The site of GAP’s post-launch bathroom break
In the last part of our two part interview, Jason Price Everett talks about how literature has been priced out of American society and the death of writer and friend, Geoffrey Alexander Parsons.
Jason Freure: “Bone Folder” is a prose poem dedicated to the memory of Geoffrey Alexander Parsons, author of Unwanted Hopeless Romantic Morons. Could you speak about your friendship with Geoffrey Alexander Parsons? Did that relationship affect your work?
Jason Price Everett: “Bone Folder,” as published in issue number fifteen of the Ginosko Literary Journal, is indeed a memorial piece for my late label mate and co-conspirator in the literary endeavor, Geoffrey Alexander Parsons. I will say that his death, coming as it did immediately after I was forced to move back to the U.S. due to complications with my Canadian work visa, affected me terribly. When I first heard the news in late June of 2012—our editor at 8th House wrote to me and told me that Geoffrey Alexander Parsons had been found dead, due to his escalating problem with drug abuse—I was stunned. I knew that he had been on a downward spiral for almost a year at that point, but the death of a friend is never fully expected, nor easily comprehensible.
Shortly thereafter, “Bone Folder” tumbled out onto the page. A year and a half later, it wound up winning first prize in the GLJ’s annual flash fiction contest. I suppose that the impact of his death has resulted in a slightly grittier strain in the work that I’ve composed in the two years since.
Geoffrey Alexander Parsons was a force of anti-nature, a tremendous raw talent. I will never forget the first time that I met him—it was at a multiple-author book launch event at Librairie Paragraphe, a bookstore located right in front of the main gate of McGill University’s campus. His debut book, Unwanted Hopeless Romantic Morons, and my book, Unfictions, were coming out at the same time, along with a couple of other 8th House titles, and I remember being somewhat on edge about the reading. I was outside the bookstore, talking with some friends and having a preliminary cigarette, when Geoffrey Alexander Parsons walked up.
He was tall and unkempt, with a gravelly voice, and dressed like he had been sleeping in a boxcar for a week. We exchanged copies of our books, and he proceeded to mercilessly insult mine (he lost his copy, or gave it away, later that same evening—I still have my copy of his book). He also bummed a couple of smokes, and proceeded to trade a copy of his book for three or four Valium that a friend of a friend had in her purse. He then took a forty-ounce bottle of ten-percent Molson malt liquor out of an inside coat pocket and proceeded to wash down the pills with it. (This is all taking place practically in the doorway of the venue where we’ll both be reading within the hour.) I was amazed, in the strictest sense of the word. And what was even more amazing is that the event went off without a hitch—Geoffrey Alexander Parsons went on last, and he brought the house down with easily the best performance of the night. As the crowd broke up, our editor decided to take all of us over to the the McGill campus bar to celebrate with some drinks. As we were leaving Paragraphe, Geoffrey Alexander Parsons pulled sauntered over and pissed all over the side of the bookstore, with predetermined malice. He hated those fuckers. He did it in full view of the owner, causing him to ban all 8th House titles and authors for almost two years. Afterward, as we would hang out more and we would go out drinking together—I would always buy, of course, since at this point he was living on other people’s couches and panhandling for change on the street, and practicing the consumption of alcohol as an art form—he did get us thrown out of several places, including a favourite haunt of mine at the time, Andrew’s Pub, a dive bar on the Rue Guy in Montreal, for simply reaching over the bar and stealing, or attempting to steal, bottles of vodka. He would just reach over, grab one, and head for the door when one least expected it. It was tough to keep up with him. We would end up in some back alley at three in the morning, just sitting on the ground, drinking forties from the depanneur, all the time talking about books, books, books. He was incredibly well-read, and I can remember that he spoke most eloquently about modern Japanese literature, including Kobe Abe and both Murakamis, Haruki and Ryu, the latter of whose Almost Transparent Blue is both magnificent and forgotten.
Eventually, Geoffrey Alexander Parsons’s street contacts led him to develop an intravenous drug habit, and that was the beginning of the end. He went from couch-surfing to sleeping in parks and Metro stations, he went from malt liquor to dilaudid, and he would never meet with his old friends except to attempt to scavenge money to support his habit. He would stop by Grumpy’s, hit one of us up for five or ten dollars, and then just disappear out the door. It was heartbreaking to watch him devolve, but there was nothing that anyone could do. He was an addict—you couldn’t invite him to your apartment, because he might try to steal something. People started avoiding him. About the only person who would hang out with him during those last six months or so of his life was the poet Amélie Abgral, a member of the Argo Bookshop reading series scene. (She’s currently working on a long short story about her association with GAP during this time.) How he managed to write anything at all on his battered secondhand laptop while he was homeless and strung out is beyond me, but he did, and he would send the fragments to me via email from cafes and libraries. Shortly after he died, I collected these fragments and edited them together into one book-length manuscript, called it The Opioid Diaries, and sent it on to 8th House. That was two years ago, and they still haven’t published it yet. I suppose they will, someday. It’s an interesting work, more imaginative than Unwanted Hopeless Romantic Morons, with some seriously hallucinatory prose. Say what you will about the man—Geoffrey Alexander Parsons’s ability to write well never deserted him, even at the very end.
It’s trite to say it, but Geoffrey Alexander Parsons’s early death was a shocking waste of talent. In a world increasingly approaching a totality of art, everyone is either a writer or subject matter. Geoffrey Alexander Parsons embodied the tragic case of a writer who, through either choice or circumstance, or a failing of confidence, was cast out of the circle of writers and fell into becoming subject matter. His presence is missed.
JF: This past summer you were a reader at Brooklyn’s Mellow Pages Library. How does New York’s literary scene compare to what you saw in Montreal? Do small presses and magazines have the same role or the same space as they often do in Canada?
Jason Price Everett reads from “Hypodrome”
JPE: Manhattan has had it as far as literature is concerned. All that is left is the sterile ghost of the old mythology. The midtown lit biz is a sealed vault with no way in, unless you’ve got connections—it really is the Hollywood of publishing. The rents are astronomical, the cost of living is high, the wages are low, the job opportunities for the crucial 18-26 demographic are marginal—there is simply no way for the emergent writer to survive. The Internet freelance market isn’t what it was even ten years ago, as there are so many people willing to write about anything and everything for free—today text-based content is a drug on the market. With this kind of unliveable economic situation, it follows that there can’t be much of a downtown underground literary scene, and there isn’t.
Downtown, the Bowery Poetry Club still has readings, but usually only on weekends, as it’s recently metamorphosed into an upscale bar/restaurant during the week. The old KGB Bar is still up and running and hosting a full-time schedule of events, but, hey, it’s a bar first, right? That’s their cushion; that’s the best way to survive an economic downturn. St. Mark’s Bookshop had to move because they couldn’t afford ground rent at their original location anymore, so they’re over on 3rd Street now. The East Village has changed a lot since the last time that I lived in NYC—even my favorite dive bar, the Odessa, on Tompkins Square, was gone the last time that I took a look around the neighborhood. A lot of the small indie bookstores have closed or moved, because books are not exactly a growth industry these days. As for uptown in Harlem, there’s Jumel Terrace Books, which is curated by the inimitable Kurt Thometz. Although it is somewhat specialized when it comes to its collection, focusing as it does on Africana and the Harlem Renaissance, as well as contemporary black American authors (the hosted readings always bring down the house—I saw Darius James read from his excellent book Negrophobia there once), can sometimes surprise you.
In direct contrast to the mother borough, Brooklyn is in high gear these days, so if you’re looking for any kind of underground literary scene in NYC, that’s the place to start—lots of hipsters (a category that I don’t find nearly as irritating as some people do), young kids, indie ’zines, indie small presses, and a scattering of great little venues—like the one and only Mellow Pages Library on Bogart Street in Bushwick that you mentioned, which is owned and operated by latter-day Maecenas, Matt Nelson. Not to mention the older, more established small presses, such as Spuyten Duyvil, which has been in business for over forty years, and which was, of course, kind enough to publish Xian Dyad in its groundbreaking novella series.
Brooklyn is in ferment right now: there is a myriad of little start-up ventures, the necessary first excursions into a life lived in art—young people just thinking it up and doing it, as they have in any halfway civilized society since time immemorial, and more power to them. And all of this without any kind of public support for the arts—which, I think, is the most crucial difference between any local literary scene in the U.S. as compared to the equivalent scene in Canada. There is no practical support for the arts in the United States, at any level—the direct governmental funding is effectively nonexistent, the National Endowment for the Arts has been cut to the bone by succeeding administrations, the state Councils for the Arts are a joke with a very unfunny punch line as more and more of those states slide into bankruptcy, and local attempts to encourage the arts are usually just empty feel-good rhetoric.
Literature is based on luxury, and right now our society is passing though a second Great Depression, despite the fact that nobody on TV seems to want to say those accurate words. But that’s what it is. And these young people, this essential demographic of the 18-to-26-year-olds, where all art finds its foundations—this next generation of artists and writers is being ground down and crushed in the United States today. They can’t breathe, they can’t concentrate—they can’t live.
In Canada, these young creators are supplied with a cost-free education all the way up through their university years, as well as free health care. In the United States, there is no leisure to create. What are the chances of basic survival for the artists among us? And these aren’t recent immigrants, or those born and raised below the poverty line: these are the scions of a once-vibrant middle class, a social class whose excess time and money both created and supported a once-thriving national literature.
It’s painful to watch, but every time that I think of the absolute courage that it takes to attempt to write anything at all under such conditions, I have to admire this new generation. If any of these incipient creators make it through the forge tempered, we’re going to have some damned fine books to read in a decade or two—that is, if anyone ever gets the chance to read them.
Jason Price Everett is the author of Unfictions and Hypodrome (8th House Press). His most recent book is Xian Dyad, a travelogue from Brooklyn based Spuyten Duyvil.