One night, as a junior in high school, I saw a small listing in the newspaper about an open poetry workshop taking place an hour and a half to the south. By that age, I had started composing short things that weren’t terribly funny and weren’t quite song lyrics and I’d decided to call them, for lack of a better term, poetry. So I went. It was simply a circle of chairs. We went around and took turns reading our things. I was struck by the wit and generosity of the facilitators, clearly very intelligent people. Their names were Dennis Cooper, Sheree Rose
, Bob Flanagan
, and Michael Silverblatt
. I only made it once to the poetry workshop at Beyond Baroque; it was a bit of a drive, and I’m pretty sure it was a school night. But immediately afterward I began a correspondence with Dennis, who continued to flatter my writing… and my snappy clothes. Occasionally he and I met for breakfast. He was almost a mentor, or the closest thing to one that I ever had in my life. Through Dennis (and his Little Caesar Press
) I met and read a great many great writers who went on to vanish, just a few years later, from AIDS-related deaths. Eventually Dennis and I fell out of touch but he remained in my mind a dear pal and I always aspired to be the kind of adult that Dennis was, accessible to young people and eager to help them find their voice. (This didn’t happen.)
My contact with Dennis became more and more through his provocative writing. His books are the antithesis of the sweet Dennis I’ve always known. His sentences are simple, his plots unsettling, boredom in search of thrills, impossible boredom, lethal thrills. Without a single false step, he lures a reader into the desperate mind of a predator or a maker of snuff films. The situations are extreme but the humanity is plain. It’s a masterful contrast. It produces a tremendous impact on the reader and speaks to the emptiness that swirls through us as we dash about seeking satiation.
This Monday, Dennis did a typically kind thing and “profiled” me on his blog through an extensive series of excerpts and links. At the end he explained: “Do you guys know the fiction and nonfiction of Camden Joy? He sort of stopped writing books ten years ago or so, but they were and are wonderful things, and they’re being reprinted now, so I thought I’d pay tribute, in this case to his non-fiction book, mainly because it was the only one with online excerpts that I could use, but his fiction, i.e. ‘The Last Rock Star Book, or Liz Phair: A Rant’, ‘Boy Island’, and ‘3 by Camden Joy’ are all very worth checking out.”