On April 2, the Big Car Gallery launched the release of pLopLop #12 from its perch in Fountain Square's Murphy Building with a mix of music and revelry. Colorfully surreal paintings by pLopLop founder and editor John Clark adorned the walls of the gallery alongside excerpts from this literary arts zine.
That John is a principal member of Big Car shouldn't be surprising, since the Big Car Collective and pLopLop are both dedicated to the notion that the arts can be fun, collaborative, and unpretentious.
Founded in 1991 and published intermittently since then, pLopLop has published authors with national reputations like Charles Bukowski, Hal Sirowitz, and Kevin Sampsell (author of the recently released ACommonPornography, published by Harper Collins) alongside the work of locally-based writers such as Kit Andis and Richard Pflum.
John was born in Missouri in 1960. He spent most of his youth in various cities in Ohio, where his father was a preacher. When John arrived in Indianapolis in 1987, there wasn't much to recommend the city as far as the arts were concerned.
Fast forward 23 years. Much has changed in Indy, where there is now a genuine—if somewhat small and fragile—downtown arts scene. John is an integral part of this scene. The following interview took place in his eastside "pLopHouse," a combination studio/living space where tubes of paint and coffee mugs compete for the last square millimeter of space with his latest canvases.
NUVO: Tell me a little about how pLopLop began.
CLARK: It started really, going to readings that the Writers' Center had at the Slippery Noodle twice a month. I won this contest for Poetry on the Buses and that led to a reading at the IMA. That was the first time I ever did a reading. So that got me interested in it. And the Slippery Noodle was a good place to read. I started meeting people there, a group of poets. I did a Richard Brautigan Halloween broadside in 1991, which was the first GeekSpeak Unique item. So once I brought that to the readings and started showing people them and giving them away because they had an original painting, a portrait of Brautigan on the top and the text was below.
NUVO: So the broadside, not pLopLop, was your first actual GeekSpeak Unique Press publication?
CLARK: Yes. That was what got it rolling. Then it really set the tone of having a unique work of art on it. I really didn't have a plan to start a zine. [People said] maybe we should start one. "Well John," they said, "you've already got the ball rolling with the broadside. Let's do it." It was off and running. It was mainly people we knew... people who went to readings.... I took the broadsides to Borders Books and put them on consignment and that's how I got to know Kit Andis and then Kit became coeditor. It was funny taking the broadside to Borders [the old Castleton Corner location] and if it had been anyone else but Kit it might never have been accepted.
NUVO: How did you come up with the title pLopLop?
CLARK: Max Ernst had a character "Loplop, Superior of the Birds," that appeared in several of his paintings, collages, and collage novels. I was just goofing off one day, before ever thinking about doing a zine, and rounded it off by putting a "p" at the beginning, and when the zine got underway, a few of us were brainstorming names—and pLopLop was this word I sorta invented and it was a better choice than Indianapolis Poetry Review and whatever else was suggested.
NUVO: The pivotal moment for ploplop, in my understanding, was when you got Charles Bukowski to submit.
CLARK: Yeah. That was like a jetpack booster rocket. You know it was like, after doing a couple of issues; well, let's see who else is out there. I had access to a poetry address book and I had started sending out requests in self-addressed envelopes. And Bukowski... I had sent some things to Black Sparrow Press and then they were passed on. Eventually, every time I had a correspondence I'd get closer and closer to Bukowski and next it would be his P.O. Box. So I was able to write to his P.O. Box. So when I saw the envelope arrive I called up all my friends... you gotta come over and look at this...
NUVO: Wasn't Bukowski's poem's in pLopLop #3 about shit?
CLARK: By the time I started putting it together I realized that #3 could be called 'duh turd issue' like a N.Y. accent—cuz of course everyone thought pLopLop was a scat joke which it was kinda, but also had the surrealist heritage from Max Ernst. I sent an SASE to Bukowkski and asked him to write a shit poem—a week or so later I got one. It begins, "An editor asked me to write a poem about shit." So it was double cool to get a poem but also to be mentioned as editor in the first line. Double whammy!
NUVO: There's a lot of cross-pollination between your painting, your writing....
CLARK: I was always interested in people who did both. Like Henry Miller and Kenneth Patchen. There's two examples there. And there's others. e.e. cummings was a really good painter. But I was always interested in both. My dad did both. He loved to draw and he also wrote and he also would speak publicly.
NUVO: American poets are always reinventing the religions of their fathers. And your father was a preacher. And you have kind of an evangelical groove going when it comes to promoting the arts. So I guess we could talk about your involvement in the Big Car Collective in that respect.
CLARK: Yes, indeed. Yes, it's the same kind of thing. It is spiritual. Kandinsky had "Considering the Spiritual in Art" as a title but yeah, it is a way... to tap that energy in saying, let's make something happen. Let's collaborate. So it could be almost like a congregation. It's not like we're looking for converts or that there's a rigorous theology. It took me years to realize that, you know...my dad was a very good preacher and just used humor and things like that that I just continue but in another direction, in poetry....but the fact that Big Car is a nonprofit, and we're not all about making the money. Anything earned goes right back into the nonprofit. So it's a way of encouraging and inspiring which are both words I heard a lot growing up in a religious household.