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Buk–Everytime

I talk to you on the phone you tell me I’m a great

writer

and everytime I read you in print you’re putting me down.

 

What is it with you?

 

the knifer

buk 3

 

I presume you are either Steve Richmond or Harold Norse.

I’ll have to presume it’s you, Steven.

there is nothing wrong with your writing—Or Norse’s.

it’s when you guys get outside your writing that you

often get depraved and nonsensical. I don’t want to

say it, but I will, and check it out if you please.

I asked Martin sometime back to print both you and

Norse feeling that you both deserved it. I have backed

both your and N’s writing—in forwards (forewords) to

your books and even by word of mouth over a bottle of

beer. and I don’t do it out of good feelings or comradie,

I do it because I believe in the artistry of your work.

then Norse attacks me in print (indirectly), asserting

that I have come between him and Sparrow, ruined his

chances when I have done just the opposite. I am not

out to get anybody; you guys are ridiculous. stick to

the facts. and on those 300 poems you showed me that

night, babe, since you hardharp it so much—most of them

did happen to be bad. all right, I’ve written some bad

ones too, plenty of them. we run into slumps of spirit

and life…now, do you understand? I say you’re

a very fine writer but you’re too jumpy about movements

in the fog. relax. I defended your work against a

certain guy you know quite well who said you couldn’t

write.                       (over)

 

HE CAME BY A WEEK AGO

 

I told him that I thought you were one of the most

powerful and original writers alive. I don’t want

to tell you these things but you fore ce me to. now

if you’ll get your head on straight and get into

doing the WORK you’re capable of instead of imagining

I wish your beath death, then we’ll both feel one hell

of a lot better.

 

I hope you’re getting some good ass and some love

and that the lines are falling into place. I’ve come

off a couple bad days drinking but am back to getting

all things now. stay with it. Some day it will come to

you    it has now. you don’t know it. get your teeth

into the typewriter ribbon.

Sure,

BUK

 

p.s. I’ve moved. you ever got any need to phone, o.k., it’s 661-7754.

Random / No Comments
June 27th, 2014 / 8:13 am

Reviews

25 Points: Black Cloud

bctumblr_mwiqgbZ70p1royaq8o1_1280
Black Cloud
by Juliet Escoria
Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2014
144 pages / $13.95 buy from Amazon

 

1. Juliet Escoria, as a writer, is like a birthday present you didn’t expect to get but secretly hoped you would.

2. It’s hard to pick a “favorite” from Black Cloud—but my top three would probably be “Heroin Story”, “Reduction”, and “I Do Not Question It”.

3. I feel like I know all of Escoria’s characters. I empathize with them. I care about them. I want to fuck up all the shit that made them miserable because, to me, they deserve better.

4. There are stories within these stories—little hints into the lives of these characters that stick with you.

5. Playlist for this book: Gary Jules’ version of “Mad World” on repeat.

6. Feel like Escoria is a new-age Bukowski but is extremely new and original at the same time.

7. These stories seem so real that I can’t decide if Escoria actually lived through all this or not. (Probably took experiences from her own life to build around these stories—that’s obvious—but I’m more so troubled with the idea that her life has been that awful thus far.)

8. Declaration: Black Cloud is the best work produced by a new, young writer this year and I challenge anyone to top it. (Spoilers: you won’t.)

9. Black Cloud makes you realize how good your life is.

10. Sadly, a lot of Generation Y can relate to the absence of fathers in this story collection.

READ MORE >

3 Comments
June 26th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

suarez

Biting is despicable, of course.

But how many writers, in the throes of creation, wrastling that dark angel, have resorted to biting?? Have chomped down on the Muse’s neck or shoulder??

Or perhaps the Muse is the biter, spurring us on to inspired action?????

(and, note: it’s ok to be a Creative First Responder in a World Cup biting incident. But not in a shooting tragedy. . . . . .O, where do we draw the line ??? . . . . O, poor Luis… O, poor Seth)

suarez2

… Seth=Luis … Seth=White Knight ….

Reviews

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
Rating: 7.9

How do you write a thrilling and entrancing Alt Lit novel?

Start with a chorus of disembodied voices telling us that “the waves are helloes; the incoming storm the sincerest goodbye. Like every single one of us, they are holding on. We held on until we could no longer hide. No one can hide out at sea.”

READ MORE >

5 Comments
June 24th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
Colum McCann

Colum McCann — Transatlantic

……….what was Colum McCann, National Book Award Winner, thinking when he posed for this author pic ??

“I am profound. I am sooooo profound.” —  ??

“This is sure gonna sell a lot of copies!!!” —  ???

“I have been translated into 35 languages!!” —??

“What would James Joyce say about this???”  — ?

“Is this really a good idea??” —-  ????

“The scarf’s the clincher!!” —-  ????

______________________________   ???????

Reviews

Lucas de Lima’s Wet Land

wetlandWet Land
by Lucas de Lima
Action Books, March 2014
108 pages / $12-16  Buy from Action Books or SPD

 

 

 

 

 

 

The premise of Wet Land is almost impossibly weird: it’s a book-length response to the death of Lucas de Lima’s close friend Ana Maria, who was killed by an alligator. Written mostly in all-caps, the poems are delivered by a narrator who frequently takes the form of a bird, ruminating on Ana Maria, the gator, and the act of writing itself. Early on in the collection, de Lima describes the act of watching a televised reenactment of Ana Maria’s death: “IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTARY THE ACTRESS LOOKS/NOTHING LIKE ANA MARIA;/THE OTHER ACTRESS LOOKS NOTHING LIKE HER FRIEND.” Here, de Lima sets the tone for many of the tensions that characterize this collection. It’s easy to criticize this kind of tasteless reenactment—to see it as a byproduct of a violent, media-obsessed culture. But in Wet Land, de Lima turns the lens on himself, exploring his own anxiety about being complicit in the reappropriation of tragedy.

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3 Comments
June 23rd, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Inclusion in Ed Steck’s The Garden

garden_cover_giantThe Garden
by Ed Steck
Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013
104 pages / $14  Buy from UDP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If the Romantic model of the garden is cultivation, then the Post-War model is invasion. Robert Duncan inquires of that famous, primordial garden, “is it dream or memory? homeland of the pleasure principle in the libidinal sea, an island girt round with forbidding walls?”[1] And of ornamentation, William Carlos Williams reminds us “that the bomb also is a flower.”[2] The multiflorous gardens of Ronald Johnson abstract whole histories for admission into their horticultural field. Rampancy, tended by besieged consciousnesses, overruns “the old garden-ground of boyish days.”[3]

The degradation of idealized forms is, of course, a hallmark of post-modernism, but the temptation of placing the world within the garden, or enlarging one’s garden infinitely, enacts a dialogue of control and ownership that becomes problematic for any anti-imperialistic project. Similarly, there is the risk of oversimplification that an artist runs when attempting to account for the volume of media produced around the event of war. Ed Steck’s The Garden: Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation, published by Ugly Duckling Presse, continues the erosion of privileged space begun midcentury with an all-important newness equipped to navigate the bizarre landscape of the 21st.

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1 Comment
June 23rd, 2014 / 10:00 am

squid
how do you pass the time at Poetry Readings ???

Whas’Poppin: 6/20/14

 

;p;

All weekend I was in New York, which is like AWP all the time (((minus the one time they had turkey legs ((although I’m sure if you put your mind to it you can find a turkey leg in New York (although maybe not because that seems to be a “country” fair type thing and believe it or not I didn’t see a damn deer until I was 18 years old so what do I know)))))). I got back to DC on Sunday and at work on Monday I gchatted Mike and I says “Sucks, dunnit” and he says “wha” and I says “not being there” and he says “TRU.” Which was a little confusing, since it wasn’t really that memorable of a weekend, but then I saw that Lauren Russell interviewed Dana Ward at Hot Metal Bridge and Dana said:

“I can’t imagine writing, or thinking at all, without doing so somehow with others, especially those friends permissive enough to co-create, & then perpetuate, a space where its ok to fuck things up by writing stuff that might say really really stupid shit, change each other’s minds, & then still be around no matter, going on doing writing, not writing at all, keeping up with one another out of need & love, for the specific forms that people make, so doing.”

And then at that point the cab rides and the dad shirts and boxing gloves made a little more sense.

——–

I.

Before I begin to say what will be the thing that will be the first
thing you hear today, let it be known: we are all in distress.

Erin J Mullikin, “Naked On The Internet” (Alice Blue Review*)

II.

Every day I exercise and I tone and I skinny myself into a spectacular hell

Natalie Eilbert, “Freaky Friday” (at COVEN, Brooklyn, NY)

III.

& ask again & my uncle out in the field with the spade & my uncle out in the ditch with the spade & I went into the lake & thought about the farm & I went into the lake & made my will & all of the farm to my brother & my sister in the house & my father in the ditch of his fields & the goats up in the mountain struggling with the grass.

Lisa Ciccarello, “I only thought of the farm” (The Volta)

IV.

I have gotten good and high, you see.
And I do sometimes try
to be at least
a little pretty.

Joshua Kleinberg, “Yorick” (Spork)

V.

I could cry at anyone’s home movies.
Bruised haircuts, inflatable pools—
I would score them all in B minor.

-Kathy Goodkin, “Ancient of Days” (Dreginald)

———-

xxx

*K, so that’s the link to the poem and doing that removes the nav frame. Here’s the link the whole issue but that link isn’t going to work forever, because it’s just a link to the main page and one day it’s gonna have a completely different issue, so if you’re reading this in 2039 and you can’t find this poem, give me a call and we can find it together.

Roundup / 1 Comment
June 20th, 2014 / 10:03 pm

Reviews

The Inevitable June by Bob Schofield

01The Inevitable June
by Bob Schofield
theNewerYork Press, June 2014
144 pages / $20  Buy from theNewerYork

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think a lot about the color orange, and also about new ways of naming.

02

From The Inevitable June. Image courtesy of biblioklept.

 

Frank O’Hara thinks about orange one day. He writes pages and pages of poetry. He says in Why I am Not a Painter that “There should be / so much more, not of orange, of / words, of how terrible orange is / and life.”

03

From The Inevitable June. Image courtesy of theNewerYork.

 

Both Schofield and O’Hara seem correct about orange. But, as his relationship to orange is meant to show, O’Hara is not a painter. Whatever you want to call The Inevitable June in terms of genre (who cares?), it’s heavy on the visual, so orange for Schofield and his narrator doesn’t serve as a line in the sand, stifling or sidestepping the visual. Instead, orange is simply something discovered to be inevitable, much like the inevitability of the old woman who kisses the narrator on the cheek on June 6. Even as ‘every book’ might not seem orange, adapting any given book to watercolor will ‘reveal’ its inevitable orangeness.

This is important, I feel: the indeterminacy or withdrawnness of Schofield’s language is anchored to the irrevocability of the narrative arc. What happens in it is what happens, both contingent and unavoidable, and the language coils around this anchor in something resembling play, or discovery, but not of anything. More a disembodied feeling whose color the reader inevitably wants to name. The visual element also explores this tension, serving both as a clean, minimal ground for the flight of imagery as well as sometimes ‘phasing’ into inscrutability with respect to its relation to the words.

04

from The Inevitable June. Image courtesy of biblioklept.

 

READ MORE >

No Comments
June 20th, 2014 / 10:00 am

A “Baseball” Interview with Josh Ostergaard

The-Devils-Snake-Curve-356x535Last night the Kansas City Royals won their tenth game in a row, which should make my friend Josh Ostergaard pretty happy. He’s a Royals fan from way back, and that comes out in his new book from Coffee House Press, The Devil’s Snake Curve. The 256-page alternative history book is made of five chapters with titles you might not expect to find in a baseball book, such as “War” and “Nationalism.” These chapters are broken up into short sections, which also have titles. The first is “Kansas” and the last is “On the Beach” and along the way there are hundreds more, like “Cud,” “The Value of a Soldiers Life,” and “Another Take on Hair.”

These nonlinear sections weave through numerous subjects, sometimes about the roots of baseball and baseball traditions, sometimes about the strange cast of players and owners. Josh also writes funny anecdotes about his own experiences playing the sport, and the socio-political incidences that have occurred related to the game both in the US and around the world. War comes up a lot, and not just in reference to Abner Doubleday playing rounders in 1861 (or whatever). This is a serious book, heavily researched, and complicated. In fact, referencing the Royals’ current success is misleading, given how little attention Josh pays to the scoreboard compared to the game as cultural soporific or propaganda machine.

It’s interesting how many ways the book is characterized. Publishers Weekly listed it in its Top 10 for sports books while Shelf Awareness called it “a backdrop for American political history.” Epoch Times said it’s “a kind of Fargo of baseball books” (?). I like Eula Biss’s comment, who said it’s “like a box of eclectic baseball cards about our country and our culture—curious, compelling, and disturbing in turn.” 

You worked on this for years and years, right?

I started writing in late 2004. I remember flying to Amsterdam that Christmas to visit my sister and taking on the plane a pile of old newspaper clippings about Lew Burdette, the Braves pitcher who was good at beating the Yankees. But I think the genesis of The Devil’s Snake Curve was the year before, during the months leading to the Iraq war. Like millions of other people I was against what was clearly a war of choice in Iraq, and even in the New York Times there was enough doubt about WMD and about the lack of connection between Iraq and 9/11 that it was obvious our country was about to go off the rails. During those very same months, The Field Museum, where I worked, hosted an exhibition called “Baseball as America.” I went through the exhibit many times, and enjoyed it, but the more I thought about it, the less I was able to reconcile the mythology of the sport and of our nation with the incessant warmongering. Then we started bombing Baghdad. The Devil’s Snake Curve is my attempt to reconcile the darker aspects of American history with the ways professional baseball has been represented. That old cliché about the Black Sox—“say it ain’t so”—well, that’s how I feel, but with regard to the ways the sport has been used as a public relations vehicle for war during the past decade.

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Interviews / 2 Comments
June 19th, 2014 / 5:00 pm

MEGALOMANIA VOL I: “a beginner’s guide to elias tezapsidis”

 
 

5 ways to get elias to like you

buy him an expensive dinner, an expensive outfit, or something expensive that he would like

tell elias about yourself but don’t talk too much about yourself or elias will tune you out

never under any circumstance tell elias that he’s your second favorite person

if you call elias in the middle of the night, please have something important to say to him (i.e. elias i just bought you a super expensive outfit) or he will terminate your relationship

do not bore elias under any circumstance

 
 

jonathan franzen despises elias

jonathan franzen does not like elias for some reason. it’s probably because elias writes a lot on the internet and jonathan franzen doesn’t know how to use the internet properly

 
 

elias grew up in greece

elias was a happy child in greece. he was super popular and everyone loved him. if this is a surprise to you, then you have a lot more to learn about elias

READ MORE >

Behind the Scenes / 8 Comments
June 19th, 2014 / 4:00 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Escape from Tomorrow

escape-from-tomorrow

 

1.  This movie stuck it to the man by filming the entire production in both Disneyland and Disney World without their permission.

2.  Disney is apparently “aware” of this movie but has taken no legal action.

3.  I’d never heard of this film until a friend forced me to watch it. I neither regret this nor thank him for it.

4.  This film somehow succeeded in making Disney a terrifying menace that is a threat to fathers everywhere.

5.  “What the fuck am I watching?” is what I thought multiple times while viewing this film.

6.  Pedophilia is everywhere in Disney. Fathers chase after underage French girls, retired Disney princesses kidnap little kids to reenact scenes from Snow White, little boys are shown pictures of naked foreign women during cinematic rides—the list goes on and on.

7.  Can’t help but be paranoid that Disney will sue me over this review. I have nothing, you bastards.

8.  The film opened with someone being decapitated on a Disney ride—then cut to a scene of a corporate asshole firing the protagonist over the phone while he was on vacation with his family. The scary part is that both of these incidents have occurred multiple times throughout the course of modern human history. This makes me dread graduating college and entering the real world.

9.  My friend and I both agreed that the protagonist’s wife was a bitch the entire film. (Spoilers: she sadly doesn’t die.)

10. There’s a scene where a nurse suddenly breaks into tears and I still don’t understand why.

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4 Comments
June 19th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Over at The Atlantic, Ian Bogost has a fascinating essay that frames itself as a discussion of the Star Trek: TNG episode “Darmok” (more easily remembered as the “Shaka, when the walls fell” episode, or the “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” episode, or that episode where Picard couldn’t build a fire because he was too busy dramatically holding knives, and Troi and Data both got really dumb, and the aliens kept talking weird about all their past successes and failures) and extends itself into a discussion of language, logic, allegory, and SimCity. In other words, Ian Bogost obviously wrote an essay about poetry, whether he meant to or not, and we should all read it.

Too Much for American Poetry Circles ?? (Persona Peep Show)

(Persona Peep Show by Sara Tuss Efrik and Mark Efrik Hammarberg)

**********

Over at Montevidayo James Pate wrote the following about Persona Peep Show:

Persona Peep Show is an incredibly visceral work, and, as such, I can imagine it making some parts of the American poetry scene uncomfortable. It’s easy to imagine the standard criticisms: it’s too grotesque, too image-based, it’s too pleasurable (in a funhouse sort of way), it doesn’t properly “critique” or distance itself from XYZ. Its use of fairytale is anachronistic, and therefore conservative (God forbid we should ever disturb the laws of Hegelian-inflected historical linearity). And yet this video makes such criticisms seem old-fashioned and academic. As I’ve written about before on Montevidayo, there is a strong contemporary tradition in the art scene of masquerade, theatricality, excess, color. Jack Smith, Cindy Sherman, Matthew Barney, Ryan Trecartin. And a film like Persona Peep Show is very much related to that sensibility.

And in the comments section of that post Johannes Göransson adds:

Just the mere move of poetry into the video image is already a challenge to a US poetry which for so long has seen itself as inherently ethical precisely in opposition to the spectacularity of film, video etc.

**********

In an earlier Monteviday post–Adventures with weird rabbits and dismemberments: Sara Tuss Efrik’s deformation zone--Göransson described Efrik’s work (written and video) as an investigation of “wound culture” and found one of her “Automanias” to be “a constant tension between the many and the singular, the diary-narrative and the forces that break apart the body.

It’s not hard to see that “too much” dismemberment, “too much” of weird rabbits, etc, would make a conservative and old-fashioned Poetry Community uncomfortable but I’m particularly struck by Göransson’s contention that the “the mere move of poetry into the video image” would create some discomfort in the same stodgy circles that view themselves as “inherently ethical in opposition to the spectacularity of film, video etc.

Perhaps since Art and Ethics have been on my mind a bit lately (see my recent Abramson Debacle post as well as its comment thread) I’m tickled here, particularly, by the the sense of righteousness at play. The sense of a moral superiority.

********

But are these Automanias and Videos too much for American Poetry Circles ?? Some of them ?? Most of them ??

**********

The new ACTION YES contains two more Efrik videos and you can check out some of the Automanias here in an earlier issue.

Film / 3 Comments
June 18th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

I write to see what is inside my mind: An Interview with Amina Cain

“I’m not sure why I’ve written so many flat male characters. I think it’s more that I have wanted to pay attention to the female characters and so I have.”   

creatureKate Zambreno first changed my life when she wrote Heroines, and second when she wrote on her Facebook page that she can’t wait to read Amina Cain’s new book. I read Creature as soon as it was released and it also changed me, but in a familiar way. I felt instantly connected to Amina’s writing and her characters in particular—the first person narrative, the painted landscape of the mind, the abstract settings. I had only discovered Clarice Lispector a year before, and I felt a resonance between the two. Part of the reason I love Lispector’s writing so much is her ability to reach so far into her characters’ psyches. Amina Cain, in a completely different way, also reaches into her characters’ psyches. Amina’s way feels much more meditative and connected to the earth. Lispector is often very much “above” the earth. Amina’s stories are mysterious, full of curiosity, and very dark and then suddenly extremely funny. When I saw the name Clarice used as one of the character’s names in a story, I knew it was no coincidence. I also knew I had to contact Amina Cain immediately.

***

LW: When did you start writing?

AC: I began writing during my last year of college. I started out as an acting major, which I quickly gave up, switching to Women’s Studies. I knew I wouldn’t necessarily do anything specific with this major, but I was interested in the classes. Then, when I took my first creative writing workshop, I knew I had found what I wanted to do with my life.

from the film adaptation of Hour of the Star

from the film adaptation of Hour of the Star

There are many references to Clarice Lispector in your work and in your story Queen you quote from The Hour of The Star: “forgive me if I add something more about myself since my identity is not very clear, and when I write I find that I possess a destiny. Who has not asked himself at one time or other: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?” When did you first discover Clarice Lispector? Would you say you connect similarly to her themes of the metaphysical experience of “finding yourself” through the process of writing?

I relate very much to the idea of finding oneself through writing, though what “oneself” is I think is malleable. And that Buddhist idea that to study the self is to find the self and to find the self is to lose the self resonates a lot for me. I’ve been curious lately about why I am so driven to write first person narratives (that are both not me and me) as opposed to third person, for instance. It’s not that I want to tell a story of myself, or even of another, it’s that I want to inhabit something—some feeling, some space (physical or psychic, and yes, even just the space of writing), or voice, and the first person, for whatever reasons, allows me to do this in the strongest way. I certainly think that Lispector’s fiction does this too, much more so than simply telling a story. She creates these charged psychic spaces we can walk into as readers. I first read Lispector the second time I lived in Chicago. I checked out from the library Family Ties, a collection of short stories. Then The Hour of the Star.

So many of your stories seem to be about a central narrator. They can be separate and yet they feel a part of a continuous story. Can you talk about the narrator of your stories? Do you consider her a persona? Do you see her as existing in each of your stories? Or is she different, a new character, each time?

I see the narrators in Creature as different beings but as sharing a single heartbeat. I wanted them to be both separate and connected. In Tisa Bryant’s amazing Unexplained Presence a beautiful continuum comes into being, or else a soft light is shone on connections already present between people who existed throughout time but never knew each other, or even knew to know each other. I was so struck by that when I first read Bryant’s book, and I think the idea of the continuum has stayed with me since, though of course in a different way.  

There is a quality of bleakness to your characters, or to quote from one of your titles, “a threadless way” about them. They are very honest about the fact that they don’t know what they are doing or how to connect to others. (And yet, because of this, they do know—like what you were saying about finding the self to lose the self, etc.)

This is a sharp contrast to what we are used to seeing in a lot of contemporary literature. (Of course, “flawed characters” are everywhere—but usually they don’t know they are flawed and when they do, their revelation is fleeting or they step into denial.) Your characters have the ability to speak, feel, and live out their insecurities, distastes, annoyances, melancholy, and this gives them a strange hopefulness and positivity. 

I think that most of my characters are searching for something, are always in process with the world around them, and that much of what gets expressed in the stories are the things that are usually not said, supposed to be said, voiced. In fiction, I’m as interested in an inner life as an outer one, and I want to write that life. I think it can propel a narrative forward as much as plot can. There is drama there, and conflict, and relationship, and even setting. I’m glad that the characters feel hopeful to you. Sometimes there is a focus on the sadness and vulnerability in my stories, elements that are certainly present, but to me there is also absurdity and humor. READ MORE >

Interviews / No Comments
June 18th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Melissa Broder would like to offer you these new poems, handwritten, made with love and gifs. Read them online, analyze not just the words but the penmanship.

“I had a thing of words, and now they’re gone”

Reviews

Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973

fe2
Forced Entries: The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973
by Jim Carroll
Penguin Books, 1987
196 pages / $15.00 buy from Amazon
Rating: 8.0

 

Nice_to_See_You_photo2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although The Basketball Diaries was blanched by LEO, High School English, and pop revisionism, Forced Entries, Jim Carroll’s 1987 follow up still has a lot of charm.

Subtitled The Downtown Diaries 1971-1973, this book tackles the emergence of the lost and romanticized Downtown scene. As a poet, Carroll was active in readings at St. Mark’s Cathedral and a Warhol Factory regular. It’s a short book, under two hundred pages, and it’s framing as diary entries allows Carroll a soft touch as he relates observations and anecdotes.

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1 Comment
June 17th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Reviews

A Well-Lit Memory: Justin St. Germain’s Son of Gun

bookcoverSon of a Gun: A Memoir
by Justin St. Germain
Random House, 2013
256 pages / $26  Buy from Amazon
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I read Justin St. Germain’s memoir Son of a Gun, I began circling all the times I came across the words “I wonder”: “I wonder why he never tried to call me, if he was ashamed, if he thought I was”; “I wonder where it is now, if she lost it, if I left it behind in the trailer”; “I wonder if she told him to say that, trying the same trick that worked on the judge who dismissed my case.”

The blurb on my copy’s back cover compares Son of a Gun to The Liar’s Club and This Boy’s Life, and while there’s certainly a likeness, St. Germain’s story isn’t so much as coming-to- age as it is remembering the moment he did—piecing together the events that led his step-father, Ray, to murder his mother with a shotgun.

At a cemetery, when St. Germain and some of his extended family fly to Philadelphia to bury Barbara, he mourns not the passing of his mother but the passing of his memory:

She fades a little more each day: I can’t picture her face, can’t remember a time when she was alive. I don’t know her story, because I’ve tried to forget, and because there was so much I never knew… Nearly a decade now since she died, and all that’s left of her are a few relics and my own suspect memories.

St. Germain opens, though, with perhaps the clearest memory he has: the afternoon he learned of the killing. Riding his bike home, he stares up at the expansive Arizona sky. It’s only been “nine days since the towers fell,” and he’s “newly conscious of planes.” When he arrives at his house, his brother, Josh, tells him the tragic news: “‘She got shot.’”

At a bar later that night, unsure of what to do next (“‘Wait, I guess’”), St. Germain drinks with his friends, watching President Bush address the nation on television: “He said that life would return to normal, that grief recedes with time and grace, but that we would always remember, that we’d carry memories of a face and a voice gone forever.”

Remembering “a face and a voice gone forever”—rounding out his “own suspect memories”—is what St. Germain hopes to solidify ten years later through his writing, and his struggle is not one of coming to terms with the tragedy (who can ever do that?) but of realizing that his recollections, his “truth” about his mother’s life, is what’s most important. That he starts with her death—that when he hears about what happened he doesn’t experience “shock” or “grief” but rather “a recognition, as if [he] had always known this moment would come”— presents an apparent contradiction: that one of his most vivid memories was formed even before it materialized.

Growing up in New Jersey, not far from Manhattan, most people I know can say what they had been doing on September 11th, while many also claim a counter-narrative, what they should have been doing, what they weren’t doing: they missed work because of a last minute disease; they didn’t get on one of the flights because of traffic; they decided not to take a day trip into New York that morning. I always thought there was a slight self-centeredness to such thinking—it could have been me, but wasn’t—and likewise, invoking such a large concept at the start, his mother’s death in the wake of 9/11, runs the risk of the same solipsism. St. Germain, however, does this so skillfully and so deftly that he’s completely changed my thinking, especially on the first matter. It’s not a selfish act for the could-have-been-victims of the terrorist attack to imagine if it had been them, or a loved one, or somebody they knew; instead, it’s a way to try and make sense of something insensible, even if it’s not completely shocking, or even, perhaps, if it’s already been there as a likelihood in one’s mind all along.

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June 16th, 2014 / 4:30 pm