The Questionnaire: Sesshu Foster

How do you get up in the morning?

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Do you succumb to nostalgia? 

“The Student.” Originally available to all through state college and university programs, this elitist ultra-expensive model is designed to fold up and fit into a student backpack. Unaffordable to the average “pay me to party” youngster, you will be glad to equip your student with this “green machine” constructed from recycled LAUSD textbooks, malt liquor cans, nearsighted eyeglasses and military prosthetics. Complete zero carbon footprint—all your child has to do to go far like a tiny speck over the vast horizon is study hard, unfold his or her personal machine and start pedaling upwards. Pedal hard, chamacos.

Do you write long and cut, or short and backfill?

At the end of the Automotive Era, we’re selling the audience on developing a whole new Western grid, and a vast alternative transportation system throughout California.

How do you feel about your Wikipedia entry?

…ably, with this economy, in Calif-[static] …kites [popping sound]… the most obvious routes being the ones that we have considered, and counter-intuitively, using mathematical models we have on hand from the Danish… [static noise] …Golden Hind, Ferdinand Magellen, the famous schoo- [buzzing, loud and then fading] …to the moon, in 1969, whi-[loud buzz overtaken by humming] …the Eastern Sierras, the San Joaquin and Great central- [static] …thank- [static interuppted by silence] …[popping sound] [a dog barking] …comrades, we- [fading static hiss] …

Lunch with any three people who ever lived; who do you invite?

Writers whose cooking knocks you out! Karen Yamashita, Ben Ehrenreich, and Andy Hsaio. Bring a stack of their books to their house at lunch time and just bust straight out with, “What’s for lunch?”

Best piece of advice you ever received?

A couple of things I remember from the Recent Rupture Radio Hour were Sesshu’s and Arturo’s tour of the Mysteries of East L.A. There were photos of “ball lightning” as well as the miraculous geysers of City Terrace. They showed a photo “proving” the existence of an arch that leads directly to a city in Mexico (I think it was Tijuana). One of the audience members asked about the ball lightning, to which the hosts replied that it mostly appeared at night and that if you were too busy with life and getting things done you’d miss it. That definitely was one of the messages in the opening segment; there are fewer mysteries in our lives when we exchange the time that could have been given to the imagination with the time it takes to climb the ladder of success.

Disciplined or hot dog?

I thought it was thoroughly entertaining. The line between fiction and non-fiction happens in our lives daily. Is the news being creative with the truth? Did my friend embellish a story they told me? This line is crossed and re-crossed liberally. While we love to label as though there was no differentiation, in truth they live hand in hand. What does that mean? I thought it was a fabulous representation about living artfully. Finding the little things in our lives daily that may appear mundane but make us feel good, whole, maybe more complete. Even finding larger themes, such as the disappearing little places in LA represented in the slide show, or adding fun fiction around things that are in plain sight, creating magic in a world that seems to get paved over all the time.

Have you ever been defeated by a genre?

No! Wait. Yes. Why?

Which classic author would you like to see kicked out of the pantheon?

John Maynard Keynes. Or Oscar Zeta Acosta.  I hate those guys.

Are you okay with blood?

During 1979 to 1995, over 10,000 people were murdered in Los Angeles, according to a Harvard Medical School study.

During 1969 to 1995, 3,181 homicides were recorded in Northern Ireland, according to the Irish Times website, I think it was.

Israel has suffered 1,569 deaths due to terrorism in the past 25 years, according to the Israel’s Foreign Ministry website.

If 10,000 people can be killed in an American city, and it’s just accepted as business as usual, how many more people would have to die in Los Angeles for it to be major national — not to mention international news? 

Who is your imagined audience? Does it at all coincide with the real one?

The first was a local activist who had protested and fought for Chicano rights over the last 40 years. He had a really interesting history and presented a history of Los Angeles that we do not readily read or hear about today. He had organized and taken part in movements that led to scenes of police brutality, death, and reminded of the Black Civil Rights movement in the South. As he reminded: all of our struggles were connected to the same end. The next was (I believe) the Iraqi photographer, a local woman who had made, from photographs, what I took as “the dance of the mourner”. She was intrigued by a series of photographs whose subject matter was an Iraqi man and his job of separating bodies. It was an interesting concept, especially as isolated him in the photos to show his various “moves” and “positioning”. Lastly, the Chicken Man was, I thought was going to be fairly uninteresting (especially, in contrast)… but I was fortunately wrong. He detailed the process of raising and making ones food—specifically in raising Chickens. He discussed the dynamics and relationship one (possibly) should have with their food… realizing what goes into the things they consume. He also discussed the possibility and problem with doing this in Los Angeles (land, neighbors, organic, natural, etc.) His personality was quite captivating and definitely was a highlight of the night.

What country would you want to be exiled in?

Is there already too much emphasis on the visible in our culture?

What’s your favorite negative emotion?

Is invisibility where it’s at? Is that margin of the invisible where the writer needs to be?

Is your study neat, or, like John Muir’s, is your desk and floor covered in “lateral, medial, and terminal moraines”?

Smith Corona Silent Portable Typewriter Tells me What to Think

What is your go-to shoe?

Barracuda Just Wants a Taste and Yet Tastes so Good

What’s your poison?

mesquite… brittle brush… creosote… sugarberry… agave… yucca… sotol… buckwheat… desert trumpet… devil’s spineflower… curly dock… fillaree… juniper… fan palm… chuparosa… honeysuckle… california poppy… grama grass… foxtail barley… joint-fir… milkweed… (where’s rick?}  alder… prickly pear… barrel cactus… pincushion cactus… california mustard… asian mustard… texas mulberry…

What’s your problem?

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, {where’s rick?} 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53

Title of the book you’re probably never going to write, but would kind of like to get around to?


What are you so afraid of?

I will hold your entropy hand with Abandoned X-Ray Machine peeking into your Spirit of Weariness.

How long can you go without putting paw to keyboard?

Thursday 4 pm drove three boxes of poetry books to Steve Dickison at the San Francisco State University Poetry Center and was waiting outside the Humanities Building illegally parked on campus for them to pick up the boxes where I met Mass. poet (lately of Denver, teaching at CU Boulder) Noah Eli Gordon and shook hands.

Do you require a high thread count?

Went to the Valencia Street offices of McSweeney’s Quarterly to meet editor Joel Bass who introduced me to the other editor (busy, on the phone) Eli, and showed me around their fully staffed quarters one big room with long conference table and wall bookshelves stacked with their hardbound publications behind a Mission district storefront Eli gave me a Voices of Witness t-shirt for Lali I mentioned her friend Ruby was going to intern there in the summer “We never know who they are till they arrive,” he said.

Who reads you first?

In his brief and ambiguous (of course) one paragraph metaphorical essay, “To Dress a Shadow,” Julio Cortazar begins by suggesting that while shaping and clothing the immaterial with the material, “The hardest thing is to surround it, to fix its limit where it fades into the penumbra along its edge.”

Sexy and dangerous, or brilliant and kind?

Jen Hofer’s translations of younger Mexicana poetas is ineluctably sly as clockwork. Afixes topographies. Swells across great distance. Shines teeth. Uncaps bottled beer inside a canned mind. Emollient effect on surface uncertainties, barks landmark. Open.

What character or story haunts you?

Eleni Sikelianos’s BODY CLOCK braids the swale of sexes, twines prodigal swains, candles gutter in the niche. Corruscations fissure tissues. Any afternoon good for documentary. Smoothen linen. Moils in smoky light. Glad grief.

Does plot matter?

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Does age matter? 

I put on the right kind of T-shirt, not the dirty one from yesterday. I hadn’t survived through the centuries and thousands of miles to get stuck on the sidelines, frozen in time, motionless for eternity, doing nothing for my people. Bring it on.

Do you prefer to write standing, or must you lie prone in a field of dandelions with a steno pad and a good pen? Or what?

Here’s what the world looks like from the control room of the world’s most sophisticated fuel efficient form of air transportation. From here I can see all the way from Eagle Rock to El Monte. From the San Gabriel mountains to the sea. Where did I put my glasses? The sun looks like a splotch of melting orange. The freeways look like the L.A. river—or that is the L.A. river.

Who is the author you’d most like to impersonate online?

I was in the Zep Diner talking about Harry Gamboa and Mario Ybarra with this guy, whoever he is. He told me his name but it was late in the afternoon for me and I wasn’t paying attention. The waitress kept bringing plates of apple pie a la mode, fried chicken a la Reies Flores, and cottage cheese and chili. I couldn’t keep up. He said his goal was to stay in love and write the best novel ever.

Is there a literary community?

The club meets at the Zep Diner of course, 515 Florence, by the Goodyear Plant. Jose Lopez-Feliu might be wearing his fake beard and discussing his show on the Recent Rupture Radio Hour. Rheim Akhadi might be reduplicating the gestures of morgue workers of Baghdad. Me and Sergio are always talking about what Harry Gamboa and Mario Ybarra might be up to. The waitresses keep feeding us pie and coffee, cottage cheese and peach slices, and the special chili.

What’s the question or questions we should have asked, had we known? What is the answer?

Are you “Jackrabbit bones and sagebrush”?

Or are you “Vulture cranium and black oak”?

Or “Gopher teeth and tamarisk”?

Or are you “Egg shells and saltbush”?

Or are you “Coyote fur and shadscale”?

Or are you “Raven feathers and ephedra”?

Or “Egret vertebra and prickly pear”?

Or are you real mixed up, “Mockingbird cries and burro bush”?

Or are you “Rattler stench and cottonwood puffs”?

Or “Skink blue and greasewood”?

Or “Mouse shriek and cheatgrass”?

Or are you “Gull wing and willows”?

Or are you really, finally, “Pronghorn metacarpals and star tulips”?



Chronological (sometimes called Orthopaedic) Clouds: These clouds denote breakage and tearing of the fabric of time, rent by unseen forces like 400 Palestinian children blown apart or shot in Gaza by Israeli Defense Forces and the strange silence ensuing (and when Amos Tutuola’s protagonist meets hundreds of children on the road to the Dead’s Town in The Palm-Wine Drinkard he witnesses their terrible force), ensuing silence, ensuing silence for us all.