The Gospel According to
I had been looking for a new writing project for a number of years. I’d tired of the epistemologically driven, dense, philosophically oriented poetics I had been working in for decades. The work entitled Syllogism in this issue may be seen as a relapse or more likely a farewell and an attempt to answer a request to codify my thinking on the subject and be done with it.
I wanted to create a new work that did not sacrifice any of the intelligence or vitality of language of High Modernism as expressed in Joyce, Pound, Eliot, Tolson, Olson, Zukofsky, Dorn etc.
As chance would have it our upcoming issue of FlashPoint at that time was to be devoted to the work of David Jones, a High Modernist engraver/artist and poet whom I had long admired. Not only that, but the David Jones Society was arriving from the UK to hold their annual conference in Washington DC which included a film by Derek Shiel as well as an exposition of Jones material recently bequeathed to Georgetown University.
One of FlashPoint’s editors, Brad Haas, has long been a member of the Jones Society and helped curate the show at Georgetown as well as supply some of his own Jones holdings. He then went on to host the David Jones conference the next year at the University at which he teaches.
Finally, it was determined that FlashPoint would publish the papers delivered at the Jones conferences by the Jones Society members. This happy alignment required that I re-read Jones body of work.
The Dago in Me
As I was listening to a recording of one of Jones most dramatic poems, The Fatigue, I was struck by how much I was drawn to the voice of the personae of the poem. The voice is that of a Roman principalis to which Jones attributes the rank of sergeant. In the first part of the work, the sergeant is dressing down his men for failing to keep an alert vigilia or night watch. Then the poem shifts to a dazzling metaphysics of religion mixing ancient Roman and Greek myth, pre-Christian and proto-Christian British worship and myth, and Christian myth.
I had read aloud this very literate and highly annotated poem to friends on a number of occasions and marveled at their easy grasp of its subject matter despite the poem’s obscure vocabulary and syntax. In no way was the poem dumbed down for a least common denominator reader. Just the opposite. The reader felt him or her self raised up having had a new and rewarding experience as well as discovering something about their own capacity and understanding. There had never been any grousing about the poem being too ‘difficult’ or ‘obscure’.
I attempted to write my own piece in Jones’ principalis’s voice and within an hour had my first monologue. The process was so enjoyable and intellectually rewarding that I persisted, eventually writing 88 monologues for performance. I have since added five more which appear in this issue including a 36 page monologue by Joseph Barsabbas, the so-called 14th apostle according to Simon Kananaios. Barsabbas is the drug cooker for Jesus and the disciples, using henbane, dattura and Syriacan rue to produce the mass hallucinations, false deaths, madness etc. that we encounter in the Synoptic Gospels and John. According to Simon Kananaios, the mad document called the Book of Revelation was written entirely under the influence of hallucinogens by an aged and drug addled junkie, the apostle John Zebedee also known as John of Patmos.
The Gospel According to Simon Kananaios like Jones' piece is set in First Century Judea at the time of Christ. The core setting is Passover/Easter week. The first 88 monologues have been published by Country Valley Press with an explanatory introduction. But what I would like to communicate here is the relatively brief and stormy performance history of the monologues.
Pieces for Actors
The Canaanite Gospel is best grasped and appreciated when performed. Wayne Pounds, a scholar at Tokyo University, has described the monologues as depositions. Each monologue is in the voice of one of the characters usually recognizable from the Synoptic Gospels, John, the Gnostic Gospels, Josephus, Tacitus etc.
Events communicated in the Canaanite Gospel tend toward a more historically realistic appraisal of events that are related in earlier texts such as the Synoptic Gospels.
That the monologues gain from performance is indisputable. As the poet/actor Magus Magnus points out, the theater goer will be surprised at how much of even the most difficult texts, performed at headlong speed, she or he can understand. Not that the monologues need to be performed at headlong speed, but that they too are imbued with that kind of theatricality.
So, after failing to interest any local actors, I set out to perform them myself. My first choice was an open mike with about twenty people in attendance. You could only read/perform one page so I took the hilarious set piece, Lazaraus, reduced it down to 8 point type to fit on one page and performed it.
The audience loved it. They howled with laughter and my timing was bouyed by their enthusiasm. The wrinkly, schoolmarm running the reading was ‘shocked’ by the profanity, but what could she do? The audience had come alive after several gruesome, snoozer poems met with polite applause or near dead silence. I asked her if I could be in the reading series as a featured reader but she told me she was looking for “more established’ readers who had published.
I told her I had been a fixture around Washington for over 40 years, had published two books and was currently an editor with FlashPoint which I encouraged her to look at. Still no. I could see the radical dramatic volume, the howls of laughter and novelty of the piece itself had rattled her. Poetry was meant to be precious and whispered not bawdy and profane like Chaucer, Jarry, Moliere, Joyce or, well, Shakespeare.
So I set up my own one man show in full costume, "Simon Kananaios Live at the Kensington Row Bookshop for one night only". I got 18 or 20 people to show up and it was a wild success. In the immediate aftermath, I got offered a DVD deal from Adelphi Records and a publisher present said he was going to “make me famous,” like I hadn’t heard that before.
But then things began to dry up. I did a performance of a few monologues at the Writer’s Center in conjunction with visiting California poets David Meltzer and Michael Rothenberg. This time there was some shock among the audience at the brash novelty and raw profanity of the monos but also a good deal of positive feedback. But when I asked for a venue of my own, I was again turned down.
I did a couple of more open mikes but the time constraints didn’t allow me to prepare the listener for what they were about to hear. I kept falling back on my stock piece, Lazarus or time permitting Martha. The audience remained enthusiastic though the gatekeepers/moderators were less thrilled especially with the profanity, the blasphemy and the raucous atmosphere so alien to today’s poo-etry.
I began to sense that the complaints about the profanity and blasphemy were just canards, an easy excuse for denying me performance time and space so that the asslickers and little quid pro quo pricks could snooze poetry right out of existence.
No doubt, at some level, some audience members but primarily the people hosting the events found the monologues novel and therefore deeply disturbing and as a result a threat to their authority. I was told that the ownership of these various donated spaces could withdraw their support if they got wind of the monologues being performed there. And there were plenty of self-censoring neo-liberals out there whining for a quieter more ‘reasonable’ poo-etry.
The composer Charles Ives was once attending a concert of serial music. A fellow in front of him was fidgeting and murmuring to his friend during the recital, obviously intimidated by the music. So Ives leaned forward and told the guy, “Don’t be such a sissy.”
At my performances a pattern was forming. The people in control of the poetry and music venues and even some comedy venues were censorial sissies. This type of material was not new. Authors have been taking shots at religion ever since they began to coexist. Rabelais was certainly a fire source for my monologues. Stand up comics delivered their profanity laced monologues every night all across this piece of shit country and it was accepted as the norm. As I write this the play ‘Motherfucker with a Hat’ is playing to rave reviews here in DC with Mike Daisey’s ‘Fucking, Fucking, Fucking Ayn Rand’ on its way. Is it the ethnic slurs? Don’t these folks have HBO? Besides, Canaanite Gospel’s ethnic slurs are often edifying such as ‘kittim’ or ‘kitt’ which appears throughout the monologues and loosely means ‘those pale assholes from the West who are making our lives such a fucking misery’. Apparently with national venues you can thrive on the merits of the work alone. But at the local level, the gated communities of the souls, a few sissies can effectively censor a new work.
I was getting constant advice to ‘dumb it down’. But for who? When left to my own devices the audiences in general were fine with it. Actually many loved it. And those that weren’t? Well, what the fuck is wrong with a little literary debate?
I was told dump the Shakespeare, Chaucer, Rabelais, James Joyce etc. influence. That shit’s so old it’s too easy. That’s why you don’t hear it anywhere. Dump the cockney, the profanity and the slurs. Dump the blend of syntax and vocab. All the above just confuses the moderators and besides they’re worried that the people who own the venues, the people making the cheesecake or selling the $8.00 beers, will not find the monologues amenable to peddling their wares.
End running the censors
I circumvented the sissies with a second one man show at Kensington Row Book Shop. To warm up, I did another one page open mike. This time I performed Safiya which also was received very enthusiastically, especially by the women in the audience.
My original publisher had backed out, but Mark Kuniya of Country Valley Press had agreed to come on board. But the book wasn’t ready yet. And Adelphi Records wanted me to put together an act with me as the sole performer off-book on perhaps 7 or 8 monologues, a daunting task for someone who can’t remember his five digit zip code and was denied venues all over town in which to perfect his act.
Again, about 18 to 20 people showed. Once again, a wildly enthusiastic response. Of particular interest to me was the response of Al who is married to the proprietor of the bookshop, Eli. Al, a dutiful husband, helps Eli set up and take down the chairs for the poetry readings and lecture series her bookstore hosts. By his own admission Al, as down to earth as they come, dreads these events because he finds the poets so damn boring. He usually leaves to huff down a few cigs and comes back when the reading appears to be ending.
However, for the monologues he stayed the entire time, through the dramatic ones as well as the comic. Al is among that majority of people that think poetry is not relevant, is intellectually tendentious, boring, effete and sissified. And I can’t say he’s wrong. It’s folks like Al or Gene Rosenthal at Adelphi Records that would rather spend the day spaying rabid dogs than go to a poetry reading, yet whoop and holler at the monologues. This gives me the greatest charge and confirms one of my main reasons for writing them --- TO REACH A LARGER AUDIENCE.
In a coffee bar in Annapolis before about 60 people, the kid behind the espresso machine loved my performance. The nuns at tables in the back, not so much. But many people came up to me afterward curious about the nature and obvious novelty of the work, now a hallmark of any Parcelli performance.
In for a Punany
An Andy Shalal Busboys and Poets opened in Hyattsville. I had performed some of my older material at Derrick Brown’s Tuesday Night open mikes at the DC Busboys at 14th and V. Though heavily spoken word/hip hop oriented, I was able to pull off some fairly complex passages from my earlier Tale of the Tribe and ‘The Gilded Age of Far-Reaching Ruin’ to thunderous if not bewildered applause.
Now I was at Love the Poet’s open mike venue at the new Hyattsville Busboys in full costume, the first performer ever, with Derrick Brown and Gene Rosenthal in the house. I was taking acting lessons from a local Shakesperean actor and was off book on Lazarus which I performed, if I do say so myself, quite well, to a sold out audience (yes folks @, $5.00 a ticket --- for poetry) of 150 people.
I’d belt out “Don’t Talk to me ma likes that ya fuckin’ lushy.”
Or “Son, we’s about ta come ta blows. I ain’t no spelunking scabie what can be chased about by your fine tone.”
Brown was standing in the back howling his approval. But in the front three or four rows of tables - nothing.
Line: “So’s the boys down the pub ask, (pan audience right) If he’s resurrect, (pan audience left) Where the fuck is he?” Nothing. An oil painting.
Turns out that Michelle Antoinette Nelson aka Love the Poet’s dad who is a fine jazz guitarist is also a deacon in his church in Baltimore. His trio was performing after me and half the congregation had come down to hear them. Them Baptists were not amused by my New Testament re-write. And Love couldn’t let it go. She kept commenting on it as though “What the fuck is going on in this white boy’s brain.” And she’s a Punany poet. How utterly radical and transgressive my monologues must be if poetry about one woman eating another woman’s pussy before a Baptist congregation is de rigueur by comparison not to mention the other carryings on at such performances.
I did get a short lived MC gig of my own out of that performance of Lazarus at Busboys, but for a seniors 55 and older night. And though the crowd was large apparently seniors don’t spend enough on booze and food and the house was cash and tip light. So I got the axe. But not before having the opportunity to perform my beloved Vernacchio Porcellus monologue for the first time publicly.
Next stop, the bars.
Gene Rosenthal suggested I try a biker bar outside of Annapolis, MD. It was primarily a music venue but if I did mostly comic monologues, I might not get stabbed. But when I looked up their ad it read, “No profanity.” Mind you the online ad had a picture of a row of Harley’s in front of the bar. So I called and said, “Is it true that you do not allow performers to use profanity during a performance.” Voice on the line, “If you use profanity, you will be physically removed from the stage.” I said, “Are you kidding? How about cunt or cocksucker? How about blasphemy and ethnic slurs like dumb, born again redneck asshole? Do you swing with berk or motherfucker?” Click.
So I just went down to the Bossa Bistro in Adams Morgan for a couple of beers and open mike night. They use an open mike round robin where you perform in turn. Again, mostly spoken word. Performed three monologues and the response from the audience was very positive.
So a few weeks later I went back in full costume. There were different moderators but they were two chaps that had performed the last time I was there. For my second monologue, I did Gesmas, the Bad Thief, balls out.
Literally? You be the judge. At one point Gesmas (see online performance at bookstore venue) spits at his Roman executioners as a kind of anti-benediction and a pretty good size loogey hit the floor in front of a customer’s table.
I stopped to apologize, but the kids at the table were really into it and pleaded for me to just go on. But somebody, probably the owner, had had enough of the profanity, slurs or blasphemy, or perhaps all of the above. To heighten the irony, one of the moderators that night was Shahid Buttar, executive director, who leads the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and the People's Campaign for the Constitution, standing by while my First Amendment Rights were violated and I was blocked from the stage. Oh, how I savor that moment.
I hasten to add that it was the other moderator, Damian, who actively prevented me from performing, not Mr. Buttar. I find Mr. Buttar to be a hail and good fellow. Just too easily cowed.
Imagine just how revolutionary and radical these monologues must be to be shunned by the supposed bible belt, Harley riding right, the neo-liberal left and the radical far left. I’m definitely onto something.
Then there’s the nuclear free zone, highly progressive, utterly sissified Takoma Park venues. Takoma Park Library reading series: “Now way. We have to consider the children.” Tell them they can’t come to this. “No. Others might find it offensive too.”
Capitol City Cheesecake? I couldn’t do Lazarus because it wouldn’t clean up for the two children in the audience or that was the canard. So I did Barabbas, slightly bowdlerized. But emotionally it was too much for the dainty moderator who complained about my harmless stage dagger and told a ridiculous story about someone committing suicide on stage. Look buddy. If you’re threatened by the work, that’s reason for me to embrace it. Like Ives said, “Don’t be such a sissy.” Sissy.
Gene Rosenthal , who’s as gutsy and loyal as they come and who wields a mean cane, booed the moderator for censoring one of his ‘signed ‘talents’. The moderator came rushing down the aisle to hush Gene. A shoving match ensued between the older free speech beats and hippies and the new sanitized neo-liberal sissy class who run the arts in Washington.
Rod Smith at Bridge Street. “We only do experimental.” Yeah, a cliquish little sleep fest of dull, dreary lang poos. Almost cost me a friend who got utterly bored at a reading there that I, too, fell asleep at. No, we don’t want to wake up that cult.
John Berndt at the Red Room in Baltimore. “No. We’re looking for experimental music,” though their page says performance. I almost lost a friend there too who was so utterly bored and intellectually insulted by a subpar lecture that he threatened never to speak to me again. And there was no music. No performance. Just a very dull, fucking lecture?
Most venues simply didn’t respond. A few said the material was “not for them” or they found it downright offensive. This included a few bars. Other venues like the Bloombars do not allow profanity. No profanity at all! And you can be fined for using it. Yikes Leopold!!
A Unitarian church backed out when it got wind of the material.
Jordan Davis, he of the Johnny Carson poetry parody and now poetry editor at the Nation, at first refused to answer a simple email query about possible venues. Then he tersely said he wasn’t involved in that scene anymore. So I submitted 3 monologues to the Nation with a self-addressed stamp envelope and never heard from them again. He didn’t even have the decency to send a form rejection. Damn, Jordan. I thought we were friends.
Other friends tried to book me in New York. But nothing. I sent out comp copies of the 88 monologues figuring maybe someone we had published over the years would suggest a joint performance. Again silence. Most didn’t even acknowledge receiving the book, a matter of a ten word email.
Naive me thought that poets around the country who shared common cause would invite me to read either before their classes or in conjunction with a reading series they sponsored. Nah. Is it now a matter of bourgeois channels? I’ve often made it crystal clear I can pay my own way and neither need nor expect payment for any performance. And my audiences don’t fall asleep.
Red Emma's, a Marxist collective in Baltimore, failed to answer several email requests and applications to perform. Nothing. Like I didn’t exist. I’ll wager it’s because their performance space is in the basement of a church, though they do have events in their bookstore too. At least, that’s my understanding. But who the fuck really knows. And I know these people from Johns Hopkins. Red Sissies?
Lucky you’re dead, Lenny, or you’d have to fucking start all over again with the motherfucking profanity thing. Only this time, the police wouldn’t be necessary. We have the new neo-liberal sissy class policing us.
Then I get a call from a folk singer named Phil Fox. He’s seen my act including a couple of private parties and the near riot at the Capitol City CheeseFoot.
“I got a venue for you. Show up at Jerry’s Music on Friday evening in full costume. No problem. I’ll give you 20 minutes. Longer if the crowd is small.”
I go. I perform. It goes pretty well. Maybe 40 people but the venue can easily accommodate twice that. Jerry, the owner of the venue, loves me. He comes and personally thanks me and asks me to come back.
Wednesday I get a call from Phil. He just wants to make sure I’m coming. “I’ll be there,” I say. Finally, a steady gig to hone my craft, go off book and maybe crush this DVD thing for Adelphi which has very high performance standards.
Thursday the phone rings, “You’re out,” Jerry says. “The owner wants to have some of his advanced guitar students perform there and some of them are only 14. Either you drop the profanity or you’re out.”
“Then I’m out,” I say, knowing full well that there isn’t a word in any those monologues with the exception of ‘berk’ that those guitar students aren’t using everyday to describe each other’s nasty bits.
And being a glutton for punishment the dreary list goes on.
I can only assume from my experience that I have reached an entirely new level of taboo literature with these monologues. I have shocked if not the nation, certainly the Nation’s Capital, and I have been marginalized for it, denied venues at every turn.
We have truly reached the era of the Sissy Literati in the whimper of their discontent, where the likelihood of Chaucer, Joyce, William Burroughs, Swift, Henry Miller, Jarry, Rabelais etc. being published today is as remote as pig rectum giving way to real calamari at the $4.95 all you can eat buffet in Jessup.
You will say I appear to relish my outsider status. But what else do I have when I have no venue in which to perform.
the author - performance videos - and latest book
"Stand-up tragedy at its best!"
Additional work by Carlo Parcelli in FlashPoint includes:
The Canaanite Gospel:
A Meditation on Empire: The Easter Sequence
and several installments of
"Deconstructing the Demiurge"
"Crimes of Passion"
"Work in Regress"
"Onionrings: Adding machines_Crisco"
"Collateral Damage, or The Death of Classics in America"
"How Dead Industrialists Dance, or Swing Time"
"Tale of the Tribe"
"Millennium Mathematics: The Centos"
Eschatology of Reason: The South Tower
Eschatology of Reason: The North Tower
Eschatology of Reason: De Rerum Natura
Eschatology of Reason: The South Tower (revised
De Rerum Natura: Hearing Voices
Eschatology of Reason: Shaping the Noise
a selection from:
Eschatology of Reason:
"The Gilded Index of Far-Reaching Ruin"
a poem in five parts
I. A Brief Course in Secular Eschatology
A. At 64
The poet comments on his
"Is Everyday Language Sufficient to Embody Everyday Experience?"
Schneidercentric Poetry World of
Dan Schneider: Cosmoetica vs. Planet Earth