An Interview with Ross Vassilev

Can you tell us something about your background? Are you from Bulgaria? When did you come to the US? What are Bulgarian folks like? What is the national dish? Famous writers?

Yes, I was born in Bulgaria (hold the applause). I came to America when I was 4, just like the guy in West Side Story. As for Bulgarians….Let’s just say I’m glad I don’t live there anymore. I will say that Bulgarian food is awesome. Try the feta cheese–just make sure you desalinate it in water for 24 hours. As for famous Bulgarian writers, there was Ivan Vazov, though I haven’t read any of his work. I’ve read some poems by Hristo Botev, the country’s most famous poet. They’re rather pompous, like most 19th century art and literature. Nothing to write home about.

What is the poetry scene like in Bulgaria?

I’ve read some stuff by contemporary Bulgarian poets. They like to experiment nowadays. A lot of crazy free verse and a Bulgarian iteration of haiku called “nava.” None of it stands out, though.

You are one of Chris’ and I’s favorite poets. Who are some of your favorite poets and writers?

Well, the first real poetry I ever read was, of course, Bukowski. I’m also a big fan of nila northSun, who’s a Native American poet. And I’m also a huge fan of Emily Dickinson. She wrote about death as though she’d already been there and back. No one else ever wrote about death like she did.

In your view what makes for a good poem?

I guess a poem has to be honest, first of all. Second, a poem has to be exciting, with interesting turns of phrase. It has to catch the reader off guard. There’s nothing worse than a poem that’s what the reader expects a poem to be. The rest is just intangible. Try dissecting any good poem to find out why it’s good and you’ll see that it’s impossible.

You are the former editor of Asphodel Madness, and Opium Poetry, can you give our readers your impressions of being editor of a poetry magazine? What is the most rewarding/fun/best part of being an editor? Negative experiences?

I loved reading everyone’s submissions for 2 years. I discovered ideas and ways of looking at the world that were totally new to me. It’s amazing how some people can, in the words of nila northSun, “make something out of nothing.” As for bad experiences editing those zines for 2 years, I’m pleased to say that I really can’t think of any.

What inspires you to write? Can you give us an idea of how you write a poem? Your writing technique if you have one? When do you write? How often?

I guess what inspires me to write is that I would go insane if I didn’t. This world is so insane you gotta find some sort of artistic expression to stay sane, whether it’s poetry, art, or music. You gotta just write whenever the mood hits you. Just sit down and write whatever falls outta your brain, like Bukowski said. You can spend some time rewriting but not too much. And keep all your poems, even the bad ones. But most of your poems will be bad. Poetry, like all art, is hit or miss, mostly miss. That’s just how it is.

What advice would you give to beginning writers or poets? Hemingway said stay healthy and keep writing.

Read as much as you can–books, print zines, netzines, everything. Internalize everything you read that you like and then write about your own experiences. Remember, write about your own experiences. You are you, not anyone else. Not even Bukowski.

What books do you recommend people read?

I would certainly recommend all the poetry books of Bukowski. Also, “Last House In America” by Jack Micheline. That book is Micheline at his best. All the books by nila northSun. And also Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, which is one crazy-ass if somewhat difficult novel. And all the plays of Eugene O’Neill except The Iceman Cometh.

Anything else you would like to say to our readers?

Just to keep writing and not give up. And keep starting new zines for people to read and submit to. People write cuz they have to. It’s a mad compulsion but it’s a great one! So keep writing and maybe one day when the American empire collapses all those poems will really make a difference in the future world.

Mark Walsh

Nova Hart

-        For Grant Hart, 1961-2017

 

a man too young to be so old

weathered by heartbreak, heroin and happenstance

decked in jeans and wingtips, torn shirt and glasses,

strapped with a vintage guitar tuned approximately,

alone on stage at the mic

transmuting the volume of youth into the pain of age,

singing out of a place few reach,

a place deep and free from theatrics,

a man once broken and held together by his art

singing to a half-filled room, past the audience

to some version of himself he hasn’t met

on a train riding foreign tracks.

It kills you a little bit to hear the song

and understand that listening is not living,

just a scattered path to Hope.

Judge Santiago Burdon

Better Than Ezra

Son of a Bitch, the needle broke off in my arm again. It's these cheap Insulin syringes the Nuns hand out by the park. They don't last more than two or three times then they're useless. You can't even sharpen the point on a matchbook without the flimsy needle breaking off.

Can you believe this shit, here I am complaining about a free syringe given to me out of  concern by the Catholic Church for my welfare. Wait, what am I talking about? After years of battling Catholic guilt bestowed upon me by the Church and their representatives I've ended up a recovering Catholic. They owe me some type of compensation. 

However, let me say this, if they're going to supply junkies with syringes they should do better product research. 

Now I've got to dig this fucking needle out of my arm in the dark without tweezers or pliers. Ya know what? Forget it. It's not all that important. There's still  a few I've got stuck in my arms from the past. It can wait.

I do, however, need to find another syringe to get my fix. I'm sure the Nuns have packed up and are back to their Coloister to pray for the souls of God's misguided lambs. Now there's no one looking over the flock. The wolf of darkness will have his way tonight.

So I hit the angry streets pounding the pavement of desperation in search of a spike.  

The problem with this Greek Tragedy is there's a drama hangover. Every junkie I ask will want a hit in trade for a syringe, and I'm not about to give away my medicine.

South of the border in every country from Mexico throughout Central and South America, I can walk into any Farmacia and buy any type of syringe over the counter no questions asked. There's also a variety of drugs available that you'd need a prescription for in the United States but not there.  And all of it is so much more inexpensive. Did you ever wonder why it's so?  It's because of the fucking Capitalist regime holding the entire population of the United States hostage. Free country my ass.

I can't remember the reason for why I returned. I'm sure some of you are thinking,  'If you don't like it here, then leave.'  I thoroughly agree with your statement. However I am now without the funds to get my ass out. Oh ya, now I remember. I came back to collect my Social Security which I found out had been garnished by the Internal Revenue Service for filing what they determined as incorrect Tax returns. They claimed I owe them twelve thousand, six hundred and some odd dollars. God bless the USA!

Look at yourself Santiago running around this city of Vampires. They're sucking every bit of self respect from your soul. You've gotta get it together no more woe is me, cry baby bullshit. Your  daughter wouldn't want you to react this way as a result of her death. This is not the manner in which to pay tribute to her life. You're using her death as a reason for your degenerate lifestyle.  What a lame, poor ass excuse to justify your addiction. You fucking junkie.

"Hey Santiago, how you doing asshole?" I hear one of my many admirers holler from across the boulevard.

"I'm better than Ezra! ( Kickass Band) Who the hell are you? Do I know you?" I screamed back.

I knew who he was and I don't appreciate his company but dope makes extraneous friendships. So I disregarded my disdain and pasted  a half assed smirk on my face to disguise my condition.

I hope I don't owe him money  

He runs across the street to me dodging traffic with horns blaring. He also received a couple of,  "You asshole!" So I scored him a seven for his city street  prowess. 

"So Georgie, what you up to? The only time I seem to see you is in jail. Great to see you on the outside." I extended a cordial greeting. He is a small time dealer his products are usually; Cocaine, Crack, Ecstasy and halfway decent Heroin. 

"Keeping one step ahead of the Boys in Blue.  Ya know, if I remember correctly you owe me twenty five bucks from like almost a year ago when you first got back." 

Understand what I mean? 

"That could be true, I really don't remember. I can't settle up right now, my trust fund check is late."

"Funny guy as usual. Are you looking? I'm holding."

"I just told you I'm tapped out. My check is late. But would you happen to have a syringe on ya? Mine just broke off in my arm."

"Using one of them 'Nun Guns' I bet. Ya I got a couple, clean and still in the wrapper. Not from the hospital dumpsters. They're five bucks a pop though."

"Is there any way you could possibly front me for a week? I really do have a check coming next week. I'll meet you at The Mint next Friday night around eleven or so. Jessica just started working there so I'm usually there on weekends. I'd really appreciate your help man. If you can see your way clean it'd be awesome."

"I've always liked you Santiago. You've always treated me with respect. Not like the other lying, thieving junkies around this city."

"Wait, did you just call me a junkie? I'm just chipping man. I can quit this bullshit whenever I want."

"I'm sure you can give it up. No offense Santiago. I didn't mean anything by it. Listen, I'll give you a syringe and a twenty paper on the arm. You'll pay me fifty next Friday?"

"I'll be honest, I'm not sure I can pay the whole fifty but at least thirty. How does that sound?"

"See, that's what I'm talking about. You're honest with me man, up front. That's respect. Sure that'll be fine." He begins reaching up the pant leg of his shorts retrieving a syringe which he quickly stuffs into my blazer's breast pocket. 

"Follow me to the Circle K on the corner. I've gotta get the dope from my mouse across the street. Come on."

I follow him the half block to the entrance of the convenience store. He motions to a kid that has to be only ten or eleven years old.  Georgie holds up one finger and his mouse runs over and places the dope on a window sill of the store. Georgie nonchalantly strolls over and palms the dope then walks it over to me slipping it into my side pocket.

"So next Friday at 11:00 the Mint Bar, thirty bucks."

"Seguro carnal."

"Don't give me any of that Mexican lip. You're in the United States now."

See what I mean about  extraneous friendship.

"Sorry, habit I guess."

"Let me ask ya something. So you're back with that Jessica broad?  Isn't she a whore?"

"Ya but she found Jesus and gave it up. Now she's a barmaid at the Mint like I said."

"I don't know how you do it man? I couldn't be in a relationship with a bitch that was a whore."

"So you with anybody now Georgie?"

"Na, enjoying the single life. I don't need no bitch."

"Ya know what sound a sexually satisfied woman makes, Georgie?"

"No, what?"

"I'll see you next Friday, gotta giddy up. Thanks Georgie. Think about the question for a minute, you'll get it."

Maybe I won't remember my commitment next Friday. Yep but now, I'm 'Better Than Ezra'.  Giddy up.

Russell Streur

BIG BILLY WADE

 
The sins of the father
Do not fall upon the son
Up here in the oaks and the knocks
Of Dawson County Georgia

Big Billy Wade
Tells us so
And Big Billy Wade
Is a man of the cross and the gun
And he knows a thing or two
About the mysteries of the world
And the water and the robe

Big Billy Wade
Isn’t losing any sleep
Over the massacre of the Creeks at Autosee
The Shoshone on the Bear
Or the bullets in the back
Of Spotted Elk and the Lakota at Wounded Knee

And the sins of the father
Do not fall upon the son
Up here in the pines and hollows           
Of Dawson County Georgia

Big Billy Wade
Tells us so
And Big Billy Wade
Knows a thing or two
Beneath the hood
About the machinery of the world
And Ezekiel’s sword

Big Billy Wade
Isn’t losing any sleep
Over April Fourth
369 years of the slave trade
Or anybody last name X 
Bleeding out on West 165th

Big Billy Wade
Is comfortable
In his skin.

F.J. Bergmann

Rudeness

He opened the door, and she shoved her way past him.
“But— what … excuse me? You can’t just push into somebody’s house!” He rushed after her.
She was standing in the middle of the living room, arms akimbo. “Well, it’s not much of a house, is it? You could have afforded better if you’d made more of an effort. And hired a decent maid service. Don’t you ever vacuum?”
He was vacillating about whether to call the police, when she strode onward into the next room, halting to look down her nose at the kitchen’s scuffed vinyl—fortunately, he’d done a good job of cleaning up the spill after dropping the milk jug at breakfast. A snort was her only comment. But she made up for it when she opened the refrigerator. “Brats, summer sausage, and bacon—oh, I’m sure that’s going to do your cholesterol a lot of good, Mr. Paunchy! And the vegetable drawer is practically empty, not to mention that celery and carrots aren’t supposed to be limp—remind you of anything?” She met his eyes haughtily.
A warm rush of familiarity swept over him as he stared at her. His wife had been dead for six months.
He forgot about his initial panic, the idea of having her arrested; she was a fine figure of a woman, even in the kerchief and no-nonsense housedress. And then he remembered the link he’d clicked on after his third lonely Scotch the night before: RudeFinder.

Howie Good

TV Land

The veteran homicide detective with the Basset Hound face stands in a vacant lot, staring glumly down at a mutilated corpse dumped there overnight. Violent crime is common in this rust-pocked city, and the law itself often criminal. The detective sighs wearily. He searches his pockets for a cigarette before remembering he’s quit smoking. A small plane flies over, pulling a large banner. He follows it with his eyes. SMILE EMPTY SOUL, the banner says. I’m no criminologist or any other kind of -ologist, but that’s why I need to consult someone like him, who wants to watch the world burn, then save the people he loves.

Mike W. Blottenberger

 Seahorse Monogamy Is (Sort of) a Myth 

 

It seems a seahorse 

isn’t as monogamous  

as once believed, 

but that only makes  

my underwater crush 

on the little creature 

grow even deeper. 

Male or female— 

it really doesn’t matter. 

I especially like the way 

this pale-yellow seahorse 

wraps its tail around 

the sunken plastic pirate ship 

in the saltwater aquarium 

at my favorite Thai restaurant. 

Nearby a darker yellow seahorse 

begins doing an intimate dance 

in the soft and steady current. 

I know love is a lot like food, 

and there are so many choices 

on the menu.  

Bradford Middleton

A BOLD VISITOR FROM MY PAST

I’m pouring through a folder of old poems

Like an old drunk downing some wine when I find

One that writes of a Thursday night and

A need to escape.  A need to get out

And into it, to lose myself, give myself over

To the madness of the night

Outside and, right now as I sit here, no

Longer able to remember just how long

It’s been since I last did that.  When i last

Set foot out there at this middle of night

Time of half-eight I can’t remember but

I know this, it’s been longer than days,

It’s even been longer than a week,

Hell even a month, a few at least since this

God-damn mess somehow managed

To ruin our pubs and my nights have been

Lost instead to just another old black&white

Movie and some words for a new novel.

Tonight though with my jazz grooving

Nicely and the words slowly beginning to

Flow i think i’ll just do the same again;

More writing mad poetical words

Instead of bold novelistic tones of torment

And horror as i sit nursing my five pound

Wine and smoking the beauty that soothes

My mind and calms it into not wanting to

Ever go out there again.

Noel Negele

Hangover poem


Face feels
bony
against my palms

Head
several sizes
too big

Will I be missed?

Pub introductions
bathroom people
with dilated pupils

The lady that spent
the night
whose name I don’t remember
and who will never
call me

Will I be missed?

Shower cant be
cold enough
dripping across
my bony face

upset waiters
and bouncers
escorting you
out of a venue

the loneliness
of being detained
by police

something large
and important
not addressed enough
is pent up in there
lurks
seeks that chance

Some times it’s a miracle
we make it back home

is anyone really worth
missing?

Smoking drugs
to alleviate
the hungover

such a juvenile
thing to do

Whoever puts the radiator on
in an incoming heatwave
should burn in hell
is what I think
turning the spin to zero

sometimes it’s amazing
how unscathed we come
from certain years

At the gas station
to buy painkillers
people have never
looked so ugly

Overplayed politeness

those pairs of eyes
don’t really see you
you know
all smiles and all
but you could
as well be dead
all they care

Will I be missed?

Am I worthy
of being anyone’s
longing heartache?

Sometimes
I wish someone
would hit me
across the head
with an aluminium bat
to shut the lights out

nothing will ever compare
to the resting feeling
of a sleep sedated
by opioids

sometimes we’re magnificent
all of us
and kind of beautiful
albeit somewhat funny
dangling like that
on the pendulum
trying not to tip over

Some days

Some days
I think
certain haircuts
should be banned
by law

Some days
I think
they should spend
some fucking money
researching a pill
that can erase a hungover

no one matters
enough
for anyone

I hope that’s true
I think
trying to sleep
through a heatwave
without an air condition
with a drill on
in my skull
through whispering
death-like feelings

trying not to tip over
a supreme effort
dressed as something casual
like a natural tendency

some people
make this life shit
look like a walk
in the park

I hate those people
They’re not my kind

I don’t subscribe
under the same humanity
as them

I think to myself
in an old man’s voice

Sometimes
nothing makes
a lick of sense

Sometimes
I don’t even
feel like trying
anymore
even though
I don’t tell anyone

I hope none of this
makes sense to anyone
otherwise I’m in it
on my own

Laying in the bathtub
the water can not
be cold enough

that police woman last night
a fine specimen
how kind and human

Her dismissing eyes
hurt my feelings
there on the grass
panting
on my ass
and handcuffed

many faces to hell

We’ll know
most of them
by the time
we’re gone

Brenton Booth

Stolen

 
A few months
     before you died
 
when the junkies
     started breaking

 into all the cars
     on your street

every other night,
     you just left the

 doors and windows
    open, to save paying

 for new ones again.
    I got angry. You were

calm, shrugging your
     skeleton frame, 75

years old, in the final
     stages of cancer: with

nothing left to protect.





Detention

 
Whenever
I got into
trouble at
high school
the principal
would lock
me alone
in a store-
room until
he decided
I had had
enough.
Sometimes
I'd be in
there for
hours. The
room was
quite small
and full of
books
jammed
onto
overflowing
shelves. I
used them
as a chair.
Listening
carefully
for his
footsteps,
putting
them back
on the
shelves and
standing
before he
opened the
door. I had
never read
a book and
never read
one while I
was there.
They had no
purpose in
the life of
someone
like me. I
hated that
room and
the principal
and devised
many plans
for revenge.
A few years
later I was
in a terrible
way, really
didn't know
how much
longer I could
survive. After
work I went
to Chinatown
for dinner. I
passed an
underground
bookstore
on the way.
I decided to
go in. It was
well stocked
and I made
the decision
to buy a book
from every
section. A
few days
later I
finished
Chekhov's 
The Seagull.
Everything
changed
that day:
even the 
storeroom
no longer
looked
so
small.