Hey all! Welcome to week 6 of Six Inches of Glory: A Quasi-Serial Adventure. I’m Charles Joseph, the man, the myth, the quasi-legend, and this week’s installment is about:
Beat Attitude by John Burroughs, Night Ballet Press, 2015
Ok, now, look—a few months back or so, I noticed a post on my Facebook feed by John Burroughs regarding a negative review someone gave this chapbook on Goodreads. At the time, I didn’t know very much about John at all, and I hadn’t read any of his work. But as odd as this may sound, the main reason I bought this book is because of the negative review that he received. It pissed me off to no end. So, I decided that I needed to read the book and judge for myself, and if I liked it, I’d review it.
Why? Well, I don’t know, maybe it’s because Underdog was one of my favorite cartoons while I was growing up. Or, I’m just tired of reading reviews by people who think that just because they dropped a few bucks on a book, they can write whatever the fuck they want about someone’s work, regardless of whether or not they know what the fuck they’re talking about.
So, with that said, before I go into my summation of Beat Attitude by John Burroughs, here’s my review of that negative review Mr. Burroughs received on good reads:
by Shameless Nameless
0 out of 5 stars
Oh god, this review was just too mean-spirited for my taste.
Also, it was dead-ass fucking wrong considering the quality
of the poems in Beat Attitude.
Anyway, now that I’ve addressed that issue, let’s move on to something more positive. Like, say, the poetry inside the cover and on all twenty-five pages of Beat Attitude by John Burroughs.
For instance, this poem here:
Cannot Believe William S. Burroughs Is Dead
spectral old man
in a large late
north on route fifty-seven
seventy-five miles per hour
no other cars
of the accelerator he says
“Hit it like you live,
a sign directly in front of us says
there’s no control
in the steering wheel and
foot still on the gas
into the sign
no matter what
Well, I don’t know about you, but I dig this poem. I get the vibe, and if that poem doesn’t have a beat attitude, I don’t know what does. In fact, all 25 poems in this book are fine examples of a poet that is clearly trying to channel a beat vibe, and overall all of the poems are well-crafted. So, for $5 plus shipping and handling, it’s everything I look for in a chapbook. Which is, it’s well made, it’s reasonably priced, and it entertained me to the point where I felt like reading it again. So, if you get a chance, buy this chapbook, because it’s good.
Now, since my last review had a bit of Q&A in it, I figured, why not do it again? So, I contacted John Burroughs, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.
So, here comes: 4 questions for John Burroughs
CS: So, John, has someone’s negative opinion of your work ever made you feel like quitting?
JB: Maybe once. I began writing poetry in high school, 1982, and wrote daily for years after that. But I only submitted a few things for publication between then and 1998. I wrote solely for myself, or as I’ve said in the past, for the boxes in my attic. So other people’s opinions of my work didn’t matter so much to me. But in 1998, I pursuing a degree at Ohio University, accustomed to getting straight A’s, I took a creative writing class, thinking it would be super easy. It wasn’t. Nothing I wrote seemed to please the professor and I barely got a B. In retrospect, I was lucky to get that, because I never revised my poems, believing in the Ginsbergian adage “First thought, best thought.” My communication skills were lacking. So was my self-awareness.
After that, I didn’t really write poetry again for ten years. I thought I’d outgrown it. In the interim, I put my creative energies into musical theatre, and then into blogging. So I kept writing, but it was all prose. By 2008, I had a somewhat popular blog on MySpace, met some local poets through that, started writing poems again, got invited to readings and was suddenly back to identifying myself as a poet more than ever. And I believe I’m a far better one now as a result of getting shaken up by that professor’s criticism and taking a break, lying fallow poetically and widening my horizons, but continuing to write and become a better communicator, and then finally meeting and interacting with other poets, even ones that don’t like me, and continuing to evolve personally, even today. Now my writing, even when it is a joy, is as much work as it is masturbation. And the only criticism that deters me from writing is my own.
CS: How much time and effort did you put into Beat Attitude?
JB: Oh boy, I’m not sure how to calculate that. It’s a mixed bag of poems, some written wholly in 2015, and some begun as early as 1997. A few are presented exactly as they were first written, but many have taken years to evolve and become. Though I didn’t come up with the whole chapbook’s concept until last year, I can honestly say Beat Attitude took me 18 years to write.
CS: Do you read poetry or just write it?
JB: In recent years, I find myself reading way more than I write (I read over 100 poetry books in 2015), and I’m better for it. But that wasn’t always the case. Years ago, when I was my most prolific, I read comparatively very little poetry, and I was much more narrow in my poetic taste. At the same time, I wrote a whole lot more crap than I do now.
CS: What’s next for John Burroughs?
JB: Well, my own writing has currently taken a back seat to my publishing others through Crisis Chronicles Press. We have over twenty books by a fine and diverse array of writers coming out this year. After that, I will likely get back to focusing primarily on my own writing, including my longsuffering prison memoir. But beyond that, I do have several personal creative projects happening this year. For one, the Poet’s Haven is publishing a new edition of my out-of-print chapbook Water Works this year. It’s a collection of poems inspired by liquids (including beer, wine, rain, dishwater, natural bodies of water, and bodily fluids). I also have a bit of a reading tour going on, including my first ever trip west of the Mississippi in April to participate in a three-day poetry festival at Prospero’s Books in Kansas City. Plus I’m putting together a fairly big book of my work called Scrap Mettle, which will include all my decent poems that haven’t yet appeared in one of my previous chapbooks. I’ll start seeking a publisher for that in 2017.
Well, I don’t know what else I can say here except: thanks, John for being so open and honest about something you obviously put a whole lot of effort and love into…YOUR ART.
Anyway, that’s all for now boys and girls.
Later on, and I hope you enjoyed my six inches.
P.S.— John Burroughs was born in West Virginia, raised in Elyria, Ohio, and now lives and works in Cleveland. Along the way, he won the first poetry competition he entered as a high school student, served for several years as playwright-in-residence at Marion Correctional Institution, became a number one blogger on MySpace, won his first-ever poetry slam in his 40s, has hosted a number of esteemed reading series, and co-founded (with Dianne Borsenik) the annual Snoetry: A Winter Wordfest. John’s dozen poetry volumes include, most recently, Beat Attitude [2015, NightBallet Press], It Takes More Than Chance to Make Change [2013, The Poet’s Haven], The Eater of the Absurd [2012, NightBallet], Barry Merry Baloney [2012, Spare Change Press] and the collaborative book Oct Tongue -1 (with Weems, Swain, Smith, Lady, Chernin and Brightman). He has also edits Cheap and Easy Magazine and the annual Hessler Street Fair Poetry Anthology. Since 2008, Burroughs has run Crisis Chronicles Press, publishing fine indie writers from around the world.