Tag Archives: small press

SHUT UP & PUBLISH – The Phony Lid Manifesto


For five years, before I went broke and half-insane, I was a small press publisher. I started out doing zines and then moved on to trade paperbacks. In true DIY spirit, I handled every aspect of the operation myself: the editing, the designing, the printing, the distribution and the marketing… It was all about becoming the media and my steadfast determination to take a crackpot idea as far as I possibly could, despite the lack of money or the fact that I had no business running a publishing company. 

For most of my career as a publisher, I did odd jobs to survive. For a while, I was homeless and distributed zines out of the trunk of my car. I scammed print jobs from copy shacks. I stole paper and rarely paid for office supplies. To promote my titles, I became an internet flamer and through my reckless harassment, drove one fellow publisher into the loony bin. I finagled. I lied. I browbeat. I was arrested while soliciting ads. I turned my friends against me. I pissed off writers for not publishing their work. I pissed off the writers I published for not presenting their work in a way they preferred. I was threatened with multiple lawsuits, investigated by the State Attorney General and taken to small claims court by a former partner.

And that’s just what I can remember. Most of the time I was in a thick haze of self-importance, fueled by cheap drugs and the effects of untold hours in a small, poorly ventilated room in a burned out garage staring at a computer monitor until my eyes bled.

From the beginning I cultivated notoriety over prestige. I entered the world of publishing guns a-blazing. I embraced infamy, ready to do anything to crawl out of the muck of obscurity. I never intended to create an innocuous rag that might impress somebody’s literary-inclined relatives. I wanted to make something that would get me in trouble.

All the while, I held onto the delusion that what I was doing was noble: I was promoting literature. Real literature. Not the crap that was getting published in the New Yorker or the elitist academic lit journals. The way I looked at it, real literature came out of the trenches of the workaday existence. Real literature was created by true outsiders, not just those who could afford MFA degrees. It came from those born to misfortune and raised in families torn asunder. It rose up from the lost, the mentally imbalanced, the rude motherfuckers everybody loved to hate, the victims, the sluts, the whores, the wallflowers, the creeps, the losers, the purveyors of vice, the drunks, the druggies, the acid casualties, the thieves, the conmen, the liars who make it up as they go along and the liars who have their reasons for lying. Real literature was messy. And if you wanted the grit, you took the grime.

Once I embraced the role of a publisher, it became my life. Publishing was all I thought about, all I talked about, and all I wanted to hear about. In my zeal to publish more and more titles, I assumed more responsibilities than I was capable of accomplishing. I took on projects that were impractical. I turned away those that would generate profit. I was a horrible businessman. Not that it mattered. The small increments of money that showed up in the post office box were never enough to keep me flush, much less print more titles. What I earned as a painter, a handyman, a line cook, a bookseller or any one of my jack trades barely kept me alive. Eventually, I became unemployable. I had my sights set for loftier goals than maximizing the minimum wage. I just kept pushing forward, against the will of the universe, filling a catalogue with titles and announcing future publications, cajoling and lying and making empty promises, always hoping for the best.

Phony Lid lasted five years, all by the skin of my teeth. But in the end, I admitted defeat. Not because I never made any money, achieved any real acclaim or got the recognition I felt like I deserved—sure, there were some accolades, but who cares about that? No, I failed because other people’s writing overshadowed the one story I needed to tell.

And that was the story of Phony Lid.


from Pamphleteria: The Rise and Fall of Phony Lid


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Piltdownlad #9 – Pamphleteria: The Rise and Fall of Phony Lid


Piltdownlad #9 – Pamphleteria: 
The Rise and Fall of Phony Lid

Part One: Shut Up and Publish

For five years, before I went broke and half-insane, I was a small press publisher. I started out doing zines and then moved on to trade paperbacks. In true DIY spirit, I handled every aspect of the operation myself: the editing, the designing, the printing, the distribution and the marketing… It was all about becoming the media and my steadfast determination to take a crackpot idea as far as I possibly could, despite the lack of money or the fact that I had no business running a publishing company. 

The first part of a three part series, this is the story of how I started publishing my first zine, Vagabond, back at the turn of the century. I’d just acquired a computer and was ready to take over the world. Or course, life got in the way. So it’s also about dealing with failed relationships, having a fucked up family, working dead end jobs in Birmingham, Alabama, and the search for existential meaning. Or just something to take my mind off all the bullshit. Still, a work in progress.

half-size . 64 pp . perfect bound

trade or etsy


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Erratic Printing – The Evolution of Phony Lid


The story of the first Phony Lid book

“I didn’t know what to do at first. The covers looked horrible. I set them out in the sun, hoping to dry the ink. But after a day, there was no improvement.”


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The Phony Lid Archives: Vagabond Review #2


Vagabond Review #2

Released in the Spring of 1999 in Birmingham, Alabama.


featured work by Ace Boggess, Louis Baudrey, Artemis Verde, Paul Perry, David Rowe, Errol Miller, Stasia Collins, G. Tod Slone, Scott Howdeshell, Kelley Braverman, Russell Helms, Marie Kazalia, and Jack Miller, with artwork and photographs by Aaron Van Argersinger, G. Tod Slone, Roi Tamkin and James Kelewae

64 pages

Read the PDF


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PAMPHLETERIA: The Diarrhea Punk/Lucid Moon Letters

The Diarrhea Punk/Lucid Moon Letters

(Originally published in a more condensed version in the Seven Deadly Sins of the Small Press)

Ralph Haselmann published a zine called Lucid Moon. Besides a forum to express his feelings on being manic depressive, overweight and his love for Leonardo de Caprio, Lucid Moon consisted of 200-360 full size pages of poetry, fiction, comics, artwork, letters, reviews and ads, complete with handwritten page numbers, ink smudges, blank pages, idiotic scrawling in the margins, black lines from being misplaced on the copier glass and page after page of mind-numbing drivel. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? What Ralphy did was photocopy the actual poetry submissions and letters he received and just stapled them together with giant staples that were like railroad spikes. He usually took every poem that writers sent to him. Ralphy would then write the people who had sent him the material (using the SASE that they should have included) and inform them that he intended to publish their poems. However, he didn’t give out free contributor copies (nor trades). So in order for the writers to see their work in print they had to send him $10 for a copy. “I cannot afford to give out contributor’s copies […] I don’t know how other magazines can survive by giving free contributor’s copies to all authors, maybe higher paid circulation or selling of ads I guess.”

Ralphy was quite successful with this racket and put out over 35 issues in 3 years. He made no bones about his actions, even flaunting the fact in Lucid Moon and asking for handouts and donations so that he could continue his cause. It seems that, despite raking in all this money (at point he bragged about receiving $160 in one day), he was still in the red with each issue. On the surface, there was something admirable about his endeavors. Writers who normally wouldn’t have been published by other zines were seeing their name and print. Perhaps some of these writers would feel encouraged to continue writing and sending their work out. So in a way, Ralphy was promoting the written word as well as representing all the voices of the small press. But there was no editorial policy whatsoever, and this practice of paying for publication ran contrary to the mentalities of most small press editors as well as most zinesters. What Ralphy was doing was essentially running a vanity press.

Many editors that I communicated with during that time complained about what Ralphy was doing, even though most of these same editors associated with him in every other capacity. Some were even published in Lucid Moon on a regular basis. I never thought much about it one way or another until March of 2000 when he sent out one of his mass emails describing the “restructuring” of Lucid Moon. Every month he sent out a mass email promoting his zine and a slew of ads by other presses. (In full disclosure, my press, Phony Lid, was also included in these emails.) According to this latest missive, Ralphy was no longer going to print ads for free in Lucid Moon.

“Rates for my magazine are $10 a full page one issue run, $6 half page and $3 quarter page. Full page only gets complimentary copy with ad. Smaller ads get page photocopy. I have a circulation of 140 plus 20 more for back issues, so 160 people see my magazine and ads.”

These ad rates were, of course, a great deal, if you looked past the low circulation.

Ralphy was also no longer going to include free press notices in his weekly email updates. The charge for this service would be $5.

In response to this email, several editors I corresponded with at the time send me scathing comments about Ralphy’s new plan. One even wrote a silly poem making fun of Ralphy:


Ralphy pushes the letters aside
pen in hand pencil in ear
he knows he will not take bribe
or publish something that’s really queer

Ralphy, he edits lucid moon
and publishes the best poems he can find
and his next issue will come out soon
two big staples used to bind

Lucid Moon you are the best
so much better than all the rest.

I don’t know who suggested the prank first (does it really matter?), but that night I created an anonymous email account (diarrheapunk@hotmail.com), copied all the email addresses from Ralphy’s email (this was before the days of obligatory bcc mass emails) and sent out a parody of Ralphy’s policies, Lucid Moon and poets in general:

“I always considered myself a fine poet. Everyone around me agreed. My mother thought my rhyming verse was of the same quality as Robert Frost. My best friend, Dilbert (but we all call him “Jeeter”), thought my free-verse dwarfed Ginsberg, WC Williams, TS Eliot, you name a poet. That’s why I just couldn’t understand why I kept getting rejected by these crappy, small press zines. I’d open the mailbox, peek in… rejection letter. Rejection letters flooded my bedroom. Until I submitted some poems to a zine called Lucid Moon. Mr. Haselmann was the first editor to recognize my work as true talent. Fortunately I got my allowance early that week and I sent all $10 of it to him for a copy of Lucid Moon. At a cumbersome 236 pages, I could only assume how many submissions he must receive…. probably hundreds of thousands a month. It is such a masterpiece of literature… Though, once, I fell asleep with it in my lap and it fell off the bed and killed my cat, the gnarly nails sticking out of it pierced his skull. But such is the price of pursuing the written word, eh? Anyway, I’d like to take my hat off to the best editor in the small press today, (conferred by Cedar Hill Press) Mr. Ralph Haselmann Jr. I’m also including a poem I wrote about Ralph that he’s going to publish on his website. I have to wait until I get my birthday money from my grandma to see my other stuff in print, but I an just honored to be included with such a quality publication…”

I included the poem and signed it Halbert Gerblomi. In a late night, caffeine-drenched, marijuana-induced frenzy, I spammed every email I had associated with the small press with the message. There were over 350 names, of which several provided a forwarding service (people with their own lists who would pass on information they found appropriate to the members). I wasn’t sure whether these people would pass the email on, but I was laughing so hard each time I clicked “send” that I didn’t care.

The next morning, I checked the diarrheapunk email account and the Inbox was inundated with responses. The message had gone out to all the lists, so there is no telling how many people received this email. All day long, responses poured in, agreeing with the Diarrhea Punk and congratulating him for standing up and saying what everybody felt.

“Well, that’s quite a refreshing letter. Many thanks. Let’s you and I both jab those fucking pins into those hot air balloon publications filled with Lifshin crapola.”

“Man, I don’t know who the hell you are, but thanks for saying what so righteously needed to be said. I do so wanna hear ralphy’s reply…”

“Hmmm…do I note some cleverly veiled sarcasm in your tribute to good ‘ol loveable Ralphy and his Lucid Moon? Or was it outright sarcasm? ouch. P.S. My mom says my poems are better than yours.”

“THANK YOU!!!! Made my day with a :)…… in debt to my grandmother too, even though she is 95 and at death’s (kaCHING) door…”

Others seemed to miss the point:

“Thank you for sending me the poem. I admit Ralphy does a fine job. Continue to get the word out.”

Others weren’t too happy with my plight:

“I’m sorry you’re not pleased with Ralph or his organization but I’m not interested in receiving your personal e-mails to him.”

Things got serious when Frank Moore, a focal point in the small press with a list of his own, an internet radio station and a magazine, “The Cherotic (r)Evolutionary,” sent out a message telling Ralphy to “get fucked.”

“What you wrote in your “newsletter” is insulting to me personally. But the way you are looking at things is an offensive unreality. you are whining to the wrong people…..people who (if we had the misfortune to view the world this way) spend many hundreds of UNPAID hours and many thousands of dollars per year getting the art and the info out. […] I put NEWSLETTER in quotes because a newsletter is an instrument of information and community building. NEWS items are not for sale! ad sheet sounds like what you have in mind. But you just put people in and expect them to pay…without asking them first… using VOLUNTARY DONATIONS as your cover. it don’t work like that! Not to mention it blows your credibility to shit!”

Ralphy responded by letting it be known that he was going to put Lucid Moon on hiatus “until I can get funding and have it professionally printed at a higher circulation. I will do my free Lucid Moon poetry web and free newsletter, am seeking donations, grants and Art Patrons! […] It is simply too costly at $1000 an issue, 230 pages, 6 issues a year to do as I had planned in my recent Restructuring Note to everyone on my mailing list. I have learned a lot over the three years I have been doing this, made some mistakes, gained a lot of compliments but taken a lot of flak for the big size of the issues and customers pestering me as to when the next issue will be out. Folks, I did this for the love of poetry. I never made a dime. I spent over $21,000 of my own money over the last three years. In the end it was like check kiting, taking money for future issues to pay for current ones. That’s no way to do business. I am bankrupt and $4000 in debt but because I am an honest person I will refund your money, offer back issues instead, or ask that you just donate the money you gave me and enjoy my free website. The choice is up to you and I will definitely repay you if you want your money back, it will just take a few months, ok?”

Then he replied to me, thanking me for sending out my “funnee” letter. He said he thought it was cute and that he was enjoying his life, living on the dole, lounging all day on his mother’s couch where he was “gonna just sleep and eat Elvis sandwiches (1 loaf French bread, 1 pound bacon, I [sic] jar peanut butter, 1 jar jelly, and a bunch of bananas, wash down with a gallon of milk).”

If that weren’t enough he ended his email with, “Thanks for bestowing on me the honor of being called the Best Poetry Magazine Editor in America! My website is destined to be the best poetry website in America too! And I hereby declare that I will become the most famous poet in America one day! Or the richest!”

I wrote back telling him what a fucking idiot he was.

I included the email he wrote me at the bottom and sent it out to all the addresses again. And immediately it went through all the other lists. People were sending it out and including comments with it: “We don’t usually send things like this out, but it had us rolling” and “Keep up the good work!” Most people couldn’t believe how smug Ralphy was being, and the “Elvis Sandwich comment” offended more people than me talking about my bowel problems: “I have to go puke now. You motherfucker, you made my diarrhea worse!”

Since he once received over $160 in checks on one day, I told him that I wanted him to send me $160 or I was going to go to his house and kick his ass. “You better fucking pay me my money… next week the figure is going up. You have the money to pay for web design so you should have the money to pay me for not kicking your ass. I don’t care what excuses you have. Believe me I am an unstable person and I don’t get money from the state so I have all the excuses in the world… pay me or go away…”

Ralphy replied by threatening to anally rape me and called me racist, homophobic and sexist. He accused me of committing libel, to which I responded with: “You are so pathetic that it makes me sick. I believe in raising standards in the small press and the first task in accomplishing this is eliminating the trash. And.. wait.. what is that? I hear the garbage truck coming… yeah, motherfucker, it’s time for you to go bye bye. Either send me my damn money or else I will continue to fuck with you. I want $320 now. You fucked up. Every time you try to come back I am going to increase the amount and soon you will be in debt to me too. Do not underestimate my power. I WANT MY MONEY NOW!!!!!”

Ralphy didn’t want to play anymore after that. He claimed to have contacted a lawyer and was going to sue me. He disappeared for a week and then sent out this message:

“I had to check myself in for a week stay at the local Behavioral Health Center of the Hospital, after receiving death threats form a sick individual via e-mail… Quite frankly, I needed time to regroup my thoughts and compose myself, and under the circumstances I think I did pretty well… The nurses were kind and let me stay up past the 11 o’clock bedtime to watch the Oscars until 12:38. For some reason, in accepting his award, Warren Beatty gave a very moving, artful speech about poetry that touched me, and I fantasized that he or someone in the Hollywood community knows about my site. I wish I could have been home taping the Oscars as I do occasionally… And actor Peter Coyote moderated between commercial breaks from backstage, and I thought of the wolf on my site and how cool it would be if they hired him as a playful joke. He is an ex- hippie and dated Janis Joplin I think… He is a medium, as I believe I can be too when positive vibes are spread… All in all it was a good vacation, and while I in no way deserved the hate mail, I welcomed the break…”

The air was still thick with the dust of so many stones cast at Ralphy. Everybody with an opinion sent out emails expressing what they thought was ethical and what was not acceptable. All these emails were forwarded throughout the lists and cc’d to death. After the smoke cleared, over 2000 people had participated in the Ralphy bashing. Not to mention the writers and editors without email who wrote me letters asking if I’d heard about the whole Lucid Moon/Ralphy fiasco. Apparently, people were calling their friends and reading the stuff over the phone as well as printing it out and mailing it around.

All the while, the Diarrhea Punk had remained anonymous. At first, only three people knew it was me. The one who wrote the poem and another who encouraged my crazy idea when I suggested that somebody should got after Ralphy. These two conspirators eventually put all the emails together in a broadside called The Diarrhea Punk/Lucid Moon Letters.

I was able to protect the identity of the Diarrhea Punk indefinitely. Many folks wondered who it might be, but nobody seemed to care enough to make a probe. Ralphy accused many people of being behind the attacks, and at one point, even accused me, but I denied it wholeheartedly. Even though I had posted all the correspondence on my website, FyUoCuK.com. Not that I cared if he found out it was really me… it was just more fun to see who he would go after next. The people he blamed seemed to get a kick out of being thought of as the Diarrhea Punk.

I even sent out an email: “We are all Diarrhea Punk!”

It was a fun week or two and I reveled in the infamy that I had created in the Small Press. When I posted a link to the tomfoolery on alt.zines, the zinesters were less than impressed. I was instantly accused of stealing the whole diarrheapunk angle from the publishers of a zine called Wet Devoh. Seth Dawg and Faber Montag responded to any and almost all messages on the newsgroup with comments as profound as “I just farted.” Or, “I have diarrhea.” They were childish and inappropriate trolls (though sometimes funny) and almost everybody on alt.zines ignored them and their poopy talk. But the way I looked at it, they weren’t properly offending the targets of their disdain. These were zinesters after all. It wasn’t the talk of diarrhea and farts that bothered them, it was the pointlessness of acting like idiots in what was perceived to be a serious forum for the discussion of their craft. But the small press world was more genial. Most of the writers and editors considered themselves above such puerile behavior. Which is why I took a page from the Wet Devoh playbook and used that tactic to offend the Small Press.

I think, more than I even realized at the time, I wanted to ostracize myself from the Small Press. I never figured all these people would go after Ralphy once I’d opened a wound. The amount of schadenfreude was both horrifying and spectacular. But after the Lucid Moon fiasco, more and more writers and editors began to contact me with grievances they had with other writers and presses. And not just bullshit, either. I was getting reports of outright theft: presses offering to print chapbooks for money and then not actually printing the chapbooks! One writer told me that a well-known Small Press poet had stolen her late father’s work and passed it off as his own. Several women wrote me about feeling bullied by the predominantly male editors, who expected them to buy subscriptions and contributor copies in order to get published.

And that’s how I fell from grace with most people in the Small Press.

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PAMPHLETERIA: The Love Song of JS Bane

The Love Song of J.S. Bane

A Morality Tale of Allegorical Dissent
(Originally published as part of the Seven Deadly Sins of the Small Press)

Good fortune was steadfast in the life of J.S. Bane. After 30 years as a professor of English, he was retired with a full pension. He could devote all his time to his photography and writing. J.S. was a poet, a bard, as he called himself. He wrote of the Earth, at least what he could find of it in the woods that surrounded his Michigan upper-peninsula home. He spent his days walking around, photographing things in nature, deserted buildings and lonely landscapes. His heart was full of the possibility of his existence, and even though he was getting on in the years, he felt younger than he did at 30 when he first began his career in letters.

J.S. generally preferred to keep to himself. He had always been a loner, but one day, while in town picking up some dry goods he noticed a flyer on the bulletin board next to the check out aisle. The flyer announced a poetry group in town each Thursday night at 7:30pm. Interesting, he thought. He logged the observation and carried his bags to the old Chevy pick-up. He wanted to make it home before nightfall.

He didn’t think about the poetry group again until Wed night when he was looking through the local newspaper and read a mention of it. He couldn’t help but wonder what he would find at such a gathering. Mostly novices, he assumed. But maybe there is something I could offer to these students of poetry… after all, he was a retired professor and could dissect poetry like a surgeon. So he decided he would attend the group the following evening, had a cup of tea and went to bed.

The next day would prove to be the beginning of a new period of J.S.’s retirement career. He would no longer dally in his writing pursuits, but devote himself headlong into them and achieve a new status for his literature. He couldn’t have been happier with his decision to attend the poetry group as he met a young woman there that was an aspiring poet herself. Upon looking into her dreamy eyes he knew that it was his fate to instruct this girl in the craft of poesy. When she smiled he wanted to engulf her with his passion and knowledge. Oh, but she could only be so perfect, he thought. Yes, she must be mine. All that night he dreamed of her in his loft, those eyes begging him to fill her with all he knew, her lips telling him what he wanted to hear…

The next day he realized that like everything he had in his life, he must pursue this girl likewise and repel all obstacles. The first of which, was obtaining her phone number. The telephone information services proved useful to that end and he was soon in communication with her.

At first the flattery kept her interested, but soon she accepted his offer of tutoring and agreed to meet with him. There were things that she did want to know and who better to ask than a self- appointed “master?” So they got together. He talked, she listened. After a few visits, she began to trust him, and began to suggest showing him some of her father’s writings, none of which had ever been published. He expressed a reserved interest… he heard very little of what she said, so infatuated he was with the way he cheeks wrinkled when her mouth moved. And those eyes… “yes, yes, darling, anything for you…”

The next rendezvous, she carried with her a tattered notebook held firmly against her chest. In it contained the words of her late father, who had driven himself insane on the streets of the small northern town, chanting the rhythms of verse documented in these pages. They were her endowment from the man who could barely keep a roof over her head. And she wanted help with them, to see them published and available to all, so that they could provide for others the pleasure she received from them. Could he help her?

But, of course, he said and pried the book out of her arms.

Little did she know that he would do more than that once he saw inside the book and realized that the writings of this dead man were more than he could ever hope to say. Instantly he knew what he had to do. And as beautiful as this man’s daughter may be, and as much as his loins throbbed when he thought of her silky thighs, he couldn’t resist the fortune of this opportunity.

For the rest of the week, J.S. transcribed the words in the notebook and reconfigured them into his latest ode, The Dance of the Juniper, which he sent out to the publisher that had rejected so many of his pieces in the past. While he waited for a response he began to spend more time at the young girl’s house, comforting her with his reassuring words of how well things were going in finding a publisher for her father’s writings, cooing in her ear, “don’t worry about a thing, my sweet damsel, I will take care of everything.” She groaned when he touched her and longed for the day her father’s words would be complete.

The next year, J.S. Bane was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.


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PAMPHLETERIA: The Best of The Small Press

The Best of the Small Press

A Morality Tale of Allegorical Dissent
(Originally published as part of the Seven Deadly Sins of the Small Press)

Scene 1: small studio apartment, guy at the kitchen table on a typewriter, girl on the bed reading a book.

“Honey,” the guy called out.

“Yes, dear,” she called out, not looking up from Phenomenology of Perception.

“Remember how I told you I sent some of my poems to that publisher Alpha Beat Press, you know, the one who published all those Beat writers?”

“Yes, dear,” she called out, not looking up from her book.

“Well they want to do a chapbook of my poems,” he said proudly.

“What’s a chapbook?” She asked.

“You remember, that book I showed you the other day, my writer friend’s book: i am a poem as honest as broken love.”

“That pamphlet looking thing?”

“Yeah,” he grumbled.

“That’s nice, sweetie.” She set her book on the floor. “What are you going to call yours?”

“I don’t know yet,” he hands her the letter. “They want me to send them money.”

“How much money?”

“Just $250.”


“This is still quite an honor… Alpha Beat Press is the best of the Small Press.”

“Where would you get $250?” she asked. “You know how hard it is saving money in restaurants. We’re lucky we can pay bills. I barely survive on my scholarships.”

“Man, sometimes I wish I was still in grad school… you guys have it made.”

“Damnit, Jim, you know I resent the shit out of those comments!”

“You know it’s true, that’s why,” he said smugly.

“Fuck you, asshole,” she spewed. “I work hard at school.”

“Yeah, well I work hard too and I wish I had a scholarship to do it!”

“Why does this always have to come up?”

“I’m just sick of never having money.” He turned around and faced his typewriter.

“Things will change, I promise.” She got off the bed and walked toward him. “I know you work hard and how much you hate it and that you just want to be a writer.”

“Alpha Beat is big time, baby,” he picks up the catalogue with Bukowski on the cover. “They’ve published all the great poets… Ginsberg, Kerouac, BUKOWSKI! You liked that one book by him you read.”

“Yeah, Post Office,” she reaches for the catalogue. “They’ve published all these people?”

“Yeah, like I said, this is an honor.”

“hmmm…” she examines the catalogue.

“It would be so great to have a chapbook of my poems. I have enough written, a little editing perhaps…”

“How many copies of the book do you get?”

“I don’t know…” he stands up. “I wish there was some way I could do this. I’m sure I’d get enough to send to everybody. Oh man, that would be so great… to send one to David, my writer friend in California…”

“Well, dear, if it really means that much to you, I will help you. I have most of my scholarship money still. The semester just started and maybe you could help out a little towards the end if I give you the money now.”

“Oh, honey!” he grabs her and kisses her face. “I’d do anything… I’ll get extra shifts at the restaurant and try being nice to the customers for better tips…”

“Oh, sweetie, I’m so happy for you!” she melts into his grasp and purrs with delight from the attention.

Scene 2: Same apartment, 16 months later. The guy is putting on his coat. The girl looks up from the fashion magazine she has in front of her.

“Where are you going?”

“To the post office,” he says. “I have to mail out some manuscripts. Do you need anything?”

“No.” She goes back to flipping through the magazine. “What I need I will never get.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“You’re the poet, you figure it out.”

“Jesus Christ!” he shouts. “Why do you have to be such a bitch?”

“All you care about is that damn typewriter, the post office and your ‘writer friends.’ I can’t believe I made it as long as I did without a vibrator.”

“Do we always have to go through this crap?”

“You tell me,” she throws the magazine on the floor. “How long are you going to waste your time with this fantasy of being a writer? You can’t even pay somebody to publish you.” She said the last part lower, knowing the sting.

“That’s not my fault!” He was visibly upset. “They ripped me off!”

“Well, you fell for it, didn’t you? The best of the small press… my ass!”

“It’s not my fault!” He bellows.

“I should have known better! We starved so they could be the best!” She is crying.

“It’s not my fault!” He falls to his knees and begins to cry. “I just wanted…”

“Oh fuck it!” She sits down next to him on the bed. “I know, I know…”

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered as he moves towards her.

“I know, honey.” She leans closer and puts her hand on his head as he whimpers into her shoulder. “I know…” she whispers slowly and sighs as he pulls her tight against him.

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Stills from Luver Radio Show with Marie Kazalia

To promote Marie Kazalia’s book Erratic Sleep in a Cold Hotel, I joined her on Frank Moore’s Luver radio show.

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PAMPHLETERIA: The Small Press As I Saw It

The Small Press As I Saw It
(After Three Years of Small Press Publishing)

AKA, The Poetry of Failure
(Originally published as part of the Seven Deadly Sins of the Small Press)

The small press literary scene, or The Small Press, as it is referred to by its participates, is represented by the countless unknown poets who contribute an infinite supply of verse to unsophisticated, but no less pretentious, poetry zines. The young poet/editors of these zines are banded together by the greatest gimmick ever of the disintegrating papernet, the SASE (self- addressed, stamped envelope). With a relentless and deluded fervor, they criticize but freely participate in a mass circle jerk of publication credits among other editors, the old-timer poets, hangers-on and wannabe Bukowskis that proliferate in the obscurity of their endeavors. Embellishing the submission process with a moral agenda while collecting acceptance letters like baseball cards, reinventing rejection as an editing tool, these has-been slackers publish poetry zines as they wait for their supposed writing careers take off. The established poets determine the content of these poetry zines, as they have stuck it out so long they can boast over 500-1000 magazines that have published their poems. They seek out and blindly submit without explanation to as any available zine, limited only by the expense of postage. Joined by their supposed common love of poetry, everybody vies for the same publication credits, to get their new chapbook mentioned in the Small Press Review, The Chiron Review or the Pontificating Nimrod Journal of Vociferous Chance, until the only goal it seems anymore is getting on the Top Ten List of Most Published Poets in America (yes, it does exist).

Entering the fray is the constant influx of new writers that begin sending out letters, submissions (replete with SASEs) or gingerly extending a submission call for their new zine. The poets try to dazzle them with publication credits and sweet-talk. “Sure, kid,” the poet responds to the beat references, “You remind me of a young Ferlinghetti, back when he was first starting out.” And then, oh, so generously, the poet hands over the 300 page manuscript of the epic poem he’s looking for somebody to “put out.”

There is no doubt that Small Press poetry scene is a very tight community, from the aged poets, the editors, the barnacles and the lost old maids in back country hovels who took up poetry after their husband passed on “as a way to occupy myself during the lonely nights on the tundra,” whether based on the tradition of the bards of yore or the trailer trash of your Jerry Springer fantasies, poets are everywhere now… and they want their words in print, damn it! Some poets shine through the sludge of crap, others wallow in it and subject anybody that will listen to the most banal aspects of their depressing, boring and sad, sad lives. But mostly, it’s about being as moronic as any other group of people relying on each other for the affirmation their pathetic lives need.

Somewhere an aspiring young writer is holding his third rejection letter that week when it suddenly it occurs to him that, while no, I can’t get published in magazines like the New Yorker or Harper’s, but what if I created my own magazine, then I could publish whomever I want!” And as that weak but determined glob of brain cells drips out of the cranium and slowly spills down the spinal cord, and with a couple synapses firing a faint flicker of what could quite possibly be an idea, the cycle of bad poetry and even worse zines continues… and yeah, one could very well produce the next great poetry zine of Spring 2001, get burned out half way through the second issue when the submissions take over all the empty space in your home, and all you can think about are SASEs and what an asshole that guy is because he didn’t include one with his submission. And all the poets, the hangers-on, the wannabes and right there in front of the mob are all those editors that used to write you and you called friends, they all want their poems printed in your zine and they want you to publish their next chapbook and shit, you just pretend like you know what a broadside is.

If you don’t want to print this poet cause you like that poet, you get nasty letters, “but you took so-and-sos poems and I’m so much better than him!” And after you’ve spent your entire paycheck at Kinko’s photocopying and stapling the new chapbook you published for What’s his god damned name, your girlfriend is back home, pissed cause you can’t take her out anymore. “She doesn’t understand who this poet is!” you tell yourself. “He’s going down in the books! He’s a genius,” but she’s still not putting out and you realize that unless you charge the poets to make these chapbooks or expect the readers to shell out an hour’s wage for it, you will end up broke, hungry, homeless and alone when, gosh darn it, all you really wanted was to be a writer, meet some interesting people and fit in.

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