The Map Of The System Of Human Knowledge

by Leif Haven

The Map of the System of Human Knowledge
by James Tadd Alcox
Tiny Hardcore Press, 2012
pages / $12  Buy from Tiny Hardcore Press

While The Map of The System of Human Knowledgeis in a lot of small pieces the work can be read as one unified work. Each part is situated on the eponymous map. Formally, each small part of text is tasked with defining a specific category of human knowledge. They do this with disarming simplicity while never addressing or naming the area of the map they represent. Instead, the system of human knowledge is outlined in an oblique or affective way. Each section of the book is a discreet and important section of the map as a whole to the extent that it is revealed in the book. Each piece works as a thing itself, but the effect of the work as a whole is different, as on a map, which allows for some feeling of context and scale. A single piece presented alone does little to evoke the feeling of accumulation that occurs when progressing through the work, but each piece is touching and worth considering on its own.

In  “History / Natural / Uniformity of Nature / History of Land and Sea” is in second person. The collection moves easily through points of view. Here the narrator addresses you as you hide in the bathroom from the older woman you picked up at an off season beach bar and you think:

“Maybe there will come a light down from the heavens and lift you bodily from this toilet seat and shake you back to sobriety and shine itself in your face and ask if you’d like a shave. Yes, you’ll say. And you’ll sit in God’s own chair and he will take the blade and warm it under some hot water and ask how you’re getting on and you’ll say: Oh, you know.”

Here salvation or transcendence shows up in a situation of kind of horrifying banality and shows itself as explicitly normal.  The “how’re you getting on” is a kindly old-fashioned salutation that you can’t help but answer with a passive platitude of your vague dissatisfaction indicating nothing. It’s a weird fantasy and a weird way to take in stride communicating with this supernatural barber made of light that it works to make the situation satisfying, sad, devastating, even because it is defused. Even in the face of transcendence we’re still “Oh, you know.”

The book moves like this by displacing situations and making things that are normal experience strange and the strangest things into something normal. Some examples: a sea cow shows up, a mother speaks in the language of God because of soup, the sea cow is kind of an asshole that moves in on your girlfriend, there are monarchical belligerent geese, there are strange births, things inside of bodies that usually aren’t, (money, other people) there are many surprising objects, there is David Hume, there are no more dreams, and there is no more soup. There is a vacuum sacrifice.

When the collection is finished it isn’t complete. The Map of The System of Human Knowledge is never finished because it is only a map, a representation, never the system itself. It indicates where things are with relation to each other. Characters still follow this map despite encountering situations that “defy the common experience of all mankind, and so forth” as David Hume says. The characters deal with whatever strangeness in precisely the ways that they are equipped to. This has an effect of leaving the reader feeling both helpless and comforted.

In “Philosophy / Logic / Art of Remembering / Supplement to Memory / Writing / Alphabet / Arts of Writing, Printing, Reading, Deciphering” the narrator writes “I’ve been receiving letters – unsigned, no return address, but with handwriting that looks suspiciously familiar. In fact, it looks like my own.” It could be the opening of a noir film or a Twilight Zone episode but it’s not. The line between quotidian and remarkable here is exceedingly blurry. When something strange happens the characters may feel perturbed or even alarmed, but for the most part the rest of the world continues unchanged. The narrator here consults with a handwriting expert that doesn’t appreciate being bargained with; after all, handwriting professional school is expensive. The handwriting professional, will, however, consult on handwriting over the phone and with a verbal description somehow confirms the narrator’s suspicion that the handwriting is in fact his own. The narrator doesn’t panic but simply wonders what, if anything, he had been trying to tell himself, and when or how he had written these letters without his own knowledge.

Following the The Map of the System of Human Knowledge is a trip that leaves the reader more or less where they started but changed. The reader starts and ends with the same map. The exciting trick of using a map is that is allows you to see the terrain it represents, and it inalterably changes the way that terrain looks. The places of human knowledge are located on the map, in the context of the rest of human knowledge. This effect estranges “common experience”. It makes it weird. And it makes the impossible seem to belong exactly next to and basically the same as what happens every day.

***

 Leif Haven is currently in transit. Other writings and etceteras can be found and inquiries inquired at http://leifhaven.com

William Giraldi’s Review of Alix Ohlin: A Failure in Four Parts

by Guest Post: Johannes Lichtman

Background

Last weekend, William Giraldi’s New York Times review of two new books by Alix Ohlin blew up the literary twittersphere (which is to say that literally tens of people were talking about it). The discussion about Giraldi’s incredibly mean-spirited critique coincided with a debate about niceness vs. honesty in reviewing, started by an intriguing (though, in my opinion, somewhat alarmist) article at Slate. But Giraldi’s piece is irrelevant to the nice vs. honest debate and completely worthless to either side of the argument, since his review is not only dickish, but also dishonest.

 

An Honest Review

Basically aims to tell the reader three or four things:

1. What the book is about

2. What the author is trying to do

3. How well the author succeeds in doing what s/he is trying to do

4. What the book’s place in the larger conversation of literature is (part 4 is often omitted in shorter reviews)

Giraldi fails in all four regards.

A Brief Summary of How Giraldi Fails in All Four Regards

1. He makes some effort to describe what the Ohlin’s books are about, but he can barely get through a summary sentence without passing judgment on why what the book is about is stupid.

2. He makes no attempt to assess what the writer is trying to do. Instead of judging Ohlin’s work as a successful or unsuccessful example of somewhat plot-driven literary realism, Giraldi bashes Ohlin for failing as a prose stylist (though she’s not trying to be a prose stylist).

3. Giraldi argues that Ohlin fails, but since she’s not failing at what she’s trying to do, but rather at doing what Giraldi likes in fiction, that’s not a failure on her part.

4. Giraldi screws up #4 so inexplicably and completely that I’m just going to discuss it in more depth later since there’s really no way to summarize it.

A Brief Note

For the record, I have never met, talked to, or had any kind of interaction with Alix Ohlin or William Giraldi.

Part One of a Failure in Four Parts: What the Book is About

Giraldi begins his review by invoking the ghosts of Don Quixote, Tristram Shandy, Middlemarch, andAugie March. An odd choice, considering he’s reviewing the sophomore efforts of a relatively underground writer who’s been slowly building her reputation in small journals like The Southwest Review. Giraldi then dismisses all of Ohlin’s plots either because they’ve been done before or because they’re too dramatic. To illustrate the former, Giraldi sarcastically uses “of course” four times in one paragraph to summarize the obviousness of Ohlin using, for example, a therapist who is “of course wackier than her patients” or “an inadequate therapist who flees to the Arctic to mind-rescue Inuit, and who of course never wavers in his pursuit of masochistic servitude.” As for the drama, while Ohlin’s novel, Inside, might be a little too action-packed for some readers’ tastes, the stories in Signs and Wonders are deftly plotted. But Giraldi seems to think that death or sickness or trauma of any kind belong in soap operas, not literature, which leads him to compare Ohlin to Susan Lucci.

If you don’t like detective novels, you shouldn’t review a detective novel because you’ll just end up saying something stupid like “there’s too much murder.” If you don’t like plot, don’t review plot-heavy literary fiction.

Part Two and Three of a Failure in Four Parts: What the Author is Trying to Do and How Well the Author Succeeds in Doing What S/he Is Trying to Do

Ohlin is not a prose stylist—nor, in these two books at least, does she aspire to be—but she is a good storyteller. I pre-ordered Signs and Wonders on the strength of the Alix Ohlin stories I had read in literary journals over the past couple years, and reading the book, I found it a very enjoyable, and, at times, emotionally evocative page-turner. Giraldi—if his review is any indication—is not a prose stylist either; he’s a thesaurus addict who thinks that writing fancy words is the same as having style. In a single paragraph he uses “presage,” “moniker,” and “mentation.” He starts his review with “yawningly,” then bashes Ohlin for using “honkingly” (to describe a character blowing her nose).

The critic then indulges in an extended takedown of Ohlin’s language, which he thinks “betrays an appalling lack of register—language that limps onto the page proudly indifferent to pitch or vigor.” Some of Giraldi’s (extensive and obsessive) criticisms of Ohlin’s language in her novel Inside are fair. The phrase “Puppy-dog eyes” is tired, “brilliantly smart” is repetitive, and Giraldi builds a strong case for Ohlin’s overuse of the heart as synecdoche.

But Giraldi also maligns Ohlin’s use of “weird,” which is weird, because, well, there is nothing wrong with using the word “weird.” It is not, as Giraldi suggests, “the most worthless word in the English language.” (The most worthless word in the English language is obviously “timeshare.”) Giraldi complains that in Ohlin’s novel, “Teeth are described as ‘white,’ as if we needed telling.” I wish everyone would assume that my teeth didn’t need to be described by color, because, despite my frequent use of Colgate whitening products, my teeth remain an ugly cousin to white, more like the color of paper that’s been overexposed to humidity. My own off-white chompers aside, I wonder how Giraldi reconciles his anti-white teeth stance with this phrase from his own novel, Busy Monsters, which was released earlier this month: “her teeth were so white!”

Giraldi’s most puzzling criticism of Ohlin’s language is that she uses the phrase “a dive bar.” He believes that “dive bar” is an example of Ohlin’s “at-hand language,” a category in which I can only assume he includes slothful words like “shoe” or “eye.” Ohlin chooses the phrase “dive bar” to describe a dive bar because that’s what it’s fucking called. Maybe Giraldi would prefer stories in which we discard the tired “dive bar” for “lugubrious libation shack,” where we change “shoe” to “foot vestibule” and “eye” to “face periscope.”

Giraldi takes issue with “The absurdly obvious,” which he claims is what “passes for wisdom” in Ohlin’s writing. He picks out this phrase of Ohlin’s for particular ridicule: “Anyone driven to hang himself would have to be suffering deeply and terribly.” By all means, let’s do away with this absurd obviousness. But let’s not stop with Ohlin; better go back a few years and start with, say, Schopenhauer: “It will generally be found that as soon as the terrors of life reach a point where they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life.” Giraldi is oblivious—in this review, at least—to a pretty well-known fact of life: sometimes the absurdly obvious can also be poignant and relevant. Sometimes stating something we all know, in the right way and/or at the right moment, can have a really strong effect. Like in Ohlin’s story  “Fortune-Telling,” in which one character asks a stranger how he likes his job selling insurance, and the guy responds, “Life is long…and this is just one phase.” Well, duh. Life is long. And this is just one phase. But when I first read that story a few years ago, in the pages of Columbia, it didn’t feel obvious to me at all. Maybe that was in part because I was spending my mornings trying to avoid angry line cooks as I recovered from hangovers in a walk-in fridge. But the idea that life was long and there were different phases to it felt fresh, invigorating.

Part Four of a Failure in Four Parts: The book’s place in the larger conversation of literature

In spite of Giraldi’s misunderstanding of the basic 1, 2, 3s of books reviewing, the most troubling part about his review is the last paragraph, when he tries to tackle #4:

There’s been much recent parley, in these pages and elsewhere, about “women’s fiction” and the phallic shadow it has been condemned to live in. But there’s a better argument to be had. Ohlin’s fiction will be shelved with the pop lit and never with Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro, not because of her leaden obsession with pregnancy, dating and divorce, or any inherent bias in the publishing industry, but because her language is intellectually inert, emotionally untrue and lyrically asleep.

Let’s ignore for a second one fact that Giraldi is just plain wrong about—Ohlin will never be shelved as pop lit, unless she decides to change her writing style completely—and focus on the most concerning part of this conclusion: Why does he bring up the issue of “women’s fiction” (whatever that is) at all? Especially since he says in the next breath that the failure of Ohlin’s work has nothing to be with it being “women’s fiction”? Giraldi claims that Ohlin’s writing doesn’t fail because she’s interested in women’s topics (like pregnancy and dating—in other words, the beginning of life and that which creates it), but because her language is bad. Which leads him to imply that books by women, which tackle topics of boys and rings and all those silly things, are being neglected not because of industry bias, but because they’re bad. I know I’m inferring a little bit here, and Giraldi does not actually make this statement; but because his concluding paragraph is so baffling, I’m left to try to interpret what he means. Maybe Giraldi is just not used to reviewing fiction by women, and because of this, he thinks that any review of a female writer has to include a discussion of “women’s fiction.” I can sympathize. I was equally misguided on the topic of female writers when I was a freshman in high school.

I don’t think Giraldi’s critique is necessarily misogynistic, and even if I did, I would not say so in print, since that’s a heavy charge, one that should not be leveled without being very familiar with a writer’s entire body of work or the writer as a person, which, in regards to Giraldi, I am not. But it is a little unsettling that all the unreservedly positive quotes or comparisons in Giraldi’s review are from or about men (Ezra Pound, David Lodge, William Gass, John Updike, and John Erskine), and all the negative comparisons are to women (Danielle Steel and Susan Lucci).

In his concluding paragraph, Giraldi shows a little admiration for two female writers, when he points out that Ohlin will never be mentioned in the same breath as the great Mavis Gallant or Alice Munro. But by choosing to unfavorably compare Ohlin to Alice Munro, who shares little in common with Ohlin besides occupation and two X chromosomes, Giraldi insults both writers. The closest Giraldi comes to praise is to say that it is to Ohlin’s credit that her story collection was “breathed on by Updike’s Maples stories.” Which I guess is kind of a compliment, but the image is so creepy that it’s hard to take anything positive from it.

Why Giraldi’s Review Is Indefensible

After the review was published, J. Robert Lennon kicked off the debate at Salon, and a lot of support for Giraldi came from bloggers and commenters who hadn’t read Ohlin’s fiction and were going only on the grossly misleading quotes Giraldi pulled from her books. Giraldi’s defenders don’t seem to understand that the problem with his review isn’t that it’s negative, but that it takes a dishonest approach to criticism. As one blogger put it, “to hate negative criticism…is lame.” But the problem isn’t negative criticism. It’s that, after having read Giraldi’s review, Alix Ohlin could easily tell him the same thing that Thomas Wolfe told F. Scott Fitzgerald’s: “you think I’d be a good writer if I were an altogether different writer from the writer I am. This may be true but I don’t see what I’m going to do about it.”

Honest Reviews Matter Because…

Honest, critical reviews—which are vital to literature—not only inform the reader, but, if they are especially on point, can also inform the author. Michael Chabon has said that it was a reviewer’s criticism of Wonder Boys that led him towards writing what many consider his magnum opus, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Obviously a reviewer who doesn’t respect an author enough to assess her book on its own terms will do nothing to help her.

But the most basic purpose of a book review is to cover the aforementioned four points for the benefit of the reader. Since Giraldi covered none of the four points, I’m not sure what the purpose of his review was, except to promote his new novel. (Incidentally, the parts I’ve read of his debut book are actually quite good, which just goes to show the danger of judging a writer from one piece of writing.) I can only imagine how much it sucks not to have your writing eviscerated—since that’s the risk you take whenever you publish—but to have your writing eviscerated in the most influential book review in the country for not being something it doesn’t want to be. Since most of the talk on this subject has included the disclaimer “I’ve never read Ohlin’s books,” I think it’s worth mentioning that Alix Ohlin is a very good fiction writer. From what little I’ve read, William Giraldi may also be a good fiction writer, but he might do well to stay away from this kind of book reviewing, lest people forget it.

Johannes Lichtman reviews indie books for The Oxford American. He teaches courses on experimental literature and artistic appropriation in the Graduate Liberal Studies Department at UNC Wilmington.

Other Kinds

by Delaney Nolan

Other Kinds
by Dylan Nice
Short Flight / Long Drive Books, Forthcoming October 2012
120 pages / $10.95  Buy from Short Flight/Long Drive

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dylan Nice’s first collection, Other Kinds, holds a particular resonance when placed alongside his recent essay over at The Rumpus [http://therumpus.net/2012/07/truth-in-nonfiction-a-testimonial/]. Each short story in this collection revolves around a young man who’s left his poor mountain home, but still doesn’t belong in the new land he has claimed. Most of the characters drove away from rural mining towns to the Midwest, or some other part of blank-faced suburbia. Now, the protagonist can’t return to where he came from—he’s too smart; he’s too quiet; his hands are too soft.

Nice writes in his Rumpus essay, “Truth in Nonfiction: A Testimonial,” about the Pennsylvania coal town that he came from:  “I had spent much of my childhood in backwoods revival services, in evangelical youth groups, trips to praise and worship services in stadium-sized venues… I had come down out of the mountains with a wad of snuff in my lip and driving a high-mileage Ford.” This wonderful essay goes on to tell how books, in their slow and subtle way, brought to him an irrevocable change. “Other Kinds,” on the other hand, seems to tell of the price one pays for that kind of change.

The rural mountain landscape, a neighborhood where people “ate toast for supper and had no front door,” is the lonely background upon which these stories are set. The language it is written in—sparse, clean, clear as Appalachian spring water—is reflective of the no-nonsense, tobacco-chewing community that lays in the past. Again and again, we find that the main character simultaneously longs for and scorns the backwoods poverty that he was raised in. His failure to fit in in the new world—of universities and wealthy suburban towns—is often articulated in the context of women: women he wants, women who leave him disappointed. On the other hand, his rejection by the old world happens primarily in the context of men—the disappointed brother, the silent father. All of this loneliness is tempered with enough humor, though, that the reader never feels too weighed down.

For instance, in the excellent “Artifacts,” the narrator says, “I liked girls from money, but they wanted to dress me in polo shirts and take them to beaches with lifeguards on duty…I found things wrong though, things I couldn’t begin to address. She had a waterproof iPod player in her shower and plans to bear children by twenty-four.” The protagonists of these stories find themselves drawn to women who belong to a world that does not welcome them. In turn, the men in these stories are dismissive of the soft lives the women have been given. Compared with the poverty and harshness that they came from, nothing else seems quite real. This is articulated particularly well in the story “Wet Leaves,” which revolves around a man’s relationship with a young woman who goes to the Hallmark store just to look at the cards. Even though he’s left hardship back in the Alleghenies, the young man in the story still trusts hardship over sentiment: “She was soft and when I felt her I thought of words like ‘mild’ or ‘macaroni salad.’… My people were loggers and truck drivers—people who didn’t trust success as much as struggle.”

“Other Kinds” is separated into three sections, and each one is preceded by a very short epilogue. Epilogue I perhaps expresses the narrators’ attitude towards wealth best: “I did not like her house. I did not like its dry-wall. I did not like their hot tub, their dryer, their dishwasher. I did not like their lifestyle, their health. I did not like that I liked her…I wanted her to feel tired, cold, alone. I wanted her to be ashamed of everything she’d been given.” The tone never veers into a resentment of women in general, however—it’s just that confused anger of looking in on a party you weren’t invited to, but didn’t want to attend, anyway.

Only in the end of the last story, “Flat Land,” do we physically return to this homeland that has been constantly looming in the background. In a striking and beautiful turn, the narrator is expelled from his home in suburbia because of a housefire next door. He makes the long drive into the Alleghenies, to the company house of his brother Jason. Here, Nice masterfully shows the gut-deep affection that these characters still hold for the home they left, while simultaneously showing why they had to leave. It’s perfectly encapsulated in a lyrical passage about the character watching his baby nephew getting a bath in the kitchen sink:

“Her eyes moved slowly as her hands smoothed over the baby. A breeze blew over the house, sucking the curtain to the window screen and pulling trails of steam from the bath. I remembered winter baths as a boy: the open window, the uneven heat. I sat in the hot water in the old house with no other houses around it.”

But there is no place left for these characters in the world they’ve left. When the narrator in “Flat Land” goes to a neighbor’s house with Jason, Nice subtly renders the sense of expulsion that accompanies a coming of age—no violence, no anger, just a fumbling where things used to be easy. “Danny’s heavy wife came out and took their daughters into the house by the backs of their shirts. The blunt went around a few more times. There was nothing for me to be but a child. I didn’t know what to do with my face, where to look when I talked. They looked at me with hard fixed eyes. I was a thief. I was here because I could not pay for the things I needed.”

Above all, the thing that will make this collection carve a shelf for itself in your heart is Nice’s deft use of language. He has the rare and necessary gift of saying something that is simultaneously plain and expansive. He writes simple sentences with whole rooms behind them.  The first passage that caught me in this way comes at the very beginning, in the story “Thin Enough to Break”: “We had gone to Our Lady of Grace that morning. I silenced myself before the silence. The kneelers hurt my knees. The Eucharist was blessed and families crawled over me through the pews on their way to receive it.” Much like the empty cornfield towns the characters frequently find themselves relocated to, it tells us something important and difficult to name, just by outlining a clear and lofty space.

This is a collection about the geography of home. How we leave it; how it does not leave us; how it becomes a space we can walk around in but never belong to again. It is imbued with a palpable longing to return to a place where we are no longer needed. It’s about the way we all want to return. We all want to be our parents’ children again, to walk in the front door, stamping our boots from the winter chill, and be embraced, be welcomed back. Above all, this book is about the dedication right there in the beginning of the book—it reads simply, “for home.”

 ***

Delaney Nolan’s fiction is forthcoming in Gargoyle, Guernica, Hobart, PANK, Post Road and elsewhere. Her chapbook “Louisiana Maps” (Ropewalk) will be published this winter.www.delaneynolan.com.

Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless

by Crystal Hoffman

Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless
by Matt Hart
Typecast Publishing, 2012
102 pages / $16.95  Buy from Typecast or Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many have experienced poetic punk rock fall out, but few have written it as a bomb in and of itself. In Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless, Matt Hart’s got an unabashed grandiose vision, a hard low end, a slew of unlikely ancestors to consume from white holes in the backs of hands, and Rimbaud’s Ethiopia in his acid-washed jeans pockets. He rewrites Ohio snowscapes, leaving a trail of teeth lost on tours, and calls them constellations. This is important cartography. A legacy the lot of us aging counterculture intellectuals need, since we burnt most of our maps and can’t read the stars for the chem trails. How do we live the moments after the X-Ray Spex and between Coleridge, Corso, and taking the dog for a walk after dinner? How are words our revolution now? If Hart’s right and “A universe is born every second when you scream it,” what do we scream back and how do we get there? The answer in Sermons and Lectures is so perplexing it must be honest: “Always do the opposite of anything I tell you/I’ll do it too      Whatever you say.” This is a line that you can smash and it still says the same damn thing. Physicists and mystics have been trying to convince us that this is the only truth.

As Hart wails, “I want as much as possible for the carnival of what is,” we can hear him stomp into the white space in Greil Marcus’s Lipstick Traces, spitting some hair from his daughter’s head into Johnny Rotten’s mouth. Whether Hart wants to own it or not, Sermons and Lectures falls keenly into the bruise and shriek glory of the great lineage of Marcus’s heretic avant-garde saints that took up the right to name, smash, and invent new tongues after burning their old ones back at the beginning of the end of the world in 1917 Zurich, Switzerland. Someone did and did not name it DADA Someone boiled it down to Situationist International slogans in ’68. Someone screamed “Let’s go!” filling it with dollars and power chords in the 1980s. That’s when most of us caught it on the tips of our tongues when the itch of there’s something not quite right here, why do I want to shout until my ears bleed hit us in adolescence.

It’s a slow process, realizing one’s place in a heat death universe, and here Hart makes a rope of his findings. He tugs us into whitened backyard gardens once we’re sweaty, jumping, diving in mosh pits, so that we don’t turn to ice, or, worse yet, get bored. Sermons and Lectures opens with a quote from Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil vocalist and guitarist Blake Schwarzenbach: “I believe in desperate acts, the kind that make me look stupid.” Later in the book, Hart comes back to this quote, replaces “stupid” with “Both ways when crossing my fingers behind my back” in a poem that rips apart syntax with the best of the Futurists. He closes it with a shirtless Jawbreaker dance party, then asks us what we’d all like to do now in our snow covered dead time, driving back from a job interview with a “twelve pack of something, or light bulbs or toilet paper/…Is anybody happy?” And we wonder whether these shadows of colliding bodies are a purgatory we need to vomit ourselves out of again. Too civilized. Too Cincinnati to spit at anyone. Meet the contradictions, “the mess,” and “monkey mechanics and wrenches in the logic” that Hart alchemizes to imagery with all due grace and irreverence.

The first four poems of Sermons and Lectures (two shorter pieces and two sequences) read with a solid bass line in the background and enough disjointed rhyme and rhythm to stomp into the floor of an old Pittsburgh warehouse, paying no mind to the beer spilling on the floor. Each caesura reads like the deep breath before a scream. The rush is exhausting. The final sequence, “Blood Brothers and Weird Sisters,” hands you form like a glass of water along with a cool towel of “A constant repetition.” Here Hart revises, connects, inverts, and builds wormholes through his own collection of magic words. Yet he reminds us that these are not sonnets. These forms are pure invention, even with the standard syntax. There are other means of revolt in language. Other ways to make it new.

Hart knows his cycles. Snow and then connect. Snow and then disconnect. “Screwing our faces/when can’t make a difference Turn up the music/and disappear forever.” Have a seat with evil on the porch watching “wet grass panties,” and join him in the shout of “Fuck is dusk,” and you’ve got yourself a front-row seat to the punk poets’ apocalypse or the birth of your first child. Probably both.

And Hart fell in, cracked his jaw on his last album, and picked up that dropped piece of Dada, spun in a series of world tours, and wove that thread through this five-part book. String theory now a given, Hart can play it: C major— snow, his daughter’s teddy bear, a hole in his sweater; E minor—The Minutemen, Bowie, Gang of Four, sweat dripping, cuts filling with pus; G—particle physics dipped in red wine, white hole bursting from your belly, each star telling you run…run, damn it, or the past has a way of filling your old combat boots with enough stones to sink you.

***

Crystal Hoffman teaches Creative Writing at the American University of Beirut. Having spent five years stirring poetic anarchy through her poetry cabaret, The TypewriterGirls, she is now Marcel Janco-style attempting to induce the Cabaret Voltaire spirit in the Middle East.

by

Commuting: Have gone to Ithaca – Frank Quitely
by Jared Joseph
TRNSFR / Varmint Armature Press, 2012
40 pages / $6  Buy from TRNSFR

 

 

 

 

This is a review of Commuting: Have gone to Ithaca – Frank Quitely by Jared Joseph, which is the third Chapbook from Alban Fischer and TRNSFR’s newish book arm Varmint Armature Press.

[Watch the Book Trailer here: Commuting: Have Gone to Ithaca. -Frank Quitely]

The title introduces the collection as a persona poem. Frank Quitely is the narrator. Frank Quitely is the clever inversion of “Quite Frankly”. The Frank of this work emerges in the title as a person making the journey to work. Frank is commuting to Mythical Ithaca. Everyone needs a commute, and Frank is no different. Frank Quitely is or wants to be the author of print catalogues for auction houses dealing in art like Sotheby’s and Christie’s. In the cover letter that opens the collection Frank asks Christie’s for some recognition as the one “who has wroughted”. This author character Frank is conflated and conflicted with the identity of the Jared Joseph, whose name intrudes upon the world of Frank in moments of Frankness or weakness. In Frank’s despair the world of the print catalogue collapses, and he wonders whether or not there are catalogues or prints inside them or if these are “just” poems or epigraphs to imagined pictures.

The opening letter to Christie’s, printed on the cover, Frank writes:

“…being a writer is of course a thankless business, trying, but authoring, at least, should be made evident, I want to try, I mean, I will have wroughted this. I will. It was me.”

This statement is disarmingly earnest or (perhaps falsely) naïve and is a happy surprise. The charm of the grammar runs into the strangeness of the “trying, but authoring, at least,” as if trying & authoring were opposed or mutually exclusive. Frank pleads for credit, to be acknowledged as the zero point of origin of the text. Frank wants his name branded on the little poems that describe the content of the catalogue.  The content of the catalogue is kind of subjective; Frank sees the texts as primary in opposition to the intent of the catalogue itself.

The book begins with an eager close reading of another unnamed author’s print title that leaves the impression of the reader enraptured by the text, the catalogue of secret poetry, which becomes the poetry of secret pictures. The object is absent, as in any text that doesn’t exclusively refer to itself. The straying from the constraint of fictionalized catalogue descriptions is a clinamen like rupture that animates the work with a kind of generosity, frankness, all the more convincing because of the layers of disguise.

The book consists of fifteen poems and a glossary of terms plus the cover letter. The work moves in and out of the print catalogue diction, fiction, foxing, flashing, lithogiraffe, and lioncut, verso, recto, etc. punning loose, and alluding freely in a sort of mood that’s gleefully inappropriate for a very serious auction catalogue. This is a kind of relief, to hide with glitter some sadness and a panic of death and the name of god. The content veers between details of Frank’s life his difficulty representing, the pictures that he is supposed to be describing. While the possibility and difficulty of meaning is well-trod poetic turf, Frank quietly also considers the way that art must be approached and described, in order to be a marketable commodity. An artist who is not The Artist must describe the work for this economy. This strategy makes things seem fresh, re-interesting, the act of authoring these descriptions doesn’t feel hollow or hermetic.

Frank writes in “#12”:

“…I haven’t cried in months now, I can’t stop
Lachrimating. Aging. Mechastatizing. I think my girlfriend exists, loves
me, rubs me, Janus can’t tell me
From me. But in the past I wasn’t enough
to be dead, in the future I was
Dead, and now
I’m afraid, chubby, lozenged, cankered, this isn’t a print, fine,
none of them are
but if it were it would be insculped”

Here’s an admission of fiction. The text admits itself as fiction and admits to the fiction of the author. Are none of them prints or are none of them “fine” prints? Or is this the “fine print” that there never was a print? The prints are a fiction in the mind of Frank, even if they are not “insculped” into the reality of Frank. The character Frank is further disrupted by the entry of the names of Yosef and Jared Joseph in the text. As when other Author’s use their names as an important part of the text (like Nick Demske) it adds another level of character, dissociated from Author.  Frank Quitely becomes even weirder and I think Borgesian object (there is a Borges epigraph.) In the tangle of character and identity Frank Quitely emerges as a cipher for the things that might be unsayable.

The prints (poems) are titled melancholically. The threat of the print’s being entirely fictional, even inside the fiction, lends them a kind of tragicomic quality: “Buoy”, “Are you my Mother”, “S’assourdir” (to dim, deafen, become voiceless), “Don’t touch me don’t kiss me” point toward a kind of personal intimacy while the Borges, Kabbalism, mysticism, and self-reflexivity, redirect to an outside or other kind of reality, driving the reader into recursion, a labyrinthine distraction towards something very strange and very familiar.

***

 Leif Haven is currently in transit. Other writings and etceteras can be found and inquiries inquired at http://leifhaven.com

THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF TWEETS – vol 1

by Melissa Broder

Another “journal” dedicated to the criticism (not really) and recognition of excellence in tweeting.

TWEETUS ILLUMINATIO MEA, TWEETAMS EST LITTERAE

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@WarmCigarette by Chimney

Genre: prosopopeian mise en phlegm

Since the late 90s and early 00s, following the demise of smoking in bars, cigarettes have become demodé. The waning of smokers has left four estranged islands in its wake: losers in their 20s who will never try a cigarette, exiles huddled together outside in the cold, those of us who have been addicted to nicorette for ten years (i.e. the editor of this journal) and the iron lung. Chimney’s feed reconnects with more philosophical concerns, embodying both substantialist and metonymous voices of the Marlborbo at various points in the feed. What’s more, Chimney applies solipsism to the act of smoking—to exist is to only know one’s own smoking— and then projects it onto the identities of its followers. Editorial favorites include: “7 steps to happiness: 7) cigarettes” “Aquarius: You know-it-all piece of shit. Your busy cigarette smoking schedule will make you late for everything this week, as per usual.” “Virgo: If everything needs to be perfect how come your life is always in complete disarray? Fuck off and smoke cigarettes.” “Registration plate ideas: BL4CK LUN6”. This is an awesome feed.

@retsoor by Jason Sebastian Russo

Genre: subtweeting at god

Russo’s feed thrives on tension and surreality, all set against a bloody backdrop of either the great mystery of life and/or a hot girl with tattoos and probably bangs. Through mixed metaphors, Russo transports us deeper and deeper into longing with each turn of the tweet. Smell the acidity of a box of white wine or the love lurking deep within the ball pit of a McDonald’s on rt 9, Poughkeepsie. “the typo in my genetic code compelled me to try to email your shih tzu w a microwave” he tweets. “just sat back & let karma ravage your face “ he tweets again. “bathed you in healing enzymes under a kaopectate sky” “made love to you under a giant warm crepe” “the two of us in an inverted arms race of low self esteem” he tweets again and again and a-fucking-gain.

 

@spencermadsen by Spencer Madsen

Genre: self-doubtcore

Translated from the Arabic by Madsen, this feed contextualizes doubt’s occupation of the self. Through these tweets, Madsen connects us to the earliest known feelings of penis-disbelief (“just remembered I dated a girl who called my penis pietro, feel like Regret would be a better name though”), cosmic isolation (“i still identify as single & lonely even when I’m in a relationship, Try It”), cosmic apartness (“is anyone on twitter right now, or are my tweets bad”) and cosmic monkhood (“a cool trick is to have sex with somebody and then watch as they slowly cease to exist”), yet the dialectic tension between them is utterly contemporary.

@BradListi by Brad Listi

Genre: postparanoiac speculative Californian

Had Los Angeles been a male body instead of a city, had that body been injected with the promise of never having its own brand of tennis shoes and then violently crammed into a 12-inch laptop, the result might be something like Listi’s feed. Listi juxtaposes Leidnerian-style tableaux (“Gwyneth Paltrow in a XXL Hanes Beefy T, weeping in an Old Navy warehouse full of blousy tanktops”), shame (“Quietly called myself a ‘whore’ after posting, then immediately deleting a Facebook status update involving what I had for breakfast.”), parenting anecdotes (“Daughter just defecated like a lumberjack. Now saying ‘poo-poo’ repeatedly in a forlorn way.”) and the big questions (What the fuck is a ‘handling fee’?) While some ‘weird tweeters’ might be dissuaded by Listi’s formal use of punctuation and capital letters, the editors of this journal feel relieved to have a compatriot in syntactic formality. We wonder if, like us, Listi has lost sleep debating a switch to the hipper “no caps, no periods” style.

@santinodela by Santino Dela

Genre: wild spewing tweeter comes of age

If you miss dropping acid and fucking on roofs, you should follow Santino Dela. If you want to go to jail for the revolution, but, like, not leave your house, this is the feed for you. Do be forewarned: Dela is prolific, and his tweets are likely to become the wallpaper of your feed, upon which everone else’s tweets are overlaid. But if you love this feed for its neon, wide-eyed wonder (and sometimes world-wearyiness), it’s a feed that will love you back. The editors wish to see Dela juxtapose 10-40 of his tweets at a time paratactically on one MS Word doc and call this a poem. Maybe the poem will be titled: MY DAD IS MY SON or TAKE A SHIT IN MY HANDS or I WAS INDUCED BY BILL COSBY or THE MYTH OF THE LOST ALIEN CHILDREN or THE FUNNY THING IS THAT WE ARE JUST PEOPLE WHO HAPPEN TO ALSO EXIST DIGITALLY ACROSS TIME AND SPACE or CORK MY DICK. We think it will be a rad one.

@jewishpoet by Stay Gold Pony

Genre: gentle psychic fracture of a pizza-eater quietly building a bomb on a bus with no Plathian undertones

Stay Gold Pony is definitely the captain, in our eyes, of the pizzatweeters—that sect of tweeter who lives and dies by the pizza. This feed doesn’t even tweet about pizza very often—definitely not as much as other pizzatweeters—but its tone is very ‘pizzatweeter-y’ with a touch of strychnine. The question of Stay Gold Pony’s feed seems less focused on What is the meaning of being? and more How do we deal with it? “As I open this fruit leather and begin eating it the dogs quiet down”. “i rise with the sun and greet my haters respectfully: ‘good morning to you’”. “dont worry dude i got us covered with my emergency stash *pulls out stack of third eye blind cds*” Following Stay Gold Pony is fun. And if you follow a lot of pizzatweeters, you should be following this feed for context.