Katrina Gray: Hello, Walter Bjorkman. Before I ask you about your brilliant “Zero Faves” group, I’ll give you the spotlight. What writerly things have you been doing lately?

Walter Bjorkman: I have taken a turn to poetry, mostly, trying to return to what I started out writing as a late teen in the ’60s & young guy in the 70’s. Over the last decade, especially the last 3 years, I have jumped back & forth from prose to poetry, even doing a collection of shorts, Elsie’s World, that was published this last January. So the poetry was put aside for a bit, except for some of my 52|250 – A Year of Flash contributions. I also just signed on with Helen Vitoria, for her new poetry journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal, as associate editor & web guy. It is her vision & journal, and if I can add a little assistance to such a great poet, I will be thrilled.

Katrina: Now: I love the idea of “Zero Faves.” The group description suggests that the intention is to give passed-over stories a second chance. Do you think the story feed on the front page just rolls so fast that some good stories inexplicably drop off the edge like lemmings? Or are you rebelling against the fave system in general, like anti-conformist Beats? In that poem my middle school teacher just loved, Casey *did* swing out at the bat. Should we chuck out all the stars and awards and prizes when it comes to literary output?

Walter: Heh – why would I rebel against the fav system? Oh yeah, I studied under some Beats – been awhile. It was two-fold, exactly as you described. Having been an analyst, I couldn’t help but notice a lot of factors are at play – time of day, day of week, is your crowd on at the same time, so yes, at times stories just shoot through there. The rebelling part was also that if you learned how to play the game (as long as you have a good poem or story), you could guarantee some play. We should not chuck out anything, just decide if we want to go for it, not that there is anything wrong with that – lol. And at times  I go for it, so this “protest” is mere observation, not an indictment. Wouldn’t chain myself to the College president’s front gate over it. (And Casey was probably thrown a spitball on that 3rd swing.)

It also shows how some don’t have a clue as to groups, their functions, or are just getting  exposure for faves by scatter-shooting their stories into any and all groups. I have had some that join the group with as many as 6 faves already on their post. I oust them without comment. I love Fictionaut and have made many a friend here that has led to projects and great reading that has been truly rewarding, such as editing 52|250 with Michelle Elvy & John Wentworth Chapin. One of my earliest & favorite pieces was “a night on the fictionaut” – an homage to what I experienced that night & my first flash.

Katrina: Zero is a number with all kinds of connotations. I would like to have zero debt and zero bunions, but otherwise this word, zero, has negative connotations. I’m gonna get all mathy on you here, but zero isn’t a negative or a positive, and probably most people can’t even imagine it without wanting a donut (except me: never been a fan of Krispy Kremes). Do you think Fictionaut should implement some kind of anti-fave, kind of like a ninja throwing star, that isn’t meant to make you feel good but to inflict some pain? For the sake of giving zero a break at least? So that if your story got zero faves, you could at least feel good about not accumulating anti-faves? Please tell me you’d support this move.

Walter: As a guy who got 800 on his math boards, and was slated to work on the first moon rocks before dropping out & becoming a poet and general rounder, I’d rather get metaphysical here. We should embrace the zero. Be the zero. Exalt the zero. For the sum of all parts, if all parts are zero, is not greater than the whole, it is the same – zero. Nada. Ziltch. Bupkis. The idea that all the parts inside of me is greater than me is very disturbing – I would always be worried about bloating and digestive blockage. So no, no anti-faves for the zeros. If used at all, perhaps for every fave given, an equal and opposite anti-fave was created – isn’t America too overweight as is? (And nuts to both Krispy & Dunkin – a holeless zeppoli, greasy & powdered is just fine.)

Katrina: I notice that your blog, The Poetry of Place, features really nice places. I imagine it takes more than zero dollars to be a traveling poet. I think you’re holding out on me here, Walter: are there really, truly people out there who get paid for writing, with each dollar representing the ultimate fave? Give us some hope here.

Walter: Ah – my blog is actually Qwik-Bake Synthetics. What you see there is I am hosting edition #8 of Dorothee Lang’s great language/place blog carnival. It was a great experience and wonderful journey, right from my desk chair to the furthest poetic places you could imagine, on 24 other people’s blogs. I encourage those not in the know to hop on board at the Qwik-Bake station and stay for the whole ride! I wouldn’t know about money or travel of late, I am trapped in an apple orchard on a mountain with only a sometimes working junker to get around, at the mercy of friend. I have heard that writers that write about real stuff for glossy magazines have some of the green.The rice & beans here aren’t bad though.

Katrina: If the “Zero Faves” group threw a party, what conversations would be in the air? And would the party be BYOB?

Walter: “Hey, what’s a nice poet like you doing in a group like this?” “What’s your pen name?” “How come I am in a club that would have me as a member?” “Uh, I just stopped in for directions. Anyone know how to get to the top?” BYOAnything – I do not judge. Wine, booze, zebras in tutus.

Katrina: Have you ever written something with the intention of getting it, and keeping it, at the “Zero Faves” group?

Walter: No, and see above, as I know how to play the game, I would be insane to ever have a zero fav.

Katrina: What are some of the faves in your life? Things in the stuff-Walter-likes hall of fame.

Walter: A mythical time & place as a little kid – baby-boomer Brooklyn, with Dodgers & stick-ball, kings, bikes pretending to be horses, the same foghorns Walt Whitman heard almost a century earlier. Rainy streets.

Blues. Blues guitar, piano, blues anything. Bob Dylan, a monument to creativity. Anyone trying to write, create anything. Wanting to both dance inside a painting by van Gogh and scream inside a Munch. Coffee, cigarettes. Egg-creams. Tough city women. Gentle country men. Botanical gardens. Tropical waters. Cold mountain streams. Body surfing. My son. A day uptown, a night on the bowery.  What ya got?

Katrina Gray checks in with Fictionaut groups every Friday. She lives in Nashville with the writer John Minichillo and their lovechild. She is the editor-in-chief of Atticus Review, and she blogs about mostly non-literary things at www.katrinagray.com.

  1. Foster Trecost

    i just sorta stumbled upon this, and I’m so happy I did. Great interview, which is what usually happens when two interesting people start a conversation.

  2. susan tepper

    Walt is a mensch in the true sense of what that word implies. I’ve sat with him and talked with him and drank in poetry (and a little wine). He was one of our ed’s on the phenomenal 52/250 project, which I’ve heard touted as “maybe the most important project on the web.” Walt is the real deal. His new book “Elsie’s World” is a marvel. There’s still time to read a story from his book in summer issue of whlreview.com.

  3. Meg Tuite

    Walter, I so loved this entire interview!!! You are the greatest and big congratulations on working with Helen Vitoria on her new poetry journal!!! What an explosion of talent at Thrush!!!
    “The idea that all the parts inside of me is greater than me is very disturbing – I would always be worried about bloating and digestive blockage.” You killed me!!! Thank you, Katrina, for a great interview with Walter!!
    So happy to learn more about you and your writing track!!!
    Thank you so much, Walter!!!

  4. JP Reese

    Loved this whole interview–Oh, the Zen of it all. Wonderful conversation. Going to find something on my list with zero faves now so I can join the club. Walter, you’re my hero.

  5. Vivian Faith Prescott

    Walter, thanks for an entertaining article, which I read on a very rainy day in Kodiak, Alaska.

  6. Walter Bjorkman

    Thanks Foster – glad you stumbled in! Susan, if I wasn’t from NY and didn’t know what Mensch meant, I’d conk ya! Thanks for your endless support – you had wine – I had a beer. Meg – thanks, Katrina made this thing work, and I know you have more than one life, so glad I slayed ya. Joani – now you have me guilty of Hubris, I better duck next time there is lightning!

  7. Robert Vaughan

    Walter, this was a blast, quiet with just the right touch of your urbane wit. The work you’ve done, and continue to do, with me (from 52/250 onward) has been more than helpful. You inspire me! And your writing is fantastic! Thanks, Katrina, and Walter, for this insightful, meaningful exchange.

  8. Gill Hoffs

    Once again, I’ve read something on fictionaut that’s made me feel my mind s=t=r=e=t=c=h a bit further, and stimulated my thoughts in a fizzy, exciting way. Glad I did – great interview, guys.

  9. Walter Bjorkman

    Vivian – thanks for reading, been good to read you & hear from you since we met on the language/place blog. Robert, thanks, from a guy who spent some years in NY, and a talented writer, I appreciate it! Gil – if you got stretched, perhaps that proves the sum of the parts IS greater than the whole, I need to rethink – thanks for the kudos!

  10. LindaSw

    Totally not a zero interview. Walter, love the way your heart and mind work. Great interview Katrina with one of my FAVE writers and human beans at fictionaut. Peace…

  11. Walter Bjorkman

    Thanks, Linda. You can find this bean at any major supermarket chain, bottom shelf!

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