Archive by Author

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: “Bulls-eye” by Jac Jemc and other good stuff on the Fanzine

4 Dec

The Fanzine, as usual, has been getting after it pretty hard: Jeff Alessandrelli’s essay about creating in Portland, OR — “what you ‘create’ is going to come down to not the city you live in but the extent of your own personal effort and investment in that effort.” And Daniel Beauregard’s intelligent thoughts on Harmony Korine’s 2009 film, Trash Humpers — “Korine’s film occasionally seems more akin to a series of found footage dreamscapes, void of any overarching narrative, but one can be found–a subtle narrative is threaded throughout Trash Humpers, and it comes together beautifully at the end.”

To go with all this goodness is Jac Jemc’s, “Bulls-eye,” the story of a lonely woman who attends a weekly Bingo night — “Phyllis waited for this night every week. She slogged through her schedule of television shows each evening, drifting off more often than not, left to dream about the resolution of each episode. Thursday nights, though, represented the climax of the week.”

What’s so impressive about this piece is how Jemc draws so much real emotion from Bingo, a game most of us would say is boring as shit to read about, but Jemc is bad ass and makes the readers feel the tension and subtle drama that can come with playing Bingo:

22 was her number and she would prove it. If she won, it was possible that she might avoid the vicious boiling down of her choices for an entire week. She might buy the nicer brand of decaf coffee at the store. She might treat herself to the full rack of ribs from the takeout place on the corner so that she’d have leftovers for lunch the next day. She might sift through the bin at the dollar store and pick out a new pearlescent pink nail polish to cover the white, hard ridges that had started showing up on her nails.

We can hear the creaking chairs in the Bingo hall (a church basement), feel the AC from the vents, hear the daubing of Bingo boards. Jemc makes us understand the protocol for behavior in the Bingo hall and gives us the collective emotion that develops as the game proceeds and how all of that can come to an end when somebody actually wins:

She was also equally embarrassed to call BINGO when it was a legitimate winner; a sadness accompanied the motion to ending a particular game, a sense of letting the rest of the group down, taking away the private hope of the others in the room to bask in her own singular success, one game closer to the end of the night.

Jemc provides a rich portrait of Phyllis, her town and her family while having Phyllis do little more than play Bingo and return home.

Check out more of Jac Jemc bad assness at her website. Buy her books, send her your love and baby teeth.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: States of Grace by Steven Graham Jones

26 Sep

Stephen Graham Jones’s collection, States of Grace (Springgun Press) is spilling over with unique short-shorts that are compact, forceful and sharp, kind of like a razor blade you’d keep under your tongue. Similar to Dylan Nice’s Other Kinds, the stories are melancholy, bizarre, tender, and familial. As with any other collection of fierce short-shorts, the first sentences are barbed and laced with a noxious tonic that grab the reader by the scruff of the neck. Here are a few:

From “Modern Love”

My son’s first-grade teacher doesn’t shoot heroin any more.

From “Neither Heads Nor Tails”

My father lost his left nipple in a hunting-related accident.

From “Hatchery”

Martin once tried to shoot a fish he put in a barrel.

From “Seafood”

After examining the facts for eight-odd years, in which both his wife and his job fell away like a second, unnecessary skin he’d never even known he had, Rick finally decided that it had been obvious, really, and, being not just rational but bound by the smallest indicators, he had no choice but to admit that that day he’d taken his four-year old son to the beach it had, yes, been almost solely to have him dragged out by a shark.

From “Bulletproof”

When Ton and Ricky and the rest of them came to shoot my brother in the street in front of our house, I was eleven years old.

From “Easy Money”

All we had to do was record the sound of a wooden bat on a human skull.

Jones takes on a variety of techniques throughout the book, but he’s never guilty of displaying simple literary stunts. Instead, the pieces have been skillfully and precisely crafted, and flow at a feverish pace with rhythm and fluidity:

From “Faberge”

and then there was the day the week the year my mother found the magazine I had hidden in such a perfect place, shuffled in with the rest of my magazines, and I don’t think she even told me at first but thought about it for a week, maybe two, looked at herself in the mirror a little too long some mornings, was too polite to me about staring into the refrigerator for minutes on end, and she never told my dad, either, but that was just because he was dead already so maybe he knew anyway, in the way dead people know things, which makes our skulls into glass . . .

From “Seafood”

If there had been a painting of that day, he knew, then he and Danny would have been at the center of it, every brushstroke radiating out from them. But there had been no painting and he hadn’t even known then to be looking for the brushstrokes.

From “Matinee: A Love Affair”

In the darkness of the theatre we did it too, stretching our fingertips up just to be part of it, a brief shadow. Even walking home we would find ourselves silhouetted against a building by approaching headlights and smile, then cast our eyes down over it, trying to affect a forlorn posture before the car swept past.

From “Backsplash”

You can’t bleach everything, after all. At a certain point, the harsh smell starts to be the thing that gets you caught, not whatever it is you’re trying to erase.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: Everyday Genius

13 Aug

Michael Seidlinger is at the helm of Everyday Genius this month and he’s been posting excerpts from works-in-progress by some really fantastic folks. Below are a few of clips from my favorites so far:

An excerpt from What Have You Lost? by Cari Luna

It would be pretty, wouldn’t it, to say I walked along the river, but I-5 cuts the east side of Portland off from the Willamette and so I would find myself walking parallel to the highway. But the highway had its own appeal, and then there was also the hard rusted beauty of the train yards and the cargo trains gone still and cold, waiting, and the occasional train in motion, wending its slow robot-driven way through town, its mournful whistle cutting through the air, the gray heaviness of Portland morning even heavier with the weight of that train song.

An excerpt from Jim’s Daughter by Alexandra Naughton

We send letters back and forth for two years, each letter revealing more than the last, with promises to see each other soon repeated unfulfilled, except for one time when your friend had to be in Philly for a family reunion and you tagged along, but after three months and no response, no letters and no emails, I feel defeated, sending one last letter. Your mother writes back, a short note and newspaper clipping with your wedding announcement.

An excerpt from Wichita Stories by Troy Weaver

I go into my best friend’s bedroom and lay down on his bed. I close my eyes. I wait. I start counting sheep to alleviate the boredom—not really sheep, just aloud to myself in the dark. I open my eyes, I close them, I open them, and I wait. I count. I wonder what could possibly be taking so long. I count some more. I think about Claudia Schiffer’s perfect boobs, stop thinking about them, start again, stop again, decide to lay on my stomach so I don’t start jacking off on instinct in my best friend’s bed.

An excerpt from Seeing Other People by Megan Lent

If I ever get a tattoo, it will be of a rose, in white ink, on my left shoulder. Except if you have a tattoo you can’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery.

Which doesn’t really affect me, because I will never die.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: The Spine by Sarah Rose Etter

25 Mar

The Body Maps series up at The Fanzine is a new feature and for the first installment Sarah Rose Etter of Philadelphia set the bar sky high with her piece, “The Spine.” Here a few excerpts:

Everything inside of you is a curtain. Everything can be slid and tied to reveal more. You are a canyon of organs, bones, fat deposits, possible tumors, breast tissue, ligaments, white and red viscera, and then, finally, beneath all of that, the spine, which is your main river only very still, very hard, made of bone.

The night before it happens, you are swimming in painkillers in patches sucking at your skin to deliver relief, fog. The night before the Russian man splits you open, you picture him inside of you, his hands deft, sliding small, clear fragments from your flesh, your body just a skin bag of shattered glass.

You can describe, at length, the pattern the stitches made up your spine. You can go on about the way your head became a permanent moon over the toilet, the contents of your stomach shooting like white rays through black night into the clear sea below.

 

It’s a twisted narrative form with sharp, heavy  language and there is not one line that lets the reader off the hook. We can only hope that the rest of the series will be this good.

Interview With a Vicerine

24 Oct

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Our very own Featherweight Champion of independent literature, Laura Relyea, sat down with me to discuss her debut chapbook, All Glitter, Everything. Check out the interview at BURNAWAY! 

Don’t miss the release reading tonight at the Highland Ballroom (8:00 PM)!

 

Single-Sentence Review: Collected Alex

11 Sep

CakeTrain

Collected Alex

A. T. Grant 

Cake Train, 98 p, $9

The words in this book emit a faint hum and cast a light that leads you into the dark rooms you’ve always ignored.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: The Spring Issue from Gigantic

27 Jun

gigantic

The folks at Gigantic Magazine put together flash and poetry issues with the craft of a painter, creating compositions of various tones and shades. A couple months have passed since this issue was released, but the paint is still wet and will get on your clothes if you lean too close, which is a good thing.

Amanda Montei’s “WHITEOUT” is rife with fog, ribbon-yarn, baths in milk and snow.

The army men are spraying the green hillside with some kind of fog. The smell is terrible. She can feel it in her lungs. There are children emerging from the horizon, crawling her way. The children fall asleep on the horizon, all covered in fog.

“CLAUSTROPHOBIA” provides the colorful splatters that leave us spellbound. His words dart and flash in so many directions that all we can do is hold on tight.

I feel guilty buying only French not Colombian coffee but proud I’ve never had a social coke phase. Yet I often pass out mid-conversation, hallucinate internally about hella girls on hecka mountains of yay and how I’d dive through it all like that old duck fucker from DuckTales—all this while my epidermis smiles somewhere above my neck, continuing our conversation.

Michael McGrath completes the flash section with voices floating in the background of a summer evening in “DISCUSSIONS”.

It was an orange August dusk. They were still at brunch. George was spooning vodka from a sourdough bread bowl. Amanda was sipping a mug of whiskey. Seth arrived late, blinking away gathering tremors. He was off his antidepressant five days. Amanda bought twenty milligrams from the sullen hostess and dosed his pint of prosecco. Soon he was whistling through his nose. The evening was blurry. Intentions fled with the retreating horizon.

Take a look at the whole spring issue here. Not to worry, Gigantic Magazine has something for poetry heads as well.

New Love: Julianna Spallholz

11 Jun

Amber Sparks reviewed Julianna Spallholz’s collection of stories, The State of Kansas, for Vouched on January 26. I think I was frozen at the time because somehow I missed it.

I did, however, find Julianna’s story, “The Body” in Noö [14] and am now hooked like one of those fiends I occasionally see passed out in my front yard. Maybe they just couldn’t handle all the goodness that Julianna serves up.

The body has been told that it is tall. The body has been told that it is graceful but also that it moves like some strange animal. The body didn’t know how to take that. The body is scarred where its moles have been taken. The body has never broken a bone or been stung by a bee. The body may be allergic to bees, it doesn’t know.

Read the rest of it here.

An End to All Things by Jared Yates Sexton

24 May

An End to All Things—Atticus Books, 223 pages, $14.95

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The characters in Jared Yates Sexton’s debut collection, An End to All Things, are rubbed raw. They are at wits end with themselves and each other, but with the help of alcohol and cigarettes they get through it all. Most of the stories follow agitated couples dealing with economic and relationship struggles. Reminiscent of Raymond Carver’ Short Cuts and Larry Brown’s Facing the Music, many of Sexton’s characters are constantly drinking, smoking, fighting and trying to find a way to change things.

In “The Right Men for the Job” a family deals with the decline of their quality of life:

The paper folded and Mary couldn’t get anymore teaching gigs . . . Then our things started breaking down all at once. Everyday it was something new.

In the same story the couple is talking in bed. Their conversation is telling of their situation:

Did we do something to deserve it? Something to deserve our lives going all to hell?

I didn’t know what to say. I guess at that point I didn’t think we were that bad off. ‘Course I was drinking a lot and was out of it most of the time. I probably wasn’t the best judge.

These are, after all, stories that examine the “hardscrabble lives of Working-Class America,” as stated on the book’s back cover. “Hardscrabble” is a good word to describe the bouts of violence, infidelity, depression, loneliness and drunkenness through which many of the characters are living.

Sexton shows a range of story telling prowess through these well crafted, genuine stories about people dealing with the recent economic downturn. In “Just Listen” a man is telling his wife about something extraordinary that he saw that shook him so strongly he had an epiphany:

I don’t get it. I really don’t. The only thing I know is we’ve got to talk about this—you and me and how we can’t seem to get along. All this fighting and screaming and throwing shit. We’ve got to get down to the meat of it. All the lying and finger-pointing and the hate. We’ve got to get down and really talk about these things. I mean it. Some things around her are gonna have to change.

Change is what these characters need most, but they don’t seem to know how to achieve it. They make bad decisions, fall back on destructive habits and share the blame around. There’s no room to judge, however, because, just like the rest of us, they’re just trying to get through the day in one piece.

What Do We Have in Our Pockets? by Etgar Keret

8 Feb

For some reason the video stopped working when I posted this earlier this week. So, let’s try this again.

The Sundance Film Festival ended last week and one of the lovely surprises was a short film based on a short story of the same name by Etgar KeretWhat Do We Have in Our Pockets? If you’ve read any of Keret’s story collections—The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God and Other Stories, The Nimrod Flipout, The Girl on the Fridge, and Suddenly, a Knock on the Door—you’ll know why he was awarded the Chevalier Medallion of France’s Ordre des Arts et Lettres in 2010.

This video is well done and will make you want to carry more things in your pockets, just in case.