in conversation with
“Try as I might, I spent an entire weekend attempting to pen an introduction to this interview, failing miserably each time. It was like trying to hold mercury between my fingers…”Jongleur, flâneur, recusant, anarchist, heretic, sensualist.” It proved impossible to describe Dalachinsky as an artist with words alone. So I employed the visual and the auditory, too. I hope it serves to take a fleeting snapshot of him as he is at this moment…”
• Mark McCawley
teve Dalachinsky is a New York downtown poet, active in the poetry, music, art and Free jazz scene. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1946, he has been writing poetry since he was a child and has worked with such notable musicians as William Parker, Joelle Leandre, Matthew Shipp, Roy Campbell, Daniel Carter, Sabir Mateen, Mat Maneri, Connie Crothers, Didier Lasserre, Sylvan Kassap, Benjmin Duboc, Federico Ughi, Loren Connors, Rob Brown, Tim Barnes and Jim O’Rourke. He has performed at most of the Vision Festivals — (the world’s premier festival of Free/Avant-garde Jazz, art, poetry and dance), held annually in May/June on the Lower East Side of New York City from 1996 to 2011, and most recently in Brooklyn (2012-14). This year, it will celebrate its 20th anniversary, taking place in Manhattan’s historic Judson Memorial Church in early July.
Some of Dalachinsky’s influences/inspirations are the Beats, Blake, The Odyssey, obsession, socio-political angst, human disappointment, music (especially Jazz), visual art with leanings toward abstraction, Dadaism and Surrealism. His work, which often contains a dry, dark sense of humor is, for the most part, spontaneous and leans towards transforming the image rather than merely describing it, in what he now refers to as transformative description. His poems take you on a wild ride of meaning and symbol, showing you the author’s mastery with every stroke. Steve’s poems are visually fascinating and lyrically intense, and his subjects veer madly and fearlessly between the political and the personal, in a way that allows us to see that there is no difference between the arenas.
“Steve Dalachinsky is a poet of the real world in a time when reality is despised, dismissed, not understood or lied about.”
• Amiri Baraka
Mark McCawley: How has being a native New Yorker affected, or developed you and your work as a New York downtown poet, as well as your participation in “the poetry, music, art, and Free jazz scene” locally and internationally?
Steve Dalachinsky: as for being an ethnically native new yorker born, “white” bre(a)d in brooklyn, who always had a yen to be elsewhere i can only say that coming from this neck of the woods i felt like a small town kid. so venturing into manhattan was an ideal as well as a big deal (see my poem the fallout of dreams). and even now i know very little about the other boroughs or even many of these expanded overpriced neighborhoods that have arisen in my native borough. i grew up, as one of my poems states “among jews among italians among jews” with a few other minorities thrown in and one african-american blues musician who lived in the back of johnny abrams’ garage, chronicled in my superintendent’s eyes book along with other childhood memories. someone once told me that one could never escape their roots in their work and i always denied this but have over the past few years come to validate this statement by seeing my strong bonds to social/political injustice and my underlying jewish sense of guilt and fair play that has come to overwhelm a lot of my work. also this very urban setting i live in, being more or less within the heart of high and low culture of the american soul has contributed a great deal to my work. the music, art, poetry, language of america that is so near and dear to me and that has influenced my work over the years grew up here in new york right before i was born and while i was growing older (tho i never seem to grow up). this is also true of my more frequent trips to france over the past 15 years, particularly paris and the artists (mostly painters who both were born or migrated there) where culture specifically from the end of the 19th century to just before ww2 flourished and where i always dreamt of going. the french as well as other europeans also relish my new york accent and mannerisms as well as my love of music specifically free jazz and improv. the euros in general seem to get my music even if they fully don’t understand my poems. i would say music and visual art probably play even more of a prominent/important role in my poetry than poetry or literature do.
Mark McCawley: Describe your “out of school” education as a 15 year old child influenced by the Beat Generation.
Steve Dalachinsky: a lot of this can be found in my long confessional “the sorrows of young worthless” in the three volume anthology “Jews : A People’s History of the Lower East Side” edited by clayton patterson and elsewhere. but to encapsulate; i was given shock treatment sedated and overall jarred away from my teenage life then i got put into a nuthouse where i met beat and jazz oriented folks. some also had bi-sexual orientations (something i not before encountered). i was adopted more or less as a mascot. before going in i had a friend who helped turn my interests in jazz up a notch and lent me lps. we were just starting to grow as well as his growing weed in his backyard. i had been writing poetry since i was a kid and dabbling in visual art. in the hospital i was turned on to drugs as well as to ginsberg and ferlinghetti by this 300lb. gentle giant BIG MIKE. this caused a tremendous change in my way of approaching poetry and liberated me from the strict blakean ideal while helping me to further embrace and expand upon it. when i got out i continued my music, poetry, art and drug education very quickly and though i actually met folks like corso, ginsberg and harry smith when i was young i never got too close to them although i embraced their work and the beat generation completely and started hanging out in the west and east village as much as i could. oddly i rarely, if ever, went to poetry readings. i went mostly to music gigs and museums or just hung out in cafes , the park etc. sang songs to my friends and got stoned. sidetrack; as a younger kid before all that tumult, i took art lessons though i failed miserably at painting etc. i continued to write because my mother taught me how to and it always seemed the easiest language for me to stay involved in. i can make this more intellectually stimulating but i’d go on forever.
Mark McCawley: Given your large number of CD and print collaborations, how much does improvisation and collaboration play in your individual creative process?
Steve Dalachinsky: this is a question i am frequently asked and can say that like poet amiri baraka and others i admire back to yeats, blake again, lorca, cummings, i am a page poet. i write for the page. i am a reader, tho in the past few years i have written what i term “throw-away” poems meant to be read out loud. as i read more and more with music i became a bit more animated, freer with the work while, as ted joans put it, “lifting the words off the page.” i learned to embellish, add to, rearrange, intertwine pieces. collaborating with musicians live and trying to cover up mistakes in the reading of the texts have added to this freedom of delivery or deliverance (from the page) in many cases though i am far from a memory, performance or free-style poet. most of my print collaborations are with visual artists including HA myself. on studio recordings the process is one track at a time though some cds are of live gigs which like all or most of my readings with musicians are continuous – simply going from one poem to another then interchanging cutting up circling, editing etc. on the spot.
once someone asked about my aesthetics, collaborative efforts and what he termed, poetic crystalizations. here is part of my answer: this is a(n) (inter)changeable act crystal can crack heighten suspense emit/heal/torture illumine — all my processes as i discovered recently seem to lead to and add up to ONE process (the act of) DOING. recently i wrote/typed up 5 poems — as i prepared to do this, i was listening to a samba program on the radio (strictly by chance). i had wished they played some martinho da vila (which they eventually did). as i listened, i began spontaneously typing a piece that eventually came to an end then i started working on fragments i had recently written that were lying around — the 5 seemingly different pieces with different elements. by the time i got to the 5th one (all combining what had been scribbled along with some instant editing) i discovered they had become consciously or unconsciously interconnected and by the end had as a result come full circle so to speak – not unlike pianist matthew shipp who i’ve collaborated with many times, weaving in and out of standards, originals and improvisation to make one long organically (or so it would appear) intertwined set. once when i was very young i saw Monk interviewed on a t.v. show – the interviewer asked as Monk sat at the piano (i don’t recall if Monk had finished playing or was about to play) something to the effect, “Thelonious folks say you play differently than other people. What is it exactly that you do (differently)?” “I don’t know I just do it.” was how i remember Monk replying, head down. then i think he played. for years i thought i got it – he JUST DOES IT. then i thought at some point as i grew older but not wiser “well he must know but he either would rather not explain or can’t really articulate it.” anyway i realized that after i had written those 5 pieces that although the processes seemed to differ they equaled, as i said earlier, one process, the act of DOING… it’s like the deep — swimming in the deep — no matter how shallow the pool may appear — there are those shimmering expanding woven quirky reflections of light along the bottom & i finally realized it’s about slowing time down & speeding time up — like in a movie/film — how fast the swimmer chooses to move his arms with what intensity & how the breath holds up or more accurately how the “camera” processes and edits all this information – even crazy people read & write some kind of script – language – tempo – in order to keep going/moving/sustaining/breathing.
Steve Dalachinsky — Cosmic (Pannonica, Maison de la Poésie de Nantes, France, May 30, 2007)
Steve Dalachinsky — Rumor Has It (Pannonica, Maison de la Poésie de Nantes, France, May 30, 2007)
Steve Dalachinsky — Poem #1 (Vision Festival Highlights, Manhattan, New York City, NY, June 8 and 10, 2011)
Steve Dalachinsky — Poem #2 (Vision Festival Highlights, Manhattan, New York City, NY, June 8 and 10, 2011)
Mark McCawley: How did you feel, react to being awarded the 2013 Acker Award for Poetry (New York)?
Steve Dalachinsky: winning an award is always a nice thing – a form of acknowledgement for what you’ve spent most of your life doing – but at the same time something, that, unless you know how to exploit or unless it has money to go with it, is not easy to use. in 2007, i won a josephine miles oakland pen award (fixed like most awards are – ha!) my press didn’t push this fact and putting the sticker on the book went over most people’s heads as it still does. then i got the acker award. then a big huffington post interview (2013) followed by a great write up in the ny times (2013) and in 2014 i was awarded a chevalier of arts and letters by the french government. so though i am grateful it’s hard to exploit these great positives for many reasons. EGO. do i deserve them?? how do i even go about it??? et cetera, et cetera. i am, though many don’t see it, a very unsure, self-deprecating fellow and well, though i want world wide recognition for my work and want to sign autographs for every cute girl, folks don’t see this. i’m basically a shy, tortured, weak little pussy who always wanted to be normal and mainstream, and one who turns out a decent piece of work every now and then. the hierarchical structure of the art world is a great impasse for outsiders no matter what achievements we may garner unless we are strong enough to bribe, bully or hustle our way toward the top. a friend once told me “you gotta be a gangster steve.” to which i replied “sorry Daniel, i’m just a petty thief.” (it is nice if i sell a book or cd or collage to know that someone liked me/the work enough to take me/the work home with them.) i’m still amazed at all these accolades however and wish i could more often pat myself on the back and say BRAVO ME. though some folks already think all i care about is ME. i’m really just a humble guy with a big negative ego but one must learn how to use and take advantage of that ego rather than always compete for last place. as the great poet jack micheline wrote “ALL POETS ARE SAD EGOS….”
Mark McCawley: Although you dislike being branded “a jazz poet”, you’ve been described as a Free Jazz Cultist, a Jazz Snob, as well as the quintessential New York Jazz Poet who is both “a part of, and apart from America, beneath the other self” and like the Beat poets you love so dearly, also did “a stint in the nuthouse, a drug habit, and before and after that lots of girlfriends with whom i had lots of good and bad sex…” How do you respond?
Steve Dalachinsky: well this is a loaded question since you culled it from my statements. actually the “a part of” etc. is from a poem i wrote about a homeless guy on the subway called “subway systems” but i guess it can easily apply to me and many others as well, displacement in the land of one’s birth. as i state in my book “the final nite”:
i was born in america
sure born still
beneath the bosom of striped &
iridescent blue arriving
in brooklyn in a hospital with ethnicity
attached to it
no christian charity
was given me
no proper burial bought/ or should i say
the plot has been stolen & put in someone else’s novel
i loathe being called a jazz poet yet am proud to bare/wear it as one of the labels folks find so necessary to pin on other folks in order to define them or their art — once a famous rock star introduced me to someone who might have been able to help me by calling me a great “street” poet ( i think for him this was a very hip thing.) i said – can’t you just say i’m your friend or just say i’m a poet – and walked away probably HA — blowing the opportunity of a lifetime. i have expanded my musical horizons a lot since the 80’s and was weened on “doo-wop” but i guess as ted joans would say “jazz is my religion” — as to the girls i have a short fuse as in premature ejaculation, if there really is such a devil, and always felt intimidated by something i love best orgasm and sex but hey in a way i can’t tho will complain: sex is an explosive thing and i’ve been blessed to have for the most part steady relationships one way or the other before during and after puberty, teenagerness nuthouse drugs and misery. i sure hope you do a good job cleaning up this mess – speaking of sex i type with 2 finger and it’s very boring and trying, when you come faster or think faster than you type or fuck… the nuthouse opened my mind to lots of things as i said above — changed my writing style broadened my already mad taste for jazz. probably saved me from vietnam but also being there and other stuff leading up to and after it trapped me into a lifestyle of poverty, lack of education, self-dread, and non-fulfillment. enough already steve.
Steve Dalachinsky and Matthew Shipp — Subway Systems (from ‘Phenomena of Interference’, Hopscotch Records, US, Jazz/Poetry/Spoken Word, 14 November 2005)
Steve Dalachinsky and Matthew Shipp — Retiring The World (from ‘Phenomena of Interference’, Hopscotch Records, US, Jazz/Poetry/Spoken Word, 14 November 2005)
Mark McCawley: Reading the poems in ‘A Superintendent’s Eyes’, one is immediately struck by the poetry’s lyrical and stream of consciousness acknowledgement of their economic and social context (low rent) as opposed to economic and social cliche (low life). Was this your intention in writing the book?
Steve Dalachinsky: the book is made up of poems. prose. prose poems. and a japanese form called haibun, combining prose and poetry. some poems were from earlier experiences like “lester” and “shower stall”, written in the 60’s and transferred to the 80’s when the book takes place. most, if not all experiences are real or actual dreams written mostly when i was super of this dump i still inhabit and when i was working on the street selling books, lps, et cetera. they are a slice of life here in soho before, during, and after gentrification — a young publisher – rich martin (hozomeen press) wanted to publish a book for me. after he was excited by my first cd he finally went ahead with his plans but felt the final nite was too long at almost 200 pages. i wanted them to publish the final nite but it was a good thing they didn’t because it went through 3 publishers and just kept growing in size and by the time it was published it had expanded to almost twice what it had been in 1999. he wanted about 150 and the super was born out of that. things already written and then things written to accommodate my idea of which i have no idea where this idea came from though when it hit it was between that and peddler poems based on poems written around the same period while selling on the street. that one never materialized this one did. but yes there is a lot of economy in the poems and accusations like in most of my work against the state wealth and injustice personal and universal ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh…it is probably overall my most “proletarian work.” my roots are that as well – very what the used to call working or laboring class.
Mark McCawley: What was it like collaborating with such talented musical figures as Matthew Shipp, Loren Mazzacane Connors, Thurston Moore, and Federico Ughi (to name but a few)?
Steve Dalachinsky: well i had read a bit with musicians by the time my first cd came out but not much. as for thurston, after the cd was released he was always busy so we never really got to gig again except once very briefly. through him i met loren, and that began naturally though it took awhile to first get what he was doing — i call it ambient blues – we just clicked – did live stuff of which one great rare cd emerged then i just kept collaborating mostly with free jazz folks all of whom i met before i knew thurston and loren and started getting a rep for it tho it doesn’t come as naturally as folks think. i am clumsy, awkward, and it is still easier for me to read alone. some of the following is culled from another interview that may never see the light of day about this same subject: the knitting factory project was my first real break. i had a few chapbooks out and really wanted a book. i knew few if any publishers and other than assorted zines little of my work was out there. someone suggested i ask the knitting factory which had its own label and where i had been spending much time listening to live music if they’d produce my cd. i knew the owner well. i’d even go so far as to say we were friends at that time. i also knew the record manager and really don’t remember how the subject was broached. well they agreed on the condition that i invite musicians since i knew many and even suggested a few. of the ones i asked only 2 declined and as you can see if you own the cd 14 or so accepted. i was offered an advance of money which i divided up amongst those that would take it and kept some for myself. i designed the package with the help of the then blossoming computer technology the knitting factory possessed. i insisted on only one thing that a booklet with the words be added since what i really wanted, as stated earlier, was a book. they agreed as long as the cost came out of my royalties. since a friend had been counseling me on the contract and had assured me that i would probably never see any royalties (and he was right) i agreed and voila.
almost all my cds are accompanied by some form of insert or booklet with the words. i must admit however that though i am still partial to that first cd i generally am never happy with the majority of results produced from recording. though i’d like to think it’ll work the process always bugs me because i am so self conscious of the fact we are doing it. with “incomplete directions” sasha, the sound person/recorder was great. she made me as relaxed as she could and the results show this. as for the common vision. well i just picked poems that i wanted the musicians to play behind. in many cases in opposition to what the poem had to say. the idea was duos and trios. i also was already tired of being referred to as a jazz poet so i picked lots of poems, many of them new at the time, a few older, that did little to reflect music or jazz. i even ended with a short poem called the wind where i sang a doo wop song. if a musician asked what/how i wanted them to play. i’d say, like in the case of the short poem “empire”. well this poem is about america and stephanie stone launched into that beautiful opening of “oh beautiful”. but i never told them what or how to play. though i asked 2 saxophonists who played hard to just bring flutes and they ended up playing way too softly. it’s truly hard to say whether any of the participants shared a/ or / my vision but with good players and good editing – sensitivity being the key – the end result was a wonderful if somewhat shaky (reading wise – like all my products) recording.
since then, i’ve made numerous cds, and as i stated, am generally unhappy with most of the results, though the musicians are always top notch and great. my 3 latest ones are all very different and like with my books except for one variation of a poem there are few repeat poems. as for Federico he was starting a new label and approached me. we worked well at the time and one live cd resulted in that collaboration on his 577 records label. we have not worked or spoken much to each other in a long time. too many folks in this business are too ambitious, myself included i guess. matt and i are great friends and collaborate whenever the occasion arises. what’s vital for me when reading with musicians is that they, “play below the level of hearing” so we are not in competition – as if they were accompanying/ breathing with a singer i.e. schubert lieder for instance. that we hear each other and try not to confuse one another, as i learned a couple of years ago, but not necessarily listen too deeply to each other. listening too well can distract both the reader and the player and hamper the flow especially in my case where nothing is planned in advance and a lot relies on the instinct and experience of the musician. the important thing is to become equal partners in the creative process. again i am still not sure if the musicians get my vision when we collaborate but we are all friends. i give little or no instructions and live we usually do one long unbroken set so as not to worry about or interfere too much with each other’s flow. matt, loren, thurston, and others i play with here and in Europe are all top notch musicians. — and i definitely prefer live uninterrupted over studio – most fun recently is the one with the snobs— we hit and pow.
i hope this somewhat in part answers your question.
Steve Dalachinsky and Loren Connors — A Hero’s Welcome (from UDP Studios, Old American Can Factory, Gowanus, Brooklyn, New York, 16 April 2011)
Steve Dalachinsky and Loren Connors — Billy Bang @ Bar 55 (from UDP Studios, Old American Can Factory, Gowanus, Brooklyn, New York, 16 April 2011)
Steve Dalachinsky and Loren Connors — On Lonnie’s Lament (from UDP Studios, Old American Can Factory, Gowanus, Brooklyn, New York, 16 April 2011)
Mark McCawley: What influence has your participation with the Unbearables had on your literary career?
Steve Dalachinsky: well as friends a lot. as literary influences not really except that i gained respect for many of them as writers and i’ve learned to write more on topic/theme — if need be as in their anthologies — though i was doing this for PIM (Public Illumination Magazine) and other work like the original super book. they also maybe helped me to be a bit more humorous. i think in a way we all play off each other but more as human spirits and friends who for the most part have deep respect for each other. all our writing is vastly different. as for their influence on my career i knew ron kolm way before the unbearables began. he was involved in something he termed low tech. he always claimed my writing was too beat for their projects ditto the unbearables in the beginning— when i was rejected by them for the ‘crimes of the beats’ anthology i was determined to do something i had never before done. i hung out with them until i and my work were fully accepted. one result was my co-editing the ‘big book of sex’ after getting into most of the anthologies and having my poems accepted rather than just my prose (though because of their rules about poems at the time i forced myself to write themed prose). another recent plus was ron deciding to republish the super book so i guess recently this has helped boost my literary career somewhat. i also know that now he fully respects my work as well as my wife’s. i still do not like being in any club that accepts me as a member and have almost always relied on myself and my work to get me by. yet i do wholeheartedly feel many of the unbearables are true friends and colleagues and of all the artists i have been involved with over the years aside from yuko they are perhaps the biggest supporters of my work and vice versa.
Mark McCawley: How do you gauge your success as a poet and an artist essentially as part of New York’s avant garde?
Steve Dalachinsky: i don’t. as i said in another poem “i’m too dumb for the smart kids. too smart for the dumb kids”. hence too straight for the so-called avant garde. too avant garde for the straights — HA tho i have many ties now to so-called avant garde-neo fluxist / mail art folks all over America and the world – but as i wrote a long time ago what is avant garde?? the guy who banged 2 sticks together was avant garde. success in general as burt reynolds once put it is 90% luck and 10% talent. i want the big prize like the $35000 a couple of poets just got. the golden ring. a contract with proctor and gamble. we all take a gamble that’s avante- garde just gambling on the outcome be it individual collective universal or… we should all share the pie. i’m a square guy with hip taste — tres tres avant garde TASTE…
Mark McCawley: What is the secret to your thirty plus year union with your wife, painter and poet Yuko Otomo?
Steve Dalachinsky: ha. struggle. dependence. love and love for the same good art of every genre. we are unschooled but as i like to put it ignorant elitists with high quality taste. well actually i’m the ignorant one she’s beyond brilliant. but it has been a struggle with many ups downs and all arounds, and not enough living space – our biggest obstacle — with our material, such as books, records, cds, papers et cetera (mostly mine), emotional and intellectual property. like having a kidney stone it hurts it’s gone but the feeling lingers on. secret is — there are no secrets as i say in my poem “what the hell is it ethel?” — we’re stuck till death do us part and so it goes… and one of the most important aspects of our relationship is that we support and respect each other and each other’s work. but we also fight like cats and dogs even over the use of proper punctuation in this interview (but as can be seen i defied her on this one)… but we’re still standing kissing lying down hugging and all that stuff after 30 plus years.
Steve Dalachinsky and The Snobs — What The Hell Is It Ethel? (from ‘Massive Liquidity – An unsurreal post-apocalyptic anti-opera in two acts’, Bam Balam Records, CD, France, 5 September 2011)
Mark McCawley: How long have you been working with visual collage? What does this form of creation mean to you?
Steve Dalachinsky: i’ve been doing collage or more accurately some form of visual art since i was a kid — as long as i’ve been writing — but was never all that good at it. i started to do more collage in the 80’s (bad stuff) and stopped again. i got involved in mail art and started making post cards that i sent all over the place then it expanded in the past 20 years. doing more and more here and abroad and on planes while travelling. then i started selling xeroxes of them. about 5 years ago sold the first ones for 10 to 25 dollars. then made more and more intricate ones over the past 10 or so years. selling a few every now and then. i still do mail art and the work started showing in galleries all over the world. a piece here and there. i love it. it is an extension of poetry – the scissors being the pen, the images the words — as that song put it — every picture tells a story — as does every poem — no matter how abstract — chaotic or — surreal/non-linear they appear to be. selling them to folks who like my work is like selling a book – makes one feel one’s efforts are appreciated — i have 100s upon hundreds of them and wish i could find them all homes. though i feel giving them away randomly is not the way to go –
Mark McCawley: Be it visual collage, jazz collaborations, or your own poetry compositions — how does your self-described process of “chaotic structuralism” enter into their overall creation? Elaborate.
Steve Dalachinsky: as to chaotic structuralism it’s something i kept to myself after first devising it. i wanted to start a group invited a few folks maybe 10 years ago then quickly gave up – it’s simple – though once a very avant garde poet i invited said you can’t have it both ways which of course is absurd – everything is structured and chaotic at the same time. one comes out of the other within all this constant flux/change molecular and otherwise like Lucretius or pointillism which Seurat preferred since he was dealing in color he called it something like chromaticism [sic] — like thought — we are not born linear thinkers we are taught this when we are taught to speak and i’m sure in some cultures language is probably dealt with in ways that we would deem chaotic, unstructured, et cetera… i’m sure there are languages that are pictorial, circular, sound oriented. well we sprung apparently out of chaos ala the big bang and we remain in chaos ala war destruction/rebuilding gentrification atom splitting hair splitting ball busting all collaborative efforts as well are built both on mutual understanding and the lack of understanding — on co-operating and the lack of co-operation depending in the majority of cases what folks want the outcome to be — so my work (as i believe i said earlier) tries to achieve, when i consciously and in many cases unconsciously apply it, that state i referred to as transformative description — the act of melding the insides with the outsides — actually more transformative than descriptive as in to transform the common place rather than to merely elevate it as with the red wheel barrow — by doing this whether felt or not — chaos and structure collide and therefore become one even as they remain opposed — geez did i say all that?? i’d better hold these thoughts together right here so they don’t explode — a nuclear explosion is maybe the perfect example of chaotic structuralism – as are maybe joyce or kerouac or abstract expressionism or cubism blah blah blaaaammmm
Mark McCawley: Tell me about the process of writing your 2007 PEN Oakland National Book Award winning The Final Nite & Other Poems, Complete Notes from a Charles Gayle Notebook 1987-2006 published by Ugly Duckling Press?
Steve Dalachinsky: all but a few of those poems were written over a 20 year period while listening to the saxophonist charles gayle play music live (a sort of collaborative act in a way though he didn’t know til years later i’d been doing this). the poems are all chronological as are the other books of mine – they state time and place where written (mostly small clubs – all except one non-existent now) — they do not always reflect the music but may reflect what happened to me or others that day — i.e. leaving a film as in the one based on warhol’s lonesome cowboys then going right to the concert — though they were always written with the music until i or it stopped — i believe this is the first and maybe only time this has been done and put together as a book — it was an exciting process to watch it grow and finally realize one day i could put it together as a manuscript — and every time for various reasons a publisher bypassed it, it grew. in a way the book unintentionally is now a record of change in new york gentrification — as i just stated the major club left has moved from manhattan to brooklyn. the poems have a wide range of emotions and depth and also reflect political, anti-abortion, and religious speeches given by gayle during his gigs as well as his mime performances. it’s all there and no one i must say ever got it never looked thoroughly at this work or questioned it. most poems (like all my work) have very little editing and are intensely social/political due to charles speeches with racism. i had also promised the artist who did the cover and centerfold that if ever it saw the light of day i would use his painting/collages of gayle and i made good on my word. he has since developed MS and is pretty much incapacitated. the first time we met was at a gayle concert the first poem in the book. since then i have published four other books of poems written this way. the largest in collaboration with the french photographer jacques bisceglia (who sadly passed away 2 years ago) has 450 pages of poems and photos and is the only one not chronological or about one artist. it was a game of chance matching photos and poems we both had already done. the others were smaller efforts for pianists cecil taylor and matthew shipp (this a collaboration between myself and matthew) and a small chapbook of poems for saxophonist evan parker. and now it seems this long phase has come to and end. i rarely write poems anymore while listening to music nor do i ever want to publish music related poems again unless asked to by a press. what i do still try to do as my recent books attest to is keep the books thematic — interconnected poem-wise — and for the most part chronological — ah though i never thought of it before — some of kerouac’s poetry was like this — mexico city blues, san francisco blues, et cetera.
Steve Dalachinsky, The Snobs, Devil Sister and Fuzzy Weasel – Artaud le Momo (Live at Souffle Continu, Paris, France, 24 May 2012)
Steve Dalachinsky, The Snobs, Devil Sister and Fuzzy Weasel – Abducted (Live at Souffle Continu, Paris, France, 24 May 2012)
Steve Dalachinsky, The Snobs, Devil Sister and Fuzzy Weasel – Occupy (Live at Souffle Continu, Paris, France, 24 May 2012)
Mark McCawley: The late Amiri Baraka referred to you as “a poet of the real world in a time when reality is despised, dismissed, not understood or lied about.” How do you respond? Do you consider your voice a voice of reason in an age of increasing madness?
Steve Dalachinsky: ah a wonderful blurb from a wonderful man whom i miss dearly. who perhaps was even honest to a fault in his tireless crusade to unmask the masked man called injustice — and a badly needed voice right now. that blurb in a way more accurately describes AMIRI — he didn’t really get to hear much of my stuff so i can’t really say where he was coming from when he wrote that but yes it’s what all artists should strive to attain that voice of the FACTS as we see them because truth is so elusive — ah maybe a voice of increasing madness (as in crazy and angry) in a time of unreason / false values which were always there since mankind began or should i say yes that’s it a voice of madness in an age of (t)reason – treason to our planet which we all are responsible for in one way or another and find almost impossible not to participate in to some extent — i, like everyone, lie a bit… it’s in our nature. that’s why when we are taught to think/talk act in “straight lines” we are also taught not to lie steal kill et cetera et cetera et cetera (reason) because so called bad is in our nature just like so-called good though many can’t see this in their too too pure selves. so we are built chaotically and taught structure — the two are always pulling against each other — hence > CHAOTIC STRUCTUALISM – clashes — wars derailments shitting pissing et cetera — it’s sadly unavoidable — though created always by a few the masses just ride the train — for the gravy and for the hope to stay alive — phhhhhhh done no never done undone yet unified… tho very few even i, never see this >
Mark McCawley: What is in the future for Steve Dalachinsky?
Steve Dalachinsky: a shattered crystal ball that can maybe partially be pieced it all together. the future is about dealing with old age which i have rapidly approached. it is difficult living under the conditions yuko and i now live. very limited space and funds. but also we hope to continue every now and again to travel, do our work and do gigs. and above all create create create. complain. complain. complain. and to keep getting as much of my and yuko’s work out there as possible since there are thousands of unpublished poems and 100s of pieces of visual art by both of us. at this writing one new book has been released and another is on the way. and as with the big corporations i want more more MORE. and maybe if i can get it together before i’m 70 i’d like to apply for a residency in france or italy. and if i’m lucky get an award that comes with some money attached to it or just get the money money money though as i wrote in another of my poems MONEY IS THE MANGLE… but seriously >
Steve Dalachinsky has read throughout the N.Y. area including the Poetry Project and the Vision Festival and in universities, bookstores, art galleries, parks, et al. He has also read in San Francisco and other cities throughout the U.S., Japan and Europe, including Austria, Germany, England and France. Some of the venues in France are Instants Chavires, Berkeley Books, Shakespeare and Company, the Olympic Café, La Java, Souffle Continuo and Sete Lizards. He also participated in the Sons d’Hiver Festival (2004, 2005 and 2010) and the Biennial of Poetry in Val de Marne (2007 and 2014), CIPM in Marseille (2007) and Maison d’Poesie in Nantes (at Pannonica 2007) and appeared in the Austrian literary festival Sprachsalz (2014). He has read his Insomnia Poems (written for Louise Bourgeois), a collaboration with British composer Pete Wyer, for the BBC’s Jazz on 3 in England.
His books include A Superintendent’s Eyes (Unbearable Books/Autonomedia, 2013/15); his PEN Award Winning book The Final Nite & Other Poems: Complete Notes From A Charles Gayle Notebook 1987-2006 (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006), a compendium of poetry written while watching saxophonist Charles Gayle perform throughout New York City in that time period; Logos and Language: A Post-Jazz Metaphorical Dialogue, co-authored with pianist Matthew Shipp (RogueArt 2008); Reaching Into The Unknown: 1964-2009, a collaboration with French photographer Jacques Bisceglia (RogueArt 2009) and his most recent book Flying Home, a collaboration with German Artist Sig-Bang Schmidt (Paris Lit Up 2015).
His chapbooks include: One Thin Line (Pinched Nerves Press 1998); The Portugese Letters (Sisyphus Press 2000); Contemporary Poetry (Sisyphus Press 2000); Musicology (Editions Pioche, Paris 2005); Trial and Error in Paris (Loudmouth Collective 2003); Lautreamont’s Laments (Furniture Press 2005); In Glorious Black and White (Ugly Duckling Presse 2005); St. Lucie (King of Mice Press 2005); Are We Not MEN and Fake Book (2 books of collage – 8 Page Press 2005); Dream Book (Avantcular Press 2005); Totems (Unarmed Press 2008); Christ Amongst the Fishes (a book of collage – Oil Can Press 2009); Invasion of the Animal People (Alternating Current 2009); Insomnia Poems (both Alternating Current 2009); Trustfund Babies (Unlikely Stories 2013); The Veiled Doorway/St. Lucie (Unarmed Press 2012) and Fools Gold (Feral Press 2014).
His work has appeared on & off line in Public Illuminations Magazine, Big Bridge, Milk, Unlikely Stories, Sensitive Skin, Xpressed, Ratapallax, Evergreen Review, Long Shot, Alpha Beat Soup, Xtant, Blue Beat Jacket, N.Y. Arts Magazine, The Helix, 6×6, Cannot Exist, Home Planet News, Polisz, Unarmed, The GW Review, Gare Maritime, Alternating Current, Bathtub Gin, 88, The Wandering Hermit Review, Mima’amakim, Lost and Found Times, Vlak, A Gathering of the Tribes magazine and in the anthologies Beat Indeed, Writers Beyond the Margin, The Haiku Moment, Poetry in Performance, Downtown Poets, Resistance, A History of Jews and the Lower East Side, My Favorite Things: Le Tour du Jazz en 80 écrivains, edited by Franck Medioni (Editions Alter Ego 2013); The Unbearables anthologies Help Yourself, The Worse Book I Ever Read and Big Book of Sex. His work can also be found in Up is Up but So is Down, viviparous blenny, Ragged Lion, Off the Cuffs, In the Arms of Words, Hurricane Blues, An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind, La tentation du silence, DOC(K)S (“Lecon d’amour), LePetite Mercure’s Le gout du Jazz and the Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.
Among Dalachinsky’s spoken word albums are Incomplete Directions (Knitting Factory Records) — a collection of his poetry read in collaboration with various musicians, such as William Parker, Matthew Shipp, Daniel Carter, Sabir Mateen, Thurston Moore (SonicYouth) and Vernon Reid (Living Colour) — I thought it was the end of the world then the end of the world happened again (with Federico Ughi), Thin Air with guitarist Loren Connors (Silver Wonder Recording recorded 2001, released 2006), Phenomena of Interference, a collaboration with pianist Matthew Shipp (Hopscotch Records 2006), Merci Pour le Visite with Didier Lassere, drums and Sebastian Capezza, saxophone (Amor Fati 2007) and The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Rogueart 2014). His work has also been read by Derek Bailey and John Tchicai on their respective CDs.
A recent collaboration was released in 2011 with French duet art-rockers The Snobs on the CD; Steve Dalachinsky and The Snobs Massive Liquidity — An unsurreal post-apocalyptic anti-opera in two acts (French label Bam Balam records). Steve Dalachinsky and The Snobs met in winter 2011 in Paris to record some vocals for the project. “Massive Liquidity” presents two twenty minutes musical suites made of various influences: 1969’s Miles Davis’ instrumental freedom hits Einstürzende Neubauten’s industrial and elegant sense of rhythm. Psychedelic effects are both essential and measured to let a strict groove between James Brown and Arnold Schoenberg happen. Dalachinsky’s voice is the narrative element: it can be a gentle whisper at a moment and turn into a wild and menacing raucous noise just few seconds later. Words and music interact, they sometimes hurt each other or simply become one only powerful and moving sound. The record’s closing belongs to the voice, which seems to clarify the violent and cosmic experience the listener just had: “It’s his head now… Pull the trigger”. A second album was recorded in 2014 in Paris and is scheduled for release some time in 2016.
In 2000 Dalachinsky and his painter poet wife Yuko Otomo started the Sisyphus Press chapbook series which specializes in serial writing. Among the works published are a collaboration between the two based on the Joseph Bueys piece Arena plus several individual works. Other poets in the series include Herschel Silverman, Bonny Finberg, James Hoff, Anna Moschovakis, Ivan Klein, Jeffrey Cyphers Wright, Tom Obrzut, Thaddeus Rutkowski, Tom Savage and John Farris.
Notes on the text: First of all, I wish to thank Steve Dalachinsky for his openness and his generosity in answering the questions for this interview. I also wish to thank Arthur Kaye for his permission to use his photograph of Steve Dalachinsky.
Further notes on the text: Complete performance at Pannonica, Maison de la Poésie de Nantes, France, May 30, 2007 can be found at the Internet Archive, HERE. Vision Festival Highlights, New York, June 8 and 10, 2011 can be located HERE. Complete Ugly Duckling Press Podcast featuring Steve Dalachinsky and Loren Connors can be located HERE. Excerpts from Phenomena of Interference by Steve Dalachinsky and Matthew Shipp can be found HERE and HERE. Complete video of performance of Steve Dalachinsky, The Snobs, Devil Sister and Fuzzy Weasel at Souffle Continu, Paris, France, 24 May 2012 can be found HERE. Steve Dalachinsky and The Snobs album ‘Massive Liquidity – An unsurreal post-apocalyptic anti-opera in two acts’ can be streamed HERE and HERE.