Describing Iris Berry as ‘Punk Rock Royalty’ is an accurate first assessment, as she’s an authentic ‘Native Angelino’ originator of the Los Angeles punk scene, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg, as she’s a woman of wonderfully diverse talents. She’s also a pop culture historian and the author of multiple books: including, The Underground Guide to Los Angeles, (co-authored with Pleasant Gehman) and, The Daughters of Bastards. Add to that, she’s one of the founding and transformational minds behind Punk Hostage Press! Plus, she’s a delightfully edgy singer and producer. In fact, she co-produced the launching of a series of comedy variety shows with activist and comic Margaret Cho. Equally important is her role as a philanthropist in producing huge fundraising events to benefit organizations such as The American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Hollygrove Orphanage.
GL: Many writers become authors because they’re/we’re touched by the words of those who’ve come before us. I know that you and I share a love and respect for both Charles Bukowski and Dr. Seuss. How have they influenced your life? And, have they inspired, or indirectly inspired, your own writing?
IB: I stared writing at the age of seven. Armed with the whole Dr. Seuss collection along with Grimm Fairy Tales and a few enchanting books on Greek Mythology. I also had three older brothers who listened to all kinds of music, from The Doors, The Rolling Stones, Motown and Lou Reed. I didn’t know it at the time, but the music was a big influence on my writing.
Dr. Seuss inspired me to write poetry because rhyming came easy to me and the beauty of a poem is that you can get across a myriad of feelings in 20 lines or less. That worked for me. When I turned 10 my mom, my stepdad and my teacher got together and told me if I just wrote 50 more poems to add to a collection of about 50 that I already had, they would get me published as a young writer. I froze. Suddenly, thinking about writing for other people took something away from me, and the inspiration that I had to write, which was based on having a safe place, left me. I never stopped thinking about writing or being a writer, I just suddenly lost my voice.
Eleven years later, when I was 21, I walked into the West Hollywood Library and just for the fuck of it, I started looking under the “B” section, wondering to myself, “hmmm, what authors will I be next to when I get published?” I found Bukowski’s, The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses and Charles Baudelaire’s, Fleurs du Mal, which translates into English as Flowers of Evil. I checked out both books and couldn’t put them down. Baudelaire’s writing was so powerful and real. For the first time in my life I was reading words that answered questions I didn’t even know I had, words that came from a very deep and guttural place that resonated with me. Along with the title of Baudelaire’s book which pretty much described to me the very meaning of poetry, Flowers Of Evil, the beauty in the ugly, and Bukowski’s writing, which was exactly that, and Bukowski did it so well and he didn’t rhyme, and he broke all the rules of grammar. This fascinated me. Because Baudelaire did rhyme and that’s the only way I knew how to write poetry. Many of the great poets rhymed. But reading Bukowski and having him strike so many chords in me, and the way he looked at the world, real, raw and beautiful, was exactly what I needed to free up my voice and give me a different ideal for my belief system about poetry. A much bigger world opened up. Which in itself was inspiring. I was reading Bukowski to everyone and anyone who would listen. I made my dad listen to me read “An Almost Made Up Poem,” from, Love Is A Dog From Hell, by Bukowski. I made everyone listen. I was moved and suddenly felt free to write with this new found permission: of not needing permission. And no one was waiting for anything specific from me. That’s where the real freedom came.
I love your readings, ‘Vision & Voices IV’ at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=Hk01pnnhrpE&feature=endscreen (love the musical accompaniment in this one, too!)
(and the subject matter in) ‘The Trouble with Palm Trees’ at:
Who filmed them? Why were those locales chosen?
IB: The musical accompaniment is from my ex-husband Tony Malone. He’s played in a quite a few bands. Detox, Thelonious Monster… to name a few. Tony really captured my words with his music in such an epic way. Giving my work the noir feel that initially inspired me to write it. Tony is one of those people whose talents are unlimited. He can pick up a kitchen utensil and make amazing music with it. We did a CD together that Tony produced called, Collect Calls. It’s out of print. So if you have a copy, hang on to it, or send it to me, because I don’t even have one. I guess I’m gonna have to bootleg my own CD! Ha!
The Vision & Voices video was shot at L.A. Artcore. I read with Chris D. from the Flesh Eaters. Robert Sobul and Joe Donnelly, editor and publisher of Slake Quarterly, filmed that show. Richard Modiano, the director of the board for Beyond Baroque, booked that show. That was the first time we met and it turned into a wonderful friendship.
The one shot at the Cobalt Cafe was done by Angel Perales! He did a great job. I really appreciate that he took the time to film it.
The Trouble With Palm Trees, was written on a ride home from Vegas. Growing up in LA, I’ve always been aware of how iconic palm trees are, and how they symbolize so many things, so many promises, representing a lifestyle that’s been bought and sold since the minute Hollywood was born. The Trouble With Palm Tress, video was filmed by Teddy Quinn in Joshua Tree. Teddy is another brilliant Artist who can do everything. Everything he touches turns to gold.
How any of these clips and shows end up on YouTube is beyond me! I’m always happy to see them out there on the Internet, and extremely grateful to the people who took the time to film them, edit them and put them up on YouTube. Especially since the Internet has taken away a lot of humanity between the connectivity of artists, writers, peers, fans and friends. There still are some things that happen on the Internet that are completely organic. And that is really important, especially when it comes to art, literature and music.
GL: How did Punk Hostage Press come about?
IB: On Friday the 13th of January, 2012, my dear friend, A. Razor, who is an incredible writer, and I were texting. I was on my porch in Los Angeles and he was at his home in Oakland. We had just met a few days prior with Luis J. Rodriguez the founder of Tia Chucha Press. I had edited a manuscript of Razor’s for Luis’ consideration for publication. We learned so much from our meeting with Luis that it inspired us to want to have our own Press. Razor and I have been publishing and doing everything D.I.Y. since the early 1980s. So this was not a foreign concept to us, at all. As a matter of fact, it’s a way of doing things that we were and are very comfortable with. After 25 years of D.I.Y., it becomes part of your DNA. And now with the Internet and everything being so D.I.Y. friendly, it just made perfect sense to us that we’re completely qualified and naturally geared towards taking matters into our own hands and running with it.
So we threw around a few names, and Punk Hostage Press, just felt right. First we were just going to publish our own books, work towards becoming a non-profit, which would allow us to do outreach work with women’s shelters, homeless shelters, juvenile facilities, jails and institutions. Allowing us to be a literacy program for the underprivileged. Which made publishing that much more exciting, because it wasn’t just all about us, we had a purpose to do something to help, no matter how big or small our contribution would be, we could strive to keep building.
As soon as the word was out, the submissions came rolling in, from so many of our friends and peers and even strangers, whose writing we love and are proud to publish on our press.
At this point, the press has taken on a life of its own. And it’s beautiful. We are receiving so much love and help from the Los Angeles literary community, along with other communities in other states and countries. The outpouring of love is overwhelming. Sometimes I have to stop myself and say, “Is this really happening?” The best part of being a non-profit and doing the outreach work is that it helps take the ego out of the group efforts. It really makes our press a “we” thing. The writers, that we are so fortunate to publish, all want to help, and don’t get caught up in the small things…because we’re too busy doing this together. It helps knowing we’re doing this for a higher purpose, people less fortunate than ourselves. We want to bring other publishing companies together, making our mission statement more universal. Even in our guidelines we state that we will not allow any maligning of other artists or other publishing companies.
No one is perfect, but we have to keep striving towards something higher and integral, otherwise, what good is it?
GL: Which books are currently being promoted?
IB: Danny Baker’s, Fractured. A. Razor’s, Better Than A Gun In A Knife Fight. Iris Berry’s (me), The Daughters of Bastards. C.V. Auchterlonie’s, Impress. Carolyn Srygley-Moore’s, miracles of the BloG. Yvonne De la Vega’s, Tomorrow, Yvonne. Poetry & Prose for Suicidal Egotists. Rich Ferguson’s, 8th & Agony. A. Razor’s, Drawn Blood, Beaten Up Beaten Down, and Small Catastrophes In A Big World.
GL: What can you tell us about future releases (currently in the works) at Punk Hostage Press?
IB: We’re very excited about all of our current books, and the books that are coming out soon! We’re always amazed and grateful to be surrounded by so much talent. Everyone on our Press, now and coming soon, are all so gifted and inspiring. All of our writers, even though they fit the mold of the press, are all very different in their style and in their intensity. It’s been a joy getting to work with all of them.
We’re just finishing up with Jack Grisham’s book, Untamed! For someone who’s spent most of his life as a charismatic frontman for the notorious west coast punk band T.S.O.L., Jack Grisham has managed to continue shocking people! He’s spent the last two years writing and it turns out he’s an amazingly talented writer. Writing comes very natural to him. He’s a really hard worker, and a joy to work with. His stories are twisted and hard-hitting. His first book, American Demon, A Memoir on, ECW Press is now on its way to becoming a feature film. As long as they make sure Jack has final say on creative control, it will be an amazing film.
We’ve got Dennis Cruz whose book, Moth Wing Tea, is also ready to hit the stands. Dennis is an amazing poet who writes about a different side of Los Angeles, the real Los Angeles from the viewpoint of a person who was born here and calls LA his home, as opposed to the people who come here from other places with new faces, reinventing themselves in hopes they can shop it and sell it. While missing the real beauty in the rawness of a city that only a native like Dennis Cruz can know and write about, so well!
We’ve got the Diana Rose book coming soon, Where The Road Leads. Diana works with kids and does her fair share helping others, bringing the community together. Diana has spent a lot of time promoting so many others in the poetry community, it’s now time that we give that generosity of spirit back to her. It’s long over-due. It’s now Diana’s turn! She writes about some really powerful subjects that need to be addressed rather than ignored. Diana manages to passionately touch on these issues with a redeeming sense of integrity. Her writing is powerful and her spirit is undeniable.
Pleasant Gehman’s book, Showgirl Confidential, in my opinion, can’t come out soon enough. Pleasant has lived a life that many dream of, but would never have the guts to actually pull it off. Pleasant is Other Worldly, with a book filled with showgirl stories that allow the reader to live vicariously through Pleasant. The fact that she’s a phenomenal writer makes it that much more amazing to read her work.
We’ve got Edaurdo Jones’ book, The Red Hook Giraffe, that we’re really looking forward to releasing. Edaurdo is another very powerful writer, and listening to Edaurdo Jones read, is a whole other experience. Either way, his writing and his book, promises to be very captivating. Edaurdo is the guy that parents spent their lives trying to keep their daughters away from. Too late, he’s been let out of his cage…
Puma Perl is also someone we’re very excited about! Puma is a powerful female, east coast writer, who says it like it is! She’s the real deal! Her forthcoming book is titled, Ruby My Dear.
We’ve got Frank Reardon’s, Blood Music. Frank is taking time with his book and for that I really admire him. He’s very much dedicated to the craft of writing in a way that I’ve never seen before. Really looking forward to his book.
We’ve got Richard Modiano’s book, Drive All The Horses At Once, which is what Bukowski told a young Richard Modiano when he asked Bukowski how to write good poetry? Richard’s book will be a memoir, starting in his youth and following him through many scenarios that will take us deep in the heart of pop culture, filled with many anecdotes and encounters with all of our Beat and counter culture icons.
We are also very fortunate to be putting out a book by Carlye Archibeque, titled Rebellion, a book of powerfully written short stories and prose. Carlye, who has grown up in the city of angels, tells stories in great poetic detail about living through the wrath of The Hillside Strangler. Along with many other stories, that could only be written by someone who has grown up in Los Angeles, witnessing the strange side of L.A, that doesn’t seem so strange if you’re from here.
And if all of these amazing writers weren’t enough, we’ve also got a few books coming from S.A. Griffin who, in my humble opinion, is one of the best. We’ve got a collection of Los Angeles stories coming from Joe Donnelly, co-founder, publisher and editor of Slake Quarterly. Along with a book from John Dorsey, Sonny Gordiano, Larry Jaffe and Annette Cruz. And a few more that I can’t talk about….yet!
GL: Where can readers shop for your books?
IB: CreateSpace and Amazon Books – Globally
In Los Angeles our books can be found at:
Le Luz De Jesus Gallery, Skylight Books, Stories Books & Café, and the Beyond Baroque Bookstore.
In San Francisco our books can be found at:
City Lights Bookstore, Pegasus, The Beat Museum, Moe’s Books, Alley Cat and Bound Together Books.
GL: In a different vein, how has taking a stand on certain issues impacted your own life? Winston Churchill said: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Do you agree with his words?
IB: I absolutely agree with this, on many levels. There’s always controversy when you do anything in the public eye. I just steer clear of it all. Staying focused on the things in my life that are good, like making books by very talented people who deserve to have books. And then get those books to people who can’t afford books, or education, or kindles or iPads and homes to read them in.
GL: Besides being a great poet, and wonderful writer in general, you’ve also been a part of numerous bands/tours: The Lame Flames, Ringling Sisters, Pink Sabbath, The Bittersweets and The Flesh Eaters—to name some. Which ones did you most enjoy touring with?
IB: The Ringling Sisters. We had the time of our lives. I was also on a spoken word tour with S.A. Griffin and Pleasant Gehman called White Trash Apocalypse. We really lived up to our name. They never saw us coming!!!
GL: Now, you’re also involved in some great nonprofit outreach work. Please tell readers a bit about these causes and where they can go if interested in contributing.
IB: I’m currently on the Board of Directors for Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center for Los Angeles. With Punk Hostage Press our main goal is to get into the women’s shelters, homeless shelters, juvenile facilities, jails and institutions. We could always use volunteers. Anyone who is interested can email us at, email@example.com.
GL: What other artistic projects are you currently working on? And, what do you have in store for the rest of 2013?
IB: I’m also working on a book with longtime writing partner Vicky Hamilton, her life story. Vicky managed a lot of bands in the 1980s. Putting many of them on the map, who are still household names to this day. Guns ‘N’ Roses, Poison, Mötley Crüe, June Carter Cash…to name a few. Vicky’s story is about the adversity of being one of the first A&R Women during the 1980s and in the Metal genre that was a male dominated business, before the term sexual harassment and domestic violence were taken seriously, and still she persevered. That’s the gold in Vicky’s story, is her fearless perseverance. Along with the fact that she had some pretty wild times.
Mainly, 2013 is all about Punk Hostage Press, finishing my own books, traveling, outreach work for Punk Hostage Press and Words As Works, along with other amazing presses that we’ve come into contact with, and Beyond Baroque.
Thanks so much, Beautiful Iris!!!
Thank you, it’s been my pleasure!!! Iris xo