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Janice Lee

http://janicel.com

Janice Lee is the author of KEROTAKIS (Dog Horn Press, 2010), Daughter (Jaded Ibis, May 2011) & Damnation (Penny-Ante Editions, 2013). She currently lives in Los Angeles where she teaches at CalArts and is co-editor of [out of nothing] and Founder/CEO of POTG Design.

Reviews

GUANTANAMO by Frank Smith, Trans. By Vanessa Place

guantanamo-frank-smith-vanessa-place-cover-front-featureGUANTANAMO
by Frank Smith
Translated by Vanessa Place
Les Figues Press, July 2014
160 pages / $17  Buy from Les Figues or SPD

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a law student, I feel that the most important demographic that this book should reach is law students—but for various reasons, it will never reach them.

When reading Guantanamo, I thought back to my Constitutional Law class and our discussions of the constitutional rights of foreign nationals. We learned about the debate through the lens of Guantanamo, specifically Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT), which was challenged on constitutional grounds. As the introduction of this book informs, prisoners in the U.S. are guaranteed habeus corpus relief from unlawful detention. Such relief is generally called for when there is no knowledge of charges by or evidence against the detained person.

The introduction by Mark Sanders talks about translation and how Frank Smith drafted this book in French based on actual interrogation reports. It implies that there is no text under the text, only layers of translation with no correct source document: not only is there the language barrier between the author and the interrogation, but there is also the communication barriers between the Middle Eastern citizens and the U.S. interrogators. Law is very much the same way in having no definitive text. It is a mosaic bible made and revised by humans, primarily rich white American men (even still!) in this country. And yet, those who endeavor to work in it have their very human blind spots, such as the war vet in class who did not want to reconcile with “terrorists” having rights—that the Supreme Court should not pander to terrorists in giving them due process in our courts of law.

The text itself revolves around a trinity of ambiguity, vegetables, and the United States of America. The ambiguity in the writing comes from the use of the French pronoun on to show the absurdity and inhumanity of Guantanamo’s process. You observer a recurring narrative that the reader is unsure of is two continuous characters or two general bodies: (1) “the terrorists”; and (2) “the administrative body conducting de facto trials.” Vanessa Place translates on in a variety of permissible ways depending on tone, or not, or maybe creating her own tone in an unsettling way. Sometimes we are pronounless.

Asks if has family ties with known terrorists in Pakistan.
Answers exactly what kind of ties?
Rephrases the question, asks if any relatives have ties to terrorists in Pakistan.
Answers has no family in Pakistan. How could this be?
States has “kin” who is a member of a terrorist group responsible for attacks in Uzbekistan.
Answers no one in the family has any connection with any terrorist group in Uzbekistan to speak of.   (p. 3)

And so on. Not only does this stylistic choice call to attention the human machinery at work here, but it also creates a haunting, disorienting effect. Who are you supposed to believe? There is no human face that you are supposed to recognize here. There are combating facts which simply do not add up. And here, unlike the real U.S. criminal justice system (for all its flaws), there is no plea bargain to a lesser crime, there are no charges. Your reward for confessing to being an enemy combatant is to remain there, indefinitely, perhaps forever, even if really you were just growing vegetables, at the wrong place and at the wrong time.

The whole book goes like this, in deadpan call-and-response, with occasional breaks into a very sparse poetry, absent of any embellishment. It is not quite as dry as the interrogation proceeding, but only not quite.

“The man, his wife, and his mother still believed
they were being taken to Uzbekistan
but when they reached the other side of the river
a Tajik man informed them that they were actually
entering Afghanistan
and that they would have to fend for themselves,
that Tajikistan had effectively decided
to get rid of its Uzbek immigrants
Some families attempted to object
because they did not want to be abandoned there
but they were threatened with death
if they did not stop complaining.
The man believes they were then
in the area of Ahmed Shah Massoud.” (p. 53-4)

The author instead uses this break to tell the straightforward narrative of the de facto defendant(s), in broken up third-person prose, as if these defendants were not allowed to tell their stories directly and that the only voice which spoke for them was the voice of Allah. Their voices are suppressed, and simultaneously horrifying and bland. They are made bland. They are ruled by the farming of vegetables, caring for their families through agrarian life, until they are expulsed then tricked by ill-meaning “friends.” These narratives are frequent and often in this book, and probably in life too. Yet they are rendered “boring” and unaesthetic. I think this is important.

And at the end, nothing happens. Not in this book, or in the thing it is modeled after as conceptual art, until the shifting mind-mass of law went in the direction of abolishing the kangaroo courts, and setting some of the particulars free. The undangerous ones. Hopefully—but how are we supposed to know?

The worst kind of ambiguity, yet depicted flawlessly.

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Rory Fleming is a rising third year law student at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He is also a writer of prose and poetry.

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June 30th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Noir: A Love Story – An Interview With edward j rathke

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Noir: A Love Story by edward j rathke is forthcoming this summer from Civil Coping Mechanisms, and I had the opportunity to pose Edward J Rathke some questions inspired by his phenomenal book.

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What’s your real name?

I used to hate my real name. I used to hate it so much. I hated the way it looked on paper and I hated the way it sounded, rolling round my ear, those two stupid hard consonants just a few letters apart. I’ve made a thousand names for myself over the years and most of them nothing like mine. I lived in worlds that only existed inside my head and I made me new. For a long time I hated my face too and I avoided mirrors like they were plagued and I stopped remembering properly what I look like, and this problem persists. The person I see with my name when I close my eyes isn’t the one who smiles back in the mirror. Even my dreams stopped being about this name and this body. I became other men and other women and I dreamt in their bodies, with their names.

Now I’m comfortable with the name I was given so long ago: edward j rathke. I even have a supervillain name ready for whenever I fracture apart and try to take the world apart: Wrath Key.

But is edward j rathke the best at answering these questions? Probably not. He’s a very silly human, though he sort of writes the opposite of silly books. Sometimes he wishes his novels had more silliness, way more zaniness, but we suppose writing is where those heavier parts of him go so that he can go on living silly, lightly, while we write on, Deathly.

What’s the story you always tell? What’s the story you’ll never tell?

I don’t know if there’s a story I’m always telling people. Probably there is, but the ones I feel like people are always asking me about are the ones where I almost died. Like the time I took a 60 foot freefall onto rocks or the time my appendix exploded while I was in Korea and I spent a week in a hospital where no one spoke English. Most of my stories involve me being lost and making bad decisions.

There are so many stories I’ll never tell but not because of fear or shame or regret. There are memories that are sacred to me. In many ways they’re all we have as humans. Our life is just a collection of memories, and memory is largely a creative process of stitching together misremembered moments. When you share a memory, it stops being yours. So when you speak your memory into new ears, that memory becomes theirs, and in that transference, the memory changes twice [first by making it into words and then again by the person hearing those sounds, stitching it to the fabric of their life] and becomes something new. If they share that memory, it again transforms, and so when your memory is shared with others, it stops being yours and becomes something wholly different than who you are, which is a body housing memories. And so I keep the best ones inside and I share them with no one. Not even in my fiction, and definitely not in interviews like this.

Most of them are about love. Those howling bits of time, fraying, hoping.

And maybe Noir: A Love Story is both. It’s full of the story I’m always telling—the unknowable humanity, the howling ache chasming between us, the sublime perfection of existence, the beauty of its ending—and the ones I’ll never tell. All those stories I’ll never tell, those are the ones at the center of Noir: A Love Story. I’ve given you the impressions of lives but told you nothing about what they mean to the people who lived them, and so the reader decides and discovers. In that discovery, they’ll probably find the many mes that I’ve been all these years.

What does desperation make you do?

Desperation’s made me do a lot of things. I’ve lived a strange life full of stranger existential crises. Desperation sent me to Ireland and South Korea. It’s sent me wailing into the night. It’s sent me down roads of destruction, but I’ve also poured it over thousands of written pages. When I was younger I didn’t sleep really at all—still don’t, I guess, though mostly out of habit—and that was something deep and dark gnawing at me all my life. Then while still too young I spent those sleepless nights drinking, causing chaos, writing terrible poetry and screaming it into the sunless sky, breathing smoke on rooftops.

ydde

“Time eats you. Dead or dreaming” What else?

I have strung wires from steeples to stars and tightroped across the sky. READ MORE >

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June 11th, 2014 / 10:00 am

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Alexandra Naughton’s SUMMER READS

meAs part of Summer Reads, Alexandra Naughton shares what she’s looking forward to reading this summer.

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Summer to me feels like chapbooks and graphic novels, which are good to read on the train and on a stoop while drinking iced tea.

1) Dystopian’s Codependent Syndrome by Paul Murufas

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Drugs, tarot readings, loneliness, and wayward traveling comprise some of the themes of this poetry chapbook from Mess Editions. This book feels like Oakland and summer and it’s killing me again.

2) Sadmess by Ana Carrete

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I really like Carrete’s online writing and I am excited to leaf through Sadmess, handmade by Carrete herself. Sadmess is such a perfect title for a book of poems and I wish I had thought it up first.

3) Never Ending Summer by Allison Cole

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A graphic novel from Alternative Comics that Amy Berkowitz loaned me when I was feeling heartbroken and it helped me to get over it. Rereading this book feels like stale sunbaked emptiness and wanting to take a midnight bike ride.

4) Terror Matrix by Zoe Tuck

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This is a beautiful little book from Timeless Infinite Light full of stabbing lines like “the bagel and sweaty glass carafe are here for me in ways they’re not for you” and “lake for bloody grace i said fill me a scrip for this to raise the dead.”

5) 18 Levels of Hell by Teppei Ando

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Go to hell with the second illustrated book on this list based on Chinese mythology, published by Murder Dollhouse. Fantastically morbid drawings depicting the kind of suffering we can only hope to endure specifically designed for the sins we’ve committed.

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June 9th, 2014 / 10:00 am

A roundup of places to submit your writing and manuscripts this summer.

(Also, unrelated. It’s National Donut Day. Go eat a dozen donuts and write a poem and submit your poem about donuts somewhere.)

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Molly Gaudry’s SUMMER READS

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As part of Summer Reads, Molly Gaudry shares what she’s planning on reading this summer.

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My first year as a PhD candidate at the University of Utah is behind me. Classes ended in April, and for the entire month of May I’ve mostly been hanging upside down at Imagination Place (our local AntiGravity Fitness studio here in SLC). As an instructor-in-training, working toward certification, I haven’t had or made time to read since the end of the term, and it’s been a relief to work the body for days and weeks on end instead of the mind (even if I don’t necessarily believe in such a distinction, preferring instead to think of the body as the mind in motion). But this morning, for the first time in over a month, I cracked open a book. Marguerite Duras might have said this particular book was screaming at me from its place on the shelf. Who knows why a book screams when it screams.

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The book was Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey (Wave)First I reread one dog-eared passage about Sappho, the moon, and lyric poetry. Ruefle supposes that “stars were the first text, the first instance of gabbiness; connecting the stars, making a pattern out of them, was the first story, sacred to storytellers. But the moon was the first poem, in the lyric sense, an entity complete in itself, recognizable at a glance.” I love that she thinks this, that she wrote this. I look at the moon sometimes and am filled with wonder: Who else is looking at this moon, tonight, right now, like me? Did you know that May’s full moon was a “flower moon” and that June’s will be a “strawberry moon”? Do you remember Calvino’s story about the moon: “I could distinguish the shape of her bosom, her arms, her thighs, just as I remember them now, just as now, when the Moon has become that flat, remote circle, I still look for her as soon as the first sliver appears in the sky, and the more it waxes, the more clearly I imagine I can see her, her or something of her, but only her, in a hundred, a thousand different vistas, she who makes the Moon the Moon and, whenever she is full, sets the dogs to howling all night long, and me with them.” In a “Music and Mantra” workshop I took a few weeks ago with mostly yogis, I decided I liked one yogi in particular and made a mental note—what the hell—to take her next “full moon yoga class” outside, in a park, under the night sky. I’m into the moon, I guess. And I was attracted to this woman’s gentleness, how kind she seemed, and how, surprisingly, she wasn’t all that “woo-woo” for a yogini who teaches a full-moon yoga class in a park every month. I wonder, What is your story about the moon?

In Ruefle’s title essay, a fair bit of time is spent puzzling out a three-line poem attributed to Hafiz:

I shall not finish my poem.
What I have written is so sweet
The flies are beginning to torment me.

“It is so simple and clear,” Ruefle writes, “the ‘figurative’ sweetness of the author’s verse has become honey, causing ‘literal’ flies to swarm on the page or in or around the author’s head. This is truly the Word made flesh, the fictive made real, water into wine. That is the honey of poetry: the miracle of its transformation, which is that of creation: once there was a blank page—scary!—now there is something in its place that is attracting flies. Anyone who has not experienced the joy, pleasure, transport, and sweetness of writing poems has not written poems. If it has never once been fun for you, you probably haven’t experienced what we talk about when we talk about poetry.”

READ MORE >

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June 6th, 2014 / 10:00 am

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Brent Armendinger’s SUMMER READS

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As part of Summer Reads, Brent Armendinger shares what he’s looking forward to reading this summer.

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American Canyon by Amarnath Ravva

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Panorama as a sentence. Amarnath Ravva is a prose writer, a video artist, a photographer, and a performer. His experimental memoir, composed of text and documentary footage from California to South India, is a time-lapse photograph of ritual, longing and belonging.

 

Hemming the Water by Yona Harvey

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I was entranced when I first heard these poems – Yona Harvey was not so much reading them, as she was singing them, or they were singing [through] her. Music of parable, mourning, protest, the body, and survival – daily life splits across the page and throat by all that is right and still very wrong in this world.

 

Gephyromania by TC Tolbert

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In Territories of Folding, TC Tolbert, a genderqueer, feminist poet, describes “grafting an exegesis of skin,” proposing that the body is a text, a language that can only be understood through a continual process of layering. I love the tender, radical ways that Tolbert repositions parts of speech and inhabits the visual field of the page. I’m so excited to read this full collection, which Tolbert describes as being “written between who I loved and who was leaving, between who I was and who I would become.”

 

I’m OK, I’m Pig! by Kim Hyesoon, transl. Don Mee Choi

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When I heard Don Mee Choi read from this terrific translation at AWP this year, I was blown away. A prominent South Korean feminist poet, Kim Hyesoon sets surrealism on fire, until it becomes as menacing as the various kinds of violence that inform her work.

 

The Albertine Workout by Anne Carson

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Before she visited my class, Anne Carson asked us to come up with an exercise routine for someone who is always asleep. Then she read this brilliant series of 59 paragraphs on/for Albertine, the principal love interest in Á la recherche du temps perdu, who begins – through Carson as medium – to stare back from the dream in which Proust confined her.

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Brent Armendinger is the author of The Ghost in Us Was Multiplying, a book of poems forthcoming from Noemi Press. He has also published two chapbooks, Archipelago and Undetectable, and his work has appeared in many journals, including Aufgabe, Bateau, Bloom, Bombay Gin, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, LIT, Puerto del Sol, RECAPS Magazine, Volt, and Web Conjunctions. In 2013, Armendinger was a resident at the Headlands Center for the Arts. He teaches creative writing at Pitzer College and lives in Los Angeles.

 

 

 

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June 4th, 2014 / 10:00 am

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Amanda Ackerman’s SUMMER READS

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As part of Summer Reads, Amanda Ackerman shares what she’s looking forward to reading this summer.

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Taste

2 a person’s liking for particular flavors : this pudding is too sweet for my taste.

  • a person’s tendency to like and dislike certain things : he found the aggressive competitiveness of the profession was not to his taste.
  • ( taste for) a liking for or interest in (something) : have you lost your taste for fancy restaurants?
  • the ability to discern what is of good quality or of a high aesthetic standard : she has awful taste in literature.
  • conformity or failure to conform with generally held views concerning what is offensive or acceptable : that’s a joke in very bad taste.

These particular books were selected because I could get them from the Los Angeles Public Library. The city of Los Angeles experienced record-high temperatures this month and we will probably have a brutally hot summer The heat makes it very hard to think. These books are all short. I found them excellent and feel better for having read them (or being in the process of reading them).

 

Inger Christensen’s alphabet, translated by Susanna Nied

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This might be one of the best books I’ve ever read. Everything is in the world. The book is also written in a Fibonacci sequence, something I’ve wanted to try for awhile.

Excerpt:

“apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist”

 

Tan Lin’s insomnia and the aunt

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This is the only Tan Lin book LAPL has. I have lived a good portion of my life watching television. Television is in and of the world and Tan Lin’s language becomes atmosphere, like a room enveloped in color and scent – living in and of the words becomes more important than their meaning as.

Excerpt:

“Any mathematician can tell you, lovers like drapes are feeble signs of a light that can’t come in, for the minute a TV show or a person becomes memorized (the worst form of recognition), it or she ceases to exist in any meaningful way. A dumb TV show is the most beautiful TV show. My aunt knew my love for her very well. She was clairvoyant and an insomniac.”

 

Alain Badiou’s In Praise of Love, with Nicolas Truong

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The library doesn’t have this book. I like books that attempt theorizations of love and argue why we should radically love each other (two other good ones: bell hooks’s All About Love: New Visions and Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving). Also, Badiou gives one of the first definitions of art that I find myself agreeing with.

Excerpt:

“One has to understand that love invents a different way of lasting in life That everyone’s existence, when tested by love, confronts a new way of experiencing time.”

 

Ann Quin’s Three

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I’m only on page 22. It’s stunning. The dialogue is vulnerable, the poetry and prose cohabitate the story, and the vulnerable dialogue neither collapses nor widens the distance between its characters. Why it is we talk so much?

Excerpt:

“Hands motionless she gazed past the cockerel, marked a point between the trees, statues. The shadows of statues on the lawns stretched to cliff’s edge. What shall we do Ruth it is our last day fancy going out for a while? You’re so restless.”

 

Latasha N. Nevada Diggs’s TwERK

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This book is brilliant. I’m only on page 15. I find myself sounding each word out loud. I like one of the blurbs: “an endlessly spinning polyglot wheel.”

Excerpt:

“It is said that eels can come back to life. Chopped into tidbits, left alone, the pieces may regenerate, wiggle; grow new heads, eyes. Teeth. The girl thinks of this every time she eats sushi. She never eats eel two days old. What if it came back to life and paid her a visit one shifty night?”

 

 

 

 

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Amanda Ackerman is the author of the chapbooks The Seasons Cemented (Hex Presse), I Fell in Love with a Monster Truck (Insert Press Parrot #8), and Short Stones (Dancing Girl Press).   She has co-authored Sin is to Celebration (House Press), the Gauss PDF UNFO Burns a Million Dollars, and the forthcoming novel Man’s Wars And Wickedness (Bon Aire Projects).  She is co-publisher and co-editor of the press eohippus labs.  She also writes collaboratively as part of the projects SAM OR SAMANTHA YAMS and UNFO. Her book The Book of Feral Flora is forthcoming from Les Figues press.

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June 2nd, 2014 / 10:00 am