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The No World Concerto by A.G. Porta

15647100476730LThe No World Concerto
by A.G. Porta
Translated by Darren Koolman
Dalkey Archive (Spanish Literature Series), 2013
339 pages / $16  Buy from Dalkey Archive

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been getting over this cold for about ten days now, and last week I had an especially bad night. I had taken 10mil of tussin pretty late, and now I realize the medicine was keeping me awake. At one point in the night my left leg lost circulation, and when I woke up, I thought, “Oh great, now that leg is entering the No World.” And as I slept, waking every hour or so, I had this creeping fear that more of me would fall into the No World. A terrifying prospect to be sure.

For A.G. Porta, the No World isn’t Bizarro World, but the subliminal articulated in a language we can’t understand. In The No World Concerto, out now from Dalkey Archive, A.G. Porta considers the limited tools we have for approaching reality and the so-called subliminal.

Like Cortázar’s 62 a Model Kit, The No World Concerto takes place in an unnamed city “the neighboring country’s capital” aka Paris. A “Screenwriter” obsessively writes a script that follows his relationship with a young piano prodigy, “the girl,” herself writing a sci-fi novelized account of their affair. The plot of The No World Concerto, comes across as somewhere inside and outside of all of these texts.

1982_blade_runner_the_final_cut_001The girl’s novel follows the story of an aging Alien-hunter.

Early on in The No World Concerto, the girl outlines her relationship to the No World:

I hear voices, the girl confesses. I think they come from another world. The young conductor asks her how she can be sure. How doesn’t she know the voices aren’t just inside her head? But she’s utterly convinced of it, and that should be proof enough it seems. The young conductor says no can know if something exists in and of itself outside the mind…They’re not even voices from this world, insists the girl, they’re from a false world, a No World created by some alien consciousness…(her novel) touches on this…the No World she writes and rewrites without ever getting anywhere; the No World that’s always expanding inside her, ever ripening, while never reaching maturity.

After co-writing a novel with Roberto Bolaño in the early 1980’s, Porta reportedly shut himself off from the world rereading Joyce and Wittgenstein. In No World, he lays the Wittgenstein on pretty early and pretty thick, highlighting the central paradox of the novel: Although our reality is bounded by language, language cannot describe all of reality.

Consider the joke: “Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a cafe. He says to the waitress, ‘I’d like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream.’ The waitress replies, I’m sorry, Monsieur, but we’re out of cream. How about with no milk?’”

For Porta, the act of literature is a negative act, naming thus negating imagined realities, because each “reality” corresponds with a multitude of unknown realities. Jacques Roubaud identifies this as the plurality of worlds. He says: (since I think/that the real/ is in no way real/how am I to believe/ that dreams are dreams)

So while the constant iteration of realities (via literature) might voice a critique towards a status quo, that critique will always be limited by the language we have. The infinite No-Worlds and Bizarro Worlds and alternate realities, (Crises on Infinite Earths, etc) of this world and reality are not really positive (or negative) mirrors, but rather frustrated slidings along an unknown continuum. Blanchot identifies this as the lot of author’s struggling away at a “work,” somehow existent, although ephemeral. Knowing that the transfer of this “work” from the subliminal kills it, and that the true triumph of literature comes somewhere in it’s ability to hold up the shortcomings of language.

While this might sound a little overwrought, Porta has a very light touch. And The No World Concerto is funny and enormously readable. Outside of her novel, “the girl” flirts with New Music stardom, adopting a John Cage-like rejection of rigid serialism in favor of indeterminancy.

Her Little Sinfonietta group performs a piece very reminiscent of The Green Table by Kurt Jooss.

By the third act, the “Screenwriter” sinks into mad-monk schizophrenia, and the action culminates in a very Robbe-Grillet-esque shocker. Although hailed in Spain as “one of the top ten Spanish-Language novels of the decade,” The No World Concerto resists simple interpretation, as it interrogates literature and compulsion in the modern world.

***

Joseph Houlihan lives and writes in Minneapolis, MN.

1 Comment
July 11th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Addicts & Basements by Robert Vaughan

tumblr_inline_mx2elnLMdc1r6esemAddicts & Basements
by Robert Vaughan
Civil Coping Mechanisms, February 2014
142 pages / $13.95  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While waiting for clothes to dry in a dingy, low-maintenance laundromat—leaning beside an out-of-service soda machine was a discolored Fisher-Price Playset (in case anyone wanted to conveniently scare/scar the hell out of their kids)—I tore into Addicts & Basements, Robert Vaughan’s slim collection of brisk, tightly-constructed miracles of human endurance both humorous and sad (often beautiful), as coin machines, some entirely gutted, struggled haphazardly against insurmountable odds:

A man is mailed his ex’s pubic hair; a lonely waitress perusing personal ads becomes smitten by Bondage Man; a father kidnaps two siblings who may or may not be his kids; and a husband surfs porn sites while wearing his medicated wife’s panties.

Vaughan’s talent in handling the plights of characters many would write off as pathetic grotesques is masterful, and he does it with love and sincerity:

He decided to give it a whirl in the toilets of Grand Central Station. He stopped by Wigs and Plus on 14th Street where the owner, Sunny, would sell him a cheap piece “for his mother.” Then he’d prop himself in the furthest stall from the door every Sunday morning. Wig in place. Like a parishioner. Or a TV evangelist. Or a congressman.

When it comes to flash fiction (those brief, punchy, not-quite-prose-poems) Vaughan is an upper-level video game boss. “Gauze, A Medical Dressing, A Scrim,” with its impeccable comedic timing, might be one of the best I’ve ever read. “Neighbors,” about two suspicious pet owners, isn’t too shabby either:

He likes her smile, imagines seeing those guinea pigs ripped into shreds. He untangles the leash. “C’mon, boys.” He imagines what she looks like covered in whipped cream. Even her heels. They keep laughing.

“On the Wings of a Dove” turns the nightmare juice up to 11 with Vaughan’s haunting tribute to Matthew Wayne Shepard, a young man tortured and killed by homophobes in Wyoming:

his coma was so quiet,
one of the killers would
later say, you could almost
hear ice rattling down the canyon

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2 Comments
July 11th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

25 Points: You Can Make Anything Sad

MadsenCover
You Can Make Anything Sad
by Spencer Madsen
Publishing Genius Press, 2014
90 pages / $14.95 buy from PGP

1. Spencer Madsen’s new book has what you might call ‘a classic Alt-Lit title.’

2. Like many of his contemporaries, a fair proportion of this work is considering ‘What if…’ something happens and musing on ‘What ifs’ generally. I think this has something to do with the virtual world and what it has done to our brains. As a strategy it is, in itself, almost materially virtual.

3. There are many proper nouns. For me, proper nouns are essential.

4. Computer/technological device interface metaphors, analogies, etc., are a growth area to a large extent pioneered (as far as today’s technological landscape goes anyway) by Alt-Lit writers themselves. Madsen is very good at them. Here is one by him: ‘When you turn the screen brightness down on your computer, everything looks the same but seems a little shittier.’

5. On October 1st, 2012, Spencer encountered a man in a gym and mused on his ‘meaningless’ hairstyles, tattoos, and muscles (‘he does administrative work’) but notes that in a way this gym muscle man ‘is more authentic,’ ‘more purely veneer’ than your everyday person. This is deep, man! By which I mean that the way in which much Alt-Lit concerns itself with screens is down to the fact that screens, smoothness, etc., represent the spirit of our current age (and any age that we can imagine anytime soon on the, now non-existent, horizon) so it is important to face up to them, even if it means facing them to do so. This whole ‘life in front of small screens, large, intermediately sized screens’ is so ubiquitous it needs to be looked at. Alt-Lit does it very well, as does Spencer.

6. ‘A Tumblr called Girls Doing Things featuring photos  of fully clothed girls doing normal things like standing in line at the post office or walking a dog’ would be the most genuinely erotic Tumblr of the year. Think about it, folks.

7. Nothing happens in this book in that way where everything happens or rather so many things happen that nothing seems to happen. Word thinks this is ‘verb confusion’ but it is really more about the state of things.

8. I say nothing happens but there is a half-hearted worry about coming to the end of a relationship which is recurrent but which isn’t foregrounded. Although coming to the end of a relationship is a big thing (like moving house, as they say, not enough novels about ‘moving house?’), it’s inevitable that something else will start.

9. Something else does start. He starts going out with someone new.  It’s new; he likes it as we all like that kind of thing.

10. He’s good at the old poetic trick of mixing everyday concrete noun combinations like ‘cereal and milk’ with the slightly more amusing concrete noun ‘ice cream’ with a sudden abstract noun ‘emotional stability.’ This is an old trick that will never stop working. He executes it very well. I laughed.

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July 10th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

A Sloth’s Perspective

Beach Sloth, cult blogger-extraordinaire, is arguably one of the few things you should actually pay attention to on the Internet. A magnificent poet and semi-anonymous (though some know his secret identity), Beach Sloth is the spirit of discovering new art—plucking it from the depths of the Internet and hidden crevices of the unknown in effort to make us aware. The style of his reviews are poetically analytic and hit off on major points of each work he’s featuring. He covers a wide variety of literature, art, film, music, online activity of Internet poets, and other mediums that peak his interest. Beach Sloth wants to make his art into a money making enterprise. He wants to extend his three fingered claws and touch everyone with his work and insight. You can paypal him at: pleasepaybeachsloth@gmail.com. He tweets at @Beach_Sloth. He also allows you to advertise on his blog. (There’s nothing this sloth can’t do.)

I interviewed Beach Sloth over a course of a week through email about his project, the artistic “struggle”, and his views on indie lit. Being a prominent player in the “alt lit” scene, the blogger’s responses were eye opening and unique to his own. So kick back, relax, and enjoy this sloth’s perspective.

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What is Beach Sloth? Why was this alias created? What is your slothy purpose?

Beach Sloth is my way of interpreting the culture I see created online every single day.

I created Beach Sloth after a series of really strange events began to happen in my life. None of them were bad but I was feeling a little bit too comfortable with the daily routines I was going through. Hence Beach Sloth kind of served as a challenge to me to engage more with the world (and Beach Sloth as a project continues to challenge me with a near-endless stream of work).

My purpose is to support others and have others support each other. If that happens I am happy.

How satisfied are you with your work thus far? What would make it better? What would make it worse? 

I am pretty happy with my work thus far. I think I am moving in the right direction and I am constantly trying to improve what I do. Some of the work I did in the past seems a bit ‘underdone’ compared to what I do now, in that I am a lot more focused on keeping things concise and edit a lot harder.

My work probably would be better if I ventured outside of my immediate social media realm. One of my goals for Beach Sloth in 2014 is to try and expand my horizons outside of the blog. This has meant a chapbook for Peanut Gallery Press, more submissions elsewhere (I’m bad with submissions in general) and trying to move into more visual work (I want to do a better job of taking advantage of Tumblr’s focus on the visual, something I know I haven’t done enough of in the past).

Honestly I am pretty hard pressed to think what would make it worse. Probably the worst thing I could do would be to sort of shut off Beach Sloth to a few specific writers. I try to keep up a variety of coverage so people do not see the same names all the time. My focus is also on those whose work I particularly enjoy and people who I think deserve more credit. READ MORE >

Interviews / 13 Comments
July 9th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Beijing Doll

beijing-doll-chun-sue-paperback-cover-art
Beijing Doll
by Chun Sue
Riverhead Books, 2004
240 pages / $17.00 buy from Amazon

 

In the world of Chinese lit translated, a common branding method is to plaster somewhere on the cover: China’s Banned Bestseller or The Controversial Banned Sexual Exploration, A New Generation, and so on. Goodreads has at least two lists of China’s Best Banned Books – and it’s become a sort of nerd-o-meter to detect new-to-the-genre readers by seeing if they’re lured to the Banned Bestseller stuff or to more ‘serious’ Classics or Mo Yan (technically banned, but, acceptable).

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July 8th, 2014 / 5:01 pm

Reviews

This Isn’t a Room to Rest In: A Review of Brett Fletcher Lauer’s A Hotel in Belgium

A-Hotel-in-Belgium-front-coverA Hotel in Belgium
by Brett Fletcher Lauer
Four Way Books, March 2014
116 pages / $15.95  Buy from Amazon or Four Way Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brett Fletcher Lauer’s debut collection, A Hotel in Belgium, resists. The poems resist narrative as often as they sneak over towards it, snag some, and then move back over the boundary—however arbitrary and fleeting that boundary might be—into a lyric. The poems challenge the reader to follow along with the narrative and/or lyric and then, just like a magician snapping her fingers to get you to look that way, the logic falls apart, falls inward, collapses, rearranges itself in the cavern it fell into, and then shouts back up to you on the surface, saying, “See? See? Didn’t I tell you there was a hole here all along?”

That sense of resistance also becomes a venue for doubling, so that, one thing becomes two, becomes multifaceted, not because everything necessarily exists in a state of constant change, but because the speaker exists in a state of constant change, so his view, his language, reflects that:

In the beginning, my eyes were angled
out a window on a point providing
conclusion while periodic vibrations
of fear aggressively governed
my anatomy. There were others
kept ignorant of the latitude of this
municipality, the river’s proper name,

and its source in a local mountain.
It’s important this isn’t construed as
a sales pitch, just a sensible presentation
of the future, sealed as its caskets
like some distant city encircled by
horned predators. Don’t wish the dead
are not. They are.

— from “Stockholm Syndrome”

Even the opening epigraph from Goethe delivers this sensation of a doubling and of a resistance: “It is as if a curtain had been drawn from before my soul, and this scene of infinite life had been transformed before my eyes into the abyss of the grave, forever open wide.” It is this uncovering, this unveiling, that alters the view: from infinite life to an abyss of the grave, both existing “forever open wide,” but, in one instance, a peaceful, joyous experience, and in the other, a darker existential reality. The action, though, remains a singular event. It is our interpretation of that action, our view that alters the thing looked at.

Beyond the poems’ resistance to fitting into a binary, the reading of the poems—the syntax and sentence structure, the rhetoric—resists a single, easy read. These are poems we must return to, that we want to return to, so that we can get a better grasp of this poet’s mind. And after reading the book a handful of times, I’ve come to no conclusions on these poems, because the poems don’t conclude their thoughts. There is no resounding, final chord, no final return, no abiding image. Instead, they resonate. They trail off. They get somewhat lost because, the poems suggest, getting lost is a legitimate reaction to the world these poems present and occupy.

Our situation is complicated, full of negations
and negations of negations. To remember

experience rather than what’s occurring—
this detachment replaced with strangers

other strangers recognize.

— from “In a Station of the Metro”

Occasionally, a line arrests us in these poems with its desire to connect with the reader (“Don’t cry. I am touching//your shoulder.”) More often than not, though, the speaker’s sense of confusion returns—which we share as the reader—so, yes, we receive a Frostian momentary stay against the confusion the speaker feels, but, just as soon as we feel that, we’re tossed back into the mix, back into the rubble of ideas, logic and concerns that determine the course of the speaker’s life.

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July 7th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Tombo by W.S. Di Piero

tombo_cover_FINAL_STORETombo
by W.S. Di Piero
McSweeney’s Books, 2014
65 pages / $15  Buy from McSweeney’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tombo is a book about place as much as anything. It’s about San Francisco. Many poems are about place – whether they are explicit about it or not. Di Piero is explicit in Tombo. W.S. Di Piero recently won the Ruth Lilley Poetry Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, the Lila Wallace-Readers Digest Award, and writes for the New York Times, among other places. He is an incredibly distinguished poet and McSweeney’s bills him as “a master of the adjective, a master of sound and story.”

I’d never read anything by W.S. Di Piero before this book, which I read primarily at cafes not in San Francisco. Di Piero starts the book by addressing, you, the reader, “Life, as you say, my friend, / is lived in its transitions.” Life is funny like that. The first poem, The Running Dog, involves a brunch I could envy “A breakfast of poached eggs, / spiked coffee, newsy talk, / crushed sun behind the clouds, / marine layer vapors phasing / blue to green, and the body / quivers through its days.” In fact, like living in San Francisco and eating brunch, there’s a lot about the life of the poet that seems enviable, depending on your disposition.

I would highly recommend this book if you appreciate poemy poems full of foghorns, flowers, and random interjections in other languages. Di Piero prides himself on sound and music, and there is a certain music in these poems – while they’re unrhymed free verse, there’s a recognizable rhythm and music throughout.

The poem Sleeping Potions reminds me of a story I heard from a local bike mechanic: A man came into his bike shop, and took a used bike out for a test-ride. The man never came back. He had left his bag with a laptop, credit cards, wallet, and other valuable things, at the bike shop as collateral / insurance. A few days later the bike shop gets a call. The police had found the man “several hundred miles” north of the bike shop – he had no explanation for what he had done – he didn’t know or remember the previous several days. The bike was returned to the shop and the man got his bag and valuables back. But what happened between the shop and hundreds of miles north?

And what’s happened in Tombo during the intervening fugue paragraph? We’ve moved from Hayes Street, to Duboce Triangle, to the N-Judah. We’ve got a look at Market and the Mission and Dolores Park. Di Piero has said that his books “start out as miscellanies.” The poems in Tombo don’t have the kind of narrative arc or grand teleological direction. They’re brief meditations. “If my poems come out right, they tell what it feels like to live in a world of troubled relatedness,” Di Piero said in an interview. I like this idea of troubled relatedness – and I think it’s an interesting way to talk about poems.

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July 7th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Sunday Service

Brendan Flaherty

People Think I’m Disgusting

People think
I’m disgusting
because I have
a huge house.

I’ve got
restrooms to rest in,
washrooms to wash in,
and water closets
to hold my water,
while I shit
in the yard.

Bio: Brendan Flaherty is an LA-based freelance writer, originally from the Hartford area. His work appears at Fast Company’s Co.Labs, McSweeneys.net, the LA Fiction Review, among others. You can read more of his short writings at BrendanFlaherty.net.

I Will Always Be Your Tour: Alexandra Naughton’s notes from the road on her first book tour

jesse-alex1

I wrote a book called I Will Always Be Your Whore [love songs for Billy Corgan] and I wanted to go on a book tour, so I made a facebook post back in February earlier this year and some people invited me to read at their reading series and most of them were located on the east coast so I did some research and decided to do an east coast book tour spanning about two weeks, hitting seven cities. I told Jesse Prado who is my bff and brother and he wanted to come along and I told him we should put a book together for him to sell on the tour so I published a book by Jesse called i’ve been on tumblr on my little press, Be About It press. It’s a cute book, it feels nice.

I had no idea how to plan a tour because I never did anything like this before but I did my best and realized my mistakes while they were happening and I feel much better prepared for the next time we go on tour, which we will definitely do again. It’s already been decided.

I hope we were good guests.

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Author News / 1 Comment
July 5th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Chicago Publishers Resource Center (CHIPRC)

chiprc

Chicago Publishers Resource Center

I recently read at an event organized by Peter Jurmu which took place at John Wawrzaszek’s Chicago Publishers Resource Center

I chatted with John a bit before the reading and then asked him to send me a bit more info about the center:

Chicago Publishers Resource Center is a new community space in Chicago that focuses on literary and artistic projects. On Independence Day weekend, CHIPRC will celebrate its first anniversary!

We’re fortunate in that Chicago has such a diverse and thriving publishing community, including a large self-publishing scene from indie comics to zines. There are multiple writing programs in area colleges and universities. It’s funny how everyone is so compartmentalized – people don’t realize the resources at their fingertips. There is not a dedicated space where all these communities can connect. The center is a community space that welcomes everyone looking for a place to meet others, learn a new skill, or simply to get to work.

The name is an homage to the IPRC in Portland, a wonderful resource to artists in that area. I took to focusing on the word publishing, allowing the community to define it as widely as possible. In the digital age, society is writing more than any other time in history. Programming has to include not only print, but digital media; it has to include film, music, theater, and comedy. It has to honor graphic storytelling in comics, animation, shadow puppetry, and design. Writing is not only influenced by all these forms, it is at their center.

CHIPRC’s programming focus has been balanced between craft and projects. The idea of learning, honing, or improving a skill is important to establish a basis for implementation. In the first year, there have been workshops, discussions, meetings, readings, film screenings, work days and more. The ideas come from the community and are led by those in the community.

In the next year, I look to strengthening community partnerships and expand the types of programming offered. It’s been great so far.

So, if you’re wanting to host a reading, lead a workshop (how to make books, get published, do collages, etc, etc), or to find out about upcoming events, then please contact John at chicagoprc(at)gmail(dot)com.

Behind the Scenes / No Comments
July 4th, 2014 / 1:32 pm

Reviews

Death Centos by Diana Arterian

Death Centos 300dpiDeath Centos
by Diana Arterian
Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013
24 pages /  UDP Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When my 12 year old daughter rolls her eyes at me, I tell her stop it. I say, stop it. You shouldn’t treat me like that. I’m going to die someday.

She says, Mom, I know.

My husband says, Both of you, stop it.

But I can’t. I can’t stop. So I tell her, we’ll be dead forever. Just think about that: forever. Infinity. All of time. And we are only alive for a little second of it, and we barely even get to know each other, and you want to waste the little time we do have being alive rolling your eyes at me.

My husband says, Please, Sara. Not this shit again. Don’t say that.

Jeez, Mom. Seriously. I know we’re going to die.

But you don’t get that it is really soon. I could die tomorrow. So could you.

My husband says, Stop. No more. Stop saying that shit tonight. Just not tonight. Let’s just watch a show together, and enjoy our evening. Please, he implores, not tonight. No death stuff tonight.

The book of poems, Death Centos, by Diana Arterian is a book of poetry made by collage and with constraint. Arterian has created a mixed tape of famous figures’ final words. Her poems pull the final phrases of famous persons from their resting places of mythology and arranges these phrases into poems. Death Centos, conceptual in conceit or not, is a book of poems that is rich and profound. The author doesn’t seem as displaced as in most pieces of conceptual writing. This contributes to a feeling of stability within the text. The poems are full of hearty material. The words are the actual final words of folks before death. Most of the folks quoted carry some importance in the trajectory of civilization. These words lend to the power of the poems, but that isn’t the whole story. The arrangement of the words is of paramount importance. I am not a poet. And because of this I can consume poetry in a way that allows my mind to form ideas from the poem, or access to the subtext in a way that feels more mystical than an outright technical analysis would. I’m talking about feelings here. I feel that the work is good. I feel the poems are strong. I felt stirred by them, and provoked. I take this to mean that art is working.

In the first poem “I” in the section LAST WORDS OF THE DYING there is a list at the side of the page highlighting the people whose words have been arranged in the poem: Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin, Thomas Edison, Franz Ferdinand, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Victor Hugo, Timothy Leary, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Theodore Roosevelt, Tom Simpson, Rudolph Valentino. There are only ten stanzas in the poem and the punctuation defies orderliness. There are no clues here, just a list of contributors. From the first I realized there would be no real correlation between the order of the contributors, and the poems’ inclusion— or, if there was, it would be more work than any book of poetry should be. I found myself wanting the poem to align with list of personas so that I could figure out who said what at the end of his life, but Arterian wasn’t going to let that happen.

Perhaps this description of my experience with this conceptual piece of work seems pedestrian to you. I think though, that my experience is worth talking about. For so long I felt shut out of conceptual work. That is a huge part of the culture to miss out on. Conceptual projects and poems intimidate cultural consumers. MFA programs like the one I went to are rife with what could be either interesting experiments or half-hearted attempts at grabbing some attention. You have to get close to tell the difference. Only now, years after school, do I find myself brave enough to get close, to engage, and to speak about the work. However, by no means am I an expert. I am a dilettante.

Arterian’s first poem taught me how to read the rest. It taught me what to do from the first. I think this says something about the accessibility of her work. About the potential appeal. Not everyone is going to care about poetry, but everyone should feel welcome to engage. I think that the content of Death Centos is inviting. Macabre, yes, but death is coming. To each of us. And “this is the fight of day/and night.” This is a space of common ground. This is a book of inclusiveness. This is a book of successful appropriation where the original text adds up to so much more than any of the snippets.

Each of the poems begs to re-read. There is a smoothness despite the punctuation. The poems flow and drip. Arterian is a master at moving you down through poem at a steady pace. In the poem “V” in the first section of LAST WORDS OF THE DYING three names are listed down the side: Warren G. Harding, Frida Kahlo, Martin Luther King Jr. I read the poem “V” three times in each voice, letting each one of these famous persons own the words of the others in a vision of their respective deaths.

Make sure you play “Precious Lord”
tonight—play it

real pretty. That’s good.
I hope the exit is joyful

and I hope to never

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1 Comment
July 4th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

25 Points: His Master’s Voice

Lem_HisMastersVoice
His Master’s Voice
by Stanislaw Lem
Northwestern University Press, 1999
199 pages / $16.95 buy from Amazon

1. I first read Stanislaw Lem after seeing an anonymous review of The Cyberiad on HTMLGIANT.

2. I’ve read two of his books. A year or two ago I read Solaris, then last week I read His Master’s Voice.

3. His Master’s Voice, published 7 years after Solaris, echoes the earlier book in pleasing ways. The most obvious to me was that neither ever directly answers the mystery near the heart of each book. A reader will not definitively learn the nature of the ocean on Solaris, or what the letter from the stars says.

4. HMV places human failure more centrally than Solaris. The narrator of HMV, Peter Hogarth, is (after the fact) a complete pessimist about humanity’s time facing their impossible task.

5. The book is philosophical, often profound. For example: “Our ability to adapt and therefore to accept everything is one of our greatest dangers. Creatures that are completely flexible, changeable, can have no fixed morality.”

6. Or, “Psychoanalytic doctrine reveals the pig in man, a pig saddled with a conscience; the disastrous result is that the pig is uncomfortable beneath that pious rider, and the rider fares no better in the situation, since his endeavor is not only to tame the pig but also to render it invisible.” Hogarth does not have much love for psychoanalysis throughout the book.

7. Lem would eventually focus most of his effort on writing philosophical essays and abandon the novel. Knowing this made it hard to separate Lem and Hogarth during these tangents.

8. Something I find particularly engaging about Lem’s writing is his way of introducing the reader to complex scientific and technological ideas on which he was likely not an actual expert, and doing so with authority. I’ll come back to this.

9. At one point in the book Lem uses Hogarth and another of his characters as mouthpieces for his own personal views of pulp science fiction. Lem was famously not a fan of most of his contemporary genre writers, and when the character Rappaport hits a wall in his research he resorts to reading a stack of apparently mediocre SF—“expecting variety, finding monotony.”

10. One of several reasons Lem gave for no longer writing fiction was his inability to keep up with the increasing number of papers being written on the cutting edge of science. This meant that he could no longer keep writing books involving cutting edge ideas with the sense of authority I earlier admired. Maybe he feared that without that he would be just another indistinguishable pulp science fiction author.

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July 3rd, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Catalog of ri¢h poets: Carabella Sands

Ri¢h like a ¢ockaroach scrambling and fighting other lesser insects for a bite of discarded pizza ¢rust. Ri¢h like a fifty ¢ent soda. Rich like a fire poker in the bottom. Rich like green eyeshadow all over your face. Carabella Sands is a ri¢h poet, and if you ever saw her reading poems laying on a concrete floor, you would never have any doubts about it.

carabella
photo credit

Pornography

I hugged your boyfriend last night
He felt real good and warm
I tried to connect my brain to yours
All the way in Disney World
So you could get an image
Our bodies
A leading center
And imagine your bodies
I wanted you to feel him
And need to come home

ABOUT THIS POEM

Fuck. This poem is about love obviously. Feeling so good about hugging someone that you feel bad someone else doesn’t get the chance to do it. I don’t know how to write an “about this poem” Can’t I pay someone to do it for me?

Carabella Sands is the ri¢hest poet ever. She owns the sun and most other stars. Her Tumblr is made of platinum and diamonds.

Random / 4 Comments
July 2nd, 2014 / 2:29 pm

ATTN: Ink Press Productions Summer Micro-chap Contest 2014

Tracy Dimond sent me all the details about another opportunity to submit new work this summer. If you got a manuscript perfect for the micro-chap contest, you best pounce on this one:

Inkpress

Ink Press Productions is thrilled for summer and for our first ever micro-chap contest judged by Joseph Young!

What is a micro-chap? We’ll be looking for more than just a short collection. As Joe says,

The micro-chap is a form in itself. It’s not a shorter, or more condensed, chapbook, it’s a book with its very own aesthetics. What can a series of 7 very short poems or 6 tiny stories, do that 50 poems can’t? What are its limitations, and what are its possibilities?

I’ll be looking for a chap that would do just that: push against its edges, try something it might not know how to do.

Submissions will be open July 7-21. The winning chapbook will be announced by August 1 and then published in a handmade edition of 50 books to be released at the end of August.

To submit, email 10 pages or no more than 250 words in one document to inkpressproductions@gmail.com

There is no fee for submitting; however, we encourage anyone sending their work to check us out: buy a book, some merch, or show your support by making a $5 donation to Ink Press!

Random / 1 Comment
July 2nd, 2014 / 9:00 am

Reviews

25 Points: The Fun We’ve Had

thefunwevehad
The Fun We’ve Had
by Michael J. Seidlinger
Lazy Fascist Press, 2014
168 pages / $11.95 buy from Amazon

 

1. I want the cover of this book framed and hung up in my room.

2. Recognized and accepted that this novel was going to end in tragedy from the beginning.

3. They either brought a really shitty oar on this terrifying adventure, or that guy doesn’t know how to paddle. (It breaks within the first few pages.)

4. Life lesson from this novel: coffins don’t make good boats. (No shit.)

5. Imagined this book as one of the little “skits” in the film Heavy Metal with “Fade to Black” by Metallic playing in the background.

6. After realizing that Seidlinger was using the five stages of grief as a plot device, I immediately thought of a Robot Chicken skit where a giraffe gets stuck in a sand pit.

7. The Fun We’ve Had is an extreme form of marital counseling.

8. How the hell did these people get into this situation? (This can be taken as both a literal and metaphorical question.)

9. I want to know what ocean these people are sailing through—and don’t tell me it’s the “sea of life” because that’s bullshit and you know it.

10. Seidlinger doesn’t believe in long paragraphs. He wants to jab you with short one-liners that make you question everything.

READ MORE >

2 Comments
July 1st, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Reviews

Hustle by David Tomas Martinez

Martinez.HustleHustle
by David Tomas Martinez
Sarabande Books, May 2014
84 pages / $14.95  Buy from Amazon or Sarabande Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hustle, David Tomas Martinez’s debut book of poetry, is a cry from the street written with developed-over-time, intelligent style with pace the and moxie of a tom cat. The opening poem, placed even before the table of contents and dedication, “On Palomar Mountain” establishes a theme that will carry its way throughout this four part collection of poems as it begins, “The dark peoples things//for keys, coins, pencils / and pens our pockets grieve.” Those three things their pockets lack are the book’s foundation. Keys, coins, pencils and pens tell a story with nothing but “a lighter for a flashlight” that is begging to be told. It is the story of the bold but shed in a sensitive light as the poem ends with a “walk into the side of a Sunday night.”

While fairytale readers and romantic poets might object to Hustle’s style, those with their boots sunk deep in urban black-top pavement will resonated with the jazzy, up-beat rhythm of Martinez’s lines. Lines chopped short and neat with stanzas generally organized into few line bunches compliment the underlying sentiments of the words as the narrator (presumably Martinez himself) declares ownership of what is to be presented in the opening poem of section one:

A car want to be stolen,
the night desires to be revved,
 
will leave the door unlocked,
a key in the wheel well
 
or designedly dropped from a visor.
 
A window will always wink
to be broken by bits of spark plug
or jimmied down the glass.
 
This is mine.
Where is the window to break
Iin your life?…

Literally inviting the reader to break into the life of the story, Martinez teaches the reader to hot-wire, jimmy-rig, and break an entry into the rest of the book. Clearly, the man in in possession of a story that needs to be told. Have no doubts about it, this is Martinez’s own story. Collectively, the poems become a memoir, highlighting details of the poet’s life which some might find shocking coming from a well-spoken, educated individual.

To tell his story, Martinez organizes the book into four sections. In sections one and two, he continues with the themes that have been established in the beginning of the book while incorporating the facets of growing up ruff which are often overlooked. The importance of a (dis)functional family life, for example, is first mentioned in part II of “Calaveras”

Yes, families are supposed to be circuses.
Accept is, and accept that the acrobat’s taffy
of satin will twirl, and the bears in tutus will spin
over the exposes in the warped wood
and cracks in the waxy linoleum,
all the while your grandfather will yell
“You no like it, go in the canyon and eat tomatoes.”

READ MORE >

2 Comments
June 30th, 2014 / 10:00 am

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.

***

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.

No Comments
June 30th, 2014 / 10:00 am

How Are Publishing Genius Submissions Going?

I used to do occasional “inside baseball” posts about running a small press, like this one from four (!) years ago. I guess it’s been a while. I find them clarifying, and usually after I write one I change something about how I “do business.” With that in mind, here are some numbers and thoughts related to Publishing Genius’s book submissions currently and throughout history. This year’s open submission period ends at 11:59pm on Monday.

Last year Publishing Genius didn’t even have an open period, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t accept books from submissions. It’s just that I was still working through 2012′s manuscripts. There were about 400 that year, and it took me too long to figure out my responsibility to each one. It’s really hard to honor every book, and I think I was intimidated by the force of dreams coming at me like a big, wet wave. I know the excitement of finishing a writing project—big or small—and the intense hope that comes with sending it off. READ MORE >

Behind the Scenes / 7 Comments
June 28th, 2014 / 1:05 pm

Whas’Poppin: 6/27/14

A2

 

This was a big week for Kim Kardashian, who recently became my BFF in an iPhone game. It was also a big week for poetry because–like Dan Gilbert–poetry can’t stop won’t stop.

Don’t worry, I’m still here.

——-
I.

mouth mouth mouth

some words onto righthere  rises eyed
from under  full lift my arms hold
(this weight of you)

Alexis Pope, “(soured)” (Leveler)

II.

I heard the mothers
call me trash. Beyond

me lay some other
me: a supine body

in the summer heat.

Caylin Capra-Thomas, “The Mine Fire Speaks” (Boiler)

III.

My greatest flaw is that I’ve granted my future-self permission to question myself at any time.

Michelle Dove, from “Alt Vices” (ILK)


IV.

Jon tells me
about a girl
who wants

to put her hair
inside his
belly button.

It’s a thing

Rob MacDonald, “Fetal Position” (interrupture)

V.

I want to teach this song
to the children we won’t make.

Ruth Awad, “Shame, Abridged” (Diode)

 

Roundup / 2 Comments
June 27th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Reviews

I HAVE TO TELL YOU by Victoria Hetherington

indexI HAVE TO TELL YOU
by Victoria Hetherington
0s&1s, June 2014
151 pages / $6 Electronic. Buy from 0s&1s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a questionably selected excerpt from Victoria Hetherington’s I Have to Tell You available as a preview. It’s from the point of view of a college woman sitting around smoking weed with friends. Written with great veracity, this is as interesting as being the sober listener of a high college student retelling in detail her conversations (not very). Only when the excerpt culminates in the woman’s reflections—

Sarah shows us different kinds of pandas on her iPad and we all feel electric with desire to leave evidence of our presence like she does, inscribing her life, and by extension ours, with enormous and funny and beautiful retellings of what has been before; we want to have forever the unspooling, quick-melting specificity of this perfect evening – we want it just as she might tell it, someday.

—is the writing characteristic of Hetherington’s excellent first novel as whole: graceful and poignant, often redolent of Annie Dillard’s sparing prose rising to beautiful abstractions, open to the everyday’s influence on personal narratives.

I Have to Tell You is a catalog of pain splintered into multiple characters’ points of view in chronological episodes. Their story is told predominantly through first-person narration, but also through shorthand journal entries, emails, and google searches. It is a litany of voices trying to understand and rationalize their pain to themselves. Some may be put off by this agonizing, but it is not facile, solipsistic, or ironic agonizing—it is instead Socratic, a desperate dialogue with hurt, loss, impending death, and the social devaluation of aging. But all this pain talk is not to say Hetherington isn’t funny or clever, which she often is; writing about pain in fiction often benefits from humor, especially when it’s the pain of white middle-class Torontonians.

Hetherington’s characters indulge in their suffering, which becomes an act of resistance to what creates suffering. Cocaine abuse, erotic desire incommensurable with politics or friendship, an aging woman who gets plastic surgery because she sees in her own reflection the face an acquaintance makes at the moment of death; these self-destructions are resistances, announcements of the pain that goes hand-in-hand with living fully in the world. Their experience of misery is reminiscent of an old saying of Chinese criminals about to be put to death: “In twenty years I will be another stout young fellow”. It’s a proud act that challenges suffering by embracing it scornfully, acknowledging its cyclical pervasiveness.

Suffering in I Have to Tell You also recalls the Western biblical mythos surrounding gender and reproductive organs. Menstruation as God’s punishment is the biblical explanation of a biological phenomenon present before the Bible. Circumcision is a covenant God makes with men in order to arrange for divine dominance of their reproduction. One is an explanation. The other is a prescription. Here, women are punished simply by existing and must find meaning in light of this. Men are made to suffer (or subscribe to suffering) in the name of meaning, for some supposed higher and vaunted power. Similarly, men in I Have to Tell You see their suffering as a cosmic agreement in order to secure some noble identity. This is the case for a character who ascetically and sentimentally makes the woods his home as he prepares for death. Conversely, women are made to suffer merely by existing; they seek a way of explaining and living within the pain from which, being that of culture and stemming as far back as childhood trauma (as in one character’s teenage “relationship” with a strange abusive older man), they cannot escape but can perhaps revolt against. This is not to say the book has an uncomplicated rift between how different people experience pain; everyone, of course, experiences pain and everyone experiences it differently. But the distinctions Hetherington draws between the attitude and culture that surrounds male and female pain in I Have to Tell You, even the self-proclaimed feminist men (who, we see through one character’s specious arguments, still just don’t “get it”), rings true.

Despite their shortcomings, Hetherington respects her characters with an unassuming commitment to unironic truthfulness, showing great proficiency for writing in different voices that speak through a variety of media, woven together with beauty and coherence. The inclusions of technology lack clumsiness or forced cleverness; it’s an organic outgrowth of her characters’ natural assertions or understandings of identity. If there ever is a “Great American Novel” (a probably stupid concept) this is how it should look—but of course it’s Canadian.

***

Joe Hogle lives in Pittsburgh, PA. He is also known as poopsmithey, Ronny Cammareri, and  ~LEATHA WHIP~. You can read a hypertext story and some of his poetry here.

No Comments
June 27th, 2014 / 10:00 am