B.E. Burkhead’s Poetry Debut

UndersideCoverToday marks the release of The Underside of the Rainbow by B.E. Burkhead. To say that I recommend this book is an understatement. Here is the introduction I provided for the book:

Chamber Pot of Gold: An Introduction

When I first met Blake it was during my tenure as editor-in-chief of The Dream People. This was back in the early 2000’s, when Blake was a avid reader of our publication. He was so enthusiastic and so skilled in the arts that I did not at first realize quite how young he was at the time.

So it came to be that Blake—as a high school student—became a regular contributor to not only The Dream People, but also provided artwork for Spider Pie by Alyssa Sturgill and the Tempting Disaster anthology I edited. Blake also made pins for us to distribute promotionally, and designed artwork for a Dream People writing journal. We were always corresponding back then, either through email or post or just talking on the phone, and I would send him old magazines to cut up for his collage work. Then he and Alyssa started up a publication of their own, an online ’zine called Blood Cookies, they began publishing my work frequently, so our relationship was a two-way street.

The first time I met in person Blake was at the HorrorFind Convention north of Baltimore in August, 2005 just after my son was born. Blake’s online persona was hardly indicative of just how bursting with energy and creativity and humor he is in person. Soon after that we fell out of touch, gradually as people do over the years, with me raising my son and growing busier with my career, and Alyssa moving away and shutting down Blood Cookies, and Blake moving out on his own and starting a family.

If Blake were someone to follow the typical trajectory this would be where things ended…but, no. Thanks to social media we met up again just a couple years ago. During the intervening years Blake had matured, certainly, but he had retained his vigor and originality. Even more, he had spent those years honing his skills as part of a performance poetry troupe. He and his wife and son were all at my home for dinner and an evening of conversation, and when it was over, as I walked them out to their car, Blake said something about his poem “The Underside of the Rainbow” and how he’d like to perform it for me some time.

Again, following typical trajectories in social situations with other authors and editors, I would normally abstain from such a thing. Authors always want you to read their work, always want your opinion, and so forth, but knowing Blake and having heard that awesome title, I said he should go ahead and do so right then. I did not regret it. In fact, I was blown away. Most professional authors doing readings at book signings or conventions fail to be even half as captivating as Blake was in his unprepared performance standing on my driveway in the dark.

I stared at Blake, at his wonderful wife, and back to Blake. Then I said, “So…you have any more poems?” I was sold.
It just so happens that Blake often composes his verse without writing it down, reciting the work over and over so he will be able to commit it to paper later. I’m not big on performance poetry myself, because it typically refines the performance while falling flat on the page. In the case of the manuscript Blake sent me this expectation was defied.
There aren’t a lot of people who can sculpt a poetic arrangement of words from an unusual concept or unique observation. There are fewer still who can arrange these words on the page as competently as they enact them in the live arena—and vice versa. My belief is these accomplishments have been achieved because Blake works from a place of unflinching emotional honesty. Flip through as many magazines and literary journals as you want, or prowl the open mic nights, but you’ll find people playing to crowds. Blake plays to the art.

Now for the the predictable bit about taking somebody under your tutelage, developing their career, et cetera: I have always been a student of those whose work I put in print. Over the years I’ve received multiple poetry award nominations, and it was working with people like Blake that always inspired  me, pushed me forward. No matter where the art lead, no matter how unexpected or bizarre or discouraging things got, Blake’s support contributed to my knowing I’d be the better for taking the journey. The Underside of the Rainbow reads much the same way.

Of Blake’s crazed verse I can say only that, in the words of Paracelsus, “All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison.” So take care with how much you read in any one sitting, and be warned that, as Blake points out, madness is addictive, never more so than in his hands.

-John Lawson
Bowie, Maryland June 16, 2015