Jamie Fastettler liked to edit scientific journals. Everyday she would take out her latest issues of American Scientist or Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics (ESEP) and look for errors in computation. Sometimes she would find a zero that needed to be a two or a five that needed to be a six. This made her giddy with excitement. She would take out her favorite felt tip pen and scratch out the incorrect numbers and replace them with her favorite phrase "BAD COMPUTATION!" Then she would flip through the book like it was a movie, putting her thumb against the front page and letting the pages go past for her visual recognition of "OM AD PUT ON BA PU AT ION" in that order. This exercise gave her an extreme satisfiaction, and she would thank her pet snail, (also named Jamie), who she believed was responsible for her vision, and the real wiz behind flight data and all things mathematical. She often talked to him during these sessions, discussing fashion trends of physicists and whether she would fuck one or the other and in what position. These discussions found their way into the "sex journal" she kept on her at all times and would quote if asked about the weather. ("Doggy style, Dr. Monroe, page 83" is a primitive example; entries after August 11th were more explicit and detailed depending on her disposition, lunar modulations, or bad weather.) No one understood these outbursts, but Jamie didn't take it personally. The reactions she elicited only facilitated her feelings of alienation and that was what she wanted to accomplish in the first place. (It is possible Jamie would disagree with this statement and talk about her snail's "proclivities for pantyhose over Aquanet," but apples and oranges are fruit and Jamie wasn't one to feel too dissuaded by co-workers contorting their faces in confused or superciliary manners. They were simply, "unable to understand snails because they had speech impediments," or at least this is what she would say when she worked at KFC two weeks ago. Now that she was at Popeye's she decided this statement was contrary to how she really felt. She wasn't sure why this had come about, but she trusted her instinct to replace all future thoughts of inferiority with "Jamie is a nuisance and takes it in the ass!" aloud or privately in her mind.)
Today I spent the day in the foreigner's district of Seoul, otherwise known as the foreigner's ghetto, or more formally as Itaewon. It is always quite an experience to be thrown back in the midst of English speakers after being nestled in a community where only a handful of foreigners are around me. You get a sudden lash of culture shock, surprise, and then a slow dissipation of familiarity akin to riding a bike while watching a Seinfeld episode you swore off with television.
Regardless of how strange it is initially, I enjoy Itaewon. I amble up and down the narrow alleys with its assortment of Nigerians, Canucks, Saudis, Kiwis, Brits, and American ex-pats. I welcome the Nigerian who asks to toss a baseball to knock down the pins for a prize; or the Korean suit salesman who tells me he's the Buddy Hacket of Korea and can make me a custom suit unlike any other. It's all well and good and makes for a heightened state of excitement, as I try store after store to see if I can find a shirt that will fit across my broad shoulders.
As night approaches, I stop off in a bar on the outskirts of the ghetto. A local band is huffing through blues riffs and yelling about sexual exploits in Thailand. I choke through the cigar smoke and manage to get into a conversation with a tall Nigerian. He smiles at me and claps my back as if we were old friends.
"I love Nova Scotia," he says.
"What?" I ask over the music.
"I love Nova Scotia," he almost shouts, and points at my friend whooping it up at the bar. "I love Nova Scotia, so I already love him."
"Good," I laugh. "He is a great guy."
I introduce Edme to Jeffrey. They discuss weather in Nova Scotia, Nigeria, and Seoul. Jeffrey says he likes Seoul weather best, and the Nigerian is at a loss for words. Then he laughs as Jeffrey gives him a bear hug, which Nova Scotians are known to do. The Nigerian hugs him back and they talk for a bit before the conversation turns back to me.
"Where are you from?" the Nigerian asks.
"I am from Iran," I tell him.
"No," he says. "You are not Iran. I have many friends from Iran. I have been to Iran. You are not Iran."
"Yes," I laugh. "Well, I am from LosAngeles."
"My friends from Iran wear clothes like this," he says and draws a hand from his elbow to wrist. "This far. Not like you. You dress like you are from America or Africa. Like you are ready for a club."
I look down at my tee shirt, that says, "New York City Meat." I nod. "Yes," I say. "I dress like I am from LosAngeles."
I turn away from the Nigerian to look at some ex-pats, dancing wildly with their partners. One of the men, an American, looks as if he has just gotten off the 60's night train. He has a cowboy hat and pleather vest with patches. He dips and twirls his Korean date. Another is severely overweight and just moves his body back and forth like he is on permanent trunk twists with an Energizer battery attached to his hips. I smile at them, and point to a man with a camera to capture them for posterity. He pans between the dancers and the band, who are in the grips of bad sound, lack of musicianship, and copious amounts of alcohol. They scream at the audience. Their instruments making dissonant clangs and feeding back through the shoddy speakers.
I smile. I order another water from the bartender. I nod at the Nigerian. My Nova Scotian friend tells me how glad he is that I made it out. I nudge another friend who is nodding off against my shoulder. I giggle at her. She giggles back. The lead singer in front of us pulls the microphone off the stand, walks into the crowd, and screams for death. The audience screams back for another song. I smile again.
Reb Livingston edits No Tell Motel and has garnered dozens of publications as a poetry guru. An artist who does so much more than give a middle finger to theory and the mainstream, Reb is one of the few editors who is changing how poetry is seen, distributed, and made from behind the scenes and on paper. Over the past couple weeks, I got to pick her brain about publishing, her broad range in taste, and find out some juicy secrets about taxes, writing, and her infamous Motel.
Pirooz Kalayeh: No Tell is a hot little number. I love its gossip made secret. How did you come up with this model for a journal?
Reb Livingston: The new poem a day was a concept beaten into me during my employment at AOL during the mid-90's. People only came back to places where they could depend on new and dynamic content showing up. AOL had statistics up the wazoo proving that. This was important to the company because they wanted to sell advertising. It became important to me regarding No Tell Motel because I wanted regular readers. I liked how Dan Nester did Unpleasant Event Schedule by focusing on one poet at a time, so Molly Arden and I tweaked his idea and made it way cuter.
In terms of the theme (for lack of a better word), one time when I was 12 I bought a tee shirt for my little sister with a No Tell Motel neon sign and a woman saying "Sshhh." I didn't get it at the time, but I must have psychically drawn to the message, because I love the idea of being naughty without being crass.
PK: Do people ever object to the advertising (AOL) know-how you employ on No Tell? And, if so, how do you deal with this position of poetry as non-commodity?
Reb Livingston: I don't consider it so much "advertising" know-how -- even if that is where I first learned about content programming and audience development. I mean, NTM doesn't sell or have advertising anywhere on the site, we don't make a single penny. The difference is that AOL changed it's content strategy to maximize advertising sales, it made a lot more money from advertising than from membership fees so advertisers became their priority. That's why it sucked so bad. NTM's goal is to connect poems and poets with as many readers possible. NTM puts the emphasis on both the poems and the poet, puts the poems top level and easy to access. Every poet gets the same treatment and same chance to be read during her week, whether the reader recognizes her name or not. I wanted to utilize the benefits of the online medium, not try to cram in the strategies of print publishing. People don't read from the screen the same way they read paper. So yes, working at AOL for almost four years was definitely an educational experience that I'm still utilizing a decade later, but I don't think I'm employing the slick, empty and inane aspects of what happened with AOL's content programming during the mid-90's. In that respect I learned a lot about what not to do.
People object to all kinds of things, the cheekiness and pinkiness of the design, limiting the content to poems only and not employing reviews, criticism, or fiction. Some people don't like the variety of styles we publish. I'm not so concerned with what a handful of people object to -- Molly and I do what we like, enjoy ourselves and are proud of the work we publish.
PK: By adhering to your standards of multiplicity and inclusion, do you feel that NTM has the potential to broaden poetry’s scope?
Reb Livingston: Possibly. While we definitely aren't open to *anything* (we're two editors with our own limitation like anyone else) -- the range of styles, subjects and poets are broader than many poetry magazines, but because it's not packaged all together at once, readers don't get a disjointed mishmash. In a time when some are intent on categorizing and pigeonholing poetry and poets, NTM isn't avant-garde, experimental, traditional, formal, mainstream, or alternative - yet we publish poems and poets who are routinely placed in one or more of those categories. There's pressure to take a stand, pick some kind of arbitrary side, make alliances, if you don't, nobody knows what to do with you. "What are you?!?" they insist. We want to know all about you before we ever meet and we want to figure you out fast and without much effort. Write one pig-fucking poem and you're forever associated with the New Pig Fuckers. Then your dad googles you and wants to know why you're so intent on ruining the family name with your rampant pig fucking. It's viscous.
I think NTM goes against that grain. There isn't a typical NTM poet or poem; at least I don't think there is. Some people think we only want sex poems. I have nothing against sex poems and have published a number of them, but that's a small slice of what the magazine offers and sometimes when I'm cranky and reading submissions, I get easily annoyed. We do contribute to that misconception with the design and of course the Bedside Guide anthology. We expect people get our many aspects, but not everybody will -- and that's unfortunate, but life.
So yeah, the way NTM is set up, if a reader visits one week and doesn't like what's there, she knows next week is different poet with totally different poems and is likely to come back. Also, because of the focus on individual poems, a reader is more likely to read something they might skip over or flip past in another format. In that way, I believe the scope is broadened. _______________________________________
"My Uncommon Concubine"
Words and Vocal by Reb Livingston Music and Film by Mr. Pirooz
As we had some spare time in our busy schedules, we decided to cooperate on some music and an interview. The music turned into a music video. Reb managed to send me an audio file virtually, and then I got the music done after about 18 hours. It was a bit hard, but so worth it. The film was fun too. _______________________________________
PK: Does inclusion and diversity factor into the stylistic range of your writing?
Reb Livingston: It does, but it's not especially intentional. Because I'm a touch magpie in my preferences, those influences bleed into my work -- although I'm not writing dramatically different work during any single stretch. My writing process is very intuitive, gives a middle finger to theory and fashion. I tend to write in phases, get on a kick that might last a couple weeks or a few years and mostly write work in a similar vein until it feels exhausted and it's time to move on to something different. It's not something I'm able to consciously control, I've tried breaking my flow with something very different, but if I'm not ready it doesn't happen, no matter how hard I force it. These days I fight a lot less with my process and work harder to go with it -- and find I'm much more productive that way. Mother knows best, as they say.
PK: Have you always felt the itch to raise your middle finger to theory and fashion? Did you ever feel differently?
Reb Livingston: No, especially not as a student. Theory was shoved down my throat as an undergrad and I tried really hard to see the point of it in poetry. Took me years to recover from the damage it caused my fragile little psyche. Fashion was more alluring, but in the end false and insincere. I remember during my mid-20's reading the "hot" new collections by younger authors, the ones being reviewed in big circulation magazine. I thought well, better start writing like that. I was easily influenced because back then my work didn't have any strong inclinations and not only did I not have a clue what I was doing, I hadn't a clue what I wanted to do. These days I have my own ideas and am secure enough that I'm only moderately perturbed when I read or hear a comment starting out with "like all good poets/poems/editors ________"
PK: What do you want to do now?
Reb Livingston: Right now I want to finish my taxes. Actually I don't really want to finish my taxes, I want them to be magically finished and I don't want to owe the government any money. I'd also like to take a nap, but that doesn't appear to be in the cards today.
I'd like to be able to garner up the momentum to be able to finish the projects I started. I'm cornered by loose ends. I tend to have an over-optimistic view of what I can accomplish within a tight timeframe. I'm learning, slowly.
I hope I can keep up the pace I've been maintaining on my current writing project.
PK: Jack Spicer often spoke about transmissions from Mars. He felt that the voices in his head - editors, friends, and audience - would fall away to Mars' static-free blips. Do you participate in a similar stripping of thought when you work? Do you even think at all?
Reb Livingston: I have trouble meditating, I don't get transmissions from other planets -- or if I do, I can't hear them over the squirrels spinning in their wheels. They're very loud and they rarely take breaks. My mind is very busy, fractured, all over the place, a real mess. It's not the voices of friends, family and audience in my head -- it's my own voices, and I don't know all of them, and I'm often meeting new ones, sometimes scary ones, sometimes I spend years trying to avoid them. Sometimes they slip into my poems and freak me out. Sometimes I find out they're not so scary after all. Sometimes I discover they're a lot worse than I imagined and they get me into trouble.
So I guess what I'm saying is that somebody is thinking and that somebody in the end is me, but it's often not a part of myself I'm on regular speaking terms with, or if I am, I'm reluctant to admit it.
PK: How much of your poetry is part of getting on speaking terms with the voices you may be reluctant to converse with? Is this the secret to NTM as well?
Reb Livingston: Hah, well, recently I was psycho-analyzed by two dear poet friends who suggested that I started No Tell Motel during a period in my life when I wanted to acknowledge the existence of secrets in some way, not spill them mind you, let them out of attic, store them in a bedside drawer. I was kind of floored by their reading, but maybe they weren't too far off. For years I made the point not to write about anything that made me squeamish. What resulted was a slew of anxiety-ridden, ugly squeamarrific poems. These days I'm more open to those voices, let them jabber -- I can always edit them out afterward, although I'm finding once they make it on the page they often stay there.
PK: At the day's end, would you say you have reconciled with the jabber? Is it simply walks on the beach with a walrus after that? Or, do you hire the walrus to do your taxes?
Reb Livingston: There's no reconcile with the jabber! Never. If I'm lucky it'll be a perpetual skirmish. But the jabber seems sincere, however off kilter, fucked up and menacing. I left the walrus behind and I hope the waves washed away my footprints. Oyster suck, soul suck, charm aside, the walrus is the bad energy masquerading as friend not to be trusted to do anyone's taxes.
Reb Livingston is the author of Your Ten Favorite Words (Coconut Books, Fall 2007), Pterodactyls Soar Again (Whole Coconut Chapbook Series, 2006) and co-author of Wanton Textiles (No Tell Books 2006). Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2006 (Scribner). She's also the editor of No Tell Motel and publisher of No Tell Books. With Carly Sachs she co-curates the Burlesque Poetry Hour.
My brother passed on this video. It is self explanatory. It also makes me miss Los Angeles and my mom simultaneously. It looks like my itch to head back is growing. We'll see how much longer I stick it out.
One of the office aides took me to the doctor today. We rode in the bus and got off at Suyu Yuk to find the Nike Store. "Is on 5 floor of Nike Store," I heard a literal, broken English record say in my head.
"Ah, the Nike Store," I pointed with my hands. "We did it."
"Yes," Sujin agreed. "Nike Store."
"Yes, here," she pointed to the Korean on a column near the elevator. "It is here."
I tried to read the Korean. I was still hallucintating from the cold medication. I figured we might as well go up. Besides, Sujin, was already quick to tell me my Korean "reading" was awful by saying "Uh, PASS!" and shoved me on the elevator.
"Push," she told me.
"I like the doctor."
"Yes. Don't you?"
"No, I don't like."
When we got to the office, it was set-up like most American pediatric offices with a small playpen for kids, television for those who couldn't read, and an assortment of hobbling, snout dribbling, and coughing patients. Being none of the latter, and secretly feeling better, I was able to enjoy the very pink-pink suits of my nurses-in-waiting, and made them giggle continuously, by stating the obvious:
"I am sick," I told them. "I need medicine."
Sujin translated for me as we talked to the doctor. It was quite an experience. It felt very invasive, as I was strapped to a dentist's type chair, and then had various contraptions stuck in my nose, mouth, and ears. And I'm not just saying stuck as in "Ahhh" and wasn't that nice? No, I am talking strange protruding instruments that whirred and beeped as they were stuck in my nose, and then filtrated past where I may have wanted to dig, but could only imagine, like men who somehow feel like self-fellatio is possible if they were just more flexible.
I had no need for flexibility or worries. The doctor prescribed me some medication, and I was taken to the 9th floor drugstore for my fill. I waited around for a good five minutes eye shopping for some biore pore strips (got to look great), some multivitamins, and lemon cough drops. I didn't buy anything except the Biore pore strips. I don't know why. It might have had something to do with my amazement at the packaging of my medication - the sheer industrialized, wrapping of it all - wow.
"For me?" I asked the attendant.
"3 time after eat. 30 minutes."
I kept my activation of morse English long enough to get this final message, before I warped down for another long nap. It is 6 hours later, and I will take my next dose. I assume I will talk to you in some Rip Van Winkle time in the future.
I was so sick I thought Kubli Khan was the movie playing on my computer and that Carl Sandburg and I were in a heated discussion about the correlation of star points within the universe and the answer to life itself.
Can stars in the universe be mapped to create a language? Is there a code to their location? Is Einstein's missing Law and Quarks somehow connected to the pattern of our universe?
I don't know. I am not a scientist. I am just a sick boy trying to get better.
At the very least, being sick these last 2 days, has helped me realize what I want in my life and what I don't. I am not down with stress that isn't going to make me happy. If I'm not thrilled about something, I'm not going to do it.
Here are my two best friends cavorting together in the busy streets of Sinchon.
Here is my new friend, Andrew, standing heads and tails above the rest. He wasn't as excited about the stuffed animals as we were, but he was god at winning them. We played the kick-the-ball-as-hard-as-you-can game, and he managed to break the record score with a dinky kick from his six-five-frame. It was quite amazing.
"You just broke the record!" SY told him.
"I didn't see it. What happened?" Jim asked.
"Andrew just beat the all time record."
"He's a God."
"I didn't do anything," A disagreed.
"Shut up with your stupid Aussie modesty. He can speak Mandorin too."
"You speak Mandorin? You're fluent?"
"Well, I am not fluent, but I can say a few words."
"Oh, you can't say dyslexia, but other than that you're okay," Kaivon guffawed. "You're frackin fluent biotch!"
"Well, Kaivon is fairly good as well."
"I suck," Kaivon laughed. "Really. This guy is the master."
"Master and God," I said. "Then we bow to you."
"Oh, come on," A laughed.
"How long have you studied?" Jim asked.
"2 years," SY answered for him.
"Yeah," A agreed. "About 3 years all together."
"Well, that's great," I said.
"Yes," Jim agreed.
"Didn't you learn any when you were in China?" A asked.
"No," Jim said. "I was near the foreigner's dormitory..."
Conversation petered off into a discussion of journeys to this very moment. K was very curious as to how I ended up in Seoul, because the last time he saw me was at my wedding in 2003.
"How did you end up here?" he asked. "What's the story?"
I told them how I've had 36 jobs in my lifetime. How I left Boulder after things didn't work out with Nicole, that I worked as a producer in Hollywood, and ended up in Seoul upon Jim's advice for "an easy life."
"You've had a very interesting life," A smiled. "I envy you."
"Why?" I laughed. "You are an Aussie who went to the University of Chicago for your Master's in business, you live in Hong Kong, travel the world, and speak Mandorin. I would say that's pretty frackin interesting."
Everyone cracked up.
"Touche," Andrew smiled.
"I would say we're all pretty interesting."
"Yes," Kaivon smiled. "True that, my fine, Persian friend."
"Yes," I laughed. "Boo-ya-ka-sha!"
Here is a pic of the owner and manager for BEATLES, a bar in SUYU. The owner has over 30,000 records in his collection. He even had Cyndi Lauper and let me play "Time After Time" yet again.
I wanted to take Andrew there, because Kaivon had told me he was a huge Beatles fan, but apparently that wasn't the case.
"I like the Beatles," Andrew told me. "But I am more of a Pink Floyd fan."
"Oh, really," I said a bit confused. "Kaivon told me you liked the Beatles."
"You said that?" Andrew asked him.
"Yeah," I laughed. "Last night, you said Andrew is the BIGGEST Beatles fan."
"Oh," Kaivon laughed. "That sounds like me."
We all laughed.
"Well," I smiled. "We can listen to Pink Floyd. What song do you want to hear?"
"Okay," I smiled. "Interstellar Overdrive" coming up.
We didn't stay at BEATLES too long. Just enough for a drink before the next stop of the night pulled us away with a text message from a gorgeous Kiwi and a shout from Jim to get things moving, "Finish your damn beers! Let's go!"
"I got beer here," Kaivon frowned. "I guess I'm the last one."
"Leave it," I said. "There will be more."
We left Beatles for Hong Da and all things hip hop in a taxi meant for four, as SY sat on Jim's lap, and I piled in the back with the giants. It wasn't very comfortable, but it was good to sit with giants.
"It's good to sit with you," I told K.
"Yeah," Kaivon gestured towards the busy streets, "Who would have thought we would be hanging together in Seoul?"
"Yes," I agreed. "Or that I could hang out with two of my best friends."
"You're lucky," Andrew said.
"Yes," I agreed. "I am."
All cabs in Seoul have televisions linked to a GPS. Kaivon and his business associates found this very disconcerting as the cab driver paid more attention to the ball game, but I took it in stride and practiced my Korean.
"Baseball?" I asked.
"Nay," the driver responded in Korean.
"This is my friend," I told him. "Ch'in-gu," I said. "I haven't seen him in 15 years (6 in a sober mind)."
"Fif-ty?" he asked.
"15," I corrected him. "Ship-o."
"He says he is bald and fat now," I smiled. "No moree," I said and pointed at K's head.
"Bald," the driver laughed and pointed at his toupe. "Me no moree. Fake moree."
"Nay," he laughed. "Number one hair!"
"That's a good hairpiece," I said aloud, and then translated into Korean with my trusty phrase book. "Ji-hun moree."
"Nay," he agreed. "Good hair."
During the rest of the drive, I taught him "on," "under," "on top of," "next to," and "across," by moving my hand "on" and "over" things, while gesturing for him do the same. I think he really appreciated it, although Kaivon and the rest of the gang might have gotten a bit more nervous, as he looked back and forth between the road, a baseball game, and my hand signs.
"This is a little dangerous," Kaivon quipped.
"No," I said. "This is Korea."
I got home at 7 in the morning again tonight. I can't say I like doing that, but I can't say I don't either. It's fun to dance with a gorgeous Canuck and learn how to do the FLIGHT ATTENDANT, or lose a $200 dollar phone and buy another in the same day, or meet business folks from Hong Kong and show them how to grind it up at a hip hop club in Hong Da.
I ejoyed the final stretch of the cab ride home with my head on the shoulders of a beautiful Kiwi. We watched the Full Moon descend into sunlight, and came to a perfect synchornicity, as she pulled words from my mouth with an accent like marbles hitting jewels and chewing tobacco.
"Goorgeous," she said aloud. "Absolutely gorgeous."
Byron is halfway through transliterating our first tier of poets for "Translations and Remixes: Contemporary Korean Writers Beyond the DMZ." (Is that the title?) He has told me that I will have the first glimpse on Thursday. I am very excited. I even offered to type all his notes I was so gung-ho.
"I can do it," I told him.
"No," he smiled. "I is good at typing."
"Good," I laughed. "I is not."
Although we might have a healthy spectrum of poets for the book, I will still have to query various fiction authors for short story submissions. I am not sure whether I will go through Korean publishers or authors directly. Time will tell. It will also be the factor for the poetry-films I have started animating.
Last night, I managed to animate the first half of Tao Lin's A Poem Written by a Bear, only to find my computer crash on me when the file exceeded its limitations.
"Why?" I asked my computer. "You can do three-way iChats. (See pic above of my brother dueling an imaginary Darth in L.A., while The Patron Saint in Seattle, and yours truly in Seoul, admire his tenacity and skills.) You're too good to operate in this fashion."
"I can't help it," my computer replied. "I need more ram."
As Kaivon is a computer guru, I will see if he can bring me some external hard drives when he visits this weekend from Hong Kong. Something tells me he will come through. He usually does. Of course, he isn't the guru of publishing, that title would be held by Peter Osnas and the fine folks at Caravan.
The Caravan Project, "a partnership of six non-profit publishers, the nation’s largest book wholesaler, and a group of independent and chain bookstores...will offer buyers of serious non-fiction books a "menu” of formats, both print and digital, from which to choose how they read a book..." (TCP)
I contacted Peter Osnas, Executive Director of this "new breed in publishing" to see what possibilities his company would hold for fiction or poetry titles. He informed me that non-fiction would be there concentration for the time being. He also hinted at the potential for other publishers to take the reins once Caravan takes off.
"Our hope is that once our system becomes well known others wlll adopt it," Osnas wrote.
If you are curious about the future of publishing, visit The Caravan. It just might be the guiding light for all publishing houses to adopt within the coming year.
New Korean band, No Shampoo, practice their latest hit entitled, No Shampoo. Known for their late nights of Soju drinking in Suyu, this ragtag group of musicians rarely shampoo, go to bed after two, or use English past a third grade reading level.
"It's just how we roll," says Roboto, guitarist for the group. "There's no reason to complicate things. We're just about the light, man, the light. If that means we drink soju or don't shampoo to get there, then that's what we'll do."
The group is set to perform at Suyu's annual Pop Song Contest. For information on further shows, or to send an email to the group, visit their myspace page at NO SHAMPOO.