Three Works by Christopher Perkins


where words get (re)fabricated
in an age dream
Annie Oakley gets the wolves running
and only if you believe in p. property
can the scars of wealth develop
into choice and wish lists
want and practicality
image and p. culture
fabricate a national god
a cult god who relocates
to an achievement based land
free from free to govern
a compound guide solicits
cost of choice wholesale maybe
relocating here to electric
wish lists and a new etymology
a kind of genealogy in other
respondents a dream means

* * *
in bed I talk when I should be dreaming

blood links
to response
you did it
the past tourists don’t see that
that words are no good if nobody’s here
that we criminalize ourselves
that geology enters through the city
it catches us
(econ = enemy)
twangy coins

* * *
a scholar/poet whose sex is geo-grammar

what kind of land
do we live in?
common place.
goodpoet discards.
I can prove nostalgia
is a virus.
I can!
immune to oblivion:
in dialogue the goods
could not reconcile
the rough with the ice
to make rough ice. (Oops.)
the paradigm
wants an exception: one right, one wrong.
what now goodscholar?
it is not closer
in a place like this:
deeds, the only reliable talk.
I want to role play
my binary play on character:
a diversity holiday, an executive holiday from diversity.
ascending: a kind of nostalgia, its partition.

Perpetuum Schizophrana

Enormously gifted, inventive, and accomplished, Danny Elfman is one of America's most prolific and most successful film composers. You may not know his name or what he looks like, but you've certainly seen one of the movies he has scored. And, if you made your, ahem, bones in the mid-'80's grooving to Dead Man's Party, that's Maestro Elfman up there, singing lead and playing guitar with his band, the legendary Oingo Boingo. Danse Macabre is proud to present highlights of Danny Elfman's interview with John Clare, where he shares his poetic thoughts on his craft and his music.

The whole process of making Serenada was so...schizophrenic...for me, I didn't know what to call it. I expected it to be something that had links between – more like trying to do some kind of novel – and it ended up being a collection of short stories that on the surface had nothing to do with each other, but in some weird way, kept playing themselves together and in the same order, so whatever their connection is, they're subconscious at my level. The whole thing felt like a battle between all the different warring composers that live in my head. I knew that the whole thing was a very schizophrenic thing, and so I just wanted to make a play on words and do something that wasn't too pretentious. I liked Serenada Schizophrana. By the way, Everything But the Kitchen Sink was the first title I came up with.

It was an incredible education for me. First, writing without a picture was a great joy, because frequently when I'm on a score, I come across an area where I'm writing a piece of music, and I'm just really enjoying myself, and I wish I could keep going. But, whether it's 45 seconds or a minute or two minutes, whatever the cut-off is, the movie changes, and so the music has to change too. This time, I could just let everything just run amok, and it was really fun. It was really hard to get everything started, launching each piece. Getting momentum going was a huge struggle. Then, once each of these pieces started getting inertia, they just started taking over, and then it became fun.

In film music, we don't have the luxury of writer's block. Writer's block is a luxury for those who have time to be blocked. My whole discipline for twenty-one years now has been to get myself to kick my own ass and get myself moving, you know what I mean? So when I see a picture, I will hear something. I've got to work it really, really hard in the beginning to find the tone, to get themes worked out. Then, at a certain point, once I have done that, the scenes just call for the music; I look at the music and I play the music.

Serenada Schizophrana
was a lot harder, not having anything to kick-start with. you don't have time to sit around here wondering what you want to do and feeling intimidated. You gotta get your ass into that chair in front of the piano and start working, and I did. I have a lot of training of – when the adrenaline goes, I go, and just to move. Once I finally got going, it was a blast. I think with anything, it's hard to get those first steps. It's hard to start that boulder rolling uphill. Sometimes it seems impossible, but, you know, at a certain point, it's rolling downhill, and then it's fun.

I stopped using pencil and paper about eleven years ago. Now I work in front of a computer, and I have a palette of mock orchestra sounds that I work with, and I'm able to conjure up sounds that are a little more dense, things that I'm reaching for, than I could do just straight out of my head on paper. I used to do demos of every piece and then write them all down for my first ten years. In hindsight, I think it was a good thing, even though I don't think I ever worked less than eighteen hours a day! I think it was a good discipline, even though now, with the computer, I no longer have to do that. I can play music in and then print it out.

If I'm just going to score films, I'm going to go crazy. For ten years, I balanced myself between being in a rock band and scoring. Then, for ten years, I did just scoring, and I found that I was going kind of postal half the time. Film work is so intense and it's so difficult and in the end it can be so frustrating, and on occasion, really frustrating and unsatisfying in the end result. It's kind of maddening. There are those few things every now and then that will be satisfying, and that'll fuel me on, but I need to do things I haven't done before, and film doesn't often offer that opportunity. Occasionally it does, and I'm grateful for it. But I realize that if any opportunity comes along to do something I haven't done before, like these commissions, I have to, to keep myself sane. I have to jump for them. And now, I'm hoping to work on a ballet next year, so I hope that I can keep this going.

Much of the music that I was inspired by as a young man and a teenager were ballets, so I feel probably closer to ballet than to any form of classical music in terms of – so much of the things I love were Prokofiev and Stravinsky ballets. That got me started thinking about that kind of music in the first place. It's all a juggling act, but I'm happiest when I'm juggling. So I need to do something else, and this is a good venue. In terms of having a new child, a son in the family, well, that's always a wonderful thing. I can't say it helps with my work at all! That kind of juggling just makes everything a little more difficult, but it's worth it, as every parent knows. Since I work at home, it's rough, because every time I walk through the house, if I get spotted by my son, who's about to turn twenty-two months, I'm done for; he catches me, and I can't just walk past him. Even though in my own head, I might just be coming up for a drink of water or a cup of coffee, he nabs me, and that's it for the next forty-five minutes.

I think that I consider myself a throwback. I'm a big fan, I was inspired by early twentieth century orchestral music, and then by the Golden Age film composers quite a bit. But even those incredible film composers who were writing in the forties through the sixties, that I think was the greatest age for film composition, they were also – their music was inspired by the music from the early part of the twentieth century, the European composers and American composers. It all comes from that same place, and I think that I weirdly lost the classical music link.

Somewhere in the middle of the century on, something lost me, and I find myself still linked to that earlier time with driving rhythms and melodies still present in a certain way. The first time I heard Prokofiev, it was like love at first listen, and the same with Bernard Herrmann, so those things are forever a part of me.

Three Works by Susan Botich


Scattered pieces of glass, so many
tiny shapes, colors. At first
they seem easy to the fingers
given the job of rearranging
but, when trying to lift just one –
just one particularly small piece,
an astonishing cut surges more blood
than what seems possible.

So, the artist learns to rectify them carefully,
using tools she’s come to master
over long years of study,
into designs more pleasing
to her sensibilities.
Yet, every time she turns her back,
the bits rearrange themselves again
into the chaos of their origin,
the way they were before she began.

Some lie overtly blade side up,
protrude like signs, edges glinting
against the light;
Taste me with your fingers.
I will not be managed, cannot be
trifled with.

The artist keeps trying to form a rose.
But, now, questioning
the rightness of her vision,
she considers whether she should just pour out
the hot liquid bubbling resin
over all of them at once,
just as they had fallen naturally
against the black mat of memory.

Before realizing she’s made any decision, she spills
a flow of pitch she didn’t know she had, a mess
of acceptances.
The transparent tar cools almost instantly,
seals the shards into riotous patterns,
swirls of mishap.

* * *

Perhaps He Found His Own Passage

He stares blankly over the crevasse
that gapes between us.
This cave seems infinite.
I cannot place from where it was born
or estimate when its mouth formed:
Danger – Condemned.
I am not sure how either of us came here,
to this dark.
But we stand on either side
of the snaking abyss
and wait. I hope
for something to happen, some miracle.

I brought my own water,
drawn from the spring just outside
the cave mouth, above us.
He did not. He gulps
from a rotten smelling cup
the rancid oily remnants
of who-knows-what, complaining.
He always shouts about the dark –
how it’s cold and empty
(yet, full of treachery, he says)
and how it tricked him
into moving farther from the light.
I see how he shivers.
I just do not know how to tell him
leaving is not dying.
So, I turn from the ragged rift
and follow my own footsteps back
to the light,
the wind and the greens that breathe.

Sometimes I visit the mouth of that dark,
lean into and peer down its throat,
call down the vortex stair,
listen for his ache.
Carried on the choked gusts,
only silence returns.

* * *

This Night

Silent in the swollen night,
I stole myself away
to find our ancient, lonely wood.
Beneath the sky I lay.

And, now, I look up at the stars,
the planets and the moon,
while pungent fragrances of dream
dispel themselves too soon.

I turn my clash of thoughts to find
that place where last we’d met –
the hidden glade, the lucent lake.
I never will forget.

We sat upon the grasses there,
and sought each other’s heart
within our penetrating gazes –
tied, yet still apart.

Now, in this night – eternal night!
I wait for you and weep.
I cannot bear to leave this place,
to wake, again to sleep.

Why does this night take so long?
How does it breathe so quiet?
Strength all spent, just memory now,
my thoughts are left to riot.

At least this night is soft and silent,
here inside our wood.
My mind is set, my heart is bent –
I stand where once we stood

and swear to never leave this place,
not even if I could.

Poetry in Motion...Pictures?

We're rather a schizophrenic mess as a society when it comes to definitons. We love 'em. We can't define or label or categorize or pigeon-hole someone, thing, or place quick enough, which is pretty hilarious, considering our vast corresponding inability to define or categorize what really counts - like our thoughts.

Poetry is usually defined (down) as a frowsy, squishy, and/or not too terribly manly sort of literary thing that no one much bothers with because (and this they are especially certain of) "it doesn't pay". Well. We here at Danse Macabre believe in defining most things expansively, and are certain poetry can manifest itself in any variety of shapes & sizes other than the 'literary': music, speech, fashion, design, and, ahem, film.

There aren't many films about poetry, per se, for a variety of reasons. Poets aren't very cinematic, what with their essentially internal processes at work...and their generally unappealing external lives (see: the otherwise wonderful Agnieszka Holland's execrable Total Eclipse). And poetry itself usually gets lost between the page and the frame or the poet and the Wood of Holly (if you really believe a teacher like Robin Williams' would ever be hired by his old Ivy League prep skool in Dead Poet's Society, then the high fructose corn syrup has gotten the better of you).

But some films, a very few truly special, utterly unique films, can, in both their dramatic and cinematic incandescence, create...poetry. Here's our thumb-nail guide to some genuine poetry in motion.

If you are a lover of poetry in all its' many forms and don't know the name of Krysztof Kieslowski, you owe it to yourself to discover this Polish writer-director's work, especially his Trois Colours trilogy, which turned out to be the last films he would make before his untimely death. If you need a synopsis of these before you rent (or buy...go ahead, buy the Miramax set on DVD - you'll treasure them), Roger Ebert's review found in his 100 Great Movies catalogue is a great place to start. Blue (or 'Liberte', from the French Tricolour) is a performance clinique by Juliette Binoche as a grieving wife & mother fighting to seal herself off from an ostensibly empty world. White ('Egalite') is among the blackest comedies ever made, where your idea of what equality really means will be given a new lease on life via the unforgettable arc of Julie Delpy's character. Red, starring a radiant Irene Jacob and the always mesmerizing Jean-Louis Trintignant, is one of the most magnetic cinematic expressions of human emotions you'll ever see. Each chapter of the trilogy stands alone, yet are all almost imperceptibly intertwined until Red's coda, where the principals meet their fate together. You will marvel at the sheer visual poetry of every frame in each of these films as well as the artistry of Zbigniew Preisner's scores.

Matthieu Kassovitz, the nervous bomb-maker from Spielberg's Munich, put himself on the map of international cinema with his explosive directorial debut, Hate. An uncompromising chronicle of a long, violent day in the unpleasant lives of three Parisian teenagers, Hate is mordant, trenchant, and verdant in every cinematic sense. Shot in luminous monochrome, over 10 years old yet still too cool for school, and at times nearly comic, Hate is every bit the equal of Tarantino's better known rock 'em, sock 'em debut.

Another august member of Mr. Ebert's 100 Great Films, Wim Wenders' masterpiece Wings of Desire is a case study in cinematic poetry. From an unforgettable screenplay partially constructed from actual excerpts of German poetry to the compositional prose of legendary cinematographer Henri Alekan, Jurgen Knieper's Arvo Part-like score, and Bruno Ganz' first career performance (his second, as Downfall's Hitler, is thespian poetry defined), Wings of Desire is simply one of the most beautiful films ever made.

The next time Clint Eastwood's Best Picture-winning Million Dollar Baby is on cable, switch on your home theater sound system, turn off the TV, and just savor every line of almost literal poetry from Paul Haggis' heartbreaking screenplay. The trio of career performances by Eastwood plus Oscar winners Hilary Swank and Morgan Freeman will be heard in each of their lines, through their pitch-perfect voices and dialogue of a calibre almost unknown in today's studio product. This is by far the most difficult film on our list to watch, but it also approximates the idea of poetry in motion (pictures) like few others.

Even in the pantheon, the name Fellini looms large, and speaks for itself, a timeless synonym (and occasional adjective) for poetry whose life's work is a template for aspiring artists the world over. But, if we had to choose a single film of his to exemplify his poetic genius, it would be his dreamy, semi-autobiographical 8&1/2, one of the most relentlessly individual yet amazingly universal glimpses at what it's really like to becreative in a society that is emphatically not...not to mention the artist's recurrent despair of being unable to answer a single question ceaselessly posed by their heart and soul. Marcello and Claudia are radiance defined, too.

While Francis Ford Coppola may be the only American master filmmaker to produce four consecutive undisputed masterpieces (The Godfather, The Conversation, The Godfather Part II, and Apocalypse Now) his greatest legacy may yet prove to be his children. Daughter Sofia showed great promise with The Virgin Suicides, but hit a walk-off grand slam with her Opus Two, Lost in Translation, a shrewd, laconic take on being a lonely young American in that most foreign yet funkadelic place, Japan. Bill Murray's performance as an equally lonely middle-aged actor deserved the Oscar someone else got. (Take heart, Bill. No one remembers whoever got the Oscar that had Anthony Quinn's immortal Zorba written all over it, either.) Then there is the matter of Francis Ford's son. Released almost invisibly by United Artists (something UA has known a thing or two about for rather some time) is Roman Coppola's CQ, a knowing, loving, and warmly poetic whirlygig of a look at filmmaking itself that will charm anyone with even a fleeting idea of just how crazy making a film can be - and make you. Roman can direct a movie for us any day.

Julian Schnabel's Before Night Falls is a transcendant, almost dreamlike fairy tale about gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, whose journey from rural adolescence through the full arc of the Castro revolution to his escape to America and descent into obscurity and poverty is fiercely captured by both Oscar-nominated Javier Bardem as Arenas and the sheer poetic scale of Schnabel's direction. You'll also be taken aback by Johnny Depp's fearless double cameo, which his legion of Pirates fans might find rather, um, unexpected. What is particularly remarkable about this instant classic is the extent to which Arenas' actual poetry (unforgettably voiced-over by Bardem) infuses and develops the pulsating visual drama constructed from it. Before Night Falls is the most perfectly realized film about a poet and the power of his poetry we've yet seen.

Krysztof Kieslowski's The Decalogue is an artistic milestone of the 20th Century, period. Made for Soviet-era Polish television, The Decalogue is a ten part story cycle that uses one of the Ten Commandments as the moral, philosophical, and dramatic basis of each segment. The human depth - and intellectual challenge - of these ten poetic fables is simply breathtaking. If it weren't for the L.A. Times' film critic Kenneth Turan, we might never have heard of this, Kieslowski's still little-known masterwork. Without a shred of overstatement, Turan calls The Decalogue "one of the indisputably great accomplishments of modern filmmaking" and "a privilege" to see. We believe you will surely agree when you make the effort to see - no, experience - The Decalogue. It is quite simply Art of the highest order.

Exposition du Sonnet et Due Travail par Robert David Michael Cerello

Historians trace the sonnet in more-or-less its present form to Italian Renaissance beginners/beginnings. The Elizabethans' leading minds had been working on the development of an English national poetic, theatrical and literary language - so they might match the literature of ancient Greece, Rome and Israel - from the reigns of Edward IV (1470) and Henry VII (1509) until the 1560s. It was the group working around George Gascoigne (who essayed the first successful translations of a serious and a comedic play) and, with him developed, shorter poetic and verse forms in the late 1560s.

(See the original edition of The Hundred Sundrie Flowers, c. 1573 for proofs of what had been attained even earlier than that date.)

I turned to the sonnet while trying to develop my own poetry and verse capacities, for the same reason the Elizabethans had done so. This form has the virtue of brevity, the capacity (given its possessing at least three main four-line stanzas) of being elaborated sufficiently for it to bear a heavy cargo of ideas; and it also allows a concentrated use of "verse" elements, which briefer forms often lack, in some degree.

Verse I define as "The use by a creative writer of any rhythmical and/or mnemonic device in addition to prose statements and image comparisons."

It seemed logical to me in regard to the Italian language for them to develop ten-syllable four-line-stanza poems in threes; later, the addition of a two-line-long final section seemed appropriate because it permitted an additional commentary. Poets of Italia, Espana and even Germany in fact developed such forms; however, only the Italians and later the English developed forms of "the sonnet" as first a verse and then a "blank verse" structure.

A number of forms considered as "sonnets". Three four-line stanzas; fourteen lines rhymed ab, ab, cd, c, d, ef, ef, gg is only one rhyme scheme used; fourteen lines rhymed abba, cddc, effe, gg is another; the last six lines can also be treated differently; and my own Michaelian development uses the abba form, with a "ghg" three-line ending, etc.

I have been using the sonnet for years, much as I believe Elizabethan playwrights did, as a laboratory form. It offers practice in any number of useful skills - running the meaning past end-stopped lines; developing a cluster of images; practice in dialogue; succinct description and concentrated narrative; and practice in pointing up the beginning, middle or end of a line.

I began by studying Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language by Sister Miriam Joseph. It was then that I conceived the project of restoring the use of Elizabethan blank verse. I developed a rhetorical, topical and image system, one which claim can be applied to any subject matter at any level of rhetorical complexity.

Here are a few examples of my work in this form. I hope they will stimulate you, the reader, to rediscover this very-much-living art form for yourself. Perhaps you will even want to write one, or 2000. After all, in the blissfully less-wired 1940s, many fine sonnets were written by so-called amateurs; take a look at any of Ted Malone's anthologies of US WWII years for a taste of this.


Below th'apartment tow'r, a grid of streets
Siz'd like a child's assemblage--houses, trees,
Coaches miniatur'd, stick lampposts, signs (neat)
Stretches both east and north. Past this, one
A blank zone--River's edge. From thence, It
Tendrils of mist Its fingers; hostile; calm;
Silent; and alien, gath'ring in Its arms
All lights, all buildings...Here and there
Its naked pris'ners--lanterns, streetlamps'
One tower's (defiant) windows...these too fade;
Silence--enshrouds all; slow as the march here
By legions. Its grey tide, unhast'ning, comes,
Taking the outward city; huge dark wings
Occlude all lights' points; then the city stills
As one by one, It seals up all bright things...

* * *
The Farthest Horizon

Past the farthest horizon Earth affords
A few men lift strong gazes, to the skies..
There lies the Sea that waits, whose distant
Are worlds that call Man from his prison forth.
Men have betray'd reality, the self,
The category, yes--the human mind...
Arguments? None. The next frontier stands high;
It is the ocean Night, which men must delve
To reach potential, to learn and to grow.
I wait; It calls to us--to build, to change,
To put off tyranny for honest ways;
To school in rights, diplomacy; then know--
(When we have earn'd that height) the Stellar
Galactic liberty--our right as selves,
Our endless dream, our challenge and our hope...

Three Works by Elizabeth I. Riseden


This herd of Gateways,
grazing in the prison’s ed. foyer
in Nevada’s boondocks.
was lab-bred by postmodern
husbandry. An electronic
minotaur with monitor
head, fornicated with a jersey
cow, whose offspring’s info-
rich milk begot the tech feeding
of the 500 million.

Yet info milk alone doesn’t fill
the belly, nor does it clarify the mind
half so satisfyingly as a good
range-broiled T-bone or a day
of branding or satiated rutting
in a spring sweet pasture.

From nostalgia’s western
shod cowboys,
trucking this new hybrid
and its milk to market,
foul criticism flows.
No yippee ty yie yo,
no Big Rock Candy Mountains
for these, breaching two worlds.

Just jobs about wanting
the range to stay, without
spread sheet hay. “Let’s
export beef,” they say
not trek to Afghan and
Iraqi pastures, leaving
good ol’ US behind.

* * *
Hide and Seek

Eggplant cushions thrown willy nilly,
dining room chairs pushed askew,
bedding drilled through, blankets clump to floor.
Pell mell they scurry, a cadre of small searchers.

Down to the basement they clamor.
To pantry’s dank spookiness,
shove spiderwebs aside, grimace, giggle, call.

Hey, marauders! Come out and face us.
Lunch is soon.
We’ll share.

House combed, they spill into the yard,
sneak around poplar, cheek-tickling beech
under porch, through sand.
Up, again, after hedge tangles.

Where are you, marauders?
C’mon. Let us find you.
Lunch. Chicken and dumplings.
Yum. We’ll share.

Voices soon turn ragged,
Come Out Now! If not
we won’t share.

Searchers stand panting:
Bad Sports! Bad sports!
Crocodile mad sports!
Aliens from Hullabaloo!
Screw You!

Back in the kitchen
lunch was devoured.
Alien mouths gobbled it.
Marauders within.

* * *
The Decline and Fall of Practically Everything

Bring in the video cam:
focus tightly
on this Lenten act---
Changing the vacuum bag
before I clean
red, white, and blue chapel
especially well for Holy Week.

Zero in on the reeking
dust cloud that envelopes altar,
pews, lights instruments,
candles, brass accouterments,
stairs, balcony, flyblown

Said cloud rages, as the bag
within the bag ruptured.
Noxious dirt, parts of tuna
sandwiches, bits of old
cookies, communion
wafers, drops of wine
compose a slurry
designed to asphyxiate this damned

In the midst of this Mephisto mess,
recall how little knee-bent
repentance said janitor
has practiced
this season.

Please light a candle
for my poor soul, covered
head to toe.

Three Works by Sean Tribe

An Ostrich With Its Head In The Sand

The earth shuffles as it sleeps
ants tick, kicking up dust.
Swerving light has no space to cast
shadows over conversations here.
What does you mean?
Beauty in worms
not cicada’s,
or staring birds in trees.
I retreat nothing;
save the distortion of words.
There is no stasis underground
I don’t believe it is still.
Roots pushing to a center.
No, would you explain what you mean.
The noise of Language exists
on the prairie
with gazelles who never speak
and the wind always whining.
The noise of roots,
ticking of ants and
the ferocity of moles is silence.
I don’t believe it is still here.

* * *
In A Museum

dread formed just under
my navel like
the first sexual pulse
my eyes rested on a re-
built T-rex
holding still in the center of a domed room.
people rushed around me
continuing breaking then
reuniting, flowing
the sun must have died.
an invisible
current pushed onward
past the stuffed shark room
beyond the mammal room
into a new kind of darkness
feeling for something
falling backwards onto a marble floor
the air stale
full of movement.
full of darkness
the light must be reforming.

* * *
In Medias Res

and every day the future arrives
on my door step, in newspapers.
My eyes forming
what will follow;
the magpie nibbling on its dead and
the eggs of the robin.
I hang a laurel wreath each morning
above my bed
over toast, reading the newspaper.

Also Sprache a Cool Cat

Larry Heinemann wasn't my first writing teacher in college, nor my last, nor my most famous, and certainly not the kindest, though he wasn't nearly the meanest. But he is the best pure story-teller I've ever known, on the page as well as in person.

His first novel, Close Quarters, transports you to the war he fought in (Vietnam) like few others have. His second, Paco's Story, is as haunting a literary journey as you're ever likely to take. It won the Carl Sandburg Literary Award and the National Book Award in 1986. His third, um, "died a brutal death" (his bemused words) though I laughed out-loud every time I read it.

A fourth generation North Side Chicagoan, Larry's short stories and articles have appeared in Penthouse, Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Tri-Quarterly, and the Vietnam Writers Association Journal of Arts and Letters. He has conducted writing workshops at nearly a dozen universities, including Northwestern, University of Southern California and UC-Berkeley. He's teaching at Texas A&M now, undoubtedly imparting wise quietude and healthy uncertainty into the literary education of our future warriors. AHC

My old man was a bus driver. My mother was a farm girl from Michigan. My mother’s side of the family, oddly enough, is connected to Abraham Lincoln. I’m a sixth cousin. My grandfather resembled him. He had high sunken cheeks, a high squeaky voice which Lincoln apparently had, and those melancholy eyes staring off into space like you see in a lot of photographs.

Like a lot of other families of ordinary working stiffs who came up in the Depression and World War II, the expectation was you finish high school and get a job. I worked for a while after high school. Then I went to a two-year junior college across the street from Northwestern. I had a vague ambition to go to San Francisco State and get into theater. In 1966 I ran out of money, dropped out, and was drafted like that. Bingo. I was 22. I went overseas at 23 where everyone else was 18 and they called me the old man.

We all heard the stories of getting spit on, that mythology, when we were overseas. I can tell you that when I arrived home I was not in the mood. Some years ago I read from Paco’s Story at the University of Wisconsin and it was the only time I ever lost my temper at a reading. This guy, a history professor and the faculty pill, I was later told, said if he had met me at the airport he would have spit on me. I came out from behind the podium. I was shaking with anger and I said, “Shooting someone with a rifle and spitting on them comes from the same place in the heart. Second, I had just come from a place where I didn’t take any shit from anybody. You spit on me and you get your ass kicked within an inch of your fucking life.”

I laugh and say I became a writer because of the war, not in spite of it. My mother was a great storyteller and my grandfather was a wonderful bullshit artist. So I expect I got it from them.

So I go back to college in the spring of 1968. We’re sitting around that first night in writing class, talking about what we want to write about. I say I just got back from overseas and I want to write about that. And there was this kind of suck of breath that went through the room. There was this look on everybody’s face, like “You’re one of them?” My attitude was, Yeah. I am one of them and if anyone wants to talk about it we can step out onto the fire escape six stories up from Ohio street and talk about it out there.

There was a great deal of empathy. A serious understanding by me of what they were trying to do against the war and a serious understanding by them for who I was and what the war was really about. After the news of the My Lai massacre hit the streets, it was, Whoa. They asked, This happen a lot? And I said that the spirit of atrocity was in the very air. We were all working class kids. We were the first kids in our families to go to college. This was Columbia College in downtown Chicago. We found out we shared a great deal. They started out, “You should be against the war, Larry.” And I was telling them, “Let me tell you why you should really be against the war.”

If there was an antiwar attitude among the troops I was with it didn’t get any more sophisticated than, “Fuck this. This is bullshit.” When I came back from overseas I was just furious, and probably more radicalized than anyone I was in school with. I was extraordinarily bitter and for a long time I thought I was the only one. I had this remarkable energy. This “thing” that just blew through me has got to make sense, has got to mean something. I got into writing because I had this story that will not go away.

The thing that hooked me was the second week the teacher comes up to me—I didn’t know then that he’d been a medic in Korea—and says, “Larry, if you want to write war stories read these.” He hands me The Iliad and War and Peace. Everything that should be in a war story is in The Iliad. And War and Peace is just a great yarn and a beautiful piece of work. Plus we were reading Moby Dick and The Painted Bird. I don’t care if it’s phony, what a great fucking story. Turned out Kosinski was pretty strange. So I came into writing telling war stories. Never to my face did anyone say anything about being a soldier. The closest anyone came was to say how dare you tell those stories, how dare you use that language, and how dare you represent that point of view. That’s when I knew I was on to something. I mean, I wanted to take the war and just shove it up your ass.

I’ve run into people like that since, writers and writers who teach, and they act as if there is just one kind of story. They are doing the craft of writing, and teaching, an extraordinary disservice. How dare you tell any young writer that they may not write about something because of subject matter, or language or point of view just because you can’t deal with it? That’s your problem. Go find another line of work. The worst kind of teachers think stories happen from the neck up, that there’s a polite intellectual’s armchair distance. But if a story doesn’t make your skin crawl or make your bowels ache or your eyes fill with tears—well, what’s the point? Goody goody talk never gets anybody anywhere. The way I learned anything was always the hard way. I opposed the war because I was up to here in it. I learned what love really means when I had kids.

I always tried to talk about the war in terms of the work. It seemed like a good place to start. What struck me about Moby Dick was that Melville talked about what the work was so that you get an honest to God appreciation. There is a reason why the passing of that work is not mourned. Rowing after whales. You’re engaged in slaughterhouse work and you’re up to your eyeballs in blood. I started writing Close Quarters in 1968. I’ll hang the story on the work, the same as Melville. It struck me that folks back here not only did not know what it was like to be in an Army barracks, but also knew nothing about the war as work.

You get in a firefight and afterwards go out and do what we referred to as a dismount, just like the cavalry. Searching the bodies and making the count. You tie the heels together with commo wire, which is like extension cord, and drag them out to the road and leave them. There were some outfits that left playing cards but we never bothered with that. The strong inference was, “Fuck with us and this will happen to you.” Sometimes we had to drag the bodies a good long way. That’s what got to me about reading The Iliad. Achilles ties Hector’s corpse to a pair of horses. He gives them a whack on the ass and Hector’s body get dragged round and round the city until there was nothing left but what was tied at the ankles. How’s that for “fuck you?”

I worked on my second book for eight years and I came to appreciate was that everything contains its own irony. There is a shadow side, an irony, an opposite to everything. Some people say the story is overwritten because the description gets to be too much. But there’s a texture to the story, just like there’s a texture to everything. Look around. There’s always more than one thing going on. I don’t know about poignant. At bottom what I tried to say was, let’s be honest about this.

Cooler By The Lake took two and a half years to write. My daughter Sarah said it was the first time she heard laughing come from my studio. It was great fun to write. I tried to get even with just about everything that irritated me in Chicago. Stupid cops, dumb baseball teams. Rum-dumb politicians. The references to war? Well, you can’t get away from them. The stock market. Football. Politics. The evening news. Pick a topic and you get war jargon.

I’m going on a Fulbright to collect, transcribe, and translate Vietnamese folktales, about the cleanest expression of a people’s imagination and self-image as you can find. But my real work is a “family novel” I’ve had in the back of my mind for 10 years and more, and I want to write it in classic, Grimm Brothers, folktale style. In the last ten or fifteen years I’ve developed a serious interest in folklore and mythology. It seems all the elements of story have been there from the beginning. It’s about as pure a story form as you can possibly get.

I often laugh and say during the 1970s I hardly stepped off the porch. I hardly remember the music. I was, what would be the word, definitely inner-directed. I thought the one good thing I could do was write a good book. I’d been invited to antiwar rallies, and such. But the VVAW? It was run by officers, and I pretty much had it with them.

Looking at the world from down where the rubber meets the road has a long and honorable history. Sam Clemens never finished grammar school, and he did just fine. John Steinbeck wound up with the Nobel Prize. I do know that I had to start from square one and read the books I was already supposed to have read. Well, you get to read with a very clean eye. And it goes straight back to the energy of ambition that I brought to school and the fact that my teacher gave me a leg up and a good shove. A great gift. Probably the only disadvantage I feel is that I don’t have much of an organized background in American literature. I’m still working on Shakespeare, still working on Faulkner. I’m not a philosopher, and God knows I’m not a scholar. I’m a storyteller who got lucky.

I can’t think of doing any other work. If writing were taken away from me I would wither. Anybody can be a barstool bullshit artist. I take great pride in my craft. And let’s get this straight: there’s nothing cathartic about writing as a craft. Just because you write it down, put it in a box, and send it out of the house does not mean it’s gone. The people who write because they think it’s therapeutic are, well, I don’t know what they are, but they’re not writers. You have to let the chips fall where they’re going to fall. I do know this. I will always be able to reach back and touch the war and find a story. That’s a mellow irony of the richest kind. And the stories have less and less to do with the war, and more and more are, well, just stories.