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Tuesday, July 4, 2017

New Release: John Yamrus/ Janne Karlsson As Real as Rain (Epic Rites Press, 2017) 80 pages

As Real as Rain is the American poet John Yamrus’s latest collection published through iconic Canadian small press Epic Rites Press. It features forty-five poems illustrated by Janne Karlsson, the Swedish artist and long-time collaborator of Yamrus.

The concept of this collection first emerged as a poetry reading at an Edmonton bar in 2013 encouraged by ERP editor & poet Wolfgang Carstens. On the night, Yamrus read his work over two 15 minute sets, and this book closely mirrors in a chronological fashion, most of the poems presented with a few exceptions.

Yamrus says coyly of the project, “the reading was at this really cool bar called Brittany's Lounge, a wild place with a little stage and seating area and a great big bar and glass windows that looked like any minute someone would get thrown through them, and if you looked hard enough maybe you'd find Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday sitting somewhere off in a dark corner, watching.
“the place was packed....they showed up late...but, they showed up, and there was an awful lot of them.  standing room only.  maybe some of them were drunks who just walked in off the street...i don't know, but the place was packed and we got them rocking...even the asshole in the far corner to my right, by the window, who kept saying something that i couldn't understand, but that was okay, too, because maybe i was saying things he couldn't understand, either.

“i loved it. i loved the fact that until just a couple of minutes before the reading there wasn't anybody in the place except for me and Wolf and Tracy Lee, who was nervous as hell, and she stayed at the bar, knocking back tequila to calm her nerves, while i walked around and Wolf stood out front handing out flyers to anyone who would stop and talk.”

(click on the illustration above to enlarge)

As part of the package, the purchaser of this book will receive a link to the original audio of John Yamrus’s 2013 reading. The quality of the sound is somewhat tinny but it clearly establishes the tone & the great variety of nuances of Yamrus’s understatement and his sarcastic, often scathing portraits of humanity.

Most of  the poems in the collection have been previously published in Yamrus’s earlier ERP books, doing cartwheels on doomsday afternoon (2010), can’t stop now! (2011), They Never Told Me This Would Happen (2012), BARK (2013) and ALCHEMY (2014) which have been comprehensively reviewed on Bold Monkey.

In a recent conversation with John Yamrus, he explained to me Janne Karlsson’s involvement in the project:

“as you well know, Janne and i had worked very well together in the past, but this was a very real opportunity to do it on a very large scale and take some very big chances.  

“as always, Janne's particular genius is in being able to mine new nuance and meaning from the poems...some i had intended, and some i never even knew were there! so, to a certain extent, the book was a learning and growing experience for the both of us...which, at the end of the day, is the goal of ALL art.

“hopefully the book reproduces the FEELINGS AND THOUGHTS that people experienced as part of the audience that night.”

The prolific artist Janne Karlsson told me today about the project:

"Illustrating John's poems is always a no-brainer. They kinda draw themselves. Another really cool aspect of it all, is (like our previous collaboration BURN) both he and I have this almost obstinate desire to let the reader/ viewer do 50 percent of the job. With this book we really give them hell. First, they'll have to meditate over John's writing and when/ if they get it, they'll have to move on to my artwork and "translate" that too. In short: there are 3 authors of ARAR; me, John, and the reader."

The title of the book derives from the poem “he looked at me and asked”. In the poem Yamrus is being interviewed on television by a presenter who is clearly hostile towards his minimalistic work. He sneeringly asks, “in your writing/ don’t you even care/ about musicality?” The poet is defiant, stares him down, confident in the realness of his art and flippantly dismisses the critic’s disdain.

The poem ends:

it was all
quite dramatic
and i enjoyed it.

something good
about being hated.

as real as rain.

(all illustrations have been reprinted with the permission of the poet, illustrator & publisher)

As Real as Rain is a beautiful coffee table sized book- 8 ¼ x 11 ¾ inches- and the largest published by Epic Rites Press. The front cover is also by artist Janne Karlsson and features a silhouette of the poet and a dog who appear to be closely observing each other in a moment of quiet reflection. This is an apt image as Yamrus is probably best known for his best-selling book Bark (Epic Rites Press) which collected many of his poems about his relationship to his many dogs over the years.

As Real as Rain is an important, original work which attempts to give poetry back to the people. It combines clear & real anecdotal poems with a live performance & cutting-edge illustrations.

As Yamrus surmises, “ a grand experiment, for sure!  did it work?  did it fail?  only the reader can decide.”

Purchase the book here:

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