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Monday, August 15, 2011

Drinks and drugs and love and stories and jokes and books and Tom Cheshire

Since the early ’90s, Tom Cheshire has been prowling Atlanta in a number of roles: journalist, poet, musician, and drunken instigator. If you've been around, you've probably come across some of his projects like Dry Ink, a now-defunct arts and music blog, or his punk rock outfits the Rent Boys, All Night Drug Prowling Wolves, and West End Motel.

In his new book Just a Little Piece of Heartburn, Cheshire offers up 50 new poems, reproduced without edits in their original form — handwritten on bar napkins and scraps of paper. The result is a sort of cycle, snippets from a life swallowed best in one gulp (Cheshire asserts that it takes only "29 minutes to read it slowly"). The book vacillates between memory and spontaneity with all the energy and velocity of a raised glass.

There are moments when the poems amount to a manifesto familiar to long-time Cheshire devotees. In "What I Live For," the author counts "Drinks and drugs/and love (sometimes)/and books and music/and stories and jokes/and hugs and kisses/and drinks and drugs" as most essential. But while the poems are deliciously boozy, what sticks about the book is its emotional frankness and lyrical cadence, its ruminations on childhood, friendship, loss and sweeping romance cut with the appropriate amount of raunch. Read it at the bar, try it aloud and with different accents, rip it up and mail pieces to your friends. You'll know the pleasures of sharing a pint with Tom.

Creative Loafing met up with Cheshire over a glass of wine to discuss the book, some of his favorite lines, and the importance of a daily cry.

As you were writing, how much did you think about how it would fit in the finished chapbook?
Probably not once. I think there's pretty accidents and beautiful messes. I wish I could say there was a plan and there's an insane method to the madness but...you write, and then you put them away for a minute. You read them, and you put them away. And then you put them away for a good while. And then all of a sudden you have this ridiculous pile...some paper, some toilet paper, some pizza boxes. I've read it since it's been done and tried not to read it as me. I was just like "alright, my name is Bob, anxious Bob," and I just read it and it made me happy and tearful. I mean, I think tears are awesome. I cry every day. Twice a day, probably. And I laugh 100 times a day.

I think we go through, all of us, a million emotions a day. And what's wrong with just documenting them, and writing something pretty down? It's basically that simple.

Tell me about the format of the book. How do you feel that the presentation of the work alters its reception?
It's very important. To me, it's just as important as the words. When I met with the gentlemen who put this out I was like, "It needs to be handwritten." And I think at the beginning they didn't know if that's what they wanted and I was like, "I play by the rules—well, not play by the rules—but I've done what people wanted my whole life and it never worked out for me. I'm sticking to my guns on this."

I think if you read them in type form it would still be pretty. But I think this kind of reveals the honesty and the intensity and the openness and it's like...holy shit, man. I really could be stabbed at any moment. It's spur of the moment, I wrote this down, I'm sorry I forgot to put an apostrophe in the word friend's, no edits, heart on sleeves, that kind of thing. When we did it, I loved the picture. I wanted the picture to pay homage to Charles Bukowski's recording called "Hostage" 30 years ago or whatever and he's walking in front of some graffitied wall in Los Angeles or San Diego and it's spray painted and says "hostage" behind him. But he's doing just exactly what I'm doing, he's walking and he's got a bottle to his mouth and nose. That's in my backyard, and I was like, well I'm not going to rip it off but I'm a big fan of flattery and homage. The tape [in the cover design] was [Safety Third's] Bryan Manley's idea and I think it looks...we're all taped up a bit. Just seeing what they did with that, I wrote 10 more books.

You count Tom Waits, Frankie Stubbs, Woody Allen, and Shane McGowan among your heroes. I notice that none of these figures are traditionally "literary." Do you read much poetry?
Bukowski's not as much an influence as you would think. To be honest, musicians and songwriters and great lyricists like Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave and Tom Waits probably influence me in my writing more than writers and great writers like Henry Miller and Norman Mailer somehow they've influenced me in my music. My left shoe is on my right foot. I don't understand it. Is it called left brained or right brained?

Your book, not officially released until Aug. 18th, has already received great reviews from the likes of Scott McClanahan and Bill Taft. How much do you consider yourself a part of a larger community of "outsider" writers?
I don't. Someone said that I was a "gutter poet" and I was like, I guess I use the word pussy a good bit. I don't use it that much in this book. But I'll take whatever's given.

In "Pitter Patter," you claim "the most important line in a song or a poem is the last." Last line?
There are so many bands, or even films, that just destroyed me. Where there's one line that just gets glued to your side. Like Gene Hackman says in The Royal Tenenbaums a million funny lines. But there's this one where he finally hands Angelica Houston divorce papers and he says, "Now I know why you're with him. He's everything I'm not." I just started bawling. Tears just shot out of my eyes and ass. For weeks, I was messed up. For me, that's the last line.

Tom and company will celebrate the release of Just a Little Piece of Heartburn with "An Evening with Tom Cheshire," a book release and reading at Youngblood Art Gallery on Sunday, August 21 at 6:30 p.m.

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