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Reviews

25 Points: Atalanta (Acts of God)

ataphoca_thumb_l_bks-recent-06-Atalanta_coverAtalanta (Acts of God)
by Robert Ashley
Burning Books, 2011
208 pages / $25.00 buy from Amazon or SPD

 

 

 

 

 

 

24. When I began this review Robert Ashley was alive. In light of his death, I feel a compulsion to redraft and make these twenty-five points address something more. I want to talk about seeing Foreign Experiences and Lectures to Be Sung performed, about composition and improvisation, contemporary opera, and the intersection of music and language. Ashley’s work is full of good discussions. I’m attracted to the just-some-dude delivery style and storytelling aspects in the operas. One of my composer pals can’t follow the stories at all, and seems obsessed with the involuntary speech in Ashley’s work. Ashley’s work is so dense, and there are so many lessons that I take away from his work as a performer and writer. It’s hard to limit the discussion, especially given this kind of retrospective appreciation and the span of his work.

25. As I was struggling the the 25th point, I kept trying to figure out if there was some way I could articulate that reading Atalanta was very satisfying but also a little bit confounding. My mind kept wheeling around the opera, not the book. It wasn’t written for the page. The printing seems like an out of place artifact. In the afterward and in other interviews, Ashley seems to indicate that the libretto functions as only a part of a much larger event and set of processes. However, reading it I’m constantly dazzled by the turns the verse takes and the reading experience, which is so on its own terms. It’s really fucking good for being a kind of after-thought of a larger project.

1. Atalanta (Acts of God) is the first part in a trilogy of operas, the other parts being Perfect Lives, which is perfectly incarnated as a kind of YouTube/torrent masterpiece (completely amazing if you can get it), and Now Eleanor’s Idea. Atalanta was commissioned for performance in 1985. The publication of this book seems to coincide with the release of Ashley’s Atalanta (Acts of God)Volume II in 2010.

2. I have not had the opportunity to see Atalanta in production. Recordings are available. These recordings are of a completely different texture than the libretto/verse/text unperformed, and maybe are not my thing so much because they stick to a 72 bpm tempo in the recording and are much livelier in my head.

3. Atalanta (Acts of God) is a book of libretto, not a score, though a few songs have been included. It is not documentation of the production, though it does include notes, acknowledgments, and a handful of photos. The book is highly peculiar, in that it represents a kind of music based on collaboration, improvisation, and theater. All of which resist the book format, which seems more fixed, at least in my mind. There are some helpful notes and observations in the afterward.

4. It is easiest for me to approach Atalanta as a book in verse.

5. Ashley on writing for opera:

“The plot of the three (operas) doesn’t really have any meaning – it’s only a fancy category for catching a lot of things that are going through my mind. It’s not a very interesting idea in itself – an interesting idea would be like inventing penicillin or something like that – so when you say you’re going to write an opera about the history of consciousness in the United States, I mean who needs it?”

(106 The Guests Go to Super)

6. As anyone who has listened to a lot of Ashley’s work can testify, it is pretty impossible to get his voice out of your head as you read the words.

7. About the characters: Atalanta, the legendary Greek runner girl who is also the Odalisque, is wooed in turns by Max Ernst (famous surrealist), Willard Reynolds (Robert Ashley’s storytelling uncle), and Bud Powell (famous bebop pianist), though the recitation of anecdotes. A confused flying saucer lieutenant and captain drop in and comment on the would-be marriage. There are also some totally left field segues.

8. The plot of Atalanta is a skeleton for voices, ideas, and performance. It is a groundwork for piling narratives on top of each other. The dense accumulation of dialogue, incidental characters, and unidentified voices push the reader deeper into language which seems to focus on building moments rather than the progression of any kind of story. READ MORE >

1 Comment
April 22nd, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Cultural Violence Illustrated

Inequality continues to take dramatic new forms, evolving and building on itself at the speed of transaction–at an inconceivable scale that can be more easily compared to a feudal economy than an economy of the 20c Post War period of American power.

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Random / 6 Comments
April 22nd, 2014 / 10:00 am

Behind the Scenes & HTMLGIANT Features

……National Poetry Month Death Match #1……

rabbitgoodevil2

April, because of National Poetry Month, is a traumatic ordeal of a time for me.

A prevailing, I guess, part of me thinks “What a total bunch of fucking bullshit”– and for the past few years all April long I’m in a grouchy stupor-rage making snide and mean remarks, pissing on anything even remotely “poetry,” and relentlessly posting up pictures of beached whale carcasses.

And yet–a part of me identifies with this impressive cadre and camaraderie of poetry munchkins gathered squawking and encouraging and reassuring each other on the cliffs of poetry each April because, well, it must be a good thing. It must be, right?

rabbitgoodevil3

And so this year I’ve decided to face the disturbing contraries of my soul and the way they bristle and soft-feather up at National Poetry Month by setting up, as any good Caesar of the soul, some death matches. And in each case the death match will consist of a “for” and “against” stance fought out between two of my friend surrogates. And in each case I’ll stand up above the fray with thumb at the ready.

******

And, the first death match is between Reb Livingston and Jereme Dean.

******

NaPoWriMoHoHoHo
by Reb Livingston

What’s ruining/killing poetry this month? Well, it’s April so that must mean READ MORE >

33 Comments
April 21st, 2014 / 3:10 pm

Reviews

You Can Make Anything Sad by Spencer Madsen

MadsenCoverYou Can Make Anything Sad
by Spencer Madsen
Publishing Genius, April 2014
90 pages / $10 Preorder from Publishing Genius

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spencer Madsen’s latest book, You Can Make Anything Sad, seems to be a response to a question Spencer asks himself within the poems he writes: Who am I and what am I doing? The poems constantly shift in image, but seem to stay in a general area of themes and moods. He plays with his voice, and style, to create something that feels very much completed, while at the same time quite fragile and open. It’s sincerely insincere, approaching the mundane as if it was wondrous, and the wondrous as if it was mundane.

I move back to Facebook, I type:
If you feel an aversion to me and I don’t feel an aversion to
you, please don’t feel an aversion to me.
I think about how my parents had hoped for more.
I think about letting them down constantly.
I think, at least I’m not a murderer.
Mostly because murderers are very ambitious.

The feeling I get most of all from these poems is a sense of longing. A longing for connection, a longing to feel less exhausted, and a longing for some sort of concrete idea of identity. With this is a feeling of cynicism, a sort of “I know it sucks but what are you going to do about it,” juxtaposed with lines that feel lost and alone.

I look at my hands typing and I make fun of them, only
without words, because that’s how my brain interacts with
my body.

I have this very uncomfortable feeling of doing nothing.
Just sitting. Trying to get rid of it. Eating excessively.
Masturbating excessively.

There is also an element of humor, but a humor that is made to appear as if ‘by accident’. These poems are funny, but they’re  only funny because of how sad and existential the lines that precede and follow them are. It’s the dry, matter of fact tone of the absurd which makes you ask yourself ‘am I supposed to be laughing?’

A new dance called please don’t look at me.
A new dance called some babies look like weird fish.
A new dance called emotionally abusive relationship status
on Facebook.
A new dance called are they any flights that go to my
childhood.
A new dance called disappointed by this coffee and other
decisions I’ve made in my recent history.
A new dance called talking to your parents becomes
increasingly depressing and necessary as you get older.
A new dance called crying in public places for no discernible
reason.
A new dance called things you don’t want to do but should
do but don’t have to do but you do anyway.
A new dance called wishing I was someone else but that
person didn’t have to be me.

I feel like Madsen, in writing this book, is working with the idea that we no longer have one identity, but instead occupy many. He is the observer both inside and outside his body; he extends his subjectivities and hates all of it.

‘ Would read a self-help book called How to feel productive
on the internet.’

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98 Comments
April 21st, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Lydia Davis Can and Will

61S1VCVBqVL._SL1500_Can’t and Won’t
by Lydia Davis
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2014
304 pages / $26  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lydia Davis’ Can’t and Won’t is the latest offering from an author who, over the past few decades, has consistently confused notions of genre within literary fiction. A writer mostly of short fiction and a translator, notably, of Proust and Flaubert (whose letters supply the language for one series of pieces in the book), Davis is as at home with the authors of the late-twentieth century French avant-garde as she is with those of the nineteenth-century high-realist novel. As they do in all of her books, her stories work with minutiae of language and experience that are broadly accessible in ways that cannot be called simply conventional or experimental.

In the shorter pieces that appear toward the beginning of the book, Davis introduces numerous formal conceits and thematic concerns. Some of these are developed and then virtually exhausted later on. Others pass as momentary amusements of the kind that occupy a writer as committed to craft as Davis is. In stories like “Awake in the Night,” one of the stories in the collection labeled “dream,” logic, impulses and instincts in dreams have a surreal quality seemingly irreconcilable with narrative. The stories lack information usually necessary to the construction of a narrative, yet in “Awake in the Night,” information seems to be available, even if not in words. There is a “him” who is familiar to the narrator of the story, the dreamer, even if there is no earlier exposition of this person or his importance to the narrator. We rely on accumulation of information to solidify a relationship, but in this story, which is a dream, but also a story, the relationship is solid without the exposition.

“Letter to a Frozen Peas Manufacturer” could be a commentary on style and content in literary branding, but it could also just be a story about peas. An unflattering false representation, the unappealing coloring of the peas depicted on the package of the peas that are colored much more attractively, appears to be, in the opinion of the narrator (“we”), more egregious than a flattering one. Despite the actual quality of the product contained in the package, the narrator, a collective voice that constitutes an audience, wants the gratification of accurately flattering presentation, perhaps more than the gratification of the product itself. A line like “Please reconsider your art” invites commentary about art in general, taken separately from the peas, but the narrator may be referring to the graphic art used to advertise the peas and none other.

In two stories called “The Cook’s Lesson” and “My Sister and the Queen of England,” an entire reality is created when certain details (negatively) are paid more attention. In both stories, one composed of language lifted from the letters of Flaubert, a narrator is scandalized when another character shows no interest in narrative incidents involving a royal figure. In these stories, royalty is important to some people, and presented by a large majority as if it is important, but others live in a world completely unfettered by this presentation of this institution, and so they live in a world where these things are not important or do not exist. Clashes of perspective like this, revealed by very banal encounters or recollections, provide Davis with material that few readers can dismiss.

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April 21st, 2014 / 10:00 am

Sunday Service: Matt Margo

from When Empurpled: An Elegy

XI.

Amazing how every home be a
haunted house with gables like
the deadliest of sins and witches
tied to Corinthian pillars pilasters
splintered like firewood hahaha
how my flesh be the heretic and
my body be bewitched and how I
will be the one to burn it like a
smoldering pile of embers a
moist cigarette pinched between
the lips of all loneliness O
astonishing how a leaf does fall
as does the long night moon after
the winter solstice when people
sleep in pursuit of solace of love
longevity and lowliness lowly as
those angels fallen from the
graces of God as does fall a leaf
from the canopy of our habitat
inherited from the bravest of us
human beings being human
seeking refuge in Allah from the
devil the rejected my poor
harmless child protecting you
from those who seek to have you
dead I take refuge bat at hand and
ask you O God my hearer you
mighty man near my homeland O
my thy might and thy power you
are not incapable of seeking
refuge speeding far beyond this
world in perforated lines that
from the desk of elsewhere go
and and and
AndAndAndAndAndAndAndAn
dAndAnd I swear to God that we
will not forget the dead who walk
among us useless and flailing
marinating autumnal colors
crumpling beneath our feet
birthing a pattern a rhythm a
dirge for the fallen anyone of
everywhere some supportive
setback or burial of the
bloodened continues to beg for
the forgiveness of God no power
but in God no pedestrianization
but in this place this place of
overpopulation and carbon
monoxide inhaled deeper and
deeper down daintily now down
from my ancestors down the field
of fever dreams coming to
fruition flourishing amongst the
flowers the seeds of promise
planted for the sake of a
prosperous land and your
crumbling cookie eyes and your
museum mouth opening wide
wolfing down disintegrated tape
loops on holiday the most
difficult task of all so far insofar
as not yet having had the chance
to get to know any individual
having taken leave from the
crowded marketplace of the
world with this thunderous
swarm of pedestrians all about us
all everywhere and at once upon
a time in the remotest reaches of
a darkened village miles and
miles beyond where we now
stand there stood a harrowing
house with a roof steeply pitched
and cornices sated and columns
of a certain Greco variety
attempting to embody the ideal of
rationality the revival of some
fantasy and in this house there
lived and burned a homely harlot
at home with omens and without
a name O God to live and burn
without a name to bear to wear
upon one’s shoulder as if it were
a badge an expression of
nationalism of identity of the
mythical ideal of rationality of
solace of love longevity and
lowliness lowly as those angels
fallen from the graces of God but
I O I am calling off all falls from
grace and I O I will stop words of
I into stir the stirring of the
melting pot like the melting flesh
of floundering witches flailing so
uselessly amongst the flowers the
seeds of promise like the seeds of
everything I could be but
mmmmmmaybe may not be just
as be proven false cannot be
proven false just as it cannot be
proven false that every dog be a
god and every god be begotten
and every body be bewitched and
every home be a haunted house
hahaha!

Bio: Matt Margo is the author of the book-length poem When Empurpled: An Elegy (Pteron Press, 2013) and the poetry chapbook what i would say (Peanut Gallery Press, 2014), among other works. He edits the blog experiential-experimental-literature and the magazine Zoomoozophone Review.

Sunday Service / 3 Comments
April 20th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

The Whole of Life by Jürg Laederach

wholeoflife-193x300The Whole of Life
by Jürg Laederach
Dalkey Archive Press, Jan 2014
300 pages / $15  Buy from Amazon or Dalkey Archive

 

 

 

 

 

 

Waiting for the publication of Jürg Laederach’s The Whole of Life, out now from Dalkey Archive Press, I revisited his very funny and hip 1990 Semitext(e) collection, 69 Ways to Play the Blues. Laederach is a one-time enfant terrible of Swiss literature (he writes “I’ll be called a young writer until I’m eighty,”) and his work epitomizes boomer cool. A devotee of Jazz and Downtown Music, Laederach made several trips to NYC during the 1980s. 69 Ways was written on the third trip.

Laederach is an avowed devotee of improvisational music:

69 Ways crackles with wry observations. On Bleecker Street: I am Bleecker Street, “that intersects and eschews any rude display of house numbers.”

On the view from Swiss cemeteries: “To a majority of the inhabitants of Switzerland, death, not Lake Geneva, brings about a marked improvement in their standard of living. Great pains are taken to see to it that graveyards have a “view” they are thus conceived with a strong sense of landscape and perspective.”

When authors get hungry: “All he could do was point a shaky finger at a sandwich and growl.”

The Whole of Life shares this offbeat cool. Framed as a sort of messy first-person, the plot follows a Swiss everyman, Bob Hecht, (endearingly called “My boy Bob Hecht” a la Charles Mingus: Beneath the Underdog) as he navigates mid-century industrial Europe.

The book is very funny and sprawling. The ethos of improvisation is most noticeable in Laederach’s pastichework. Different styles and references are co-opted and incorporated as a sort of self-analysis. In one section, a year of unhappy cohabitation is narrated as a boxing match. In another, he parses out the existential implications of deleting a Jewish character from the text. He has persistent dopplegangers, including a pair supposedly co-writing his memoir. The text falls into stage directions. And technical directions: “PAN F Perceptol min 68 F 10 ASA 25 DIN 15 Microphen min 20 C 4 ASA 64 DIN 19 or 68 F 5 650 ASA DIN 29 with reduction to 125 … The kind of prose we can expect in the future.” But through all this, he maintains a detached cool.

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April 18th, 2014 / 10:00 am

video trailer for
SORROWTOOTHPASTE MIRRORCREAM
A collection of poems from Kim Hyesoon.
Translated by Don Mee Choi.

(video by The Viper, Paul Cunningham)

—————————————————
and “Filthy filthy filthy I’m so filthy” reminds me I’ve been dreaming Ron Silliman again
—————————————————

Tommy Pico’s Absent Mindr

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Poetry and eBooks have never played well together because, for instance, fixed line lengths don’t jive with the reader’s ability to adjust type size (poetry is too rigid). There are, of course, some clunky workarounds, like including a note for users to match their settings so that the longest line in the book is unbroken. Certainly this doesn’t have to be an issue; it’s something an HTML5 developer could solve quickly, I think—but why should they?

Limitations drive ingenuity. I’ve often wondered if, say, no one figured out how to make cars, would something else have been invented? Antimatter transportation!

Tommy Pico, who does Birdsong, released what he calls the first poetry App (for iOS and tablets) yesterday. Called Absent Mindr, it’s a “ch-app” he says—of course it is!—with 24 poems in four sections, situated alongside audio playback of him reading the poems, and bright collages by Cat Glennon.

The poetry is cool. That’s first. I really appreciate that the literature isn’t secondary to techcrunches, and the press release for this app is all about the poetry. Certainly it’s good stuff (read “Inheritance” at Best American Poetry), and Tommy “Teebs” Pico’s voice is pitch perfect on the audio (which can be listened to when you’re not connected, like on the subway, because all the content is a download), but what I’m really impressed by and excited about is the presentation, which is slick and gorgeous. It’s antimatter transportation to cars. The app considers the poetry, the art matches the tone. Books rarely match content with UX this well.

I think apps are expensive to create, whereas eBooks are free—but Absent Mindr suggests there’s a good future for presenting poetry this way. As startups like Atavist, Byliner, Oyster, Zola, Wattpad, Readmill (RIP) and Medium etc explore how to monetize this new frontier, it will be interesting to see what DIY pioneers like Tommy Pico create in the margins.

Anecdotally, I got my hands on the app just a day before I went to NYC for the Chapbook Festival. He did a good job spreading the word, because the room was abuzz about it (ie. three or four people mentioned the app to me while I was there). Chapbooks are a space traditionally reserved for handmade, crafty, papery books that fold, but they are open to sweet new fields like—may I suggest—chappbooks.

Author Spotlight / No Comments
April 16th, 2014 / 9:41 am

Crad Kilodney passed away yesterday. Here’s something on Crad by Richard Grayson.

under the skin 1

……………….Am I right in thinking that Under The Skin is a kind of beautiful, thought-provoking movie that’s worth seeing, hypnotic, etc, etc…?? But just not quite right??…(I mean that can be a good thing)…But maybe it could have benefited from more terrifying “baby alone on the beach” kind of stuff?? I dunno. Watcha think ??…………..

under the skin 2

Do you know how to drive stick?

Reviews

Crystal Eaters by Shane Jones

18220681Crystal Eaters
by Shane Jones
Two Dollar Radio, June 2014
202 pages / $16  Buy from Amazon or Two Dollar Radio

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first, most obvious observation to make about Shane Jones’ Crystal Eaters is that it begins with a countdown. Its first page is numbered 183, and it descends from there, 182, 181, 180, on and on, a timer that makes this novel feel like an unusually rigid experience, temporally speaking. After all, most books are objects that readers pick up and interact with on their own terms, at their own individual paces. Crystal Eaters’ countdown, however, makes the book feel fleeting. While in the midst of reading it, I imagined it still counting down even when sitting on my coffee table, closed—like I would eventually open it again only to find all its pages blank, its time expired.

Crystal Eaters focuses on a village that “survives on myth,” and Jones’ paginated countdown helps immerse the reader in the village’s central belief: that human beings are filled with crystals—100 at the time of birth—which crystals are then lost over the course of a life (bled out, vomited up, etc. etc.), until a person’s number reaches zero, and that person dies. The crystals are multi-colored, and Jones writes of village kids witnessing “their parents vomiting blue and yellow slush into kitchen sinks, toilets, couch cushions, their laps.” Illness in this book is surprising in its glowing, cotton-candy brightness. Almost psychedelic.

Jones’ cornerstone character—named Mom—is an example of psychedelic sickness. Shriveled by illness, Mom spews red everywhere at dinnertime. She’s down to her last few crystals, and she will die soon, a reality with which her family struggles. Her husband—named Dad—is aloof, trying to make the impending tragedy easy for everyone, but ultimately helpless against his wife’s disease. Their daughter—named Remy—believes that there must be a way to increase a person’s crystal count, thus staving off death. “The universe is a system where children watch their parents die,” perhaps, but not Remy: “She’ll save Mom from experiencing the number zero.”

A fourth character, however, expands the novel’s scope beyond the village. This character—Mom and Dad’s son, and Remy’s brother—is imprisoned, and his name is Pants McDonovan. (This may be the key question of my entire review: Do you or do you not want to own a novel that features a character named “Pants McDonovan”?) Pants used to be a revolutionary, waging a war against the unnamed metropolis that inches closer to the village each day (modernity threatening to engulf the village’s way of life). Now, Pants lingers in his cell, eating pieces of his secret stash of “black crystals.” No villager apart from Pants has ever seen a black crystal before; they exist as part of the larger system of myth that Jones suggests through his use of in-text citations, e.g., “His left eye drips crystal (Chapter 5, Death Movement, Book 8),” and, “the city has powers (Chapter 14, Resurrection, City Hospital Myth).” Remy thinks these black crystals might hold the secret to increasing Mom’s crystal count, but Pants, locked away from his family and unaware of the severity of Mom’s illness, uses the crystals in a different way: he ingests them to prompt hallucinations that help him escape the indignities of prison life.

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2 Comments
April 14th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley

indexThe Selected Letters of Robert Creeley
Edited by Rod Smith, Peter Baker, & Kaplan Harris
University of California Press 2014
512 pages / $65  Buy from Amazon or University of California Press

 

 

 

 

The Selected Letters of Robert Creeley is an engaging, thoroughly worthwhile selection of the poet’s correspondence spanning his complete life. The editorial work done here is quite impressive. The only areas to be possibly improved upon would be further notes in the back of the book and more illustrations. The letters span some sixty odd years, so although Creeley is perhaps one of the greatest over-photographed poets of our time it seems appropriate to have at least one photograph per decade. As it is there’s about three, including the photo on the cover. It is admittedly difficult to locate yet-unseen images of him, but several pages of reproduced letter manuscripts or perhaps images of this or that difficult to obtain publication would have sufficed instead. And it proves difficult not to wish for some further elaboration upon the minimal notes included. Not every reader has the book open next to the computer to take advantage of Wikipedia and Google. Yet as stated the overall skilled arrangement of the whole book is such that these are minor quibbles.

Creeley himself well understood the massive assembling project that any selection of his letters represented. Writing to editor Rod Smith, Creeley describes his sense of how “some general ‘map’ or sense of focus or parameter would be the first need.” He then immediately suggests the then-recent “selection of [Charles] Olson letters–or Gregory’s, just out from ND” as some examples of what he has in mind as successes.  The latter volume, An accidental autobiography: the selected letters of Gregory Corso (New Directions “ND” 2003), I fondly recall a poet-pal curling up with in bed while down LA’s Chinatown for a reading, a small group of us having driven down for the event.

Creeley’s Selected, however, easily outshines my experience of reading Corso’s correspondence. This is no small feat given that so little is readily available concerning Corso, while material on Creeley is quite plentiful. I say this having an equal interest in both poets and having read ALL available material on each of them. Corso’s letters, for all his charm, are just too repetitive. They round out the experience of his poems but are ultimately as inhibited by his vices as the poems too often sadly prove to be. On the other hand, Creeley’s letters truly offer all that any of his readers might imagine and more. Not that Creeley didn’t indulge his share of vices: mention of numerous illicit substances make repeated revolving door appearance in the letters as do his (nearly) overlapping romances and marriages.

As a persistent reader of all things Creeley I would have thought there was little to be newly discovered about his life and writing. But the letters quickly prove just how wrong it is to make such an assumption. The simplest of fresh things I’ve come across is Creeley’s repeated use of “voila” throughout his correspondence. He’s usually using it as a turn of phrase to sum up his recounting of some recent excitement to a correspondent. Often it occurs near either the conclusion of the entire letter or some lengthy passage in particular, as if to say “see what I mean! And so now:” before continuing on to his next thought.

This reoccurring word appears early on in the letters and at first had me thinking it was something he just tried out which would then disappear as time went by; but I found it continued throughout decade after decade. This caught my attention because it is not a regularly used figure of speech I’ve found in any of Creeley’s other writings, poems, published interviews, essays, etc. where appear an abundance of what I term Creeleyisms. Familiar phrasal patterns to which he easily returns over and over again, yet the “voila” is present just in his correspondence. My new found Creeleyism: Voila.

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April 14th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Sunday Service: Bryan Coffelt

Person

It looks around after it pokes its head out and it sees that it can still make McDonald’s breakfast if it hurries.

Person

She goes to school, she fingerpaints the universe, she responds to stimuli, she fits her responses in her lunch box, she talks like “I am embarrassed of this lunch box,” she twinkles and thinks of what a gaping asshole the future is. She does karate on a classmate, she goes home, she does karate on the darkness.

People

If you really want to know someone, watch how they cut meat.

People

“Here is my lighter. Don’t look at me, and don’t fucking hurt yourself.”

“Here is my fucking Gmail password, don’t look at me.”

“Here is my favorite book in the world, fucking read it. Don’t fucking look at me.”

“Here is my fucking full external hard drive, don’t look at me.”

Person

She likes chicken on her salad. She hates the impermanence of lettuce. She has thoughts like, “I can feel it moving through me. My body is a level of Donkey Kong.”

People

“In five years, we will have at least one,” she said. Then, five years later, we had a squirming, sloppy little child. He swam out of her backwards, which made me nervous. When he dropped into the doctor’s thinly latexed fingers, I choked on my spit and coughed, trying to struggle out that I loved him.

The doctors wiped grayness from the Tonka toy of a man. I felt, for whatever splash of seconds fucking minutes, that he would be the one thing that would not drag or be dragged through it all. I thought of my own undoing, the way I look at myself in the mirror now and consider myself as a piece of gutted history, a product, phallic, a fuck ton of haircuts.

People

Someone will eventually say, “I remember when this was a Denny’s,” and everyone will feel like they’ve been shoved.

Bio: Bryan Coffelt lives in Portland, OR. These pieces are from an as-of-yet-untitled book that is forthcoming from sunnyoutside press.

Sunday Service / 1 Comment
April 13th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Elmer Crowley: a katabasic nekyia by Tom Bradley

1525549_689531887734505_1284360628_nElmer Crowley: a katabasic nekyia
by Tom Bradley
Illustrations by David Aronson and Nick Patterson
Mandrake of Oxford Press, 2014
134 pages / $14.99 Buy from Amazon or Mandrake of Oxford

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aleister Crowley is thinking about Germany’s late chancellor:

…my magickal child… who queefed out of my psychic vagina at an unguarded moment…[who] flopped from my left auditory meatus like a menstrual clot with incipient toothbrush mustache…

His mind wanders, logically enough, to Esoteric Hitlerism, the foetal religion presently aborning in Chile. He would like to drop by Santiago and have a chat, perhaps to “glean some intelligence from the gauchos.”

But it’s too late. No more time for the transoceanic jaunts that have varied his long life and kept boredom at bay. The Great Beast 666 happens to be on his death bed. Chapter One is over, and he dies.

Chapter Two begins as follows:

So, let’s sort this out, shall we?

In those seven words you have the essence of this particular historical figure: unkillable inquisitiveness, unshakable aplomb in the sort of psychic circumstances that drove so many of his apprentices and fellow magi insane. Of Crowley’s many fictionalizations, this novel gets best into his head. Erudite, prideful, lascivious, funniest man of his time, and the mightiest spiritual spelunker–he speaks and shouts from these pages as clearly as he did in his Autohagiography, which is paradoxical, given the irreal setting of Elmer Crowley: a katabasic nekyia.

Now that his mortal coil has been shuffled off, Crowley doesn’t know quite what to expect. He has mastered the world’s ancient funerary texts as thoroughly as anyone who ever lived, but fundamental questions remain. Will he be privileged to climb the sevenfold heavens promised by the Gnostics? Will his eyes be offered a luminous series of Tibetan liminalities, clear and smoke-colored?

Apparently not.

Something else materializes and looms up, rather more architectural. It appears the Egyptians came closer than anyone to getting it right.

Crowley’s ghost has been deposited in the Hall of the Divine Kings, as described in the Nilotic Book of the Dead. Of course, our hubristic Baphomet assumes that he’s about to be greeted as a peer by the immortal gods, “the soles of whose sandals are higher than ten thousand obelisks stacked end-to-end.”

But, no, they brush him off like a midge. He’s expected to supplicate like any run-of-the-mill dead person, to have his demerit counterpoised in the balance against a feather. Godhood denied, our high adept has been doomed to reenter the tedious cycle of rebirth. Injured pride, disappointed expectations, the prospect of boredom–these have never sat well with Thelema’s Prophet-Seer-Revelator. He’s about to start behaving badly. (A signal for us to stand well back and shield our eyes and ears.)

If he must return to the rigmarole of existence, it will be on his own terms. Exercising his prerogative as a magus of the highest accomplishment, Aleister Crowley will pick and choose his next carcass. He cold-shoulders the Divine Kings and calls forth Baubo, the headless Greek comedienne-demoness. Her job is to whisper filthy jokes to the peregrinating monad, to get it into a “meaty mood” before it gets stuffed, yet again, among female intestines.

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10 Comments
April 11th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Random & Reviews

Some Poems…

indexRussian Novels
by Luke Bloomfield
Factory Hollow Press, 2014

Unlike the archetypal Russian Novel, Luke Bloomfield’s Russian Novels is little more than a centimeter or so thick, 60-some pages of poems with names like “The Duffel Bag” and “Fisticuffs.”  Most of the poetry inside the book feels as flat as the book, a sort of day-old-seltzer meets #normcore poetics.  The first poem, for example, begins “When I go 2 Paris / it is like Paris,” and goes on to blanket classically French France in stereotypical American stereotype: “Voila, Paris France! / All the cigarettes everywhere / are pronounced cigarette.”  In this trick, Bloomfield spells cigarette cigarette and, abracadabra, we the audience mind-mold the word like Play-Doh.  The point seems to be that language is as wild and plastic as a “bird” that appears, disappears, and reappears throughout Russian Novels, always cast as simply “bird”—and yet each of these birds, conjured in Bloomfield’s magic, manages to manifest a somewhat unique form. The limitation of such simple syntax is clear however, when, in certain poems like “The Affair I Had With Sweden,” the author tries to reveal some semi-complicated personal gunk: “It sent me over the edge. / I don’t leave the kitchen ever. / All day I hack food into Swedish shapes. / And you know what else I do.”  I don’t know, do you?  What are we supposed to know? I know Russian Novels is not a novel; the MARC code on the back of the book says Poetry and the Very Poetic Word “flotsam” appears in the title of a poem on page 47. I know that the cover of Russian Novels presents a blurry photograph of a nose, but I don’t know whether or not this is Bloomfield’s schnoz?  And I just don’t know what Bloomfield thinks he knows that I know.

Flat affect tends to belie emotional content, and in lines like “Pity me.  I have nowhere to walk,” Bloomfield has incanted a dissociative poetics reminiscent of Nintendo sidescroller.  The action is pretty fun but Russian Novels, like video games, lacks a third dimension.  The book’s tender moment of intimacy (MOI), imo, comes in the author’s dedication, “for my sister.” A close second: Bloomfield’s confession that he sleeps in astronaut-themed bed-sheets.

***

IMG_2194Manual for Extinction
by Caroline Manring
The National Poetry Review Press, 2014

 

The earth in Manual for Extinction is a dour place where to be “alive was as good as dead.”  The manual doubles as a field guide for understanding this wilderness-less mess, a contemporary big-boxed landscape that, lucky for us, Caroline Manring has surveyed with her poetic binoculars.  Fans of “flotsam” will be pleased to find the word has survived End Times (hi flotsam!) and can be found in this book alongside lots of titles that start with the word how, as in “How to Go Extinct” and “How to Write a Debut Novel.”  There are a few outliers, such as “The Cartographer’s Children Go Without Shoes,” an evolutionary meditation that invokes the proto-winged avian-ancestor, Archaeopteryx, in which “A fossil is deciding / whether to save us.”  Manring demonstrates a cool familiarity with Biology while at the same time grappling with the paradox that Borges called exactitude in science. “A copy of a wolf & the wolf itself / are the same if you draw them both.”

A world of illustrated (aka dead) dodo birds, lost turkeys, and dilapidated human remains sounds shitty and scary but it is also quite literally what we’ve got.  In place of live starlings and spring robins we might increasingly encounter the complexity of nature only in the complexity of research finding that predict diminishing populations of red-winged blackbirds, ruby-throated hummingbirds, and buffleheads alike.  Manring writes in sympathy with these vanishing species, “I want less & less to be in present use.”  Would that we were all to follow such a guide.

***

tumblr_mj61u0pCl81qit5mao1_1280My Enemies
by Jane Gregory
The Song Cave, 2013

 

We’ve a lot to learn from My Enemies.   As the title suggests, many things are often as much what they are as what they are not.   Take, for example, Jane Gregory’s sonic yin and yang, “Cymbals / when washed up or out to sea are silent.”  Much like the potential for both mute and crash held in tempered bell bronze, Gregory has set temporality in opposition to intuition, and by that I mean . . . listen to her ring like an animated slomotion gif of a Zildjian: “I recognize the tongue of the wolf / before it is in the wolf’s mouth.”

1309197226_cymbal_hit_in_slomo

Wallace Stevens sez “Poems must resist the intelligence / almost successfully,” and My Enemies outmaneuvers the brain’s insistent cognition, which just cannot compute Jane Gregory.  The many poems entitled “Book I Will Not Write” are, as announced, books never really written.  But in the poetic summation of these non-books, the author has penned a must read.

Though unable to locate a single instance of “flotsam” inside this text, I found plenty of poetic words like “guncotton,” “ecdysis,” and “Proust.”

***

Peter Nowogrodzki lives in Hudson, NY

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April 11th, 2014 / 10:00 am

I Read Scarecrone in the Bath

photo (3)

I read Scarecrone by Melissa Broder in the bath. Originally, I bought every copy of Scarecrone from Adam Robinson but then I sold them all back to him for the same price, except one, which I kept. That is the copy of Scarecrone I read in the bath.

I had a notebook and pen by the bath because I knew it would be an experience that I would want to express something about, even though I’m uneasy with experiences and expression.

Earlier, I’d read an interview of Melissa Broder by Shane Jones in The Believer about food and food rituals. The interview answers are very honest and detailed. I became upset as I read it because it put me in touch with a kind of radical normalcy in my thoughts and behaviors around food and my body. I began to wonder, as I’ve wondered before, if that normalcy has to do with how many hours & hours I spent in the bathtub as a child and teen, around my own naked body but not confronted with it. As a child and teen, in the bathtub, I usually either read, in which case I saw my headless naked body in the lower periphery, or I did things to make my body feel or do things, in which case I guess I closed my eyes or saw my body through unusual filters.

(I don’t know how to describe any of this in non-dualist ways, especially from the bath point of view since–unlike in the mirror where you see everything or mostly your face– in the bath you see your body but not your head where your brain is, so that the body really seems like something apart.)

I thought about how I have no discipline about food–no habits–but I do have a modicum of self-control. A lot of the interview was about bingeing, which I’ve never done, and which must require even more discipline than purging or limiting food. Bingeing must require a kind of vision, or drive, that will only work via an extreme amount of discipline that I’ll never have.

I thought about how uninterested in purity I am, especially when it comes to food and the body, which is part of what upset me about the interview. I have been slow to read Scarecrone in part because it seems pure and honest, and I am uncomfortable with purity and not very honest. Part of that dishonesty has probably led me throughout my life to deny the existence of any bad feelings about my body. Shame itself is so pure, or at least it’s predicated on the desire for purity. I am not honest about shame I might feel, or ways that I might wish I were pure or that something in the world were pure.

Still, I wanted to read Scarecrone in the bath. I thought something would happen to me if I did because I read reviews that said it is a book of spells, and I am most vulnerable to spells in the bath. I ran the water and realized it was much too hot. For the spell to work, I thought, maybe it would be better to sit naked on the cold toilet seat beside the bath but not get in, and read Scarecrone like that. Or maybe for it to work I should light candles and put them around the bath.

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Bath / 2 Comments
April 10th, 2014 / 9:00 am

Does anyone want to talk about The Grand Budapest Hotel? I think there’s a case to be made it’s Wes Anderson’s best film.

Reviews

Dept. of Speculation

deptBSSC-Offill_coverDept. of Speculation
by Jenny Offill
Knopf, 2014
192 pages / $22.95 buy from Amazon
Rating: 3.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I read Michael J. Seidlinger’s list of indie lit for the year I was so excited that I stayed up until three AM all atwitter thinking about it, but for as excited as I am about the alt lit scene, the recent National Book Critics Awards finalists make it clear that the lit world at large lacks the same scope and enthusiasm.

The new Knopf book Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill is especially indicative of this endemic lack of innovation and the narrow definition of literary taste that seems to grip the big five publishers. READ MORE >

1 Comment
April 8th, 2014 / 12:00 pm