by Joshua Marie Wilkinson
Black Ocean, 2013
88 pages / $14.95 buy from Black Ocean
1. I’ve been working on this since this past spring. After reading Beyond The Like Factory & The Hatchet: Rethinking Poetry Reviewing by Joshua Marie Wilkinson, I knew I had to finish this review. This is actually a scary thing to write now.
2. Swamp Isthmus is Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s first book with Black Ocean and the second book in his No Volta pentalogy (first is Selenography, Sidebrow 2010; third will be The Courier’s Archive & Hymnal, Sidebrow 2014). I’ve not read Selenography so there is perhaps some things I’ve missed by not having done so.
3. A swamp is a living-dead landscape; the living feed off of the dead and dying, the most dead areas are filled with the most life and the least dead areas are those with the least life.
From the Hart Crane epigraph (The resigned factions of the dead preside) in the very beginning of Swamp Isthmus, Joshua Marie Wilkinson creates a zombie landscape, a zone that infects the living with symptoms of deadness. In a zombie film this deadness comes to the living with capitalist critiques of our alienating existence, but in Swamp Isthmus we see a zombie that carries critiques of the ecologic and nostalgic sort.
4. The lyrics of Swamp Isthmus are a living-dead endeavor: precise breaks eluding a narrative; linearity reduced to phrases contained in the line.
to disappear you must
descrying over nightfall
with unclogged wind
this coast is longer than a train track
needing coarse woolen cloth &
the clothes you’re in
so needing a bad song
to whistle what’s known
but may stick
to another’s mouth
5. Similar to what Zach Savich says about Wilkonson’s lyrics, to kill a zombie takes precision: remove the head, destroy the brain.
6. In The Dead Rustle, The Earth Shudders, Evan Calder Williams points to something that is obvious in Swamp Isthmus:
“…the undead have never really been dead in the first place—they never died.’
7. To cross a swamp takes precision and a mind for the contradiction of the living-dead: step here, not there; eat this, not that; drink plenty of water, but don’t drink the water.
footpaths marked by
it gathers up in
this bladder of light
8. the trees palsy/ to our bad lines.
9. In some respects, there is an admission with these lines of the failure of poetry to enact this landscape; the lines aren’t good. In some respects it’s proof that poetry works: even the bad lines cause the landscape to shudder.
10. There may be an actual “Swamp Isthmus.” The book’s title might be a reference to Gastineau Channel in Alaska, which at low-tide creates an isthmus from mainland Alaska to Douglas Island. Fritz Cove Road, mentioned in the section, I Go By Edgar Huntly Now, is a road that “dwindles down/to a patch of currants” (note the clever word play on ‘currents’) but it also ends at the place where Gastineau Channel meets Fritz Cove. A place that may eventually be unnavigable by watercraft. A place severely affected by glacial melt/global warming. READ MORE >
December 3rd, 2013 / 5:33 pm
1. What happens when the world goes deaf?
2. Sad Robot Stories by Mason Johnson is a novella about Robot and “his” existential crisis after the collapse of the world, left only with “his” mechanical “brothers” and “sisters” and the usual fire and brimstone of an apocalypse setting.
3. Maybe deaf is the wrong word. Or the wrong cadence. What happens when the sound of humans is extinguished? “Yes, the cries, giggles, laughter, screams, moans of both pain and pleasure, squeals, wails, whispers–the many sounds of the human race–were all gone. Even the minute sound of blood rushing through veins and arteries, speeding through the heart and up to the brain…was gone.” Could you, theoretically, if you didn’t die and weren’t some pile of dust eating radioactivity, I mean, could you handle it?
4. Robot is special or different than his siblings in that his emotional spectrum has for some reason also been anthropomorphized. He is, like the title suggests, sad that the humans are gone.
5. Humans have created (in our world) a null-sound room–which one research team has monikered as a Dead Room–that most scientists call an anechoic chamber, in order to develop and test various auditory waves.
6. “An anechoic chamber (an-echoic meaning non-echoing or echo-free) is a room designed to completely absorb reflections of either sound or electromagnetic waves. They are also insulated from exterior sources of noise. The combination of both aspects means they simulate a quiet open-space of infinite dimension, which is useful when exterior influences would otherwise give false results.” (Wikipedia)
7. Robot specifically misses from the human race Mike and Mike’s nuclear family. Mike was the first human to acknowledge (or perhaps ignore) Robot’s being. “Being” here couples physical and metaphysical, which, according to more Wikipedia, is exactly anathema to Speculative Realism. Speculative Realism, from the one article I read, argues for the multiple possibilities of reality; that no one universal law is stable according to these multiple possibilities (with the exception of the Principle of Non-Contradiction); “there is no reason [the universe] could not be otherwise.” A good ground rule for any Science Fiction.
8. In the anthropocentric world of Robot pre- human extinction, there are workplace laws managing the ratio of humans-to-robots, which presumptuously leads to pay differences, benefits, etc. Like any class distinction, humans have structured a wall to stand on in order to look down upon those below, i.e. robots. Mike plays pool with Robot, takes Robot home to meet his family. He tells Robot stories of his life. He treats “him” like a friend.
10. Robot is fascinated not just by Mike’s stories of an alcoholic, nihilistic past, but of Mike’s budding fascination and subsequent redemption after Mike started reading books. This notion of the redemptive functions of books/stories is not objective. “And it is true that the tool is the congealed outline of an operation. But it remains on the level of the hypothetical imperative. I may use the hammer to nail up a case or to hit my nieghbour over the head.” (Jean-Paul Sarte, “What Is Literature?”) You read/write a story, why? READ MORE >
November 26th, 2013 / 11:09 am
The Synchronia Project, slated for release next February, is difficult to define. Not exactly a journal, it is a composite, open-ended literary endeavor that will feature work by multiple authors. But it is not a collaboration between the authors; the only collaboration happening is between editors Emily Kiernan and Joe Trinkle , who will be reading the submissions and arranging them into a larger whole. The end goal remains vague, only because the project is still accepting submissions. It is these submissions that will in large part determine Synchronia’s direction, and Kiernan and Trinkle hope to discover a larger narrative—a feeling of synchronicity—across the selected pieces. I had the opportunity to interview these two and learn more about the project.
Dan Hoffman: What was the impetus behind The Synchronia Project? Was there a specific literary influence, or did it evolve from a bigger reading of the collective writing you see as editors and writers?
Joe Trinkle: I think it started by us wanting to create something from other people’s work. We’re both writers who read a fair amount of anthologies and literary journals, and we wanted to do something ambitious, something more than just a collection of stories that we like. I think, somewhere in the back of my head, when I’m reading several simultaneously produced journals, online or in print, I notice how much we are writing about the same things or writing in similar voices, and we wanted to play around with that. To see if a pool of submissions would reflect some kind of pattern.
In a larger sense, some of my favorite novels feel like several broken novellas woven together, stories that would not have had nearly as much effect on a reader by themselves, but somehow add to each other, compliment, enhance each other, even if their plots don’t cross paths. I’m thinking Last Exit to Brooklyn, Infinite Jest, and some of the great short story collections of the twentieth century—those kind of books. I actually just read Cloud Atlas, which is a perfect example of what I was thinking about when Emily and I first discussed this project. I wanted to see what it would be like to try to create a fractured novel like that, but with stories from several writers.
Emily Kiernan: It absolutely had a lot to do with the kind of work we like to read. Fracture has been one of the watchwords of literature since the advent of modernism, and. we grew up as readers and writers in a world where that kind of fallen-apart messiness was a dominant form. Most of our models for what it meant to write about the present world, or for what it meant to approximate our experience, inhabited that kind of cut-up space. So of course we are drawn to these broken narratives. One of the first books I remember Joe and I bonding over was Winesburg, Ohio, which had that distinctly modern novel-in-stories form. It is a flat-out rejection of cohesion. Given this history, I think it is natural that we wanted to extend that form outwards, from the book itself to the magazine or the collection.
One thing that I think is remarkable about The Synchronia Project, though–which actually works against this tradition–is that we’re not fracturing something whole, but rather trying to fit these broken pieces together. Binding up the wounds (a little fragment of language that knocks about in my head).
DH: It seems to me that the closest antecedent to The Synchronia Project actually belongs to the realm of cinema, and not of literature, because even if a single literary text unifies multiple narratives it is still, finally, only written by one author; whereas arguably in cinema there is often no single “author” of the film. How much, if at all, was cinema an inspiration for this project?
JT: I watch an embarrassingly low number of films, so my immediate response would be not much. But I’d argue that even though a book usually has only one author, it often times has many editors; it often goes through the finely cut die of a workshop or an MFA program, and the ideas that are infused into the text partly come from reading the work of others. The idea of “one author” is true, but there are a lot of hands on the text, both directly and indirectly.
EK: I also can’t claim any substantial film knowledge, beyond having watched a few more of them than Joe, so any cinema influence on the project would be indirect. As for the one-author element, there actually is a lot of collaborative writing out there, though I suppose it’s more common in poetry than in fiction. (Can I advertise? I’d like to advertise. A few good friends of mine recently started Bon Aire Projects, which publishes exclusively collaborative work.) Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs wrote a novel together called And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks. Supposedly the name came from a news report about a fire at a circus—a fact that haunts me. The poor hippos.
DH: On that note, is there any connection between your ideas on authorship (post-Barthes, post-deconstructionism, etc. etc.) and the spirit of The Synchronia Project? Because it seems to me that such an endeavor must in part emerge from a distinctly contemporary conception of what it means to read and interpret texts. Would you say that, in a sense, this is as much about your interpretation of the submissions as their intrinsic qualities?
EK: I don’t think we are out to make any particular comment on authorship–there still exists more than one valid way to own or not own your work–though I suppose we are exploring one of the little rooms that Barthes et al opened up. We’re mostly a bit over-enthusiastic and a bit over-confident and want really badly to be in on the good stuff we see happening all around us in the writing world, so we manufactured this bribe of publication to get our favorite writers to let us futz with their work. We are, in a sense, asking our favorite authors to put aside their authorship for the duration of this project, to engage in this particular book/journal/what-have-you on different terms. It’s a playful thing at heart, and I want authors to engage in it in that way.
It is also strange and intimate what happens when you ask people to work with you, to be in your circle, in this odd way, and we are interested in that act of unearned generosity or faith. There are always problems with gate-keeping, with editing, with privileging one voice over another, and this project puts pressures on those seams in a way that I hope will be revealing, and that I hope will work.
JT: I listen to/watch many author interviews, and something I’ve noticed is how surprised writers can be by the things that others find in their work. Writing fiction is largely intuitive, I think, as well as the revision process, and while major motifs are often intentional, other aspects of the work just kind of sneak in from the subconscious, or the part of the brain that thinks abstractly, that doesn’t quite focus on words. So when a great book is written, and everybody reads it and then someone sits the author down for an interview, they ask her all of these questions, to which she ends up replying, “Yeah, that just kind of happened,” or “Sure, I can see that.”
In this way, themes seem to emerge that the author is not entirely in control over, and when you look at several works from within a given time period, it’s even easier to draw lines between those unconscious themes. To answer your question: we want to see work that is good, to identify those unintentional unifying themes, and to thread it together with other work with similar sub- or unconscious trajectories.
Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail: Stories
by Kelly Luce
A Strange Object, 2013
152 pages / $14.95 buy from A Strange Object
1. Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail is the debut story collection by Kelly Luce.
3. The only thing is that Kelly Luce grew up in Brookfield, Illinois.
4. How strict is the “write what you know” edict? On Big Think, Nathan Englander reminds us that this advice is too often misconstrued. It really means we should write from a place of emotional familiarity, not that we’re limited to autobiographical writing.
5. But are there limitations when we talk about writers depicting foreign cultures? This story collection seems very Japanese (if a book can even be “very Japanese”) and yet, it’s distinctly American, too.
6. When I was nine I was flipping through channels and caught the end of Akira on basic cable. I had no clue what was going on, but in the weeks, months, and years to follow I found that it left an indelible mark on me—a predilection towards the uncomfortably strange.
7. A Strange Object is the name of the independent press that published Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail. They’re based out of Austin, TX. This is their first book, too.
8. This is strictly conjecture, but Japanese culture affords for a strangeness that is uniquely its own. Look at all of the Japanese fiction out there: Akutagawa and Mishima, Ryu Murakami and Haruki Murakami, and the scores of manga and J-horror.
9. The characters in Kelly Luce’s collection are outsiders. Many are Americans who move to Japan for work or to connect with the culture that they find so entrancing. Some are only half Asian, an anomaly to the native Japanese—not gaijin, but not Japanese, either. Others are fully Japanese, but do not fit in as with the Japanese school girls who seek refuge from the tedium of their lives through a unique karaoke machine and with the Japanese widower who invented a machine that measures a person’s capacity for love. All are lost. All are searching to fit in.
10. In ninth grade, I ordered a t-shirt with the kanji for gaijin on it. I wore that shirt proudly even though no one at my school in West Tennessee understood what it meant. Looking back, I think I was so drawn to Japanese comic books and cartoons because it was a way to embrace my otherness as a nerdy, awkward white boy. READ MORE >
November 14th, 2013 / 11:14 am
1. On the surface, Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica is a dot-to-dot adventure tale. After a hurricane hits an English settlement in Jamaica, two families decide to send their children back to England. Early on in the voyage the children are taken aboard a pirate ship whereupon they visit exotic ports and busy themselves with imaginary games. They are eventually returned home, and the pirates’ subsequent arrest, trial, and execution rounds out the proceedings. Of course, that last part seems a little extreme and out of place, and that’s really the book’s program, because simmering just below this surface is the constant threat of rape and murder.
2. In the spirit of Calvino’s later lecture on lightness versus weight, the narrative manages to float just above the threat of violence. You get the feeling after a while that Hughes is totally aware that you’re aware of the divide between high adventure and childhood trauma, and so he starts to fuck with your sense that awful things need to happen.
3. And, of course, awful things do happen—often and with startling frankness—but they are always quickly buried under the book’s relentless trend towards lightness.
4. The earliest memory I have is of staring up at the bottom of a kitchen table. I don’t know where I was or what I was doing, but I remember looking at a pattern in the wood and then turning toward a doorway. That’s it. I know I’ve told the memory differently over the years, adding in details about toys or sounds or maybe a smell wafting in, but the truth is that I just have this one scant moving image. I don’t think it’s a lie to embellish something so bland and colorless in texture, and at certain points I might have really believed in the additions.
5. Before I reread the novel to work on this review, I kept thinking it opened with a bigger feint at being a lighthearted adventure, but this is totally wrong. By the end of the first chapter’s scene-setting, two colonial ladies starve to death (or are fed ground-up glass by their servants, who knows!), a black servant drowns in a bathing pool, and countless rats and bats are dispatched by the family’s cat. All the while, we’re reminded that this is “a kind of paradise for English children to come to.” Right.
6. I usually skip introductions, but when I talk about AHWiJ, I almost always fall back on Francine Prose’s brief intro for the NYRB edition: “First the vague premonitory chill—familiar, seductive, unwelcome—then the syrupy aura coating the visible world, through which its colors and edges appear ever more lurid and sharp… The experience of reading Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica…evokes the somatic sensations of falling ill, as a child.” Sign me up.
7. Another big theme of the book’s opening is the whole colonial question, which is vital and pressing and could probably be handled with greater finesse than I can muster here. Suffice it to say that the first sentence presents ruined slave quarters, sugar-grinding houses, and mansions, all “fruits of Emancipation in the West Indies.” Considering the adventure-story-through-a-fun-house-mirror about to come, it’s hard not to think that this kind of stage-setting is about just rewards, that the English family deserves everything that’s about to come.
8. A brief digression cum recipe: AHWiJ allegedly contains the first mention of a drink called the Hangman’s Blood—a mixture of rum, gin, brandy, and porter—“innocent (merely beery) as it looks, refreshing as it tastes, it has the property of increasing rather than allaying thirst, and so once it has made a breach, soon demolishes the whole fort.” Clearly the kind of mix that leads to public exposure and pissing blood and, of course, piracy.
9. Is there actually such a thing as an anti-adventure novel? (I’d imagine something like Coetzee’s Foe might come close, although its meta-narrative seems more about deconstructing the adventure genre than teasing out its hidden desires.) And furthermore, if there were such an anti-genre, would it stand in opposition to all of the finicky colonial and gender and race problems inherent in Defoe and Dumas and Stevenson? While AHWiJ is never really a wholehearted rejection of the adventure novel’s Victorian and Enlightenment-era point of view, the ways in which it represses and then inverts these views are extremely sneaky and, by the book’s end, terrifying.
10. The narrative portrays the adult world as a haze of concealed motives and consequences. A pirate’s drunken leer and a parent’s concern over a coming hurricane are met with the same curious misapprehension: that something vital or alarming is just beyond one’s young recognition. But while Hughes draws a kind of tight circular POV around the children, he also lets the reader step out into the larger circle of this adult world, and somewhere between the larger circle and the nested one is a place where motives and the threat of their attendant consequences exist. READ MORE >
November 12th, 2013 / 2:14 pm
1. This book reminded me of this remix which was incredibly moving and pained me this spring and still pains me now http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KbdOBE1ORw
2. The thing about Kevin Sampsell is that he feels like the kind of guy who has been through everything. He’s just one of those people. He doesn’t have that used up feeling or look at all but he does have that vibe of being the kind of guy who has lived through basically everything there is as a human to experience but not in a hardened way.
3. I’m not explaining this right but he’s just one of those people who seems complicated and well adjusted and like if you talk to him he just has been there, whatever it is but he doesn’t come outright and say that instead he just comes from this I know what you mean mode which isn’t even patronizing the point here is that all of that also comes through in his writing and this book This Is Between Us from Tin House coming out is five years of a life.
4. Anything you have ever experienced in your life is in this book.
5. This book is comforting.
6. Sometimes this book is upsetting.
7. This book is comforting.
8. Some people said this book was disturbing and I was like have you ever lived your life at all or ever really loved someone or had a partner and if you haven’t maybe your life is easier and even if your life has been really nice you’ll still be like “yup” while reading parts of this book because it’s just so real in how it’s rendered because it’s just written so elegantly and simply stated and maybe that’s the thing with Kevin Sampsell’s writing.
9. We’re working with the rhetorical you in this entire book.
10. It’s written like a confessional ode-ish poem. READ MORE >
November 7th, 2013 / 1:06 pm
Götterdämmerung Family BBQ
by Jasper Bernes and Joshua Clover
Commune Editions, 2013
1. I met Jasper Bernes at a café in Oakland. He was binding Götterdämmerung Family BBQ with a long arm stapler. Commune Editions is a new publishing venture organized by Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clover, and Juliana Spahr.
2. Jasper invited me to the Poetry and/or Revolution conference-taking place at UC Berkeley, Davis, and Santa Cruz. I went to a discussion on manifestos where Joshua Clover delivered his Don’t Put the Rabbit in the Hat. Later, at “The Public School” Joshua and Jasper read from Götterdämmerung Family BBQ.
3. If it’s not clear you can read this online here along with works by Juliana Spahr, Diane Di Prima, and Louise Michel.
4. Poems. These are poems. Don’t forget. They look like poems. They taste like poems. They’re also full of frenetic pop culture references and blatant political antagonisms. They’re fun, but they’re trying to fuck shit up all the same.
5. The line that got the biggest cheer / laugh / reaction from the reading was “I wandered lonely as a drone / That floats o’er jails and landfill / And monitors what we say on the phone. // It knows an amazing amount / About One Direction / And sexting with frenemies of / the public good, who burn in the sun // of total transparency, / brains open to the screen / Memories of one Friedrich von / Ludwig von Mises on scene…”
6. There’s a kind of opulence to lyric like that – a lyrical richness, a sickly sweetness from the rhyme, an excessive beauty. Some other writers, like Julian T. Brolaski, and Joyelle McSweeney, also capture a kind of perverted poeticism, a lavish absence, bastard cousin of luxury rap. “I’m early to the party but my ‘rarri is the latest.”
7. While “I wandered lonely as a drone” pleases, much of the rest of the chapbook is more of a call to arms and a more vigorous critique of political ambivalence. “Your vocabulary did this to me and millions like me, the vulnerability of words wanna be starting something else: rockets, rain, renegacy. Turn it upside down and set it on fire / is too a solution if you believe in emotional truth”
8. Responsibility, commiseration, complicity. This work sits firmly on the let’s do something with our poetry side of the aisle, rather than the “everything is meaningless” or the “poetry can’t do real shit” side of the weird looking aisle.
9. Jasper told me that Commune Editions would focus on work with an anarchist lean. Publishing a recounting of the trials of Louise Michel achieves that in more than one way.
10. “We once thought that there was more to life than breathing carbon emissions through the holes in our faces and we were right” READ MORE >
October 31st, 2013 / 12:31 pm
by Anne Applebaum
Anchor Books, 2004
736 pages / $18.95 buy from Amazon
1. Roughly speaking, the Gulag was the soviet prison camp system that operated from about 1919 through the late 1950′s, though some camps lasted right up until the collapse of the Soviet Union itself
2. Anne Applebuam, the author of this work, has never been a prisoner in a Gulag. In fact Applebaum is pretty much the total opposite of most people who were in the Gulag system, who were by and large poorer Russians and eastern europeans of various national origins. Applebaum is a member of America’s patrician class. She went to Yale and Oxford, worked as a foreign correspondent for The Economist, and is married to the foreign minister of Poland.
3. I can’t help but wonder if one reason Applebaum decided to tackle such a grim, destitute subject is because, like many people who have a fairly secure, lofty station in life, they are morbidly fascinated by the sheer horror of tragedies beyond their geographic and chronological frame of reference. (note: while I am not a member of said lofty station, I am not currently starving to death and am myself often fascinated by horrific national tragedies)
4. I don’t want you to think that Anne Applebaum simply wrote this book out of some universe of vast privilege and is just sort of casually looking down and and trying to explicate history like the Queen of England talking about what’s happening in Syria with the Prince of Wales at afternoon tea or something. The Gulag system as a topic is so enormous, so horrifically cruel and violent, that she obviously had to submerge herself into it to a degree and for a length of time that most people, let alone most writers of history, would probably find appalling.
5. To be honest, I think her outsider status here works to her advantage more than anything. Most of the Russian language works about the Gulag she cites are very emotionally powerful, but they tend to become monotonous and sort of blend all together in a single,very Slavic voice of total despair. You can only read so many descriptions of old women bitterly weeping while receiving their daily bread ration before it becomes this easily dismissible rhetoric of misery.
6. This book is about 700 pages long. About 110 pages of that length is source notes and bibliographical information of one kind or another. Anne Applebaum offers a tidal wave, like an actual wave that engulfs you, of background information and first hand accounts of what life was like in the Gulag system.
7. While reading it I kept wondering if I would ever have it in me to write a 700 page long book of which 1/7 is pure reference information. I mean, I get that people do that sort of thing for a PHD, but that is presumably a big incentive to finish a book. Did she get some kind of advance for this? Or was this just a kooky little pet project she nursed along for years on her own?
8. This is the single most painful work of non-fiction I have ever read.
9. No, really.
10. If the perpetrators of the Holocaust were, as Hannah Arendt famously wrote, committing the banality of evil, then the Gulag system is about the banality of apathy. At no point was the cruelty of the system or of the administrators of the camps or the guards ever mandated. The purpose of the Gulag was never that of the Nazi camps (even if they do bear horrific similarities), in fact, the actual idea of what this whole prison camp system was for fluctuated a lot over time. Sometimes it was about trying to rehabilitate prisoners, sometimes it was about using their slave labor to turn a profit, sometimes it was just about getting rid of undesirable elements and sending them 10 time zones away in the arctic waste. Though that last thing is literally the only thing it did that actually worked. READ MORE >
October 29th, 2013 / 12:15 pm
1. Charles Blackstone is the managing editor of Bookslut, which is a nice outfit with a long-standing thing going on and you can read them at: www.bookslut.com
2. I prefer to call him Charlie and he is fine with that.
3. This novel is about a guy who is in love with a famous girl in Chicago who is a wine expert and has her own restaurant thing going on and her own tv show and the guy contacts her as a fan and then they elope and then five weeks later he thinks she is cheating on him and also they aren’t even getting along really and then they are taking a trip to Greece together.
4. There isn’t any gore or devastating kind of art going on in it what it is instead is more of a vibe of like you’re on a second date with someone you really like and it’s a picnic and you just want to seem really nice because you actually think your date is really nice so you use proper grammar. Don’t even lie you know you look really cute when you dress up sometimes. I want to say this book has a tone you’d use in a job interview but that wouldn’t be helping anyone.
5. Also our narrator has an incredibly sad type of way about him which I am basically a complete sucker for but that is fine.
6. This guy in the novel is an adjunct professor.
7. It has this kind of little nervous guy thrown into a big city feel to it because he like asks this girl out and then they’re married and he has to keep up with her life.
8. Have you ever felt like you had to keep up with someone and was it exhausting.
9. I think this entire novel may be a metaphor for the history of wine. Tolstoy.
10. They’re running around Greece trying to either fix or break a marriage they’ve been in for five weeks. READ MORE >
October 22nd, 2013 / 11:09 am
It’s been a big year for lists in poetry. I don’t feel at all threatened or the least bit offended by Josef Kaplan’s most recent Kill List. In fact, it’s hard for me to believe anyone out there really would be. Flavorwire and Seth Abramson offended me much more. But of course, I am an oh-so jaded rich poet myself, and it’s the grandmas and granddads of U.S. Conceptual Poetry who have jaded me already. I have one urgent critique of Kaplan’s poem: and it’s that the work comes off as didactic, transparently so. And to argue for this transparency as a virtue in itself undermines the integrity of conceptualism as a vanguard movement worth rooting for in contemporary poetry. Maybe I care too much. But why not make the poem a hundred pages longer? Slam Poetry is similarly didactic…something like Elliot Darrow’s “God Is Gay” which was written up in Time magazine earlier this month. Both Darrow and Kaplan espouse a kind of viral poetics to provoke discussions about classism, racism/sexism etcetera. Darrow is a high-school thespian in North Carolina; Kaplan is part of a comfortable community of poets living in Brooklyn, N.Y. With Kaplan, it’s a witty uncreative self-awareness sharpened to a lethal edge. It’s a necessary prank, a deliberate faux pas; a pot shot at our naked emperor and his provincial court of intramural poesies. But it’s not enough.
The exciting thing Kill List accomplishes is its unique perpetuation across various comment streams and blogs online. In its first week, there have been some hilarious moments of response…one person arguing that so & so isn’t a rich poet because they only recently received tenure and the National Book Award, for instance. Some people are upset. Yes, the romantic idyll of the starving poet in a garret is entirely defunct. The trouble is that if someone is a poet and you know about them outside of your own inter-personal sphere, they’re mostly likely rich, because so much poetry is and always has been (not without the occasional, glorious exception…) for the most part conceived by and for an owning majority class. So much poetry is just like potpourri.
Here’s an attempt at close reading my favorite section of Kaplan’s poem. This stanza appears towards the end on page fifty-eight:
“Ron Silliman is comfortable.
Justin Sirois is comfortable.
Matthew Smith is comfortable.
Patti Smith is a rich poet.”
Patti Smith is a rich poet, no doubt…and an example of the constantly warping conception of what constitutes poetic labor (an oxymoron?) or what makes someone a poet, wtf is poetic. All poetry mocks the bourgeois idea of production, viz.: how much labor must one put into something for it to have any value. Anybody can do it, so therefore any poem is inherently subversive. A poem that’s no more than twenty words may win awards on a grand scale—never mind how long the poet claims it took them to write—just as they could rattle off an epic fifty-page poem in a matter of days. The poet’s “craft” so-called may reside more in their delivery, the cultivation of a persona, or some underlying concept forming the bedrock of everything they do.
Poet John Latta wrote on his blog Isola Di Rifuti in 2009 about “the insidious People-magazinification” of the little avant-garde poetry magazines he was receiving at that time from fellow poets, young and old, new and inveterate:
“[What] is it about this particular moment that sees the arrival of Lana Turner and Abraham Lincoln and Gerry Mulligan? (Trying to think of others, I do recall a Roy Rogers some years ago—and a Frank and a Marilyn and there’s Arshile still, presumably.)
All those magazines were/are still for the most part edited produced and disseminated by respective communities of poets. Needless to say, any layman potential non-poet reader will have a hard time finding them online unless they specify, for instance: “Lana Turner poetry” or better yet “Lana Turner poetry magazine”. And that particular title is a literary reference to an old pop cultural reference…way back to Frank O’Hara, who was indeed commenting outright on the just-as-insidious, albeit irresistible cult of celebrity in the late 1950s surrounding actress Lana Turner with his famous poem about her collapse.
Seth Abramson alluded to this phenomenon of poets preaching to the choir in his introduction to the Top 200 Advocates for American Poetry list on Huffington Post. But his intentions for making this list were unclear. He shot himself in the foot with the disclaimer: “Everyone has their own pantheon of favorite poets, cadres, mentors, and poet-friends…” He encouraged people to add to the list, as long as nobody used it as an opportunity to shamelessly promote their own clique, magazine, university lit department, reading series or borough of New York City:
“…lists of top poets and angry responses to such lists have the same net effect: to define poetry as a series of geographic sub-units or highly-circumscribed sub-communities, all of which are largely self-sufficient and self-contained, and therefore do little to directly promote American poetry as a national cultural phenomenon.”
Abramson’s list did something to promote its’ creator as a national cultural phenomenon, and in an only slightly more provocative way, so does Kaplan’s. Abramson casts himself as Paul Revere in the rapidly unfolding drama of poetry’s survival in the mainstream. The redcoats are the poetry haters. A lot of people don’t care about poetry because a lot of poets don’t care about people who don’t care. Or if they do, their way of caring is by writing poems with titles like “Accept Me” courtesy of their local MFA program.
October 22nd, 2013 / 11:00 am
by Tex Kerschen
84 pages / Free for download here
“Selections from the hothouse of the possible,” says the epigram to Tex Kerschen’s poetry collection, Hothouse. Recently, when I saw Kerschen read in Houston, he was accompanied by an opera singer, a six-year-old, a video installation and a smoke machine. As you might expect, he’s a gifted showman. That said, the possible Kerschen’s referring to doesn’t allude to stagecraft or even poetry, per se. Kerschen’s more ambitious than that. He wants to trick his readers into reconsidering what is possible.
It’s a soft sell. “Salvation sells itself,” these poems seem to say. “All I do is the paperwork.”
When Hothouse’s poems talk they drawl, unbalancing the reader with prolonged vowel sounds of narrative abstraction. At times they hold the reader at arm’s length; at times whisper in the reader’s ear with a hand in their hip pocket. By this sleight of hand Kerschen’s poems can look other than they are – seeming character studies in fatalism before surprising the reader with the possibility of redemption. They document the failings of human virtue and the plight of the human animal who toils and scratches in the aisles of 99 Cents Only Stores; searches for squandered youth in the clubs of Houston or Dublin to the ballads of Chamillionaire; retreats to the escapist fantasy of the Renaissance Festival and finds only wench-cleavage, neo-nazis and rigged jousting. But the purpose of this cataloging of human suffering is not, in fact, to simply bum you out. Like all good satire, it’s aim in enumerating humanity’s worst qualities is the restoration of human goodness: “I was all like / Where my dogs at? / They was all like, /At the pound / in a cage / waiting for a pinprick, / send magazines.”
Through Kerschen’s satirization of suffering – the probable, the predictable and the probably happening to the reader right now – the reader reevaluates how much more may be possible. In the process, some measure of convalescence from suffering is accomplished; as in the poem “Past Lives,” where several levels of narrative framing are at work to set up a joke, which may or may not be at the reader’s expense. The poem’s narrator recounts the high times had in Cleopatra’s court: “She was famous. I was rich. We traded gifts / of gold, lions and slaves.” When the listener (né reader) inquires about their own past life, they become the punchline: “Yes, you were there / You were cleaning up.” The direct address here implicates the reader in the poem, and thereby in the poem’s critique. Jokes on you. As Nietzsche’d say: only humans laugh, because only humans suffer so goddamn much they need a fucking laugh.
In Kerschen’s poems we suffer, because we know; and because we know, we can overcome suffering. But we don’t know everything, or more so, don’t allow ourselves to. Kerschen ties our unconscious knowing to animal instinct, signified in the bestiary of animals parading through these poems. Wild-life is a thing to be kept in check, a side of ourselves we to be suppressed. It’s the beard which grows back unbidden and must be shaved down anew each day, the dog in the cage. And yet it’s also this un-house-trainable aspect which offers emancipation from the cage; as an unexpected dolphin sighting does for two young lovers sitting on the beach burying their cigarette butts in the sand: “… I looked out at the water / and bit my tongue before telling you we wouldn’t / see dolphins, and there they were / beyond the swells / swimming in pairs / diving to eat / rising to breathe.” Kerschen, if not quite seeking reintegration, does encourage communion. “How many words should fit / on a line in a poem? / The time for half measures / has passed. Chance won’t see / that the dog gets fed.” The narrator hungers to know. The dog knows. It knows it’s hungry. But the only way either will eat Snausages tonight is to get a little work done.
October 18th, 2013 / 11:00 am
I’ve always been curious about the darkroom where literary magazines come together. This is a series of interviews engaging, talking, and sometimes annoying editors about their magazines. How did they come about, what do they hate about editing, and what do they love most about it?
This is the third in the series and I talked with Fiction Editor, Christine Lee Zilka, and Creative Nonfiction editor, Jennifer Derilo. Their about page has the following description: “Kartika Review is a national literary arts magazine that publishes Asian Pacific Islander American fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and art. Kartika Review serves the Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) community and those involved with Diasporic Asian and Pacific Islander-inspired literature. We scout for compelling APIA creative writing and artwork to present to the public at large. Our editors actively solicit contributions from established virtuosos in our community in hopes their works here will inspire the next generation of virtuosos. Kartika also promotes emerging writers and artists we foresee to be the future powerhouses of their craft. Ultimately, Kartika strives to create a literary forum that caters to and celebrates the wordsmiths of the Asian Diaspora.”
What’s always drawn me to the review is their focus on great stories. The APIA experience is incredibly diverse and the Kartika Review pushes the boundaries of what constitutes APIA literature. The settings may differ and so may some of the sentiments of the narrators, but at the core, the emotional resonance transcends any differences. The tales, poetry, essays, and imagery form a unique flotilla of art that is as portable as it is relatable. I hopped on board with the two editors and what followed was an organic and fun trek through the editorial rivers of the review.
As a brief bio and introduction to Christine (CLZ) and Jennifer (JD):
Christine Lee Zilka is the Fiction Editor at KARTIKA REVIEW. Her work has appeared in journals and anthologies such as ZYZZYVA, GUERNICA, VERBSAP, HYPHEN, and MEN UNDRESSED. She has a novel in progress.
Jennifer Derilo is the Creative Nonfiction editor at Kartika Review. She has a memoir in progress. She often has nightmares about zombies. And abandoned predicate parts.
PTL: When and how did you first get involved with Kartika Review?
CLZ: I subbed a short story for consideration to Kartika in early 2008–and I got an email from Sunny Woan, our Founding Editor, saying she loved the piece and wanted to know if I would be interested in becoming Kartika’s Fiction Editor (the previous Fiction Editors departed after Kartika’s second issue). I told her yes! It was my call whether or not to have the piece published; I’m not a big proponent of editors publishing their own work at the litmag for which they work, so I withdrew the piece. The rest is history. I found a passion project in Kartika Review and a fantastic friend in Sunny. And recently, that story just got accepted for publication in another litmag. I owe a lot to that story.
JD: Christine and I were in the MFA program at Mills, but she was in the cohort ahead of me. I first met her when she was the TA for a teaching pedagogy class during my first semester in 2006. While she was an excellent TA, she also coaxed me out of my shell. I started to see her as a big sister type who had the best advice about classes, professors, the program itself, and eventually writing. We kept in touch after we both graduated (I kept going to her for advice!), and then sometime in 2008, Christine asked me to submit something to KR, but in true Jenn Derilo fashion, I never did. And then in 2009, she asked me to join because the CNF editor before me was moving onto other things. I’m sorry for all that backstory about my friendship with Christine, but if I didn’t initially glom onto her (ok…that’s not supposed to sound as creepy, stalker-ish, aggressive as it might), I don’t know that I would ever have been exposed to KR. I was such a writing/literary n00b when I started Mills, and I certainly knew nothing about APIA literature. But she talked about Kartika with such passion, and I was so impressed with the work they were doing, I couldn’t not join. I was supremely honored.
CZ: Jenn is modest. She’s an awesome writer. And has done amazing things as an editor at Kartika.
JD: Aw, shucks. Thank you. I’m lucky to be on an editorial board with multi-talented women of color. And I can’t stress that enough: women of color.
PTL: Christine, I really liked it when you said in regards to your editorial selections: “I often pick pieces by Asian Americans that aren’t API-centric. There are no rules, and Naomi Williams breaks them with brilliance.” What are some works that you both think exemplify Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) literature, and how did those works affect and influence you?
CLZ: Twenty years ago, this question would have had a more clear cut answer. I would probably have said Maxine Hong Kingston’s WOMAN WARRIOR or Chang-rae Lee’s NATIVE SPEAKER. To that end, I’m motivated both as a writer and as an editor to broaden APIA literature. I’m happy to say there’s no single work that stands out to me, anymore. And I’m also happy that I’m a gatekeeper who gets to have a hand in diversifying the pool. I’m in front of a verrrry small gate, but it’s a gate, nonetheless.
JD: While I know this question is directed at Christine, I can’t help jumping in and agreeing with her, especially given that my knowledge of APIA literature was limited before joining KR. I even knew little about the APIA cannon. But what we do at KR is different. I do feel like we’re “diversifying the pool”, such as including the work of emerging writers alongside interviews with household names. We aren’t only publishing APIA writers who engage with APIA themes. I think Christine nails it when she says, “I’m happy to say that there’s no single work that stands out to me, anymore.” I mean, wow. What a brave discovery to voice! This is not to say that no submissions stand out because, clearly, we publish those pieces shake us. What’s important about that statement is that no one work encapsulates, defines, pigeonholes APIA literature. Rather each work broadens this scope.
PTL: I love the definition of “Kartika” as mentioned on the site: “In Vajrayana (or Tibetan) Buddhist tradition, the kartika, a crescent-shaped knife, symbolizes the cutting away of ignorance and superficiality, with the hopes that it will lead to enlightenment.” What are some themes and elements you both look for in the selections you make for short stories and non-fiction essays?
JD: I don’t know if this is cliche, but I’m attracted to creative nonfiction that surprises me. Even if submissions are about common themes, if the approach to language, structure, or voice is undeniably fresh or risky, I quickly gravitate toward them. It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what floors me. The best way to understand my madness is to read our back issues starting with #6, which is, of course, when I joined.
CLZ: When I’m looking through the slushpile, pieces tend to blur into each other—so I too, am looking for something different. I’m looking for stories that hit something out of the ballpark, be it concept, structure, language, or ultimately, story. What haven’t I seen before?
Unlikely Books had two new releases in September, We’ll See Who Seduces Whom, with poetry by geniu-maniac wordsmith Tom Bradley, and truly twisted art by David Aronson; and Pleth, with textual poetry by Marthe Reed and artfully composed poetry cells by j/j hastain. Unlikely, which has been around as an online journal since 1998, began publishing books in 2005. After a relocation to Louisiana by Publisher Jonathan Penton in 2010, and a reevaluation of the current and upcoming publishing markets, neo-pulp online journal Unlikely has come back as Unlikely Stories: Episode IV, bigger and badder than ever, rebranding itself as a champion of transgressive literature.
Bizarro writer, political gadfly, prodigious poet Tom Bradley has done it again, once more turning the improbable into the compelling, showing us why he’s the guy mainstream writers wish they had the guts to be. This time, he goes it with a partner, nationally acclaimed artist David Aronson, who has perfected a quirky marriage between lowbrow and fine art elements. In Aronson’s art, Bradley found the perfect inspiration for his own unique brand of creative insanity. As Bradley told Aronson at one point in their long and fruitful association, “Each of your pictures contains a hundred different stories.”
In We’ll See Who Seduces Whom, Bradley explicates this statement by spinning hundreds of splintered tales based on Aronson’s pathologically delightful drawings. “We had one unspoken rule from the beginning,” says Bradley, “that I would have no conversation with the artist about the ‘meaning’ (if any) of his work.”
A complex and multi-layered dance between these two offbeat geniuses, We’ll See takes off in a high octane rampage, thunders across the defiled plains of Kansas, corners around the pope, takes multiple shots at our flabulous and star-struck culture, and brings you back home in time for a three-martini lunch, looking brain-raped and fuddled, woefully holding the book up and shaking it to see if anything more is to be had, secreted within its unholy pages.
“I invite you to unravel yourself,” says Bradley at one point, then proceeds to show the reader just how to accomplish that unraveling, with a flaying wit and a diabolical ability to pull half spun threads of story together and weave them into a sparse and breathtaking structure, balanced right on the precipice of reason. And then, in a change that occurs at the speed of light, lines come together into nice neat verses and hum along like down-scribed scat, smooth and charming and doing just what verses of poetry are supposed to do.
The interim sanity is never more than a quick flash, however, and soon Bradley begins another ascent into the heights of his own particularly cerebral madness, goaded on by Aronson’s precisely rendered and singularly disturbing images. Aronson takes the homey draftsmanship of an Edward Lear, and weds this deceptively innocuous style to clothonic images and odd juxtapositions of innocence and depravity, images from which Bradley wrings a universe entire of despair and death, demons and stinger-tailed angels to entice and horrify.
We’ll See Who Seduces Whom is a challenge from artist to writer and back again, and it’s impossible to read and not want to play along with Bradley and Aronson as they lob incendiary verbal and visual challenges at each other. In lesser hands a project like this could have devolved into self-absorbed dribble. But Aronson, who’s digital animation has been featured on MTV2 and Fuse and whose drawings and illustrations have appeared in Silkmilk, Ritual, Inside Artzine, Khooligan, and BigNews, has the sophistication to match well known poet and Bizarro author Bradley’s writing chops. In the end, it’s the reader who is wonderfully seduced into this amazing feast of words and images, coming away deliciously haunted and ready for more. A highly recommended read.
In Unlikely’s second offering, pleth, established poets j/j hastain and Marthe Reed collaborate on a work that is both visual and verbal. The title, a shortened form of the word plethora, is used by hastain to convey the writer’s multiple senses of self and as a reconfiguration of the he/she binary. Reed selected it as the title as a reference to the unfolding journey of gender awareness and identification captured within the book. The poems inside are smoky with intent, capturing the undulating dance of together/apart, brought to point by the fierce intellect of hastain and Reed.
hastain, well known for xyr cross-genre topics and post-gender advocacy, begins each call-and-response segment with collages that are both suggestive and introspective, drawing in the imagination with glimpses of sensual curves and ambiguous shadings and coloration – is that a hint of decay, or simply the delicate layering of tissue? Across each visual piece, hastain strews a spare handful of words, sometimes illuminating, sometimes an intriguing, intimate glimpse of internal dialog of pain and promise.
Marthe Reed, former creative writing program director at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and co-publisher of Black Radish Books, then gives her textual response in poetry so carefully honed, so precisely luminous, that each word resonates – with hastain’s images, with per words, and with Reed’s own scrupulously crafted poetry. At its heart, pleth is a passionate dialog about the crash point between cyber-entropic dissipation and the regenerative power of connection.
There are complex nuances in both hastain’s and Reed’s work, fragmented glimpses of post-apocalyptic wounds, of a desperate last grasp at the tattered shreds of a brave new world’s disavowed humanity, but both hastain and Reed offer, above all else, a sense of beauty, and of hope that shines through.
In a 2011 interview with Rob McLennan, Reed says modestly that it is not clear to her that poetry is any effective means of grappling with the larger social issues of the society around her. But it appears that in pleth, she has found her place. “We are …” Reed says, “tangent velocities abrading the knots.”
Deb Hoag is a writer with several published novels, including Queer and Loathing on the Yellow Brick Road and Crashin’ the Real, and the editor of Women Writing the Weird, an anthology of weird fiction by writers identifying as women. Her novels, as well as Women Writing the Weird and Women Writing the Weird II: Dreadful Daughters, are available at Dog Horn Publishing.
Recognizing Beauty: An Attempt to Connect What I love About Jazz, Poetry, Drag, Film & Pittsburgh, PA
Thanks to Connor Hestdalen and Sara Coffey for introducing me to everyone and everything and to Janice Lee for giving me this space to gather.
I fell in love with Moon Baby the same way I fell in love with poetry, my partner, jazz and the city of Pittsburgh.
I was sleeping with the polished veneers and parallel streets of Columbus where I was writing short poetic verse and making even shorter abstract films. But secretly, I was dreaming of the crumbling storefronts and uneven landscapes that embodied Pittsburgh.
I was in love with the humble way Pittsburgh presented itself and directly was turned off by the willingness of Columbus to replace a historic building with a new ATM. (Don’t get me wrong, Columbus is a great city with a lot going on and stands alone as an incredibly accepting Queer Mecca for the small towns and states that surround it and I’m not here to be too hard on the place, but rather I am here in an attempt to figure out what made Pittsburgh so captivating.)
On one fateful visit to Pittsburgh I was led to an event put on by the jazz dancers of the Pillow Project and it was through their instinctive movements and intuitive collaboration that I was first able to formulate what I wanted from my surroundings.
I proceeded to visit monthly for these jazz nights, excited by the possibility to witness a physical embodiment of the beauty that I was seeing ooze from the broken bricks and old steel.
By planning my trips around these Second Saturday performances, I was inadvertently shaping my Pittsburgh to be a community of artists and doers motivated to work together to fulfill meaningful projects and works of art. So when I was felicitously freed from the shackles of higher education I naturally and quite thoughtlessly announced my move to Pittsburgh. It wasn’t a week later that my roommates had found my replacement and I was bound by my impassioned proposal. Without a plan or a home or a job I moved across state lines armed only with film cameras and a jazz-influenced disposition that shaped the way I interacted with and viewed the people I met. I was to start seeing the people I met not just as friends and acquaintances but more importantly as potential partners in both art and love.
Pillow Project’s improvisational example solidified my views of Pittsburgh and a TED talk on embracing vulnerability in your everyday by Brené Brown helped me put a word to what I was finding beautiful in Pittsburgh’s unfinished appearance.
Vulnerability literally means being able to be wounded. And in the unguarded and honest people I was beginning to connect with in my new city I was seeing the same thing that I had been referring to as Pittsburgh.
In Columbus I had worked with some talented artists and queens, particularly Mathilda Longfellow, with whom I’ve finished some beautiful and hilarious work. I didn’t have that same familiarity with Pittsburgh’s drag scene, but my partner knew and introduced me to Moon Baby with a hunch that we’d work together well.
There is a term in the drag community called gagging, meaning to enjoy a queen so thoroughly you could choke and die on them. I was gagged quite literally the first night I saw Moon Baby perform as she dance, lip-synced and ate her own pubes. But it was through those tears of disgust and awe that I recognized the same vulnerability that I cultivating myself. READ MORE >
I’ve always been curious about the darkroom where literary magazines come together. This is a series of interviews engaging, talking, and sometimes annoying editors about their magazines. How did they come about, what do they hate about editing, and what do they love most about it? This is the second in the series and I talked with M.E. Parker of the Camera Obscura Journal of Literature & Photography. It’s by far one of the most beautiful literary magazines around with riveting photography that goes hand-in-hand with some amazing voices. Seriously, the covers kick ass and the stories rip you open from inside and your guts are hanging out and you smile, “Cheese,” for the camera because you want to capture that brief moment where inspiration bisects into awe and mesmerized nausea from having been split open. A brief description on their site states they are: “an independent literary journal and internet haunt featuring contemporary literary fiction & photography. Contributors include established, as well as, emerging writers and photographers.”
As a brief bio and introduction to M.E. Parker:
M.E. Parker is a writer, an editor, web designer, and a carpenter who imagines a world of wooden computers with leather bound keyboards. His short fiction has come up for air in numerous print publications and Internet haunts. He is the founding Editor of Camera Obscura Journal of Literature & Photography. www.meparker.com
PTL: When and how did you first come up with the idea of starting the Camera Obscura Journal of Literature and Photography?
M.E. Parker: As is often the case with grand notions conceived in the mental stupor of Belgian Monk brewed beer, I first envisioned a glorious, indescribable tome, pared the following day by the limits of funds, time, and logistics with a few basic principles to guide it. Mostly I wanted a writer and artist friendly venue where, not only contributors, but submitters as well, really do come first, and the stress of the submission process gives way to levity. And in the process my hope was that we create a great community and journal and have fun on the journey (we are still the only journal with a big red “Bug the Editor” button on the withdraw/submit page).
As the editor, I assembled a team not unlike selecting a crew for a heist:
Me – Captain and story wrangler.
Shane Oshetski – can deconstruct, analyze and ostracize any short story.
Tim Horvath – erudite lover of language and Borges, who might wear tweed as an old man.
Meredith Doench – appreciates variety, enjoys the flaws, offsets Shane.
Kate – my wife and incredible photographer, master negotiator, foiler of plots.
PTL: The photography in the magazine is just incredible. What goes into the selection/curating process for the photographs? Are most/all of them chosen from the Competition?
M.E. Parker: The photography does come from the competition for a variety of reasons. Rather than selecting artwork to showcase on the basis of appeal or to augment the writing as an accessory, I wanted a journal where the photography underwent the same editorial scrutiny and selection criteria as the writing without regard for prevailing aesthetic.
by Dena Rash Guzman
Dog On A Chain Press, 2013
69 pages / $10.00 buy from Powell’s
1. Dena Rash Guzman climbs trees and sports cowboy boots and straw hats.
2. Many men drown at sea.
3. All the poems are titled Life Cycle to avoid/create/engender confusion.
4. Handless children populate the poppy pods.
5. DRG has been to China and beyond in search of the muse.
6. Farm weddings do not feature high on her list of favorite events.
7. Bones sleep, are tossed, and itch in these poems.
8. I spent one hot summer in Portland once, some years ago, and did not bump into the poet.
9. I have written several poems lately dealing with loss and aging, and “This is how we forget our ancestors:” shakes the dust off my own family skeletons.
10. DRG reads her poetry live more than most writers I’ve come across, and I’m not sure this is due to her brilliant reading, or Portland, OR, having more readings per square mile than Brooklyn, NY. READ MORE >
October 8th, 2013 / 2:47 pm
Named after former professional basketball player and humanitarian extraordinaire Dikembe Mutombo, Dikembe Press is a newish micro-press out of Portland, Oregon and Lincoln, Nebraska that publishes things, most recently Matthew Rohrer’s poetry chapbook A Ship Loaded With Sequins Has Gone Down and Emily Pettit’s poetry chapbook Because You Can Have This Idea About Being Afraid Of Something. In celebration of the latter title, the poet Sally Delehant—author of the collection A Real Time of It (The Cultural Society, 2012)—recently conducted an interview with Emily P. to discuss Because You Can Have This Idea About Being Afraid Of Something and Emily’s notions regarding anxiety, the definition of the word “conundrum,” dollhouse furniture and the artwork of Bianca Stone (which is featured throughout Because You Can Have This Idea About Being Afraid Of Something).
Word is bond.
Sally Delehant: The title of the chapbook begins with the word “because” which positions the reader to assume a “why” question floats in the background of the text. I’m wondering what you think that question might be? Does it have to do with why we curl up to a specific person or part of our world? Or is the title perhaps an answer to the big question hanging above all of us — “Why write a poem?” Someone smarter than I am said in a poetry workshop once that on a basic level a poem works out or goes deeper into some kind of anxiety. Something is either resolved or agitated more. Do you agree? Do these poems work like that?
Emily Pettit: I think there are a number of questions that lead to this “because” and two questions in particular. One is — why are we behaving this way? The other is — why are we feeling this way? Two rather general seeming questions, until they are connected to specific ideas and feelings encountered in the poems. The question — why write a poem? — is a question and is a question that I can see these poems pointing people towards thinking about.
In response to your mention of poems being ways that one might work through or with anxiety, I think poems are often working in this way, being asked to work in this way. In regards to my poems, I’m hesitant to use the word “anxiety” because I feel like I use that word all the time in conversations I have with other people and myself and that its meaning is not containing what I want it to communicate. Or various things the word “anxiety” communicates, I worry negate or dim the things in poems that I’m looking for as a reader and looking to make happen as a writer. A friend recently shared with me the following Borges line, “The metaphysicians of Talon are not looking for truth, nor even an approximation of it; they are after a kind of amazement.” In poems I am looking for amazement rather than truth or an approximation of truth. For me amazement might be experienced through encountering two words, the juxtaposition of which make music to my ear or a striking image to my eye. I am looking to be amazed by a feeling that arises when I encounter the ideas, images and music that I encounter in poems. Why I write poems is to find these things that I am also looking for as reader. Anxiety is everywhere, but something I love about poems is that a poem is a place where I do not need to name anxiety, should I not want to. Naming things can give things power or an agency of sorts and the effects of naming things can be good or bad depending on too many factors for me to list here. Poems are a place where I feel I have control over what my brain and heart give agency to. And to a certain extent I have control over the effects this agency has. I have not found many places outside of writing where I get to experience this sort of control. In the poems in this chapbook there are ideas about anxiety and ideas about ideas about anxiety, but they are existing alongside often adamant ideas that anxiety can be controlled and sometimes productively ignored and denied. What it is taking me a long time to say is, I like how my imagination deals with anxiety more than the way other parts of me deal with it.
SD: In the first poem in Because You Can Have This Idea About Being Afraid Of Something you write, “I freak out, freak out, freak out, / with a quiet mouth,” and as I trace the freak out through the poem (and chapbook) there seems to be tension between doing/being what one naturally does/is and what one could/should do and be if that makes sense. You can wear a nametag that says Emily or rabbit and in another sense be the “best refrigerator ever” as well as many other things. What I’m clumsily getting around to on this sleepy, Sunday afternoon is that I think part of our humanity tells us we should should should be a certain way and we fear we might be “the most ridiculous person (we) know” as you write later. The most beautiful and comforting thing we can hear is that we are good dogs. The speaker “wants to be a good animal.” She wants to let us know that we “are exactly where we are supposed to be.”
Are there things that make you think you aren’t where you are supposed to be? Without being intrusive I want to ask you one thing that scares you, and then I promise we can talk about the beautiful drawings in the book which I am curious about too. What is a thing you are afraid of, Emily?
EP: I’m afraid me talking about fear outside of poems is like encountering a black hole. A hall of mirrors. My brain is exhausting in this way. I’m afraid that outside of my poems I fail to be funny about fear in the way that I want to be. I like that in poems I can feel funny about fear. I think anxiety and fear are absolutely linked. I have never encountered a definition of anxiety that does not use the word fear as a part of that definition. I like that when I’m dealing with fear in my poems, while writing poems, I do not feel anxious. Or if I am feeling something that could be defined as anxiety or fear, I’m not aware of it, or not naming it.
I think the thing that both my poems and my answer to your first question point to is a fear of both the presence and absence of control. It’s a conundrum. And I say conundrum, because I don’t think of a conundrum as hopeless. I like how in language with one word, conundrum, you can communicate a subject and a tone. For example, if you had asked me “What is a thing you are afraid of?” versus “What is a thing you are afraid of, Emily?”, to me the first question feels much less scary than the second question. Naming me has given me a louder agency, more loudly bonding me to whatever answer I answer. One word. A word. A name. For me to explore fear or ideas of fear in a poem is a place that I am not as afraid of exploration. Exploration feels not just possible but exciting. In conversation and in prose (like writing this now) I have trouble with this exploration; I feel accountable to ideas leading to resolutions of sorts, resolutions that very possibly do not exist. Resolutions of logic that are not expected in poems. Or are not expected by me in relationship to what I think of as a poem. I’m afraid of many things. I’m very appreciative of a poem being a place where I can have some control over my fears and how they feel to my brain and my heart and my body. I’m very appreciative for getting to write poems and read the poems of others for the ways in which this engagement allows me to escape my fears.