Seiobo There Below
by László Krasznahorkai
New Directions, 2013
440 pages / $17.95 buy from Amazon
1. I almost laugh, attempting to write anything about the Krasznahorkai, since I’ve done an interview with the translator for The Paris Review, and feel my work is done here, and also since we are dealing with a nearly 500-page book that lashes out in chunks of twelve-page sentences, transcendent, dazzling, insane, hilarious, vicious and brutal, determinedly unexplainable and unexplained.
2. Transparency is not the hallmark of the Krasznahorkai.
3. But ok. This is the Hungarian writer at the forefront of a renaissance in Hungarian letters, an intense, experimental madman whose books are metaphysical puzzles of stunning originality and brilliance.
4. This is a man with burning eyes and a cheap suit, who shows up at Columbia to a packed house and reads…in the dark…in Hungarian…and kinda actually scares people.
5. There’s a quote from Susan Sontag on the back of Seiobo There Below that calls László Krasznahorkai “the Hungarian master of the apocalypse,” which is intimidating, and doesn’t sound like much fun. Do not be scared away; this book is a pleasure to read, and even funny.
6. The last chapter is named “Screaming Beneath the Earth,” which is a reverse riff on the first phrase of Gravity’s Rainbow, “A screaming comes across the sky…”, and gives an idea of the author’s ambition. The book is an incoming rocket, taking on the small matter of the power and transcendence of art.
7. Krasznahorkai has the interesting idea, though I’m not sure I’m convinced, that good art is dangerous. Art in this book tends to overpower ordinary people or drive them insane. Is this pretentious? Probably, right? Real migrant workers are not often driven mad by the sight of glorious paintings.
8. But then again, I also believe in salvation through art. What is a God without destructive power?
9. Seiobo There Below is structured in a series of sections, mostly about artists making art, a few about tourists or exiles. Sections include a modern-day man visiting the Acropolis, a Japanese Noh actor speaking to his disciples, another Japanese artist making a mask, a stork hunting in a river, a Renaissance painter in his workshop, an immigrant in Barcelona.
10. Some quotes: “…to stand there, to look at this life withdrawing for all eternity into death in the human and natural landscape, and to depict what is before him when he looks up from the blank canvas: that is everything…”
July 31st, 2014 / 2:02 pm
The Cantos of Ezra Pound
by Ezra Pound
New Directions, 1996
896 pages / $25.95 buy from Amazon
1. In the Middle Ages, as a practice of divination, as a method of drawing lots and to soothsay, to learn what might be the wrath to come, to draw out a linear progression from a dark mass of chaos, those with access to Virgil’s Aeneid might practice Sortes Vergilianae. The instructions were simple: fetch a copy of the epic poem, let the weary spine fall where it may, and whatever passage the eye lighted on the reader interpreted as indicative of prophecy.
2. My copy of The Cantos of Ezra Pound is a fresh New Directions paperback with the spine still intact. Regardless, it looks ominous. The backdrop black with serifed white letters stamped down on the cover. At twelve years old and knowing nothing of Ezra Pound, I picked the book up because it looked Biblical and heavy, like תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, the waters of Genesis 1:2.
3. The Cantos present chaos before the Spirit of God levitates over the deep. Although Pound principally brings forward “light” as his favorite element of spirituality and mysticism, darkness pervades the poem. It’s universally acknowledged that the work turns on an axis based more on Inferno than Paradiso.
4. Interviewed by Donald Hall in The Paris Review, who spent three days with Pound in Italy during the early 1960s, a restless and writer’s block-inflicted Pound comments, “It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse. It is obviously much easier to find inhabitants for an inferno.”
5. After publishing Thrones de los Cantares, the penultimate section of the Cantos, Pound admits, “Okay, I am stuck.” One imagines him gazing out the window, sunlight revealing a Roman street where, if you dig far enough, discoveries of pagan rites abound. He continues, pulling at his beard, “The question is, am I dead.”
6. The aforementioned Hebrew typically translates as “without form and void” (KJV). It can also mean “utter confusion,” a feeling most readers share when tackling the Cantos. Pound’s classic outline for his epic poem, from a letter to his father (who was appropriately, I kid you not, named Homer), begins, “Live man goes down into world of Dead.”
7. Pound, like his hero Odysseus, descended into Hell and still lived to see daylight. Kept outdoors for many weeks near Pisa, Pound was a caged panther, captive of the US military in 1943. During this time or immediately afterwards, he promptly went insane, dubbed mentally unfit to stand trial, housed in the “bughouse” of St. Elizabeths Hospital for thirteen years. As the story goes.
8. To draw lots, to soothsay out of an inferno, is simply not done. It reminds one of the Faust legend, or Robert Johnson’s railroad deal with the devil. Like a Oujia board for literary nerds (or, more properly, “bibliophiles”), a variety of sortes tempt many.
9. But The Cantos beckon. Suck a poor poet into their orbit. They are sirens. Robert Frost mentions, in a 1960 interview with the Paris Review, how Ezra Pound practiced jujitsu on him in a restaurant. “So I stood up, gave him my hand. He grabbed my wrist, tipped over backwards and threw me over his head.” Like its writer, the poem practices a similar sort of action on the reader.
July 29th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
When a Lady Shakes Hands With a Gentleman
by Nikolai Bokov, Mark Insingel, Gertrud Leutenegger, Claude Ollier
Red Dust Books, 1982
96 pages / $8.95 buy from Amazon
1. Throughout the course of When a Lady, a very engaging 1982 collection from Red Dust, Inc, the contributors display a rigorous commitment to the avant-garde tradition of de-automatizing perception, as outlined by Shklovsky, and broken down like a boss here by A.D. Jameson
2. The Belgian novelist/ Concretist poet Mark Insingel reworks aphorisms and banal lanuage tropes.
3. “When a lady shakes hands with a gentleman (plucks out a gentleman’s eye) she does not remove her glove.”
5. “How can the drop that made the cup run over be the same as the drop to which the cup is drained? (How can the drop to which the cup is drained be the same as the drop that made the cup run over?)”
6. “A Loves B who loves C who is adored by D, the only concern of E who wants to get rid of F who is courted by G who receives attentions from H, the idol of I who would be content with J who cannot leave K in peace who will not part from L who would prefer to go to M who has gone off with N who cannot forget O who would like to go back to P who has an eye on Q who would gladly be wooed by R who is making advances to S who is only interested in T who likes U, U need not despair at any rate (V, W, X,Y,Z).”
8. Insingel looks for entrenched meanings and potentialities. He is repetitive, and redundant, and often very funny. The big blocks of mutable text ultimately represent his project, a sort of frustrated response and working with and through degraded language.
9. “Rare is beautiful/Rare is wonderful/Rare is awful./Rare is horrible./Rare is incomprehensible./Rare is possible./ Rare is deniable./ (You don’t have to accept it as true, you are not obliged to see it (it isn’t being thrown into our teeth), you need not have anything to do with it (go into it) it can’t frighten you at all (the chances are much too small), you can dream about it (wet dreams—nightmares), you can actually have a cozy chat about it.)”
10. Claude Ollier, explores sensations connected with memory images. In his project he interrogates some of the “word as signifier” aspects of language, dwelling on strange associations and essentially personal multiplicities in words.
July 17th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
Even Though I Don’t Miss You
by Chelsea Martin
Short Flight/Long Drive Books, 2013
1. In this book, Chelsea Martin reminds me of my girlfriend. She reminds of all my ex-girlfriends, she reminds me of everybody’s girlfriend. It’s hard to pinpoint why. Is she the essence of contemporary girlfriendness?
2. It provides an insight sometimes into particular shades of emotion that I don’t necessarily seem to understand (not that I want to get all ‘Men are from Mars, etc ’ or some such popular-silliness about this point).
3. Other times, it’s nice to know that I’m not entirely wrong in my assumptions about ‘What might be wrong?’, ‘When something might be wrong?’
4. I have to declare an interest and that is that I’m not really in a relationship with Chelsea Martin but this book feels so much like being in a relationship as much from a male as from a female perspective that I can’t help but think that I am and that this qualifies it as a great success in that department.
5. “There is a piece of clothing thrown on the floor in the shape of what I look like to myself”. This is a beautiful, economical image; an everyday occurrence raised to something just v profound. I imagine it to be a denim skirt for some reason.
6. It reminds me of a line from an e-book, by someone, an old free e-book by someone, possibly Richard Brammer that I can’t find at the moment (maybe I imagined it) about ‘Your bra will fade on the radiator just like the rest.’ Any ideas?
7. The sentence that many reviewers have picked from this book is worth repeating in full:
“Being in a relationship for a very long time feels just like being single except that I can’t remember the last time that I was alone for five hours.”
This has the same periphrastic quality as that which I discussed in relation to Spencer Madsen (elsewhere in a 25 Points Review for HTMLGIANT). It’s almost like a really good, lengthy title appended to a very successful piece of conceptual art. I can see why so many reviewers chose to pick it out.
8. The relationship theme is undercut throughout with the many conversations between the ‘I’ and the ‘You.’ Often humorous, sometimes sad, occasionally refreshingly absurd, like a transcription of direct speech really is. See – this is what I meant in points 1-4.
9. Again, and in relation to a Spencer Madsen review that I have just written and so which is fresh in my mind but which might as well be seen as a recurring theme, a necessarily recurring theme, of all contemporary literature, that of the wide-open spaces of potential for metaphor, analogy, etc., when it comes to everyday technological digital life, a relatively fresh opportunity ripe for figuration, Chelsea’s line: “I feel like everything I write could be mistaken for theory about Adobe Photoshop’s Clone Stamp Tool” takes some beating. Apologies, that was an awful sentence, I wrote it backwards.
10. I don’t think I’m going to apologise for mentioned other writers in these reviews. Everything has a context, right.
July 15th, 2014 / 1:50 pm
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.
July 10th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
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.
July 3rd, 2014 / 12:00 pm
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.
July 1st, 2014 / 12:00 pm
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.
June 26th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
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.
June 19th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
Standard Twin Fantasy
by Sam Riviere
36 pages / $7.60 buy from Amazon
1. Standard Twin Fantasy is a minimalist effort. Twinned in its very design – just fourteen short poems: 7 on the recto until you get to the staples where the whole thing doubles back on itself and delivers another 7 poems on the verso side for the remainder of the book.
2. This attention to detail makes sense for a writer who only started to write poetry whilst still an art-student and follows a swathe of books in the last few years which add such details to their poetry/alt-lit productions (trailers for books, books serialized initially as blogs, as tweets, books such as Riviere’s debut ’81 Austerities’ which include back-matter, more usually associated with non-fiction, that contains 81 reflections on the 81 poems that have come before it. Such things have been extended lately by the subject of my last 25 Points review of Richard Brammer’s ‘Public Dick Punk 83′ which goes as far as including a completely unusable index.
3. In some ways it is tempting to see Riviere as a product of Alt-Lit, and indeed he has admitted and advocated a pro-alt-lit position in his online essay ‘Unlike’: Forms of Refusal in Poetry on the Internet and has borrowed/helped to create many of the innovations of Alt-Lit, but still he seems, to me anyway, to be more of a shadowy figure in the mold of a Jon Leon or a Richard Brammer, rather than one of the many acolytes of Tao Lin, which although they are all different share a kind of Adderall-prose that doesn’t quite seem like these more outsider figures. This is pretty much a baseless thesis, more of a hunch really, but I stick by it.
4. Poem number 1 (all of the poems are untitled which I’m sort of glad about for some reason) instantly seems to evoke Jon Leon’s cast of (un)glamorous actresses, pornstars, flailing supermodels and minor TV stars with sentences such as ‘Sylvia taps a match on the rim of the big glass ashtray’, ‘Elizabeth slides a finger down the inside cover of a magazine’ and ending with the, in my own phrase ‘fucking sublime’ line: ‘Veronique angles the retro remote control and leans against the massive fridge’.
5. Point 3 will seem pretty silly to the typical English poetry reader who very much knows Riviere as a popular and rising god of English poetry, as his first book was published by the esteemed publisher Faber & Faber and he is almost certainly more successful than the aforementioned poets/alt-lit folk. Also, there is a chance that alt-lit will often seem pretty silly to the typical English (ideal?) poetry reader too, but that’s another story.
6. Point 5 sort of helps to confirm point 3 and I will now reinforce point 3 further by stating that some of this content first appeared in the very glossy AnOther magazine which means that this poet is very cool as well as being accepted (rightfully) as literary in the British poetry world. He pulls off the neat trick of being popular in lots of places at once and cannot easily be tethered into some kind of Faber house style as proven by this (possibly self-published?) pamphlet and the fact that this is only his second outing since his ’81 Austerities’ debut. He followed that up with a set of poems themed around/taking Kim Kardashian as a kind of totem (if memory serves) that could only be read by a reader requesting a password from the author.
7. ‘I am designed like depthless vinyl’ is a really good line from one of the poems.
8. These writings often hang together via a fairly simple parallelism.
9. There’s an odd blankness throughout that is coldly endearing. A similar feeling to walking around Hoxton, Shoreditch, and increasingly, Bethnal Green in London (for US readers think Williamsburg or something or wherever things have moved to now). This again means that Riviere is very cool and I don’t mean that pejoratively.
10. Music proper noun namechecks: ‘Exile on Mainstreet’, ‘Smashing Pumpkins’. Both in the same poem. Again this means he’s cool, again this isn’t meant as an insult. Bring back cool, I say.
June 12th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
Fare Forward: Letters from David Markson
Ed. by Laura Sims
powerHouse Books, 2014
153 pages / $12.95 buy from powerHouse Books
1. The first of paragraph of the New York Times obituary of David Markson grants him the following description: “almost always surprisingly engaging and underappreciated.” Which strikes me as one of the most damningly reluctant compliments I’ve ever read one person give another.
2. almost always surprisingly engaging
3. David Markson, in a letter written two months before his death: “Everything I can think of would be making me repeat myself—and I almost prefer the silence. (Actually, I hate it.)”
4. It is endlessly frustrating to attempt to begin a review about a book about Markson. All sentences begin to feel like collections of adverbs and prepositions.
5. Yet adverbs tell us how a verb occurred. Prepositions place us in space. Nothing occurs in Markson’s later work. The only space in which his later novels take place is in the roving scope of the writer’s mind.
6. Nobody comes. Nobody calls. Reads a line from Reader’s Block.
7. Laura Sims’s collection of letters from Markson, called Fare Forward: Letters From David Markson. A series of postcards from a Greenwich Village address, from a writer almost nobody read, who had quit reading novels altogether.
8. Writing to Sims before a reading he was giving in 2007, who had told him she’d planned to bring friends, Markson asked: “But why in hell would you punish any good friend by making him/her go?”
9. I have the sense that this review is going badly, so I’ll here quote the late David Foster Wallace’s lackadaisically phrased claim re: Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress—“a novel this abstract and erudite and avant-garde that could also be so moving makes ‘Wittgenstein’s Mistress’ pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country.”
10. Adverbs, too, are splattered all over his obit: “Mr. Markson’s books expressed, both mischievously and earnestly, the hem-and-haw self-consciousness of the perpetual thought-reviser. He wrote mostly monologues, or at least the narration seemed to emanate from a single voice, though the books were not necessarily narrated in the first person.”
June 10th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
1. Spoiler Alert: Godzilla breaks shit and wins at everything.
2. Bryan Cranston is the best actor in this movie.
3. They fucking kill Bryan Cranston in the first third of the movie.
4. Confirmed societal standard: it’s still not okay to have New York City as the setting for a cataclysmic event that involves mass amounts of destruction—fictional monster battles included.
5. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character has a strange combination of good and bad luck due to the life-threatening situations he falls into and narrowly escapes at consecutive twenty-minute intervals.
6. Ken Watanabe is the second best actor in this movie.
7. Godzilla and I have similar lifestyles: go hard for about a week then sleep off the insanity for months or years on end. Repeat accordingly.
8. Godzilla actually looks like Godzilla in this movie. (Compared to the abomination made in 1999 that shan’t be named.)
9. This movie impressed me with its effective use of slow-pace plot format in actually waiting to show us our reptilian friend and all the loveable destruction he brings. (See Jaws for similar example.)
10. It’s actually pretty neat to have characters, besides Godzilla, that you actually give a shit about and have semi-decent back-stories. READ MORE >
June 5th, 2014 / 5:00 pm
Public Dick Punk 83
by Richard Brammer
East German Sunshine, 2014
93 pages / $5.98 (print version) $1.28 (e-book)
buy from Amazon
1. This is Richard Brammer’s second book following on the heels of last year’s MDMA and Menthol Cigarettes which first discovered and borrowed on Alt-Lit library. This one isn’t free but it’s still pretty inexpensive (especially the e-book but I’d recommend the print version).
2. This is to be the first in a long line of Public Dick Punk… books. The next is mooted to be named Public Dick Punk 82. We are not sure about the significance of the ‘83’ or the ‘82’. These poems/writings appear to be set in the present day.
3. Number 2 may be a lie as previously Richard Brammer stated that his second book was to be called ‘Selected Serotonin’ and fabricated (presumably fabricated?) an interview with retired English ballerina Darcey Bussell about the new book. He said the new book would be a homage to Teenage Fanclub album ‘Bandwagonesque’ but there book never appeared and was never mentioned again.
4. Public Dick Punk 83 is an extremely fast read, the reader flies through it and then wishes to fly through it again afterwards. In the words of poet Michael Hofmann it is ‘a machine for re-reading’.
5. It contains many proper nouns and names and brands and theseare collected in a particularly unhelpful index at the back. I will now list a few of these things: Michelle Williams, the Roland 303 drum machine, the NSA scandal, cupcake lesbian, Bjork, Bourne Supremacy, The Fall, Dreampop, Instagram, John Updike, Fractional Reserve Banking, Estonian Shoegaze, Google, TV, Hipster and PDF, Husker Du.
6. The index also elucidates on which pages basic conjunctions and articles such as ‘the’, ‘and’ and ‘if’ appear on. For instance: ‘if’ appears on pages 16, 29, 34, 37, 47, 55, 65, 70, 72, 84, 87, 92, and 96.
7. The poems/writings are split into five sections: ‘Log In, Remember me’, ‘Thrift with outside detractors’, ‘Food and Activities Outside’, ‘On Coloured Vinyl’ and ‘A short history of all memory’. None of these section titles appear to have much to do with the poems that they envelope but sometimes you think ‘Hey there’s a plan, here!’ so sometimes the reader thinks they do.
8. The book is very hipster friendly and is unapologetic for that, defiant even. It is dedicated to ‘the unreconstructed hipster’.
9. There is a poem about a girl named Edie whose name ‘isn’t Amy’ and who has ‘a cool cervix’.
10. The poems/writing themselves are generally written in a breathless kind of way with many idioms recognisable from social media but also from a variety of registers. You get the impression this writer hasn’t only grown up on the internet and references to early 80s style magazines such as ‘The Face’ and to a number of bands much beloved of what was, at one time, called ‘college radio’ (now known as bands that Pitchfork are likely to review) crop up throughout. As does late-80s, early 90s British rave culture. You never know, maybe he’s just Googled alot of this ‘vintage’ stuff.
May 29th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
1. Dennis Cooper’s The Weaklings XL repeatedly interrogates three unknowables: the body, desire, and language.
2. Language is eternally indefinite: “You’re the / one who fired a gun at his head, so high / on whatever, and so depressed by my / lack of whatever that you were afraid you / might have otherwise not hit the target, / wherever I was at the time.”
3. We can never truly know our own bodies, the insides, the way they function. Because of this, one might assume the only way we can ever truly know the idea of a body is through exploration of the body of another. This is akin to Blanchot’s conception of death: we can never know our own death, we can only know the death of another.
4. Desire is impossible to ever know, to ever understand, to ever achieve in the sense of a totality. Cooper’s poems show how parts of desire can be hinted at in physical altercations, but desire is always immaterial and, thusly, can never be adequately incorporated into an experience.
5. In a suite titled “BOYS2BRELOCATED,” a selection of invented “personal ads” by under-age gay (or not gay, because it doesn’t really matter) men/boys soliciting sex, 666HEAVYMETAL666, 17 years old, posts the following: “DO YOU REALLY GIVE A CRAP? I’M SCARRED OK.” The suite presents a context in which misspelling echoes the reality of the quick-typing mode of the internet, where the reader can imagine these personal ads would be found. However, in a bizarre semantic twist, the context of the typo allows a double reading of the message: “SCARRED” can either be read as it is typed, as “scarred,” as in wounded, damaged or affected, or it could be taken as a misspelling of “scared,” as in frightened, terrified. This dynamic back-and-forth is all the context any of the personal ads need.
6. Before recent years Dennis Cooper was mostly known as a transgressive writer who was obsessed with writing about the sexual murders of young boys. This is his content. The success of his writing is dependent upon this obsession: it’s not literal (as in, I don’t think the claim could be made that Dennis Cooper the person is interested in murdering a young boy in a sexual context), but it’s the guiding force of the work. It’s a metonymic mode that allows a total and occasionally exhausting exploration of the indefinite nature of language, desire, and the body.
7. Somehow in recent years the content of Cooper’s work has been “white-washed” and the focus has turned onto his ability to construct sentences. Dennis Cooper is a brilliant prose stylist, and at the level of the sentence is work is amazing. This is demonstrated throughout all his work, I think; the poems here, all of the novels, his work in theater. However, I think ignoring the obsessive thematics of the work is doing the work a disservice. It strikes me as a sort of intellectualization that would position the work as some sort of purely intellectual art. Cooper is a brilliant writer who demonstrates remarkable intellect, but I think to read the sentences while ignoring the content would be a futile gesture. Language and the body, language and desire, these things are all linked.
8. Bernard Noël’s early career as a poet consisted of works that interrogated the relation of language to the body. This often resulted in the work carrying on into dark places. As a poet, I think Noël’s work is far stronger in its interrogation of the body/language divide, and much more accomplished. However, nobody reads Bernard Noël, especially not American audiences, as very little of the early poetry is available in English, and what is available is in no way easy to come by. In opposition, however, Cooper’s novels are far more accomplished than Noël’s single ‘straight-forward’ novel, The Castle of Communion.
9. Cooper’s poetry, while less formally/visually interesting or experimental than his novels, strips the words to the core of the problem that is often present in the novels: how can one mete language with desire, with the body.
10. In the annals of juvenile “trying to out-gross” one another, I remember hearing a “joke.”
“What’s the best thing about having sex with a twelve year old girl in the shower?”
“Slick her hair back and she looks like an eight year old boy.”
May 27th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
Dear Lil Wayne
by Lauren Ireland
Magic Helicopter Press, 2014
62 pages / $11.00 buy from Magic Helicopter
1. Immediately I am reminded of Joe Wenderoth’s Letters to Wendy’s. The cover to his book and Dear Lil Wayne even kind of look the same.
3. The dedication of the book goes to Lil Wayne, but below that another dedication/statement reads: “hip hop, you saved my life.” I think this is particularly poignant. Sometimes when bands are interviewed they’ll say something like, “We get letters from fans telling us that this song/album helped them through a hard time.” The project of this book is proof of the kind of power music can have and I totally relate and understand, as I’m sure many other readers probably can, too.
4. The book has a type of preface in which Ireland gives us some information about Lil Wayne, primarily concerning his incarceration. This preface ends: “I sent these letters to Lil Wayne during and after his incarceration. He never wrote back.” There’s an almost even split of letters written while Lil Wayne was in jail and after he was released.
5. I wouldn’t go so far as to say Dear Lil Wayne is a form of hero worship, but rather an incarnation of the advice, “write about your obsessions.”
6. And in this writing through obsession, Ireland weaves together the comic and tragic for very memorable poems.
7. For example, “September 17 2010”:
Dear Lil Wayne,
Jason and Furst say they get fear boners. Do you? Probably not. Jason says there’s like a Nicaraguan death squad after his dick. Does this mean boys are just as scared as girls? All this time I was sure it was a joke when a boy liked me. In these cases, I don’t get fear boners. I just feel kind of bad.
8. From the first sentence this poem is engaging. The following “Do you?” and “Does this mean boys are just as scared as girls?” maintains a move that appears throughout the book: Ireland is almost always asking Lil Wayne questions in her letters.
9. “September 21 2010” begins, “Do people think you are funny when you are actually really sad?”
10. “November 5 2010” (the day after Lil Wayne’s release) begins, “Do you feel different yet?”
May 22nd, 2014 / 12:00 pm
7 Days and Nights in the Desert (Tracing the Origin)
by Sabrina Dalla Valle
Kelsey Street Press, 2013
88 pages / $13.00 buy from Kelsey Street Press
1. Sabrina Dalla Valle is an alchemist, a sorceress, scribe.
2. The role of poet as spell-caster/magician/mystic is seen through these pages. If it’s not clear, how can I say this?
3. everything is indication of moisture in a landscape– not just density of species, but also the shape of the earth.
4. How to propagate a landscape?
5. While reading Dalla Valle’s book I recall being ten years old, casting my first spell.
6. Poetry should transmutate; cause a change from one form, nature, substance, or state into another. In other words to transform the temporal existence.
7. as if not yet fully human
8. Meditation requires practice. There’s an alchemy at work here in these lines
9. Reflect upon the nuances of the question of: what gives us life?
10. like filaments
11. writing is read by the dream
12. I ordered feverfew and other herbs from a catalogue and had it shipped via Cash on Delivery (C.O. D.), a service that no longer exists
13. At the skin of your breath is poetry
14. Photons are their mirror
photons can change into each other:
presence into image, image into presence.
but they can form into mirror planets
and even mirror stars
15. My mother wrote the mailman a check
16. Poems are the path of veins. There’s a ________________ at work here
17. Like poems representing metals
18. Meditation requires practice
19. the principle of combustibility contained within the artist’s line
20. has been swelling in my stomach
21. the charge between two words passed back and forth between lovers
22. can touch you
23. can touch
24. embroidered sky
25. If I reach out far enough I can touch that ten-year-old self through the fickle of curved stars
Mg Roberts’ bio:
Born in Subic Bay, Philippines, Mg Roberts teaches writing in the San Francisco Bay area. She is the author of not so, sea (Durga Press, 2014), a Kundiman Fellow, and Kelsey Street Press member. Her work has appeared in the Stanford Journal of Asian American Studies, Bombay Gin, Web Conjunctions, and elsewhere. She’s currently working on an anthology of critical essays on avant-garde writing for/by writers of color.
May 20th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
24. When I began this review Robert Ashley was alive. In light of his death, I feel a compulsion to redraft and make these twenty-five points address something more. I want to talk about seeing Foreign Experiences and Lectures to Be Sung performed, about composition and improvisation, contemporary opera, and the intersection of music and language. Ashley’s work is full of good discussions. I’m attracted to the just-some-dude delivery style and storytelling aspects in the operas. One of my composer pals can’t follow the stories at all, and seems obsessed with the involuntary speech in Ashley’s work. Ashley’s work is so dense, and there are so many lessons that I take away from his work as a performer and writer. It’s hard to limit the discussion, especially given this kind of retrospective appreciation and the span of his work.
April 22nd, 2014 / 12:00 pm
Is It My Body?
by Kim Gordon
Sternberg Press, 2014
182 pages / $18.86 buy from Amazon
1. Kim Gordon the New York City artist is one and the same with Kim Gordon, bassist of Sonic Youth.
2. Despite her claim, “I don’t think of myself as a musician,” whether they’re “on hiatus” or not, the band’s music remains the central association by which readers are likely to recognize her name.
3. I’m no diehard fan of Sonic Youth. Although I do, after a fashion, dig their music and several years ago saw them play The Crystal Ballroom in Portland, OR.
4. This is no tell-all. Sonic Youth is more an afterthought than anything here, a near excuse to remain creative—though no less central to Gordon’s life.
5. Gordon’s reasoning for taking part in Sonic Youth: “Being part of a music culture or subculture appealed to me more than staying outside and commenting on it in a work of art.”
6. This book zooms. It’s a sonically charged brain charge; a light breeze to read yet nevertheless heavily informative. Contents range from Gordon’s first published texts from the early 1980s rather seamlessly on up to a conversation she had with sometime-fellow collaborator Jutta Koether, not even a year ago.
7. Gordon skirts the edges of official art gallery/curator talk, usefully dipping into its discourses only to flaunt her independence from reliance upon them to express her thoughts. While postmodern, avant-garde, theory-driven vocabularies and accompanying ideas are occasionally floated and tussled with, they’re smoothly exited from without distracting from the natural style of her writing.
8. Gordon tells of only useful and/or interesting things, both historical and eternal.
9. “One of the appeals of seeing No Wave bands in New York early on was that it was such a strangely abstract music. It was very free and very abstract. If you didn’t have any means to enter the galleries as an artist, being in a band was a way to be expressive and be independent of the gallery system.”
10. Unedited: “How many grannies wanted to rub their faces in Elvis’s crotch and how many boys wanted to be buttfucked by Steve Albini’s guitar?”
March 27th, 2014 / 12:00 pm
Autobiography of a Corpse, by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky: A fifteen-point primer on certain literary avant-gardisms
Autobiography of a Corpse
by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
New York Review of Books Classics, 2013
256 pages / $15.95 buy from Amazon
In the beginning/ the Avant-Garde/ was just a silly thing/ Coconut-colored sidewalks/ Women with blue-white parasols/ tilting over backward/ or half backward/ in the beginning/ And then it grew, and became gigantic and hard/ Like a great, great stone, the Avant-Garde/ Like a great, great, stone that had usurped all of history—Kenneth Koch, One Thousand Avant-Garde Plays
1. The history of the 20th century avant-garde is a history of anxieties. And even as manifestos gave way to splinter groups, many things remained constant. A central tenant of this history came in the compulsion against modernity and the constricting social forces of advanced industrial capitalism. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky wrote radical literary fantasia, and his work reflects many of the anxieties and themes that would develop across literary avant-gardes throughout the 20th century.
Born in Kiev in 1887, Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky moved to Moscow in 1922 where he worked as a lecturer and theater critic. From this time until his death in 1950, he secretly compiled an incredible body of fantastic novels and stories. These were not published in his lifetime, and owing to the damning soviet censorship, would not be published until 1989. This collection Autobiography of a Corpse, a selection of short stories was published for the first time in 2010, and an English edition came out from NYRB Classics in the fall of 2013. The collection, provocative and expansive, offers a look at many anxieties and themes that would come to define the avant-garde.
March 20th, 2014 / 6:27 pm
Webster’s New World English Grammar Handbook, Second Edition
by Gordon Loberger and Kate Shoup
Webster’s New World, 2009
408 pages / $16.99 buy from Amazon
1. Do you guys know about all of the different types of pronouns? There are so many different types of pronouns.
2. New theory: 85% of people who claim to understand grammar actually just have three to four grammar pet peeves they won’t shut up about.
3. Should I be embarrassed that while I did know the name for the “perfect” tense, I didn’t know that the other tense was called the “progressive” tense. I should definitely be embarrassed, right?
4. And don’t even get me started on prepositions.
5. I dare you to get through the Misused Words and Expressions section without your stomach dropping in panic at least once. Don’t worry, you probably didn’t confuse “awhile” and “a while” in your MFA application packet.
6. If you think you might have confused those words in your MFA application packet, just stare at them for a long time. Pretty soon they won’t even seem like words anymore.
7. The Commonly Misspelled Words section made me want to have all of my friends over for an impromptu spelling contest. (This is maybe related to why I have so few friends.)
8. In order to really understand grammar—for it to really stick—you have to learn the names of things. This seems like a metaphor for something.
9. I can never remember anyone’s name when I meet them. Is this why I’m bad at grammar?
10. Mindy Kaling seems to think it just makes me rude: “I don’t think it should be socially acceptable for people to say they are “bad with names.” No one is bad with names. That is not a real thing. Not knowing people’s names isn’t a neurological condition; it’s a choice. You choose not to make learning people’s names a priority. It’s like saying, “Hey, a disclaimer about me: I’m rude.”
March 6th, 2014 / 4:07 pm