First published in Blind Man’s Rainbow.
Review of Christopher Robin’s Who Will Pay the Royalties for the Voices in My Head by Charles Ries
Poetry isn’t very funny. It’s seldom stupid and it doesn’t laugh at itself very much. For the most part I feel like I am in church when I read it, but in Who Will Pay The Royalties For the Voices in My Head poet and small press editor Christopher Robin attempts to change all that. He writes poetry that is at once funny, filled with pathos, irreverent, stupid, ridiculous and heartfelt.
Who Will Pay The Royalties For the Voices In My Head is Robin’s first book of poetry. In it he chronicles a litany of sufferings and transforms them into joy such as “ORDINARY”: “Taking the bus to community college / to compete / with the other disabled / for attention— // They used to watch me; / when I was in my early twenties— // I’d have brightly colored Mohawks / and wild hippie clothes; / carrying a bedroll— // It’s so nice to be / 28 and ordinary; / I dress like a man now / and carry a loaded / pencil sharpener.”
Most of the poems in this collection focus on the period of Robin’s life while he was homeless and dealing with occupational rehab, caseworkers, and down and out jobs. If only half of its content is based on fact, I’d be exhausted, so I asked him how he was doing. He told me, “I’ve been on disability since I was twenty-one years old. I do odd jobs when I can, the odder the better. I’ve been told I have a brain injury, which keeps me from working at McDonalds or any other meaningful work. I also have carpal tunnel syndrome, and it’s really hard to find a job that doesn’t involve either my brain or my hands. I suffered a lot in my younger life, living on the streets and being strung out, and poetry came out of it, but I didn’t seek suffering or the low-life in order to make art. It was the other way around. I don’t believe in that. Suffering is really overrated.” He went on to tell me, “I think you only get to the essential humor of life by transcending the profoundly personal, or the sadness of the world, into universal art. We have to laugh to survive it all. The world is so scary and god-awful.”
Robin is the editor of one of the finest and funniest cut-and-paste zines out there. I asked him how he became an editor. “I had a lot of time on my hands, still do, and wanted to communicate with others in the mail-world. I was told I would never work again in 1991, then again in 1998 (when I was also given the name “Zen Baby” from a very kind neuropsychologist); so I decided the only place for me was the zine world. My mentors are my fellow poets and other obsessed freaks that spend all their time doing things no one in the real world gives a damn about. My mother was also a great influence on me. I admire how she devours books, plays the violin, lives with a 300 pound pig, doesn’t give a damn and doesn’t own a TV. Other influences are: The Weekly World News, Church of the Subgenius, Timothy Leary, John Waters, Granpa Stuped comics, Robot Chicken cartoons, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Morrisey, and Marshall McLuhan.”
He extols the saving grace he has found in poetry in “MUSE”: “When I drove drunk / through Flagstaff / wishing to be caught / or comforted / strong armed in hospitals / exiled in small towns / accused and denied / struggling to write on the underside / of a bridge wall / no light or paper / When I was geeken’ in the Atlanta projects / sorely not missed / in motels / When I was strapped down / force fed panic vitamins / or dreaming with the hallucinogenic / cough-syrup-sun underneath / a happy jet lag / lobotomized with cable / or meditating on Gita / over the river— // She was always there.” And describes his life in “CHRIS’S LIFE”: “Walking past / the lesbian café / after job / raking leaves / with dog shit / on my shoes / carrying / a huge painting of / clowns.”
While I have often laughed out loud while reading through the jam packed and mad capped Zen Baby, I found the poems in his book of poetry to often be quite somber and he explains, “I don’t know where my writing is headed. Probably right into a brick wall, which seems to be the right direction for a small-press poet. I am constantly learning from my fellow poets, less rage, better form, originality. As for the zine, I thrive on the absurd, whether it’s about myself, other poets or just the world in general. Reality is subjective so I twist and fool with things till I can laugh at something, and hopefully others will. I’m also glad to showcase the best of the current, underground poets, in my opinion; along with the personal and political diatribes that hopefully make it stand out a bit more than just a poetry zine, just a political zine or just a zine for the editor to whine to himself. I want it to be all of those things. There aren’t too many cut-and-paste zines still out there that are actually good. I’d like to use an old form with some new twists.”
We may think that the small press is the literary underground, but I have found there is metaphorical trap door on the floor of the small press and below is a crazy root cellar where zines like Zen Baby and Lee Thorn’s FUCK exist. In them I often find poets missing in more refined mainstream publications. So it is with Christopher Robin, who is a delightful small press original. He has turned his life of vinegar into sweet mirth. Such as in the following poem called “KATHY M.”: “I love a woman / Who is impressed / With my ability / To find my way / Out of buildings.”
I invited Robin to ask himself a few questions and answer them, and he obliged me with, “Are you ever going to get a real job? When are you going to clean off your desk? Should you just go back to living in a van and/or move to Mexico, and screw getting published? Are you going to end up completely bitter and die a nobody with a potbelly all alone at an early age? Why did you do so many drugs, you fool! Sorry, myself had no answers.”
No, I guess ‘myself’ doesn’t have the answers, but Robin does. As well as the prolific talent and uncanny ability to see what is humorous at the center of life.
NOTE: Make checks payable—or send cash or postage stamps as payment—to Christopher Robin. If you’d like a copy of his magazine Zen Baby or his mini-book of short essays entitled Tales From a Deliberate Life they are $2.00 cheap.
NOTE: If you would like to read the Las Vegas City Life’s 11/04 interview with Christopher Robin and view more of his work please go to: http://www.literaryrevolution.com/chrisrobin.html.
I Press On! Publications
I Press On! Publications
Post Office Box 1611
Santa Cruz, California 95061-1611
Paper, 49 Pages