reads with Ace Moore and Steve Potter, with music from Scott Adams
Titlewave Books, 7 Mercer St, 282-7687,
Sun June 30, 7:30 pm.
William Carlos Williams wrote, "so much depends upon a red wheel barrow...," but Gregory Hischak places great importance on other traditionally unpoetic material: the disposable products of our consumer culture--office supplies, holiday catalogs, Etch A Sketches, operating manuals, maps. Although these things take schooling and a certain creativity to create, they're rarely cast as works of art or literature. By weaving stories about personal relationships and political power struggles through the scientific, instructional, and marketing-oriented wording of throwaway gadgets, Hischak sublimates the symbolism of the mundane, and in the process he has managed to elevate himself from a redundant office drone into an accomplished writer in both the zine and spoken-word worlds.
Hischak started his publication, Farm Pulp, a year after moving to Seattle from Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1989. The original issues were a mix of found text and images stolen from other publications, and the name itself was unscrambled from a piece of leftover preprinted acetate grabbed from his office at an advertising firm. Over time, though, words gained a greater emphasis.
"Originally, text was just a block; it was gray-scale art that I could fill areas with," says the bespectacled author, sipping coffee at a small Capitol Hill café. "I started getting bored with that format, so instead of stealing text, I started writing my own. It seemed quicker that way. I became a typographer first, and then a writer."
Farm Pulp number 31 shows some of Hischak's best writing. In "Standard Staples," Office Depot items become instigators of personal strife: "Pagination has everything to do with it, asshole," Maggie Plurabelle sputtered in tearful rebuke almost seven months earlier, fleeing in tears from the copier room where Earwicker stood now.
This emotionally imbedded remark had been the heated climax of their vertical versus horizontal stapling debate--its effects on folds, creasing, paper tension, and of course, pagination. Neither had meant the exchange to turn ugly, and while he didn't burst into tears as Maggie had, the encounter did force Earwicker to slip away from the office and linger in the small fecal park a few blocks away, where he tossed a loaf of bread at pigeons.
The same issue includes a two-page spread of Swingline staplers' racy personal ads for "paper mates" and stories of uncomfortable interactions between office dwellers. "The compartmentalization of everything in the office, the cubicleness of it all, it's just such human nature--it's not even a metaphor, we live in these little boxes. And the interactions are really restricted on certain levels," says Hischak. "You have these people who can only say so many things, they can only get so intimate, and they only have so much free time, so it's a really narrow perimeter to make people do interesting things." He consciously uses this setting to intone deeper issues. "A staple remover is a really sexy-looking thing," he says, grinning. "When you take it out of context and look at its teeth, it's like, wow, that's hot."
Over the years, Hischak has threaded a number of other themes through his work, including playing off real catalogs that send meat out as greetings, and letters between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo that discuss the painters' Etch A Sketches (Hischak counts being a skilled Etch A Sketch artist among his many talents). He also has plans for a future piece on a "brooding parasite father": "I picked up a Smithsonian magazine someone had left in the lobby of my apartment, and there was this great story about coots--these weird brood parasites, birds that leave their eggs in the nests of other birds and the mom raises them regardless. That's fascinating," he says. "So I'm thinking about this story about this fellow who's a brood parasite, and he drops his kids at other people's houses and other people raise them and nobody knows there's an extra kid there that they're raising."
The story of the brooding parent might not turn up in Farm Pulp, though, as Hischak has hinted that this year might be the last for his revered zine. He is mining his publications for material for his new outlets, which include chapbooks, plays, and spoken word productions. "The zine gave way to spoken word," he says of his evolution into the public eye. "I got more interested in writing also because I got more interested in doing performance. Making a zine made me go to shows, and being at the shows allowed me to do performance and open mic." Hischak has been writing plays since 1994, staging pieces in the FringeACT Festival as well as performing in venues around the country with Staggered Thirds, a spoken word trio. He's also in the Jack Straw Writers Program this year, and his work has been published in Mirth of a Nation and 101 Damnations.
About the possible demise of Farm Pulp Hischak says, "I don't have any strong reasons, other than the fact that I've done it for 12 years and it's very sporadic... and I fear that I'm going to finally get caught ripping off my 'corporate subsidy'--my little tricks of getting free copies. I'm 42, and it's silly to have to steal for my writing, even though it's always been exciting. But it's the same reason I stopped bicycling in Seattle. I think I've used up my karma," he laughs.
No matter what form it's delivered in, Hischak's storytelling will continue to focus on unusual objects. "It's a poet's job to make people look at a stapler in a way they've never looked at a stapler before," he says, "or a ream of paper, or the directions to a photocopier. They're so badly written that they're beautiful, and I find so much joy in that."