A Questionable Shape

by Idris Kenain


aquestionableshapeA Questionable Shape
by Bennett Sims
Two Dollar Radio, May 2013
242 pages /  $16.50  Preorder from Amazon or Two-Dollar Radio



This ain’t your granddaddy’s zombie-apocalypse. Everything in Bennett Sims’s stunning debut courts a topographical and invasive examination of the human condition through our inverse. The architecture of zombie-logic is rewired, and the undead become symbolic for what it means to exist in all its physical and existential, its beauty and brutality.

Post-Katrina. Docile shapes fringe the horizon of greater Baton Rouge. Hurricane season looms yet again, threatening the security of Mississippi barges that quarantine thousands of zombies. If the barges breach, a second epidemic is likely. A Questionable Shape follows Vermaelen over one week as he helps his friend, Matt Mazoch, search for his undead father, retracing “haunts” Mr. Mazoch might return to in his zombified state. But hurricane season is also dwindling the window of opportunity to find him.

Sims escalates the psychological state of the undead, giving them, essentially, purpose. Reanimated, these zombies pursue places from memories. Reanimation, thus, becomes a kindResuscitation. What the genre formerly defined as a vacant shell of rudimentary desire, Sims infuses with recollection, humanizing the traditionally dehumanized. Continue reading


The &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing is out now.

by Janice Lee


Just out: The &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing

This second volume of The &Now Awards recognizes the most provocative, hardest-hitting, deadly serious, patently absurd, cutting-edge, avant-everything-and-nothing work from the years 2009-2011. The &NOW Awards features writing as a contemporary art form: writing as it is practiced today by authors who consciously treat their work as an art, and as a practice explicitly aware of its own literary and extra-literary history—as much about its form and materials, language, as it about its subject matter. The &NOW conference, moving from the University of Notre Dame (2004), Lake Forest College (2006), Chapman University (2008), the University at Buffalo (2009), the University of California, San Diego (2011), and Paris (Sorbonne and Diderot, 2012)—sets the stage for this aesthetic, while The &Now Awards features work from the wider world of innovative publishing and serves as an ideal survey of the contemporary scene.

The anthology features:

Harold Abramowitz (.UNFO)
Shane Allison
Dimitri Anastasopoulos
Daniel Borzutzky Continue reading

Denotation Withered on the Vine

by Leif Haven

mac-low-cover-225x300154 Forties
by Jackson Mac Low
edited by Anne Tardos
Counterpath Press, October 2012
328 pages / $22  Buy from SPD or Amazon


Mac Low created this book of poems from 1990 to 1999, collecting and editing as he went. He claims to have only edited the caesural spaces; everything else written word after word, as they came to him. The poems feel completely strange and alien, but at the same time intimate; the challenging poems are both alienating and enthralling.

“Jackson Mac Low (September 12, 1922 – December 8, 2004) was an American poet, performance artistcomposer and playwright, known to most readers of poetry as a practitioneer(sic) of systematic chance operations and other non-intentional compositional methods in his work…” from Wikipedia.

(I wonder if the writer or editor let practitioneer slip as a portmanteau of pioneer and practitioner.) Continue reading

What do I do with my memories, my longings, my hurts, the things unresolved between us?

by Kyle Minor

A Review of A Questionable Shape, by Bennett Sims (Two Dollar Radio, 2013)

shapeThe first zombie in Bennett Sims’s A Questionable Shape doesn’t appear until page 161, and then only as a silhouette seen from across a lake. Most of the zombies have been detained, quarantined, or “put down” by a government that seems relatively more functional in its performance of disaster relief, especially in Louisiana, than in its earlier iteration, not so long ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The undead that remain roaming the bayou possess “roughly the same citizen status and legal rights, as, say, coma patients or the mentally ill.” FEMA funds refugee shelters and welfare checks and undead search operations, although, by now, the term “undead” is increasingly frowned upon for being “dysphemistic and dehumanizing.”

The search for the undead yet at-large in Louisiana has grown quite urgent by the novel’s beginning, because in five days it will be the end of July, and the beginning of hurricane season. The story’s narrator, a young bookish man named Vermaelen, has agreed to help his friend Matt Mazoch search for his undead father.

The five days they have left in their search–Monday through Friday–serve double-duty, as scaffolding for the book’s structure (plus a Saturday denouement), and as a ticking clock of the sort often advised of thriller writers hoping to amplify tension by watching time tick away toward whatever big-time trouble the story anticipates. Continue reading

25 Points: what purpose did i serve in your life

by Brooks Sterritt

mcpurp9780985023584_p0_v2_s260x420what purpose did i serve in your life
by Marie Calloway
Tyrant Books, 2013
200 pages / $19.00 buy from Amazon or SPD

1. A link to Frank Hinton’s review from a few weeks ago.

2. Sex Writer Marie Calloway Addresses Dr. Phil Controversy Live

3. “I started to wonder, and felt relieved that there might be truth to the idea of intellectuals all being frauds. I knew that I certainly was.”

4. Some old links [TRIGGER WARNING: “journalism”]: 123456

5. I don’t know if Marie Calloway’s writing is unique, but I know I haven’t read anything like it. Have you?

6. “I wondered if maybe men are incapable of understanding something like this as anything other than something that’s meant to get them off.”

7. I’ve been thinking about how subjective the idea of “degradation” is, unless we’re talking about soil erosion or something. Continue reading

Where You Are Is Where This Library Goes: The Mellow Pages guide to starting a user-sourced library/reading room

by Mike Young

mellowboysSo in case you don’t shake the rain out of your New York Times or anything, let me introduce Mellow Pages to you.

Mellow Pages is a sweet new community-sourced library, reading room, and gathering spot for readers/writers, started by two gnarly beardboys from the Pacific Northwest—Matt Nelson and Jacob Perkins, at left—in a chill and genius way.

You can find it on Tumblr and Facebook andGoodreads and Instagram. Mellow Pages lives on Bogart St. off the Morgan L stop in Brooklyn, NY, but that shouldn’t stop you from letting its idea live everywhere.

Because what Jacob and Matt have done is written up a guide (Jacob writing, Matt editing) to making your own very 2013 library/reading room wherever you might live.

Ever since I heard about Mellow Pages, I’ve felt impressed not only by its duh-that’s-a-great-idea quality, but also by how cleanly and smartly and warmly Matt and Jacob have executed their idea. They’ve provided a non-academic space where readers can stroll in and sample all that weird shit they read about on the internet in a tangible, welcoming, human, affordable way. A curated library and reading room offers a model that doesn’t sub out public libraries or independent bookstores but instead supplements and supports them; the guide talks/thinks more about this relationship between bookstores/libraries/etc. What I want to say is that Mellow Pages’ living room gallery/house show/come-one-come-all/zine culture vibe really appeals to me and feels consistent with what I think of as independent literature’s better angels. Continue reading

Why ‘Frances Ha’ Is a Cowardly Movie

by David Fishkind


Instead of attending an opening for a collective of internet/new media artists in Red Hook, probably cutting edge, funny, with free alcohol—perhaps some level of thought-provoking, also maybe I would’ve known some people there—I decided to go see Francis Ha. Something said it was like Baumbach meets Girls, and since Lena Dunham and the aforementioned filmmaker (whose notoriety is mainly based on a 2005 family drama and his friendship with the more marketable and visually stylistic Wes Anderson) both, in the shallow arc of their careers, mark an acme of New York indie-cum-commercial, I figured I’d get more pleasure and cultural experience out of going to the movies. I’ve always been attracted to the medium’s commercial roots: the amount of money it takes for a 90-minute feature to be made: the amount of money it costs to finance advertising: the amount it costs to see it once in theaters. Counteracted against the mutable possibilities for distribution and audience now made possible by the internet. It’s a weird time to consider one’s self an artist making movies, probably. Weirder than posting photos of a MacBook in a bathtub to a Tumblr.

Even weirder to film your movie in black and white. A bold choice, it actually succeeds, raw and captivating rather than kitschy and meaningless. Baumbach creates a Manhattan-like air to parts of the city heretofore unexplored in traditional analogue (i.e., Brooklyn). Its passé, but really more pastiche, approach to the cinematography feels enhanced by the literal quality of the film print. I don’t really know how that works, but certain moments feel faster, like World War II footage or old home movies. Frances (Greta Gerwig) runs down the crosswalks of lower Manhattan to “Modern Love” dancing and sort of fluttering. It’s not dramatic; it’s comic and natural and sort of frantic.

And that’s how the majority of the film is. People in their mid-20s banter and talk around ideas (and the dialogue is good, not parodic, not pandering or striving to capture some extant zenith of hipster inflection). Everyone wants to be an artist, but nobody really cares or knows how. Frances, an aspiring modern dancer and graduate of Vassar, traverses six shared, and unsuitable, residences, not including a 48-hour stint at a friend of an acquaintance’s apartment in Paris, over the course of maybe eighteen months. She fails at relationships, she sulks and hopes and talks like an intelligent person who doesn’t care about being intelligent. Someone at a dinner party says something like, “Sophie—she’s really smart,” to which Frances replies something like, “Well, yeah, we’re all smart.” She claims her friend doesn’t read enough, but we only see the protagonist flipping through the center of some thick book, ostensibly Proust, on one of her countless wasted days.

Frances is wildly unmotivated and expects a natural progression of success in the art world from minimal, obligatory efforts. She has basal talent, illusory goals and lots of beer. And she gets drunk a lot, fractiously speaking down paths of unrelatable and undetectable revelation amongst people either too mature for her company or just as immature and wanton, but rich. Frances isn’t rich. By economic and social terms, she is absolutely poor, but addressing the harrowing nature and implications of this situation becomes increasingly difficult, as she admits, when confronted by her vague love interest and roommate, that she cannot be poor, essentially because she is educated, art-minded and white. The story really does seem beautiful. It is more honest and intense than Girls, more willing to quietly face the complications of inheriting a broken economy, a feeling and system of entitlement, privilege and unwarranted desire. Nothing could really be more current, topical, desperately vital to address.

Oh god, I’m so sad. Frances Ha comes so close.

Frances Ha comes so close to being a movie I needed, my generation needed, this world needed. The time has never been riper than to cut down any encouragement among our youth to pursue a creative lifestyle. Almost everyone I know is failing, or will fail, at least in their eyes (!), due to the climate of cultural edification, pandering and self-serving inanity brought about by severely deluded and optimistic interpretations of parents’ kind-hearted, but clearly seeped in motivation-not-reality, ethics, confused teachers, then professors, reality television and YouTube and blog culture and new media and especially this plague upon plagues, deemed, by, like, maybe a couple hundred people, alt lit. Listen, I’m not above it. We’re all failing. Even you, reader, you’ve read this far, and only because you want to know more about why some thing doesn’t work. Baumbach’s movie doesn’t work because it is right there, right up against this reality of undoing, in which only the truly inspired and painstaking can achieve success and the rest of us flounder in our own soup of whatever. And just when Gerwig’s character seems to understand the urgency of the situation, everything falls apart. By this, I mean, she gets her shit together and prospers.

I did not clock the movie minute by minute, but according to Wikipedia it’s only 85, and no more than ten could be those during which Frances is saved. Her awakening, in this way, is basically religious. Her transformation, founded without circumstance or care for the constraints of reality, is brutal. One minute she is back working as a 27-year-old resident advisor in Poughkeepsie, a halfway waitress on the side, the next she’s moved inexplicably to Washington Heights (How could she afford that?), where she buckles down, securing a desk job by day (Why is the job she snubbed months earlier still available?), clocking hours as an independent choreographer, who has, again, unaccountably procured a company of students interested in her meritless work (How has her attitude turned from aloof to ambitious so rapidly?). The roommate guy who claimed she was “undateable” for, I guess, society, and who was last seen dating a younger and prettier girl than Frances, shows up at the opening performance, single, and now calls himself “undateable”. Because isn’t that just how life is? Ha. Ha ha ha… All this supposed success from nothing but a sanguine attitude and a few years of naïve self-service rings true to the kind of fraudulence on which Generation X-ers, such as Baumbach, base their success. Forget the crushing debts that now come with private education and migrating to New York City, forget the unemployment and terror and ignorance to social and international politics, unmediated inflation and climate change and war costs and death counts—this filmmaker saw his first success in 1995, discussing the issues of college graduates living in the bleak, uncertain time of the Clinton administration.

The film, then, had an opportunity to present the masses with disappointment and failure. It, rather, chose to capitalize on anxiety-filled environment in which young people today find themselves by misleading them. Being thoughtful and creative is only made more difficult by the trials established before us. How many of us would love to mull over existence and think pretty thoughts and maybe work a few hours a week in an artistic field and then when we start to approach 30, get nervous, put in a little bit more effort and see critical success? That is not how things are anymore, if they really ever were. And the witty, austere, forthright nature of Frances, the exciting moments in the film that point to a certain air of recognition and condemnation with regard to the wallow of American life, becomes all the less sincere as we approach her story’s end. She seems completely unaware of her position in life, in the world or even questioning what it might mean to be a young artist today. She does not hustle. She idles. And so why would someone still not so far-removed from Frances, her co-author, Greta Gerwig, who has yet to see much unobscured success, be willing to sell this falsity to millions of disenfranchised, impressionable, self-determined and city-dwelling creative types, many of whom may have been at the art opening but chose on that rainy evening to weather the storm in the movie theater, with access to this film? Well, for that very reason: success.

Sure, it takes a measureable amount of cowardice to betray reality and the struggle of society, but spinelessness has its perks. Filmmaking is, as I firstly pointed out, a predominantly commercial endeavor, and by writing the bogus triumph of the educated juvenile artist, two of her own kind, enamored by and fused in Frances’ image, even as their creators, hope to experience the same. But grander still: why fear the disdain of audiences for serving them with melancholy when you can sell them smiles with blind optimism? Surely Baumbach and Gerwig have had their fair share of marginality, depression and futility (see The Squid and the Whale,Nights and Weekends, etc.), but even their last collaboration, 2010’s Greenberg, by its end, erred on the side buoyancy. So why not follow suit, claim the nice things that come with a nice attitude: money, fame, critical approval—because why else are we alive but to seek compensation for our shitheaded existence: we are all special, we all deserve more. A marketable tale manipulates a cultural problem in order to return investments and pad wallets.

It’s okay. I mean, I want success. I want money too. Money makes any life easier. Likely, you want it, regardless of your politics. But our will must not be to stare at things and hope for, or worse: assume, the best. For that perspective is not only lazy, but craven. The difference between us and Frances, and Baumbach Gerwig on a larger sense, is that we learn not to expect recompense. For anything, or nothing. Or if you don’t think that yet, start.

2012 by Joanne Kyger

by Patrick James Dunagan

by Joanne Kyger
Blue Press, 2013
$10.00 / Buy from Blue Press

Joanne Kyger periodically taught in the now defunct Poetics Program at New College of California, much as she still teaches now and then at Naropa. Over a decade ago I had the pleasure of being a student in one of those classes. We officially focused on “the serial poem” reading books by Jack Spicer, Ed Dorn, Alice Notley, and Ed Sanders, but more vitally the class was an uncompromising lesson in the wider practice of living—with poetry happening to be our focus—one among many of life’s daily occurrences.

A serial poem in its own right, 2012 exemplifies how fluidly Kyger’s writing practice is a sustained fact of her life. This journal-like suite of nine poems, presented in chronological order with dates of composition, is well representative of her ongoing engagement with the world via poetry over the last half-century. The writing is finely sculpted if often deceptive in giving off a carefree it’s-all-no-big-deal vibe. Of course, the simultaneous action of these characteristics only contributes towards how totally great the poems actually are. Continue reading

“…I am from here / and in these very same places / I now leave my balance.”

by Mike Young

Over at Typo, Guillermo Parra has put together (with the help of many scholarly friends/friendly scholars) a collection of Venezuelan poetry (1921-2001) nuzzled-into-English. It really makes your hair feel softer, these poems. There are trails that crawl both uphill and downhill. There are fugitive instants that barely contain your breathing. There is the spooky insistence of overwhelming presence when you think you want to be alone. Like José Antonio Ramos Sucre explains: “I would like to stay between the empty dark, cruelty on earth hurts my senses, life an affliction.” But “They followed me on horseback with their black dogs.” Almond trees and leopards. Owls putting shirts on their fathers. Pistol vapors vs. peaceful sleep. Cañabrava wood and mangrove beams. Boats with chimneys, ham wrapped in aluminum foil. Selfhood as a long dark hike both inside and out. Or on its stomach to watch TV, or facing the ceiling to be loved. Patricia Guzmán, for example, has always wanted to learn how to sing, and she says so to her sisters:

I’ve told them to listen to me
I’ve told them to let me know I sing
I’ve told them not to kiss me on the mouth while I sing
Not to invite anyone to hear me