Thursday, September 27, 1990

Jim Dodge, Stone Junction, The Paper, Sept 27, 1990

I couldn't find my finished story or tear sheet, so I made an alternative post, which has gone on to have a life of its own, including being shanghaied by other blogs, so I'll post this separately for now.

Jim Dodge: Stone Junction: An Alchemical Potboiler...

Saturday, September 22, 1990



At the Hotel La Fonda where rest pieces of the famous—
Rudolph Valentino's cape, Emilio Zapata's shoes—
we palmed worn dollars to the night clerk behind the counter.
His oxygen mask hose was long enough
to reach the inner sanctum of the owner, Saki Karavas,
where the banned paintings of D.H. Lawrence
are carefully locked away from the public eye.
He hissed, Take your time.

Inside the ornate gilded cage of the walk-in safe 
we confronted biting and sucking fleshy apparitions.
I said to Celia: D.H. could've used some anatomy classes.
but that's not what held us spellbound;
it was the photos: Pope Paul, Kennedy, Picasso, O'Keeffe.
And of those more obscene than Lawrence:
Roosevelt, Truman, Oppenheimer, Nixon before the camera.
And of the ones shaken of faith: April 2, 1943.

Stunned by what he now knows is possible,
Einstein writes to his host, Saki
thanking him for his translations of Greek poetry:
I am grateful and ashamed at the same time
by your extraordinary kindness…
I cannot imagine how I would feel…
it is enough to see what kind of human
ideal you have in your mind.

The walls hissed: July 16, August 6, August 9, 1945.
Shiva will dance on the corneas of Einstein and Oppenheimer.
Shiva will dance for the millions dead on both sides of the world.
Shiva will dance for the Age of Light spawned in this desert.

No one thought to censor the scientists of Los Alamos
nor the Anasazi petroglyphs at T'sanque:
Kokopelli, the humpback Watersprinkler
with a phallus longer than his bent flute.

Saki enters, his hooded eyes watch our guilty reaction.
We say we are poets. Smiling heavily, he says:
These two ladies don't pay, give back their money . 
We help Saki move musty stacks of books.
Feeding us sweets, he asks why I've never married.
I tell him: Because I have learned the names of bombs.
Saki wants to trade his D.H. Lawrence paintings
for the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece
but the British aren't interested in returning stolen property.
Against the wall, in proper patron tradition,
the husks of his shoes neatly lined up with nowhere to go.
The Watersprinkler plays his flute—
a slow dirge hissing to the pornographers and thieves of time.
Who will trade all that light loosened in the sky
for the darkness that inevitably follows.

Hotel La Fonda, Taos, New Mexico
Fall Equinox

Friday, September 21, 1990

Jim Dodge: Stone Junction: An Alchemical Potboiler, Book Review, The Paper, 9/21/90

Stone JunctionAn Alchemical Potboiler
Book Review The Paper, 9/21/90

Poet & novelist Jim Dodge reading at Copperfield's in Petaluma. © 1990 Maureen Hurley Photo

First time’s a charm, they always say. But for former West County poet-novelist Jim Dodge, it was more like the second and third time that brought the good luck to launch his newest novel, what he dubbed “my first, and my last.” 

Stone JunctionAn Alchemical Potboiler

Dodge said his latest novel, Stone JunctionAn Alchemical Potboiler came out of fifteen years of living in a commune on The (Cazadero) Ridge—which was also the spawning ground, or should one say, the nest, that hatched his two nationally acclaimed novels, catapulting Dodge into the literary limelight. 

Translated into eleven languages, Dodge’s first published novella, Fup (City Miner, 1983), a slim story (59 pages) about a 20-pound duck, with a penchance for paddling in post-hole ponds, a wild boar, and an old codger who believes he's immortal due to the home brew whiskey, Ol' Death Whisperer, he religiously imbibes—was hotter property than the Creighton Ridge fire. It landed him a spot on the Today Show. There was talk of movie rights, and according to Dodge, it’s still under option. 

Jim said Fup was translated into eleven languages. He showed me copies of Fup in Hebrew, Swedish and Japanese, and said that the bilingual Japanese edition was being used as an American English primer for teaching American idioms and colloquialisms. The thought of poor Japanese students carefully using some of Jim's rather colorful phrases had me in stitches.   

Dodge's second novel, Not Fade Away (1987), a smashing story about a white mint '59 Cadillac intended as a gift to the Big Bopper, took off equally well, burning rubber from Meyer’s Grade, across the country, and back again at break-neck speed. The protagonist "Floorboard" George, was supposed to wreck the car for an insurance scam but instead, George runs off with the caddie in an epic journey where On the Road meets Ken Keseyian states of mind liberally laced with rock and roll.

After the fairytale success of Fup, Dodge's agent asked him if he had something else in the works. Dodge replied, “Nothing other than a first novel that is bad, really bad.” She was interested. So Stone Junction was duly dusted off and trimmed down from a hefty 800-page manuscript to a more manageable 355 pages. Dodge found that rewriting the monster manuscript was harder than starting from scratch.

Signing copies of Stone Junction at Copperfield’s Bookstore in Petaluma last spring, Dodge joked with admirers, saying, “Real men write prose.” He unpretentiously shot the bull: from playing cards, to the state of the environment, and to the proper nurturing and development of middle-aged stomach muscle.

Dodge sold Japanese printing rights, the first translation offer to come in for Stone Junction, released February 1990. Dodge explained his latest novel nearly sold out at 12,000 copies but “if a book doesn’t make it to the best seller’s list a couple of months after publication, it’s dead.” According to Dodge, the book will probably go into paperback edition very soon. 

Compared to Jack Kerouac’s Beat classic, On the Road, Dodge's Stone Junction: An Alchemical Potboiler is a story of coming of age with a New Age twist. Stone Junction is a story about Daniel Pearse, “who never had a father, who sees his mother die before his eyes, and who learns a great deal about the impossible task of growing up marked by such a history.” 

The book—spanning ten years of Haight street’s pharmaocopias, to New York’s gridlock (with bouts of homing instincts nurtured in the Cazadero hills), is also a story of an alliance of magicians and outlaws (AMO). Daniel’s real teachers were safecrackers, drug connoisseur, card sharks and magicians. The idea for the AMO “comes out of the storytelling tradition” quipped Dodge, “or from playing too much ‘fort’ when I was a kid.” 

The writer’s slapstick humor and homespun philosophy abounds as the protagonist Daniel attempts to steal the six-pound Faith Diamond, the world’s 4th largest. No one knows exactly what the diamond represents, but Daniel is addicted. He cannot leave the ultimate crystal ball behind, just like he can’t shake his mother’s murder. The CIA wants the diamond to stay buried deep in an underground in a vault that rivals Fort Knox. Only Daniel finds out if diamonds really are forever...

I like the way the book is divided into four sections: air, earth, fire and water. Dodge’s writing style is distinctive; but I was afraid it would intrude, but it didn’t. The only place where I was ricocheted out of the story line was when Moss’s mule, Old Pissgums was introduced. 

Maybe it’s because I had a donkey as ornery as Old Pissgums, maybe it’s because the story was a refreshing vingette from the main story that I was temporarily launched out of the book—or because it reminded me of Dodge’s witty poems. 

But don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade the scene with Old Pissgums for anything in the world. I liked Old Pissgums. Dodge laughed and said that the hardest challenge a novelist faces is to keep the reader’s interest directed. 

Stone JunctionAn Alchemical Potboiler is a story about male bonding and paternal rejection, though Annabel, Daniel’s mother opens the novel, and his crazy girlfriend Jennifer, closes it. Dodge commented, though it’s difficult—and dangerous—for a male writer to write about women from a woman's perspective, Jennifer is one character he’s satisfied with. 

When I queried Jim about the character of the disc jockey who breaks up the flow of the narrative, he admitted that was the weakest part of the novel. The card game is almost as tediously long as real life itself. (If anyone wants to take up Lo-ball, this is the definitive book). Dodge relies upon his own extensive experience during his salad days as a professional gambler and card shark to give this scene verve and authenticity. 

We sipped tea in the afternoon sun and discussed writerly things such as the mutual quest for the perfect sentence, punctuation and endings. I commented: “I wondered how you were going to get out of Stone Junction. So many writers flounder around the end of a novel looking for an ending in all the wrong places.” 

But Dodge was able to gracefully slip out of the story in the last few pages of the novel without leaving the reader hanging with a formulaec ending. Which I'm not going to divulge. You'll have to read it yourself to find out what happens.

One writer Dodge greatly admires is Larry McMurtry, (Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment ). "Larry is pure storyteller. I’d be happy if I had a couple of novels like his.” Don't be fooled by Dodge's "aw shucks" modesty. 

Dodge is a spirited storyteller both on and off the page. I've listened to his stories for years. One of my favorites was the story of the chicken who escaped the Fulton chicken processing plant with Jim rooting for the chicken, "make a run for it!" Then there's the one about the, er, amorous bullfrog and the rock....

Dodge cranks out his novels old school but he recently upgraded to an old electric typewriter. A newfangled Smith Corona word processor made a six-hour trial debut into the writer’s life—until it made a serious faux-pause, telling him, “not a valid entry,” and it was goodbye computer, hello pen. 

Dodge gave the cheeky computer to his companion of many years, Victoria Stuckley, who in turn, transcribes his novels into disk format—thus completing the computer age circuit.

Balking like Old Pissgums himself before the camera, Dodge tried to, er, dodge the camera. Jim, who is 44, instructed: “Describe me with words; a middle-aged Gary Cooper...” Right. My editor's gonna love this one.
Jim Dodge © Maureen Hurley 1984                                 
Jim showed me a photo of his, saying, that as an undergraduate, he had to make a choice between writing and photography. Dodge said he once went through a box of 100 sheets of photo paper in one day to print one negative, “and it still didn’t come out right.” That was that.

Jim said he also spent a whole day trying to perfect a single sentence and it didn’t come out right either. He recounted, “I went to bed and next morning, I got it right. Try that with photography sometime," he said.

Dodge described the New York publishing business as a “jungle.” He said that negotiating contracts is akin to detecting lost land mines with a pogo stick. His agent, whom he’s never met, takes care of the business end of things. The basic rule of thumb he’s learned is to retain as many “rights” as possible, including reprint, foreign language and movie rights.

Dodge recently moved from Sonoma County—following the money. He shares a converted garage overlooking Humboldt Bay in Arcata with a blind kitten he perversely named Lassie. 

Dodge said as if by way of apology, “I’m not a cat man,” but our conversation was littered with kitty box potty commands and coochie-coos as we sat in a haphazard garden of a driveway warming our backs in the late afternoon sun. Lassie worked hard weaving figure eights or shackling infinity signs around our ankles.

The successful novelist also teaches creative writing at his alma mater, Humboldt State University, filling in for other teachers on leave, etc. In the process, Jim discovered that he liked teaching English courses more than creative writing. Less outside interference. Dodge said he likes teaching better when he’s working on something of his own. 

Dodge received his Master of Fine Arts in Creative writing and poetry from the University of Iowa Writers workshop in 1969.

Arcata, the alter-ego of straight-laced Eureka, is one of those lively towns where hippies, college students and rednecks collide like crude oil tankers and sea stacks during rush hour. 

There are many similarities between Humboldt County, which boasts of the highest per-capita of artists (and dope growers) in northern California, and Sonoma County, which runs a close second on all counts. (Mendocino is also a contender for the heady title). Dodge, born in 1945 in Santa Rosa, CA, has done time in both necks of the redwoods. 

Dodge, also a published poet with two out-of-print chapbooks under his belt, stated that more and more poets are turning to fiction. “Poetry is on its deathbed in America,” said Dodge, blaming its demise on writers like Pound and Eliot, who raised poetry to a “mandarin art form, so that only 25 readers in the world could understand it” without a dictionary or an encyclopedia.  

However, Dodge's next book will be a poetry chapbook, Bait & Ice  by Tangram Press. It will be an extremely limited edition (150 copies). Dodge mused, poetry should be printed on good quality paper, “the letters pressed into the paper, so tangible, you can feel them.” 

When asked why he left the Cazadero hills, and did he miss Sonoma County, Dodge said, “I don’t look back very much.” Dodge’s backwoods philosophy is honed by “17 years of being an air force brat” and tenure in “about as many schools,” including the toughest matriculator of all—life.

Dodge's parting colloquialisms to me ran the gamut from “Don’t look back; it might be gaining on you,” to “Life, if nothing else, is an adventure in consciousness.” With that, he gave me a hug goodbye. 

The shadows of redwoods were growing long. The road home was longer yet. I climbed into Lazarus, my old blue pickup and pointed its nose south and I never looked back. 

I crawled into the darkroom and spent the night trying to get the surreptitiously shot negatives of Jim to come out right. I gave up and dusted off some rather chiaroscuro photos I'd taken of him at Copperfield's last spring. Polished the sheen of my sentences with a fine cloth instead.

Copperfields Banned Book Week reading

Wednesday, September 19, 1990


                    dream sequence

After dark, the plans of thieves are revealed.
Who is the redheaded man tracking me in sleep?
He says, From the back of the moon I've come
to see the unholy light in your eye.
Besides these words, what beast has escaped
to wrap me in Mobius strips of time


When I think of life, I think of light.
The I Ching warns: at the solstice,
unexpected darkness returns.
It tells me begin anew at every ending,
to respond to his influence like ripened fruit.
Those who are meant for him come of their own accord.



Are nothing like the folded blue of glaciers,
his lips are not chasms of truth
opening the secret heart of the earth.
Nor do the alluvial desert plains
eroding the patient godliness of mountains
nursing the clouds, offer nourishment
for this kiss.
His breast is not the fecund mudflats
stinking at low tide,
nor are his nipples small salt domes
capping the decayed leaf matter and dinosaurs,
because his teeth push up through the diatomaceous earth.
His teeth grind down the patience of pines
as he speaks, hiding his vulnerable cheeks
behind a barricade of hair and fangs.

9/19/90   could it be 92? I was in NM at the time
must be another love poem to John, CPITS

Monday, September 17, 1990

BLUE WINDOWS freewrite

Betty's window frames are the color of the sky
Lucia starts each morning with a cigarette
The sun weaves patterns through the vigas,
the bars in the adobe walls
imprisoned sunlight
the leaves of the cottonwood
elaborate on the small breeze
and cast long slanted shadows
on the wall
Mayflies dance vertical spirals
in endless progression
like an elevated vertical infinity sign
Maybe it's because they don't live so long
they make the sign
Cathedrals of light spewer from the steeple
a sign of light flooding the room, the walls

Beyond the cottonwoods
a garden of cosmos alizarin godetias and cornflowers
Someone has just laid a lawn squares of a living carpet
the mayflies dance above it
The window in the wall with its vigas
casts ladders of light across the patio floor 
and onto the lawn
a bridge into another world

This morning I awoke in a strange house
made tea, but drank coffee instead
that familiar slow ponderous crunch 
of Betty's foot on the gravel
an old woman who spends her final days 
in this house her parents built
soon she will move to a fine new apartment on the Santa Fe river
The house is getting to be too much for her, she says.

The infrequent rain has stained the wall
with heiroglyphic code.
There is no water in the Santa Fe river
This is the end of the trail that leads to Mexico City
the mute clarion announces Sunday
Yes, today the sun also rises (to borrow a line)

I held a Pueblo pipe stem in my hand at midnight
No bowl, but as I made the proper pass from right to left arm
I felt the medicine anyway
A tuft of coarse strawberry hair—a scalp?
We introduced the notion of scalping our enemies
Who was more savage? 
The names speak for themselves
Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, Pancho Villa
They all rode into town one way or another
We arrived in a white ford with the latest technology
computerized excess

When the shadows of the cottonwood leaves
fall on the ground, they make circular patterns
like cluster of people
Teenagers line the plaza last night in tight knots
the light intersects shadow on the peach
This is like arriving next door to home 333 on an aqua door
I used to live at 333 Third Ave
My life dominated by the second prime number
or third of you count zero
Is zero a prime number or is it transparent like water,
like sly only giving the appearance of un divisibility

A cat wanders along a high wall the watertower on stilts
peers over a neighbor's fence into their private refuges
We are always seeking refuge.
Lucia and Betty talk on the island of bed amid boxes
We are four women in transition
young Michael, the only balance
Soon we will need to plan our days here, so little time

Words to know: Bering  Straits
civilization, Ice age mountains
boulders migration, mammoths, obsidian
stone age mica surplus specialize cahokia
an endless progression of shops up canyon road
one gallery after another in all the same hues
art for sale in cloying pastels

the written word
should be clean and bare
clear as light
firm as stone
two word are not
as good as one

Two blocks from this palace where I sleep
where Delgado crosses the Santa Fe River
is where the Rosenbergs were arrested says Lee Rosenthal
Tomorrow we go to Los Alamos
the cottonwoods where the Manhattan Project was born
I am chasing my own ancestors across New Mexico
Last night we had rain, today the cottonwood leaves 
have that preternatural rustle of fall in the air 
a state of being

The peaches are gone from the windowsill 
I miss their elegancy against the cerulean sashes 
I've bought Betty nectarines as replacements
though I know it won't look the same 
Today we go to the pueblos

They say rainbows signify hope
over Frijoles Canyon 
Clouds dressed in salmon hues
four corners for rainbows 
lightning striking the earth

9/1990 (not sure why I put 1991 as Hotel La Flnda, Taos is 1990)

Saturday, September 15, 1990



Four peaches on a windowsill
gather in the morning sun
the plastic nest is more air than bag.
Amiga, the dog, gives me her left paw
to shake hands, yet another howdy-do.
My thoughts flee as Michael whistles,
talking to her. We rise late
tranquility eminates from the adobe walls
such round earth terms
pleasing to the eye
and the cerulean window frame
the exact color of the sky
where nests four peaches 
the color of adobe.

9/90 date?
Santa Fe, NM

Thursday, September 6, 1990


(I was an editor, along with Mother Earth News)
September 6, 1990 | Mercury News, The (San Jose, CA)
Associated Press | Page: 2E | Section: California News

Some people see poetry on the mean streets of the city. Sometimes it's there -- literally.
The lives of 10 of San Francisco's homeless people have gone from bad to verse. They're still asking for money on street corners, but now they're selling copies of a poetry journal and keeping all the proceeds.

Street sales of "Poetry USA" promote the work of unknown poets and give the homeless vendors cash and -- according to them -- a greater sense of dignity. ''I feel better about myself. People can't look at me and say, 'He's just a homeless bum,' " said Eddie Wright, who used to panhandle before he began hawking the journal several times a week.

Wright said he has sold as many as 40 copies a day of the $1 magazine, enough for a night in a cut-rate hotel.

For Randy Moore, another street vendor, the earnings provide things most people take for granted but which he considers minor luxuries -- a good meal, clean clothes, a haircut.

''Poetry USA," published by the National Poetry Association, offers a mix of styles and themes by generally unknown poets. The poets aren't paid for their work but do get the valuable, if intangible, thrill of seeing their verse in print.

Some of the contributors are themselves homeless, and some poems describe the authors' difficult lives. A line in "Little or Nothing," in the journal's summer edition reads: "When one dies on the street, we all get burned."

For the publisher, the arrangement is good business as well as philanthropy. The loss in giving 2,000 copies to the homeless vendors and not taking any of the proceeds has been offset by the number of yearly $7.50 subscriptions new readers have sent back, according to Herman Berlandt, editor of "Poetry USA." Advocates for the homeless support the sales program even though they admit hawking poems will not provide big bank balances.

Representatives of The Coalition on Homelessness, which stores bundles of the journal for the vendors, said they passed out their last copies of "Poetry USA" and are now looking for other publishers interested in having publications distributed on the street.