an interview with Clay Banes
You come from Massachusetts--born & raised?
I was born and raised in western Massachusetts, yeah. We lived in the city when I was very, very young, which was glamorous, but then when I was five my brother was born and we moved across the river to the village where my mom had grown up, where her siblings still lived, her parents and grandparents.
How did you wind up in the East Bay? Did you leave to go to school?
I left to leave. Adventure. My dad's mom lived here, and I'd spent a couple summers with her as a boy. There was a phantom connection. Also, I'd come out a year or so before with a girlfriend, who was doing a transfer semester at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. We drove, which I'd never done--driven across the country. It is very dry. We drove to San Francisco and stayed for a few days with a Massachusetts friend who was then living there. One tastes, and one gets notions.
Did you initiate the reading series at Pegasus or inherit it from someone else?
I began it, in fits and starts. It wasn't planned or organized or thrust, just the odd one-offs, but pretty quickly accidents happened and there were genuinely happy connections. I'd only known the books I'd liked. I didn't know any hustle. I got lucky, and the momentum at the beginning was the zap of delight meeting other people who read this stuff for pleasure.
How do you feel about poets contacting you and asking if they can come read at Pegasus?
I am always happy to hear from poets who'd like to read at Pegasus.
What's the relationship between running the series and your own experience of writing poetry?
I'll have to get back to you on that. I'm very vain, so I stopped writing for production a while ago. I thought with the deep return to poetry, ordering books and hosting poets, I'd get back to it. Unfortunately, I'm still vain. I've read more widely, because of the readings, and I've had the top of my head taken off in scores of new ways. My own writing hasn't caught up to it yet. I've felt indebted to poetry, which sounds corny, but only because I like it. We're good. I hope we stay good.
Did you study writing in school? MFA?
I've been studying writing since I learnt to read. I like it. I don't have an MFA, but I have participated in a workshop. They seem as valid as so many arguments, but it also seems valid that it would not take any particular strain on the imagination to come up with something completely different.
How's the writing going this week?
I'm clearing my head.
You have a great contemporary poetry section at Pegasus. Do many poets & publishers send books for your consideration? Would you suggest they do?
You're kind for saying. I must thank the handful of poets and publishers who send me books. Truthfully, few do, and I'm broke all the time. Frankly, I'm very generous with my money.
Would it be somehow inappropriate for you to divulge what you are reading at the moment, or mention the last book (or recent books) that you really liked?
I just finished What Began Us by Melissa Buzzeo (Leon Works) and Why I Am White by Mathias Svalina (Kitchen Press).
Your store has been directly across the street from a Barnes & Noble. My understanding is that they moved in opposite Pegasus, lasted years, and have now closed--is that right? If so, do you have an idea why? We never hear any story other than the one about an independent bookseller being shut out by a big chain bookstore. What happened to business at Pegasus when Barnes & Noble moved in, and what happened after they left, and why do you think your store survived?
Barnes Ignoble lived directly across the street from us for 10 years and closed at 9:00PM on May 31. They had a fountain, but a fountain wasn't enough. Pegasus has grown in its decade, starting from nearly nothing. When I began working here, we had remainders and very unspectacular used books, the kind you'd find in a charity organization shop. We didn't buy used books. We started carrying magazines. We started buying used books. We started carrying new books, etc. The store has been getting better all the time for a long while now, and it's thoroughly grown up a part of its neighborhood. Barnes Ignoble of course is always the same and everywhere the same, and it is the tool or toolmaster of the big commercial houses' crassest instincts.When Barnes Ignoble first moved in, it helped the store, because the downtown was dead: their appearing there brought more traffic. In the years since, Berkeley's downtown stopped dying and started reviving. It has turned itself around and there are many new restaurants and shops and it is very different. Having a local, not-stupid bookstore as an anchor on the corner probably didn't hurt. Anyway, times change. Now that Barnes Ignoble has closed, Pegasus Books has only gotten busier. We're haler. Huzzah.
How long have you been managing Pegasus? Is "manager" your title? How did you come to be working in a bookstore? If you moved, would you stay in this line of work?
I'm manager emeritus. I stepped down from it, and I never could have done what I'm doing--ordering new poetry titles, hosting readings--if I still managed the store. Also, always, there's the rest of it. We buy and sell loads of used books. That's the biggest part of my day. I've been doing this for 11 years, and I guess I traveled 2,700 miles to be able to. I really can't get away from books. They're not much read, you know.
If I move and whether I'd like to stay in this particular line of work, retail, is hard to say. There are criteria. There aren't many places where books are still sold and where bookstores are still supported by readers. I care about books that aren't well-distributed and books that have fallen out of print. Is that a cause?
Do you sometimes consider moving east again or do you feel you belong in California? "Belong" might be too layered or weighty a term, but do you feel that the West has taken hold?
The Bay Area has taken hold. I really don't know anything about California, just what everybody knows: from TV. I am an exile and I have an exile's prerogatives and I miss New England and water and weather and plants and birds I can understand. I dream about New York City oftener than I think about Sacramento.
How long have you been blogging? Why did you start? Do you like it? What have been the benefits?
I've been blogging almost two years. I fell into it when I clicked to create a blog, to see what would happen. The only half-baked notion I had was to not promote myself, to give something back, however corny and dreadful that sounds. Poetry's been good to me. I've liked blogworld. I've learnt a lot, read work I'd have never found, met some truly lovely people.
Why do you call your blog Eyeball Hatred?
No reason. Those were the two words I'd put together that week, like "dim eggs," which I'm often doing. I dropped them in when I was commanded to name my blog, just to get to the next step.
What's your opinion of myspace?
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Are your parents alive?
Yes. I talk to my dad now. And my mother.
How would you characterize your ambition?
To not be greedy. To not be secretive.
What happens when you wake up in the morning? Do you write down your dreams? Do you eat breakfast? Drink coffee?
I've never written down my dreams. I often wake up and try to remember whatever words I'd lain thinking about after I'd put the light out and before I'd slipped to sleep. They're chains, very short because I'd been writing them in the dark in my head, hearing them over and over, having to, trying not to lose them. Usually I do. If I don't and I remember, in the morning I write them down. Then I make coffee.
. . .
. . .
. . .