I've been published everywhere in the small press and, everywhere I go, I find that Uncle River has been there before me. He has written and directed plays with magical remanifestations both light and dark. He has spoken with men who ballast their boats with gold. He has seen Carl Jung's pants and worked on building a pyramid. He has even dreamed the same dreams I have dreamed years before I dreamed them. He lives at the absolute border of civilization -- one of the most liminal men I know -- yet with over 300 published plays, short stories, and poems -- has had and is having an impact on the world by writing. He writes about the most basic problems of social justice in his own magazine Xizquil and in columns elsewhere, yet the magazine (as well as his own writings) are full of surrealism and speculative fiction. He seems to be protesting quietly and steadily against injustices both manmade and cosmic. Perhaps like the rivers that reshape the land, he too will give collective consciousness and unconsciousness a better channel to run through. I strongly suggest you try out his magazine, which is available from Uncle River: Blue, AZ, 85922. More puzzling still, his father's name is Irving.
Why did you choose the name Uncle River?
River: In the fall of 1969, I had committed myself to a piece of creative writing but didn't know what. I began dreaming of a stream flowing through a green, rocky, mountain meadow. That Winter, in Vermont, I wrote an epic poem titled The Cosmic Cycle, which began and ended with the image of a river. That piece established me as a writer in a community in Oklahoma where I co-founded an experimental college in 1971. In 1972-3, while studying Jungian analysis in Zurich, I sent some writings to friends in Oklahoma that I whimsically signed Uncle River. When I next visited Oklahoma in 1975, I found myself known as Uncle River; the writer. Those same friends started a Small Press periodical called The Wellspring in 1976, in which several of my writings appeared over the byline Uncle River. After that, I just stuck with it out of consistency... and because I find it a nice image to meditate towards in my work.
Why did you choose Negrito Creek as your place to live?
River: When it was time for me to leave Zurich in 1973, I had dreams about living and working as a Jungian analyst under supervision in the Amherst, MA, area. That happened. From there, I had dreams that caused me to see my home as moving to the community in central Oklahoma where my identity as Uncle River, the writer, came into existence; a move I made in 1976, right after completing my work as an analyst under supervision -- the last time I ever had an even approximately conventional analytic practice. In 1977, I had dreams that said, literally, that it was urgent for me to go to this part of New Mexico and did for a month; in 1982, I dreamt this was the place I needed to live and work. External events made this possible, through connections to people, with essentially no money. No dreams have told me anyplace else is home, so here I still am. Negrito Creek, specifically, is a place I have found to live since 1991, where I currently caretake someone's property. It's a special spot: a completely secluded canyon only a couple miles from a little town in a community I like, year-round water in the Southwest, confluence of water from all 4 directions, former home of a wonderful artist named Cecil Beard who was one of the original Disney cartoonists and whose last work, done here, was Roadrunner cartoons and who I knew in the 80s at the end of his life when he moved from here. It's a currently found place that coincides with the direction my dreams last gave me of where to look for a home.
Has being an editor/publisher taught you anything about the writing/reading process you didn't know before?
River: Yes. It's one of the reasons I decided to publish Xizquil, and it turned out right. I've learned a lot. You see what an editor's submissions pile looks like, which gives a lot of insight into why the editors I submit my work to act as they do. You interact with the variety of personalities behind the writing. You see what is on people's minds and how that is and is not able to communicate through a public medium such as publishing. Writing involves communicating from someone to someone else. I've learned a lot about that process by editing and publishing Xizquil.
There's a tremendous spirituality in your work, what do you think the writer's relationship to the spiritual should be?
River: Any answer to this question is presumptuous- but I believe the question deserves respect, so I'll try. I have a personality quirk. I was aware of my own death very young... for no particular external reason. It used to come to me as anxiety attacks, a nuisance to everyone in an otherwise pretty nice childhood. Since the perception that I would die refused to go away I had to find some stance to avert panic, endless distraction, and being a perpetual anxious pest. One day, when I was in my early 20s, a lovely sunset in Plainfield, Vermont, coincided with one of these attacks. I suddenly saw that what I must do is find a way to live by which I could be satisfied both to live and to die. The fact of my own death still swats me in the face frequently, for any reason and no reason, renewing my incentive to look for a stance by which I can both live and die satisfied. Perhaps that process can be called spiritual. It does affect my view of my writing and the arts generally. Entertainment is energy and is therefore necessary for anyone to pay attention to the arts, but the arts give energy form. They thus serve the function, to any culture, of depicting what is and projecting what might be in both the physical and psychic realms of existence. I'm not sure about the writer in attention to what effect my work has, regardless of how much or little effect it has...though, of course, how much effect is itself part of moral context. Again, perhaps this paying attention can be called spiritual because most of what I have seen exists in a context in which any coherence, any form, any effect I see is likely to be larger than the I doing the seeing. I find that I subscribe neither to the view commonly preached in recent years that, "You create your own reality", nor to fatalism. Rather, I believe a person participates in morally and practically significant ways in the ongoing creation, so it is important to pay attention. As a writer, a place it matters for me to pay attention is my writing, but that is no more true in writing, in the arts, than in other aspects of life. It's only a little more apparent. That's why talking about the spiritual is presumptuous. There is nothing more nor less spiritual about a job that articulates the spiritual as subject than anything else in life. Talking about the piritual says nothing one way or another about spiritual value of the talk or the one doing it--at the same time I believe a source both of energy and coherence greater than myself, which could be called spiritual, must exist for there to be any articulation at all. As with my own death, in writing as in life, I repeatedly find myself needing to address a Beyond as context to the immediate and specific.
You've written and produced plays, what has that taught you about the writing\reading process?
River: A lot. The first time I saw even a stage reading of part of a play of mine was worth 15 years of feedback on my writing just giving it to people to read. The interaction with an audience the Mogollon News has brought me on radio and in local newspapers has taught me a lot about the way writing communicates too. The first production of a play of mine also taught me of the power in writing. As a classically unemployable artist, I'd always had the feeling of inferiority and powerlessness a lack of success at making money gives anyone in America. Seeing a play of mine produced, I saw the writing have effect. This taught me to indulge my feelings of inferiority, paranoia, resentment, less in order to be more morally responsible to what effect my work had, regardless of how much.
What will we be seeing from you in the next 6 months and in a year?
River: I don't know. The Muse is very real for me. I often say I am married to Her. I work to craft the writing, to communicate effectively, but I can write at all only when I have the Muse. I have been writing something which should be called a novel... set 800 years after the Earth tips over in our near future, since Dec., '93. I jokingly call it the new Mahabharata, and just as interminable. It feels important to me to work on it till it's done (assuming I live so long). --Whether it will ever be fit for anyone to see remains to be seen. Or just what the Muse and events do inspire. It really is like that for me.