[scarabic] Today we are interviewing Lee Ballentine, who is the Master of Toast for Death Equinox '98 and our auction emcee. He has been the publisher of Ocean View Books for over a decade. Lee has also had 4 of his own poetry collections published to date: Dream Protocols, Phase Language, Basements in the Music-Box, and Directional Information. He was recently art editor for High Fantastic. He's also, among numerous other things, been a punk music DJ, an amateur astronomer, a street vendor of rare books and LPs, and he even played a small part in the genesis of computers.
* scarabic gestures Lee over to the podium.
[lee] Thank you, it's a pleasure. Would you like me to say a few words?
[scarabic] Sure, if you want to intro yourself or the interview.
[lee] Well... First I should say this is my first "day" of chat. I have been using internet since before there was one, arpanet I guess it was called, but I've never had occasion to visit the world of chat before now. So please bear with me as regards conventions and the proprieties. It's a pleasure to be here. I enjoyed Death Equinox so much last year that it's been a frequent discussion topic at my house since last fall. Also, KW Jeter is a good friend from years ago who I rarely see anymore so an excuse to get him to Denver is great.
[scarabic] You were one of the paid attendees and dealers at Death Equinox '97 who really fell into it, even running the auction at the last second and doing incredibly well with it.
[lee] Yes. Along the way I have had to be a salesman from time to time. This is a family trait. My grandfather was an opera singer. He travelled continually and met clothing salesmen and, eventually, invented a kind of garment bag. These garment bags proved to be a more successful way to make a living than singing. My father was a jazz drummer in New York City in the 40s, and he also designed candy wrappers. He designed the "chunky" candy bar box about 1950. So we travelled a lot. Lived in L.A., San Diego, Denver, Albuquerque, all those places growing up. So being able to sell a Throbbing Gristle record to someone for a good cause comes naturally.
(SNIP through arpanet, Lee's school and delinquint days history, and writing on-line)
[scarabic] What do you consider the most important aspect of writing to be?
[lee] Well, I guess that I would have a personal answer. As a poet (which is the only kind of real writing I do) the act of writing itself, the moment in which the words go down on paper or perhaps on the keyboard, that's the most important part of writing -- indeed the only important part. Perhaps the only "real" part. And what comes after -- the reader reads, the publisher publishes -- these things are interesting, and for some writers critical in that that's how they pay the bills. But the creative act is real.
[scarabic] How absorbed do you generally become while creating?
[lee] For me, it is akin to an illness. I generally know about 12 hours ahead that I will be writing. Usually, I can't eat much during that time -- and I want to be alone. After a brief sleep, I wake and begin writing... often about 2am. Then remain in the "reverie" (I call it) for anywhere from an hour to several days. It's totally absorbing. I do nothing else during that time. It's like a migraine.
(SNIP through frequency of writing and the changes of age)
[scarabic] What are the main aspects that'll cause you to want to publish a book through Ocean View?
[lee] Good question. At this point I've been publishing books under the "ocean view" imprint for about 17 years. We have about 40 books in print that are not for "clients" -- in other words fiction, poetry, essays, and art books. I have been feeling for several years that I want to concentrate on my own writing so haven't done too much in the way of encouraging submissions. But we are doing 2 upcoming books, probably both influenced by my involvement with DE. That is, if not for Death Equinox and the issues it raised in my thinking, I might not be doing these particular books. The first is a book called Missing Pieces by Kathryn Rantala. It's a poetry collection of poems about crimes. Illustrated with 30s photos from the archives of the Seattle coroner... piles of clothes in a house, a wrecked car alongside a ditch, in one case a dead man leaning back in his chair having blown his brains out. But not gruesome: atmospheric, and black/white. The second book, which will be out in time for DE '98, is a poetry collection by Jay Marvin -- tentatively titled White Trash Poems. Very, very, interesting poems. So I don't know what would get me excited as a submission these days. Probably we will continue to do one or two books a year.
(SNIP through astronomy)
[scarabic] Do you want to tell any of the alchemy story?
[lee] I could talk a bit about alchemy. I got interested when I was a freshman in college and I met a girl named Rita who was living at a nearby college (in Claremont) and I used to go and have dinner with her at her dormitory. There was a library attached to her college and one day I was early for dinner, and went into the library and they had an alchemy book on display -- something like The Alchemical Cabinet -- a 16th century book bound in human skin. So that was pretty astonishing, I thought at age 17. I was looking at this and a librarian came up to me and asked me, was I interested in alchemy? I said "yes" and she told me about the Francis Bacon library. It is in Claremont, southern California, which is where Walter Arensberg, who was a many-times-millionaire, had deposited his collection of rare books on the Shakespeare/ Bacon controversy as well as his alchemy books. So I started spending time there, and even after they kicked me out of school I would go back. In fact, I published a poetry collection by Bruce Boston called Alchemical Texts a few years later. Anyway, I also collect books on alchemy. One interesting fact... there is a little subfield of chemistry which involves serious scientists trying to replicate some of the old alchemists' results. Every chemist will tell you -- especially organic chemists -- that in any big lab, there are certain bottles of reagent that will make a particular difficult reaction "go" and others won't. The reason, presumably, is impurities. So the idea that repeated refining -- and painstaking work to get rid of impurities -- past any reasonable point that would be accepted by most modern chemists is interesting. I seem to remember that some interesting effects have been reported. One of the points along the way to the "stone" of the philosophers, along with things like a universal solvent, was supposed to be what they thought of as the "sangre" -- the blood of Christ. And this was a blood red material that appeared out of nowhere after months of repeated, I guess, oxidation/reduction cycles. Anyway, back in the 70s some organic chemist was able to replicate this effect as reported by the old alchemists. Interesting. I guess the most interesting part of the alchemy story is really the psychological component Jung wrote about. The way in which the cosmos is the human organism.
[scarabic] Maybe we should have some form of alchemy panel at DE '98.
[lee] That might be good! I could bring some books to show.
[scarabic] Speaking of which, what was your overall impression of Death Equinox '97?
[lee] DE 97. Well... I was struck more than anything by the "family feeling" -- for instance -- like probably all of us I have been to "professional" Bondage/Discipline entertainments. Not so much the kind where you go to get yourself worked on, but the kind that are exhibitions for the public -- usually a voyeuristic sort of display. Although the practices themselves are not appealing to me on a personal level, I am interested in all forms of human behavior. But, in particular, Jasmine's reading -- during which she was worked on by so many experts -- was very thought provoking to me. For instance it occurred to me after that: just as pain inflicted against the will of the person who is the object of it is a "travesty" of the act in which both top and bottom are willing, healing (so called) which is inflicted against the will of the "victim" -- the kind of thing we, as a society, tend to do to anyone we label mentally ill -- is equally a travesty of the real caring relationship in which people help one another willingly. That event, Jasmine's reading, was probably the highlight of the weekend for me. Although I did think that the "debate" between Don Webb and John Shirley was most interesting. I was one of the few who could see no essential difference between their paths. I am a non-dualist. In, I guess, the tradition of someone like Ramana Maharshi.
[scarabic] What types of things are you looking forward to at DE '98?
[lee] I have an open mind. I usually spend much of my time in a dealer's room if there is one. I have many interesting religious objects that I will have for sale (I collect these and other things, like old playing cards).
[MrFrosty] Like tarot cards...
[lee] Yes. I have many interesting crucifixes, some of which I will probably bring to sell. One most interesting item is a relief of the last supper which is molded from sand that was taken from the White Sands nuclear testing range in the 50s. That kind of stuff. My mind is open. I would like for the event, more than anything on my personal agenda, to attract a critical mass of people -- especially locally. I'm hopeful. Am doing what I can to help. I have a list of some of the local Denver art folks who get involved in an approach to art that, at least superficially, related to the DE attendee "ethos". But who knows. The key word is "superficially".
(SNIP through end)
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