Signaling Through the Flames: Tosh Berman, Author of TOSH

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During this time of uncertainty, we’ve asked City Lights authors how they’re doing, what they’re reading, and any advice they have for our community. Their responses have been very inspiring to us, and we hope that sharing them will inspire you as well.

“Signaling Through the Flames” gets its title from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s timeless work, Poetry As Insurgent Art, which beings with the line, “I am signaling you through the flames …” This line is, in turn, taken from Antonin Artaud in his landmark book The Theatre and Its Double, in which he says “If there is still one hellish, truly accursed thing in our time, it is our artistic dallying with forms, instead of being like victims burnt at the stake, signaling through the flames.” Follow the hashtag #SignalingThruTheFlames across all our platforms on social media to follow the complete series.

City Lights: Where are you?

Tosh Berman: I’m in Los Angeles. Due that I’m working on various projects at home, it is ‘almost’ normal to me. Except for the fact that I’m staying physically away from the older members of my family. As well as close friends and neighbors where we are encouraged to look, but keep a distance. On a romantic level, I feel like Jean Marias in the Jean Cocteau film Orpheus where he’s led to the underworld, and he can’t ever face or look at his wife again. On one level these last few days have been quiet and normal until you notice that every time you put the news on, or read the media, things are getting worse by micro-minute. Like dominoes collapsing, you first see that the markets are running out of a product, and then bookstores are restricting their schedule until they are finally closed.

Galleries and libraries seemed to vanish as well. Restaurants and cafes seem to be a quaint memory of a recent past. The shock of the changes is the most difficult. Also, hearing from friends in other cities and countries and how they are affected is equally moving and alarming at the same time.

What books make you feel inspired?

Being a smart ass, I feel like I should mention An Enemy of the People by Ibsen. On a more honest level, I would say any book by P.G. Wodehouse, who takes me into another landscape. Or any funny but sharp-witted essay by Robert Benchley. Both authors show the absurdity of life, and now, and especially we have a President, who I call President Virus, is more of a Terry Southern character than anything else. A dangerous figure, but still totally absurd.

What gives you hope at this moment? (And/or what are you thankful for?)

As far as I know (and we never know for sure with this virus) is that I’m healthy; my wife is feeling good. Yet social responsibility says to stay at home and distance yourself physically from others, especially older people. Right now, I’m thinking of my mom and Uncle. Both are in their 80s, and both are dealing with physical aging issues. On some days, I feel very hopeful, but then getting one bad news after the other, it’s difficult to process. It’s comforting for many to start with point A that goes to point B. But often, life throws a wrench in that narrative, and one has to roll with the consequences. Right now, everything is inconvenient. We will deal with it, and I think we will come out more durable and wiser.

Any advice that you’d like to share with our community?

Don’t think about yourself right now. Stay healthy for others in your life and your neighborhood. As well as supporting local businesses as much as possible. For me, it’s the record and book stores. It’s an excellent time to shop online or by phone and bringing currency to these important institutions: the retail shop.


Tosh Berman is a writer, poet, and publisher of TamTam Books. As a publisher, he focused on post-war French figures such as Boris Vian, Guy Debord, Serge Gainsbourg and French gangster Jacques Mesrine, as well as publishing Sparks (Ron Mael & Russell Mael) and Lun*na Menoh. His previous book Sparks-Tastic (2013) is a combination of travel journal and thoughts on the band Sparks. His book of poems The Plum in Mr. Blum’s Pudding (2014) came out through Penny-Ante Editions. He authored the introduction to Wallace Berman: American Aleph from the Michael Kohn Gallery in 2016. Tosh lives in Los Angeles. Tosh’s memoir, TOSH: Growing Up in Wallace Berman’s World, was published by City Lights in 2019.