An e-mail sent to two CityBeat staffers to confirm a meeting with author R.L Buss is lively, if a tad PG-13.
“They're about to shut our fucking water off here in O.B.,” Buss writes, “for reasons our landlord has not informed us about. The notice says ‘For bills not paid.' But that's up to our landlord... the same bastard who cuts down trees in our courtyard because he's too cheap to prune the mutherfuckers.
“But that's my problem. I look forward to meeting both of you for a drink and maybe some chow after da show. I'm like a rock star and get the ‘after-show buzz,' and I usually need a couple glasses of wine before I can even comprehend relaxation, especially in these times of war and threats and bullshit, in these times of leaders so far to the right they spin circles and dig themselves a big hole straight to China....
“I'd like to talk about Sun Wolf and Organic Literature and the reaction to it,” writes Buss. “It is the shit, in my eyes, but these eyes are mine and yours are yours and we shall speak of them all Saturday night. Looking forward and three howls out, R.L. Buss.”
Crusty Yale English professor Harold Bloom has a theory he calls the “anxiety of influence.” All writers are influenced by other writers, Bloom says, which can be a crutch or a blessing. A strong writer is the one who can acknowledge his influences but forge his own path.
Buss, who's been referred to as the Charles Bukowski of San Diego, at time wears his influences on his sleeve. He reveres Jack Kerouac, quotes T.S. Eliot and incorporated Kurt Cobain into a poem (in which Cobain and Jesus are swallowed by a whale, and Jesus swindles Cobain in order to get out). Buss opened a recent reading with a warning about potentially offensive language and heavy social commentary, though he came across as engaging rather than offensive; self-reflective rather than activist. “May I never go there again,” he concludes a poem about L.A.
Buss' claim to fame, however, is his founding of the Organic Literature movement-thus far a one-person collective. Just as the Beats absorbed and synthesized their surroundings, so too has Buss. Organic Literature, he says, spawned from Ocean Beach's fixation with the 100 percent natural.
“I believe organic literature to be, like organic farming, partly about sustainability,” he says. “Writing that will last based on how the writer tells a story or finishes a poem.”
Organic Lit. features “no ads, trends, formulas, pork or pretense,” Buss will rattle off if you ask him. In other words, David Foster Wallace and his über-erudite book Infinite Jest is out (“he rocks if he could just get past the pretentiousness,” says Buss); straight-up, no nonsense prose is in (“Man wants to die in lightning / Girl wants to go with him”-Buss's Silent Man). Assembly-line literary creations controlled by large publishing houses, out; Buss's fiercely independent Sun Wolf Press, in.
Prod Buss on it a little more and he admits it's sort of a marketing tactic-if all goes as planned, English Lit grad students will one day be writing theses on Organic Literature. His immediate goal, however, is simply to have people buy his books.
More early Kerouac than curmudgeonly Bukowski, the 33-year-old Buss has the looks of a philosophy grad student, has self-published several collections of poetry (I Threw a Cookie at Eddie Vedder is one of them) and is putting the finishing touches on his first novel, Suspicion of Indifference, set to be out this summer. He works a day job at Borders in Mission Valley, which could be construed as masochistic-so far, he's had little success getting his foot in publishers' doors due to lack of a literary agent. But Buss, who says he writes a poem a day, takes to his job at Borders like a Dustbuster to an overturned planter.
“As I'm sorting the books, I see all these ideas. One minute I'll sort Fast Food Nation then someone will hand me a book on [artist] Luis Bunuel. Obviously I'm influenced by everything that I read; it's hard not to be. It's a metaphor for the world right now. You've got movies, you've got billboards you've got commercials-all these people trying to influence you. How strong do you have to be to not just ignore but to incorporate it and make it your own?”
Though, how does he feel when his readers readily point to his influences?
“Kerouac was compared to Thomas Wolfe, Whitman [to] Emerson, and Bukowski names Fante and Sherwood Anderson as those authors he respected early on.
“I believe the key is respect,” he says, “as long as people feel I am respecting those who have influenced me, I have no problem. It means I am being true to myself and my experience.
“On the other hand,” Buss adds, “if someone claims I am ripping off another writer's gig, I'll be more than happy to prove them wrong or die trying.”