“'Tis great Confidence in a Friend to tell him your Faults, greater to tell him his."

--Benjamin Franklin

Edited and compiled by Robert Sward

"Remembering Michael McNeilley"

by JJ Webb

So the computer screen passes writers at me on a constantly evolving Internet and this one blues piece, in '93, holds my screen a long time with its intricacies. I ask, "Who the hell is this guy Michael McNeilley?" The screen says, 'editor of the Olympia Review, in Olympia, Washington.' Within a few days there is an introduction. Within a few more days email exchanges, the standard communication method of recluses plotting. Plots lead to collaboration. And one day, friendship.

The collaboration started on one of the Internet's first eZines. An art and literary eZine called 'The Hawk' had started in '93 for Cruzio Communications, one of the Internet’s first commercial service providers. Michael wanted access to a network of artists and computer fanatics. He wanted to sit in a secluded grove in a forest somewhere on the west coast. He wanted a sanctuary, with trees and privacy, and the means to quickly link with a collection of contemporary artists and writers he’d ‘discovered’. He wanted his computer to work, damn it. I told him all that could be arranged. Michael became the fiction editor of 'The Hawk' just before its second issue was released. When the eZine became 'poetry only' in '95, its name was changed to 'ZeroCity'. And Michael and I became its co-editors.

By nature a recluse, I’ve managed to keep up friendships with other reclusive men and women who do the same kinds of things with their solitary natures. They write, carve, sculpt, or paint. They - we want to be alone mostly, to explore, to see what unfolds when our imaginations are set loose. Some of those friends, like Michael, when called to oppose their natural, comfortable routines, come out of their solitude gregarious, self-assured, eager, even arrogant in their approach to friendship. Such a friend demands, imposes, excites, and provokes artistic expression. That friend is the most stimulating and dangerous of allies, requiring major investments of time exposed in raw exchange of opinion, ideas, attitudes, and desires. Time spent revealing essential unguarded spirit to another. And some time spent confronting fear, of being overwhelmed, of becoming too influenced, of losing one’s individual voice to a duet.

          Michael McNeilley pushed exciting, new writers at me faster than I thought possible. Where he found them didn't matter to me. We'd decided to do an eZine and the fact he was three times faster than me at coming up with new talent tweaked me some. Eventually, I told him I felt as if he and I were in competition with one another on that account and that I was running second. He replied, "Great! You are the man with the perfect life AND you want to come in first in everything you do, too? You greedy thing. So, when did this become a competition?"

"You think I have a perfect life?"

"You think you don't?"

* * *

A few weeks ago, in the course of a discussion on the history of poetry and the Internet, Robert Sward mentioned a Poets & Writers Magazine article by Leilani Wright published in November 1996 on literary eZines. Sward noted that the eZine Michael McNeilley and I had jointly edited was mentioned favorably, though only Michael had been listed as editor. Grrrrrr. More than ten years ago we worked on that eZine. Together! But there it is, even now, competition.

* * *

"Tell me again, why did we agree to release Zero City-2 tomorrow?"

"We thought it would be less work?"

"Hey, at least there's only Virg and three others left to format."

"Michael, your buddy Virg is a dick. You know that?"

"Easy now, Virgil and I go way back. What's the problem?"

"He's a lawyer. Let's start there. That alone's enough, but he's a 'know-it-all' too, and he thinks he's a better writer than me ..."

"Well, that's probably true .."

".. hell, he thinks he's a better writer than you."

"The dick! You think we should can his pieces from the issue?"

* * *

road blossoms

for all my cultivation
for all the fertilizer
I have spread over the years
for all the work with
rakes and spades and shears
it is still the little weeds
up through the cracks in my life
blackened by oil
and exhaust of passing cars
that put out flowers
the cheap yellow of persistence
and let me know
I am alive

-Michael McNeilley

* * *

"I tell you, JJ, I have LIVED with crazier women than you have. Perfectly sane one second, raging psycho the next. Life threatening experiences!"

"Oh yeah. Any of them ever run you over with a Pinto?"

"You're making that up."

"No, I'm not!"

"Hey, this one I knew in New York came on to me immediately after knifing her boyfriend. Tense, man, all that blood in the kitchen."

"You're making that up."

"Well, yeah. But I've known MORE crazy women than you. Maybe you've known one or two nutso broads, but I've known hundreds. Take my word for it, OK?"

* * *

she's in her twenties
she owns her own
art gallery
where she stands reading
a poetry magazine
wide-eyed, saying
"my god, you wrote
and almost runs
to the back room
returns with a
handmade book
with beautiful original
she stands holding
my shoulder nervously
as I sit and read
"I like this one"
I tell her
and as her long
dark hair brushes
across me I read
the one titled

-Michael McNeilley

On the next to last day of June, 2002, we spread Michael McNeilley's ashes around one of the trees in the redwood cathedral here at the Poetry Grove in Boulder Creek, CA. Stephanie and Thom, his ex-wife and son, Jeff, one of his boyhood friends, and I scattered the ashes. My wife and daughter watched. We read poetry by Auden and by Michael.

We talked about heart attacks and dying young, about turtles and Napoleon. We talked about Michael, his brother, his wives, his sons, his daughter, his poetry. We remembered him with his friends and his acquaintances. We drove out to Big Basin and Stephanie spread some of his ashes around one of the trees near 'the mother of the forest', a spot he'd taken a liking to when he visited in '99.

There were stories of Washington, New York, New Mexico, Texas and a dozen other places. Stories of drum beats on wooden legs and reckless ramblings in a gold convertible. There were conjectures on how many lives he'd saved, how many wars he'd settled, how many he had waged.

We ate steak and corn and baked potatoes on the balcony under the oak tree where Michael spent time staring out at Empire Ridge in the distance. No one can look out at these huge trees, this beautiful forest, these Holy Cross Mountains and not see heaven. And certainly, heaven is where Michael McNeilley belongs.

Michael McNeilley (1947-2001)

McNeilley was founding director of the National Student News Service; worked as a reporter and correspondent in Washington, DC; His stories and poems have appeared in hundreds of magazines, eZines, anthologies and broadsides, including the New York Quarterly, Poet, Chicago Review, Oyster Boy Review, Cross-Connect, Mississippi Review, Chiron Review, Poetry Motel, Minotaur, Slipstream, Cafe Review, Pink Cadillac, and many others. He was editor of the Olympia Review in Olympia Washington, publisher & editor of the 'Olympia Review Anthology'. He was co-editor with JJ Webb of the online Ezine ZeroCity from 1994 to 1998. His books and broadsides include 'Love & Beer', and 'My religion is your ass' (with Mere Smith) from Techline, 'Situational Reality' from Dream Horse Press, 'McNeilley's Monsters' & '10 by mcn' from Cruzio Communications.


Beau Blue's (JJ Webb) books & recordings include 'Appalachian Canticles' from Jarus Books, 'Human Tricks' A Little Licks Record, and 'in the Electric Shadows' from daVinci Media. He was founding and co-editor with Chris Neklason of the online eZine The Hawk from 1993 to 1995, co-editor with Michael McNeilley, of the online eZine ZeroCity from 1994 to 1998. A performance poet and storyteller, Blue has performed extensively in Northern California, Oregon and Nevada for the last 30 years. He lives in the Santa Cruz Mountains Beau Blue Presents - http://members.cruzio.com/~jjwebb

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