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Reading Joe Rochette’s books involves work—lots of it. If you can track down an independent bookstore with lots of new underground press titles, root through the stacks until you find a nondescript-looking book titled do yu know. what distortion. sowndz like. (Green Bean Press) by joe r, and plow through the author’s intentionally butchered spelling and punctuation—not to mention one-word-per-line verse—then the strange pleasures of an odd treasure await. Joe Rochette wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I’m not trying to be pretentious or pigeonhole myself into obscurity, but I understand that reading my books can be labor-intensive,” says Rochette, a heavily tattooed local poet and storyteller who cites Charles Bukowski and Lou Reed as influences. He’s well aware of his dim chances for mainstream acclaim and commercial success. “I’ve always been kind of standoffish, but at the same time, I’ve always been a sucker for a sappy story. The way I write forces you to sort through the distractions and pick up on details.”

Beyond the difficult façade of Rochette’s simple prose style lies a fairly straightforward narrative about Corey and Billy, two unlikely friends who help each other survive in a world of distortion. The title phrase becomes a driving philosophy axis for the story: Corey is a spunky elderly black woman confined to the tedium of a nursing home. Rather than giving up on life, she resolves to be as cantankerous as ever. She wets her pants to irk her drudging caretakers and quietly dreams of getting out. Billy, a 17-year-old volunteer at the home, is a lonely young punk from a troubled family who wears his catch-phrase emotions on homemade T-shirts. Corey wins Billy’s friendship by suggesting the words “Lateral Hell” for a new shirt, and they become travelers on the same journey when Billy breaks her out of the home and takes her to live in his squalid U Street squat.

“ya/don’t/say./shit./like/that./without/it/meeeanin’./somthin’./urrr/yu’r/as/fukkt/upp/as/i/am.” says Billy. It’s the closest thing to affectionate expression he can muster.

“Once it’s down on paper, it’s sort of served its purpose for me,” says Rochette of his novella. He notes that he isn’t particularly interested in getting rich or famous with his writing. “There’s got to be some other reason why you do it,” he says. “If people did start buying the books, and the books started selling at Barnes & Noble or something, maybe that would ruin it.” Obscurity, he says, “makes [publishing] interesting and vital.”—Colin Bane

Rochette’s book is available from Green Bean Press, P.O. Box 237, New York, NY 10013, (718) 302-1955; e-mail gbpress@earthlink.net.