Distribution: 3 Printed in Urbana Wednesday, 11 March 1998 FREE
Because you complained to me that the last two mailings I sent you - copies of my home-made chapbooks Grammar Primer and Poem for Money (or, in your case, for Dinner) - were not personal letters, I thought I'd further test your patience by writing you a personal letter as a public text. Welcome to my newspaper, my project for the past month. Every day or few, I make a new edition, run off three copies, and give them away to strangers, friends, or post them in unlikely places around campus.
It was fabulous to see you. Sorry for my reclusion and thank you for matching it with impatience and persistence. I wonder what it is you are looking for in a personal letter from me? I love you. I admire you. I consider you one of the most ambitious people I know. But I've gotta say to you, on the level: a lot of the stuff you do is just silly. I was talking with Paul about how you take humor so seriously. You are reverent toward humor. You are a professional clown and your performances are meticulous and practiced. But I really don't think I've ever seen you actually crack up. This is not a criticism. You are the only person I know who takes humor seriously, and laughing is very important to me. Without you, I might be alone in this. Oh sure, everyone cracks jokes. But I don't know many other people who write jokes (puns don't count). Which reminds me: I am excited to be first in line to see the movie about you, and, even though I've even gotten over the fact that I wasn't asked to play you (Robin Williams is a good actor, but he was a brilliant stand-up comic and when I see him in movies I feel like he's shackled by his scripts (but, oh well, I guess everybody's gotta quit cocaine sometime)), I'm still pissed that I wasn't asked to write the screenplay. Look at it this way: if I wrote three or fourteen drafts and were paid, say, fifty bucks, that would have been more money than I ever expected to see from my writing, and the rest could have gone to build the hospital. Didn't the scriptwriter make several hundred thousand or million? One of those astronomical numbers, I forget which. When you consider the difference between fifty bucks (don't get me wrong, I would have worked on that thing for a year in exchange for a single sandwich (and it still would have been a windfall)) and an astronomical number like a thousand or more, I can't be that much worse than whoever it was. Well, when the hospital is built I'm sure I can fit in somewhere, hopefully as writing teacher, gardener, and clown.
Should I get really really personal? I have a medical problem. I drink too much. But over the past couple of years I've learned how to control it. All I have to do is lie in bed with the lights off and the doors locked and not answer the phone, which, incidentally, is what I was doing the week you were here and left ten or so messages on my machine requesting my company. How much is too much? In my opinion, the only time that drinking would be appropriate would be if I had been buried to the waist by an avalanche for many hours, and was drinking brandy straight out of the barrel tied around the neck of the Saint Bernard who had just found me. Any other time, alcohol is inappropriate, including weddings in which my first lover is marrying a conservative I have barely even met, and especially New Years Eve. I've spent at least one New Years Eve in bed in the dark with the parties accumulating on the answering machine like collapsing boxcars in a horrible trainwreck.
Is this letter any the less personal for the fact that I am printing three copies instead of one and leaving two of them posted in random places for strangers to wonder at? Are you hurt more or less than you were when I mailed you a book of poetry not written to you but of which you were one of only three people who got a copy? Lots of people boast of having written me letters they never gave me. Occasionally people write songs to be critical of me and then they make tapes of them or play them in venues and don't really pay attention to me when they do it. I am guilty of everything. I write for and about people I love, and I never send manuscripts to strangers even though this is ostensibly my job. I'm not sure why not. Perhaps I am a chicken-shit and afraid of rejection. Perhaps it is irrelevant to my aims. I get more satisfaction and feedback from reading a poem out loud or giving it to a friend than I would, I'm pretty sure, if it were published in a journal read only by other poets who want to get published too. Perhaps when the Gesundheit Institute is built and starts to develop an irritating surplus of funds we can set up a small press on the land and I can work my ass off publishing books about health care, organic gardening, butterflies, love, and utopias.
Incidentally, this is to be my life's work: writing formally unusual poetry and fiction about people's feelings and relationships (which is considered passe' by many), and possible societies. Which doesn't explain why I am writing this right now. Procrastination. And you may also be wondering why I have chosen the anonymous-poem style of activism over those styles of activism that involve meetings. Then again, maybe you aren't. But I'll go ahead and admit it: I am useless in groups. Unless I am leading them. This is because I am telepathic and always experience my own thoughts mixed with thoughts of people I am in the same room with. So I can only get along with one to three people at a time, and I can only think when I am alone. This is why formal consensus, despite its virtues, can never work for me. When I am with people, I can only want what they want. But it is my suspicion that what I want is why I'm here.
P.S. I haven't smoked a cigarette in a year and a half and I am still waiting for someone to throw me a victory party or at least congratulate me. As your attorney, I advise you, as my doctor, to be the first.
Newspoetry at Spineless Books