Interview: The Transgressions of Catfish McDaris



Interview Conducted by Dennis Williamson


DW
You have been on the scene of a world going insane for near seven decades. Time enough to have been in the ups and downs of life, in Heaven and Hell, to have embraced so much only to push much of it away later on. Time enough to be a veritable bad ass Dionysus. So, the big question is: What ya doing right now, as in this very moment?

CM
Well, I am sixty-eight, but I didn't start writing a lot until I was in the army from age 18 to 21. Long letters home describing castles, artillery maneuvers, crazy stuff in Germany, I started working on a Western novel. I got a piece accepted by Reader's Digest their Humor in Uniform section. I have three novels completed that I always go back to for rewrites. I write flash fiction, poems, ideas all the time. I sell wigs for a Korean brother I worked with 30 years at the Main Post Office in Milwaukee. He is also partners in a Korean sausage co.

DW
I read somewhere that you'd commission Van Gogh to illustrate your journey with a painting of you doing a public reading in Paris ' Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore. Shakespeare left us with one of those queries for posterity, "What's in a name? What's in the name Catfish? How'd you take on that moniker?”

CM
Van Gogh and I seem to be mystically connected. We were both born in '53, and he died on my birthday, July 29th. Clovis, New Mexico my hometown was connected by, Clovis being the name of Paul Gauguin's father and son. I believe that Vincent did not cut off his ear, Gauguin did in a drunken brawl and they both lied to keep Paul out of jail. A few years ago, I partnered a huge Van Gogh Anthology called Resurrection of a Sunflower, we had a Chinese Nobel Prize Nominee, several Pulitzer Nominees, and it was in conjunction with the Head of the Van Gogh Library in the Netherlands. Van Gogh's art speaks to me, followed closely by Frida Kahlo's. A Beatnik pal of mine, Charley Plymell is married to Pam Beach, the Beach’s owned Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore. My wife and I went to Paris for 10 days to sightsee and for me to read there. It was our 25th anniversary, my wife studied French 12 years and when we met, she worked for a French mining co. in Mexico translating French into Spanish and British English. The nickname Catfish was given to me by Low Dog Reeve, he ran a mag called Zen Tattoo and was pals with Buk and lots of Beatniks. I told him I disliked working at the Post Office and wanted to start a catfish farm in one of the defunct factories along the many rivers that emptied into Lake Michigan. I had the plans all drawn up; Low Dog talked some sense into me. I had a wife and daughter to provide for, so I stuck it out at the PO. The only Shakespeare I know is, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen lends me your ears,” I don’t think Julius Caesar was speaking to Van Gogh.

DW
You told me you were in the US Army from '71 to '74. Why the Army, and what are your best memories of that time?

CM
In July ’71 Vietnam was going hot and heavy. I screwed up and sold two kilos of Acapulco Gold to an undercover narc. I paid a five grand lawyer fee, to avoid prison and get to go in the army, I was three weeks away from my eighteenth birthday. I got into trouble at Fort Polk, LA by borrowing a car and joy riding with some honeys. They recycled me and made me take Boot Camp again, eight weeks of hell. Then I was sent to Fort Polk, OK for artillery school, I took a leadership course and got a stripe, making me a Private First Class. This added three weeks to my service time, then eight weeks shooting cannons. They cut my orders to report to Oakland, CA for Vietnam. Nixon decided to quit sending troops to ‘Nam. I ended up going to Germany for the remainder of my three years. I studied German as soon as I got there, I traveled every chance I got. I smoked lots of hashish and drank good vino and better beer. I had more ladies than any man has a right to. My last 9 months I spent all leisure time at a nudist colony.

DW
How did you go from soldier to poet, or would you say there is a poetic overlapping of the two?

CM
I guess any good poet gathers memories to draw upon. I consider myself a storyteller, like in the Pueblo tradition. All thoughts overlap, when you pour your love and hate and soul onto paper, maybe someone besides yourself will be amused. If not well fuck them.

DW
Poetry has a long lineage rooted in the songs of war and wandering, as with Homer. If you meet up with Homer in the hereafter, what would you two do?

CM
I know little about Homer. Other than he was Greek and supposed to be blind and wrote two massive poem stories. Many say his work can be compared to a Greek Bible, written by many. Scholars can delve into that mystery.

DW
Well, now we got this war in Ukraine. How do you look at it as both a military veteran and a poet?
 
CM
I am a writer and veteran and an American. Putin is like Hitler. I saw the 83-year-old Ukrainian lady raped and beaten on TV. Tragic. I don’t think all Russians are bad. Putin must go, I have some ideas, but maybe we can send Trump to fix things.

DW
What books would you recommend Ukrainian fighters carry in their tactical bags for solace and inspiration?

CM
Sun Tzu, The Art of War, The New Testament, maybe some Catfish books for toilet paper.

DW
After, your military service, what did you do? 

CM
I went back to New Mexico, got high, and laid, and shot snooker. Went fishing in Mexico. Tamed wild horses. Fought forest fires. Painted flag poles. Worked in a zinc foundry. Took loads of turquoise jewelry to Milwaukee to sell. Wrote stuff in journals. Finally got married, then became a father.

DW
You're always talking about the Gemini kinship of music and poetry. Do you have a musical accompaniment at your poetry readings? 

CM
I’ve read with lots of musicians. Mostly a sax player, Big Frank, and a bass player in Milwaukee, not at the same time. In NYC I worked the street near Times Square with Jimmy (Jimi Hendrix like) Spencer. Sometimes you start reading and see someone with a drum and you invite them to join you. In Cherry Valley, NY in 1998 I read at Ginsberg’s farm, I saw this young drummer getting nuts in the back of a pickup, entertaining two lovely specimens of lady. I opened on the big night, they joined me we howled and beat the ceiling dust down. I pulled out all my bag of tricks.

DW
What music do you listen to when you're writing?

CM
At this moment I’m listening to Kingfish Ingram, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Imogen Heap, Gary Clark Jr., Joe Satriani, and Jeff Beck. That’s just to name a few.
 
DW
In your time you've lived the life of a latter-day troubadour. You've spoken of taking up residence in both a cave and Chevrolet (better a Chevy than a Ford in any case). You also did your share of train hopping. Did you find that one's writing really flourishes when the writers on the move, as opposed to being holed up in an apartment, or under the Weeping Cherry tree?

CM
Troubadour seems like more of a musician than a bard. My guitar playing stinks, I’m a bit better on percussion. I can hold my own with most poets, but that was after serving an apprenticeship like bricklaying with my Dad and Grandad. You learn from other poets, what is not working and what floors people. Living in a cave above a hot spring, where hippies partied and got naked, was a paradise at Spense Springs, New Mexico. Living in a ’63 Impala with my cousin, Rickey was crazy, it was in Denver during a bad ass winter. We survived, hand to mouth. Hopping trains was a dangerous adventure, a person could lose their lives in any number of ways. Looking back, I would love to do it all over again, but I would advise people to avoid doing any of the crazy shit I did in my past. I think you couldn’t learn much holed up in an apartment, but with computers, things are easy to research. I always preferred the library. I like cherries, I don’t like them to cry though.
 
DW
For the writers out there now embarking on the poet's journey, but who are also physically restless and hungry for the cross-country, what advice and rules for survival would you offer based on your own experiences? 

CM
Ride the dog, a Greyhound, carry a blade. Don’t wear earphones listening to a Walkman. Be aware of your surroundings. Use a journal to write or draw in, but don’t ignore the fact that strangers can hurt you. I do not think it’s safe to hitchhike or ride a freight train. Keep emergency cash in your shoe or any good hidey hole. I was hitching east, and a small dude stopped, we rode awhile then he pulled over in a little town. He asked me for money, I had $3 in my pocket and gave it to him. He pulled a 38-snub nose and shoved it up my nose before I could get to Buck knife. He made me strip; he found my stashed $32 in my shoe. He threw my shoes and underwear in a yard with a pit-bull, I limped away. I saw a bowling alley ahead, so I went in to borrow some shoes. I ended up with two left shoes and the owner chasing me down the street. I got off easy, I could’ve had a third nostril instead of sore feet.
 
DW
Now, tell us about your forthcoming anthology titled, PRYING. What's the history there? 
 
CM
Prying came out in ’97 and went two printings of one hundred each. Jack Micheline sent me six poems of his, and four poems Charles Bukowski. Buk gave his four poems to Jack. Jack told me to write three of my short sex stories. I wrote two about sex and one about race relations on a brick job. Jack got pissed at first, he said twelve books were coming out in Los Angeles about Buk, he’d only been dead 3 years. I told the First-Class publisher, to hold off on printing and selling Prying. Jack was on hard times; I had been sending him bread from my Post Office job. Jack thought about Prying and gave the go ahead. The books sold out. Jack died not long after. First Class and I just let Prying go out of print, since I was the only survivor. Now it is 25 years later. I sent a story and poem to Matthias Kruger in Germany for Newington Blue’s Buk 100 #2. I got printed with Marina Bukowski, Buk’s only kid. My daughter, Elizabeth McDaris was published with Bukowski when she was nine, she’s thirty-three now. 24 years later I filled that wish from my Bucket List. Plus, my good friend, the late Gerald Locklin was included. Matthias asked me if he could reprint Prying for a center chap for Buk 100 #3. This was supposed to be out by August of 2021. I will continue this answer in your next question.
 
DW
I understand there's been a dispute regarding PRYING with an overseas publishing house- Newington Blue. What's the beef about, and can you tell us what's going to go down?

CM
Kruger and Newington Blue postponed Prying. It was excuse after excuse. He had Covid repeatedly and he was bipolar. Matthias promised to have Prying out by Christmas 2021. Then he delayed again for personal reasons. He kept making excuses. He showed a photo of a broken arm and more delays and more bullshit. Kruger kept lying to writers and changing who would be included in Buk 100 #3. I told him to PISS OFF forget Prying. He wrote in German to fuck myself in my knee. Then he said he was doing Prying but dropping me and using Neeli Cherkovski. I wrote him that I was the last survivor of Prying. I wrote Vince Silvaer, in Arizona and found out Kruger had got the Micheline Estate’s permission to use Jack’s and Buk’s poems despite me being dropped. Vince wrote Kruger immediately and withdrew Bukowski’s and Micheline’s poems and told him if he had known Catfish McDaris was not going to be included, he would have never considered giving any permission. This happened in Sep. 2021. Kruger also paid Chris Bodor $50 for an original copy of Prying to duplicate. Bodor returned the $50 to Kruger and received $50 from Michele McDannold the new publisher of Prying. She runs ROADSIDE PRESS and Gutter Snob. The new Prying has all the original words, with all new art. The book is in its final proofreading. Prying is being made in the US, so postage is much cheaper.
When Matthias Kruger of Newington Blue realized he could not print Prying any longer. He decided to be devious and print a chapbook called Praying. He should have called it Preying. He is trying to use Bukowski’s poems and drop Jack Micheline and myself. The Micheline Foundation has the rights to the 4 Bukowski poems. The German Bukowski Society is taking action against Matthias Kruger. If Newington Blue prints Bukowski, he will face the Bukowski and Micheline Estate. Just because he is in Germany doesn’t mean he can break copywrite laws.
Boycott Newington Blue. The new Prying will be available within two weeks. I think it will sell for $18 plus $2 postage in the US. It will be a collector’s item.

DW
In all the interviews you have done, is there one question you have not been asked that you have long had an answer for? If so, kindly give us the answer and we will, each and every one, ask the question in our own ways.

CW
Many small press people think I am a liar, a fraud, a name dropper. I am all of those. In 2004 after 20+ years working in the Main Post Office in Milwaukee as a Flat Sorting Operator. The job consisted of keying zip codes and slinging magazine and Manilla sized envelopes into a machine. The repetitive motion gave me carpal tunnel in both wrists and one elbow was blown after repeated cortisone shots. I was put on light duty after getting surgeries which made matters worse. The supervisors harassed the hell out of injured employees. The worst boss picked the wrong dude to fuck with, me. I decided to kill him with a slingshot and long ass icicles crashing into his body. Luckily, my aim wasn’t true. I was suspended for two weeks. I was drinking heavy, I left my wife and daughter and decided to kill myself. I told all the small press I was dead, by pretending to be my wife and I took five bottles of pills and drank lots of booze. My wife and daughter found me, and I got sent to the nuthouse for 3 days. I went to rehab, when I got out, I got more pills and booze and rowed out into Lake Michigan, the waves were choppy, and the Coast Guard saved me. Back to rehab. I still wanted to die, so I rented a new Caddie and got a garden hose section and duct tape and more booze. That time I almost succeeded, until a Veteran pal saved me and took me to the VA Hospital. I spent almost 5 months there but came out clean and have stayed clean since. I got my job back, my wife, my pension, but our only child, I am still estranged from her. Even after 17 years she will not forgive me. Elizabeth, my daughter is a cop, she found out that I had an Outstanding Warrant, 17 years ago. I thought it was expunged, it was a 2nd DUI Offence. I turned myself in Nov 19th, 2021, I paid a lawyer $5000. We did five court appearances by Zoom. In March of 2022, I had to wear a home ankle monitor for 5 days, pay some fines, I had to go to the House of Correction to be booked and get my manacle with a glowing red light. That ordeal was no joke, I was humiliated by the judge, the ADA, my lawyer, the whole experience. Now all my long-time writer friends know the real deal with me. I sell wigs now.

DW
This has been a conversation to remember, and I will be recounting it to ready listeners when I'm further down the road and in the retirement home. It has been a true honor to speak with one of the surviving writers of your generation. Hopefully, we can chat again. Any closing words?
 
CM
A new book out Texaz Bluez, and Prying from 1997, magically reproduced by Michy McDannold, catch the sun while you can.


End of interview 

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