June 28th: Matthew Gavin Frank reads from ‘Pot Farm’ + A Review


On Thursday, June 28th @ 7PM:

Chicago-born Matthew Gavin Frank will be stopping at the Argo Bookshop on his North American tour to present his latest book Pot Farm (University of Nebraska Press, 2012), a text full of firsthand observations, experiences, interviews, and research detailing the strange, sublime, and sometimes dangerous goings-on at the North Californian Weckman Farm. It’s a place with hidden politics and social hierarchies, populated by recovering drug addicts, alternative healers, pseudo-hippie kids, and medical marijuana users. From pickers to drivers, cooks to yoga instructors, snipers to illegal immigrants, Frank explores the various roles that allow this industry to work, and the blurry legislation and logistics that regulate and rectify the “mostly” medical marijuana industry, a thriving but unsung faction of contemporary American culture.

Matthew Gavin Frank is an assistant professor of creative writing at Northern Michigan University. He is the author of Barolo (Univeristy of Nebraska Press, 2010) and five collections poetry: Sagittarius Agitprop, Warranty in Zulu, Four Hours To Mpumalanga, Aardvark, 6×6 and The Morrow Plots.


So, Thursday @ 7PM. Here’s a review I (JP) have done for the book:

“Having to live with a mother who is dying is… I want to say ‘difficult’, but that hardly encapsulates the experience. The doubt, preliminary grief, and frustrations (among a myriad of other emotions… break out your thesauri, kids) are understandably too much to handle for some.

Matthew Gavin Frank faced living with his mother’s battle with cancer, and it seemed to me that it wasn’t just the steady decline of the body of the woman bore him unto this earth that chipped away at his emotional endurance. It’s also the routines involved with living in that situation that “drove (him and his wife) to do something deliberately foreign and ‘off the grid,’ the way people do when they realize, but are fleeing from, the awareness that they may have just shed their youth, or whatever it was that allowed them carefreedom.” Weekly ‘chemo breakfasts’, walking the dogs, trying to have sex as quietly as possible in your teenage bedroom while your parents are sleeping a few paper-thin walls away… all this, while the reality of the cancer hangs above.

This is how Frank’s book opens, calling upon his reasoning for coming to a northern Californian pot farm, Weckman Farm, as he clips and prunes and picks buds from their sticky stalks. It shows how he mixes the past and present into one lucid movement, memory and immediate reality moving as one into a precarious future. It’s this quality that functions as a central device for the book, feeding into the descriptions, with Frank immediately synchronizing the unreliability of memory with unreliability of his narrative.

Unreliable because, ahem, he was almost as stoned as Marc Emery will be when his expedition comes to an end.

But don’t get me wrong! Sure, Frank begins by discrediting his own words by evoking the great spirit of marijuana, but as the story moves forward, you slowly realize that he’s a great voice of balance between the highly opinionated supporters and those who would deplore the industry. He doesn’t shout “legalize it!” from the farm’s hillsides, and is humble enough not to look down upon anyone who treats weed as a panacea.

Look, coming from Canada, I am completely desensitized to the concerns that surround pot. Legalization is a no-brainer in the end, if not just for the sake of the hemp industry. Its legality in my country is a joke, existing in a limbo where so many have done it/currently do it, yet it simply won’t be legal any time soon (likely due to our proximity to the States in the first place). The only time I really realized the Canadian-American discrepancies surrounding pot was when I met my first American outsider as a teenager. She couldn’t frankly discuss how much she wanted from the dealer over the phone. “The cops don’t really care” I said, trying to reassure her, but that fear was only dissuaded with a lot of time and blatant deals out of car windows on populated streets.
In a way, I found myself relating to how little Frank knew about the situation with pot in the States. The Compassion Act of 1996, the organizations that fight for its distribution, the outdated laws constructed from a defunct Reagan administration… who knew that pot farm struggled to exist south of our border so much? Thieves, renegade anti-pot militias that violently attack the farms, military-style visits from divisions including the California National Guard, the California Department of Fish and Game, the federal DEA, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Forest Service, the Marijuana Eradication Team, police departments…

But this book is no grand elucidation on the pot industry. It’s one guy working in it and taking in what he can from first-hand accounts. For those of you who crave a bit of blood in your books, sadly there is no attack on Weckman Farm during his stay. And if political manifestos are not your thing, no worries! As aforementioned, Frank is not giving a sermon from the weed field, only first-hand accounts that accurately paint the reality behind farms like Weckman. Choose your own adventure in ideals.

Consider this book as the following:
1 part emotionally-wrenching family fiction
1 part conversation borne from a joint being passed around
1 part recent history of the pot trade in California
Simple syrup, ie. Frank’s skill as a poet feeding into the descriptions
& seasoned to taste with colorful character vignettes and pondering impressions.

The people Frank meets are worth the book alone. We’re not talking about a sea of deadhead hemp-promoting granola-crunchers, but a far-reaching palette composed of ex-cops, ex-Vietnam soliders, people trying to KICK hard drugs like cocaine or heroin, yoga instructors, father/mother figures, blue-collared workers, a Hurricane Katrina survivor, AIDS patients… some of which can play a mean guitar or trumpet. Yes, there are some people you could certainly deem to be hippies, but wouldn’t it take a liberally-minded individual to work in a quasi-legal industry that supplies medicine to chronic pain sufferers at the risk of imprisonment? And yes, some pot does go out to people for recreational enjoyment. The horror, the horror!

Some of you may not enjoy Frank’s tendency towards the somewhat tangential and/or surreal in his descriptions, but if that’s the case, I believe this to simply be a kind of voice you haven’t given a chance. Frank isn’t necessarily going for the overbearingly literary with this text, but he has done something that is socially conscious, both politically and empathically engaging. Its passages are fun, breezy and at times very beautiful and enlightening:

“Driving at dusk, the satellites come out over the desert. The sky through the windshield is a painful blue, the moon like some lewd headlamp parting the knots of creosote. Some, so many tired people are harvesting mairjuana. (My wife) Johanna has had her hand on my leg for over an hour, the sweat cooling between our skins. We are driving toward.” ”

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