Sunday, October 31, 2010

21. Doctor Faustus } from the script.

RAFE: Why, Robin, what book is that?
ROBIN: What book? Why the most intolerable book for conjuring that e’er was invented by any brimstone devil.
RAFE: Canst thou conjure with it?
ROBIN: I can do all these things easily with it: first, I can make thee drunk with hippocras at any tavern in Europe for nothing. That’s one of my conjuring works.
RAFE: Our Master Parson says that’s nothing.
ROBIN: True, Rafe, and more, Rafe, if thou hast any mind to Nan Spit, our kitchen maid, then turn her and wind her to thy own use as often as thou wilt, and at midnight.
RAFE: O brave Robin! Shall I have Nan Spit, and to mine own use? On that condition I’ll feed thy devil with horse-bread as long as he lives, free of cost.
ROBIN: No more, sweet Rafe. Let’s go and make clean our boots, which lie foul upon our hands, and then to our conjuring, in the devil’s name.

—from The Tragicall Historie of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Saturday, October 30, 2010

20. Readings } the KGB Script

Last week, Wednesday, I drove to Manhattan for my reading in the Fantastic Fiction series. All along the Saw Mill Parkway were deer, their coats shaggy and dark. Once in the city, I lingered outside the KGB Bar (pictured above) as long as I could, stayed outside to watch the sky, as much sky as could be seen from the alleyways that make up the grid of that city.

KGB Bar is on the second floor of a three-story walkup; the bottom floor is a theater, upstairs I don’t know what. A rehearsal space? I’m pretty sure people were auditioning for a show. There was a woman on the second floor landing, a glistening gash above her eye, she was weeping, a script rolled tightly in her hand. She was called—I stepped aside and she rushed past me, up the narrow stairs. At the top of the stairs stood a man waiting for her, a sack in his left hand. Everything’s always weird in Manhattan.

The bar was red. High-ceilinged. Decorated with Agitprop and bears. Since I was reading, I was treated by Matthew Kressel and Ellen Datlow to a Baltika porter I very much enjoyed. Jenna Lawrence was there, a comfort—I wanted to ask, Are they auditioning for Grand Guignol?—but the opportunity never presented itself. I was introduced to the main act, Paul Witcover and friend Cynthia Babak. The audience gathered and soon enough it was time for me to read.

After Paul read, I stepped out of the bar to make a call. Before I could dial, the woman with the head wound stumbled down the stairs. I asked, What’s going on up there? She stopped in front of me, stared at me, then forced that rolled-up script into my hand. I gestured, like, I don’t want this, but she just shook her head and took off down the stairs. Jenna appeared at my side and told me we were going, Matthew and Ellen were taking me and Paul out for dinner. Very nice, I shoved the script into my bag and forgot about it, Rick Bowes distracted me and Jenna with stories about NYC architectural peculiarities.

Once home, exhausted from a dark drive, I dumped the bag in a closet and forgot about it.

Until tonight. Of course I have other things to do. I’ve got to read a few essays concerning Kit Marlowe, “poor deceased Kit Marlowe,” and knock out a few pages of a story I’m writing for editor Danel Olson. I don’t have the time to read the script tonight. Tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

19. Readings } John Cotter & Adam Golaski

Taken at Freebird Books, Brooklyn, October 24, 2010, by Jenna Lawrence. John and Adam alternating between readings from Color Plates and Under the Small Lights.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

18. Readings } A leg. & bones.

At a party in Iowa City hosted by Erika Jo Brown, I tripped over a pair of glittery red and gold trimmed cowgirl boots. I crouched down to right them but ended up staring at ‘em for more than a few minutes—till Joshua Unikel took me aside to talk poetics.

I didn’t think about the boots again till I lay down for a three hour nap before John and I needed to leave for Northfield. Those boots shone above me in the dark hotel room, a pair of Mars lights.

Many to thank for Iowa City. Especially poets Rob Schlegel, Keisha Lewellyn Schlegel, Joshua Unikel, and Matthew Klane. A good crowd attended the reading at Prairie Lights. I was thrilled to meet Cole Swenson, whose books I’ve been reading since I came upon Park at Talking Leaves in Buffalo, about a decade ago.

The next morning John and I read and spoke at St. Olaf College, a visit arranged by Kaethe Schwehn, who then brought several of her colleagues to our Magers & Quinn reading in Minneapolis. There, we read with Alan DeNiro, who whispered to me a very odd anecdote just before I got up to read, something he’d read in the paper, about a girl whose bones were crystallizing. I said, “Don’t you mean her organs?” He looked at me funny and I wondered if he’d said anything to me at all.

We enjoyed Milwaukee for its local kindness: “Stef” the roller derby announcer, Avital from Brazil, and Jo at Buckley’s on Cass. We read there too. At Boswell’s. Not only a bookstore, but a museum of tin Band-Aid boxes and abandoned card catalogs. I flipped through and found the card for The Nets of Space by Emil Petaja. I didn’t dream that book!

Last Wednesday I returned to UConn to give a reading at the Co-op. Thanks to Kim for her reportage and to Ms. Staubach for hosting me. Eliza Smith, beloved New Genre intern and Shakespearean scholar attended, as did Katelyn W., to whom I gave a copy of Werewolves and Shapeshifters, and Emily W.—she and I talked Spenser and though Ben Johnson wrote that “Spenser has no writ,” we’re inclined to agree with Coleridge who admired the “indescribable sweetness and fluent projection of his verse….”

Sunday found me in Providence, R.I., where I happily spent a couple hours on Wickenden Street, in a waterfront park, and on a block of cement in a parking lot. The sun set, just behind a factory (three smoke stacks); behind me, when the clouds—gray, pink (purple, white)—broke, the moon. Not full. I’d’ve stared longer at the sky, watched the whole of its transition from day to night, but I was due at Abe’s Bar for the Cousins Reading Series, hosted by William Walsh and Darcie Dennigan.

Darcie, who just happened to be Kim’s teacher (at UConn) introduced me lovely with a few kind words. I read with John, who entertained us all with the lighting and an excellent reading, and with Matt Bell and Carol Novak. Better than the incredible sky was the company of two old friends, Jeremy Withers, who gave me a copy of his solo album (more on that later) and Elizabeth Dooher, now a sculptor in New Bedford. Both have saved my life many times; their presence, revitalizing.

As I drove home on very dark and narrow roads, I caught the glimmer of a deer’s eye in my headlights and slowed to a stop. The deer crossed the road—paused to gaze at the car—and then into the forest.

Tonight, I’ll sink Manhattan.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

17. Virgil dreams & } smoke.

Kelly Spitzer selected story from Color Plates and interviewed me for Issue 29 of SmokeLong. The interview took time: I answered the first question on the west coast and the last on the east. Fair enough. I like the questions. For instance, she asked what my weirdest childhood memory was and after some hemming and hawing, I replied:

“In early November, which is by far the eeriest time of the year—at least in New England—I was in the woods near my house—a strictly forbidden locale. I was, uh, seven? I was pretty deep in the woods and I took a path I hadn't taken before. It was probably about three in the afternoon—the sun already a little low in the sky. From somewhere off the path I heard a grunt. This scared the living daylights out of me, I was sure it was a wild boar—not likely, but, you know, I was seven. I didn't want to run away. I knew from experience that dogs tended to chase me when I ran, so I kind of backed up for a while, took every step painfully slow. Somehow, I managed to walk a loop, and ended up off the path at the mouth of a huge pit. I kid you not. I peered over the edge. The low light lit just a crescent of the bottom of the pit. It was, I thought (remember I was seven, so who knows), about fifteen feet deep. And I heard another grunt. Oh God it was so loud, Kelly! I saw a big animal, uh, kind of bumble through that crescent of light and I ran. I crashed through brush and branches, until I found my way to the path and finally to my little neighborhood. By the time I got home I was wheezing pretty hard and it took my worried mother a little while to get the story from me. She was mad, of course, that I'd been in the woods, but not madder than she was a) glad I was home and b) troubled that there was a large animal in a pit in the woods behind her house.

I hope this isn't a let down but there really isn't much else to the story. I guess Mom called the police or animal control or something. I eventually found the path again—foolish curiosity. It was full-on winter by then and the ground was covered with snow. A little distance off the path I found a frozen pool. I poked a branch through the ice. It wasn't deep, a few inches, all that remained of a vernal pond, probably. I don't know if that was the spot. I told my buddy Brian about it and we believed fervently that there was a beast tunneling in the woods behind my house and then we got to junior high and didn't believe anymore (and didn't hang out anymore, either).”

Truthfully, I’m not sure that’s the weirdest story from my childhood. I mean, childhood is weird, man.

Tomorrow, John Cotter and I head west to Iowa City, where we’ll read at Prairie Lights; from there we travel to Northfield, Minnesota, to Minneapolis, and finally Milwaukee. Here, John provides a few more details.

To Virgil: Toward the end of The Aeneid is a simile that caught my eye: “Just as in dreams when the night-swoon of sleep/ Weighs on our eyes, it seems we try in vein/ To keep running, try with all our might,/But in the midst of effort faint and fail;/ Our tongue is powerless, familiar strength/ Will not hold up the body, not a sound/ Or word will come: just so with Turnus now….” (Fitzgerald trans.)

We’ve all had this dream. Running from a threat, we’re mired in dream-tar. Virgil wrote about that dream 2,030 years ago (give or take), and that dream was common enough then for Virgil to use it to explain the way Turnus’ moved while fighting Aeneas! When our sleeping selves calls up that imagery, we’re tapping into something ancient. Perhaps what chases us in the dream has changed. Maybe not. We wake from the dream and a spear pins us to the ground.

Friday, October 1, 2010

16. Werewolves & } Small Press Saturday

John Skipp’s latest anthology, Werewolves and Shapeshifters, is published. I’ve not read much of it yet—my author’s copy arrived two days ago and most of my reading time is owned by Virgil’s The Aeneid and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (and assorted secondary materials). I read Steve Duffy’s “Side-Effects May Include.” I realized after the first line that I’d read it before, but I thoroughly enjoyed it again. I must have first read it in Exotic Gothic 2 (ed. by Danel Olson).

Duffy first came to my attention with his first collection, a set of M.R. James pastiches. Then “The Penny Drops” (written in collaboration with Ian Rodwell). I also published "Glass Stoppered Bottles" in issue #3 of New Genre. Soon after, I started to see weirder stuff, altering my first impression that Duffy’s scope was limited to (excellent) quiet ghost stories. Specifically, two stories in early issues of the journal Supernatural Tales that riffed off of urban legends and 1960s history hinted at a post-modern ripple, and let me see that his style could be very contemporary. I’ve not read his newest collection, Tragic Life Stories. I will, I will!

Werewolves and Shapeshifters will, like its zombie counterpart, reach a massive audience, much larger Duffy (or I) typically reach. Some of the people who buy it for the big, comfortable names will make some exciting discoveries.

(My contribution to Skipp’s anthology is “The Animal Aspect of Her Movement.”)

BY THE WAY, join me Saturday, Oct. 2nd in Newton, MA for Small Press Saturday, “as [Newtonville Books] celebrates independent publishing with the editors and contributors to these fine presses”: Rose Metal Press, Ampersand Books, Dzanc Books, Madras Press, and Small Anchor Press. The event starts at 2pm. I’ve been told that following the event, there will be a wild boar hunt. Venus has warned me not join in, told me the portents are all bad, has begged me to stay with her, but what the hay, how often do I get to hunt wild boar?