This is the official blog of Northern Arizona slam poet Christopher Fox Graham. Begun in 2002, and transferred to blogspot in 2006, FoxTheBlog has recorded more than 423,000 hits since 2009. This blog cover's Graham's poetry, the Arizona poetry slam community and offers tips for slam poets from sources around the Internet. Read CFG's full biography here. Looking for just that one poem? You know the one ... click here to find it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Have Gun, Will Speak Freely

Have Gun, Will Speak Freely
Sedona Gun Club Practices Second Amendment To Enforce The First
By Nate Hansen
944 Magazine © 2007

On a living room bookshelf, rising floor to ceiling, ranges an arsenal of literature from Friedrich Nietzsche to Dante Alighieri, David Sedaris to Kurt Vonnegut Jr. Chapbooks written by people otherwise unpublished sit among poems and books from the beats; inspiration some days, history others. Five miles away, off a winding road between a tourist town and lavish resort, the same book lovers worm through rounds from .40- and .45-caliber handguns, a .32-caliber pistol, a .30-06 rifle, a 12-gauge and an AK-47. At home, book jackets. At the firing range, full metal jackets.

Greg Nix and Christopher Fox Graham are the 20-something visionaries and organizers of Sedona Gun Club. Once a month, they gather like-minded people who relish in the idea of popping off rounds after sounding off poetry, haikus, quotes or jokes. You see, this isn't an ordinary gun club. First rule of Sedona Gun Club, there is no Sedona Gun Club. Actually, that's not true, but it's hard to resist saying it.

The Sedona Gun Club originated as the brainchild of writer and friend Nate Hansen [in case you haven't noticed, the writer of this article], but shortly thereafter was adopted and given life by Nix and Graham. Its mission is to guarantee — and enforce if deemed necessary — the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution by making use of the succeeding amendments, specifically the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms."

During meetings, members must read written works — original or otherwise — before shooting any weapons. Afterwards, the ceremony continues with one copy archived for a future underground newsletter called The Report, while the second is fired upon. After all, words and guns have and always will be natural combatants, Nix and Graham say.

"We use poetry as targets for its metaphorical statement. A poem is an intentional, concentrated effusion of words encapsulating a moment, a feeling or an experience. A bullet is an intentional concentration of metal, gunpowder and purpose," Graham says. "Granted, the metaphor isn't why we created the gun club — we initially just wanted to shoot at targets — but it seems to be a way to explain our rationale for blasting holes in our art."

Nix sees things a little differently. Born and raised in Georgia, he prides himself for his Southern cynicism, yet always ends an argument in a gentlemanly way. He agrees with his friend in respect to why they do what they do with poetry and guns, but explains it in a broader sense.

"Poets are taken seriously in other countries because they are meant to challenge them, meant to speak truth to power, meant to question what others take as a given," Nix says. "Poets in this country are just trying to figure out how to pander to the widest base and sell merchandise. Why take somebody seriously when they already make it clear what they're all about?"

Nix slips on a pair of ear protectors and slides a 30-round clip into an AK-47. He continues his tirade, feeling for the import weapon's safety lever.
"Poets aren't taken seriously in this country because most poets in this country are fucking morons. Write me a poem that has something intelligent to add to this supposed national dialogue we fantasize we are engaged in," he continues. "We all know racism, bigotry and war is bad, but how about you tell me why instead of just jerking off to the latest groupthink babble that's put out there?"

Nix steps up to the firing line, flips down the safety so the weapon and range is "hot" and unloads an entire magazine of 7.62 on Graham's 1980s hi-fi stereo. Graham looks on, laughing as remnants of a Culture Club cassette is blown to smithereens and scattered beside empty bottles of beer and wine consumed the evening before.

"You hit eject," Ella Garrett, original member of SGC screams with her hands over her ears.

After Nix returns the weapon to its rightful owner, Graham loads four rounds of .30-06 into his rifle. As Nix did, Graham attempts to multitask conversation with gunfire — sometimes oil and water, sometimes gunpowder and flame.

"Being an armed poet makes sense in the shadow of the Patriot Act. First, it's knowing what type of literature we're checking out of the library, then it's restricting it, then it's banning certain speech as treasonous. A cabal pursing corporate wealth at the expense of the people's rights is far less likely to enact legislation restricting free speech if they knew their constituents had a breaking point and would back up their outrage with a forceful return of those rights," he says.

Graham kneels down in the ready, looking oddly like a British soldier during the Revolutionary War. He makes sure his cowboy hat is properly adjusted over ear protection and returns to pay full attention to his rifle. He looks through the scope and focuses on the bullet-ridden stereo, his former boom box.

"Put the needle on the record. Put the needle on the record," P.J. Robbins, newest member, sings tauntingly.

Boom!
Echoes ring out over the forest service area when Graham pulls on the trigger.
Boom!
A cloud of dust and disc jockey debris fly from nearly 100 yards away.
Boom!
A miss, but it seems half the hillside collapses as dirt showers from 20 feet above an embankment.
Boom!

After his fourth and final hit, Graham rises from his position and approaches the makeshift armory, all smiles.

"Pro-gun and anti-gun lobbies have a far too narrow view of the Second Amendment. At the same time, your neighbor probably doesn't need a howitzer to hunt pigeons, it also shouldn't restrict ownership to the police and military.

The Second Amendment is very clear, "a well-regulated militia" protects the nation in case of invasion, while the "right to bear arms" protects the free speech of the people from government infringement," he concludes without missing a beat.

Friends and members of SGC are familiar with the duo's eloquence and well-versed antics, but this is impressive. Chewing bubble gum and walking has nothing on blowing an old television away while citing Shakespeare.

Nix and Graham aren't only the organizers of Sedona Gun Club, they're housemates. Before they began sharing a two-bedroom home in West Sedona, they were rivals at slam poetry events. Each one varies in their writing style, political stance and personality, but when it comes to their views towards free speech, they're brethren.

Nix is from Georgia, but Graham is from Montana. He prides himself on a western heritage, and similar to Nix, a heritage that has never been one to rollover and say, "die." On the other hand, the fact they both sleep on nearly 1,000 rounds of ammunition stored under their beds is comforting as well. While other members of SGC take turns on weapons of their own, they step away for a moment to discuss the gun club's mission and vision. Nix notices a Starbucks' coffee cup sitting beside a semi-automatic weapon cooling near the center console of a pickup truck. He can't help but laugh, then begin another sociopolitical rant.

"America is just a longing for a plot of land you can guard with guns, a soapbox made out of empty beer cases, and a night sky willing to listen to all the crazy, shit-pot theories you dare to come up with," he says. "Something's always wrong with America, but then again, something's always wrong in a family, a group of friends, and your mental state at any given moment. If shit wasn't going wrong, we'd have nothing to bitch about. If we had nothing to bitch about, you'd have nothing to read. Peace, love and happiness is a goddamned boring state of mind and doesn't keep circulation up."

"These are critical times for civil rights, perhaps the most dangerous times for free speech in our history, " Graham chimes in quietly. "Hope for the best with a pen in one hand, but prepare for the worst with a firearm in the other. If the worst should befall us, the common people are going to look to poets for hope," he says.

After calming themselves with passive glances back toward the firing line, both Nix and Graham insist their intention is not to promote aggressive behavior towards any entity, whether it be foreign or domestic, but rather ensure the freedom of speech without censorship. In other words, SGC maintains one right by upholding another. Everything SGC uses — ammunition, weaponry and targets — is as legitimate as a person can get. Soon, the gun club plans on making it mandatory for all members to take a gun safety course. Some already have their CCW, a concealed carry permit. All in all, and odd as it seems, it's good fun for a good purpose.

"Being a poet and knowing how to use a weapon safely isn't a contradiction, despite the stereotype of socially liberal poets as nonviolent peaceniks," Graham says. Before rounding up bits and pieces of technical targets and empty shell casings, the two make plans for everyone to meet at the Martini Bar, one of Sedona's few spots for nightlife. Thirsty for a few Pabst Blue Ribbons and Oak Creek Ambers, members talk among themselves.

"Imagine scores of armed poets springing up across the West like Chuck Palahniuk's fight clubs or a Cacophony Society with ammunition," Graham says to a dreadlocked marksman.

For more information, to inquire on how to become a member or to visit a Sedona Gun Club meeting, visit http://www.myspace.com/sedona_gun_club or www.myspace.com/nate_hansen

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I'm too tough for Canada - and never allowed to visit

Another thing I discovered on my vacation after trying to enter into Sasakatchewan to shoot a few photos. According to the Immigration Office in Ottawa, Canada, I am forbidden from ever entering that country. I have a nice little letter saying the same.

If I ever try to enter or are found in country, I'll be promptly arrested, jailed and subsequently deported. The immigration official I spoke to at the border checkpoint had a cute accent, though.
"I just want to let you know, Mr. Graham, that we are turning you back at this time and you're forbidden from ever entering Canada, eh."

On the plus side, it was the most polite country to ever kick me out of it.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

To The Girl Riding Shotgun

For Montana and Sarrah Wile

across this home country of rednecks and ranchers
the pages of my ancestry
turn backward to days
running barefoot over vetch and stones
when i stood much shorter
gracing the sweetgrass with elbows and shoulders
instead of the strained fingertips of today
memories flood back when i least expect them
lessons learned, loves lost,
childhood games and their innocence
before i translated the rules
and learned how to break them

the silhouettes of familiar landscapes
eagerly welcome me back as if they're the tourists
revisiting a boy they knew in their youth

these green wheat fields of farmer tans
these western hats signaling oncoming howdys
these selfless smiles from strangers
this countryside
this is home

a boy i knew once lives here
we shared the same name
wished on the same stars
jumped the same cricks together
and left the other behind
when we cut the cord
leaving him in the Rockies
while i wandered the deserts

we see each other still in dreams
and play tag with fawns, calves and cubs
that have yet to learn
our parents play predator and prey

he still plays on the hillsides i long for,
beneath fir trees overlooking the valley that once held me fast
along the yellowstone artery carving a canyon
our ancestors will see from orbit

his house is over the ridge,
somewhere
down this dusty stretch of gravel,
somewhere
in the shadow of flax and sweetpeas,
somewhere
i know the outline of the farm like a thumbprint
can pick it blindfolded from all the others
simply by the sound of the breeze
but the roads still seems unfamiliar
though the map clearly says it's here

and to the girl riding shotgun
all this land is as new
as it seems to me mostly
as i wait for the memories in bottles
to find me lost in this sea of rolling hills
beneath blue moons rising red in the blood of harvest
sometimes we're both awash anew in these fields
National Geographic anthropologists on assignment
deciphering a dialect with a common vocabulary
in others
she is only a passported traveler while i am timeless
standing swallowed by the sunset of red fields
touching my family's livelihood in the grain
reaching roots down deep into the land
that we love as a mother

bud lights, rodeos and hank williams
rise up from the soil
in the aftermath of a solid spring shower
as honky-tonk two-steps,
broad-rimmed stetsons
and a vigorous fiddle
shake free the alfalfa baled back home
and for a moment in the dim lights
old men remember being cowboys
while cowgirls look for old wives they will become

to understand montana
you must travel it by road
knowing that distances are measured in days, not hours
every stop is a must-see
because haybales are the only signs of human habitation
no matter what town you visit,
there's always a drink waiting at The Mint,
where the bartenders call you "hon,"
even if they know your name

lost locals identify themselves
by family name first
in the smallest towns
to which your bloodlines tie you
in montana,
family comes before the man

here, where death and life are cyclical
we learn young to converse honestly
because each visit
may be the last
until the hereafter
words are ties that bind

that boy i once knew
i see now grown up
behind the wheel of every beat-up Ford
that passes us
the girl riding shotgun learns
that the difference between
redneck and revolutionary
lies in the chance taken
by my parents
before i could even spell "poet"

that boy sees me, too
behind the wheel of every out-of-state plate
knowing that this boy looking for home,
somewhere
is on the interstate,
somewhere
dreaming of catching up,
somewhere
where the beer is cold
the jukebox plays only johnny cash
and on the drive back down country roads
the breezes bring back memories
on the parachutes of roadside dandelions