In honor of tonight’s Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Café Fifth Anniversary/Anne Waldman Lune Release Celebration, I had to talk to the glowing, cratery satellite ball orbiting the whole situation, Joseph Braun. I’ve known Joe since he came to Boulder in 2011, and now it would be hard to imagine The Scene without him. When you stop to think about it, you realize he’s been involved in so many cool poetry projects like The Full Moon Reading, Lunamopolis, The Lune, as well as being the current host of Innisfree’s Tuesday Night Poetry Open Mic, where he’s known for his mindful and poetic commentary between readers. We got together last week for an interview, in which I posed a discussion topic and allowed for whatever typically present and insightful tangent he wanted to go on.
The Joseph Braun Biography
Fittingly Joe got straight into the astrological charts January 30th, 1988, Aquarius sun, Libra rising, Jupiter in Aries and of course the moon sign – Cancer.
He was born in California and raised in semi rural Maryland, and you might be surprised to find out such a Moon-y poet attended the very sunny University of Miami, Florida. (Paradise, vacations!) It sounds like it was a good fit for him tho. He got very serious about creative writing while there, and his professors took him under their wings, eventually recommending the Naropa University MFA program because of its Buddhist and contemplative approach. One professor tried to talk him into the path of short stories, but said “You can go off the deep end in poetry if that’s what you need to do.” And it’s been fortunate for us that he has.
Naropa was a “loving experience on the whole” for Joe, where he was part of the legendary Class of ’13 with Elyse Brownell, Eric Fischman, Craig Collier, Matt Clifford, Janelle Fine, June Lucarotti, Noah Christie and more. The group became known for their involvement beyond just Naropa into the greater Boulder community and sticking around town after graduation. “It felt very much like MAKE,” Joe says about them, meaning they made things happen like…
The Full Moon Reading
Some may not know that Joe was actually the original spark behind the now 4.5 years old monthly midnight full moon reading in Morrison Alley. “I love the way people tell stories about the beginning and the continuation,” the always humble Joe says, “but I have not come to a place where I fully respect my story.” Although it’s now taken on a life of its own, the reading wouldn’t have happened at all if not for him. It all started when Joe was working at the Boulder Café and taking cigarette breaks in the alley behind it to escape the emotional turmoil of the job and looking up at the moon and finding some sort of salvation there. It inspired him to ask Matt Clifford to help him organize a reading there. “It’s not Pearl Street where people are wondering what do I need. It’s very solar (Pearl Street). What can I see? How do I look? But then in the alley it’s just Soul. Some people wanna yell. Some people wanna whisper. Anything goes.”
I told him I remember the first one October 2011, and how it was this word-of-mouth mystery I had to hear about one night at Innisfree from Max Toast, who always had the rumor of the thing that was happening, and we didn’t even know where it was and had to go hunting all over Pearl Street to find it. Joe likes the whispers of the back alley nature of it. “I made this strict resolution that we don’t promote it or advertise, and just let whatever happens happen.” He laughs as he mentions how later he found out Cliff had been posting Facebook events for it all along, but we both agree it wouldn’t have gone on for so long without them. Now the reading takes place whether the creators are even present or not. Joe seems to like this, “It’s got this steam punk, you put it together (spirit).”
“Lunamopolis comes out of the joy of naming” Joe says. It literally means “City on the moon” or “Moon Map City.” It originated in a Summer Writing Program workshop with Brenda Coultas in which Joe and Craig playfully named her “Gertrude Lunamopolis” and “the word kept ringing in our ears.”
It became the name of a publication project with Craig Collier and Noah Christie to invite everyone into “alley everywhere poetics.” They felt “no need to brand the thing and it became a shape shifting kinda deal,” which explored all the ways poetry can be received. This led to some very creative forms for the compilation including a giant record sized issue, Please Do Touch, and another tiny pocket sized, On Your Person.
Joe eventually felt the need to “channel the spirit (of Lunamopolis) into more consistent production… something perpetual like the full moon… but still phenomenologically playful and inviting.” His current publication project is The Lune, a chapbook series featuring a different poet every month. They come in a 6×9 envelope, inspired by a friend who sent Joe manuscript that way. “It’s a moving and professional way to encounter (poetry).” The first editions were unbound, they’d sit in the envelope, and might scatter in your lap when you took them out. “The poet readers, and poets are the best readers because they’re readers of life, and particularly Anne (Waldman) told me she delighted in spreading Reed Bye’s on the floor” and putting it in whatever order she wanted “to curate the experience.” Other readers, however, had trouble archiving the subscription-based collection, putting their own rubber bands around them and so forth, and so recent Lunes are now traditionally bound (tho they still come in an envelope!)
Another idiosyncratic feature of The Lune is the cover art, which are all blind contours drawn by Indigo Deany. “I would sit down and chat and hang out and have tea (with the authors) and Indigo would sort of let their face move her pen around the page (without looking)… There’s something childlike and cubist about it.” The drawings are very impressive, and, tho abstract, if you know the poet you can always tell by the picture who it is. This along with the clean minimalist layout and short length (limited to 29.5 pages) helps the Lune stay true to its intention of being a cohesive and archiveable series of chapbooks.
Innisfree Open Mic
Joe has been hosting the bookstore’s Tuesday night open mic since Brian Buckley asked him in January of 2015. He first acknowledged learning a lot from former hosts Troy Suben, Forrest Lotterhos and me.
We discussed the endurance required to do the weekly gig, and the balance of putting energy into it but also conserving it to preserve yourself for the long haul. Joe’s strategy is “if I just sit back and listen and just sort of testify.” He was inspired by how professor Bhanu Kapil listens to poets. “She’s very intuitive and strange and magical about it… This comes from someone listening on a very deep and personal level.” It manifests itself as every reader getting some kind of acknowledging commentary.
We speak of the difficulty of listening to and remembering specific lines of poetry. “I like to be floating around,” Joe says. “One of the joys of listening to poetry… which some people don’t know is okay… is to attach to the thing and then go off on your own (mental tangent). There’s always at least one line in someone’s poem that leads somewhere…” In this way it’s a very authentic conversation between reader and listener. We agreed the important thing was just acknowledging and testifying that the reader did something, because the worst thing is going to an open mic and feeling like you were invisible or unheard.
I also mentioned the community aspect of the open mic and how it can be about just participating in a ceremony. “We don’t have many ceremonies like this in the culture in which you get to speak your piece,” Joe says. “I love the poet who you can barely hear, and I love the poet who is eliciting this sort of orgasmic response.”
Anne Waldman Lune/Innisfree Anniversary event
The latest Lune to be released is by none other than Naropa co-founder and Boulder poetry idol Anne Waldman. Hers is #10 and has been available since March 1st (Starr Owens’ #11 is actually the most recent, but Anne was not in town to do a release until now). I ask Joe how he was able to lure in such a big name. “They’re interested in the same community that we are and we’re fortunate for that,” he says. He went on to explain how the solicitation process is varying, some authors have been Naropa Professors, some students, others Innisfree customers and open mic participants. Submissions are open to anyone thru their website poetsonearth.com.
As for the future of The Lune Joe says “I just want to keep doing it, keep putting issues out…” He admits the economic difficulties and the unreality of trying “to peddle poetry,” but also says “There’s an enthusiasm there and I trust that it’s sustainable… There’s some incredible forthcoming works… and I trust each person who encounters the project to find something valuable in it.”
The release of Waldman’s “Dream Book of Fez” will coincide with Innisfree’s 5th Anniversary celebration and feature readings by the authors of issues 5-10, Reed Bye, Jack Collom, Laura Cesarco Eglin, Ella Longpre, and Marielle Grenade-Willis. The event will be hosted by Joe Braun, himself. It will have a casual structure, with 5 minute readings from the features and hang out time between. It starts at 6pm and goes all night. “I think it’s going to be exciting to celebrate the fact that through trials and tribulations and location changes Innisfree is still here,” Joe says like a moon rock, like the tides, like a lunar cycle, like the Apollo mission, like an eclipse, like an aquatic bird, like canadian currency, like the debris from a 4.5 billion year old impact, like an asylum, like a poet, like the man in the…
Jonathan Montgomery is the editor-in-chief of boulderpoetrytribe.com. He’s a graduate of the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (MFA ’05) as well as the author of Pizzas and Mermaid and Taxis & Shit. Go to his website jonathan-montgomery.com for more!