I’ve been here since mid-April and there’s plenty of poetry all over. Some of it I see in person and some of it I see on the internet. More about internet poetry stuff later, I hope.
The places I go to see poetry in person, so far, are Vermillion (a bar and gallery), Elliott Bay Books (most prominent independent bookstore), and Hugo House (a writer’s organization).
I came to Vermillion for a cozy late-afternoon reading. It was either a Wednesday or a Thursday. I entered through the long white gallery. The audience was small and old and very supportive. I sat in the back and listened while smiling. The commercial space is in a nightlife area, across from thrift store that is animorphing into ugly condos even as I sip the $4 tequila-soda, in a religiously-calm moment after the performance.
When I was 17, I saw a man on cable television chase a green Volkswagen Beetle until he slammed headfirst into a pole. He didn’t see the pole because he almost had his hands on the car. He was almost as fast. Also as big, almost. The shot of the man falling after he runs into the pole is full of beautiful slants and heights—leafless branches, latticed tower, streak of cloud, dazed knee—that can only feel as much like winter as they do when propped on top of all that flat. Flatness of a color that might introduce itself as green, and you’re like sure, dirt, whatever you say, we already met but don’t worry about it, this time you’ll get your act together.
The shot was directed by Alison Maclean, whose cinematographer was Adam Kimmel. How they made that shot was first they read Denis Johnson’s book Jesus’ Son. I bought the book after I watched the movie to make sure it was Billy Crudup’s voice that was annoying and not the words.
In the book, the words were in sentences full of glow and ache and the proud civility of the self-fucked, the calm leak of “Excuse me, there’s a knife in my eye.” And also of course the weeping and calling bartenders your mother. They were words about clouds that looked like brains, but they were also words like “help” and “stay” and “save.” Those little words forever hitchhiking back to church and never making it all the way. Paragraphs would interrupt themselves to turn to you. I was 17 and hadn’t read Levinas or Buber, and yet here was the “you” that knew the face on the other end was always dark. Little words like “search” and “name.” Paragraphs that interrupted their description of a shriek to tell you they have gone looking everywhere. For the shriek, they mean, but mostly it’s the gone, and the looking, and the everywhere.
A voice smart enough to hear its own narcissism but still stuck at the age where it can’t believe all the things it gets to feel and hear and see to the point where it doesn’t care at all how slurry it sounds to use a word like “glorious,” a voice that slackjaws around in a sheepskin coat calling everything terrible and beautiful like Oprah’s and-you!-get-a-car-and-you!-get-a-car. Back and forth between wide arms and self-hugging and shivering the whole time and I was 17. Even though I knew the Goo Goo Dolls singing “and you bleed just to know you’re alive” was kind of stupid, it didn’t feel that way. Here was an unironic hallelujah named after a song by a band I went out and listened to because of this book. Here was a blurb from some guy named Barry Hannah, so I read him too. Hallelujah.Continue reading “They’ll have a music of wet streets / and lonely bars where piano notes / follow themselves into a forest of pity and are lost.”
Rachel is a cool person who moved into the room I recently left in Brooklyn, NY. This room has been the home of at least two other HTMLGIANT-adjacent writers in the past.
She gave me a copy of her new book Loving the Ocean Won’t Keep it From Killing You on Hello America press. It’s a small paperback with a sleek typographic cover. I had met Rachel previously–when we shared Adam Humphrey’s video production help two summers ago–so I knew there was something worth paying attention to inside the cover. Rachel is a driven, focused writer-artist and who is also fun to be around. We smoked cigarettes together. We went to the deli across the street.Continue reading “Marina Started to Wish: Rachel Bell’s Loving the Ocean Won’t Keep It from Killing You”
Mystery and Mortality: Essays on the Sad, Short Gift of Life is, as the title says, a collection of essays. In this book, Paula Bomer (author of the powerful and unflinching books Nine Months and Inside Madeline from Soho, and Baby from Word Riot) looks at the work of writers ranging from Tolstoy to Ferrante and Kathy Acker to Brian Allen Carr. She combines her reflections about this literature with her mother’s dementia and her father’s suicide and, through this, she runs some painful thought experiments about why we are what we are and do what we do.
It’s very generous, for a writer to expose so much. It’s humbling to publish it.
Here’s the first paragraph:
Yesterday, I walked by a mirror and I stopped and looked into it and thought, or maybe said out loud, as I’m prone to talking to myself, being one of those writers who spends far too much time alone, “I am not my mother,” repeatedly. Then I walked away.
A few of the 15 essays originally appeared here at HTMLGiant before the turn of the decade, when Paula was a contributor here known as “pr.” Some readers might remember her being lauded for all that scholarship on Flannery O’Connor.
There’s an introduction by Meg Tuite where she says there’s:
no milquetoast in … anything she’s written. Straight on ferocity that doesn’t reek of the formaldehyde of sodden decorum and martyr-esque, flushed vaginas that pop out babies with a smile and a song. Bomer’s work rakes through brutality.
Plus, check out this cool spine:
The book is available now from Publishing Genius, and right now it’s still just $10 (+ $3 shipping) through this week.
This is going to be long. I will discuss politics in the dangerous context of business and try to compare Seattle and New York, but I will go astray. You’re warned. I spent a long time to fix the structure of this essay. This first bit is about my vocation and leads into a bit about leaving New York. I think I wanted to give the political parts a level of context. It’s hard to read about politics if you don’t know what it comes out of.
What is a Real Substitute For Blood?: An Interview with Patty Yumi Cottrell
Patty Yumi Cottrell’s debut novel is Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, an “anti-memoir” about Helen Moran, a thirty-two year old adopted Korean woman who has to return to Milwaukee to investigate the sudden death of her fellow adopted Korean brother. It’s a weird little stall because the lurch of Helen’s brother’s death will get you to turn the page, but there are so many things that only Helen could say that will make you want to read and re-read them and cut them out and wear them into a suit of koan-like kernels to guide you through your each and every day. Helen drops gems like “the eye is a terrible organ” or “time itself is nothing but a construction to organize and measure flesh decay.” All the while cramming into this claustrophobic home that never really felt like a home with her adoptive white parents who are disappointed when she accidentally kills all the flowers meant for her brother’s funeral. There’s a vision of a balding European man. Books on drawings of trees in the Midwest. The abyss. Chad Lambo, the grief counselor. It’s a weird and dark and funny stroll. It nods to Sheila Heti, Thomas Bernhard, and Miranda July, but is completely of Patty Yumi Cottrell’s own making. After all, in the words of Helen, “everything in the world is a palimpsest, motherfuckers!”
I’m on a huge Anthony Braxton kick right now. Like, inside a free jazz free fall vortex of kaleidoscopic music from Ornette Coleman to Cecil Taylor to Marion Brown to Albert Ayler to Don Cherry to Art Ensemble of Chicago to more and more and more, but right now Braxton’s speaking to me the loudest.
Braxton’s material moves in ways I find massively appealing: bold, dynamic, unpredictable, defiant, aggressive, persuasive, provocative, spooky, scary, creepy, cacophonous, rambunctious, chaotic, discursive, flagrant, abstract, unintelligible, bewildering, soothing, calming, inviting, indulgent, relentless, combative, mutinous, as if it were an act of resistance.