Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Interview I did with/and for Chomu Press
Chômu interview #4 Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.
We come to our fourth exclusive interview, this time with Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., whose poetically pyrotechnical and paranormally pyromanical novel The Orphan Palace was released by Chômu Press in October. Here he talks about his move from the States to Germany, about the Blues, and, of course, about writing.
Chômu Press: You were born in New York, I believe, but you are currently living in Germany. Does the US look different to you from the distance of your current vantage point?
Joe Pulver: Yes, born and bred New Yorker -- upstate. 5 and 1/2 decades. Outside looking in, it's not so much different as it is vivid, and deeply stirring. Being parted from one's homeland for an extended period of time one comes to miss many things that were small and common and may have been taken for granted, or overlooked in the everyday dash. And adjustments to new cultural views and styles may come fairly easy, but as the old adage goes, you can take the boy out of the city, but you cannot take the city out of the boy. I may be an ex-pat now, but I have never been, and felt, more American. Be it Springsteen ("Youngstown" actually brings me to tears these days.) or Dylan, or any number of others, even the music I play these days moves me in ways it did not before. The same can be said for film and literature.
Germany is wonderful. It's slower, more laid back, the people here are lovely! I enjoy being a world citizen now, but the call of the West is strong, some days the current feels like the most powerful force in the universe.
When I look at things like the political gridlock in America now I felt less angry and more saddened. I could go on, but it would turn into a rant, or a love letter, or perhaps a call to arms . . .
I think it's time to go play "New York State of Mind". [Which has become one of my personal national anthems these days.]
CP: Do you think feeling more American than ever, in a foreign land, has fed into the writing of The Orphan Palace in any way? I’m a bit of a fan of things like the ‘Southern Gothic’ and there are similar elements in the novel that I enjoyed. I wondered how conscious this was, or if that was just the way it came out.
JP: TOP was penned just before I came here. I was thinking I was coming here, and my thoughts and ideas about a different life, an aftermath to the one I had, did enter in to it. Cardigan heading East and me looking East to Europe, that is certainly in there. Any “Southern Gothic” elements just showed up. I did not intend them.
First thought to THE END, TOP was written in 90 days. I edited and adjusted on the fly, sentence by sentence, page by page. My focus was on FELT, just let the whirlwind go where it needs to go. I had the final scene at the beginning, which was never changed in any way, and just asked myself where does this novel start and dashed from there to The End. 80+% of what you read is unchanged from the 1st draft.
CP: The Beats, of course, by reputation, often wrote in a similar way, very spontaneously, with little revision. To what extent would you count the Beats as an influence?
JP: Not as much as one might think. I was nearly 40 before I really warmed to any Beat prose. The major exception was “listening” to Burroughs read. As a younger man I enjoyed some Beat poetry, not a lot, but some.
I think what people see in my work as Beat is more a combination of CRIME fiction, and Rock/Music, and poetics. I was 12 when I read my first hardboiled work – Clark Howard’s THE ARM, followed by Spillane, Shaft and Iceberg Slim. Bit deep, hard. I’m still a huge hardboiled/crime fan. The Street is hard and FAST, WHAM add the flash. Do it hard do it fast, that’s one side of it for me. Go with what you are feeling, get to THE END. Then you can go back and fix what needs to be fixed.
Hubert Selby Jr. was not a Beat, but his “get it down fast” style also hit me hard when I was young. So for “feel” that’s an influence. But the same “feel” is also in Blues and that was and is something I cling to and use. 1st draft is always improvising on the theme [say, a vampire hires a gunman to kill another vampire] and make sure you get the feel up in it.
The Rock/Music side is a kid up in his room with his guitar. He wants to be Hendrix or Buddy Guy. So I’m riffing or crying a lead line. But with WORDS. And the words are influenced by tons of musicians. Dylan to Scott Walker to the Bee Gees. Could be Diamanda Galas or Zappa, John Lee Hooker, or Anat Fort. Depends on what I feel the needs of the tExt are.
Every tExt [of mine], to me, has a soundtrack, a backbeat. That’s key. It gets me in The Zone and keeps me there, and I find, it can and does inform the work for me. So let’s say I’m in Carcosa and I want despair. I may use Borhen & der Club of Gore or Jobim [or The Carpenters! SUE ME! !!] as the aural lifeblood, then it’s run w/ the feel.
I’ve been a poetry fan since 9th grade. 2nd drafts are always “Pump Up The Poetics” to me, so 1st take or 5th draft, I’m always looking for places in the tExt to add poetics.
Every piece of mine, be it a done in one take, or 5 drafts, it’s find the sound, type what the tExt needs/FEELS—fast as I can [1st draft], then layer in the poetics. Some of my pieces come out done, or feel done to me. Some I go back and go back and go back in again. I try to stay close to the heart of the 1st wave of tExt, the heart, but will and do go back and adjust as I feel they need it.
I often feel like I’m in a studio. I’ve got the raw basic track recorded, now add the backing vocals, put the oboe highlight there. Then I look at the mixing board and turn this up and push that further to the back in the left channel.
Guess the Beats’ [and Blues’] spontaneous heart, and how the tExt “feels” to me, is always in there, I want the thing to seethe (in its fashion), but in no way will I limit any form of “composition/construction” in later drafts. The needs of an individual tExt are paramount.
CP: You mention the Blues a couple of times there. Do you have any particular favourite Blues artists? Any recommendations? (I’m no expert but am currently fond of Skip James and Bukka White.)
JP: I began w/ John Lee Hooker and Champion Jack Dupree, Otis Spann too. Dupree & Spann were on a recording called RAW BLUES. I heard it at a friend’s house with Hooker’s Live at the Café A-Go-Go. To say they laid my soul to waste is an understatement. “I’m Bad Like Jesse James” got in deep.
The 2nd British invasion in bloom, blues was everywhere and I took to it like Nosferatu to an artery. Chicago! Sweet home Chicago. Jump! Shout! Pitch a wang dang doodle! Bought as many “CHESS Records” as I could get my paws on! !! The guitar players had me hooked. BUDDY GUY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THEN! NOW!! He was the 1st cat I heard play “One Room Country Shack” – still my #1 blues tune! !! “Trouble In Mind” is #2, followed closely by “Stormy Monday Blues” (At one point back in my vinyl days, I had over 40 versions of this song) and “Mannish Boy”. “I’m Bad Like Jesse James” rounds out my top 5. Add “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Texas Flood”, Hooker covering Van Morrison’s “The Healing Game” and Paul Butterfield’s “Born in Chicago”, I can pop them on and play that playlist for hours on end.
And I will be forever in Mayall’s debt for turning me on to J. B. Lenoir.
Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, T-Bone Walker, Albert King, and Clapton [I still spin FRESH CREAM often!], top my blues guitar list, but there are many others. But it’s not just screamin’ or crying guitars, when Hooker gets slow and low, swoonin’ sets in! He’s the voice to me. My other voice is Muddy! !! Let’s say, I can’t be satisfied.
As much as I love to hear an axe burnin’ the streets of Chicago down, most often my heart and my playlists are filled w/ “slow” blues. Souls on fire – Lady Gaga thinks she’s got a bad romance, HA! Tears and desolation. Rats and roaches, and the only thing you have left is the bottle you’re using as a cleaning agent to dissolve your heartache.
I’m still fond of a lot of the blues-based rock of the late 60’s, but put Hooker and Buddy Guy on the box and I’m in my 1-room county shack . . . and in the mood . . .
CP: While we’ve been preparing The Orphan Palace for publication, there have been riots in London with cars and buildings on fire, and things have been pretty hard all round; I couldn’t help thinking that this book is very much in the mood of our current times. Do you think that’s true? If so, do you have any ideas on what’s down the road for you, or just down the road generally?
JP: Yes, I wanted it to be a modern work – very much a mash-up/hybrid. The music and poetry [as well as most of the fiction] that influenced TOP is modern and the fire burns what fuel it is given.
I’m editing 3 big projects at the moment. A tribute anthology of all new tales for Tom Ligotti (The Grimscribe’s Puppets MRP 2012), and an anthology of all new King in Yellow tales (A Season In Carcosa MRP 2012). The 3rd is w/ Laird Barron, but we are not ready to reveal what it is yet. Word on that after the holidays sometime . . .
I’ve just finished co-editing the AKLONOMICON w/ Ivan McCann and that’s due out later this year. I’m preparing [the ToC for] my next collection, Portraits Of Ruin, for release next summer from Hippocampus Press and working on a new novel, a tribute to Leigh Brackett and Mars, called A Fire Down Below. [Sadly, I had to scrap what I had written of my last novel as I was unable to secure permission to use the main character. Perhaps I’ll come across an idea of how to retool it?]
“Strange Aeons” magazine will be issuing 4 chapbooks as part of special giveaways in the next 6 months – all are new works by me. Double Feature Press will be publishing a new 40,000+ word collection of mine (Night Begets) next June. The book will pair my work w/ a “major new work” by my friend, Robin Spriggs (Diary of A Gentleman Diabolist 2010 Anomalous Press).
I also so have 6 or 7 [sorry, I lose track and my desktop is always a mess! !!] new tales I’m working on, as well as trying to stretch out in new ways. Beckett is speaking to me a lot these days, so I’m tinkering, in my fashion, w/ things inspired by thoughts of his work. Might play around w/ a play. I have a lengthy surrealist work, In & Out of bloom, pretty much done and I want to start shopping it – if I can find a publisher who is a little more than half crazy.
I have various tales coming in various anthologies next year . . . [I think it’s 6 so far?]
Lastly, my 4th collection, Stained Translations, is about half done.
And I have just heard about a new fad called sleep that I’m dying to try……………………………. .
[NOTE: this interview [released as one of their newsletters] was done a while ago [SEPT? ??], so what's in the pipeline has been added to............. updates on that soon.. .]