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Review: Normally Special by xTx

5 May

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The phrase “big things come in small packages,” is normally cliché, but it’s completely true when it comes to Normally Special by xTx. Her collection of flash fiction fits snugly into any back pocket, but carries the weight of a ten-ton anvil. The pieces cover a broad range of topics; father/daughter relationships, standard relationships, abuse/neglect, regret, and stalkers. The writing and content doesn’t allow you to put the book down. I was in awe and instantly fell in love.

xTx’s writing style is simple but breathtaking. She pours herself every word to get that fire between the lines. Every sentence breaks you down and leaves you begging for more. xTx has the ability to lead the reader to the edge of something resembling an emotional epiphany and turns them away, but at the last second the dagger comes out and gets you. That’s especially how I felt when I read “Father’s Day”:

“He’d always be the opposite of melted and I’d never felt like a princess. Even when he’d call me princess soft and soft, then louder and louder as if he were trying to make it true.”

Those two lines forced me to set the book down and stop everything for five minutes while I pulled myself back together. xTx paints these terrifying pictures that haunt the reader, that remind me of a car crash whose image you can’t shake. It’s terrible but you just cannot stop looking. She creates this game of tug-of-war over the emotions of the reader. There is no buffer. xTx has clearly picked each and every word meticulously to wring out as much emotion as possible, like in “The Mill Pond”:

“Mister Dean watched and Mister Dean made me say please two more times. Later on the only please I would say would be followed by the word, ‘stop.’”

xTx doesn’t mess around when  there’s a point that she feels needs to be made. There’s no concern for what the readers may think. She is bold and not afraid of anything. I loved that as a reader. I felt closer to the prose; it made me connect more with writing, and it left an impression on me that I still cannot shake off. I got a better sense of who xTx is not only as a writer, but also as a person. She pours herself on every page, and encourages the reader to drink all of that up. All of that combines for one intense and emotionally draining read.

One of my favorite aspects about xTx’s writing style is her ability to make certain off-the-wall subjects drenched with emotions, just like her story “Because I Am Not a Monster.” The story talks about how the narrator is dealing with the end of a relationship. She constantly references all of the terrible things she could do, but she always finishes them up with: “Do not worry, I will never find you. You are safe.” The rest of the story follows suit. Narrator saying she could drive, bike, or walk to the person she is addressing until the very end. That’s when things get turned upside down. It turns into this grand scene between the narrator and their ex to meet for the final “confrontation,” and the narrator believes that their ex is egging them on and wants the narrator to find them. She then ends it with the chilling lines:

“But you and I both know I wouldn’t. You are safe. Do not worry. I will never find you. But I could. If I really wanted to.”

The only real issue that I found was the discrepancy between the emotional barrage and the reader’s ability to recuperate in the stories themselves. Each piece is designed to demolish the reader, but there is no time to catch your breath. The pieces are relentless. I found it slightly unbearable after reading a few pieces back to back. It left me wanting a bit more of a gap between each stab of the dagger. I started to leave my guard up; losing some of the “oh snap” effect of the pieces.

Beyond that one thing, I loved absolutely every aspect of this collection. She has a mastery over flash fiction and the gift to rip out your heart and make you ask for seconds. xTx is an unstoppable force, and there seems to be no signs of her slowing any time soon. Her new book, Today I Am A Book, is available from Civil Coping Mechanisms.

Normally Special can be purchased here.

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Review: Everything Was Fine Until Whatever by Chelsea Martin

15 Jan

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Everything Was Fine Until Whatever is a whacky and bizarre collection of poetry/flash fiction, artwork, and footnotes by Chelsea Martin. Martin writes about: a baby’s first words, which were “Obviously imported from China,” acronyms, a to-do list, and the reasons Martin writes poetry. I am amazed by the amount of content that Martin is able to fit in only 111 pages. On top of that, she starts her collection off with a letter to the reader where she states that she wants the reader’s life to become consumed with the idea of her. She ends it with a bold, and I mean bold, statement:

“I want this love for me to be our only talent, and I want you to eventually realize that it isn’t even adequate, and that I really deserve better.”

That line got me fired up for this collection. Martin isn’t afraid to push the reader around, and that’s absolutely wonderful. If her writing is any indication of the direction where new literature is headed, I am beyond excited. With just that one line Martin gives the reader the lens to the rest of the pieces. It heightened the stakes of everything. There were times where I felt like I shouldn’t be reading this collection because of that letter. I felt guilty for reading and enjoying it. I felt guilty because with that letter Martin creates a very delicate relationship between herself and the reader. I felt bad for loving the poems that I did because I felt like it would never be enough for her. It reminded me of a dysfunctional relationship between a disappointed parent and their child. No matter what the child did, no matter how much love the child professes it would never be enough for the parent. Martin plays with this relationship throughout her collection.

Throughout the collection Martin sprinkles in these microscopic footnotes that are treats for the reader. They can range from extreme emotional vulnerability to something like this: “I accidentally shat on a person once. There I said it.” Not only did the absurd footnotes balance what was happening on the page, but they feel like secrets being whispered to the reader. It creates a stronger connection to the pieces because the reader feels as if they knew something that wasn’t completely out in the open for everyone to see. Sort of like a sneak peek for a movie you’re really excited for. That strange battle over the emotions of the reader sealed my love for this collection.

The titles of her pieces just get stuck in your head and refuse to leave. Not only are they a bit wacky and funny, but they provide an additional lens for the reader. Some of my favorite titles include: “I’m writing about love because no one else ever has and because I’m wearing jeans that made my butt look good,” “I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I shouldn’t work in customer service,” and “Manipulation, Energy Drinks, and Time Travel.” Martin uses these titles to spark interest, but she also uses them as a way to mask a deeper takeaway through absurdity. In “Manipulation, Energy Drinks, and Time Travel,” the narrator talks about all of the things she is willing to do for someone:

“I’ll buy chocolate covered cherries and drop them into your mouth from skyscrapers as you unknowingly walk by. I’ll put my name on them somehow, so you know they’re from me. I’ll teach you Braille. Tongue Braille.”

That is a strong commitment to teach some person Tongue Braille. This piece talks about the hoops someone would go through for the person they loved. It was touching. The story goes on to talk about how the narrator would destroy other guys for the entertainment of the guy she’s talking about. She even makes the final leap and says:

“I’ll cancel Netflix, I don’t know why, but I swear to god I’ll do it.”

Martin does a fantastic job of masking these strong emotions of love behind absurd acts like canceling Netflix and dropping cherries from skyscrapers. That is one of the biggest strengths in her writing. She just takes these towering subjects like love, and breaks them down into these bite-sized chunks that she stitches into her own Frankenstein creature. Her voice is strong and sounds like someone in their early twenties going through life. To me her voice is becoming the brand for twenty something’s making their way through life. She is sporadic, heartfelt, sincere, and not afraid to spill herself for any and all to see. Something anyone struggling through their twenties would understand and connect with.

Everything Was Fine Until Whatever is Chelsea Martin’s debut collection. Through this collection she has asserted herself at the forefront of indie literature. She shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon. Her most recent collection Even Though I Don’t Miss You published through Short Flight/Long Drive can be purchased through Hobart.

Everything Was Fine Until Whatever can be purchased on Chelsea Martin’s website or the publishers’ Future Tense Books.

Review: Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine

12 Nov

Posted by Theresa J. Beckhusen

Written by Zachary Lee

Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine is an intriguing, swashbuckling novel that places the reader on a ship destined to sink and tells them to hold on for dear life. And hold on I did: I read the book within two days, dreading any moment I had to put it down. As the reader, you become as obsessed with Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island as the unnamed protagonist is, although it might just be the protagonist’s absurdity and poor judgment that keep you hooked.. The novel itself is only 172 pages, but the story and its frame are so expansive that you feel like the novel is twice as long as it actually is, which you’ll be glad for, I’m certain.

The plot of the story is rather straightforward. A girl is given a copy of Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and then becomes obsessed with the book and tries to live her life according to the four codes of the book:

“BOLDNESS. RESOULTION. INDEPENDENCE. HORN-BLOWING.”

And of course everything then goes wrong in the best way possible. The most interesting aspect of the story is the unnamed anti-hero protagonist who blocks or destroys herself every chance she gets. No matter the situation or circumstance, the protagonist finds a way to implode everything. It’s as if the protagonist is allergic to anything going right in her life. I thought the use of an anti-hero was really intriguing, and extremely entertaining to read. How will she shoot herself in the foot again? And again? The tension built up just waiting for the protagonist to fail is palpable, but I believe it actually adds ambiguity. You have a vague sense of what’s going to happen or what may happen—and with this protagonist, it could be almost anything—but you’re ultimately left in the dark, only able to guess. Levine’s self-defeating protagonist finds the most outlandish ways to get in her own way.

Since her protagonist is really an anti-hero, the other characters in Treasure Island!!! must carry some of the burden of the protagonist’s choices. The protagonist is unable to handle simply returning Treasure Island to the library, so there is no possible way she could handle a break-up, getting fired, the death of a pet, and uncovering a double affair. The supporting characters are forced to carry the consequences of all of her questionable decisions. Take Lars, her boyfriend. The protagonist and Lars move in together and he’s forced to work more hours as well as take on household duties because the protagonist is too caught up in Treasure Island and is incapable of identifying and taking on any responsibilities. Lars seems to be the only own between them who understands the difference between right and wrong when he discovers the reason for her being “let go” from the Pet Library, her former place of employment. (The protagonist stole “petty cash” from the owner):

“‘Oh come on! Nancy thinking I stole her money, that’s out of line.’

‘You did take it—’

‘But it was petty cash. And I’m her employee. She’s putting the worst possible spin on it. She goes about as if she’s St. Francis of Assisi!’”

Levine refreshes the classic coming-of-age and hero-worshiping story and pushes it into the frame of an insane and awkward obsession. Throughout the novel the protagonist constantly refers to her hero, Jim Hawkins, and how he would behave in certain situations. The protagonist then attempts to live life in his footsteps. And if it can go wrong, it will go wrong. But I think the way Levine subtly weaves the message of growing up through the lens of Jim Hawkins is absolutely brilliant. It’s brutally honest while coming off as naïve. The protagonist lets Treasure Island and Jim Hawkins speak for her, which means she’s further able to ignore responsibility and live in a fantasy world:

“‘Not now, Lars.’ My speech was roughly modeled on the one Jim Hawkins gives in the enemy’s camp, and I was extremely pleased to realize I knew so much of it by heart. ‘I’ve had the top of this business from the first,’ I went on. ‘You can do your inexplicable intervention or you can leave me alone, but I no more fear you than I fear a fly.’

‘You do fear flies,’ Adrianna said blandly.”

The main, and only, issue I had with the novel is the way it transitions from order to chaos to a feeble attempt at restoring order. The novel’s trajectory from order to chaos works, but the book just becomes too sporadic when it tries to wrangle everything back together for an ending. At that point it’s hard to follow everything going on, but the characters and story are just so intriguing that you hardly realize that Levine is fighting to gain back control. You really have to pay close attention to see the signs of the tussle.

The novel may struggle with control at times, but its humor, characters, and intriguing, but disturbing, story pull you through without any issues. I had a lot of fun reading this novel and seeing how deep in hot water the protagonist could get herself. So I leave you with this: the motto of Richard, the protagonist’s pet parrot, something to urge you to take on some responsibility in your life so you don’t end up like Levine’s protagonist: “Steer the boat, girlfriend!”

 

Zachary Lee is a Vouched Books Indy intern and senior Creative Writing student at the University of Indianapolis. He hopes to attend an MFA program after graduation. He can be reached on Twitter @_Zach_Lee.

Review: Butch Geography by Stacey Waite

10 Nov

Posted by Theresa J. Beckhusen

Written by Mirna Palacio Ornelas

When I picked up this book—Waite’s first full-length poem collection—I expected to see the journey of a non-binary gendered person. I expected to go through the pits and falls, the confusion, and eventually a self-awareness. I found exactly that in Butch Geography, but in a way I didn’t see coming.

Waite’s poems take you back and forth through time, juxtaposing the confusion of a child that could never really fall into one of the binary slots of gender with the understanding that forms after having examined and reexamined oneself over time. Many of the poems come from childhood memories; there are instances in which the narrator is confused by the way adults around them behave and react to their appearance. In these, such as “Self-Portrait, 1984,” you’re reminded of that blind confusion that came with being a kid, where you know something is amiss, but you don’t know why, or what.

“Sometimes no one can keep my mom
from crying, I think the frying pans
get grease in her eyes when she cooks,
so I always say I don’t like anything hot.
It’s okay to lie about food, I think.”

In these poems, there is also a sense of detachment, as if the narrator has now come to accept the events that happened. It’s like that breath you release after letting disappointment settle into your bones.

The poems in which the narrator seems to be older, more aware of their being, are not only more lyrical, but also contain a small seed of pride in their acceptance. Moving past the struggles the narrator has faced, the tone of the poems clearly conveys some of the insight that comes with growing up. There’s a certain maturity there. In “Changing the Names,” there’s more of that feeling. It’s settled.

“In Pittsburgh, the rivers want to freeze over,
but can’t stay still long enough. So, for a while,
I call them ice to honor their wanting,
their leaving and returning, always the
slow shift of hands and water.”

The poems that fall in line in feeling with this one create an acceptance that soothes the confusion from the other poems. The narrator is almost taking their younger selves by the hand and wiping away the tears with reassuring murmurs.

The way the poems are written caught me completely by surprise. While there are a few prose poems sprinkled throughout the book, the enjambment in the others does nothing to break up the complete sentences in some poems. “On the Occasion of Being Mistaken for a Man by Security Personnel at Newark International Airport” is a good example of this structure.

“But when I hold my arms straight out
and he traces the outline of my underarms, he makes
that face, the face I’ve seen before,
the ‘holy-shit-it’s-a-woman’ face,
the ‘pretend-you-don’t-notice-the-tits’ face.

By using this structure in combination with this word choice, the poem is presented to you rather than slowly experienced. This writing style can be ingeniously helpful. As a cis-gendered reader, I’ve not had the experiences the narrator has. I’m distanced in a way that can really affect my reading of the poetry. By putting it in such a plain way, by making the poems read as stories, Waite makes these experiences accessible.

There’s much to say about the layout of the book, the way the poems are organized. The poems, for the majority, weave back and forth through time. One that takes place in the narrator’s childhood is followed by one with a more “adult” experience, be it a lover, or a more serious look at gender. It creates an intricate balancing act that is maintained throughout the book. For example, there is “Kimberly,” which ends with the lines,

“Kimberly, I should have been Kimberly.
I would have felt some loyalty to a name like that.”

It is followed by “It Has Always Been Frankie Cossinelli,” with the lines,

“the kind of girl who wore stretch jeans and black concert t-shirts
so you’d know she was a piece of the night sky,
the kind of girl who didn’t blow her nose,
but just sniffed all day long.”

Those two poems give two very different self-depictions from the narrator. It was like a roller coaster, or even just (get this) natural geography. These highs and lows make the difference between the attitudes toward gender and sexuality more stark. You get to see the struggle referred to in some of the other poems. Unfortunately, this layout also has some complications.

The combination of structure and writing style left out something crucial: a sense of completion.

As I read the book, I kept waiting for that big, obvious “OH!” feeling, but it never happened. There were some poems, like “Kimberly,” that took me right to the cusp of an epiphany-like sensation, but the following poem made it all crumble down. This didn’t take away any enjoyment from reading the poems, or even that kernel of truth poetry forces into your meaty center, but it did disappoint. I was waiting for that tangible feeling of being able to walk away having learned something. Notes in my hand, so to say. Instead, I was left wondering if maybe it was just the subject matter: maybe it’s one of those things that never really has a neat, wrapped up ending.

A second reading, however, completely turned this around. I let the poems marinate for a couple of weeks, and when I came back to them, there was a definite sense of completion I didn’t feel the first time around. I found that the poems had already found their way inside me. Not in the obvious etched-into-my-skin way, but not in the written-in-my-heart way, either. Instead, I found them under my skin, under the following layers of fat, and seared into my muscles and ligaments. As an outsider to the world within Butch Geography, this could be the best result. I don’t know if Waite wanted to serve as an educator through these poems, or if just the sharing of these experiences was the goal, but the poems have done their job as a medium, reaching out past the world they were created in.

 

Mirna Palacio Ornelas is a Vouched Indy intern and is currently a junior at the University of Indianapolis. She’s a poetry writer that dabbles in the publishing world. Mirna spends most of her time in the dark with Captain America looping in the background on the lowest volume and light settings while collecting boxes of steakhouse dinner rolls on her desk.

Indie Lit Classic: Tony Tost

27 Nov

attachmentComposing correspondence on my typewriter has been one of my favorite activities during the past 15 months or so. The nature of my letters takes various forms, depending on whom I’m corresponding with, what state of mind I’m in, and the content of my latest obsessions, etc. To this end, epistolary poems, such as those that Jack Spicer wrote, have been at the forefront of my poetic imagination lately.

That’s why, this morning, I was pleased to stumble upon Tony Tost’s “Disarm the Settlers” in issue 2 of Typo (which went live, originally, sometime in late-2003 or early-2004; they’re not good on dating issues over there). Tost’s contribution to the issue is a series of letters addressed to “Typo” (a.k.a Adam Clay and Matthew Henriksen) that contain passages which are alternately intellectual, humorous, and provocative (at least in that poetry-world kind of way).

Some of my favorites excerpts from “Disarm” are:

And then there’s the experimental/post-avant domestic state, and I’m rather afraid to say anything about it because someone will quote a French guy on their blog and make me look stupid.

there’s people out there, or in here, writing very necessary, Tostian stuff

Sometimes I am that imaginary neophyte

Sometimes I just write poems. But our moms and dads aren’t rich enough for us to think “career” is a dirty word.

at first I thought it was extreme jealousy that caused William Carlos Williams to claim (more or less) that The Waste Land was (more or less) a disaster for American poetry. But now I think WCW was right, not because of anything inherently wrong with the poem itself, which I still think is stunning, but because in the wake of Eliot’s influence the New Critics came to power, and soon poetry entered academia with gusto, and soon we would have creative writing programs, which meant we were going to have a power vacuum that someone was going to fill. And soon we had New Critics directly dictating to students not only how to read, but how to write poetry, and the workshop was created to produce more poems the New Critics could wield mastery and authority over. And this was a disaster for how American poetry was read

Check out “Disarm the Settlers” and the entirety of issue 2 of Typo, which boasts poems by the likes of Graham Foust, Alex Lemon, Ben Lerner, Franz Wright, etc, here. Tost is the author of Invisible Bride, Complex Sleep, and Johnny Cash’s American Recoridngs.

Indie Lit Classics: Roxane Gay

15 Nov

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We had a lot of fun with the Scott McClanahan roundup, and thought another tribute of a similar nature was of order.

Why?

Well, cause Roxane Gay has been a hero of ours for quite some time (it’s true, even when she was contributing here. She’s a total rockstar).  And we’ve had the pleasure of saying a lot of good things about her, her work and the work that she publishes over the years.

So here they all are in a list for ya!

The Widow Takes Her Coffee Black at Wigleaf

A single-sentence review of Ayiti

A longer than one sentence review of Ayiti

How much of a winner she is

A collaborative work by her and xTx

Some thoughts about an essay of hers at the Rumpus

aaaaaand

She read for us at a Dogzplot party in Indianapolis

Oh, and did we mention? She’ll be kicking ass at the Letters Festival all weekend. Make sure to check her out!

Indie Lit Classics: Every Good Thing We Have Ever Said About Scott McClanahan

7 Nov

Scott McClanahan

 

We’ve never done a post like this before, but dammit, we are MOTIVATED.

We’ve been singing Scott McClanahan’s praises for as long as we can remember. In fact, we’ve posted about his work so many times at Vouched that we’ve decided to round them all up. If anyone deserves a permanent place in Small Press Lit’s literary canon, it’s Mr. McClanahan. (So we’re printing this picture and hanging it above our metaphorical mantle, so to speak).

Dig it?

Our joint review with Sundog Lit of Crapalachia and Layne’s take on it, too.

Our Single-sentence review of The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan.

Stories V!

He made it on three contributors‘ ‘Best Of’ Lists. THREE!

He read for us in Indianapolis.

New York Tyrant 11.

Kitty Snacks #4.

One more thing about Stories V!

See Scott at the Letters Festival!

Indie Lit Classic: Creeley and Berrigan

25 Sep

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Last week, Vouched Books contributor Tyler Gobble wrote a fine post under the theretofore unused subject heading “Indie Lit Classic.” While I’m a fan of all three books he featured, the post made me question the use of the term “classic.” Can a book that’s six months old, one year old, or even three years old be considered a classic? I don’t necessarily have an answer to that question, but it’s something I’ve been thinking bout.

Also, in writing this post, I think it’s important for me to admit that I don’t really know what the modifier “indie lit” means; my understanding of the phrase, probably, is even less clear than my understanding of what constitutes a “classic.”

So, with these caveats in mind, I’d like to offer up two poems for the “Indie Lit Classic” pantheon.

My first suggestion is Robert Creeley’s rendition of “The Plan is the Body” from May 18, 1973 at Goddard College. I especially like the segment when he loses his way midway through the poem and says: “I didn’t make these arrangements, I’m simply here”; and, of course, the whole “Up against the wall, motherfucker!” bit. It’s a top-notch poem, but also a wonderful example of Creeley’s playfulness.

To my mind, though, the gold standard for all poetry recordings is Ted Berrigan’s July 25, 1982, tear-inducing recitation at the Naropa Institute of his tear-inducing poem “Red Shift.” I’ll let the recording speak for itself, as the kids say; but, I would like to note that the poem’s momentum really picks up about halfway through, ending in an emotional, poetic, and performative climax.

If you have any other suggestions for poetry recordings that you think are worthy of the “Indie Lit Classic” moniker, please post them in the comments section below.

Indie Lit Classics: Svalina, Xu, Killebrew

12 Sep

MathiasI Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur

Mathias Svalina

Mud Luscious Press, 2011

Add this book to the list of reasons it’s a shame good ol’ Mud Luscious Press shut the doors, blinds, chimney. I’ve read a major portionhunk of their fine books–go ahead and checkmark them all reasons it’s a shame–and this was the last of the bunch that I scurried inside of (so far; got that newish Kimball collection on my to-read list). That’s a shame, too, that I waited so long. Svalina here talks as this fella who has created many lifetimes worth of businesses—intrusive and surreal, heart-wrenching and ingenious. Fancy stereos installed in people’s heads. Wardrobe swap company where you get the rags and robes of someone who recently kicked the bucket. A tour company that shows Americans around their own neighborhoods. But beyond a list of clever constructions what makes this book a small press classic is how it develops each business, not as a professional entity alone, but as a pulsing, dynamic piece of this fella’s life —a block of the self that can fail and can grow and can loop and can puncture. There’s a flurry of these list/series type books in the small press world, many of them super cool!, but here Svalina has captured the fascinating world of creation, of meaning-making, of not letting failure keep one from failing again. “Productive” has many connotations, and Svalina’s telling of the story over and over captures the momentum as it shifts from creating a useful business to creating a large quantity of businesses, the heap as its own kind of product. And beyond, what is most impressive (and sure to be long-lasting) about this work and the world(s) he’s captured is the book’s ability to elude monotony and crippling disappointment; each one subtly shake us further into the throes of this book’s capitalism and unquenchable entrepreneurial spirit. And I hope the people who want to read this book in the future are successful entrepreneurs because apparently a print copy on Amazon is gonna cost them a hundred (or more!) bucks, though of course, it’s still available in fancy ebook form for us less successful folks.

I started this one business that applied to the eyes of our clients the opposite of blinders, what we called Seeingers.

See everything! Every detail before you in intense exactitude! This was our pitch. Our scientists stumbled upon these Seeingers during an experiment on the bone structures of kaleidoscopes. It was a failed venture, until two of the scientists, depressed at their impending unemployment, got gin-drunk in the lab & ended up half-naked with the bones of kaleidoscopes strapped around their faces. What they saw in that moment they could not describe. Later, during his debriefing, the senior scientist said it was the visual equivalent of when you bite through your tongue & suddenly feel how your teeth are both weapons & exposed bones.

The Seeingers made every detail as important as if you were looking into the face of your child for the first time. No patch of spackle or inflamed pore was ignorable. Each dent in the hood of the car after the hailstorm was unique & therefore astounding. The creases on the pants of the person on the other end of the subway were as vivid as the exclamatory breasts of the woman in the window, removing her shirt in a Greek statuary flourish at the exact moment you happened to look up toward the sky.

Read the rest at Everyday Genius.

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You Are Not DeadWendy

Wendy Xu

Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013

Before someone shrieks against this being a indie press classic, let me explain: Though released on a university press just this year (though hey hey right right a university poetry press is often a smidge of a thing, too), Wendy Xu’s first book deserves to be in this here list because of its origins in the small press magazine scene. Let’s mosey into the acknowledgements list where we find tops small press journals like Dark Sky Magazine, Forklift, Ohio, ILK, Phantom Limb, and many more. This book is a triumph in putting together the pieces—the poems lifted from the indie press world to win a university prize, the wacky and startling pieces of life smushed together, voice melding with passion to create a whole new hum. It’s impossible to fall asleep inside a Wendy Xu poem. What you once think you saw (“Here there is an altar made of sand. It dismantles/no less than itself to please the sea.”) gets quietly disassembled and brought back to new life five poems later (“I put some sand in a jar and wait/for it to mean. Some horses wade into/the dangerous ocean because what else/is more important to see?”). It’s impossible to fall over dead from boredom in a Wendy Xu poem, though of course, she reminds us one day we will die, in her ending sequence, each called “We Are Both Sure to Die” (See below). But ultimately these poems, slapped with that sticker You Are Not Dead, remind us that time is not now, there’s still joyous life and tragic sorrow and paranoid delusion and impossible connections waiting for us, blowing into our faces—“In my past life I was just a math/equation and then I got promoted. Now I have/way more variables.”

Without coffee and only very minor explosions
to spell our names. One will actually just be
a bird meeting a clear pane of glass. Fanfare
and various stems of wine. People circulating
in a slow, meaningful fashion around
other people exchanging gifts. One time you
gave me a gift. One time everything
was rare and dispensed in intricate
packaging. One time it was a real accomplishment
to find someone a coat they could wear
into a mountain and its forgiving silence.

Read the rest (and another from this sequence) at Diagram.

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KillebrewFlowers

Paul Killebrew

Canarium Books, 2010

Mr. Ware brought forth Killebrew’s new book, Ethical Consciousness, in his great style not that long ago. But here I wanna poke back further, into Killebrew’s debut collection, Flowers. Flowers is one of those rare books that gives off a mist of rowdy and loud, yet still bends its knees to talk insightfully into your face, an effusive mix of the emotional and the intellect. Meaning: Killebrew is a pure delight, a fuse lit before the fireworks even begin; each poem in Flowers demands to be read—read aloud, read to someone, read with your heartrate a bunch of notches higher. Killebrew relentlessly searches, asks questions, demands from us and the world (answers okay I guess, but also cooperation, curiosity and enthusiasm). In “For Beth Ward,” Killebrew begins, “One of my basic human dilemmas/goes something like, Does metaphor/contain us, or do we extend ourselves/out into it?” and as he moves from himself, the “my,” to include the “us,” we relearn what contains us, what shapes us, what room we have to wiggle.

…Dark blue clouds approach
from the west like a future from California
full of the natural tragedies of living there:
mudslides, earthquakes, house sinking into the ocean,
B-movie actors in positions of public authority.
I hope it’s not all happening on my account.

The coasts shape our boundaries
and in this way define us, though sometimes
you forget all about them, forget that you’ve got ears
on either side of your head, that a lake
in Carlisle, Illinois isn’t, in fact, the ocean,
but just a place out in the corn
where people in shorts circle arbitrary triangles
under the fact of dark blue clouds arriving without thunder.
The clouds just sit there, a quiet, heavy metaphor
we share like a giant backyard.

Wow, no, don’t be thinking Killebrew is searching for meaning, is trying to convey meaning, but rather, he exports ideas to bend this world backwards into a new light. It’s impossible to know where our next step will land us, where Killebrew’s next breath will guide us, but two books into this dude’s career, I’m invested and committed and will hop in the buggy for the wild ride every time, all along the way asking the question I ask all my pals who haven’t read this fella, “Why aren’t we throwing parades for Paul Killebrew?”

Indie Lit Classics: Greying Ghost Press

5 Jul

In 2009, Ryan Call called Greying Ghost Press “a press to be excited about” and he was right and is right and seems like will be right for a good while to come. Check out Ryan’s spotlight from four years ago over. Then check out the rest of this post for 2013 Greying Ghost chatter from myself and others.

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The first Greying Ghost chapbook I ever encountered was I Am In The Air Right Now by Kathryn Regina. It might’ve been the first chapbook I ever bought myself, like looking back to remember the self-titled Savage Garden CD as the first I ever bought with my own money. I had never seen such a skinny, beautiful book–mirrored title, diagram stuck in the middle, maroon page spooning the cover. And the poems! The poems are not shy, though they might want you to think they are. In the air, they are, with their whimsy and their spirit, their new touch on the old heartbreak.

from “i thought there would be no one in the air”

the air is empty but

there are several families living in my chest.

I am going to open my own store and sell only

things that i especially like. puppets, diet coke,

spell books, beautiful rocks. i am going to sell

these things to the families in my arteries.

some of the people in the families die. there is a funeral

in my kneecap. the grandmother throws herself

into the grave. the children play at empty plots.

And 99 numbered copies later, poof, they are gone, have been gone, tucked away on select important shelves, just like so many of GG’s finest releases.

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Matt DeBenedictis, publisher of Safety Third Enterprises, on the radness of Greying Ghost Press:

Every chapbook I’ve ever ordered from Greying Ghost Press felt like they had me in mind when they made it, or they had a faithful hope in a cumulative reaction of cornerstone thoughts on first glance: the little details etch themselves like romantic gestures that can’t fade into the past.A circular die cut on a thick cover stock reveals a map and a nestled ampersand (J.A. Tyler’s Our Us & We), books folded like pamphlets are given wraps and buttons like they are gifts. I feel like a thieving’ little shit when I open some of them. I’ve been tempted before to just immediately frame their chapbooks on the wall (without opening a page) and just let the reviews on Goodreads be enough of a satisfaction.

The care that Greying Ghost Press puts to each chapbook is a knowledge that printed words are far from over; we still have so much imagination on how to rest ink onto paper.

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Cassandra Gillig, keeper of that dumb poetry blog, on GG’s hosting the Corduroy Mountain archives:

Probably the part of Greying Ghost I enjoy the most (since it is very easily sharable & free to access & this is something of great value to anyone looking to get into a press & find out what they are doing) is their online archiving of Corduroy Mountain.  Corduroy Mountain was, unarguably, something too special for human consumption–a literary magazine worth all of the awe & envy most can & should muster.

You can see everything that was published in Corduroy Mountain on Greying Ghost’s Issuu Site, which is an incredible thing.  CM also does a great job of showcasing the perfect brilliance GG publishes on a regular basis.  In addition to making things that are frustratingly gorgeous, GG has published some of my favorite writers.  Becca Klaver’s Inside A Red Corvette is kinda funny, way good, & so honest.  Dan Boehl’s sometimes perfectly sparse and always overwhelmingly perspicacious Les Miseres et les Mal-Heurs de la Guerre is nearly too wonderful for words.  Paige Taggert, Kathleen Rooney, Jac Jemc, & Sasha Fletcher all released stupidly good things with the press.  Not to mention the JA Tyler & Schomburg chapbooks which I feel are adored universally by those who have read them.

The appeal of Greying Ghost is, of course, their willingness to take risks and to publish writers who are experimenting with form, and, while this is not necessarily the first press to do it, the work GG has championed is perfect and enriching and, wholly, presses like GG are the reason small press publishing is so exciting right now.

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Matthew Mahaney, author of Your Attraction to Sharp Machines (Bat Cat Press), on his favorite GG chapbook, Sugar Means Yes, by Julia Cohen and Mathias Svalina:

The silver-blue wallpaper cover pages define the room of this chapbook, the physical borders of a world in which brothers and sisters use foxes, masks, razors, and salt to teach us the true, dark meaning of every object and action, and where a new lesson will find you each time you visit.

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And when you order one of these fine fine cared-for chapbooks, the envelope also comes stuffed with bonus goodies, a.k.a. pamphlets, these little brushstrokes, printed and folded goodness, from folks like Danniel Schoonebeek, Wendy Xu, Jennifer H. Fortin, Brian Foley, and more.

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Carrie Lorig, author of NODS. (Magic Helicopter Press), on her two favorite pamphlets (one of which happens to be mine, awww shucks, WOW):

In South Korea (a town called Imjingak / 임진각), there is a Pamphlet/Leaflet Launch Site. It is about getting information across a young, sore border. Now that there is a ban, and they use large balloons.

According to the OED, the word ‘pamphlet’ is named for a popular love poem, Pamphilus, seu de Amore, with a Greek name (It has not been tested in French. -OED) that means “friend to everyone.”

At my catering job, during a lull in service, the sweating girl next to me mumbles, “If your wedding is going to be this big, you need to just do the food family style.” Big bowls for whole tables. Passing and touching moves it fast, spreads it fast.

Pamphlets, flyers, leaflets. Like ants or my friend Bridget’s bees, I hardly imagine them alone. I see them as the sudden waterfall swim they cause in the air. I see them devouring a part of the ground.

My two Greying Ghost pamphlets were pressed to me. Right before M.G. Martin left a dance party in Boston, he put “Sister, Thank You,” (#47) in my hand. It was fucksnowing, I’m sure, when I opened the manila envelope with “Don’t Reason” (#40) by Tyler Gobble inside.

“Don’t Reason” – The symmetry, the railing against the title, in Gobble’s “Don’t Reason” is as beautiful and smallbig as HALLELUJAH. “I can’t believe / that was you “, “You can’t believe / the words,” “The fact we need / God,” “The fact we need / Meth Sun,” “How can they talk / about so many overturned cars,” “I heard a man / singing a song / on a bus” A prayer is a thing you assemble and aim with don’t reason. You assemble it in the face of no galaxy you can reach into. You put your head in the fridge to cool off. You don’t do it to get an understanding of why we send these floating, desperate chunks of flower and human ash and plane crash and hum drifting out.

“Sister, Thank You” – I don’t always think repetition is as conscious as we insist it is. What if every time you say a word, you are not as aware that it is the same word as the previous word you just uttered as you are that you are saying the word however you are in that moment, on that part of the page, in that blank space of the conversation. It doesn’t matter what comes after it or before it. This might be how the constant onslaught of thank you interrupted by “roses, sister, language, mouth, tongue, deep, without, bones, skin” is thinking about repetition. I can echo through them all together, taking in the longitude and population and spelling out carefully as it gets big enough to be a Thank You nation-state. Or, I can encounter each of them alone, failing alone, struggling alone, to get to a sister. There are 11 rocks in this one, two in that one. A beluga that won’t be touched unless you are naked.

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Jamie Iredell, author of lots of good stuff like The Book of Freaks (Future Tense Books), on the lasting goodness of Greying Ghost Press:

I’ve pretty much always loved GG. This goes back to the early days of the “online lit” thing, or “alt lit,” whatever you wanna call it. And maybe they weren’t even really the “early days” either, but whatever. I bought Peter Berghoef’s “News of the Haircut,” “Help” by Adam Fieled, “At The Pulse,” by Laura Carter (a very close friend of many years), “I Will Unfold You With My Hairy Hands” by Shane Jones, “The Tornado Is Not A Surrealist” by Brian Foley, “Walden Book” by Allen Bramhall (this was a huge book for me; it was amazing and amazingly designed), and “Naturalistless” by Christopher Rizzo. I was blown away by these books, and at the time I was writing my own stuff and was publishing it in literary magazines. Carl was, at the time, putting together stuff for the first Corduroy Mountain issue, and I submitted. He liked what I’d written, and asked if I had enough to make a chapbook. That was the middle section (“When I Moved to Nevada”) of what became my first book, Prose. Poems. a Novel. Since all of that went down, I’ve still been a GG fan, as Carl has continued to produce amazing work: “Inside A Red Corvette” by Becca Klaver, “I Am In The Air Right Now” by Kathryn Regina, “Our Us & We” by J.A. Tyler, “Pretend You’ll Do It Again” by Josh Russell, “Sky Poems” by Nate Pritts, “The Poughkeepsiad” by Joshua Harmon. And they just keep coming. Amazing books, Careful attention to language and design. Carl Annarummo is a diamond in coal field of contemporary lit.

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Two of my favorite GG releases, for both their perfect design and dropping-of-the-jaw poems, are Imaginary Portraits by Joshua Ware (full disclosure tag: Vouched contributor) and Plus or Minus by Weston Cutter. Two very different books, but paired together in my heart. Ware’s is a pocket-sized thing, sturdy dark dark cover with die-cut window for the title to peek out from its yellow home. Cutter’s book is sheathed in a map. Ware’s poems are vignettes masquerading as visions. Cutter’s poems are uncompromising meditations. Moving poems and unique cases, these are two of the newer and most fitting representations of the stellar work Greying Ghost produces.

from Cutter’s “Yours, Alaska”:

in cragginess and distance, in separation

and bearing; in your imagination Alaska

I want to know if you see my Minnesota

as the dumb cousin pestering for a pass

during the post-Thanksgiving football game

and what about Montana, Alaska? Okay,

no one can ever be as cold, Alaska, but

let’s start a band, call ourselves the Chills:

you’ll wear a trucker’s hat, play the bass,

lay a beat for the rest of us to throb

longingly along to but Alaska you know

you can’t stay frozen forever, yes?

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“The quality of their productions alone make them one of the most sought after small presses to work with — if you ever get the chance, jump at it!” – Hosho McCreesh, author of several awesome books

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Grab yourself a subscription for Greying Ghost’s 2013/2014 catalog or pick up one of the few past releases still available. This stuff is hot.