Occupy Writers

It looks like, three years on, the Occupy Writers website is defunct (thought the list of writers is archived). I thought I'd repost my contribution to the project here:

A New Year

We went down to Zucotti Park the day
after Rosh Hashana, when everything
is clean and new. The yoke of debt is lifted
from our shoulders, and anything
can be written on the freshly cleaned slate.

I got an email from my grandfather:
“Shana Tova. Happy New Year. I am
writing to you from your grandmother’s
bedside, here in the hospital. We can’t
tell from what they show on the TV
what is really going on in New York,
but I know that you are down there. It reminds
us of what we tried to do in the ‘30s.
I hope it works out better this time.”

Yes, grandpa, the people are in the street.
They aren’t scared of the police anymore
and they are trying to take a stand.
These people fought in the war, or against
the war, or they didn’t know what to do.
Some worked hard their whole lives but haven’t got
anything to show for it, yet. Others
got a little bit. Most of us still don’t
know what to do, but we have to do something.
It’s sunny now, but it might rain tonight.
Rain and dirt are the things that make seeds grow.
May all our names be inscribed in the book of life.



Shana Tova. Gut Yor. Happy New Year.

The last few months of 5774 were pretty dismal for the world. Here's to 5775 being more full of light.

The war in/on Gaza was heartbreaking from a number of perspectives. I didn't write or publicly post much about it. I am posting below a poem which I wrote about Gaza a couple years ago (and published in the lit mag Promethean) because it is, sadly, continually relevant.

I participated in a few actions this summer with a group called If Not Now. People are thinking, people are working, people are trying to do inspiring things.

Anyway, I haven't been posting to this blog very regularly, but you can also stay up with me on facebook and twitter (and now ello).

You can also check out some nonfiction I've published over the past few months:

- Under Annihilation’s Sign: Public Memory and Prospect Park’s Battle Pass (with Oksana Mironova) at The Architectural League’s Urban Omnibus
Pierless (with Oksana Mironova) at BKLYNR

Ordinary People and Ordinary Stories  (Andrew Worthington interview) at The Philadelphia Review of Books

I'll leave you with that Gaza poem:


Prized city, resting place of the prophet’s great
grandpa. The Phoenicians visited you
on their way from Tyre down to Cyrene.
You were home to the first Christian monastery.
You fell to King David, whose heavy
shield I wear around my neck.
You fell to the Caliphate. You fell
to the crusaders. Salahuddin

took you back. You flourished under the Pashas.

I don’t understand the modern history so well.
I have sat with otherwise rational men,
and listened as they became irate
over the subject of borders.
I understand that there are high rises
with people living inside of them.
I understand they have nowhere else to live.
I understand that if a missile hits
a building, the people in the building die.



The second edition of my poetry chapbook, The Men Who Work Under The Ground, is now available from the Keep This Bag Away From Children store You can read my author's note to the chapbook here:


My mother is a coal miner’s daughter.

After returning home from service in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, my grandpa Elmer mined coal for several years in a Peabody mine in Christian County, Illinois. Some of the earliest memories my mother has shared with me are of the coal dust being hosed off of her father before he came inside the house for dinner. I never knew him, myself. Coal miners don’t live to be real old. Elmer died in 1968 (when my uncle was serving in the Vietnam War) from a medical condition that has never been satisfactorily explained to me. My grandfather spent the last years of his life as a state game warden, out in the fresh forest air, but the years dismantling unexploded Nazi bombs and breathing coal dust had taken their toll.

The mines were mostly closed down when I was a kid, but their specter loomed over my yearly summer visits to Christian County.  There were stories of relatives who had contracted black lung, of neighbors’ houses that had collapsed into the empty earth beneath them.  On the wall of the grocery store, two towns over, there was an old mural honoring the dozens of men who’d been killed in a Christmas Eve cave in. I was shown newspaper clippings about a Progressive Miners of America aligned relative-by-marriage who had been shot dead by a strike-breaking Chicago thug during the union wars. The Progressives had managed to hold out against the Peabody Company (as well as the United Mine Workers of America, after UMWA leader John L. Lewis sold out to Peabody) until the governor sent in the Illinois National Guard to crush them.

When I was living in California a few years ago, I became friends with a troubled man who visited the used bookstore where I worked almost daily to buy used CDs of music from the 50s and 60s.  After we’d gotten to know each other bit he told me about his life, particularly his experiences as a tunnel rat during Vietnam.  It explained a lot about the way he was.  Most of the people who worked in the store with me didn’t like him hanging around, making the other customers uncomfortable, but I told them that until they’d been through what he’d been through, they should leave him the hell alone.

Later that same year, I was reading Roger Crowley’s 1453:  The Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West. Crowley’s book gives a fantastically detailed account of the siege and combat preceding the fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans.  After reading through extensive discussions of Sultan Mehmed II’s innovative use of artillery to batter the city walls, I came to a brief passage about fighting that occurred in tunnels underneath the walls.

The passage was revelatory to me. The images in the book connected to the stories I’d heard from my veteran friend in California, which in turn connected to the coal mining stories I’d heard as a kid. I had a sudden and cohesive vision of a web of tunnels, filled with human pain, winding throughout the whole earth and all of history.  It stretched back from The New York City subway system, through the colonies of the Spanish, Russian, and Roman Empires, all the way back to ancient Egypt, where Pharaohs forced farmers to dig royal tombs.  I suddenly understood what it means in the in the Book of Exodus when it refers to Mitzrayim (מצרים), the narrow place.

Brooklyn Gang

I found this old essay in a folder on my computer. I wrote it a couple years ago when I was working in a museum, but then I quit that job before I did anything with that essay. I still relate to what I had to say in the essay, so I decided to toss it up here: When you work in the galleries of a museum, you develop relationships with certain images. While it is true that the curators select the images, they soon abandon them. It is left to those of us who work in the galleries on a daily basis – tour guides, security guards, etc. – to justify, explain, physically protect, and live with the framed images.  The images that you develop the strongest connection to are often not the ones that grab you at first, but the ones that grow on you gradually.  A simple gesture or expression takes on greater meaning once you view it hundreds of times over.

I developed one such relationship with a Bruce Davidson image this past summer, during ICP’s A Short History of Photography exhibition. The image – from Davidson's Brooklyn Gang series – is of a young woman standing in a park, with a cigarette in her mouth.  She is wearing a white, sleeveless blouse and a black skirt. Her bare arm is pulled back at a severe angle. At first glance, I thought the girl was pulling back to strike – the harsh look on her face would support this – but she's actually just fixing her hair, which has been disrupted by the wind.

The picture is messy.  The girl is in the foreground, but she is firmly planted in the right half of the horizontal frame.  Poking into the left half of the frame are a couple of the girl’s friends, napping on a white blanket. Above them, an overturned bag lies on the grass.  Even if Davidson had cropped off the left side, the portrait of the girl would still include the khaki-panted leg of a stranger trudging along a path in the background. Beyond the legs, there is a wall of bushes, dark and enclosing. The ground is uneven, and the grass looks unhealthy. The girl is not well either. She looked very tough at that first glance, but the more I looked at the photo, the more vulnerable – and younger – she appeared.

After the show was taken down, I wanted to revisit the photo in its context. Davidson spent the summer of 1959 following the Jokers, a crew of poor, mostly Irish, kids from the vicinity of 18th Street and 8th Avenue, a dismal corner of pre-gentrified (by decades) Park Slope. The kids are certainly delinquents, they steal cars to joyride and fight rivals with baseball bats, but they are not quite what would be considered a violent street gang by the standards of later decades. Brooklyn Gang originally ran as a spread in Esquire Magazine in 1959, but the entire series was only published as a monograph in 1998, by Twin Palms Publishers. The monograph has been reprinted this year by Steidl as part of Black & White, a beautiful five-volume boxed set of Davidson’s black and white works.

Brooklyn Gang is divided into nine sections, set in the various places where the kids spend time. There is “Candy Store,” where they read comic books and drink fountain sodas, “Party,” where they dance slow and make out, “The Street,” where they work on cars and smoke cigarettes, “The Hole” (a sort of submerged alley running alongside an apartment building), where they smoke cigarettes and drink. The photo of the girl is from the “The Park” section. Park Slope is defined by the fact that it leads up to the West side of Prospect Park, and it was natural that the Jokers hung out there.

Prospect Park was built by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux in 1867, following a rough draft called Central Park, and is one of the most beautiful parks in the world. It is a place where friends and families gather for recreation, but it has often been a place of violence as well. In fact, the location for the park was chosen largely because of the desire to preserve Battle Pass, a site where American troops tried, and failed, to hold off invading British troops during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. There were battles there in 1959, too. Davidson initially came down and met the Jokers after hearing about a violent brawl between teen gangs in the park.

One of the ways that the Jokers manifested their tribalism was through tattoos. Indeed, tattoos are a central aspect of the book's visual lexicon. They are not only present, but proudly displayed, in many of the images in the book. The tattoos are all fairly rudimentary: the words “Mom” and “Dad,” the nickname “Bobby” surrounded by stars, drawings of panthers, eagles, flowers, and skunks, all chosen from standard flash sheets.

I remember the single tattoo that adorned the forearm of my uncle, a tough fifties kids himself. It was a Marine Corps bulldog, which he got during the Vietnam War.  A flash tattoo will not have the same individuality, or sensitivity to body contour, that we seen in custom tattoo work done in Brooklyn today. My uncle’s tattoo was awkwardly placed and poorly done. Still, it remains one of the most powerful tattoos I have ever seen, as it meant that he had been part of a tribe, and had ventured into battle with his brothers. The Jokers’ tattoos meant much the same thing.

Most of the Jokers got their tattoos done at Mikey’s Tattooing in Coney Island. Following a hepatitis outbreak in 1961, all tattoo shops in New York City – including, no doubt, Mikey’s – were closed by the city. By the time tattooing was legalized in New York City again, in 1997, tattoos were no longer the sole province of sailors, bikers, and gang members. Nor, for that matter, was Park Slope any longer the province of the poor and working classes.

Recently, I have seen some of the “Brooklyn Gang” photos kicking around on the internet. Often, the interest is in the retro cool quality of the pictures. I admit that I am as susceptible to this as anyone. The tattoos are cool, the clothes are cool, the perfectly combed hair is cool. The book is full of attractive teenagers making out. Beyond that, there is a something charming about a group that has the toughness of a street gang, but exists in an era before the brutality of crack cocaine and semi-automatic weapons. It plays into a nostalgic fantasy of the working class white ethnic Brooklyn of old. However, my own grandfather reminds me – between stories of how great Coney Island was in 1940 – that he left Brooklyn because it was full of poverty and violence, and he did not like poverty and violence. Those were things that caused him pain.

“Brooklyn Gang” is not a series about cool kids. It is a series about sad kids getting ready to go ahead and die. Many of these kids became heroin addicts, and many of them died very young. We know this because of the interviews that Davidson’s wife, Emily Haas Davidson, conducted with Bob Powers (aka “Bengie”), one of the gang members featured in the book, who eventually kicked drugs and went on to become a drug counselor. Even without this context of hindsight, death and tragedy are looming in the photographs themselves. In one photograph, a boy pulls a piece of dangling clothesline taught against his neck, and drops his head listlessly, as if he has been hanged.  In another photograph, a boy balances his arched back on a pipe that spans the Hole, daring himself to drop into the precipice.

There is a part of me that wants to grab these kids and tell them that it will be all right. In my mind, I am speaking to them as a wise man in my late twenties, who has seen plenty of cool teenagers careen into addiction and death. My impulse is of course absurd, as the subjects would be (and in some cases are) in their sixties or seventies by now. But my relationship is not with the subjects as people in the world; it is with the subjects as kids in the photos. Every time I passed the photograph of the girl on the wall of the museum, I’d try to catch her eye. I wanted to talk to her. But if the camera didn’t catch the subject’s eye at the moment the picture was taken, the viewer will never be able to.

Davidson, however, dealt with the Jokers both as people and as photographic subjects.  They existed, for him, first in the world, then in the lens, and then on paper. I imagine that the experience of being a documentary photographer is not unlike the experience that the poet John Keats had, while observing the public execution of three robbers in Venice. Keats wrote of the incident in a letter to his publisher, John Murray:

“I could hardly hold the opera-glass (I was close, but was determined to see, as one should see everything, once, with attention); the second and third (which shows how dreadfully soon things grow indifferent), I am ashamed to say, had no effect on me as a horror, though I would have saved them if I could.”


Books Mentioned:

Bruce Davidson, Brooklyn Gang (Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 1998)

TR820.5.N7 .D38 1988


Bruce Davidson, Black & White (Göttingen: Steidl, 2012)


Sidney Colvin, editor, Letters of John Keats to His Family And Friends (London: MacMillan and Co., 1925)

set in stone

Between researching my Microcosm Publication, and teaching my course at the New School, I have been interacting with zine archives a lot over the past year. For some reason, though, it didn't occur to me that any of my old stuff would be in an archive. Today, I stumbled upon this entry in the Hampshire College Zine Collection database:

Title: Signifier Is Razor

Author: Ben Nadler

Publication Date: 2002

Location: US

Subjects: Poetry, Comics, Fiction/Literature, Politics

Catalog #: 599

Date Added: 12/3/12

I have only very vague memories of this zine. It must have been the Spring of 2002, when I was a senior in high school. So I made this after I went to Governor's School for the Arts, but before I went traveling for the first time. I was young, angsty, and drug-addled. The fact that it includes comics means there must be some work from Germ Ross in there. He was sightly older, slightly less angsty (well maybe not), and sXe. I don't have any desire to ever see this zine, but I'm glad someone else can. I stand by everything I've ever published.

by the factory wall

I just finished another semester of teaching. I was at three colleges this semester, all over New York City. I have a consciousness that as an adjunct I am an underpaid and exploited worker, but I love teaching. I love my students. I love talking to them about writing and books. These are the amazing final projects from a radical print culture class I taught this semester at the New School:


It was strange to be back where I did my undergrad, almost a decade later, on the other side of the table. It was also a challenge to figure out how to responsibly bring radical culture into the academic world in a way that was fair and useful for everyone. In the end though, it was a lot of fun, thanks to my wonderful students, and to my wonderful guest lecturers, Fly and Sascha Altman Dubrul.


Maya Angelou died the other day. I never had all that much use for her poetry, though I thought it was unfair when an undergrad professor of mine asserted that it was "greeting card" not poetry. But I've seen her memoir, I know Why The Caged Bird Sings, help and positively affect many students. She wrote about surviving sexual abuse in a way that helped-and continues to help-a lot of people. This was forty-five years ago. She changed the discussion.

She definitely brought a neglected/silenced voice and experience into the mainstream. While it maybe involved creating a poetry that was easily palatable to TV audiences and politicians, it was a way to validate and honor important, marginalized voices, and I appreciate her for that.

Something else I want to say about Dr. Angelou is that I remember meeting her once when I was kid in Philadelphia. It was at one of those Unity Day/ Stop The Violence events that blighted cities used to have in the '90s. One of my dad's buddies had connections to the mayor's office, so my mother and I got to go backstage to meet her. There was a small jazz band there, and a table covered with Tasty Cakes. She sat in a chair and there was sort of a receiving line. She knelt down to speak with me, but I don't remember what she said. But my god, that woman had presence. Those eyes. That voice. I learned a lot about how to shake a person's hand and look them in the eye from that experience.

Rest In Peace.


After the usual delays, the second edition of The Men Who Work Under The Ground is now available for order from the Keep This Bag Away From Children store. Run cop that. If anyone wants to review that chapbook, or my Punk history book, hit me up for a review copy.


I'm reading tomorrow night at Noir at the Bar in Manhattan, with a whole crew of other lit thugs. It should be a great event. Hope to see you there.

noir at the bar flyer

Brooklyn Zine Fest

I am hyped for the Brooklyn Zine Fest, which will be held this Saturday and Sunday at the Brooklyn Historical Society. This year, there will be completely different tablers on Saturday and Sunday.  I think this is a good call, considering how mobbed the event was last year. If you are at the fest on Saturday, come say hi to me at the Keep This Bag Away From Children table. Austin Givens and I spent yesterday afternoon preparing. CAM00087

I am also extremely excited to say that I picked up my copies of Punk in NYC's Lower East Side 1981-1991 from the post office today, just in time for Zine Fest. You can order them from Microcosm, but if you are in Brooklyn tomorrow, come pick one up directly from me.




Keeping It Thug

I have a noir story called Walk Up in the new issue of Thuglit. This is one of my favorite stories I've ever written. Thuglit is a mag that's close to my heart. The magazine is edited by Todd Robinson, whose novel The Hard Bounce is well worth reading. The first piece of fiction I ever published, Hot Dog Money, appeared in Thuglit in 2008, so it's rad to see how my work had developed now that I'm six years deep.

By the way, Otto Penzler, one of the great New York City booksellers, recently wrote a very precise essay about the Noir genre for the Huffington Post.

Anyway, run and cop Issue 10 of Thuglit. It's available in print and kindle.



I have been in nonfiction mode lately! An essay I wrote about my old buddy, Newt Johnson, is up on Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. There weren't any obituaries for Newt when he died, so I wanted to write something. Sometimes it can feel strange to write book reviews—why am I writing about someone else's book instead of working on my own?—but it's important to discuss, and bring attention to, worthwhile books. I reviewed Cary Levine's art history book, Pay For Your Pleasures, for The Philadelphia Review of Books.

I also contributed a small piece about the rights of street vendors to Opportunities for a new New York, a report published by the Planners Network NYC chapter. Two of the report's editors, Sam Stein and Oksana Mironova, have each published interesting articles of their own recently.

This article my friend Tracy O'Neil wrote for Grantland about old-school skate boot manufacturing is pretty damn interesting, as well.

By the way, I gave in and joined Twitter. Follow me @bwnadler. Or don't follow me. Follow your heart.

Finally, I want to show you a monument I encountered in a cemetery in Virginia recently. If you know any Hebrew, this is kind of funny. Whether or not you know any Hebrew, this is tragic, and also kind of confusing:

hollywood cemetery monument - cropped

O gods of my youth!

I am mad excited to announce that a project I have been working on for a long time will be released in the near future by Microcosm Publishing. The title is Punk in NYC’s Lower East Side 1981-1991 . Microcosm is releasing it as the first installment in a series of zines about the history of punk scenes in different cities.The context makes sense; it is definitely a music fanzine. Specifically, it's a giant Reagan Youth fanzine. At the same time, it's a monograph about anarchism and inherited holocaust trauma. It's also an oral history about the Tompkins Square Riots, and a bunch of other things. Depending who I'm talking to, I call it a zine or a monograph. Like Townes said, "It's funny, about words." The cover will have some beautiful photos that a woman named Amie Hertzig took of the legendary Dave Insurgent. Basically, when the project comes out, you should buy it, and then you'll know what it is. You might learn something too. DI street scene

Other things I want to show you:

In addition to this nonfiction work, I have been writing a lot of poetry in the past year that is more personal, or more confessional, than a lot of the poetry I've published. I'm not sure how I feel about this. It might be time to go back to writing poems about historical mining techniques. For now, though, I have some recent poems on Shabby Doll House and Watershed Review.

A former student of mine, Hia Chakraborty, wrote a rad novel called Aurora's Ashes. I don't care what anyone says, teenagers are smarter now than they used to be.

I think this might still be  the finest short story I have ever read: My First Fee by Isaac Babel.

שנה טובה ומתוקה

Happy birthday to the whole fucking world! I spent most of the summer in the Huerfano Valley of Southern Colorado. I was holed up in an army tent, on an eighty-acre piece of land a couple of friends live on, just at the edge of the BLM land and the Wet Mountains. No internet, no telephone, just sun and rain and dogs and rocks and dirt and stuff.

My friend has a solar generator at his cabin, so assuming it was a sunny day, I could walk down and get a little juice for my laptop in the morning, then spend the afternoon writing at a wooden desk he'd built int he woods, under some the shade of trees. I got a good bit of reading and writing done.

Now, at the beginning of 5774, I'm back in New York City for the school year. I am teaching a bunch of writing classes at colleges in Harlem and The South Bronx.

I am also putting the finishing touches on forthcoming nonfiction project I am mad excited about. I'm going to hold back on releasing all the details for now, but it involves my favorite New York punk band of all time, Reagan Youth.

In the meantime, I had a little crime piece up on the Akashic Press site over the summer. Keeping it gangster.

A section from the comic project that Alyssa Berg and I have been slowing working on is featured on The Rumpus this week.

By the way, if anyone stumbled upon this site after reading something of mine online, and wanted to buy a copy of my first novel, you get one directly from me. Copies are starting to run low, and there won't be any more printed (the press folded), but I still have a bunch on hand. Send me an email at benjam.nadler at gmail.com, and we'll figure out how you can send me ten bucks, and I can send you a book. I can even sign if you want.


I'm honored that my essay on the legendary Hassidic rabbi, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, and his relationship to the writing of fiction, is featured alongside cyberpunk legend Rudy Rucker in the second issue of sci-fi mag Pravic. Don't get it twisted: Pravic is not some low-budget Asimov knockoff for fan boys. It is a punk, analytical assault on the genre, put together by some smart men who are disciples of Phillip K. Dick. Check out their manifesto.

The mag is on its third issue now. They have already been getting mad props, including from taste makers Boing Boing. Run cop that shit.

By the way, a recent piece from Pravic co-editor Nathaniel K. Miller (whom I have known since he was a musician and visual artist named Jacen Kemp) can be found on Keep This Bag Away From Children.



I'm excited to be included in this event that's going on all day, today. I'll be reading sometime between 5 and 6pm.


Popsickle is Brooklyn's literary arts festival. Now in its fourth year, the fest aims to unite Brooklyn's array of reading series and mags into one day-long literary megareading. It's happening this year at LaunchPad. Come for some of it, stay for all of it.

LaunchPad is located at 721 Franklin Avenue, near the 2, 3, 4, 5 and S trains.

PERFORMERS INCLUDE: Michael Robbins | Anthony Madrid | Paige Ackerson-Kiely | Dolan Morgan | Danniel Schoonebeek | Coriel Gaffney | Ben Nadler | Julia Guez | Rangi McNeil | Montana Ray | Jarrod Shanahan | Andy Gittlitz | Nicole Steinberg | Paul Simundich | Allyson Paty | Jacob Perkins | JD Scott | Christine Kanownik | Sasha Fletcher | Seth Oelbaum | Ana Božičević | Leigh Stein | Jennifer Tamayo | Ryan Strong | Hubert Vigilla | Carole Nicksin | Anna Moschovakis | Sarah V. Schweig | Elizabeth Zuba | Marisa Crawford & Becca Klaver & Lily Ladewig & Caolan Madden & Emily Skillings & Jennifer Tamayo | & more tba . . . .

PARTICIPATING SERIES INCLUDE: Bushwick Sweethearts | Hatchet Job | Renegade Reading Series | Fireside Follies | Moonshot | Vol. 1 Brooklyn | Highwaymen NYC | What's So Hot | Death Panel | WONDER | Stain of Poetry | Atlas | Bratty Poets

Popsickle 2013 is coordinated by Niina Pollari and JD Scott.

For more information, email them at popsickle.festival@gmail.com.

Keep This Bag Away From Liat

I am going to be editing the Keep This Bag Away From Children site for all of June. Then, in July, I am going to disappear into the mountains for a bit...

Anyway, I am kicking off the month with three wonderful poems from Liat Mayer. I pasted a sample below, but you can read them all here.  

More of Liat's poetry can be found in the forthcoming Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry.


Striking happiness. The stars

after midnight mid winter

saving everything. Stumbling

through ordinary brokenness

planes so low overhead

sometimes the earth is trembling.

Days where nothing matters

and then finally

days where nothing matters,

the clouds extending perfectly.

mimeograph machine

As I've mentioned before on here, Iron Diesel Press has closed its doors. Partly it's an issue of the press never really gaining traction. Partly it's an issue of the the whole project resting on one person's shoulders, which means it collapses when that person has crisis in their personal life. But mainly it is just an issue of DIY projects often have short lifespans. In any case, I wanted to reprint an essay here that originally appeared on Iron Diesel's (now-defunct) website, explaining why I published my first book with them in the first place. Two year later, I know a lot more about books and publishing, but I still stand behind the sentiments in this essay. 

By the way, if anyone wants to buy a copy of Harvitz, I still have some back stock (and will for a while), so you can buy a copy directly from me. I'll even sign it. Just drop me an email.

dead at 26, alive at 26

I have been thinking about d.a. levy all year long, because this is my twenty-sixth year, and d.a. levy died when he was twenty-six.

d.a. levy was a kid from Cleveland who, after getting kicked out of the Navy and coming back home in the early nineteen-sixties, decided to become a great writer and give Cleveland its own literary tradition. Levy soon became the center of a new and thriving underground poetry and arts scene, but his activities were not appreciated in the still McCarthyist Midwest of the mid-1960s.  The town fathers of Cleveland simply did not want a literary tradition. Throughout 1966 and 1967, levy was hounded by the Cleveland Police Department on charges of distributing “obscene” poetry.  In 1968, he killed himself with a gunshot to the head.

Ed Sanders (of  Fugs fame) said of levy:  "He was like Jeremiah.  He had the potential to be a great religious writer – a prophet."  The comparison to Jeremiah is appropriate.  Levy was someone who saw Babylon for what it is, and was persecuted greatly for speaking this vision.  Jeremiah was imprisoned not by the Babylonians, but by his fellow Hebrews (as detailed by J. Zornado on the Iron Diesel blog back in January).  By the same token, the primary evidence against levy in court was not given by a police officer, but by a kid from the scene who turned informant.

Sander’s qualifier of “potential” is also appropriate.  When someone takes their life at such a young age, you have to talk about them in those terms.  An early death is not a great achievement; it is a tragedy that precludes greater achievements.

That being said, levy did leave behind a very accomplished (if occasionally dated) body of work.  It hurts to think of the more developed works levy never gave us, but the many works he did leave us with deserve their due.  One of my favorite poems of his is sitting on a bench near TSQuare, which ends with the stanzas:

god i think yr sense of humor is sad & perhaps you are also feeling something like an outlaw

god i am wondering for how many years have the jews exiled you while they busied themselves with survival

This man was already a great religious writer.  He took on the role of the intermediary, though in an inverse manner to the Hebrew Prophets of ancient Israel: they explained God to the Jewish people; levy, a scruffy half-Jew from modern day Cleveland, explained the Jews to God.

The reason I’m writing about levy here, on the site of a small press, is not just because of what he did as a poet, but what he did as a publisher.  From 1963 to 1968, levy published dozens of books on his Renegade Press and 7 Flowers Press.  There were no were no outlets for levy and his friends to publish their work, so he created his own.  From 1967 to 1968, he also published The Buddhist 3rd Class Junk Oracle, which was Cleveland’s first underground newspaper, as well as a prophetic manifestation of the collaged punk zines that would come along ten years later.  Levy did these things because he believed in the work, because he believed in the vision, and because he was determined to unleash them on Cleveland (and the world) at any cost.  And the cost was great.

Publishing on a truly independent (renegade, to use levy’s term) press is still a frightening endeavor.  The fear now, though, is not that one will be persecuted as levy was, but rather that all your work will simply be ignored.  “Independent” can mean “alone.”  We live in our own times, and we face our own obstacles.  This is a more diffused type of fear, where there is no visible opponent.  In 1970, they shot anti-war protestors dead.  In 2003, they pretended we didn’t exist at all, broadcasting hundreds channels of entertainment, none showing any images of 300,000 folks protesting in the streets of New York.

But what can you do?  You can’t give up.  You protest because you have to. You write books because you have to.  Small presses publish books because they have to.  You live because you have to. The fact of the matter is we have a lot of good things going for us that small press folks in the 60s didn’t have.  For one thing, we have a longer and stronger history of independent publishing in America behind us now (a legacy which levy contributed to greatly).  For another, independent presses today have a lot better technology than mimeograph machines at their disposal.

I know that a lot of the statements made in the previous paragraph sound simple and obvious.  At the same time, I wish someone could have been there to say simple and obvious things to levy when he was alone in his apartment with his rifle to his head.  Like, “Hey, Darryl Allan, stay alive.  Don’t kill yourself.  Leave Cleveland if you have to.  Go write more poems.  You’ll write better poems.  Young folks will still be reading them in forty years.  They’ll write their own books too. You’ll make a great old man.  Twenty-six is too young to die.”

da levy was a renegade.  He fought for poetry. He was persecuted by goons and snitches.  He was twenty-six when he took his own life.  I am twenty-six now, but I don’t plan on dying any time soon.  My first book will be published by Iron Diesel Press later this year.  I don’t know that it’s as great as anything levy did, but I do know that I’ll be twenty-seven when it comes out.  May there be abundant peace from heaven.

flex your head

I've been getting a lot of great response to an review I recently published in the Philadelphia Review of Books about Hard Art, DC 1979, a book Akashic is putting out of Lucian Perkin's photographs of early DC hardcore bands, like Bad Brains, Teen Idles, and Trenchmouth.  The best email I have received, by far, though, was from Steve Metz, who was in an interracial DC band called the Mystery Dates, that played with Bad Brains.

Below is a basement practice shot of The Mystery Dates.


Velvet Park recap

We had a great Velvet Park reading at Three of Cups last night. Patricia Silva (https://twitter.com/silvisms/) live tweeted some photos from the event. And yeah, I know I sound like an old man when I talk about twitter.


OG book thug Corey Eastwood, on the mic, teaching us about pain.

By the way, this essay of Corey's still knocks me dead.

ImageDandelion Fiction's smiling face as he plays that daxophone.

ImageDandelion Fiction's Candle Piece. A final benediction of the evening.

Update: VP has posted a bunch more photos of the event, by Katina Douveas, on their site.

Velvet Park Media Reading 5/15

I am excited to be curating the second installment of Velvet Park Media's monthly reading series. This reading will take place at Three of Cups in the East Village; 83 First Avenue @ Fifth Street, NYC. Reading begins at 7:30. Wednesday May 15th.

The theme of the reading is "Limits of Communication." This theme was inspired by a conversation I had with Patricia Silva at her recent solo show.

Readers will include Corey Eastwood, Josh Gardner, and Catherine Tung. There will also be a special appearance by Dandelion Fiction.

On another note, I have been spending a lot of time in the past couple weeks helping to edit the next print issue of Keep This Bag Away From Children. Look out for that in June; it's gonna be a doozy. KTBAFC was recently written up by the Bard student paper. When they quote "Nader," they don't mean "Ralph Nader," they mean me, Ben Nadler.