[Sheila Squillante / May 21st, 2013 / Reviews / Tags: Hugh Behm-Steinberg, JackLeg Press, poetry collection, The Opposite of Work, Tony Mancus]
Working in clipped phrases throughout the whole of The Opposite of Work (Jack Leg Press, 2013), Hugh Behm-Steinberg has built a dream-rattled space. It is a space of stretched ideas and ideals set in the pursuit of reconfiguration and reimagining—or at worst, the sand-refined dream-filtration—of many of the pillars of western myth: Egyptian (“Horace”), Judeo-Christian (“Eden,” “Adam,” “Lot”), American political/economic (“A Senator,” “The Truck,” “In the New Economy”), and domestic (“Radish,” “Not Sleeping”).
His poems, situated on the right facing pages, are paired with pretty mysterious and intriguing images on the left-facing pages. The images, which operate as a flipbook, were created by Mary Behm-Steinberg, and contain all manner of things, from eggs in crowns to humans transforming into crows. It’s pretty wild stuff that seems in many instances to have jumped to life directly from the opposite page. The images work to directly extend and comment upon the content, creating a larger world for the poems. Instead of building towering and narrow poems – pieces that spire ever upward – or drill through the page, as it were, Behm-Steinberg has chosen to work horizontally in effect flattening the content in a mirror of the two dimensional imagery that accompanies each piece. As in “Again”
Tap your head twice to let the rust out.
The thought as it stumbles in you.
It has rhythm but you have to wait you have to wait
a while for it to repeat until you are asleep you have to wait
because you have to. Because your body is a small country and
small countries wait. Knowing how small is the wine we are all
sobered by. We drink small sips… (p.71)
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[Mia Sara / May 17th, 2013 / Young Bright Things ]
(c) Peter Beard
For K.K.J. with apologies
I am worried about the fact that yesterday when
I Googled a certain poet and found an image, plain,
white-haired, middle aged, I decided I wouldn’t
like her before I’d read any poem she’d ever written,
and if this is who I’ve become, then my recent obsession
with “The Real Housewives of New York City,”
may not be a sign of the Apocalypse, but a sign that
I am reverting to type, and should stop pretending
at depth and just paddle along the slick shallow end
of the wading pool with ‘The Real Housewives,’ in their
over-stuffed, vanilla, Park Avenue apartments, with their
dinky dogs and drivers, and the occasional drunken brawl
to tangle up our Bergdorf blow-outs. Because, why not?
Except for the charity. All ‘The Housewives’ have it.
Can’t throw a fundraiser in a penthouse, townhouse, or
converted flophouse without it. Then it’s all about charity
parity, who-gave-what-to-whom in the bowl. For the checks.
In the big glass box, ninety stories up and over the island
of Manhattan. And if you like stories,
this is the place to be because in reality, it’s only
got seventy-two. Stories that is. But ninety sounds so
much better when you’re breaking the sound barrier
just to get a drink and a dry canapé. Charity is thirsty
work but coming up short? That’s my kinda party.
Why do I long for the glamourous lie, the chummy
luxury of ignorance, when I know that
today, or tomorrow, someone who calls me their mother
will go out for a walk and bag themselves a wounded rhino,
who will think nothing of charging through the kitchen,
goring bystanders and ‘Real Housewives alike,’ in their royal
blue satin Louboutin pumps, straight through their limited
edition camel crocodile Birkin bags?
And when this day arrives, will I open my mouth to sooth
the savage creature of misspent youth? To find the phrase
to ease the narcotic plague of first-ever love? Or will I choke.
On the charity I refused to swallow, the dreams I let wither
along with my face, and the time after time I have tried and
failed and failed, but still made the coffee, packed the lunches,
drove to the school with claws retracted, made nicey-nice as
the taste of blood filled my mouth?
Because this poet waiting on the other side, with her
barefaced excellent poems, understands about reality. How it
won’t be denied. How the blister you get from a five-inch stiletto
bursts the same as the one you get from crawling on your knees,
praying for deliverance and the strength to accept the charity
for yourself, and for ‘The Real Housewives,’ who really love
their dinky dogs, and fear getting old, and still need the paycheck.
And charity for the rhino, who was shielding her kids when she
was shot in the ass.
And who will sit all night at the foot of the bed, with greying hair,
and unfilled wrinkles, in comfortable shoes, and forgive us the fact
that we’re only young once, and if we get lucky we can have even
this, this plain unglamorous reality, this unvarnished glory that
waits for us all.
Mia Sara is an actress and poet living in Los Angeles. Her work has been published in PANK, Cultural Weekly, The Kit Kat Review, Forge, The Dirty Napkin, St. Ann’s Review, and others. For more please visit: http://wheretofindmiasara.tumblr.com/
[Simon Jacobs / May 15th, 2013 / Interviews / Tags: Alice Bolin]
Alice Bolin’s “Pool” appeared in our December issue (and also made the longlist for 2012’s Wigleaf Top 50). Here, we talk about the desolation of childhood, BLACK HOLE, and abandonment.
1. This piece reads almost like a ritual to me: in the autumn, the narrator treks to the empty pool at the abandoned house at the end of the block, avoiding the boys who lurk in the abandoned lot, and, once she arrives at the pool, curls inward – it feels like something that happens again and again. What might we make of the places we are drawn to, the processes we repeat over and over?
Personal rituals are something I am extremely interested in. I was a furtive, emotional, mystically-minded child and I did many strange things out of varying ratios of boredom and anxiety. I hid my belongings outside, hoarded stones and other outside things inside, wrote things on my body, named the places and landmarks I discovered. The places and procedures of rituals like the one in “Pool” are huge in distinguishing the child world from the adult world it exists alongside.
2. The detail in “Pool” is beautifully stark, to the point where, to me, it seems almost desolate. It may be autumn in a back alley anywhere, but it feels troublingly like the end of the world. What inspired the setting of this piece?
I like that you picked up on the end-of-the world feeling, because I think that has a lot to do with the mood and setting I’m evoking in this piece. It comes from a full-length hybrid manuscript called BLACK HOLE that is very concerned with the powerlessness and emotional apocalypses of childhood. I’m pretty interested in the uncanny element of domesticity, the menace found in wholesome scenes.
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[Sheila Squillante / May 14th, 2013 / Reviews / Tags: Chad Simpson, dawn west, short story collection, Tell Everyone I Said Hi, University of Iowa Press]
University of Iowa Press
I was born and raised and still live in Ohio. As a Midwest girl, I can say that Chad Simpson’s earnest yet tough story collection Tell Everyone I Said Hi does the region right. Simpson’s emotionally complex characters live in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky, and they’re all aching with this bruised hope, this blue yearning. They could be people we love. They could be us.
In one of the first stories, “You Would’ve Counted Yourself Lucky,” we meet a pre-teen playing with a flashlight in his backyard, waiting for his missing sister. Before he ventures outside the boy passes by his parents, who don’t notice him at all.
In the living room, the boy’s mom holds her drink in the air and says in this defeated way to the boy’s dad, “Could you maybe just add a couple ice cubes to this?”
The boy’s dad rises from his chair and says, “Sure.”
We meet the boy at a pivotal time in his life. We all know puberty is a total douchebag—add to that his distracted parents and his presently-missing sister. This boy is terrifically curious and lacerated with loneliness. We follow him into the oddly intimate encounter he has with the once-beautiful teen girl next door, who is partially paralyzed because of a car accident.
Rebecca picks up the boy’s fingers again and moves his hand down her leg to her calf. There is a divot the size and shape of a small football where doctors have taken skin at the back of her calf, and she sets his fingers inside it. The skin there is cool and completely hairless. It feels smooth in a way that skin shouldn’t.
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[Simon Jacobs / May 13th, 2013 / Interviews / Tags: Tawnysha Greene]
PANK and Tawnysha Greene – author of the short story “Daddy’s Teeth” in our December issue – talk scars.
1. This is an immensely physical piece; the casual, bodily damage it describes is almost difficult to read. Can you tell us about the experience of writing this? How did you know you’d succeeded in drawing out the most discomfort?
“Daddy’s Teeth” is actually a chapter in my novel-in-progress, A House Made of Stars, and I wanted this story to stand out as a moment of darkness and desperation in an already bleak narrative. I decided to make this chapter one of the shortest in the novel and use the starkest descriptions I could think of in narrating the scene, so that the moment almost seemed like a flashbulb memory in that while the moment is brief, small details such as the smell of the father’s breath and the blood he spits into a pot would stand out so much more than they would in a longer, more fully developed chapter. I had also hoped that the brevity of the chapter would intensify an already heightened moment and together with such stark descriptions would frighten readers as the child protagonist feels frightened and overwhelmed by what is happening in front of her.
When I wrote the story, I tried to frighten myself with the details. I strive to empathize with my characters as much as possible when writing, so I kept asking myself – what would make me uncomfortable, what would shock me, what would scare me? I didn’t realize the full extent of how the story could affect readers until it was published in PANK. So many friends and colleagues wrote that they had tried reading the story, but couldn’t get past the first few sentences, and it was then that I saw that when I scared myself, I could convey those same feelings to those reading the story.
2. This story, though written from the viewpoint of a child, is centered on the pain and slow destruction of the father. How did you decide to narrate the story from this perspective?
I decided to write from a young child’s point of view, because I felt that I could write scenes of trauma best from a child’s eyes. I find that a child’s point of view is less complicated than an adult’s and while the child in a story may not always understand what is happening to him/her, the audience, of course, does. In trusting readers with this understanding, I felt that I could write these scenes more truthfully than I could with an adult narrator.
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[Simon Jacobs / May 8th, 2013 / Interviews / Tags: Maggie Millner]
Here, Maggie Millner’s “Equus” – in our December issue – goes to Andalusia.
1. One on level, this poem is about longing, a longing that can only be dealt with in a visceral, sexual way. What is one emotion that belongs entirely to you? What things have you arranged inside yourself and built into horses?
It’s a fairly common coping mechanism to visualize grief as an object that might then be isolated and expelled from the griever. It’s a fairly common exercise in poetry, too: to concretize the abstract, to compare the world to a stage or fear to a handful of dust. In “Equus,” horses are the physical form of the speaker’s desire. Their departure signals a sense of loss and longing.
2. Horses appear in poems every so often as a marker of sexual strength or intensity, but here you do something different. Here, the horses seem to signify desire itself. Why pick horses?
Horses inhabit a space between domesticity and wildness – between tameness and danger – that I find compelling. They signify a kind of cowboy nostalgia. They wear shoes. Maybe horses work so well as figurative carriers of human experience because they’re also physical carriers of human cargo. In a poem that seeks to explore the defamiliarization of one’s own body, horses feel like appropriately strange, appropriately liminal figures.
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[Sheila Squillante / May 7th, 2013 / Reviews / Tags: Anis Shivani, Kate Schapira, My Tranquil War, NYQ Books, poetry]
When a writer chooses their ground, there’s no point in fussing that a different arena might have served their efforts better. Writers ask us to meet them at a particular set of coordinates; we can show up or not. Anis Shivani has chosen the terrain of human cultural artifacts—paintings, poems, novels, films, and narrations of history—on which to restage the colonial era’s shocks, gashes and reverberations. These poems reminded me of Teju Cole’s much retweeted and reposted Twitter series “Seven Short Stories About Drones”: famous opening sentences of novels (largely, but not only, from the Western canon) ruptured irreparably by drone attack. The implications were clear and inescapable: all these things are ruined by how they were made. The war of their making must be apparent in them; all other readings are dishonest.
Where Cole maintained his efforts just long enough to bring us past the point where the point is made and to the moment where it sickens us, Shivani’s poems dig in. There’s a degree of almost puritanical relish for the tackiness and shoddiness of the hangover you get from mixing imperialism with liberalism:
“Unburdening Tennessee mountain-skies faint, then repaint
our polyester faces (denied since the seventies, Wal-Mart homes
vacant for boomeranging jibes), our nylon faces stripped
sit and take refuge in the emperor-president’s speech, disrobe
yourself of benign platitudes (those you learned in Shakespeare
and Plato), we’re about to launch into the journey of (corporate)
life where you find your umbilical cord stretched to infinity.
It’s a poetic world …”
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[Simon Jacobs / May 6th, 2013 / Interviews / Tags: Brennan Bestwick]
Brennan Bestwick speaks about his poem “Surname NASA” in the December issue – infinite love, tethering space, and the anatomy of the universe.
1. I think there is a lot to say in this poem about ancestry, about what our forebears have built and left for us. Can you explain this at all? What’s one important or valuable piece of inheritance in your life, galactic or otherwise?
I’m very blessed to have entered a world surrounded by the family I have. Both my grandparents, the subjects of the poem, and parents, built a world for me full of endless encouragement and support. I’m from a Midwest do-all-that-you-can-to-help-anyone-who-needs-it kind of family. I’ve inherited their humor, I hope to master its way of tackling the most trying times as gracefully as they do. A nature as good as theirs has a special gravity to it. I try to spin as brightly.
2. I see this theme, of older figures (here, grandparents, but I imagine it would serve any character with accumulated age and wisdom), painted as interstellar, as mingling and one with the hugest mechanisms of the universe. Tell me about this myth.
All the things my grandparents have seen and done are too big for this world, too big for them to understand just how powerful they’ve become from it. I’m sure they’ve built some stars up there, filled some black holes I wasn’t ready for, but they’d never tell me if they did, they wouldn’t want to worry anyone.
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[admin / May 3rd, 2013 / Features & Interviews ]
MWV: What is the relationship of the body to identity, and how does language intercede–or not?
For me, body (corpuscle and feelings therein) and page (what for me is one of contemporary languages’ core impetuses) correlate in stippling-like processes, always approximating authenticity. Identity is the active and ongoing stimulation of a profoundly necessary simulation; a way to relate to (myself as) form. There is a continual need to keep in motion in order for the stippling from stifling.
MWV: A figure appears in your forthcoming book Luci: a Forbidden Soteriology. You write: “The red of the queer mystic’s human flesh in response to the frigid temperature of the river was something that, from that event on, never left them.” Tell me about the “queer mystic”?
I love Luci. Luci loves you. The queer mystic of Luci (my book) is different than how I work with queer mysticism in praxis but I can certainly speak to both here.
The queer mystic of Luci is personage, a splattering of qualities across a span. Luci is an emergent pride system based in growing multiplicity and variance (by way of staying with difficult and painful content until one is able to morph it into emancipations by way of self-invented, intensive, creative attentions). Luci works with peripheral nerves (sites of intuition and insinuation) in order to slowly gain a (human?) center. Because I love Luci, I could go on. Instead I will ask you to keep an eye out for the book! It not only shatters many socially (Biblically) entrenched myths (Lucifer vs. Jesus, dad vs. son, inherited lineage vs. chosen family, etc.) but the methods by which the shattering takes place are rich with sound and image. Bottom line, Luci: a Forbidden Soteriology is a nice place to spend a little time. While you are in, Monet’s Camille Monet sur son lit de mort will come off of the wall of the museum, and disassemble its elegant picture of death in your lap as a way of enticing you to dance with it: movement here is included, is integral to the work.
Queer mysticism (in the context of my practices) involves attending to many realms ritually. We are queer because we are obscure, different from the average Joe. We are queer because our genders do not match forceful, binary-prescribed social relegations. We are queer because of whom we fuck. We are queer because of how we fuck whom we fuck. There are so many realms to attend to ritually: from how to most ethically greet the juncture between sleep dreaming and the dreams experienced and lived while awake, to absolute nurture of any and all aspects or elements with entheogenic and enlightening properties.
I work by deifying (and reifying). I approach the work in many ways (including asceticisms and excessiveness). An important part of attending exists in the clandestine and rogue rites that must take place (e.g.: eating capers excruciatingly slowly, one at a time all day long and with so much attention that you are convinced that your mouth will forevermore feel like this: a desert full of mustard, anal sex. In that overwhelm you are suddenly, henceforth enabled to count salty moments like mala beads).
I love the early Christian term “mystikos” (which refers to veiled or not yet known allegorical elucidations and analysis of Scriptures), so the notion of underground or underbelly or still-in-queue (or even kink) interpretations and applications (in non-dualism) resonates for me. It is also due to the above stated that writing is engagement of the dewy links, that composition is a way to acquire liberating relationships to my own DNA, that the flesh of the body is morphable, evermore able to be relieved by intentional enlivenment. In these feelings, page and body are felt as sites of infinity, as compulsory sides of an infinity.
If you are a queer mystic and want to talk with me about queer mysticism (or to practice it alongside a long time (and still learning) practitioner) feel free to contact me. I am passionately interested not only in commencements from within, but continual and artful creation of within. How else is there ever hope of us addressing so much without in wise ways?
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[Scott Pinkmountain / May 1st, 2013 / Work: Surviving the Arts ]
I was getting notes together for an article on coping with, let’s not say, “failure,” but yet-unattained success as an artist: how to cope with rejection, how to avoid feeling alienated when there’s no audience for your work, how to get motivated to make new work when there’s an already moldering pile of your unpublished work looming so large it threatens to smother you and everyone in your intimate circle.
And then a writer friend called my attention to this article on The Hairpin by Christina Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick offers some great tips on how to persevere with humor and grace in the face of long-term failure. In its own way, her article did all I’d hoped to and more.
Then a musician friend of mine posted this spot-on article from The Onion about squeezing in the work that’s most important to us in our barely existent spare time, pretty much nailing whatever else I might’ve hoped to cover.
Then I came across the New Yorker article entitled, “Cry Me A River: The Rise of the Failure Memoir,” by Giles Harvey (March 25, 2013 issue), which observes a trend of successful books by “failed” writers about their experience of having been failed writers. These books, it seems, differ from the nobody-to-somebody fairy tales like Paul Auster’s “Hand to Mouth: A Chronicle of Early Failure,” in that the stories don’t resolve in eventual acceptance, praise and success like Auster’s. Except of course, that once the memoir sells 10,000 copies, they do.
And then, I met this guy at a party. His name was Seymour. He heard I’m a writer and he immediately launched into giving me advice on how to land an agent (QueryTracker and many queries). I, being among the “not-yet-achieved-success” hordes try to listen quietly when people offer me suggestions that might help me change my status, so I leaned in close with the hopes of gaining that key nugget of truth I’d missed in the 40-plus other conversations I’ve had about agent-seeking. And as Seymour implored me to follow his wisdom, it was revealed that not only did he not have an agent himself, but he’d queried fewer agents than I have.
At which point I thought, “maybe it’s best to write my column about something else.”
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