Brooklyn, New York born and raised author, poet, playwright and spoken word performance artist, John Biscello, has called Taos home since 2001.
The author of novels Broken Land, a Brooklyn Tale, and Raking the Dust, and a collection of stories, Freeze Tag, (Broken Land was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year), John has a new book coming out and we met recently to talk about it.
When I arrived at the World Cup that afternoon, John was already there, seated at the window, in the corner. I said hello before going to the counter to order a coffee from Jack Lorang, who just happened to be working that day. Lucky us! Jack makes some of the best espresso for miles around. He’s a damn fine writer as well, so it seemed doubly apropos that he should be there.
Americano in hand, I joined John at the window. Autumn was closing in on us, but it was still t-shirt weather, and the tourists walking by hadn’t given a thought to the changing seasons, judging by their breezy attire.
John (in a t-shirt and black jeans), looked every inch the quintessential Brooklyn (next generation), Beat Poet – a throwback to the era he continues to be inspired by.
We jumped right in as writers do; spanning the Western Canon in minutes – leaping from Miller (Henry) to Jack Kerouac, Bill Burroughs and Paul Bowles to Shakespeare, Bukowski and back again faster than the speed of light. Almost.
Both of us fast, NYC fast, stream of consciousness fast, as the pages of beloved books, dog-eared and marked, turned over in our memory banks. Pages as familiar as a love once lost and then found again.
We discovered that we had much more in common beside the streets of the City and its Boroughs; we liked a lot of the same authors and both of us, with a penchant for the dramatic (and the Noir), disliked many in common as well.
John and I have known one another in passing for as long as he’s lived here. We’ve chatted on the bench outside the World Cup in fine and inclement weather. Mostly about the City and our ties to it; children of immigrants who came to Ellis Island seeking Liberty.
These days the only Liberty in sight appears to be the statue in the harbour they sailed into all those decades ago, when NYC was still a metropolis of dreams.
Today, the City is as clean as a whistle and bears little resemblance to that place our great grandparents came to, and truth be told, it’s much changed from when we both lived there as well.
So here we find ourselves now, in the High Desert of New Mexico, among the ghosts of the Conquest, rather than those who haunt the streets of the City; Dreamers who came generation after generation looking to make those dreams come true. For the ones who continue to seek their fortune in the concrete canyons, the City remains ever relevant, for us, this Frontier town allows us the space to dream even bigger dreams among the ruins of time.
I took notes as we talked but when I sat down to write this piece, I could not find them. Memory serves me well, but the little details slipped my mind, gone with the notebook they were jotted down in. I emailed John an apology and included a few questions.
He responded immediately: Biscello, the Redux
1) Brooklyn to Taos is a rather unlikely trajectory, how did it happen?
I was living in the City at the time (New York), and was wanting a change of pace, a whole different environment. The girl I was with at the time, who was dealing with an auto-immune illness, was also ready to give up the beastly grind of city-living. I had just come back from a teaching retreat on the Navajo Nation, became intrigued with the Southwest as a possible re-location point, stumbled upon Taos in a novel, and had an intuitive hunch (though I’m not sure I would’ve called it an intuitive hunch back then … since living in Taos, I’ve become much more in touch with and in love with terms like: “intuitive hunch”). Anyways, we decided to give it a fling, arrived here end of October in 2001, The girl split after three weeks, returning to New York, and I stayed, and except for a couple of half-baked relocation attempts, have continued staying. High desert grunge Wonderland and me seem to have developed quite the kinkily sacrosanct bond.
2)You’re a poet, a novelist, a playwright, a teacher and a dad to a teenage girl – what’s the secret to your crazy time management skills?
No real big secrets. I treat my writing-time as sacred and have fanatically clear boundaries about that, with myself and others in my life. What I have found that works for me, is a consistency of discipline and doing a little each day. The Baudelaire quote, “Nothing can be done except a little at a time,” has served as one of my golden refrains. Also that notion of giving time to time and space to space, that breathing room which I feel is essential for exploring the world of creativity and imagination, wherever it may take you. As for other jobs or roles in my life, they’ve pretty much all been part-time, or incorporated into my life with consideration for my primary passion and vocation: writing. Honestly, same with parenting, in that, technically, I am a part-time dad. I think what has also helped me or served me in my creative drive or pursuits, I possess a high degree of self-absorption, self-possession,art-centeredness–label it what you will–but that thing which has allowed me to keep moving forward like a one-eyed ram in love with the moon. I am also not a fan of alibis when it comes to the writing life, or rather my writing life. Either I’m sitting down to do the work, or I am not, but I can’t buy into the thousand and one excuses that my mind manufactures and tries to feed me like assembly line bullshit. And here I’m talking about the “practice” of writing, which is all that it really is for me. A practice, and an ongoing experiment. In which having fun, and enjoying the playtime verve of it all, is an important part. There’s that Hemingway line: “Writing is easy, all you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” Well, to remix Big Papa, and lighten it up some: I’d rather fancy myself a hemophiliac clown who’s making origami swans out of Kleenex. THAT appeals to me!
3) Your new book is literally a gender bender – can you tell me a little about what inspired it?
Usually ideas or images come to me piece-meal. And later they may or may not coalesce into something bigger. It’s like the shards need something to fuse them together, a central axis kind of thing … and in the case of this novel, I saw a young girl or boy riding around her neighborhood on a bicycle. Wasn’t sure if it was girl or a boy. Then it became a girl. One who I knew had suffered abuse and trauma, and she was a loner, one of those strays that will bare their fangs if cornered or threatened. So many different factors went into the “shaping” or revealing of this character, Piers. Memories of my rave-days in New York, and the rave-culture. Peter Pan, as subverted mythology. Edie Sedgwick, Andy Warhol’s “It-Girl” from the 1960s. And so many other influences. That was for the character of Piers, who is the epitome of androgyny, but it also the seed-child for budding angelhood, or the angel-self that is part of who she is. As a child, Piers found that the mirror inside herself showed her: “a beautiful boy with wings.” The book itself became, or rather demanded to be written as a hybrid experiment. It was to be a fragmentary marriage of forms (journal entries, letters, poems, blank “photos,” screenplay, news clips, narrative, etc.) in rendering an angular perspective, a prism-effect to Piers’s life. French new wave cinema, and cinema in general, was one of the driving sparkplugs behind Nocturne’s form, especially the films of Agnes Varda, who I binge-watched and in a sense, she became one of the book’s “secret godmothers.” Noir film and German Expressionism were also key influences, in shaping the tone, color and mood of Nocturne. Then there’s the wistul beauty of James Macneill Whistler’s “Nocturne” paintings, which was another mood-setting inspiration. You opened the floodgates with that question, Lynne. But I’ll stop there. Actually, I’ll add one P.S. I had a lot of fun writing this book. It was one hell of a curious and stimulating experience.
4) What’s next for you creatively?
I have been working on short film scripts. Sort of in the workshop, experimenting with different ideas and scenarios. The process has jazzed me up, and as a cinefile, I’d love to see one or more of these turned into films. I also finished my fourth novel, No Man’s Brooklyn, earlier in 2018, and will soon present that one to my publisher and see what lines up.
“I think that’s enough from me, Miss Robinson (koo-koo-ka-choo!!). I decided to just let it rip from the top, as if me and you were sitting at the Cup having a conversation (which actually did happen.”
Yes John, we did. In fact when I went into the ‘Cup a few days later, Jack commented that he’d been eavesdropping and really dug the fact that we were both Henry Miller fans as well as fans of lesser known works by Kerouac, including his first novel, the aptly named, in this case, The Town And The City.
Wish I could find those bloody notes.
John Biscello recently taught a workshop in collaboration with UNM Taos’ DMA Program. Hybrid Fiction Storytelling For The Multi Media Age was one of the very special workshops UNM/DMA are offering this Fall and Winter. More about that on Monday!
Nocturne Variations is John Biscello’s third book released by Unsolicited Press
The book is available for pre-order on Amazon. (Link included below this post.)
For more on John Biscello, please visit his site linked below.
All images thanks to John Biscello