John Dorsey

Interview with Traveling Poet and Screenwriter John Dorsey

“At one point, I was doing like 100 readings a year, sleeping on floors in the homes of complete strangers, just hoping to sell enough books to buy the next hamburger, and hoping to be able to make the rent when I did get home.”


Q. You’ve been touring like crazy for the last few years, can you discuss what life on the road has been like—the adventure, the mayhem, the insanity of it all?

I have always done readings, all the way back to my very first in 1994 at the Teatro Cafe in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where I grew up, but they had always been local, whether I was living in Philadelphia and reading at the Painted Bride Arts Center’s Day of the Poet or in Toledo at bars like Mickey Finn’s or the Bronze Boar. That is until I hooked up with S.A. Griffin and the late Scott Wannberg in the spring of 2005 and my life has never really been the same since. The adventure part is getting to read in 49 states and making some of the best friends I’ve ever had. The insanity is spending your own money to do this to the point of selling your own blood, I’m not kidding there, buying bus tickets instead of food, and begging friends for money to stay out on the highway just a little bit longer until you almost forget why you’re out there to begin with. At one point, I was doing like 100 readings a year, sleeping on floors in the homes of complete strangers, just hoping to sell enough books to buy the next hamburger, and hoping to be able to make the rent when I did get home. And to top of all of that, having middle-aged drama kings and queens come at me at points because they want what I have because it looks a lot easier than it actually is, that’s the mayhem I guess, and I don’t regret any of it, because clearly, I’m still out there and the good definitely outweighs the bad.


Q. Outlandish Press is re-releasing Appalachian Frankenstein, one of my favorite collections which is over 500 pages of work that spans two decades, can you discuss why you decided to re-release this collection and the collection as a whole?

First, let me just say that this collection would never have happened without the love and support of RA Washington from GTK Press in Cleveland, its original publisher, who just believed that my work was going to be part of the underground literary canon. He saw what I was doing 3 or 4 years ago as important, and was willing to put his money where his heart was, plain and simple. Maybe folks reading this don’t agree, and that’s alright, it just proves what a difference having one person who believes in you can truly make, we should all be so blessed. The re-release happened because RA’s printer, Kyle Osborne, owed him some money and he said that instead of paying him back that he wanted Kyle to re-issue my reader on his press Outlandish, so that’s how that happened and Kyle really has been great about everything.


Q. You also have a new collection of poetry coming out, can you discuss this collection, the press, etc…?

I have several projects I’m working on, but have spent most of the year putting together my New & Selected Poems, which will feature a cover by California artist Bob Branaman, who was part of the Wichita //Vortex along with folks like Charles Plymell and Glenn Todd. Right now, I’m titling it The Afterlife of the Party, but that may change between now and February 1st, when I hand it over to my publisher, the collection will cover 2016-2018.


Q. You have spent a lot of time at the Osage Arts Community, can you discuss how this experience has inspired your work?

Yes, I have done a lot of work with OAC over the last few years, a big thanks to Mark McClane and Tony Hayden for their generous support there. Just being in this region has changed the things that I write about, the stories I tell in my poems. The first 2 months I was there, I wound up writing the 80 or so new poems that would become my Tangerine Press book, Being the Fire, which was released in the fall of 2016. Since then I’ve written 400 or 500 more poems that I’ve kept and they’re mostly Missouri poems that wouldn’t have been written if I wasn’t here. They even named me the first Poet Laureate of the city a while back, my term expires at the end of this year, but it has been great and it even allowed me to found my own print journal, The Gasconade Review, which I Co-edit with Jason Ryberg from Spartan Press under the OAC Books banner.


Q. I recently asked Dan Crocker about the 90’s zine scene and he totally blew off my question, so I am asking you because we both came of age during this time? What do you miss about the cut and paste zine scene of the 90’s? And how does that compare to the online magazine culture of today?

There was your first mistake, never ask that Dan Crocker anything, he’s no good. I miss the personal contact you got with handmade zines. That and they were true works of art, sometimes, that you could hold in your hands, which online magazines, no matter how well intentioned, can never really compare to. Honestly, I think that for the last few years anyway, print has been making a comeback.


Q. What are you reading right now? What do you look forward to reading?

Well, am re-reading the late New Orleans poet Everette Maddox, who is a big hero of mine. Need to pick up Joan Jobe Smith’s latest collection and whatever Wendy Rainey puts out next.


Q. What projects do you have on the horizon?

I’m working on a new collection for my publisher in England, Tangerine Press, and a few collaborations with friends. That and a few college readings, which I’m always looking for more of. If any English departments out there are looking for a slightly used poet for an evening, I’m in.



John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017). He is the current Poet Laureate of Belle, MO. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He may be reached at

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