Now playing on Otherppla conversation with Milo Martin. He is the author of the poetry collections Poems for the Utopian Nihilist (Echo Park Press) and the forthcoming sublemon/sublime. He is also collaborating on an upcoming art book with Gigi Spratley and Jack Waltrip.

A poet by trade, Martin has toured extensively throughout the United States and Europe. He has been invited to perform at international literature and poetry festivals in France, Italy, Germany and Croatia as well as numerous venues in Estonia, Switzerland, Holland, Liechtenstein and Serbia. His works have been translated into four languages. Educated at San Francisco State University and the University of Southern California, he currently resides in Los Angeles. He contends that birds and insects are manifest angels.

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We mad fly; we
Dream dry; we
Scribble drunk; we
Fake the funk; we
Keeps it real; we
Sly conceal; we
Royal hall; we
Southern drawl; we
Bleed tears; we
Clink cheers; we
Fling curves; we
Gnaw nerves; we
Break it down; we
Class clown; we
Write raw; we
Down by law.

We, at The Nervous Breakdown, take writing very seriously (for the most part) but the 2010 Limerick Contest promptly dropped those drawers and put an archaic poetic idiomatic form to task with contemporary quills scrawling away with some, well, compelling results. Yes, the institution of the beginning and ending “C” regulation did provide a sturdy challenge (thank you, Satan) for some and for others, a downright study in frustration.

Rich Ferguson - More Cowbell!

Street poet, cadence carpenter Rich Ferguson (Where I Come From), who could somehow make enchiladas relevant in the post-post-modern jib jabs of verse, rhythm, and rhyme, is an American spoken word artist to behold. Street meets soul as if a lingering piece of San Fran gold mysteriously appearing from the gluts of the LA Basin, liquefied reverb, straw cap, cawing through air spaces in his gums, “The Earthquake is Here! Where’s the Kick Drum?”

Tapping into the arterial vein of Los Angeles street life, Ferguson’s poetry oozes raw emotion with a pink underbelly. Be it the “boom-boom beat of all these bombs dropping” after the loss of a dear friend or the recollection of one night’s cross-dressing exploits (“The panty hose was the hardest to get on. Every inch of the way, the elastic material constricted movement, bound blood, itched the skin”), Ferguson’s inimitable interplay of lyric and language, culture possessed and exorcised by words and wordsmiths, haunted shadows on sidewalks, beckons the listener/reader line by line to sway side to side like a healed Stevie Wonder to the beat of a song wholly his own in statu nascendi inter spem et metum.

Ferguson has studied poetry alongside the poetic voice of the Beat Generation, Allen Ginsberg (Howl), shared a stage with the likes of the Godmother of Punk, Patti Smith (Horses), and even recently appeared—as in Monday, July 12, 2010 recent—on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” accompanying musical guest Tracy Bonham (Masts of Manhatta). If you thought the cowbell went out of style with Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken, think again. Ferguson could play the spoons or a musical instrument made from the cardboard remains of a toilet paper tube, strung tight with rubber bands, and you would still be hypnotized by a soulful magician not to be confused with Rich “The Ice Breaker” Ferguson.

Ferguson’s words are not silky smooth like white clouds in blue skies peppered with pretty birds singing love sonnets. The man is less Wordsworth and more Whitman. Whitman 2.0, 2010, Los Angeles, California. Rough to the touch like sandpaper grit that picks at the epidermal layer of your skin in little square, flaky bits.

Cue Clark Griswold. Drum roll please . . . .



JEFFREY PILLOW: First Rich, thanks for taking the time to dissolve this East Coast/West Coast beef between Biggie and Pac and talk with me. How would you describe the parallel of music, rhythm, and rhyme in your spoken word/poetry?

RICH FERGUSON: Before I began performing spoken word on a fairly regular basis I started out as a musician. Drums were my first instrument. I gradually moved on to singing lead, and later learned how to play the guitar so I could write songs. Over the years while playing music in various rock bands, I was always doing spoken word on the side. Sometimes within the band as well. During those years of training, rhythm and rhyme was obviously a big part of my diet. Once I began performing spoken word, and writing material for performance, I found that some of those skills crossed over quite naturally into the material. In regards to spoken word, however, I’ve been very fortunate to have people champion my work. One person that comes to mind is Bob Holman. He’s a fantastic NYC poet/educator. I feel very blessed to have him in my life. He’s really opened quite a few doors for me in regards to performing opportunities and meeting various writers over the years.

JP: I believe it was Duke [Haney] who said this once over at The Nervous Breakdown, though I may be misquoting him (or someone else if it wasn’t Duke), that music was the creative instigator, that it all started with music at a young age. Music does that, doesn’t it? Sends a pulse right through your veins. It only takes one song during the years of teenage angst to send you on a path where you never look back.

RF: Yeah, I’d say that music was a definite creative instigator for me as well. From a very early age, as early as 3 or so, I was always listening to the FM radio and beating the hell out of the naugahyde sofa, and singing along at the top of my lungs–even when I didn’t know the words. Music’s always been the engine that has fueled me throughout life. I’ve been very fortunate to play music as well. And when I say fortunate, not only do I feel it’s been such a blessing to play music, but I’ve also had the good fortune to meet some of the most amazing people I’ve ever known through the experience of playing music. That gift led me quite naturally into performing spoken word. Whether I’m playing or recording with actual musicians, or performing by myself, I always aspire to bring a certain musicality to everything I say and how I say it.

JP: Influences? Anything really: music, fiction writers, nonfiction, neighbors, oddballs, circus clowns, carnies, et cetera.

RF: Musical influences: I get a lot of crap for this one, but Rush is really one of my first musical influences. Or I should say that Neil Peart is the guy that got me interested in playing drums. Terry Bozzio is another drummer that’s been a big influence over the years. I actually had the extreme good fortune and honor to meet him last year and collaborate with him on a spoken word/music video piece entitled, “From Within to Without.” I think it’s on my YouTube page.

Fiction writers: I love Raymond Carver. Not so much because I feel like I write like him. Mainly because I don’t write like him. Let me explain . . . sometimes I feel like I use way too many words to get my point across. Carver is one of those writers that is able to go straight for the heart, straight for the jugular vein in the fewest words. His work is very lean and to the point. I admire that greatly.

JP: I hear ya’. I’ve tried to train myself to not be so longwinded yet I still fail miserably. I get it from my Mama. That woman can straight release some words from her gut, which is fairly amazing since she has a blib on one of her lungs. Collapsed way back when from blowing up a pool float.

Your thoughts on pool floats or other inflatable devices?

RF: So sorry to hear that your mom had such a hard time with that pool float. As for me, I can’t recall a problem with pool floats or inflatable devices. Now that I think of it, though, not long ago I went to see Brad Listi interview Chuck Palahniuk here in L.A. During the course of the interview, Chuck threw some inflatable toys into the audience. Some were huge Oscar-like statues. Others were giant-sized hearts. Everyone in the audience–and we’re talking a pretty big theater–were huffing and puffing trying to blow up these toys. Me, I damn near thought I was going to get a collapsed lung while blowing up that heart. But I made it. In fact, I currently have it sitting in my living room.

JP: Sorry, sorry. Influences, yes. Back to that.

RF: There are other writers that I love reading for inspiration: Neruda, Rilke, Rumi. I love the mystical and lyrical nature of their voices. I also enjoy the poetry of Patti Smith, Mayakovsky, and Saul Williams.

A couple other fiction writers I enjoy: Richard Brautigan, George Saunders, and Mark Richard. I just love their sense of imagination and word play.

In regards to other inspirations: Heck, inspiration is all around in everyday life. I’m trying to get better at picking up the clues.

JP: Six degrees of Kevin Bacon, I have to ask: Patti Smith . . . you once performed on the same stage with her. What was this experience like?

RF: Performing with Patti Smith was amazing. A dream come true, really. The amazing NYC poet, Bob Holman, was the mastermind that put that show together. The only thing that could’ve made the evening even better would’ve been having the opportunity to hang out with Patti and pick her brain a bit about her experiences and let her know how much she’s influenced not only my creative work, but my life. But she was pretty much keeping to herself that evening, so I didn’t bug her.

JP: And [Allen] Ginsberg? Jeez man, you studied with Ginsberg? I keep a copy of Howl and Other Poems at my cube at work. I jokingly said to my wife when I started writing for TNB that the crowd there is like The Beat Generation: 21st Century Edition starring [Brad] Listi as Jack Kerouac, and if anyone should play Ginsberg then it’s gotta be Rich.

RF: Frankly, I don’t think I should be the one playing Ginsberg. Actually, that should be another TNB contributor: Milo Martin. Some years ago when he was living in S.F. he was propositioned by Ginsberg at City Lights Bookstore. Milo graciously refused the offer. Still, near blowjobs over writing workshops–I think that officially puts Milo at a lesser degree of separation from Allen than me.

JP: How are you different than Rich “The Ice Breaker” Ferguson, the magician?

RF: This is a funny question. I never became aware of this guy until someone once wrote me and said: “So I googled your name and this magician guy came up. Some other guy named Rich Ferguson.” I did a little bit of investigating and saw that this guy has TONS of videos on YouTube and stuff. In fact, I think when you google the name Rich Ferguson, his name comes up before mine. At one point, when you googled the name, he came up, I came up, then there was this cross-dresser in London that also came up. Since then, I think the London cross-dresser has changed his name. I think he was really starting to feel the heat. Ultimately, it’s one of the my life ambitions to beat the magician Rich Ferguson in the Google pool. I actually spoke to him once on the phone, and we had a great conversation. He’s a super sweet guy.

Jeffrey Dahmer Pillow

JP: I feel ya’ Rich. It took me a while to climb Google’s ladder too. Back in the day, the first search results you’d get when you googled me were Jeffrey Dahmer pillows and Jeff Gordon pillows. But no more. The Jeffrey Dahmer pillows still trump me sometimes in the Google Images search. Unfortunately for some likely cannibals and future serial killers out there, they sadly come upon my website from time to time when searching for Jeffrey Dahmer collectibles. Google Analytics has clued me in.

I had to ask about The Ice Breaker. When I was doing research for my article, the magic man appeared. I think as me and Greg [Olear] discussed once, when you do a search of Brad and The Nervous Breakdown, you get links to a Brad Paisley song of the same name . . . .

I’m sure you’ve been asked this a dozen times already but how was the experience on ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno?’ You were groovin’ dude. In synch hand claps. The cow bell. You were straight jamming on stage.

RF: The Leno experience was great. The crew was great. The band that I played with [Tracy Bonham] was amazing. Here’s the thing, though. There’s a tremendous amount of waiting around. That’s the one thing I wasn’t prepared for. I got there at 9:30 a.m. There was a sound check at 11:00. Then there was a lunch break. At 1:30 we did a tech run-through with cameras. Then we had to sit around until 4:45 when we did the actually taping. Yeah, the most challenging part of the whole deal was to have to sit around for all that time, then when they said, “You’re on” you really had to be on. Because we basically just had one shot at the whole thing.

JP: Well, you guys damn sure nailed it . . . .

What’s a good web address where folks can listen to your work?

RF: Two places where people can check out my spoken word/music tracks and videos are MySpace (www.myspace.com/richferguson) and YouTube (www.youtube.com/fuzzydoodah).

JP: One last thing, Mrs. Butterworth or Aunt Jemima? Who makes the best maple syrup? Inquiring minds want to know.

RF: I’ll go with Aunt Jemima. If for no other reason than I grew up with her. Gotta stay loyal to my homegirl. She gave me many fine, sweet mornings during childhood breakfasts.

JP: Thanks for your time Rich. Best of luck in your continuing beat in the literary world.

RICH FERGUSON has performed across the country and has been heard on many radio stations, including WBAI in New York City, KCRW and KPFK in Southern California, and World Radio. He has shared the same stage with Patti Smith and Janet Hamill, Exene Cervenka, David Thomas of Pere Ubu, Holly Prado, and many other esteemed poets and musicians. He has performed at the Redcat Theater in Disney Hall, the Electric Lodge (Venice, CA), The Knitting Factory (NYC & LA), the South by Southwest Music Festival, the North By Northwest Music Festival, the Henry Miller Library, Tongue and Groove, Beyond Baroque, and the Topanga Film Festival. On the college circuit he has performed at UC Irvine, UC-Santa Barbara, UCLA, El Camino College, and Cal State Northridge. He is a featured performer in the sequel to the film 1 Giant Leap. It’s called What About Me, and also features Michael Stipe, Michael Franti, K.D. Lang, Krishna Das, and others. Ferguson has studied poetry with Allen Ginsberg and fiction writing with Aimee Bender and Sid Stebel. In addition, he has been published in the LA TIMES, spotlighted on PBS (Egg: The Art Show), is a regular contributor to The Nervous Breakdown, and his spoken word/music CD, entitled Where I Come From, was produced by Herb Graham Jr. (John Cale, Macy Gray).

we used to be goddesses and we used to be gods
and we slipped into one another like teeth into fruit

and we threw the hammer with such extricable force
that all the mangy donkeys turned into magnificent asses

and we intertwined so heavily that we thought that we were nearly dead
interlacing so completely we thought we were passing away

and I was a soldier from Tripoli and you were a nurse from Iran
and you kissed my sponged forehead and held my non-existent hand

and you helped me to slip silently into the sleep of 77 swans
and I waited for you forever to come and to join me there

and I remember when I was a father and you were a basketmaker
and you motioned me back to the darkened room and I felt uncomfortable

and we were serpentine lovers licking one another in the long grass of the meadow
no one could see us except the floating hippopotami overhead

and we used to be stellar jays, stellar jays in the old world that was California
almost six hundred and thirteen years ago now, hopping stick-scratched into the dirt

ancient aviaries in a future pod flitting and flying the riverbanks
from limb to branch – from crook to stone – from rock to silent pool

and we were considerate of dualistic patterns
touching feathers in the late-afternoon ambulatory sun

beak into lips when the moment slowed into light
hidden amongst the secret sumac leaves of eternal reprobation

and we watched the Ohlone Indians making gawee gawee love
on sand gravel river beaches behind big white rocks

and we would get up close enough to hear the exotic muffled language
the frenetic whispers of small forest animals being mauled

able to witness the undulations under brownberry skin
twitching like water bugs on moving beds of mercurial moss

and we were Kennedy-era poets smelling the insides of ovens and rowing in boats
making each other jealous with every word we said to someone else

and we drank and we drank and we drank all the way through prohibition
ruling the streets like spoiled princesses and jacked-up jacks

holding no regard for most anything except for bright lights, fancy wheels and
cigarette holders and the way we looked when we passed by the big shiny windows

and we were perpetrators of high-minded concept crimes
but we never got caught because we had the Overhead Projector on our side

and in the morning we fucked up in the attic and sucked down in the laundry room late at night and we rushed to conclusions about the Harmonium Manifesto

and you were an urban barmaid and I was a rural businessman
and you showed me what it was to finally have some class

and you were a whore and I was anointed
and you drank wine from the center of my embarrassed hand

and they put me on a dusty mule, saluted me with umbrellaed palms
and my friend spoke out against me and exposed my special magic

and we ate my body and they drank my blood
and you kissed my cheek and they sold me out

and it was the blasphemy, the blasphemy springing from our very own lips
exposing us to be nothing more than throwers of common stone

and we talked about thresholds and about how scary our dreams had become
and the ants bit into our calves and we felt the Star of David poking into our groins

and we swam and we swam and we swam and we inhaled the salty water
and the ghosts in our bathtubs were drowned like soap bubbles down a plughole

and it was the same dream, it was the same old dream
and it licked the lobes of our ears like bees off-target

and we ran the same ground and we drank the same cider
and we used to talk like verbage was going out of style

and we kissed pomegranates in the benevolent shade of papery trees
and I flicked your wrist and you sighed like a glamorous bird

but you could see right through me like a mailman into a window
and I would sponge your fears if I were a telepathic god

and if I could, I would go back and rectify all the hatchings
make everything turn out OK, the way they were all supposed to be

back when you were a goddess and I was a god
lounging in the center of our exclusive glassular cloud

looking down to the planetary lapels of white carnations and red incarnations
reincarnations spelling the coming, the coming and the coming

where we both understood in the fraction of an auburn eyelash
that this whole perpetual venture was hinged on us living after forever

Would you like something to drink before we start our interview?

What do you have, praytell?

I only have frosty cold Newcastle beer.

That’s perfect, actually.  Newcastle is my absolute favorite.  Do you have any smokes?

Only Parliament Lights or Malby Reds.

Excellent. I’ll take one of each. Let us commence.

OK so let’s get right to the controversial meat of the matter, so to speak: is there truth to the tale that Allen Ginsberg propositioned you for sex back in the late 80s?

Do you mind if I get at least one beer in me before I tackle that question?

Yeah sure, sure.  OK so, the name of your most recent collection of poetry is entitled Poems for the Utopian Nihilist.  What exactly is meant by Utopian Nihilism?

For any self-respecting literary intellectual, I think the term is self-explanatory and that’s why I chose to construct it as such.

Oh c’mon, just play the game…

OK, the term represents a simple human philosophical paradox not unlike say, Religious Atheism, or say, a Positive Naysayer or something as basic as Sweet and Sour.  It is the gazelle and the lion and the lion and the gazelle.  The salt and the pepper of things.  The sacred and the profane making passionate off-the-hook love.  The Utopian thinker believes or wants to believe in a perfect world whereas the Nihilist knows through personal experience and the bitter scarring reality of socialization, that this world and our existence in it, is entirely imperfect. Either everything in this Life is sacred or nothing in this Life is sacred at all.  And yes, the twain do meet.  They meet all the time.  Sublemon/sublime, baby

Are the Utopian Nihilists a cult?

No, not exactly. The Utopian Nihilists do, however, represent a new movement in spoken word and written 21st Century poetry, ranging from France to Germany to Estonia to California.  Emo, modern, ancient hardship type of stuff…tragic yet wondrous…and very romantic in a disillusioning sense, where your heart is being licked gently by a beautifully-colored Poison Dart frog and you feel all euphoric in that moment but you know that you are dying…there is a innocent sadness and a romantic longing as well as a callous, dubious nature which understands disappointment on grand levels…the Utopian Nihilist poet writes from a timeless perspective using a contemporary vernacular edge, synthesizing the transcendent and the downtrodden.  In any poem of human horror there shall always be at least a pinhole of light.

So personally, what are you trying to do with your Subjective Imagist poetry?

Mainly, I am an image-shooter, wherein I like to inscribe vivid images into the mind of the reader, to force the reader to see that picture that I am beaming out to them, and in a very basic, universal way.  Kneeling alone in a cathedral listening to candles… everyone can see and feel that image.  Almost so that a sixth-grader could see the image, providing they could read at a proficient level, and feel the image for what it is in a concrete primary way. Maybe a sixth grader wouldn’t glean all the references, the layers over top and underneath or in an academic way, necessarily, but the images are designed so that any reader should be able, on at least one level, to see the image exactly as I want to convey it.  I’m not into esoterics or surreal cryptograms that people have to decipher with a decoder ring or a Master’s degree.  But mainly, this is the new poetry.  I mean, I dig the metaphysical mysterious higher realm and that is a large part of my shit but I don’t want to shut anybody out by creating literary conundrums that they have to strain to understand.

You seem to be a rather chipper, happy, devil-may-care sort of fellow who spreads much love in this world.  So what’s with all the dark/bummer stuff in your writing?

The “emo” or melancholy emotive quality is not something I attempt to inject but rather, organically emerges on a consistent basis in my writing.  I am not inherently a sad person but rather, a positive amateur Zen-minded person and for some reason, a certain sadness floods my writing—of human isolation, of oppression, of the death of relationships and all living things. But I’ve experienced a lot of pain and death in my life so I suppose I see IT for what IT is and go with IT…it’s an embracing of that which is natural and supernatural…and although I can be heavy-handed, I’m all about the celebration of overcoming adversity and the exultation of love, birds and blooming flowers.

Describe “Subjective Imagist.”

The subjective aspect refers to the author’s editorial or personae NOT being present whatsoever. My personae does not matter. Milo’s take on things is not important within the framework of a larger piece.  It is an omniscient voice, which does the speaking and the proselytizing and the object, animal or second or third person, which traditionally takes precedence.  I have not been a confessional poet because that which sprouts from my bellybutton. I do not consider my opinion or private life to be important enough to share with the general public…I might talk about the play of light on the bathroom floor in the mid-afternoon but not what Milo Martin thinks about the play of light on the bathroom floor…you dig?  But I love confessional poetry like Anne Sexton…I’ve written a lot of confessional poetry but I’m just not ready to reveal it…not just yet…as far as the imagist poetry is concerned, the unadulterated use of strings of images to create the desired emotions I want to convey is tantamount to my writing, without explicitly framing anything, leaving that exclusively up to the interpreter to thereby reconcile the sometimes very disparate yet specific images, to personally create an even larger image and therefore an exponential statement.

The number 11 can be seen all through your writings.  What does the number 11 mean to you?

First and foremost, it’s a powerful, mystical transitional number…second of all, it’s a transcendental number, third, it is the number of birds and angels and insects… certain people, and you know who you are, see the universal affirmation of 11:11 on their clocks or computers everyday…yes, it means something…it is the larger spirit giving us reaffirmation that what we are doing is right or that we need to be doing something else. The presence of a higher spirit or the parallel dimension. There is actually a worldwide cult following centered around 11 and 11:11.  And Nelson Mandela was released from prison on 2/11 and we know what happened on 9/11…and the World War II armistice was solidified on 11/11 in the 11th hour…these are portholes we pass through where the world becomes different…

What is your favorite fruit?

Avocados.  Ripe avocados.  Al dente avocados.  With salt and pepper and a spoon.  And a bit of mayonnaise sometimes.  Or as my friend Michi Ukawa hipped me to, wasabi and soy sauce drizzled on avocadoes…sublime really.  Or Monterey Jack cheese, mayo and tomato and sprouts with big thick slices of peppered avocado on multi-grain bread…

So are you a Vegetarian?

Yes for 18 years now…it is no longer necessary to eat murdered animals when we have all the food that we want to eat…I mean, if we were in a poor forest and the ground was frozen and our only alternative was to snare a rabbit to cook, ok…but that is not the case anymore…why does our society spend billions of dollars on vital resources and food supplies to systematically murder our brothers and sisters and package them up like homogenized meat products and then push them through our innards to shit them out 6 hours later? What good does that do anyone except to perpetuate violence and death-oriented gluttony based on an archaic tradition of barbarism?  What about love and consideration?  Doing unto others as they would have them do unto us?  Do those Christian principles go right out the window when we want to have a hamburger?

What’s the best piece of advice given you to this point?

My mother at age 9 told me, “You can’t give a fuck about what anyone ever thinks about you” and that was the first time I had heard her use the “F” word…and I have always employed a certain disregard in regards to my art.  Some people love my shit and some are vehemently opposed.  Some people think I am full of shit.  Some people think I hold value. And that’s alright because we are here to prick the consciousness and provoke thought, positive and negative…and I always applied that to Slam and I never gave a shit about Slam because I didn’t give a fuck if my poem was the best or the most popular, I wanted to provoke thought and shoot images but I never had one iota of any aspiration of winning a slam by ranting or raving or being funny or animated…because art and competition, in my most humble estimation, is well, inane…I ain’t never been no one’s dancing sweetheart and I suppose I never will be…

How many poetry slams have you won?

Zero. I have never, ever won a Slam in my life…I have, in fact, come in second many times…

Well then why the hell did you get into Slam?

Ben Porter Lewis convinced me in the late 90s that Slam would elevate the art of spoken word and poetry in general…I was skeptical yes but saw first-hand going to slams and poetry events in the late 90s, that there was indeed, a bona fide renaissance in populist poetry and that in fact, the Slam movement and late 20th century poetry was garnering mass attention and population…hell at the 1998 National Slam in Austin, Texas, there was a crowd at the Finals of over 1200 and CNN covering the event…the Beats were getting 40 people at their readings…there is an actual statistical fact that, in the last 15 years, more people have attended poetry events than in the whole of the 20th Century combined…true…therefore Slam across the world has drastically increased exposure to poetry and in particular the spoken word…VIVA POESIE and the exposure to poetry to beings who wouldn’t normally be listening to poetry!  It is a classical art form and must remain alive at all costs…the new movement in poetry has done more than that; it has given poetry a brand-new life, never seen before in history…and here we are, a part of it…

Poetic influences?

From the Old School–Anne Sexton, Allen Ginsberg, Jean Cocteau, Charles Bukowski, Gregory Corso,  Elizabeth Bishop, Dylan Thomas, Raymond Carver, Jack Micheline, and a lot of people from the LA scene– Chris Tannahill  Yvonne de la Vega,  Ben Porter Lewis, Wanda Coleman, Rich Ferguson, Jerry the Priest, Nathan Green, Peter Coca, Jeff McDaniel, Daphne Gottlieb (SF), Ellyn Maybe, Steve Abee and the whole East Hollywood ONYX scene back in the day…certainly all the POESIE UNITED guys, who are some of the most-respected spoken word/slam guys in the world and who taught me much about true vocal dynamic intensity and brotherhood:  Antoine Faure, Tobias Hoffmann, Wehwalt Koslovsky and Ben Porter Lewis—Utopian Nihilists all…

Musical influences as they pertain to lyrics?

Black Sabbath, Fugazi, Morphine, Sex Pistols, Neil Young, Public Enemy, Wire, Pink Floyd, Bernie Taupin, Tom Waits, David Bowie, Lungfish, The Beach Boys and Radiohead. All pretty emo (except PE).   I would include My Bloody Valentine and early REM but it’s hard to make out a lot of their words…it’s more about the palpable texture of the heavy harmonies the words make rather than the actual words themselves…

So you’ve toured Europe doing spoken word poetry?

I’ve toured Europe four times with the multi-lingual international spoken word crew, POESIE UNITED.

What impressed you about the poetry scene in Europe?

Many things:  #1, a deep reverence for poetry, classical and modern #2, many Europeans speak English better than Americans #3, cultural monies are devoted to the arts and in my case, I  get paid good money for poetry performances #4, people buy books and value books and read books #5, poets are considered to be the highest agents of literary form in Croatia and #6, in a crowded bar of 400 people drinking heavily, one can hear a coin drop when the poet hits the stage…

What are your favorite cities in Europe?

Berlin, Freiburg, Paris, Amsterdam, Zagreb, Tartu

Cities you disliked?

I fucking hated Prague.  Goddamned city of atheist pickpockets, grimy violent gypsies, dead-eyed cold people who can’t make a salad to save their lives.  Or a bagel.  When the Jews were taken away to “Holiday Camp” in the 30s and 40s, no one bothered to ask anyone for the recipe for bagels. What buffoons.  And I was in Prague for over a month and I know bagels.  They couldn’t make a proper bagel that tasted anything better than a shoe rubber, swear to god.  Tried about 6 times to no avail.  All bagels in Prague are horrible. All I wanted was a cup a coffee and a decent bagel…They just don’t have the savoir faire there…I studied there in the summer of ’03 and albeit I met some cool writers and the beer (Krusovice) and the coffee were good, the spirit in all of the churches was non-existent and sterile.  No wonder Kafka was so depressed.  Now I certainly understand that the Czechs were jacked-up and occupied by the Nazis and the Russians in the same century, and certainly going back to the 11th Century,  occupied and brutalized by the Ottoman Empire, but there existed a real sense of guardedness and anti-hospitality and it just didn’t feel welcoming or warm whatsoever. I just didn’t like Prague but as it turned out, I wrote some pretty good poetry there that ended up being published.  I actually wrote a lot of stuff in Prague.  But I hated it there and oh the porn stars on parade. Lord have mercy but all the chicks in Prague are porn stars in waiting or being.  All healthy and fed with saucy potatoes and meaty goulash their whole lives, bodies beautiful in an exotic Slavic sense, bouncing and beautiful and fair, wearing almost absolutely nothing in the sweltering summer months, with sunglasses and heels and a lot of times, no panties.  Christ I fucking hated Prague. Partially because I was in Prague with my fiancé at the time who became my wife who became my second ex-wife.

Ok so let’s move on, shall we? To lighter things– what is the singular movie that gives you hope?

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, bar none.

Good one!  Psychedelic Technicolor poetry magic, baby!

I always wanted to be virtuous and rewarded like Charlie.

It is rumored that you are Jewish and color-blind…is there truth to these assertions?

Yes I am half-Swedish Jew.  However I wasn’t raised Jewish (except for one year) but going back to childhood, most of my best friends have been Jewish. And many Jewish girlfriends. I am half-Jewish and proud of the tribe.  And yes I am Red-Green color blind.  So the way you see green is the way that I see red.  All my trees are red.  All my fire engines are green.  But it really doesn’t mean anything to me as since the day I was born, it’s always been like this to my eyes…it’s reduced to semantics: if, from the date of your birth, people told you that an automobile was called a fox and a fox was called an automobile, it would be automatic and ingrained into you and that’s how you would always operate….  however, because of this anomaly, I will never legally be able to pilot  a plane or captain a ship.  Or be an air traffic controller.  There are times at stoplights when I see for micro seconds the green to be red and vice versa…the 80s were hell for me with all those red and green album covers…my eyes were shifting madly…

OK so, the Allen Ginsberg encounter: are you comfortable in discussing that now?

I suppose I am lubed up enough at this point.

Nice.  So where did you meet and what were the circumstances? And did he really hit you up for sex?

I don’t think there was a young male poet that Ginsberg didn’t hit up for sex.  I was probably one of thousands of nervous straight poet guys he propositioned.  It was 1988, City Lights Books in San Francisco. He was reading poems from White Shroud and signing after.  Back then, I always had big messy hair and I remember vividly trying to look ‘literary’ for when I met him and so I combed and slicked back my hair for the event. There is a photo of us in the back of Poems for the Utopian Nihilist and it is the only picture that exists of me with my hair combed. Anyway, my eyes met his and he immediately insisted I come behind the signing table and sit down right beside him.  I was sorta freaked-out but sorta glowing.  Shit, this was my poetic idol.  “You’re going to sit right there,” he said, “while I finish signing and then we’re going to talk.”  When it was just me and him at the end, he turned to me and asked very casually, “So, what do you do for sex?”  I stammered something probably very incoherent or innocuous when he pushed on.  “So like, boys, girls, insects, automobiles?”  I immediately picked up on the automobile tact and told him I had recently read JG Ballard’s Crash and tried to divert his attention to a conversation about auto-eroticism and car crash fetishism.  “So you like to have sex in cars?” “Well yeah sometimes but…” “Well then, where’s your car? he asked…“You’re something else,” I said to him.  “No, “ he admonished,” I am like Everything else…now would you like to come back to my hotel and smoke a joint and further discuss these poems in private?”  It was evident he was gonna try to hunker down on Bobo.  I hemmed and I hawed and I’m sure, as a green 25 year-old, my repartee was very lame and I was intimidated terribly.  I just was not into sagging New Jersey Jewish poetry men, at least not sexually…”Well if you change your mind or aren’t doing anything later, I’ll be at the Fairmont.  You know where it is…” I always sorta regretted that decision not to con a little more face time with one of American’s great poets and share a slice of the cosmos with a sophisticated head but then again, I don’t lie very well and well, I’m just too much into girls…and I knew there was gonna be some fellatio involved…and I guess I wasn’t completely ready for that…

Why did you make this interview thing so long and involved?  All the other TNB self-interviews are so succinct and clever, masterful in their brevity…

Well if you didn’t fucking ask me so many questions and so many complex questions, there wouldn’t be a problem then, would there?

But you are the asker…

Whatever, man…

Any last words?

Treat each person freshly and without precedent, eleven:eleven, and

Utopian Nihilists unite!

“Prof Martin” photo courtesy of Michi Ukawa.  “BigM” photo photo courtesy of Sabrina Hill.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s official.

The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience will be taking place at The Echo on Saturday, April 10th, 2010.  Celebrating National Poetry Month.

Many thanks to our friends at Stories Bookstore in Echo Park for their help in making it all congeal.

The details:

Are you related to the 16th Century Renaissance poet, Garcilaso de la Vega?

Probably, but who knows?

What’s in a name?

Well, there is history in every name. The name de la Vega is almost synonymous to poetry according to most of the research I’ve done. You know, lineage is becoming more and more of a relative topic these days since the New Age spawned spin-offs like alien acceptance, tarot awareness, divination, and fairies, you know…

Are you an alien?


Why did your WORDBEAT Co-host Milo Martin nickname you “Yvonne of The Blue Star”?

Because of my name. There is a star in the blue spectrum of the universe called “Vega” and it’s blue, sometimes referred to as “The Blue Star”. In Espan—l, “de la” means “of the”. Thus, “Yvonne of the Blue Star”.  But no, I am not an alien.

What’s going on with WORDBEAT?

We’ll be back LIVE in April, for National Poetry Month, for now we’re on an unofficial hiatus due to priorities. You can still enjoy the archived segments at www.blogtalkradio.com/wordbeat

If you like poetry and jazz go check it out. You can also find it on iTunes under “Podcasts”.

That was shameless plug wasn’t it?

If you say so.

Who are your favorite poets?

My favorite writer of all time would be Robert Graves. He said two things that never left me. “Poets are born, and not made” and the other is, “There is no money in poetry, but then there is no poetry in money either.” I’m a fan of Lord Byron and what he represents in history as a poet, a revolutionary and a lover. For, where would we be without the Age of Enlightenment?

I recently, believe it or not, fell in love with Jim Morrison, how he knew the truth and had a warrior’s spirit. I love Bukowski’s realist raunch in The Fuck Machine, and Anne Sexton’s courage to live as long as she did. Bob Dylan’s Writings and Drawings by Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell’s songbook. There are so many more, and many amongst my own peers, to name just a few isn’t fair so, next?

What are your plans for the future?

I really plan to stop flying by the skin of my teeth, but I’m afraid that if that happens, I would have to sacrifice inspiration. On a more concrete note, I’m just finishing up a screenplay, an animated film that I started writing three years ago.  I’m looking forward to the publishing of my new book, Tomorrow, Yvonne-Poetry & Prose for Suicidal Egotists, and there’s a new idea being tossed around: Ray Manzarek of The Doors just emailed me and brought up an idea we’d come up with the last time I saw him, and that was to go to the White House with a sextet that would consist of three poets and a jazz trio. That would be him on piano, Karl Vincent on bass and a drummer. We want to perform at Obama’s night of poetry at The White House.

What is a suicidal egotist?

Someone who would like to kill themselves but is far too vain to be caught dead after actually having done it.

Are you happy?

I’m hopeful. Times are changing for the better I think, and I’m looking forward to the improvement of the quality of life for everyone. I want everyone on the planet to be happy.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell everyone?

Not really. I’m surprised you got me to say this much, but thank you and everyone for the opportunity of having to talk about myself.  I understand it’s important, and I am grateful. Oh, and…I like turtles.

and when you see the Buddha
his eyebrows will be comprised of deer moss

and his belly shall contain the sadness of a river
floating with dead tree branches

and when you see the Buddha
he will appear to you as priest of the invisible

slipping from his lips shall be a mute poetry
summoning one true moment in the highlight of a house chamber

and when you see the Buddha
his ears will resemble antennas and ferns

picking up a melodious frequency
from the gateway of emasculated stars

and when you see the Buddha
he might take the form of a pregnant lady

who used to be a disgruntled man
who now holds the secret to everything deep down inside

and when you see the Buddha
he might tell you that there is no blessing

and that there is no sin
but squint you must through the interlacing leaves of the Bodhi tree

and when you see the Buddha
ask him if he’s ever been hit with a belt or had his nose broken by an envious fist

ask him if he’s ever had his heart punctured by the spike of a high-heeled shoe
or gone hungry for four wicked days in a row

ask him if any war is worth the casual loss of limbs
and whether humans have the legal right to construct laws

ask him if we all wallow through this terrible tide of shit
or whether it’s all just a state of mind, state of mind

ask him if the homeboy in the wheelchair will ever fuck again on the beach
or gain any real sense of unmitigated peace

ask him if the flowery narcotics are a benefit to our elevated heads
or whether they are representations of the lacerations to our true aspirations

ask him if the ivy vines ever lose their direction along the way
and if you get to the top of the mountain, isn’t it just a different place to be?

ask the Buddha if he ever wears socks and if so, what color are they
and were they manufactured in a sweatshop in the Philippines
by 9 year-old children smoking cigarettes?

ask him if women are inherently a cruel, cruel breed
or whether they are wisdom-filled angels

ask him if actual wealth is actually possible
or is it all just a disillusioning illusion of a mockery of a sham

ask him if Everything in this life is sacred
or that Nothing is really sacred and Nothing really matters at all

and does there really exist a Buddha within the center of the iron bell
or is it just thick forged metal sitting in a darkened lump?

there does exist a Buddha, there does exist a Buddha
there is no Buddha, there is no god

there is no wisdom, there is no knowledge
there is no god, except for god

and when you see the Buddha
he will know absolutely Nothing but he will be the thinker of all things

and his eyes will light with the flame of eleven thousand candles
tended to and puffed on by silent Chinese dragons

and his legs will cross like licorice in a jar
and he will embody the lines in all things

and by the way, when you see the Buddha
tell him that I said hello
and that I really miss my baby

I was now transfixed on the snow pack up on the roof of that big red barn. Out of the blue.


Something told me it was gonna fall. It was all gonna come down. All eleven tons of it. All at the same time. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind.

“How do you know?” Boner asked.

“I dunno,” I said, “I just know. I can feel it.”

“Come on,” Boner said.

“No man, it’s gonna happen. It’s all gonna come sliding off. In one fell swoop. I’m tellin’ ya. You’ll see.”

“You’re fuckin’ high, Milo.”

“I may be high,” I said, “but somethin’ told me when we got out of the Carlo,


that all that snow is gonna come sliding off that roof.”

“How can you tell? Did you see it move?”

“No, not exactly. It’s more of a premonition. Sorta like a déjà vu that hasn’t materialized yet.”

Milo, that same pack of snow has been up there for months. Like four or five months. What makes you think it’s gonna come down right now, while we’re watching?”

“Like I said, I don’t know exactly how I know, but I know. Sometimes you just know stuff. Just keep watching that roof Boner and we are going to see it come down.”

“Well, I doubt it’s gonna come down right now but if it does come down, those cows milling around underneath are gonna get sacked.”


“You’re right. Good point. Maybe we should try to scare them off or lead them into the barn or alert the farmer or…”

“How do we even know it’s gonna happen right now? Or in the next twenty minutes? Or in the middle of the night? Or three days from now? We don’t. That’s the point, Milo, we don’t know. Shit, man.”

“It is gonna happen. Just hang tight.”

“Ah man, we could be watchin’ Hogan’s Heroes right now. It’s after 3:30.”

“You don’t believe me? You think I’m jivin’ you?”

“I don’t know, man. You get freaky sometimes when you get stoned. And you make all these big cosmic proclamations. And you expect me to go along with them. And you know for the most part, it’s just the hooch talkin’.” It’s just the hooch talkin’. It’s just the hooch talkin’.

I remained glued to the roof of the massive barn, my lids at half-mast, knowing the descent of that snow was inevitable.

“Sometimes Boner, the hooch knows what it’s talkin’ about. The hooch helps us to see dimensions of things we wouldn’t ordinarily see, you know, a hyper-sensitivity. A super-reality. There’s like, a central receptacle within all of us that holds everything. Knows everything.”

“I think that’s what they call the Scrotum, bro.” Boner slapped his leg.

“OK. You can goof all you want Boner, but I’m actually pretty serious right now. I’m talking about the Omniscient Wisdom Container.”

“The om-fucking what kind of container?”

“The Omniscient Wisdom Container. The…the…the…the eternal bloom holder. A…a…a crystal saline water vase that holds eleven oceans. The like, sordid history within our cellular patterns. The cumulative knowledge in the fat of our earlobes. The trillions of souls in the calves of our legs.”

“OK Mr. Spaceman. If you’re talking about the DNA strip, I can almost dig that. And the human instinct thing too. And if you’re figuring that it’s March and it’s Spring and like, the sun has been out for the past two days, melting and loosening that base of ice up there, I can go with that. But this bloom holder of eternity stuff, you know, I don’t know, man. I mean, that snow could be up there for another week or two. I mean, fuck…”

“Yeah but the thing is, I know and I don’t know how I know, but I just know. C’mon Boner, you gotta be with me on this. It’s ready to go. It’s gonna drop. All of it. All that snow. All like, eleven tons of it. Soon. You’ll see, man.”

“OK Mister Chicken Little-the sky-is-falling saying it again and again. You’re fuckin’ looped, dude.”

“Maybe. Maybe not.”

I could feel Boner surveying me, wrinkling that Pizon schnoz of his and pushing his glasses up, blinking like an owl, wondering if I was just fucking with him, which I was prone to do. He was looking for conviction. Knowing that this very second was crucial, I didn’t flinch, laser beaming the crest of that snow-covered roof with all of my supernatural resolve. He was either gonna leave me standing there in the driveway like a foolish dope or he was going to hang out and commit to the mystical trip.

“Do you wanna smoke, man?”

“Yes,” I said. “I would like a cigarette.”


I had Nicole up just the way she liked it. Squeezed and kneaded her flanks like wet clay, making her move it. I held it good and still, helping every fifth or sixth time. The Tahoe National Forest was positively incandescent natural heaven on this late vernal morning and I was wrapped up and drawn out the window into the bright greens of the Jack pines against the super-white shining of the diamonds in the snow.


My endorphin machine synthesized the natural elements into a sacred sweaty swirl where the aereolic clouds pillowed the loins and cotton was the rooster and everything turned into either hill or valley or river or bush and at the exact moment I put it all over her back, a bird flew into the glass of the window with a sickening little pt-ink-fup, leading with its beak. Our bodies jumped, jerked out of our insular plane. It might as well have been a gunshot.

“What was that?” she asked breathing.

“A bird I think. I think a bird just ran into the window. I’m gonna go see.”

“Stay,” she purred. “It’s just a dead bird.”

“It might not be dead,” I said. “ I’m gonna go check.”

“Milo, c’mon…”

I gathered over to the window and there, bounced three feet back from the house on the hardened snow, lay a Mountain Chickadee,


twitching in the confusing throes of a rude collision.

“It’s still alive. I’m gonna go check it out.”

“C’mon Milo. What’s the big deal? You gonna go out like that? In just your wife-beater?”

I threw my robe on and left my boots untied. The snow by the side of the house had a springtime crust from the run-off and I found myself breaking through six inches down with each step, squinting against the sun. What the hell was I really doing out here anyway?

Coming up on the bird, it appeared now to be silent. Upon closer inspection, it was palpitating slightly, its neck turned unnaturally, its beak partially opened, its eye film half-drawn and a tiny sparkle of light visible in the onyx eye.

“Is it dead?” she asked from the window.

“Nope,” I said. “But she’s in shock all right.”

“Probably more in shock from what she saw through the bedroom window,” she quipped.

“Yeah, damn,” I said, sort of smiling. “That must be it.”

I cupped my hand over her shoulder trying to take her and she sprung, alarmed by my touch. It was most likely the first time she had been touched by anything other than feather, wood, weather or sky.

“Well at least she’s conscious,” I said.

There was no response. I looked up to the window. Nicole had moved on to do something else. I got that weird foolish feeling that you get when you’re talking to someone whom you thought was your captive audience, listening behind you, and they leave the room without saying a word and you jabber on about something important before you find that you’re alone, talking to yourself. Oi.

The bird had leapt toward the house, just under the eaves trough. When I came to her, she lay in a sunspot, huffing. I moved my hands toward her again when a large clear droplet of snow water fell into the ruffles of her neck and she flew off in a start, awkward and wobbly, landing under a juniper bush twenty yards back into the woods. She had summoned enough concentrated strength to fly away into the bushes to either convalesce or to die in peace without the hovering presence of an alien. My grandfather once told me that birds who flew into windows suffered concussions, slipping into temporary comas and as long as their necks weren’t broken and they weren’t attacked by cats in the meantime, they could snap out of their coma on a dime and fly away as if nothing ever happened. Come to think of it, the same phenomena occurred with me when I was tossed over the handlebars of a dirt bike a few years back, landing on the crown of my helmeted head whereupon I popped right back up and got up on the bike, cool as a cucumber. Or so I thought. My friends had seen the accident and told me after the fact, that I had laid motionless for three minutes, appearing very dead, when out of nowhere I popped back up, looking almost possessed. Birds, humans, knockin’ ourselves silly.

I guessed that my work had been done here, not that I really accomplished anything with the bird. And although it was Spring in the mountains and the sun was out, it was still frickin’ cold as a witch’s wrinkled bellybutton and I was still only wearing a robe and boots. I started retracing my tracks, stepping back into the foot-holes toward the house when a low bassey ominous scraping sound jerked my head around to witness the four-foot high pack of snow sliding off of the roof onto the patch of ground where I had been with the bird not forty seconds earlier. A veritable bludgeoning avalanche of a multi-tonnage parcel of frozen water blocks hit the ground with thwomps of muted heaviness certain to flatten or maim any living thing under its deadly cross-hairs. Wow. Fuck. Shit. Goddamn even.

“What was that, Milo?” Nicole asked coming quickly to the window.

I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. She looked down at the pile of thick white tombstones and my footprints leading in. Then she looked over at me, less than ten feet away.

“Holy shit,” she said.

“Holy shit is right,” I said, releasing my breath.

One wouldn’t normally think of falling snow as a leading cause of death but throughout the ages literally thousands of humans, dogs, horses and cattle have been clobbered, paralyzed and killed by snow falling from houses, buildings and mountains, even critically stabbed by falling icicles. Bludgeoned by spring thaw.

And I had been spared. And the bird had been spared. A veritable dual reprieve. Had I saved the bird’s life? Or had the drop of snow water saved the bird’s life, thereby saving my life? And was it possible that the three ounces of bird hitting the window had reverberated through the walls of the house loosening the snow from its moorings? Or had it been the wicked motion within the bedroom? Or had it been the exponential sum of both movements coupled with the spring blast of the sun? Or was it just a coincidence? Or was it a coinciding?

As I attempted to assimilate what had just transpired, I teleported back to Boner and me watching the roof of that barn on that ordinary spring day fifteen years back. I had been so sure and Boner so skeptical and we watched that roof for close to twenty minutes before that snow pack came careening off that 40 x 60 tin roof like the epic frozen ghost of Niagara Falls. I can still see that orange cow, in exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time, crumpling under the weight of that snow, its legs buckling and snapping, a dreadful noise mixed with the muffled caterwaul of a guttural moo. I can still see it. In my wisdom container. I can still see it all. That and the expression on Boner’s face.

you know when you’re washing the dishes

and you find a tall glass

and it’s got a milk spot encrusted right down in the very bottom of it

and in the very center of it

and it’s there and it’s impossibly stubborn

because you’ve neglected your dish washing duties for the last four days

even though you generally don’t mind doing the dishes

it being a meditative task with the water running and all

usually while listening to My Bloody Valentine

or something equally as transcendent as Mingus

and smoking a nice bowl of Purple Nurple

and drinking a tallboy of cheap cold domestic beer while you’re doing the dishes

just to give an extra semblance of significance

and something perhaps bordering on semi-fun

to the utter banality of things

to the existential banality of repetitive patternistic things

not giving it any more significance than God would give it

for God’s sake

but still, an extra semblance of significance

to consider this mundane practice worthy in this very moment in time

this exact moment in time never to be again in the history of the planet

and you can’t quite reach this awkward spot of dry rotten milk

because your hand is too large and it’s a very tall slender glass

and you know, it’s like you know, it’s like a highball glass, you know

like something that Ava Gardner would have drunk a Sea Breeze out of

and so you’re forced to become ingenious about it all

and you, being a tool-using human and all of that

thusly pull a dirty knife up to the fore

and push the sponge down into the glass

and stab at it with the butter knife

and push the tip of the knife down

into the bubbly center of this murky universe

and you scrape it around down in there

round and round in jerky little circles

with the Brillo side of the sponge doing a lot of the work

you being temporarily happy that the Brillo texture was created

for a job just such as this one

for the abrasiveness needed in a situation just like this one

and you pull the sponge out, figuring you got it all out

with your forced agitation and your fading punk rock ethics

and you rinse the glass to still find

to your giant dismay

a miniature Antarctica

still down in the center of this glass

and so you take a hit of your tall boy and you really hunker down

to get this very insignificant yet crucially important task accomplished

and you fuck the sponge this time and just go right at it

with the sharp point of the knife in the bottom of this tall glass

and you have a go at tipping the glass up

and you look at it in the light

and scrape scrape scrape in mappy little lines

where strange formations continue to hold down in the bottom of this unusually tall glass

formations of an almost human nature

and you feel like you’re holding an upside-down bell

and you’re ringing with the ringer like a monk or a priest

and you mumble under your breath of quickly dying breaths

the consciousness of the Never-again, the consciousness of the Ever-again

and the snow star palm tree perspires with the impassioned tears of California Jesus

and the workers are going home, the workers are going home

and  you feel like you’re almost hip to the salt and pepper of things

and to the lion and the gazelle of things

and you can actually hear stars falling gently into a glass ballerina box

and it reminds you of getting the last bit of mayonnaise

down in the very bottom part of the jar when making a sandwich late at night

and it’s that sound, that sound, I tell you old sock

that fucking distinctive tinkling sound of stainless steel on glass sound

and so you’re very thorough and thoughtful with the ringing of this bell

because you wouldn’t want to crack it

like that bell in Philadelphia

or God forbid, have to rinse the soap off of it once again

like if there was a spot being missed, like missing a spot, like an errant spot

that wasn’t being tended to properly

like all of your other neglected personal duties

like all of the dust bunnies underneath your bed

and your unpaid student loan tickets

and the remiss phone calls to your schizophrenic mother

and the forgotten spiritual obligations in your terribly non-obstructive life

however you feel confident that something positive could now be happening

something positive, something illuminating, something absolutely worthy of living

but the joy, the joy, the Non-Ultra Joy

creates the perilous threat of a slippery glass

and one careless move

would make this whole mission completely moot and senseless

and so you pump up the H knob with the scalding water of Los Angeles

jettisoned with an added force straight down into the center

the center of a blown glass bottom being laced and concentrated

with the power and the diligence of clear hot hydrogen bubbles

and you raise the chalice up, up, up toward the light

and you finally gaze upon only clarity and purity

and the right side of cleanliness and godliness

and you finally give the glass its rightful dripping rest

onto the Swedish wooden dish rack

and you take a hit of your tallboy

and you feel good for following through on the small stuff

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 17th, 2009 at 8:36 pm and is filed under Nihilism, Poetry, Transcendence. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your

Most Cherished TNB Readers, From the Farthest Reaches of Outer Mongolia to Some Starbucks Wi-Fi Setup in Downtown Peoria:


I’d like to take this opportunity to whole-heartedly welcome you to the finely tuned, hopped-up, fuel-injected, engine humming, all pistons popping Poetry section of The Nervous Breakdown, in glorious 3.0.

My relationship with TNB started back in the original 1.0 days. When Brad Listi first asked me to write for the site, I wasn’t quite sure how to begin. Around that time, however, a dear friend passed away. So I decided to honor his passing by taking a stroll from Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, down to the ocean. Armed with only my camera, a notebook, and my dear friend’s favorite food—a corndog—in tow, I marked his passing in photos and various remembrances. That became my very first posting.

Since then, I’ve seen the site go through various incarnations. I’ve seen my own life go through various changes, as well. I’ve become a better writer, a better person; a lot of that having to do with all the wonderful folks I’ve met through TNB. As you’ll witness in either the Poetry section, Fiction section, Arts & Culture, or wherever the site takes you, we have a lot of heart, humor, and intellect to offer.

And we the forever faithful and fearless Poetry team; Associate Editors Uche Ogbuji, Jennifer Duffield White, and Milo Martin and I, as Editors, will do our best to hold the Poetry section to those high standards of quality. Each week, we’ll bring you the most thought-provoking, soul touching, mind melting poetry we can find from those farthest reaches of Outer Mongolia to that Starbucks wi-fi setup in downtown Peoria.

This week we offer you poetry from such varied talents as Iris Berry, Jackie Sheeler, Lisa Johns, Kenneth Shiffrin, Jerome Dunn, Doug Knott, and this week’s Featured Poet, Michael O’Keefe.

So wherever you are in this big old world of ours, most cherished TNB readers, strap on your seatbelts, rev your engines, shift into overdrive, and get ready to take a ride on the TNB Poetry section in grand and glorious 3.0.


Onward and upward,

Rich Ferguson

I went red-eyed and messy-haired to my kitchen this morning to make coffee wherein I saw a large cockroach lying upside-down on my breadboard writhing in the throes of Death. 

I had laid poison last night and it was now taking effect on this roach’s entire system, his whole way of Being. And here I was to actually witness it. Christ. Face-to-face with the big consequences. On my breadboard. First thing in the morning. Jesus.

He was flat on his back, pedaling his legs in a medicated slow-motion Hell dance; his verve, his quickness, a bleary memory from another time– yesterday. I’m pretty sure this was the same commando roach I would see on reconnaissance missions in the pantry between the plastic bags of tomato ramen. I bet that just a few hours ago, he was wheeling and ruling in his headquarters under the refrigerator, telepathing suggestions to his underlings and just doing his ‘survival thing’. Now here he was, dying and double-clutching on my breadboard. This was all so very disconcerting to me…and utterly fascinating.

I ambled quickly to my bedroom to get my deluxe Swiss Army knife with the 10X power magnifying glass. I hurried back and flicked the magnifying glass out so that I might fully examine this Socratic insect on his final deathbed, choking on the Hemlock I had thusly administered. Amazing detail, I thought, as the eastern sun filtered through the kitchen window, conveniently illuminating this Stygian peep show. In one way, I felt slightly morbid and a bit sadistic doing this, as it was I who had plotted to kill him, to extinguish his fire, to effectively block his Life Path. It was I who had gone to the Thrifty on Vermont and Hollywood and picked out the most expensive roach bait traps, the shiny black boxes, the ones with the cartoon renderings of the little purple bugs with the Xs in their eyes.

I was faced with what I viewed as ‘personal enc-roachment’. I actually didn’t mind the little guys all that much but I was tired of girls saying how gross my kitchen was, they shrieking at the crawlers and stabbing at them with their high-heeled shoes. I had had enough. And I admit, I did this all with forethought and malice, moving with blinders past the ‘guilt factor,’ as I realized I was somehow bearing justice and wreaking truth. So there I was, bearing justice and wreaking truth and peering like some Cyclops god through the looking glass at this beautifully ugly hi-tech insect passing onto his reward on my crumby breadboard. Some reward, I thought. This was all so fucking disconcerting.

So I pull in nice and tight right up to his translucent orangey-brown face and Socrates looks me right in the eyes and curses me with his churning mandibles: One day, all this will be yours, Sonny boy. That’s right Mr. Curious, Mr. Pious, Mr. Cyclops God, Mr. Mercenary Jester who hath poisoned Gregor Samsa, King of the Roaches, you too will have your day under the glass, under the sun, under the gun, under the scrutiny of your malevolent peers. And hopefully you’ll be in that predicament before you’ve had a chance to leave a real legacy behind and then you’d be sorry that you had procrastinated so long and you’d fight to hang on and pedal your skinny legs so that you could continue to live and strive for glory but it would be too late by then because you would be paralyzed by the Anti-forces dripping coagulants into your nostrils and making you breathe noxious molasses until you choked on your own blood.

Well, I thought, today is Gregor Samsa’s day to die, and I am sorry for this, but I suppose I should grasp this opportunity to thoroughly examine his cephalothorax and the dwindling state that he’s in. And so I did, moving my monocle down past his hair-hinged V-legs to his abdomen, which was twitching and heaving with much melodrama. Lean and ridged and slightly pointed but rounded-off oh so elegantly. Pure precision design.

Looking closer still, his abdomen metamorphosized into the face of a woman before my very eyes. A moon-faced woman with a little Flip Do from like, the 30’s, and she had a beauty mark on her cheek, on both of her cheeks actually, perfectly symmetrical beauty marks, and she closed her eyes as if she were listening to some strange music that she had never heard before and she cooed and pursed her lips and moved the back of her hand over her forehead and she sighed and batted her lashes until they came completely open and just then it struck me, she looked just like Anais Nin, 





perky and beautiful and classic and avante garde in a totally new Silver Lake kind of way and she poofed her cheeks out and then she sucked them in and became pouty like a French postcard girl who had so much laundry to do that she didn’t know what to do and because she had absolutely nothing clean to wear, she had to do her laundry in the nude, bending over, lathering and squeezing and rubbing her garments down into the soapy water, then pulling them up, letting them drip, and then she would push down on them again and they would bubble out of the water like the lively little breasts that she herself possessed and she would clutch at them and scrub her fine garments clean and careful not to get her forehead wet with soapy water, she would take the back of her wrist and dab the sweat from her brow and sigh and bend over again and then come back up and then go back down again and then come back up to wring them out. She shuffled in her woodblock slippers across the hardwood floor like a veritable white-faced Geisha, bobbing and delicately swaying in front of the plate glass windows where she looked out to her garden to see Juniper bushes and Japanese Sand pear trees and Japanese water and Japanese stone and Japanese lifeblood and Japanese bone and Japanese beauty and Japanese pain and Japanese sunshine and Japanese rain.

The light through the kitchen window dimmed behind a cloud and the room darkened down a bit so I pulled the magnifying glass to the side and viewed the cockroach once again whole with Naked Lunch eyes and I could see that he was now through trying. He was a bumming boy, obviously in a great deal of pain. He was bushed, he was whipped and I didn’t blame him. I mean, how could I, after all that we had been through together? He had put up a formidable fight and for this I admired him. I looked down at him and sort of wished that we could be friends, colleagues, drinking buddies or some such stature of equal footing, as I was now uncomfortable and feeling terrible pangs of remorse for inflicting the Death Penalty on a being who was guilty of no crime except natural cohabitation. Was this sentence of Death a mortal sin or could this be classified as venial?

I mean, he was always pretty considerate of me, skittering out of the way when the kitchen light came on to make way for me, just doing his thing like anyone else in Los Angeles, fending for himself and basically getting what he could get. Was I too fucked-up and desensitized to realize that this being was no less important than me, or a CEO of some massive corporate enterprise of for that matter, a revolutionary spiritual leader? What had I been thinking? Had I gone too far with my paranoia and glossy pride? Where had my values gone? I didn’t normally prescribe to hierarchies or human constructs. I’d like to think of myself as being a peaceful, justice-oriented person. Laissez-faire. I’m from San Francisco, for God’s sake. I’m into Fugazi. I revere the principles of Dr. King and Gandhi.




I am not built upon a foundation of hubris. I am not a killer. Jesus, I am a vegetarian, a martyred protector of my animal/fish/bird/insect brethren and now this because I briefly considered this living being not worthy of sharing my space and placing importance on what other people might think. Who the fuck am I to do this? Who the mother-fuckin’ fuck am I? I mean, I relocate spiders, don’t I? Why is this different? Fucking shit. I had no idea of the repercussions involved. I thought roaches were somehow omnipotent, able to withstand a nuclear blast where humans would melt into ash. I didn’t realize they could experience real pain and suffering. Yet my selfish whimsy was halting a formidable Life force. Who the crappin’ Hell am I to do such a thing as this? Shit. I might as well be a power-drunk occupational jar head.

At that moment of my consternation and self-immolation, the King seized. Gregor Samsa ceased to live. Anais Nin was still. Socrates closed his eyes for the final time. I touched his V-leg and he did not respond. I flicked his ribbed antennae and it was limp. The cloud moved past the sun, bringing full illumination to the cutting board. Long shadows cast upon him summoned the brittle body of Jesus. I, a societally-pressured Pontius, swallowed a stone and grabbed one of his legs between my forefinger and thumb and lifted him gently up. I took one last look at him from another angle and then I dropped him down into the brown paper garbage bag underneath. I asked God to bless him, and to forgive me, and then I put on some coffee.


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