Marina Started to Wish: Rachel Bell’s Loving the Ocean Won’t Keep It from Killing You

Rachel is a cool person who moved into the room I recently left in Brooklyn, NY. This room has been the home of at least two other HTMLGIANT-adjacent writers in the past.

She gave me a copy of her new book Loving the Ocean Won’t Keep it From Killing You on Hello America press. It’s a small paperback with a sleek typographic cover. I had met Rachel previously–when we shared Adam Humphrey’s video production help two summers ago–so I knew there was something worth paying attention to inside the cover. Rachel is a driven, focused writer-artist and who is also fun to be around. We smoked cigarettes together. We went to the deli across the street. Continue reading “Marina Started to Wish: Rachel Bell’s Loving the Ocean Won’t Keep It from Killing You”

25 Points: Universal Harvester

Universal Harvester by John DarnielleUniversal Harvester
by John Darnielle
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014
224 pages / $13.21 buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. I have not yet read Wolf in White Van, (but I hear good things). I also have not read (Black Sabbath’s) Master of Reality, (but I also hear good things).

2. Universal Harvester. The cover is pretty dope-looking. (Plus, it’s sorta cool that advance reader copies came in a VHS case). It totally vibes with my anodized rainbow finish razor.  (That’s 2 for 2 Darnielle, tho, I am not actually counting Master of Reality).

3. But hear me out. I want to get this out of the way, like, right away: the book is marketed as horror and perhaps maybe even a little bit mystery. It’s none of these things, really. Or rather, the story isn’t horror in the way you’d expect it to be horror. And it’s also not mystery, in the classic sense of the word, mystery. It’s a little bit of both, and then some.

4. I’m not taking points away from the book either, because of this, no. It’s not Mr. Darnielle’s fault. Rather, he did this on purpose, and I applaud him (in a way) because of these things—Darnielle is trying to do something new & interesting here and, as you might expect, the average reader is not going to be so into that (I’m guessing). (Maybe the not-so-average reader, as well). The narrative is sort of non-linear (so be prepared for that).

5. I must confess, tho, to what intrigued me initially—what made me want to read the book as soon as possible—the story takes place in Iowa (I got my BA from a school in Iowa, this is no secret; and actually, the town where I went to school is mentioned, pretty early on). Also, the fact that it has something to do with VHS culture and film. (I have never seen The Poughkeepsie Tapes but the idea of VHS tapes and weird things happening on VHS tapes made me think of this film, for whatever reason).

6. I also tend to enjoy most things taking place during a time when the VHS market is / was still booming. Continue reading “25 Points: Universal Harvester”

Strixologist as Examining Magistrate of Nature: Notes on Juliet Escoria’s Witch Hunt


I.

I’ll let you fuck me

if you make it quick.

Like mechanized.

Like we both come

and that’s it.

No funny business

in between.

Those four sentences uttered by the narrator of Juliet Escoria’s new book, Witch Hunt, published recently by the critically acclaimed indie press Lazy Fascist, demonstrate the precise composition, emotional wreckage, and elegance of language on display in this powerful text.

The passive first line compared to the assertive lines directly following illustrate the text’s general ethos: deadpan checked-out ghosts of people bumping into one another’s atmosphere where desire forms and floats without anchor. Still, these ghost people transform drug addiction, mental illness, suicide, domestic abuse, political correctness, formal experimentation, epistolary, haiku, conceptual, confessional, visual expectations.

So many ghost people exist inside her sentences. So many performances. From the opening section of the ten-part long poem titled “True Romance,” where the above quote originates, the speaking subject comes into focus so quickly and so resonantly, readers sometimes mistakenly presume to understand Escoria’s speaker way too prematurely. It’s true we come to know a person in the pages of Witch Hunt, but through the course of the book the speaker remains unflinchingly unpredictable. What she does one moment doesn’t forecast what she’ll do in another. To assume to know the narrator, to expect to know what she will say or do or think at any moment proves preposterous. Since this passage appears late in the book, readers who start at the beginning and move forward in the standard reading fashion (as opposed to skipping around) already know they don’t know what’s coming next; what distinguishes this particular moment in the book is the role it plays in the overall structure of Escoria’s fragmented twenty-first century confessional romance narrative. It begins the descent to terminus.

Hopefully the following notes convincingly attest to the raw elegance of Witch Hunt, while nevertheless ultimately revealing my strong admiration for it. As we enter the darkness of 2017 — don’t forget, those Game of Thrones people kept warning us the winter was coming! — let us not forgot this powerful 2016 release. Escoria taps into something vital about our current cultural condition and engages with it in provocative ways. So here’re my thoughts on why I highly recommend it:

Continue reading “Strixologist as Examining Magistrate of Nature: Notes on Juliet Escoria’s Witch Hunt”

Every Book I Read in 2016

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Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner. (Jan. 19-26)
A lot of things were happening, and I thought I was in love, maybe, ultimately, wrongly, but I was distracted. And I was devastated, and I decided to challenge myself with a difficult read. I hadn’t been reading much by the end of 2015. Bad things were happening. The light in my room was affected by a red lampshade from a previous tenant, and I lived in Bushwick, and I often raced to get through my allotted daily seventy or so pages so I could go to sleep. I wasn’t talking to anyone, and I had no one to talk to about the book. The book is about history and the removal of the experience from the event. I felt like I missed a decent amount, that there seriously lacked the emotion of Faulkner’s other great works, but I enjoyed the places and the desperate, pre-suicidal voice of Quentin, who felt like an old friend, from a time when I had been more excited about literature and life. I was happy when the novel was over.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (late Dec. 2015-Jan. 31)
I started this book sometime in December (but it was not the first book I read in 2016), and found it pedantic and boring. But after finishing Absalom!, driven (not in a car, but figuratively) to my parents’ house, I felt I had no excuse but to push through it. I hate letting a so-called classic defeat me, or get past me, and I hope to one day lay that feeling to rest. If people like this book so much it must be for a reason; there are some nice sentences, but people probably just like it because it’s like a movie, and I read it by the fire, while my parents watched TV. I read the majority in two sittings that way. Sometime earlier, however, a woman approached me, at my cashiering job at the food coop, and told me I was disgusting for reading Lolita in public. I told her I wasn’t.

The Tennis Handsome by Barry Hannah (Feb. 1-2)
I had fallen into some weird freelance things after quitting my salaried, union-benefitted, university library position the previous summer. I had reason to join the public library and was ripping video of a fashion label to media cards, testing that they worked and mailing them out all over the world at a highly inflated rate. It was nice to make money off so little work, but the work soon went away, and I had to find more. Hannah’s fourth novel is an amalgam and extension of several stories from his hit collection Airships, and is mostly about sex, like a lot of his early work. It was a pleasant read for the most part, even making me laugh, and then I was in Massachusetts. I didn’t have a car and was out of touch with most of my old friends. I didn’t have much reason to go back to Brooklyn.

Continue reading “Every Book I Read in 2016”

“The Universe Drinks Our Blood, Man”: Notes on Mike Kleine’s Kanley Stubrick

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Kanley Stubrick moves. It makes no sense and all the sense simultaneously, in the way it feels when something bad happens to you but you secretly feel like you deserved it. Or that feeling when all you wanted for breakfast was the giant banana pancake at Surrey’s Café in New Orleans on Magazine Street, but when you arrive they tell you they’re all out of the giant banana pancake batter so you get crushed and flippantly order the French toast and then it turns out the French toast is even better than the giant banana pancake but the catch is: it’s a seasonal thing and they won’t have it again for another year starting tomorrow. You know, so much of life simultaneously makes absolute sense and absolutely no sense at all. Continue reading ““The Universe Drinks Our Blood, Man”: Notes on Mike Kleine’s Kanley Stubrick”

The Space Reserved In Every House For Emptiness – A Review of Does Not Love by James Tadd Adcox

doesnotloveDoes Not Love
by James Tadd Adcox
Curbside Splendor Press, 2014
275 Pages / $14.95 Buy from Curbside Splendor

I recently married someone. We drove to Vegas to get married. This is to say, we drove together through the desert.

We drove together through the desert to a city filled with neon signs, designed to distract from the fact that on all sides, the city’s surrounded by emptiness.

We drove together through the desert, and we got into an argument. I don’t remember what started it, but I remember driving down the strip at 1am, me squinting and crying, him slamming his fist on the wheel.

I looked at him and thought, how did this even start? He looked at me and said something that made the fight feel finished.

I felt an overwhelming warmth. I thought, this is the man that I love and the man I am going to marry. We’re staying together through strangeness, and that is what matters.

I also felt an overwhelming corresponding chill. I thought, he could have left me. I too could have left, in a burst of adrenaline.

We could have left each other standing in each other’s emptiness. Instead, we stayed together in the desert.

Every marriage is built of moments where two people stayed, but could have left. And all the moments in between. And all the emptiness between them.

*

James Tadd Adcox’s novel Does Not Love is a beautiful compendium of these moments within the fictional marriage of Robert and Viola. It is a study of ways that the couple makes meaning—and, trying and failing—attempts to make something. Appropriately, Adcox sets the novel within an alternate reality Indianapolis—a city which, to me, has always felt like something akin to a giant parking lot. Robert and Viola live in a blank space where people put new things. I feel that Does Not Love is about their unease with this space, and what they do to live with that unease.
Continue reading “The Space Reserved In Every House For Emptiness – A Review of Does Not Love by James Tadd Adcox”

25 Points: Sprezzatura

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Sprezzatura
by Mike Young
Publishing Genius Press, 2014
132 pages / $14.95 buy from Publishing Genius

1. Deep down he thinks he’s too much of a redneck to have got into Husker Du.

2. Syntax 1: His syntax is fascinating. Someone – can’t remember who – once said that ‘a poem should be a machine for re-reading’ and that’s what you do here. You read, you skate across the surface and then you re-read and it’s different the next time and you can’t get bored.

3. Syntax 2: Because of this, it sometimes seems like he’s put a real long scroll of paper into a typewriter emulator and just kept on Benzedrine-typing until he was finished.

4. Don’t get carried away with the Benzedrine though. There’s something else going on here:

“Often I throw a tennis ball against the wall and hope

the people downstairs believe more people exist

above them than really do…”

There’s a bit of craft at work here. Don’t get carried away with the Benzedrine. This isn’t just typing.

5. ‘On the bus, I pass through unobtainable wi-fi’ might be one of the best lines I’ve heard to sum up now, right now.

6. There are things here in this book. Things everywhere. Nouns.

7. There are unfashionable adjectives with fashionable nouns and fashionable nouns with unfashionable adjectives everywhere here.

8. Mike Young is a poetic phrase-maker in a way you don’t see too much in contemporary literature/Alt-Lit etc. He’s bringing phrase making back and making it cool.

9. I want to make a phrase now but you know you can’t just make a phrase just out of the blue as easy as you might think, it’s hard. If you plan it too much and try to think of a noun and an adjective and put them together the only noun you end up thinking of it ‘sea’ and the only adjective is ‘blue’ (or if you’re feeling revolutionary ‘green’) and that was all well and good 700 years ago but now it’s just some blue or green sea that isn’t even good enough for a corporate advertising slogan advertising shower gel let alone a book of writing/poems. So, it’s hard making phrases. It’s an art form. It’s easier to consciously make a bad one. This book is full of none-bad phrases. Here’s some:

10. ‘…imported mango soda’

Continue reading “25 Points: Sprezzatura”

25 Points: The Pedestrians

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The Pedestrians
by Rachel Zucker
Wave Books, 2014
160 pages / $18.00 buy from Wave Books

1. The ‘Once upon a time…’-style tone of the beginning of this book reminded me of the short story ‘Clay’ in James Joyce’s Dubliners and what he or someone called the ‘marmaladey-drawersey’ tone it was written in.

2. I really like the phrase ‘sublet bed.’ Sublet properties and the whole poetry of the rented house concept are so often commented on but not sublet beds. Hurray for this.

3. To return to the style and tone for a moment, if we may…(hey that was really formal for a moment wasn’t it, cool) I really like what I’m going to call the circumlocutory descriptions here such as ‘She had a small copper wire inside her. This made conception highly unlikely.’ when she could have said ‘coil’ or ‘intrauterine contraceptive device.’ This starkness really makes me laugh for some reason. In England, there used to be books called ‘Janet and John’ books for small children that used this kind of tone to help the kids learn how to read. They didn’t mention coils or IUCDs but I really think that style transplanted to adult life is cool.

4. ‘Every day she watched the UPS truck come toward her up the/road, make a three-point turn into the driveway before hers,/and pull away’

This is beautiful, man. I can’t say more about it than that.

5. ‘They had not known each other when they were teenagers but/when the radio with the human genome played Phil Collins it/was 1985 bar mitzvah season all over again.’

I have no idea what a radio with a human genome is but the imagery is fantastic that’s just my point I suppose, that’s just my point about this book, the imagery is delicious throughout.

6. Such juxtapositions. Babysitters, Buddhist monks and pole dancing competitions. The world and this book are full of such juxtapositions.

7. Another reviewer worried about this book. They worried about how the main character who lived in the most expensive city in the world (New York) and had trips to Paris and an apparently idyllic bourgeois life with husband and children and so on and yet complained all the time. They worried how this might be taken perhaps. Whilst my own working class proletariat background could go probing into this with my bullshit-detector, instead I was reminded of DFW and his thoughts on his, albeit slightly earlier, generation and how despite all the opulence everyone was still so lonely and miserable and how much of an interesting question this still is (even now the middle-classes have discovered Occupy in their gap year).

8. I’m defending it but it’s ok to worry about that too, I think it’s a valid point. Marxism is one of the better lines of enquiry for me.

9. I have a real affection for the poem called ‘Real Poem’ because it neatly and concisely parodies Poetry (that’s poetry with a capital P) and all its big profundity and arrogance.

10. Reminds me I haven’t had babies yet.

Continue reading “25 Points: The Pedestrians”

I Don’t Want to Want to Win: A review of Mathias Svalina’s Wastoid

Wastoid
by Mathias Svalina
Big Lucks Books, 2014
166 pages / $12 buy from Big Lucks Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

John Berryman wrote in a letter to Allen Tate, “I don’t write these damned things willingly, you know,” an exclamation that fits the vertiginous, character-addled world of The Dream Songs. Certain writers demonstrate this possessive spirit effortlessly, and Mathias Svalina fits in among them in perfectly discordant harmony. Wastoid, his latest collection from Big Lucks Books, has crawled inside the desiccated body of the Sonnet and formed an impenetrable shell from its remains. Like The Dream Songs, Svalina absorbs the personal into a visionary metamorphosis of the real. They both discard tight form to maintain the bare mechanisms of the sonnet. In Wastoid, men swamp to and from the path to gaze into mirrors, open doors into other doors forever, tell their shitty dads to fuck off, and eviscerate themselves to gift themselves to the lover.

Early on, Svalina gives us two aesthetic choices—substance or form—on how to “tame the unrammable will,” a nod that feels self-conscious, an impossible promise. The unrammable will, like Berryman’s immutable drive for substance and form, is a concept that gains traction from isolation. And isolation, more than in any other poetic form, carries a potent smell in the sonnet. While I don’t want to convince anyone that this early moment is manifesto’s sneaky thread, it points to a duality that is signature in these poems, a duality also signature for the sonnet. The lover is the volta sluicing the flood, spilling the guts, trapping the speaker between water and whale. Any other feature of the sonnet falls to the wayside, because, in this heightened realm of lovers all called “Wastoid,” it is only the slaughter of arguments that count for anything.

Most of the poems organize themselves around the lover’s growing imperialism, fame, opposition, deterioration. Pick your poison, the lover seems to say, as their agency bloats into objects while the speaker flattens under the power of decorum, becoming more and more corporeal. The lover is an obstacle when the speaker is crushed beneath doors. The lover is a window when the speaker is only skin. The lover is a trampoline when the speaker is a “canyon killing a praying man.” The lover is a tinfoil quilt when the speaker splits into two writers. Steeped in the logic of the poems, such declarations make perfect sense. We know that the subject-predicate is at war with itself, and the battle is pathetic and terribly effective. Take this poem in full:

My lover has an enormous name. It only just fits in the minivan when we go to Home Depot. We used to fold the name up neatly for travel when our relationship was new & he wore all the jewelry that were gifts from me. But now my lover’s name has such strength & such wealth that it is impossible to fold. There are so many things that command the attention of men—for instance, I love prizes. But my lover looks at photographs of horses online & looks at how much they cost & imagines what it would feel like to purchase a horse. He drags his name from one room to the next & rarely can I edge my way past it.

In “Dreamsong 88: Op. posth. no. 11,” Berryman concludes “I didn’t hear a single word. I obeyed.” We understand authority to work similarly in Wastoid. We are not made complicit to the laws of Svalina’s verse, though they circle in curious carousel around a central heartbreak. If there are laws, they exist in a trail of essentialized anguish: As above, “There are so many things that command the attention of men”; elsewhere, “To immerse oneself in another man is to become a contraption,” “It is fear that makes the world so solid,” “Even marvelous things can be effortlessly forgotten.” Most poems carry similar assertions. Svalina ballasts his domestic and nautical imagery with accessible phrases like these, and through this negotiation of reason and landscape do we find ourselves clasped entirely in his spell.

Nobody in any relationship ever wins, though the heroic sonnet might masturbate itself into a frenzy of false victory. This is how the poet obeys. Shakespeare said in one of his sonnets to a young dead boy, “For having traffic with thyself alone / Thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive.” Gross, Shakespeare, pull yourself together. Svalina is as alone when he writes, “I spend most of my day in the office looking at porn. In porn love is always demonstrated: one man comes on another man’s face. One man comes on another man’s face—it is like forgiveness and the photographer is the priest.” Svalina deconstructs his loneliness in these banal settings, fuses it with other more wild lonelinesses so both can resist forgiveness, pornographic or fatalistic or otherwise. Always there is a sense that to say anything is to say every version of its self-destruction:

My lover is a 911 call. At night the outlets leak electricity onto the hardwood floor & I lick at it. I want everything emergency, the frantic phrasing, the rapid breath uncalmable by an operator’s calm. The first time I saw a dead man I was ten. He lay beside the train tracks & what I remember most was he had no shoes on & his socks were very dirty & I still wanted to leave my pennies on the train tracks but I did not leave pennies on the train tracks. I step in front of speeding trucks. I walk with my feet on the roof’s edge. Out on the ice one cannot know if the ice is moving.

Svalina is not afraid of the more Romantic imagery associated with the sonnet because of the ease of dismantling it: Time, Light, Hearts, Nature/Naturer, Blood. They exist in the same terrain as Home Depot parking lots, bear genitals, and the Chicago Manual of Style. The lover transforms only when these essentialized ideas of Time and Light and Nature touch this other suburbia. Sometimes, the lover is cruel, a result of the trope out-troping the trope. Sometimes the lover feels like Prince and we can’t hate him because he sings against the insect stings and horses, “I want to be your brother / I want to be your mother and your sister too / There ain’t no other / That can do the things I’ll do to you.” In either case, this is a book chock full of men, writhing and fucked inside a place that can no longer writhe or fuck. Out of the heavily guarded images, we are given these manic parables of disorder. The men roam forever sick inside the seasons of this disorder. It has been a long time since I’ve been this excited about a book made exclusively of men. Svalina can’t help but expertly turn phrases inside out, resolve to find their invisible meanings. Each poem is its own collection of poems, its own annihilation of his collection of poems. Like men they have the power to deny or condemn as they have the power to enable and motivate further. The simple quiet of his wasted world goes on and on: “The ATM screen tells me press enter to exit. I must enter to exit.”

***

Natalie Eilbert’s first book of poems Swan Feast is forthcoming from Coconut Books in 2015. She is the author of the chapbooks Conversation with the Stone Wife (Bloof Books) and And I Shall Again Be Virtuous. (Big Lucks Books, forthcoming). She is the founding editor of The Atlas Review.

 

25 Points: Ozma of Oz

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Ozma of Oz
by L. Frank Baum
HarperCollins, 1989
272 pages / $6.95 buy from Amazon

1. This past year, my 5-year-old has been obsessed with me reading The Wizard of Oz to her over and over and over. While I have loved that book for decades, I reveal to her it is a series – there are more!

2. So we begin book two in the Oz series, The Marvelous Land of Oz. Which turns out to not be marvelous. “Where is Dorothy?” my daughter asks. In fact, Dorothy is nowhere to be found. Instead of Dorothy, there is a sorceress who is trying to force her ward Tip to drink a potion that will turn him into a statue. The sorceress is kind of scary.

3. Though the sorceress is not why we stop reading the book.

4. We stop reading when the ridiculous all-girl Army of Revolt storms the Emerald City, making the men mind the children and do the housework, only to get scared off by mice.

5. We move onto Treasure Island which I realize, early on, is not appropriate for a 5-year-old because of large quantities of murder and rum, finally settling upon Pippi Longstocking which, despite the heroine’s coffee habit and dead parents, appears a good fit. Then it is back to The Wizard of Oz.

6. Then instead of rereading The Wizard of Oz again, I suggest why don’t we try book three in the series (Ozma of Oz). The book is #83 on the School Library Journal’s list of the best children’s novels ever. Unsurprisingly, The Marvelous Land of Oz is not on the list. Still, I am nervous, making my daughter nervous. Reading bad books is an awful experience, but reading bad books aloud to your child is much worse, as it takes longer and skimming is difficult to do.

7. In the case of Ozma of Oz, There was no need to be nervous. It turns out I love this book. I have loved this book. This is the book with the lunch-box tree. “The tree seemed to bear all the year around, for there were lunch-box blossoms on some of the branches, and on others tiny little lunch-boxes that were as yet quite green, and evidently not fit to eat until they had brown bigger. The leaves of this tree were all paper napkins, and it presented a very pleasing appearance to the hungry little girl.” Inside the lunch-box was, “nicely wrapped in white papers, a ham sandwich, a piece of sponge-cake, a pickle, a slice of new cheese and an apple. Each thing had a separate stem, and so had to be picked off the side of the box…”

8. But the tin dinner-pail tree is even better. The dinner-pails grew on another tree and inside each pail was a thermos of lemonade, plus “three slices of turkey, two slices of cold tongue, some lobster salad, four slices of bread and butter, a small custard pie, an orange and nine large strawberries, and some nuts and raisins. Singularly enough, the nuts in this dinner-pail grew already cracked, so that Dorothy had no trouble in picking out their meats to eat.” I remember these trees. These trees are one of the most vivid memories of reading I can recall as a child.

9. I think it was a tragedy of extreme proportions to the child-me that such trees were nowhere to be seen in my Chicagoland home. The lack of such trees was proof that there had been some mistake and that I was living in the wrong world.

10. This is also the book with Princess Langwidere who has a room full of velvet lined cupboards and, inside each cabinet, is a different head that she can put on or take off whenever she likes. Unfortunately, when Dorothy is visiting, the princess puts on the mean head.

Continue reading “25 Points: Ozma of Oz”