My Writing

Monday, December 13, 2010

Story & Readings

Metazen, which is edited by Frank Hinton, has published a story by me called "Upon Awaking." It features a lengthy description of a conversation in bed on Valentine's Day, 2009. Frank described the description as a paralytic thought helix.

I will also be in Metazen's Christmas Charity E-Book, along with Ana C., Jordan Castro, and others. If you donate money now, you will receive the e-book on Christmas Day. All proceeds benefit an orphanage in Cambodia.

I've been busier lately, so I haven't updated this in a while. Not sure if I want to keep posting book reviews here or not.

I will be reading with Sam Pink and two others at The Whistler in Chicago on Sunday, December 19th at 6 P.M. as part of the Orange Alert Reading Series, curated by Jason Behrends.

I will be hosting the first-ever Pop Serial reading at Cafe Ballou in Chicago on December 21st at 7 P.M. 939 N. Western Ave. Many friends will be in attendance and reading: the aforementioned Sam Pink and Jordan Castro, as well as Cassandra Troyan, Carrie Lorig, Feng Sun Chen, Leif Haven, Brett Gallagher, Andrew James Weatherhead, and Steve Roggenbuck. I will be telling jokes, shooting the shit, and talking about the readers and my feelings. I would love it if you came.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Greta Gerwig cried onscreen and it seemed real

I like faces close up
and words that
come slow

and sunlight
and wet eyes feel good

Why has it been so long since I
played my trumpet?

May I blast a high note in your room?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Brautigan, Readings

Hi everybody. It is almost December.

I read The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 by Richard Brautigan. I enjoyed it. It's about this guy who works and lives in a library, and he meets this woman, Vida, they have sex, she gets pregnant, and then they go to Tijuana so she can get an abortion. Like the other Brautigan books I've read, it has a fun tone and is written in a casual, sometimes conversational style.

I enjoyed the premise of him working and sleeping in a library, and I liked the fantasy of a woman coming into the library, a flirtation, and then them having sex in the library. Seems like the "An Historical Romance 1966" subtitle plus the events of the book could be interpreted as a winking reference to the "free love" movement that was happening at that time (the book was published in 1971). Also seems funny to set an historical romance 5 years in the past.

As is true of everything I've read by Brautigan so far, the premise and the feel of his work only partially explain the appeal of the books for me. There's also this unsettling element at work, that's barely there on the page.

Here is a part I liked:

"We were both tired, but not as nervous as we could have been facing the prospects of the day, because we had gone into a gentle form of shock that makes it easier to do one little thing after another, fragile step by fragile step, until you've done the big difficult thing waiting at the end, no matter what it is.

I think we have the power to transform our lives into brand-new instantaneous rituals that we calmly act out when something hard comes up that we must do.

We become like theaters."

I'm reading with Sam Pink and two others at the Orange Alert Reading Series at The Whistler on December 19th.

I've also arranged a big Pop Serial reading at Innertown Pub on December 21st. Jordan Castro will be in town, because he also has a group reading at Quimby's, and it looks like many other contributors from the Midwest area will also be in Chicago. I'll have more details later.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Orange Juice"

HTMLGIANT was nice enough to post my review of Orange Juice and Other Stories by Timothy Willis Sanders. I liked it. I also enjoy Timothy's blog.

If you live in Chicago, tonight I will be at Cassandra Troyan and Sara Drake's apartment for EAR EATER. 8 P.M., 1622 S. Allport St., Apt. 1. Leif Haven, James Tadd Adcox, Kendra Grant Malone, Sam Pink, and Ana C. will be reading. It's gonna be fun.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"apocalyptic free verse about dongs"

I received a PDF of Poncho Peligroso's full-length poetry book manuscript, "The Romantic," from Poncho. The cover he designed features an image of Poncho exhibiting a serious facial expression while holding up a red Converse high-top.

I liked "The Romantic." It is ~90 pages of poetry, split up by the months of the year, which appear sporadically in large font on the page, sometimes crossed out. This graphic representation of the passing of time reminded me a little of the screen titles in the film (500) Days of Summer. While the passing of months is not presented non-chronologically, as in that film, "The Romantic" does open, unconventionally, with an epilogue, or rather, 2 epilogues.

"epilogue, part 1" expresses a desire to remain in a beautiful but necessarily impermanent moment in life with someone, while "epilogue, part 2" expresses a more rational yet still romantic (in my opinion) desire to be with someone and love him or her for as long as is reasonable/possible. With these 2 epilogues, Poncho expresses some of the duality upon which the rest of the poems build and which they complicate---namely, the poet's desire for transcendent love in a transient existence, and the struggles inherent to someone who has an overwhelmingly rational mind.

"fuck you i write what i want"

These poems exhibit a lot of what I perceive (via the internet) to be aspects of Poncho's personality: a light-hearted sarcasm, a fixation on sex, an endearing (to me) earnestness. An example of the first thing would be the lines "eventually, the oregon trail / developed into portland / whose bright idea was that." An example of the second would be the statement, now immortalized in a computer wallpaper designed by Steve Roggenbuck, "i want to do nothing but have unprotected sex with you forever." An example of the third thing would be the lines "i miss my dead cat from six years ago / i'm crying now."

Other poems indicate Poncho's sense of humor, such as "natural born salesmen," wherein the protagonist convinces a bunch of friends to crowd into his dorm room to watch "brazilian shit porn"---screaming, vomiting, and mass exodus ensue. My other favorite funny poem is "who doesn't love tibetan eagles," which contains the lines "if you don't love tibetan eagles you hate freedom / is what i'm saying here." Other poems demonstrate Poncho's self-consciousness about his privileged status as a white, middle-class male, as in the poem "why am i writing all this goddamn poetry." I felt like the poems had as much variety in tone and personality as the poet seems to, and that made me happy.

I like when poems or other creative works seem to embody the artist's personality, whether the work is autobiographical or symbolic, funny or sad (or both). Increasingly, I think this is something I value in nearly all of my favorite artists, for example: J.D. Salinger, Woody Allen, James Joyce, Jean-Luc Godard, Virginia Woolf, Federico Fellini, Pablo Picasso, Kanye West, Tao Lin, Andy Warhol, John Lennon, et al.

I think one of the reasons these artists are so popular is because their personality is so strong in their art, and thus the work "implants" an idea of the artist-as-person in the reader/viewer's mind and "lives" there in the imagination. In my experience, imagining an artist as a person either while "taking in" their work or afterwards can cause me to experience a fresher awareness of myself, my surroundings, or, abstractly, my life. In this way, the barrier between art and life becomes blurred and porous, which is exciting. Life as art, art as life, to me, is a fulfillment of life's already existing capacity for ecstatic joy, for creative, natural release. Which is an abstract way of saying, art can be exciting to me, and when it is, I am also more excited about life, and that feels great, and makes me think life is sweeter than I previously felt it was.

This quality in my favorite writing could be described as "superliterary," which I would define as "beyond literary," extra-dimensional, a deepening, to me a positive thing, not negative (as a certain very confident writer deemed it elsewhere).

Got a little sidetracked, yall.

Getting back to Poncho's manuscript, Poncho's style reminds me a little of Tao Lin's at times, although I didn't feel like he was "aping" Tao very much at all, and the verbal expression of his self-consciousness and mental processing, as well as his Brief Interviews-like presentation of male sexuality, reminds me a little of David Foster Wallace. Also, interestingly, literally just after I thought the words "Lydia Davis," the poem I was reading referenced "cremains," and that word is the basis for a Lydia Davis piece.

"hey pretty girl / i like you"

"The Romantic" feels like a whole work, by which I mean I felt satisfied at the end of it, like I had spent some time in another person's head, and he had tried to show me many of his thoughts and feelings, including the painful ones and the ones that are hard to express.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Hi, people. After a lot of soul-searching and a hot shower, I have decided to resume blogging here. Just kidding, but seriously, you guys, the Kickstarter for Pop Serial #2 was a success. Thanks to all you wonderfuls, we raised $1000 (something like $900 after Amazon gets their cut via you have to have an Amazon business account for Kickstarter). The layout is done, although I am inserting some last-minute edits and revisions. I will announce an official release date for Pop Serial #2 as soon as I have one. I want to do everything I can to make the magazine turn out the way I want it to. Thank you for your support and patience.

While I was not blogging here, Thought Catalog published a few more pieces by me re stand-up comedy, R&B music, and MS Paint/minimalist art, respectively. Seems like I will be writing for Thought Catalog indefinitely.

I suggest supporting and/or contributing to the Metazen Christmas Charity E-Book.

I plan on writing more book reviews and things soon.

Also, psyched for Friday, bros. Cassandra Troyan and Sara Drake, my new friends as well as Pop Serial contributors, will be throwing down via EAR EATER reading series edition 2. The reading starts at 8. The address is 1622 S. Allport St., Apt. 1. (I live in Chicago, yall, btw, if you didn't know).

The readers at this event will be Ana C. and Kendra Grant Malone via Skype and Sam Pink, Leif Haven, and James Tadd Adcox in the flesh. Art by Sara, Lyra Hill, and Elizabeth Arnold will be displayed. Steve Roggenbuck and I will be there, probably laughing a lot and occasionally touching each other. I plan on doing a couple Tully Bombs. I hear there's a dance party somewhere in Pilsen that night, too, and I love dance parties. I hope they play some of that new Robyn hotness.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Hey people,

I have started a Kickstarter to raise money for issue 2 of Pop Serial. It will function as a pre-order. Only 100 copies are currently available for non-contributors (contributors get a free copy), so the first 100 people to give $10 or more will be guaranteed a copy. There are prizes available for those who donate more than $10, such as free books from Tao Lin or Jordan Castro, art prints by Elizabeth Arnold, and more.

Coverage of this event is here: The Rumpus, HTMLGIANT, PANK, The Well-Read Wife, Chicago Now

The line-up is stacked:

I appreciate your interest and support, everybody.

Friday, October 15, 2010


The new issue of The Scrambler e-zine has been posted. Includes 2 poems by me, "Catcher" and "I'm not sure what we were ever doing," as well as 2 poems by my friend, Cassandra Troyan.

Rhetoric, Logic, Utopian Ideals

Thought Catalog has published a piece by me, titled "Rutgers University Professor Calls For 'Controlled Extinction' of Meat-Eating Animals."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Interview with Tao Lin

HTMLGIANT has posted part 1 of my interview with Tao Lin.

And here's part 2.

Friday, October 8, 2010

What is Nobrow?

Thought Catalog has published a piece by me, titled "What is Nobrow? Is it Different From Postbrow?" Includes references to Pop Art, Brandon Scott Gorrell, and Waka Flocka Flame.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"Four Stories" at Metazen

Metazen has published "Four Stories" by me. Metazen is edited by Frank Hinton.

"Four Stories" inspired a post at HTMLGIANT by Lily Hoang in which she claimed that my piece was a "plagiarism" of Joshua Cohen's piece published earlier this year at Everyday Genius. Hoang also called me "a hack," for which she later apologized.

Friday, October 1, 2010

"The Condemned" by Noah Cicero

I liked this book. It is Noah Cicero's second novel, published in 2006. It is composed of seven parts. The protagonist/narrator varies, but the setting is almost always Youngstown, Ohio. Tao Lin gave me a spare copy he had.

The novel felt essayistic to me, in that the different narrative strands seemed linked to a clearly stated thesis. The form of the book seemed to be determined by themes and ideas as opposed to being plot- or character-based. There was also a sense of freedom in the book. The shifts between sections and sometimes within sections were sometimes made without concern for whether or not it "made sense" or would "read smoothly." I liked that, partly because it kept me engaged and sometimes surprised me a little.

The thesis of the book, as I understand it, is that society and the individual are fucked, and people are particularly fucked because they have been self- and otherwise deluded and have been repressed in their sexuality. The book seems to say that if people would be honest with themselves and with other people, honest about what they do (be it fix cars, teach classes, give lapdances (several characters are strippers)) and what they want, they would be marginally happier or at least not full of shit.

There is a particular emphasis on sex and sexuality in the book. Cicero writes repeatedly that sex, particularly uninhibited and "honest" sex (honest in the sense that one sees sex as "simply" a healthy, pleasurable activity as opposed to a dramatized institution), is a rare and wonderful good in the world. There are many scenes of sex, some of it consciously "depraved" and seemingly cathartic. Many of the characters are open to homosexual attractions and sex. There is a defense if not an affirmation of prostitution and stripping. I felt that the depictions of "depraved" or violent sex were effective in that they felt "realer" or more thought/image-provoking to me than many other sex scenes I have read in books.

In the final part of the novel, "Civilization," Cicero ranges even more freely than previous parts, imagining a visit from the President to Youngstown, followed by a mass murder of its citizens by the U.S. military; providing amusing commentary on an abbreviated history of civilization; beginning another section by saying "Let's get personal," before presumedly speaking directly as author, removing even more filter from the writing voice; scenes of a man and a woman eating in a diner and of the narrator alone and suicidal and despairing; hilarious parodies of church slogans; the narrator offering some last words.

The paragraphs are a sentence or two each, sentagraphs. The style is clipped. Direct. Showing and telling at once. Exaggerated. Specific. Narrative and non-narrative. Blows and blows to the body then collapsing on the floor.

"I sat down on the floor and looked at her.

She was crying.

Then she stood up and lied down on the floor.

Her face had a look of serenity and peace.

It was weird.

She sat like that for ten minutes.

Not talking.

Just lying there still and relaxed.

She eventually came out of it."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Everything is Quiet" by Kendra Grant Malone

I liked this book a lot, as I expected. Kendra Grant Malone is one of my favorite contemporary poets. These poems are about a woman living in New York City, drinking wine, crying, having sex, talking to her boyfriend, feeling angry, pitying herself, chasing pigeons, reflecting on her family members, her disabled brother---so many things.

The poem "Sylvia Plath At Sixteen" made me cry on a bus.

"I Never Believed In God" seems like a perfect poem, if such a thing exists.

"Little Girls Are Women Somehow In Some Way."

I don't know what to say. There's a lot of human emotion in this book.

"there is really no way / for me to explain how / really very pretty and / totally enthralling you are"

"i understand you / better when / you speak your / language rather / than mine"

"i'm not sure / how many more years / i can go on with this / being the only / the only / apparently the only / the only / the only one who loves / my dear brother"

"i chase things / that no one views / as precious / so that i am not looked upon / as a monster / (although i am)"

"all i can think of / is that i want you all / to be quiet / very quiet / quiet as death / so i can think about / myself / without your cries / and wails and fits / of interpretation"

"Ventriloquism" by Prathna Lor

My review of Ventriloquism by Prathna Lor is at Smalldoggies Magazine.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Frowns Need Friends Too" by Sam Pink

This book impressed me a lot. I liked it very much. It is 150 or so pages of Sam Pink's poems, written between 2007 and 2009. This book was very satisfying to me. By the end of it, I had spent a lot of time with this person, this narrator of all these poems, and I liked him, liked the blunt and the beautiful things he said, felt as if he had made me feel better about being alive even as he had reminded me how shitty things can be. And I felt like he had tried to be a poet but only his kind of poet, as he defined it, as he could do it, and I don't see any other way to be even remotely satisfied with my work than to be my own kind of writer.

The poems seem taken mostly from real life experiences and thoughts and emotions, with some use of fantastical or obviously fictional elements. I repeatedly found myself surprised by a line mid-poem, felt like the poem was "blowing my mind." Many of the poems seemed metaphysical, which I really liked. There seemed to be an awareness of nothingness as well as of everything being related.

When I first read some of Sam Pink's work online, I immediately appreciated it, but I think I kept telling myself things like, "He's really talented and funny, but why is he so negative all the time? Isn't it 'easier'/'a cop out' to be negative all the time?" Having read this book, I feel like I had an ignorant idea of what Sam's poems were doing. I also think the moments of direct tenderness in his work (which I may have initially missed or hadn't yet encountered) are all the more moving because of the negative-sounding things that surround them. The thought that this book kept giving me was that condemning one's body and oneself and other people can be some sort of paradoxical renewal of mind and body, given the knowledge that time and the human body and everything is limited and wasting away. By making bodies more tangible and rotten, by violence in word or thought, by giving oneself a concussion of the heart, one can feel alive again.

I loved many lines in this book, but here are some:

"But yes, jump off a building onto a smaller building and do that until you are on the ground then dig a hole and act like you don't want to ever see anyone again."

"I am horny to be a dead bird smashed in a drinking fountain at the park."

"Everyone is exactly the same. Everyone is describing the same thing. I am part of the thing being described."

"Little kids and animals like me."

"...I was very cold lying on the banks of a small pond in the middle of the woods alone, talking to a bald dandelion."

"I need to find someone who will buy walkie talkies with me, and then go out into public and walk side by side saying, 'fuck you, over' back and forth."

"There is a point at which the frequency and nature of your communications come close to actually forming a relationship and it is that point I have searched out with scientific care."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Tao / 25 / Reading

I had a lot of fun this week. On Tuesday, I went to Quickie's, which is a really fun reading series. It is run by Mary Hamilton and Lindsay Hunter, who are both very nice. In honor of the recent release of Lindsay's book, Daddy's, all the readers did a version or send-up of Lindsay's trademark southern reading voice and imaginatively sexual stories.

On Wednesday, Brett Gallagher came to town again to stay with me. Tao Lin was in town, and we had plans to see both of his readings. Tao had told me when he was arriving. He was going to get some sleep at a hotel after having slept very little the last couple of days.

Brett and I killed time doing various things and then headed over to Wicker Park. We debated whether or not we wanted to get dinner beforehand or not. We decided to head over to Quimby's because the reading was starting soon. We saw Sam Pink. Brett and I said hi to him and talked with him a little bit. Steve Roggenbuck and Leif Haven showed up together. They have classes together at Columbia. I am happy they know each other. We talked and then Tao showed up. He came over and said hi and then he went to get ready for the reading. People laughed at what Tao read, which was the opening of Richard Yates (one man who was standing behind some bookshelves to the side of where people were seated for the reading was "doubled over" "uncontrollably laughing" and sort of "averting"/"swinging away" his face whenever a new "fit" of laughter would begin). I enjoyed the reading. Afterwards there were some questions. My favorite was when a guy asked a long, involved question re Tao being a vegan and how that impacts his writing or what he thinks about it and then Tao said "I'm not a vegan" and everyone laughed. People brought up books to be signed and Roggenbuck had Tao sign his copy of Dante's Inferno.

After the reading, Leif left, and Brett, Steve, and I were joined by Cassandra Troyan and then by this "sex journalist" who had recently interviewed Tao. She said we were getting dinner with Tao. We went to a Chinese place nearby and had dinner. I was glad she was there because she seemed confident and talked about interviewing "johns" and "cougars" and attending orgies. She liked to do "claw hands" and hiss at us. She did it several times in Tao's direction. At one point she got up and walked over to some couches away from our booth and laid out on a couch. She stayed there for a while, occasionally looking over and hissing at us.

After dinner, we said goodbye to the sex journalist and Cassandra, and Tao, Steve, Brett, and I went to a nearby coffee place called The Wormhole. We hung out there for a while joking around and Tao did some internet things. Tao went back to his hotel.

Thursday, Brett and I went to Tao's reading at the Book Cellar. The sex journalist was there and Steve Roggenbuck came again too. There was less laughter at the second reading. Andrew James Weatherhead's parents were there and I introduced myself and talked to them. Afterwards, a guy who had been asking questions/making statements in the Q&A re Richard Yates the person came up to Tao and talked with him for a while. He seemed to have become inebriated during the reading and talked for a long time in a loud voice. At one point he suggested that Tao "make a plaster cast of Barack Obama and sell it on Ebay." After the reading, Tao, Steve, Brett, the sex journalist, and I got Indian food. We said goodbye to the sex journalist at the train.

Tao didn't have a hotel for the second night, so I offered to let him stay at my place. We took the train back to Southport, and then we hung out at my place for a while. I had told Tao that my roommates were going to a Dave Matthews Band concert, and he looked up YouTube videos of Carter Beauford demonstrating various drumming techniques. At some point conversation shifted to death metal and hardcore music, maybe because Steve used to play drums in a death metal band called Scopata di Morte. Brett and Steve discussed what was the "heaviest" song they had ever heard. Tao said repeatedly that he would like to hear "the heaviest song ever made." We looked at death metal videos on YouTube. Tao shot a video of my bedroom to show Jordan Castro and Mallory Whitten. We went up to the deck on my roof and sat for a while talking and trying to load a video of Scopata di Morte playing at Demonfest in 2005. The Internet was slow on the roof and wouldn't load to the part Steve had told us about where he did an impromptu cowbell solo. Eventually Steve left, I went to sleep, and Brett and Tao slept in the living room. In the morning, Brett left to catch a train back to Wheaton. Tao took a shower and then left to work on things by himself. He left me a spare copy of Noah Cicero's novel, The Condemned, for me and Brett and Steve to share. He said he would see me at the reading that night at Cassandra Troyan's apartment.

I edited my piece, "Serious European Art Film," that afternoon, and then met up with Steve and his girlfriend, Jessica, to go to Cassandra's place. It was my birthday. I was/am 25. It was the first time I had done a reading. There was a house party-type atmosphere at Cassandra's place. I was happy to meet Cassandra's friends and happy that people were there (I had already remarked to several people that I was happy to have met Cassandra). I had found out that afternoon that my friend, James Tadd Adcox, who edits Artifice magazine with Rebekah Silverman, coincidentally lives in the apartment directly above Cassandra's. So he came to the reading with Laura Szumowksi, which I was very happy about. Tao arrived, and he had bought me strawberry beer and a pair of organic socks. I felt comfortable and happy being around Tao and talking to him. I especially liked talking to him one on one, pointing at things and talking in soft voices. I was surprised how comfortable I felt after only a small amount of time.

People read: Richard Wehrenberg Jr. via Skype (very charming guy/nice "presence"/reading voice); Colin Winnette (funny/likable); Steve read his visual poems and everyone laughed a lot, it was great (video here, courtesy of Tao); Rebecca Cooling-Mallard read a piece that was accompanied by some nice-looking/intriguing images projected on a screen (interesting juxtaposition between the words and images); I read my piece (video here courtesy of Tao); Cody Troyan read via Skype (he seemed confident/I liked his "demeanor"; I felt an immediate "urge" to come up to the laptop screen after he read and "shoot the shit" with him); finally, Cassandra, who read poems as well as did a performance art thing where she walked out the front door with a megaphone and had someone on the street read one of her poems as we looked through the windows (Steve and I picked up the two laptops with Richard and Cody's heads in them and carried them to the window so they could see too) (there was a loud street festival going on right outside). I liked Cassandra's performance, and also what she did after that, which was stand silently and stare at the audience while "Whatever You Like" by T.I. played.

I enjoyed the reading a lot. I was excited to meet everyone. Tao was leaving to catch his 6 A.M. plane to Michigan. I had said goodbye inside, but when I walked out the front door a few minutes later, Tao was still there, about to walk away with Steve and Jessica. I said something and then they started walking down the block and we waved at each other and I stood on the stoop.

I crashed on Cassandra's fold-out couch. People came back to the apartment from the bars at 5 A.M. and blasted some music, including "Birthday Sex" by Jeremih. I woke up at 8:30, folded up the couch, and left.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs" by Ellen Kennedy

I liked this book. It contains 3 stories and 20 poems. It was the first publication by Muumuu House and is now in its second edition. Steve Roggenbuck loaned me his copy.

The poems and stories seem to describe the events and emotions in a person's life during and after a significant relationship. The protagonist and other characters are sometimes given the names of famous people, including Woody Allen, Norm Macdonald, and Ned Vizzini, who, amusingly, is most famous for a novel called Be More Chill. The characters seem to be sad and lonely and occasionally very happy. There also seem to be a lot of poems that suggest how depressing it can be to feel alienated from your peers or family in addition to the depressing aspects of existing at all.

In the context of unadorned, declarative sentences and very realistic events and directly expressed emotions, the aspects of the book that seemed more imagined than personally experienced stood out to me. One example is how the first story, "Eoody Mobby," opens, with a smoothie vender accidentally running over and killing a sleeping homeless woman with his cart. There are also a number of poems that use various animals to convey ideas and feelings, as in "Manatees," where a catalogue of different animals in different locations doing different things culminates in the image of "a lost manatee orbiting the earth [...] not feeling safe or relaxed but rather feeling a profound sense of loneliness and desperation with a complete loss of hope in ever finding a meaning in existence." Also intriguing to me was how apparently female characters were sometimes given the names of male celebrities, as in the first story, where the name Woody Allen is given to a character who appears to be a stand-in for the poet.

Many poets are praised for the way they use form or play with language or express their politics or try to reshape experience. I can appreciate those things. But what I like most of all in poetry, in a poet, is a way of seeing and feeling that makes me shiver and well up. I read the title poem, "Sometimes My Heart Pushes My Ribs," a simple informative declaration that the poet is going to send a package to someone with their name on it and send it, and then an "okay?", and I felt a surge of emotion. I like not knowing quite why.

"Rest your face on the other side of my neck
Close your eyes
Wait for sleep"

"Paterson" by William Carlos Williams

I liked this book. I enjoyed a much greater percentage of it than I did of Volume I of his Collected Poems. It had a lot of interesting ideas about poetry and a lot of memorable lines and sections.

Paterson is a city in New Jersey near where William Carlos Williams lived. He seems to have made an effort in this book to evoke both the history of a place, an American city, and the life of an individual, the poet, himself. This seems effective to me as a framing/guiding device for the book, although I tend to be most interested in the individual, in people.

Paterson is composed of five books, the fifth of which Carlos Williams added late in life, after people assumed the series of Paterson books was over. He apparently also made some effort, despite his failing health, to begin a sixth book, but only fragments from that are included at the end of the book. This extended project, added to until death, reminds me of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, which had, finally, a "deathbed edition."

I don't know of a concise way to summarize the techniques and subjects covered in this book, which contains, alongside poems, prose, letters from other poets, and newspaper clippings. So I will include some of my favorite lines from the various volumes and say, in closing, that this book seems like a very impressive achievement, the result of many years of thinking and feeling.

BOOK ONE (1946)
"Say it! No ideas but in things."

"Which is to say, though it be poorly / said, there is a first wife / and a first beauty, complex, ovate--- / the woody sepals standing back under / the stress to hold it there, innate / a flower within a flower whose history / (within the mind) crouching / among the ferny rocks, laughs at the names / by which they think to trap it. Escapes! / Never by running but by lying still---"

BOOK TWO (1948)
"Only my writing (when I write) is myself: only that is the real me in any essential way. Not because I bring to literature and to life two indifferent sets of values, as you do. No, I don't do that; and I feel that when anyone does do it, literature is turned into just so much intellectual excrement fit for the same stinking hole as any other kind."

"The province of the poem is the world / When the sun rises, it rises in the poem / and when it sets darkness comes down / and the poem is dark"

"The place sweats of staleness and of rot / a back-house stench . a / library stench / It is summer! stinking summer / Escape from it---but not by running / away. Not by 'composition.' Embrace the / foulness / ---the being taut, balanced between / eternities"

BOOK FOUR (1951)
"---while he was still in the hotel business, a tall and rather beautiful woman came to his desk one day to ask if there were any interesting books to be had on the premises. He, being interested in literature, as she knew, replied that his own apartment was full of them and that, though he couldn't leave at the moment --- Here's my key, go up and help yourself.

She thanked him and went off. He forgot all about her.

After lunch he too went to his rooms not remembering until he was at the door that he had no key. But the door was unlatched and as he entered, a girl was lying naked on the bed. It startled him a little. So much so that all he could do was to remove his own clothes and lie beside her. Quite comfortable, he soon fell into a heavy sleep. She also must have slept.

They wakened later, simultaneously, much refreshed."

BOOK FIVE (1958)
"It is the imagination
which cannot be fathomed.
It is through this hole
we escape . ."

Friday, September 3, 2010

"AM/PM" by Amelia Gray

I liked this book. I was paging through it at a bookstore and found myself really enjoying it, and laughing, and saying "damn" when I'd get to the end of a story, so I bought it. The book contains 120 micro-stories or short shorts, whatever you want to call them, stories of less than a page. Nearly every story is, in my opinion, remarkably smart, very carefully made, very precise in its prose, often funny. The stories seemed emotional and philosophical, sad and joyful and wise. The book's been out for a while, so I'm probably the last person to discover this.

The stories vary widely, but a common thread seems to be an existential outlook on life manifested in either everyday events or creatively imagined scenarios. Some characters and scenarios recur throughout the collection. One of my favorite recurring scenarios involves two friends apparently trapped in a box, talking in the dark. Most characters are identified only by their names, but I felt Gray achieved an impressive depth and subtlety of characterization via the characters' actions, words, and thoughts. The stories seemed very exactingly written, and interested in emotions as much as ideas. They seemed like jokes, like aphorisms, like life.

It reminded me a little of Barthelme, if he were more personal, less flamboyantly erudite. It seems to be in the tradition of Russell Edson and Lydia Davis, fellow writers of concise wowers. This book impressed me a lot.

"Just because you made it warm doesn't make it yours: A lesson for felines.

Feline Posits: What if one makes it warm for a long time?

A Response: I will still put it on the towel rack, because it is still a towel.

Feline Posits: What if one conveys pride of ownership via claws?

A Response: Nothing is truly owned, supporting nothing is truly yours.

[...] Feline Posits: What is to become of us, then, and our loneliness?

A Response: Be blessed with the temporary nature of the towel, and of your body."

"Pan" by Knut Hamsun

I liked this book. It is subtitled "From the Papers of Lieutenant Thomas Glahn," and Thomas is the narrator throughout the book until an addendum of sorts, or an unusual additional section at the end, which is purportedly a document written by someone who knew Glahn. The main narrative line or plot involves Thomas' relationship with a woman named Edvarda. I loved the parts with Edvarda. She seemed like an interesting and unpredictable character. They live in a rural part of Norway, and Thomas spends a lot of time alone, often walking through the woods or down roads alone until he runs into other people. There are a lot of interesting descriptions of nature, and the book felt calming and meditative to me in certain sections.

The prose seemed concise and poetic. I liked how the form, the shape, of the chapters and paragraphs seemed creative and intuitive. I also liked how the narrator switched freely between the past tense and the present tense, as if reliving or heightening the sensation of moments that occurred in the past. What was perhaps most intriguing to me about the book was the juxtaposition of the natural imagery and romantic-seeming moments with a very subtle feeling of uncertainty and menace. The section at the end, narrated by someone else, complicates the preceding narrative and casts doubt on the nature of Thomas Glahn. I definitely want to read more books by Hamsun.

"At this moment someone came quickly toward us, everyone saw her, it was Edvarda. She comes straight up to me, says a few words and falls on my neck---she clasps her arms around my neck and kisses me on the lips again and again. She says something each time, but I can't hear what it is. I couldn't understand the whole thing, my heart had stopped, I just noticed the burning look in her eyes. When she let go of me, her little bosom rose and fell. There she stood, lingering, with her dusky face and neck, tall and slim, with flashing eyes, completely reckless; everyone was staring at her. For the second time I was thrilled by her dark eyebrows, which rose in a high curve on her forehead.

But good God, the girl had kissed me in front of everybody!

'What is it, Miss Edvarda?' I asked, and I hear my blood throbbing, hear it as it were from my throat, it prevents me from speaking clearly.

'Oh, nothing,' she answers. 'I just felt like it. It doesn't matter.'"

Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Trout Fishing in America," "The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster," and "In Watermelon Sugar" by Richard Brautigan

I bought this book that collects together two novels and one poem collection by Richard Brautigan. I liked it. The first thing I liked was the cover of Trout Fishing in America (I liked the covers of the other two books as well, which are reproduced inside). I have thought in the past that it would be cool if authors put photos of themselves or something from their real life on the covers of their books. Trout Fishing in America's cover has a photo of Brautigan with a woman in front of a statue of Benjamin Franklin.

I found Trout Fishing in America consistently amusing. Occasionally the humor felt silly in an unfunny way, but mostly it was witty and made me think the writing was deceptively casual. The style often seems simple or conversational, but the turns in logic and the way he ends paragraphs or startled me with a sentence or mysteriously closed out his often very short chapters was very interesting and satisfying to me. Also intriguing to me was the way Brautigan uses Trout Fishing in America as an all-purpose proper noun and theme. There's a character named Trout Fishing in America Shorty, and something to do with trout fishing is included in nearly every chapter. The repetition and the creative use of the phrase and concept suggested to me a novel-long building of an abstract notion through concrete people and things. The chapters are as creative and linguistically precise as a great collection of poems, and the recurrent notion of fishing, of an American pastime as fluid metaphor, seemed effective to me.

All three of these books are creative and feel lived-in, made me think Brautigan lived a fun life, but that is especially true of the poetry collection, The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster. These poems are very short and very charming, in my opinion. The book and many of the poems are dedicated to a "Miss Marcia Pacaud of Montreal, Canada." I like that. There are sexual poems, poems about sadness that didn't make me feel sad, joyful musical poems, poems with real-life people as protagonists (there's a series of poems with Baudelaire doing various things that I liked a lot). I really enjoyed this book a lot. Brautigan seems like he'd be fun to hang out with.

I liked In Watermelon Sugar as well, but it seemed slightly more belabored than the others. Rather than flitting from poem to poem or coming at a theme from fresh angles every page or so, this book seems to have something closer to a "proper novelistic form" with a story and more explicitly developed themes. It seemed very creative and charming to me, like the others, but I thought it a dragged a bit, despite its short chapters, and hammered home its points a bit more. In this book there are several recurrent words used as themes---this time it's watermelon sugar, iDEATH, and inBOIL. A group of characters hang in and around a place called iDEATH, and many of their household items and clothes are made from watermelon sugar. There's a backstory about tigers and a falling out with a character called inBOIL. The falling out seems to be over one's attitude toward iDEATH, or perhaps simply death. I enjoyed the story, but I like Brautigan best when he is free to wander wherever his whim, because his mind seems as sharp as it is funny as it is joyful even in sadness.

"listening to The Mamas and The Papas

singing a song about breaking
somebody's heart and digging it!

I think I'll get up
and dance around the room.

Here I go!"

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"The Voice Imitator" by Thomas Bernhard

I liked this book. It made me laugh a lot. There are 104 stories in it, each no more than a page long, some as short as a sentence or two. They are anecdotes drawn from newspaper reports, stories people told Bernhard, and his own experience. Each is like a fable or a joke. I actually laughed my ass off on a regular basis while reading this book. I highly recommend it. I read the Kenneth J. Northcott translation.

Thomas Bernhard had an incurable lung disease, tuberculosis, throughout most of his life. Perhaps relatedly, this book is consistently morbid and its humor is very dark. But no matter how brutal the satire in these stories, or how misanthropic, I never felt alienated from the author. I felt like he was encouraging me to laugh at how ridiculous everything can be, from politics to academia to the idiosyncrasies of people's behavior, and above all, the randomness of life and death.

Many of the stories had titles that seemed deadpan or like sarcastic commentaries on the text of the story. For example, a story called "Inner Compulsion" is about these firemen who pull away the safety blanket and run away at the exact moment a suicidal man, who has been threatening for hours to jump to his death, actually jumps to his death; the firemen defend themselves in court by saying they acted "out of a sudden inner compulsion." This is also an example of another thing Bernhard does often in the book, which is to italicize certain phrases, presumably for sarcastic emphasis. He also uses the phrase "in the nature of things" very often, which I interpreted as being sarcastically formal as well as an implied philosophical commentary---this is how things are, horrible shit happens constantly and one's best intentions are oftentimes for naught. Also, everyone dies, sooner or later.

"In June of last year, a Tyrolean was arraigned on a charge of murdering a schoolchild from Imst and was sentenced to life imprisonment. [...] The Tyrolean had murdered the schoolchild from Imst with a so-called mason's mallet."

"The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume I (1909-1939)"

Two years ago, I bought every William Carlos Williams book they had at some store. I have been slowly reading through this first volume of "The Collected Poems" since then, reading most of it while living in Lakeview in 2009-10. Today I finished it. The book contains 6 previously published long works/collections plus the uncollected poems from each time period, all presented chronologically.

My favorites sections of the book were "Spring and All" and "The Descent of Winter," both of which mix prose with poetry, and both of which present Williams' philosophical ideas re poetry and art in general. If I had to summarize Williams' position, I'd say he believes that art relies upon the imagination, and that by renewing language one can recreate the world, as opposed to merely describing the world.

I tended to like his later works more than this earlier ones. Many of my favorite individual poems were love poems. I felt dissatisfied or bored re many of his "nature imagery" poems, although there were exceptions, such as "Birds and Flowers" ("Nothing is lost! [...] Though the eye turns inward, the mind / has spread its embrace---in / a wind that / roughs the stiff petals--- / More! the particular flower is / blossoming..."). There were long stretches in the book where I didn't care for any of the poems.

I am interested in reading more of his later work at some point. Paterson and a book containing Pictures from Brueghel, The Desert Music, and Journey to Love are on my bookshelf.

"Good Christ what is
a poet---if any

a man
whose words will
their way
home---being actual
having the form
of motion"

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Bed" by Tao Lin

I liked this book. I had previously read all of Tao's books except for this one and his first poetry collection, you are a little bit happier than i am (still have yet to read that one). Bed has a much different prose style than a lot of Tao's writing, especially his more recent writing. There are long sentences in Bed with many clauses; there are---to allow for lists or multiple embedded clauses---semicolons; and he includes a lot of similes and metaphors.

The nine stories in Bed seem to feature mostly sad characters, many of whom are going through periods in their lives when they are unsure of the future/what they are doing/what they will ever do. I liked some stories more than others, but all of the stories impressed me in terms of conventional notions of execution in the short story form (careful and often creative word choice, interesting characters, presentation and development of themes), and I liked how the stories seemed to present the characters' emotions in a forthright way.

My favorite stories in the collection, which I really loved, were "Love is a Thing on Sale for More Money Than There Exists," "Three-Day Cruise," "Love is the Indifferent God of the Religion in which Universe is Church," and "Sasquatch." The first is the story of a relationship, and I was very interested to find that elements of Richard Yates, Tao's most recent book, can be found in this, the first story in his first book. The arguments the couples have, re timeliness, consideration, weight gain, as well as the notion of lying in a relationship, are present in both works.

"Three-Day Cruise" is a story about a family. I really liked the characterization of the family members, and I thought it had a very effective opening and ending. This story has all of the elements I love in Tao's work: a strangeness, a diversity of tone, philosophical ideas, and parts that made me feel emotional.

"Love is the Indifferent God of the Religion in which Universe is Church" is the kind of story I will have to read several more times to feel like I better understand it. It is about two brothers, the older brother's girlfriend, and a mysterious little girl named Michelle who go to the same Japanese restaurant three times in 48 hours. I feel like I could write a long essay on just this story. It has very interesting and curious characters; there are a lot of metaphors and philosophical ideas in it; the ending is ambiguous.

"Sasquatch," the last story, is possibly my single favorite (it's either that or "Three-Day Cruise"), and for me it was a very satisfying end to the collection. It is about a girl who works at Denny's, her emotions, and her relationship with her father. It is very beautiful, I feel.

"Though she'd begun to get a little fat that winter, it was in February, around when her father found a toy poodle (sitting there, in the side yard, watchful and expectant as a person), and adopted it, that a weightlessness entered into Chelsea's blood---an inside ventilation, like a bacteria of ghosts---and it was sometime in the fall, before her 23rd birthday, that her heart, her small and weary core, neglected now for years, vanished a little, from the center out, took on the strange and hollowed heaviness of a weakly inflated balloon."

"The Fermata" by Nicholson Baker

I liked this book. I was interested in reading Nicholson Baker because of Zachary German's positive reviews of his books. The narrator in The Fermata is a man who can stop time at will and can then interact with the frozen people/things however he wants for as long as he wants. He has many names for this phenomenon, among them the Fold and the Fermata, which refers to the held note in musical notation. Mostly he uses the Fold to satisfy his sexual curiosity by taking women's clothes off. Sometimes he tries to seduce women, using the Fold as an unusual advantage. Some chapters in the book are the texts of erotica that he writes in hopes that one woman or any woman will read it and become aroused.

I like the idea of the Fermata. I like that Baker identifies it as coming from within the narrator and then does not explain or justify its existence any further. Baker's writing caused me to think about how one's desires for intimacy or freedom might manifest as sexual thoughts. Baker's prose style seemed carefully controlled but also conversational, which was appealing to me, and I enjoyed the narrator's personality.

The books with first-person narration that I have loved (The Catcher in the Rye, Beckett's trilogy, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, et al.) were particularly enjoyable for me because I felt drawn into the voice of the book and through that drawn into the character or perhaps the author. It feels like an interesting new friend is telling me a long story.

"But sometimes when I'm recording detailed notes as I remove a woman's clothes ('left bra strap fallen' or 'panties inside out and worked partway into asscrack') so that I will be sure to replace everything perfectly, just as it was, I feel a gurgle of Arlette's joyful who-gives-a-fuckness working in me, and I want to strip the entire city of Boston and mound all the clothes together in the middle of Washington Square and dance on top of them screaming, 'We're totally fucking naked, we're totally fucking naked!'---or failing that (since sudden widespread big-city nudity could lead to rapes and other unforeseen turbulence), I might want to strip everyone in an idyllic small town like Northampton and see how they would adjust to it."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

"Hunger" by Knut Hamsun

I liked this book a lot. I read it because I know it is one of Tao Lin's favorite books, or that it was a "seminal read" for him, and also because I knew it was supposed to have paved the way for a lot of the big Modernist writers. Also, I idly paged through it at Half-Price Books when I was back in Milwaukee with my friend Bill, and I liked the prose. I read the Robert Bly translation.

What's striking to me about this book is that the subject matter, the situation of the first-person narrator, is very depressing, and yet the narrator seems joyful in a way, or playful. The book is about a struggling writer walking around Christiania, Norway starving. He seems kind of self-denying or self-destructive, depending on your viewpoint, because he turns down food a few times and gives away money that he receives. As the book goes on, he starts to have outbursts and to act strangely. It becomes increasingly possible that he might starve to death or go crazy. Yet there is always something matter-of-fact about the prose; the narrator, and by extension the author, never adds melodrama or extraneous commentary or moralizing to the actions and thoughts of the narrator. I liked that.

There is also a romantic interlude, if you like, or a part with a woman he meets, and I won't ruin it. I mention it because I like when there's some kind of romantic something to a book, not necessarily romantic in a conventional way, I like it when the narrator feels something for someone else in a book, especially if it feels natural and uncontrived or innocent or cute in a way. Like, for example, in Chilly Scenes of Winter by Ann Beattie, the protagonist longs for this married woman ("the one who got way") the whole book, and that really kept me intrigued and wondering what would happen with them, especially because his thoughts about her were presented in a very realistic way, in my opinion (I also highly recommend Chilly Scenes of Winter---it's very funny and not nearly as depressing as Hunger).

I think I will keep these reviews, if one can call them that, short, for the most part, so here I end: the book puts you inside someone's head during a desperate time, but the narrator and the prose are not desperate, they are appealingly, plainly alive.

"All at once I snapped my fingers a couple of times and laughed. Hellfire and damnation! I suddenly imagined I had discovered a new word! I sat up in bed, and said: It is not in the language, I have discovered it---Kuboaa. It has letters just like a real word, by sweet Jesus, man, you have discovered a word!...Kuboaa...of tremendous linguistic significance.

The word stood out clearly in front of me in the dark."