Live fast, write loud
Professor Sean Carswell introduces CSUCI to a new breed of literature — and it ain’t pretty
By Matthew Singer 04/12/2007
“And Cain did reply/Lord, this burden is too much for me to bear/Whenceforth did the Lord/Unzip his holy pants/And pee into a bottle.”
Well, what did you expect from a poet named Bucky Sinister? Unicorns and leaves of grass?
“Drowning on God’s Urine,” the first poem in Sinister’s 2004 book Whiskey & Robots, is the piece the Bay Area-based writer and performer chose to start his reading at Cal State University Channel Islands on April 9. It is a faux-Biblical creation story about the birth of bourbon whiskey (hint: It is more divine than you think) and the beginning of Sinister’s addiction to alcohol and a lot of other substances.
Until five years ago, the shaven-headed, sleeve-tattooed Sinister lived the punk rock myth, crashing in a dilapidated three-story house in Berkeley with speed freaks and pill poppers, drinking himself asleep (and awake), watching stolen cable and going to shows. His poems, most of which are collected in the soon-to-be released All Blacked Out & Nowhere To Go, are, as he calls them, “snapshots of the incidents” from that time period, “moments that floated to the top of the swamp of my drunken mind.” They are, in essence, verbal photographs which, when put together, chronicle his long, rough descent to the bottom. And they are pretty fucking funny, too.
“I am an organic robot/Driven by a tiny driver inside me,” Sinister announces to the audience in the nearly full lecture hall in a voice made coarse from years of dousing his throat with alcohol. “The tiny driver keeps me awake at night/On long crying jags/And complaints/About the undeserved amount of disrespect he receives.” He pauses. “I pour booze on him/In a feeble attempt to shut him up.”
Sinister and fellow author Jim Ruland came to CSUCI as part of the second installment of Loud & Fast Literature, an event started by professor and “expired punk” Sean Carswell last semester. The idea, he says, is to bring to the campus dynamic writers with original voices whose perspectives are every bit as valid as those of the classic authors he is obligated to teach.
“Literature doesn’t have to be on a pedestal,” Carswell says. “[Ruland and Sinister] are not traditional writers, but they’re very literary in their own way.”
Although Ruland, who read a selection from his short-story collection Big Lonesome, and Sinister come from punk backgrounds — Sinister embodying it, Ruland writing about it, as a columnist for legendary fanzine Flipside and now Razorcake, which he co-founded with Carswell — both reject the term “punk writer.”
But there is no denying that both writers’ work bursts with the subversive energy of the music that inspires them. Sinister, for example, often employs a device in which he places real people in fictional situations: Abraham Lincoln meeting Mary Todd at a concert, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe playing keep-away with Wayne Gretzky’s helmet. Ruland’s “Kessler Has No Lucky Pants,” which he read with help from Sinister, is about the tragedy of the human condition, written as a Q&A between two anonymous conversationalists and filled with references to meth addicts, Tijuana brothels and “amateur clown porn.”
So, if not “punk,” then, what do you call this? Because simple literature just doesn’t seem to cover it.
For Ruland, the answer is easy: “We’re two talented guys with extraordinary style.”