My Writing

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.'"