IV: So, you got six hours? Wanna do this now? gcb: I guess now's as good a time as any. Where do we start? IV: How about some basic biographical info? gcb: OK, I was born in June (23rd), 58 in Dickinson, North Dakota. My father was a schoolteacher at the time for a one-room schoolhouse in Elgin, ND. I think it was the only year he was a teacher, taught eight grades, about fifteen students. My mother was the school cook or the like. My parents didn't stay in Elgin but moved to Mandan, North Dakota when I was very young, less than two. My sister, I'm the oldest, was born when I was a year and three months and she was born in Mandan, so.... My dad became a purchasing agent for an electrical supplies company. When I was about four he took a job transfer to Minot, North Dakota, about two hours north and that's what I consider my hometown. My first two years of school, kindergarten and grade one, were spent in a parochial school, Lutheran. About all I remember about that is that my nickname on the schoolbus was Gregory Goblin. I had to go into town with my dad to catch the bus to school. We lived farther than the school bus went. We lived in a trailer house in a trailer park (Phil once described me to someone else - away from my presence - as having trailerhouse taste; well, Phil, you were right and oh so wrong) but when I was about to go to second grade, dad bought a half acre of land out in the country and put the trailer on with plans to build a house there. So from second to eighth grade I went to Nedrose Elementary. We moved from the trailer into the house when I was in fifth or sixth grade. I don't remember a whole lot of those formative years. I do remember being the punching bag on the bus in the mornings and wondering why the busdriver didn't stop what I knew he knew was going on. Nor anyone else. Everybody knew I was the punching bag and nobody acknowledged it, stopped it, rescued me. Maybe that's why I don't try to recall events from my youth, when I do the first ones are the ugly ones and I just stop there. (Greg lights a cigarette) My first year of "town school" as we called it was ninth grade. I learned that you don't carry your books in the manner I thought most comfortable, that's how girls carry their books. I adapted quickly. I remember a comment from the next year, my first year of high school the way things were organized in Minot at the time. Tenth grade was first year of upper high school. By that time it was established that my social circle was the girls and one morning in study hall, Liz Wentz (since a Harvard lawyer) said, "Last year I thought when I first saw you you were in special ed." Indeed there was a guy in special ed who, I was told, looked a lot like me. I thought the similarity was minimal. By 10th grade my best friend and I were pursuing our interest in theater, trying out for the plays. And being cast. I got an early "break" when the "new school" where the juniors and seniors were, were doing "The Music Man" and needed a Winthrop. I forget the machinations involved but I was cast and got a year-early preview of life at the senior high. Eleventh and twelfth grades saw me continue my participation in theater, a language class trip to Germany for three weeks in spring 75, a quick trip to Washington DC in the bicentennial year, 76, when I graduated. I knew I was queer after everybody around me already had but even so it was at least by the time I was in eleventh grade. Last night I was out to dinner with a friend and we actually got to talking about early years and I couddn't recall if I read "Maurice" while I was senior or if it wasn't until I was my first year in college. Nor exactly when I picked up "Out of the Closets" (Karla Jay, Allen Young, eds.) at the B.Dalton's and ate it up. We were talking about how it was all around us and we coudn't find it, maybe trying too hard. I sure wanted to be out, wanted to date, wanted to be monogamous. Wanted a traveling group of liberationalists to sweep the country, going from college campus to campus hosting coming out dances. I would have been first at the door. My first two years of college were there in Minot, uneventful. I started keeping a journal about that time though I'd kept a minimalist diary through high school, shorthand list of activiites. I intended my journal to record my sexual awakening and exploration. I guess I met my goal in some ironic sense. I decided I could never get laid if I lived at my parent's house and moved out the first chance I got when a classmate wanted to rent a house and needed someone to share the expenses. We didn't know each other at all but I went along and he moved out after only a month or two. I think he or his girlfriend found the stack of Playgirls I kept. It seems like they were out in the middle of the night one night, never to return. I was working as a cook in a restaurant and was first propositioned there. A black guy from the air base asked me, under his breath at the cash register, "Are you gay?" The question I'd been waiting years for someone to ask me! Yes. He came home with me. And gave me crabs. A terrible case but I didn't know what they were. Probable weeks later I was in a panic and figured I had some kind of sexual disease, made an appointment with the health clinic. Was given the prescription and had to find the medicine at the drug store. Had to reapply and reapply and reapply, I'd had them bad. Ron already had a boyfriend and I remember a clumsy three way between us too. Although I was glad to at last be sexually active I didn't like the romantic realities' contrasts to my fantasies and so the relationship disintegrated. I was again sexless but now I knew a bit of what I was missing and didn't want to miss it. A high school friend came back from his first year of college away from town that summer. Dean had been to St. Cloud Minnesota and something about missing a chance to go to school in England. He tried to commit suicide. We became quick confidents and came out to each other, shared what little awareness we each had of a "gay world" out there somewhere where these things were not only admitted but lived. The following year I planned to switch from Minot State to St. Cloud and did so after the first quarter. Arrived at dorm life in St. Cloud an innocent among the worldly. Geez, I glossed right over the whole Larry story. That was before moving to St. Cloud. Another gay man entered my life, I hired him at the restaurant where I worked (lived is more like it), he was terribly grown at 30, very fem and un-policing. We had a rapport and he became the first "out" gay man I knew. He was a major alcoholic, moved in with me, quit working while I supported him - the first of many men in my life to hit this pattern. He tried to get me set up with men while he lived at the Y, I was nervous and threw up upon meeting one lovely dancer. I was appearing in "One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest" as Billy Bibbitt and my personal life very much informed my performance as I had to rush from the stage each night en route to killing myself. So after kicking Larry out for the umpteenth time to state hospital, I packed up and moved to the dorm in St. Cloud. I wanted to join but was timid, the Gay Student Union there. It's few members scared me, didn't seem like peers. My writing of poetry began shortly before the move to St. Cloud. I'd never been exposed to poetry until college (other than "Stopping by Woods" in 5th grade and the poetry of Simon and Garfunkel in 8th grade). I had one teacher who was also my incompetant advisor who introduced poetry but I, pretty early, learned to explore it on my own as well. Another English teacher was butch and cool and liked poetry too so I guess there was some validation there, not only the geek teacher liked poetry. It was early enough that I found "Howl" (well, probably not, wish I'd read it in high school yet), probably in Norton? Part One only but I read it in my bedroom and before I was twenty lines into it was lip reading and then whispering it aloud as I read it. I knew I'd found a "brother" and proceeded to learn whatever I could about Ginsberg and so met the Beats. In St. Cloud, a classmate was writing a play about the Beats and staging it, I was cast as Billy Burroughs. I was one of about five in the cast who knew some of the mythology around those we were playing. (Greg lights another cigarette.) Other than a near-rape there was nothing sexual to report about St. Cloud. Well, except glory holes at the adult movie theater that I learned the use of. Other than that St. Cloud marked the excuse for my first solo trips to Minneapolis where they had - gasp! - gay bars. My first time into my first gay bar, the Gay 90s on Hennepin, I knew I was home. Again, ironies. A story I've since told - in fact related last time I was there a year and a half ago I saw the guy in the story and was reminded - about the first time there. This buff, muscled man asked me to dance and I couldn't because I thought he was gonna take me home and tell me about Jesus. When I'd later move to Minneapolis I'd see him occasionally see him, we'd never speak again. And Minneapolis had a bath house. I remember Dean knowing my coyness and working it well to get me in there, how we sat outside in the car in the cold and watched two hours of men coming and going before I worked up the nerve to go in with him who'd been there plenty of times. Was it that first time I met an Asian man and we drew a crowd with our intense psychosexual glow. He and I corresponded a short while but he coudn't handle my openness, my wish to be "out". I visited him the first night I arrived in Minneapolis to live but it was not to be. I'm also jumping ahead in the narrative. After two quarters of St. Cloud I returned to Minot for the summer, having matured quite a bit in a few months. My poetry, after two creative writing classes, had gone from sonnets to very free verse, even an interest in prose poems. A trip to Minneapolis had included some revelatory-type experiments in form as well and I knew I wanted to write poetry. I returned to the restaurant I'd worked at before and spent the summer preparing a manuscript of my poetry. I also decided I would take a year off school to earn enough to continue without taking out school loans. Toward the fall I was finishing the manuscript when I learned Bill Burroughs was going to speak at the U of M. I made train reservations and plans to visit Dean and his girlfriend Maggie who had just moved to Minneapolis. It was a heady trip, I spent most of the time writing and worked up a terrible synergy or something. By the time I returned to Minot I was writing a second-by-second account of my activities and all reverberated, echoed, grew mythic. Everything was shorthand and holy. (I try to read that manuscript since and it is all gibberish now.) I prepared my final draft of my manuscript and heard somewhere about a poetry contest, the Walt Whitman, for beginning poets and shipped it off. Naive. Concurrent to this was a sudden news story of national interest focused on Minot, ND, the "Son of Sam" story. Links had been discovered linking Berkowitz to some air force personnel. Here I was in my lofty "I'm somebody" mode and this gets thrown at me. I wanted to be part of it too. A name mentioned was Carr and I remembered my eighth grade teacher, a Mrs. Carr (who taught us the poetry of Simon and Garfunkel) and I wondered how all this fit in. Devil worshipping, rituals, dog sacrifices, all this garbage going around and suspicions, who knew what? I contacted the tip line provided in the paper, or the FBI or CIA or somebody, I really was looking more for info than trying to provide any. I thought I was getting information psychically but didn't know how to read it not to mention signals from everyone around me ... at the restaurant especially. I thought the owner of the building complex was suspicious and plenty of regulars started giving me knowing nods and coded messages. I was appearing in a community theater production of "I Never Sang For My Father" and playing both the porter and the minister. The coded messages were coming from cast members then too. There was a night when all this was boiling when I nearly missed a rehearsal and the innuendoes were flying when I finally did arrive after almost driving myself to the psych ward of the local hospital. But even that's after the climax, Halloween night.The officer in charge of the investigation visited the restaurant where I worked at the stroke of midnight just as the devil worshippers I thought he wanted to apprehend would be celebrating high mass. I passed him a paranoid letter to Dean under a serving of toast. To this day there has been no acknowledgement of that night been made back to me. A journalistic version of the story can be read in "The Ultimate Evil" by Maury Terry. So October, November and into December, mental breakdown land and I perservered. Am I crazy? Yes. But I'm keeping this face on that I know what I'm doing. Everyone believes it so it must be true. I can go on. And I did. There's also the factor of Burhan, our dishwasher at the restaurant, being in Iran for a visit with his family and how the embassy was taken over, "The Satan USA", how I thought I was involved there too. This a few days after the Halloween feast when I'd thought I'd be killed that night, felt the gun sights trained on me, waited for my rescuers to take me to the airport, assign me a new name and identity for the approaching apocalypse. And how Dean disappeared those weeks too, called me from San Francisco where he'd walked into the Pacific wearing nothing but a trench coat. Turmoil psychological days for a lot of us, those. So by December I had plans to move in with Dean (newly returned to Minneapolis) and Maggie in Minneapolis. When he visited his family for Christmas we later packed my belongings in his trunk and off we went, the last day of the year and, yes, a Sunday. I expected to see the lights from exploding bombs over the horizon as we drove. All through the hostage crisis I tried to keep my opinions to myself and my nose out of the public view. I found an office job and commuted, read, gave up writing, licked my psychological wounds, unsure who to trust, who I could talk to. No one. I even thought to become a Born Again Christian, went to two services of the Jesus People congregation, held in an old grand theater. "Rock and roll is the voice of the devil," that kind of ministry. I went back stage and talked with the clueless congregant, "I know about Son of Sam, I stop the weather, people talk to me in code." This didn't get me anywhere. After over a year of this slowly fading to the background, I resumed writing, haltingly, crippled. It was 1982 when I saw a notice in the local weekly, Writers Group forming, gay men, poets, journal writing, fiction. I went to the organizational meeting and met Phil who'd organized the meeting. He invited me to join him and another friend or two at his table. I had my oeuvre in my lap but didn't share anything at that first meeting. By this time too I was working in restaurants and met a gay coworker whose lover worked at a typesetting company where they were about to hire a trainee. David and Jim thought I was the perfect candidate to learn the biz. I started in January or Feb of 1983. The writer's group first met in March of that year. Phil often told how when he heard I was a typesetter that he knew we would have a publication. It was a topic that was mentioned and talked about at the very first meetings. By summer the interested parties had been narrowed down to Phil, Paul Emond, myself and a few others. By September we were in production. That's the beginning of the review. I stayed with the Review from 1983 then until 1991. At the time of Dean's death, March 16, 1991, we were working to see if I could become chief production person and be paid, something I wasn't the seven years I worked in the review. I was at a burnout point, it was all or nothing. It became nothing. I won't go into here the bitterness involved here, ask me about it later. This is for chronology. The review went through its share of editors and volunteers those eight years. Some of my fondest memories are the meetings we'd have to decide what to include in the upcoming issue. It's the closest I've come to wonderful and engaging philosophical conversation, "Is this art?" "Why does this work or not?" etc. etc. We sometimes would joke how we should tape our meetings. They'd be nice to hear. It was natural to me to include the country in the review though Paul always wanted to keep it a regional publication. Going national prompted the readings we had in New York a few times and San Francisco. I guess the review did have that as a sort of payment, I went to a few, not all, of these readings. When I talk about resenting payment, it's because as I discarded my duties over the years as they wore me out doing them for nothing, the pieces were picked up and became paid services. The years I did the typing and layout design for nothing, independent contractors were paid thousands of dollars for once I couldn't do it any more. And while I'm getting this off my chest let me voice my outrage at the "best of the first 15 years" issue recently put together before turning the reins over to Lambda Rising. (Greg lights a one-hitter.) (and another.) I don't have anything against Clif. Well I guess in saying this I really do. I've always thought his taste in poetry to be very dry and monochromatic. And that's beside the point about how very insulted I was to not be included just for the sake of appreciation of my role in the review regardless of the merit of my poetry. Of course I think my poetry has enough merit of its own. This, admitting too that the overall effect of my poetry was lost in the review, I coudn't learn objectivity about the work as it wsa being created, now I can look back and see how I rushed a number of my own poems in there because they were fresh and so was my enthusiasm but I have always understood my poems better when they sit for a LONG time. Anyway, not being included was beyond insulting and hurtful. And Clif's idea of poetry excludes most of the poems I would have put into a "best of" issue. Something I think the review has lost is an appreciation for variety, including "simpler" poems and poems that are "simply fun." The review has gone from disregarding the mainstream or established to embodying it. Only people who "speak the language" are invited to partake of what's offered. I wanted everyone to find something they could enjoy in the poems of the review, even the poetry I abhored, the "roses are written on your memory" type of shit. An early criticism of the review explains why the review has lost a lot of charm, "the inconsistency of the writing." And some of the poets who are now "in the circle" were included in early pages of the review because they weren't that "developed". Let's take a break here.
(As Greg lights the last cig from a pack.) IV: Let's talk about your own poetry. What can you tell me? Well, I guess if I were going to be honest it has never amounted to much. When I set up this interview I thought one conceit that could make it worthwhile would be to imagine that it is a great undiscovered treasure and to imagine an interview in which it was apprecaited for what it is. IV: And what is it? Objectively I'd say it's the work of a minor poet, competent but derivative and lacking focus. Hah! I'm echoing what I'd just said about the review, "overall inconsisstency." Well, that works well with the gestalt world view I hold, a part is equal to the whole, the whole equal to its parts. I often wonder, as in life, how my poetry would have developed with even the slightest guidance. How can it be that someone with as much potential as I know I have not noticed by a single person who could make a difference? I began writing in 1978 and stopped, for the most part, in 1990 or 91. Words of encouragement I don't remember any. A compliment from someone whose opinion I valued came only once and you'll know it's true because of the specificity of the memory: Claude Peck (local writer's group member still in Minneapolis) complemented me after the issue came out which included "Biography" and "Fat" and to this day I wonder if he was complementing one or the other or both. It meant a lot to me. Also those were poems I had put concious work into. But that's regret and I've never had time to dwell on regret. Nurture it, yes, dwell on it, no. That's a joke but only slightly. IV: What are your favorite poems among your writings? I suppose some of the earliest ones are still my favorites, there are a few of them that became ideals that I couldn't repeat. They embodied poetic philosophy or esthetics unlike so much of the later obvious stuff. I still beam when I know the hidden workings of something that looks as simple as "As Thick As." And the fireworks of ideas going off against each other in "Vehicle Poetry" is something I've never found again. I eat my heart out just to think of that poem. And those were both written before 1980, long before the review. IV: What about some of your least favorite? Well, there are a few that appeared in the Review that are no longer a part of my oeuvre as last constructed: "Cutting Room Floor" and "September Cut-Up" that I know of, they're just drivel. A few others have remained in the oeuvre but I know they're weaker work, I've left them in for sentimental reasons: "Portrait of a Man" especially, the poem that became the first cover of the first issue of the Review. I still like the concept, typing a poem onto a silhouette for a multi-esthetic experience. But the poem itself is really mawkish. And even knowing that, I've never tried to improve it. IV: Talk about your "oeuvre as last constructed". "2007" is my latest attempt at wrapping all my writing into a whole. I certainly understand Walt Whitman preparing subsequent editions of "Leaves of Grass." That's how I've always reviewed my own stuff. It's reminiscent of that summer before cracking up and preparing my manuscript for that Walt Whitman contest. And there's still plenty from that manuscript that has carried into the current one. But "2007" is a novella, a fictionalization. I've lost the touch for poetry. Not that I've stopped altogether but the break between 1990 and 1997 was deep enough that there's no noticeable connection between the voices. The 1997 poetry is the work of someone trying too hard and accomplishing too little. Even as sensationalism it's not very good. Still I wanted it to be included in the oeuvre. "2007" became the method to the madness. The conceit is that a poet has died and left behind boxes of writings, all unpublished. The narrator of the story is invited to read the material and decides to try to get some of it published wihch he does. The poems had been willed to the poet's lover who isn't able to understand the poetry. A romance between the narrator and lover is hinted at, just a tease. A publisher expresses interest in a collection of poems by the dead poet. The book is about to appear when an unauthorized poem by the poet appears, a long work of undisguised erotica. Its appearance halts production of the serious collection and erodes the romance between the narrator and the lover of the dead poet. Narrator discovers the source of the unauthorized poem and falls in love with the person responsible. End of story. All in all it's seven chapters (six?) and I like the way it's unclear which character in the story is supposed to be me. The obvious choice would be that I'm the dead poet, especially when the bulk of the book, appendixes which are the poems that the narrator has gotten published, are essentially my oeuvre. It seems unlikely the narrator is me but then why have it been in the first person? The confusion is compounded when, in the last chapter, a character with my exact name shows up, biographical info fits my actual past. That character has simply known the dead poet years before and had access to the "undiscovered" erotica. And here's a secret out: in the story the "erotica" is described as having been written before any of the rest of the poetry. The erotica is my 1997 stuff, the writing with a totally disconnected voice from the other writing, my "literary" writing of the past. It's not that I think erotica is less literary than non-erotic writing, just that I know my earlier writing to have a validity to it that "Male-ieu" doesn't even hint at. And that might seem like I have some "shame issues" about "Male-ieu" or something. That's not it. In fact, I see my willingness to share "Male-ieu" as part of a zeitgeist in which semen stains on blue dresses are front page news. I guess if I've left anything a mystery it would be the mystery of whether the sex stories are explications of fantasy or if they really happened. And that one I'm not going to answer except to say: the stories are actually pretty tame and yet pretty racy, it seems they've at least been exaggerated. And to that I counter with the fact that some of the details are so fact-of-the-moment real that the rest of it must then be so too. Can we take a break? IV: Sure. (Greg opens a new pack of cigarettes, lights one.) IV: This was to be a six hour interview. We've gone two and a half hours. Can we do another half hour and then see if we can wrap it up tomorrow? Sure. IV: What would you like to talk about? I don't know, anything, nothing. Coax me, draw me out. IV: Why do you write? I've just felt I had to. For a time I figured it was homosexual compensation, creativity as a substitute for procreativity. A friend and I talked about this just last week. He'd never thought if it that way before and he's wonderfully philosophical, being a priest, so maybe the idea is more original than I'd guess. I've thought it so long it seems mundane to me. IV: Any regrets? I could've written that line in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff" after Nick says to George, "You'll regret that, mister." and George says, "I probably will. I regret everything." But no. IV: OK, let's get back to things poetic. Who are your influences? Well, Ginsberg, of course but even so I don't try to write like him or anything. It's just that he is a strong influence. And I don't even like a lot of his stuff. I have my favorites all across the board - a poem here by X, one here by Y. Poems happen to me like friends, they show up by happenstance, not by pursuit. Just last week I reread some poems by W.S. Merwin and realized I'd not read him in maybe ten years and I loved a few of his poems. Did they influence me? If I try to think of an artist who occupies a place I'd like to or like to think I do it wouldn't be in poetry but in music, Queen, and even then not all of it but especially the early stuff. My admiration for Queen in the early years was for the diversity: hard guitar rock, mock opera, a vampy piano blues song, a pop-standard Osmond-Brothers ditty, the comic "Big Bad Leroy Brown", the fairy-tale tales. Just wonderful stuff, every one its own form. If there's anything I see about my work it's that, the form from one to the next is like day and night. IV: And it's OK that you ended up writing mainly for yourself? Well, I guess it has to be. Yes, it's enough. IV: Do you want to talk about...? Not yet, no, maybe tomorrow. I suppose I should but I don't want to right now. IV: OK. So, do you have any plans for poems in the works right now? Not at all. I have been writing a few trivia games the past weeks. Trivia has become my life, much to my chagrin. But you have stick with what you're good at. A Jeopardy contestant in the past few weeks told the story of how a teacher had nicknamed her "Garbarge Brain." That's it, I can handle that name. But it's taken. IV: Tell me about the Poet X persona. Poet X was created about the time I moved from Minneapolis to Portland. I was regularly reading (and sometimes contributing to) a newspaper column in the St Paul paper, a sort of on-going conversation, social, and my handle there was ExPoet. When I got to Portland I wanted to turn that around, write again and some of the early things were erotica - but this is before the "Male-ieu" stuff. So I created Poet X as a pun; it means both ex-poet and poet whose poems are rated X. I created it for playing NTN trivia at my usual watering hole, Boxx's (I've thought it another of life's ironies that "Boxx's" stresses "x" and so does my name and I practically live there). It's not unusual there for someone to address me as "Poet" and not "Greg", makes me feel almost Norm-like; no, it DOES make me feel Norm-like. But, even though it's not a primary self-image anymore, it's nice to hear myself addressed as "Poet". It's been awhile since I've had a game there that was a number one in the country but it happens often enough that Poet X is in the top 20 of thousands of players. "Prestige and honor" is what I always say to people who, asking about what we're all playing, also ask, "Do you win anything?" And even that's an exaggeration but it's enough. IV: Who played King Tut on "Batman", the tv series? Victor Buono, whose first movie role was in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane." IV: OK, you're good. How many times did Henry Aaron lead the majors in home runs for the year? Zero. C'mon, that's too easy. Those aren't beginner's questions, but still.... IV: Six more minutes. What do you want it to say on your headstone? Oh, gawd. That's ugly. Um, something irreverent? Or something trite like, Poet and didn't know it. Somebody made some such comment the other night or last week. And old troll who bothers me to see him but he's always friendly, had a companion, who asked, "Who are you?", looking up at the screen. "Poet X", I said and then as they walked away, something about "and he doesn't even know it," trying to be clever but being anything but. I wasn't in the best of moods any way what with this bronchitis, just rolled my eyes and focused back on the game. I just don't have the patience I used to. I suppose that's part of tomorrow's chat, eh? IV: If you say so. Yes, it is over three hours for today. How about we wrap this up? OK, that's it. (TO BE CONTINUED)