Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Deep Ellum Lit Hop

What: Deep Ellum Lit Hop
When: Saturday, July 30, starting at 6 pm
More Info: WordSpace@WordSpace.Us, 214-838-3554

Deep Ellum Lit Hop is a one night festival-style walkabout experience of literary events!

Lit Hop Poster 2

WordSpace, Dallas’s favorite non-profit literary organization, takes on a new meaning for its slogan “Get Lit” with the announcement of the biggest bookish gathering Dallas has seen in 2016. Deep Ellum Lit Hop is a well-read bar crawl experience going down in — you guessed it — Deep Ellum on July 30, 2016. Guests attending this FREE event are encouraged to wander between bookshops, art galleries, and bars to enjoy an eclectic collection of literary atmospheres!

To set up such a momentous event, Sebastian Paramo and courtney marie (coordinating hosts of Pegasus Reading Series) recruited eight local organizers of some of the liveliest literary happenings across DFW. Reading series and collectives represented include Dark Moon Poetry & Arts (Dallas), Pegasus Reading Series (Dallas), Spiderweb Salon (Denton), Art & Words (Ft. Worth), Pink Drum (Dallas), and special events hosted by Deep Vellum Books, Lauren Belmore, and Caitlin Pryor. Each host will be curating their own hour-long showcase featuring some of their
favorite writers. Merritt Tierce, Megan Peak, Kendra Greene, Paula Mendoza, Griselda Castillo, and courtney marie are among the readers that have been confirmed.

Map of the happenings

Map of venues for Lit Hop


CLICK TO DOWNLOAD FULL SCHEDULE HERE.

Tiny Zine Make-and-Take with White Rock Zine Machine
Deep Vellum Books. 6-7 pm. All ages.

Make a mini zine to keep, contribute your creative ideas about color to the next round of zines to be featured in the White Rock Zine Machine, hear readings from Zine Machine contributors, and don’t forget to pop in a quarter and turn the knob!

Spiderweb Salon
Drugstore Cowboy. 6:30-7:30 pm. All ages.

Darryl Ratcliff
Fatima-Ayan Malika Hirsi
Griselda Castillo
Jesse Porter
Melissa O’Leary
Sarah Ruth
Walker Smart

Dark Moon Poetry & Arts
Deep Vellum Books. 7:30-8:30 pm.

Jess Garland
Courtney Marie
Paula Mendoza
Leah Tieger
Merritt Tierce

Reject Faction: Experimental Poetry & Sounds
Drugstore Cowboy. 8-9 pm. All ages.

Hannah Jove
Traci Theibaud
Cody Cantu
Wyatt Rosser
Hannah Weir
Tori Whitehead
Machele Johnson
Orion Centauri
Lauren Maxwell

Spurs of the Moment: Texas Poets on Spontaneity & Form 
Wit’s End. 7:00-8:00 pm. All ages.

Chad Abushanab
Mag Gabbert
Evan MGarvey
Megan Peak
R. Flowers Rivera

Art&Words at Deep Ellum Lit Hop
The Armoury. 8-9 pm. All ages.

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam.
Allyson Whipple
Cole Dalton
Matthew Pitt
Logen Cure

Pegasus Reading Series
Kettle Art. 8:30-9:30 pm. All ages.

Tim Cloward
Tamitha Curiel
Lisa Huffaker
Joe Milazzo
Caitlin Pryor
Opalina Salas
Sophia Terazawa

Pink Drum
Kettle Art. 9:30-10:30PM. All ages.


John Darnielle @ The Wild Detectives

John Darnielle writes literary lyrics for the Mountain Goats, often telling stories about fictional characters or stories from his life. His new book, Wolf in White Van, is about a man who survives a trauma.

WHO: John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats will be at the Wild Detectives reading from his National Book Award longlisted debut novel, WOLF IN WHITE VAN (out now from the legendary FSG).
WHAT: Darnielle will read from his debut novel & do a signing for us.
WHEN: Sunday, October 5th, 2014 at 7:00PM
WHERE: The Wild Detectives, 314 W Eighth St, Dallas, TX 75208
Presented by Deep Vellum Publishing & WordSpace with The Wild Detectives.

Here’s an interview and brief overview of his novel at the San Francisco Bay Guardian
Also reviewed in The New York Times and The Austin Chronicle.  


Miroslav Penkov Wins Rolex Award

WordSpace Dallas congratulates Miroslav Penkov on his most recent accomplishment of winning the incredibly competitive Rolex Award. The competition aims to “assist extraordinary, rising artists to achieve their full potential by pairing them with great masters for a year of creative collaboration”. Through the program, Penkov will be paired with writer Michael Ondaatje and with his guidance, continue to work on a novel that has been in the works for four years now.
WordSpace is also honored to have, had Miroslav Penkov at salons in the past, and wish him much success as he embarks on his year-long mentorship.
You can view photos of Penkov’s Salon with WordSpace here
and learn more about the Rolex Awards here


Roxy Gordon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some things he did

Roxy Gordon was “one of the great outlaw artist misfits” and so much more

By Jeff Liles Thursday, May 11 2000 (Dallas Observer)

To those who knew Roxy Gordon, the news of his passing on February 7 may have caught them a little off guard, but the official cause of death didn’t come as much of a surprise: cirrhosis of the liver. The man loved his liquor. Sorry if that sounds blunt, but that’s the way he was. Blunt and right to the point — no bullshit. Roxy was the most unpretentious person I’ve ever met in my life, and his writing reflected that. After years of watching alcohol take its toll on many of the creative people around him, he kept right on drinking. Old habits tend to die hard, and old drinkers die harder.

But Roxy and his fascinating assortment of friends wrung as much out of life as they could during their time together, in every possible way. He was, first and foremost, a Native American activist. But he was also a poet, multimedia artist, and a fixture among the outlaw country set. And much of his life was a combination of it all.

For example, a couple of years back, my girlfriend Perla and I were in East Dallas on our way home from dinner, driving west down Oram Street toward Greenville Avenue. As we swung past Gordon’s house at the southwest corner of the Matilda intersection, I noticed that the porch light was on and the front door was open. We decided to drop in for a minute and say hello. Roxy was like that: You could drop by his place any time you wanted, and he and his wife Judy would always welcome you inside and make you a drink.

As Perla and I walked up the steps that night, we could hear someone inside playing an acoustic guitar. The man started to sing in a flat, monotone voice, and he sounded a little drunk. As we got closer to the front door, it became obvious that it wasn’t Roxy who was mumbling through “Pancho and Lefty,” a song that I was beginning to recognize from one of my dad’s oldWillie Nelson records.

I peeked through the door at the intimate little gathering that was happening inside. There were seven or eight people strewn all over the living room, some holding vodka bottles, most smoking cigarettes. Roxy waved us in and Judy rose up to give us each a big hug. Man, it was just such a great vibe in that room. I could tell right away that we were in for something special that night.

The skinny guy in the corner with glasses and a beat-up guitar in his hands was Townes Van Zandt. For two hours he sat there and knocked out one amazing song after another, stopping only to do a shot of cheap vodka or light another Winston. The inside of Roxy’s living room was like a thumbtacked museum of photos, books, and artifacts dedicated to Native American culture. It was absolutely the perfect place to hear Townes do his thing.

After about 10 or 15 songs and stories, I got up off the floor and went into the kitchen to fix a drink. A couple of minutes later, Roxy came in and sat down at the kitchen table. I wanted to seize the opportunity to tell him how much we appreciated his letting Perla and me in on this amazing little experience. We were pretty much awestruck by Van Zandt’s rather intoxicated interpretation of his songbook.

“Damn, Jeff…can you guys take him with ya?”

What was that?

“He’s been here for a damn week,” Gordon explained. “He came to town to do some show at Poor David‘s, and he’s been on our couch for days. We can’t get rid of him. He thinks all he has to do is sit there in that chair and sing all night, and we’ll put him up for however long he wants.” Roxy poured himself another shot into his Styrofoam cup.

I laughed out loud. “No, man, I wish I could, but Perla and I are in the same boat Townes is,” I said. “We just got back from Los Angeles, and we’re staying in the room above the garage at my mother’s house.”

I thought about it for a second: Townes Van Zandt staying at my mom’s house, sitting in our living room smoking cigarettes and singing songs until three in the morning for a week or so. Sure, she’d go for that.

“Well, damn it. I don’t guess I’m ever gonna get to sit on my own damn couch again.”

Roxy was smiling when he said it, half putting me on, certainly meaning no disrespect to one of his best friends in the world. I’m sure it was the vodka talking. It said a lot for him sometimes.

We left about three in the morning, but things were really just getting going, if you ask me. In the car on the way home that night, we agreed that we had just had one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Even as passive, casual observers to the goings-on in Roxy Gordon’s living room, we felt damn lucky to be able to hang out with a group of folks who were so unpretentious and real.

Townes, who shared a birthdate with Roxy, passed away a couple of months later.

Not long after that, the Gordons, along with their son Quanah, decided to move out to Roxy’s grandmother’s old house near Coleman, Texas, about four hours west of Dallas. By this time they had pretty much had enough of Dallas. “Wouldn’t you leave Dallas, Texas?” Gordon asked theDallas Observer a few months after moving (“Roxy redux, February 26, 1998). “I always planned to live out here or northern Montana, but I guess here is where I’m going to be for now.”

Quanah and Judy also wanted to live out in the country. Roxy and his son had been building a smaller lean-to shack called the “House Up” for years before that, which sat on a bluff overlooking his grandmother’s old place. It was a great place to write, and people would come out and drink all night, singing songs and carrying on. With no electricity or running water, built entirely by hand, the House Up was as close as Roxy could get to the clouds and stars. It was a radical departure from the life he had led while living in Dallas.

Over the years, Gordon became entrenched with a fairly odd cross-section of people from around here. Painter Frank X. Tolbert, Jr. and his wifeAnn Stautberg were Roxy and Judy’s seemingly constant companions. In fact, there is a portrait of the foursome painted on the wall in the back room at Terrilli’s, down on Lower Greenville.

I met them all for the first time back in 1987, when I was booking the shows at Prophet Bar in Deep Ellum. Russell Hobbs and I were living in the loft space above the bar, and he liked to invite the four of them upstairs to drink and tell their stories after hours. I remember thinking at the time that Roxy looked like a biker, with his leather pants and that black bandanna tied around his head. He and Frank Jr. could drink anybody we knew under the table back in those days. Tolbert would play the washtub bass and provide backing music for Roxy’s stories. These people were insane, and I loved hanging out with them.

Over the years, Roxy’s peer group of Texas “folk artists” and drinking buddies included a surly cross-section of outlaw freaks that had each (in their own twisted way) redefined the word “subculture.” Besides permanent sidekicks Tolbert and Van Zandt, there was David Allan CoeRay Wylie Hubbard, and former Nervebreakers and Rotten Rubber Band lead vocalist Tex Edwards. And somewhere along the way, Roxy crossed paths with snot-caked Stick Men With Ray Guns nuisance Bobby Soxx, and he came aboard as well.

Also included in Gordon’s definitive circle of friends were Butch HancockTommy HancockThe Gourds‘ Max Johnston (who recorded 1990’s Smaller Circles with him), Terry Allen, music writer Joe Nick Patoski, Jim “Reverend Horton Heat” Heath (who also lived on Oram), poets C.J. Berman and Charley MoonBilly Joe Shaver, poet Karen X and visual artist Laney Yarber. He often shared stages with Van Zandt, Tolbert, Allen, Johnston, Richard Dobson, Diamond Jim Richman, Texanna Dames, and he even did a show at the old Major Theater with Erykah Badu‘s first performance art group, Soul Nation. Roxy Gordon had far more allies than enemies; he could hang with anyone.

One of Roxy’s best friends was a local writer and poet named Robert Trammell, who is currently the executive director of WordSpace, a nonprofit arts and literary organization that often featured Roxy’s work at a number of their gatherings. Trammell remembers seeing him for the first time about 15 years ago.

“I met him at his first house over on Palo Pinto in East Dallas,” Trammell says. “I went over there with Frank and Ann Tolbert. I did not like him at first. Roxy and Judy had come to Dallas with David Allan Coe a couple of years before that. They had been on the road with him in some capacity that I was never sure of. I thought they must be gypsys or part of some kind of circus.”

But what Trammell remembers the most is Roxy and Judy’s first place here in Dallas.

“It was a little house at the back of the lot,” he recalls. “One side of it was on a side street. There was this little camper parked in front with some kind of Indian drawings and words on it. I wound up living in that trailer for several months. They moved to the Oram house after that, seven or eight years ago.” That particular house was like a living folk art landmark for a lot of people, who would stop or pull over to see the various animal hides or bone fragments that decorated the front porch.

Trammell and Gordon were also both active participants in the movement to free imprisoned Native American activist Leornard Peltier. They did several benefits over the years that featured, among others, Sara Hickman, local performance artist Fred Curchack, “Dollar” Bill Johnston(Michelle Shocked and Max Johnston’s dad), Ray Wylie Hubbard, and of course, Townes Van Zandt. Native American culture was Gordon’s sincere passion and obviously the essence and inspiration for most of his writing. Roxy was adopted into the Assiniboine tribe in Montana in the late-’60s, and was given the name “First Coyote Boy.” Trammell describes Gordon’s family tree as “one-half Choctaw, and one-half Texas Ranger…and half outlaw.”

In his hilariously poignant song “Indians,” Gordon split the world in two specific groups: That which was “Indian” (acceptable in his eyes), and that which “ain’t.” Making the cut as “Indians” were: Leonard PeltierChuck Berry, baseball, Willie Nelson, red meat, Hank Williams, street people, Pancho Villa, Los Angeles, Fort Worth, fry bread, Africa, Crazy HorseSitting Bull, poetry, circles and random lines, and “living.” That which “ain’t Indian” included Michael Jackson, Europe, JFK, proper punctuation, the president of Baylor University, football, New York City, health-food stores, General Custer, straight lines, Che Guevara, the FBI, and unions full of cops. The last words of the song are, “Expecting to live forever won’t ever be ‘Indian’…”

On the Marq’s Texas Music Kitchen Web site (www.lonestarwebstation.com/roxygordon.html), there is a quote from Lubbock musician-artist Terry Allen that probably says it best.

“Roxy Gordon was Indian, and most of the rest of us ain’t.”

“Roxy Gordon is one of the great outlaw artist misfits,” Allen says. “He writes like an angel and sings like livin’ hell. He’s got a fine eagle tattoo on his arm, and I like his hat. His voice is as stone, true as the history of blood and dirt. In those mirrored shades he looks like the perfect cross between an ex-state trooper and a serial killer. He’ll hate me for saying that…the state trooper part. Roxy is a brave and solid heart.”

It was hard to believe that this soft-spoken old guy who was always sitting out on his front porch in East Dallas had really lived the kind of life that Roxy had. He wrote several books of poems and short stories, including Breeds andSome Things I Did. He also released three spoken word albums, Crazy Horse Never Died,Unfinished Business, and the one that was my particular favorite, Smaller Circles. I bought my first vinyl copy of Smaller Circles at the old Record Gallery store on Lower Greenville. It was an import, released on a label based in London. I think I paid 20 bucks for it. Roxy was living right down the street from me at the time and I didn’t even know it. I wore that record out fast.

Over the years, Roxy’s writing was featured in Rolling Stone and The Village Voice. He also often contributed to a UK publication calledOmaha Rainbow. The late ’60s and ’70s found him hanging out with guys like Jim Morrison, author Richard BraughtiganLeonard Cohen,Robert Creely, and Temple native Rip Torn. Like a lot of people at the time, he was living Jack Kerouac‘s On the Road, but he was living it better. He was both Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty.

A few years after Some Things I Did came out in 1972, Roxy and Judy moved out to New Mexico for a spell and began publishing a country music magazine called Picking up the Tempo. It was there that he hooked up with Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, and Waylon Jennings. Roxy was right there in the thick of the “Texas Outlaw” country-rock movement, lending his rather concise perspective to the proceedings. He was Americana before the frat boys and washed-out middle-age punk rockers started turning it into their Highland Park version of Hee Haw.


Sometimes I get to thinking that people in Dallas tend to take some of our more “eccentric” citizens for granted. For instance, Tom Landry passed away a couple of days after Roxy did. There were huge headlines, specials on TV, and this city paused for a full week to hold a huge memorial for the former coach of the Dallas Cowboys. One after another, former football stars and various civic leaders praised Landry’s Christian morals and ideals.

On the other hand, aside from what is left of his immediate family, there were fewer than 10 people from Dallas at Roxy Gordon’s services in Coleman.

Both were men who were thoughtful and poised, determined, and firmly believed in their spiritual convictions. Both often led by example and loved their families deeply. Both men used an entertainment medium in an attempt somehow to teach greater “life” lessons. However, in this particular juxtaposition of “Cowboys and Indians,” Tom Landry’s lifestyle was celebrated, exalted, praised to the high heavens. Roxy Gordon’s obituary in The Dallas Morning News took up less than six column inches, and not one of the local news broadcasts mentioned his passing. Make of it what you will.

Roxy would have been 55 years old on March 7 of this year. Survivors include his wife, Judy N. Gordon of Talpa, Texas, and his mother, Louise E. Gordon of Coleman. Other survivors include his adopted Assiniboine parents, John and Minerva Allen, and two sons and one daughter-in law, J.C. and Corinne Gordon of Dallas and Quanah Parker Gordon of Talpa. Roxy also had a twin brother that died at birth. J.C.’s wife Binky is expecting Roxy Gordon’s first grandchild in four or five months.

Somewhere Roxy and Townes are knocking back a bottle of vodka, trading stories about all of the people they met and places they’ve been. That night I spent listening to Townes playing in Roxy’s living room probably won’t even register in the scope of their overall experiences. A hell of a lot of living went into those 55 years, and those who were close to Roxy feel lucky ever to have known the man.

As I’m driving home from work down Central Expressway, amidst all the traffic, billboards, concrete, pollution and confusion, one thing comes up as clear as the water in Coleman: Roxy Gordon was Indian, and many of the rest of us ain’t.

 Some Links to Roxy Gordon:

Dallas Arts Revue (J. R. Compton)

http://www.ipl.org/div/natam/bin/browse.pl/A390


Tyler-Davis Arts District Block Party!

Tyler-Davis Arts District Block Party
When: Saturday August 13th, 2011
Where: 415 N. Tyler St. and The Whole Block!

Come out and get sizzled at the Tyler Davis Block Party! Check out our new neighbors and friends in historic Oak Cliff- Tom Battles Custom Picture Framing has a grand opening at his new space, 413 N.Tyler, 4-8pm and Gallery Bomb opens, 407a N.Tyler, with a premiere opening “Sugar Coated Memories” featuring new work by Loretta Gonzalez, 6-9pm. MFA Gallery, 419 N.Tyler, hosts the “Superbad” show, infamous artists Brian Jones and Brian Scott will judge the best of the worst, 6-10pm. Be sure to drop by our WordSpace office, 415 N.Tyler, chillax and pick up the new Fall Schedule of Literary Events. Incense and Peppermints, 421 N.Tyler, will be further putting out the good vibes with live music and art. Across the street at Oil and Cotton, 838 W.Davis they’ll be celebrating their new Back Porch Studio with festivities throughout the day. Over on Davis, Kelly at The Rose Garden, 841 W.Davis, promises special event day bargains, always some great finds at the Garden. And don’t forget to visit Wendi at From the Ends of the Earth, 835 W.Davis for Fair-Trade exotica from around the planet. Stop in at CoCoAndre, 831 W.Davis, for, really, just the best chocolate treats in Dallas. And Daniel and Manuel Padilla Gallery, 829 W.Davis, are helping further the arts in the Cliff with their fine work. Expect Complimentary beverages, snacks, scenes and suprises! See yall out there!

Our office, staffed by Program Director, Karen X Minzer, is in Dallas’s Oak Cliff neighborhood. It is an open door for artists, poets, educators and community leaders to interact and interface their work with ours. It also provides open-genre venue for salons, workshops, booksignings, iCHat and other experimental genres, not to mention the ongoing X+ Arts, Bishops Arts, and Tyler/Davis Arts block parties and festivals. Our office is located at 415 North Tyler St., Dallas, Texas 75208. Stay tuned to our website for any last minute planning over here in this very active and vital Dallas arts and culture scene.

Hosted by Karen X and WordSpace Gang
Become a WordSpace Member!


Dallas Morning News: Ben Fountain on Robert Trammell

Sunday Essay: Dallas poet Robert Trammell marched to his own meter 

By BEN FOUNTAIN / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News

Published: 31 July 2010 10:19 AM

Robert Trammell, Dallas poet, died in May 2006 of cholangiocarcinoma, vulgarly known as cancer of the bile duct. That, at least, was the official cause of death. Some who knew Bob suspect that cancer was merely the proxy for the disease that actually killed him, the same disease that has been known to kill American writers and artists (and a great many others, too) – anxiety over money.

Bob was that rarest of contemporary creatures, an independent poet. He made his career outside of academia, with scant, intermittent support from the public and private arts institutions that help to sustain a handful of writers in the United States. To function without that official validation – to live off the rez, as Bob saw it – a writer has to have a strong sense of himself, and Bob had that essential knowledge by the truckload. Tall, lean, bearded, his long hair usually braided or cuffed in a ponytail, Bob would have fit right in at a Hell’s Angels convention, but he was a wild man of an entirely different order, a renegade who went looking for truth.

We Came Out of the Night

made the left at Rocksprings

and hit the South Texas heat

wave in a ’49 Mercury, lowered with skirts

&leadedin front hood, roll’d & pleat’d & built

for fast trips to the border. It was black.

Outside Del Rio the air shimmers white

shattered into pastel & red afterimages.

The heat decides everything. Suspends

thought. Cactus dominate.

“We Came Out of the Night,” from No Evidence (2001)

The outlines of his biography are standard enough: born 1939 in Dallas, raised in Dallas and East Texas, graduated from Woodrow Wilson High and SMU. His Texas roots reached back five generations, and among his ancestors he counted cotton planters and speculators, circuit-riding preachers, and one Nicholas Trammell, a.k.a. “Hot Horse,” who ran horses of suspect provenance for Jean Lafitte along a trail eventually known as Trammell’s Trace. Bob planned to go to law school, but a different vocation beckoned in the form of what the novelist Gore Vidal has called “the curse” – the irresistible compulsion to write.

“Of all the insane things to do,” Bob once said. “To be a poet in Dallas.”

He had as much desire as anyone for money, status, professional standing and the pleasures that might be lumped under the catch-all category of “the good life.” He had a dude’s taste for fancy boots and urban-cowboy clothes. Cars were a lifelong fetish, his aesthetic firmly grounded in the styles of the ’40s and ’50s. As far as material desires go, he was a rock-solid 20th-century American citizen, and certainly no less so for being from Dallas, which may be the most American of all American places in its allegiance to the virtues of consumer culture.

But that other thing, the compulsion, that was stronger. To do the kind of work he wanted to do, Bob had to turn his back on most of the things that this society wants us to want. One could go even further and argue that by aspiring to do serious writing, Bob placed himself in opposition to mainstream society, a society in which the existential question – how am I supposed to live my life? – is essentially an economic question, a matter of justifying one’s existence based largely on the money one makes and the things one owns. To be a poet is to chart a different course entirely, where developing a certain cast of mind – the moral imagination, one might call it – takes precedence over economic self-justification. You read certain books and seek out certain works of art. You commit to acquiring rigorous powers of reasoning, inquiry and critical analysis, the ability to see things for what they are, not just the surfaces but what’s below and behind.

To be the kind of poet Bob set out to be, he had to achieve an independence of mind that would free him from accepting at face value the things we’re told by our government, our corporations, our media, our bosses.

as I hear it now in the fire

in my head

out there.

at night, in the cold, as some

people hear other places, summer.

I can hear

the deepest part of their song.

not the crescendo cranking up

attack but the heart of

the song when all the

world vibrates with cicada

wings.

I turn up the fire.

“c.7,” from Cicada (1993)

It makes for a scrambling sort of life, the poetic vocation. The best literary magazines pay a dollar a line, and most poets consider 10 lines to be a good day. To keep body and soul together, Bob winged his way through an eclectic career that included stints as warehouse manager, cabdriver, insurance adjuster, DJ, staff writer for a jazz magazine, hack writer for a magazine conglomerate in New York City, counselor at a home for boys, arts advocate, bookstore clerk, grocery stocker. Whatever it took. A job was something Bob did to support his writing habit, the main consideration always being whether the job would leave him sufficient hours to get his writing done.

There are no pensions for independent poets, no 401(k)s, no employer-funded health benefits. Being a freelance poet in America is to be the societal equivalent of a crustacean without a shell. Bob knew that if he’d gone a more conventional route, he had the abilities to be a success as it’s defined in Dallas – financial security, the big house, all the toys and goodies and stuff – but he was after bigger game, the original shock and awe of truth and beauty. For this he had to live his entire life as a gamble, and there’s a terrible thrill in that.

The day-to-day work of learning to write is punishing. It takes discipline, endurance, concentration, dedication to a long apprenticeship with no guarantee of success. But by the same token it’s a powerful way to live, because it demands nothing less than complete engagement in life. No poet ever wrote a decent line by phoning it in. The good poems require a surgeon’s focus and a physicist’s clarity of mind, plus a cardsharp’s gut feel for the play, but poetry is harder than all of these, because the variables are infinite, and the mystery of being human has no bounds.

Poetry is the work of comprehending human experience through the deliberate and maddeningly difficult labor of finding language equal to the experience. But why bother, especially in Dallas, which has everything? Why even bother to read anymore, much less write? In a society saturated with “media,” with movies on demand, cable and satellite TV, the Internet, iPhones, iPads, texts, tweets, downloadable music from virtually every era and culture, why mess with that old-economy artifact, the book? We have so many other sources besides books these days that we can look to for entertainment and information, and in any case, the content found in books is surely too slow, too quiet for our restless appetites. The profession of poet seems hopelessly obsolete, the old work of trying to describe human existence in all its complexity, with all its confusions and ambiguities.

These days we get what we need from the screen; that is we think we do until we’re hit with a genuine crisis in our lives, the kind of tragedy that leads us to ask Why? but has no clear answer. Crises in marriage, crises with children, sickness, death, economic disaster or perhaps a collective trauma such as occurred on Sept. 11 almost nine years ago – in other words, the hard stuff of life as it’s actually lived.

To look reality in the face and not blink, that’s the poets’ job. There are times in our lives when their unflinching vision is as close to comfort and understanding as we’re ever going to get.

Bob wrote, always. His work appeared in more than 200 magazines, and he published over a dozen books of poetry. Love and lust were constant themes –

He sat down his beer at 3 in the morning

and asked how she got those knife cuts

across her breast. She answered I did it

myself. He asks her to spend the night,

putting down the bottle. She says Yes

&shows him the rest of her scars.

By morning they both have fresh ones.

“He Sat Down,” from Things That Hammer, Things That Cut (2001)

and family –

One swing,

after the fight,

and the ax bit deep

into the upended

oak log leaving

enough of a cut

to fit a wedge in.

Another swing with the maul drove

it deep, deeper until

he felt it shatter her heart

into sticks of firewood that the boy

took into the house to build a fire with.

“Marriage,” from Things That Hammer, Things That Cut

And, of course, Dallas. He found much to push against in a city that encompassed, as he’d cheerfully point out, an Arts District with no artists, large numbers of multimillionaires and chronically broke public schools, and grand plans to build a billion-dollar toll road BETWEEN the LEVEES, where it’s SUPPOSED to FLOOD, duh! He turned the yard of his house on Mecca Street into a mini-version of the Big Thicket; when city inspectors threatened with fines, he led them on a walking tour of the yard and named off every bramble, bush, vine, grass, weed and bamboo type. The code inspectors relented, and Bob wrote a poem, of course.

if it were French

sauvagerie, pillowcase

lions with soft golden tresses,

unicorns and what we do

with Hollywood myths, languishing

man. They were not ready

for all the damn work.

Say I let my city yard

go for two years. Plants

will blow in, plants that

have slept in the earth for

centuries, the memory of

plants haunts, invades the place.

“In the Woods,” from Cherokee Book 2 (2001)

Bob insisted that pushing poetry into the public realm was part of his job. “I want to show the people of Dallas that they have more alternatives than being a banker or developer,” he once said, and whether the people of Dallas wanted it or not, he showed them. For several years he published a magazine called Hot Flashes. His wind panels can be seen at the Lovers Lane DART station, and with his wife, Adrienne, he co-founded the nonprofit arts organization WordSpace, which continues in operation to this day. His Barnburner Press supported several local writers, and the arts festivals he organized from the 1970s until his death were anarchic mash-ups of theater, music, dance, poetry and fiction.

He brought James Kelman to Dallas all the way from Scotland, LeAnne Howe from Minnesota, Ray Wylie Hubbard from off the road, and ancient survivors of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys out of retirement. He brought the poet and NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu to Dallas for an event; that evening, the Romanian-born poet and master of sardonic lyricism could be found on the roof of the Trammell house with Bob and Adrienne’s son Clinton, the two of them eating mulberries straight off of Bob’s tree.

Bob wasn’t in it for the money, because God knows there wasn’t much. He did what he did for the most useful and honorable of reasons: for devotion to art; for dedication to clear seeing and thinking; for the enlightenment that language properly used offers us. Contrast that with our daily diet of media saturation, the “feed” that’s mostly advertising of one form or another, somebody trying to sell us a product, a lifestyle, a political agenda. Developing, and keeping, the fierce independence of mind that Bob Trammell cultivated seems to take more effort with each passing year. Why bother, we might ask. Why not just give ourselves over to the easy life of letting others do our seeing and thinking for us, an attractive proposition, perhaps, until we start to consider the stakes.

What is our independence of mind worth? Every July Fourth, Veterans Day and Memorial Day, little flags are placed at all the gravestones in our military cemeteries, and politicians speak to the sacrifice of the American war dead, but perhaps we should question the wisdom of trusting politicians to speak for the dead. Birds sing, girls dance and politicians spin: This is no less than the nature of things. Perhaps we would be better served if speaking on such occasions were left to the poets, those among us of genuinely independent mind who’ve devoted their lives to clear seeing and thinking, to finding the language that’s true to experience. Perhaps, in the end, we wouldn’t have as many war dead to mourn. It’s hard to imagine that the poets could do any worse.

The Hole

that Sputnik punched in the sky

dreams of invasion. We could feel

the paranoia, we could hear the music. The music won.

from Jack Ruby and the Origins of the Avant-Garde in Dallas (2001)

Dallas resident Ben Fountain is the author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara (Stories), which won the 2007 PEN/Hemingway prize; a contributor to The New York Times and This American Life; and a past president of the board of directors of WordSpace. All selections from Robert Trammell’s work reprinted with permission of Barnburner Press.In this essay, Ben Fountain looks at one of Dallas’ legendary independent spirits and challenges us to learn from his approach to living.

 


Ben Fountain’s new book is due out in May!

 

News and Features
Jerome Weeks   |   October 4, 2011   10:06 AM

The Frankfurt Book Fair is this month, and as part of the run-up to one of the largest book industry marketplaces in the world, European publishers and book agents have been touting their new titles.  And so I happened to come across the Curtis Brown literary agency’s website, with its information about Ben Fountain’s debut novel,  Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk. It’s a nifty little find because, although HarperCollins’ Ecco Press is going to publish the novel in America, there’s absolutely no info about it on their site.

We already knew that Billy Lynn was the title for Fountain’s much-anticipated second book — after his impressive 2004 debut, the short-story collection, Brief Encounters with Che GuevaraBilly came about, though, only after what was going to be the Dallas writer’s first novel, The Texas Itch, stalled and eventually flamed out completely. Just the fact that he was able to write his way past that frustration is mighty encouraging.

While Brief Encounters displayed Fountain’s talent for (among other things) wry humor about Americans abroad, Billy Lynn is set during the Iraq War and is a full-out satire “about the gaping disconnect between the war at home and the war abroad. ” Turns out, despite the football title, Billy Lynn is as much about the military, media celebrity and the Bush administration as it is about Texas or the Dallas Cowboys.

Curtis Brown’s happy movie-pitch synopsis: “A Catch-22 for our times.”

Oh yes. Pub date in America is May 2012.

Take the jump for the longer plot summary.

From the PEN/Hemingway award-winning and critically acclaimed author of Brief Encounters with Che Guevara comes a razor sharp satire set in Texas during the American war in Iraq about the gaping disconnect between the war at home and the war abroad. A Catch-22 for our times.

The eight surviving members of Bravo Squad have been touring the U.S. for the past two weeks on their media-intensive “Victory Tour,” part of a campaign to reinvigorate popular support for the war. Four months into their combat tour in Iraq, Bravo defeated an elite force of enemy insurgents at what has come to be known as “the battle of Al-Ansakar Canal.” Their victory, however, came at a cost–one of their number, Sergeant Breem, aka “Shroom,” was killed in action, and another, Specialist Lake, nearly perished when both of his legs were blown off. The most critical minutes of the battle were captured on film by a Fox News camera crew, and this videotape–broadcast widely on television at home and abroad, and a viral sensation on the internet–turned the men of Bravo into celebrity heroes virtually overnight.

Seizing on this golden public relations gift, the Bush administration quickly arranged for the Bravos to be flown home to embark on a nationwide tour, the final day of which takes place at Texas Stadium, on the occasion of the Dallas Cowboys’ nationally broadcast Thanksgiving Day game against the Chicago Bears. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk follows the Bravos through the course of this day, especially its hero, Specialist William Lynn, aka Billy, a 19-year-old Texas native and virgin who was awarded the Silver Star in recognition of his valiant exploits at the Al-Ansakar Canal. During the course of this day, Billy and his fellow Bravos will, among other adventures, be guests of honor in the suite of Cowboys owner Norman Oglesby, mix and mingle with some of the nation’s wealthiest individuals, aspire to sex and marriage with the world-famous Cowboys cheerleaders, share center stage with Destiny’s Child during the halftime extravaganza, attempt to close a movie deal with the help of veteran Hollywood producer Albert Ratner, endure the politics and affections of many hundreds of their fellow citizens, in addition to physical assaults, yearn for home, mourn their dead, and consume alcohol whenever the occasion presents itself, all the while contemplating the reality of their return to combat operations in Iraq within the next several days.


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