Jim Christy is a widely-published author and visual artist who has exhibited his artwork throughout the world. His poetry has been published in numerous literary journals and magazines. This Cockeyed World (Guernica Editions, 2013) is his 30th published book. His previous poetry collection, Marimba Forever, was also published by Guernica Editions in 2010.
For more information, visit Jim Christy at his website.
The following poems are excerpts from This Cockeyed World by Jim Christy, copyright © 2013 by Guernica Editions. Used with permission from the publisher.
This Cockeyed World
Red brick houses burst from the snow
Like boutonnieres from lapels
Of your white, cashmere benny.
You were here once in the same snows
At the house on Gothic Avenue. We
Rode taxis to pharmacies clear
To Parliament for Benze-Dex
Nasal inhalers that you crushed
Into Rye and Sevens. Yesterday, I
Repeated stories you told me:
About the tap-dancing cuckold
And the man who fell in love
With a trolley car. They laughed
At the coffee shop, here on a planet
Still turning. A new kind of scene
Where even an old rounder such
As you has a place in a corner, however
Remote, of the World Wide Web. World
Where jazz is deader than
The Diving Horse, every co-ed
Has a tattoo and dope fiends have
Taken over middle management.
So sleep the long sleep,
Your junkie bones meal
For Jersey rats.
He looked like he should be
In the aisle with the toys, his
Head lower than the top shelf
Teddybears. Then you saw the liver
Spots peeking through his thinning
Hair, Greenberg, an old baby regarding
You through Barney Google glasses,
Spraying you like a cracked garden hose.
I drove his Volkswagen van, first one
I’d ever seen, 4-speed standard.
Greenberg’s in green across the sides.
His assistant was named Jim, a
Japanese druggist who claimed to be
Hawaiian, the war over only sixteen
Years. His hair was like a neglected
Lawn in a forgotten neighbourhood
In a science-fiction film where
The flora is all black. He didn’t
Like me. I must have resembled hillbilly
Yokohoma occupiers. Soon it was
I did like making deliveries for measle-ly
Children, hapless hypochondriacs and Mrs.
Entwhistle. First day, I held out the white
Bag with the receipt stapled across
The fold, she reached out and grabbed
My zipper instead. She was old, probably
Forty but smelled good. She did something
With the tip of her tongue that, not
Surprisingly, I’d never experienced
(still haven’t). Two days a week,
I’d park the van out front of her
house – mail box on a wagon wheel
In a bed of geraniums, garden gnome,
He resembled Mr. Greenberg, guarding
The door – She always asked if
I had some medicine for her. She
Took to wearing dark red lipstick,
And always wanted two doses.
Back at the store, Greenberg took to calling
Me Little Jim and the fake Hawaiian Big Jim.
But I was tall enough to look down on his
Abandoned crew cut. He told the boss that
I looked at girlie magazines when I should
Be stocking shelves. It wasn’t true. I’d
Think of Mrs. Entwhistle, and didn’t need
Magazines. The last time he told Greenberg,
I overheard and demanded it wasn’t true.
“Little Jim, you say Big Jim is lying?” –
And I said he was. He had to let me go
Because he couldn’t have any animosity
But I could tell he believed me.
I couldn’t very well go to Mrs. Entwhistle’s
House without the delivery van though I got
As far as the wagon wheel one time
But was brought up short by the look
On the garden gnome’s face. The lady
Of the house would have to
Get her medicine
From somebody else.
That Mess-with-me at-your-peril, -Bud
Look, malevolent twinkle in cracker eyes, as
If he knew what would happen if you did.
Coming into second like a maniac pilot
Landing on a jungle strip, top leg
At forty-five Degrees, filed spikes sparkling
In the sun of red dirt, green grass day games:
My first god – Ty Cobb. The greatest
There’d ever been or ever will be. Top
Of the list in all categories from
Bases to bastards. Hero, too; running
Down Detroit streetcars to pull off hooligans
Who’d mugged old ladies, and he left
Them bleeding on the pavement. Made
A million off a cocaine-laced soft drink.
But received jeers not Ruthian cheers.
And that’s the guy I wanted to be
Just like. Aped his style and moves but
Was neither bad enough nor good
Enough. Couldn’t ever deal
With the curves thrown at me. My
Record notable not for hits but
Misses. When there were spikes
Women were wearing them
And the money I never made
Was the file that sharpened them.
I stumbled on the basepaths, fell
For the hidden ball trick, balked
At responsibilities, and if I ever stole
A single heart it was surely
TTQ – What inspired you to start writing poetry and who were some of your early influences or mentors?
Jim Christy – I wasn't one of those precocious kids who was writing poetry, or anything else, at eight years of age. I didn't write anything until I was twenty-years-old. The first thing I published was a spoof of bocce ball. I must have started trying to write poems not long after but it was a few years before I showed them to anyone or sent them out. But when I did, much to my surprise, plenty of them were accepted. Then in the late Seventies, Four Humours Press of Winnipeg published a small book of them called Palatine Cat. My influences were probably more musical than literary. I met a guy named Charlie Leeds, twenty-two years older than me who I still consider the best poet I have ever encountered. Thing is, he was really a musician. See my poem to him in the Guernica anthology, Poet to Poet.
TTQ – You wrote a book about American poet Charles Bukowski The Buk Book: Musings About Charles Bukowski (ECW Press, 1997). How much of an impact has Bukowski's poetry had on your own work and what was it you most admired about him? Did you ever get a chance to meet him or attend one his readings?
Jim Christy – Bukowski is funny and he could detect the bullshit in others and in life as it is and was. I corresponded with him but we never met. He may turn out to be the major influence on the poetry of his time, for better or worse. He put a light on people and a way of living that had so far escaped literature but no less important because of that. He showed that the subject matter of poetry is universal, not confined to the campus or the suburbs or the small towns. In baseball, he would be the designated hitter who only bats .188 but every once in a great while hits one so far out of the park that it is still up there somewhere. One never really knows who is an influence but I think a genuine "influence" is a writer who encourages you to write. So in that sense Bukowski is an influence although he is far from being my favourite writer. Critics will point out some things one has in common with another one and act as if they've discovered an "influence" --by which they mean someone you try to write like or emulate. So Bukowski lived in rooming houses, therefore…But most writers and critics never lived in a rooming house or knocked around or read anything by anyone other than Bukowski who lived in a rooming house, so if they know the name of one person that did, they'll compare you to that person.
TTQ – You were born and raised in the ghetto section of South Philadelphia, lived in New York City and San Francisco, before moving to Canada in 1968, and you became a Canadian citizen in 1974. Tell me about growing up in South Philly and what motivated you to move to Canada?
Jim Christy – South Philadelphia is a section of Philadelphia that for decades was an Italian enclave, most of the residents having come from Molise and Calabria. My people came from Molise; my real last name is Christinzio. The Democratic Party controlled that part of Philadelphia and there were Certain People who controlled the Democratic Party and, hence, the neighbourhoods. Curiously enough there was virtually no crime in the neighbourhoods and woe unto anyone who committed a crime. The exception was the people who appeared in shiny Buicks with guns inside their coats. They didn't shoot kids, however, so you were safe within your territory. You were not safe if you left it. South Philadelphia produced gangsters, singers, boxers and regular working stiffs. I'm the only writer I've ever heard of who was raised there. If there is another one, I'd like to meet him or her, and we can have a couple of Schlitz beers together and tell each other sad stories of the neighbourhoods. I left the United States because I was opposed to the War in Vietnam and the racial situation and just about everything else about the country.
TTQ – How would you best describe your latest collection of poetry This Cockeyed World (Guernica Editions, 2013), and what message are you hoping your readers will take away with them after reading the book?
Jim Christy – The message is that it's a sad and beautiful world, funny and tragic, too. I'd say that This Cockeyed World celebrates life; it's a song of life although perhaps in a different key than the usual tune. That's what I want someone to take away.
TTQ – How arduous was the editing process for This Cockeyed World, and helped you get through and how important was their input in completing the book?
Jim Christy – The editing process was not arduous at all; it consisted of Michael Mirolla asking of one poem, "Why did you change rhythms in this passage?" -- And I answered, "Because the narrator stops looking out the window and gets on the train and the new passage is written to the rhythm of the train." -- Michael, replied, "Oh."
TTQ – What do you anticipate our cockeyed world being like a decade or two from now and do you see yourself right there on the front lines?
Jim Christy – I hope the world is still around a decade or two from now. I hope I'm still around. I think unless we wake up we're in serious trouble. We are rapidly fouling our nest beyond the point of clean-up and creating a virtual world comprised of an -- to borrow a word big in my youth -- "alienated" population. Also, in North America, it's an infantilized population. In Canada, the work of our so-called creative writers usually doesn't provide an antidote to this situation. You can't turn to them for help or succor or to meet someone who could be a friend. Or, at least, I can't. It's basically an insulated, bourgeois literature. There is absolutely no daring, no chances being taken. There are not enough exceptions.
TTQ – In your opinion, what constitutes a great poem?
Jim Christy – A great poem is one that delivers a blow that you never see coming.
TTQ – You’re also an accomplished visual artist and have exhibited your work throughout the world. Tell me about your artwork and to what degree does it influence your writing or vice versa?
Jim Christy – The visual art and the writing come from the same place but I'd say the two go in different directions to wind up in similar territory. The great thing about making the art, mostly sculpture and assemblage, is that you don't have to worry about explaining things. Also, making the art is more fun and when you hang out with artists they don't gripe but mainly talk about materials.
TTQ – What words of advice would you give to young aspiring writers and artists?
Jim Christy – I would not give advice to young and aspiring writers for fear that they would take it and hold me responsible. I am an old-time writer who used to sit in front of a big old typewriter and make noise way into the night. Then I'd put the results in an envelope, mail it away and wait for a response. But I did not approach the Underwood until I had something to say to it, and I found what I had to say by circulating among mean women and animals and seeing what life was about. So if my heart was doing the talking, it would tell aspiring writers to go and take a look around. You don't have to cover a war or live among Indians in the Amazon, like I did but do SOMETHING. But, see, that would only be from my heart. My head would advise "Go to university and pursue a degree in creative writing; better yet get a Master's while you're at it and just to be SAFE. Then hobnob, network, hook into social media, join the Union, tweet, get a Facebook page and you're bound to make it (make what?).”
TTQ – What’s next for Jim Christy?
Jim Christy – What’s next? I'm ready for a big adventure or a new career, even. I'm open to suggestions. Also, I plan to drive from the Beaufort Sea to the tip of Tierra del Fuego, hopefully in a Nissan Juke. In the meantime, more poems, more sculptures.