The Vargas-Vargas Affair


“The Vargas-Vargas Affair” is a poem I wrote that deals primarily with narrative’s possibly innate (hard-wired) ability to sway judgement. It can transfix us. It has the ability to build within us empathy for a character & ultimately for each other, but it can also be a great tool for propaganda. There is always “the third side to every story,” but there are most often many more sides than that.

I hope this reading I made of the poem entertains you. The full poem can downloaded here as a pdf (The Vargas-Vargas Affair), so you can read along as you listen, or you can read it in peace & quiet on the Brooklyn Rail website, where it was first published.

Apologies for the quick reading style in the beginning – it would have been an hour long had I read it any slower. As it stands, the video is 45 minutes long.

Cheers, Joe

Dear Jack



Dear Jack,

I wanted to say I opened your letter to Lorca, but before you get upset, know that I hear you when you say the personal adventure will at best show in the lovely pattern of cracks where autobiography shatters but does not quite destroy the surface of a poem, & that this idea works on me everyday, & that I’m glad to have read your feelings about it today, quite by happenstance, as your letter was accidentally delivered to me in my house as I returned from editing this new book I’m working on. I’d love to sit around & shoot the shit with you about the displacement of self in the act of composing false autobiographies, or to be more accurate, detailing in short spans the impromptu desires of the many selves that occupy us, & their myriad ambitions & personalities, false histories & created narratives, but you’re dead, & what survives requires my visiting on irregular occasion, which makes it more my fault, so I’ll try to keep some of your lines memorized & in my body in such a way that they grow in me as a conversation I’m having with myself, & this will build something, I’m sure of it. In any case, apologies for the intrusion, though I’m fairly certain Lorca wasn’t getting that message anyhow.


Mike Tyson on Writing Poetry



I believe I just discovered the meaning behind Mike Tyson’s answer to a question I posed to him last night at the New York Public Library, where he was interviewed  by Paul Holdengraber.

The answer is a little overwhelming, truthfully. Through tears & self-effacing comments, he spoke about many things, but spent a good deal of time talking about what it was like to be trained as a killer for a life of war, an animal loosed upon the world. He talked about contemplating murder by gun & suicide before going off an a five minute expose of all the French farmers who rose from humble beginnings to become gods of war (with Mike naming these farmers turned warriors, their ancestors, & the successors who eventually conquered Attila the Hun).

Mike’s head is smooth & hard & deceptively flat looking from the front, eyes set & facing straight forward. It’s difficult to keep his gaze. He glanced up & said, “Hey there, mister.” I said, “Looking forward to reading the book. You ever write poetry, Mike?” “Poetry?” “Yeah, poetry.” I was thinking, I wonder if Mike Tyson would collaborate with me on a poetry chapbook. The universe is crazy in allowing certain ridiculous things like this to occur; I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing such things come to fruition before, so I figured to try my luck again.

“Poetry?” he paused.

The guy responsible for getting the line moving was annoyed but he wasn’t going to tell Mike Tyson to speed things up.

“I don’t know,” said Mike. “Maybe it’s in me. If I wrote poetry it would probably be like Bonnie Parker.” & then chuckled, looking around. Everyone chuckled but no one had a fucking clue what he meant.

This is what I believe he meant: Bonnie Parker, of the infamous Bonnie & Clyde duo, supposedly wrote two poems while they were being chased by the law.

Here are links to the two poems. One’s about murder, the other’s about suicide.

Both speak of a tragic trajectory forced upon the speakers early on, & the prices to be paid for the freedom they allow themselves. It’s all a little melodramatic, but there lives in each the occasion of emotional truth, anger & spite & a fortitude the stepped-upon, encased in the glory & fame we honor our outlaws, which makes these poems attractive in ways not necessarily agreeable, but still attractive, perhaps even to Mike Tyson, a retired god of war.

The Old Neighborhood


Photo Ric Camacho.

Williamsburg changes, that is the constant. One group moves on top of the next, expands. The L train is a sardine can. They built highrise condos near the waterside, a perfect view of Manhattan. Then they built another highrise to block that highrise, pressing right up on the water. Get yours. Get better. Be part of a happening. Entering its second decade.

I love this city & I despise it. New restaurants come with new traffic lights & ugly condos. New bars come with double-wide strollers & screaming children.  Up up & away. The bread shop sits green & lonely on N 8th, where you can still get a loaf of rye for under $3. The morning smells are delicious. A new Dunkin’ Donuts on N7th is threatening El Beit & Verb, which themselves stole business from the bodegas, back in the day. Upward the course of the empire takes its way.

I like grabbing a coffee & walking down to the water, now occupied by the Edge. When I lived above N6th, the music venue, back in 2006, that’s where the junkies went to shoot up. It was tagged, full of rubble, the night lights popping across the East River, cold & blue. Wonderful in this forgotten way. Immensely muggable, we were. Not a better time (although it was the best year of my life–I met my wife, quit writing for a year, & found daily happiness), not a better place, overall. Just less crowded. But in certain particulars, certainly a better time, & a better place. It depends what you are after. My wife thinks I just like to “chase the grit.” It’s true, what I enjoyed about Williamsburg then was its dirt, its lonesomeness, walking down a deserted street without lights at 2 AM, with nobody around, trash strewn everywhere, the cold wind & your eyes watering & your mind calm as a dead lotus, or racing with ideas, the possibility of life before you, the long dark block with the streetlight at the end. & of course the houseparties in lofts the size of a quarter city block. The promiscuity. The Monday night burlesque. The small clubs with live bands & hard dancing, with PBR for a buck. The lamb burgers after midnight, with tater tots. The art–everywhere. On the street corners, a new Os Gemeos! The zombie & santa parades in McCarren Park. & now we have the Brooklyn Bowl, which I love. Oh my god the San Gennaro pizza. & VICE headquarters, Hyperallergic–these I love. & of course, Brooklyn Arts Press, smack dab in the thick of it. Born from the tradition of DIY, which was VERY real here. People just did things. Shoot a movie. Outdoor gallery. Make your own flea market. Do-It-Yourself, of course, lived beside Do-It-Yet? Meaning, lots of talkers, not necessarily lots of doers. Lots of bad art. Just really really terribly bad art. Lots of cocks & vaginas being penetrated by dollar bills & animals. But the fervor of experimentation was clear–Jack the Pelican, Secret Robot, the crazy tall street preacher at the crossroads who didn’t necessarily want to save your soul, just wanted you to know it was in dire peril. Wanted you to know it.

& they were, our souls, in dire peril. & it was wonderful.