hankrules2011

A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

Reflections on Lyn Lifshin’s Cold Comfort: Selected Poems, 1970-1996

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 5, 2022

Cold Comfort: Selected Poems, 1970-1996Cold Comfort: Selected Poems, 1970-1996 by Lyn Lifshin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love this book. I’ve known Lyn personally going back to the 1980s and as “Queen of the Small Presses,” I saw her in every damn magazine I came across for decades. And I would buy, obtain or she’d send me copies of new books and chapbooks over the years so that while I only have a fraction of the roughly 150 books she published over the years, most are among my favorites and this is definitely one of them. This was Lifshin’s first book to be published by Black Sparrow Press, Bukowski’s publisher (and I think about the same time another old friend, Edward Field, started getting some of his books also published by Black Sparrow), and it was the biggest one of hers I had seen to date at close to 300 pages, or what I would call “average” for Black Sparrow book sizes. Lyn had a lot more complexity and talent than some people give her credit for, and I’m thinking of certain academics, none of whom will ever accomplish even 1% of what Lyn did, but all of whom with their big (small, actually) 2 damn books in hand have the temerity to look down on her as “inferior” because she wasn’t part of “the Academy” (despite spending time teaching a year here and there at many schools such as Syracuse). And yes, I actually had a good but mainstream academic writer friend use that description. I tried not to be pissed off. After all, most of the academics who are critics of Lifshin, Bukowski, the old Beats, the slam scene, confessional poetry, ME, etc., are quick to tout themselves and each other as descendants of Keats, Byron, Cummings, Thomas, etc., but few can match those old masters and more importantly, note the world “old.” These academics are stuck in ancient decades and centuries and either haven’t realized or cared that they’ve been killing any remaining interest in poetry from non-academics for decades, explaining their sad press runs of 250-750 books no matter how many awards they win (back when I was heavily publishing, people were often surprised to hear the average press run for most American poetry books was 750 copies. You don’t get rich off that. Which is why so many teach. Or if you’re lucky, live a life like Bukowski, be a drunk in the gutter screwing whores, gambling, playing with cats, pumping out 10 poems a night and became successful, popular and live off your writing because you don’t give a shit and you’re simply a) more talented and b) a harder worker) because while they may master craft, they have little concept of actual LIFE for you and me and most people outside the Ivory tower, so remembering back to a standard university lit review (and yes, I’ve been published in many, but rejected by more), I recall one of its average issues having poems with titles such as “Sunset at Deer Late,” “Robins at Sunrise,” “Mysteries of the Pond’s Ripples” and other bullshit like that, boring most people to tears until some are lucky enough to happen upon “less talented” (meaning “less formal”) populists who are writing not only confessional, but experimental (the LANGUAGE poets of some decades ago, the surrealists, etc.,), and who are writing about topics and things in life that are REAL to most people who don’t have the luxury of taking sabbaticals to go mentally masturbate and accomplish little while looking down your nose at everyone else. Most of the rest of us have to actually work! Ferlinghetti busted his ass to make his bookstore a success in the Italian North Beach section of SF while also making his new publishing company successful as he was being prosecuted for publishing Ginsberg. Also found time to write the best selling book of American poetry in history in A Coney Island of the Mind, a book that changed my life in changing my understanding of poetry, allowing me to learn the rules dictated to you in classes are constructs created by the untalented academic dictators and they exist to be smashed, which is what so many more interesting, popular, meaningful, influential poets of actual substance have been helping do to save poetry from the destruction that was being wrought on it by academia. Thank god! The irony about Lyn is the Academy was wrong just like my friend was (who was the director of the creative writing program at a big university). In this big book, rest assured all of these poems had been published in magazines before being collected to make up this book and most assuredly appeared in hundreds of the “small press magazines,” she and many others (I know and was one of) were known for but while she could have included those in the Acknowledgments, it’s almost funny to see the huge Acknowledgments page so full of largely only mainstream literary journals of high quality that very few academics so critical of her could barely match it! Revenge is sweet. (A small arbitrary sample: Chicago Review, Georgia Review, Carolina Quarterly, North American Review, Ploughshares, Long Shot, The Sun, New Delta Review, Chelsea, Christian Science Monitor, Caliban, Literary Review, Mudfish, Denver Review, Cream City Review, Wormwood Review, ACM, Grain, Puerto Del Sol, Hollins Critic, Free Lunch, Midwest Quarterly, Hiram Poetry Review, and on and on and you get the picture, right? Yeah, like usual, the academic snobs are wrong. Just because she mixed with the masses didn’t mean she couldn’t play in their yards too and she did so more and better while at it.)

Lyn was loved and appreciated by millions and I hope she’ll get her just due fully one day. I feel privileged that while I was serving as poetry editor for Ray’s Road Review for some years, I had worked to build the quality of submissions and works published to a very high degree, during which time our acceptance rate dropped from 40% to below 2% and we went from largely unknown, uncredited writers (nothing wrong with that — we were all there once and as long as the stuff was good, I published first timers alongside household names) to contributors whose credits typically included Poetry, NYQ, Partisan Review, Rattle, Paris Review, The Atlantic, the New Yorker, etc. Even had an 8-time Jeopardy winner. While I was publishing writers I like and respect who have credibility and credits like Simon Perchik, Alan Catlin, Dancing Bear, BZ Niditch, Marilyn Kallet, Clifton Snider, Lowell Jaeger, etc., Lyn naturally sent me some stuff and of course I liked it and accepted most of it, prompting her to immediately send me more — even though we were booked 2-3 issues ahead and she wouldn’t be published for 6-12 months. AND while one normally submits 3-5 poems, she would send me 75 pages on average each time. As a result, without ever intending or even really discussing it, I was able to publish some two full books of hers in serial format and I loved having her aboard as a publisher, rather than a competitor — I mean fellow contributor — in so many mags.

Thus, about a year ago when I got the news that she had just died, it hit me damn hard and I had to take a deep breath. Possibly shed a tear or two. I remember going to visit her at her condo in DC decades ago. She was still so very into ballet. I remember trying to compete with her, back when people were describing me as the male version of Lifshin because I was so prolific for a good while. But honestly, so many old friends, colleagues and even heroes and mentors in this community have been dying over the past few years that it’s gotten really hard for me. Ferlinghetti a couple of years ago. Dare I call him a friend? We spent time chatting, he gave me a million autographed books, he gave one of my books a back cover plug. About the same time, another Beat poet, old friend Diane di Prima, who I’d enjoyed a great relationship with died. She lived in the same pad as Amy Tan in SF, got together with me when she came down to LA. And joined by fellow Beat writer Michael McClure. Shit! And since then I’ve been finding more and more have died during the past 5-6 years that my health has forced me “underground,” so to speak, and no longer part of the scene, no longer up on the news. So I’ve learned far too late of the deaths of Will Inman, Walt Phillips, Todd Moore and hell, I was looking through the contents of an archive of an old friend in Stanford’s Special Collections (actually Ginsberg, to be honest) and I realized half the people were damn dead now but the worst was when Gerry Locklin died last January thanks to COVID, or how I choose to describe it, thanks to the white christian nationalist science denying alt right republicans. Bastards! Proof of no god right there. It’s gotten so that I’ve started trying to find old writer colleagues who are still alive because I fear I may be the last one standing and I always thought I’d be one of the first to go. Alphabeat Press’s Dave Christy just died a few months ago. Good old Ed Field is approaching 100 and I don’t want to jinx that. I know Cat Townsend and Belinda Subraman are still out there, and I think I’ve heard Dan Nielsen is still around, but Gerry? Lyn? Life is cruel.

Look, Lyn was famous for her Madonna poem series, for her mother/daughter anthologies, for the film they made about her, for laughingly (almost) knowing you’ll see her in any mag you get published in, no matter how small, how niche, what country or language, and she was known for a million other things too, but she was damn talented and interesting and always had this mystique about her and I think this is a great book to either get to know her or to relish reading her again. I can’t recommend this book more fervantly. Get it!

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Some Quotes of Mine

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 19, 2021

Excerpt from the Pittsburgh Quarterly (1993)

Excerpt from Street Poems (1991)

Excerpt from Shadows Before The Maiming (1999)

Excerpt from The Napalmed Soul (1999)

Excerpt from Shadows Before The Maiming (1999)

Excerpt from Cells (2004)

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An Intro to the Finnish Readers of Rendezvous’ssa re US Writer Scott C. Holstad, Circa 1993

Posted by Scott Holstad on October 13, 2021

When I started getting published in 1988-89, somehow — I no longer remember how — I came into contact with some Finnish writers, editors, publishers & magazines by at least 1990. At the time, Bukowski was very popular in Finland (& with me as well) & I’m afraid that like many, I emulated him just a tad too much for my first couple of years. But I started to branch out, set my own tone & feel, & develop my own reputation (never close to Bukowski’s, of course). In the meantime, I started getting published in small magazines in Finland, typically in English but sometimes in Finnish — which I didn’t read at the time. One editor really liked me, solicited stuff from me constantly, was a great guy & eventually asked if he could publish a small booklet of my poems, which kind of blew my mind (as it would be my first international book; I had already had something published in the US). My first poetry collection came out in the Spring 1991. I agreed to Jounni’s request & my 2nd collection, Industrial Madness, came out in December 1991. Other editors & magazines started soliciting work from me, I got to know quite a few good people over there & elsewhere in other countries that would strongly support me for years, such as Belgium, the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, etc., & I started working with some Finnish friends & colleagues in L.A., where I was living at the time. (This helped me realize I wanted to move to Finland.) That first magazine, & the publishing company, was named Sivullinen. Published me a lot. But soon Sivullinen was joined by Sieto Kukka, Solinar, Talvipaivanseisaus & others. I also started getting fan mail. Now as strange it must seem to those of you who never knew me or heard of me as a writer, I actually did go through a 15+/- year period of massive productivity & was sometimes referred to as the most prolific man in the world at the time! (“Man” because no one could beat the late Lyn Lifshin, though I competed well for awhile. “Queen of the Small Press?” How many hundreds of books, many thousands of magazines? Every single literary one I ever saw, it often seemed like. But I was the male Lifshin “Lite,” so had some standing in that literary world.) So I started receiving fan mail from all over the world. And lots of requests, solicitations, offers to publish my books, & the occasional bra in a package from some sweet but delusional girl in a few different places. I had been getting published with Buk in many of the same mags since 1990, started corresponding with him then, would later go over to his house in San Pedro when I moved to Long Beach and he was nice enough to sign a few books for/to me, as well as a Bukowski t-shirt. This made me seem cooler to those that didn’t realize I wasn’t worth shit compared to the big boys. Nonetheless, Buk and I went from being published in a lot of the same magazines (with Gerry Locklin) to being put on the cover of a Finnish magazine, the name of which I no longer recall, which made it appear that we were standing side by side when in fact, it was just a slick Photoshop job of getting a photo of each of us to look, oh, like we were actually literally beside each other. But in a sense, we were at that moment. And even better, the cover screamed “Bukowski and Holstad!” Awesome. I actually don’t know why I was THAT excited because as the former editor of Caffeine magazine noted, for much of the 1990s, Caffeine was literally the biggest poetry magazine in America and since I started out with Rob in issue 1 and since he wanted to start off with a bang, among those he published were Ginsberg and Bukowski. On the cover. With me. And Buk and I appeared on many future covers of Caffeine and of some various other publications while he was still alive, but I’m not actually trying to brag so much as simply describe what it was like back then.

Which brings me to this collage I made this morning. And I do apologize for the state of the little article on the left. It’s barely readable, but I ran across it recently, hadn’t seen it in years/decades and couldn’t contain my enthusiasm, because it’s been a long time. So this little barely readable article is obviously in Finnish and it’s by the editor of what was a new-to-me Finnish magazine that would go on to publish me often: Rendezvous’ssa, or shortened in English, Rendezvous, It’s a little Introduction about me to the magazine’s readers. Appeared around the beginning of 1993. Since I was once so active in Finland (not only in writing/publishing, but in business as well, in other areas), I had various Finnish friends & colleagues & a couple would translate things like this, or longer, for me, but that was a long time ago & even though I learned to read & speak several languages, I’m beyond rusty now. And I no longer have access to translator friends. I can recall the person who translated this for me back in ’94, but I lost whatever the content was many years ago, so while I generally remembered what this said, I wanted to be able to read it fairly accurately again, so I decided to make an attempt to translate it myself. Which I did. Despite being rusty by many years. But with the admission that I had to refer to some sources a few times, the two more prominent being Google Translate & Translate.com. I frankly felt neither of them (or any others) did a perfect job & a couple of clauses virtually contradicted each other, so I basically just loosely translated it as reasonably accurately as I felt I could/should & the primary reason it may appear to a Fin to not be perfectly accurate is likely because of grammatical differences in the two languages, such as subject/object placement, etc. I moved a few things around but didn’t consciously try to add or eliminate anything of note. You’ll notice there were two or three words that I simply could not figure out, even within the context, so I guessed as best I could. I actually have hundreds of Finnish contacts and connections these days, many of them in the FDF, so if any of them were to see this & wish to correct me, improve this or comment, I’m open. So here’s my little goofy collage, which will mean little to most, but brings back good memories for me. Cheers!

Finnish introduction of US writer Scott C. Holstad to the readers of Rendezvous’ssa, followed by an English translation of my own

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Some More Book Reviews

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 8, 2020

Being ThereBeing There by Jerzy Kosiński
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Postmodern brilliance. Stunning in what is says in what it doesn’t say. I actually prefer Kosinki’s The Painted Bird, which is a little more brutal, but I honestly think Being There is the author’s best truly “postmodern” work, translated well to the screen, and perfectly holds a mirror up to society. Will they even glance at it? I did. Kicked my ass. Couldn’t be more recommended, but for those of you don’t like minimalist postmodern, you may find yourself bored, possibly not picking up on some subtleties, or simply unimpressed. Or you may actually walk away feeling more and more impressed the more you think about it. (In fact, I was so impressed with it that I wrote a short paper on it from a Reader Response position and it was published in a peer-reviewed, MLA-indexed journal: The Arkansas Review. It’s titled “The Dialectics of Getting There: Kosinski’s Being There and the Existential Anti-Hero.” It’s actually online somewhere, but I don’t know what the policy here for giving our URLs is, so if you’re interested at all, you can either do a search or go to my blog listed on my profile (hankrules2011), with hyperlink, and find it listed among a few publications.) Feel free to leave comments re your own observations, if you’ve read it. It’s definitely not a universally admired or appreciated text. Which makes it all the more delicious for me. 😉

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MashMash by Richard Hooker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have always loved this book! I think it was a unique and special book for its time, a lightweight counter to the heavy stuff going on around it, such as Catch 22, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, A Clockwork Orange and the like, all of which are great, but are a reflection of their times, as well as what was going on socially, culturally and politically in the US, particularly with Vietnam — and Hooker using Korea as an obvious substitute in his commentary on such things couched in humor. The beauty of this novel is, it DOES allude to and address some really serious issues and things, similarly to the other books mentioned, but again, differently so that one didn’t feel so threatened, to use an odd description of possible/probable reader response to others of that time. Brilliant, IMO. And of course, the TV show that came out of the movie that came out of this book was one of the best loved TV shows of all time, including by me as a major fan, so the book set off a chain of awesome (cinematic) events that impacted millions of people, largely in a good way. So while most people probably wouldn’t consider this novel as more than a cheap comedy, I tend to see much more value in it and I’ll stand behind that as long as I’m alive. Definitely recommended!

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The Late Great Planet EarthThe Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Utter trash! I still can’t believe how this POS swept over America during the 1970s, resulting in millions, I’m sure, for Lindsey, that asshole, as well as a horrible POS wildly fantastic, mythological horror show of a movie that was traumatic as shit to kids like me and others I knew whose fundie parents forced them to go see it. In retrospect, it was a total joke, a hoax, and Lindsey was and remains an utter fraud. Personally, I think those of us who are “fundie survivors” from the 1970s — and there are a LOT of us: read Seth Andrews — should file class action lawsuits against Hal and his publisher, as well as those assholes responsible for that shitty movie, A Thief In The Night, which traumatized me and tons of people and kids like me, not only at that time, but to this day, resulting in decades of therapy which has never been effective, scarring me for life. Another target of a wished for class action lawsuit would be the publisher of those damn Chick tracts, which also scared the shit out of me and most of the other people I knew. All those awesome cartoons and drawings of demons, the flames of Hell, drugged out ’70s hippies destined for Hell, etc. All of these and much more contributed to fucking ruining my life and tens of thousands like me, of driving us away from fundie/evangelicals forever, of feeling nothing but disgust and disdain, if not outright hatred for the hypocritical, lying fire and brimstone manipulators trying to use prehistoric rubbish to scare everyone possible into doing their damn will (and filling their pockets at the same time). I’ll never forgive them and I’ll never forgive Lindsey for this wretched joke of a piece of total shit book that did so much permanent damage to untold legions of people. If you wonder why people are leaving the churches in the US in droves these days and why over 20% of the American population are called the “Nones,” as in no church, no mythological supernatural tooth fairy in the sky, etc., you can thank Lindsey, those responsible for the other atrocities mentioned here, and the assholes who carry on their tradition, like Tim Lehay , who field a softer brand, but still put through the same apocalyptic message (while raking in millions on the side). If it were possible, I wouldn’t give this book a “0” – I would give it a “-1,000” or onward to infinity. If you value reason, logic, sanity, human decency, facts, etc., and if you frown upon or even despise those theistic religionists (particularly conservative Christians in the western world) who use terms like “love,” “morals,” “peace,” “family values,” etc., when they’re too lazy and stupid to read their own holy book and discover the atrocities committed by the god of the old testament while claiming their Jesus was a holy man of peace and love, while he stated he came with a sword to split up families and turn parents against children, etc., bragged that he spoke in parables so his idiot disciples literally wouldn’t be able to understand anything he said, and left no writings or proof of his existence, and none from any witnesses were ever written down so much could be said about the gospels, etc., aside from the millions of literal lies, discrepancies, untruths, fraud, etc., in their holy book and especially the new testament, then by all means, avoid this idiocy. I couldn’t recommend it any less than I am doing now. Truly one of the most despicable books in history by one of the most despicable humans in history… If there were an actual hell their mythology describes, he and his ilk would be destined for it.

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Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Not remotely impressed. For two primary reasons, among others. One, this just seems like a lot of fluffy filler. I have no idea how Godin made this into a full length book because I just got the feeling a decent, well thought out and written magazine article would have sufficed and even been more successful, perhaps. More importantly, I disagree with the title, premise and some possible conclusions that may be drawn from the book’s thesis.

OBVIOUSLY there are typically “linchpins” in most companies and certainly most successful companies. That should be so transparently understood that I fail to see the necessity in even writing a book about it at all. However, I learned early in my business career, initially from advisors and mentors, later from employers and bosses, and sadly, from personal experience as well as witnessing such with various colleagues in many companies and businesses — the thing that was drilled into my head from the beginning both verbally and through observation and experience — is that NO ONE is EVER indispensable! To think someone is, is utterly foolish, totally naive, completely wrong, and places too much value on “linchpins,” whom while no matter how valuable, can ALWAYS be replaced — I’ve seen it dozens of times at companies throughout the country from the lowest on the rungs to the very highest, at Founder, President and CEO, etc.

So, I have well over 30 years of business experience and I’ve seen this play out too many times to count. I’ve seen teachers with experience, great success and tenure get sacked. I’ve seen founders of startups that quickly grew into multimillion dollar public companies get dumped by the board. No One is Indispensable! I literally have only seen one person at one company who very likely may have been and was treated as such and who basically calls the shots as VP Engineering — after her former boss, the VP of Engineering with multiple degrees from Georgia Tech — was let go to move her up. Bizarre world… Book? Not recommended.

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Strange Attraction: The Best Of Ten Years Of ZyzzyvaStrange Attraction: The Best Of Ten Years Of Zyzzyva by Howard Junker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to confess that during my decades of writing several hours a day, 362 days a year, and submitting work to hundreds, thousands of zines, journals, magazines, publications around the world and during my decades of prolific success, while I had a very good acceptance percentage and was fortunate enough to be published in many high quality literary journals as well as newspapers, commercial magazines and more, there were really very few “major” ones I actually liked to read. I know that sounds nuts, but I was never a big fan of the New Yorker or the Paris Review, nor the Southern Humanities Review, Ploughshares, etc. Too damn mainstream, too much a party of the only “acceptable” literary canon, as defined by those who thought and think they are the official arbiters of such. Most of whom are idiots with no talent.

However, there were some journals, as well as many zines, magazines and the like, that I DID look forward to, often because they weren’t so freaking obsessed with calm ponds, chirping robins, lovely deer in the forest, calm lake waters and all that bullshit. At a minimum, they’d publish a diverse selection of material and writers, typically mixing the totally unknown with the most famous around. And on more topics of interest, relatable to me and others who weren’t Black Mountain fans, and Zyzzyva was one of them. Some others included Exquisite Corpse, New York Quarterly, Long Shot, Wormwood Review, Chiron Review, Caffeine, ONTHEBUS, Rattle, Poetry, Asheville Poetry Review, Main Street Rag and several others. The interesting thing about Zyzzyva was it centered largely on West Coast writers, and that intrigued me even before I became a West Coast writer!

Zyzzyva was a large, beautiful perfect bound book-sized journal and Junker, as editor, picked some great stuff, a nice fairly diverse selection of works, with a great mix of writers, and it was one of the few I read through cover to cover. I must admit though that one of my great publishing disappointments was I could never get Howard to accept ANY of my stuff, and I submitted annually for years! And I couldn’t figure out why because he published a ton of writers I was often published with in other magazines. It didn’t make any sense. But every editor is different and frankly it’s often subjective. Sometimes you like a person’s work and never another’s, no matter how qualified or whatever. I was an editor and publisher myself for some years, so I know what I’m talking about. There were two sides to this. On one hand, if various literary journals rejected me a couple of times, I usually crossed them off my list and moved on, but there were – for reasons I still don’t know – some others out there that I continued to submit to every damn year for YEARS, both hoping and convinced they’d eventually accept some of my work, only to be rejected annually by 98% of them. It was disheartening. It’s been a long time and I forget virtually all of them, but I do recall one was Arizona State’s Haydens Ferry Review, the annual issue of ONTHEBUS – and Jack Grapes, the editor, was a freaking friend of mine! – the Sierra Nevada Review (seriously???) and a few others. One that finally accepted my work after over a decade of submissions was Emory University’s Lullwater Review. Funny, that… And so Zyzzyva was one of these journals.

Conversely, there were some high quality writers, editors, magazines, journals and zines that liked me personally, liked what and how I wrote, liked my work and in some cases, loved to publish me constantly. As in the opposite of the example I just gave in the previous paragraph. Some of the writers and editors who seemed to like me included the great Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gerald Locklin (author of over 125 books, as well as editor), Michael Bugeja at Writer’s Digest, who liked to quote me as an SME in the annual Poet’s Market they published, the incredible Charles Bukowski, the longtime editor of the esteemed Poetry Magazine, Joseph Parisi (who amusingly secretly confided in me that he loved my work but worried that some might be “too much” for the traditional Poetry Magazine reader, which I thought was funny and it made me happy to see people like myself and the most openly anti-establishment poet around – Bukowski – start to appear in Poetry and other high quality literary journals, in some cases with the editors gritting their teeth, I’m sure), Black Flag’s Henry Rollins, who was publisher of his own press, and many others. And as stated, there were some journals and magazines that seemed to like to publish my work regularly to constantly in virtually every issue. Some of these included Chiron Review, Caffeine (where I regularly appeared alongside Bukowski), Hawaii Review, Pearl, Long Shot, Finland’s Sivullinen (and many other Finnish magazines, where they often shockingly put me on their covers alongside Bukowski – I mean photos and everything!), Belgium’s De Nar, Poetry Ireland Review (with Seamus Heaney, and they paid very well!), the infamous longtime punk magazine, Flipside, whose poetry editor loved my stuff, the famous horro magazine, Wicked Mystic (they paid well), L.A.’s big Saturday Afternoon Journal, music magazine Industrialnation, and a number of others.

The point? The point is that while I was very successful, pretty well known around the world in those kinds of literary circles, appeared regularly in publications featuring Ginsberg, Bukowski, Amiri Baraka, Ted Berrigan, William Burroughs, and other heavyweights, I felt I *should* have been good enough to have my work appear in most publications I submitted to — because I did so strategically, avoiding those I knew wouldn’t like my style or my stuff — and so Zyzzyva remained a constant disappointment for me as a writer because I could not understand at all why Junker wouldn’t publish me when he published so many others in my various circles. But I never let that disappointment ruin my appreciation for and love of that journal, and while I’ve not seen it in a long time, I’ll always remember it fondly and with great respect. If you missed out on it, I recommend looking up old issues, or perhaps … of course, getting this book because Howard picked an assortment of quality writers and material to appear in these pages, so I strongly recommend it.

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Finally! A Few (Brief) New Book Reviews

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 27, 2020

Those of you who have been with me for a long time may remember I used to constantly write book reviews, for years, and in some cases, some very thorough, comprehensive in depth ones that took a long time to write. Unfortunately, my health really plummeted a few years ago and has gotten progressively worse ever since. I’ve been blogging regularly since 2003, often on a daily basis, but typically several times a week over the whole time, and while I’ve written on many different topics, my book reviews have typically drawn the most viewers. So when I went a year without posting anything while trying to stay alive, once I returned in 2018 for sporadic visits back here — sadly — I discovered that I still had a good number of followers, and hadn’t lost virtually any — technically. What I did lose, though, was virtually my entire reader base. And even though it’s been two years, I’ve never recovered any reader base at all, which has left me conflicted because my health has gotten very worse with the prognosis not too great and I’ve closed nearly all of my social media accounts and have very limited time, strength, energy, etc., to interact with people, let alone write much of anything, let alone READ much of anything — at least not like I used to. Nonetheless, I’ve been enjoying trying to get some more reading in and I’ve been writing largely brief reviews for many of these books, most just junk, but some fairly decent. But I am starting to feel like why write or post anything on this blog at all if literally no one sees or reads it ever besides myself. I’ve known others in similar situations over the years and the usual stock response is to do it for yourself as a form of diary, if nothing else. And that’s how I’ve been treating it. But if my expected life span is not that long, why the hell would I want to waste my time writing or posting stuff here if no one literally sees or reads any of it??? It’s a waste of valuable time and energy that could be better spent in other ways. Thus, while I’m starting to seriously consider permanently stopping blogging after 17 years and deleting this, my last, blog, I’m still hoping to work on a couple of blog posts I’ve had planned for the past couple of weeks, but just haven’t been able to do so while I ponder things. So I thought Why not post a few little reviews from some recent ones I’ve put on Goodreads? Which might be a way to jump start me and inspire me to move on to the bigger projects I’ve had in mind. So, forgive the lack of quality my book reviews formerly had. I’ve been woefully out of practice for a long time. But for the one person who stumbles across this blog post and decides to glance at it, I hope you’ll see something remotely interesting at least. Thanks, and cheers!

 

 

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Doc: A MemoirDoc: A Memoir by Dwight Gooden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Well, the book’s okay, but not actually what I was hoping for. I remember when this kid came up. What a hell of a rookie year he had (and his second year was basically as good if not more so). You want strike outs? Serious freaking heat! He went from a name to a recognized world sensation in a month! It wasn’t long after that, with Daryl Strawberry supplying the lumber and former Expo catcher, Gary Carter, smacking a few out while providing clubhouse leadership, that they beat the Red Sox to win their first World Series in 25 universes…? Seemed that way.

I’m not a Mets fan, but this kid — they were starting to call him “Doc” — was a once in a life-timer. And then he seemed to just start to fade away. Eventually disappear. 15 minutes.

I guess I wanted to really hear about his coming up to the majors and his incredible rookie year, and on to the Series, instead of opening the book to him passed out in a drug den doped up and too screwed up to make it to the stadium for the big game. It’s not that that’s not important or what Gooden clearly wanted to do with his book. And it’s his prerogative to do that, sure. But it’s my prerogative too, as a consumer, to not care too much because that scene has been written about a thousand times in a thousand sports and entertainer’s books, while few of them ever approached the level of success he had in his first two years. It’s not that his focus isn’t valid — it is. It’s just, been there, done that a million damn times with players not even worth 10% of him, and I just wanted to read about a rookie season for the ages. I’m actually kind of sick of all of these screwed up athletes ruining their careers and lives and then NOT writing about what made them interesting when they were able to play, but instead writing almost exclusively on how down the gutter they all fell and what it took for them to make it back. And again, I don’t want to invalidate that. I’ve got my own stories too. But when reading a memoir of an athlete of this stature, I really just don’t want another “Insert pages of last athlete’s memoir, replace author/athlete names with current one, change book jacket, sell.” They’re redundant after awhile, so you almost start to not care anymore because you become so desensitized to it. Which is sad. I only wanted to read something fun for once, something decent, exciting, celebrating an amazing accomplishment instead of just another book on an athlete destroying their careers and lives. Hell, I predicted this exact outcome, but as I write this, former Steeler All Pros Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell just finished their first season after “escaping” evil cheap little Pittsburgh and neither of them really understood that they WEREN’T the damn straw the stirred the drink — they were an overall part of the drink, every part of the drink is replaceable, and frankly, Brown’s bitching about Ben really ticked me off because without Ben throwing him the ball — and Ben had PLENTY of other high drafted, very talented people to throw to, many of whom went on to become 1,000 and/or Pro Bowl receivers, often with another team rather than staying with the Steelers for their entire career — like respectable Hines Ward did, Stallworth, etc. The point is, Brown owes practically all of his stats to the 6th best QB in NFL history and possible the best offensive line for any one decade in NFL history, with three annual All Pros, two other decade-long starters, 2-3 going to the Hall of Fame one day? They thought they could spit in Pittsburgh’s face for whatever greedy, elitist reasons and continue to duplicate their numbers nearly ANYWHERE else? They obviously don’t have good agents or advisers because I would have bet my house that neither would do crap and that they just nuked their careers and their once probably HOF destinies due to total idiocy. See, we see a few Doc’s every year. And it’s not that they’re story, especially if redemptive, isn’t good, valid or interesting. I just wanted a good view into that incredible year for once rather than the downside of fame and riches. A different take. On something that I actually care about because I’ve seen and been around enough misery throughout my life around this planet to think there’s too much special about the redemptive stories — a ton of people could write the same thing — but they are the only ones who can write about what it was that made them household names. Whatever, I guess it’s just me. It’s an okay book but I’m kind of over these types of celebrity autobiographies, so while I want to give this book two stars for ticking me off, that’s subjective and probably not fair to the author, so I’ll give it three, but know what you’re getting before you get it so you don’t make the same mistake I did…

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Being ThereBeing There by Jerzy Kosiński
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Postmodern brilliance. Stunning in what is says in what it doesn’t say. I actually prefer Kosinki’s The Painted Bird, which is a little more brutal, but I honestly think Being There is the author’s best truly “postmodern” work, translated well to the screen, and perfectly holds a mirror up to society. Will they even glance at it? I did. Kicked my ass. Couldn’t be more recommended, but for those you don’t like minimalist postmodern, you may find yourself bored, possibly not picking up on some subtleties, or simply unimpressed. Or you may actually walk away feeling more and more impressed the more you think about it. (In fact, I was so impressed with it that I wrote a short paper on it from a Reader Response position and it was published in a peer-reviewed, MLA-indexed journal: The Arkansas Review. It’s titled “The Dialectics of Getting There: Kosinski’s Being There and the Existential Anti-Hero.” It’s actually online somewhere, but I don’t know what the policy here for giving our URLs is, so if you’re interested at all, you cane either do a search or go to my blog listed on my profile (hankrules2011), with hyperlink, and find it listed among a few publications. Feel free to leave comments re your own observations, if you’ve read it. It’s definitely not a universally admired or appreciated text. Which makes it all the more delicious for me. 😉

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The Bomb: A New HistoryThe Bomb: A New History by Stephen M. Younger
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A lot of people seem to like this book, and it’s not that it’s not good — it is. It provides a solid history of how it came to be and what has happened since with some good technical details thrown in. And for those not already familiar with such information, it’s a good primer. However, in terms of the author’s present worldview, recent worldview, future worldview, again, while I don’t necessarily disagree, it simply seems a bit dated and it’s hard to believe this was published merely a decade or so ago, because this feels most definitely like an immediate post-Cold War book to me, and one wonders where the author has been the past 20 years… It’s like he hasn’t kept up with the changes he didn’t anticipate, or couldn’t have in 1990, but which were already taking place before he even published this book. Which again begs the question — are his assessments of present geopolitical conditions, military strategies, hegemonies, etc., accurate not only at the time of publication but today? I think most would argue, NO, they weren’t and aren’t. I feel fairly confident I could, most certainly. Which then begs the question of if he was and is so off base in his understanding of the present dynamics and his predictions of future dynamics and geopolitical likelihoods, how do we know how much to trust from this book, and further, is this book of any current relevant value? As a historical primer, it’s fairly well done. As a “New History,” it fails miserably. There are many better books out there and thus this is most definitely NOT remotely recommended.

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DeliveranceDeliverance by James Dickey
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

God, I can’t tell you how much I hate this book, nor how much disdain I have for Dickey. He represents, for me, everything that is wrong with both southern literary fiction and general “acceptable” and virtually ordained “literary fiction,” per the academic establishment officially set up to define what is “acceptable” and what is not “acceptable.” Gotta love these people claiming the title of judge and decider of such things so they can dictate not only to virtually all English professors what they can and can’t teach but to all students what is accepted and what is not. As well as to discriminate between those worthy of NEA grants, inclusion into the Academy of American Poets (yes, I was a member for years), etc. I recall asking a professor as an undergrad why we always had to study Dickey, Faulkner, Wharton, etc., but never Kerouac, Ginsberg, Rexroth, Bukowski, etc. The scorn was palpable as I received a lecture on true and acceptable literary work and its craft and value versus populist drivel writers. I recall thinking that very narrow minded, but as I continued in my academic studies, research, publishing, later teaching and even later deciding I hated the academic bullshit and got out of there, I’ve come to conclude the majority of these academic sheeple don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, are just trumpeting the party line, seem to think themselves worthy critics yet aren’t good enough to write and publish anything as good as, not only the authors they teach, but the extremely popular and successful writers they diss. Those who can’t write teach, yes? There’s a reason that saying came into being decades ago. And obviously it’s not that some English and writing professors don’t write or publish, but I’ve rarely met any who A) were successful at publishing more than a couple of small quickly forgotten useless pieces of academic, literary mainstream pathetic crap or B) who were successful at publishing more than a few books, and generally were well written, well crafted, but in the vein of much literary fiction/poetry, just flat out boring as crap. I recall when I was publishing prolifically one journal standing out especially as a stereotypical university journal that I hated so much, as did many of my friends and colleagues. The Southern Humanities Review, I believe, would often have issues that were full of little but poems with titles like “sunset at deer lake” or “robin at rest” or “sunrise at ‘x” mountain,” etc. It’s like, have none of you academic writers ever ventured outside your ivory towers or gone anywhere besides rural America? Do you love Walden that much? Because that’s not been my life nor the life of many I know and maybe that’s why I was always initially drawn to Sandberg’s Chicago poems and the grittiness of ACTUAL reality for so many people, followed by both reality and actual creativity and talent in Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind (the biggest selling book of poetry in US history), or Ginsberg’s infamous “Howl” and especially nearly any of Bukowski’s books. The fact that he was one of America’s most prolific poets, most successful and popular poets, and a continual best selling author in many other countries around the world, and that countless books have been written about him, movies made from his books and about him as well, etc., is irrelevant to those in charge of teaching, instructing and molding the minds and skills of students when in fact, virtually none of these people have the talent, skills, success and credits to even compete at all with Buk seems lost on them. Which should show you enough about their intelligence, knowledge and critical abilities. Crap, I really don’t know or care how good or not Deliverance is. It’s just always represented and been a symbol of all I view as wrong with the canon. It’s not that I think the topics they write about or some of the writers aren’t good or legit. I just take issue with these assholes simply casually dismissing non-rural, gritty populist fiction and poetry as illegitimate merely because so many of these deal with topics, issues, people, cities they dislike or don’t want to dirty their pristine hands with because I guess they’re too damn delicate to enter actual REAL life that so many millions in this country face every day, as opposed to their fairy tales spun and regurgitated as the only life experiences that contain validity. I’ve often wondered how these people would survive and what they would then write if they were placed in John Fante’s life, Bukowski’s life, Antler’s, my own for that matter… I would wager many of them simply couldn’t make it. Yeah, if you buy into the brainwashing, this book may be for you, and if you legitimately enjoy southern fiction or “legitimate” literary fiction, this book may be for you and more power to you. However, I’d implore any and all of you to not close your mind to others not in the “official” canon because if you haven’t stepped outside of the imposed boundaries, you might find yourself surprised by the creativity and talent out there. And you might not want to go back…

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Collected PoemsCollected Poems by Philip Larkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I never really enjoyed or appreciated poetry — especially that of the “masters” they continually shoved down your throat year after year throughout your educational experience. I mean, is there any official academic ban of a little damn diversity in poets and poetry being taught??? I recall asking a couple of professors why we never read or studied certain prominent poets and got the reply that they weren’t worthy of it, weren’t good enough to take seriously, etc. So while I have far too much education and too many degrees, the fact is as always, tradition academics devoid of open minds and creativity continually decide the appropriate “canon,” simply by recycling the same shit every year. I grew to hate Dylan Thomas with a passion, felt like puking when reading Plath, took years for me to appreciate Yeats, etc. If they didn’t cram it down your throat every year, I don’t think I would have been a poetry-hating English major! Thankfully, one professor quietly pointed me to Larkin as a poet who might appeal to me, and he was right! While not every poem resonated with me, I found relief in Larkin and simply quality poetry that was generally overlooked or ignored in academia. Naturally, I read everything of his that I could. LOL! It wasn’t too long, though, before I stumbled across the two poets who would both shape my own life and my own writing: Ferlinghetti and Bukowski, both of whom I had the pleasure of later meeting and getting to know and I will always treasure the various autographed books and other things they each gave me, but I’ve often wondered if I would have even found them, let alone come to appreciate them so much, if it weren’t for Larkin in the first place. I continue to remain grateful to him and his poetry for helping me to turn away from my hatred of poetry by realizing that there were many legitimate alternatives from the same old dusty boring “masters” forever taught in the schools and who gives a damn what some Ivory Tower academic says about what is or is not acceptable quality — it’s purely subjective, and the fact is, both Ferlinghetti and Bukowski have been far more popular and successful than any other American poets, with the sole possible exception of Ginsberg. If you haven’t read Larkin, do so and I think you may find yourself surprised at what you read, ideally in a positive way. Obviously recommended.

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Last Exit to BrooklynLast Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is without doubt one of my favorite novels of the so-called Accepted literary canon. I also think it’s Selby’s best work. Loved it a bunch, but I’ve always gone that way, whether it was Sandburg and his grim Chicago streets or John Fante in downtown LA or Bukowski on skid row and most of William Burroughs’ early work, like Junky and Queer. Of course, there’s the so-called “shock” factor. I guess academics (and I was one for many years) are a bunch of wussies then, because if they think this one is rough, there’s much rougher out there and just for shock value alone, I invite anyone to read de Sade’s Juliette. I read it in college and it blew my mind. The cool thing about that one is besides the sickness and perversion, de Sade goes into a great deal of philosophical thought/dialogue that should make many of the Enlightenment crowd pretty impressed. So twice the bang for your buck! Seriously, if anyone thinks this is too shocking (and they do), they’ve been sticking too closely with Jane Austen (whom I like), and ought to get their intellectual feet wet beyond the kiddie pool. Strongly recommended!

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Last Issue of RRR

Posted by Scott Holstad on March 20, 2016

It’s the first day of spring and that means the Spring 2016 issue of Ray’s Road Review has been published. Please feel free to drop by and read some fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Additionally, we’re going on indefinite hiatus, which makes us a bit sad. My severely poor health makes it no longer possible for me to hold down my poetry editor duties and Gretchen and Chris are going to pursue their own things for the time being. At some point in the future, we hope to come back and start back up, but that’s probably a ways down the road. I feel proud to have been a part of something that has become such an excellent literary journal and I’d like to thank Chris for giving me the opportunity and Gretchen for being a big part of it.

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