So I went Chicago. The train on the way in from Michigan was so dramatic. The big iron/steel industrial wastelands outside the window were inspiring and told the story of people who lived and worked there. I was staying in the most amazing place (Bonnie-Jo’s lovely friend Sheryl was so sweet, left me a fridge full of treats and a killer view) and I was looking forward to meeting a very cool and interesting writer the next morning. Don De Grazia and his partner picked me up in their car and we headed downtown. Don is a gracious man, funny, smart, a real literary wordsmith and a proper Chicago native. He showed me around Northside, Southside and all the edges. We took the architectural tour on a boat and I really fell in love with Chicago out there on the water. There is something about the space, the streets, it feels very European. Each district is distinctively different. When the great fire happened most of Chicago burned down, there is a rumour the fire was started by some woman’s cow but quite frankly it’s slanderous and nobody can prove it. It is the largest city of the American Midwest, founded in 1830 and (as Carl Sandburg’s 1916 poem put it, “Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.”) A water transit hub, Chicago evolved into an industrial metropolis, processing and transporting raw materials from the sprawling hinterland. Originally the Miami, Sauk, Fox and Potawatomi tribes all lived in the area. I love hearing all the names that originate from the Native American people and I can’t help but hate modern America for what it took from the wisdom of the indigenous peoples and how much it could learn from that today were it only able to open it’s pulsing, forward moving, relentless, young and ferocious heart. This is a country in the process of becoming. It is inventing itself each day. Buildings are often not designed to last more than thirty years without needing re-roofed, or a lot of work done, the idea of forever seems absent. I’m not sure if it is in their dictionary. The truth is being elusive. I feel an instantaneous energy and I have met good, good people everywhere. I’m currently in a tiny town called Crescent City, very industrial, working-class, fishing town with seals and sea-lions and redwood trees and the locals say hello when you walk by them, I hold a lot of value in that, more of this later. In October 1871, a fire destroyed one-third of Chicago and left more than 100,000 homeless. They still don’t know what started it (this Mrs. O’Leary’s lantern-kicking cow story is sketchy but entertaining), but the fire was probably always going to happen, fuelled by drought, high winds and wooden buildings. The factories and railroads were mostly okay, and the city rebuilt with astonishing speed. By the late 1800s Chicago grew as a national retail centre and produced a crop of brand-name business tycoons, including Philip Armour, George Pullman, Potter Palmer and Marshall Field. In 1885 Chicago gave the world its first skyscraper, the 10-story Home Insurance Building. In later years architects Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius all added to the city skyline. In 1893 Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition, which drew over 20 million visitors to its “White City” of plaster Gilded Age buildings built on former bogland beside Chicago’s south lakefront. A huge Trump building dominates on the riverfront. I continue to wonder about this emperor with his love of shiny things and this persistent feeling that he spends his mornings chopping off the heads of reason, decency and intellect. I went along to Lumpen Radio and had such a great chat with the guys there. One of them works for a local library and among other things they put on punk gigs (in the library) and tarot readings. I love how much the libraries over here are fighting to keep communities together. I will post a link to the show later. It goes out to a lot of the areas of Chicago with projects and poverty. This city has so many communities on the periphery of all this wealth and potential. So, I spoke really openly about my own background in care, time in homeless hostels, how the word for me has been weapon, saviour, tool, solace, entertainment, evolution and reason. How lately I feel I have to be more open about that than I ever have done before. If people like me cannot fight the machine — if I cannot use my space to say — it is possible to reclaim the narrative of who you are, it is possible to be both a kid from the streets, a poet, an academic, an intellectual and a punk and none of those things have to be exclusive, and they all have space to enhance each other — if I cannot stand up and do that now, then what does that say about where I come from and how much love I have for anyone who stands up for what they believe in especially when it feels (and is often the case) that the whole system is against them? The system is at peak glutton, bloodthirsty for further devastation of communities rich with human life and potential and sparkle and promise. The extreme periphery is where I come from. I stand alongside those communities, fist raised, pen poised, heart open. So, I digress. I fell a little in love with Chicago. I’ve been on the road since then, Portland, crossed into California, I will do 359 miles over the next two days (by road) to hit San Francisco. Bonnie Jo and I went to Ken Babb’s place the other day. We had a Merry Pranksters vacation from the strain and it was funny, real, true, inspiring. I’ll try and get to that blog tomorrow, if not I’ll catch up with you, the good people of the revolution, in San Francisco. One last thought — I was standing on a logging road with a dog that had been found wandering in LA (Jude & I were soul troubadours) and a cat called Freeloader, also an artist who I know I’ll keep in touch with and stars, there was a bus that made myths and five goats and all of it was good and righteous. The truth is out there. It is waiting to be explored. The town I am in just now has grifters. I said hey to a few of them. Averted my gaze to one getting changed by the side of the road. On the way in and out of cities you can see homeless people in motion. Trying to get somewhere warmer, safer or with more opportunity. I worry about them. I am going to keep trying to grasp the wild heart of this extraordinary country. I can see three lighthouses right now. The fridge is playing that same old tune. I better pack up for the morn.
The truth is love me. The truth is in building no.4 but the mail goes to little Italy. The truth is that New York’s finest needs all of New York’s finest. The truth is the road narrows. The truth is a steeple. A cockerel is crowing. It’s the animal kingdom. The truth is dollar tree. It’s Marshall’s fish point factory. The truth is smokey. The truth is conch shell umbrellas. The truth is I can’t spell umberella. The truth is Brooklyn Queens. The truth is chaos leads our orders. The truth is baby grew a back spine. The truth is thermal imaging. It’s an old lady being x-rayed with her hands above her head. It’s the flowers on her dress. It’s the way her skin is soft and falling. It’s — you need to step in line, Miss. I’t the pain in my ears and head. The truth is skull and crossbones. The truth is a filter. The truth is $2.50. The truth is cloudy. The truth is thru traffic keep right. The truth is my taxi driver can’t understand me. It’s not his fault, I’m complicated. The truth is Delancey St. The truth is on the church bus and it’s driving through the valley. It’s Joe’s fabric and pigeons flying. The truth is entry is forbidden. The truth is the Amtrak guard from Kalamazoo to Chicago is someone to dream of later. The truth is red movers and van lines. The truth is DTX. The truth is the man from Kalamazoo in his uniform is my husband in another life, one where I was actually the marrying kind. The truth is DDTX. The truth is DDTX76529. It is deception creek. Klamath. The truth is the trees are green. The truth is her yurt was somewhere I should have slept more. The truth is I never slept there. The truth is being a certain way. It allows us to focus. The truth is you cannot measure the outline of land except you fucking can. He loves her because she’s beautiful and be assured by that he means she’s thin. She is beautiful and true and real. Real is beautiful. So is barbecue. It’s easy to think life is great when you’ve had generations of people who liked what you had to say and how you said it and listened to you say it and said it then to each other. The truth is shady. It’s a gap between your teeth. The truth has a view point and it is underlined by snow. Snow is dirty and it was dirty and I like dirty things and if the Spring was not to come I would not mind at all. The low world spirits absorb those above them. Oral stories passed down as science are the very first tonal kind of truth. The truth is pumice. It’s ash. The truth is 300 feet deep. It’s the centre of the blast rock. It is the interior. The truth is disappearing. It is tranquil. It is blue. It was once a mighty mountain. It’s 44 feet of snow at crater lake. It is the Milky Way above us for millions of years. It is my child’s voice reading me a story late at night from far across the sea. It’s my want to take a plane and see him right away. The truth is in the water. It keeps life on earth alive. The truth is self-sustainable. The truth is not a number. It is a number but I won’t tell you what it is. If you rang truth’s number you’d only get the answer machine. The answer machine would lie to you. It’s protective of the truth. The truth is the caldera. Caldera is the truth. The truth is astounding. The truth is clarity. The truth is puffy eyes in the morning of endless nights. The truth wants to go home. Home is the truth but so too is all of elsewhere. The truth is my child asking me what his eyes are and I tell him in his eyes is all of the sea. Whenever he goes to the ocean now he finds his eyes and too he finds mine. It’s him telling me the blood in his veins is my blood and the veins in my blood are his hope and the fears I transgress are the least he deserves and I will be a better person before the crescent moon descends. The truth is in Umpque. The truth has subalpine habitats. The truth is wild. It is flowers. It goes to seed and passes things onto the next generation. The truth is untouched by human development. The truth is I do love some yellow. Gorse flowers, sunlight, mustard pots and halos. The truth is a schoolboy or so the story goes. That story is hidden in a conch shell. Tip up your ears little wolf and hear it. The truth is I’ve been waiting to hear wolves howl my whole life. The truth is energy. It is a sense of wonder but too it is mundane. The truth is a myth. The truth is a Merry Prankster. It is the bus of inordinate wisdom. It drives itself. There are children on top of the bus, teenagers, topless in bell bottoms with flowers in their hair and one throws a brightly coloured ball to a little boy as they fly by him in a tiny American town. The truth is not on wizard island. The truth is on wizard island but if you meet the wizard he’ll deny it then he’ll turn you into a toad. The truth has visitor information. The truth won’t accept visitors but it won’t reject them either. The truth studies you whilst you’re sleeping but it rarely wastes time dreaming. The truth is dreaming. You are the truth I dream. The truth is fire. The truth is a prospect. It’s turn left in 1/4 of a mile. It’s being told in an untold way that my work is worthless by a woman bitter as a bomb. It’s getting shit from a certain type of person despite every accolade because my class defies me but I won’t hide it on the page. It’s a working class intellectual being the thing that is most feared. It’s being a thing. It’s being. Thing. Like. The truth is a rogue river. The truth is that Pat likes to hand tie flies. It’s lawlessness on the highway, in the hearts and souls of poets and soldiers. The truth is camping. Shady Kaye is in shady cove. I’m in the Valley of the rogue. I’m going to our lady of the river because I really need to heal. Speed enforced by primal. It’s a satanical trail. It has good news. Jesus is alive! It says it to the dirt road whilst I’m pissing on the tracks. My piss is golden. It’s holy. I keep seeing homeless kids on the road. Adults. In betweens. They are in between the places where safety meets security. America you are beautiful, why don’t you tuck them in? The truth is some kind of goldilocks environment. It’s aridian. The truth is I don’t hear so well. The truth keeps interrupting. The truth is so well turned out, it has shiny shoes and a starched shirt and a gift of freshly picked flowers and you still won’t let it come to your party? Your party is the worst one in the entire fucking world. The truth can come to my house. I keep a door open for it all the time. The truth is woman are demeaned but they’re still fucking heroes. You force them to beg for ownership of your future but the recently deleted know they have had the truest power for all of time. The truth is I’m in a strange town. I met the sea lion and the ranger. I’m going to see Dorothy Allison. Hit the road. Open your eyes.
I had a great wee trip through Michigan, which is where Bonnie Jo Campbell is from. I went to visit her amazing writing place in a little house on the Kalamazoo river. It was a real pleasure to see it and all the work being put into it. We then visited Bonnie’s mum and she was just wonderful, she’d finished The Panopticon the day before and we had the best chats. It is easy to see where Bonnie gets her storytelling from with such amazing characters and family history, the house where they all grew up was just fantastic, filled with character and a huge window looking out onto trees, I loved it. Bonnie fed her donkeys and picked me some fresh asparagus. After that we had a nice meal out on the porch at Bonnie’s house with her husband, listened to thunder, rain on the tin roof, they told me about the wild turkeys that come down and run at people in February, a tornado that passed through the forest one time, the assortment of wildlife and people that make up the local community. We talked about politics, religion, writing and life in general. It was a fly through visit but a good one. This morning I took the train to Chicago so in the last two days I have been in New York, Detroit, Michigan and Chicago, changed time zones, caught trains, cars, taxis, aeroplanes. I’m on an Indie radio station here tomorrow and then gearing up for the West Coast, flying out to Portland on Tuesday.
One of the highlights of Detroit for me was the Heidelberg Project in the McDougall-Hunt neighbourhood. It was created in 1986 by artist Tyree Guyton. His wife and grandfather (Grandpa Sam) got involved too. Tyree Guyton began the project as a political protest after watching the childhood neighbourhood he grew up in go radically downhill after the 1967 riots. He said when he came back from serving in the Army his home area looked like a bomb had went off. This transformation in an area where people used to be afraid to walk even during the day, has evolved over decades. Tyree works with kids on the block making the artwork a true part of the community. In 2005 it go the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence. There is something really magical about the Heidelberg Project and the art sculptures just next door — I will always remember it, it’s one of my favourite memories of this Outriders trip so far.
I loved visiting Detroit yesterday. I was picked up by Bonnie Jo Campbell and we went to visit Lolita Hernandez, a native Detroit writer and she was super lovely. Lolita has a great dog who is huge and welcomed us gladly. I asked him the answer to truth so he could be part of my documentary. We went to the market in Detroit then to Bert’s Motown, the warehouse theatre has space for 2000 people, there’s a main bar and places to eat — Martha Reeves had her 75th birthday party there last year. They do Harlem jazz with Motown soul. It was the home of the Motown Sound, techno and encompassing blues, hip-hop, electronica, pop, punk, soul and gospel. Singers hosted by the city included Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, Bessie Smith, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, John Lee Hooker, Jim McCarty, Bill Haley, Patti Smith, Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, Jack White, Madonna lived just thirty-five miles outside Detroit and studied dance there. Walking out back of Bert’s I was hit with a wall of sound, it was amazing! I hadn’t had lunch and we headed back to Lolita’s, picked up the car and headed out to do a tour of Detroit. I was eating mac and cheese in the front and we three working class writers had much to talk and bond over, there was much laughter, political conversation, chat on writing and family and profanity, men, sex, war, ideology. It was a perfect day. I will post on the Heidelberg project next, it was an amazing, extraordinary place to visit. We didn’t go into all of the derelict areas because the voyeuristic tourism of areas where poverty and lack of infrastructure and support, doesn’t show you the whole story. The issues in Detroit are real and considerable though and it is shocking that a city so important and close to New York can still lack the investment its citizens deserve. So those areas are there and we saw a little but also we went down to the old harbours, you could really feel all the old industry there. Detroit is a major port on the Detroit river, and you can stand and wave to Canada which is so close on the other side. You can cycle all along the riverfront for miles. There’s a lot of gentrification down in that area and locals are unsure whether they are continuing to be driven out so the city can become a hub for young professionals again. The current population has declined by 60% which is a huge amount of people, one in three residents lives in poverty. Detroit was always know for the motor industry with General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all headquartered there. In 1903 Henry Ford had founded the Ford company there. In the 1920s it was the fourth largest city in the USA. United Auto Workers and the American Federation of Labor fought for working conditions to improve including a 40 hour week for staff. There’s some amazing architecture in the city including the Guardian Building, Fox Theatre and the Detroit Opera House. I thought it had great community, street art, music and I’d love to visit there for longer next time. I left reading Autopsy of An Engine by Lolita Hernandez and feeling I’d made a friend in Detroit, who made me feel welcome and at home. One of the coolest things in the city is Slow Roll Detroit, which has attracted up to 12’000 cyclists for evening rides touring 10 miles of the city, it has 5’000 card carrying members who pay a fee for the project which encompasses everyone in the community, old, young, new, poor, working, students, everyone — I’d totally go back to take part in that.
I loved staying at The Carlton Arms in New York. It is one of my favourite places to stay anywhere. I always think of it as a kind of Chelsea Hotel (before it became well known) although it has been in NY for at least twenty-five years. It is close to Madison Square Gardens and in a great position on E25th. The Lower East Side felt very like home to me. The hotel itself has been decorated by artists with great details everywhere. The owner is super lovely and agreed to take part in my truth documentary, I filmed him in the uber cool foyer where the sheep lives. Some readers tracked me down whilst there and left books with reception for me to sign, I did so, with doodles. There’s always a cat or two living there. I plan to go back for a month next time, my kid would love it.
Here’s a few more photographs from my week in New York. I have loads more to post and I have been faithfully shooting my documentary film on truth as well. The ice-cream photo is of myself and Bill from Bottle of Smoke Press. We had the most amazing afternoon in Woodstock with Gerard Malanga. Gerard is shooting me in another photograph, on a day after I’d been out with Miwi La Lupa, had walked home barefoot at some point, woke after too few hours sleep with a splitting headache on the hottest day ever. Of all the days I could be photographed by Gerard Malanga! He is an amazing photographer and chatted to me about Burroughs and the Factory, Lucien Carr, Iggy Pop, Patti Smith and all the amazing photographs he has taken, his poetry, his memoirs, his cats, life and love and liberty. It was inspiring and brilliant. I’ll do a proper blog on Bottle of Smoke Press and Gerard when I get home but it was a real highlight of my trip. Bill published me in Bottle of Smoke press years ago and is one of my favourite artisan publishers, he’s also a great person to talk to about all things American, political, counter cultural and otherwise. We drove back to NY late at night with two of his kids, I read them one of my truth poems and we did drawings for each other in the car and I showed them around all the brilliant and strange artwork in the Carlton Arms. I also hung out with Nate from Team Love, his wife Nelly, their super cute dog, Kelly Braffet and Owen King, we had the nicest lunch and great stories and chat, as you might expect. I felt so welcome, it was really super lovely. New Paltz where Team Love are based is the cutest town ever, it’s very old school and I have most of my shots of that day on film. Team Love are one of my favourite record labels and they have a great wee shop there. I will blog on that properly later on too. It’s late. There are sirens. I like the sirens here. They sound like a video game. Someone is whistling. The air conditioner is loud. I have to pack for Detroit. I fly out in the morning. There’s so much more to say on this part of the trip and I will get there, bit by bit.