It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)

Chris Thiem, a.k.a. Birdman and Funk Lord of Blue Earth County, is my former high school English teacher, long-time friend, and a long-time good, horrible, pagan, hippie, bad, socialist, positive influence on me. He was born in 1950, raised in Mankato, graduated from the University of Montana in Humanities, and returned to Mankato to teach. Except for annual summer drifting throughout the West, he has been steeped in Catholic education ever since. Now Chris Thiem, who once ran (before his knees ran out on him) a 1:51 800 meters, tells it like it is for the Proust Questionnaire:

What is your present state of mind?

That of a man who has escaped.

What is your idea of happiness?

Time to work on my journal, receiving mail, and going birding.

Who are your favorite fictional characters?

Sal Paradise, Queequeg, and Francis Crawford of Lymond.

Who are your favorite people in history?

Artists, explorers, and naturalists.

Your favorite artist?

Joseph Cornell.

Your favorite musician?

Bob Dylan.

The quality you most admire in a man?

Saying the unexpected.

The quality you most admire in a woman?

Compassion and cooking.

What do you most value in your friends?

Spontaneity and a willingness to go on meaningless quests.

Your favorite way to spend time?

Wandering, reading, answering the mail, and drinking coffee.

Your most marked characteristic?

Daydreaming and indolence.

What is your principle defect?

Lack of ambition.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Conservative Christians.

Where would you like to live?

Near the sea.

What is your favorite color?

Faded blue.

Your favorite flower?

The Trillium.

What is your favorite bird?

Out of the 1100 birds on my life list you expect me to choose ONE?! They are all miracles, right down to the starlings with their weird inter-galactic voices!

Who are your favorite prose writers?

Thomas Pynchon, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Shakespeare.

Your favorite poets?

Keats, Dylan, and Jack Gilbert.

What are your favorite names?

The names of women.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?

The ability to fly.

How would you like to die?

As a sacrificial offering.

Who/what do you want to come back as in your next life?

A Wandering Albatross.

What is your motto?

Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.

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Pat Dennis Live in Concert: Hotdish to Die For (laugh ’til you hurl!)

Ah, sweet, sweet summer solstice. The time of year here in Minnesota when the thumb-long zucchini in your garden grow into something the size of baseball bats overnight. The time of year when the pretty college student working at the movie theatre lets her friends in for free when no one’s looking. Your son loses yet another Little League game, mosquitoes descend upon you like a biblical plague, and neighbors up and down the block exchange batches of homemade wine, the kind of wine that takes the enamel off teeth. After a swig of it, you’re afraid to exhale for fear of starting somebody’s garage on fire.

For Pat Dennis, mystery writer and stand-up comedienne extraordinaire, summer is great, but in Minnesota, hotdish is a year-round phenomenon. Tuesday night she performed at Once Upon A Crime bookstore for KSMQ, southern Minnesota’s PBS channel, in town filming a documentary tentatively called, Minnesota Hotdish: A Love Story.

Pat hails from Chicago but has lived in Minnesota for 28 years. “Which makes me a newcomer,” she says and we laugh.

“Do you trust me?”

“No!” we shout.

Pat hadn’t heard of the term hotdish until she arrived in Minnesota. By her estimation, the heartland word for casserole contains a can of soup, a can of veggies, I-got-it-on-sale meat, and rice. It’s then baked until all the moisture’s been sucked out of it.

“Hotdish is the sensible shoes of fine cuisine,” she states. This from a woman who uses a leaf blower to clean her house.

She has also been a hotdish judge where she once had to taste 80 different hotdishes. Besides deciding which one tasted best, she wanted to give out awards for, among other things, most dry, most burnt, and most calories, but thought better of it.

After her very funny performance, KSMQ wanted to get more laughter from another camera angle, so there was this magical moment where we’re all laughing on purpose while they’re filming us and it got so ridiculous we sincerely could hardly stop. The hotdish documentary is scheduled to come out on PBS sometime this fall.

In Pat’s collection of mystery short stories, Hotdish to Die For,  the weapon of choice is of course hotdish. The book has sold well everywhere except in Grand Rapids where it has been banned for containing cuss words. Knowing that, whether it’s winter, spring, summer or fall, how can anyone NOT want to live here?

Poem of the Hour

my father

by Charles Bukowski

was a truly amazing man
he pretended to be
rich
even though we lived on beans and mush and weenies
when we sat down to eat, he said,
“not everybody can eat like this.”

and because he wanted to be rich or because he actually
thought he was rich
he always voted Republican
and he voted for Hoover against Roosevelt
and he lost
and then he voted for Alf Landon against Roosevelt
and he lost again
saying, “I don’t know what this world is coming to,
now we’ve got that god damned Red in there again
and the Russians will be in our backyard next!”

I think it was my father who made me decide to
become a bum.
I decided that if a man like that wants to be rich
then I want to be poor.

and I became a bum.
I lived on nickles and dimes and in cheap rooms and
on park benches.
I thought maybe the bums knew something.

but I found out that most of the bums wanted to be
rich too.
they had just failed at that.

so caught between my father and the bums
I had no place to go
and I went there fast and slow.
never voted Republican
never voted.

buried him
like an oddity of the earth
like a hundred thousand oddities
like millions of other oddities,
wasted.

We Who Are About to Die, Salute You!

Last night’s Literary Death Match, held at the Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis, was far from your typical literary reading. Goth girls, kids who play with matches, musicians, and several nods to the recently deceased Ray Bradbury were on hand in what proved to be a wild gladiator fight of words because we all know, the pen is indeed, mightier than the sword.

The scene was bursting with the subversive, raucous energy of its contestants: photographer Jeffrey Skemp, who released his first collection of poetry and music album, Spent, last year; Pete Hautman. winner of the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award for his works Godless and The Big Crunch; Stephanie Wilbur Ash of MPR’s Electric Arc Radio fame, who has written for numerous publications and companies, and Juliet Patterson, author of The Truant Lover and the forthcoming Threnody, who has won many prizes and fellowships for her writing.

Literary Death Match series founder–Opium Magazine editor Todd Zuniga–set up the rules. The four writers were to be faced off in seven minute readings of their work, with each piece adjudicated according to its literary merit, the quality of the writer’s performance, and the most mysterious category, “intangibles.” Novelist Marlon James was the judge of literary merit, cartoonist Danno Klonowski the judge of performance, and Dennis Cass for intangibles. All were hilarious.

The first fight was between Patterson and Hautman. Patterson had the crowd cheering “love!” every time it was mentioned in her poetry, but died after Hautman read from his novel, Invisible, and emerged the victor of the first round.

Juliet Patterson

Pete Hautman

After a brief intermission, Skemp took the stage in his fight against Ash. There was an awkward moment of dead air before Skemp’s back-up guitarist got in tune but the wait was worth it. Everyone in the pub loved his whiskey husky voice. Alas, it could not compete against goth mom Ash, who had four members of the Prairie Fire Lady Choir to back her up while she read and won round two.

On to the grand finale between Hautman and Ash, which involved unscrambling letters to spell out famous authors’ last names. Hautman got hung up on the author Plath and Stephanie Wilbur Ash emerged as the victor of the night. What did she get as a prize? Bragging rights, of course. Some mighty fine bragging rights.

Stephanie Wilbur Ash, Literary Death Match winner

Todd Zuniga, Literary Death Match founder

The Literary Death Match in Minneapolis was presented by the Loft, and produced by Sarah Moeding. The Literary Death Match series takes place around the world. For more information, visit Literary Death Match