Author Archives: Todd Gleason

About Todd Gleason

Editor-el-Heifer of DMC. Head Drunk. Big Sinker. John the Conqueroo. Like a knight from some old-fashioned book.

American Rot

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..[W]e are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.”

-President Barack Obama, October 1, 2015

 

I don’t have any answers, but I have observed some things. Yes, mental illness is a major factor. But clinical mental illness alone does not explain 294 mass shootings in 274 days. It can’t possibly. There is a massive coalition of historical, cultural, and political forces at work that have produced this insane phenomenon of violence, and it will not soon be undone. It is a psychic cultural wound. Our spirit is being crushed on every front. What it comes down to is that we do not value each other. We value things. And ideologies. We are deeply divided across so many lines, and we have our loose tribes, but even then we are an “every man for himself” society. In this society, we are told that you are only worth what you can get– money, fame– and our form of mega-capitalism tells you that the sky is no limit, and there are no regulations about getting what you want, and that you can and should acquire as much as humanly possible at any cost. We are a repressed puritanical society that shames you for wanting sex and alcohol and drugs and pleasure, and then trillions of dollars are spent dangling all of these things in front of you, telling you that you are not good enough unless you buy everything they are selling so that you will finally be worth something. In the meantime they feed you all the porn you could ever want, and stoke your frustration with violent films and computer games, tripping your automatic impulses over and over, instilling deeply misogynistic and racist and fundamentalist ideas in your head, as a focus for your ire and frustration. Continue reading

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Building Impossible Houses: A Conversation With Traci Brimhall

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I first encountered Traci Brimhall’s work when I stumbled across the poem “The Sunken Gospel” in the Kenyon Review. I was immediately swept into its strange and mysterious world, mesmerized by its “blue zodiac hymns” and “green valentines,” the fierce, sensuous physicality of the language and the mercilessness of the life and death it portrayed, the pain that pulsed through it, the steady hum of longing, and the emotional and spiritual heft as massive as the creature at the center of it. I finished it and immediately read it again, and then again. It was like a song you put on repeat, trying to immerse yourself in it. Then I went searching for more poems like it. Often when you search an artist’s catalogue for more songs like the one you love, you come up empty-handed– but not so in the case of Traci Brimhall’s poetry. I found legions more, spread out through various publications and two books, Rookery and Our Lady of the Ruins– all with the same power, mystery, virtuosity, and unflinching vision of that first one.

With each new poem, after the initial enjoyment and sense of awe, I often found myself asking “How does she do that?! I mean… how in the hell is she doing that?” The sleight of hand is seamless. The wires do not show. The cracks, the doubt, the pain, they seep through many of the voices in her poems, but they only strengthen the spell. Reading one of her books is like eating really rich, delicious food– I want to scarf it all down at once, but after two or three in a row, I find myself having to pause for breath and gather my senses.

I have given her books as gifts on numerous occasions. The last person I gave Our Lady of the Ruins to, I knew for sure that she would love it and it would knock her on her ass. Sure enough, she texted me a few days later: “TRACI FUCKING BRIMHALL! Holy crap!” When I told Traci this story, she thanked me for putting her work in the hands of people who know her real middle name.

The following conversation took place by email. Traci is a gracious and thoughtful correspondent, and I am grateful and honored that she was willing to give me even a faint glimpse of those wires.

 

Todd Gleason: What you are up to these days?  Do you have a new manuscript in the works? How is that going?

Traci Brimhall: I had a draft of the new manuscript about two years ago. I knew it wasn’t set in stone, but it sat in that order and structure for two years and kind of congealed. Recently, a couple of conversations led me to rethink the book and how it was operating, and I realized I’VE BEEN ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION! I had to ease everything apart, like breaking rigor mortis that’s set into a body. The previous question had been a distraction, but it had gotten me writing. The previous question had to do with the town in Brazil my mom is from and helped me create a fictional history for that place. What I realized after my mother died was that the book wanted to know both who and where I come from. 

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You Own Everything That Happened to You: A Conversation With Nick Jaina

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I saw Nick Jaina read at Valentine’s in Portland this past January. I knew his music pretty well, but his writing was new to me. A few days before, I had read his gorgeous essay in Vol 1. Brooklyn about the Yo La Tengo song “Green Arrow,” a piece designed to be read while listening to the song, and meant to take the same amount of time to read as the length of the song. Along with a few entries from his recent book, Get It While You Can (Perfect Day Publishing, 2015), he read the essay, accompanied by the music. It was apparently the first time he had ever tried to sync the two in public, and though the reading ended up being slightly shorter than the song, it came off beautifully. The overall effect was a hypnotic blend of the song’s dreamy, slow-burning atmospherics and the soft, quavering rhythm of Jaina’s words. It was a sublime, intimate performance, threaded through with earnestness and grace, extemperaneity and meticulous craft, and of course, barrels of self-deprecating wit.

I went home with a copy of Get It While You Can, a memoir told in a series of vignettes which revolve around the story of a ten-day meditation retreat and a collection of unsent love letters, addressed to various unnamed recipients. I had a number of other books on my night stand that I meant to read first, but once I started reading the first page, I couldn’t put it down. Smart, lyrical, crushingly honest, it had a sheen of familiarity that felt almost like deja vu. The creative failures, the relentless heartache, the loss, the yearning for spiritual comfort, the inexhaustible flicker of hope were all distinctly his, but like the best art, it spoke to my own experience in ways that I somehow hadn’t been able to articulate.

Here is one of the unsent letters:

 

Dear____________,

There is a riveting moment right before an orchestra begins to play when there are a few dozen well-dressed, talented musicians waiting in silence for a man to tell them to start. In that moment they are doing nothing, sitting with their instruments in front of two-thousand people in a large concert hall. The silence in that moment is very expensive, very educated. It is of a different quality than you find in a meadow at dusk.

There is also the moment when the stripper has finished her routine. The music has stopped playing, the energy in the room dissipates, and she puts her clothes back on. I find the way she puts her clothes on to be so much more compelling than the way she takes them off. There is no show in it.

I’d also like to direct your attention to the moment when the first side of a record has finished playing and the needle spills into the center groove and keeps spinning until you get up and turn the record over. The amount of time it takes to get from the last song on the first side to the first song on the other side will always be different. If you’re on top of it, it might just be a few seconds. However, if you’re other wise occupied–if there’s a cat on your lap, if the egg yellows are congealing, if you’re getting to second base– it might be a while before the record gets flipped. There is noting the maker of the record can do to dictate how long it will last.

Waiting,

Nick

 
Nick is touring the country now, playing shows and promoting the book. We corresponded over the course of a week as he traveled from city to city.

 

Todd Gleason: One of the things you write so well about is the myriad ways in which music is inhabited, by both the musician and the listener. I am particularly struck by the attention you give to small musical moments. You have an almost forensic approach to exploring so many of these, from Nina Simone at Montreux, to Ray Charles’ “Ring of Fire” to Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park. “Forensic” is not to imply that it ever comes off as dry– your approach is very intimate, and a deep emotional resonance always comes across. Unlike Greil Marcus does with similar moments, you don’t veer into wildly hyberbolic, inventive speculation, (which in his case can work, because he is consciously working within some greater stream of rock n’ roll mythos that he is also adding to– another issue entirely, of course.) What you seem to be after, rather than mythology so much, if I can paraphrase from your Large-Hearted Boy notes, are certain “small, unspoken miracles.” Continue reading


A Conversation With Vanessa Veselka (PART 1)

veselka-smallI was first introduced to Vanessa Veselka about ten years ago, when an envelope arrived at my North Beach apartment, from our mutual friend Christine in Portland, containing a computer-printed copy of a short story titled “Il Duce.” I made myself an Irish coffee and read it in the dim living room, overlooking the giant urban schoolyard across the street. It was only seven or eight pages, but from the very first sentence I was riveted. The first-person tale of a 13 year-old girl in New York City, just about to graduate from eighth grade, it crackled with energy and humor and intelligence. Tautly rendered, not a word wasted or out of place, it conjured up a whole clear and breathing world, sensual and mysterious and fully alive, expansive way beyond the narrow frame of its words. The language had an almost overwhelming physicality to it that I could feel in my jaw and between my temples, and a little flame of awe grew in my chest as I was swept along from one mesmerizing sentence to another. I folded over the last page, smiling, and finally let out a full breath. It was clear that this had been written by someone with an uncanny mastery of her craft. I had no idea that it was the first short story she had ever written.

Vanessa and I corresponded a little after that, and I asked if I could publish the story in a magazine I was putting together. However, it had already been promised to Yeti. We stayed loosely in touch after that, and I checked in now and then on her endeavors — the short story “Zazen,” published in Tin House, and the news that she was embarking on a novel. When I moved to Portland in 2012, Zazen, the novel which had sprung from the Tin House story, was out, and there was a palpable buzz around it. I picked up my own copy at Powell’s and it was immediately clear that the rush of pure talent I had sensed in “Il Duce” had really caught fire, and that this was a writer’s vision that had pierced deep into the heart of the Zeitgeist. I was thrilled, but not at all surprised, when soon after, the novel was awarded the Pen/Bingham Prize.  

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DRUNKEN BOOKSHELF – Ring of Bone – Lew Welch

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Drunken Bookshelf is where we pull down books we love, books we hate, books we’ve forgotten until now, books that have built us, broken us, and ultimately changed us in some way. Or, maybe just some books we think you should know about. In honor of National Poetry Month, I’m pulling down one of my favorite poetry books.
 
 
“This is the last place.
There is nowhere else to go.

Human movements,
but for a few,
are Westerly.
Man follows the sun.

This is the last place.
There is nowhere else to go.

Or follows what he thinks to be the
movement of the Sun.
It is hard to feel it, as a rider,
on a spinning ball.

This is the last place.
There is nowhere else to go.

Centuries and hordes of us,
from every quarter of the earth,
now piling up,
and each wave going back
to get some more.”

-From “The Song Mt. Tamalpais Sings”

 
 
This book was a going-away gift from my oldest friend (we’ve known each other since we were 6), when I moved from San Francisco to Portland three years ago. It was a perfect gift in many ways (he knows me well), not the least of which being the geographic connection. Lew Welch was one of a group of undergraduate poets at Reed in the 1940s, along with Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen, and William Dickey, who later regrouped in the Bay Area during the “San Francisco Renaissance.” He was never as famous or celebrated as many of his Beat peers, but he was a core member of the group, and well-respected among them for his work and for his endearing, charismatic persona (Dave Wain, his stand-in in Kerouac’s thinly-veiled autobiographical novel Big Sur, is one of the major characters.) Welch also suffered through decades of severe alcoholism, and in 1971, at the age of 45, he had enough. He walked out of Gary Snyder’s house, and into the wilds of the Northern Sierra with a gun, leaving behind a suicide note. His body was never found. Continue reading


#5 – Remembering the Genie

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This week, Drunk in a Midnight Choir celebrates our One Year Anniversary! Since we launched on February 6, 2014, we’ve had the great privilege of publishing a whole lot of amazing work, from a wide array of talented contributors. All week, we’ll be catching you up on some highlights from the last year. Here we present to you the top ten most-read posts of the year, counting down from ten.

Robin Williams’ death sent reverberations far and wide, affecting people all over the world. He had made himself such an enduring, lovable part of the culture and our lives, it felt for many of us that we had lost someone we truly cared about. For days it seemed like the only news there was, the only thing worth reading about. Legions of fans and admirers wanted to share  their experience and memories, to pay tribute to to a kind, hilarious, gentle, wounded soul.  I was one of these.  

-tg

 

In 1991, during my senior year in high school, I was lucky enough to win a grant from the Marin Education Fund for my writing and theater activities. I’d written some plays and directed one and acted in several and had served as Editor of the literary magazine for a few years and won a poetry prize. Honestly, none of it was really much of a big deal, and the work was of course all embarrassingly amateurish and awful, but I was pretty good at making it all sound impressive on paper. I didn’t think I had much of a chance when I applied, but I somehow managed to snag one of the top prizes.

During the awards ceremony at our school, which had a large chunk of the winners, they read a short introduction for each of us. During mine, they quoted one of the judges, who had reportedly dubbed me “…maybe the most creative and talented person to ever attend this high school.” I flinched when I heard that. It would have been nice to think she was right, but I couldn’t even momentarily pretend that it was anywhere near the truth. I knew a handful of people in my class alone who were miles more talented, creative and accomplished than me– just maybe less good at showing off. Later, my theater teacher and mentor was beside herself over that. “What a terrible thing to tell someone,” she laughed. “What were you thinking when you heard that?” I grinned and told her that at that moment I had happened to be looking right at the picture on the wall of Robin Williams in his Redwood High jacket. She liked that. Continue reading


In the Drunk Tank – Six Great Xmas Carols

The Pogues – Fairytale of New York

The hands-down, all-time greatest Xmas song ever. I always loved this song but it wasn’t until about ten years ago, when the band I was playing with decided to record a slew of our favorite Christmas tunes, that I recognized its true greatness. We did boozed-up, folky/jazzy, unrehearsed versions of standards like “Silent Night” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” all of us crammed into the singer’s tiny shoebox apartment in the Mission, passing the bottle between songs, soaking up the belly warmth and blurry colored lights. Then one day while I was cleaning, I randomly put on the If I Should Fall From Grace With God and when the song came on it floored me. It was the perfect Christmas song. It had that great big band forties sound, as well as an old timey jig vibe; it had crisp air and grey skies and boozy, warm interiors and a soaring angelic chorus. It felt instantly classic, like Joyce’s The Dead mixed with Frank Capra, mixed with a little Tom Waits to make it stick. It took the timeless grandeur of a Yuletide carol and brought it to earth with the story of a relationship on the rocks, dreams shattered in the bottom of a whiskey glass, the down and out life of the street, and the eternal wisp of hope in love and faith. It felt real and romantic at the same time. And it went straight to the heart. Continue reading


DMC Pushcart Nominations 2014

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Nominations on are in!

As you can imagine, it was not easy to choose only six pieces from so much amazing work published over the last year. But our editorial team hashed it out over several sessions, and found six that we all unanimously agree  contain the excellent quality, the scrappy, dynamic character and the deep emotional resonance that represent our little journal in its best light. We are proud to present them here. We hope you enjoy them, and as always, thank you for being a reader and supporter of DMC. We couldn’t do it with out you.

The nominations are as follows: Continue reading


The Big Sink – Part 1: Do It, Puke, and Get Out

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Rite of Spring Dancers 1913

 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!

[This essay first posted on the day the site launched – February 6, 2014. It was a big day for me; the culmination of a lot of thought and work, and the realization, at long last, of a strange, beautiful and fun dream.  I had the idea for this site on Thanksgiving Day last year, and this essay was an attempt to illuminate the process of how DMC  went from a spark of inspiration to a pulsing, breathing, moaning, laughing, crying, pixelated blob. It was also an attempt to forge something of a statement of intent, if not a full-fledged mission statement. Since that first day, in a mere nine months, with the help of an incredible editorial team and dozens of amazingly talented contributors, DMC has blown up, well beyond what I ever imagined it would be.  And as far as I can foresee, we’re only going to get bigger and stronger and better. I am GRATEFUL for all of the amazing work we’ve been able to share, all the talented people I have met, all the mistakes and small victories and strange miracles that we’ve been able to learn from along the way, and most of all, for YOU. I am GRATEFUL for you, dear reader, who keeps us all going. We do this all for you.  Without you this place is eerie and silent and terribly, terribly sad, and not much fun at all. Thanks for reading. Much love always and GOBBLE GOBBLE BLOB.  -tg]

 

 

“Every passing moment is another chance to turn it all around.”

-Sofia Serrano; Vanilla Sky

 

“Nothing is more horrifying than the possibility that you will just fade away into obscurity. The idea that I would just fall off the map was paralyzingly horrifying, and it was a real possibility.”

-Marc Maron; Interview in The Believer

 

There’s nothing quite like the peculiar, giddy haze of sleep-deprivation, an early-morning flight, a return to home soil, the Thanksgiving holiday, and a drive up The Great Highway toward the Golden Gate on a crisp, sunny November Thursday to give you a new lease on life. 

Of course, I would never claim that is the absolute exact formula, in this case or any other. If you take a holistic view of such things, as I try to, there are a thousand unseen ingredients at work in any concoction worth its salt (itself an obvious and essential ingredient in just about any recipe, literal or figurative). It’s alchemical, metaphysical and astrological. Magical, illogical, bio-chemical and astrophysical. Innumerable striations, interstices, and minutiae all factor into the precise shape and trajectory of any particular body through space. Around us, a cosmic wave of elementary particles, sorcery, luck, synchronicity, Newtonian law, and God drives the infinite, ungraspable apparatus of fate. 

Or maybe it’s just fucking random. I don’t know. 

What I’m getting at here, is that regardless of the particular shadow-shapes on our ontological wall, sometimes we arrive somewhere, and even in hindsight, it’s not always easy to determine exactly how the hell we got there. But somehow it still makes complete sense.  Continue reading


49ers – Seahawks Smackdown! Week 13: What’s Your Deal, Cuz?!

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[This preview was originally going to be a two-way smackdown, pitting a Niners Fan against a Seahawks fan, may the best writer win. However, my esteemed colleague, co-writer and opponent is understandably focused at the moment on the events in and around Ferguson and the grand jury’s decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson. Therefore he will not be joining us this time around. So it’s just me gabbing at ya about football! Admittedly, I feel a little dumb writing about this in the midst of everything, but it had been planned for awhile, and was mostly all written by the time the verdict was announced, so I hope you forgive me.]

 

I attended a wedding this last August, just a few weeks before the NFL regular season began. It was my girlfriend’s brother’s wedding, at her parents’ house about thirty minutes south of Portland. I knew a few of the people there, but most of them, friends and family, were new to me. So I got introduced around quite a bit. At one point I met an exuberant cousin, already half in the bag and giddy as hell, and she seemed to take to me pretty quickly. She was elated to finally meet this boyfriend she’d heard about but never seen. Somehow, about ten minutes into the conversation, it came up that she was a Seahawks fan. It wasn’t immediately obvious to what degree, but I thought I’d test the waters by admitting that I am a lifelong 49ers fan.

She recoiled with such a gasp, and a look of genuine animosity on her face, I wouldn’t have been surprised if steam started coming out of her ears. “Oh. My. God!” she cried. “Crabtree sucks! Harbaugh is such a douchebag! I have a shirt with Richard Sherman knocking away that ball, and it says ‘Just the Tip!’” She laughed wickedly.”Oh my God, I hate the fucking 49ers!” Then she turned to her cousin with a scowl and declared “You could do better.” Continue reading