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25 Pieces Of Writing Advice To End All Writing Advice

Most writing advice comes off as watered down and lacking both bark and bite. I’m not sure exactly why, but I think it has something to do with the writer being hesitant to have his or her name attached to something potentially offensive. Very few seem to crave the public attention of being a curmudgeon spitting on the idealistic novice.

I’ve spent the last month contacting authors (both major house and indie; critically acclaimed and up-and-coming; big names and small; cock wavers and VIDA junkies) and a few influential editors, asking each to submit their most heartfelt, brutal, and honest writing advice they could think of. I promised to publish what they wrote anonymously. The following are the results.

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Craft Notes / 49 Comments
April 8th, 2014 / 10:51 am

Reviews

We All Sleep in the Same Room by Paul Rome

41iu9z7a9gL._SL500_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-big,TopRight,35,-73_OU01_AA300_We All Sleep in the Same Room
by Paul Rome
Rare Bird Books, November 2013
192 pages / $14  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

In his debut novel, We All Sleep in the Same Room, Paul Rome achieves what even seasoned novelists often fail at: generating characters that feel real-to-life, situations that seem organic and natural, rather than the second-rate simulacra of bad fictions, and a cultivated style that is beautiful in its understated elegance — sculptural, even.

Much has been written lately on the ever-quickening Brooklyn lit scene, although there has probably never been a dearth of “Brooklyn novels” or “Brooklyn writers.” Rome’s first novel positions him as a new voice with an old soul, a writer more akin to Paul Auster both stylistically and thematically than to his peers, like Tao Lin and Adele Waldman, whose Taipei and The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., respectively, chronicle the lives of young, writerly Brooklyners as they negotiate the perilous hinterlands of relationships — both to others and to the self. Rome echoes Auster in his clean, well-lighted prose, and Rome’s conjuries of the city, with its infinite chance happenings and endless sense of mystery, is likewise definitely Austerian. But whereas Lin and Waldman direct their foci towards the realm of listless twenty-somethings, Rome explores the vagaries and varieties of middle-age. Despite its being set in the Fall of 2005, Rome’s New York is the New York of old, and his subjects are similarly different than those of his contemporaries.

With surprisingly intimate psychological acumen, he dissects, scrutinizes, and mournfully portrays Tom’s and Raina’s failing (and ultimately failed) relationship. Tom is a union lawyer, a hard-working professional dedicated deeply to, and personally invested in, the ideals of justice and equality that his firm ostensibly seeks to uphold. Within the novel’s overall context of loss, the presence of an idealistic politics on the part of Tom makes the withering of it all feel especially concussive.

The novel is characterized by a powerful sense of the teleological: every absence-haunted sentence — each of them exercises in the potency of minimalism done right — seems to foreshadow intensely and evoke powerfully the fact that the novel will have a devastating and inevitable end-point. It seems so frequently to be raining or snowing in Rome’s New York. We All Sleep in the Same Room is a very melancholy work. We are drawn inexorably towards the emotional black hole at the novel’s core; we are sucked beyond its event horizon with every painfully wrong move on the part of Tom. Jessie, a young and incredible eager young woman and a recent hire at the firm, is at the heart of Tom’s and Raina’s marital divide — sort of. Rather than coming across as a “manic pixie dream girl,” a young woman who is, like the young women in some of Philip Roth’s novels, a tabula rasa upon which a disaffected and disenchanted older man can project his erotic obsessions onto, Jessie is truly “three-dimensional” and deeply human. Rome’s characters operate on a number of different registers, all of them faithfully drawn and vividly realized.

Rome’s style is lucid and elegant; he handles the issue of back-story — a pitfall for even the greatest of writers — with admirable élan. Like James Salter (Light Years, A Sport and a Pastime) and Richard Yates (A Special Providence, Revolutionary Road), Rome is interested in the internal, in the mysteries of selfhood, of past, of memory, and of regret. These he explores, like Salter and Yates before him, through the lens of a relationship dissolving and disintegrating as a result of the pressure put on the present by the protagonist’s past mistakes. And Rome’s authorial voice is astoundingly mature, his style effortlessly clean: lyrically restrained and “taut,” his prose reflects the mounting tension and anxiety that come to pervade the work as Tom’s domestic and professional life unravel. Rome’s narration exudes confidence and assurance, and has an ethos from the first line to the last — the kind of ethos that carries a novel and ultimately makes it one worth reading.

The novel is haunting and understated, with sublimated and shadowy pasts that re-emerge like phantoms. The persistence of past mistakes, the persistence of time, the inevitable forward-movement and forward-momentum towards the end of all good, or seemingly good, things: these are Rome’s real narrative interests, and he delves into them in thought-provoking and emotionally resonant ways. We All Sleep in the Same Room is a dirge for things lost, a New York novel of the old-school, and a powerful debut by a writer who has almost preternaturally insightful things to say about all that is.

***

Michael Abolafia lives in New York City. His writing has appeared in SunlitSupernatural Tales, the New York Daily News‘ online book blog, Page Views, and other venues.

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April 7th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Made To Break by D. Foy

indexMade To Break
by D. Foy
Two Dollar Radio, March 2014
242 pages / $16  Buy from Amazon or Two Dollar Radio

 

 

 

 

 

Friendship is a two-headed beast. As humans, our continuous need for interaction, communication, and companionship regularly clashes with fear of exposure, the sourness that comes from the inevitable accumulation of failures in life, and our proclivity toward pettiness when faced with frustrating situations. In Made To Break, author D. Foy explores the conflicting sides of amity as well as the unexplainable cohesive element that hides in the interstitial spaces between the good and the bad and ultimately holds friendships together.

Lucille wants to celebrate her new high-paying corporate job, so she decides to spend New Years’ Eve weekend drinking and getting high in a cabin in Lake Tahoe with Dinky, Andrew, Hickory, and Basil. When the five friends get there, there’s a dead caged bird filling Dinky’s family cabin with the smell of rot. Instead of taking it as a bad omen, the group starts talking about childhood pets and argue about who’s going to get ice. Dinky and Andrew end up having to leave the cabin despite that fact that weather forecasts warn of an impending flood. On their way to town, they crash their truck and Dinky is seriously injured. Broken and without ice, they finally encounter a strange man called Super who takes them back to the cabin. With the storm raging outside, no car, and the phone lines dead, the group turn to a game of Truth or Dare to help them pass the time until the sky clears and help can arrive. However, what starts as a game quickly transforms into a series of attacks, thinly veiled insults, and cruel accusations. Old wounds bleed again and new ones open up while weather conditions worsen and Dinky’s health deteriorates. Before the night is over, everyone will have to face, and question, themselves, death, and each other.

Nothing is what it seems to be in this narrative. There’s supposed to be a celebratory mood in the air, but hidden agendas, snarky comebacks, and the type of wittier-than-thou personalities that inevitably cause conflict whenever they’re put together give the novel a surprisingly oppressive and noirish atmosphere that it never shakes off. Andrew acts as narrator and slowly reveals his crush on Hickory and a romantic triangle between Dinky, Basil, and Lucille. With each revelation, a piece of each character is exposed, and they’re all flawed. While being imperfect is part of human nature, when flaws are exposed in public and boosted by vindictiveness, they become enlarged and serve only to inflame any situation and bring forth retaliation. Foy understands this, and so do his characters. However, knowing about it doesn’t stop them from repeatedly trying their best to eviscerate each other with words, fully aware of the fact that they’re using them as weapons and deriving a bizarre pleasure from it:

“There was that briefest moment of doubt where Basil and I considered exchanging our knives for guns or throwing the knives away. But really the doubt was feigned. We knew what would happen. The kill was just a dream. The sight of blood was enough. We were only after the blood. This of course was a perversion cultivated over time, like a taste for taboo food, monkey brain or mice. The satisfaction of knowing we’d wounded one another was more than sufficient. In fact, it had become for us a fix of sorts, why our hate for one another always equaled our need. Basil and I were Siamese twins parted only in flesh.”

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April 7th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Sunday Service: Kenny Jakubas

Her Space Circle(s)

From our brief chronology of time it appears that first
he briefed his job about the current inadequacies
of forgetful behavior & lit some marijuana as he was talking
& got fired right then for speaking what words he thought were true.
It could be said he fell terribly for the roses that fell from the balcony
of her MySpace after that call. The new look of her page was like being in her.
Her space even smelled like roses & see here he scrolled forever one night, etc.,
because she had presence. Even I used to wonder specifically about spaces
& the matter that destroyed & created. Check this out.
If you look closely enough & back your eyes away from this screen
real quick you can see the trickled space of white between these words that
would allow rose petals to slowly drop between these sentences. & symbols
are space circles that can be galaxies too. That would be
a poem. This is what he saw: the absence of this Space dissolving into a million
empty catacombs. He wished upon roses built of code
because they were the only roses he would ever receive & they were
beautiful to him. This was no game that Called to Duty
it came back with a story about infinite disappearance, it was real
& empty at the same time, the same representation of bird and bee:
is there matter in the lost message to a girl from the woods?
Somewhere in space there must be this message bouncing between stars,
& after a long time the stars return with a typed story about a boy
with the world at the tips of his fingers who had brought the rose petals
that fell from the screen of her MySpace & presented them as proof
that she existed to him
then.

Bio: Kenny Jakubas came from the inside of a little mitten under a bridge in Michigan. He graduated with honors from Western Michigan University, where he received his BA in Creative Writing. While there, his poetry and prose appeared in the literary journal ‘The Laureate’. He currently has creative non-fiction forthcoming from ‘Niche’ lit mag. Kenny lives in Kalamazoo, MI with his son and will be attending Western Michigan University’s MFA program in the Fall of 2014.

Sunday Service / No Comments
April 6th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Bald New World by Peter Tieryas Liu

jhp52dfd4ab263f2Bald New World
by Peter Tieryas Liu
Perfect Edge, May 2014
229 pages / $16.95  Pre-order from Amazon
 

 

 

 

Having been thrilled by the imagination in his short story collection, Watering Heaven, I was excited to see Peter Tieryas Liu was taking on a larger work: his new novel Bald New World. The play in the title on the canonical dystopian work by Huxley only further stimulated my appetite.

How would it be handled? Would it be playful? Would it be strange? Would it be dystopian? Yes, yes to all those things (other than the one that isn’t a yes/no question):

I was eleven when everyone in the world lost their hair. I got up from bed, terrified to see that all my hair had fallen out. In the mirror, the uneven bumps on my head formed an alien tapestry that made me feel like I was staring at a stranger. I spotted a thick black mole above my ear that I’d never seen before and scratched it, only to find it wasn’t going away. Both of my parents were away on a business trip so I ran to my older sister, Kelly, hoping she knew what was wrong with me. I found her crying on the bathroom floor, clutching her own fallen hair. My eyes went to her scalp, an oddly shaped oval with protrusions jutting out. “What are you looking at?!” she demanded.

As the title suggests, everyone has mysteriously gone bald. One would hope that people would learn to live with baldness, since no one has any hair. However, we should all know human nature better than that by now. Superficial, vain, and capable of endless denial. There are riots, chaos. This goes hand in hand with the actual problems in the world: overpopulation, diminishing food supplies, wars over resources, and so on. Wig companies dominate the global economy.

As one would demand in a dystopian novel, life becomes even more hellish than it already is. Body modification, visits to the United States (though most of the book takes place in China) fraught with the almost certainty of being shot, North Korea kidnapping people from other countries to be slaves in forced labor camps, and more. The term ‘dystopian’ certainly fits.

Within all of this, we have Nick. Nick has spent his life trying to cut himself free from a horribly abusive family…trying to be free. Modernly, he’s a filmmaker:

After the African Wars ended, many of us wondered what we should do next. I took to making films with a fellow grunt, Larry Chao. He nearly got discharged from the army twenty times because he was always running off “in love” with some new girl he swore was “the One.” He wasn’t especially handsome, but had a jovial grin that made everyone feel welcome in his presence. Between his indefatigable exuberance and his easy- going nature inspired by an early bout of mutated typhoid that nearly killed him, his charm more than made up for his plump nose, small eyes, and fat lips. He had a suite of women who worshipped him. For my part, I never thought our lives would become so intertwined, our names would be synonymous with each other.

His friend and employer, Larry, is the heir to the world’s most powerful wig corporation. He’s also somewhat of a fuckup.

However, something particularly strange is going on. Larry may be in over his head, caught up in a conspiracy with far-reaching and possibly deadly consequences. At the heart may be the very secret behind why everyone went bald. Of course, he pulls Nick in. Things wouldn’t be very interesting if he didn’t:

He laughed. “Maybe I’m being a touch melodramatic. Beautiful women always do that to me. Let’s give it one more shot. This new film I was mentioning. It’ll be the biggest ever.”

“Can you give more details?”

“At first, I thought maybe I’d do a documentary about my family. Or maybe I’d make it into a film about a rich family with an idiot son who squandered everything. Would that be too cliché? I don’t want to be that idiot,” he said. “I’m starting to settle on one idea.”

“What is it?”

“I’ve always wanted to do an epic about the Baldification. Maybe call it Bald New World. Do a film about the people in it. It’ll be massive. I guarantee you. This’ll be the film that everyone notices.”

“No one’s figured out what exactly happened yet.”

“That’s what the businesses would like people to think,” Larry said. “What if I told you people like my father knew exactly what happened?

“What do you mean?”

“Well—”

Behind us, one of the factories exploded, blowing the plates off the table and knocking us both back. A second factory blew up, the fire blasting against our faces. My ears were ringing and the smoke made everything hazy. I heard a third boom but couldn’t tell where it was from. Sirens were ringing.

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1 Comment
April 4th, 2014 / 11:00 am

Cris Mazza Virtual Book Tour Stop

Something Wrong With Her VBT Banner

Cris Mazza stops at HTMLGIANT as part of her virtual book tour…

***

Cris Rants:

2013 author photoI was prepared to sit here and rant about having to change my author photo to a more friendly, smiling image, certain that practically zero men ever get told they need a smiling photo (or to “look cute” as another writer wrote about being advised). This advice (and that I felt pressured to follow it) was particularly troubling this time, for this book: because the book is nonfiction, because part of it is about female sexual dysfunction, about not feeling sexy in a sex-hungry, sexiness-demanding world. The photo I had chosen, a selfie, showed the mood I thought the narrative conveyed.

happy author photoWhen the smiling photo was requested (not by my publisher), I didn’t have the time (and was very low on inclination) to create another photo, to “try” to smile for it without appearing conscious it had been requested.  So I went back to the most recent photo I had where I was smiling (also containing my dog, the same dog, so not that long ago).  Unfortunately, it was taken in the summer and I was wearing a tank top.  I truly and firmly did not want to be showing skin in the author photo for this book.

I’ve seen too many books by women recently where the author photo is beyond “you’re pretty when you smile.” From seductive to downright trampy, wearing a lacy slip or camisole, professionally made-up, professionally applied cleavage (if none was readily available). Why do we have to look ready for sex to have our books respected, or just read?

Did I say respected?  I was pleased to be reviewed recently in an esteemed review vehicle, but I’d like to assume the header was not written by the reviewer, because the title completely trivializes the three books covered in the review.  “On Losing It And Other Chick Stuff.”  I can’t imagine a book by a man that reveals a lifetime of erectile dysfunction would have been devalued as though it was about boys snapping towels in the locker-room.

Ok, so I did start my rant.  I was going to say I didn’t need to write it because before I did, Rae Bryant posted this:

I find it interesting when editors or presses promote an International Women’s Day when their aesthetic really only promotes women writers writing about sexy sex. Don’t get me wrong. I like the sexy sex in literary fiction when it’s done well and witty (toooo many times it’s not) but International Women’s Day really requires a sense for GENDER EXPLORATION, including sex in all its sexiness and dark and nasty. Just aren’t a whole lot of editors who really know what that is. A few who really do.

There also seems to be a collect of editors/publishers who publish the “sweetheart crowd.” Male run/fraternity like publications who have decided upon their “fraternity sweethearts.” These fraternity sweethearts must have the following attributes:

  1.  DO NOT bitch about our maleness in any shape or form.
  2.  You MUST entertain us by sexy words on page and more preferable, a willingness to perform your sexiness at readings and other such events.
  3.  A constant sense of humor about your gender. If you get PMSey at any point in time, we reserve the right to oust you, our boy club friends will oust you and you’ll never again be on the fraternity sweetheart list. Blacklisted. Or Blackballed.

Of course no one’s going to name names, me included, but … over a drink somewhere, I’d love to hear the experiences that brought this out on a Friday afternoon.  My little author photo misery might have to take a smaller role in a larger conversation.

***

Cris Mazza is the author of over 17 books, including Various Men Who Knew Us as Girls, Waterbaby, Trickle-Down Timeline, and Is It Sexual Harassment Yet?   Her first novel, How to Leave a Country, won the PEN/Nelson Algren Award for book-length fiction.  Mazza has co-edited three anthologies, including Men Undressed: Women Writers on the Male Sexual Experience.  In addition to fiction, Mazza has authored collection of personal essays, Indigenous: Growing Up Californian.  Currently living 50 miles west of Chicago, she is a professor in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Author Spotlight / 12 Comments
April 4th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

The Hour of the Star

hour_of_the_star_coverThe Hour of the Star
by Clarice Lispector
New Directions, 2011
128 pages / $12.95 buy from Amazon
Rating: 7.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hour of the Star is about a poor, unattractive Brazilian woman named Macabéa who seems unaware of the doom and misery which (according to the author) characterize her entire existence. Did Lispector know a woman like this? Was Lispector like this when she was young? Was she like this even until her death? Nobody knows. Even if you don’t know anybody like this, you can imagine one, thanks to this book. The miracles of fiction. The glories of speculative mimesis.

Is it conceivable that the thoughts of readers will lead them toward sympathy for women in unenviable circumstances? Yes. Is it conceivable that the thoughts of readers will be unaltered and the book will act more as an acknowledgment of extant attitudes rather than a catalyst for new attitudes? Yes. Is it possible to know which is more likely? I don’t know. Consult the afterword. Compose a letter to the publisher in which you refer to the afterword.

The style will not appear new unless you haven’t read much 20th century literary fiction. Meta-flowage, what-have-you. It is easy to read, unlike some meta-flow-ers. Not that style matters. Style doesn’t matter, because it is indistinguishable from anything else. One can only distinguish things because they have been styled in a distinguishable manner. Therefore, when we talk about style, we only talk about the thing which is styled and nothing else. “Style” therefore might as well be just another word for “thing.” The atoms are gathering themselves back together again and before you know it, we’ll all be psychic skateboarders on mysterious Egyptian vert ramps. Lispector won’t be there. Macabéa might be though.

1 Comment
April 3rd, 2014 / 12:00 pm

The April 2014 issue of Words Without Borders features writing from South Korea. It’s pretty excellent. Check it out.

The other day I thought it would be fun to swap the entire NCAA bracket with the names of the university literary journals. The result is the attached .jpg, which shows mojo’s rare 1 seed and the Devil’s Lake upset over Sonora Review. (click for larger image)

 
Final 4 Lit Bracket

(via @agbales)

Reviews

5 Points: Negative Spaces

negative spaces

Negative Spaces by Nate Liederbach (elik press, salt lake city, 2014)

1) Besides the negatives spaces of time, sex, burial, vague gender and religious horror-what binds the three “stories” of Negative Spaces is the rich and thrusting prose, constantly churning, that made me think, variously, of McCarthy, Thom Jones and Faulkner.

On a language level, of course, but something also about the feel and swirling perspectives/impressions in Negative Spaces’ first piece, “Genghis’ Knoll“, made me think, many times of the blurrings, incest, etc, of The Sound & The Fury.

2)Liederbach has, most obviously in the collection’s 3rd and closing piece, used Tim O’Brien as a kind of model (“Is there any waste of time greater than retrospection?”). But it’s like Tim O’Brien, as a child, had been kicked in the head, repeatedly, and then became and grew up increasingly more and more brain interesting. Liederbach is, for sure, far more complicated, mud-splashed, textured, wily and rambunctious than O’Brien. And I mean both with respect to language and story-telling structure.

3)

But good old Hahn, front-and-center, calms the fracas. She declares Neil’s on the money. “Amen! Mr. Neil, release the tenuously tenored woman long-swallowed by that punitive girl. Butterfly bursts its cocoon. Aphrodite squirms loose of dissected genitals. Or is it to conquer, to cannibalize? Artemis, Hippolytus staying chaste? Eve snatches the Knobbed Russet, fists it out on display for Adam—choiceless chump—to indulge her fruity proxy with brand-new front fangs of youcharist. Amen! A sudden understanding of binary and binary collapsed. Me, man. You, woman. Adult versus child. Whoa Nelly . . . ‘Pop the cherry, release the scary.’” READ MORE >

1 Comment
April 2nd, 2014 / 10:00 am

Sifl and Olly on poetry

(The poetry starts around 1:23. Make sure you stick around for S&O’s “Beat Poets” song.)

Craft Notes / 9 Comments
April 1st, 2014 / 4:00 pm

The debut issue of Plinth (edited by Tyann Prentice and former HTMLGIANT contributor Garett Strickland) contains work by Gary J. Shipley, Janice Lee (in collaboration with Michael Du Plessis), M. Kitchell, and others.

It also has really interesting images and layout. And you can check it all out here.

Reviews

Conceptual Failure as Several Kinds of Success in Robert Fitterman’s Holocaust Museum

Fitterman-comp-13-189x300Holocaust Museum
by Robert Fitterman
Counterpath Press, 2013
144 pages / $16  Buy from Counterpath or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

In his book Notes on Conceptualisms, co-authored with Vanessa Place, Robert Fitterman states that “in much allegorical writing, the written word tends toward visual images, creating written images or objects, while in some highly mimetic (i.e., highly replicative) conceptual writings, the written word is the visual image.” He then says that “there is no aesthetic or ethical distinction between word and image” (Notes, 17). The reader tries (as a reader does) to make sense of this.

When a word is read or heard, its visual and sonic shapes activate the bodily memory of that word. This memory is connected to an image made up of a series of images (as all images are). There is no end to this series because it is by nature a series of series, infinitely referential. The “initial” series (the brain is so quick that we’re often completely unconscious of what images it is comprised of, or what we started off consciously thinking about) immediately births another series and this continues at a speed too fast for our fathoming, each series dropping out of another, until we hear or read the next word and the process starts all over again. This is brain vision (a written image), not visual vision (a visual image), and while the former is not any less vivid than the latter, there’s simply no denying that the two are, by nature, physically different experiences.

Fitterman is of course aware of this. But the goal of conceptual writing, as he later states, is failure (Notes, 22), and when a piece demonstrates the discrepancy between idea and execution—when what works in concept (for example, the written word being the visual image, rather than just referencing/conjuring it) reveals its artifice and deficiency in execution (the reader not experiencing the written word as, or in the same way as, the visual image)—it has been successful. In other words, the written word can, in highly mimetic writing, “be” (mimic, represent) the visual image within the writing (its conceptual framework), but it cannot literally recreate the experience of seeing (with one’s eyes) the visual image it is referencing. This is one of the reasons why Fitterman’s conceptual project, Holocaust Museum, is successful at what it does.

Holocaust Museum definitely qualifies as a “highly mimetic” or “highly replicative” conceptual work. The book is divided into seventeen sections—Propaganda, Family Photographs, Boycotts, Burning of Books,  The Science of Race, Gypsies, Deportation, Concentration Camps, Uniforms, Shoes, Jewelry, Hair, Zyklon B Canisters, Gas Chambers, Mass Graves, American Soldiers, and Liberation—all of which are titles of actual exhibits at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.. Each section, accordingly, consists of captions that correspond to actual photographs (which are not shown, just cited by title) featured at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. The scenes described by the captions greatly vary in almost all senses—location, who or what (objects or people or a combination of the two) is pictured, action or lack of action, the level of brutality in such, implicit and explicit violence, etc.—but each caption explicitly relates back, in subject matter, to the title of the section in which it’s included.

In its most basic conceptual sense, Fitterman has made a Holocaust museum completely out of words. What makes this so is that the words are working exclusively as representations of images. What makes this work successful, in one sense (the conceptual sense), is that it fails by its very nature (as a piece of writing) to recreate the visual images its captions stand in for, as well as the inherently different experience of seeing a picture, rather than having it described to you. What makes this work successful in another sense is that the effect of reading the captions devoid of their photographs is incredibly haunting, and is so in a way that lacks familiarity to us (“We have seen the pictures of our past, but the point is the caption” – Vanessa Place, on Holocaust Museum). The language of the captions is sterile and simple, even in its depiction of absolute atrocity (“View of the door to the gas chamber at Dachau next to a large pile of uniforms. [Photograph # 31327],” Holocaust, page 61), and as witness to these depictions, the reader begins to, in a sense, read the language, the voice, as their own, feeling increasingly implicated as they move through the text.

With Holocaust Museum, Robert Fitterman has made a conceptual object that succeeds by his own standards of success (failure, specifically in its ability to replicate) as well as by a more mainstream literary standard—being evocative, haunting, innovative, and generally affective. This is one way for a work of art to be exceptional, and with its confrontation of an event as important, disturbing, and already-discussed as the Holocaust, Holocaust Museum proves itself to be a groundbreaking and extraordinary conceptual work from several angles.

***

Lily Duffy is a poet, teacher, and editor living in Denver while working on her MFA in poetry at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her writing has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Baltimore City Paper, Hot Metal Bridge, ILK journal, Cloud Rodeo, Bone Bouquet, NAP, inter|rupture, and elsewhere. With Rachel Levy she co-edits DREGINALD.

4 Comments
March 31st, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

SOS: Songs of Solomon: A Queer Translation

sosSOS: Songs of Solomon: A Queer Translation
by j/j hastain
Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2013
208 pages (photography and text) / $40  Buy from Spuyten Duyvil or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 
How to speak of j/j hastain’s SOS: Songs of Solomon: A Queer Translation?  There will inevitably be as many experiences of SOS as there are readers of it. Perhaps, for some of us who decide to fully enter the dimensions and matrices of SOS, witness will end up being a more proper term than reader. As a reader/witness, it is hard to come away from this physical object—a thick, hybrid intersection of photography and fierce poetic meditations about loves, genders, sexualities, spirits—without having felt invited to project oneself into it. In addition to a book, SOS is a hand, potentially open, filled with secrets about bodies and beloveds. If you allow yourself to be love-filled and tender as you hold your hands open in return, from the other side of the book/body, you could receive a secret. “All this love in order to be part of the incarnate, sentient language wherein grief and fulfillment no longer need to be at odds with each other.”

hastain summons witnesses with the second person tense throughout: “Perhaps intimacies within a book obsessed with the beloved can lead you to your beloved in form? Would you be forlorn during each of the necessary translations?” Translation from book to body. From body to beloved. The beckon of the beloved as friend, lover, self, secret, reader; beloved as witness; beloved as an act of shamanistic return. “It makes you beloved to me that you can hear my interior echoes.”

I’m just one of the reader-witnesses of SOS, and there’s no way of knowing what manifestations of SOS I haven’t accessed but that you, or you, or you might discover and decide to navigate on your own. I find this wonderful. SOS leaves spaces in which the told and untold point to each other deliberately and with care. Many of those spaces exist between the words and the photographs that tattoo the book/body’s paper-skin. SOS is decidedly mystical, written on itself with images of disjointed body parts, dreamscapes, and various unspecified holdings. Its words and images weave ribbon-like through countless definitions and enactments of love—love as fear, as ecstasy, as spirit, as sexual practice, as ancient elements, as “gender from the ground up”. This book/body resolutely invites, sometimes implores, the “you” into the profound, open-ended environments of genders.

All these bound ribbons and their inverse liberations sing, draw out, mourn, and dance. They carry each other through countless modes: The sexual—tongues; skins; “an infinitude of virginities and coituses”. The earthly—birds; gems; sky-myrrh; “this one handful of water that I’m carrying”. The mystical and psychospiritual—“non-singular states in the spirit of confession”. No dance here can be disconnected from its Others. I experience SOS as both a home and a mystery—not a mystery to be afraid of, necessarily; a mystery that can be learned from, one that needs light here and darkness there, sometimes on its own terms and sometimes via the willingness of the “you”, of the beloved, to touch it. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the decision to be alive in this manner is a marvelous and worthwhile decision for a book to make.

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Carolyn Zaikowski is the author of the novel A Child Is Being Killed (Aqueous Books, 2013). Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in Pank, The Rumpus, Eleven Eleven Journal, Sententia, 1913: A Journal of Forms, Nebula: A Journal of Multidisciplinary Scholarship, Everyday Genius, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Naropa University. She can be found at www.liferoar.wordpress.com.

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March 31st, 2014 / 10:00 am

Sunday Service: Ashley Opheim

Killin’ It

Candida, candida,
I soak a tampon in apple cider vinegar and push it up my

lavender candle, lavender candle.
Tilikum, Tilikum,

people do awful things to make money in the name of entertainment.

Sea World is a fucking horrible place.

Entertain me, entertain me,
soft world.

Fuck Sea World.

Are you captive in a place just a little bit larger than your body?

I fall into a very deep thought about the conditions of vanishing
in the well-lit, but not too well-lit change room.

I buy fluoride-free toothpaste because I’m trying to
activate my pineal gland.

Some people say evil people who work for powerful people
put fluoride in the water because it dumbs you down.

Candida, candida
I am self-medicating with pure cranberries and apple cider vinegar.

I buy chocolate eggs and tea light candles.

Everyone’s tongue is pink la-la-la.
I am craving sugar so much.

Candida, candida,
I do mountain pose in yoga and kill it.

I kill that pose.
I dream that I dance with Beyonce on AstroTurf.
I kill that dream.

I dance like the best I’ve danced ever.
I sip my cell phone, mistaking it for a glass of water.

I breathe out of my ears.

Bio: Ashley Opheim (Ashley Obscura) is the author of the poetry collection I Am Here. She lives in Montreal, where she is the founding editor of Metatron and co-director of the reading series This Is Happening Whether You Like It Or Not. She can be followed on Twitter @hologramrainbow.

Sunday Service / 5 Comments
March 30th, 2014 / 10:00 am

“My Cat Had To Have His Penis Cut Off:” An Interview with Dustin Long

Shane: Can you talk about what’s happened since we last spoke?

Dustin: Well, you were pretty much spot on with your predictions: Bad Teeth got picked up pretty soon after we spoke; Pavilion hasn’t been so lucky, though I’m not actively trying to sell it. I realized a little while ago that I want to make some revisions and additions to it, which I plan to get to as soon as I put the finishing touches on a third novel I’ve been working on.

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Author Spotlight / 1 Comment
March 29th, 2014 / 9:00 am

Reviews

Nothing by Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon

41jKTq2ZuuL._SY346_Nothing
by Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon
Two Dollar Radio, Nov 2013
178 pages / $16  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The question is how much reality must be retained even in a world become inhuman if humanity is not to be reduced to an empty phrase or a phantom. Or to put it another way, to what extent do we remain obligated to the world even when we have been expelled from it or have withdrawn from it?… Flight from the world in dark times of impotence can always be justified as long as reality is not ignored, but is constantly acknowledged as the thing that must be escaped.” — Hannah Arendt, On Humanity in Dark Times: Thoughts about Lessing

Mrs. Wirth Cauchon’s novel Nothing confronts us with a startling self-portrait, at least for my generation. All who cannot see a part of themselves in this story simply have not been paying attention. Her narrative concerns the exploits of two young women and one young man whose lives intersect in bizarre and serendipitous ways in the modern American West, a place of danger, intrigue, and darkness, but also of an earthy, natural vitality. The setting is deliberately emphasized and plays a vital role in the plot, but it by no means confines the story, for like all good stories, it explores the being of people in the world.

Why so lost? Why such dark times? Our dark times consist not so much in the active persecution and expulsion from the public realm that were the hallmark of Ms. Arendt’s, but instead the “irreality” of politics that attends our own. James, Bridget and Ruth are all expelled from the public realm into merely personal society and suffer tremendously for it. In the absence of anything in particular to do, their personal quests metastasize into monstrous projects all out of proportion to their potential payoff. These are the conditions in which we find them, and the results are fascinating.

Of the three, James has the most tangible quest, to find out the “truth” about his father. As he makes his way to the book’s setting in Missoula, Montana there is an evident relish in the manner in which he chooses to convey and conduct himself that belies his deeper nature. He doesn’t want to find out about his father, he wants to be a guy who wants to find out about his father, one whose very nature is consumed by this oh-so-meaningful project to the degree that he will endure any discomfort to see it accomplished. He wants to embody passion, to demonstrate it to the world in such a way that he will be recognized for it. Why this perversion of a straightforward quest? It tips us to the conditions in which he operates, a sneaking suspicion that the world around him has grown cold and flaccid. His is a demand for hardness in a soft world. To him, his step-father embodies this tendency toward dissolution. He is what society expects him to be and nothing more: quiet, respectable, financially-successful. He lives up to his end of the social contract that offers no great reward, but also no great risk. James wants to be a conqueror, not a sober merchant, in a world that offers little of value to conquer.

Hardness he seeks and hardness he finds. When James locates life’s crueller edges he beats a partial retreat back into the world of softness where he finds Ruth. He will discover that she too has hard edges. Their inability to communicate effectively, to understand one another sympathetically, undoes them both. It seems so odd at points, this inability, but is it not a habit that we have done a good deal to disburden ourselves of? Our world moves at a speed and a level of self-absorption that is conducive neither to quiet contemplation nor thoughtful dialogue.  What we cannot digest in thought, we vomit at one another. Ruth and James unravel as quickly as they fell into one another, bound together ultimately by as much nothing as surrounds them.

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2 Comments
March 28th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Sparkle?

mission creek 2014

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Mission Creek 2014 and all its Art, Film, Music and Lit is almost upon us with Phillip Glass, Rachel Kushner, The Head and the Heart, Warpaint, Brian Evenson, etc.

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And this year HTMLGIANT will be part of the Litcrawl (Friday, April 4th) where Colin Winnette and Grant Maierhofer will read from their work featured on HTMLGIANT as part of an “Electronic Literature” event at The White Rabbit.

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(The Iowa Review, Red Hen Press, Hobart, Spork, Black Ocean and others will also be a part of the Lit Crawl.)

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Go here for full calendar