25 Points: The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral

by Patrick James Dunagan

arcadiaThe Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral
edited by Joshua Corey and G.C. Waldrep
Ahsahta Press, 2012
576 pages / $28.00 buy from Ahsahta Press or SPD

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. The Arcadia Project is not in the least a conclusive project, but rather quite inconclusive. As stated in the Introduction: “an anthology such as this one must be a living and motile assemblage.”

2. Editors Joshua Corey and G.C. Waldrep do not contribute any of their own poetic work. This cuts both ways, as while it shows a measure of humility on the parts of any editor not to grandstand it is also nearly always worth having an editor’s own work (if existent) on hand for clarity of comparison’s sake within the presentation of any selection. How a poet writes interestingly reflects on how a poet reads.

3. Corey pens the Introduction, attesting: “certain tendencies are discernible in the work presented here, all of it first published after 1995” and that “Postmodern pastoral offers a means of mapping the shifting terrain of that world while maintaining its ethical consciousness that the map must never be mistaken for the territory.”

4. Waldrep doesn’t add one word of his own to the book itself. But elsewhere: http://arcadiaproject.net/the-woods-the-technology/ He offers up that it was questions such as:

Why did those of us who cared, and wrote, into and about the environment in innovative forms have to keep explaining our practice to those who insisted that “nature poetry” honor its Romantic inheritances?  What indeed is “nature poetry,” or could it be, or should it be, in our collective moment?

Which factored into how the anthology came to be, and he adds:

Between 2008 and 2011 Josh and I sifted through hundreds of books—published since 1995 by North American writers, generously defined—as well as hundreds of submissions that came in over our electronic transom, looking for work that would guide us into the forest and try to show us something:  work that would leave us alone together (in or in spite of our discrete alonenesses); work that challenged us and terrified us and moved us, that spoke to or around or from within our ecological predicament as 21st-century human creatures.

The resulting anthology is not meant to be definitive, rather provocative and generative, an early draft version of an ongoing conversation between a wide array of poets and the world we live in.

5. The lack of having any such editorial presentation of the framework behind the book’s conception within the book itself feels a disservice to readers.

6. As presented, there’s little tying together of these texts. They are left as isolated cries in a wilderness of language.

7. Poems are divided into four sections: “New Transcendentalisms,” “Textual Ecologies,” “Local Powers,” and “Necro/Pastoral” without any explicit rendering of what may or may not be meant by any of these broadly inclusive and quite permeable categorizations.

8. Questions linger, such as why not include some prose? Both statements of any kind from contributors and/or fiction, non-fiction, or works of theoretical positioning.

9. There’s a band but no bandwagon. Dozens of wheels but no cart.

10. As a reader I yearn to relate these texts in some way. To locate some vein or—what one feels is heard as a bad word by many poets these days—tradition within which the work doesparticipate and indeed does seek continue. Of course doing so may prove some “Romantic inheritances” unavoidable.

11.

“God’s art,” Dante says in De Monarchia, “which is nature.” In our own arts, striving to speak, with words, pictures, gestures, buildings, assemblings of objects in ecologies of feeling-thought, we in turn create a little nature of we are, ideas of Man.

–       Robert Duncan “San Francisco, June 1968”

12. I note obvious semblances of such “ecologies of feeling-thought” throughout this book, but aside from my own knowledge of where interest in Duncan happens to be shared within the critical work of some contributors (notably Stephen Collis and Peter O’Leary) I find little to nothing which directly mentions, let alone addresses, his work and/or influence.

13. It is similarly the case with Ronald Johnson. I especially keep wondering why nothing of his is included… The Shrubberies (Flood Editions) appeared in 2001 well after 1995. And what a splendid poem-series that is, which would easily seem suitable for inclusion under any, or all, of the section-titles.

14. On a side-note, I discovered one of the most pleasing things from reading the bio-note for Johnson’s literary executor, Peter O’Leary: mention of a forthcoming new edition of Johnson’s postmodern epic poem Ark. Why not a Collected Johnson as well? And/or his prose?

15. O’Leary’s own long poem included here, “The Phosphorescence of Thought” is itself nearly worth the purchase of the book.

16. Ronald Johnson is of course dead. Gustaf Sobin is dead too, but he’s been included.

17. Enough ranting. Have I been ranting?

18. Jack Collom’s and Lyn Heinian’s collaborative collection Situations, Sings was published a few years back by Adventures in Poetry, it’s totally great. “The Woods” appears here grouped under “Textual Ecologies.” Dig these lines:

 

Suspicion. Sometimes through the unperceived nights that surround all dreams
there emerge
Explanations in the form of spandrels, to read as we read a redstart,
Employment as a nurse, or rolypolies (pillbugs) in the dirt

Tracks which are closer to nature than mind but not as close as insanity,
Healthily entertained. I too have been nuts, loopy, hopeful, ungrammatical and
out of tune.
I think the woods is made of many minor keys. Mornings
Confuse the song so as to continue the lives that dreams criticize
Keeping them from entropy—then all too often being accused of
Existentialism, as if that were the same as despair. …

19. My favorite selections are the longest ones. Such as Brian Teare’s “Transcendental Grammar Crown” a ring of sonnets whose lines are widely spaced which is found grouped under (no surprise) “New Transcendentalisms.” Teare’s poetry keeps what’s precious hanging delicately perched on tips of language’s beauty but rather miraculously avoids inflecting any damage upon itself, despite its risky behavior.

 

to detail            starting small            with grasses

 

flowers then trees            we don’t know                        nor rocks

 

days            to recite the names            of them all

 

seems heaven enough                        to us            because what is

 

language that            “categories of thought

 

embodied in individual living forms”                        thread through us

 

& things equally            —matter            a sidereal charity

 

& doesn’t it bract            doesn’t it sepal & send seed splitting sheath

 

into soil            doesn’t our flesh            the very fossils            tremble bedrock

 

(from “The very air (Faith Reason)”)

20. Other notable lengthy poem-sequences, include: Jennifer Moxley’s “The Sense Record,” Peter Gizzi’s “Some values of Landscape and Weather,” Brenda Iijima’s “Panthering,” Will Alexander’s “On Scorpions & Swallows,” Juliana Spahr’s “Gentle Now, Don’t Add to Heartache,” Amy King’s “A Geography of Pleasure,” and Stephen Collis’ “Blackberries.”

21. Again and again, I find myself wondering about the selection process. For example, Standard Shaefer’s sonnet-length “The L.A. River” is here, but none of Lewis MacAdams’ book-length poemThe River addressed to the same body of water in the same city and which is just as adventurously on point in terms of fitting in quite nicely as “Necro/pastoral,” or most certainly under “Local Powers.”

22. An obviously incomplete and quite random list of The Arcadia Project’s unrecognized predecessors, progenitors, peers, and life-mates from out my own reading (in no particular order): Lorine Niedecker, Gertrude Stein, Whitman, Dickinson, Hawthorne, Emerson, Melville, Poe, Charles Brockden Brown (talk about “Necro/Pastoral”! his Wieland introduces Charles Dickens’ spontaneous combustion of a literary character into American Lit), Faulkner, Charles Olson, WCW, Robinson Jeffers, Gary Snyder, Lew Welch, Jack Kerouac, Ed Dorn, Philip Whalen, Lisa Jarnot, Ted Berrigan, Joanne Kyger, Alice Notley, Bernadette Mayer, Eileen Myles, John Cage, Elaine Equi, Jonathan Williams, Jack Spicer, Anselm Hollo, Hannah Wiener, Filip Marinovich, Susan Howe, Anselm Berrigan, Etel Adnan, Ornette Coleman, Sotére Torregian, John Wieners, Amiri Baraka, Charles Bukowski, John Coletti, Chris Martin, Gerrit Lansing, Gregory Corso, Kevin Opstedal, Brenda Coultas, Eileen Tabios, Micah Ballard, F.A. Nettelbeck, Cedar Sigo, Jack Hirschman, David Brazil, Julian Brolaski… all whose work is deeply at play in any sense of North American Pastoral. There are so many more.

23. C.S. Giscombe’s prose poems “from Inland” earthily dunk the reader in unexpected poetic turns of cultural utterance.

 

Trim photographs of uninflected speech hung over the prairie, sound’s origin. Eros came up out of its den in the embankment—came out tawny, came out swarthy, came out more “dusky” than “sienna.” The sky was a glass of water. White men say cock and black men say dick. One gets even in the midwest, one gets even in the midwest, one gets even in the midwest. Eros was a common barnyard pest…

(“Day Song”)

&

Open love. In a recurring dream about the prairie, a thin hedge—along some railroad embankment—in which there’s a gap to step through again and again, for me to step through, out onto the view itself. Not the literary ballad, articulated, but out onto the continent.

(“Afro-Prairie”)

24. A sense of “Necro/Pastoral” is well summed up in Catherine Wagner’s “A Form of Verse:”

 

Master,
make me collage it.

 

Wagner’s opening puts out the call, asking to be ordered to get to work. She’s looking for the means to create from out the ruins of society’s flailing about with language, as it were. But she’s too full of verb and sass to simply trust in poetry’s lot.

 

“Recycle language
for a greener consciousness”
—that’s easy.
Everyone’s always done it.
We must be getting greener
by the hour.

25. Ironically (or perhaps not so much, considering his own interest in poetry from North America) British poet J.H. Prynne strikes the perfect closing note in his poem, “Star Damage at Home:”

 

…this fecund hint
I merely live in.

 

& leaving that in the air I return to my reading.

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My Scary Mother

by Shaun Gannon

coverpngThrone of Blood
by Cassandra Troyan
Solar Luxuriance, February 2013
90 pages / $13  Pre-order from Solar Luxiariance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throne of Blood makes me believe Cassandra Troyan chews razorblades and has freezing skin and needles for fingers, but for some reason, I don’t feel like shying away as she comes closer. Maybe it’s because I sense a sort of hidden warmth she has for her demons. They’re like dozens of hands reaching out that scare you, but don’t mean to.

I wet myself over the thought of roses
of making love to a hospital bed.Declarations of sex to bags
filled with liquids substituting
organs now present as witnesses.Walking into the divide an abyss the possibility
of apathy calculations of sentimentality amiss.Ripped out my vein limbs
overgrown.
Love makes you grow.
Honey drips from a sloe-eyed doe.Get cocooned in the sickness
a sweetening sludge.When the IV tubes get sugar clogged
it is obviously because you are selfish
and I am dead.When weighted I materialize.
Let’s just hover until this distance retreats.
(From “YOU SEDUCE COLORFUL ANIMALS ABOVE THE SKY”)

When I first started reading fiction as a method of learning about writing, I was obsessed with the grotesque, but it feels like Troyan has leveled up the concept here. For roughly a third of the book, I read the speakers as being inhuman simply because they seemed so far removed from humanity that I refused to believe they could be like me (which sounds like a pretty fine accomplishment to me).

She gets so manic as a child even as a small child who can’t tear herself away from the heat of light into sleep struggles inside with her body damp with fear her gutbrain keeps churning.

“everybody wears just about the same shade of distain rusted by mire a scab a caw like a brokenness born inside a baby. A sickness from the innards she can only be cold. Gutted and raw.”
(“IF YOU LEAVE YOU’LL GO TO THE POUND AND NO ONE IS EVER GONNA WANT YOU EVER AGAIN.”)

Those that are human are twisted with desires to lash out, to be scrubbed clean or wholly disfigured, or to be filled to burst, all in hopes of finding some connection to the real. Sex, one of the only avenues of release available to the people of ToB, is so vital that other icons and symbols of vitality become commingled with it into a form of life slurry that fascinates the speaker.

I’m well read but sucked dry. I will grow a thousand thrones be­fore I recede. I will allow small advances before I creep through the slit of your time.

I guess I could grow a fondness for the taste of blood.

My nose it bleeds from lack of use.
Every touch is a wound and the test to smear.
(From “LET’S GET LIFTED”)

The disgusting people of ToB, all wounded in the head but still hard to pity, build their world around you as you read, and eventually force you into their frame of mind, as is the result of the best grotesque literature. The building anxiety becomes more concrete until transforming into a nightmare where any similarities to reality only heighten the terror.

The architecture of flesh a building
with a building segmented as a scorpion; thickness
as presence rather than protection.
(From “FRAGILE KINGDOM”)

When you have the darkness, you have to play with it in some constructive way or it’ll come out how you don’t want it to.  Plenty of this play is in action in ToB as people both fearfully obsess over and fulfill their most primal fantasies. Cassandra, you wild, loving mother to these fucked-up babies, I hope you can bear more, because I could read this forever.

***

Shaun Gannon is the author of Brown Fuzzy Words (Love Symbol Press). He blogs here. FUCK LIFE

Cloud Atlas

CLOUD ATLAS

 

It requires quite a bit of brass and self-confidence to adapt David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas to film. The book presents six disassociated narrations in six disassociated interims of time, swerving from the nineteenth century to an  apocalyptic future. Each tale embraces  a deviating genre, both in details of plot and terminology. The connection between them is tangible context, an idea that’s challenging to transmit through film. But these nonsensical, ostensibly impossible hurdles did not intimidate directors Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski from compress the book into 171 minutes of pure ocular vivid epic-ness. It was always certain that they wouldn’t be able to carry through successfully (how could they?) but the commendable components outweigh the false steps. Continue reading

Persona, a newly-released English translation of Yukio Mishima’s biography.

by Grant Maierhofer

Persona_LGPersona: A Biography of Yukio Mishima
by Naoki Inose and Hiroaki Sato
Stone Bridge Press, January 2013
864 pages / $39.95  Buy from Stone Bridge Press or Amazon

 

“Perfect purity is possible if you turn your life into a line of poetry written with a splash of blood.” – Yukio Mishima,Runaway Horses

 

 

 

This review—or my interest in the new Yukio Mishima biography Persona coming out from Stone Bridge Press and in Mishima himself—began as these things often do, in a coffee shop with a like-minded friend discussing the rather awesome notion that Japan has a forest devoted almost entirely to suicide. The Aokigahara has associations both with Japanese demonology, and suicide primarily as it’s the second-most popular place on earth to end it all; falling behind in rank to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. I believe the conversation started out discussing the Foxconn suicides and sort of snowballed from there, until mention of Akira Kurosawa’s attempt after the commercial failure of his Dodes’ka-den by me led to my friend’s mention of Yukio Mishima. Unlike Kurosawa, Mishima actually finished the job, committing the ritual act of Seppuku after a failed coup when he was only 45.

I’ve always been attracted to stories like this, as many people—I think–are. Suicide, homicide, sudden outbursts of lunacy by the likes of Jackson Pollock or Norman Mailer have always had a nostalgic twinge for me and I decided then to pursue Mishima’s fiction. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, probably my favorite of Mishima’s books, holds a similar allure to Kurosawa’s cinema, being as it is a contemporary art form describing events long ago made history. His sense of minimalism and terse descriptions of landscapes, conversations, friendships, and the mythological air of Japan in 1400 is like nothing I’ve ever read, and when word of Persona came round, I was certain I had to review it.

“From there I could not see the shape of the Golden Pavilion. I could only see the swirling smoke and the fire soaring into heaven. An abundance of sparks flew among the trees, and the sky above the Golden Pavilion looked as though sprinkled with gold dust.’ –The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, quoted on P. 99 ofPersona

I’ve come to expect biographies to fall into two categories if they are in the first place good, or well-written. The first would be relegated to public figures who did not in their lifetime write a great deal or put out some form of art or conversation and hence the biographies tend to concern themselves with familial goings-on, schooling and at-length descriptions of important/pivotal events, and attempted portraits of physical moments in the biographee’s life to create something that’s readable, and fits into the mandates of a narrative the public can enjoy/become informed from. The second is for everyone else; the artists, writers, conversationalists and politicians who made no quarrel with sharing their views with the world and were gleefully recorded by an adoring, or deploring, public.

Persona, as it is a portrait of an actor, an artist, a poet, a playwright, a film director, and any number of other things in the political arena who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature not once, but three times, falls somewhere between these two templates for an enjoyable, and effective portrait of the man.

Those pursuing this epic text, will be those primarily interested in Japanese culture (largely the arts, and political movements) from the 19th century up until the year 1970 when Mishima took his own life (in a grisly ordeal beginning with self-disembowelment and ending in the man losing his head); which is how I came to the book. Furthermore, however, this text comes together much in the way Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s History of the United States,’ does, combining Mishima’s writing, historical data relating to Mishima’s life and the lives of his family members, and writings done by people in response to his death.

These are perhaps the most moving, or striking portions of the book for a reader living outside of Japan. Those interested in world literature have likely heard of at least several Mishima or Mishima-related endeavors (the films Mishima directed or acted in like Afraid to Die (1960), Black Lizard (1968) or Tenchu! (1969), and his even better-known novels The Sea of Fertility Tetralogy (1969-1971), Madame de Sade (1965), The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956), and The Sound of Waves (1954)) however it’s the descriptions by the people of Japan mourning one of their favorite magnates in the arts that make this narrative something truly universal, and moving.

Mishima’s politics aside, he was understood and oft misunderstood by his countrymen and those around the world time and again both during his life, and after his death. Entire sections of this biography devote themselves to Mishima’s sexuality and his leanings toward strong and almost overly-passionate love affairs with women, and men to a lesser (or more quieted) extent. One gets the impression that this has more to do with the sheer magnitude of his oeuvre and the wide spectrum of characters he devoted his energies to than any actual evidence beyond rumors; and yet, with true biographical/journalistic devotion, even the rumors relating to one of 20thCentury Japan’s most talked about figures are treated as worth considering, and are evaluated with sincerity and endless curiosity in the hands of the biographer.

“Asked to write an afterword to the paperback edition of Confessions, Fukuda Tsuneari [Japanese dramatist/critic, d. 1994] began by calling Mishima ‘a fertile barrenness’ and ended it with the hope: ‘I look forward to watching him manipulate his mask at will.’ – P. 192, referring to Mishima’s then burgeoning body of work with a distinct homosexual bent.

Concerned as I am with Mishima’s literary output almost exclusively (as well as his strange death and unconventional philosophy regarding sex, etc.) I tended to gloss over the more political moments and ‘war years,’ of the author’s life, but I’d like to say with high esteem for his biographer Naoki Inose and Persona’s English translator Hiroaki Sato that there is almost nothing I can find about Mishima that isn’t included in this text. Think, for instance, of those voluminous editions on Abraham Lincoln and the tendency one’s likely to have while reading them to focus more severely on moments that interest them (slavery, say, or the Civil War). Everything Mishima is accounted for in this edition, and any possible interest one might have in the man is covered in as much detail as you couple possibly ask for.

Another interesting point noted here—one that I don’t think has changed much from my understanding of, say, Haruki Murakami’s output and Japanese literary platforms—is the rather old-fashioned way in which much of Mishima’s novels were published. Typically, or at least for several of them, his publisher would approach him regarding a certain subject, and he’d go about writing it much in the way an American or European author would the writing of a piece of nonfiction for a magazine. They were typically serialized first, and then collected into editions which—for almost every book he wrote—sold quite well and made him a literary celebrity from the beginning with his famous novel, Confessions of a Mask.

Opening the section “Boyfriends, Girlfriends,” a quote from Gore Vidal is used: “All human beings are bisexual,” and it’s probably Vidal with whom I’d draw the most obvious connection to Mishima and his body of work. With novels almost unanimously influenced by historical events and a political voice that never faltered, and was never standoffish, it’s interesting that of all English-speaking authors mentioned, it’s Vidal who seemed to have strong views of Mishima’s work. This quote is not mentioned in the book, but one gets the impression Mishima might’ve said the same of Vidal if given the opportunity, “Whatever Mishima’s virtues in his native language and relative importance among the writers of his own country, he is a third rate novelist in English.” And although it’s obviously Vidal being provocative, I can understand his feelings to a degree. There really is nothing like the original Japanese when it comes to reading Yukio Mishima, or any author, however even in translation Mishima’s work smacks of brilliance and a sort of mythological savvy that puts to rest any naysayers, and makes the portions of Persona giving forth his actual literature something akin to those infrequent breaths of true humanity one experiences when talking at length with a close friend.

“Mishima’s body was autopsied at the Keio University Hospital before it was returned to the Mishimas, past three on the afternoon of November 26. In accordance with his will, it was dressed in a Shield Society [the private militia founded by Mishima] uniform. A sword, some of his writing paper, and his fountain pen were placed in his coffin. A private funeral was held in some haste because his body had to be taken to a crematorium before it closed. The body was incinerated a little after six.” – P. 731, Epilogue, Persona

One thing I can say with the utmost confidence upon completion of this book: any already existing fans of Mishima could do well to have it on your shelf. His entire life, and then some, lies between these covers and you’ll undoubtedly learn something profound while reading. Anyone considering a work of his fiction might be better of purchasing that first and seeing whether Mishima’s a writer who they’ll truly come to care about. Anyone curious about Japanese literature in general over the past hundred years would also enjoy the book immensely and could do just as well to have it on their shelf, but it’s with the true worshipers of the work of Mishima that I feel most comfortable saying: “Buy this book. Don’t think twice. Everything happens within it you could hope for, and you’ll enjoy yourself completely.”

I suppose I fall into this latter category, and upon finishing I felt safe giving it directly to that friend I mentioned at the beginning of this “review” because of his odd fascination with seppuku and its still-existent roots in Japanese culture. I think I’d still greatly prefer a “suicide forest” to the American Golden Gate Bridge, but I guess that’s completely irrelevant looking back. Mishima didn’t commit seppuku in the forest, and yet his fangs are buried deeply in the collective Japanese consciousness in much the same way. He’s eerie, he’s brilliant, he’s impossible to pin down even with a 700+ page biography and his legacy doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

***

Grant Maierhofer is the author of Ode to a Vincent Gallo Nightingale, he blogs at miredingriefmiredingrief.com and lives in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin.

Lingering Questions: A Review of Marjorie Stein’s An Atlas of Lost Causes

by Kiala Givehand

atlas_coverAn Atlas of Lost Causes 
by Marjorie Stein
November 2011, Kelsey Street Press
112 pages / $16.00  Buy from Kelsey Street Press or SPD

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the title suggests, An Atlas of Lost Causes is a bound collection (and a documentary of sorts) that includes map-like textual matter, in the form of poetry and illustrations. On the surface, it reads as a story about the death of a twin told through narrative poems and letters but the story unfolds as the living twin struggles to uncover the mysterious circumstances surrounding her sister’s death. Conversely, beneath the surface this collection is a relative confession told in reverse by an unnamed narrator and made evident through the “cartoon-like drawing[s]” and the “mere thought experiment” (61). In beautifully written prose-style vignettes, Marjorie Stein allows us to journey with her characters as the memories shift between the past and present, all the while tethered to the narrator’s search for self, now that she is without her twin.

Using everyday details and scenarios, the darkness inside each poem serves to tell the story of what can happen when the desire to learn the cause of death is more important than mourning the one who died. Each poem seems to attempt exploration of a life’s memories as they begin to erase themselves.  At its core, An Atlas of Lost Causes is the story of a twin searching for her own identity and reason to live by retracing the life of her dead sister.

The narrator presents a layered flow of rational and irrational thoughts dotted with interruptions of childhood memories, past experiences that she believes are hers, but could easily have been her sister’s, and vague meditations that sometimes morph into hauntingly alluring images that pull the reader from place to place and moment to moment in a reversed mapping of death.  Fueled by a barrage of interrogation style questions, each of the seven “chapters” gets us (and the narrator) closer to “Day Zero.” The questions in the book grow in number as they do in life when we contemplate an unexplained death. “What are these words but shadow puppets dependent upon an opposite wall?” “What is the story?” “Have we any further to go?” “Did she mean to?” “Intent or accident?” “How could I know what happened?” “What has this to do with the problem at hand?” “Who wants to be the last one in line when the lights go out?”

Much of the narrative revolves around the life of the dead sister as examined by the remaining twin: “I intend to inventory my sister’s possessions.” (48) It is partially through statements masked in duality that we learn of the sisters. “She, my twin, used to think she was the heaviest object in the universe. Gravitational centerfold.” (61) We come to learn how the narrator feels about the dead twin and light is shed on why the living twin’s search for answers might be futile, thus a lost cause.

In the end, the narrator tells us she is “a liar next to this grief” and we are inclined to believe her. She has convinced us of this through her use of abstract language to analyze the police investigation into her sister’s death and through the way she combines poetic and concrete language to attribute death with tangible qualities of time and place. An Atlas of Lost Causes is a collection of the magnificent ramblings of a guilty conscience bound to regret and sorrow. Using the symbolic elements of twins and memory, the book loosely examines the word atlas, first as the atlas being that which supports the place where our memories reside, and second from the perspective of the Titan, Atlas, who was, like the narrator believes she is, punished for crimes against the gods who then forced him to live separated from his siblings in order to reduce their combined power.  Eventually the narrator finds that the power of memory and siblings will not bring her answers because “everyone has an iridescent death of her own, lingering in winter hands.” (95)

***

Kiala Givehand is a poet, educator, and book artist whose writing has appeared in Jacket2,Calyx,and the Bella Vista Art Gallery in Chicago. She received her MFA in Poetry from Mills College and is the founding editor of Generations Literary Journal. She is a Cave Canem Fellow, a Voices of Our Nation (VONA) alum, and recipient of a 2011 Penland Winter Residency. A native Floridian, Kiala now resides in Oakland, CA with her husband Damon and their collections of books, yoga mats, and fine writing instruments.

FRAGILE KINGDOM

by Leif Haven

coverpngThrone of Blood
by Cassandra Troyan
Solar Luxuriance, February 2013
90 pages / $13 Pre-order from Solar Luxiariance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICH
CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICH
CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICH
-Throne of Blood

Throne of Blood begins with a Preamble. The Preamble sets the tone for the book, just like the Preamble to the United States Constitution is a brief introductory statement of the Constitution’s fundamental purposes and guiding principles. Presumably, the poem would provide some of those for this book, Throne of Blood.

• “the drained lake muds with the girls of winter bloated and tangled at the bottom in the wreckage”
• “the smell of dead meat.”
• “the scent of rotting bowels”
• “Myafhhhauckingancaeetchesss, arrreuu stheyismines myown FEEUUCKING MEAAT!andTTTthisisfeeuucuuuckibngMINE!”
• “I slammed his head into the concrete floor”
• Edith Piaf

The Preamble begins with lyrical horror. The narrator is unbothered by dead women crowding the drained lake and the house, even when their bodies are used for decoration or masturbation by the male character. The narrator’s point of view changes when it becomes clear that the male character is the one making women into corpses.

The horror and violence, more specifically, violence against women, casts a long shadow over the rest of the book. Where the Preamble takes on horror in a narrative mode, the rest of the book inverts that formula and approachesit in a more figurative or linguistic or speculative way:

“If there could be a moment of self-realized terror,
where everyone in the world kills his or herself at the same time.”

While, the possibility of horror, fear and dread, are not explicitly present in the rest of the text, the Preamble works as Chekov’s gun, even though (spoiler alert) there isn’t really anything to foreshadow since the remainder of the book is considerably less linear and narrative. Even though the rest isn’t what I would call a story, the poems are still haunted by the dead girls.

I think the book manages to do a lot of things very successfully, from the disgust, horror, and repulsion of the Preamble, to a candid and intimate lyricism that comes later in poems like Fragile Kingdom. That poem could stand as a synecdoche for the work; it seems like text and the design are hardly holding together, dreadfully balanced, about to collapse. The work is annihilating itself, as are most of the narrators. Narrator is maybe a funny word to use since it seems like the concept of narration is not dismissed, but damaged in the work.

The theatre is a fiction
that I have writ myself true to.

Even the layout lends to the reading of the text as flung open, with the words left and right justified on the recto and verso respectively. The titles are on the lower outside corner oriented perpendicular to the rest of the text, reading from bottom to top, which make it particularly easy to simply continue through the text as if it were one long work.

There will always linger a quiver as we repeat the affair again, and again. Rise up on our throne of blood call it CORPSE MOUNTAIN built from what intangibles uncertain.

Search for Throne of Blood, and you find a Japanese film based on MacBeth, which makes a lot of sense. It takes an awful lot of corpses to make a book.

Actually just look at my face please and let me sit on yr chest.

I’m going to punch you in the dick,
spill water on yr 15” MacBook Pro.

I will need more fidelity. I will not give up.
I will show up at yr apartment
and ring the buzzer and wait
outside even after you let me in
and I will breathe through the building
exhaling into the speaker
our face could never be that close.

Sometimes the blood stops flowing, or maybe it doesn’t. This is from The Castle That Only God Knows.  There are multiple distinct tones and voices in the book. While some come from a sort of dream horror world others come from a world with MacBook Pros. Then there are dry lakes full of bodies and head smashing. Then there are poems that are possessed by lyricism. Then there are klonopin poems, lists of side effects, lists of substances consumed.

YOU’RE GONNA BE SO FUCKING HAPPY

You’re in an artist loft in Brooklyn in a room full of people drinking
coffee on a Sunday afternoon and you answer the phone and
start speaking Czech and for a moment you almost forgot what it
means to be dead.

Sometimes the least lyrical moments are the most plaintive:

Please don’t tell anyone I’m crazy.
I couldn’t bear for people to be collectively and overly concerned.

Overall the book is harsh, not gentle. It arrives at a sublime through violence, horror, and decay. It is still interested in the sublime.

Reigning over the sublimity of one’s impassioned distance.

Throne of Blood is an impassioned distance. It’s not a thing that can be attained or obtained.

I’m a true romantic so I need you to hit me.
Negation of this disaster
is the only thing that can save it.

Throne of Blood is an explicitly hard work because the hard thing it is doing is trying to approach the sublime through annihilation of the self. This isn’t always an easy thing to do or read. Where at one point the annihilation of the self would have been through the experience of “Nature” or “God” or “Love” here it is the experience of horror, banality, language, sex, and yes, CHICKEN SALAD SANDWICHES.

***

Leif Haven is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Other work can be found at leifhaven.com.

A Cloth House by Joseph Riippi

by Joe Trinkle

19373950124A Cloth House
by Joseph Riippi
HOUSEFIRE, 2012
94 pages / $7.99  Buy from Amazon or Powells

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph Riipi’s novella, A Cloth House, reads like a transcript of a long-ago dream — fragmented, steeped in mist, sticky with synesthesiac description that cannot avoid its own hieroglyphic symbolism. A woman remembers her life to us with language that moves the same way our memories do, slipping between the concrete and abstract, alternating between inspection of the tiny objects we keep near to us and the larger fears and loves which we infuse into them.

What we’re presented with is a meditation on memory as told to the narrator’s sister who died too young. The guilt of her death, the deterioration of the mother’s psychiatric well-being, and the father’s stoic — if not somewhat cowardly — ambivalence. The story’s chronology is pleasantly muddy, which lends the work the ability to do what it is meant to do: to function less like a timeline, and more like actual memories — popping up when you least expect them, washing all of the facts over in time-stamped emotion.

“I know that in hitting me she had been hitting herself, taking the blame and painting the rest of us with it, which is why I can’t believe that badness was ever really real.”

The eponymous cloth: a safety blanket, the walls of a princess’ castle, one of the novella’s many mantras. The island: where her family lives, and perhaps more than that, how they live. While the latter serves as physical boundary, the former serves as another boundary within that boundary.

Something that great language-driven fiction does is to leave the impression within the passage of what is not said, and to point at that impression with both fingers. To point to the empty bed and allow the reader to infer its importance. Also, to speak conditionally of what could/should/would have been:

“He might have explained that love was the one part of a person’s life they could not in some way control, or change, or make believe differently.”

So much of what we are told is what was left unspoken, undone, unfelt. The lives not lived, the fairytale fantasies unfulfilled. The narrator explores the intimacy of suffering and how, in a soft, oceanside light, perfectly beautiful that suffering can be.

The intersection of impossibility and reality are accomplished in sentences such as:

“We are told that we can be whatever we want to be, and we assume our parents are who they are because they wished it so.”

affording us the ability to interpret the characters as real as we want them to be.

The narrator speaks to us in a way that is fuzzily familiar, the way we were talked to as children, or, even more so, the way we speak to ourselves late at night or early in the morning, the way we talk to ourselves as we calmly turn our lives over and over, with objective tranquility ballasted equally by love and sadness. The way we think about things we’ve cherished and lost — or given away — this is how the unnamed narrator recounts the optimism of her father, deterioration of her mother — and the dead sister.

Riippi’s written a love song to memory and mothers, and the way all unsettling love songs are written: superimposed upon a melancholic minor key. It’s an emotional work wrought with sweet dialogue as usually heard in poetry.

After reading A Cloth House, preceded by the equally haunting The Orange Suitcase, I’m left wanting to see what Riippi does next.

***

Joe Trinkle is a fiction writer and essayist currently living in Philadelphia. His fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Pear Noir, Atticus Review, The Bygone Bureau, New Fraktur Arts Journal, Subtopian Magazine, among other places. He is the author of I’d Never Liked the Chinese, a fiction collection due to be published this fall. You can sort of follow him at joetrinkle.com.

important information garnered from The Silhouettes by Lily Ladewig

by Melissa Broder

1. Wild women are still writing in cafes. They worship Le Creuset. They speak la langue Francaise et la langue chandelier et la langue Manolo Blahnik.

2. Telephones weigh a lot.

3. One girl is two girls.

4. Men are Russia.

5. Sometimes it all comes down to Orange Julius vs. a tall styrofoam cup.

6. Beware: Mercury retrograde.

 

7. Wild women are still writing in couplets. They have tornado nightmares. The tornados ravage bklyn so all you bklyn haters rejoice!

8. Once upon a time, bklyn was a black and white photo ringed in roses. Wait. That is another book.

9. Living one month is exhausting.

10. Dreams occur next to the sleeper in pale blue on the floor.

11. At any corner at any instant the absurdity of the world is still absolutely correct, Camus.

12. The opera is still horrible.

13. Wild women are still baking quiches.

14. Wear a t-shirt to marry him here and now.

15. Whales are to be recorded.

16. A star comes on its belly.

17. It’s winter again.

18. Keep texting.

*

You can get it get it now from SpringGun Press.

A lot of little excerpts from and a little critical review of Tomaž Šalamun’s excellent ‘On the Tracks of Wild Game’

on_the_tracks_of_wild_game-promo_2On the Tracks of Wild Game
Tomaž Šalamun (Translated by Sonja Kravanja)
Ugly Duckling Presse, 1979/2012
108 pages / $14.00 buy from Ugly Duckling

 

It’s fairly disarming to think of the poetry in Tomaž Šalamun’s On the Tracks of Wild Game as over thirty years old. The poet’s approach to and manipulation of language is frequently unexpected, exciting. Fresh. He sets the bar, here, not only as we look back retrospectively on what the poetry world was approaching at the end of the twentieth century, but also as we ourselves presently work to create and maintain unique, innovative voices. I can imagine this book would generate about as much enthusiasm and dialogue, if published tomorrow, as it has as a translation. The work marks a pivotal appreciation for the Slovenian writer, but more importantly to literature outside the Western canon in general.

The brevity of the majority of the poems is particularly exciting. Šalamun strikes hard with the saying as much with as little as one is able. To me, the untitled poems, fleeting yet devastatingly moving in their images and volatile turns of language, reminded me of Bashō and other Japanese poetry I’ve read translated by Kenneth Rexroth.

The simplicity drives the purpose behind the works. Šalamun is able to transform the direction and force of these moments usually in one or two words. Notably it is the function of the ending, which takes a good poem and makes it an awesome poem. “When will I be captured / by the breadth of this honey?” (8) and “where did your women hide / as you fled to this tree?” (9) are early examples of how powerful a tiny image, a markedly heretofore unestablished or dramatically appearing image is responsible for the weight and reaction of the poem. Ending, here, on a question, is complex: it operates as a turn from writer to speaker to reader, an introspection on the speaker’s part, and an endowment of agency and participation from the literary context to the reader.

 

Other significant moments that similarly reflect this perspective or approach, appear throughout the collection: “A whip cracks. I’m not / the shepherd” (20), “a man and dog surge” (35), “he who truly sees nature / unravels the glove” (47), “a mailman never breaks through dusk” (61), “a sack of sand is the first secret police” (67).” These endings act as huge aesthetic breakthroughs. Tiny epiphanies that alter the course of how we see Šalamun, how Šalamun sees, or understands what he sees. Poems, completely working by and even more indebted to the natural, silent, solitary space, which I’ve come to associate with classical Japanese style, appear on pages 32 (“Granaries have ripened, wheat.”), 52 (“I compare a caliph with / a birth tree”), 68 (“A lake is evaporating,”), 93 (Ripen, bloom!), and 106 (Killing sounds / authentic, love—less authentic), among other places.

There is a great deal of poetry that stands alone, however, outside this form, not indebted to anything really. These are the poems of life and interaction, working in opposition to and reconciliation with the sole, imagistic pieces discussed above. Poems like “Good Day, Iztok” represent a radically different understanding of the everyday—a life filled with action and interaction, rather than observance and contemplation. These poems present an acknowledgement of and ever-expanding anxiety toward the artistic lifestyle. There is an urgency to articulate and realize the self in terms with the massive, notably Western, context. This is achieved both in the content of the action, but also in the form: a string of language, constantly pushing forward, seeming to fill as much as its capable, as much as it desires to feel and communicate: “you are burroughs I said he saw what I meant said yes” (14), “then I put on jim morrison and danced and fell into / a trance my cells expanded I put my arms up I hardly / moved I danced wildly and then we went back to…” (15), “I was barely awake when I wanted to talk about iztok’s poetry again” (15).

This desire to work and resolve aesthetic choices and progress appears persistently, when the speaker tries to redefine Yeats: “Spiritus Mundi is / a box out of which come also human / legs they lighten like erotica like a trick.” (19); and in “Clumsy Guys”: “Poetry is a sacred machine, the lackey of / an unknown deity who kills as if by conveyer / belt…”; “Poets frequently / kill themselves. They scribble on a piece of paper: / I have been killed by too strong a word” (88). Perhaps the most touching and hilarious moment with regard to the artist’s purpose and ambition occurs on page 39, a jab both at the community at large, and himself: “but to be honest he wasn’t really showing me / the painting he was showing me his / weenie.”

One great achievement in this collection is the reappropriation of syntax and the general lack of regular punctuation. This makes the few moments in which regular punctuation and capitalization appear stand out. Significantly, the first poem in “Plato, Islam, Barnett Newman” does this, and through it seems to achieve an antidote to the anxiety previously discussed: “Do not touch me. / The way I am, I’m the biggest asset.” (45); “I’m dizzy. I understand nothing. / I know.” (45); “I am a pure dark blossom, / tranquil on the water’s surface. / Untouchable and untouched. / Terrifying” (46). These moments seem to address the multiple perspectives—assurance and dread, insight and oblivion—on which the collection functions as a whole. The first poem in “A Visit” is also presented in this way, and, as I noted while reading, is a summation of the purpose, style and approach of Šalamun’s book. It is a violent, political piece, working against the serenity and expectation of the majority of the poems. But it is also an address to the madness of existence, the disturbing nature of interaction and humanity:

Fascism, then, is
nature in its most
aesthetic, it’s most
supreme rage. But you are naïve
to believe this rage to be visible. Wrong: it
arrives as a mountain, as
peace, as
enlightenment in a young deity, as
emptiness, as the one who
breathes. He doesn’t give a shit. As usual. He who gives
the least shit hold the key to
the world in his hands” (75).

Šalamun is He who gives the least shit, and He who understands the interaction between terror, beauty, peace and strangeness. I will be honest: there were moments in which I felt the poet did get carried away with the novelty of being weird and supposedly unexpected (still, it was the 70′s): “Your teeth are my soul” (94), “murmurs are gazelles running on / an eraser” (51), “a festival / of glowing human blood” (66). But then there are the moments when this strangeness meets this calmness. In these instances, the whole misery of existence, while present, is held at bay:

a snake’s neck is the breast of a silent blueberry

  •  ok

we measure the volume of heaven with threads

  •  ok

here death is like a pile of gravel
up higher is not any higher
because the gravel shifts
as a man adds more gravel

  •  ok

on the tracks of wild game (69)

Šalamun’s poetry is here, is available now for the entire English-speaking world, and he “won’t / allow you to become a fascist” (76). Fortunately, and incredibly, he is able to achieve this objective through “a surge of the scent of daffodils” (23).

– – –

At the risk of sounding fascist myself, go out and buy it or take it out from your library if your library has it.

Also, Listen to a podcast of Šalamun reading at NYU last year

“Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer,” edited by Gabriel Blackwell

by Renée E. D’Aoust

Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer

Edited by Gabriel Blackwell
Civil Coping Mechanisms, October 2012
286 pages / $13.95  Buy from Civil Coping Mechanisms orAmazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is there a form called smart noir? There should be. In Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer, published by Civil Coping Mechanisms, Gabriel Blackwell both conducts and writes the story. As the meta-writer and the meta-detective, he’s inside what happens, and outside, all at the same time. Blackwell claims, rather coyly, to be the “editor” of Shadow Man: A Biography of Lewis Miles Archer, and he is listed as such on the cover. But like a savvy gumshoe, Blackwell is too humble—and too sneaky—to list his skills upfront. His project is to blur lines between fiction and nonfiction; genre and form; noir and innovation.

We should consider ourselves forewarned meta-readers because Blackwell, as editor of this book, as author and researcher, is the ultimate shadow man. Blackwell disappears into the story and lets us know that he will be seen—and not seen:

It’s easy enough to be seen when you want to be. Easy enough, too, to not be seen, if that’s what you’re after. But to be both at the same time? It’s like someone telling you to act natural, or not think of a pink elephant.

We read to name that “pink elephant” in the room and, in the manner of noir, to find that missing femme fatale in the bar. The reader’s suspicious impulse might be to sit with the book and with Google, to search what is fiction, nonfiction, or imagination. We are inside the story as it unravels and outside the story as it is revealed. The story becomes confounding, like “a maze”:

A maze, maybe. The trick to a maze is, you keep your hand on the outside wall and you can’t go wrong. But that only works if you know which wall is the outside wall. And if you start the minute you step in.

I soon gave up the inter-textual Google approach to reading Blackwell and let myself be drawn into the cheeky editor’s devilish and impish fun. Those who are unseen and unknown are often the characters of literature that might reveal the most, were we to bother to ask. Blackwell bothers. He uses this knowledge, his questions, to great effect, illuminating a man who existed and didn’t exist, someone who disappeared with nary a backward glance.

Shadow Man takes as its cue Dashiell Hammett’s fictional detective Miles Archer, and jazz riffs off of Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, too. Nevertheless, before you think you must be familiar with works by those three, consider that I’m not all that familiar with noir, and I found myself thoroughly, willfully engaged. Submerged.

The reader’s project might be similar to investigators who uncover eyewitnesses. The reader uncovers characters and characterizations. The book shadows (that word again!) the character Archer through different appearances. If we are all dicks (detectives, I mean), then our tracking is perpetual: Our reading goes on, detective-like, tracking femme fatales, missing falcons, and Archer.

Dashiell Hammett used a fictional detective, “Miles Archer,” but Blackwell illuminates the fictional with the real dick behind the story, Lewis Miles Archer, who was Hammett’s partner and a real detective. I’m a fan of union history, so the references to Pinkertons thrilled me (and seemed prescient to our times with the recent union-busting laws in Wisconsin and Michigan). Archer writes in his detective’s notebook, which is included in Shadow Man, and thus gives us more reading clues: “It’s all up front. Everything’s a front.”

Blackwell’s exhaustive noir knowledge of “no-name Joes, guys with names that mean bunk” means that we are in the hands of a gleeful guy. Blackwell is our leading private eye:

Which leaves Archer out in the cold, on Union Square in mid-December with no hearth to go home to. Hammett’s account of the events after Archer’s murder inThe Maltese Falcon doesn’t exactly paint Hammett in the stained glass as the White Knight, so there’s probably some truth to it. In the novel, Hammett gets wrapped around Iva Archer’s little finger, turns the bird over to the police, and lets Wonderley flap in the breeze.

The girl stays out of the picture—that’s for sure. Daddy’s money takes care of that.

Again, one feels the impulse to fit the pieces together to follow this detective author, but even that impulse—to make sense of literature or to make literature make sense—is rightly questioned in Blackwell’s astute hands. To create Lewis Miles Archer, Blackwell borrows from Hammett. The momentum behind The Maltese Falcon forms the genesis of Shadow Man. Then Blackwell creates. He conflates. Blackwell borrows from Raymond Chandler, from Ross Macdonald.

Blackwell challenges our desire to build character through illumination, filling in the animus not by erasing the past but by including the past and adding to it. Recall one of the Latin quotes at the start of Shadow Man that tells us that “although changed, [he] shall arise again.” The story here, although changed, rises again. Built on narrative history, it’s also built on its own beginnings:

Using the chopsticks of Archer Investigations’ Chandler/falcon file, along with the few scribblings that are left on the case in Archer’s notebook, we can start to pick apart the Angler’s loop that Hammett manages to make out of The Maltese Falcon.

While creation arises from imagination, the source of imagination might be uncannily familiar. We are literary cannibals, all. The mystery forms the wicked fun of this meta-critical project—butShadow Man stands on its own, aside from its meta-critical inquiry. After all, as Blackwell writes:

The best place for a pigeon that’s delivered its last message is a shoebox under the roses. In this case, the Hall of Justice, in a police evidence locker right along with all of the other three-legged stool pigeons, drowned rats, and crushed bugs, where no one with half a brain would ever think to look, and only the half-witted have keys.

It’s noir, it’s your shadow, it’s Borges’s interweaving maze-like blindness. Let narrative loose under klieg lights and watch narrative lose its mystery. Keep narrative shrouded in a dusky haze, and let narrative reclaim its mystery—of form, of story, of meaning.

***

Renée E. D’Aoust’s first book Body of a Dancer (Etruscan Press) was a Finalist for Foreword Reviews 2011 “Book of the Year.” She teaches online, lives in Switzerland and Idaho, and helps her dog Tootsie write a blog [http://bicontinental-dachshund.blogspot.com]. For more information, please visit www.reneedaoust.com.