WHAT THE STARS ARE SAYING by Olivia 子琁 Tun When I hear about the death of a friend’s baby, it usually takes my heart two or three days to catch up to the news, to feel what a heart ought to feel, something like sorrow, or anger, or befuddlement, not necessarily in that order, and generally all at once. When Daniel’s baby girl died at just eleven months old, I downloaded all of her pictures on facebook, stared at them for hours, days, until I resembled less of a mourner and more of an addict, having no intention of giving up her addiction. “Emma will be forever missed,” someone posted on Daniel’s wall. Emma is (was?) short for Emmanuel: God with us. When Corey’s baby boy died yesterday, at nine months old, I went to the coffee shop two blocks from my apartment in Long Island City, found my usual spot by … chop! chop! read more!
DO NOT USE QUOTATION MARKS TO INDICATE IRONY by Anthony Wallace David Sarnovski taught only one creative writing course at Boston University, so he didn’t have an office. Sometimes he conferenced students in the Espresso Royale at BU Central, sometimes in a filthy Chinese restaurant at Kenmore called the Jade Inn. Sometimes he would just pull into an empty classroom, have a seat at one of the desks, and start talking about whatever he thought the issue was. Madison had met with him twice before and had tried to follow through on at least some of his suggestions, but the grades only seemed to be getting worse. He’d given her a B on the video store story, then a B minus on the Dog Chapel story. One of his comments was “do not use quotation marks to indicate irony.” Sure, she’d done that a few times, but it was hard … chop! chop! read more!
Click to view the update in higher resolution. Jim O’Loughlin teaches in the Department of Languages & Literatures at the University of Northern Iowa. He is the coordinator of the Final Thursday Reading Series and publisher of Final Thursday Press. Read more here. … chop! chop! read more!
IT’S NOT A CONTEST by William Winfield Wright But if we wanted to, we could paint speeding cars, sneak into business class, eat oysters in months with a W, turn back clocks with just our fingers, and mend the wind-up toy versions of both our broken hearts. “How,” says the movie Indian inside your tired and frantic brain. “Weight,” says the bathroom scale we both got on together. “Clear,” says the busy maitre d. “Stile,” says your backyard fence full of flowers. The noisy kitchen’s full of “bathe, warm, coddle, grate, zest.” “Here, here,” says the old British guy on TV. “Join,” say the corners of all your sturdy furniture. “Wing,” say the birds in your small tree. William Winfield Wright is a Fulbright Scholar and a Fishtrap Fellow. He was born in California and lives in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he teaches at Colorado Mesa University. He has … chop! chop! read more!
CONVERSATIONS OVERHEARD IN A BOWLING ALLEY WHEN THERE IS A CITY WIDE POWER OUTAGE by Jennifer Faylor My childhood sweetheart left me because I am an ancient jar of honey, forgotten about but still sweetening in a cool dark place, a thousand furious bees having loved me into existence. My mama let strangers hide under my bed, then fed them in the morning; cold coconut soup, her specialty. Well, the day of my birth my pop was no where to be found, and legend has it he was hunting down a local villain, it’s that or he was on a park bench with a handful of breadcrumbs, conducting interviews with a sampling of the pigeon population. I’d like to learn the language of god, so I can chat at night when everyone else has gone to sleep. The hardest part is that I don’t think god uses an alphabet. I … chop! chop! read more!
ON THE MIRACLE MILE by Andrea Jarrell It was lunchtime on the Miracle Mile—a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles that’s not quite downtown and not quite the West Side. My mother, who always hated the hot, walked beside me in her crisp linen dress. Beneath the linen, her stockings and slip made a fft fft shifting sound, keeping time to the click of her slingback pumps. Heat waves bent the air. The streets were empty—streets that had civilized what was once ice, then tar pits, then desert. All had made way for the city of angels. Beside my mother, I was office appropriate in a banana yellow cotton skirt and top combo. I was eleven and it was 1973, when all the clothes were Laffy Taffy colors. From elementary school through high school, I spent my summers working with my mother, who was a secretary in a lawyer’s … chop! chop! read more!
THE BIOLOGICAL NEED TO ADAPT by Lily Brent If I miss one thing it’s the butterfly mobile I bought in Mexico, now hanging on a nail and gathering dust. One of the painted cardboard butterflies has already been crushed and smoothed out and you can still see the seams. I don’t remember exactly where I bought it, only that it was at the green side of a gravel road. I want to say it was at the bottom of that pyramid of stairs, but maybe I’m only trying to glorify the place in my mind. If I’ll miss one thing it’s the market. The teenage boys grinning and joking and slapping me on the back. The women calling out my name and touching my arms and pinching my waist to tell me I’ve grown fat or thin, when really it’s neither. Making me feel I belong when we all know … chop! chop! read more!
HIDE-AND-SEEK by Alex Schmidt He hides under hot lamps and sandpaper eyes. Lay your wrist on the sidewalk. I can draw chalk in your veins, father. Whatever we are turns the corner, frozen despite his friction, friction despite my icy eyes thanks to mother. A pressure that’s bonded my mind to hers like the bolts of this bridge but over his void. Father, wait no longer and wander further with me to the felled park. All lands must wait their wait for a green of crops. A mystery exacted only until its black blanket smother of wall a distance between father and son. And now its time one of us admits we’ve already arrived. You burgeon into peony as air unfurls its density, warmth, puff balls. Rather, father, let them around your pedals. Duck back away into the trees, close your eyes, we can hide differently this time. Alex Schmidt holds … chop! chop! read more!
THE RUNNER by Jane Sussman She has begun to go to the gym twice a day, once in the morning, once in the evening. She will run fast, moving up the speed every five minutes, until it is going at nine and she can barely breathe. Roxy’s body has transformed in the last year; no more arm fat or slack ass, she is all sinew. Her shoulders have ridges, indents. The weight room is emptier in the morning and she can stand in front of the mirror watching her triceps, her deltoids. Roxy gets lost on the way to her aunt’s, and by the time she finds the right street she knows she will have to turn around pretty soon. Her father had warned her, so Roxy is not wholly surprised at the mess of the house, the smell. “Lenore,” she hugs her, “You need to get a cleaning service … chop! chop! read more!
TWO POEMS by Paul Siegell *WE’VE COME FOR YOUR BLOOD TEST RESULTS* On the bridge, the birdgirl waits with a weight in her ribcage. Symbolically, a sailor and his sweetheart. A sparrow pecking at a cigarette. A sparrow pecking at salt for snow. Next to the pizza place, she keys up a door with a horseshoe over it, then goes to sleep with hair clips in—Like the firepower rainwater has on Fort Torch Falls, the level rises in a surge—Exhausted, she whispers into her pillow: “Bring me things with wings.” *WE’VE COME FOR YOUR YUENGLING YAMMERING* Frank O’Hara has a few nosey people coming over: “It’s a party!” he announces, then into the parking garage he disappears like the Boston Bruins blowing a three-games-to-none lead in the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Philadelphia Flyers. To my knowledge, Frank Zappa isn’t being played in any of the elevators in … chop! chop! read more!
THIS by Chavisa Woods Last night you wrote me a letter a smile big as a swollen peach gushing on your face while your mother intently told you everything about the people she hates Last week you phone fucked me on my childhood bed while my Southern Baptists slept resounded in the next room (Everything Southern Baptists do is resounding; not like my pitiful whispering.) In the morning I woke to a crow on a tree the imagination of you shaking in my belly and the news that my mother’s brother had swallowed the entire morphine clinic to the point of absolute death it made me feel like I was being eaten by the mouth of a grey sun, of a sun in an overcast sky but hotter than I’ve ever thought to beg for Later, sitting next to a strummed guitar on a rotting porch watching my brother toss … chop! chop! read more!
THE IMMACULATE SADNESS OF PETER J. BEECH by Dan Micklethwaite He misses it immediately, the soft glass of that screen. The sinking, only slightly, of his finger against it. There is a pining at work within him for that formed plastic mass. The minor desert of his palm looks back at him falsely without it; even more arid, now that the mirage is gone. The ways in which the sunlight, the tube-light, the streetlight had slipped across it, fussing with the things he was wanting to know—they’d nagged him as bad as the pleas of a lover, but he’d still opt for that above the warmth of that light on his bare open skin. So used to it. So accustomed. So comfortable, knowing it was with him, on him. In his pocket, his jacket, his hand. So used to bringing it home and charging it before he went to sleep each … chop! chop! read more!
SOMEWHERE, A HONEYBEE by Andrew Browers I kind of really love bees. While most kids were taught, through hilarious example by terrified adults, the various dance-like moves that help one evade these fuzzy little stingers, I learned to watch them buzz on by as they made their eponymous line toward a flower or fellow worker. I liked to watch them nestle into our rosebush to get at nectar and pollen. I liked it when they’d land on my shoe as I sprawled on my back to cloud gaze or read or while away my summertime days. I felt, I don’t know, like it was a little blessing. Bees be with you. And also with you. It might be an invention of mine, but I seem to remember there being way more bees around in those days. You could hardly walk from your door to the door of your best friend … chop! chop! read more!
LEAP YEAR BABY by Desiree Wilkins 1976: I spend my days on the couch with grandma while mom’s at work at the diner. Grandma eats chocolate bon-bons and watches soap operas. We play outside and she smokes a cigarette while I commence my plan to rid the world of bees. It’s quite simple: all I have to do is uproot every flower in the ground and the bees will not survive. There are many flowers and I have been unsuccessful in recruiting other revolutionaries. 1980: Mom is gone to California, leaving me with Grandma. She sends a postcard with no return address. There is a picture of the Hollywood sign. Grandma yells at her a lot over the phone. Mom hangs up. Grandma says mom flipped her lid. I put the postcard on the fridge. I want to visit but Grandma says there’s nothing out there for us. I have … chop! chop! read more!
THE LONG GREEN STRETCH, THE TALL TREES, THE CLOUDS SHAPED LIKE STARS by Benjamin Woodard I’m not supposed to get calls after nine, but when the phone rang, my old man didn’t stop me from answering. He’d already removed his leg for the night—it stood upright on the cushion next to him—so he just stayed there and stared me down with these death eyes, these ass-kicker eyes, as if I’d planned the whole thing to interrupt his lame TV show, and he grunted while I walked over to the cordless and slunk into the kitchen. It was Maura. She said, “God, I don’t even want to talk to you. I can smell your stink through the phone.” And, yes, I’m kind of dumb enough that I did a pit check. She heard me sniffing and made one of those disappointed tsk sounds on her end, like she was picking up … chop! chop! read more!
ALL THIS by Stephanie Papa I am on my knees. Fur collects In the room with the damp dog bed Peco the black cat Figure eights around me Ants crawl in the wooden kitchen below The smell of pesto and pine I am a long way up He planted the cherry tree in my garden Intensifying this place To again and again begin He built this house of light. Stephanie Papa is a writer and teacher living in Paris, France. She is originally from Pennsylvania. Her work has been published in the Prose Poetry Project and 5×5 magazine, Rumpus, and Cerise Press. She is a Poetry Editor for Her Royal Majesty magazine. She also organizes the Writers on Writing program, a series of readings with international writers in Paris. Image credit: Sonja Guina on Unsplash … chop! chop! read more!
LINEY’S SENSE OF IT by Ashlee Paxton-Turner It was the not-so-early morning, coming on about nine o’clock, in the early spring or end of winter, whichever one prefers, and Dr. Naismith’s game the Saturday prior had just made the town feel alive and made its boys feel like they could be men going somewhere, elsewhere. Dismissing the papers on the desk, it was decided that today Sherwood Anderson was more important. There is no sense in trying to explain just what that means, but it is something one can’t help feeling, something one might try to explain nevertheless. That Saturday, like all of the other Saturdays of the season, had brought the town out of its kitchens, living rooms, and Main Street offices. Of course, that Saturday’s game required a drive to a dusty gymnasium in a slightly bigger town. The hour’s drive to watch the boys play Dr. Naismith’s … chop! chop! read more!
TWO POEMS by Nicole Greaves Sack of Scarabs The museum’s glass box was hidden from light in between the hopeful columns, the scarabs swarming in a pool of cloth. Somehow they made the presence of my mother’s body more familiar, in the way her shadow made it more foreign. It takes a distraction to move us further from ourselves, at the same time, closer; it’s the sickness of the mirror, how it moves from reflection to the well to reflection again. My mother and I held hands as we walked, lest one of us be lost to the museum—and part of us is still there —the thin wrap of my wrist against hers like plagiarism, the rooms cool around us like wet paint. When she said my name it rose like a balloon in a circus tent. Those scarabs pressing against glass like my children’s faces to animal stunts, … chop! chop! read more!
THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET by Morgan Gilbreath My artwork is a product of the ground beneath my feet. I do not own a car, so my experience of a place is created entirely through biking, walking, and the occasional use of public transportation. Because of this, I have a very intimate relationship with sidewalks, as well as the buildings and streets with which they are connected. I am endlessly curious about the things that people discard onto the streets, a no-man’s-land of both public and private space in which no one is held accountable, allowing for a strange sort of freedom. This concrete space between roads and homes has proven to be one of the greatest influences in my work. In the morning I go to buy milk from the bodega across the street, where the shopkeeper’s knowledge of English is limited to “hello” and “thank you.” I like … chop! chop! read more!
AMERICA by Michael Nagel The world was churning itself clean. The poisons in the rivers were becoming poisons in the seas. The poisons in the seas were basically harmless, diluted. Rain was moving in cycles, making laps between the ground and the sky. Runoff was still an issue, would always be an issue, sure, but the world was mostly one big compost pile, turning heaps of garbage into highly oxygenated soil. Nothing was unnatural. Beavers make dams and humans make cities. Everyone was close by. In America, minimum wage was $7.25 and a gallon of gas cost $3.34. There was something wrong with our soup but we were taking care of it. Molly threw a party and invited everyone she knew. Seventeen people came. She smashed up ice in the kitchen sink and asked her husband if everyone was having a nice time. Then she cried and wiped her eyes with … chop! chop! read more!
QUITTER TAKES ALL by Maggie Light A review? In the Times? Impossible. It’s an Off-Off-Broadway. Two offs. And Beth is only sixteen. Yet Cedric Plum’s judgment, the judgment, is seven paragraphs and in her sunburned hands. But why now? Weeks after her opening? While she’s trapped in South Carolina? So she should read this, right? This would be good, or why bother. Right? But what does Mr. Plum mean by cute? By not unfolding? Oh. No. The thunderbolt from reading the words—an anathema on the stage—only shocks Beth for a split second. That’s because she faints. Fades into darkness atop the bright beach rental’s kitchen floor. Beth has never fainted before, and it’s a gradual ordeal. The Arts & Leisure section sails to the sandy lime vinyl faster than she does. “Beth? We’re back,” her mother calls from somewhere. “Stop playing around, sweetie.” Michael, her ensuing stepdad, who has an … chop! chop! read more!
GHOST STORY by Lydia Pudzianowski “Were you looking for ghosts?” The police officer inspected the three of us—twenty-one, twenty-two, and twenty-three years old. There was no way we could tell him the truth. Earlier that afternoon we’d passed my hardcover copy of Weird Pennsylvania back and forth over takeout Thai food on the floor of our apartment, which was getting emptier as each newly graduated roommate moved her belongings out. Between forkfuls of pad see-ew, I pointed out that we weren’t far from one of the book’s allegedly haunted places. Under the right conditions, Irwin Road, in Pittsburgh’s North Park neighborhood, was said to be permeated by a blue mist and any combination of witches, evil dwarves, hanging ghosts, deer-human hybrids, and lonely dogs. Up until then, we’d had no post-lunch plans. We didn’t have post-college plans either, but this would at least occupy us for an evening. Twelve hours … chop! chop! read more!
AMERICAN ARCADIA by Filip Noterdaeme Spicing up realist landscapes with fantastic nudes and infiltrating austere family tableaux with whimsical eroticism, American Arcadia is a mixed distillation of artful irreverence and subtle mischief. Here is the story of its making. In 2005, my partner Daniel Isengart and I took a trip to Madrid, where we spent many hours at the Prado and the Reina Sofia. On the day of our return to the States, we found ourselves aimlessly browsing through the souvenir shop at the Madrid-Barajas airport, where a pocket-format deck of cards depicting famous nudes by (mostly) European masters—some of which we had seen at the Prado—caught my attention. On a whim, I bought it. Back in Brooklyn, I happened to walk past a stoop sale one late morning and, among the usual junk and knick-knacks, made out an extra-large deck of playing cards with prints depicting “American Life, Manners and History” … chop! chop! read more!
REMNANTS by Julia Hogan The day my father’s friend, Wade, tried to build us a screened-in porch on the front of our house was the day my mother decided to move out. Wade made his living by selling muscadine grapes and handmade cowboy hats. He lived in a trailer off of I-85, on a piece of land that used to be large but had been whittled away as he sold acres to pay for his liquor without having to get a regular job. Wade enlarged his trailer with plywood and sheet metal and duct tape. My mother called him a redneck, a bum, a white trash ignoramus, but my father saw it as ingenuity. “My friend Mary Ann has a screened-in porch,” I said. I was about ten, and to me, that was about as close to luxury as you could get in a town like Kite, South Carolina. “She’s … chop! chop! read more!
PESANTE CON MOTO/ALLEGRO BARBARO by S. I. Adams Street signs reflect neon blinks on and off and on and back from the turn signal click-resting-pause between inhales drawn shallow between chapped lips and flaky nostrils. “East” – off – “East” – off – “Ease” – off – “ ‘e’s off” – “’e’s off” as the traffic light changes from mid-October to early spring and the policemen waves pedestrians to their apartments, chins tucked to their chest like sleeping pigeons, making church balconies their homes when all the trees have been uprooted and turned into desks and dressers pedestrians pile their lives into and I clamp my crooked teeth onto the steering wheel and let love and all its offerings change lanes without signaling – I’m too old to chase after them, clenched fist waving in the air. S.I. Adams was born in Honolulu, Hawaii and raised in southern Ohio. … chop! chop! read more!
BOBBY FEAR by Bonnie Altucher When Bridget was sixteen, she met a sardonically mumbling School of Visual Arts dropout named Robert Fein while they were both browsing for cheap shoes on Eighth Street. Robert was too bug-eyed and slight to be handsome, with dim pitted skin and a puffy, disconsolate pout, but something in his manner convinced her that he would be a safe and desirable person to know. He had his own place at the edge of the devastated East Village neighborhood not yet blandly rechristened as Alphabet City, and within weeks of their first meeting Bridget moved in with him. Bridget assumed that her father would be happy to get rid of her. By now, he barely reacted to the steady stream of failing grades on her report cards, his stock objection—“This isn’t very acceptable”—being vague enough to pass for a comment on the deplorable New York City … chop! chop! read more!
ON (AND OFF) CONSISTENCY by John Michael Mumme Objective Statement: For the last two years, I worked as a Staff Assistant for the Career Services office at Cedarville University. My job was to review résumés. A student comes in for a peer review, feeling little confidence in her ability to write a résumé and none in the merit of her past job experiences of baby-sitting, lawn-mowing, and cafeteria work. When she leaves, though, together we have crafted a pristine portrait of her, dressed her in words and white space perfectly suited to win her the job of her choice. She simply needed reassurance, and who could not be reassured by watching all the best things about oneself slowly fill a single piece of paper? In “Strangers,” a song by the British rock band White Lies, lead singer Harry McVeigh recalls a lonely one-night stand. “I pressed my ear to your … chop! chop! read more!
QUINTESSENCE by Lauren Guza Brown In the desert, the day after Thanksgiving, a physicist friend told me I would find what we were seeing, sandstone walls mottled and cragged like giant seahorse forests, in a Hamlet soliloquy. Quintessence, he said, that’s what this is. Fire, air, water, earth, and this—spirit. Spirit is soul to an atheist who shoots lasers through things we cannot see and who goes to the desert to be quiet as the bighorns, invisible against pale rock. We ate leftover turkey sandwiches on a rock in a grove that might have been called an oasis if we’d been escaping from anything. He said things that were scientifically false to see if I would believe him. He tricked me approximately twenty-seven percent of the time, he said, which was about what he’d expected of an intelligent history major. That evening, we got a small motel room but only … chop! chop! read more!
TWO FLASH PIECES by Mercedes Lawry Puzzling The baby ate one of the puzzle pieces, a little bitty piece. He never choked or even coughed. The piece was cardboard and mostly blue sky with just a smidgen of white cloud. Its shape was similar to a chalice and did not vaguely resemble food. It certainly looked tasty to the baby, although in the baby’s mind, interest in the puzzle piece was not limited to a gustatory experience or oral fixation. Just as easily, tasty might refer to something requiring further exploration. The baby might have been trying to understand the puzzle piece. The baby did not, however, learn much from eating the piece aside from the fact that he could get away with it. So many puzzles were missing pieces. You got used to it and then, you threw them away. Breathing Room She was reading. She was reading everything … chop! chop! read more!
THE AVERSIVE CLAUSE by B.C. Edwards Black Lawrence Press, 180 Pages reviewed by Shinelle L. Espaillat B.C. Edwards’s short story collection, The Aversive Clause, alternates between gentle poignancy and visceral revelation, often within the same story. To read his work is to ride a manic roller coaster through a gritty Wonderland reboot. Like Alice, readers will shrink and grow, and know things they cannot un-know. Without being heavy-handed or didactic, Edwards explores and explodes the socio-political fabric of contemporary society and in so doing, pulls readers into the conversation. Edwards’s style and thematic resonance are evocative of Ray Bradbury. In particular, “The Providence of Angels” echoes several stories from The Illustrated Man. The desperate masses begging for healing outside Ty and Mac’s door calls back to the emotional hunger of the men in “The Visitor.” The random man at the rails, searching for the Angels to give him an external … chop! chop! read more!
CALLING DR LAURA
By Nicole J Georges
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 260 pages
reviewed by Amelia Moulis
Nicole J Georges’ Calling Dr Laura, is an acerbic and intelligent addition to the graphic memoirs of 2013. It catalogues Georges’ troubled upbringing and her subsequent quest for love and stability in her relationships, and indeed her life at large. Georges enters this story through her first girlfriend, who takes Georges to a psychic, inadvertently uncovering a deep family secret: the psychic insists that Georges’ father – whom she was told died of colon cancer when she was a baby – is in fact alive. Although this is the ‘hook’ of the story, it is important to emphasize that this is actually not the driving force behind the storyline. It takes many years for Georges to share this information with anyone, let alone confront her mom about it. In the meantime, Georges meanders between cross-sections of her mom’s abusive relationships, the string of ‘father figures’ shaping her upbringing, Georges’ own inability to process stress and emotion, her struggle to establish a family, and the faulty dynamics of her lesbian relationships. But underneath this is the constant tension of when, or if, Georges can confront her mother about her sexuality and the circumstances of her father’s absence from her life.chop! chop! read more!
HANDLING THE TRUTH: ON THE WRITING OF MEMOIR by Beth Kephart Gotham Books, 254 pages reviewed by Stephanie Trott It is a rainy Tuesday in January and I lace up the new cherry-red boots before heading out the door of my warm little warren. Through the stone-laden campus, across the slippery streets of town, and onto the train that will take me into the city. I am in my final semester as an undergraduate student at Bryn Mawr College and I still have not learned to buy shoes that fit my feet — I dig into the walk through West Philadelphia, burdening myself with blisters that will not heal until the first flowers have shed their petals to spring. Stumbling onto the porch of the old Victorian manor, I step into the most challenging, inspiring, and rewarding fourteen weeks I’ve yet experienced: I step into Beth Kephart’s Creative Non-Fiction class. … chop! chop! read more!
CARTOON COLLEGE (video documentary)
by Josh Melrod and Tara Wray
L. B. Thunderpony Home Entertainment, 76 minutes
reviewed by Amy Victoria Blakemore
Within moments of its bare opening, I already liked Cartoon College. When I reached chapter three of the documentary—which dubbed comics “better than sandwiches”—I knew that I loved it.
Josh Melrod and Tara Wray keep the first shot simple: the camera shows a man’s back as he rummages through old drawings. We are not coddled by music meant to make us feel happy-go-lucky or sentimental. This meditative simplicity populates the entire film, allowing viewers what feels like a filmic rarity: the ability to listen to a human voice with only that voice for guidance.chop! chop! read more!
THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P. by Adelle Waldman Henry Holt, 242 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin Suburban Mid-Atlantic childhood. Check. Journalist. Check. Book reviewer. Check. Writing book review to keep from working on more substantial essay. Check. First novel coming out. Check. Writes on urbanism. Check. Closest friend Peter. Check. Name Nathaniel P. Check. That Nathaniel P? Like the fictional protagonist of Adelle Waldman’s debut novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., I’m happiest reading and writing; I’m ambitious enough (though the doppelganger has a large advance for his novel, something I’ve not yet received); and I can’t see myself doing anything else. The arrival of the book has made for good jokes, of course. My friend Cristina wrote me the other day to say she had received the book (she ordered it and read it as soon as I told her about it). “I have your love affairs … chop! chop! read more!
SCRATCH PEGASUS by Stephen Kessler Swan Scythe Press, 88 pages reviewed by Kenna O’Rourke Stephen Kessler’s agenda in the poetry of Scratch Pegasus would seem to be that of the artist in his poem “Hopper”: in an era where inscrutable conceptualism has become somewhat of a standard, Kessler is confident that his “representation / so square compared to his successors’ transgressions / looks now purely formal and coolly classical … in rooms full of murmuring tourists / relieved to see what they recognize”. It’s lamentable, then, that Kessler’s altruistic aspirations towards a communitarian poetics, a poetics of reachable clarity, are troubled by an unintentional (or so one hopes) exclusion of the modern reader. True, the poet occasionally hits the mark with poignant imagery (“the barking park / where the city’s dogs / sniff each other’s butts / and tangled strips of toilet paper / fly like flags from lampposts”, “Gold light … chop! chop! read more!
SO LONG, SILVER SCREEN by Blutch Picturebox, 88 pages reviewed by Gabriel Chazan Every film is a ghost story. When we go to the theater, we see flickering images of things in the eternal past yet present which persistently haunt us. This observation cannot be avoided reading the French cartoonist Blutch’s new graphic essay/novel So Long, Silver Screen. With this book, Blutch summons the ghosts from his own filmgoing past to consider the film form. Death pervades the book from the very first panel in which a woman writes, “Adieu Paul Newman.” When the woman tells her lover Newman is dead, he reacts in disbelief: “it can’t be—I think about him every day” as if, by being captured onscreen, stars are immortal. Blutch has decided to try his hand at film criticism. The book is largely comprised of discussions and arguments between a man and woman about film. We get … chop! chop! read more!
RECALCULATING by Charles Bernstein University of Chicago Press, 208 pages Reviewed by Mary Weston Bringing to mind the now all-too familiar GPS phrase, Charles Bernstein’s latest collection of poetry, Recalculating, depicts a poet pulled in a number of different directions and impulses. As readers, we too at times feel this pull toward the many evocations and articulations present in Recalculating. Yet in many ways, direction—or lack thereof—becomes the thematic anchor which ultimately binds Bernstein’s latest work. Poems in this collection move deftly and swiftly from heady articulations of Bernstein’s poetics, to oftentimes humorous experiments in language and syntax, to poignant translations of works from Catullus to Baudelaire. Yet throughout the collection, the theme of “recalculation” takes on a more sobering nature, as interspersed between Bernstein’s didacticism and humor, grief and loss also begin to take shape in the work, each time creating a quiet swerve and evolution in the work’s … chop! chop! read more!
THE MEHLIS REPORT by Rabee Jaber translated by Kareem James Abu-Zeid New Directions Paperbacks, 202 pages Reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin At night, I dream the city; I dream Baldwin’s—and Capote’s—alluring New York at mid-century; I dream Pamuk’s melancholic Istanbul of the same period; I dream Antunes’s desperate 1990s Lisbon and Nasr’s suffocating Tunis and Bolaño’s heretical 1970s Mexico City; I dream Zadie Smith’s London and Mercé Rodoreda’s Barcelona; I dream my own Philadelphia, which sometimes isn’t Philadelphia at all (it may be Brooklyn or Montreal). Now, I dream Rabee Jaber’s early 21st century Beirut; I dream the enduring disquiet, I dream the hidden springs, I dream the memories (of terraces filled with mulberry trees, of abandoned villas), the loss, the fear, the cranes that rattle the sky. “How many cities are hidden in the belly of this one city?” writes Jaber, At rare times, you see all these cities together. At … chop! chop! read more!
DAVID LYNCH SWERVES: UNCERTAINTY THROUGH LOST HIGHWAY TO INLAND EMPIRE by Martha P. Nochimson University of Texas Press, 295 pages reviewed by Chris Ludovici In David Lynch Swerves: Uncertainty Through Lost Highway to Inland Empire, Martha P. Nochimson presents a radical interpretation of David Lynch’s last four movies. She rejects the popular critical interpretations of his work, in favor of her own theory: a complicated mix of eastern philosophy and quantum physics. It’s fascinating, challenging, frustrating, and only intermittently persuasive. Her ideas are compelling, especially when she’s addressing Lynch’s philosophy. As a devoted believer in Hinduism and tantric meditation, Lynch creates movies with strong spiritual components. They are intense stories, and his characters are often emotionally troubled. Nochimson clearly and thoughtfully explains Lynch’s repeating themes of the dangers of life lived in the service of greed and ambition, and his commitment to spiritual peace over material satisfaction. But it’s her more … chop! chop! read more!
THE HARE by César Aira New Directions Paperbacks, 218 pages reviewed by Nathaniel Popkin The writer César Aira has a charming trait (at least in the English language translations of his books published by New Directions): at the end of his novels, he inscribes the date he completed the work, at least so we are supposed to believe. For both The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira, published in Katherine Silver’s English translation by New Directions last year, and The Hare, which New Directions brings out tomorrow translated by Nick Caistor, were apparently finished the same day, September 6, 1996. Could this really be? Aira, the author of some 70 works of fiction and essay, is after all one of the most prolific writers in the world. It is conceivable he completed the two books on the same day. Or has Aira, a master of meta-fiction, found yet another way to … chop! chop! read more!
RUST BELT RISING ALMANAC, Vol. 1 Various Authors The Head & The Hand Press, 168 pages reviewed by Ariel Diliberto Rust Belt Rising Almanac presents a pastiche of short stories, poems, photographs and artwork. Collectively they form a fairly complete image of the post-industrial cities that comprise the toponymous “belt” (in the case of this publication, namely Philadelphia, Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh). Collectively being the operative word. For individually, some of the stories are flashes in the (rusting) pan. However, together these ethereal dispatches evoke the negative space inside an abandoned factory building, and upon reaching page 168, readers can step back and see it for what it is. So what is it? The triumph of Rust Belt is its ability to dispel the false narrative about America’s trajectory from industrial to post-industrial, in which the peak of our society was the peak of the industrial era, and it’s been downhill … chop! chop! read more!
BARNABY VOL. 1
by Crockett Johnson
introduction by Chris Ware; Art direction by Daniel Clowes
Fantagraphics, 336 pages
reviewed by Travis DuBose
In his foreword to its first collected volume, Chris Ware compares Barnaby, Crockett Johnson’s 1940s newspaper strip, to other early influential comics like Little Nemo, Krazy Kat and Peanuts. He goes on to say that Barnaby is “the last great comic strip,” a description that ends up being a little unfair to any first time readers of Barnaby: though there are moments of greatness in it, Volume One mostly points forward to the strip’s potential, rather than showcasing Johnson’s brilliance firsthand. This difficult start is consistent with the beginnings of other strips, even great ones: the ability to deliver a solid joke, every day, in three or four panels is mastered by very few and even fewer, if any, can do it consistently from the first strip. Barnaby, however, has one of the best rocky starts I’ve encountered in the medium, and its later greatness is well worth its early fumbles.
Crockett Johnson may not have the immediate name recognition of Charles Schulz or Bill Watterson, but his work is a mainstay of American childhoods: he authored Harold and the Purple Crayon and its sequels, and readers of the Harold books will recognize in Barnaby’s protagonist, five year old Barnaby Baxter, the prototype of Harold. Additionally, there are several Barnaby strips featuring a half moon seen out the window over Barnaby’s bed, the final, iconic image of the first Harold book. Harold readers will also recognize the art style: stark, bold lines over simple backgrounds that nonetheless show an impressive command of perspective and space.chop! chop! read more!
NO APOCALYPSE by Monica Wendel Georgetown Review Press, 70 pages reviewed by Kenna O’Rourke Monica Wendel makes every pretense of proving the veracity of her title, No Apocalypse, in her debut collection: as if responding to the question “What are some topics of poetry?” the poet has organized her work in orderly divisions—Politics, Dreams, Animals and Cities, Money and Ghosts—lending an everything-under-control sensibility to the book on the surface level. Indeed, her treatment of what many would consider signs of apocalyptic societal devolution – Wikileaks, the Trayvon Martin case, etc – is surprisingly deadpan, as if, in declarative ending lines, Wendel is grimly calming a gloom-and-doom hysteric. As such, when trauma does make an entry, it is all the more traumatic for its surprise, as in the poem “September, Red Hook”; at first glance the poem is whimsical, a charming exchange between two children as they float a piece of … chop! chop! read more!
THE SENSUALIST by Daniel Torday Nouvella Books, 177 pages Reviewed by Michelle Fost I’ve been thinking a lot about how I am at once very connected to and disconnected from Germany, and I’ve been exploring this feeling in a novel I’m working on. My grandparents were German Jewish refugees, sailing from Hamburg, Germany, to Ellis Island in 1934. We talked very little, my grandparents and their grandchildren, about their lives in Germany before they left. If their lives were an apartment building, it was as though we always entered on the third floor, and were welcome to walk around anywhere from the third floor and up but never below. We didn’t notice anything unusual. Obviously, there are good reasons for not talking about what was left behind by German Jews who escaped the holocaust. But there is also tremendous loss in disowning all of it. Sam Gerson, the narrator of … chop! chop! read more!
THE OFFICE OF MERCY by Ariel Djanikian Viking, 304 pages Reviewed by John Carroll I had the good fortune of reading Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood,and the Prison of Belief immediately before picking up Ariel Djanikian’s debut novel, The Office of Mercy. While Wright’s nonfiction account of a minor religious movement is, on the surface, seemingly far removed from Djanikian’s novel about a futuristic American settlement, the two books share much more in common than anyone could initially believe. In particular, Scientologists and the America-Five residents in The Office of Mercy are equally concerned with the ethics of their individual movements. But both groups have arrived at ethical standings far removed from what a contemporary American majority would define as acceptable. While Wright narrates numerous confessionals about physical and emotional abuse in the Church of Scientology, Djanikian introduces readers to the “sweeps” of America-Five: these carefully planned strikes eliminate … chop! chop! read more!
WOMEN’S POETRY: POEMS AND ADVICE by Daisy Fried University of Pittsburgh Press, 88 pages Reviewed by Shinelle L. Espaillat Daisy Fried’s new collection, Women’s Poetry: Poems and Advice, illuminates issues that are both specifically feminine (i.e. mother-daughter paradigms) and gender neutral (being American in a foreign land). Divided into four numbered sections, the poems explore the layers of complicated relationships and expose the emotions therein. Fried shows us how beauty forces us to notice it, even when we’d rather not. Through several reflexive lines that connect to other poems within the text, she speaks to the multi-layered nature of art. The Advice Column Section gives Fried latitude to launch a sweet and snarky rant against those who place themselves outside and against the world of women and words. How absolutely accurate, and satisfactory, to hear that the only difference between a male poetess (she “applies the term poetess to men and … chop! chop! read more!
THE END by Anders Nilsen Fantagraphics Books, 80 pages Reviewed by Henry Steinberg The Humming Bird. The Condor. The Giant. The Hands. I hold your head in my hands and your heart in my heart and I look at you and I am floating above the bed alone and there’s nothing I can do at all because you’re gone. These are the Nazca Lines. Located in the southern desert of Peru, these ancient geoglyphs dot the landscape, their purpose unknown, their mystery immense. Carved into the earth by the Nazca Peoples, the exact date of their creation is impossible to pin down, but researchers believe they were made between 400-650 BCE. When standing on top of the lines, within them, it is impossible to discern the shapes of the designs, though they are figurative and quite complex. One needs the great distance and height of the surrounding foothills to see … chop! chop! read more!
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF DANIEL J. ISENGART by Filip Noterdaeme Outpost19, 351 pages Reviewed by Michelle Fost Because Gertrude Stein wished readers would pay more attention to the ambitious but largely unread work she considered her masterpiece, The Making of Americans, she had a tendency to knock her very popular Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Years ago, as a young fiction writer working on a master’s thesis on The Making of Americans, I sometimes identified with Stein. Here she is, in that book, wondering if her work will be read: Bear it in your mind my reader, but truly I never feel it that there ever can be for me any such a creature, no it is this scribbled and dirty and lined paper that is really to be to me always my receiver,—but anyhow reader, bear it in your mind—will there be for me ever any such a creature… listen while … chop! chop! read more!
THE FLAMETHROWERS by Rachel Kushner Scribner, 400 pages Reviewed by Chris Ludovici Early in Rachel Kushner’s occasionally frustrating but fascinating book The Flamethrowers, the protagonist sleeps with a man she’s only just met. She naively believes that her encounter with the attractive, nameless stranger is going to lead to something more meaningful, and she is more than a little disappointed to find him gone when she wakes the next morning. He leaves a mark on her, though, both by taking her virginity and also by giving her the only name we will know her by, Reno, after the city she was born and raised in. It’s a fitting name for the heroine of this novel, which is, principally, about starting over, on both an individual as well as national level. All the characters in The Flamethrowers are interested in reinvention; they ache to transcend their compromised human past into a … chop! chop! read more!
TODAY IS THE LAST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE by Ulli Lust translated by Kim Thomson Fantagraphics Books, 460 pages Reviewed by Tahneer Oksman Note: Lust’s memoir was edited and translated into English by comics visionary Kim Thompson, who passed away earlier this week. This book, along with countless others, is a tribute to his legacy. –T.O. Why weren’t more women dharma bums, taking trips across the country like the Kerouac’s and Cassady’s and Snyder’s of On the Road and beyond? Why weren’t more of them trekking up desolation mountains, sleeping in boxcars, bumming cigarettes and hash and old paperbacks and swigs of wine from strangers?* Ulli Lust’s thick graphic memoir, Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life, though set in the early 1980’s, decades after most of the beats had already burned out, and continents away – taking place in Austria and Italy – … chop! chop! read more!