– Sleeping Bags for the Homeless

For the past 2 months Wendy & I, along with various friends, have been driving around delivering sleeping bags to homeless people.

You can read more about it here: I’d suggest starting from the very beginning. It takes about 15 minutes in all.

We have 29 bags left, & I would love to invite any NY artists with cars, or who’d be willing to rent a car, to travel out with us a few late nights in March to hand-deliver the rest of these bags to the people who need them. You can contact me via Facebook.

A Quick Word on Writing & Self-Promotion



There seems to be a great deal of young to mid-career writers online discouraging each other from engaging in self-promotion. This is a serious mistake–a deleterious form of group-think equatable to self-sabotage. Most successful writers will tell you, from experience, that you must FIGHT for the recognition of your artwork. Rare is a spotlight that picks one young writer to be the season’s new precious. The rest of you will have to dig in, work like hell, write in the wee hours, & then PUSH that shit into whatever shop will sell it. The truth is relationships with other writers help. Relationships with critics & reviewers help. Teaching helps because you have built-in buyers. Being funny on Twitter, apparently, helps. If you’re not good at making friends, & you don’t teach, & your humor is a bit dry, you have to ACTIVELY search out readers elsewhere. You can try meeting folks in writing forums, you can take writing classes & meet people with interesting ideas there, you can attend readings, you can try blogging or writing articles or reviews for a website. This process will make you feel tired, frustrated, alienated–but you’re not alone, & you’re doing it right. Understand, though, that this never stops. You will be self-promoting for the rest of your life. Famous writers on Facebook do it all the time–I just opened Facebook & immediately found seven blog posts by writers touting their wares. They may not be asking me to buy their book, but they’re certainly asking me to read & engage their latest work, even if it’s how they feel about pregnant hairless cats or the mysteries of gelatin-based food products. It’s very important for you as a writer to push yourself into areas you feel EXCEPTIONALLY uncomfortable being anywhere near. That’s the game– sorry. You’re the one that wanted to create a meaningful world out of nothing. You’re the one who felt you had something special to share. It’s difficult to move beyond the thinking of haters & naysayers, but if you don’t, & try your hand at CormacMcCarthy-ing yourself into Oprah’s open heart in your seventies, you’ll most likely find yourself near-dead & unread, & wishing you’d tried a scary thing a bit earlier on.

Also, I was reading Allie Brosh’s comics since they first went up on blogspot–she’s hilarious, & truth-seeking, & even with the promise of failure seemingly forever on the horizon, a self-promoter. Despite depression. Despite all the fears she shares with the rest of us. She was here in Brooklyn reading at WORD & I totally missed her because of a certain fear of my own, a medical one, ridiculous in its own way. & look where it’s got me. Not meeting Allie Brosh.


EDIT: I wanted to add a little something I mentioned on Facebook, answering the question of what particular threads might have prompted this post: “Several posts [on Facebook] over the past week, aggravated today by certain “conversations” in TheMillions comment section. Just a growing awareness of vilification of effort, which feels to me both disingenuous on the part of trolling rebutters (those who wish to quiet the self-promoters by promoting themselves as They Who Know Best) & scarily close to the “mask your intelligence” BS we inferred as kids in a southeastern town. As a younger writer, I engaged in a bit of magical thinking regarding how books are chosen, & how literary writers find success. I am now very familiar with how writing & writers find their audience, & if you don’t have a famous mentor carting you along, you’re probably going to have to bust ass just to squeak a whisper into someone’s ear. There isn’t a day I don’t work to promote either my own work or BAP. & I’ve seen the effect on sales promotion (or lack thereof) has on books & careers. This is a typical grad school complaint…I have a Masters & no idea how to sell the thing I love doing. It is a difficult place to start from…but the question should be a starting place, not an ending place.”

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.

The Vargas-Vargas Affair, the Brooklyn Rail

Check out the Brooklyn Rail for a long poem I wrote about an evil twin. Which is evil? Neither, surely. But at least one is a lying, conniving sociopath.

Click to read The Vargas-Vargas Affair.

I wrote this poem as I write all my poems: music first, then meaning. A few minutes in & I’m thinking, another narrative poem? Really? But here’s the thing with my narrative poems: musically, the all originate in the lyric mode. The sounds the words make create the original tension for me, always, & what initially comes out is often a string of like-sounding slurs & slurps, & train-into-car wrecks (rack & pinion), etc…. Then comes sense, & then (if I sense an autobiomythography rising up) a sensibility. A voice. Then I take each line & make it work for its money, cutting back always as I write, stingy for a clean line that a) makes the most of its music, b) creates friction, tension, & urgency, & c) feels unique enough to drive me forward in its writing.

& then I write like that for 20 or so pages. Or until something breaks, feels unnatural, or like I missed something. I’ll go back later that day, or the next, & find the point the magic seemed to stop for me & start from there, cannibalizing all those misguided lines that appeared after the break. & do that for a few months. Seriously, each day, when I can bear it, for a few months. Until it sounds like it took me a lonely weekend with a working coffee pot. Pound the lines, work the linkages & entendres, make it so poetic they’ll call it prose.

Bu yao xie xie. That’s one of the first Chinese phrases I had to learn on the streets of Beijing. It means “No want, thank you.” Do you know what’s anathema to publishing houses & presses big & small & magazines big & small? That which falls between poetry & prose, which borrows from both but which is neither. “Boo yow, shay shay.” No want.

But that’s the kind of stuff that’s closest to my heart. Some of our major writers lurk in this field. Cormac gets close to it. Ondaatje maybe closest. DeLillo, oh, right there sometimes. But it’s pounded out & it’s rare, because it’s risky. These authors were for the most part ignored by readers, praised by critics, until they weren’t. Sometimes it takes a good film. But in the beginning, it’s a few thousand readers if you’re lucky. Which is lonely but gives you a certain amount of freedom. I remember reading those first few novels from Cormac after finding the first in a used bookstore. I was hooked. Later I read what David Foster Wallace wrote about his work after naming “Blood Meridian” one of the top 5 under-appreciated novels (at that time). Apparently Wallace’s own copy was so heavily annotated in red ink the book was rendered unreadable (a bit of hyperbole, I’m sure).

I have stories I could tell about agents. About editors at big publishing houses. About friends who’ve told me what doesn’t sell, or wouldn’t sell, or isn’t particularly interesting. Lyrical fiction. Anything that smacks of the poetic. Anything that could possibly call attention to the act of its creation.

Bu yao xie xie. Do not want.

But I’m seeing light at the end of that particular tunnel. I’m seeing a lot more of this sort of hybridization & mixing in the submissions we’re getting a BAP. Full-blown attempts to merge the poles, writers who are hitching their sensibilities to the music of the language first, trusting it to carry them into something interesting: a lyric, an erasure, a 215th generation New York School poem that becomes a sudden Sci-Fi event, even the lowly narrative. But every work is a narrative, really, isn’t it, if it teaches you how to read it, where it comes from? Everything tells the story of itself.

I hope you like the Vargas-Vargas Affair. It was a fun piece to write.

Anselm Berrigan & Jonathan Allen at Lu Magnus

We had a great turnout for the Anselm Berrigan reading at Lu Magnus this Saturday, thanks to the carnivalesque Kaleidoscope people dropping in for a bit of poetry on their parade about the city.

I am so proud of this book. Jonathan Allen spoke before Anselm read, touching upon the impetus for his work, which included an anecdote about digital media failing to load on his computer (hence the title of the book & show, LOADING) that first sparked this series of collages & the collaboration with Anselm.

The book is available for order from the Brooklyn Arts Press site.

In the Know, for Hyperallergic


I finally found an opportunity to use that wild headshot Adam Courtney took of me last year!

So last night I wrote a list of things you should be experiencing this week. It went out with the Hyperallergic newsletter, so if you’re not subscribed, you won’t see it. But I will say, it features Adam Larsen’s movie Neurotypical that you can go on PBS website right now & watch (, a reading featuring Hyperallergic-published poet Paige Taggart (, a weekend BBQ & opera at Mount Tremper Arts (, & Dominique Townsend’s reading this Thursday at the Fort Makers HQ’s (

Getting Away

June is BAP’s open submission season. Luckily, I have readers, so I can focus on the 9 or 10 books I have to put out before Christmas. Plus, I’d really like to make a stab at getting another book of mine out next year, so I’m sending poetry off like everyone else, which I haven’t actively done in about seven years.

Last weekend was a nice respite from the chaos. Wendy & I were able to retreat up into Vermont to visit our friends Corina Medley & Dave Thayer & Kempton at Hooker Mountain Farms. We fed the pigs & the chickens & chicks, & Wendy made homemade ice cream as I sampled the new sodas they’re making to sell at the farmer’s market. De-licious. We were also able to stop by & help Bianca Stone at the beginning of her restoration of her grandmother’s house, ripping out shrubbery, clearing the land, boxing books, & sweeping up with Ben, Alina, & Eric.

Here are some pics. Cheers.


Interview with Sapling



Kit Frick, the Chapbook Editor/Sapling Editor of Black Lawrence Press, interviewed me a few weeks back for the Sapling newsletter, which goes out to people who sign up for it. She’s allowed me to post the contents here:

For this week’s feature, Sapling talked to Joe Pan, Managing Editor/Publisher of Brooklyn Arts Press


Sapling: Brooklyn Arts Press publishes full-length books and chapbooks (in poetry, fiction, and nonfiction), as well as art monographs. Tell us a bit of your story—how did the press come to be, and what should people know about you?


Joe Pan: People should know we’re open to publishing anything, pretty much, if the work is strong & we admire it. Our bread & butter is poetry, with some fiction & art mixed in there, but that’s slowly changing. Right now I’m interested in opening BAP up to novels, hybrid & weirdo texts, nonfiction chapbooks, lyrical short fiction, art collaborations that involve various media (like print books with web-based counterparts), & the like. We will always be a press that publishes the first or second poetry books of emerging writers because that’s what we mostly receive during our submissions season.


As for how we came to be, BAP grew out of a need for small presses with open submission policies that charge no contest or reading fees. It also grew out of my own sense of adventure & egotism, since the first book I published was my debut collection of poetry.


S: As the Publisher and Managing Editor of BAP, what is the hardest part of your job? The best part?


JP: I think you’ll get different responses from various publishers, but the difficulty of dealing with printers tends to be high on everybody’s list. The first book a new printer creates for you is always nearly flawless—they thrive on new business. The second book will arrive with the cover image printed at a lower dpi than your submission, or it will have pages falling out because of problems with the glue, or the final interior paper will be of cheaper quality or lesser weight than the paper used for the proof. I’ve experienced each of these problems & am much more involved in quality control checks at each stage of the process than when I first started out. Another major difficulty the small press faces at times is an adherence to strict deadlines (blurbs by this date, cover art by this date). Life happens, & when you depend on so many people to finish their respective jobs in order to move forward, you must be prepared to either handle the stressful complexities that arise from managing inflexible timetables or create situations where work can’t pile up.


The best part about running a small press is sitting in the audience while one of your writers reads from her first book of poetry at her first book party. The emotion present in these moments will blow you away. You get to enjoy the pride they take in their accomplishment, the subdued ecstasy of it being finished, when they kind of let go of the thing, finally, when the book becomes real, in effect, as it is first shared in this way with these listeners & future readers. There arrives a personal satisfaction, at some point during the evening, in having helped make this thing happen, a satisfaction that arrives in a fluster & then dissipates quickly, for some reason. But it was there & you felt good about it & everyone claps & gets up to socialize & you sit for a little bit longer & watch it happen & drink your wine.


S: BAP will be holding an its annual open reading period this coming June. When you bring a new author on board, what does the ideal author bring to you?


JP: Well, the ideal emerging author brings a sense of urgency & humility to a project, along with a desire to make his book the best it can be; he realizes his work is good but probably needs a healthy dose of editing; that what he wrote is not a precious object but a still-developing system, alive, & therefore growing, malleable, until it is finally not; he is an avid proactive self-promoter (ie, he’s willing to set up a reading at his local bookstore, or if he teaches, his university/college/school; he uses social media; he has videos on YouTube of him reading; etc); he has a complex understanding of where his work stands in relation to the work of other authors (or if really special, different camps, cultures, languages, & eras), & is confident in his ability to express these relationships from the perspective of a student, though he is humble & self-mocking of his own work & in no way self-congratulatory; he is generous with the time he gives to other authors & quick to make friends; he is above all curious—this is the ideal emerging author, from a publishing perspective. A smart, kind, efficient workhorse who loves literature the way literature deserves to be loved, & who will continue writing books with this goal in mind. This will make you proud while also growing your catalog, with the hope that his future readers will find their way back to earlier publications, one of which you own the rights to. The ideal accomplished author, for lack of a better term, from a publisher’s perspective, would be someone already famous for his talents who has sent you his latest surefire hit of a novel because he wishes to help launch your small press into the stratosphere by building a cult around it. Half of his book’s proceeds have been earmarked for dissemination to worthwhile charities. Also, he is a chef & loves cooking for you.


S: Where do you imagine Brooklyn Arts Press to be headed over the next couple years? Are there any changes you foresee taking place in the near future?


JP: Like I said, more long-form fiction & projects of interesting performance. In 2015 we will be publishing our first academic book with the Norwegian Theatre Academy, with support from MIT, the University of Kiel, & other renown international universities. After I took that project on, I realized the press had to change to meet my broader vision, devotions, & tastes. I really just want to publish work that excites me. None of us are here for very long.


S: What one or two small presses deserve serious recognition in the eyes of BAP, and why should more people be checking them out?


JP: Last summer I brought some small presses up for a residency at Mount Tremper Arts Festival in New York. Those presses were: Argos Books, Birds LLC, Epiphany Chapbooks, & Fewer and Further Press. These are run by people who love poetry, plain & simple, & they spend an enormous effort making sure good work sees the light of day. I also continue to be impressed by Wave Books, H_ngm_n, Black Ocean…I wish there was more small-scale fiction collectives out there, doing the kind of work Foxhead Books is trying to do. I understand that this is more than two small presses & I feel bad about it but I’m a talker & these are good presses.


S: What’s at the top of your list to read this summer?


JP: Manuscript queries & then full-length manuscripts, approximately 300-600 of them. I’m always weirded out by having to list the titles of books I’m reading for an interview, knowing they’ll end up in print, & if they turn out to suck, I can’t erase them. I have about 20 chapbooks I purchased or traded for at the CUNY Chapbook Festival that I’m eager to pace through, a few big old school novels from the turn of the century (this turn, this century), & some work by friends. That’ll do, I think.


S: Just for fun (because we like fun), if Brooklyn Arts Press had a brain, what three things would it be thinking about obsessively?


JP: It would obsess over its strange, newly developed cover art fonts, its burgeoning marketing initiatives, & the overwhelming anxiety it often feels early in the morning & late at night, stemming from a juvenile sense of predestination & doom. You’re gonna be fine little fella.




To check out Brooklyn Arts Press online, visit:




Joe Pan’s debut collection of poetry, Autobiomythography & Gallery, was named Best First Book of the Year by Coldfront Magazine. His poem “Ode to the MQ-9 Reaper,” a piece about drones, recently made the front page of The New York Times. He grew up along the Space Coast of Florida, attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, & serves as the poetry editor for the art magazine Hyperallergic. His poetry has appeared in such journals as Boston ReviewDenver QuarterlyEpiphanyH_ngm_n, & Phoebe, his fiction in Glimmer Train &Cimarron Review, & his nonfiction in The New York Times. Joe is the founder & publisher of Brooklyn Arts Press, an independent publishing house.



Helen Diffenderfer

Helen Diffenderfer, my grandmother, died today. She was 85 years old. She was a badass. She worked at Cape Canaveral. She wasn’t much afraid to die, & had a pretty good last few days, from what I can tell. She ate like a trucker: two Christmases ago she berated me for not giving her a gift certificate to Cracker Barrel. This year she got one, & used it to eat what she wasn’t supposed to, again. She laughed a great deal, rather boisterously, which I used to think a lot of old ladies did but actually a lot of old ladies don’t. She loved Wendy. She loved movies & her family. She loved church. I could describe her a thousand ways that would only help to describe a thousand grandmothers, but she was mine & I’ll miss her dearly. Helen Diff-en-der-fer. I’ll miss saying that last name.


I’ve been neglecting my own website for the Brooklyn Arts Press website, which is brand new (praise be to Martin Rock) and seriously pleasurable to look at. I’ve also neglected writing about AWP, which was a wonderful experience, given how I was finally introduced to some of the authors I’ve published. Our reading at the LIR bar in Boston really cemented the idea, for me & for others there, that BAP is a family. My thanks to everyone involved.