Monday, July 12, 2021

Pretty Much The Opposite Of A Book Tour

Since the new book Gravity & Spectacle came out right at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, I wasn't able to do any readings and that was disappointing. I tried a few Zoom readings and subjected people to my cluttered backroom, confusing timezone, and spotty wi-fi connection. It wasn't the best way to introduce anyone to our brand new book, but we did what we could.

Then I noticed a call for submissions of video readings for a virtual literary conference. I liked the idea of recording a session without the limitations of wi-fi, so I went out into the desert and read a few poems to an audience of Saguaros. Unfortunately, I said the wrong conference name in my intro, so it was rightfully rejected for the virtual event.

So I decided to just do my own "Poetic Distancing Reading Series" in various five minute sessions on youtube like these:

The above video was the desert session that I filmed at the White Tank Mountain Regional Park.

This next one took place in front of The Rebel Lounge which has a long history as an important Phoenix music venue for up and coming local bands and national touring bands who haven't yet moved up to theaters (including bands like Nirvana, The Ramones, Soundgarden, Guns N Roses, Pearl Jam, etc back when it was know as The Mason Jar). Needless to say, Jia and I were stoked to have our book announced on their infamous billboard.

I will post more background notes on the other session in upcoming entries, but if you want to skip ahead and see all 8 of these youtube readings, here is the link to that playlist like the laziest book tour:

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Behind The Blurb part 3 of 3 Matt Hart

Our final blurb for Gravity & Spectacle was from the first person we asked: Matt Hart

Like Rosemarie's blurb, this was also too big to fit on the back of our book cover, so here is the full unedited version:

Who’s weirder than all of us? And why does it always feel like our “alienation is being filmed before a live studio audience”? If you’ve ever asked those questions, or if you’ve ever had a cactus for a head with eyes all over it, blinking wildly in the sun—or, if you’ve ever wondered why you can’t stop going to punk rock shows, even though everyone else thinks you’re too old for punk rock shows, so you stand in the back feeling odd or invisible or both of them at once—well, the photographs and poems in Gravity and Spectacle are a biography, a field guide, a hymnal, and battle plan of, and for, the rest of your life. Yeah, you might just be that strange. I know I am, and as a result this book is somehow a great comfort to me, even as it complicates and celebrates my bewilderment. It reminds me just how bizarre (in the best ways) being alive right NOW really is—a reminder to attend to it with ferocity and joy, but most importantly with imagination and empathy by any means necessary. 
~ Matt Hart, author of Everything Breaking/for Good and editor-in-chief of Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety

We first met Matt Hart when he came to town on a Southwest tour with another memorable poet named Jeff Sirkin in 2016. I hosted a poetry reading for them at an art gallery in Phoenix and we were able to hang out before and after the event for food, drinks and stories. Jia and I were only 1 year into this project, but we showed him some of our early photographs and he didn't laugh or scoff. In fact, he encouraged us, which was extremely important at that stage of development.

Matt is a powerhouse writer. His two recent books are no fluke or exception, so check out Everything Breaking/For Good from YesYes Books and The Obliterations from Ledge Mule Press.

As the editor-in-chief for Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety, he published some of the most impressive and innovative issues in indie-lit. Which is why we had to have him on our Punk Rock Presses panel at the AWP conference in Portland.

Matt has also played and toured with various bands over the years. Here's a song from his current band Nevernew that's worth heavy rotation:


But most importantly, Matt is the best Mentor / Hero / Friend that you could hope to find.

Copies of Gravity & Spectacle can be ordered from Tolsun Books, Small Press Distribution, and even Amazon.

Or if you'd like to get a signed copy from me, just send $20 (free shipping)
through PayPal
or Venmo

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Behind The Blurb part 2 of 3 Sean Bonnette

This book is full of ghosts, reflections, refractions, and memories of a distant Phoenix, one that’s burned down and regenerated many times since. I loved it.
Sean Bonnette, songwriter, singer, and guitarist of AJJ

For our next blurb, Jia and I needed to ask Sean Bonnette. 
There are only a few bands I've seen live more than twenty times and AJJ is one of them. Sean is a brilliant writer and I love how his lyrics deftly switch gears from quirky to heartfelt to sardonic etc. Even a twenty-second song like "The Michael Jordan Of Drunk Driving" is packed with sneaky poetics. And of course, the JJ Horner mask that is the centerpiece of our whole book came from their "Coffin Dance" video so his band is inextricable from the downtown Phoenix art scene memories that shaped many of the poems and photographs in Gravity & Spectacle.

Before AJJ evolved into a full band and started playing sold out shows all across the country and even over in Europe and Australia, the original core duo of Sean and bassist Ben Gallaty both used to work at The Willow House, which was the Phx coffeeshop where I first started doing poetry readings. Back then they were still called Andrew Jackson Jihad as an acoustic folk-punk two-piece band. I loved the synergy between Ben and Sean, the provocative lyrics and the way they were brave enough to play anywhere for anybody.

One time I even ended up on the same lineup with them at a bar on Van Buren called the Casa Blanca Lounge. That's a long story but we had a mutual friend who was getting out of prison so his girlfriend put together a welcome back show with some of his favorite acts and I got to read a set of poems between the bands.

For crazy timing: I was nervous to reach out to Sean but I finally sent him a message about our project early one morning before work. He quickly replied that he was interested and would like to see it. Then a few hours later, all my friends started posting links to news of the upcoming AJJ album (Good Luck Everybody which is out now). So coincidentally, I asked Sean about a blurb on the SAME DAY they happened to release their brand new single...and it was called "A Poem" !!! I went and listened to it and cracked up when I heard the opening lines. Listen to it here:


Copies of Gravity & Spectacle can be ordered from Tolsun Books, Small Press Distribution, and even Amazon.

Or if you'd like to get a signed copy from me, just send $20 (free shipping)
through PayPal
or Venmo

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Origin Story for Gravity & Spectacle

Back in 2014, I noticed that JJ Horner was having a yard sale. JJ was always one of my favorite artists, so I try to keep an eye out for him. I stopped by after work and saw some great paintings that couldn't fit into my little Honda before finding a strange piece that looked like a flesh-toned Saguaro covered with eyes.

JJ said it was hollow because he made it to go over someone's head in a video that he directed. I had no plans for it, just thought it would look cool on my desk to stare at me while I write. 
But a few weeks later, Jia Oak Baker won a new Leica camera from an Instagram contest (she baked cookies that looked like little cameras) and she wanted to see what it could do. We drove JJ's mask out to the desert (where it seemed like it belonged) and took a bunch of photos. We did this a few times over the next month in random locations like a grocery store etc. 
We were still just experimenting without any purpose, when Jia noticed a chapbook contest that wanted ten poems with ten images. We liked the idea and the challenge so we went for it. Unfortunately, our little manuscript didn't get selected but we liked what was developing so we focused our attention toward creating a proper full length book.

I gave Jia some more background on JJ Horner: that I first met him when I started doing Tuesday night readings at The Paper Heart Gallery, where JJ would set up a canvas and do live painting while poets read, musicians played, and host DJ Seduce would spin records. He started up a skateboard company called Pyramid Country and designed all the trippy artwork for their shirts and skate videos (which get lots of love from Thrasher Magazine). 

 photo by Paul Horner

I remembered that he also did a video for one of my favorite Phoenix bands AJJ, so I showed Jia his video for the song Coffin Dance and was surprised to see our Many-Eyed Saguaro mask make a brief appearance at the 2:20 mark:


Phoenix streets, music, art, skateboarding. Jia encouraged me to take the poems into all those areas of influence, since they were so interwoven. 

We visited a skatepark next to Cowtown Skateboards and almost seemed to blend in. 
Then we went to AJJ's album release show (for The Bible 2) at the Rebel Lounge and felt welcomed. Integrating those types of elements within our poems and photographs helped give our project some direction.

Gravity & Spectacle can be ordered from Tolsun Books, Small Press Distribution, even Amazon.

or I'd be happy to send you a signed copy
just send your mailing address and $20 (free shipping)
through PayPal
or Venmo

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Behind The Blurb part 1 of 3 Rosemarie Dombrowski (full blurb that wouldn't fit)

Jia and I are eternally grateful that three of our favorite artists/humans were willing to lend their time and support of our book, in convenient blurb form.

If you already know Rosemarie Dombrowski, Sean Bonnette, and Matt Hart, then you understand why we love them.

Otherwise, I will be posting a series of entries for each of their blurbs and some personal background on them and their own work and where to find it.

Today I will start with Rosemarie Dombrowski, who sent us a gigantic blurb that she knew would never fit on the back of the book. We almost moved it inside to use like a foreword, but we decided to take an excerpt and keep it on the back cover. Here is the full unabridged version:

Cactus Head (the mask, the man, the poet) is a metonymy for Phoenix—the wastelands and the outposts and the once-iconic venues, all of it juxtaposed with the ever-public persona of a dandy, someone (or something) as ubiquitous as street art and the steel shade structures that line our downtown streets.

The persona that Orion creates through verse – and that Oak Baker brings to life through image –is simultaneously the desert on drugs and in rehab. He is the curator of the ugly-beautiful, the faded bricks and the fairytale horizon. Accordingly, Orion perfectly captures the limbo of modern life with the opening lines of the opening poem: the Sonoran desert is an hourglass/knocked on its side.

But maybe the most delicious part is the fact that the line between ego and alter ego is invisible here, that every poem leaves you feeling as though you’re listening to the wire-tap tapes of some old-school hooligan (maybe Orion himself), like it’s all a veiled confession in the spirit of Whitman’s Calamus poems, arranged and rearranged into a secret sequence of desire and longing—though not for the transcendent, but rather for the ephemera, the scraps of pop culture and personal desire he’s collected along the way. Orion’s leaving them for us like a trail of breadcrumbs, like a topographical map into the heart of Phoenix.

Most importantly, this collection has proven that Phoenix is a real city, its streets choked with culture, the fatty tissue of its heart lined with punk rock politics and poets who are sometimes as hollow as pinatas.

~Rosemarie Dombrowski, inaugural Poet Laureate of Phoenix, founding editor of rinky dink press and The Revolution (Relaunch)

Both of RD's books are out of print and might be hard to find ("The Philosophy of Unclean Things" and "The Book of Emergencies"), but she also has a recent chapbook "The Cleavage Planes of Southwest Minerals [A Love Story] which can be found at Split Rock Review.

She is also the Founding Editor for rinky dink press and The Revolution (Relaunch)
photo from Kelly McGrath

Copies of Gravity & Spectacle can be ordered from Tolsun Books, Small Press Distribution, and even Amazon.

Or if you'd like to get a signed copy from me, just send $20 (free shipping)
through PayPal
or Venmo 

Thursday, April 16, 2020

Secret Low-Key Virtual Book Launch for GRAVITY & SPECTACLE

Our book launch was canceled, so I'll just make a quiet little blogpost announcement:

It began with an impulse purchase of an art mask sculpture from artist JJ Horner's yard sale, before going through five or six years of collaboration work with photographer Jia Oak Baker. Now Gravity & Spectacle has been published as a gorgeously square book of poems and photographs by Tolsun Books.

This project was supposed to come out about two years ago, but we kept pushing back the deadline because it just wasn't good enough. We finally got to a point where we were proud enough to publish it right when the pandemic hit.

"Jia Oak Baker's stunning photographs of a discarded punk-rock-skateboard-video-prop-mask, and Shawnte Orion's sardonic, pop culture-infused poetry make the strange world of Gravity & Spectacle. It is a slanted ode to Phoenix and its surrounding deserts, both gorgeous and absurd, stoic and wry, gravitational and spectacular, a "love letter to the fireplace" of a hometown seen through the lens and the pens of two of its inhabitants."

We had to upgrade and pay extra for high quality gloss pages so they could handle all the photographs. We were still nervous and hoping everything would look right, because we couldn't order a preview copy first... but the Tolsun team (special thanks to David Pischke) did an amazing job with the layout and design. Jia and I were so excited to see that this book came out better than we could have imagined. We can't wait to bring it to readings in some of our favorite cities whenever we are allowed.

But in the meantime, you can order a copy from Tolsun Books, Small Press Distribution, and even Amazon.

Or if you'd like to get a signed copy from me, just send $20 (free shipping)
through PayPal
or Venmo

I'll make more posts about the background (including the J.J. Horner art), blurbs (infinite thanks to Rosemarie Dombrowski, Sean Bonnette, and Matt Hart), and sidestories of the book in the coming days.

If you need a sneak peek, take a look at these sample poems and photographs that were showcased by A Dozen Nothing in February at

Friday, January 31, 2020

Poem and Photograph in Thimble Literary Magazine

One of my poems accompanied by a Jia Oak Baker photograph is online in the newest issue of Thimble Literary Magazine ( Much thanks for the Thimble Editors for including our work.

This is almost like a preview of our upcoming book, Gravity & Spectacle, which will soon be published by Tolsun Books: