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The Los Angeles Festival of Books

The LA Festival of Books

April whizzed by and me — without a blog entry for the month.

Can I make some time in May for anything synaesthesia?

I did make it to the LA Festival of Books. It was great. I went two days in a row, cause I needed that much time to check it all out. Plus, the first day I walked around the campus with no direction, just taking all that Academia in; so, a lot of the time I was just in the middle of UCLA and no where near the books.

Publishers were there. Booksellers were there. Even radio stations were there.
McSweeney’s had a booth. So did Ammo.Vroman’s was there, as well as some used and out-of-print dealers I’ve never heard of before.

The Buddhists had a booth, and they handed out all sorts of fun stuff, and it was all free. Of course they were super friendly and didn’t try to cram anything down my throat.

The Scientologists were there, and their booth had three sets of E-Meters buzzing, and I was going to have my friend Debbie take a picture of me submitting to one of their tests, or quizzes, or whatever it is you submit yourself to while clutching their E-Meter, but I decided not to. I was gonna toss the pic up on my Facebook and write some witty caption about the whole experience, and as I was talking to Debbie about snapping the pic, one of the Scientologists actually approached me to take their test.

“I’m afraid you’re gonna try and brainwash me,” I said in a very friendly way. I know it might sound offensive, and I made sure she knew that wasn’t my intent. But The Scientologist kinda picked up on where I was going with my joke, and all of a sudden she got kinda creepy and weird making fun of herself — which meant I definitely didn’t want to take the E-Meter Scientology Quiz.

The Muslims had a booth, and they handed out all sorts of fun stuff, and it was all free. They were super friendly, too, and they didn’t try to cram anything down my throat.

There wasn’t a Christian Booth; however, near the Food Court one Christian lady was screaming and yelling at everyone who passed by, and she was yelling about how God took us all out the first time with water, and this time it was gonna be way worse — cause He’s gonna use fire. And it’s going to happen very soon. The Christian Lady wasn’t friendly at all, and she didn’t hand out a thing.

The people-watching was almost as good as all the books.

One of the girls at the McSweeney’s booth was really cute, so I bought a copy of Bowl of Cherries by Millard Kaufman just to make some more small talk with her.

Next to the McSweeney’s booth there was 826 Valencia, which is McSweeney’s program to help young writers (middle schoolers and high schoolers) with after-school programs in the inner-city. I donated twenty bucks.

I think my very favorite part of the whole weekend were The Nicotines, a two-girl combo consisting of an accordion player and another on the saw.

I spent more money than I should have, but you already know that.

The Nicotines at the LA Festival of Books

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Paris in the Spring.

Shakespeare & Co. Paris France

It ain’t really all that it’s cracked up to be…at least not weather wise. Cold and rainy and cold and windy, but hey, it’s Paris, and I’m OK with that.

Mainly cause it keeps the vast majority of tourists out of here for another few weeks, which meant I only spent 10 minutes (or so) waiting to get into the d’Orsay…which ruled. Cause come May — and certainly by June — that line is an easy hour.

I hit Shakespeare & Co. first thing each and every time I come to Paris. It’s the bookstore I love to hate. But I really don’t hate it.

As it stands now, this is not where Sylvia Beach published James Joyce; in fact, the original store owned by Beach was closed by WWII. Beach did give George Whitman permission to use the name, and the first time I went to Paris (May of 97) George was behind the counter, and I gave him a few copy of Blessing Poems, The Mollifier, and maybe The Man With The Buzzer in his Throat.

“If you want to put a few of these on your shelf, I’d appreciate it. And you don’t have to pay me anything for them…just take them, and if you actually sell them, that’s great.”

George looked at them, and he thanked me, and then he asked, “Would you like to stay here? I’ve got some room for you upstairs.”

It’s true. Up in his lending library he maintained a few beds where he let people crash. Still happens to this day.

I was very grateful, but I passed. I had a place nearby. The idea certainly appealed to me, though, and I wish I woulda taken him up on it now. But I didn’t.

George is in his mid-nineties now, and he’s retired, and his daughter — Sylvia Beach Whitman — runs the joint. Which is why I say it’s the store I love to hate. Cause she’s turned it into a trendy tourist attraction. When I walked in yesterday, there was a photographer snapping pics of Sylvia Whitman, while one of her employees played piano to the oogling tourists…who have no idea about George, or the store’s history, or Sylvia Beach.

I sound like a book snob. And an asshole. Besides, the place is way cleaner than it was the first time I shopped there, and the rare book room really has rare books in it; I bet the store does better than it ever has, so I’ll shut the fuck up.

And talk about the booksellers on the Seine.

Cause I love them.

They set up shop right there on the Seine in these little green lock box / kiosks. Some of them peddle silly trinkets like little plastic Eiffel Tower statues and t-shirts; others have really interesting books and records. Some peddle porn, comics, and plates from from old books; there’s vellum pages from Bibles Monks copies by hand and great old French jazz magazines.

I want to sell books out of one of those little green kiosks along the Seine, where I can sip lattes all day long while I watch the girls walk along the river.

Seine Bookseller

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In Memorium: Lawrence Hyde

Since emerging from my hiatus, I just learned Larry Hyde passed away.

I found out about Larry’s passing from this PBA Gallery auction…not the best way to learn of a friend’s passing, but what is?

I never met the man face-to-face, but we maintained a correspondence.

His letters of encouragement and his praise of my work meant a lot to me.

Larry Hyde was a friend and a patron of the arts and I will miss him very much.

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Volta 2: Il finito.

Volta's colophon on the press bed

The rollers — inked white.

The type, too.

I just pulled 120 (give or take) colophons for Volta, and it’s something I haven’t done in a long, long time.

Print, that is.

I haven’t really talked a lot about what I do to make my money, but trust me, it isn’t making little magazines to send out gratis to friends of the synaesthesia press, and it’s not making and selling letterpress books; it’s not selling collectible books, either. And while I’m not going into specifics here, I will say this: I’m self-employed, and have a few clients, and every single day I wake up and worry my clients are going to fire me, and I’ll wind up in the soup line.

I guess the only consolation there is I won’t be the only one.

So, for the past 6 years — give or take — I’ve been busting ass to make those clients pleased as punch. It’s kept me fed, and I’m lucky enough to have a few bucks in the bank, but the synaesthesia press suffered.

All work and no play makes Jim a dull boy. An unhappy one, too. And what’s more fun than setting type, prepping the make-ready, pulling proofs, and making a book?

Well…to me, nothing.

It was kinda comforting to realize printing is a lot like riding a bike. I mean I was rusty, but overall things went without a hitch.

For the most part.

I have some black Somerset scraps left from another project I’m working on, and those turned into the colophon broadside / page for this installment of Volta. You already know I printed them in white ink, and, well…they turned out kinda squishy.

My proofs were sweet…but it was a hard paper, red ink, and that ain’t the same.

Things shoulda turned out the way the proofs did…but that wasn’t the case. They’re still nice…but far from perfect.

Like I said — kinda squishy. And a hint uneven. At least under my loop they are.

Oh well. I needed to get the job done, and done they are. Tomorrow I start addressing them for the US Mails.

Which is part of what I’m gonna call “The Volta Experience”. You probably know I’m a Wallace Berman nut, and part of Semina was that it simply arrived in your mailbox. You couldn’t buy one (well, that’s not entirely true; I’ve read Berman would drop some off at City Lights from time to time).

Same goes for Volta.

That, and who knows just how it’s going to actually show up in your box? Will the US Postmaster and its shiny machinery smoosh your copy to bits? Will your postman fold it in half and stuff it into your box?

Or will it arrive at your home just the same way it left my studio?

Oh, the anticipation…

Volta's colophon drying

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Various Tales, None of them Tall.

letterpress type cases

Instead of writing on one topic, why not cover a whole bunch of shit today?

I set the colophon for Volta. I like the way it came out, for the most part. I’m limited with Volta cause it’s made from scrap papers — old projects, mainly. That’s part of what keeps my cost down making them, which is a good thing, cause it’s free. I had some typographical issues setting the colophon, and they wouldn’t have existed if I bought paper for it…but oh well. I still like the way it turned out.

Hey — if you want Volta, and you’re not sure if you’re gonna get one, let me know. If I have some left, I’ll send you one.

I’m already looking forward to the next issue, and it’s going to have a movie theme. Themed issues of anything can be dangerous, but I’m willing to risk it. Part of the movie theme has to do with Volta #3’s container / housing. It’s going to all come together quite nicely. So, if you have a short poem, or some art (that you can duplicate 100 times) think about contributing. It’s the bestest, most surest way you’ll receive one.

I’m about to send Henry Denander and his Kamini Press a big ol’ thank you for Bird Effort, Ronald Baatz’s latest book of poems. It’s a beautiful effort, and the poetry’s smart and achingly beautiful. You should really pick up a copy and support both the poet and Kamini.

As I bang this out I’m listening to the 4 Men With Beards re-issue of Otis Redding’s The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads and I’m wondering how, in all my 45 years, I missed this record. Sure, I have Dock of The Bay, and I scored In Person At the Whiskey A Go-Go at my very favorite used record store in the whole wide world — Eastside Records in Tempe, AZ. But nothing prepared me for Sings Soul Ballads. I’ve listened to side 1 seven times now, and the only thing that keeps me from flipping the record over — I just want to this to last…you know? 4 Men With Beards doesn’t have a website, so if you want the record, just hit your local indie record store, or Google it…I guess. OK. On to side 2.

While I was waiting on my plane delay at Phoenix Sky Harbor back to LA, I found Dick Cavett’s blog on one of his shows; this one featured John Updike and John Cheever. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of Updike or Cheever, but I’m a huge Cavett fan. Wait. I really liked Cheever’s “Goodbye, My Brother” (but who doesn’t?) and Updike’s book Still Looking: Essays on American Art. Anyways, I squealed like a little girl while I watched this particular show, and I have no idea why. I’ve never seen Cheever or Updike speak, and, like I said, I’m not a fan.

So what gives?

Oh, and side 1 of The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads speaks much more loudly, and much more clearly, than side 2.

At least to me.

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I’m Dropping Letters Like They’re Rhymes, Yo.

setting type

OK, I’m not dropping letters like they’re rhymes, and I have no idea where that “yo” came from; however, I’m setting type for the first time in a long time, and it feels great. But you’d only hear something like “boy oh boy it sure does feel good to set type again!” from a total dork, so just go ahead and crown me King of The Dorks and get it over with.

The second installment of Volta will be out the door by week’s end, and I’ve already got a rough idea of what #3 is gonna look like.

But back to Number Two: contributors include Yours Truly (a found photograph (digitally altered) as well as a found color transparency); Laki Vaz (a digital still showing Herbert Huncke smoking a sherm in the back of a NYC cab from his film); fiction from Jim Pritchard; poetry by Henry Tokarski, Marie Kazalia, Henry Denander, Richard Brautigan, and Charles Bukowski; finally, there’s some pretty clever artwork by Nathan Feller featuring a place to place one of your very best boogers. You read right — a booger card. As in pick your nose and wipe.

Never, ever accuse me of nothing but the Highest of Low Brow art, my friend.

For the last 3 or 4 years I’ve been paying way too much attention to vintage smut, as the cover of Volta shows that whacky influence. That’s a gocco cover, by the way, and I pulled those, too…but somehow a gocco doesn’t carry the same cache as pulling a screen print, me thinks.

I set half of the colophon today, and I’ll finish the job tomorrow, and then I’ll go to press on those by mid-week.

Then, into the US Mails.

100 copies printed, and, in the spirit of Wallace Berman’s Semina, Volta can’t be bought; one will simply arrive at your door.



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The VNSA Sale.

VNSA annual book sale

Look at all the kooks.

Book kooks.

That includes me, of course, cause I snapped this pic, and we’re all kooks cause it’s 5am on a cold, cold February morning, and we’re lined up like cattle for when those doors open 3 hours later.

Early bird gets the worm!

I’ll also add a “cold, cold February morning” in Phoenix, AZ, means maybe 45 degrees. But if you asked any one of us, that’s sub-zero conditions.

One of the best parts of the whole VNSA experience are the kooks you befriend while waiting in line. It really turns into a camaraderie of sorts, and this year I befriended an old hippy and his daughter. She’s studying the Romantic poets at A.S.U. So, in between stories of catching bands like Ten Years After live in concert in, say, 1969, we’d get to talk about Coleridge and Wordsworth and Blake.

Come on. Admit it. That’s some 5 am fun!

The Visiting Nurses Book Sale is in something like its 54th year, and I’ve gone — on and off — for the past decade.

Their mission: “The purpose of the VNSA Used Book Sale is to raise funds for three nonprofit human service agencies: Arizona Friends of Foster Children Foundation, Literacy Volunteers of Maricopa County, and Toby House, Inc. VNSA members work year round preparing and producing one of the largest charitable used book sales in the country.”

VNSA annual book sale

This, of course, is my excuse to spend way too much money. “But it’s a charitable donation!” I told my sister as I signed the check.

Here’s some of the worms this early bird scored:

1) A whole box full of vintage sleaze, and every single magazine is in near-perfect condition. Vintage sleaze is hard to find in good condition, mainly cause it was usually read to death (not to mention other unmentionables I won’t bother to mention here) or hidden in secret spots that didn’t really lend to aging well.

2) Some great HP Lovecraft cloth bound titles. They’re not the earliest printings (super duper scarce) but they’re still really cool…and kinda hard to find.

3) A stack of Scientific Americans from the WW I era, all totally minty.

4) Some Beatles sheet music, again totally minty and totally sweet.

5) Adolph Hitler — a book published by a German tobacco company at the height of our very favorite murderous dictator’s rise to power in pre-WW II Germany, heavily illustrated with tipped-in photographs featuring Der F├╝hrer in all sorts of kind, considerate poses (visiting hospitals and hugging children and old people and contemplating life in the back yard of his Austrian retreat). Here’s the cool part about this book: apparently you purchased it without the pictures, and when you went out and bought your cigs, you’d clip the coupon on the back of your pack of smokes and send it in, and a few weeks later you’d get a whole envelope full of black and white photographs. There were directions on where all the pics should be glued in to the book. Oh, such niceties make me yearn for the days of olde! Imagine a beautiful, German Saturday afternoon…a family gathered around the kitchen table, finishing off their copy! The one I grabbed is completely intact; not one of the pics are missing (actually, entire pages of the book are usually cut out when they turn up today).

So, all-in-all I’d say it was totally worth the 4 am alarm clock and the really shitty Circle K breakfast sandwich (which, of course, I finished) and my nice new friends and the freezing cold temperatures.

In other words, I can’t wait til next year.

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Me n’ Hank n’ Tim.

Charles Bukowski oil painting

In 1987 I was going into my fifth year at Arizona State University, and I was totally lost.

I was a jock, and I was working towards the 1988 Olympic trials, with my sights set on making the ’92 team. In other words, academia wasn’t first and foremost. In my Big Picture, it ranked fourth, I think, behind Jockdom, drinking beer, and girls.

Yea, my academics clocked in right at fourth place, and we both know that doesn’t even help ya win the trifecta at the races.

Pretty dumb, huh?

It’s the same old story, really. Get something for free, and that’s about what it’s worth when they hand it to you…even if it’s a college education. At least that’s how I treated it.

Like I said…pretty dumb.

No, really god damned stupid.

Anyways, I was starting to get worried. More than worried. I was shitting my pants, but I didn’t let anyone know it. I was into my fourth year of college — and my fourth year of an athletic scholarship — and I had declared something like three different majors…and I wasn’t even close to graduating.

I was stuck in the School of Liberal Arts, too, cause since Day One at A.S.U., I really didn’t give a fuck about my studies. My GPA was so bad I couldn’t even gain admission into the other schools on campus, so forget about trying to major in business, or education, or anything outside the Liberal Arts curriculum.

I walked into the Jock Counselor’s Office for my meeting with her concerning my grad date.

“It doesn’t look like you’re going to make it,” she said.

I knew there were 5th year scholarships available to athletes, and it was that 5th year money I was counting on to make my escape with a degree in hand. I thought the 5th year was a gimme. It was, too — if you were on the football team.

I wasn’t on the football team.

I forget what they called that extra year, but Ms. Jock Counselor told me, in no uncertain terms, it wasn’t a guarantee, and, in fact, it was highly doubtful I’d get that 5th year money. “About the only thing you can get a degree in now is History, and even that’s highly unlikely. Since you’re so far away, I don’t think you’ll get your 5th year.”

I told her I liked to read — which I did — and I had no interest in getting a BA in History. “I want a BA in English,” I told her. “And I will get that money.” It was a dickish thing to say, but I was pissed, and I was pissed cause I knew they kissed Football Ass, and none of the conversation would have gone down if I was blocking for the quarterback — instead of hurling a 16 pound ball through the air.

A.S.U. ended up giving me that 5th year, and I needed to earn 42 credit hours if I was going to walk the following August. And I wanted to get my degree in English because I liked to read.

I had no idea what I was in for.

Fall 1987: Chaucer and Shakespeare and Intro to English Lit and Romantic Poetry and The American Novel (1900 – 1945) at A.S.U., then I had to go to the local Community College and sit through 200 level Spanish classes, cause A.S.U. wouldn’t let me take more than 15 credit hours a semester.

Spring 1987 it was the same sort of madness.

Summer of 87 I took my final 9 hours and walked in August of that year…8-7-87, to be exact.

I don’t remember exactly when it was, but that year I went and saw “Barfly”, and when I walked out of the theater, my life would change.

Sounds corny, huh? And I’m not saying the movie changed my life…well, not directly. But I went that night from the theater to Changing Hands, which is a used bookstore in my neighborhood, and I grabbed a copy of Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame, and that’s really what changed my life.

The store was closing, and I asked the clerk something like, “I just saw ‘Barfly’, and I want to know whose life that movie was based on,” and next thing I know I’m standing in front of the Bukowski section, and they were closing, so I grabbed the orange book really quick cause I thought at the time it was a really obnoxious color, and it had a whacky title, and there was something about those books that really made them stand out (nice work, Barbara Martin) and I’m glad I grabbed it cause — to this day — it’s my very favorite Buk book, cause it’s really three of his greatest books all wrapped up in one…well, at least his greatest poetry books.


How’s that for a run-on sentence?

But what do you expect from a jock with a 2.02 undergrad GPA?

Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame really constitutes It Catches My Heart in its Hands, Crucifix in a Deathhand, and At Terror Street and Agony Way. If you know Bukowski, well…it really doesn’t get much better than that. There’s some poems in Mockingbird Wish Me Luck that are superb, but, for the most part, the poems written from 1955 to 1968 (which are the bookends on the Buk time line that make up Burning in Water…) are the author’s finest, most powerfully creative moments in his life.

Certainly from a poetic standpoint.

My opinion, of course.

I read the book from cover-to-cover that night, and the next day, I read it all over again. And I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Poetry that made sense. Poetry that didn’t require a Professor to decipher for me after class.

I mean that literally, too, cause — don’t forget — I was in the middle of jamming 40+ credit hours of Pound and Eliot and Blake and Chaucer and Whitman and Hart Crane down my throat, and I really didn’t understand much of it at all. And here comes Bukowski, and suddenly poetry made sense to me.

I don’t mean Buk’s poetry, either. Well, sure I do, but it went beyond that. Buk made me want to understand all those poets I just mentioned and didn’t understand, so I went back and read all those dudes, again. I’m not saying I understand them any better than I did the first time. Well, I do (for the most part), but that’s the kind of effect Bukowski had on me.

It gets better, too.

I remember getting to the end of Burning in Water… when I stumbled upon the colophon page.

The colophon page.

Printed May 1974 in Santa Barbara & Ann Arbor for The Black Sparrow Press by Noel Young & Edward Brothers, Inc. Design by Barbara Martin. This edition is published in paper wrappers; there are 300 hardcover copies numbered & signed by the author, & 50 numbered copies hand bound in boards by Earle Gray each with an original drawing by Charles Bukowski.

I read the colophon a few times over, and the next day I was in the Yellow Pages, looking for book dealers in Phoenix that might have a better idea of what exactly was going on.

Only one did, and his name was Tim Jelinek, and he owned a place called The Mesa Bookshop.

I went in there, and he didn’t have a copy of Burning in Water…, but he had something he called a “chapbook” by Bukowski: All The Assholes in the World and Mine.

All The Assholes in the World and Mine? Was this some sort of joke? What kind of poet would call a book that? And featuring a cover illustration by the poet of The Poet laid out on a table surrounded by doctors about ready to cut the hemorrhoids out?

God damn it, I liked Bukowski even more.

He wanted $75 bucks for it, but all I had was $25, so he made me a deal: give him the $25 I had, bring him $50 more by the end of the month, and it was mine; in the meantime, he’d put it on hold for me.

I examined the chapbook, and pretended I knew what I was looking at, and all the time I was thinking there’s no way this little book is worth $75 bucks — but Tim seemed legit, and the title was still making me grin, so I agreed to his terms, and that was my segue into The Madness that is Collecting Charles Bukowski.

When I came in with my $50 bucks later that month, he laid out a copy of Crucifix in a Deathhand on the table, and it took my breath away.

“How much is this?” I asked. I didn’t even care, cause I knew I was gonna buy it, eventually.

He said, “one fifty,” and I asked him for 48 hours. He laughed and said, “sure”, and I knew I’d have that money cause Saint Patty’s day was a day away, and I was bouncing at an Irish bar, and I knew they’d need me for 12 hours (at least), and sure enough, by the end of Saint Patty’s day I had $150 cash — and that book was mine.

Soon I was working at The Mesa Bookshop. I earned $7 an hour in book trade (Tim couldn’t afford to pay me in cash then), and he could afford me on Saturdays only, and I took it, and I can’t tell you — to this day — how happy I was to have $42 in book trade at the end of my 6 hours.

At first all I did was ring people up and shelve books and rearrange the sections that needed to be rearranged. One day Tim walked into the store with a box of books and laid them out — one by one — in front of me.

“Price that for me,” he said.

“Um, ok.” And I did.

“Wrong,” he say. Then he’d show me why.

My beginnings as a Bookman.

Not long after I was working full-time, and then the store moved from Southern to Main Street — into an old theater — and I got to be the “manager” of the store, and I coveted that title. I got to tell people, “I manage The Mesa Bookshop.”

And I got paid, too.

Before long I organized a poetry reading.

I published the first broadsides of my life for that reading.

I bought every collectible Bukowski book I could afford…and some I couldn’t.

I was traveling to book shows, too, and setting up The Mesa Bookshop’s booth, and it seemed then my world was full of discovery.

Tim acquired a small press, too. I think it came from New Mexico and Paul Stein’s home (the first major collection The Mesa Bookshop bought was from Paul Stein), but I don’t remember, exactly. It was a 3″ x 5″ Kelsey, and I know that cause he eventually gave it to me — and I print with it to this day. (In fact, I pulled the first Volta off that press. Most of the second one, too.)

In 1992 I left The Mesa Bookshop to be a stockbroker, and while I don’t regret that decision, I wouldn’t do it again.

A few years later I was living in San Francisco and going to grad school and writing a novel and some short stories and making chapbooks; and, while Jack Micheline was teaching me how to read poetry aloud in the back room of Scott Harrison’s book store on Mission Street, Allan Milkerit was continuing my education as a Bookman at a book co-op called “Tall Stories”; Allan and I sold our books out of there.

Now I’ve got about 8 tons of a shop in the back of a warehouse in Los Angeles which I call the synaesthesia press; I’ve printed and published more books by authors I never dreamed I’d have a chance to work with; and it’s all cause I read an orange book with a crazy title I pulled from the shelf of a used book store.

And Tim Jelinek, too.