John Sullivan

The Big Forever Swim

John Sullivan’s hybrid theater and poetry collection, The Big Forever Swim, is our first chapbook in our ROR-produced series.

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Jack Kerouac Literary Prize winner, and dear friend / co-conspirator of mine on stage and camera, John Sullivan’s new collection, The Big Forever Swim, seems as mad and disjointed as it actually ain’t. In this book, he plays the role of Victor Frankenstein, and his book is his creature, his Object Monster.

Imagine Sullivan uprooting an old-growth telephone pole, wires attached, and rolling it down a bumpy hill. Signals get crossed, lines of communication stretch, snap, and touch briefly, and his story which ain’t a story gets not told, actually, but performed, song and dance and poetry style. Sullivan introduces us to some artifacts by name, creating them as he does; Lady Striga (toting a drape like James Brown’s roadie toted a cape), aka Doc Benway (a quack medicine peddler), Mr. Rougarou (a twitchy Cajun werewolf); all worrisome shades of his internal him.

Some of the images in a piece called “Chasing the Tracks of a Magic Deer,” I can almost smell, and they smell like ozone and mown grass; it’s a preternatural Eden in an airship. It’s a little grassy field and stream and forest, enclosed in a bubble masquerading as an airship. It’s last chance nature in a goldfish bowl.

Unlike the rest of Sullivan’s critters, his Object Monster – though always invisible - exists objectively. The Big Forever Swim kicks down the sainted fourth wall - that magical consensus through which thou shalt not break in most styles of theater, musical or otherwise. But these poems and poem-scripts pay little heed to that and many worlds and characters interpenetrate. And in the process abracadabra from Myth to Monster, and back again. As Hillary Mantel once put it: Who among us has never seen a magic door in that wall? Or having seen it, maybe, did we actually open it?

Dan Braverman, Screen adaptation of Robert Anton Wilson’s Wilhelm Reich In Hell (with Robert Wilkins)

β—ˆ β—ˆ β—ˆ

Like so many working people on the Houston Ship Channel, John Sullivan works shift work (shifty work if you can get it). Day shift – as a human concerned personally and professionally with the environment – he scans, never ever taking his eyes off the real landscape we have committed: the poems and poem scripts reek with the minute authority of benzene, toluene, whatever last got cracked in the petro-chemical refineries been here so long, looks like they’ve come to stay. Who writes poems about benzene? Sullivan does. Sullivan has found poetry and theatre in even these terrible cracked miracles. When he works the night shift, proper poet, he croons, as he should, the human soul of the mangled characters he has imagined inhabiting his fractured but sometimes companionable universe. Like one of his most original characters, Oonagh (who identifies as a woman, though not as a human), Sullivan has a mind that is “lush, piercing, gloomy, sharp, dazzling/vivid, savage, willing, plush and dire simultaneously.”

Pamela Diamond, Possum, Barthelme Fellow, Michener Fellow

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About the Author

John Sullivan was an ACTF Playwriting finalist, received the Jack Kerouac Literary Prize, the Writers Voice: New Voices of the West Award, AZ Arts Fellowships (Poetry & Playwriting), an Artists Studio Center Fellowship, and a WESTAF Fellowship.

He was also a featured playwright at Denver’s Changing Scene Summer Playfest, an Eco-Arts Fellow with Earth Matters On Stage, Artistic Director of Theater Degree Zero, and directed the Augusto Boal / Theatre of the Oppressed (TO) wing at Seattle Public Theater.

He and Sheli Rae facilitated a series of acting / playwriting workshops inside the Pima County Jail in conjunction with the Pima County Library and the Tucson Writers Project.

His creative work has been published in a variety of print and online venues. His previous books include Bye-Bye No Fly Zone (Weasel Press / Lansing MI, 2019), When Story Stops, the Leak Begins (Unsolicited Press / Portland OR, 2020, and Dire Moon Cartoons (Weasel Press / Lansing MI, 2021).

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