Ian Ayres
a discussion of Van Gogh's Ear

1. What made you start a poetry journal/anthology series?

The desire to connect the anglophone poetry community of Paris with the rest of the anglophone world. Probably the inception began with Allen Ginsberg's second to last visit to Paris. He hadn't realized there was such a large anglophone poetry scene in Paris. He thought Alice Notley's workshop at the British Institute was pretty much the extent of it. And he suggested I join the workshop, which I did. At the end of Alice's Spring 2001 workshop, she suggested that some of us start our own poetry zines. Itšs thanks to her encouragement that Van Gogh's Ear came into being.

2. Why name it Van Gogh's Ear?

The first title I came up with was Arching Flyer, which Alice didn't care for. Then I sent her a bunch of other titles such as: Go Ask Alice, The Untitled Review, and Earthlings on Uranus. None of them thrilled her. She said, "Trying to name a poetry journal's like trying to name a rock band." Since she was the inspiration behind the journal, it seemed only right that she appreciate its title. Finally I read through all of the titles in the contents of Allen Ginsberg's Collected Poems 1947-1980. When my eyes landed on the title "Death to Van Gogh's Ear" I immediately turned to the poem and read it. The poem begins: Poet is Priest/Money has reckoned the soul of America. Those first two lines pretty much sum up what the poem is about. And it was written in Paris, December 1957. I knew then that Van Gogh's Ear would be the journal's title. Alice responded with: "I like Van Gogh's Ear--it seems to be listening in –detachment', I mean the ear."

3. What has been the response to the first two issues?

First I'd like to say that initially I'd bought a long arm stapler and intended to keep Van Gogh's Ear a simple, low budget journal. But, to my amazement, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, and Susan Howe contributed poems to this first issue. I'd just sent simple requests and have no idea what moved them to be so kind. But this put my brand new long arm stapler away for good. I had to make this issue a perfect bound high quality one. And the reaction to it was amazing.

We were inundated with enthusiastic praise and submissions. If only we could've received some financial support, it would've made things easier on us for the following two issues. It's true, poetry is an anagram with a hidden "v", and that means poverty. Still, the praise from many amazing talents was enough to keep us optimistic. Joyce Carol Oates wrote: "Congratulations on Van Gogh's Ear. This is certainly a unique publication." John Updike wrote: "I have enjoyed appearing in Van Gogh's Ear, and cruising through the wild variety of other poems." And Tom Clark emailed: "I've received a contributor's copy of Van Gogh's Ear, a delightful and intriguing production and well worth the wait. Your blend of newer & older writers makes for an interesting mix indeed; in its amplitude the issue resembles a very fine anthology, and a very handsome one at that." He's the poet who got me to thinking of making Van Gogh's Ear an annual anthology of world poetry. Kind of what The Best American Poetry Anthology is doing. Except wešre for the world and much more open to exploration. Speaking of The Best American Poetry Anthology, they've recently chosen a poem from our second issue for inclusion in their 2004 edition. The poem they chose is by Edwin Torres: "The Theorist Has No Samba".

4. How did you get poetry from people so diverse and famous such as Marilyn Monroe, Norman Mailer, Yoko Ono, Joyce Carol Oates?

To answer your Marilyn Monroe question, I just got in touch with her estate and asked if they had anything poetic by her that we could publish. They kindly sent the snippets by that I have published. But she didn't write much poetry, so that's about it for her. Chances are good, however, for getting a James Dean piece for our next Ear. And I have asked Phillip Ward about getting in touch with Marianne Faithful. Phillip Ward became my coeditor on the third issue. It was thanks to his friendship with Yoko Ono's studio assistant that we were able to get her to look at the first two issues. She liked what she saw and kindly contributed not only poems, but some excellent drawings as well. For Norman Mailer, as with most of the poets, I simply sent a letter stating what an honor it would be to include a poem by him. He sent two, stating that they were the first two poems hešs written in 40 years. He'd written them in answer to my request. The only reason I can think of for the generosity of these celebrated people is that they like the title Van Gogh's Ear. Or maybe they like the fact that it's coming out of Paris. Therešs a certain magic about Paris that still holds its spell. Aside from certain power tics, most people have a deep fondness for Paris.

5. What does poetry stand for in 2004? Isn't it a genre a bit outdated?

Poetry will never be outdated. This world needs poets to keep it from blowing up into a nuclear war big bang disaster. Poetry is the soul of the planet. Poetry is the closest you can get to a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Poetry teaches much more than the Bible or Koran or any of the religions. Nowadays, it seems, choosing a religion is akin to choosing a political party. Poetry can be more spiritual and true than anything you find in a religion. And itšs not brainwashing. It's brain-stimulating. Helps people wake up to truth and the realities that surround them. Helps them wake up to themselves.

6. How do you find poets in India, Russia, China, Australia, South Africa, Vietnam?

One thing leads to another. In many cases these poets find Van Gogh's Ear. They contact us. In other cases it's thanks to one poet recommending another poet in one of those countries. We like to include everyone from everywhere and every walk of life.

7. What is the fourth issue going to be about?

Cannibalism. Cannibalism and whatever great poems we receive. I like to have variety. Although Norman Mailer's poem in this upcoming issue is cannibalistic, the poem and drawing by Yoko Ono have nothing to do with people devouring human flesh. The cover will be from a painting by artist Barbara Philipp of a human torso packaged and sold like the meat you buy in supermarkets. It makes the point that nowadays humans have lost their value as human beings. All that matters is how much money you have. A very distressing fact. Another reason why poets are needed now more than ever. Poems about how money rules would be most welcome in this issue. And Išd like to have a nice weave of traditional poems along with all other possible forms, and forms that go beyond anything yet imagined. I'm open to everything. No limits...except in length.

8. How can someone get copies of VGE, where are they sold at?

VGE is being sold at bookstores worldwide, including all anglophone bookstores in Paris. To see a complete list of bookstores selling VGE, you can visit our website at: www.frenchcx.com. Or write to us for the list at: French Connection Press, 12 rue Lamartine, 75009 Paris, France. You can also order copies directly from us (French Connection Press, 12 rue Lamartine, 75009 Paris, France), or Allen Ginsberg's Committee on Poetry (Committee on Poetry, PO Box 582, Stuyvesant Station, New York, NY 10009, USA).

9. Is it easy to get a poetry publication going ? Why?

It was a lot, I mean a lot, of hard work. First of all I had to contact poets and invite them to contribute to a new publication. I sent out over a hundred letters and was delighted to receive 81 answers with poems. The last poem that came in (for the first issue) was from John Wieners. Then he died. That why I included the letter he'd written in his shaky writing on the page facing the contributors' notes. Phillip Whalen's photo is his poem in that issue. He was another great poet who died right before we went to press. He was blind, and so the photo of him is amusing because he's holding his hands up to his eyes as if looking through binnoculars. I sent him a big box of Leonidas chocolates on his last birthday. I was told that he enjoyed those chocolates very much. But all the correspondence with the poets, though usually fun, can be very demanding on time.

Then there's figuring out how to do layout, which Roberta Vellvé helped get me started on. Being new to all this, I made endless mistakes that delayed and delayed getting to press with that first issue. It was supposed to be a Spring issue, but ended up being an Autumn one. On top of all the mindboggling details involved in putting an issue together, it's necessary to set up readings to promote it. And then when it gets back from the printers, address labels have to be prepared for sending out the copies to contributors. There's a long, long list of things to do in getting a publication going. I haven't even gone into the business end of it. We did have to start our own press, though. Anyhow, it takes a lot of money and hard word to get a poetry publication going. The only reason to put one's self through such an ordeal is love. I love poetry. But it does get daunting. Especially when having to deal with difficult poets. I find that the more famous the poet, the kinder they are. I guess it's because they're no longer anxious about their self worth. They know they've succeeded. The most difficult poets are the ones who are still struggling to establish themselves and are getting frustrated. They tend to give me a hard time. Very demanding. Yet there are others who are still working to make a name for themselves and are still just as pleasant to correspond with as the more well-known. Perhaps these are the ones writing poetry because they love it. They don't seem to be exploiting poetry to boost their egos. To me, these are the true poets.

10. What is your ultimate goal?

My ultimate goal for VGE is to edit 6 issues, then put together a big "Best of" anthology. After that I'd like to find a new editor to take over so I can focus more on writing my own poetry. Perhaps my coeditor will take over.