R.I.P. Nettelbeck
Sunday February 06th 2011, 1:58 pm
Filed under: news,reading and writing

After posting the video below and thinking of Vic Chestnutt’s life and death, and independent music and culture generally, I think it’s about time I write a few words on the passing of FA Nettelbeck. Please don’t read this as any sort of obituary (Stephen Kessler has us covered on that front) or anything official from our press acting as the publisher of his last printed work. It’s just a personal reaction, having had a few weeks for the news to settle in.

Fred’s death hit me hard, it shocked, confused and angered me. I honestly didn’t know how to feel, or how MUCH to feel… Who was this person to me? Could I call him a friend? I never had the chance to meet him, though I’d been in correspondence with him for the last three years.

His poetry gave me a sense of his life, which was completely foreign to my own experience, him living in a trailer and running with drunken Indians (and I use this stereotype as respectfully as possible) in the backwoods of Oregon. His world, addled with 30 more years of slow time, was not mine. Yet, his words resonated deeply with all the things I found indignation in in this world. All the shit I fought against, and for. With what I found beautiful, funny, sad and true. His struggle was beautiful, and though I don’t want to romanticise the marginality from which he lived, I can’t help but give respect to it.

We first “met” on the old vispoets forum (a marginal place if there ever was one), both of us with only tangential relationships to that world of letters. Our works had somehow been placed into this category of writing, and at the time I was excited about at least some form of creative acceptance. Nettelbeck on the other hand was irate over the “ineffectiveness” of the works on display there:

…visual poetry CONCRETE should SHAKE what the lames think is THEIR world… baghdad bloody motherfucker I took the photo last smile “32 dead per minute” YOUR shit ain’t making it STOP THE BULLSHIT can your visuals do that? no no no the weapon is clean…
— from the vispoets forum April 07

Though I could hardly understand his words, I knew I had found a kindred soul. Art, revolution and the WORD baby… I contacted him, he dug what we were doing, and we would publish several of his poems in Four Minutes to Midnight issues 9 and 10. He loved the typographic play, he loved the political engagement, and he was generous, humble and open-hearted in showing his appreciation:

I’ve been in a lot of publications in the past forty years but I must say, this issue is in the top 3, Jesus FUCK brilliant, brilleeeant… and Fugue 10… man O man as exquisite as broken glass in the yard at Pelican Bay… TOO FUCKING MUCH. and I’m in love with with Debbie Millman! a solid issue you got there. I have one question: when are you going to publish my next book! all best wishes from here and MANY thanx for including my shit.
— email from FA Nettelbeck, December 2008

Needless to say, encouragement of this kind from a poet of his (albeit margin of the margins) stature was flattering. But more importantly, he validated what we’d been struggling to do for so long. His words gave me hope. In spite of our very different circumstances, we connected in dialogue over the work, and that’s all I can ask, all I want to ask, from the work that I want to do.

We continued to correspond regularly and his life entered mine, as he almost always included the weather, the drink in hand, and the piss-off of the day in his messages. I would start to respond in kind and in this way, we shared many a glass. He sent me books and books and books, signed copies from the 1970s, resigned in 2009. He sent me one of the few remaining copies of Bug Death, the epic groundbreaking book/poem that in many ways paved the way for what we do with the fugue. He sent me hundreds of pictures and scans of notebook pages. He generously shared his life…

The night we received his manuscript for Happy Hour, it arrived in a fairly large package. He had mentioned he was sending along a present with it. Cat and I were so excited we decided to prepare a big meal before opening it. It felt like Christmas. I cooked up some fat steaks, and we cracked a couple of beers. We treated the package like an honoured guest while we ate and Serif, one of our cats, took a keen liking to it. When we finally opened it, a pristine deer skull peered out alongside the thick manuscript. It was quite the present

We finally put out Happy Hour three and a half years after I started talking with Fred. It arrived at his home in Sprague River Valley, Oregon a month, almost to the day, before he died. I’m incredibly thankful he was able to see the book and send it to his friends before he passed. I’m thankful that after all he gave us of himself, he got to see and touch and read some of me as well. I’m glad he got to see how much I cared…

I’ll miss you brother.

2 Comments so far
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very cool!

Comment by realerman 02.06.11 @ 2:20 pm

Here’s a quote about Nettelbeck from poet Michael C. Ford, one of his old friends from LA in the Seventies…

“Unlike the academic robots who slice the art form of poetry into their own prize winning baloney, F.A. Nettelbeck maintained an integrity which was beyond reproach,” says Ford. “For every poet who shared his brave and noble spirit in our equitable quests for survival, Nettelbeck was a bright and powerful star in the Poetry firmament.”

If you have anymore HAPPY HOUR in stock, i’d like to buy one.. Email me & I can send a check or pay online.. Let me know & keep up the great work..

Comment by Mike the PoeT 03.10.11 @ 1:03 pm

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