about mark flanigan

Cincinnati native Mark Flanigan has been writing and performing for over 14 years....Works from his collections Wrong-Way Poems For One-Way Streets, Not Necessarily God Stories and Next to Nothing have appeared in a variety of independent publications and, along with his performances, have garnered critical acclaim. He has also co-written a screenplay (“Midway,” with Brian Keizer), edited a literary publication (omnibscure) and worked to develop, produce and curate various gallery shows and performance readings -- notably, VOLK/c.s.p.i. and Intermedia Series readings at the Contemporary Arts Center and the Weston art gallery. Flanigan’s monthly column, “Exiled on Main Street,” appeared for over three years, first in x-ray, and upon his resignation there, at semantikon.com. Performances of his can be found on “the Volk/c.s.p.i. spoken word series CD (2001),” which he co-produced, and on the CD “One Night Only" (2002).   To learn more about his work, read his blog, review some of the works mentioned above, and listen to additional audio tracks:

Visit markflanigan.com

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mark flanigan exiled from archives

October 2007: The Dance

June 2007: Cake
May 2007: Special Edition "Light Travel" Mark Flanigan and Steve Proctor
April 2007: Zero Hour
March 2007: Prelude to a Kiss-Off
Jan 2007: State Of The Disunion Address 
Nov 2006: Youngblood
Oct 2006: How I Spent My Summer Vacation
exiled on main street archives

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March 2007: Prelude to a Kiss-Off
    
      1.
     I’m in no position to not answer the phone when it rings. Which explains why I had been there for the better part of three days, working on the last of five columns I committed to writing for CityBeat, Cincinnati’s alternative paper, for a supplement they call the Annual Manual. Each piece had to land between three and four hundred words, which as it turned out was much of the problem.
     I knew going in I wasn’t exactly wired for this type of enterprise, but it seemed like a good discipline to learn. Weeks later I realized just how difficult, if not impossible, it was to describe downtown Cincinnati (for instance) in so few words, let alone in such a way as to distinguish oneself, to avoid sounding like an emasculated tour bus driver. Which I had to do, of course, as my name would be appearing on the thing. And who knew, maybe I could shine enough to warrant consideration for a future column of my own. One has to hope....
mark flanigan minute poems
Semantikon.com Exclusive Mark Flanigan e-book: Minute Poems with Artwork by Alan Sauer
{290KB PDF}

    So there I was: Two days past deadline, hoping to finish by four or five in the morning. Watching as that too passed before I began tackling the last piece, one about where to hear live music locally. I gave this one a wider narrative arc—not caring about running over just yet, I reminisced about various shows from my youth and lamented the fact that I was no longer young. Then, working on the premise that such present-day venues were no longer as vital, I ran through each while detailing in humorous fashion why they were lacking in my estimation.
     The piece caught fire. Finally, I had my fish! All that remained now was to prune the thing, delete anything extraneous, you know, dirty things like adverbs and adjectives. “Goodbye color, goodbye hues,” I said while doing so. And, admiring it one last time as the sun came up, nearly hooting and hollering at the prospect of finally being finished after nineteen consecutive hours of sitting, I had this sudden epiphany:
     There’s no way in hell CityBeat’s going to publish this, no matter how good it is! You systematically criticize some of their best advertisers, the very same ones that are paying for the book’s publication!
     I was crestfallen. Not only wasn’t I hitting either the showers or medicine cabinet just yet, I also found myself all but married to the piece.
     I re-read it with this in mind. Guess I had wrote mostly about where not to hear live music, but this seemed warranted: there were few good venues. And after careful consideration, I realized there was no way to edit it satisfactorily, nor the need. Everything I had written was true to the best of my knowledge. Thus, I’d either have to start over or send the thing. My decision boiled down to this: The fact of the matter is, when one is in the business of courting the muse and she’s kind enough to bequeath you with roses, one shouldn’t be disrespectful enough to rummage through the bouquet.
     The next day I received a phone call from Stephen Carter-Novotni, the project manager and my one-time editor at XRay Cincinnati. His message explained that he had received my pieces, that he had liked them, in particular the one about where to hear live music. However, he did have some reservations about the piece’s content and, as a result, would have to run it by CityBeat’s editor, John Fox.
     I didn’t hear anything for a number of days. Then, one night while at a bar, my phone rang. It was Novotni. “Mark, we got a bit of a problem,” he began. “The live music piece won’t fly as is. Now I understand if you’d like me to pull the piece....”
      “Pull it?” I asked. As I remember I was a bit buzzed and in a rush to get back to the revelry. “Nah,” I said, “I spent eight hours on the thing, I gotta get paid something. Just cut out the parts you don’t like.”
     “Are you sure?” he asked.
     “Yeah. But Steve, you think you can put some kind of asterisk or something denoting that the piece had been edited for content?”
     “Maybe.”
     “Better yet,” I said, “Tell them if they want the full piece to look for it at semantikon.com.”
     “I got a better idea,” Novotni volleyed. “How about I tell ‘em to send you a S.A.S.E.?”
     Upon publication, I discovered I got nothing of the sort. But I assume since I didn’t get paid for them, I still own the rights to the following words:

“.... the notion remains that Bogart’s never truly rebounded from when they erected that ridiculous barricade in front of the stage; nor from hiring on as bouncers every grizzly not in captivity.
     I can’t even recall the last show I saw at Bogart’s, unless you mean the X reunion show last summer, wherein guitarist Billy Zoom got electrocuted every time the light guy pushed a button.
     Covington’s Madison Theatre, meanwhile, is back in business, a fact that inspires in me only ambivalence. For one, the stage has the appeal of a dorm room. Moreover, I’ve yet to get over the night I didn’t see Modest Mouse there, despite being there.... Well, at least the lobby was well lit.
     The Taft is grand, and yet seeing a rock show there reminds me of coerced sex with someone’s grandmother. Worse, even, because the show will end at 10:15 and now you have to actually talk to her. Madison’s 20th Century, on the other hand, wouldn’t be nearly as problematic, if only they weren’t afraid of bands with those newfangled electric guitars....”

     Heavy stuff, I know. Absolutely incendiary, and thus not fit for print.
     The whole experience made me wonder about the paper and its policies; I mean, I understand that, as the underdog in a small market, they are struggling. It’s a struggle I respect even; they’re fighting the good fight. Yet, as I mentioned above, everything I said I believed to be true, and shouldn’t the truth not only be permitted but also welcomed? What other criticisms or stories fall the wayside because of such reasoning? Moreover, perhaps such an approach is responsible for a publication that markets itself as the ‘alternative’ to struggle at all?
     Sadly, we’ll probably never know.
     This while our newspapers aren’t hesitant at all to lambaste politicians and government agencies, for they do not buy ad space. Would this change if they did? In the meantime, they make good, safe copy, which in turn supplies revenue.
     The above is stated in a somewhat ungracious spirit, as if a little friendly advice sent from the kid with no pot to piss in that nonetheless remains rich. Knowing as I do that they have supported me, and the arts in general; knowing that the pressures and anxieties of running something like a weekly newspaper are well beyond me. All the same, I must ask: Isn’t a boxer that routinely pulls his or her punches bound to take a beating? And who in their right mind would stop publicizing their events because of a few humorous jabs? What kid would boycott because of them? I mean if Snotheart or The Quadriplegics announce they’re coming to a nearby high school cafeteria, you can count me in.
     The corollary of course being that I am far from being a good candidate for a weekly newspaper column, whatever that says about them or me. Such a gig would be, as in the past, a fleeting one, or I’d have to turn it down from the start.
     Unless, I guess, the pay was good. And therein lies the conundrum, both theirs and mine.
     That said, at least there was some rhyme or reason to the rejection of material, some amount of communication regarding the matter. The concomitant message was simple and legible, made sense on some level. None of which can be said about what follows....

2.
     I had been doing some occasional work for the Inktank organization, a writing and literacy center in Over-the-Rhine, for some time. Things like running an open mic and reading at their events; I even recorded some “Exiled” pieces for their Anything Can Happen on Main Street CD. The pay was always nominal if sometimes non-existent, but that rarely bothered me. So I wasn’t surprised to get an email from them asking if I’d like to contribute something to a book and subsequent reading, both in commemoration of Tucker’s Restaurant 60th anniversary.
     The email went on to explain that their initial idea had been to publish a series of poems by Kathy Y. Wilson, an ex-CityBeat writer, NPR commentator and author of Your Negro Tour Guide, who also recently had become something of a Poet-In-Residence at the aforementioned restaurant. Apparently, though, she was having a hard time filling up both the book and reading, so they were opening things up to others. Was I interested?
     Well, sure I was. After all, it’s Tucker’s. I had been supping at that safe house on Vine for two decades now, walking past any number of thugs and miles of police tape in order to place my order. Even more luckily, I count Joe and Carla Tucker, the present owners, as good friends of mine.
     The only question was: what would I write? There were a few ways to go. First, I figured I’d spend the day there and simply jot down bits of conversation. After my lawyer advised me that eavesdropping was illegal, I had an idea to do a meditation on the recent death of their grandson, Adam Tucker Cappel, of SIDS (donate to help fight SIDS). Yet, however sincere that idea may have been, I deemed it a bit somber for the occasion in the end. Thus, I found myself in a familiar situation: stuck.
     In any event, it all panned out. I happened to run into Joe and Carla the night before deadline, and the thing damn near wrote itself. Still, as with almost any good piece, there were reservations. For one, it was a little bawdy; not to mention the fact that it was somewhat revealing and perhaps framed in what could be construed as a harsh light.
     However, the fact remained that it was an honest piece, so much so I would have bet that it was, if not the most complete portrait of my friends, well then at least representative of a side of them that otherwise wouldn’t have been expressed. One, it should be said, anyone that knew them at all would recognize immediately. Anyhow, I figured it like this: if you ask for a Mark Flanigan portrait, you’re gonna get a Mark Flanigan portrait. I was convinced, at the very least, that the Tuckers’ would appreciate it.
     Thus, hastily adding a half-hearted disclaimer, I sent the piece. The next morning there was this response from Emily Buddendeck, Inktank’s director of operations: “Mark, thanks for sending this. I’ll let you know what happens.”
     In the meantime, I had the honor of performing at their “Writer’s Weekend” kickoff show. While in the lobby afterwards, Kathy Howadel, the director of Inktank, said to me: “I got your Tucker’s piece; I liked it,” she said, adding quickly, “But then again I know you.” Just then we were interrupted, our conversation ending before I could gain any insight into what she meant exactly.
     Weeks went by without any word. The Tucker’s reading, which I had been asked to be a part of, was quickly approaching. I was in the dark about the particulars, so I emailed for information regarding time parameters and the like. The reply was short: “Kathy will read her poems at 3 p.m., and has asked a couple other people to read a few after her, which will lead up to the open mic. No sign up necessary. As for length of reading, I would say keep it to 5 minutes or less. I hope this helps.”
     Helps? Open mic? Five minutes?
     Didn’t they know who I was? That I was supposed to be the star?
     No, it was if I was crashing their party, after having been invited. After having knitted the perfect outfit for the occasion! Well, you didn’t have to hit me over the head with where this was going.... Not only was it looking like the piece hadn’t made it through, a fact I was okay with if only because of my back-up plan, but now I was being squeezed in such a way that I wouldn’t even have time to read the thing. I prepared for it anyway.
     Cut to the day of the reading: I arrived late, but only a half-hour. I sidled up to the familiar counter, close to Kathy Wilson who was just finishing up one of her poems. Quickly, she turned to me and asked, “Did you bring anything to read?” I looked around the room. “No,” I replied, proudly. Fact was I felt that they didn’t deserve it, that I’d save it for myself for some rainy day.
     “Well I guess that’s it, then,” she said. “Thanks for coming, there’s books for sale behind the counter.”
     I went up and purchased a copy. The title read . Opening it, I saw a forward by one Dani McClain, and then a piece by fellow poet Michael Henson. The remainder of the book was as advertised: no Mark Flanigan. As was the rest of the afternoon: no explanation, no discussion, no acknowledgment or apology.
     A surreal afternoon reached a feverish pitch not long after I was served my first whiskey. Emily Buddendeck introduced me to the Cincinnati Enquirer reporter who was covering the event, explaining that I too had written a piece for the occasion.
     “Why didn’t you read it?” the woman asked.
     “I wasn’t ready,” I lied.
     “Well, what’s your piece about?”
     “That’s a tough question, have you ever hung with the Tucker’s, say, at a bar?”
     “No, I don’t go to bars,” the reporter answered.
     Emily smiled impishly, walked away.
     “I just never know how to answer that one. Here,” I handed her my story, “judge for yourself.”
     “Roast, with gravy and a side of tequila,” she began to read. “Nice title,” she said as I stood alongside her for what I hope is the longest fifteen minutes of my life, watching as she read the following:
     “Not many people realize this about me, but my earliest roots as a writer were of a journalistic nature. It’s true; in my sophomore year at Elder High School, my writing career was born in big bang fashion when I broke with the lead cover story “Lent Begins This April.” And the rest, as they say, is pre-history."
     So, when asked to write a piece with my beloved Tuckers restaurant in mind, I didn’t tread lightly. The only question was what could I possibly add to the volumes of print and media that had effectively beaten me to the punch? Recent memory reminded me of a spread in Cincinnati Magazine, of that radio report from WVXU --wherein Joe Tucker summed up the restaurant’s allure by intoning “I guess it’s all about the vibe, man,”—and of all the various and sundry contributions to the full picture of this Cincinnati landmark that CityBeat has supplied. None of which so much as mentions Kathy Wilson, I realize, and before I’ve even started I find myself face-to-face with this solid fact: I’m screwed. I ain’t got a chance. Hell, I’m not even black.
     But being the tenacious journalist that I am, I never truly give up. I phone into Headquarters and say things like “My piece still needs some work, it’s a bit flat,” when really I haven’t written a single word. I think seriously about moving in the cover of night to Middletown or Hamilton, whichever will welcome me. And being also an imperfect human, I decide to begin the night before deadline by going to the neighborhood bar. My girl and I walk down the hill to Milton’s, which tonight is hopping and magical as my journalistic instincts prove golden indeed....
     For I sidle up to the bar and sit in-between who else but Joe and Carla Tucker. Joe, who is to my left, shakes my hand warmly and says, “Hey Marcus, how’s the novel coming?” “Well,” I tell him, “it still needs some work, it’s a bit flat. What’s going on with you?” I change the subject.
     “Oh, we just came over from a party across the street,” he informs me. “A real good party,” he winks and smiles widely as he dusts off a Dewar’s on the rocks and orders another. The bar is rowdy but he talks over the din. “Anyway, Marcus, you gotta keep at it, you know? I mean that time I saw you perform last Christmas, man, it was like seeing Kurt Cobain before he was famous, I’m not kidding.”
     “Thanks, Joe, but you must be drunk,” I tell him. Then, I turn to Carla. She asks, also, what I’ve been working on. “Well, I’m supposed to be writing a piece on this little restaurant downtown called Tuckers, ever hear of it?” Her eyes light up as she grabs my arm and exclaims excitedly, “Are you gonna do that? You better! You have to;  you’ll be the star! You’ll be the star!”
      “What about Kathy Wilson?” I ask. To which she guffaws, “Kathy Wilson, nobody even knows where she’s at! She’s locked herself in her room and won’t come out. You better do something; you’ll be the star! You better!”
     I look to my left; Joe’s not talking to anyone, he’s listening instead to the jukebox with his saucer-like eyes half-closed and his mouth open in a big-toothed grin. He’s bobbing his head ever so slightly in time with the music, saying to the bartender, “Hey turn that up a bit, man.” The bartender obliges, pretends to anyway, and Joe communes with the music in silence before laughing out loud and saying almost to himself, “Geesh, that Beck, I mean he can say it all in about three words, can’t he?”
     “That’s why he gets paid the big bucks,” I tell him. Carla then asks me, “So what do you think you’re going to write about?” “Well,” I’m honest with her, “I figured I’d just detail what happens tonight.” “You better not!” she bellows. Just then, someone mentions shots and Joe’s ears perk up. Tequila is suggested. “You know,” Carla then confides in me, “I never liked tequila, it tastes like cum. Yeah, it tastes like cum, you know, salty. But then again you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?”
     “Don’t be too sure,” I tell her as she takes a step back and, squinting, tries to figure out whether I’m having a laugh or not.
     My girlfriend Kate is sitting on the other side of Joe, who remains silent and listening to the jukebox with his big teeth all agog. “So Carla, I hear you had a big anniversary recently,” I say. “That’s right, Joe and I just had our 40th wedding anniversary, or something like that. Do you know when I first met him he didn’t have a single hair on his chest?”
     “How did you guys meet?”
     “That’s a funny one, I remember our first date coming back from a Molly Hatchet concert, I puked all over the dash of his car. We went home together that night and didn’t come out of the house for a week. We invented new ways, and I tell you after that week, Joe had one stray hair sticking up out of his chest.”
     “What do you think is the secret of your guy’s success, forty years is a long time?”
     “We love each other,” she answers. “That, and we tell each other everything.”
     “Was he your first?”
     “Ha! That’s funny, I mean if Joe only knew!”
     Kate asks then if I’d mind switching seats with her. She stands when Joe says to her, “That was a great conversation, Kate.” She looks at him crazily and replies, “You haven’t said a word to me in a half-hour Joe” as I sit down beside him.
     “Sister Ray” comes on the jukebox just then, so I say to Joe, “Someone’s played the Velvet Underground in your honor.” He looks at me as if I’m speaking Japanese. “You know, Lou Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker.” He sits quietly and listens intently with his open-mouthed grin in tact for the first half of the song, which is about ten minutes, saying nothing. (At one point above the din I hear Carla declare, “I work with dumb and dumber every day!”) Then Joe finally says, “Mumba wamba gumma gamma gumma wumma,” or something similar to that.
     “What?” I ask.
     He drinks a throat-full of scotch, regroups and explains, “I’m thinking of all my cousins. What city is Maureen Tucker from?”
     “I don’t know,” I answer. “But I’m pretty sure you’d already know if your cousin was the drummer for the Velvet Underground.”
     “No,” he shakes his head, “now if she’s from Vermont, I think that’s my cousin.”
     Carla is standing now, asking Joe where the car keys are. He feels his pockets and, not finding them, forgets what he is looking for. Carla asks again, this time more slowly, “Joe, where are the car keys?” “Oh, they’re at the party,” he remembers, “Arianna took them at the door.”
     I spin around, look towards Carla. “So it’s one of those kind of parties!” I ask.
     “You know,” she explains, “that’s just one thing I could never get into no matter how hard I tried: swinging....”
     None of which, of course, is even remotely true. My journalistic license has long since been revoked, and my poetic one, I fear, is soon to follow. What is true, however, is how rewarding something can be when it’s done with a touch of love. Say you’re putting away a fresh load of laundry, hanging up a shirt you know is going to be picked off the line at a later date for a special occasion. And you take a moment to straighten it out on the hanger, fasten the top button or two, there’s a difference to how the shirt will fit that day you finally don it. That, even more than the myriads of packed lunches for impoverished school kids, is what Tucker’s is about for me. That something done with a touch of love, that something one can’t get just anywhere. Something genuine, something genuinely good. Yeah, that thing handed down through the years, a secret recipe most of us are not privy to, yet everyone’s invited to partake in.
     Kind of like that vibe thing, right Joe? Amen.”
     The woman, smiling awkwardly, handed back my piece as if it was a dirty tissue in need of disposal. “Are they really like that?” she asked.
     I shrugged my shoulders.
     Needless to say, when the article came out, there was no mention of either my story or me.
     However, a funny thing did happen on the way to the bank. A few days later my friend Bill Bullock, who incidentally works at CityBeat, needed an emergency opening act for his band, (In) Camera. So, it was there at the Historic Southgate House, my favorite local place to hear live music, that I thoroughly roasted the Tuckers to healthy laughter and wild applause.
     All of which leads me back to here, this chair, this space shared with you. There are few restrictions here, no word count or advertisers to consider, even fewer rules. Sure, I answer the bell when it rings, if only to see where it will lead. Usually finding a closed door, I pull on the handle anyhow. But not unlike the aforementioned laughter and applause, it’ll all come out in the wash, whenever it is we get around to doing it. And it’s this faith, coupled with a few others, that leads me to the next piece, if nowhere else....