Archive by Author

Awful Interview: Mike Krutel

25 Oct

best poemsMike Krutel and I became friends by screaming in each other’s faces in an attic in Akron, Ohio. We were both believers, we didn’t know in what, but everything seemed important, now, possible. One night we stayed up late eating at Luigi’s, a famous pizza joint in Akron, making elaborate plans for reciting poems at an intersection, like with one person on each corner yelling over the traffic and going line by line around the intersection, being ridiculous, just doing something. One summer we rode a train back and forth across the country. One time we lived together while we got our MFAs. One time Mike wrote these poems called Best Poems and then we talked about them and everything was important, now, possible. Mike Krutel’s poems have been an integral part of my life since poems have been a part of my life. Raucous, tender, intelligent, uncontainable, I can’t wait for more of Mike’s work to be in the world, for his poems to get their hands in your beautiful beautiful hair.

NS: Your chapbook Best Poems is going to be published soon by Narrow House Books, the new corporate arm of Publishing Genius and Big Lucks, operated by the inestimable Mark Cugini. All of the poems in the chapbook are part of a series, “Best Exit,” “Best Car Fire in the Snow,” and “Best Sonnet,” etc. How did the concept of writing “best” versions of things come about? How did the series generate itself? What parts of the world, or kinds of worlds, were you gathering to make these poems?

MK: It’s completely odd to think about Narrow House as a corporate venture, but it’s true. It’s the version of Breaking Bad where Jessie (Mark) takes up Walt (Adam Robinson is out in the desert telling people he is the danger) on franchising the meth business. Side note: I have not yet seen the final season so don’t spoil it for me people. But I love that this whole corporate venture of writing is happening, especially for someone like Mark, who is going to nail it.

The project began about the time I was finishing up my MFA. The poems I had written up to that time, many of which ended up in a thesis manuscript, still didn’t sit right with me and I was trying to find a way out of the place where many of those poems came from, how they formed. Some of the poems in Best Poems were written before a Best concept even surfaced in my head. Then one night I was thinking about the impending death of my grandmother, and I felt like I could only write myself into the situation. I had not ever written a poem like that before and I was nervous to. Not to write something grand, but to just have the energy in the poem be right, even if the poem didn’t succeed in the end.

The basic principle behind the poems was that if I really didn’t feel like they had anything going for themselves, that made them work in bigger ways, if I’m just breaking into a ridiculous field of plants I couldn’t name though I could identify by some other means, then fuck it I’ll write the best poems that I can. Which is to say that poems can be the best of themselves while still exhibiting the things they have trouble with, or have failed to do despite their best efforts. Everything was game. And I think the poems do all this within themselves, but also in relation to each other by the fact that they exist in a collection based on best efforts.

NS: Who were you reading when you were writing Best Poems? How do think about how what you’re reading enters into your writing? You mentioned how a particular experience, the loss of your grandmother, catalyzed a kind of thinking-writing process. In light of that, I’m thinking about how my initial question here is really deceiving, as if other poems are the only models for poems. I’m hoping you answer that question, but I’m also hoping you can talk about how larger patterns (ontologically large) enter your work. You also live with another artist, so I’m wondering how that saturation (is it saturation?) becomes part of your thinking.

MK: I do find the question of readings to be a weird one, specifically when talking about what one is reading at the time of creating work. I always want to say that what one is reading can have nothing and everything to do with the creation of new work. I don’t even know how to make sense of that last statement, but it hangs on me. I eye the question with suspicion, but I’ll still take it out for a drink to get to know it a little better.

Honestly, there were a number of people that I think I was reading at the time, or that were circling my brain, and I find it hard to summon enough names to feel like I’m answering that question. Looking at the manuscript, I would like to think there are some hints that I was reading James Tate, Andre Breton, and Matt Hart, among many many others. In regards to Matt, it wasn’t only his poems, but his own performative reading of his poems that definitely makes some good tackle to go out with. That kind of charge definitely went into most of the poems in the chapbook, whether directly tied to his kind of energy or another. But maybe none of this shows very much to others and only to me, I don’t know. I’m curious to know.

So, yes. I do think the initial question can be deceiving. The poems do feed off of so much colliding material that is is hard to talk about pinpoints unless there is a more obvious modeling happening in a given poem, where the patterning of it in some way derives from a recognizable source (see: who I am/was reading, fragments of my life that were examinable for creative structural insights). My relationships with the poems, as I wrote/write them, are a sort of collision of elements and particles and larger structures–the larger structures not necessarily being any more or less powerful/magical than the smaller elements. I write a line and then react to get the next, or the next line more easily stems from the one before it, but I get halfway into the second line and think, “Oh shit!” and have to make some choice or find something in the break before or in the combination of the break and the two words after it that build into more words or just one that carries on.

I don’t have a completely good handle on who I was reading, or what I was talking about with other people, artists or not. Maybe an imprecise sense, but it all starts to bleed together a bit. And doesn’t that really become the matter? A poem doesn’t succeed based on one line that I can underline and say “Damn this beats it all, right?” Even a one line poem, one that is really really amazing, doesn’t do what it does on its own volition. There is so much space around it, and I am with it, and I am fucking around in the space with it and many other things.

NS: Why does catching the movement of the mind seem important to you?

MK: I don’t know if I believe in the statement contained in the question: “catching the movement of the mind.” If anything the mind might be more of a danger to movement than it is an instrument of it. I don’t mean danger to be a negative, either. Danger is directly related to movement and both are wonderful things to be caught in. Says Walter White: “I am the danger.”

NS: All of the poems in Best Poems are discrete poems that fit on one page, but as a series they make a larger constellation that resists the closure of any single poem. In fact, many of these poems seem to resist closure in themselves, or to present an “end” to the poem as a kind of illusion. I’m trying to describe how these poems continue after they’re “over,” how their ambiguity and syntax generate an unknowing that never fully closes, and how this happens despite the poem looking, in some ways, like a traditional “poem,” i.e., like I said, it fits on a page, is aligned on the left margin, employs normal spacing and enjambment, etc. You’ve written other series and also long poems, one of which is in this issue of NOO Weekly. The need for and experience of series vs. long poems is always something I’m interested in, like how one or the other arises or needs to happen. Are there differences for you? What are the conditions for a long poem or for a series? What does one do that the other can’t? Is that even right?

MK: I think that idea of closure, or seeming closure, is true of the poems that I am most interested in. I really value a poem when its ending is at a point during which the poem is being as open as it possibly can. I don’t mean open as in sentimental honesty or truthfulness, but more in the physical sense. Wander room and wonder room.

When I’m writing, even when I’m creating something that isn’t coming together in any way, let’s call it a poem regardless of what it is being written, I never want it to end. I keep pushing on the poem’s structure until it says “Alright, it’s ok, you’ve done enough for now,” or perhaps the poem gives me the finger. I’m pushing my self, but also the parameters of what one poem will allow me to do to it. I think this is the same for the concept of a series or long poem.

The long poem you just mentioned started on a plane ride to Boston. The title came to me for obvious reasons of air travel. I liked how I could push against the paring of the words to create different situations of language, parts of speech: whatever(pronoun) it is that clouds(verb); whatever(exclamation), you damned clouds(noun); whatever-clouds (adjective-noun). I repeated it over and over during the course of a few days at AWP. It moved around me while I was not entirely conscious of it, while I was having these amazing experiences with people. Then I wrote the whole thing in a day, as you know already. I used the buddy system with this combination I had been thinking about for days and said to it that we were going to wander into a thinkness/thickness/thinkless space.

If anything, I might say that the series and the long poem can accomplish similar goals. I think one can see where a long poem goes thin, doesn’t make a right connection, or something like that. In this way, the long poem’s immediacy, how it is forced to account for it’s wholeness, is really important because that means that a series has to do the same thing though we might be inclined to shrug off that notion because it seems like the series is made of separate parts that don’t have to answer quite as much to each other. Of course, I can also say the reverse: that the ability of a series to circle around a very similar concern and yet at times be a somewhat disparate, this can happen in a long poem as well, or in any poem.

I’m curious about your use of “vs.”

Like, right now, I am reading Ashbery’s “A Wave” for the first time of really reading it, as opposed to mere (very important) absorptions.

No, wait, let’s do this. I’m going to keep reading “A Wave” and you are going to ask your next question and we are all going to inhabit a space because of course.

NS: I’m curious about your use of “of course.” If you could fill a china cabinet with anything, what would you fill it with? Would you rather bake or boil an artichoke? Is it any use talking about poems like this?

MK: Because of course and courses. I’m in this long Ashbery poem, this one and its many assemblings of a course. The long poem and the short(er) poem are the same things just showing their magic and tensions in more and less ways (I don’t think I can say that one or the other can lay claim to more or less definitively and that is wonderful and hard and part of the course).

I have a complicated relationship with china cabinets. I’m sorry that this avoids the fun of the question, but I wouldn’t want to put anything in a china cabinet. They are heavy and restrictive of whatever is put in them. Too much. I prefer an open bar or credenza. Bookshelves are wonderfully open.

I have baked and steamed artichokes but never before have I boiled one. Really, all that matters is the eating of it with at least one other person and how ridiculous we are scraping our teeth on a plant and fumbling every time in trying to remember how to deal with the heart. So yes, it is of use, and I don’t know that I can explain it anymore than that right now.

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Still Friends: 4,113 Miles of Impossible Pleasure

17 Oct

book suitcase

For three weeks in August I drove 4,113 miles in my blue Toyota Yaris for the Finally Be Friends tour in support of my book, How We Light, from H_NGM_N BKS. More importantly though, the trip was an elaborate excuse to overlap wounds with so many incredible poets, friends, and new friends. “Travel” and “poem” are bound in my mental lexicon. Long poems, long trips, they’re the same for me. It’s fun to go a long way just to be a person somewhere else. So, avoiding the cliche, it’s not that poems “take me somewhere,” that they transport me. The poems themselves are somewhere. And not only that, they create the conditions to grasp the coordinates of an elsewhere (internal and external) that we often describe as mystery or the unknown, a space of bewilderment (proper to Fanny Howe’s description of the word). An impossible pleasure.

Couches are what make this all possible. Any poet who has traveled to read will tell you this. And I think it’s important to acknowledge how necessary and incredible an act that is. Many of us know each other through and in poetry and our poems, and the truth is that a lot of us don’t really know each other (or not yet), that we’re not friends in the most traditional sense, but that poetry is the community we share and build our friendships around. We came for the poems but found out pretty quick there was a lot more there. So many of my poems are directly for friends, but “for” isn’t quite right. Rather, the poems model and extend and accentuate every kind of relationship. The poems are all we have. Also, each other. So when a poet is in your city, when they bring their body’s voice into your lush corner of being, to offer them that couch, that air mattress, that cup of coffee in the morning is nothing less than a spiritual pact.

With these photos from my trip I’m vouching for every couch and every friend and every conversation I had along the way, for the affirmation of our impossible pleasure. May there be love and mercy in your green mornings: B.J. Love, Erika Jo Brown, Zach Powers, Mark Cugini, Laura Spencer, Danniel Schoonebeek, Paige Taggart, Amy Lawless, Nat Otting, Sasha Fletcher, Hafizah Geter, Jason Koo, Tiffany Gibert, Sarah Green, Alexis Pope, Justin Crutchley, Joshua Kleinberg, Chris Smith, Jared White, Jon Pan, Tom Forkin, Russell Dillon, Adam Fell, Nate Pritts, Matt Hart, Jen Fortin, Ben Kopel, Curtis Purdue, Roberto Montes, Josh Fomon, Sandra Beasley, Tyler Christensen, the guy who yelled “IS JOSE HERE?” during the DC reading, Joel Coggins, Dave Carulli, Michelle Becker, Jamie Suvak, Mike Krutel, Curt Brown, Sarah Marcus, Karl Vorndran, Todd Winter (my Dad’s friend who bought a book for his Mom, whose name is Marge, so that I got to write “Dear Marge, Hello!” in her book), Jimmy Bigley, Maria Varonis, Aby Sullivan, Heather Christle, Chris DeWeese, Eric Appleby, Tricia Suit, Cathy Wagner, Dana Ward, Austin Hayden, Patricia Murphy, Adam Clay, Ada Limon, Aubrey Lenahan, Travis Wayne Denton, Chad Prevost, Ashley Hamilton, Daniel Lindley (the chef whose heated pool we debauched in Chattanooga), Mike Young, Gale Thompson, Laura Solomon, Wendy Xu, Jess Grover, Holly Amos, Dolly Lemke, Dan Rosenberg, Daniel Beauregard, Laura Relyea, Amy McDaniel, Bruce Covey, Gina Myers, Kory Calico, Alexis Orgera, Caroline Cabrera, Phil Muller, Miley Cyrus, Steven Karl, Hitomi Yoshio, Scott Cunningham, and Carrie Lorig. From the depths of the light, THANK YOU.

south carolina

Day One in Chapin, South Carolina: re-writing The Prelude

savannah bridge

Day Two in Savannah, Georgia: Talmadge Memorial Bridge

savannah roar

Day Two in Savannah, Georgia: have fun

flannery tub

Day Two in Savannah, Georgia: in Flannery O’Connor’s tub

mark and laura

Day Three in Washington, DC: Mark and Laura at Madam’s Organ in Adam’s Morgan

josh mark alexis nick

Day Four in Brooklyn: with Mark, Josh, and Alexis

brooklyn team

Day Four in Brooklyn: after Unnameable

kleinberg fire escape

Day Four in Brooklyn: fire escape / Akron Low Life

willa morning

Day Five in Brooklyn: Willa morning

russell's place

Day Five in the West Village: Russell’s H_NGM_N H_NG__T

lincoln memorial

Day Six in Washington, DC: pre-shutdown whiskey memorial

pittsburgh friendship

Day Seven in Pittsburgh, PA: somebody had been gluing protractors to public property

furnance run

Day Eight in Akron, OH: with Jamie in Furnace Run, Cuyahoga Valley National Park

krutel cave tree

Day Eight in Akron, OH: Krutel in tree cave

aby boob

Day Eight in Akron, OH: the only time this will ever happen

carrie yellow springs

Day Nine in Yellow Springs, OH: Carrie climbs and smells water. Says it works.

austin cincinnati

Day Nine in Cincinnati, OH: Austin Hayden is full of little brothers

cincinnati eric's dog

Day Nine in Cincinnati, OH: Carrie and Olive

notley horse lecture

Day Ten in Lexington, KY: 2-hour horse butt Alice Notley lecture

adam and penny

Day Ten in Lexington, KY: Adam and Penny and IPA

boone homestead

Day Ten in Lexington, KY: an American tradition

carrie lexington

Day Ten in Lexington, KY: black sheep light

woodford reserve

Day Eleven in Lexington, KY: woodford reserve morning

chattanooga pool

Day Eleven in Chattanooga, TN: lesson in how your one-night episode of the Real World is waiting for you in the most unlikely place

chattanooga underwear

Day Twelve in Chattanooga, TN: a rich person’s wet underwear was in my car so I put it in this plant instead

athens with wendy

Day Twelve in Athens, GA: with Wendy with Jess beard looking xoxo

athens team

Day Twelve in Athens, GA: softball team

atlanta reading

Day Thirteen in Atlanta, GA: Amy’s living room starring vegan chili

fort lauderdale

Day Fifteen in Ft. Lauderdale, FL: is any of this chartreuse?

caro

Day Fifteen in Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Caro at Green Bar

del ray reading

Day Sixteen in Boca Rotan, FL: the best reading that no one came to

caro and phil backyard

Day Seventeen in Ft. Lauderdale, FL: where is your tiny airplane today?

steven miami

Day Seventeen in Miami, FL: dork swagger / leaves of lol

miami pool

Day Eighteen in Miami, FL: Steven’s pool ok

phil cupcake

Day Eighteen in Ft. Lauderdale, FL: there was shit in Phil’s yacht yard and a candle in this vegan devil food cupcake

sarasota pike

Day Nineteen in Sarasota, FL: Pike and Heron

door poor

Day Twenty in Tallahassee, FL: cleaned out my car

tacos

THE END

Visitors: “If I Am Burning” by Rachel Marie Patterson

17 Oct

Vouched Books is all about rocking the bells for small press literature. In this space, a range of writers have pulled your coattails to the exciting work they’re reading that demands a wider audience. One of the books I’ve read in the past few months that fits in with all this goodness is “If I Am Burning” a poetry chapbook by Rachel Marie Patterson, which is out on Main Street Rag.

In these pages, you’ll get hit upside the head by a couple of ghazals that fight the form (one is called “Bipolar Ghazal”) while still delivering terrific couplets and delightful repetition. These poems are about being a woman, about exploring the way woman are judged, touched, and ultimately shamed. And about how this narrator—with wit, insight, precision, and compassion—fiercely fights back.

Picking just one poem to highlight for you, but perhaps my favorite, the most haunting, is “Piano Lessons.” What’s striking about the poem is the way the narrator’s mother continuously disappoints and endangers her child, who has caught the attention of an unsettling, predatory teacher. The poem doesn’t dwell in it, but treats this lack of protection as matter-of-fact, an understatement that embraces the subtlety and terror of the moment.

You can read “Piano Lessons” here and, since you’ll be on that page, snag a copy of Rachel’s book, too! While you’re at, visit Four Way Review, Four Way Books brand spankin’ new journal where Rachel is the co-editor.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye

Visitors: Two Readings, One Book

16 Oct

With book publication comes book promotion. In the last ten days, I’ve given two readings, one in Chicago at DePaul University, and one in my current hometown, Columbia, Missouri, at Orr Street Studios Hearing Voices/Seeing Visions series.

I gave my first public reading when I was in graduate school, probably in 2004. This was in a small room at the Millennium Student Center as part of some kind of “Attend UMSL!” promotion. Or maybe it was for something else. Anyway, I read a flash fiction piece, my voice cracked, sweat poured down my arms, and I was grateful that it was over. Since then, I’ve maybe given a reading a year—for graduation from my MFA program, on stage with ten other readers at a public pavilion where I read dead last and it was so dark by the time I was up I literally couldn’t see anyone in the front row, with the poet Richard Newman at Chesterfield Arts in suburban St. Louis, at Dressel’s Pub along with five other readers, Get Lost Bookshop here in sunny Columbia—and, yes, actually, that might be it.

Not a lot of practice. And certainly not with a book in hand, which, I was warned (thankfully) is much harder: can’ t let that sucker snap shut on your fingers, the print is probably smaller than you’re used to, the spacing on the page is smaller, all things that I needed to keep in mind.

Chicago: I had to be in the Windy City for work anyway, the writer Amina Gauter invited me to read at DePaul University in a reading pitched as “Writers as Editors, Editors as Writers.” I read with Phong Nguyen, who runs the wonderful journal Pleiades. We were in one of the multipurpose rooms; windows to the right, good soundsystem with a mic (though both Phong and I used our “professor” voices and skipped the tech help), sandwiches and snacks (nomomomom…), plenty of rows of chairs, and a terrific crowd of about forty people, mostly made up of DePaul students and faculty.

Prior to the reading, Phong and I talked about reading preparation  I said I was nervous; he said he never became nervous before a reading. We both had our “reading copy,” a version of our book that was dogeared and marked up, the passages and words, sometimes whole paragraphs, we didn’t need crossed out. I waffled on what to read: an excerpt or an entire story. Amina insisted I had time to read a whole story. Phong read first, and was phenomenal. I read second and was shaky: mispronounced words, a tendency to trip off my words, dry-mouthed (I forgot my water!).

After, we took questions about journal editing. I rambled, bounced from subject to subject, often forgetting what the question was, unable to come back to earth. Phong was a pro, answering questions with precision like Roger Federer chewing up an unranked opponent. Lesson learned: clear mind, clear reading. Also, sandwiches are good. I ate two of ’em.

Columbia: A bonus of this reading is that I had been to the venue many times before—Orr Street is a reading series unaffiliated with an university, and I’ve heard a range of terrific readers there before. It’s intimate and cozy, with wonderful artwork on the surrounding walls. In Chicago, I didn’t bring my own books. This time? Sho’nuff! I also brought beer koozies with my book cover on ’em (yes, yes I did), slapped a couple of PBRs in ’em, set up my Mr. T figurine (yes, yes I did), and plugged in my Square thingamajig into my phone to hock some books. About as different from Chicago as it could be.

Once again, I read second, following Peter Gardner, an emeritus professor of anthropology  And like last time, I was unsure what to read. Because my friend Alison was there, and she had the same affinity as I do for him, I read my story “Sparring Vladimir Putin.” I only had time to read the second half, which was okay with me, and while no one every comes up to you and says “Your reading blew goats” I got the feeling that people that were there did dig it. Still, some mistakes, some mispronunciations, tripped over words, etc. I’ll get the hang of it.

What mattered was that some of my close friends and favorite people (like this poet and this poet) were in attendance. That I had blast. That there were beer koozies! Hopeful my next reading, which is in my hometown, Cincinnati, at this joint, will be just as much fun.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye

Visitors: Allow Me To Introduce … Myself

2 Oct

I’m Michael Nye, the third installment/writerly person in the Vouched Visitors series, following in the steps of Robert Stapleton of Booth and Adam Robinson of Publishing Genius. I’m the managing editor of The Missouri Review, and this month (today, actually) my debut short story collection, Strategies Against Extinction, is out in the world.

SAE (as the kids call it) is published by Queen’s Ferry Press, a new small press publisher of literary fiction. You can bounce over here if you so desire and read the mission statement to get a sense of what QFP is all about. But I’m not sure this gives you a true sense of what the press is about, and the kind of wonderful work Erin McKnight, the press’s founder and publisher, seeks in the work she publishes.

Last week, I was on the phone with my mother. I had sent her a copy of my book and then waited a good two weeks before she called to say she read and wanted to talk about it. This is all new to me but I would imagine for every writer, there is a certain level of anxiety about what people who are close to us are going to think about our work. I’m sure other writers can say they genuinely don’t care. I’m not one of those writers.

My mother wasn’t embarrassingly effusive, but she also wasn’t entirely articulate either. She read all the stories, she said. She understood things better, she said. What things, I asked. My stories aren’t particularly personal, though all writers steal from their own lives (and others, of course), but my collection is comprised of stories that go back at least seven years. Which means much of the work was written, and before that marinating, in my twenties. I’ve always been a pretty independent person, but still, there is a separation from our childhood homes and parents that happen in our twenties that is a bit painful for both the parent and child. But she saw something there, in all those stories, the way they work together, compliment, create friction, deepen, and complicate each other. At least, I think that was after.

Which is what Erin McKnight saw, too, though she would say it quite differently. Publishers have a different eye than our parents, and knows the writer only based on the work. Erin promised to agonize over each word, and this ended being completely true, even if we were awfully pleasant about our agony (there’s a famous quote allusion there, I think). Publishers, of course, need to make some bank, and also have a vision of what they want their list to be. There’s something incredibly reassuring about a publisher who recognizes what I do as a writer—pacing, narrative arc, and character interiority. It made me comfortable with her editorial vision and the press. I couldn’t be happier with how the book turned out.

Of course, I’m not sure this tells you much about Queen’s Ferry Press. When asked what a story is about, the best answer is “Read it.” It shouldn’t be easy to sum up. Which is hopefully true of a collection and of a press. So to find out what Queen’s Ferry Press is about, it isn’t enough to say it’s a boutique press of literary fiction, focusing on short story collections. Instead, you should check out Bayard Godsave’s fantastic Lesser Apocalypses and its tales of broken survivors trying to hold themselves together. You should snag Kevin Grauke’s collection that’s on par with the masculinity of a Shaun Ray or Benjamin Percy. You should be anticipating the debut collection from Janice Deal and the latest and greatest from Ethel Rohan.

Maybe by reading all this terrific work you get a complete, true, and perhaps tricky to articulate sense of  what Queen’s Ferry Press is about. The kind of work, as my mentor Lee K. Abbott would say, that’s as clear-eyed and honest as a fistfight.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye

“Happy Birthday, Clementine”

18 Jun

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Robert Stapleton, founding editor of Booth. His work has appeared with Word Riot, Everyday Genius, and elsewhere. He teaches at Butler University.

* * *

Over the next week or so I’ll highlight some pieces I love from current issues of lit journals.

“Happy Birthday, Clementime” by Lisa Glatt
Gulf Coast. Summer/Fall 2012.

As our culture increasingly prizes hipster irony and the pursuit of more authentic living (see HBO’s Girls, Bored to Death, etc), I find myself drawn to literature driven by character and heart rather than nostalgic self-consciousness. I’m reminded here of William Faulkner’s 1949 Nobel prize acceptance speech–when he advised that “the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”

Glatt’s narrator, a twenty year-old about to have sex with a married man at a party she helps throw for her recently mothered best friend, wields a corrosive self-awareness, though without the ironic smarm. She’s lost weight—knows it may return at any time—and longs for someone to kiss her “hello and goodbye, again and again and again.” Andre Dubus’ “The Fat Girl” faintly echoes here, though Glatt moves this tale into a larger exploration of sex, abortion, and rebirth without the fated pathos of Dubus’ story and sans the nauseating–aren’t we hip–shock humor of the Girls abortion episode.

This story is a relief map of the body. These characters eat, drink, fuck, smoke, and snort because they’re after something just beyond their reach, something electric and unnamable. Early on the narrator muses, “I was the girl you thought might be athletic under her clothes but when you got me naked, I was all soft with a marshmallow belly. I wondered if the guy I loved who didn’t love me back was disappointed when he touched my belly on the way into my panties and if that had any effect on his decisions.” Imagine Girls written with Richard Ford poignancy (Rock Springs era). Get your hands on this one.

Visitors: No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear

7 Jun

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Robert Stapleton, founding editor of Booth. His work has appeared with Word Riot, Everyday Genius, and elsewhere. He teaches at Butler University.

* * *

No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear
by J.A. Tyler & John Dermot Woods
Fiction, 124pgs
Jaded Ibis Productions, $30

No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear, the collaborative new novel from JA Tyler and John Dermot Woods, thrums with iridescence and a softening of the skull. No signposts appear in this landscape. In brief, prose-poemy chapters, the male narrator muses on his conjoined sister, sensory moments, the flames and gaping eyes of life as a freakshow attraction, and the power and loss of the ‘we.’ This is a bit like reading Benjy Compson interpet U2’s “One” — in all the right ways.

I say our when it is us and it is always us once you have come aboard. This is we though we started as two, though there was once the individual, the separation. We started out here separate. We started as two, we one. There was a me and a you when all was dark and this hadn’t really started. Before we had been or become us. This now we, conjoined.

Well-written stories invite us to finger ourselves on the map. This occurs when the evocations are precise, heat on iron, sparks. My time with this tale, these words, transcended its meditation on carnival Siamese and collective identity. These sentences shook loose something in me, something hardscrabble and otherwise coded in an unknown tongue.

I think about being a horse and you think about being a horse. I think about the word colt and you are spelling it out. I think about the sound of the horse hooves on dirt and you are smelling the dust churned by its shoes, the flowers on the side and the freedom of bobbing up and down. We are living and this is the kind of living that we do.

With a few exceptions a week, my wife and I are not conjoined. We are, though, forever scratched into the mathematics of the universe through our children, our twenty years together, our successes and our losses–which we stare down together. Shared memory, silence and strife and sweetness, accumulates vertically.

I would like to shine and that means you would like to shine, because the two of us should do nothing if not shine. We should be a beacon. We should be a light. And if they do cut us open like sometimes we threaten to do, there would be light. Light would come from out of us and the world would explode. Our world would explode.

For years I scraped my head against the falling sky in a Methodist Hospital room where we lost Quentin, our premature son. Placental abruption. A bleeding out. Nurses lined up like soldier ants. My partner wheeled away on a gurney as the blood that five minutes ago filled her belly now streamed loose, a tributary to loss, the night war arrived.

If we could have we would have, built a fence in our mother’s womb, made a wall between us that could not be severed, that was too high to climb and too dangerous to ride our horse across.

My wife survived the surgery and the transfusions and, together, we found our way out of that room, that moment, her pushing back on gravity for the both of us. Eventually we tried again and birthed a beautiful daughter and are now occupied in all the glorious normal pursuits of family and work. But occasionally I run across an idea, a framing, a series of words, and I’m reminded of the terrible and fantastic power of grief and love. No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear is a little story with a big and profound punch.

My heart is your heart. This heart is our heart.

Visitors: Sheila Heti — How Should a Person Be?

31 May

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Adam Robinson, editor of Publishing Genius Press and author of Adam Robison and Other Poems and Say, Poem.

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How Should a Person Be
by Sheila Heti
Fiction, 320pgs
Henry Holt and Co.
$25 (hardback)

This is the last day of May, which means it’s the last day of my Visitorship here, something I’ve enjoyed even if I haven’t posted in the last couple weeks like I meant to. But the last day of May means tomorrow is the first day of June, which is the month that brings us Sheila Heti’s amazing, vivid and vital novel How Should A Person Be? It comes out on the 19th, and you’ll want to bring a sleeping bag and camp outside the bookstore for this one.

The thing that is so remarkable about it, I think (as if there is just one thing), is its structure. The chapters don’t necessarily follow each other in a linear way. It’s like an umbrella — straight until you open it, then you see how all the parts were touching all the other parts all along. The novel, which is both fiction and non-fiction, and dubbed by the publisher “a novel from life,” really revolves around the titular question. It addresses it not just through the engaging story, but with deliberately philosophical and critical insights. For instance:

… the three ways the art impulse can manifest itself are: as an object, like a painting; as a gesture; and as a reproduction, such as a book. When we try to turn ourselves into a beautiful object, it is because we mistakenly consider ourselves to be an object, when a human being is really the other two: a gesture, and a reproduction of the human type. One only has to travel on a subway during rush hour and pull into a station and see all the people waiting to get on and off to be struck by how many of us there actually are in the world.

It takes a writer of extraordinary abilities to comprise a novel from nuggets like that. What’s more, there’s a sort of fatalism in that quote, I guess, but as a whole the book doesn’t come across as hopeless. Maybe the gist of it could be summed up by cutting “how” from the title — a person should be. We are given that should. It’s remarkably hopeful, the distinction between “a person is” and “a person should be.”

My copy of the book is scarred with underlinings and the margins are blackened with stars — and I make it a point NOT to write in books. I practically read the 300 pager in one sitting. The unique way the novel works makes it difficult to contextualize things, or I would type out a few more of my favorite passages. Instead I’ll just offer my strongest recommendation that you take Amazon up on their discount. It’s currently $16.50 for the hardcover.

Visitors, Awful Interview: Dave K. and Stone a Pig

17 May

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Adam Robinson, editor of Publishing Genius Press and author of Adam Robison and Other Poems and Say, Poem.

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Baltimore writer and man-about-town Dave K. just released stone a pig, a collection of short stories. It was part of his MFA program at University of Baltimore (disclaimer: this is the same MFA I went through). The requirement for the program isn’t just to complete a manuscript, but to publish it as well. Dave’s book is great. Below we talk about what it is and what it’s like to have to publish a book this way. (Oh, and I forgot that it was supposed to be an awful interview. My questions are as bad as ever, but Dave’s responses are as generous and smart as everything else about him.)

STEAMPUNK

How does the term “steampunk” apply to typical story elements like plot, character, setting — particularly in relation to your book?

Oh, man. Steampunk is kind of a weird animal to describe, but it generally combines an anti-establishment tone (hence the “punk” part), optimism about human potential, and speculation about how modern conveniences would have been achieved by Victorian/Edwardian technology. The plots and characters of steampunk literature tend to be as grandiose as their surroundings, which has led people like Charles Stross to accuse it of whitewashing the nastier parts of that era and focusing on rich guys in airships.

Would you describe stone a pig as steampunk?

My book, which I do consider to be steampunk, was meant to oppose that criticism by focusing on the grittier, darker stuff going on during that time, with the tech functioning as a surreal but familiar element of setting (a technique I borrowed from Philip K. Dick). My characters are at odds with their culture, but not out of a no-gods-no-masters sense of rebellion – rather, the people in my stories are very alienated, and they’re trying to overcome that sense of alienation to act in a more communal way, for good or ill.

One of my professors prefers to call my work “Dickensian futurism,” which is an awesome term that I can’t use because I sound like a tool whenever I apply it to my own work.

THE BOOK: DESIGN AND WRITING

Do you have a favorite part of the book, something you’re most proud of, something that you think you really nailed? Can you say what it is?

I think the design of the book – the cover, the page layouts, the visual elements – looks great, better than I’d expected or hoped. Some people see mixing graphic elements with prose as an artful dodge around bad writing, but creating those images helps me put the words together because I’m seeing what my characters see.

Continue reading

Vouched Visitors: Great Books

10 May

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Adam Robinson, editor of Publishing Genius Press and author of Adam Robison and Other Poems and Say, Poem.

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Yesterday I was asked in an interview about the cultural relevance of reading — why do I think reading is important personally and culturally?

It nearly put me in crisis mode. I am 96% oriented toward books. It’s all I ever do, and it makes me feel pretty one-dimensional, even flawed. If you survey my email inbox, which I just did, you have to scroll past 30 emails to find one that isn’t about making or reviewing or reading books (that 31st one is about softball, my other obsession).

I hemmed and hawed a bit at the question of relevance, and not only because the novel I had just finished was Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (which I admit I enjoyed a lot). I have a gut-level conviction that art is an essential balancing element in a precariously-balanced world, and that, in a real way, it will “save us all.” Even books that befuddle people into not reading them are necessary. I understand that almost everybody in the universe isn’t going to read John Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath — I didn’t, more or less — but that book makes many other books possible.

In the interview I said, “I see a grand metanarrative to life, one that is affected by everything that happens, and the most important element of this metanarrative are the small narratives that comprise it — sharing our own stories and listening to other people’s stories is the way to peace.”

I’m pretty pleased with myself, yes.

In his recent, long post at Inside Higher Ed, Virgil W. Brower explains his rationale for taking a Great Books approach in his philosophy classes at Chicago State University, which is a mostly minority school. “I don’t teach my students how to write, but rather try to teach them how to read,” he says and goes on to say that this has the happy effect of making them better writers. It’s a fascinating essay, one that thoroughly justifies and vouches for spending serious time with great, or nearly great books. It’s actually exciting when he recounts the logical fallacies that are uncovered through reading a Malcolm X speech. The idea of assigning Gravity’s Rainbow to illustrate the concepts of analytic philosophy is motivating — but the essay is most exciting when he talks about the way the students respond:

Once a student, who has not yet given her or himself over to a consistent practice of reading or, perhaps, was simply never encouraged to do so, knocks out Kurt Vonnegut’s Galàpagos in a week — and is a bit surprised to have done so, quite easily — he or she is likely to make it through Aristotle’s Parts of Animals in the following weeks, and within a month is working through Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man with a working set of intertextual concepts that feel quite close to home.

Which I think is the message I needed to hear, particularly with regard to the “set of intertextual concepts that feel quite close to home.” Sometimes I forget why I invest 96% of my energy in making books which — c’mon — are going to be unread quite a lot more than Ashbery even. But I do it for connections — intertextual concepts that create the web that feel close to home because they are home, life. Making these connections between books and experiences and people is what makes me feel like I am really here.

I never fret about the value of reading while I’m actually reading. And I never feel better about anything (even a well-struck softball) more than when I recognize some detail of a story or poem that resonates with who I am, who I think I am, who it is that is comprised of all these other stories and poems. Saying as much makes it seem so abstract that it’s meaningless. I recognize that, which is what I like about Brower’s essay. Taking pedagogy as a starting point allows him to voice what I’m thinking from a practical standpoint. He says, “If reaching an understanding is what they want to get out of a class … they are obliquely invited to consider that if they cannot use this understanding to understand something different or something more, then perhaps they (or we) have not understood it that well, at all.”