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25 Points

Reviews

25 Points: Atalanta (Acts of God)

ataphoca_thumb_l_bks-recent-06-Atalanta_coverAtalanta (Acts of God)
by Robert Ashley
Burning Books, 2011
208 pages / $25.00 buy from Amazon or SPD

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

25. As I was struggling the the 25th point, I kept trying to figure out if there was some way I could articulate that reading Atalanta was very satisfying but also a little bit confounding. My mind kept wheeling around the opera, not the book. It wasn’t written for the page. The printing seems like an out of place artifact. In the afterward and in other interviews, Ashley seems to indicate that the libretto functions as only a part of a much larger event and set of processes. However, reading it I’m constantly dazzled by the turns the verse takes and the reading experience, which is so on its own terms. It’s really fucking good for being a kind of after-thought of a larger project.

1. Atalanta (Acts of God) is the first part in a trilogy of operas, the other parts being Perfect Lives, which is perfectly incarnated as a kind of YouTube/torrent masterpiece (completely amazing if you can get it), and Now Eleanor’s Idea. Atalanta was commissioned for performance in 1985. The publication of this book seems to coincide with the release of Ashley’s Atalanta (Acts of God)Volume II in 2010.

2. I have not had the opportunity to see Atalanta in production. Recordings are available. These recordings are of a completely different texture than the libretto/verse/text unperformed, and maybe are not my thing so much because they stick to a 72 bpm tempo in the recording and are much livelier in my head.

3. Atalanta (Acts of God) is a book of libretto, not a score, though a few songs have been included. It is not documentation of the production, though it does include notes, acknowledgments, and a handful of photos. The book is highly peculiar, in that it represents a kind of music based on collaboration, improvisation, and theater. All of which resist the book format, which seems more fixed, at least in my mind. There are some helpful notes and observations in the afterward.

4. It is easiest for me to approach Atalanta as a book in verse.

5. Ashley on writing for opera:

“The plot of the three (operas) doesn’t really have any meaning – it’s only a fancy category for catching a lot of things that are going through my mind. It’s not a very interesting idea in itself – an interesting idea would be like inventing penicillin or something like that – so when you say you’re going to write an opera about the history of consciousness in the United States, I mean who needs it?”

(106 The Guests Go to Super)

6. As anyone who has listened to a lot of Ashley’s work can testify, it is pretty impossible to get his voice out of your head as you read the words.

7. About the characters: Atalanta, the legendary Greek runner girl who is also the Odalisque, is wooed in turns by Max Ernst (famous surrealist), Willard Reynolds (Robert Ashley’s storytelling uncle), and Bud Powell (famous bebop pianist), though the recitation of anecdotes. A confused flying saucer lieutenant and captain drop in and comment on the would-be marriage. There are also some totally left field segues.

8. The plot of Atalanta is a skeleton for voices, ideas, and performance. It is a groundwork for piling narratives on top of each other. The dense accumulation of dialogue, incidental characters, and unidentified voices push the reader deeper into language which seems to focus on building moments rather than the progression of any kind of story. READ MORE >

1 Comment
April 22nd, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Is It My Body?

1gordon_kim_isitmybody_cover_364Is 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?”

READ MORE >

3 Comments
March 27th, 2014 / 12:00 pm

Reviews

Autobiography of a Corpse, by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky: A fifteen-point primer on certain literary avant-gardisms

autobiography-of-a-corpse-371Autobiography 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

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.

READ MORE >

1 Comment
March 20th, 2014 / 6:27 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Webster’s New World English Grammar Handbook

webster71X5PA2FMWL._SL1500_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.”

READ MORE >

7 Comments
March 6th, 2014 / 4:07 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Tell God I Don’t Exist

tell-god-final-screenshotTell God I Don’t Exist
by Timmy Reed
Underrated Animals Press, 2013
92 pages / $12.00 buy from Underrated Animals Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. The album Shrines by Purity Ring is easily in my top five albums from the past five years. When I hear the lush electronic wooziness of songs like “Fineshrine” I feel like I’m being hugged—enwrapped in a surreal, dreamy blanket of sound.

2. When I read Timmy Reed’s Tell God I Don’t Exist I get a similar sensation.

3. These stories are hazy fever dreams, ecstatic jokes, deviant fairy tales.

4. When describing this collection the word twee comes to mind.

5. Twee is so often taken as derogatory, but this collection is saccharine sweet in a good way.

6. There’s a lot of handholding in these stories.

7. There’s a lot of candy, too:

“We eat licorice shoelaces and wayward mosquitoes, but we mostly eat sweets. We scarf cannolis. We munch crullers. We visit the snowball stand in bare feet and sleep next to pitchers of lemonade. We grow fat on melancholy pastries. We sweat sugar in the sun. We speak, through a saccharine haze, of taking vitamins. We speak in the past tense of the future as if it were part of a childhood dream.”

8. I found this inside my copy of the book:

treed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. I really hope everyone’s copy comes with a print that tells them that Timmy Reed (in all likelihood) loves them, because it’s true.

READ MORE >

4 Comments
March 4th, 2014 / 3:09 pm

Reviews

25 Points: TheNewerYork

newerThe Weekender 3-Pack
by TheNewerYork
240 pages / $22.00 buy from TheNewerYork

 

 

 

 

1. There is a market  (and when I say this I mean like, a common, growing… need, among readers) for very brief literature. This is not news for the twitter generation, the HTMLGIANT community, or internet writers. But, it bears repeating. We need things smaller.

2. As much as we need things short, we also need them to be deep. No!–we need some of it deep. We also need some of it funny and purejoy. We need some of it confusing. We need unsettling. We need beautiful, and we need deep.

3. TheNewerYork pours these parts (mostly equally) into the 70-some pages of each of their three journals (Book 0, Book 2, and Book 3–Book 4 is forthcoming this year). It’s this wildly interesting, thoughtful, colorful, ugly, pretty, stupid, weird. It’s equal parts smile-inducing and vomit-inducing. And no single piece of experimental fiction in these collections goes over two pages in length.

4. When it comes to literature, TNY is like  those bags full of halloween-sized candies. You want two or three at a time, you reach in, and take what you get. Some skittles, some m&ms, some fucking Almond Joy (ugh!), and every once and awhile a severed finger, a used condom, a sticky note with the answer to life written on it.

5. Aside from length and diversity, these pieces share at their fundamental bottom new forms of storytelling. David Foster Wallace solidified for us how fragmented culture/life/reality/consciousness is thanks to…well everything that constitutes society and its structures. Now our writers are taking up these little fragments and painting pictures of them, one at a time. Or, they are picking up a fragment (picture a shard of glass AS A SYMBOL for some little fragment or waste of society) and painting not it, but with it. With the colors the fragment contains. These pieces of literature are some of them the canvas and some of them the tool, the brush, the color, the pen.

6. Okay enough bullshit. These issues are fantastic. They entertain me very much. They make it fun to read.

7. These are perfect for reading on a lunch break, or during a 15 minute break in the middle morning or late afternoon. Like, I have trouble bringing novels with me places and really getting into them during short, unpredictable moments throughout the day. Like, for me, the novel I read in bed each night is not something I’m taking with me in the bathroom, or to work, or on the train. I have found that these short pieces are so concisely packed with thought and contemporaryness (?) that they’re as entertaining, emotional, and thought-provoking as anything I could be doing with a spare 6 minutes. That’s right, I said it. Thought-provoking.

8. With that said, I did read all of issue 2 (in 3 chunks) while in the passenger seat of my girlfriend’s car on a 5 hour drive home after Christmas.

9. And, it’s the only ‘book’ I’ve been able to read in a car, without puking or even wanting to.

10. And, I’ve picked up that same issue six times since Christmas, flipping open to a random spot and reliving some freaky or funny tale which, as I re-read, I can feel becoming as real an artistic comfort to me as a Books album, or Season 9 of Seinfeld.  READ MORE >

4 Comments
February 18th, 2014 / 6:33 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Big Sur

bigsur1Big Sur
by Jack Kerouac
Penguin Ink, 2011
224 pages / $12.84 buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. The movie, based on Jack Kerouac’s book, based on Big Sur, 36.1075 °N, 121.6258 °W.

2. Voiceover beginning to end, front to back.

3. I think of all the times I’ve been to Frisco, ages 5, 6, 7, 9, 9, 9, 11, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 and 28.  I think of City Lights, North Beach, Sea Otters, Strip Clubs, Merry-Go-Rounds, Mirrored Ceilings, Fake IDs, Suspension Bridges, Soccer, Coffee and Bread.

4. Boredom. On my fifth birthday there were too many children and too many presents. In the backyard my father starred in Oscar the Grouch’s Cooking Show. He juggled raw eggs and ate tuna fish/jellybean/sauerkraut sandwiches. There were words the whole time but nobody talked.

5. Iodine blast. Iodine: A novel by Haven Kimmel from a song by Leonard Cohen from iodine, I, atomic number 53. From my mother’s skin before I was my mother’s.

6. Big Sur: A descent into madness, a portrait of hell, a catalogue of imperfections.

7. When I read the intimate details of our lives out loud it hurts less.

8. Things included but not mentioned in this essay: words, cigarettes, stars, beer, wine, whiskey, sand, waves, women, rhymes, slow motion, flames, bottles, trees, water, haze.

9. City Lights is my second favorite bookstore in America. Anthony Edwards as Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Anthony Edwards as Dr. Mark Greene in ER, the longest running primetime medical drama until it wasn’t. Dr. Mark Greene eating a Chicago Hot Dog over the Chicago River on a break from Chicago’s Cook County General Hospital. When I eat a Chicago Hot Dog over the Chicago River I think of Sandra Bullock, not Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I never liked ketchup.

10. FACT: Second movie I’ve seen in two weeks about the beats. Third movie on Jack I’ve seen in five years. READ MORE >

2 Comments
February 6th, 2014 / 4:45 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Blitzkrieg

blitzkriegBlitzkrieg
by John Gosslee
Rain Mountain Press, 2013
60 pages / $15.00 buy from Rain Mountain Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Split-screen madness

2. Piano-playing, the keys turned to pills

3. A kiss on a grimy elevator floor

4. The interior of the exterior of a shut door

5. An angel with her arms torn off

6. Rejection, acceptance, rejection

7. Illustrations by Yumi Sakugawa, trees in a forest, pachyderms inside the breadth of a bird’s chest

8. Flashmobs, tornados, claws and urninals

9. An all-out assault on the status quo

10. A baker’s dozen of streets and silence mingled with the rattle of dead claws on stony ground READ MORE >

1 Comment
January 28th, 2014 / 3:12 pm

Reviews

25 Points: EarthBound by Ken Baumann

EARTHBOUND-cover-roboto-nospine-shadow_1024x1024Earthbound
by Ken Baumann, Foreword by Marcus Lindblom
Boss Fight Books, 2014
191 pages / $14.95 Buy from Boss Fight Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. This past December found me at several Christmas parties and office get-togethers (mostly with my wife’s coworkers and friends). Because I’m kind of self-absorbed and, even if I wasn’t, I’ve been spending the past five months with my newborn son, I don’t have much to contribute by way of conversation, so I turned to talking about Earthbound.

2. My parents never bought me a Super Nintendo or any of the other 90’s child indulgences (although I was a member of the Burger King Kid’s Club  and was allowed to watch hour upon hour of Nickelodeon), so I had no point of reference for the cult-hit video game.

3. I had trouble finding anyone who knew what I was talking about. They had never heard of the game, and cared even less about Ken Baumann’s book.

4. The few times that I actually found someone who played Earthbound our conversations were hauntingly simple.

5. Me: Have you ever played Earthbound?

Partygoer: You need to go home tonight and play it right now. [End of conversation.]

6. I never got around to it. Blah-blah work. Blah-blah new parent. Blah-blah smartphone.

7. But the real reason why I didn’t play it was because of how purely pleasurable Baumann’s book is.

8. Ken Baumann’s Earthbound is a charming intermingling of videogame history, walkthrough, memoir, and philosophy. He serves as Virgil to the reader’s Dante as he guides us through the “total inverse of Dante’s Hell” that is Twoson, Threed, Summers, and the other locales of the game while drawing on everything from Straw Dogs and Jung to Gak’s role in 90’s gross-out culture and House.

9. Baumann depicts the “irretrievable beauty in video games…” as a Romantic would depict vernal wood. As sacred: “Ephemeral glitches that point to the sublime. Randomized variables that are made more poetic in their expression by their adjacency to the rote and the banal.”

10. The strongest of Baumann’s threads are the biographical ones. Earthbound [the book] is a study of how Earthbound [the game] impacts lives, especially the lives of little Kenny in Texas, his estranged brother Scott, and the support of Ms. Baumann, and the loving Aviva. READ MORE >

1 Comment
January 23rd, 2014 / 4:43 pm

Reviews

25 Points: The Circle

i.1.dave-eggers-the-circle-bookThe Circle
by Dave Eggers
Knopf, 2013
504 pages / $27.95 buy from Powell’s or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Nothing about The Circle is very surprising or new. Big Brother is a clichéd, outdated reality show. The privacy vs. transparency debate is as ubiquitous as the scope it describes. It’s obvious from page one which side the novel will end up on.

2. I don’t care about any of this. The transparency-obsessed campus of The Circle (a proxy for Google) is not an unappealing environment to me. Most of the time, it’s ridiculously attractive.

3. The relentless lists of online activities that the protagonist, Mae, conducts daily are not the downward spirals of doom they should be. Instead, the repetitive passages feel hypnotic and pleasurable and I live vicariously through Mae’s Internet high. I should read her decline into web addiction and over-sharing critically, but instead I feel the same breathless, click-through-again compulsiveness that I do staying up too late online, browsing websites and managing my own social media accounts.

4. I can’t figure out if I’m the exact target audience for The Circle, or the exact opposite of it. Are its warnings meant for those younger than me who’ve never known a world without Google? Or those older, who take a certain pride in refusing to get an Internet connection or email account?

5. The novel circles around the same few themes, visits the same few locations, and its protagonist, Mae, repeats the same tasks over and over again. This repetition gives me an intense, almost physical pleasure: a caffeine-like tightness in my brain, behind my ears; a lifting in my chest; the impulse the read as quickly as possible.

6. It’s more engaging to read about what Mae does on her computer than about her interactions with human characters, who are consistently flat—placeholders for perspectives.

7. Internet Rorschach: is this passage a dark chute of terror or an energizing, endorphin-generating endurance run? “[Mae] embarked on a flurry of activity, sending 4 zings and 32 comments and 88 smiles. In an hour, her PartiRank rose to 7,288. Breaking 7,000 was more difficult, but by 8, after joining and posting in 11 discussion groups, sending another 12 zings, one of them rated in the top 5,000 globally for that hour, and signing up for 67 more feeds, she’d done it. She was at 6,872, and she turned to her InnerCircle social feed. She was a few hundred posts behind, and she made her way through, replying to 70 or so messages, RSVPing to 11 events on campus, signing nine petitions and providing comments and constructive criticism on four products currently in beta. By 10:16, her rank was 5,342, and again, the plateau — this time at 5,000 — was hard to overcome. She wrote a series of zings about a new Circle service, allowing account holders to know whenever their name was mentioned in any messages sent from anyone else, and one of the zings, her seventh on the subject, caught fire and was rezinged 2,904 times, and this brought her PartiRank up to 3,887.” The passage continues for several more pages.

8. Fiction Writing 101: A complex character should always want something. For effective character development, ask: what does the character want? Mae wants a job at The Circle, and she gets it on page one. Her character is empty, simplistic, a shell.

9. Perhaps stripping Mae of any real wanting is the novel’s innovation: what happens when we want for nothing? Are we human anymore, or just shells of ourselves?

10. Something Mae sort of wants is a good rating of her work at The Circle (99% or higher for every inquiry she answers, which number in the hundreds each day). But this obsession with approval and high ratings doesn’t quite ring true to me: with quantity comes ambivalence, not a desire for quality. When reviews are always perfect, they have no meaning. READ MORE >

3 Comments
January 16th, 2014 / 4:38 pm

Reviews

25 Points: The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, 4th Edition

poetryeticsThe Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics, 4th Edition
ed. Roland Greene, Stephen Cushman, Clare Cavanagh, and Jahan Ramazani
Princeton University Press, 2012
1680 pages / $49.50 buy from Amazon or Powell’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. After graduating from college and while in the process of applying to MFA programs, I bought a copy of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry & Poetics having come across it in the discount bins of a book retailer down at the local strip mall hell lost somewhere between the suburbs of New Jersey and the rest of Southern California.

2. This was the hardcover 3rd edition published in 1993—previous editions appeared in 1974 and 1963.

3. Out of a total 1100 articles, the new paperback 4th edition presents 250 “entirely new” entries.

4. The Encyclopedia is what’s commonly referred to as a desk reference, i.e., it’s handy to have round.

5. With my 3rd edition I set out to learn EVERYTHING about the reading and writing of poems.

6.  I’ve found this a daunting task. Nonetheless, my 3rd edition has been well used over the years.

7. It is a little geeky feeling—but nonetheless stimulating!—to pour over entries, allowing various elements of chance to guide where your floating interests and eyes may take you.

8. A Bibliomancy Tool: righteously applied in the proper MFA program deconditioning environment it just might save a young budding poet or two from the curse of professionalization. Or else it will studiously assist in that very further professionalization.

9. Five types of entries are included: “terms and concepts; genres and forms; periods, schools, and movements; the poetries of nations, regions, disciplines, and social practices such as linguistics, religion, and science.” These “are provisional, and many items could move among them.”

10. “A large number of entries are written by scholars of poetries other than English—a Hispanist on pastoral, a scholar of the French Renaissance on epidexis, a Persianist on panegyric.” READ MORE >

1 Comment
December 17th, 2013 / 6:35 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Swamp Isthmus

Swamp_Isthmus_web_coverSwamp Isthmus
by Joshua Marie Wilkinson
Black Ocean, 2013
88 pages / $14.95 buy from Black Ocean

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. I’ve been working on this since this past spring. After reading Beyond The Like Factory & The Hatchet: Rethinking Poetry Reviewing by Joshua Marie Wilkinson, I knew I had to finish this review. This is actually a scary thing to write now.

2. Swamp Isthmus is Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s first book with Black Ocean and the second book in his No Volta pentalogy (first is Selenography, Sidebrow 2010; third will be The Courier’s Archive & Hymnal, Sidebrow 2014). I’ve not read Selenography so there is perhaps some things I’ve missed by not having done so.

3. A swamp is a living-dead landscape; the living feed off of the dead and dying, the most dead areas are filled with the most life and the least dead areas are those with the least life.

From the Hart Crane epigraph (The resigned factions of the dead preside) in the very beginning of Swamp Isthmus, Joshua Marie Wilkinson creates a zombie landscape, a zone that infects the living with symptoms of deadness. In a zombie film this deadness comes to the living with capitalist critiques of our alienating existence, but in Swamp Isthmus we see a zombie that carries critiques of the ecologic and nostalgic sort.

4. The lyrics of Swamp Isthmus are a living-dead endeavor: precise breaks eluding a narrative; linearity reduced to phrases contained in the line.

to disappear you must
tunnel discreet

descrying over nightfall
with unclogged wind

this coast is longer than a train track
needing coarse woolen cloth &

the clothes you’re in
so needing a bad song
to whistle what’s known

but may stick
to another’s mouth

5. Similar to what Zach Savich says about Wilkonson’s lyrics, to kill a zombie takes precision: remove the head, destroy the brain.

6. In The Dead Rustle, The Earth Shudders, Evan Calder Williams points to something that is obvious in Swamp Isthmus:

“…the undead have never really been dead in the first place—they never died.’

7. To cross a swamp takes precision and a mind for the contradiction of the living-dead: step here, not there; eat this, not that; drink plenty of water, but don’t drink the water.

footpaths marked by
false stars

it gathers up in
this bladder of light

8. the trees palsy/ to our bad lines.

9. In some respects, there is an admission with these lines of the failure of poetry to enact this landscape; the lines aren’t good. In some respects it’s proof that poetry works: even the bad lines cause the landscape to shudder.

10. There may be an actual “Swamp Isthmus.” The book’s title might be a reference to Gastineau Channel in Alaska, which at low-tide creates an isthmus from mainland Alaska to Douglas Island. Fritz Cove Road, mentioned in the section, I Go By Edgar Huntly Now, is a road that “dwindles down/to a patch of currants” (note the clever word play on ‘currents’) but it also ends at the place where Gastineau Channel meets Fritz Cove. A place that may eventually be unnavigable by watercraft. A place severely affected by glacial melt/global warming. READ MORE >

No Comments
December 3rd, 2013 / 5:33 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Sad Robot Stories

sadrobotcover400Sad Robot Stories
by Mason Johnson
CCLaP Publishing, 2013
126 pages / $22.00 ($4.99 Kindle Edition) buy from CCLaP or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. What happens when the world goes deaf?

2. Sad Robot Stories by Mason Johnson is a novella about Robot and “his” existential crisis after the collapse of the world, left only with “his” mechanical “brothers” and “sisters” and the usual fire and brimstone of an apocalypse setting.

3. Maybe deaf is the wrong word. Or the wrong cadence. What happens when the sound of humans is extinguished? “Yes, the cries, giggles, laughter, screams, moans of both pain and pleasure, squeals, wails, whispers–the many sounds of the human race–were all gone. Even the minute sound of blood rushing through veins and arteries, speeding through the heart and up to the brain…was gone.” Could you, theoretically, if you didn’t die and weren’t some pile of dust eating radioactivity, I mean, could you handle it?

4. Robot is special or different than his siblings in that his emotional spectrum has for some reason also been anthropomorphized. He is, like the title suggests, sad that the humans are gone.

5. Humans have created (in our world) a null-sound room–which one research team has monikered as a Dead Room–that most scientists call an anechoic chamber, in order to develop and test various auditory waves.

6. “An anechoic chamber (an-echoic meaning non-echoing or echo-free) is a room designed to completely absorb reflections of either sound or electromagnetic waves. They are also insulated from exterior sources of noise. The combination of both aspects means they simulate a quiet open-space of infinite dimension, which is useful when exterior influences would otherwise give false results.” (Wikipedia)

7. Robot specifically misses from the human race Mike and Mike’s nuclear family. Mike was the first human to acknowledge (or perhaps ignore) Robot’s being. “Being” here couples physical and metaphysical, which, according to more Wikipedia, is exactly anathema to Speculative Realism. Speculative Realism, from the one article I read, argues for the multiple possibilities of reality; that no one universal law is stable according to these multiple possibilities (with the exception of the Principle of Non-Contradiction); “there is no reason [the universe] could not be otherwise.”  A good ground rule for any Science Fiction.

8. In the anthropocentric world of Robot pre- human extinction, there are workplace laws managing the ratio of humans-to-robots, which presumptuously leads to pay differences, benefits, etc. Like any class distinction, humans have structured a wall to stand on in order to look down upon those below, i.e. robots. Mike plays pool with Robot, takes Robot home to meet his family. He tells Robot stories of his life. He treats “him” like a friend.

9. “Anechoic chambers, a term coined by American acoustics expert Leo Beranek, were originally used in the context of acoustics (sound waves) to minimize the reflections of a room.”

10. Robot is fascinated not just by Mike’s stories of an alcoholic, nihilistic past, but of Mike’s budding fascination and subsequent redemption after Mike started reading books. This notion of the redemptive functions of books/stories is not objective. “And it is true that the tool is the congealed outline of an operation. But it remains on the level of the hypothetical imperative. I may use the hammer to nail up a case or to hit my nieghbour over the head.” (Jean-Paul Sarte, “What Is Literature?”) You read/write a story, why? READ MORE >

1 Comment
November 26th, 2013 / 11:09 am

Reviews

Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail: Stories

hana-sasaki-cover-finalThree Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail: Stories
by Kelly Luce
A Strange Object, 2013
152 pages / $14.95 buy from A Strange Object

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail is the debut story collection by Kelly Luce.

2. It fits on a bookshelf of modern Japanese writing somewhere between Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge and Banana Yoshimoto, maybe even one shelf up from Haruki Murakami.

3. The only thing is that Kelly Luce grew up in Brookfield, Illinois.

4. How strict is the “write what you know” edict? On Big Think, Nathan Englander reminds us that this advice is too often misconstrued. It really means we should write from a place of emotional familiarity, not that we’re limited to autobiographical writing.

5. But are there limitations when we talk about writers depicting foreign cultures? This story collection seems very Japanese (if a book can even be “very Japanese”) and yet, it’s distinctly American, too.

6. When I was nine I was flipping through channels and caught the end of Akira on basic cable. I had no clue what was going on, but in the weeks, months, and years to follow I found that it left an indelible mark on me—a predilection towards the uncomfortably strange.

7. A Strange Object is the name of the independent press that published Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail. They’re based out of Austin, TX. This is their first book, too.

8. This is strictly conjecture, but Japanese culture affords for a strangeness that is uniquely its own. Look at all of the Japanese fiction out there: Akutagawa and Mishima, Ryu Murakami and Haruki Murakami, and the scores of manga and J-horror.

9. The characters in Kelly Luce’s collection are outsiders. Many are Americans who move to Japan for work or to connect with the culture that they find so entrancing. Some are only half Asian, an anomaly to the native Japanese—not gaijin, but not Japanese, either. Others are fully Japanese, but do not fit in as with the Japanese school girls who seek refuge from the tedium of their lives through a unique karaoke machine and with the Japanese widower who invented a machine that measures a person’s capacity for love. All are lost. All are searching to fit in.

10. In ninth grade, I ordered a t-shirt with the kanji for gaijin on it. I wore that shirt proudly even though no one at my school in West Tennessee understood what it meant. Looking back, I think I was so drawn to Japanese comic books and cartoons because it was a way to embrace my otherness as a nerdy, awkward white boy. READ MORE >

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November 14th, 2013 / 11:14 am

Reviews

25 Points: A High Wind in Jamaica

highwproduct-7A High Wind in Jamaica
by Richard Hughes
NYRB Classics, 1999
279 pages / $14.00 buy from NYRB or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. On the surface, Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica is a dot-to-dot adventure tale. After a hurricane hits an English settlement in Jamaica, two families decide to send their children back to England. Early on in the voyage the children are taken aboard a pirate ship whereupon they visit exotic ports and busy themselves with imaginary games. They are eventually returned home, and the pirates’ subsequent arrest, trial, and execution rounds out the proceedings. Of course, that last part seems a little extreme and out of place, and that’s really the book’s program, because simmering just below this surface is the constant threat of rape and murder.

2. In the spirit of Calvino’s later lecture on lightness versus weight, the narrative manages to float just above the threat of violence. You get the feeling after a while that Hughes is totally aware that you’re aware of the divide between high adventure and childhood trauma, and so he starts to fuck with your sense that awful things need to happen.

3. And, of course, awful things do happen—often and with startling frankness—but they are always quickly buried under the book’s relentless trend towards lightness.

4. The earliest memory I have is of staring up at the bottom of a kitchen table. I don’t know where I was or what I was doing, but I remember looking at a pattern in the wood and then turning toward a doorway. That’s it. I know I’ve told the memory differently over the years, adding in details about toys or sounds or maybe a smell wafting in, but the truth is that I just have this one scant moving image. I don’t think it’s a lie to embellish something so bland and colorless in texture, and at certain points I might have really believed in the additions.

5. Before I reread the novel to work on this review, I kept thinking it opened with a bigger feint at being a lighthearted adventure, but this is totally wrong. By the end of the first chapter’s scene-setting, two colonial ladies starve to death (or are fed ground-up glass by their servants, who knows!), a black servant drowns in a bathing pool, and countless rats and bats are dispatched by the family’s cat. All the while, we’re reminded that this is “a kind of paradise for English children to come to.” Right.

6. I usually skip introductions, but when I talk about AHWiJ, I almost always fall back on Francine Prose’s brief intro for the NYRB edition: “First the vague premonitory chill—familiar, seductive, unwelcome—then the syrupy aura coating the visible world, through which its colors and edges appear ever more lurid and sharp… The experience of reading Richard Hughes’s A High Wind in Jamaica…evokes the somatic sensations of falling ill, as a child.” Sign me up.

7. Another big theme of the book’s opening is the whole colonial question, which is vital and pressing and could probably be handled with greater finesse than I can muster here. Suffice it to say that the first sentence presents ruined slave quarters, sugar-grinding houses, and mansions, all “fruits of Emancipation in the West Indies.” Considering the adventure-story-through-a-fun-house-mirror about to come, it’s hard not to think that this kind of stage-setting is about just rewards, that the English family deserves everything that’s about to come.

8. A brief digression cum recipe: AHWiJ allegedly contains the first mention of a drink called the Hangman’s Blood—a mixture of rum, gin, brandy, and porter—“innocent (merely beery) as it looks, refreshing as it tastes, it has the property of increasing rather than allaying thirst, and so once it has made a breach, soon demolishes the whole fort.” Clearly the kind of mix that leads to public exposure and pissing blood and, of course, piracy.

9. Is there actually such a thing as an anti-adventure novel? (I’d imagine something like Coetzee’s Foe might come close, although its meta-narrative seems more about deconstructing the adventure genre than teasing out its hidden desires.) And furthermore, if there were such an anti-genre, would it stand in opposition to all of the finicky colonial and gender and race problems inherent in Defoe and Dumas and Stevenson? While AHWiJ is never really a wholehearted rejection of the adventure novel’s Victorian and Enlightenment-era point of view, the ways in which it represses and then inverts these views are extremely sneaky and, by the book’s end, terrifying.

10. The narrative portrays the adult world as a haze of concealed motives and consequences. A pirate’s drunken leer and a parent’s concern over a coming hurricane are met with the same curious misapprehension: that something vital or alarming is just beyond one’s young recognition. But while Hughes draws a kind of tight circular POV around the children, he also lets the reader step out into the larger circle of this adult world, and somewhere between the larger circle and the nested one is a place where motives and the threat of their attendant consequences exist. READ MORE >

1 Comment
November 12th, 2013 / 2:14 pm

Reviews

25 Points: This Is Between Us

sampsell-this-is-between-usThis Is Between Us
by Kevin Sampsell
Tin House Books, 2013
240 pages / $15.95 buy from Powell’s or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. This book reminded me of this remix which was incredibly moving and pained me this spring and still pains me now http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KbdOBE1ORw

2. The thing about Kevin Sampsell is that he feels like the kind of guy who has been through everything. He’s just one of those people. He doesn’t have that used up feeling or look at all but he does have that vibe of being the kind of guy who has lived through basically everything there is as a human to experience but not in a hardened way.

3. I’m not explaining this right but he’s just one of those people who seems complicated and well adjusted and like if you talk to him he just has been there, whatever it is but he doesn’t come outright and say that instead he just comes from this I know what you mean mode which isn’t even patronizing the point here is that all of that also comes through in his writing and this book This Is Between Us from Tin House coming out is five years of a life.

4. Anything you have ever experienced in your life is in this book.

5. This book is comforting.

6. Sometimes this book is upsetting.

7. This book is comforting.

8. Some people said this book was disturbing and I was like have you ever lived your life at all or ever really loved someone or had a partner and if you haven’t maybe your life is easier and even if your life has been really nice you’ll still be like “yup” while reading parts of this book because it’s just so real in how it’s rendered because it’s just written so elegantly and simply stated and maybe that’s the thing with Kevin Sampsell’s writing.

9. We’re working with the rhetorical you in this entire book.

10. It’s written like a confessional ode-ish poem. READ MORE >

3 Comments
November 7th, 2013 / 1:06 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Götterdämmerung Family BBQ

gotterdammerungGötterdämmerung Family BBQ
by Jasper Bernes and Joshua Clover
Commune Editions, 2013
read, print

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. I met Jasper Bernes at a café in Oakland. He was binding Götterdämmerung Family BBQ with a long arm stapler. Commune Editions is a new publishing venture organized by Jasper Bernes, Joshua Clover, and Juliana Spahr.

2. Jasper invited me to the Poetry and/or Revolution conference-taking place at UC Berkeley, Davis, and Santa Cruz. I went to a discussion on manifestos where Joshua Clover delivered his Don’t Put the Rabbit in the Hat. Later, at “The Public School” Joshua and Jasper read from Götterdämmerung Family BBQ.

3. If it’s not clear you can read this online here along with works by Juliana Spahr, Diane Di Prima, and Louise Michel.

4. Poems. These are poems. Don’t forget. They look like poems. They taste like poems. They’re also full of frenetic pop culture references and blatant political antagonisms. They’re fun, but they’re trying to fuck shit up all the same.

5. The line that got the biggest cheer / laugh / reaction from the reading was “I wandered lonely as a drone / That floats o’er jails and landfill / And monitors what we say on the phone. // It knows an amazing amount / About One Direction / And sexting with frenemies of / the public good, who burn in the sun // of total transparency, / brains open to the screen / Memories of one Friedrich von / Ludwig von Mises on scene…”

6. There’s a kind of opulence to lyric like that – a lyrical richness, a sickly sweetness from the rhyme, an excessive beauty. Some other writers, like Julian T. Brolaski, and Joyelle McSweeney, also capture a kind of perverted poeticism, a lavish absence, bastard cousin of luxury rap. “I’m early to the party but my ‘rarri is the latest.”

7. While “I wandered lonely as a drone” pleases, much of the rest of the chapbook is more of a call to arms and a more vigorous critique of political ambivalence. “Your vocabulary did this to me and millions like me, the vulnerability of words wanna be starting something else: rockets, rain, renegacy. Turn it upside down and set it on fire / is too a solution if you believe in emotional truth”

8. Responsibility, commiseration, complicity. This work sits firmly on the let’s do something with our poetry side of the aisle, rather than the “everything is meaningless” or the “poetry can’t do real shit” side of the weird looking aisle.

9. Jasper told me that Commune Editions would focus on work with an anarchist lean. Publishing a recounting of the trials of Louise Michel achieves that in more than one way.

10. “We once thought that there was more to life than breathing carbon emissions through the holes in our faces and we were right” READ MORE >

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October 31st, 2013 / 12:31 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Gulag

gulag9780140283105Gulag
by Anne Applebaum
Anchor Books, 2004
736 pages / $18.95 buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Roughly speaking, the Gulag was the soviet prison camp system that operated from about 1919 through the late 1950′s, though some camps lasted right up until the collapse of the Soviet Union itself

2. Anne Applebuam, the author of this work, has never been a prisoner in a Gulag. In fact Applebaum is pretty much the total opposite of most people who were in the Gulag system, who were by and large poorer Russians and eastern europeans of various national origins. Applebaum is a member of America’s patrician class. She went to Yale and Oxford, worked as a foreign correspondent for The Economist, and is married to the foreign minister of Poland.

3. I can’t help but wonder if one reason Applebaum decided to tackle such a grim, destitute subject is because, like many people who have a fairly secure, lofty station in life, they are morbidly fascinated by the sheer horror of tragedies beyond their geographic and chronological frame of reference. (note: while I am not a member of said lofty station, I am not currently starving to death and am myself often fascinated by horrific national tragedies)

4. I don’t want you to think that Anne Applebaum simply wrote this book out of some universe of vast privilege and is just sort of casually looking down and and trying to explicate history like the Queen of England talking about what’s happening in Syria with the Prince of Wales at afternoon tea or something. The Gulag system as a topic is so enormous, so horrifically cruel and violent, that she obviously had to submerge herself into it to a degree and for a length of time that most people, let alone most writers of history, would probably find appalling.

5. To be honest, I think her outsider status here works to her advantage more than anything. Most of the Russian language works about the Gulag she cites are very emotionally powerful, but they tend to become monotonous and sort of blend all together in a single,very Slavic voice of total despair. You can only read so many descriptions of old women bitterly weeping while receiving their daily bread ration before it becomes this easily dismissible rhetoric of misery.

6. This book is about 700 pages long. About 110 pages of that length is source notes and bibliographical information of one kind or another. Anne Applebaum offers a tidal wave, like an actual wave that engulfs you, of background information and first hand accounts of what life was like in the Gulag system.

7. While reading it I kept wondering if I would ever have it in me to write a 700 page long book of which 1/7 is pure reference information. I mean, I get that people do that sort of thing for a PHD, but that is presumably a big incentive to finish a book. Did she get some kind of advance for this? Or was this just a kooky little pet project she nursed along for years on her own?

8. This is the single most painful work of non-fiction I have ever read.

9. No, really.

10. If the perpetrators of the Holocaust were, as Hannah Arendt famously wrote, committing the banality of evil, then the Gulag system is about the banality of apathy. At no point was the cruelty of the system or of the administrators of the camps or the guards ever mandated. The purpose of the Gulag was never that of the Nazi camps (even if they do bear horrific similarities), in fact, the actual idea of what this whole prison camp system was for fluctuated a lot over time. Sometimes it was about trying to rehabilitate prisoners, sometimes it was about using their slave labor to turn a profit, sometimes it was just about getting rid of undesirable elements and sending them 10 time zones away in the arctic waste. Though that last thing is literally the only thing it did that actually worked. READ MORE >

12 Comments
October 29th, 2013 / 12:15 pm

Reviews

25 Points: Vintage Attraction

vint17654685Vintage Attraction
by Charles Blackstone
Pegasus Books, 2013
304 pages / $24.95 buy from Pegasus Books or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Charles Blackstone is the managing editor of Bookslut, which is a nice outfit with a long-standing thing going on and you can read them at: www.bookslut.com

2. I prefer to call him Charlie and he is fine with that.

3. This novel is about a guy who is in love with a famous girl in Chicago who is a wine expert and has her own restaurant thing going on and her own tv show and the guy contacts her as a fan and then they elope and then five weeks later he thinks she is cheating on him and also they aren’t even getting along really and then they are taking a trip to Greece together.

4. There isn’t any gore or devastating kind of art going on in it what it is instead is more of a vibe of like you’re on a second date with someone you really like and it’s a picnic and you just want to seem really nice because you actually think your date is really nice so you use proper grammar. Don’t even lie you know you look really cute when you dress up sometimes. I want to say this book has a tone you’d use in a job interview but that wouldn’t be helping anyone.

5. Also our narrator has an incredibly sad type of way about him which I am basically a complete sucker for but that is fine.

6. This guy in the novel is an adjunct professor.

7. It has this kind of little nervous guy thrown into a big city feel to it because he like asks this girl out and then they’re married and he has to keep up with her life.

8. Have you ever felt like you had to keep up with someone and was it exhausting.

9. I think this entire novel may be a metaphor for the history of wine. Tolstoy.

10. They’re running around Greece trying to either fix or break a marriage they’ve been in for five weeks. READ MORE >

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October 22nd, 2013 / 11:09 am

Reviews

25 Points: Life Cycle

lifecyclereduxLife Cycle
by Dena Rash Guzman
Dog On A Chain Press, 2013
69 pages / $10.00 buy from Powell’s

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Dena Rash Guzman climbs trees and sports cowboy boots and straw hats.

2. Many men drown at sea.

3. All the poems are titled Life Cycle to avoid/create/engender confusion.

4. Handless children populate the poppy pods.

5. DRG has been to China and beyond in search of the muse.

6. Farm weddings do not feature high on her list of favorite events.

7. Bones sleep, are tossed, and itch in these poems.

8. I spent one hot summer in Portland once, some years ago, and did not bump into the poet.

9. I have written several poems lately dealing with loss and aging, and “This is how we forget our ancestors:” shakes the dust off my own family skeletons.

10. DRG reads her poetry live more than most writers I’ve come across, and I’m not sure this is due to her brilliant reading, or Portland, OR, having more readings per square mile than Brooklyn, NY. READ MORE >

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October 8th, 2013 / 2:47 pm