Friday, April 11, 2014

104. Horror wore a shirt } of violent green.

From the Frequency spring course & event listings:

Without plagiarism in our hearts, we read seeking ideas for our own fictions. A flawed story? Oh joy! Certainly writers of horror stories are ever-reading through the gothic corpus (corpse?) looking for great ideas in flawed fictions. We give Karl Edward Wagner’s short story “Sticks” (an oft-reprinted favorite) a close read and see what we can see that Wagner didn’t. Most likely, you’ll walk away with an idea for your own horror classic.

Required preparation: read Karl Edward Wagner’s “Sticks” (this story can be found in several anthologies, including Tales of the Cthulu Mythos: Golden Anniversary, edited by James Turner; The Dark Descent, edited by David Hartwell; and A Century of Horror (1970 – 1979), edited by David Drake. All three anthologies are easy to pick up online, and all three are available in Providence-area libraries). Please bring a copy of “Sticks” to our meeting.

Also: watch Book of Shadows: The Blair Witch Project 2.

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I teach the course Sunday, April 13, from 10:30am – 2:30pm at 186 Carpenter Street, in Providence. Price for the class is on a sliding scale, from $25 – 60. You can either pre-register or pay at the door. Find out why I think Wagner’s story is flawed and why I’d ask anyone to watch the sequel to The Blair Witch Project.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

103. Knott }

I'll refrain from any Bill Knott anecdotes, an obvious way to respond to his death. Instead, I'll direct you to John Cotter's review of Knott's Collected Poems 1960 - 2013, finally published by the Poetry Foundation a little more than a month ago. Knott was part of the same scene as Paul Hannigan, as much as either were part of a scene: Boston, Emerson College, Ploughshares, etc. A scene I knew, but a decade (and more) after Hannigan was (mostly) out of it, and Knott was an associate professor. He was my advisor when I was an undergraduate. Later, we were neighbors in Somerville. Mostly I knew him through stories. Open Letters Monthly published an obit if you're looking for more.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

102. Proteus reads } savagely gnashed teeth.

Tomorrow, I’ll travel with my eldest to Hartford, where I am a featured reader at WordForge, alongside Dominic Failla. I don’t know him, but his verse seems addressed to me: “Dear Adam / how did you become / a bird of prey / devouring the delicious / edges of joy?” I don’t know, how did Compsognathus become a chicken? I’ll read from Another Nemesis, a poem-in-progress. “What is not / the utterance / ‘am’?” it begins. Huh.

The reading is part of a series hosted by The Studio at Billings Forge. The reading begins at 7pm. I hear that instead of box wine and crackers, it’s Dalmore 62 Hiland Malt Scotch in Tiffany crystal tumblers. Alas, no crackers. Still, get there early, right?  

The next day I’ll suggest to my students that there is nothing strange about book four of The Georgics. Some bad bee science, for sure—but there’s nothing strange about bad science. The last pages are dedicated to selfish Aristaeus and his quest to get his bee hives back in order, a retelling not out of the blue, but set up by the many myths alluded to and retold throughout the poem. Furthermore, it’s the final book of the poem, a position that gives it special weight and license.

The most unusual moment in The Georgics is Virgil’s portrait of a farmer and his wife, working side-by-side in the house during a cold snap. He sharpens the blades of his tools, while she “with shrill shuttle zips across the warp” and sings. Is there another moment like it in the poem?

[Image: “Italian stone pin”" from “The Plants of Virgil's Georgics” by Rachael Wilson.]

Thursday, February 13, 2014

101. More video lies } from the Unfinished House.

The following is an excerpt from the column Video Lies, a regular feature in the 1990s ‘zine Kraken Farmer, edited by Lucy Kurtz, available at Tower Records and Flyrabbit.

Witchboard II: The Devil’s Doorway. Dir. Kevin Tenney. Perf. Ami Dolenz, Christopher Michael Moore, Laraine Newman. Republic Pictures, 1993. Videocassette.


Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Witch who?
Why are you so interested?

Paige Benedict finds a loft in an old factory. “It’s beautiful,” she says. Jonas, the building manager leers and says, “Yes it is.” Paige asks, “Is this the only closet?” Jonas says, “I’m afraid so.” Inside the closet Susan Sidney is light as a feather, stiff as a board. “I’ll take it,” says Paige.

Paige, so blasé. She thinks, no more!, “I wanted to go to art school, and become a painter, but my father wanted me to study business. He said a career in art was too risky. So we compromised. I went to college and studied business,” no more!, “Then I met Mitch and fell into the same doormat relationship I had with my father.”

The board reads itself to Paige and she repeats what she read and thus invokes Susan’s ghost.

Meanwhile, Jonas stokes the furnace. The smell of cut lumber. Susan Sidney’s magic sets a nickel saw blade to flight—it spins through light bulbs and alights upon Jonas’ cheek. When the furnace speaks for Susan, Jonas burns.

The photographer, Russell, doesn’t “come on” to her. Though he wants her sexually, he needs Paige to initiate intercourse. She never will, but she will feed on his desire for her and on the kindness he offers as bait. He takes her picture, says, “Now be sexy.” She says, “This is as sexy as I get.” Russell doesn’t believe her. He circles her. He suggests she “lick her lips.” She does so, but grotesquely. “I said lick them, not swallow them.” She says, “I’m sorry, I just feel silly.” He releases the knot of her hair. He unbuttons the top button of her blouse. She drapes herself across the table.

Possession is the best thing for her. Alas, Paige defeats the witch Sudan Sidney, sends her screaming into the city. Russell is dead. She gives up her artistic pretensions—“I’m definitely going to go to art school this time and nothing is going to stop me”—really. She returns to Mitch and finances. A garbage truck comes to clean up “yes.”

Friday, February 7, 2014

100. More video lies } from the Unfinished House.

The following is an excerpt from the column Video Lies, a regular feature in the 1990s ‘zine Kraken Farmer, edited by the indomitable Lucy Kurtz, available at Tower Records and Flyrabbit.

Doppelganger. Dir. Avi Nesher. Perf. Drew Barrymore, George Newbern, and Leslie Hope. Lions Gate, 1993. Videocassette.

At the park, Holly waits for herself. Trees between, leaves twist green to black and back. Holly wears a scarf wrapped around her throat and a pair of sunglasses.

When she gets home to her boyfriend Patrick’s apartment, she finds it empty, and undresses for a shower. From a hook below the shower head hangs a plumber’s wrench. She showers. The water is blood. Rivulets form at Holly’s face and run to her feet. When Patrick comes home, she’s a maiden. We stare. Which Holly is nude for us? Holly who is and Holly who is also. We have them.

Holly’s pregnancy is chrysalis. Clothes rip, the walls rip, her chrysalis splits. Wet wings, each a skinless self. Her wings eat demons twice.

Friday, January 24, 2014

99. An unfinished review of a } Secret Europe.

1. The Other Salt

Mark Valentine’s descriptions of the Marais Gat, a country of salt water marshes, and the pitiful habitations built there, are clear—all is sodden, rotted and rusted, all is silver-gray. These “wastes” are lovely. When there is color, they are warm colors: “a pane of gold,” red and yellow bed clothes—and belong to the narrator’s hosts, brother and sister Alain and Jeanne, who are themselves warm people. Neat technique. An example of Valentine’s control.

The narrator of “The Other Salt,” Etienne Frank, is in Marais Gat as the result of a long search for:
The “other salt,” that was what he was here to find, if it existed. A different salt that old chroniclers mentioned respectfully in their accounts… the “other salt,” rarer than all the spices of the east….
When he finds it, the calm melancholy of the landscape transforms. With a few deft strokes, the quaint notion of folk who are “salt of the earth” suggests a long history of atrocity. A history of humans exploited, all for the pleasure of a rarified few.

“The Other Salt” is a story in Secret Europe, a collection by Mark Valentine and John Howard, published in 2012. There’s a poorly written review of it by Jeff VanderMeer here. If you can get through the thicket of superlatives and book review cliché (“luminous”), you’ll find links to “The Fall of Ashes,” another Valentine story from the collection, and a link to a better written review by Mark Andresen. Andresen hopes the book will be reissued, so it may be discovered by a larger audience. Me too.

Stories from Secret Europe have popped up elsewhere, and I’m especially pleased that “The Other Salt”—one of the best horror stories I’ve recently read—is included in the second Swan River Press selection of Valentine’s fiction, Seventeen Stories. As for John Howard, the Swan River selected Written By Daylight also includes a few from Secret Europe, “Wandering Paths” among them.

2. Wandering Paths

Paths cut through tall grass by a man with a scythe. “How do you know where to go?” Vasile, protagonist, asks. “I’m allowed to do it my way.” Paths shaped by “hissing grass” and flowing water. Fluid way. What happens happens “in the light of day”—minutes after noon, under an oppressive sun. Are the meadowland paths a part of the gardens at Brukenthal Palace, or is Vasile elsewhere?

That he’s at Brukenthal is out-of-schedule: a day taken from work, a place familiar but, “…small towns in this part of the country all looked much the same….” For Vasile to be at the Palace is a perverse choice: it was Mirela, the woman he loves but who does not love him, who suggested it for a meeting to discuss their future she cancelled with a text: “there was no chance after all of her changing her mind.”

John Howard’s “Wandering Paths” makes physical Vasile’s psychic state. Heat and sweat, bitterness, a desire to be alone with his embarrassing self-pity—Vasile’s life in those hours is human—real—until he reaches the meadowland. There, he enters myth—Pan, Death, confusion, and peace.

These landscapes, so rightly described, connect. Reminiscent of childhood rambles. Salt marshes, tall grasses; these environments stand out in the otherwise urban landscape of Secret Europe, but “The Other Salt” and “Wandering Paths” may also be the best stories in the collection. And they stand well on their own; most of the stories in Secret Europe are best in collection.

I don't know what's going on with Ex Occidente, the publisher of Secret Europe. After Transactions of the Flesh was published, I've heard nary a word from Dan Ghetu or his new associate, Jonas J. Ploeger of Zagava Books, in spite of assurances I would; the Ex Occidente website has vanished and while the Zagava Books site is up and running, it's far from informative. If you've a few hundred dollars to spare, you can still purchase Secret Europe from other sources—and it is very good, but you might do better for the time being with the Swan River selecteds, in spite of the real value in reading the stories of Secret Europe in concert with each other.

[Image: Eoin Llewellen's "Man Sleeping in L.A. Apartment" (2011), which appears on the cover of John Howard's Written By Daylight.]

[Update: Mr. Ploeger sent me a note on Feb. 17th and asked that I "look at Zagava's website if you find the time." I've done. Now, there are five new titles listed. Information, but not yet informative.]