Monday, October 11, 2010

Hardboiled for Hard Times

PM Press is sponsering a slew of readings around
the Bouchercon convention at the Embarcadero Hyatt.
I get to read with all these great crime writers. I'll
read a little from Incredible Double but will also
mix in something from a new novel.

Also--don't spread this around, but there's a private
party Sunday 10/17--a chance to drink with the cream
of lefty noir. Email me and I'll give you the lowdown.

Tour Dates Below--more info at

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010:
Kim Stanley Robinson
Terry Bisson
Gary Phillips

Thursday, October 14th, 2010:
Gary Phillips
Summer Brenner
Benjamin Whitmer
Michael Harris
The Green Arcade

Friday, October 15th, 2010:
Lars Mars and His Men
Jim Nisbet
Sin Soracco
The Green Arcade

Saturday, October 16th, 2010:
Gary Phillips
Summer Brenner
Benjamin Whitmer
Michael Harris
Kenneth Wishnia
Owen Hill
Pegasus Books Downtown

Monday, October 18th, 2010:
Benjamin Whitmer
Michael Harris
Jim Nisbet
Owen Hill
Summer Brenner
Moe's Books

Tuesday October 19th, 2010:
Benjamin Whitmer
Michael Harris
Summer Brenner
Pegasus Books Downtown

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010:
Barry Eisler
Owen Hill
Benjamin Whitmer
Michael Harris

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Frank O'Connor Festival

Flying to Ireland tomorrow to read at the Frank O'Connor short story festival. I'll be reading at the Metropole Hotel in Cork Thursday Sept. 16th at 9:30. The invitation came as quite a surprise--my last two prose books were the crime novels. A couple of short stories were published in magazines in recent years--tiny mags with small circulation. My only book of short fiction, Loose Ends, is out of print--I'll be lugging my copies to the festival, since they aren't available. Reading a couple of new things, actually trying them out for the first time, a little nerve wracking. Lots of Quality Lit Types are reading at the fest--we'll see how my stuff plays out of Berkeley.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Beyond Parody

Anybody out there read Tables for Two in The New Yorker? Best over the top (table top?) food writing ever.

This weeks review of Ma Peche on 56th street is a prize winner. First time I've seen juxtaposing used in a food review--thought the word was reserved for undergrad English papers. Reviewer is referring to a mix of "voluptuous twists of raw fluke" with strawberries and pistachios. Sounds like the bottom of my trash can! Also described: Tripe and jowl thrown into a frisee salad (from across the room?), and gooey chunks of pig's head...stuffed into a breaded parcel (!)

There's a note about the rice fries, whatever they are: regular fries need not fear imminent redundancy. Now I know what fries talk about when they visit their therapists.

I love the New Yorker.

Let them eat gooey pigs head!

The emperor isn't just naked--he's spread eagle and has peed himself.

Friday, June 18, 2010

blood and

At last, gush after gush of clotted red gore, as if it had been the purple lees of red wine, shot into the frighted air; and falling back again, ran dripping down his motionless flanks into the sea. His heart had burst!

Moby Dick


...the pursuit of whales is always under great and extraordinary difficulties...

Friday, June 11, 2010

the wine dark (and edgy) sea

Last month I reviewed a short story collection for the LA Times. Established literary authors, mostly, doing crime fiction. I couldn’t give it a bad review. The stories were deft, fun—vacation reading. The setup—todays great authors write about sex and crime. Dark, edgy…hmm.

Last year I went to one of those dinners that book buyers occasionally get to attend. It was at a really nice restaurant in Rockridge (Brooklyn West—cute eyeglasses, baby strollers…). The author had come up from the ranks, big time school, Yaddo. Paris Review, other major journals that nobody reads. Stories in the New Yorker. Well crafted stuff. Pre dinner chat, before the author came in, was dominated by somebody from the publisher, proclaiming the novel “dark and edgy”. She lowered her eyes before making the claim, hunched her shoulders, then looked up, between “Dark” and “Edgy”, eyes wider. During dinner (fresh, local ingredients. Of course) I heard the word “dark” half dozen times. In the world of mainstream publishing dark was the new black.

I’d read the novel. It held my interest—a going away to college, coming of age in the ( 60’s, or 70’s or fill in your own decade, hair style, slang terms….) book. Featured a possibly psycho student, but not too psycho. This was a literary novel, not crime fiction. It was well written, in that MFA way. No big mistakes.
Dark and Edgy?

I’ve recently read some dark and edgy novels—Nothing Left for the Dead by M. Cazadores, the reprint of Sin Soracco’s Low Bite, last year’s I-5 by Summer Brenner. I’m going to do more reviewing in this blog, so I’ll get to these. But for now—I’m sitting at my desk with the New Yorker’s Under Forty issue. I’ve read some stories, parts of others. They read as one long work— could have been written by the same person. This amazes me, considering the cultural and racial diversity of the writers. Why so? A sort of studied, nonchalant style, a nod to their various cultures—lots of nodding, actually. Serious enough to be dubbed “dark”. Small gestures. Small. The author photos (drawings, actually) tell me something. Nobody’s throwing caution to the wind here. Everybody’s groomed. Subtle nodding in the direction of identity—she could be Hispanic, he could be gay, he went bald had to shave his head….I so often think of the Burroughs quote about hippies—“not a decent fuck in the entire generation”. I can’t imagine these people having over-the-top sex, and, likewise, I think, I can’t imagine these people saying the wrong thing at an awards dinner, embracing an unpopular cause—or, also likewise, twisting the living shit out of a sentence, tossing off a line that they may regret later, following a blind narrative ally, going on a little too long, cutting something off short—all important elements in writing fiction.

Mainstream American “literary” fiction is, mostly, bland, forgettable, throwaway stuff.
Am trying to understand why this is true—and why it’s esp. true in the U.S. Or maybe it’s only true in the U.S.—I don’t have the knowledge to know this, but I sense it, for instance, when I read Bolano.

I don’t think I get it, but then maybe I do.

It’s over for America. We’re on the skids. Undeniable fact. It’s breaking down. Most people have sensed this for twenty years or so, in a theoretical way. Lately, it’s real and it’s here.

Tough trying to make a living in quality lit—with the economy (hell, the entire culture) doing a fast crash. If you’ve got that MFA, and the New Yorker wants you… tough to rock the boat. Especially tough to rock a boat that’s so obviously sinking. Fifty years ago, when Krim wrote Making It, things were different. Those guys (mostly guys) were going for the big prize, taking big, arrogant swings. These people are holding their shit in, hoping to stay afloat. First instinct—the survival instinct--is to keep floating, a little longer—maybe somebody else, somewhere, will save us.

But perhaps a strong survival instinct is a bad thing, in the arts. Perhaps, at times, the most responsible thing a “literary” writer can do is to, at first, seem irresponsible. Maybe it’s time to kick a bigger hole in that leaky boat. Sink it, see who swims to shore, see who can build a new boat.

As mentioned before, I’ve read some fiction that does this. Somewhere, between the literary mainstream (ugh) and the avant guarde (yuk!) there’s dark, edgy stuff. And also some light.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

San Francisco Zen Center Presents:
The Al-Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project Exhibition

Friday, April 2
7:30 - 9:30 pm
300 Page Street

San Francisco The San Francisco Zen Center is proud to announce the first US exhibition of the al-Mutanabbi Street Broadside Project—in its entirety of 130 works—commemorating the 2007 car bombing of Baghdad’s al-Mutanabbi Street. Please join SFZC on Friday, April 2 for the exhibition opening, featuring a poetry reading by contributing authors from the anthology Al-Mutanabbi Street Starts Here, including project founder, Beau Beausoleil.

As the historic center of Baghdad book-selling, al-Mutanabbi Street—named for the famed 10th century classical Arab poet—is a winding street filled with bookstores and outdoor book stalls. It had been the heart and soul of the Baghdad literary and intellectual community. Though it ran through an area that primarily consisted of Shia and Sunni Muslims, the street was visited by all Iraqis.

Letterpress printing has historically been the platform by which many cultures found out about current events. Put up quickly in the places where people walk and gather, their visually bold and easily accessible messages spread the word simply and concisely. The Al-Mutanabbi Street collection, which includes works from artists around the globe, likewise announces that this attack on culture took place, establishing its inclusion as part of a cultural community that has no geographic bounds. These Broadsides provide a visible starting place for our collective grief or aspirations for a more just society; the al-Mutanabbi Street Broadsides ask what it means to erase culture.

The Al-Mutanabbi Street Coalition has been organizing readings and other events since April 2007. Over 130 letterpress printers have contributed broadsides to this project that speak to the enduring power of poetry and art.

TICKETS: This event is free and open to the public. Any donations will go to Doctors Without Borders.

Friday, March 5, 2010

and this just in

Double was just reviewed on the Urban Outfitters blog.
Not sure what to think about this--will I be on their
book table, next to the cat books, sex books, drinking this my big chance to corrupt the youth of
America? and who is this Molly person?

The Incredible Double

Corporate tricksters, poets, conspiracy theorists, nutjobs and cult members all figure into Owen Hill's mystery novel The Incredible Double, released by the tiny (but well-regarded) PM Press. The book's description is its own endorsement.

two by Darrell Gray

These are from Halos of Debris, Poltroon Press,1984

Always loved the feel/design of this book. Also the cover photos by Kathryn Sylva. My copy is a little worn--I'm afraid to open it too wide, might split--will have to hunt down another.


A bird
flies backward
to become the first sign of morning

Time simmers
and runs
like young un-
requited love

I too am young-
so young my fingers fuse
into one blob when I try to write

I have been told
the very old
dance at the violet center


Some day, if you are good enough
They'll run you up the pole
And in full view
Of helicopters
And routine nuns
You'll be the gentle monster
they once knew
Alone and on display
With flying colors

Monday, March 1, 2010

Crime in the City: Crime/Noir writers

Crime in the City: Crime/Noir writers

Wed., March 17, 7:30 pm (free)

1310 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 626-2060

"Crime fiction is almost like a product of capitalism. It's about social inequality" --Ian Rankin, best-selling crime novelist

Join four of the finest exponents of crime and noir as they discuss how fiction is not just a mirror to the seamier sides of life, but the
proverbial hammer with which to shape it.

Owen Hill is the author of two novels and many books of poetry. Of his latest, The Incredible Double, David Ulin of the Los Angeles Times said," we have the essence of noir, a life lived at the edges". He lives in Berkeley, where he works as a bookseller and curates a reading series.

Jim Nisbet, long regarded as one of fiction's best kept secrets, is about to claim 2010 as his own, with the publication of two new novels, and the reissuing of ten of his previous classics!
novel of sex-trafficking, I-5 made numerous book of the year lists for 2009, and is an underground best-seller.

Peter Maravelis is the best-selling editor of San Francisco Noir and San Francisco Noir 2. He has worked at City Lights bookstore for many years as the readings co-ordinator.

Co-sponsored by PM Press.

Monday, January 25, 2010

thoughts on LOC part 2

Perhaps (I hope) LOC will add some energy toward a future Darrell Gray Collected (or at least a selected, or reprints of a book or two). I know lots of poets who would appreciate his work--who,sadly, have never or barely read him.

Until then I think I'm going to (without permission) retype some of my favorites, at random:

A Tone Diverts The Summer

The lights are at risk in the unconscious effort
One thinks of their movement
As mutable tables are covered with tiny wings
In rooms reproduced on the hillside

A girl with the gaze of an angel
Today might not be invisible
When the lightning unfastens its silvery bone
And the moment becomes a system of docks and tears

The tables support an effort of mutable risks
The lights flow over the flesh
The wings reproduce a silence over the docks
As a bedroom appears in the morning

The Light Is Not Wrong

The night is not wrong
to have covered so simply

the one downcurving branch
so late in the evening


There comes the time
moving its house
the yard and the cat
that can't come back.

The dark was big. The car
went through,
And what they thought
they thought they knew--

the yard, the house,
the car, the cat.
Goodbye, goodbye. It
seemed so real.

These are from Something Swims Out, published by Blue Wind Press, with collages by
Tim Hildebrand and George Mattingly (the publisher). Beautiful book--hard to find.

Friday, January 15, 2010

thoughts on Life Of Crime--part 1

Life of Crime (Poltroon Press)


I was in Junior High, or what the Torrance Unified School District called Middle School.

Tricky Dick was coming to LA (I believe this was ’69). Big demonstration. I told my parents I would be spending the day at the beach. We hooked a ride with somebody’s older brother. He and his girlfriend tried to be protective (“stay away from the cops, and RUN…”), but they kept giggling. Stoned, I guess.

We parked, walked, sat on the grass in Exposition Park and read the dirty parts of the LA Free Press. Talking to the (mostly older) demonstrators, I felt like a rube from the suburbs. They were smart, combative, full of juice. Probably full of shit, too, but that’s part of being young. They cared about stuff.

Things got pretty rough. People were being beaten. It was routine by then—a year after ’68
I remember thinking that the cops looked bored. In my imagination I recall hearing the sticks make contact with skulls, but maybe not….as ordered, we stayed outside the hot spots. The older kids (especially the girls) watched out for us, and we loved the attention.

I remember hiding my face when a TV camera looked my way. My parents watched the news every night—would be hard to explain.

Later that summer, on the beach in Redondo, I remember feeling (first time?) the bland isolation of the suburbs, and also feeling that things were passing me by. Our older brothers and sisters were on the front lines, and I (we) would never know that kind of excitement. It’s a kind of Mister Roberts feeling—the war was somewhere else. I’m not quite the Ensign Pulver type—or maybe I am and I haven’t reached that boiling point, or I did once and nobody noticed.


Have been reading Life of Crime, the collected newsletters from the Black Bart Society, pub. 80’s, having that feeling. At the time I was living in Santa Cruz, working at Logo’s Books, splendid isolation. I was pretty avidly reading stuff from both sides. Was drawn by personal taste to the Darrell Gray side of things. Used books would come into Logos—things from Toothpaste press, or copies of L=, and I’d read them both together, sort of weighing both sides. Not that my opinion counted—I wasn’t part of either coterie, didn’t publish (except a few poems in issues of Atticus out of San Diego). It just seemed important do know about it all. Such different approaches to poetry! You had to be one or the other. I went for the other. They seemed tougher, scruffier. And I had political reasons. Everybody with half a brain saw the rise of the right—this was when R-ism was taking hold. And all these people with lefty histories (editing socialist rags, etc), who could have formed an alternative voice in the arts, chose to retreat into Theory. I saw that as an act of cowardice—but I was young, na├»ve. They were just trying to take care of themselves, as people will do. Not that everybody had to write agitprop—I’ve never believed that—but some sort of resistance seemed called for—something beyond “the subject is language”. The Life of Crime people weren’t exactly overtly political, but there was an attitude that said, “Fuck this”—something that I related to Punk, Anarchy, things that I identified with.

The times just called for a “no-holds-barred” attitude. So many poets/artists wimped out. We know how the academy will set down that period. Profs won’t be assigning Paradise Resisted, even though it nailed the times as well as any book out of that period. Perhaps some of the New Narrative books will get some attention—they were probably the best pure writers—but I wouldn’t bet on it. I think of the eighties as one of those periods in US history when we lost a chunk or our collective soul—a few poets saw this and tried to grapple with it. Sadly, some of the best minds of that generation read postmodern philosophy, in translation, and will be assigning that junk until retirement. The war's lost, or it's someplace else.


If you’ve been a nihilist, and you’ve survived, you’re going to have to suffer some embarrassment.

God, the things I did/said at Punk shows, readings and in my own mags. Sour grapes, revenge, hurt feelings, spur-of-the-moment bad taste…

Mostly LOC’s pretty Don Rickles, no way you’d take it seriously, and the social context that I’m trying to get a handle on is subtext. There, though. Current poetry wars are missing that—hard to tell the flarfers from the slowpos without a program, and despite Dale Smith’s attempts to make it real, they’re mostly arguing over style. I long for a little more pettiness, mixed with delusions of grandeur. It’s war! Not a debating class.

As I read LOC I either think, Glad I didn’t say that! Or (sometimes of the same piece) Wish I’d said that! Just letting go and saying anything—a great feeling, at the time. Sometimes it makes for great art. There are few pieces in LOC that transcend the times. The Lives of the Poets entries are crack-up funny, there’s a piece by Nanos Valaoritis that is quite beautiful—and lots of funny stuff by Codrescu and Keith Abbot. A Bob Kaufman poem, and a great poem by Gray. A little digression: When, Oh When, will somebody publish a Darrell Gray collected? So much of his work is hard to find. HE IS AN IMOPRTANT POET!


Day six with LOC on my desk and I can’t stop reading, dipping in and out. I’m a poet, and poets love this shit. I think all this conflict is reassuring in a way—proof that somebody gives a shit. Because, if you give your life to poetry (a form of religious fanaticism) few people outside the subculture are going to care. Your’e in a lonely place. If somebody attacks your work you can assume they’ve read (at least some of) it. Might be fun, to be attacked by the likes of Tom Clark or Alastair Johnston. At times, reading LOC, I feel a little jealous. I published a couple of mags, and tried to be scurrilous, but nobody’s ever written “your magazine is an hysterical mishmash of pointlessness.” What’s Pat Nolan got that I don’t have?

Friday, January 8, 2010

news flash

I will be reading at Cafe Azul, 521 Fourth St., Santa Rosa Sunday at 2pm and at the Berkeley Public Library, 2090 Kittredge, Sunday 1/24 at 2pm.

Also interviewed by Kevin O'Neill for Mary, the St. Mary's Lit Mag: Interview with Owen Hill

Hallowed Rewind 2


keeps me awake
turn on Brahms
then the tv
15 days into
no flowers
in view
what do irises
look like
bird of paradise
scent of gardenia
comes to mind
is I think

the sailor
could save
his love from
deadly poison
if he could bring
a blue rose
or so the genie
told him and so
he battled various
movie monsters
across landscapes
of painted sand
blue flower
at the end of a maze
behind glass doors
he could not enter

hitches a ride
on a low-tech
special effect
monster bird
you could almost
see the wires
and strings
with a red rose
says to his love
imagine this blue
and they do
and the genie
is a fool
or is fooled

imaginary friends
outside and down
I like pink carnations
best they don’t
look real
artificial turf
has long been
a fascination
forever green
and almost
so little care
with a little
the lawns
aren’t phony
and all is well