Photo Credit: Elaine King
JOAN JOBE SMITH was born laughing during a norther in Paris, Texas, January 25, 1940. Founding editor of PEARL and BUKOWSKI REVIEW, she received a BA in creative writing from CSULB, then an MFA in fiction writing from University of California Irvine after working 7 years as a go-go girl during the swinging, rock-n-rolling 1960s-70s. Her poetry, prose, art, essays and literary reviews and critiques have been published internationally since 1972 most recently in AMBIT, NERVE COWBOY, LUCID MOOSE, LADYLAND: Anthologie de Litterature Feminine Americaine (13enote, Paris, France, 2014) and she’s published more than 23 books of poetry (and one cookbook) that includes THE POW WOW CAFE (The Poetry Business), a finalist for the 1999 UK Forward Prize. In 2012, her literary profile CHARLES BUKOWSKI: Epic Glottis: His Art & His Women (& me) was published by Silver Birch Press and her memoir, TALES OF AN ANCIENT GOGO GIRL published in 2014 by marJo books. She lives in Long Beach, California, 2 blocks from the Pacific Ocean with her husband of Hi Ho Silver 25 years poet Fred Voss.
Geosi Gyasi: You’re the founding editor of Pearl and the Bukowski Review. Could you narrate to us how you started out?
Joan Jobe Smith: Before I narrate how I started Pearl, I want to tell you Why: Backlash, in 1973, when I was a feisty, know-it-all 33-year-old undergrad at California State University Long Beach during one of those pinnacle peaks of ferocious feminism. Backlash against the male chauvinism of small press literary magazine editors who published very few women poets/writers. One editor back then, an admitted misogynist/womanizer, dismissively epigrammed all his litmags with the declaration: “Men write Poetry; Women live it.” Also, my intent to do Pearl was Outreach and Patronage of the femme arts as I editorialized in the first issue, declaring my honorable, possibly self-righteous pursuit: “ars poetica feminae,” “…to provide proper pages to publish poetry by Women Only.” And here’s HOW I started Pearl: with funding from the CSULB Honors Program via a grant procured for me, ironically, by one of those aforementioned “male chauvs,” with whom I’d later become friends for 2 decades, Leo J. Mailman, a CSULB grad student and editor (1971-1981) of Maelstrom Review. Soon, however, after 3 issues of Women Only, I discovered why women poets in 1973 didn’t often appear in literary magazines–there weren’t as many female poets as male poets submitting their work out there in the literary world, perhaps “living” their poetry after all rather than writing it. Therefore issue #4 and future Pearl pages for the next 40 years were beefed up with Men–the good, bad, smugly and chauv pig of them. And during those 40 years, I developed a keener comprehension of the eternal, ambivalent War Between the Sexes along with a gentler-natured ego to such an extent I sort of joined ranks with those early 1970s’ men, men who had been literarily mentored–as was I–by poet-writer Charles Bukowski when I published 4 issues (2000-2006) of the BUKOWSKI REVIEW. P.S. All Pearl projects these past decades were labors of love funded via personal penny-pinching and prodigious patrons as we editors devoted our non-profit endeavors to the perpetuation of literary arts.
Geosi Gyasi: Has the aim for which Pearl and the Bukowski Review established been achieved?
Joan Jobe Smith: Oh, yes! My co-editor and the artistic and generous genius behind Pearl, Marilyn Johnson and I are very pleased to have published Pearl for 40+ years. With Marilyn’s creative expertise extraordinaire, and co-editor/First Reader Barbara Hauk’s wise and witty hawk’s eye we published many of the world’s very good
poets–established and emerging and esteemed and eclectic–from Charles Bukowski to a nun to a former Mousketeer, 4 Poet Laureates (viz: US’s Billy Collins, Delaware’s JoAnn Balingit), a stripper, 3 ex-go-go girls, 100s of housewives, outlaw poets Todd Moore, Mark Weber, Kell Robertson, a machinist poet Fred Voss, Okie Poet Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, iconic Gerald Locklin and Edward Field and Jim Daniels, legendary Linda King, Lyn Lifshin, Ann Menebroker, Long Beach, California luminaries Lisa Glatt, David Hernandez, Frank Gaspar, Clint Margrave, Donna Hilbert, oh, and so many, many good and greats. Lately, I’ve had prestigious literary critics say that Pearl should be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Prize for Literature: lauded because of our hard work in hanging in there for so long–and for our many, many pages of properly placed words of excellence written by so many prodigious writers–and our always-distinguished, often breathtakingly beautiful covers by some of the finest contemporary artists we know: John Kay, David Scott, David Hernandez, Elaine King, Anna Badua, Marilyn Johnson. No such award exists in the USA; but we know in our hearts, Marilyn and mine, that we did a good job. And proud of it!
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever had to turn down or reject works submitted to Pearl and Bukowski Review?
Joan Jobe Smith: Regretfully, yes. But Pearl’s First Reader Barbara Hauk was the brave one who performed that unpleasant task. Many times, however, she had to reject a good poet because we simply did not have the room, were irreducibly backlogged because Pearl became very popular internationally and our submissions were enormous, 100s a month, in fact, for 40+ years. In my opinion, I don’t think an inspired poet ever writes a Bad Poem; every poem ever written that comes from the heart and soul is worthy of a reading. But, of course, there are many who would disagree. One poem that might be an editor’s anathema might be another’s anthem. William Carlos Williams’ “little red wheelbarrow” to one editor might seem too much reliance on visual imagery and Bukowski’s “crucifix in a death hand” seem bleak. I love what Robert Frost says about poetic inspiration: “A poem begins as a lump in the
throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness or a love sickness. It is a reaching out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
Geosi Gyasi: How did you get into writing?
Joan Jobe Smith: How? Destiny? DNA? Indefatigable Determination? I was born babbling, began talking at age one (but I was not a prodigy!), and when I was 2 years old, in 1942, I didn’t “get into writing,”writing got into me as I drew swirling circles in the dirt with a stick, thinking I was writing a story. When I mastered the question and exclamation marks, wow, I really thought I was writing up a dust storm. The movies and radio and my book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales made me do it. And so did my talking Texas folks who were natural story-tellers in the oral tradition of the Welsh and Scots who fed my fancies with delightful similes, hyperboles and Tall Texas Tales–most of them true. When I actually learned to write with a pencil, pen and ink, I scrawled out my first novel when I was nine, a 6-pager titled “Helen and Elaine and the Leprechauns,” an attempt at comedy (by then I was deeply influenced by Popeye and Little Lulu and Superman comic books) and a quasi-memoir because Helen broke out with a rash and got sick like I did when I had a near-fatal reaction to my small pox vaccination; I illustrated poor hapless Helen lying abed unable to ever meet up with a leprechaun; and neither did I. A coma wears you out so I began to
write corny Limericks (influenced by Lewis Carroll) and didn’t write prose again until I was 15. When I was ten, my first poem, a didactic aphoristic rhyming couplet (“Always wait for the green/and you will become a Safety Queen”) won second place in a regional children’s safety poster competition sponsored by the American Red Cross. They chose my couplet for “publication” on billboards across Southern California illustrated with a cat chasing a mouse but stops when the light turns red–and the cat was changed to a King wearing a crown smiling smugly–but safely–when the mouse gets run over by a car.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us about your publication, “Charles Bukowski: Epic Glottis: His Art & His Women (& me)”?
Joan Jobe Smith: My intent for my BukBook, a literary profile depicting my 12-year platonic friendship with Charles Bukowski: an homage, hagiography, though I do depict some of my personal experiences with his “dark side” that many critics hold against him. I was, admittedly, Charles Bukowski’s “groupie.” Lucky me, I attended 12 or more of his live poetry readings, 1972-1978, possibly holding a record of some dubious kind. My BukBook tells about some of those exciting readings and what he said when he was alive and also tells of some of the happenings I attended honoring Bukowski after his death: the premiere of the 2004 John Dullaghan documentary “Born Into This” (of which I am an “out-take” after Dullighan video’d me 6 hours’ worth) and the 2010 Celebration of Bukowski at the Huntington Library. Included in my BukBook are also insightful Interviews with many of the important–and fascinating–Women in Bukowski’s Life: Ann Menebroker, Linda King, Frances Dean Smith (mother of his only child, Marina), and Pamela “Scarlet”/”Cupcakes” Miller Wood.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you hope to achieve with your writing?
Joan Jobe Smith: I never began writing with any specific “hope” of achieving anything; I wrote because I wrote. To alleviate loneliness for one reason. I was always home alone, an only child of a WW2 single mother who worked two jobs. And it was fun to write down buzzing thoughts and perceptions that filled my brain–even those little swirling circles I drew with a stick in the dirt brought inexplicable joy and gratification. Writers write. (Don’t hate me, but I’ve never had a “writer’s block.”) I guess my main Hope is that people will read me, “hear” the buzzing, enjoy it, and buzz back at me.
Geosi Gyasi: Who reads your works?
Joan Jobe Smith: Bukowski fans mostly read my Bukowski Review and now, I presume, some of them read my Charles Bukowski: EPIC GLOTTIS: His Art & His Women (& me)–both endeavors well-received. Poetry lovers read my poetry in the many international journals that have published me since 1972. My stories and poetry have been translated into Swedish, German, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, French, Italian, and soon Portuguese. And now my go-go girl memoir Tales of An Ancient GoGo Girl is being read by readers who enjoy prose and novels though my Tales are a true story of survival of terrifying domestic abuse and near-uxoricide while, to support 3 children, I worked hard days’ nights 8 days a week as a go-go girl, my main perk amongst my pathos: my good luck to live in a fabulous, far-out time and place and dance live upon the same stage with The Doors, Dick Dale, Ike and Tina Turner Revue during the swinging 1960s rock-n-roll era.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the most difficult aspect of writing?
Joan Jobe Smith: Getting readers to read you. Most writers write to be read, don’t they? Putting it down on the page has never been difficult for me–the Doing It aspect, that is, not the aspect of “excellence.” Just because I’m prolific, I do not wish to imply that all I write is good or publishable. Oh, but possibly the most “difficult aspect of writing”–for me, that is–is being tidy about writing; keeping track of it: e.g.: “Where’s the re-write of Chapter 3? Where’s that poem I wrote a month ago that I’m CERTAIN will get me a Nobel nomination?!! In that file folder or in Old Mail or under the bed or in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator?” For me, the most pleasurable aspect of writing is placing a blank page of paper before me, my clean slate, my tabula rasa to create, bloviate, perpetuate, write a letter to a friend, begin the beguine of a new story or poem–write.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us something we ought to know about Charles Bukowski”?
Joan Jobe Smith: What can I possibly tell you that Bukowski the poet/writer man hasn’t told you himself a hundred times in his many many books? He told All, you know. But perhaps what is possibly essential to know about him that I have privy to is that he was a deep, caring, wise man who loved Women. Especially Women who loved him.
Geosi Gyasi: What’s the inspiration behind your book, “Tales of An Ancient Go-Go Girl”?
Joan Jobe Smith: My 50-years’ worth of angst and inability, my failure to “heal” from my wounds, my scars–emotional and physical–caused by the unforgettable trauma of my near-death caused by the attempted murder of me perpetuated by my psychotic estranged husband in 1966. Such violent, near-fatal abuse that I survived back in 1966 was not much discussed in those male chauv days. Nowadays, with misogyny accelerating, statistics say that two in four women will endure violent abuse from a male. Ultimately, I hoped that while I wrote about my own violent abuse that I’d experience an epiphany, a grand denouement to help me find a tender spot, a wiser inner angel in my heart to forgive, forget, heal. But I did not. My recurring dreams continue. All my scars are still there. And they still hurt. Sorry. I tried. But it really wears you out when someone tries to kill you and nearly succeeds.
Geosi Gyasi: As a pushcart prize recipient and a Forward Prize finalist, do prizes matter to you at all?
Joan Jobe Smith: Winning at age 10 in 1950 my first prize (a faux gold watch worth $2 for 2nd place) I was disappointed (in the prize because it was a woman’s watch that didn’t fit my wrist till I was 20) but also thrilled to see my “poem” on billboards. Winning prizes, yes, is thrilling, and sometimes they matter–if you’re aiming for a prize that will bring some bounty, prestige or a chapbook which I’ve done often as an adult and I won a few competitions and received many generous grants from the UK Arts Council that included 7 reading tours 1991-2012 (from my debut at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival to a fabulous 2012 reading at the London Betsey Trotwood Pub) with air fare and expenses paid plus stipends. But, overall an impecunious poet all these years, I’ve never expected Big Bucks for my similes and hyperboles; I just always wrote because writing is what I do. I don’t enter competitions any more. It hurts too much now that I’m such an old lady to lose–and also, I don’t know how to master the password computer tech-torture to enter contests or apply for grants, especially that coveted NEA. My honorifics of the 1999 Forward Prize and the 1979 Pushcart “Excellent Writer” mention were very satisfying because my publishers had nominated me and those awards were icing on a cake I hadn’t had to bake for myself.
Geosi Gyasi: You’ve published about 22 books of poetry. Do you see yourself writing and publishing more books?
Joan Jobe Smith: Currently a collection of my poetry is being translated for publication next year by Manuel Domingos the distinguished Portuguese poet and editor of Medula Livros. Also, New York Quarterly has solicited a New and Selected collection of my poetry for publication summer, 2016. Hopefully, those new books will happen; the poetry publishing business right now–as always–is so precarious.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you a poet or writer?
Joan Jobe Smith: May I be both!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific style in which you write?
Joan Jobe Smith: I don’t specify anymore. I used to try to emulate the goth of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, then the wit of comic books, the melodrama of radio soap operas when I was a child; then the smooth earnestness of Ernest Hemingway, the historical romp of Margaret Mitchell when I was a teen. In my 20s I tried to write like the humorist Jean Kerr, then the fatalistic Sylvia Plath, the romantic D.H. Lawrence, and then the verbose streamer of conscientiousness Virginia Woolf; then I met Charles Bukowski. And ka-pow: with his encouragement I became Me: a tell-all memoirist narrative blabbermouth! Similar to Buowski, I didn’t have much choice but to be a memoirist because my life has been so strange and hectic; some of the strangest stories I’ve ever heard have happened to me. About my “style”: a TLS litcrit calls my writing style “exuberant syntax.” The blues/rock music producer Sam
Charters called my style “go-go writing, dancerly.” A French critic called me “flamboyante.”
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have specific theme(s) you write on?
Joan Jobe Smith: No. Unless, that is, The Truth is thematic. I’m a realist narrator–with some occasional “magical realism”/hyperbole tossed in. If I haven’t lived it, I can’t write it. I do not have a good imagination. My own strange and hectic life interferes with and supercedes my imagination. I can’t pretend to be any one other than myself. I’m not an actress. I can only Be Me. Go where I’ve been, going and going, trying to go on and on. Picaresque Picaroon like a river-rafted Huck Finn or a Moors-meanderer Jane Eyre. Jerzy Kosinski said: “The Picaroon is always practicing the Art of Becoming.”Charlie Parker said: “If you haven’t lived it, it won’t come out your horn.”
Geosi Gyasi: How did you first come in contact with works of Charles Bukowski?
Joan Jobe Smith: In 1972 when I was a under-grad student at California State University Long Beach, I first heard of Bukowski from my poetry workshop professor Richard E. Lee. CSULB prof, the young Dr. Gerald Locklin, a big fan of Buk’s, was promoting Bukowski’s work and had seen to it that Buk’s books were available in the campus bookstore–the very first university/college to sell Buk’s work. So I bought The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills–and loved it. Finally: a poet whose voice spoke to me, rattled my intelligence, captured my heart. Leo J. Mailman, my future Pearl funding-go-getter, was also a big fan of Buk’s and ferreted funding to book Buk readings at CSULB twice a year; so soon I saw Buk read live upon the campus stage for the first time. And admired him more. As I did his then-girlfriend, the sexy-vexy Linda King, also a poet, whose saucy feminist poetry I featured in my 1974 first issue of Pearl.
Geosi Gyasi: What is it about Charles Bukowski’s works that you admire?
Joan Jobe Smith: His wit, his grit, his gutsy and original, invigorating Voice; his intuitive visions, his muscular sincerity, his courageous, iconoclastic genius, his tight-fisted, sometimes tough, most times tender grasp on a big, bad, rad, sad, mad, mad, mad world and his persuasive ability to inspire, incite, delight his reader, capture his/her heart in the hands of his sprightly, enlightened declaratives and imperatives.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you happy as a writer? Do you earn a living from writing?
Joan Jobe Smith: Writing has always brought me joy as I go on and on trying to keep on becoming, direct my emotions find words to speak to the gods and goddesses, alleviate my loneliness and that lump in my throat, achieve enlightenment and acceptance of this big, bad, rad, sad, mad world that’s become1000 times worse since Bukowski died 20something years ago. There was a brief time, in 1979, when I thought I might earn a living from writing, or at least earn a windfall of a large advance for a book of mine (“Mr. & Mrs. Silverfish”) John Dodds, an editor at Simon and Schuster was interested in that I was proposing for my MFA thesis at University of California Irvine. But my mother fell ill and I had to care for her; Dodds’ wife Vivian Vance fell ill, and time and Dodds and the publishing world marched on. I’ve earned a bit of money internationally from my writings: sales of stories to journals and book royalties, grants, and prizes which I’m so thankful for since my writings, my subject matters and points of view are not mainstream, are often unusual and countercultural, and considered by some as politically incorrect.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that poets have a defined way of life?
Joan Jobe Smith: They, we poets sure try to define way of life. But basically, for me, I am busy trying to define the indiscernible and word scape the ineffable and refine my language to speak to the gods to help me find my way through life so’s to cope with all the austerities and “to care and not to care” and try to find answers to the ancient
mortally-coiling questions: What’s it all about? and WHY?
Geosi Gyasi: Could you give me a list of five favourite books?
Joan Jobe Smith: Reflecting my own kind of “chauvinism”: I love books about women, preferably written by women (Colette, Margaret Mitchell, Anita Loos, screenplay writer Frances Marion, Alice Walker, Rachel Carson, Maya Angelou, Edna Ferber, Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich–and my Mother Margie who wrote poignant poetic letters). And please don’t groan: I love Love Stories–preferably with happy endings–and I name as my Top 5 favourites today: Isak Dinesen’s “Babette’s Feast,” Daphne de Maurier’s Rebecca, Charles Bukowski’s Love Is A Dog From Hell, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, especially the chapter “Fantine” and if I might add a #6: Modernly, I am in love with the young contemporary writer from Pittsburgh U Lori Jakiela’s loving, forgiving memoir about lost-and-found Motherhood: Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe. And in conclusion if I may be so bold and carpe diem-ish: I like my own memoir written by a woman (me) TALES OF AN ANCIENT GOGO GIRL–a true-tale “glotessey” influenced subliminally by Bronte, Bukowski, D.H. Lawrence, Dickens and Victor Hugo–because my TALES have a happy ending.