DAN NIELSEN’S SHORT SHORTS
By Justin Grimbol
I met Dan Nielsen at the Racine Public Library. He was doing a presentation on chapbooks. The first two chapbooks he showed us were by Steve Richmond, and Gerald Locklin. Many people don’t know who these men are, but for me they are some of the greats. Locklin is one of my all-time favorites. I started feeling really sweaty. But that’s ok. That’s just what happens when I start feeling really excited about something.
Dan talked to us about his history. He was an incredibly laidback man. He didn’t like to over glorify his own work, though he was still proud to mention that he had published some Bukowski poems and has hung out with Ginsberg.
He gave us a small chapbook filled with ink drawing of faces and little poems he called FIVES. It was short. Real short. But had me laughing out loud multiple times. Dan’s writing is just as good as Richmond and Locklin. It’s unpretentious, playful and blunt.
And he has lived in Racine his whole life. When I was a young I would go on long road trips around the country and usually they would end in Racine, and I would stay at my grandmother’s apartment. I had no idea at that time that there was a guy like Dan Nielsen in Racine. If I had I probably wouldn’t have gotten too excited. I would have been like Star Trek nerd meeting William Shatner for the first time. I would have acted way too sweaty and nervous and probably a little creepy. And William Shatner isn’t actually Captain Kirk. Dan Neilsen is a real man. Not a character.
I told Dan how much I loved Locklin and Richmond and he didn’t seem too creeped out by how sweaty and excited I was. He even gave me a copies of the chapbooks. I did not expect to come out of the library that evening with chapbooks by Locklin and Richmond. At first I felt like I had stolen an ancient artifact from a museum.
I went home and I showed my wife the chapbooks. She didn’t know what chapbooks were and she didn’t know the authors. But she could tell by the excited nerdy smile I was giving her, that these was something important.
AN INTERVIEW WITH DAN NIELSEN
BONKNESS MONSTER: Your latest book, RADIATOR WATER: FACES & FIVES is a collection of five-line poems with accompanying ink drawings. The poems are often hilarious, though sometimes oddly disturbing, and the faces, if I am correct, are meant to represent persons speaking the poems. Can you tell us a little about this?
Dan Nielsen: Sure. Short poems are better than long poems. Funny poems are better than serious poems. So I try to write short, funny poems. Limiting myself to five lines keeps them short. Hard work makes them funny. The drawings free me from a need for consistency of voice, and allow me to say whatever I want, because it’s the drawings doing the talking.
BM: In the 90s, your BGS Press published a series of chapbooks by some of the leading underground poets of the day. How did this come about?
DN: Years ago, I met the legendary Mark Giese who edited a magazine called “The Something.” Mark used a few of my poems, which was a real kick, so I sent more poems to other little magazines. The next logical step was starting my own publication: “Blank Gun Silencer.” The magazine only came out a few times a year, so, to fill my time, I made chapbooks. I did the magazine and chapbooks for five years and then it was time to stop.
BM: What makes a good collection of poetry?
DN: Good poems, short and funny, thoughtfully arranged into an attractive book.
BM: Who are your favorite authors?
DN: I always say Don Delillo, but other than that my favorite authors are those with whom I correspond. If you like a book, write to the author. If your letter is interesting and intelligent, you will get a response. Almost always. And then that author is automatically one of your favorites. Writers are the best people.
BM: How do feel about the internet? Has it changed things for better or worse?
DN: It’s too late to feel anything about the internet. The only way the internet can change things for the worse is if it’s misused. I love the internet in the same way that I’d love God if God existed.
BM: What’s your favorite food? What food terrifies you?
DN: My favorite food is brown rice. I’m terrified of Burger King Whoppers.
BM: What inspires you to write? What crushes that inspiration?
DN: I am inspired to write by the presumption that I have something to say. That inspiration is crushed by the despair of realizing that I have nothing to say.
BM: Thanks, Dan.
DN: It was my pleasure.
A SERIES OF FIVES BY DAN NIELSEN
I type with two fingers
And when those finger
I type with two
Houses that still have
are occupied by aliens
from outer space.
When I was a junkie
were covered in tracks
so I got a tattoo
of a train.
Male hand binding
is still practiced
in certain countries
where women prefer men
with tiny, mangled hands.
Some men like large
breasts and some men
like small breasts
and some men like
one of each.
The ocean sounds
the way it does
because of all
To pad my resume
works at home
The waitress had a carafe in each hand. Warren turned his cup upright. He pointed toward the one with the orange top. The waitress filled the cup.
“Could I have a glass of ice, please?”
Warren took the phone from his jacket pocket. It wasn’t his. He’d found it on the sidewalk. He opened the pictures. These were blond people. Everyone smiled. There was a vacation. There was a birthday party. There was a girl in a mirror. She stared at Warren. Warren stared back.
The waitress placed the glass of ice beside the untouched coffee. Warren put the phone down. He poured the coffee over the ice. He opened four French Vanilla creamers, and emptied them, one by one, into the glass. He added four sugars to the mix. He watched the white swirls and granules drifting toward the bottom.
“Two eggs, over easy, and rye toast, please.”
The waitress wrote something on a notepad, tore off the top sheet, and placed it beside the saucer.
“I was going to order oatmeal, too,” Warren said. “But it’s not on the menu.”
“We only have the packets.”
“Oh. No, thanks.
The waitress turned, tore off another sheet, and handed it to the cook through a little window. The cook said something that made the waitress laugh.
The phone played a song and vibrated in a circle. Warren picked it up and pressed a button.
If yr reading this U found my phone! I need it back! Seriously! I’ll give U $20!!! Kathy xox
Warren switched from the message to the photo, then to the message, then to the photo.
The eggs and toast arrived. With his free hand, Warren coated the eggs in pepper. He dipped the toast in grape jelly and then egg yolk. He washed it down with coffee.
The song played again and the phone vibrated in Warren’s hand.
U opened the text! U found my phone! Great! I’ll come right now and get it! Where are U!?!
Warren turned off the phone and put it back in his jacket pocket. He finished the eggs and toast. He finished the coffee. He paid his bill and left a tip.
He walked back to the place where he’d first found the phone. He turned it back on. There were three new messages. He didn’t read them. He opened the photo. He attached it to an email and sent it to his laptop at home. He wrote a text message telling Kathy exactly where her phone was.
Warren crossed the street. There was a bench. Warren sat and waited.