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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 Today: 2014 Argos Poetry Calendar

2 Apr

The past two years, Argos Books–which is run by E.C. Belli, Iris Cushing, and Elizabeth Clark Wessel out of Brooklyn, NY–has released a limited-edition, monthly poetry calendar.

This year’s version contains poems by Kazim Ali, Sommer Browning, Christophe Casamassima, Don Mee Choi, Ryan Eckes, Farrah Field, Joan Kane, Bhanu Kapil, Rachel Levitsky, Anna Moschovakis, Jared White, and Simone White. The illustrations were drawn by Essye Klempner.

This month’s poem is Ryan Eckes’ “chase scene #10,” an image of which is below (click for a larger view):

photo (20)

While we’re already in the fourth month of the year, consider ordering one of these wonderful artifacts to hang on your wall so that you may pencil-in (and not forget) trips to the tropical fish store and next your Laser Tag outing.

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.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Elizabeth Savage

17 Mar

abrsplashEditor Amber Nelson has once again put together a fantastic installment of alice blue review. Issue twenty-two contains some wonderful poets, such as Alyse Knorr, Vouched Books’ own Tyler Gobble, Sarah Barlett, and several others. I recommend reading through the entire issue (even the prose, lol).

But, as much as I enjoyed the issue as a whole, I keep returning to the two poems by Elizabeth Savage. Here is one of them, “This Bucket of Yours,” in its entirety:

dropped as I carried
                the summer of white
pansies & wild blue

                lowlife in sunlight

bottomless as the months
I could not hold
like a world’s filthy hem

The poem—as with her other contribution, titled “Alter Egret”—is a short, image-based nature poem that, for a moment, allows me to forget that I’m in the “bottomless…months” of winter in Cleveland. Repeated readings of these two poems, to my mind, allow me to access the summer’s white “lowlife in sunlight” (at least secondhand), while the temperatures outside hover just below twenty degrees.

Take some time to read both of Savage’s poems and then purchase a copy of her full-length collection Grammar at Furniture Press Books’ website.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Best Poems

24 Feb

MKBPWebCover3Recently, Big Lucks (in conjunction with Narrow House Editions) published its first, official release: Mike Krutel’s chapbook Best Poems.

The poems in Krutel’s chapbook (which is, incidentally, his first, official release as well) wander from line to line and image to image in strange, half-lit worlds; or, as the speaker of “Best Picture of Me in a Tub of Rotary Phones” says:

You keep me waiting,
grown man that sleepwalks his
way down a well to linger. Wandering
full of worlds. I don’t know
where to turn or if there’s any
way out of this mirror. (22)

Yes, Best Poems often reads as if it were the secret dream journal of a somnambulist “Wandering” through “worlds” filled with words; and in this world of language, both the speaker and the reader become lost in a playful labyrinth of “mirrors” so that they “don’t know / where to turn” in order to escape.

Of course, why would you want to escape? Because, indeed, getting lost within these poems ends up being a lot of fun. Take, for instance, the opening lines of the collection’s first poem, simply titled “Best”:

Tonight is night of no sleep.
Cannonballs over the playground.
The cat rubs a glass frame off the mantle.
Somewhere there is a woman, comfortably lost
inside a small idea. You are that woman
and above you are your own best guesses.
How the vehicles are doing real things.
How the sun shoots its umbilical light around,
straight into night. There is sound outside.
It could be dandelions screaming
like engines or the causeways between
us. You are a small woman. I am holding
these individually wrapped letters
between the scaffold of my ribcage. All indications
say I should know better by now. (1)

Like the somnambulist before him, the insomniac in the “night of no sleep” encounters an equally strange, half-lit world during the hour of the wolf. Haunted by both the surreal (e.g. “dandelions screaming”) and the mundane (e.g. “The cats rubs a glass frame”), the sleepwalker and the sleepless, the speaker and the reader, all become “comfortably lost / inside a small idea,” a small image, and a small world made up of the “sound outside” ourselves.

While they might concede to (or revel in) their waywardness, the speakers of these poems continually attempt to make sense of their worlds as they are led further astray by the night. And that sense comes by way of internal arrangement or some abstract, organizing principles of the poems; we’re told as much in the following passages:

I am with difficulty
rearranging patterns of static
that ferment around
our little heads. (10)

The moment became always
a reassembly of everything
different from everything, which is was. (21)

Of course, these and other “requirements for adequate reintegration” (14) are, perhaps, a bit of a dodge. For, in fact, if they serve a determinate purpose, it is not actually to access sense or plan an escape; rather, these alternate arrangements serve to ratchet up the playfulness of these poems, which, at night, glow beneath the “ambiguous moon” as it “does its dirty thing” (10).

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Brian Teitman

20 Feb

A few weeks ago, the poet Ryan Teitman read some of his poems at The Big Big Mess reading series in Akron, OH. While Teitman has authored a fine collection of poems, Litany for the City (BOA Editions, 2012), he primarily read new material at the event. One of these newer poems was the fabulous “Archipelago,” which originally appeared in issue 26.1 of Gulf Coast. The opening lines of the poem read as follows:

A bird is a kind
of island. In flight,
a flock is called

an archipelago.
At rest, a peninsula.
When two flocks

meet, they are called
a communion.
Used in a sentence:

Two flocks
met and became
a communion.

A bird is an island, and a flock of birds is an archipelago or a peninsula (depending on movement). These transformations continue throughout the entirety of the poem–which can be found at Gulf Coast’s website–and become increasingly more bizarre and beautiful, until we discover that:

Then the body
is a kind of nothing.
A nothing is a kind

of bird

Slipping from image to image and idea to idea, the poem exhibits a protean flux that challenges both ontological and linguistic certainties.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Annie Bilancini’s “Little Miss Bird-in-Hand”

4 Feb

Besides allowing me to keep in easy touch with friends and family, Facebook also acts as a repository of stories and articles. Friends post Buzzfeed listicles that end up with me wasting 40 minutes on the site, other friends post interesting trend pieces, and still others aggressively but wonderfully push stories. Such was the case with Annie Bilancini’s story “Little Miss Bird-in-Hand,” a 2013 Booth Story Prize Runner-Up.

Amber Sparks’ Facebook post sharing this story went like this: “If you guys have not read this story by Annie Bilancini, you need to read it now. NOW. I’m not kidding. Drop everything. Then come back and tell me how right I am, and how grateful you are.” I did all of that. I took a break from my workday to read this apparently magical story that would make the reader grateful to the person who shared it. It was that kind of story.

There’s a pageant in a small town in county named Bird-in-Hand. Twelve 13-year-old girls compete, girls with names like Clem and Junie-Rae and Sweetie and Charlene and Darlene (the latter two identical twins). The twelfth contestant, Gray, is the odd one out. She’s quieter, and the barbs the other girls toss her way in the make-up room slide off of her.

Bilancini roves around this pageant from all angles, focusing here on Ms. Bondurant, the pageant director, and her desire for every girl to feel special; zooming in on the pageant judges and their personal Two Truths and One Lie; describing one contestant’s sound and color synesthesia; transcribing the reaction of one young male audience member to Gray’s talent portion. Bilancini’s use of these different styles adds a flair to the story that reminds the reader of a detective or madman pinning related articles to a wall with fraying yarn drawing connections between some stories. Maybe it’s not quite that frantic, but I could see each piece of her story adding to the dossier of the events of the pageant.

This is the kind of story I love. The details are rich, the tone is cool but interested–almost scientific in its reporting and recording of the events–the tension is built slowly with some deviations, you learn about the contestants and their lives and motivations. You see how inaction can be as horrible as action.

To say much more would diminish the story. So I’ll echo Amber and entreat you to read this story right now. Seriously. Stop reading this post and go read Annie Bilancini’s story and revel in it.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Alissa Nutting

14 Nov

NuttingI don’t read that much fiction, at least relative to people who identify as readers and writers of the genre. But I did find Alissa Nutting’s “On Experimental Fiction” –which appears in the new issue of Map Literary and was originally delivered at a panel at AWP 2013 in Boston–interesting in that it offers one writer’s reasons for reading and writing “fabulist” fiction. In the essay, she writes:

I write experimental fiction for the same reason I read experimental fiction—which is the same reason people ingest peyote and ayahuasca and large amounts of Robitussin that exceed the standard dosage—I want to see something I’ve never seen before, and go someplace beyond the limits of natural reality. I want to sweat and maybe even vomit.

So, basically, if you like to Robotrip, you’ll want to check out Nutting’s debut novel Tampa (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2013). Her comments are part of a dossier on experimental fiction that contains writing by Ted Pelton and Harold Jaffee.

The new issue of Map Literary also contains poetry by John Gallaher and Shanna Compton, among others.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Alexis Pope

9 Oct

bsheaderThe most recent installment of Banango Street (issue 5) is, ostensibly, a laundry list of swell, younger poets: Gale Marie Thompson, Nate Pritts, Elisa Gabbert & Kathleen Rooney, Kyle McCord, Weston Cutter, and Julia Cohen (just to name a few). To this end, the entire issue is well worth checking out and giving it a top-to-bottom read. But one poem, particularly, stuck out for me: Alexis Pope’s “Middle English.” It begins:

I have a body to show you because I was born.

Try to remember the winter. Try to knock down the door with your thoughts. It’s hard, the way my mouth moves forward on you. I have a tongue to wet. A throat to wait.

The opening line plays with ideas of corporeality and origination, then transitions into a series of sentences dealing with memory, its articulation through language, and both of these concepts’ relationship to the body.

The remainder of the of poem unfolds into a strange world of goats, drums, headaches, and, yes, heartbreak. Pope’s poem, indeed, marches “to the side,” swerving this way and that, so as to leave the audience in a state of “disorder to the [very] bottom” of their reading experience. This sense of disorder, I think, makes for a terrific poem.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Feng Sun Chen in Similar:Peaks

4 Oct

The first of the three begins “I want someone to watch me pick the dirt under my fingernails.” Which came first the scratching or this view? Feng Sun Chen’s poems here in Similar:Peaks burst each one of themselves from the grave of the moment, the untidy corner where “the garbage of dirty ghosts/courses enthusiastically through my fatty tissue.” Maybe it was just my groggy eyes, but probably not, but did the lights just flicker? The reaction to an exposed world where questions are not questions, where statements are questioned by their maker. As in “without scale? her exotic trauma? precede my own? but it is always a lie?” As in “is porn the opposite of solipsism or is it tautology.” [period there is mine okay] It is rare to open a (bunch of) poem(s) like a nut you’ve eaten before and find in it a weird diamond that reflects and refracts your terminal illness (life) so unbullshittedly, super soaked in fantastic ruin. The day has been battered, but we are continued and better yet, Feng Sun Chen gave us these marks.

Feng Sun Chen