OLD STATE ROAD is a collaboration which combines 25 poems by Jason Gerrish with 25 ambrotype and tintype photographs by his life-long friend Brad Daulton. As high school kids they wrote songs together and now they combine their efforts to create a unique and artistic book. To do justice to Daulton’s photos, Old State Road is printed on very fine cover stock and coated paper which is rare in the small press world. The book is enjoyable to hold and read through several times to better grasp its overall meaning.
In the interview with Jason Gerrish which follows this review, he explains the concept behind Old State Road: “Most all these poems were conceived in the house trailer that Brad put me up in 1998, across the street from his family’s farm, on Old State Road. His grandmother June (to whom the book is dedicated) still lived in the farmhouse, at that time.
"After four years hitching around the U.S. and working over the road as a truck driver, I was exhausted with traveling. I came to the trailer to write a novel about my experiences on the road. It was a huge opportunity for me, and I owe Brad, and his mother Kay, for giving it to me. Brad even gave me a typewriter."
Gerrish was 27 at the time and he worked on a manuscript for two years in the trailer. Following a series of setbacks, personal failures, writer's block, insecurities about the quality of his writing and his reticence in submitting his work- he put his creation in a shoe box and lugged it around America for the next 20 years.
Gerrish says of the revival of his work at age 47 and the eventual process of getting it published, "I went through the box throughly about three years ago and pulled 40 poems that I was interested in working with again.
"I always wanted to write about my time in the trailer. I assumed it would be about a few wild parties we had there, mixed with some memoir of my struggle writing. When I began working with the poems from the shoebox, I found that collectively, they told the story, and that my time there was mostly about the writing.
"A dozen of the poems didn't need much editing. I submitted a few of them right away. Henry Stanton picked up the poem 'cello suite' and published it in the Fall Issue of The Raw Art Review in 2019. In early 2020, Henry asked if I would like to publish up to 25 poems in his magazine as a featured writer.
"I was grateful for the opportunity but told Henry I was more interested in a chapbook, and I might discourage potential publishers if the poems were already available online. Henry was encouraging. He told me to submit my book idea to him when I finished pulling it together."
I was not preoccupied that morning;
I was just fixing a cup of coffee.
Then, through a gap in the kitchen curtain,
I caught sight of June, outside in the cold,
Hasting and doddering up Old State Road,
With her spectacles and large troubled eyes;
And when I saw that she was entering my yard,
I hurried too and unbolted the door.
“Hal, your mother’s been trying to reach you,”
June said, “your grandmother has passed away.’
Nobody had my new phone number yet.
I tried calling mom, but the line was busy;
and I could not relax in your absence.
It didn’t feel like you were really gone,
Though I worried where it was that you went.
I troubled myself to remember,
but I couldn’t settle on your dark eyes,
and I couldn’t picture your fixed, dark hair,
just that it was always fixed, always black,
even at sixty-years, black…black as jet.
I did remember a certain morning
waking rested in your quiet home.
I was maybe seven, or eight, or nine.
We met one another in the kitchen.
You squeezed my cheeks and said, “cabecinha”,
Made me coffee with milk and with sugar,
And told me stories, of when you were young.
Hanging on to your every word,
I only sipped on my coffee slowly,
So, I didn’t empty my cup too soon.
“Your mother, paciencia,” you began,
“I used to wait for her to come home from school;
in those days, children walked to and from school,
and I use to wait outside in the yard,
everyday. Well, one day she didn’t come home.
I waited and waited, but she didn’t come.
I was so worried, I started to walk
toward the school, to find out where she was.
As soon as I left our driveway, I looked
And what do I see coming down the road?
This pathetic little thing, your mother,
With a great black crow standing on her head.
Oh my god, she was crying and crying;
She was barely moving, she was so afraid,
And that dreaded bird would not fly away.
It dug a talon in your mother’s brow,
And that awful thing would not let her go.
It left a scar; it’s still there, you’ll see it;
Ask her about the big black crow that came
to land on her head… Would you like more coffee?”
(all poems have been posted with the permission of the writer)
The brilliant tintype and ambrotype photographs of Brad Daulton provide OLD STATE ROAD with a sense of time having stood still, of nature’s harshness and permanency. They are a startling contrast to Hal's more temporal artistic and sexual cravings to become a published writer. The reproduction of Daulton’s photographs by Henry Stanton of The Raw Art Review are amongst the best I have seen in a book of poetry.
the farm on Old State Road, tintype
Brad Daulton eruditely says of his artwork, “The artifacts of the collodion process are not overwhelming in this photo. There is a balanced, for me, of intended composition and unintentional phenomenon. It is both realistic and a fiction. This is more of what I was after when I became interested in the collodion process.
"The two trees in this photo are of equal size and compliment each other. They appear to belong together, especially from this vantage point, northwest of the farm. The thin lines of their random and crooked branches express a frailty, and resonate with the poem overdose, in which the narrator is spent with reality.”
‘ode to apocalypse’ furthers Hal’s growing sense of poetic ineptitude. The meta-ode uses a grating, heavily borrowed amalgam of Shakesperean and Romantic language.The poem painfully and self consciously exposes the train wreck of his writing. He puts the boot into his achievements when he says, 'Stirring, I grapple for sense in this wreck;/ my drunken head deconstructed the globe?/ I hear sirens wail through the fallen load,/ and fled is that dream, thine strain inept./ Inept, incomplete, or insufficient?"
The eight page poem ‘angst’ is a cautionary tale for aspiring writers in which Hal reveals his own frustrations, insecurities and failures. Sitting at his desk attempting to write, he feels behind him the daunting weight of Bukowski, Larry Brown, Wantling, Carver and other masters:
the typewriter mocking me
the bookshelf, staring me down
Bukowski, shouting that I don't have the guts
Larry Brown, consenting that I'm just too nice
Carver, finishing a vodka
and looking entirely stoic
Wantling fighting off his demon
with a six pack and codeine
it starts with one true sentence
and if I can't find that
I don't have the disease.
remembering my old man's dimly lit rented room
the smell of soiled laundry and cigarette smoke
finding him in the dark reading of my notebook
approaching me intensely
"Please, don't write
any more of this shit."
In the remarkable poem which follows, ‘cello suite’, perhaps the best in the book, Hal drags off his driveway a spotted fawn recently killed by a passing motorist. He returns to his house trailer and tries to use his imagination "to follow" the deer "just in time/ to see the end." Hal feels nothing and is unable to write anything, “the typewriter and/ i too/ was dumb." He tries once more "but/ my words were stiff" and concludes, "I wasn’t born to dance.”
In a striking climax, in order "to feel something", the speaker takes out a sledge hammer from under the trailer and destroys a clock and then his typewriter and later places the mangled keys next to the dead fawn:
the first blow destroyed it,
but I kept on
blasting the thing to bits
until the end of the 2nd bourrée,
in suite no.4.
i opened the last beer
and collapsed in the olive chair
the pieces were everywhere
i felt like
i might vomit
i couldn't go on.
There is no rite of passage to be found at the conclusion of the book's story arch. No positive reimagining of the portrait of the artist as a young man. No epiphany.
Hal's typewriter has been demolished and its debris placed symbolically next to a dead animal.
Yet amongst the chaos and "blank stare" of Gerrish's writing there is a sense of triumph- which is embodied in the survival and resurgence of this amazing book.
Old State Road is a story of persistence, of never giving up, of following one's dreams- even in the darkest and unproductive of moments.
Read 'cello suite' on The Raw Art Review here:
Jason Gerrish has been writing poetry and fiction since his early twenties, but has just recently taken an interest in publishing some of his work. His first book of poetry titled Old State Road, in collaboration with photographer Brad Daulton, was published by UnCollected Press in April of 2021. Jason’s poems have appeared in the online publication, A Thin Slice Of Anxiety, and both Jason’s and Brad Dalton’s work has been featured in The Raw Art Review. You can learn more about both authors, at their website oldstaterd.com
Brad Daulton lives in Northside, Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a self-taught artist and musician. An advocate of creative self-expression, he is not tied to a single medium or form. Brad’s artwork has appeared in The Raw Art Review.
INTERVIEW WITH JASON GERRISH 3 SEPTEMBER 2021
Jason, when did you first develop an interest in poetry and who were some of your early influences?
Poetry first came to me through Brad Daulton, the coauthor of Old State Road. Brad and I have been friends since high school, and we were in several basement bands together, early on. We each wrote songs, got together, and recorded them on cassette, influenced by a lot of early punk at first, but eventually everything from, Gus Cannon to Billy Childish.
The first poet that made an impression on me was Jack Kerouac. In 1992, Brad got a copy of On The Road from his older cousin, Danny Little, and he passed it to me a few days later. We both began writing prose poems, shortly after. I remember thinking, ‘why didn’t they teach me this in school?’
My initial interest in On The Road had a lot to do with how accessible the characters were. I was an outsider in a lot of ways, and maybe a bit of a recluse. Brad and I both were. We had no conventional plans for our futures. Our lives mostly concerned making trips to used record stores, getting turned-on by either forgotten or underground music, and writing our own songs. Meeting Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty was liberating.
Kerouac made a big impression on both of us, and then one of us found a box set of Kerouac readings on CD. It was Kerouac’s reading of October In The Railroad Earth that amplified the poetic energy I had read in his prose. It was music. That made the change in me complete. We started listening to Bird, Coltrane, Miles Davis, and we started buying books. Brad and I read all the Kerouac we could get our hands on. And then some Burroughs, some Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, we even jumped into Cassidy’s The First Third.
When we ran out of Kerouac, we read Joyce, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Sherwood Anderson, Conrad, Turgenev, Chekov. I tried writing short stories for a while. Then, I found Keats and Brad was heavily into Yeats. I think he spent a year reading nothing but Yeats and studies on Yeats.
Raymond Carver made a huge impression on me, his short stories and his poetry, and a girlfriend bought me a copy of Larry Brown’s Big Bad Love, which led me to Bukowski and then Wantling.
When did you first start writing the stuff and what were some of your early successes?
I started writing right after reading On The Road. Immediately, after reading it. It was the most natural thing for me. I think early on I looked for creative outlets to give my life meaning. Poetry, and writing in general, became my thing. Kerouac embodied that for me, for a lot of people. He did his own thing, and that gave me confidence to do the same.
However, my early writing was just exercise. It wasn’t very good. It wasn’t all bad. I didn’t recognize that the writing had gotten better until my early thirties. There really was no early success for me. My dad read some of my early work, and was particularly upset by it. What I did have was honest and encouraging feedback from Brad. This was already established. Writing songs together as much as we did, we were comfortable pointing at each other’s work. ‘That’s good,’; ‘That’s awkward,’; ‘silly’; ‘embarrassing’ ‘BAD’.
Old State Road represents all that I have published to date, and the success I’m riding on now is due to simple regards I’ve received publishing it.
Some friends have bought the book and told me what they enjoyed about it. Meeting and working with Henry Stanton and UnCollected Press has been nothing less than a pleasure. Henry introduced me to several authors and books, also published by UnCollected Press, and getting introduced to Dave Sims, John D Robinson, and yourself, has made me feel I am part of something. Meeting other people that care about writing is a simple honor, I can trust.
Do you write every day? Do you do much editing?
I do try to write every day, often very early in the morning. I’m a construction worker. I try to write for an hour before work, and an hour after work. It doesn’t always work out that way. I make up for it on the weekend, but even a little writing each day, keeps me juiced. It is always more difficult to write on Saturday morning, if I haven’t been writing at all for five days.
I do spend time away from the laptop, retelling story ideas in my head, narrating to myself and trying to recognize a voice. When this voice has grown strong, and some structure and imagery exist around it, I’m more productive in front of the laptop. I’ll usually get several poems or a good first draft of short fiction. When I feel like the voice is at the station with luggage packed and ticket in hand, I get on the bus.
I do edit my work. The risks I take exploring a piece when I’m editing, is part of a process I enjoy and trust, even though after exploring a piece to death, I often go back and just touch up the original draft with some minuscule changes.
In the end, I’m looking for coherency. I’d rather write a short simple piece that is relatable to a reader, than something tamed and musical that lacks motive. One of the poems in Old State Roadthat benefited from extensive editing is you, your cat, and i.
Turning to your book Old State Road, when did you first develop your concept for the book and how did it evolve towards its eventual publication?
Most all these poems were conceived in the house trailer that Brad put me up in 1998, across the street from his family’s farm, on Old State Road. His grandmother June still lived in the farmhouse, at that time.
After four years hitchhiking around the U.S. and working over the road as a truck driver, I was exhausted with traveling. I came to the trailer to write a novel about my experiences on the road. It was a huge opportunity for me, and I owe Brad, and his mother Kay, for giving it to me. Brad even gave me the typewriter.
At the trailer, I was on sabbatical. Time slowed down, and I wanted my time there to count, but I struggled writing. After two months, I took a job at a Mitsubishi factory, sewing car seats together.
While working at the factory, I started writing some poems. The poems got things going, and I did finally break into the bigger project. I wrote a hundred pages of poetic prose, in the style of Kerouac, about hitchhiking out west, and while it rested, I went back to the poems.
When I read the hitchhiking piece a couple of weeks later, I wasn’t happy with it. Again, I paid the rent and bills forward several months, quit the factory job, and dug in hard, to the writing. I rewrote the hitchhiking story, in the style of Bukowski: simple, accessible language, short episodic chapters. I wrote about my experiences truck driving too, and I continued writing some poems here and there, all the while.
There was a reward for alternating between writing fiction and poetry. The poems, being more concentrated, often helped me recognize crucial details I was missing in the fiction. They pointed me to the main concern of each episodic chapter too. And sometimes there was an episode I wanted to write about, that just refused to be a prose piece and wanted to be a poem all along. Alternating what form I wrote in, gave me freedom.
It also helped me to stay writing. If I was experiencing any writer’s block or if I was just unsure about the next scene in the fiction, I would just say ‘fuck it’, let’s write about yesterday, let’s write a poem about the trailer, let’s write a poem about writers’ block.
All the writing at the trailer was exercise, but I have lugged it around in a boot size, shoe box all these years. I have considered it an invaluable journal: a source: material.
The poems in Old State Road are selections from the “dead poems” in the shoe box. I went through the box thoroughly about three years ago and pulled 40 poems that I was interested in working with again.
I always wanted to write about my time in the trailer. I assumed it would be about a few wild parties we had there, mixed with some memoir of my struggle writing. When I began working with the poems from the shoebox, I found that collectively, they told the story, and that my time there was mostly about the writing.
A dozen of the poems didn’t need much editing. I submitted a few of them right away. Henry Stanton picked up the poem cello suite and published it in the Fall Issue of The Raw Art Review in 2019. In early 2020, Henry asked if I would like to publish up to 25 poems on therawartreview.com as a featured writer. I was grateful for the opportunity but told him I was more interested in a chapbook, and I might discourage potential publishers if the poems were already available online. Henry was encouraging. He told me to submit my book idea to him when I finished pulling it together.
I was wondering about Brad Daulton’s involvement in the project. When did he first come aboard and why he/you chose to use ambrotype and tintype photographs from his family farm in Manchester, Ohio for the book?
Brad had experimented with tintype and ambrotype photographs, for a few years. I thought it made perfect sense for him to do the cover, and I knew the photographs were of his family farm.
We met at Boswell’s Tavern, near Brad’s place in Northside. Brad walked in carrying his photos in a storage tub, the approximate size of my shoe box of poetry. The similarities grew from there.
We ordered beer. Brad pulled out a small black piece of felt, to display the ambrotypes on (without the felt it appears there’s just a faint negative, on a small square of glass). I viewed some of his favorite photos, and he described the process of developing them, how there were many stages in the process for things to go wrong. He said that developing them is chaos, but the lack of control is often rewarding.
I could not decide on one photo for the cover. Brad, being an old friend, said to take them home, take my time.
There were roughly 100 photos in the box, on either glass or iron plates. Spending time with the images, it became clear to me that Brad had put his life into his photographic study of the farm on Old State Road. Each subject was chosen or arranged for a reason: they meant something to Brad. I couldn’t help but respect the fact that we had both gone to the farm on Old State Road to study a creative art and develop a discipline.
Several of Brad’s images easily resonated with some of the poems, and I began to think about including five or six of them, peppered throughout the book. Then, some of the experimental phenomenon, the lack of control Brad described, began making an impression on me. Some of the photos mirrored my early experimentation in the poems: experiments with form, with musical language and with simple narrative language, and the obvious searching for a voice, which is never exactly found in the poems.
The reward of sharing authorship with Brad also motivated my decision to pair 25 photos with 25 poems, but it did appear that the poems and photographs functioned together in some important ways. Brad was concerned that including so many photos was going to make it more difficult to publish the poems and said he would be happy enough to get on the cover.
He was right. None of this was going to happen without a publisher and editors who were interested in the idea, but I wanted to see the whole thing together anyway. I scanned all 100+ photos into my laptop, resized them for 6x9 trade, and played with sequencing all the pieces of the puzzle.
I looked for obvious coherences between poem and photo, as I arranged them in the book, but Brad said we should also look for subtle ways a poem and photo might work together. It took a few weeks to sequence the book. We settled on Old State Road as a title, because it was simple and recognized both stories.
It was a thing then. It was whole, as best we could see. I sent it off to Henry Stanton, so he could decide if UnCollected Press wanted to be a part of it.
The structure of the book veers between the present of Hal Lavoie as an aspiring 27-year-old writer and his recollections of the past. To what extent, is the book inspired by real people, places, and events?
This is an important question and I’m glad you ask. These poems were all written by me between the ages of 27 and 29, while I was in the trailer. Some poems concern my time in the trailer, writing. Other poems are recollections of my past, but selected from the slush pile, because they helped to describe the isolation I experienced, while secluded for two years at the trailer to write. I cannot say these poems are entirely nonfiction, but they are inspired by real people, places, and events. And in the original drafts, there was no Hal Lavoie.
At age 47, when I began selecting these poems from the shoe box and working with them again, my perspective had changed. I had aged 20 years, and a lot happens in 20 years.
The invention of Hal Lavoie was necessary for me to address my new perspective of those early years in the trailer. When the 47-year-old me started changing words or lines written by the 27-year-old me, Hal was born. Actually, he is born in the first poem polarity.
The poems polarity and angst were originally one poem titled killing off the fathers. I broke the poem up, because I liked the way they framed the book, similar in some ways to how Conrad framed Heart Of Darkness. Hal is born in polarity. He is anointed in the shower to begin his quest. Hal will attempt to earn a place on his bookshelf beside the other important authors, in the poem angst. He makes a clean break from his former self, represented by the spider down the drain.
This was all in the poem killing off the father, but it was clear to me that at 47, I was tampering with the motive I had when I wrote killing off the fathers at 27.
The cover photo features a banjo set against what appears to be an early bicycle wheel and reflects the events you depict in the poem ‘cello suite’. What is the backstory behind your choice of front cover?
The photograph titled devil and his banjo is a still life, arranged by Brad. The wheel, Brad said, is iron, and possibly from an old cart or field plough, but he likes that you saw a bicycle wheel and has been enjoying the picture more since your observation. He is not sure where the mask he arranged in the center of the wheel came from.
The photo devil and his banjo paired well with the poem cello suite, because the photo is Brad’s still life, and mine is the destroyed box of typewriter parts set beside the dead fawn in the poem.
The poem cello suiteserves as an anticlimax, in the context of the book, so devil and his banjo was a contender for the cover, but there were two other reasons the photo won me over. The circle (that is the wheel) is symbolic of the history Brad’s family has with the land and the farm on Old State Road. His maternal grandparents (Herb Dryden and June Little) lived in the old farmhouse, and farmed tobacco.
The banjo is also part of Brad’s family history. Weekends were often celebrated by the family getting together to play music. Brad’s grandfather, Herb Dryden, could play many instruments, Danny Little played guitar, and Brad’s father, Ray Daulton, often sang as did other relatives and friends of the family. Brad learned to play guitar, mandolin, and banjo on his own, but he heard the music his whole life.
One of the central ideas of the book is that of writers’ block and of Hal Lavoie’s thoughts that his writing is shit. To what extent, do you share Hal’s insecurities?
Yes. Hal is the “king of toilet paper”. It was a conscious decision to celebrate my early struggles and failures in this collection and poke fun at my younger self, through the character of Hal. The act of creating art is so personal that you have to get burned by it.
I have my insecurities and I don’t trust my writing to be good, but I’m not as hard on myself as I use to be. This is another reason I invented Hal Lavoie. A few of the poems I wrote in the trailer were uncomfortable to read, at 47. I was not ashamed for writing them, but some of them were intensely personal, and gave way to a very self-absorbed side of me, an alter ego, if you will. The freedom of fiction, and the fictional character Hal Lavoie, allowed me to display this alter ego, in both physical and comical ways.
One such poem is lemon. When I took lemon out of the shoe box, it was an untitled bitter rant that I wrote in the trailer, after experiencing some loneliness and existential dread. I had isolated myself to write a novel, to write something important that defined me, and I wasn’t happy enough with the writing I had done. Admitting that is one thing, but the original lemon was more than I could bare.
To include lemon in this collection, I carved it into a sort of theatrical performance with a drunken soliloquy, a spectacle that King Hal puts on for himself and his dominion of articles in the trailer. Hal is going a little mad from the writing and his self-isolation, and his alter ego is entertaining his wounded ego.
The last poem in the collection dead poem #9 is addressed to your “dearest brother”. Can you briefly explain what is happening in the poem?
The last piece, dead poem #9, is intended as an epilogue. I considered calling it epilogue, and maybe I should have, but epilogues seem to be associated with plays and fiction more than books of poetry.
dead poem #9 is a short poetic play about an end of battle scene where knight C comes to idolize the battle and celebrate the victory, but knight A is mortally wounded.
The dialog is based on and symbolic of a conversation Brad and I had one night, many years back, while drinking whisky and listening to some of the early songs we recorded:
“This is pretty fucking good,” Brad said, “listen to it a minute.”
We listened a while and I suggested trying to publish the recordings somehow.
“…a limited run, on vinyl and you can do the album art,” I said, drunk and disorderly, “or maybe we just transfer it to CD, burn a copy and take it to Shake It Records to see if they’d be interested…”
“We could,” Brad said, “but you know what I see? When we are old and can’t lift a guitar, can’t put pen to paper, or remember what we said two minutes ago, we will sit and drink and we will listen to these old recordings together, until we’re not allowed.”
Thanks for your detailed thoughts, Jason.
Thank you, George.