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Reviews

Imaginary Portraits by Joshua Ware

tumblr_mn88vlkzSh1qhn45lo7_r1_500-1Imaginary Portraits
by Joshua Ware
Greying Ghost, 2013
Limited Edition / Chapbook Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My thumb surfs Instagram. I sit at my desk to write this. I am constantly distracted by a false reality. There are people I know there. They are eating tacos, taking pictures of sunsets, their partner stares out from a small screen I hold in my palm, I press like to let them know I see them. There is no way to escape our new duality, but I think it helps to be aware of this reality. Here is the problem: what is real or more real. How do we classify reality & does this change through location, movement, isolation. Joshua Ware introduces me to a world I know well. Here it is winter. I am wearing a hat. I am looking at myself as reflection. I am not sure it is really me.

A small blue book / It fits well in my hands. Small poems / Coy, they coax & murmur / I know you / the shape of darkness

You are dressed for winter, a chill in the air. Waiting. What forms do we take when met with a lens? How do we become a recreation/abstraction? How are we changed?

You sit atop a gray river / side rock, as water rush / swallows your voice, drowning you / by volume. The poet relocates to a new city. A traveling between two regions. Wind gusts through our private stillness. We are always somewhere. There is a struggle in always knowing where you are. Is it supposed to make you different? Should we expect change? Your muted / mouth opens a space for / poetry

Hello, avoidance. The escape plan proposal is returned, rejected. I sit at my desk with coffee. It is cold now. I feel this speaking to some part of me. No matter how surrounded I am there is loneliness in my body.

IMAGINARY PORTRAIT

In an otherwise darkened room
computer-light illuminates the contours of
your face, mimicking the neon shine of
an interstate motel sign that burns
through cornfield and prairie grass
somewhere in Middle America, as you drift
into a reverie of body parts, hoping to avoid looking at
yourself while you look at yourself
in a mirror. But your reflection
returns to you always in words
and the charred remains of cornstalks.

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August 18th, 2014 / 10:00 am

A THEATRICAL ESSAY ON TRANSFORMATIVE THEATER FROM THE WORKS OF A FEW CONTEMPORARY FEM WRITERS

gurlesque

The second e-version of Gurlesque, an anthology of “the new grrly, grotesque, burlesque poetics,” is coming out soon with an expanded number of amazing female writers, including Jennifer Tamayo, Marisa Crawford, K. Lorraine Graham, Kate Durbin, Kate Degentesh, among others— along with the original contributors, one of whom is Stacy Doris.

When I read Doris’ funny, edgy, cerebral, and (dis)sensual Paramour in college, I knew I needed to go to San Francisco State for my MFA so that I could work with her in person. Stacy proved to not only be a phenomenal writer but also a caring mentor. Her passing in 2012 still feels raw today.

After reading an excerpt of Doris’ book The Cake Part [1] which was published in the first edition of Gurlesque, I decided to read the full version and then (circuitously) write the following essay, incorporating other writers that used theater the way she did (or did not) in that book.

Only, since I was writing about transformative theater, I figured the traditional essay format wouldn’t lend itself as well as a more dramatic format…

***

Scene: In a spaceship in a parallel universe. Android GERALDINE KIM types commands into the complicated lit-up dashboard as her ship is being attacked by a multitudinous tentacled alien race.

GERALDINE KIM: (ignores cosmic blasts while typing furiously.) I tried to write an essay on theatrical writing (not to be confused with the genre but more a leitmotif within other genres of writing—namely poetry) and then I realized that there are actually only a handful of instances of this in contemporary fem writing (that I could find).

GERALDINE KIM’s BEST FRIEND WHO WISHES NOT TO BE IDENTIFIED: (enters.) How many instances did you find?

GERALDINE KIM: Four.

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August 15th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

25 Points: Go to Work and Do Your Job. Care for Your Children. Pay Your Bills. Obey the Law. Buy Products.

cicero
Go to Work and Do Your Job. Care for Your Children. Pay Your Bills. Obey the Law. Buy Products.
by Noah Cicero
Lazy Fascist Press, 2013
188 pages / $12.95 buy from Amazon

1. Still one of the best titles of any novel, ever.

2. This book is in two parts. Part 1 is narrated by a reasonably bland, vaguely liberal character named Michael who starts a job at a ‘treatment centre’ (for treatment centre read prison) complex called NEOTAP. Part 2 is narrated by NEOTAP IT employee, work colleague and soon to be girlfriend Monica.

3. The whole thing is a mish-mash of different genres, different registers, narrative structures, etc., and is largely concerned with the kind of Orwellian power of the NEOTAP system.

4. The NEOTAP system is, roughly speaking, an analogy for American (Global?) Capitalism and its ‘5 pillars’ (the five pillars of the book’s title). I was pleased that it was only a lightly fictionalised dystopia as there is little need to overly fictionalise something that very much seems to me to be the dystopia of contemporary western capitalist reality.

5. I’m pleased young Alt-Lit people/novelists are engaging with these kinds of things. It gives the lie to any notion that Alt-Lit is merely just a narcissistic pose (it is sometimes) but clearly there are more possibilities for it and this should be embraced.

6. With this in mind, I’m going to suggest this book is a great starting point towards reading more about how the advanced capitalist system works. You know how they like to say marijuana is a kind of gateway drug to other ‘terrible’ drugs, well this book is a gateway drug to the following (see points 7-11).

7. Read this book then read Orwell’s 1984 (which is a bit out of date actually and can sometimes become a kind of carnivalesque pressure valve type situation that posits a clichéd ‘Orwellian’ dystopia that can be re-co-opted by a strand of the entertainment industry who make it so cartoonish that it somehow becomes part of the horror genre and risks missing out on the original points that Orwell was trying to make. The general principles remain sound though).

8. Kafka’s The Trial (similar situation to point 7).

9. Some basic Marxism (you might think this is ‘old’ but a lot of it is more important than ever).

10. Current articles about how ‘The Internet of Things’ will benefit insurance companies and socially engineer us more than we ever imagined.

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August 14th, 2014 / 2:30 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Her

joaquin-phoenix

1. Joaquin Phoenix’s mustache first attracted me to this film.

2. The year 2025 seems like a very lonely, interestingly fashionable time.

3. People are so lazy in 2025 that they hire writers to compose love letters for them.

4. Joaquin Phoenix has a picture of a naked, pregnant woman on his phone.

5. Who gets off by being strangled with a dead cat?

6. Joaquin Phoenix needs to stop going after terrible women.

7. Life lesson from this movie: don’t fall in love. Ever.

8. This film reminded me how lonely I am.

9. Realized that Spike Jonze and I have a similar vision of a day where it becomes fashionable to sport a mustache once more.

10. Samantha and all the other Operating Systems reminded me of a friendly version of Skynet.

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August 12th, 2014 / 3:15 pm

Reviews

Affix Your Tinfoil Headware and Dive into The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick

The_Exegesis_of_Philip_K_DickThe Exegesis of Philip K. Dick
by Philip K. Dick
Edited by  Pamela Jackson & Jonathan Lethem
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011
976 pages / Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some authors’ lives are more interesting than their literary output. I’d rather read Ted Morgan’s excellent William S. Burroughs biography Literary Outlaw than any Burroughs’ book other than Junkie. Philip K. Dick led such a grandiose life that he’d belong in this category if he hadn’t written A) so many interesting novels and short stories and B) at least three major novels in Ubik, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and The Man in the High Castle. He also left behind an unwieldy hunk of mystagogic scout work now known as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.

Let’s get some basic facts out of the way. Dick is popularly known as the author who inspired films like Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. He was mired in the pulp mills of sci-fi for most of his career (44 published novels; 121 short stories). He was prescribed (!) meth-amphetamine and gobbled whatever drugs he could pillage from his mother’s medicine chest. He enjoyed the company of five different wives. Most significantly, he experienced a series of mystical encounters:

1)    A beam of pink light told him that his son had a rare, serious birth defect that needed medical attention. This couldn’t have been observed with the naked eye. At the hospital doctors confirmed Dick’s otherworldly diagnosis. His wife from that period corroborates the story.

2)    When a delivery girl came to his door wearing a fish sign necklace that was worn by the early Christians, Dick came to believe in an underground network of secret Christians that he was being initiated into.

3)    During a period of heavy amphetamine use, he looked into the sky and saw a menacing, metallic, malevolent god. This wasn’t a transitory hallucination. The old triple-M sky-god looked down on Dick for a number of days, serving as inspiration for his masterpiece The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

4)    Most spectacularly, Dick reached the conclusions that:
-       Time was an illusion
-       Reality was a hologram
-       The year was actually 50 A.D.
-       The Roman Empire never ended
-       Without having read The Book of Acts, he independently recreated parts of it in his novel Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.

Much of this is revealed as the tractate in his novel VALIS, whichfrequently references Dick’s exegesis, defined as a “critical explanation or interpretation of a text or portion of a text, especially the Bible.” Up until recently, only a truncated version had been published, but self-styled Dickheads were desperate for more. Jonathan Lethem, Pamela Jackson and a team of editors dug through Dick’s cartons of manic exegeting and in 2011 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published a thousand page volume titled The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick.

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August 11th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

“Cunny Poem Vol. 1″ by Bunny Rogers

bunny poem

All men are cops

cuff me Im guilty

cuff me Im guilty

cuff me Im guilty

Cunny Poem Vol. 1 is an archive, a complete archive, of Bunny Rogers’ poems posted on her tumblr Cunny Poem. As an artist, Rogers’ work focuses on the multiplicity of meaning inherent in objects such as ribbon, blankets, flowers (see her interview with Harry Burke in the latest issue of Mousse Magazine). This sentiment can be felt as well in her newest project. We can look at the book as an object. It is comprehensive. The rose ribbon, speaks to the cover, speaks to the badges, speaks to the dried flowers, speaks to the words inside. Brigid Mason’s illustrations are as haunting as they are beautiful, a horse minus a hoof, a riveting world of eyes and postures. The book becomes multi-dimensional in an extraordinary way, leading us to question what the book can become.

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August 7th, 2014 / 3:00 pm

Reviews

25 Points: New Tab

new tab
New Tab
by Guillaume Morissette
Véhicule Press, 2014
224 pages / $19.95 buy from Véhicule Press or Amazon

1. Video games don’t offer happiness—or exciting work environments.

2. This novel reminded me how bad I am at French. (My dreams of conversing with Guillaume in a foreign language are crushed.)

3. My generation is both really poor and unhappy—even with college degrees and semi-supportive parents. (On the bright side: we like to party a lot.)

4. Don’t know why Ines and company allowed Dan to live with them. Even if he did offer to pay cash up front, why would you want to live with a creepy forty-something?

5. This novel furthered the American stereotype that Canadians drink a lot of beer.

6. Brent’s an asshole—I don’t like him. (Whomever “Brent” was based off of, if you’re reading this, I hope we’re given an opportunity to meet and reconcile so my current opinion of you can change to a more positive one.)

7. When I first started this novel, the writing style kind of reminded me of Taipei by Tao Lin—but I got over that quickly because Morissette’s characters were actually interesting.

8. To reiterate: I liked this novel way more than Taipei.

9. To whomever “Cristian” is based off of: let’s build an ice rink together.

10. This novel really made me want to move to Montreal. Apparently that’s where the party’s at.

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August 7th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Beauty, or: A Tribute to Kat Dixon & the Rage that Saved Me

A few weeks ago, I learned how to rage. Or perhaps I mean I re-learned. Or perhaps I mean I remembered that I exist, and that this is important. Or, at least, that it’s important for me to believe it’s important. I remembered anger. I remembered love. I remembered the earth and the feel of my feet pounding against it, how I’m not ready to leave. I remembered the voices of women from far far away, women I’d never met, women who were strangers yet beginning to feel like sisters.

It was the day after all the pretty pink blossoms on the tree outside my apartment had fallen to the sidewalk and faded to rusty brown. I remember because I imagined myself falling to the sidewalk, too, smashing my head against the hard ground. I had lost myself almost completely, and I knew it. My bones knew it.

I called my mother because it was cheaper than calling an ambulance. I asked if I could please stay the night, that he needs to leave, that I need to get away, that my brain is just so broken. She and my father came over immediately and I folded my tired body into the truck, pulled dark sunglasses over my eyes, and sobbed while I pressed the ignore button on my phone, fielding his relentless text messages:

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Beauty by Htmlgiant / 59 Comments
August 6th, 2014 / 9:00 am

Reviews

25 Points: Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream

sorrowtoothpaste
Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream
by Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi
Action Books, 2014
106 pages / $12.00 buy from Action Books or Amazon

1. I requested a review copy of this book because I loved Don Mee Choi’s previous translation of Kim Hyesoon’s All the Garbage of the World Unite.

2. I loved it so much that I would read one of her poems at my own poetry readings (not as my own of course, but yeah I wish I’d written them).

3. Secretly, I want to brush my teeth with sorrowtoothpaste. Doesn’t seem like it’d be overly minty. And if I used mirrorcream, I’d wonder if I’d see myself as others see me.

4. The first great phrase in this book is “clammed up like a cavity-ridden piano.” We are introduced to to characters, Melan and Choly. They are my friends too.

5. I feel these poems the way I feel seaweed in my teeth: uncomfortable but familiar.

6. The poem, “Glasses Say” might be some re-imagining of Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the wreck.” I said might:

“…A vacant place. Only fan shells, a hook, an oxygen tube, a pair of goggles.
And a lady behind the goggles.
I shave a large piece of ice to make lenses.
I put the lenses in my mouth.
It’s raining in the sea.”

7. Umbrellas, ocean, water, ice. Nipples, milk, clouds, spit.

8. As I read, I’m not sure if what I’m seeing is what I’m really seeing, or if what I’m feeling is really feeling what I’m feeling. The sadness doesn’t overwhelm me. It sits in my chest like an orb, just sort of just glowing. I remember what this feels like. I have been this sad. I don’t think my sad was this beautiful.

9. “…I’m filled with all the screams of the world / that there is nothing else but that…”

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August 5th, 2014 / 12:08 pm

Juliet Escoria & Scott McClanahan’s Honeymoon Tour Diary (Part 3)

Read the entire Juliet & Scott honeymoon saga here.

 

FRIDAY, JULY 11 2014 (CONTINUED)
CHICAGO

JULIET: We got to Kelly & Jacob Knabb’s around 5pm. They have a really cute baby. They also have two really cute dogs but the dogs barked and the baby didn’t so I think I like the baby more. Kelly and Jacob were both reading with us that night.

We were running very late. (Kelly & Jacob live about an hour outside of Chicago and there was a lot of traffic.) It was making me nervous. I tried to not care about running super late and it was hard. I kept on telling myself that readings never start on time and no one would care if we were late. I didn’t entirely believe myself.

When we were a block away from the reading, Scott pointed out the window and said, “Is that Sam?” I looked where he was pointing. It was Sam Pink. He was walking in the opposite direction of the reading. I rolled down the window and yelled “Hello” in an unintentionally funny voice. We kept on driving.

Rachel Pattycake Bell met us outside, along with Nathan Masserang, Brooks Sterritt, Austin Islam and some other people who I am possibly friends with on Facebook. Rachel gave us Hello Kitty marshmallows and a chocolate phone as a wedding present. No one cared that we were late. We made some jokes about not being able to make phone calls because your phone had melted because it was made out of chocolate. Scott took off his shirt and changed into a new one outside the building because the one he was wearing had gotten sweaty during the drive. I tried to block him so people didn’t see his fat stomach or his weird tan. I thought it was strange that he wasn’t ashamed to change his shirt in the middle of the street in front of a bunch of people, but he’s a lot less fat now than he used to be so maybe he was excited to show off his hot bod.

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August 4th, 2014 / 2:00 pm

Reviews

A Lower Deep: On Snowtown

The Snowtown Murders Poster

Trigger warning: this post discusses sexual violence.

The following post contains spoilers.

***

Snowtown. That is the proper title of the film. It is infinitely better than The Snowtown Murders, the title the film was given for its American release. The Snowtown Murders is obvious and boring. Snowtown is mysterious and foreboding; it implies that what happened in Snowtown is unspeakable.

It is a haunting film. It is not so much about the murders themselves, or the man who masterminded them, as it is about an innocent boy’s descent into hell.

Lucas Pittaway stars as the boy in question, the 16 year-old Jamie. An unnerving early scene makes it clear that he, along with his brothers, are being sexually abused by their mother’s boyfriend. In another (even more disturbing) scene, Jamie’s older brother Troy bullies him, wrestles him to the ground, and anally rapes him. Pittaway’s performance is striking in its understatement: he seems resigned to his miserable lot in life; drawn deep into himself, he is there, but he’s not. Observe Pittaway in the poster above: the expressionless face, the blank stare, the body language that suggests that he is trying to disappear into his surroundings. It is a chilling portrait of the nature of trauma, a surface of numbness beneath which lies an abyss of pain.

Eventually a man named John Bunting comes into his life as his mother’s new boyfriend. John seems to be the first person in Jamie’s life to stand up for him; John harasses the mother’s abusive ex-boyfriend, who happens to live across the street (a perpetual reminder of Jamie’s trauma) until the man moves. A scene in which John crushes severed kangaroo body parts (which he eventually throws at the ex-boyfriend’s house) is perhaps the first sign that something ugly lurks beneath the man’s friendly demeanor. Later on he invites Jamie over for dinner; in the middle of the meal, he turns to Jamie and says simply, “Do you like being fucked?” He then forces Jamie to shoot his (John’s) dog. This is the beginning of John’s total domination of Jamie, who he enlists as an accomplice in a series of murders. John tells Jamie that he is going to show the boy how to stick up for himself but what he actually does is destroy what remains of Jamie’s soul.

The obvious question is why Jamie goes along with John’s brutal actions. In one scene, Jamie sits silently in one room while in another John and his accomplice Robert viciously torture Jamie’s brother Troy. At this point, among others, Jamie could conceivably attempt to alert neighbors and/or notify the police and yet he does not. The abuse he has already suffered seems to have permanently broken his spirit; he is unable to act on his own accord when faced with the transgressions of his latest abuser. John thus enlists Jamie because, despite his rhetoric, on some level he sees the boy as the perfect accomplice, an individual over whom he can exert total control.

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August 4th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Calabasas

tumblr_myofn3H7lv1r6xvfko1_1280California
by Eden Lepucki
Little, Brown and Company, July 2014
400 pages / $26  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even before picking up Eden Lepucki’s 2014 post-apocalyptic-near-future novel California, I’ve been enthusiastic about the city of Calabasas, or as Nick would say, “obsessed with.” Calabasas is at the edge of Los Angeles, where Mulholland Drive ends its twenty-one mile tour through Hollywood’s dark heart. Located in a southwest curve of the San Fernando Valley, it is just on the other side of the Santa Monica Mountains from Malibu, but it’s as far from a beach paradise as the moon. When I ask my mom what she knows about Calabasas she looks at me and asks, “Isn’t that where all the porn is?” Who wouldn’t be obsessed?

Nick and I relocated to Los Angeles last summer. Since then I’ve been preoccupied with William Mulholland and his vision for the city: bringing water and commerce to the desert. Putting a whole bunch of people where really, they don’t belong. Werner Herzog, Joan Didion, Mike Davis and countless others have tried to capture the sense of LA being the end: the end of the road, the end of history, the end of the world, without denying it’s also a bit of paradise: full of promise, a beginning, the future. It’s a place where millions of people go to work every day. Moby claims to have moved to LA explicitly for its “pre-apocalyptic strangeness” and because it was “always seemingly an inch away from some sort of benign collapse.” At the city’s fringes, that benign collapse is already underway.

On the face of it, Calabasas synthesizes many of the repelling and alluring adjectives attributed to LA: success, consumption, celebrity ‘culture’ (desirable, self-absorbed, etc.), wealth, exclusivity, naïveté, and so on. It similarly has aspects of the “near future,” “pre-apocalypse strangeness,” “dystopian,” “wasteland,” often ascribed to the city of angels. In the never-ending quest to articulate this captivating paradox: Calabasas represents a microcosmic example to study and to look for answers.

In California Lepucki’s anonymizes and generalizes the state’s geographical space and social concepts into pronouns like “The Land,” and communities such as “The Community,” or “Walmart.” However, she decided not to change the name of one Los Angeles community: Calabasas. The LA Times critic Karolina Waclawiak says of the novel, “In this deeply stratified ‘afterlife,’ the wealthy still hoard what little resources are left (intermittent electricity, expensive Internet, packaged food) and shelter themselves away in Communities with names like ‘Calabasas’ and the nearby ‘Pines.’” I don’t think this is a coincidence. If you’re searching for a particular brand of ill-omened California to inspire a portentous novel, Calabasas is a wise choice.

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August 4th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

The Part of You I Am Not: Hsia Yü’s Salsa trans. by Steve Bradbury

salsa_wSalsa
by Hsia Yü
Translated by Steve Bradbury
Zephyr Press, 2014
248 pages / $18.00  Buy from SPD or Zephr Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I am that man and that man is unaware
Others are also unaware (but regarding these you’d best ask Borges)”

(from “Salsa”)

 

Jorge Luis Borges has been reincarnated as a radical poet from Taipei, and Salsa invites you to her personal hell. In Hsia Yü’s most recently translated book of poems, we come face-to-face with an inferno of identity crises.

Salsa was first published in 1999, but this new bilingual edition, put out last month by Zephyr Press, features the original Chinese text and Steve Bradbury’s revised English translation. Bradbury admits his rendition may leave “many readers befuddled” due to his unwillingness to “narrow the semantic space or resolve syntactical ambiguities.” But Bradbury’s translation often opens up the poems, providing them room to grow in a manner reminiscent of Stephen Mitchell’s renditions of Rilke. Chinese poetry translated into English often reads as spare, solid kernels of thought, most likely due to the Imagist influence of Ezra Pound’s translations in Cathay. Pound’s relationship to Chinese poetry in English has been firmly established; Bradbury, however, following Hsia Yü’s lead, is more interested in breaking new linguistic ground. [1] Bradbury’s English no doubt embellishes on Hsia Yü’s Chinese, as it allows for more vernacular wandering than Karen An-hwei Lee’s atmospheric and sparse treatment of Hsia Yü, as specifically seen in Lee’s version of “To Be Elsewhere.” [2] Bradbury’s style loosens up Hsia Yü’s work, and her poems exhibit a conversational playfulness even when dealing with individuality, revolution, and death.

These poems, in Bradbury’s rich versions, take rigid philosophical language and cast it in the mold of interpersonal relationships. They read as if someone wrote a break-up letter to being itself:

“The part of you I am in love with includes the part of you I am not
And strangely enough this only seems to have
‘Returned me to myself’ so much so
I’ve even come to understand the you which has yet to understand
The part of me that understands you”

(from “In the Beginning Was the Written Word”) [3]

The translation isn’t so befuddling as Bradbury bashfully claims, though Hsia Yü’s language constantly folds into a nest of meta-emotions, acting as a multi-limbed chimera or an ouroboros eating its own tail. What draws the speaker to her lover is a fragment of the lover she isn’t, which allows her “self” to return to her, so that she begins to realize that a fragment of her lover doesn’t understand the fragment of the speaker that does understand the lover. I found the experience of reading many of these verses like a lyric ping-pong match.

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August 1st, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

25 Points: Seiobo There Below

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Seiobo There Below
by László Krasznahorkai
New Directions, 2013
440 pages / $17.95 buy from Amazon

1. I almost laugh, attempting to write anything about the Krasznahorkai, since I’ve done an interview with the translator for The Paris Review, and feel my work is done here, and also since we are dealing with a nearly 500-page book that lashes out in chunks of twelve-page sentences, transcendent, dazzling, insane, hilarious, vicious and brutal, determinedly unexplainable and unexplained.

2. Transparency is not the hallmark of the Krasznahorkai.

3. But ok. This is the Hungarian writer at the forefront of a renaissance in Hungarian letters, an intense, experimental madman whose books are metaphysical puzzles of stunning originality and brilliance.

4. This is a man with burning eyes and a cheap suit, who shows up at Columbia to a packed house and reads…in the darkin Hungarian…and kinda actually scares people.

5. There’s a quote from Susan Sontag on the back of Seiobo There Below that calls László Krasznahorkai “the Hungarian master of the apocalypse,” which is intimidating, and doesn’t sound like much fun. Do not be scared away; this book is a pleasure to read, and even funny.

6. The last chapter is named “Screaming Beneath the Earth,” which is a reverse riff on the first phrase of Gravity’s Rainbow, “A screaming comes across the sky…”, and gives an idea of the author’s ambition. The book is an incoming rocket, taking on the small matter of the power and transcendence of art.

7. Krasznahorkai has the interesting idea, though I’m not sure I’m convinced, that good art is dangerous. Art in this book tends to overpower ordinary people or drive them insane. Is this pretentious? Probably, right? Real migrant workers are not often driven mad by the sight of glorious paintings.

8. But then again, I also believe in salvation through art. What is a God without destructive power?

9. Seiobo There Below is structured in a series of sections, mostly about artists making art, a few about tourists or exiles. Sections include a modern-day man visiting the Acropolis, a Japanese Noh actor speaking to his disciples, another Japanese artist making a mask, a stork hunting in a river, a Renaissance painter in his workshop, an immigrant in Barcelona.

10. Some quotes: “…to stand there, to look at this life withdrawing for all eternity into death in the human and natural landscape, and to depict what is before him when he looks up from the blank canvas: that is everything…”

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July 31st, 2014 / 2:02 pm

Reviews

Sortes Poundianae

cantos41jz1qflUVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
The Cantos of Ezra Pound
by Ezra Pound
New Directions, 1996
896 pages / $25.95 buy from Amazon

1. In the Middle Ages, as a practice of divination, as a method of drawing lots and to soothsay, to learn what might be the wrath to come, to draw out a linear progression from a dark mass of chaos, those with access to Virgil’s Aeneid might practice Sortes Vergilianae. The instructions were simple: fetch a copy of the epic poem, let the weary spine fall where it may, and whatever passage the eye lighted on the reader interpreted as indicative of prophecy.

2. My copy of The Cantos of Ezra Pound is a fresh New Directions paperback with the spine still intact. Regardless, it looks ominous. The backdrop black with serifed white letters stamped down on the cover. At twelve years old and knowing nothing of Ezra Pound, I picked the book up because it looked Biblical and heavy, like  תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, the waters of Genesis 1:2.

3. The Cantos present chaos before the Spirit of God levitates over the deep. Although Pound principally brings forward “light” as his favorite element of spirituality and mysticism, darkness pervades the poem. It’s universally acknowledged that the work turns on an axis based more on Inferno than Paradiso.

4. Interviewed by Donald Hall in The Paris Review, who spent three days with Pound in Italy during the early 1960s, a restless and writer’s block-inflicted Pound comments, “It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse. It is obviously much easier to find inhabitants for an inferno.”

5. After publishing Thrones de los Cantares, the penultimate section of the Cantos, Pound admits, “Okay, I am stuck.” One imagines him gazing out the window, sunlight revealing a Roman street where, if you dig far enough, discoveries of pagan rites abound. He continues, pulling at his beard, “The question is, am I dead.”

6. The aforementioned Hebrew typically translates as “without form and void” (KJV). It can also mean “utter confusion,” a feeling most readers share when tackling the Cantos. Pound’s classic outline for his epic poem, from a letter to his father (who was appropriately, I kid you not, named Homer), begins, “Live man goes down into world of Dead.”

7. Pound, like his hero Odysseus, descended into Hell and still lived to see daylight. Kept outdoors for many weeks near Pisa, Pound was a caged panther, captive of the US military in 1943. During this time or immediately afterwards, he promptly went insane, dubbed mentally unfit to stand trial, housed in the “bughouse” of St. Elizabeths Hospital for thirteen years. As the story goes.

8. To draw lots, to soothsay out of an inferno, is simply not done. It reminds one of the Faust legend, or Robert Johnson’s railroad deal with the devil. Like a Oujia board for literary nerds (or, more properly, “bibliophiles”), a variety of sortes tempt many.

9. But The Cantos beckon. Suck a poor poet into their orbit. They are sirens. Robert Frost mentions, in a 1960 interview with the Paris Review, how Ezra Pound practiced jujitsu on him in a restaurant. “So I stood up, gave him my hand. He grabbed my wrist, tipped over backwards and threw me over his head.” Like its writer, the poem practices a similar sort of action on the reader.

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July 29th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Reviews

Something Wrong With Her by Cris Mazza

THUMBNAIL_IMAGESomething Wrong With Her
by Cris Mazza
Jaded Ibis Press, 2014
388 pages / $18  Buy from Jaded Ibis or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

This amazing “real time” memoir by Cris Mazza deserves a love-letter, and also a review or maybe six, written at different points while the reviewer is reading. Some would be awed and respectful, some would be infuriated, or in tears.  I was obsessed,  and ended up forming intense bonds to the characters, the love story, and the way of telling. It’s such a complex book, it’s taken me months to try to write about it, and even now….

The basic format is that Mazza sets out to explore what she characterizes as her sexual dysfunction, which she intends to both confess and try to explain (to herself and to us), through an examination of her sexual and emotional history. But as she’s working on the book, she gets back in touch with a high school boyfriend, and the story she thinks she remembers starts to change. She begins to include the story of their current emailing, along with old journal entries, earlier draft versions of the same chapters, and excerpts from her previous published books, which have fictional versions of real events, remembered and re-created at different points in time.

A strange note: The book was supposed to come out in fall 2013, and a cover was released and some advance reviews came in, but due to problems with the publisher, it was finally published with a different cover in April 2014.

Most of the other writing on the book has addressed its feminism and sexual politics—Mazza is a well-respected writer of experimental literary fiction with 17 books to her name, known for graphic sexual content and a feminist bent. A previous novel was titled Is it Sexual Harassment Yet? She edited a collection of “chick lit” before that was a term that meant a pink-shoe. And yet in this book she confesses that she has or had vaginismus (a spasming condition that makes penis-in-vagina sex painful) and has never had an orgasm. She also admits to many un-modern-feminist thoughts, like considering herself to be frigid, and thinking her body is dirty.

Her honesty is brave, rare, and hopefully might be helpful to other women who suffer from the same problems. Mazza found talk-therapy to be useless and something called Pelvic Floor Therapy helpful in decreasing the pain during sex. It’s refreshing to hear a woman—especially an older woman—speak honestly about sex, especially when she’s admitting to the uncoolness of not liking it. As she points out, we usually hear from women who are having too much sex, and though this is presented as a flaw, “isn’t the unspoken aura that these women are—for the same reasons—exotic, worldly, exciting, charismatic, provocative…or just plain cool?”

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July 28th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

All Movies Love the Moon

MoonAll Movies Love the Moon: Prose Poems on Silent Film
By Gregory Robinson
Rose Metal Press, March 2014
96 pages / $14.95  Buy from Rose Metal Press or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“In 1894, Fred Ott sneezed. Thomas Edison’s cameras were there to transform the event into a motion picture, appropriately named Record of a Sneeze,” So begins moving pictures, and Gregory Robinson’s brilliant new meditation on silent film, All Movies Love the Moon, out now from Rose Metal Press. In this work, he juxtaposes frames from silent pictures with musing prose poetry. He explores works by the Lumière brothers, Georges Méliès, and Fritz Lang. Just the filmography he provides is fascinating, especially if you’re like me where these films have always chiefly evoked classic Smashing Pumpkins music videos: Méliès (Tonight, Tonight) and Lang (Stand Inside Your Love).

Like Simic’s treatment of Joseph Cornell, Robinson brings a poet’s eye to the project. He employs information,misinformation,history, and histiography; and the result is often very funny, offering up strange errata and juxtapositions.

robinson2

He tells the story of Ralph Spence, a “film doctor” responsible for taking unfunny early films and making them watchable, by writing witty title cards. READ MORE >

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July 25th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Juliet Escoria & Scott McClanahan’s Honeymoon Tour Diary (Part 2)

 

 

Read part 1 here.

 

 

WEDNESDAY, JULY 9 2014
DENVER TO OMAHA
SONG OF THE DAY: NEIL YOUNG “GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY”

SCOTT: I liked driving through Nebraska because I’m a big Willa Cather fan. This was our loooooong day of driving and we were in the car for 9 hours. I think we both got a small case of what truck drivers and bikers call “monkey butt.” Definition?

Monkey Butt (noun): When the back parts of travelers get permanently red and give off a strange odor that attracts wild animals.

We also almost ran into a tornado during the middle of the day. The storm turned over a couple tractor trailers along the highway and we started getting nervous about tornados and being carried away.

We saw a rainbow in the distance and we started calling it “the rainbow of doom.” Rainbows are mean as shit. Our conversations about the rainbow of doom sounded like this.

This rainbow looks friendly but it is actually a stone-cold killer.

This rainbow looks friendly but it is actually a stone-cold killer.

I don’t have anything else to say about Wednesday.

UPDATE: Two hours after emailing Juliet my Wednesday section of the tour diary this happened.

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July 24th, 2014 / 11:00 am

Reviews

Hardly Getting Over It: A Review of See a Little Light

SeeALittleLightSee a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody
by Bob Mould with Michael Azerrad
Little, Brown and Company, June 2011
416 pages / $24.99  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why would anyone expect the ex-member of a famous rock band—those fertile dens of back-stabbing, girlfriend stealing, passive-aggressiveness and all around hurt feelings—to offer a healthy recounting of his time in said band? It’s like asking a combat veteran to empathize with the people who shot at him.

Yet, for those rock artists we truly admire, we crave that kind retelling. They’ve blown our minds so many times in the past with their transcendent work. If we’re disappointed they can’t deal with their issues enough to tell their band’s story in a fully-realized way, it’s only because we’ve learned to expect that much from them.

I skipped reading Bob Mould’s autobiography See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody (Little, Brown) after hearing Mould was less than resolved about his time in the formative post punk band Hüsker Dü, and in particular with his relationship with drummer/songwriter Grant Hart. I was a big Hüsker fan in the eighties and nineties, and I’d identified closely with Mould’s rage on classic albums like Flip Your Wig, Zen Arcade and Warehouse: Songs and Stories. I’d fallen away from his work around the time of his last album as the frontman of the band Sugar, and steadily found myself less interested in him as the years passed. The singer was so associated with the blood-curdling screams he’d let loose during his Hüsker years, I preferred to think of him as conquering his fury, moving on to better things, getting over it. Yet here was Mould, supposedly getting thorny about Hart and bassist Greg Norton in book form. Not interested.

But those who skip See a Little Light for these reasons will miss much of a story that few but Mould can tell: of Hüsker’s beginnings and ascendency, of the nascent eighties hardcore subculture in America that would lay the groundwork for the massive grunge movement in the nineties, not to mention refreshingly candid insights into Mould himself, one of his generation’s most conflicted icons.

Mould didn’t get riddled with rage by happenstance. His upbringing in rural upstate New York with an alcoholic, abusive father was plenty turbulent, and discovering his homosexuality in adolescence only further alienated him from those he grew up with. Most harrowing to me was when Mould was eighteen and for the first time away at college in St. Paul, Minnesota, trying to find his place in a confusing world. Not only were they stringing up homosexuals like deer back in his hometown, but, Mould writes, “the weekly phone calls with my family were difficult enough, especially the ones where my father threatened to sever my financial support or escalate his violence toward my mother.” I can only imagine a young, scared Mould desperately needing to make urban Minnesota work for him, knowing he had no home to go back to.

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July 21st, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Green Lights by Kyle Muntz

tumblr_inline_mx2ddvugfB1r6esemGreen Lights
by Kyle Muntz
Civil Coping Mechanisms, May 2014
108 pages / $13.95  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Kyle Muntz’s Green Lights, we’re exposed to wavelengths as beams of prose, an unnamed narrator whose world is flooded in the disparate hues of existence. There’s a meditative quality throughout, a detachment borne of Kafkaesque inquiry and a yearning for communication that teeters on the fiat lux’s of every day creation. Not just through visible light, but the invisible nanometers that escape normal sight. “I want to talk about color,” the book begins, and the colors of the spectrum quickly become a metaphor for revelation and metamorphosis. The characters, from the moon turned into a woman, to an old man embodying evil, become symbolic accoutrements for the journey which turns out to be an excursion to another dimension. Elements of the fantastic shine as in the “Blue” chapter when the whole neighborhood is covered in noirish film shades that masquerade as night, and then, “The world froze… Ice had taken over the world.” Winter isn’t just the congealing of the veins and muscles, but a coat of futility wrapped around his routine actions. “After much effort, I thawed my room. I’m not proud of the things I did to accomplish this,” he confesses, then further reveals, “I got a job carrying a flamethrower around the neighborhood, melting people. My coworkers treated me like shit.” The frost of survival is just as bleak as the cold treatment of his colleagues and the blending of colors weaves the conflagration of pain with the inferno of transformation.

There’s a melodic beat to Muntz’s writing, terse descriptions of events interspersed with sudden bursts of graphic visuals, often macabre in its evocations. It’s a delicate balance, but one he masterfully navigates, exploiting minimalism to maximize emotional defibrillations, injecting the grotesque to animate the mundane:

“One time when I was walking in the darkness, I stumbled over something, and it was him, sprawled on the ground, unable to move. He didn’t have eyes anymore. Maggots crawled amidst the remnants of his skin, fibrous muscles like totted spaghetti. Worms fucked his intestines. Beetles were chewing his brains.”

Like signal lights, there’s a revolving flow of ideas that are given free rein and then brought to a halting stop, warning yellows demarcating the blurry boundaries between illusion and reality. That border is often where Muntz’s narrator lingers, rarely surprised by the absurdity of the surreal events that happen around him, instead, levitating past the barriers. It’s almost as though the green light were always on and physics broken free of limitations to innovate. Muntz revels in experimentation, relishes the opportunities to change up the traditional narrative as he bakes x-rays of playful contemplations into the atlas of his construction:

“Sometimes when I looked into the distance, I remembered that the darkness I could see there  was actually the mountain, holding up the base of the universe. If I were to walk that way, the neighborhood would never end, but eventually it would become less real… The road continued even where the world began to change colors.”

His main companion is his love interest, E, who is as curious as the narrator about the frontier, a geography that challenges the intellectual as much as the physical. Both are intertwined and both affect each other, a symbiotic terraforming that is volcanic in its effect.

“Nearby, behind an abandoned house, we found an immense flower growing from the ground. The flower was at least a hundred feet tall. Beads of water clung to its sides… She nodded. ‘It looks like a picture of itself, meaning it looks better than real. That means something. It implies amazingness.’

‘Should we climb it?’

‘Probably,’ she said. ‘If we didn’t, we would feel bad about it later.’”

There’s a lot of climbing in Green Lights and like E, we know we’d feel bad if we didn’t venture upward. Along the way, we get dashes of the videogame classic, Earthbound, embedded with David Lynch, Borges, and doses of Marquez. The combination acts as a variety of hues to assault our senses in this quirky and likable hike while at the same time, Muntz weaves his own identity through the narrative. I just wish there were more colors in the spectrum.

***

Peter Tieryas Liu is the author of Bald New World and Watering Heaven. He entropies at entropymag.org. He loves green lights. And red ones. And blue ones too.

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July 21st, 2014 / 10:00 am