On the morning of June 5th, 2016, I got a surprise email from poet, publisher, and bookseller Jay MillAr, saying he had in his possession “a little cassette tape” with an interview that he and his partner, Hazel Millar, conducted “circa 1995” with Canadian surrealist Steve Venright. At the time, I was working intensely on the forthcoming volume of Venright’s selected and new writings, The Least You Can Do is Be Magnificent (Anvil Press, 2017). I was intrigued and excited by Jay’s message.
As the shadow figure behind Apollinaire’s Bookshoppe (“an on-line bookshoppe specializing in the books that no one wants to buy”), Jay had already helped with some of my research for the project, generously locating rare literary zines featuring Venright (e.g., Sin Over Tan, edited by Michael Holmes, Bill Kennedy, and Darren Wershler) as well as other ephemera (e.g., LyricalMyrical’s chapbook edition of Venright’s The Sleepy Turbine, with illustrations by Kerry Zentner). That Sunday morning, Jay promised to unearth the “tape” from a basement box—not, however, before warning me that neither he nor Hazel had ever listened to the interview and, thus, he couldn’t say, one way or another, how useful the “tape” would be.
By early afternoon, that very same day, I got a follow-up email from the ever-industrious Jay. He’d already located the recording. Turns out, it wasn’t a single “tape” at all. He had two microcassettes, “originally recorded at Steve’s house in the mid ’90s and then tucked away forever.” Later that summer, Jay mailed the recordings from Toronto, Ontario to Wilmington, North Carolina, where I live and work. I opened the envelope. The Memorex microcassettes inside were identified as “Steve Venright #1” and “Steve Venright #2.” No other descriptive information was provided or available.
The audio recordings provide some—though not all—of the interview’s missing context. The scene: Jay and Hazel are sitting on a sofa in Venright’s apartment, drinking peppermint tea. The chimes of cups, saucers, and spoons are part of the soundscape. At the time of the interview, Venright lived with his partner Dale at 331 Mutual Street, two blocks east of Church Street, in Toronto’s Village neighborhood. He rented the main floor and backyard for $700 per month. In the flow of recorded conversation, Venright makes reference to a specific poem, “Exolve,” from his book Straunge Wunder; or, the Metalirious Pleasures of Neural Alchemy, published in 1996 by Natalee Caple and Brian Panhuyzen’s short-lived Toirtoiseshell & Black Press. So, we can narrow Jay’s “circa 1995” and “mid ’90s” estimates to 1996, or perhaps even as late as 1997.
I recently asked Jay and Hazel what, if anything, they remembered of the event. Jay wrote, “I recall that it was raining, quite heavily in fact, which made the evening very dark and damp, and Hazel and I went to Steve’s home . . . with our little tape recorder and just started recording a conversation that hadn’t been prepared in any way. It was completely off the cuff.” Hazel answered, “I remember being a little nervous the day that we went to Steve’s house to record the interview. This was well before the time that I was officially working at BookThug and I was often uncertain about how to act and behave around poets. . . . I had this idea that no poet would want to talk to me because I myself wasn’t a poet. But I always liked Steve—we regularly attended the Torpor Vigil Reading Series that he ran at Café Blancmange and he was always very kind to me—and so I was keen to accompany Jay for the interview.”
Each microcassette is 60 minutes; each side is 30 minutes. Tape #1 is not an interview per se. It’s a staggered conversation on the aesthetics and politics of John Barlow’s zine Oversion: The Post-Raphaelite Poetry Magazine of Free Writing and Correspondence. Jay seems to be flipping through issues of Oversion in Venright’s apartment, reading excerpts aloud or reflecting on Barlow’s editorial practice. Venright participates minimally in the conversation. Side A of Tape #2 is the interview proper, with Venright answering questions at length. I’ve transcribed Side A of Tape #2. Side B of Tape #2, however, is blank—a slight departure from Jay’s recollection, over 20 years later, that “we ran out of tape and we chatted some more and then Hazel and I went home.”
The interview begins in media res. Prior to hitting the record button, the Millars and Venright have been listening to Canadian duo Legion of Green Men. The tape begins with Venright praising the group’s 1994 album Spatial Specific. However, the first 10-12 seconds of the conversation are unintelligible as a result of what appears to be tape damage. Furthermore, there are a number of inaudible passages in the interview, due to changes in either vocal volume or physical proximity to the microcassette recorder. The sound of the microcassette recorder, too, adds to the ambient noise that often interrupts or distorts the coherence of the audiotext.
In my transcription, I insert “[INAUDIBLE]” to signal those moments that resist audibility. I insert “[laughter]” to cue readers to moments of levity. I have gently edited out “speech whiskers,” to borrow Peter Gizzi’s name for the natural ums and ahs of conversational hems and haws. Finally, I’ve also provided footnotes to help explain obscure or confusing references. Included in these footnotes are a handful of clarifications, elaborations, and historical curiosities provided by Venright and Jay MillAr. For example, Venright mentions attending a poetry reading by Christopher Dewdney in 1981 at Toronto’s The Cactus—a reading recorded for, and included in, Ron Mann’s documentary Poetry in Motion (1982).
Venright’s wit, esoteric knowledge, and storytelling prowess are on full display in the wide-ranging interview. He discusses literary and cultural influences, including the aforementioned Dewdney as well as Terence McKenna; he explains his psychonautic poetics as one way of encountering the Other; and he even provides a brief critique of mass media. But Venright also allows for many comic digressions, including the tale of Jumbo the Elephant, the late 19th century circus phenomenon, and an especially inventive pataphysical remapping of Southwestern Ontario.
The Millars are a warm and attentive audience, laughing often at Venright’s deadpan delivery and listening closely to his illuminating reflections on life and art at mid-career.
Wilmington, North Carolina
April 19th, 2017
II. The Interview
Steve Venright: I haven’t seen them [Legion of Green Men] for a long time; but we have mutual friends who are very much in contact with them, and they’re covering territory that is of prime interest to me and of great interest to anyone who’s into neural adventuring and expansive kinds of auditory experiences. They perform impossible feats in the studio and come up with some sounds that have not been heard before. They have a concern with Dewdney, I would say, as well, and that’s what I have to say about them. But it [the album Spatial Specific] does fit in with some of the other accolades I’ve been bestowing throughout the evening. There’s a certain theme, and unless you become familiar with some of the work like that of McKenna and Woodring and Legion of Green Men, then—and the Dewdney that I was just playing in our intermission—then it may not be evident to you.
Speaking of Dewdney, he should be mentioned as another very prime and primordial inspirational force, as well.
Jay MillAr: I would say that [Dewdney’s work] is much more scientific and through that a kind of spiritualism; and then in yours it sort of comes around the other way, a spiritualism and through that is a kind of pseudo-science or something.
SV: I like that. And I think that he wouldn’t dispute it, either. He, now and then, has a good laugh at my gullibility, you know. He’s a complex being and someone who I have a real fondness for—and his work and his presence. So that’s real transformative stuff.
Gordon Nicholson and I—Gordon is a composer and sound engineer—we’re working on a recording based on Dewdney’s A Natural History of Southwestern Ontario. I had the idea of a reading by Dewdney which would be enveloped by all sorts of layers of recorded material, which would’ve been drawn from the landscapes that appear in that book.
JM: Did you actually go out and record stuff in the wild?
SV: Yeah, mostly a summer ago. I went to a lot of spots mentioned in the text or which I knew were significant to Chris and Southwestern Ontario itself. Like the Elora Gorge. Hungry Hollow. London, Ontario. Paris, Ontario.
JM: Did you actually make it to Paris?
SV: I’ve been trying since I was 19! [laughter]
JM: Yeah, you always go by it on the 401 there—on Highway 2.
SV: I was going by it from Sarnia to Toronto. I was on one of my escapes, when I was in an unstable state, I think, and decided life was remarkable enough that it would put up with my dragging it all over the place on zero budget and zero judgment. [laughter] And so, one of these episodes, I was on a train from Sarnia to Toronto and [we] passed Paris, Ontario and I jumped up to ask one of the—what do you call the train guys?
SV: Yeah, the conductor—what that [Paris] was? It was so—it was such a beautiful mirage!
JM: You go through all of Europe as you’re going through—
JM: Through Southwestern Ontario: [laughter] London, Windsor, Paris, and Kitchener.
SV: All of Europe and all of elephants as well [laughter]—but I’ll get into that. So, the conductor said, “That’s Paris, no jobs there,” which is just as I thought. [laughter] I thought I will live there. That is the place where I will live.
Hazel Millar: Right.
SV: And then, well, I didn’t live there. I lived in Toronto shortly afterwards and met Dewdney. In fact, in some circuitous, synchronistic way, he was responsible or he was a kind of, you know, a device which facilitated my change of location and has appeared synchronistically in my life ever since. I was on my way to a reading in Toronto for the first time—Dewdney was reading—it was at The Cactus, in 1981, December ’81. And so I met him briefly that night and ended up interviewing him in ’82, once I was a citizen of Toronto. And when Paris came up, he said, “Paris, Ontario is the centre of the universe.” And the remarkable thing was that just a short time before that I said to a friend of mine, “Paris, Ontario is the centre of the universe.” [laughter] So, he confirmed that, and I thought, you know, he would know, I wouldn’t [laughter]—but . . . it’s the vote of confidence I needed.
So, this recording [Dewdney’s A Natural History of Southwestern Ontario] is from places like that, but it’s also industrial recordings, sampled material, and we generate all sorts of—kind of multi-layered settings for his vocal transmission. And these go through all kinds of treatments in the studio and come out backwards, inside out, and with all kinds of different treatments.
But Southwestern Ontario, besides going through Europe with the names of the cities, you also go through different organs and body parts of a giant elephant, which is Southwestern Ontario. I could pull out a map; but take my word for it, that if you look at Southwestern Ontario—and, well, maybe I should say the majority of Southern Ontario from the west—you will see the outline of a charging elephant. Sarnia is approximately the medulla. . . . I guess elephants have medullas oblongatas, right? I should know, I studied them. Anyway, I think Paris is the spleen.
SV: Which fits in with Baudelaire’s observation in the 1800s, when he wrote Paris Spleen. And London is the heart, I think. Windsor—this is for Barlow [laughter]—Windsor is part of the trunk. Owen Sound—well, we won’t say [laughter] what Owen Sound is but the name is appropriate.
JM: Alright, okay.
SV: And Jumbo the Elephant, in 1882, approximately 1882 or 1892, came over from England and was travelling with Barnum. And it was on the tracks near St. Thomas, close to Aylmer, Ontario, that he met his end. Now, curiously, these tracks led from the grand trunk, geographically—the part that appears to be the trunk—and the name of the railroad was “The Grand Trunk.” And it, and the train travelling that railway. [INAUDIBLE]
I tied it in with this elephant being into the natural history of elevated water storage, as well. Water towers. There is a tower named “Jumbo,” [laughter] a four-legged water tower in Colchester, England, which dates from the time Jumbo flew to North America. And the water towers of Pompeii, I’ve got a great book of those just over there. I’m trying to cram as much of this in as I can because I’ve got just boxes and boxes of material from when I was researching the subject, and I know I’ll probably never do anything [laughter] with it again—but ramble to people brave enough to come into my living room. [laughter]
JM: So, when Jumbo died, near the heart of Southwestern Ontario, and Ontario truly did become great—
SV: You may have something! That may have been the sacrifice necessary for this transubstantiation. Maybe we can get a grant, after all; maybe the Tory Government will give us a grant.
JM: You never know—
SV: The History of Elevated Water Storage as it Pertains to Geomimicry in the Pachyderm World.
But maybe not. [laughter]
JM: One never knows. One must try.
SV: Would you like some more tea?
JM: I’d love some.
SV: Not too sleepy now. [INAUDIBLE] How’s yours Hazel?
HM: Just fine. [INAUDIBLE]
SV: I think this peppermint tea is acting as a stimulant. [laughter]
JM: Is it? It’s perking you right up! So maybe I should, perhaps, ask a serious question. It would have to be about the Other. Because it seems to be—you had an interest in the Other. In you talking about your work and whatnot this evening, about the Hallucinatorium and the writing and the artwork that you do—it seems that you like to experience the Other and try to bring it back for the rest of the population to, perhaps, experience in their own way.
SV: I think that’s part of the mission of the Hermit, with the light, the lamp. So revelation is one of the key phrases in my, you know, vision of whatever I may have to contribute. And it’s always been a vague sort of thing because I don’t know what it is I’m attempting to reveal exactly. But there’s a sense that it is there, that the Other exists, and so I won’t rest until I shine some light on it. But bringing it back, yes, that’s something—and that’s, in fact, the hard part. When you enter a certain, well, dimension, mental space, whatever you want to call it or consider it, then, it’s often so, there aren’t that many analogues in normal consensus reality that you can—
JM: Because it is the Other—
SV: Yeah, so it’s harder to convey, to transpose what you may discover. And words are maybe an awkward way of doing it, but I keep going back to it.
JM: There always seems to be a certain state, in the writing—trying to find the right word—very precise as you go through the—it doesn’t matter how strange—in the language itself—it doesn’t matter how many strange twists and turns the piece might go along, but you kind of trust the language to be precise.
SV: Yeah. Well, there’s the one piece in the book [Straunge Wunder] called “Exolve”—e-x-o-l-v-e—and it’s, in a way, the most abstract of the pieces; but, in another way, it seems to me to come closest to expressing a certain condition or perceptual state or just state of being. There’s a line, “Everywhere I open is electric.” And that’s how I feel when I am in that State of Grace. And maybe my idea of purpose is not so much as someone who will come back with all sorts of information and images and ideas but as someone who will simply say, “Look over there, there is an over there” or “There is an interior dimension besides”—well, this is starting to seem really vague. But let me say that I think I’ve seen enough to suggest that we really are accepting something rather mundane when we refuse to look at the different possibilities in perceiving the world that we’re in.
I want to elaborate or clarify in just a second because I know there’s a better way of saying that, and I’ll go on the record with that. I think that the idea of reality, that it’s a bit of a sham, I guess. Because from the time we’re born and probably before we’re born, our faculties are being tempered and sculpted in a certain way, so that, in a sensory capacity, we become filters that can properly process experience so that we aren’t completely—well, so that we can function. And this is very useful. But we have to realize that it’s not the only way to perceive the world. And then when you step outside, or perhaps inside, now and again, you can see things that are in a different light, through a different lens.
JM: Would you say—kind of a general mistrust of the experience around you? Perhaps it’s not exactly as it seems?
SV: Well, I like to test that possibility, that this will all just disintegrate under real close scrutiny [laughter]—this sofa, for example! But I’m happy that, for the time being, it doesn’t. However, it’s not so much a mistrust of this “dimension,” let’s call it, but a mistrust of the people who insist that we are criminal to try to look beyond it or look at it in a different way. It’s like, you know, going into the studio applying all different effects and techniques, in order to go in with your raw material—and then it’s modulated in a certain way, and you come up with something that’s perhaps more fascinating. So, that’s the other key phrase, I suppose: fascination.
I’m not interested in being bored. [laughter]
JM: I don’t think any of us are.
SV: Well, you wonder why so many people lead [sic] their lives, vicariously, through characters on television programs. There are some fine things about television, but it just seems that there’s too much of that that people are willing to settle for—something that is not, as the previously-mentioned McKenna would say, “The felt . . .”—ok, now I’ve lost it but . . . this is going to be the last line if I get it—I know that this is going to be the final line—“The felt presence of immediate experience.” But that’s not it.
JM: “The felt presence of immediate experience . . .”
[At this juncture, Venright gets up to look for a book by Terrence McKenna, so that he might quote him accurately. Venright is convinced he’s got the quote wrong and is only paraphrasing. In fact, he’s got the quote right.]
SV: I wonder if I can actually find that. Because it says it better than I was saying it. [INAUDIBLE] [laughter] Here we are. Yeah, I may have to ask for a paraphrasing right on the last 10—
JM: On the last 10 minutes?
SV: Is there anything else that you had in mind?
JM: Um. . . .
JM: It was a very fine conversation.
SV: I enjoyed it. Happy to continue it anytime without the recorder, too. Well, what I mean is, I can get the final line down, maybe while you’ve still got it going because I’m digging it up—
HM: Digging it up. [laughter]
SV: This is the best introduction to McKenna in a way. He comes off better than in [INAUDIBLE] yeah, well, that would be how I suggest [INAUDIBLE] Well, we won’t end with the McKenna quote, then. [laughter] I think I can resituate myself in that—at that point where I was going to say something to the effect that most people didn’t seem to be interested in—
JM: The possibilities of—
SV: Well, the immediacy of, of being alive in this moment, and—
JM: Do you find that those—maybe those trips to the Other, or however you want to describe them, are sort of like reminders?
SV: I guess so.
JM: The immediacy of my mind.
SV: In most cases, it’s not a condition you want to be in constantly, and I’m not referring to a psychedelic state, necessarily. But I’m referring to a moment when you’re washing your dishes, and suddenly the realized presence—
JM: Watching you wash the dishes—[laughter]
SV: Yeah. There’s an entrancement that can occur. And those are—seem to be—those moments seem to be outside of time and space. So part of my goal, in my own little, little world, is to make those moments happen more often, and to pay more attention to them. Life is longer that way.
And far more beautiful.
 Twins Alexander (“Lex”) Addicus and Rupert (“Ru”) Lloyd are the two members of Legion of Green Men. They previously performed and recorded under the group name Electro-Static Cat.
 Jim Woodring (1952– ) is an award-winning American cartoonist, illustrator, and multimedia artist.
 Christopher Dewdney’s A Natural History of Southwestern Ontario is a serially-published long poem. Sections have appeared over the years in Spring Trances in the Control Emerald Night (The Figures, 1978), The Cenozoic Asylum (1982), Concordat Proviso Ascendant (The Figures, 1991), and Signal Figures (McClelland & Stewart, 2000). In 2002, Toronto’s ECW Press published The Natural History in its entirety.
Venright’s sonic interpretation of Dewdney’s long poem was released in 2004 as a double CD (with a 16-page booklet)—eight years after the interview with Jay and Hazel MillAr. Here is the official catalogue description: “Steve Venright’s two-and-a-half-hour sonic interpretation is composed of over 500 original recordings made at locations specific to the text. Dewdney’s masterpiece is taken to a new experiential realm in one of the most ambitious soundscapes ever created—a hyperlucid, sometimes hallucinatory domain of time winds, spring trances and Cenozoic asylums. Primal, erotic, cerebral and exalted, A Natural History of Southwestern Ontario will envelop you in the visionary landscape of one of Canada’s most adventurous poets.”
 The Cactus was a bar located on Toronto Street, one block east of Victoria Street, between Adelaide Street and King Street. It’s where director Ron Mann filmed Christopher Dewdney’s segments for the documentary Poetry in Motion. The reading Venright refers to took place on December 27th, 1981. It was called The Holy Communion.
 French modernist Charles Baudelaire begins composing his “little poems in prose,” known as Paris Spleen, as early as 1855. The poems are later collected and published, posthumously, in 1869. Baudelaire died in 1867.
 John Barlow is a Canadian poet, editor, and publisher. He’s the author of three books of poetry: Safe Telepathy (Exile Editions, 1996); ASHINEoVSUN (Exile Editions, 1999) and ASHINEoVSUN II (Exile Editions, 2002). Barlow edited the Toronto-based zine Oversion in the 1990s, and he advocated for a fiercely independent small press aesthetic and politics.
 Jumbo the Elephant died on September 17th, 1885.
 Jay MillAr would later include his memory of Venright’s digression about the elephant in his book Double Helix (Mercury Press, 2006), co-written with Stephen Cain:
S____ told me something about Ontario and elephants. Southwestern Ontario, he claimed, is in the shape of an elephant, with Windsor located at the tip of the trunk, and Tobermory located at the tip of the tail. Sarnia, which is where S____ is from, is located at the forehead of the skull, while London, which is where I am from, is located in the general area of the throat. Niagara Falls, where there is a constant motion of water, rests underneath the front feet, while Toronto, where we both presently reside, is the genitals. Interestingly, S____ added, despite the fact that elephants are not indigenous to Ontario, an elephant named Jumbo did on the Grand Trunk Railway somewhere between St. Thomas and London.
Thus we are some of the smaller creatures that exist symbiotically upon the bulk of a larger one. Looking at a map of Southwestern Ontario, we invent our lives while riding a beast on some great mysterious journey across the earth, which has passed momentarily to throw its head back in a great bellow. Sometimes I imagine it is the presence of tiny creatures crawling along its skin that has caused Ontario to do this.
 Note from Steve Venright on April 9th, 2017: “I was working on research for a book to be called, insanely enough, Towers of the Elephant, or Water Towers of the World (a phrase I got to use in ‘The Tin of Fancy Excrements: A Journey of the Self,’” his long poem from Floors of Enduring Beauty (Mansfield Press, 2007).
 The Tory Government is a reference to Ontario Premier Mike Harris and his Progressive Conservative Government (1992-2002), which cut provincial funding to the arts in the late 1990s.
 Venright’s Alter Sublime Hallucinatorium was inspired by William Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s dreamachine. He would set up the Hallucinatorium at Toronto raves in the early 1990s, offering patrons special “sessions”—or trips—with names like “Turbulation,” “Tranceport X,” and “Velvet Airlines.” As Venright explains:
Visitors to the nomadic Hallucinatorium were treated to designed and improvised stroboscopic stimulation by means of the D.A.V.I.D. Paradise, a superb light-and-sound device developed and manufactured by Comptronic Devices Ltd. The therapeutic applications of this instrument are quite remarkable, but so are its properties as a catalyst of spectacular visual phenomena. By programming sequences that exploited the Paradise’s most dynamic and varied effects, I was able to produce a sort of intracranial fireworks display for those who donned the patented Omniscreen eyesets. For many, the experience went beyond the enthralled observation of fascinating colours and patterns to become a hyperlucid and ultravivid dream of otherworldly aspect.
 Note on “the Hermit” from Steve Venright on April 9th, 2017: “My tarot card, as a Virgo.”
Alessandro Porco is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. He received his PhD from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He specializes in 20th century poetry and poetics. He edited the critical edition of Jerrold Levy and Richard Negro’s Poems by Gerard Legro (BookThug, 2016), and he is the author of the afterword to Steve Venright’s The Least You Can Do Is Be Magnificent: Selected & New Writings (Anvil/Feed Dog, 2017). His new chapbook, The Low End Theory (2017), is published by Gary Barwin’s Serif of Nottingham Press.