Writing, England, and the Blues
Remarkably, emails still come my way asking my opinion on different issues surrounding e-publishing, the publishing industry as a whole, and writing. I guess this site still means something to readers, and for that, I’m fortunate. As I’ve previously posted, I’ve stopped using The Egatz Epitaph as a commentary on the business of writing and publishing, but that’s what it’s still known for. Looking to the future, I think I know what I want to do with the old Epitaph next, but first, here’s a bit about what I’ve been up to this past year while not posting here regularly.
Last November, I was invited by Dean Parkin and Naomi Jaffa to appear at the 26th Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. This invitation came to me when I had one leg hanging over the edge of the cliff, and it revitalized my love of literature, writers, and the people who support the art of the written word. My former graduate school professor and mentor Tom Lux was also appearing, and it was great to catch up with him. As always, Tom provided practical advice, some metaphysical guidance, and thoughts on where my art was currently at.
Dean Parkin introduced me to his hero, British poetry legend Brian Patten, the ass-kicking Tom Pickard, and the luminous Adélia Prado, among many others. To be welcomed as a peer by other poets who had decades of publishing experience beyond mine was heartening. Many writers need this from time to time. After you’ve progressed beyond the workshops and/or the open mic scene, it’s time to decide if the calling has really called you. Things concerning most of your countrymen quickly fall away. You get down to work in a small room. If you stick with it long enough, you emerge with an original voice, and, if you’re lucky and/or deserving, you meet others like yourself who remind you you’re not in the struggle alone. Welcome to the club.
I also became friends with the brilliant photographer Peter Everard Smith and his lovely wife Joao, who kindly put me up at their 15th century home in Shimpling. Peter’s work had fascinated me since I had seen his images on John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers’ albums Crusade and Bare Wires, the first records featuring my favorite blues-rock guitarist, Mick Taylor. I was a teen when I bought those records, as was Taylor, incredibly, when he played on them. As most fanatics did back in the day of the twelve-inch album covers— before we got to see musicians moving on MTV—we scoured those 144-square inches, front and back, for every molecule of information they contained. Decades later, I’m an electric blues player myself, in England, and meeting the man who took those photos I had completely memorized in my teens. On top of that, Peter photographed me at the festival events I appeared at. Talk about an honor. A few days later I was eating Joao’s incredible food, was photographed in Peter’s studio, all while staying in their gorgeous home. The universe is beyond kind on occasion. Peter and I are planning a book together; more on that in the future.
I also read in Norwich, a city bursting with literary arts, where the incredible poetry dynamic duo of Helen Ivory and Martin Figura put me up at their Butchery, which has hosted countless poets in the past. Helen had me read at their long-running Café Writers series in a 600 year-old venue, where some new poems of mine about England went over with nary a pint thrown in anger. I still find myself thinking of returning to Norwich to finish my Ph.D. If only the Butchery took long term guests.
Dean and I spent time in his childhood haunts around Lowestoft, and we ended the trip in London, hanging with his musician friends. A brilliant ending to a great trip. The entire fortnight reaffirmed my love of the U.K., her people, and how connected I am to the art of good writing. I was fortunate. Dean, Naomi, and all the new friends I made through them rescued a lost part of me when I needed it back in the worst way.
Back in New York, I continued my love affair with Bijou, my puggle, and my obsession to take 1940s and 1950s jump blues guitar to my own demented next level. As Bijou and I settled in for another dark New York winter, I kept thinking of the prescient questions my U.K. readers had, and how deeply informed they were about my work, even though Beneath Stars Long Extinct wasn’t published in England. It was exhilarating, and made me realize that kind of cultural discourse in my own country was scarce, at best.
Of course, as a writer—and particularly a writer of contemporary American poetry—I write to craft something I consider beautiful, and not for renumeration or adulation. I build these small engines of emotion out of language, each one telling a very short story; each one helping me make sense of a world I find largely cruel, senseless, and beautiful. When they do something similar for others, it’s gravy; the ultimate long tail effect.
November gifted me some great friends across the pond, reunited me with others, and audience reaction reminded me of what I do best. There are learned readers in the U.K. who appreciate what I do, and that’s the greatest gift any writer can ask for. I’m fortunate and grateful.
It was an intense winter of woodshedding the jump blues, walking the ice with Bijou, and pondering the next phase of my life. I know what the new direction of The Egatz Epitaph will be, and it involves a nonfiction topic that will yield a new book in a genre my poetry readers won’t be expecting. As always, thanks for your emails, interest, and patience. Stay tuned. Cheers.