The Poet Philosopher, Michael White, on the Subject of Death, Religion and the Future of Poetry

I met poet and philosopher, Michael White, when I was conducting research for my critical thesis on the author, William Gay. I discovered the archive’s website and was put into contact with Michael. He’s the lead archivist and is a fount of information on all matters William Gay. I consider Michael to be a friend now. He’s been supportive of my writing and pulled me into the editorial process with William’s work which is a great honor, but aside from his connection to William I discovered that underneath this soft-spoken, mild-mannered, philosophizing, hippie poet type there’s a wild child whose waters run deep. This a man who has documented his exploration of ancient sites and festivals of indigenous peoples around the world and was friends with the Beat poets. He’s just really a cool cat. I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael and reading three poems he wrote and contributed on his behalf for this week’s Deathproof show on melodically challenged–a poetry themed radio show, produced by K.B. Kincer, on WRAS-Album 88.5, Georgia State University College’s Radio Station-Atlanta. Deathproof pays homage to death, funerals, animal slaughter, the dead and undead. It’s heavy, but hell, 2020 has been pretty heavy. AND, it’s Halloween so the music is super creepy. Michael’s poems are both contemplative and humorous and you’ll get to hear me put on the poet hat because I got to read them.

Tune in Sunday, October 25th at 7 PM EST. For local listeners turn your radio dial to WRAS88.5 FM. To Tune in Online visit link: WRAS-Album 88

Why are poets fascinated with death?

Ah yes, the unknown country, the final destination, the border land, our ultimate destiny for which there is no escape. I had the opportunity to get to know William Burroughs back in the 80s and if he was in a group of people and the conversation began to falter he would start talking about death, everyone is fascinated by it, that is, if you have the courage to face it. I thought very highly of Burroughs, he was the genius of geniuses in the Beat cadre and once I asked him, “Everyone recognizes the relationship between birth and death, all things that are born must die, but what about the other way, what is the relationship between death and birth?” He replied that death was just the mechanism for getting the old people out of the way, if we continued hanging around the place would fill up, we had to die so the rest of the people could carry on with life. 

You contributed three poems to the melodically challenged poetry radio show on the subject of death. Is death different for a Buddhist compared to other religions? Is is easier? Harder? 

All religions are con games, there was a time in human evolution when, like the animals, we didn’t know we were going to die, then as consciousness evolved and we gained greater cognitive abilities and were able to hold memories in store it dawned on humanity that all things that are born must die. That was the birth of death, as a reflex it was also the birth of religion as a scam to avoid death. They have been devising immortality schemes ever since, heaven and hell, life with the ancestors in the stars, rebirth and reincarnation, all bullshit. Each different religion has come up with a slightly different take on the old immortality scam, Buddhism came up with the Bardos and the six realms, all built around the idea of a karmic accounting system where good deeds get you a better rebirth and bad deeds do the opposite and there are 3 higher realms and 3 lower realms and you definitely want to stay out of the lower realms. This is opposed the Christian/Muslim idea of faith in God where true believers get to spend eternity in heaven and those who are non-believers are condemned to hell fire. How crazy can you get? And people actually believe this?

Did your poetry lead you to Buddhism or did Buddhism lead you to poetry?

In ancient times all literature was poetry, whatever you wanted to write was done in verse and could be sung. We live in a degenerative age, first we devolved to prose and now we are down to tweets. Buddhism has a great history of poetry and even now if the Buddhist want to write something important it is done in verse with a syllable count for each line and an internal rhyme structure. For me, it was just destiny, writing, prose or poetry is a calling, it has to be your destiny, it calls you, you don’t call it. The relationship between Buddhism and poetry for me, is that Buddhist meditation is a technique for moving the center of gravity of awareness out of your individuality into a deeper more common stratum of our humanity, to hit into our basic human nature, and poetry, all art, is the expression of this common ground in humanity, if what you are saying is not speaking to humanity as a whole it is just journalism, just a passing fancy.

What is the future for the modern poet?

It’s bleak, to say the least! Try to make a living as a poet, impossible. You have to teach or have a day job of some sort. But it will continue as a counter-culture, as an underground movement, and will be sustained by people like Emily Dickinson, sitting at her desk, cutting language to the bone, getting to the essence, and expressing it with no expectation of readership or fame or reward, it is its own reward and poets are the legislators of reality, the arbiters of taste and the expression of what is most noble in our human nature.

MORE ABOUT MICHAEL WHITE:

 J.M. White did graduate study in Phenomenology at Duquesne University and holds an M.A. in philosophy from Vanderbilt.  His short stories, poems, interviews, essays and book reviews have appeared in Exquisite Corpse, Sewanee Review, Janus Head, Parabola and The Mirror as well as in magazines and journals in Canada, England, Italy, Japan, New Zealand and India.  

He founded Anomolaic Press and publishes his own work along with the novels and short stories of William Gay.

Publications:

Future Nothingness Already, 2005 – A novel set in the hills of rural Tennessee.

The Beyond Within, 2008 – A wide ranging collection of poetry.

The Latch, 2012 – A poetry collection written in the non-linear style of “ring composition” where the conclusion comes in the middle  and the ending latches back to the beginning, it includes three chapters of prose providing background on the technique of writing in circles.

Naropa Journals: William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Revolution, 2015 – A memoir of my years studying with Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso and the whole Beat contingent.

The Birth of Death: A Guidebook to Paleolithic Art in the Caves of France, 2016 – A guidebook to the caves and an exploration of why the artwork in the caves was created.

Ports of Entry: Tibet, Peru, Mexico: Journals 1999-2011, 2017 – Journal accounts of a literary pilgrimage to visit the monasteries of Tibet and the ancient sites in Peru and Mexico.

Pulling Down the Sun: The Pueblos, the Great Houses and the Cliff Dwelling, 2018 – Includes accounts from the festivals at Zuni, Hopi and Taos and visits to the ruins at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon offering a glimpse into the indigenous past still alive in the deserts of Southwestern United States. 

Confidential Advice for the Unconventional, 2017 – A bi-lingual collection of poetry with English/Romanian translations published in Romania.

Shoot Out at the Poetry Factory, J. M. White and John Tischer, 2018 – A bi-lingual poetry collaboration published in English/Romania with poems by Tischer and White, matched thematically, on facing pages.

Works by William Gay:

Wittgenstein’s Lolita and The Iceman: Short Stories by William Gay, 2006

Time Done Been Won’t Be No More: Collected Prose, 2010

Stoneburner: A Novel, 2018

Works compiled and edited by J. M. White

The Buddhist Path by Khenpo Palden Sherab Rinpoche, Snow Lion Press, 2006

Safe in Heaven Dead: Interviews with Jack Kerouac, Hanuman Press, 1994

TO CONTACT:

J. M. (Michael) White

91 Vantrease Road Brush Creek, TN 38547 USA

Cellphone (615) 684-2711

Email michaelwhite@dtccom.net

Live the story you want to write!

Ghost Story Writer, Ann Hite, on her Ghosts

Do You Believe In Ghosts?

I do without a doubt. It’s one of the reasons I related to author Ann Hite’s stories. I had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Ann Hite’s memoir, Roll The Stone Away: A Family’s Legacy of Racism and Abuse this summer along with her novels, Lowcountry Spirit and The Storycatcher. Ann’s stories are peppered with ghosts and she graciously offered to contribute a personal experience for my October blog. Hope you enjoy it!

1: In the spring of 1969, a young couple placed their one-year-old little girl in their Volkswagen Bug and left their apartment for what one would imagine was an errand. As the driver of the car— I’m not sure if it was the husband or wife—pulled out onto the busy two-lane highway, I always assumed they never saw the eighteen-wheeler barreling over the hill at them. Did they have any premonition of what would happen in the days before? The truck driver did apply his brakes, but the truck didn’t stop. The massive tractor-trailer crushed the Volkswagen, killing the one- year-old girl, who couldn’t even walk on her own yet. The mother and father were transported to the hospital. One died and the other was placed in ICU. The family of the mother came to clear out the second floor two-bedroom apartment not far from the scene of the accident.

2. In the same spring, my mother came home one afternoon and told my brother, Jeff, and I that she had rented a one-bedroom apartment less than a mile from where we lived with my grandmother in her tiny eight-hundred-square-foot house. “We will have to share the one bedroom like here until a two bedroom comes open.” This news was the best ever. The apartment complex had a pool, playgrounds, and kids of all ages. “And we will still be close enough for you two to walk to school. You have to be careful of the highway. It is dangerous. A lot of accidents happen there.” One week before we moved in, mother had brilliant news. A two-bedroom apartment had come available. The items the former tenants left behind in the large room Jeff and I would share were not strange. The light switch cover was a little lamb with a rainbow behind it. “That’s for babies.” Jeff fussed. “It will be fine.” I looked in the closet. Two plastic baby bottles sat on the shelf. “I guess a baby lived in this room.” When I gave the bottles to Mother, a frown formed on her face. She took the bottles and tossed them in the trash can. “Is there anything else?” “No. Just the light switch plate. It is for a baby nursery.” Mother shook her head. “So sad.” “What’s sad?” ​

“The people that lived here were in a terrible accident. The little girl was killed instantly and one of the parents died at the hospital. I’m not sure which. The other parent wasn’t doing well the last I heard.” The thought of a baby dying made my stomach hurt. The thought that we had gained a bedroom because of this accident washed over me with guilt. But just like any twelve-year-old, I soon put the thoughts aside. For the longest time, when I turned on the light, I thought of the dead little girl, but slowly that attention drifted away too.

3. In the spring of 1971, we had been living in the apartment for two years. I was fourteen and at odds with my mother like most teenagers. I didn’t bring many friends home because I never knew what Mother might do. She was a self-medicating bi-polar, but it would be years before we would get this diagnosis. To me she was just crazy, and I didn’t want my friends to know too much about her. I spent all my free time at other people’s houses. Most weekends, I left on Friday night and didn’t come home until late Sunday evening. Our apartment was located at the very back of the apartment complex. The front of the building faced a large lawn with sidewalks that circled the area. To get to our upstairs apartment, one had to enter an enclosed stairwell through a screen door that slapped shut, warning us someone had entered. Sometime during those spring months, Mother began to complain that “my friends” were trying to scare her. “They run up the stairs and turn the doorknob. When I tell them I’m going to call the police, they go back down.” This happened only on the weekends when I wasn’t home. I racked my brain trying to think of who would do this. One Saturday night—the first I had been home in months—I sat with Mother watching television. The days were getting longer, and it was still daylight at eight. The screen door to the stairwell slapped, and the most horrible stomping moved up the stairs. In my memory, the walls vibrated. Mother and I looked at each other. Someone pushed on the cheap hollow front door. The doorknob turned back and forth as if someone was frantic to come inside. The stomping began again, and the noise moved down the stairs. I jumped to my feet and looked out the big picture window at the front stoop below, convinced I would finally catch whoever was stirring up my mother. The screen door swung open. I pressed my forehead against the glass, straining to see someone, to make sure I got every angle. The door slammed shut. “See. You thought your mother was cray. Who did you see?” “There was no one there.” ​

“You’re lying. You heard all that. Someone had to be there.” Of course Mother thought I was covering for my friends, and I wished I had been. There was no explanation for what I had heard. How could there have been no one in the stairwell? In the spring of 1973, we moved to a ground floor apartment. Our old apartment had a succession of people move in and out in a span of a year.

4. In the spring of 1979, I was twenty-two and had left my Mother’s home long before. It was a late summer evening when I ran into a friend who had lived in the apartment below us. We talked and the conversation swung around to what happened after we moved from the apartment complex. A single woman who lived in our old upstairs apartment came down to my friend’s door. In her hand she held a small revolver. She told my old neighbor that someone was stomping up the stairs and turning her doorknob, pushing against her door. She was terrified and had called the police. My friend hadn’t heard anything. This conversation convinced me of what I suspected from the night I saw the screen door open and no one emerged. A ghost? But who? Was it the parent that died? Was he or she angry because we were in the apartment? Why did the ghost take two years to begin haunting the place? Many questions with no answers.

5. Around this time of year, I always think of my very real experience. Off and on I’ve researched in the local newspaper archives trying to find something about the small family. Wouldn’t the death of a one-year-old girl in a horrific car accident make the news? If I ever knew the names of these people, they have been lost in my memory. Yet, their story and the haunting have remained with me for thirty-eight years. This is one of the stories that helped me to become a ghost story writer. What’s your story? I’d love to hear it. I think we all have one even if we don’t tell.

Want to read more ghost stories? TO PURCHASE Ann Hite Books via Amazon.

To learn more about Ann Hite and her literature, please visit her author website: Ann Hite- A Southern Novelist, Storyteller From Birth.

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Live the story you want to write!

Flash Fiction Horror Stories

Aliens, demons, buried alive, compulsive urges, sounds in the night…Enter if you dare!

Thanks to all my writerly friends who contributed these tasty little morsels of fiction to celebrate Halloween. Flash fiction is a wonderful way to get younger folks writing. It’s not easy, however, the brevity aspect makes it more approachable. To prove my point, two stories here were written by Emma, who is 12-years-old! We start them young down the path of evil. Bahahahaha!

ONE & TWO SENTENCE STORIES:

If I had known I’d end up in this coffin, I’d never have gotten my nails done.

D. Major is an author of flash horror stories, enjoys volunteering at cemeteries, and was last seen cleaning headstones at the Oakland Cemetery.

I was so happy the day my son was born. Then he started to feed

Justin Jones is a writer and educator who spends his time dealing with the most frightening creatures this planet has to offer: teenagers.

I knew those things didn’t make noise. So after the thump in the closet, I only felt it sliding across the dark room toward my bed.

–J. M. Williams scribbles in a chair in LaGrange, GA, glancing up occasionally to watch the reality show outside his window.

As the killer clown threw me in the back of the van, bound and gagged, I suddenly remember I left my iron on.

–Tia King is a lover of cats, salty food, and hot sauce.

From the first moment I saw your face, I knew I wanted to wear it. I thought, it will go so well with mother’s pearls.

Amy Puckett McGee is a writer and librarian based in the Appalachian foothills of north Georgia. She can be often found haunting the halls of Reinhardt University with a dusty tome in hand.

“The noises have stopped,” he said. “I’ll take a quick look around outside and be right back. Stop worrying.” 

–Jennie Mayes supports her writing and eating habits by working round the clock and the graveyard shift at the Cobb County Board of Elections.

100 WordS or Less Horror Stories:

True Evil

“Boo!”

“Are you shitting me?”

“Aaahhh!”

“It’s like you’re not even trying.” The little girl twirled her hair and ignored the closet door when it creaked open. “You used to be so terrifying. Now you’re just…ugh.”

The dejected demon-lord stepped out of the closet. He reared back a hoof and kicked an American Girl doll across the room. “Maybe I’m just losing my touch.”

“No, don’t say that Mr. Goatie.” Evie hopped out of her bed and held the deity’s hand. “I’ll give you some ideas.” She raised the demon’s floppy ear and began to whisper.

Baphomet smiled.

The Happy Wife

James tried stuffing his spilled intestines back inside the gaping stomach wound. The deep gash made by the butcher knife didn’t really hurt that much. No, what really stung was Charlotte’s piercing laugh. But, then again, he’d always wanted to make her happy.

Jon Sokol lives in Northeast Georgia where he collects double live albums and literary rejection letters. He is a member of the Gentleman’s Pipe Smoking Society, the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association, and is a two-time inductee in the Century Club (accomplished during Spring Semester, 1994).

In my room half awake, I jolt up to a soft whisper. Paranoia? I tell myself it’s silly to be afraid of the dark. This is the third time I’ve woken up. Hiss… I get up to investigate. “Kitty?” I hope. In the corner I see two glowing eyes. I walk closer. “Kitty?”  Out of the shadows a figure tall and slim emerges and then crouches. Through fangs sharper than blades it hisses, “It’s wise to be afraid of the dark.”

A nightmare. It’s only a nightmare. The space ship, the two scrawny, green, slimy-skinned figures with black eyes dark as the night sky standing over me. A nightmare. I open my eyes. Its finger wipes away the cold sweat dripping down my face. Through a small portal I see…earth. 

-Emma is a 7th grader at the School of Ghouls and a member of the Crawlyball Team.

URGE

Many people feel the ever-pressing urge to complete certain actions, and, for most, these actions are one and done, a fond memory: stepping on an extra crunchy leaf during fall, walking in circles during a good phone call, or forcing your arms into the pretty stones in a gift shop. Then why do I find myself repeating these actions long after the initial rush of serotonin, after my legs ache and the cashier has started to watch me with my arms buried elbow-deep? Why can’t I stop?

Krista Shaw is an English teacher at a community college in Kentucky. Her favorite pastime is reading on the couch, curled up with her cat.

Wandering off in the mix of Halloween crowds, lost, I reach for the open hand of a woman who wears the same Drugstore mask my mother put on before we left for the evening, but when she removed it, wickedly smiling, I understood I’d gone trick-or-treating with a complete stranger.

–by D. Major

PUBLISHERS OF FLASH FICTION (& more) SEEKING YOUR WORK:

Apparition Literary Magazine is accepting succinct speculative stories 1,000 words or less between October 1st & 15th and is a paying market.

Apex Magazine is looking for 250 words or less focusing on holiday horrors in the month of December. It’s time to break out your favorite Krampus story folks. This is a paying market open now until November 15th

For those interested in flash fiction not of the creepy variety (depends on who you approach theme), Press 53 publishes 53 word stories (no less than and no more) and their theme for October is “brewing.” They read between the 1st & 15th of the month.

Welter is celebrating 55 years by sponsoring a 55-word contest which is open to poets and non-fiction and fiction writers. This is 55 words EXCACTLY! The winning prize, you guessed it, is $55 and social media accolades. This closes October 19th.

Please share to your social media and feel free to leave comments!