Jimmy Besseck is the author of three chapbooks, two of poetry: The Lead Standard (Goodwill Zine) and Stand in the Street Part One: Can’t Shut Off Neon Moon (on Besseck’s self-run “Official Bootlegs”) as well as a collection of short stories titled Bus Boy Moments (Official Bootlegs). Jimmy is currently working on Bus Boy Moments 2 and will be reading this weekend along with Conyer Clayton, Mike James, and William Freeman at an event titled “Megaphone Jones Concluded” @ Quills Coffee (327 Cardinal Blvd. Louisville, KY) 7pm Saturday night (w/music by Alex Glasnovic). Besseck will be releasing his Megaphone Jones spoken word cassette, which includes readings from all three chapbooks. Keep Louisville Literary shook Jimmy down for the secrets to his comedic/poetic success:
Keep Louisville Literary: Since your short stories relay the more morbidly entertaining parts of your history, we won’t pry. But how did you get started with writing?
JB: I was interested in writing early-on. In high school, ninth grade, I took a creative writing course. But when I moved from Berea to Louisville, I had a vague aspiration to do theater. That faded away… and then I found “Louisville Speak Easy” at Carly Rae’s. My material went over well that first time, and then immediately Divinity Rose asked me to be a featured reader; that series became Sub Rosa. The crowd response pushed me forward.
KLL: Did you consider collecting your poems before June Leffler and company (of the sadly departed Goodwill Zine) approached you?
JB: Sure, I’d thought about it. When June approached me in December of 2010 I had a [manuscript] that I was considering submitting to Sarabande [Books]. But Goodwill Zine said they would publish my chapbook for sure, and Sarabande [had] a contest with a reading fee. Also, I didn’t have enough material for a full length to send [to the contest].
KLL: Your poems and stories really take shape at readings; it may even be safe to say that your writing becomes script for your performance on the microphone. Did that spontaneously happen as you got used to reading or is it premeditated?
JB: To a degree… I really don’t think of the poems as performance pieces. I’m surprised to hear that; people have said that to me [before]. I’m actually holding back; trying not to do a [one-man] story telling act. If voices are necessary, I will let them happen, but it’s not my intent.
KLL: Anyone can come to a reading, slip you a few bucks under the table, and pick up a chapbook, but give us the low-down on your spoken word tape, Megaphone Jones. Are you charging rock-star prices on this thing? Are you selling tape decks? Can we expect a digital download to be available at some point?
JB: The cassettes will be $5; [it’s a] limited to of thirty with a digital download included. Just the download will cost $2.
KLL: There’s an alleged rumor that you took elocution lessons to overcome your southern accent. Care to comment? [KLL disclaimer: This question was meant as a lark, but the answer was surprising and interesting. In one of his poems, Besseck is questioned about his lack of accent.]
JB: Throughout high school I lost the southern accent [gradually], partially due to theatre. I was born in Georgia then moved to Appalachia. Kids in Virginia made fun of me; not all southern accents are equal. Their making fun of me had something to do with it.
KLL: Finally, tell our readers everything you know about self-publishing.
JB: I’m still learning a lot myself at this point. The idea came in stages. It started when I started writing Busboy Moments. I came up with James Whitney Best as a pen name. My first self publishing endeavor was a pamphlet of my short story “The Freaky Shit”. It was two pages sliced then stapled at the corner. It was kind of an experiment of an avatar in real-time. I left those in public places and waited for e-mail on my James Whitney Best account.
I decided to buy the binding machine when I was in the paper store buying a paper cutter. I knew I would save up to buy it when I saw it. I taught myself how to use it; the instructions were lacking. I watched YouTube videos. Every step in the binding process is a chance to destroy what you’re making. But I want to make improvements. I want to look into other forms of book making. As frustrating as the process is, it’s also fun. I look [at my chapbooks] and know I could make something aesthetically better and also more functional.
Bring some cash with you to “Megaphone Jones Concluded” @ Quills Coffee (327 Cardinal Blvd. Louisville, KY) 7pm Sat. 9/29 if you want to grab a textual or audio copy of Besseck’s journey into the hilariously strange yet familiar.