glimpses at poets and pubs dubbed underground

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Michael Gill Giveth the Scoop on Michael Gill

Michael Gill is Arts Editor at Cleveland SCENE Magazine, makes books by hand and knows a bit about the fringe element.  He is one guy who always throws the poets a bone in print, in a town where seldom is there room for such dreck, and now he dishes with the Panda.

Bree: name five songs that just kill you.

Michael Gill: There are a lot of songs that really kill me, and a huge range. Latin (salsa/meringue) as well as folk, classical, afropop, celtic, funk, jazz. I’m not a huge rock fan, though I grew up in MMS’ glory days. I dig Franklin’s show “On the One” on WRUW, and Tony Vasquez’ Latin Perspectives. I tend to binge on one album or even song at a given time, listening over and over, blasting in my car.  But here are five artists and six songs that consistently knock me flat:

Sylvio Rodriguez, La Masa
Fela Kuti, Sorrow Tears and Blood, or Coffin for Head of State
Shostakovich violin concerto
Leonard Cohen, Halleluja
Beethoven string quartet no. 131

Bree: are u making art books?

MG: YES! I started making one-of a kind books to package single messages to my lovely wife Lisa, or to collect the formative speech of our kids when they were just learning. “It’s a tiny little big one,” said my daughter. “poonis” said my son. I would type these things up, organized in little books, and hard bind them.

Then I decided to write a story based on characters my kids invented—Clam Boy and Big Sister Kitty. To print them I carved words and pictures into linoleum block and cranked the pages through an etching press one at a time. I made 100 copies each, of two Clam Boy & Big Sister Kitty stories. They are about two superheroes cleaning up the landscape—especially removing those blue plastic grocery bags that get caught in trees, but also broken bottles and other litter.

Then I got onto a letterpress machine and made a little single sheet book, with a rhyme called “Velo-City,” which is about riding bikes in the city. That project also put me onto wood block illustration.

I’m currently working on a collection of children’s rhymes which will be illustrated with wood cuts.

“After your bedtime,
 the fire still burns,
the grownups keep talking,
the starry sky turns.

After your bedtime,
 the owls come out,
the grownups keep talking,
who knows what about.

After your bedtime,
the moon gets up high,
the grownups keep talking,
nobody knows why.”

Bree: what's your neighborhood?

MG: I live in Lakewood, third house north of Detroit Road on my street.

Bree: do u like living there? (planning to stay?)

MG: Yeah, love it. I can walk to a decent wine shop, a good convenience store, restaurants, bars, dairy queen, and much more in less than five minutes. We’re actually looking for another house, but we want to stay in the same neighborhood to keep the kids in the same school, and also to keep the same level of convenience. Lakewood is generally great for both of those things.

Bree: favorite Cleveland band/artist just now?

MG: The Revolution Brass Band! They play deep instrumental funk, all acoustic. It’s two trumpets, two trombones, two saxes, tuba for bass, plus kit. Last Sunday of every month at Edisons, plus other assorted gigs.

Favorite Cleveland artist . . .  Jeez. I love Brinslye Tyrell’s Ohio landscape enamels—enamel glaze painted in ohio landscapes, baked onto metal panels—wild colors and flowing lines. I also really like Chris Pekoc’s stitched up goddess, and Doug Utter’s magnificently cracked puddles of latex worked into portraiture and landscapes. And Amy Casey’s houses and neighborhoods teetering on stilts and swinging from power lines. they kill me.

Bree: was it a good year for allergies?
MG: Yeah, for me it was pretty good. I think largely because I keep them under control with various medications. I’ve had prescriptions to deal with this for years, but what makes the difference for me between a good year and a bad one is my own responsibility to taking the stuff. I snort flonase some days. If I did that every day I’d probably never have a bad day. I also inhale Advair, which keeps me breathing well. The other thing that will help me deal with this is when my cats die. My allergy issues—esp. athsma—became a real concern when we got two cats. I love them dearly. It will be horrible when  they finally do die, but I will be able to breath without meds.

Bree: FREE TIMES versus SCENE, whats different?

MG: Crazy swings, even within those individual papers, depending on who owned them and who was in charge. When I started at the Free Times it was owned by Village Voice Media, was in competition with the Scene, then owned by New Times, out of Phoenix. Both papers had 50 full timers—a total of 100 people working in Cleveland altweeklies.  Neither was run by the people who launched them. Next stage for the Free Times was a smaller staff, and a ridiculous amount of editorial freedom . . . but constant worry about whether we’d be in business the following month, because the competition was so fierce. Then it began to feel like we were stable, and we had a good cohesive crew in the Editorial side. Then came the merger, and we all felt like we could relax economically.  That hasn’t really worked out that way, as changes and layoffs continued. There are just 23 full timers employed in Cleveland altweeklies now.

The more interesting differences had to do with changing editors and editorial staffs, though. Each editor had different interests. David Eden was very aggressive and cranky and loved to bash city and county government. Of course that was an important thing to do sometimes. Frank Lewis gave us huge liberty, was interested in subtlety and complex stories, and especially willing to let writers pursue what interested them. That’s when I wrote about race relations on the slam scene, graffiti writers along the red line, wild dogs in Rockefeller Park, the anarchist Catholic Worker community getting arrested for protesting the war.  These days we’re more focused on finding stories that have compelling narrative lines.

Bree: when did u know it would be journalism?

MG: It took me a long time to get to journalism. In college I never thought that would be me, and so I never pursued it. I expected to be a college poetry professor or something. So I went to grad school, got an MFA, published a couple of poetry chaps, took a PR job in DC because it was DC and good, stable money. Quit after four years to move to Ecuador to learn Spanish so that when I went to PHD school for my (then planned) comparative lit degree, I’d have the language part nailed. That didn’t work out, so I came back to Cleveland, got into the poetry scene in the early nineties, started doing PR for Beck Center. Did that until 2001 when I got my first journalism job at age 34. These are the best jobs I’ve ever had because we find our own stories. If I were advising anyone younger who had any interest in journalism, Id advise them to not wait as long as me to get into it, but also to be prepared for lots of economic uncertainty.

Bree: poetry or red wine?

MG: Lately it’s been non-fiction and red wine. Though I did binge on all the Harry Potter books, to keep ahead of my daughter. Right now I’m reading Bikesnob’s book. For the uninitiated, Bikesnob is the New York blogger who writes with great wit and prodigious sarcasm about bicycle culture. His blog is better than his book. The more careful editorial process that goes into books took some of the life out of his prose.

Bree: fine dining or outdoor on Erie shore?

MG: I love the erie shore, but I like to be in control while eating. I have a little bit of the same issue with fine dining. It’s great to have someone take care of you, and great food is magnificent, but I’m a real fan of cooking in my own kitchen and having people to eat with there. My family –Lisa and two kids— sit down to eat together most days. At the moment we’re all happy with fresh veggies from the garden.

Bree: what drives you into the sunset?
MG: Besides Lisa? I’d have to say my new bike. I raced bicycles in the eighties, then stopped, and so for the last ten or so years I’ve biked a lot, but it’s all been back and forth to work on the same Raleigh mountain bike, set up with fat slicks for the city. Great for pot holes and curbs, but sluggish in its handling, and slow as hell. So I went shopping on craigs list and found my new bike. I never though I’d be psyched about a Schwinn bike. My old racing bike was a Colnago with top quality racing parts—the kind of machine you’d carry on a romance with. But my new schwinn . . . totally built for speed, too, and with Columbus tubes, Cinelli bars and stem, and a total suntour group. It’s from 1987, but it looks like nobody ever rode it. I rode it to work for the second time today. It flies. Totally old school, but my hand falls right into place to reach the down tube shifters. Bicyclists reading this will know what I’m talking about.

Bree: any big plans?

MG: Boy oh boy do I have big fucking plans. When I finish rebuilding my front porch ceilings I’m going to jack up my sagging back porch. I’m headed for Vermont in August and taking my bike with me.

My book—the woodcuts with children’s rhymes—I’m hoping to finish that before the year is over, though the odds are against me. I want to show the prints at a gallery and have a book launch party.

I want to go back to the UK with some old friends and hike Offa’s Dyke Path.

I want to write a book called “The Bread machine is a tool of the Revolution,” and another one called “The Opposite of Vandalism.”


BIO Time:

Michael Gill sayeth:::::::::::: I was born at Fairview Hospital, which is technically in Cleveland. I grew up in North Olmsted while there were still vacant lots there. Interstate 480 didn’t exist for some of that time, and neither did Great Northern Mall. I went to St. Ignatius High School, played football and wrestled, but also got heavily into biking and dropped the other sports.

I knew by then that I liked to write. I went to Hiram College to study English. Moved to Washington State for graduate school, got an MFA in poetry there studying with James McCauley and others. I started playing flute at that time. By now I’ve been at it 20 years, mostly self taught, mostly improvising.

 Having spent a term in England during college I went back there fur a summer between grad school years to work as a laborer on the first passive solar heated building in the UK—the Caer Llan field study center, near Monmouth, Wales. There were sheep farms and stone houses hundreds of years old, and here and there pre-roman stone monuments.

After grad school  I moved to Washington DC, living on Capitol Hill and in Adams Morgan, writing press releases for the Federal Government. Quit that job after four years, moved to Ecuador, where I collected graffiti, taught English, broke up with a longtime girlfriend, hiked the Inca trail, and so on. Read Pablo Neruda.

Back in the US I once had five part time jobs, writing freelance for a newspaper, technical writing about machines, teaching English 101 at a community college, slinging coffee at the University Circle Arabica, and another freelance writing gig. I went to work for one season at an outdoor education camp in central Ohio, taking 5th graders out in the woods.

Some time after that I started working for Beck Center. I had been doing poetry readings around town, organized a series at Beck, and when they had a pr job and I was living in a roach infested efficiency, I took it. I worked there for 7 or 8 years. Got married. Bought a house. Had two kids. The hugest things are what we toss off in these short sentences. Got married. Bought a house. Had two kids. Sometime in the midst of that I started working for so called alternative newspapers. 

(Michael Gill looking off at the Erie Shore).

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