Erotic City (Prince covers) band was pretty dang awesome.

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Me with the guys from Heartworm. Photo by Charles King. Not pictured: Ann and Nancy Wilson.

Summer Splash

Hi friends,

Summer is officially here and I’m planning on doing some fun stuff and getting a few important things done. Here’s a quick rundown.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be hosting a kick-ass outdoor reading at Colonel Summers Park. It starts at 7pm and the weather is supposed to get clear and nice by then so we’ll probably even get there early and play some basketball or frisbee or something. I’ll be introducing Eirean Bradley, Diana Salier, and Chloe Caldwell for their short readings and fellow Future Tense peeps Bryan Coffelt and Becca Yenser will also be there. Check out the details here. It was also a featured pick in the Mercury and Oregonian!

Bryan Coffelt and me, pimping some literature (from AWP 2012)

In July, I’m going to fly down to visit my brother in Houston and also read alongside some of the coolest ladies in America (I’m reading at the Houston and New Orleans stops on their tour). I love going to the south, so this should be a blast.

While I’m down there, I’m hoping to finally finish up some of the final edits and revisions of the novel I’ve been working on for twenty months (feels like twenty years). More updates on that as they come.

Summer reading? Well, right now I’m about to finish Ryan Boudinot’s Blueprints of the Afterlife, which is one of the weirdest and funniest books I’ve read in years. I also have the debut issue of Radio Silence that looks fantastic, Pauls Toutonghi’s new beauty, some more poetry by Sharon Olds and Matthew Dickman, the new novel by Padgett Powell, and that newish dirty Nicholson Baker book that I still haven’t gotten to. I like to do a lot of my reading on the Max train or at Bipartisan Cafe, where they have the best pie in Portland.

Summer literary happenings? I’ve set up a reading for Justin Maurer and Lindsey Kugler for Friday, July 27th at Ampersand that should be awesome. And then in August, I’m helping coordinate the Portland stop of the “Lil’ Bitch Tour” with Chelsea Martin, Elizabeth Ellen, and Scott McClanahan. That’s on August 17th, location TBA.

Summer movies? I saw Prometheus with my son a couple of days ago and it was pretty fun I thought. But most new movies have looked real crappy lately, so I’m not sure what else. Ruby Sparks could be a guilty pleasure. Maybe The Bourne Legacy too? I don’t know. Where are the slow, depressing dramas about fucked-up people when I want them?!

Summer songs? I hope to listen to Peggy Lee a lot. Mates of State always sounds good when the sun is out too (I hope to see their show in Portland on June 30th). That new Best Coast is also playing around here.

Peggy Lee!

Also, I’m not a strong swimmer, but I may put some floaties on for this year’s Big Float. (Watch for the awesome promo videos coming soon–written and produced by B. Frayn Masters!)

That’s all for now. See you in the sun!

Wife Beaters, Cut-Offs, Flip-Flops, Sunscreen

I don’t think I’ve ever worn flip flops in my life. And I know that driving through the south in July is going to be sweltery (I’ve done it before). I know I won’t be wearing army boots or anything. But I probably won’t wear cut-offs either. Maybe a wife beater, though, you know, I’ll call it a tank top (still sounds kinda aggro though, right?).

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. First I need you to help me and the wild women I’ll be appearing with to get some gas money for our summer adventure. I promise not to spend any at Whataburger. I’m talking about the Southern Summer Comfort Book Tour, which I’ve helped organize for my friends Elizabeth Ellen, Chloe Caldwell, Mary Miller, Brandi Wells, and Donora Hillard.

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Domy Books will host the ladies in Austin and Houston.

Help us raise some moolah on their Kickstarter page. There’s some cool stuff to be had–books, Polaroids, private editing sessions. Hair pulling? If you’re into that sort of thing.

What else is happening?

I’m teaching another class on personal essays. This time with young hotshot, Chloe Caldwell. CC, as you may know, is the author of Legs Get Led Astray, the latest release from Future Tense Books, It’s on June 23rd at the Crow Arts Manor. I think there may just be one or two spots left in the class, so act fast! It’s only $40 for three hours of hard work.

If it’s warm out, we’ll be doing it outside. I won’t be wearing flip-flops.

AWP 4EVA

I had a great time at AWP this past week. There were so many people to see, meet, and say hello to that it’s really kind of an impossible mission to complete. Someone should make a video game out of it to inspire kids to become writers. It would be like: I have to make it to the Hobart table before they run out of magic juice (whiskey)…I have to make it to the Sun Magazine reading to see Cheryl Strayed and get 500 points…I have to find Lindsay Hunter and give her a high five…I have to avoid that dude with the long beard who keeps submitting manuscripts to me…I have to meet the guys from McSweeney’s and have a discussion about irony for 800 points and a bronze coin with Dave Eggers’s face on it…I have to try to remember who that guy is who wrote that poem I liked in that new lit journal…AAAAAARRRRRGGGH! I’ve been stabbed by Jamie Iredell!!

GAME OVER. (well, I imagine an AWP video game would be pretty close to that anyhow)

But AWP is also like a yearly class reunion made up mostly of your good friends and Internet celebrities.

Here are some of my AWP 2012 highlights in no particular order.

1. Seeing a killer line-up at the YesYes reading at Columbia, which included my pal Emily Kendal Frey and one of my favorite poets, Ben Mirov, whom I met for the first time. He was freaking great. He reads kind of like a loud robot (sorry, Ben, but it was AWESOME!) and I can’t wait for his next book from Octopus as well as this thing. Also reading that night was the surreal southern charmer Nate Slawson and the fantastic Mark Leidner, whose reading was the best I saw on the trip. His poem, Memoirs of a Secret Agent, was one of the weirdest and most entertaining things I’ve heard in a long time.

2. Chloe Caldwell’s book, Legs Get Led Astray, made its debut at the conference. CC and I hung out a lot and sold almost all of the copies we had of her book at the Future Tense table and at her readings. The book, which comes out officially next month on Future Tense, is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever edited. Here’s the happy author with one of our favorite people, Mark Cugini.

MC & CC

3. I rented a car for Chicago. I guess I didn’t realize that it costs like $50 an hour to park in Chicago. Plus, the lady voice in the GPS would often send me on the wrong route, which made me lost and late to a few events. In hindsight though, I guess it was pretty entertaining to drive around aimlessly in a huge white Dodge Charger with Chloe Caldwell and Bryan Coffelt punching buttons on the GPS.

4. I snagged my contributor copy of the new Fairy Tale Review at their booth and chatted with the lovely weirdos, Alissa Nutting and Kate Bernheimer.

I'm all up in this beautiful thing.

5. Met some awesome folks for the first time like Molly Gaudry (The Lit Pub), Jimmy Chen (HTMLGIANT), Matthew Salesses (PANK), Joseph Riippi (“A Cloth House”), Jen Companik (Triquarterly), Zach Wilson (musician/writer whose couch I crashed on), Andrew Shuta (Spork Press), Gary Sheppard (Kitty Snacks), xTx (“Normally Special”), Marion Winik (Above Us Only Sky), Lily Hoang (HTMLGIANT), Sy Safransky (The Sun Magazine), and Sam Pink (“No Hellos Diet”).

6. Books! I didn’t really get a ton of books but I did get the following: Meat Heart by Melissa Broder, Treesisters by Joseph Riippi, a bunch of stuff from Spork Press, and an issue of Oxford American.

7. My friend, Joseph Lappie (who used to work with me at Powell’s back in the day, but now lives and does book arts in Iowa) gave me a stack of these beautiful mini-broadsides.  I’m trying to figure out how to distribute these to interested folks. If you want one, let me know. We’ll work out a deal.

Printed by the amazing Joseph Lappie. He's also printed work by Aaron Burch and Farrah Field recently.

8. I got to be on a pretty fun panel about chapbook publishing (specifically fiction chapbooks) and I got to do a fun reading with Adam Robinson, Vanessa Place, Amelia Gray, and special surprise guests, Chloe Caldwell and Blake Butler. Thanks to the Ear Eater folks for that awesomeness.

Thanks for reading, folks! I hope to make it to next year’s AWP as well–in Boston. The year after that it’ll be in Seattle. That means no rental car. Hallelujah!

 

A Weekend of I Remember

This weekend, over at the Future Tense Books Facebook page and also on the new I Remember fan page, you can post your own I Remember. I love the whole I Remember form and often have student do it when I teach workshops and visit classrooms. It’s a pretty great writing prompt that is easy to get into but has the power and potential to result in multi-faceted work.

During a recent workshop that I taught in Seattle, I told students that memory is more important than story when it comes to writing about your life. The pressure of building a “traditional” story (beginning, middle, and end) is often too much pressure when the fact is this: in real life things don’t often unfold that simply.

So go check it out over on the Facebook, or if you want do some tweeting about it, write your own 140 character or less I Remember with a hashtag of #Irememberbook so I can go find them all. This is all to help us get the word out about the remarkable new Future Tense release, I Remember by Shane Allison (which is inspired by the Joe Brainard 1970 book of the same name).

Book, me, giant cat

Thanks for participating!

In other news, the upcoming Chloe Caldwell book is now available for pre-order as well. We’re doing the final edits on that book as I type (seriously–the Google doc is open in another tab!).

And oh, hey–look! I have a new poem on Housefire. And I’m reading at If Not For Kidnap next Friday with Bryan Coffelt, Edward Mullany, and a special secret guest who may have been mentioned previously in this post!

See y’all soon!