Interview with Raindog by Eskimo Pie Girl on May 6, 2002, at Eskimos igloo frio. The Raindog web sites can be viewed at http://home.earthlink.net/~lumoxraindog/ and http://www.geocities.com/lumoxraindog/dufus.html. You can email Raindog at email@example.com.
EPG: How long have you been doing web pages?
RD: I guess Ive been doing the web pages since at least 1995.
EPG: And you do several publications along with that?
RD: O.K. "The Lummox Journal," started in 1995, October, monthly, except I did one double issue in 2001, September-October. And then theres the book series that I publish, "The Little Red Books," which I started publishing in 1999 and theres 42 titles thus far. Ive kind of slowed down this year. Ive only put out two books so far in that series. Then theres the "Little Red Book Master" series, of which Ive put out one title and I have another title pending. Im hoping to get to it this year which will be a compilation of eight poets from New Mexico and West Texas which will probably be "The New Texicans." And then theres the LSW newsletter which stands for the "Lummox Society of Writers" which is just a clever way for me to get more money into Lummox coffers which is like "Poets Market," but on a very small, sort of finite level. Its basically magazines and presses that I personally know of or have some copies of that I recommend. I usually include their guidelines, address, and email address, and possibly the name of the editor, some comment on the magazine, like what they're interested in. And that goes out to subscribers, a hundred subscribers for that. "Lummox Journal" has about 170 subscribers in the United States as well as the world. The "Little Red Books" are basically sold on a cash in/cash out basis. I also publish some of my own books, as well.
EPG: So how did you first get into publishing?
RD: I started writing poetry again seriously in about 1993. I got a computer in 1994, my first computer. And I had sort of this renaissance of writing. I wrote 150 poems that year. And somewhere in there . . . somebody brought it to my attention that there were all these magazines out in the world that accepted poetry. The first magazine I submitted poetry to was called, "Report from Hell." It was a little stapled digest-sized thing that was kind of thrown together. It didnt really look that great. And the editor insisted I use my real name as opposed to my writing name, which pissed me off. And I thought, theres gotta be a better way to do this. And after successively trying to get published in other magazines and getting rejected; or having things published but then having the magazine look like garbage, I decided, well, Ill publish my own magazine. And thats pretty much how it came into being . . . a good friend of mine, hes also a writer, lives in Albuquerque, named Todd Moore, he once told me . . . I asked him, I said, "What do you think is better? Sending your stuff out or doing it yourself?" And he said, "Well, if you dont care what it looks like, send it out. If you care what it looks like, do it yourself." So thats how I got started. I didnt like having my poems edited by editors who probably didnt have my best interests at heart anyway. And I didnt like having my poems published in something that would look like it was thrown together at the last minute. So Ive always tried to present the poetry in the best light possible with the least amount of obstacles for the reader.
EPG: And so thats probably why you have 1,000 people a year sending you poems? It sounds pretty amazing to me.
RD: Well, I dont know if I have a thousand people a year sending me poems, but I take in about a thousand poems a year. So you figure maybe, it probably boils down to about 250, 300 submissions a year. Although last year, I think I had more than that. I get submissions in email, I get submissions in regular mail. But Im listed in "Poets Market" and also I trade without about 20 different other small press magazines, so they sometimes write something about "Lummox Journal," or about "Lummox Press." So people read that magazine and then they think, "Ah, well Ill send some work in," because they respect the editor of that particular magazine, whatever that means, you know, because its a pretty diverse group. I get a pretty broad spectrum of submissions.
EPG: What do you look for when youre selecting a poem?
RD: I have, and it sounds really cheesy, but I have two criteria by which I edit; and the first criterion is "Aha," which is kind of like, it kind of grabs you, whatever youre reading; and other one is "goosebumps." So if I read something and I feel like a rush, I sort of have an identification with whatever that person is saying, or what theyre talking about, thats usually an indicator that I wanna publish that poem. But I have to say that, you know, its like anything else . . . its like when you go to a buffet, you tend to have, your eyes tend to take in more than your stomach can handle. And I often find that I take on more poetry than I can really deal with. So I started publishing an all poetry issue. And even thats not big enough to take in all the poetry that I would like to publish. So I ended up putting stuff up on the web. I wish I had the facilities to publish a lot more stuff. You know, like if I won the lottery, Id publish books, instead of chapbooks.
EPG: So this is kind of a regular business for you where you try to make some money to support publishing more things?
RD: Yeah, where it can always pay for itself. Its always been a break-even operation because Im not financially secure enough to do this as an expensive hobby, which is what some of the people I trade with do. You know, the magazines that they produce come out quarterly, and sometimes they come out sporadically, not just quarterly, because they dont have enough money saved up to get the next issue out, or you know, something happens. People get sick and they cant make it or their resources go elsewhere. But Lummox has always paid for itself, and in fact Lummox now generates a small profit which allows me to, not only to put the money back into the system so that I can do other things, but it also allows me to cover part of my phone bill because I spend a lot of time on-line, or my rent, because it takes up half my apartment. But it is really an avocation for me because theres no way I could pay myself any kind of a decent salary according to the amount of hours that Ive put into it. Putting out a monthly magazine pretty much involves, it probably takes me about 35 hours to get each issue together. Which means Im working at nights. And I work my day job, and then I come home and I watch a little T.V. which is kind of like the sherbet between meals, it cleanses my palate before . . . doing a regular 8-hour job doing construction, and then I go and do 3 or 4 hours on-line or whatever, getting articles together for the next issue.
EPG: How does publishing all of this stuff, and reading all these other peoples poems all the time, how does this affect your own writing, your creativity?
RD: It affects it in a very profound way and generally a very negative way because I . . . well, I actually wrote a poem two years ago that, it starts out, "Im writing the best poetry," or "Im typing the best poetry of my life, unfortunately, 75 percent of its not mine," because at that point I was transcribing poetry myself. Now I have a scanner so I usually dont have to type it out. Yeah, it really impacts what I do a lot. I hardly have time for my own writing, and when I do write, I really have to pick a time when Im not thinking about other things that Ive read, or processing whats gonna happen in the next issue, because that kind of filters in and sort of sneaks in the back door. But it seems like I write in spurts, or Ill write like three or four poems in a sitting, and then I go back to the business of typing, calendars, or lead essays, or whatever; and then Ill write a . .. . I just finished writing an epic poem. It took me about six months to write, and it was really tricky because I had to try and keep the fire burning at the same level so that when I would go back to writing or working on this poem, it would be a continuation of where I was at when I stopped writing it, you know, two weeks previously. And it was a good exercise in focus, because it was about something that had happened within the last six months, and I had kind of a guideline, a road diary that I kept on the trip that I took, so I had that information. But trying to keep up the emotional state was a little tricky. So thats why it took me so long to write it. So when I was finished with it, it was pretty massive, and the feedback Ive gotten is that its consistent, not like, you know, going up and down a lot, its not really erratic.
EPG: So are you going to publish that in a book or something?
RD: Well, I was thinking . . . Ive already got it formatted for publication in case I cant find somebody else to publish it. But I actually think Ive found a publisher, 12 Gauge Press, to publish the manuscript. I wanted it done in perfect bound but I knew that was kind of a shot in the dark, because I dont really have the [publishing] credits. Although Ive published a lot of books, Ive published a lot of my own books; but because I publish my own books, I dont think I have the credibility that a person whose only been published by other presses has. Plus I havent been doing this that long, so you know, Im kind of a neophyte in some respects; but Im really popular as a publisher. Just not really popular as a poet. Its kind of an interesting dichotomy. I didnt start out with that in mind. I thought I was gonna be able to publish the magazine, and you know, if I sold enough subscriptions, Id be able to publish the magazine and then Id be able to send out poems and cover the costs of mailing out manuscripts. Somehow, the mailing out of the manuscripts got lost in the shuffle.
EPG: So it seems like you take a lot of road trips, like youre up here right now on a road trip, and do you do some of that to quote, stoke your creative fires?
RD: Definitely. Theres a great line in a book that I read just recently, a fictitious jazz biography, a kind of an interesting concept, I wish I could remember the name of the book, and its a conversation between Duke Ellington and I think, Lester Young, and they talk about how the road is sort of the parlor, and the car, or the dashboard of the car is like the mantle on the fireplace from which they got their inspiration. And thats kind of how it seems to be for me, like the only time I really can escape from my responsibilities as a publisher is to go on a trip. And I can only go on a trip in a certain finite time, because, the first two weeks of each month are sort of free, and the last two weeks are spent putting the next issue together. So I have a small window by which I can go out and do stuff, and its just nice to get away from all that. Meet new people. Surf new sofas.
EPG: So what are some of your webmaster or publishing highlights over the years, or milestones, things that happened?
RD: Well, I dont know if I have any web milestones. I mean I know this lady who got a hundred and twenty hits in one day, and I just checked my statistics from the website on Earthlink and it got 60 hits in a week, so you know, I dont think Im actualizing my potential there. I guess getting the entire collection of "The Little Red Books" into Brown University, the Rockefeller Library, that was kind of a milestone. I also have a complete back issue, almost, a near complete back issue collection of the Lummox Journal at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, in their library. Plus Ive gotten some of my own poetry published in some anthologies. I got a poem published in a book that was put out by Thunders Mouth Press called, "Drinking with Bukowski"; that was one of my personal milestones. Its kind of sporadic. I mean basically, its really, Im really operating at kind of the bottom of the ladder in the small press, and I sort of feel like down in L.A., Im the best kept secret in town. You know, because I get more recognition outside of Los Angeles than I do in my town. And its really hard for me to find poets down there that . . . I invite poets to send me work to publish. Everybody else in the country sends me work, and o.k., its like, when is it going to stop? But I cant get the local people to send me anything much, which is really a sad story.
EPG: So you just did a special all poetry issue, and then you also did a special issue for John Thomas. Have you done other special issues in the past on certain topics?
RD: Yeah, I used to put out every August, a Bukowski Remembered issue because Charles Bukowskis work is very influential on my life and my work. But I stopped doing that in 2000 because he had always said that he wanted to live to be 80, and he wouldve been 80 in the year 2000, so I figured it was time to put that issue to bed. But I think what Im gonna do now, in August, is Im gonna do a special microfiction issue dedicated to him because I think hes a very good short story writer. And then I do the all poetry issue in April, because its National Poetry Month, and you know, Im not stupid, I know you have to take advantage of the fact that peoples awareness is focused on poetry to some degree better in April than in any other time of the year, but I dont think Ill be doing a huge issue like I did this last time. It was really too big, too much work, and the reward of doing it was way too little. Its almost like its not worth it, which is kind of sad because I get a lot of really good poetry sent to me, but I only publish two or three poems a month in the regular issue, so I see all this poetry and I think, God, I wish I could showcase this. Thats why I started doing that issue. But now, its like, "You didnt publish my poem. I hate you. Youre just trying to get even for some terrible thing that you think I did to you." And all this crap, and its like, get over yourself. Jesus Christ! And Im just getting tired of it. One of my acquaintances in this business told me that, he said, "Youll find out who your real friends are when you stop publishing." And I think that Ill probably be happier when I find out who my real friends are when the time comes for me to stop publishing. Itll be a smaller circle of friends, and thatll be fine with me.
EPG: So you could talk about the Southern California poetry scene a little bit. Youve traveled around; have you seen any differences in poetry in different geographical areas?
RD: It seems like wherever I go, the locals tell me that they get no respect in their home town. It seems to be a common thread. The Southern California poetry scene, well in L.A. and Orange County, I cant really speak for all of Southern California, although people seem to think that L.A. and Orange County is Southern California, but thats not really true . . . it seems whats really happening right now is coffee house poetry and slam poetry. People who write poetry for publication tend to be academic-oriented poets, you know, people that are older, that have been in the university system for a while, or that have established presses, so theyre at another level, theyre like two or three rungs up the ladder from where I am. Some of these people are subscribers to my magazine, and thats how I know about this stuff, because they send me little announcements which I always run in my mag. It doesnt seem like theres a great deal of . . . it seems like maybe five years or so ago, there was more interest in being published. And now it doesnt seem like publishing is such a big deal; and I think part of that is because it isnt the immediate gratification that you get from standing up in front of a bunch of people who are your friends, or in a group where you know the people that are there and they know you, and you get up and read a poem, and everybody goes, "Oh yeah! Thats so cool. Yeah!"
EPG: Well maybe its because of the Internet. And so its much easier to publish your poetry these days, and so maybe just regular publishing isnt such a big deal anymore?
RD: Yeah, I think thats true too. There is a great proliferation of poetry sites on the Internet. But I dont know about you, but have you noticed that the bulk of the poetry sites on the Internet publish just anything you send them, and a lot of what they get is crap.
EPG: Yeah, well I havent really checked out the "competition" that much. I mean, I did a few years ago, I went, and it just seems like it was a lot of young computer nerds that knew a lot of stuff about doing web sites, and not a lot about poetry.
RD: There are a lot of web sites that publish poetry, and some of the poetry is good, but most of it seems to be bad. And it could be that the people that are doing stand-up poetry and slam poetry are publishing their stuff on the Internet because theyre more savvy that way computer-wise and they dont find it so intimidating as people that are older and perhaps less savvy about using a computer. So thats what available . . . and the only reason I say that is because I get email from people who surf around and stumble across one of my web sites, or something, or come across a poem by me, and they email me, and they say things like, "Ive seen a lot of really bad poetry, and it was really great to come across the stuff that you wrote because it seems really good, really well written." So, Im getting this from other people.
EPG: So it must be true.
RD: It must be true. Yeah. So Im not the only asshole on the Internet, you know.
EPG: So why do you call yourself, "Raindog"?
RD: Well, before I got into poetry, I was doing music. For a long time, I did the coffee house music scene, which is why I know about the gratification of getting up on stage and doing your shit in front of a bunch of friends. I was there myself. So I know the great letdown of getting up and putting yourself up there and having people not respond. Whereas with poetry, its a little easier to get a response. So while I was doing that, I was a big fan of Tom Waits, and Tom Waits put out an album called, "Raindogs ," back in the early 80s. I heard Tom on the radio one time. The interviewer asked him, "Where does this name, 'Raindog,' come from?" And Tom went into an explanation, and the explanation was that a raindog is a dog, I guess he was living in New York at the time, that travels around the city, and hes been out on his own for a while, and because the city gets a lot of rain, and the streetsweepers come by, and dogs mark their territory. What happens is they lose track of their scent. And the way he said it was, "They lose their scents." And I thought he said, s e n s e, but what he was really saying was s c e n t s. They lose their scents. But I thought he said, "They lose their sense." And I thought, "Well hell, thats me. Ive lost my sense. I lost my sense long ago." So I started calling myself Raindog and I sort of built up a whole little persona around that: "dogma," with flyers and in my performances and what-not. "Raindog" just stuck, and after a while most of the people that knew me, only knew me as "Raindog." So when I began to write poetry, I began to write poetry as Raindog. Eventually, I changed to RD, Raindog, R D. And I did that because I noticed a lot of people who just didnt feel comfortable saying Raindog, thought it was too Native American or something. After a reading, I remember one time in Venice, a guy asked me, "So. How does one become a chief?" And I thought he was being sarcastic, so I said, "Well, you should start in the parts department, and work your way up, Chief Auto, you know." And then he goes, "So. O.K. Fine. I see. So its some kind of secret thing you cant tell white people about." I was always being confused with being a Native American which is more of a slight to the Native Americans. Ive been accused of a lot of things, you know, over the course of the years . . . but thats where "Raindog" comes from.
EPG: And what about that story where somebody thought you were an African American?
RD: Actually, when I first started publishing "The Little Red Books," the first two books I published were mine, and the second two books that I was going to publish were supposed to be by Alan Kaufman (whos a poet in San Francisco) and the other was supposed to be by this guy named "Catfish McDaris," who is a poet out of, I think hes from Wisconsin. He used to live in New Mexico. He gets published a lot. His poetry is o.k., I think. Mostly I was gonna publish him because he sent me a whole manuscript, and I figured, well, Catfish McDaris, hes a known name, Ill publish his work. This was back when I was very naïve about this kind of process. Now Im a lot more cynical about the process. And Catfish decided that at some point, I guess he started corresponding with me because he thought I was a black poet out of Los Angeles. And all of a sudden Catfish went from being real friendly to me, correspondence-wise, to being really hostile. And I didnt know what the hell was going on with this guy. The same thing happened with Kaufman and because of the way he dissed me [dropping me from The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry] and dropped out of the [LRB] project, I would have to think that hes got some emotional baggage. I just thought, o.k., heres another crazy poet. Whats with these crazy poets? And it turns out that Catfish was corresponding with a guy that I knew in Santa Barbara named Mike Tolento who is a comic book creator, he does his own comic books called, "Empty Life." And Catfish wrote Mike with the idea that Mike would illustrate some of Catfishs poems with his book that this black poet from Los Angeles, Raindog, was going to be publishing. And Mike knew me, and Mike said to Catfish, "I dont think hes a black poet. That guys not black. If its the same poet Im thinking of. San Pedro, right?" And he said, "Yeah, thats the guy. San Pedro." And hes like, "No, hes not black." So Catfish gets all bent out of shape and starts accusing me of all kinds of heinous things. It didnt really make any sense at all. And he just went ballistic on me, and he pulled out of the project, too . So I ended up publishing A. D. Winans from San Francisco and Bill Shields (hes a very well known Vietnam writer/poet, who had a lot of stuff published by Henry Rollins). Which actually turned out to be a better combination anyway. And Catfish then subsequently apologized to me profusely, and told me that hed had problems, blah, blah, blah. But you know, Id already been singed, and I wasnt about to give him the opportunity to go mental on me again. So thats the black poetry incident. And then other people have told me since then that they thought I was black. I think its based on a photograph that I used to use for a graphic on my web site.
EPG: And youre 1/64th Indian?
RD: Oh, yeah. Well, you know, 1/124th. Revolutionary America, whenever that was, how many generations back is that? Lets see, my mothers side of the family, the Brants, settled in New England, and somehow, somebody did a little woodshedding with one of the Mohawk chiefs, so we take great pride in the fact that Chief Joseph was one of our ancestors. But I dont think Im sufficiently Native American to form a tribe or anything. Im a mutt, you know. Probably got some black in me, and who knows what else, mixed with all kinds of races. But in these politically correct times, Im just the accursed white devil.
EPG: I was talking with a group of poets a while ago about eating food while having sex. And I just wondered if youd ever had this experience?
RD: Eating food while having sex? Hmmm? Yeah, Ive had chocolate-covered strawberries, whipped cream, yeah theres lots of things Ive done while engaging in sex, or you know, you have to define, "sex," because you remember Bill Clinton never had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, yet managed to come on her dress, so you have to define what having sex is, I suppose. Yeah peanut butter and honey sandwiches while youre having sex is great.
EPG: Yeah, because we were thinking like eating a steak, or really anything that required a lot of utensils wouldnt be too good.
RD: Yeah that would be a little dangerous. Utensils. I mean, you know, Im kind of a hands-on kind of a guy, so I would have to eat with my fingers. Theres a lot of eating involved in sex, so you know, maybe you kind of have to re-evaluate what you consider food.
EPG: I came across a couple of questions in a Carlos Fuentes book, so I wanted to ask you these to finish off the interview. What was your first memory, the first thing you can remember?
RD: My first memory . . . mmm . . . I believe the first memory is when we first moved to California from Indiana, I had an old Navy locker for a crib. And we were living in the Mojave Desert which was very hot. And I was . . . I vaguely remember sitting in this metal locker and it being very hot. And sort of being like I was in the "box," you know, sort of a precursor for that prison experience I have yet to have happen. Thats my first memory.
EPG: What was your first wish, or desire, that you can remember?
RD: Well, it wasnt to eat a steak while I was having sex. I know that for sure. . . . I dont know if I can answer that question. . . .
Copyright RD and EPG 2002. None of the views expressed above are Eskimo's.
A few poetry mags and websites that Raindog recommends are: Poesy Magazine (out of Santa Cruz - URL is something like poesymag.com -- tho not sure); Unwound (out of Laramie WY); Bathtub Gin (out of Bloomington, IN); SPUNK (out of Hayward, CA); The Chiron Review (out of KS)...and Web-wise: Thunder Sandwich; BigCityLit (NY); Body of Words (Eskimo checked this on 5/9/02 and it was temporarily out of commission); Coyote Magazine; Disquieting Muses. Some of the links for these mags can be found at http://members.tripod.com/~Raindog/links.html