John Sakkis is the author of The Islands (Nightboat Books, 2015) and Rude Girl (BlazeVOX [books], 2009), as well as numerous chapbooks and ephemera. Since 2005 he has editedBOTH BOTH, a magazine of poetry and art. With Angelos Sakkis he has translated four books by Athenian poet Demosthenes Agrafiotis: most recently Y’es and Diaeresis(forthcoming from Dusie Press, 2015); Maribor (The Post-Apollo Press, 2011) was awarded the 2011 Northern California Book Award for Poetry in Translation. He lives in Oakland.
When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?
It depends on what kind of work they’re asking about. On the one hand I tell them I work for a company called Small Press Distribution, a non-profit distributor of literary books, and on the other hand I tell them I write poetry books.
If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?
I’d tell them the same thing Anne Waldman told me years ago at Naropa, that if you want to be part of a literary community, an active participant, it’s not enough to just write your poetry or prose, you need to put in work towards the community; that means attending readings, curating readings, publishing a magazine, starting a little press, supporting small presses by purchasing books (poetry is a gift economy, but you gotta buy the books sometimes too), writing and writing and writing and reading reading reading, that’s the initiation, no way around it.
Do you consider yourself successful? Why?
I consider myself lucky to be at a place where I’m confident in the work I’m doing, I have a readership, however small, it’s still a readership, and I’m humbled by that.
When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?
Thrashin’ – opening sequence, from my favorite movie of all time. When I was a kid I decked out my bedroom like Corey Webster’s, I made kids in the neighborhood call me Corey, Sherilyn Fenn as Velvet is still my dream girl (and the wallpaper on my phone). I used to watch the opening credits before heading out of the house with my giant Boneless kneepads and Pro-Tec helmet (I had a very supportive Mom) to shred the cul de sac, I fancied myself a Dagger but was definitely more Ramp Local.
Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?
My uncle Angelos has done a lot of great research into our family history; a lot of my Greek ancestors had fantastic nicknames, here are three of them:
Yiorgos Sakkis nicknamed “Mikros” (the Small)
Panayiotis Sakkis “Korios” (the Bedbug)
Yannis Sakkis “Nekrothafitis” (the Gravedigger)
Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?
When I was 10 years old I wanted to be sponsored by Powell Peralta, I would write the company a couple letters a month asking for free stickers and posters, I’d make the case for why they should sponsor me (“I love Per Welinder graphics!”), I don’t think anybody from Powell ever wrote me back.
So naturally I admired the Bones Brigade more than anybody in the world, especially Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero (my world changed after watching Caballero demo a half pipe at Raging Waters in San Jose in the late 80s, I barely went into the water that day I was so stoked), The Search For Animal Chin was the best thing I had ever seen, my school binders were covered in Rat Bones (who am I kidding, everything was covered in Rat Bones, including my arms with Sharpie marker). Oh, and I also really wanted to be a construction worker; I liked hammering stuff with my Dad’s hammer at 10 years old, super satisfying.
Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.
I’d be with my brother because he’s a firefighter and a rafting guide, an outdoorsman. When we were kids I would ask for books, comics and vinyl for Christmas, he would ask for flint rock, outdoor cooking gear, hatchets, weird tarps and tents and things. I’d let him guide, naturally; we’d probably drink a lot of cheap beer, swim in a lot of swimming holes, eat a lot of meat, cliff dive, hike treacherous trails, laugh till we cried, injure ourselves, eat more meat, not shower and rejoice in it, take in the view and drink more beers. I don’t know how we’re carrying all those beers and meat, but we definitely are.
Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.
Does Karaoke count as a strip tease? I’d sing “Gates Of Steel” by Devo with a leg kick and an attitude, “7” by Prince with a cloying sincerity, and “Blaze Of Glory” by Jon Bon Jovi with a severe sense of decorum.
What’s wrong with society today?
That’s easy, THE INTERNET, I hate the internet. There is absolutely no denying that it’s made society stupider, I feel blessed to have grown up in a pre-internet world, my generation is the last to know what that means, there’s something to that.
Also, the “SPARKS OUTRAGE” Media Industrial Complex is pathological, a mental illness, but that’s the internet too isn’t it?
What is your fondest memory?
Depends on what part of my life I’m thinking about right? But what comes immediately to mind would be goofing off in the back of my Mom’s minivan with all my best friends heading to the Benicia skate park on a warm summer weekend, the anticipation growing as we pass the landmarks designating how much closer we’re getting to the park: the Shell Martinez Refinery (cut to) the Carquinez Straight (cut to) the Benicia Bridge (cut to) the Taco Bell behind the park, and then boom, the SKATEPARK, we’re home free.
How many times do you fall in love each day?
I fall in love with moments, not every day, sometimes people too, but not very often.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a new poetry manuscript called MIRROR MAGIC, also a new chapbook called Fiend Folio. I continue to put out my little flipchap magazine BOTH BOTH intermittently, going on 10 years now. I also just had a new book published (The Islands from Nightboat Books), so I’ve been thinking about how to read from that, I have some upcoming readings in the Bay Area and Los Angeles in support of the book, keeping busy with various projects overall: music, photography projects with friends, poetry.
If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?
They talk about traffic in LA, we talk about rent in the Bay.
What are some of your favorite smells?
I have a pretty nostalgic nose; any smell that makes me time travel is my favorite kind:
The Lower Haight right in front of Molotov’s, Concord, CA, a Sunday afternoon lounging under the Fairyland sign at Lake Merritt (boom box, blanket and wine), Lime Ridge Open Space, my mom’s car, comic books, the Haunted House at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, Nag Chompa (the 90s!), Pacific Ocean, Thanksgiving, Green Apple Books, skateboard grip tape, Books And Bookshelves (99 Sanchez, SF), fresh tortillas, Small Press Distribution warehouse, the Eel River, Greek Easter, Eucalyptus on the way to Stinson Beach, Nation’s Giant Hamburgers, Athens, GR smog, any perfume that any of my ex-girlfriends ever wore, Dial hand soap reminds me of my Pappou, enchiladas in the oven reminds me of my Grandma, roasting pumpkin seeds reminds me of my Dad, mint chewing reminds me of my Mom, burning candles my sister, BBQ smoke my brother.