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3am Interview





FEAR AND TREMBLING IN DEEP CLEVELAND: AN INTERVIEW WITH MARK KUHAR OF DCJO



"He gave his poems to the ages and expected they would dissipate like vapor. But the ages wouldn't let them dissipate. You know, I took a trip out to Whitehaven Cementary on Cleveland's east side and visited levy's grave. The place where half his ashes reside, that is. I kinda milled around, read a poem out loud, then just sat and meditated waiting for a message to arrive from him in the great vibrational beyond."

Matthew Wascovich interviews Mark Kuhar

COPYRIGHT © 2002, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


i cd tell you partly
why it happened
but you wouldnt believe me

like in Milwaukee
during a reading
just after i said
"this is a paranoid poem - written when i was
experimenting with paranoid states of consciousness,
but im not there anymore"
& a young girl sat writing
"shows paranoid symptoms"
probably for her psychology class
not hearing me at all
  - d.a. levy, from Suburban Monastery Death Poem

3AM: What about this obsession with d.a levy? How did that happen?

MK: I wouldn't call it an obsession. I've always had an affinity for Beat literature and I first discovered levy because of his role as a latter-day beat. But what was most appealing to me was the fact that he was from the streets of Cleveland. And he didn't leave. The city was his inspiration and persecution. He was in it, and of it and done in by it. Of course that's the curse Cleveland puts on its poets. The same curse that sent Hart Crane overboard and & drove Langston Hughes into exile.

3AM: Levy's work as a poet often overshadows his creative contributions in other areas, doesn't it?

MK: Absolutely. Levy's reputation as a poet is well deserved based on the writing alone, but was enhanced by the fact that he was arrested for obscenity. His legend is largely a byproduct of his poetry and the public spectacle that surrounded it, but he was also a brilliant artist. Poet Kent Taylor told me he has a slew of extraordinary levy paintings and drawings given to him back in the mid 1960s. Alan Horvath of Kirpan Press is going to put them together into a book. Also, levy's role as an underground publisher and a father of the mimeo revolution cannot be underestimated.

3AM: What does d.a. levy's reputation as a writer rest upon? Can you point to something in specific?

MK: It's unfortunate, he didn't have any books published commercially while he was alive. He's not like a, say, John Berryman where you can point to 77 Dreamsongs, or he's not like Allen Ginsberg, where you can point to a book like Howl. But I think you can look at The North American Book of the Dead and say, "Yeah, levy hit it right there." I think you could also look at Suburban Monastery Death Poem as a major work. My personal favorite is "lettre to cleveland" from Kibbutz in the Sky.

3AM: The rumor persists that levy didn't commit suicide, he was killed. What do you think about that?

MK: I think he killed himself. Period. Rumors to the contrary are part of a larger conspiracy theory that has plagued the levy legend for years. There's just no real motive for the authorities to have him killed. It's not like he threatened to blow up City Hall or something. His "crime" and I use that word lightly, was saying bad words in public. He was a literary Lenny Bruce. He was hardly enough of a threat to society to make him a murder target. And the "embarrassment" he caused the city was humorous rather than malicious. Besides there are so many stories about him telling friends that he was going to finish his work and check out. His suicidal tendencies are a matter of public record.

3AM: Your web site is in part an homage to levy, is that right?

MK: Yes. I always wanted to do a literary e-zine, and as I got into the nuts and bolts of planning for the launch, I was reading levy's "lettre to cleveland" which contained the line, "in the days unborn you will find my brothers ARMED with words that you havent even dreamed of," and I interpreted that as a sort of calling, in the sense that I would be the one to give voice to those "brothers armed with words -- sisters armed with words too." Ultimately I decided to merge my own idea of "Deep Cleveland" with levy consciousness, and just like that Deep Cleveland Junkmail Oracle was born. Obviously I stole the junkmail oracle part from the title of levy's seminal underground newspaper, the Buddhist Third Class Junkmail Oracle.

3AM: Yes, get into this concept of Deep Cleveland for me. What's that about?

MK: The concept of Deep Cleveland was born in, I think 1984. I was in San Diego, and it just happened to be on a weekend when the Browns were playing Cincinnati in a Saturday night football game. So I wandered into a bar down by Mission Beach to get a drink and catch the game, and began talking to a few people. And all of a sudden I discovered there were about a dozen expatriate Clevelanders there. And they were all just, like thrilled, that someone from Cleveland was there. They were going on and on about their memories of home, stuff that happened to them, all of this homesick shit. At the time I was wondering why I was still living in the godforsaken place. I told one of them, after he bought me a dozen beers or so, that he was in stuck in a really deep Cleveland. It's a concept that made sense to me. Being in deep Cleveland is the complete inability to liberate Cleveland from your consciousness, no matter where you are in the world. It is now apparent to me that I suffer from the same affliction, as did d.a. levy. I decided to turn my affliction into art as a means of self- preservation.

3AM: Tell me more about Deep Cleveland Junkmail Oracle.

MK: You know, I originally envisioned Deep Cleveland Junkmail Oracle as a place for Cleveland poets and writers to get exposure for their work, and I've published some very good local writers, such as Daniel Gallick, Paul Skyrm and Richard Edwards. But I have received extraordinary submissions from all over the country and even the world. Michael McCormack's levy essay and poems are outstanding. He's down in Louisiana. Duane Locke writes poems down in the slums of Tampa. Kairo K. Harshbarger is an erotic poet from Iowa. Jarrett Keene is a professor at UNLV in Las Vegas. I get a fair amount of submissions from overseas. Prasenjit Mait's work is brilliant, as are the poems of Nilanshu Agrawal. Avril Bones is from Australia. Michael Fitzgerald writes from some Island in the South Pacific or something.

3AM: And you publish your own poems as well?

MK: Yes, well, someone has to. I published my 10-part epic dreamfever cleveland in the first edition to help get things up and running. And I continue to use my own stuff in the Deep Cleveland Poem o' the Week section, mostly because I'm the only person crazy enough to write a poem about Cleveland every week. Actually I'm now getting some nice submissions with Cleveland content from several local poets, so that situation is improving. I actually had three of my poems published in the new 9/11 anthology just released by Regent Press in San Francisco. It's called An Eye for an Eye makes the Whole World Blind: Poets on 9/11. The book contains poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Robert Creeley, Robert Pinsky, Diane DiPrima and others, so I'm digging the company.

3AM: How do you see the site developing in the future?

MK: I'm going to start publishing electronic chapbooks. I have two just waiting to be posted, one, a great collection from a California poet named jota and the other from this brilliant kid from Wisconsin named Andrew Lundwall. I'm also going to launch a bookstore component on the site, although it is not designed to make me any money. I'm not in the business of selling books -- yet. To start, it's going to be a place where people who self-publish or publish regionally can promote their books. I want to be a great supporter of local literary entrepreneurism. Of course my ultimate goal is to turn Deep Cleveland into legitimate small press, and make big money. I said make money didn't I? I was just joking.

3AM: Tell me about the levy lives! reading that you are organizing.

MK: This year would have been d.a. levy's 60th birthday. That's a cause for celebration. On Oct. 29th, which is levy's birthday, we're going to bring together some of levy's old friends and a group of high-octane local poets, and just read levy's poems out loud, letting the words do all the talking. Poets Kent Taylor is coming in from California, as is Russell Salamon. Poet Grace Butcher and Tony Walsh, one of d.a.'s old pals, will also be there. Jim Lowell of the Asphodel Book Shop, who was arrested along with levy, will also be there to listen. This guy named B.L. Kennedy, who is writing levy's biography, will also be there. We're also going to have a working mimeo operation, and a few other fun things just for kicks.

3AM: What do you think d.a. levy would say about all of this?

MK: Oh, he'd think it was crazy. He gave his poems to the ages and expected they would dissipate like vapor. But the ages wouldn't let them dissipate. You know, I took a trip out to Whitehaven Cementary on Cleveland's east side and visited levy's grave. The place where half his ashes reside, that is. I kinda milled around, read a poem out loud, then just sat and meditated waiting for a message to arrive from him in the great vibrational beyond. Do you know what the message was?

3AM: No, what?

MK: Page 32. I have no idea what it means. Maybe I'll start a new publication with that name and begin it on page 32. That would be very levy like, wouldn't it?




ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matthew Wascovich is an editor with 3AM Magazine.



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