Thursday, May 18, 2023

244. The North Was Here } Ellie Ga Talk.

Ga writes,

“Ten people are put into an unknown room for one minute, maybe a little less, not more. They are asked to describe what they have seen. … Nobody sees the world in the same way. … We must see only what we can see.”

unknown room = wherever we are
one minute = for however long
ten people = w/ whom

What we see is limited by how much ice surrounds us. Is limited by where we are aboard the Tara, what year we’re aboard the Tara, & w/ whom we’re aboard the Tara. “In 2007, Ga was artist-in-residence aboard the sailboat Tara on an expedition to collect scientific data on climate change at the North Pole. She joined the boat after the Tara had been frozen into the polar cap for 13 months and stayed for the final five months before it floated free. Trapped in the ice in the Arctic darkness, the ten-person crew had no idea for how long the boat would drift” (from interview w/ Anna Della Subin for Tank). North Was Here is an artist’s book which is? $25. 1,000+ covers were letterpressed at Ugly Duckling Press. White card stock, the outline of the Tara, ice-coated rigging, snowfall represented by black dots. Pressed barcode: I can scan it with my fingertip. Four pts., each divided by a photograph, each exactly the same gray-blue. Between pts. 1 & 2: “shovels” (five shovels, blades in the snow—w/out the shovels, no sense of depth.); between pts. 2 & 3: “ladders” (three men board the Tara. Two hold a tether, the third stands with arms at his sides. Is he patient? Reckless? Ga writes, “A questions mark? Does that represent the big idea?”); and between pts. 3 & 4: “tractor” (a horizon line is detectable. Equipment on a tripod, its operator sits with his back to it). North Was Here is three chapbooks + “North Was Here.”


“I asked the crew to draw a map of our ‘world’; this project eventually became ‘Ten Till Two (10:10).’ For example,” Ga tells Lauren O’Neill-Butler (Artforum, March 13, 2010), “the mechanic was also a diver. He and the chief would dive under the boat to check the propellers. He drew an ice floe in the shape of a mushroom…. No one had seen it but him.” From ‘Ten Till Two (10:10)’: I’ll put the boat in the middle because it’s our house. Here’s the fire for burning the rubbish and here’s the toilet. Here’s the piece of ice, like a mushroom, under the boat. When we dive we wake the little fish up. I saw a lot of beer cans down there.” W/out context, the reader naturally assumes the text of “Ten Till Two (10:10)” comes from Ga’s direct experience—she dove beneath the Tara. W/out context, we draw false conclusions about Ga. “Ten Till Two (10:10)” is about the perception of time (“This is a map of the future. With a little bit of the past”) & about perception of place. Perceived, primarily, w/ sight (“…the visibility changes and when the boat disappears, it is as if our star disappears.”). When is artificial—just ask the Julian calendar. What we see, too—" Nobody sees the world in the same way.” “Drift Drawings” are squiggly lines that represent—yup, you guessed it—. “Log of Limits (Snow Walks)” look like sewing patterns. Charcoal on paper, 30” x 44” (not noted in the book but on Ga’s website Drawings that represent walks crew members (Ga?) took off the Tara; the captions are concise & wonderfully telling. For example: Dec 17: No movement possible off Tara, walk dogs on bridge … Jan 10: Possible to walk around Tara (but not advisable) Jan 12: Possible to walk around Tara Jan 16: Possible to play rugby around Tara “North Was Here” is video stills from “At the Beginning North Was Here.” In the video, images are interspersed with text (from the same source “Ten Till Two (10:10)” is derived). At the end of “North Was Here” is a note—the notes throughout the book offer some context, but not quite enough not to draw false conclusions. The note at the end of “North Was Here” does not appear at the end of the video “At the Beginning North Was Here.” The note concludes—& thus concludes North Was Here—"…the doctor turned to me and said, ‘You know, I have a feeling you only get to do this once in your life and, well, I have failed.’” This sentiment applies to everything in life.

North Was Here the artist’s book is a piece of The Fortunetellers, Ga’s response to her stint onboard the Tara. On its own, North Was Here frustrates sensical interpretation. Sure, we could say that frustration is a metaphor—being aboard the Tara was disorienting, therefore… but that’s pretentious. North Was Here the artist’s book is a piece of The Fortunetellers. That’s better.

From the Tara Ocean Foundation website (

“To explore and share, each mission of the schooner Tara is intended to be a crossover between artists, scientists, and sailors. Do you want to be kept informed of calls for projects when the next Tara Ocean Foundation mission is defined? Would you like to present your work and your creations to us?” There’s a form to fill out. It’s not a specific call for a residency aboard the Tara, but a pool—I presume—for artists who are interested. I’m interested. I yearn to go to the Arctic aboard the Tara & write. But I’m allergic to dogs.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

243. Fence issues } i.e. what’s wrong w/?


In 1988 I sent my dad a card. He was in Pennsylvania. At home we weren’t watching T.V.—a fast, I take it. I drew a cartoon: In Hell, the Devil cackles while three people sweat in the unbearable heat; a fourth person, identified as a Boy Scout, sits comfortably with a personal fan. A caption reads, “A Boy Scout who took the motto 'be prepared' to heart.”

My first reaction to this cartoon, reading it as an adult, is that it’s really dumb. But! upon reflection, adult me thinks this cartoon is hilarious. Not least of all because the Boy Scout, as I drew him, is one happy lad, sitting on his pile of dirt in Hell.

Yesterday, I met with my co-editor for Fence’s “other” category & we discussed a few works for issue no. 41. My co-editor, Sarah Falkner, is a delight. We are simpatico. I am very pleased—oh, did I mention?—to be an editor at Fence. How strange.

& just a handful of days ago, I received copies of Fence no. 40, which is gigantic, & guest edited by Edgar Garcia, who asks, “What’s the problem with American poetry right now?” The answer is, “Not a thing.” Or, maybe the answer is, “It’s a drag.” I guess you’ll have to read the fourteen responses to his question to know for sure. There’s also a wonderful selection of translated poetry. I’d point out the Polish poem to my dad, if I could: Halina Poswiatowska’s “[we have enormous possibilities].”

But I suppose he’d be more interested in my contribution to the issue, an essay called “Blue Tape.” I read from it in New York last November. My sister & her husband, a former student of mine (Tatiana), & Rebecca Wolff were in the large & enthusiastic audience. We were raided by the police during Harmony Holiday’s reading. They’d heard there was a problem with poetry in America right now.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

242: Bennington Review & } “Puttin’ On the Ritz.”


Bennington Review issue 11 claims “Money Makes the World.” Sure, money’s part of the texture, but there’s also 1980s MTV music videos. For instance, Taco’s “Puttin’ On the Ritz.” Taco, who wears a tuxedo & carries a neon cane, walks into an alley crammed with Depression-era poor. He sings, he taps, & he tosses cash into the air—thus, transforming Hooverville into a cabaret. Is Taco Tim Curry? No.

My “San Francisco Essay” appears in Bennington Review 11. Money is a concern of the essay—as in, the author has no money. Race is a concern. So is abortion, considered while reading The Midwich Cuckoos, John Wyndham’s novel about an alien invasion via women. Art is a concern, especially Jay DeFeo’s The Rose.

Aside from this current issue of Bennington Review, I’m also in the December issue of Ghost City Review— my poem, “[*/Sylvania].” There’s something about that poem that reminds me of another poem of mine from Voice Notes. Maybe I’m just repeating myself? Voice Notes is out from Sputen Duyvil, with a beautiful cover by Matthew Klane.

[ images: screen shot from Taco's "Puttin' On the Ritz" video & the cover of Bennington Review issue 11: "Money Makes the World" ] 

Saturday, January 7, 2023

241. Kelly Link loves } Mooncalves.

Kelly Link once told me I have good taste. Editorially speaking. She also inscribed for me a copy of Stranger Things Happen thusly: “for Adam—I promise, one day, I’ll write you a story. (Promises, promises.) love, Kelly Link, April, 2001, Chicagoland.” She has yet to fulfill her obligation to me; because of my good nature, I have refrained from taking steps to enforce this legally binding document. Mitigating the dreadful rancor between us, she did write a generous blurb for Mooncalves, edited by John WM Thompson:
I will always be more grateful than I can say for anthologies like this, that not only include some of my favorite writers, but also introduce me to work by writers I haven’t encountered before. Mooncalves is splendid, surprising, and delicious.
I know for sure I’m not one of Kelly’s favorite writers, but I do have a story in Mooncalves—it’s called “Distant Signals.” Steve Rasnic Tem, Lisa Tuttle, & Glen Hirshberg are (probably) among Kelly’s favorite writers—they have stories in Moonclaves too.

Whilst still in proof, I read Mooncalves—it’s very impressive. The stories are strange & beautiful. Clint Smith writes, “Surreal and superb, Mooncalves is a narratively abnormal exhibition, with stories that both alter and accentuate fiction traditions”—& that’s exactly right, that’s the texture of this book.

John wrote to me in April, 2021 to ask me questions about my work. After we discussed New Genre, he wrote, “I've entertained starting some sort of ‘zine….” I replied:
Might I suggest that instead of a journal that requires an ongoing & endless commitment… you push your money into an anthology? Make it fancy & limited. Sewn binding, hard cover with an image stamped into the cover & a dust jacket. Good paper stock. Generous margins. A book you can charge $40 - $100 for, depending on size.
That’s Mooncalves!

It’s available now for $38 from the NO Press website. If you’re a reviewer interested in having a look, let me know & I’ll put you in touch with John.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

240. Losing Music } & Swordfishtrombones.


[The following fragment, written during the Spring of 2016, was meant to become an essay. It would’ve been called “Losing Music”—named for & intended to compliment John Cotter’s “Losing Music”—an essay about his experience with Ménière disease. John's “Losing Music” subsequently became Losing Music, his forthcoming memoir from Milkweed.]

John sent me a txt, asked, did I own Swordfishtrombones? He wanted me to listen to it, for him, because he couldn’t. I do own a copy, can’t say I’d ever listened to it, except I’ve heard songs from it—“Frank’s Wild Days”; once ago John put that cut on a mix for me. // I listened, as he asked. Took Swordfishtrombones to my little office where I never put on the lights except a cheap desk lamp and only early in the morning. I listened, head against the wall. // Between “16 Shells from A 30.6” and “Town With No Cheer” is the sound a rope makes when (blown by wind) it strikes an aluminum flag pole. A flag pole or—this is what I thought of—a rope against a yacht’s mast. A solitary yacht anchored off-shore. Docks. A ramshackle ice cream shack. Clang. A wind it won’t stop.

# # #

Just when John’s Ménières was about to get bad, but before it was the sure thing it is now, he told me the sound he heard in his head was like a bathroom hand-drier on full blast. He said it was so loud it amazed him no one else could hear it.

[Losing Music is due this April & can be pre-ordered here. There’s a short interview w/ John there; for more, Rick Koster wrote about John’s recent stay at the James Merrill House.]

Monday, October 3, 2022

239. Clovis takes a relic & } in no time loses his mind.

A brief life by Eliot Weinberger: “When [Ilona] received the stigmata, a circle of gold appeared on her right hand and out of it grew a white lily.”

Ambrose, who “dozed and dreamed over his books” attempts to explain evil to Cotgrave in the prelude to Arthur Machen’s “The White People”; he says,
What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, and you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grown before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?
Is it a waste of time to calculate the number of angels, if angels speak, if angels eat, if angels were aware of Jesus’ existence before humankind, if angels have free will, if angels have sex with each other & or with humans, if angels have gender, if guardian angels like the people they’re assigned to guard, how many faces or arms or wings angels have, or if angles have names? Is contemplating angels, as St. Paul warned, “an obstacle to the worship of God” (43) or is such contemplation of spiritual use? An angel dictated the Qur’an to Mohammed & an angel directed John Smith to the Book of Mormon. I admire St. Thomas Aquinas’ logic but not its application.

Weinberger says,
No, I don’t think [facts] have any limits, I mean that’s, I mean that’s my one rule of writing an essay is that all the information in independently verifiable. So, it’s not that it’s necessarily true or not true but somebody believed it not me and I don’t invent anything.
So this book [Angels & Saints], like all things, started with Donald Trump, really. As you mentioned I write about politics for periodicals abroad and about American politics and because of that I have to follow the minutia of the news which you know kind of drives one crazy so I like to have a project that’s kind of timeless and that’s news that stays news.
How long does it take for fake news to become “kind of timeless” & “news that stays news”?

[ illustration: a poem by Hrabanus Maurus in praise of the holy cross, circa 810 CE. ]

Thursday, August 4, 2022

238. David Cronenberg’s } funny cars.


Watch Crash (1996). Then watch Fast Company (1979).

Insectoid machinery: the “Lonnie Johnson designed quadravene blower.” A prototype quadravene blower stares at Lonnie from his desk; it causes Lonnie’s “fueler” to explode during a race; Lonnie walks away from the explosion unharmed.

Wide shots of sunrise & sunset. Bright reds & blues (see the children’s snowsuits in The Brood, filmed during the winter of ’79.)

Homoerotic back-&-forth between ostensibly heterosexual men: “Then you’ll be suckin’ my pipes”; “Why don’t you go behind the truck and give yourself a valve job!”

Lonnie’s girlfriend, Sammy (Claudia Jennings), works where? It’s her own place, called “Sammy’s.” We see a cash register & a row of glass bongs on a high shelf (lemon yellow, fire engine red, jade green). Lonnie calls her “Sam.”

Antagonist Phil Adamson (Fill, as in oil, as in penetrative sex; Adam-son, as in Cain) flies a single-engine airplane (similar to the plane Catherine Ballard flies & that sexually arouses her). He flies w/ Candy, says, “They crawl, we fly,” & puts his hand on her thigh.

At minute 19:53, shot of security guards w/ bad skin. & the great face of the announcer! Toothy like Tom Petty.

The FastCo. crew is in Helena, Montana; on the wall behind the announcer is a poster for “Inland Empire shows.” (David Lynch, born in Missoula, Montana, directs Inland Empire in 2006).

Close-up shots of funny car interior. Billy’s hands on the steering, switches. Billy wears goggles & a respirator, reminiscent of the pilots on the album sleeve for Black Sabbath’s Never Say Die! (1978). Close-up shots of funny car parts. Lonnie stands w/ the mouth of a funny car wide open behind him.

Auto-erotica: Billy picks up two hitchhikers (unnamed, played by Cheri Hilsabeck & Sonya Ratke); takes them into the FastCo. trailer for sex; he opens a can of motor oil & pours it on Sonya’s bare chest. Shortly thereafter, Billy consummates his romance w/ Candy on the bed in Lonnie’s trailer/office; Sammy finds them in bed &, once she understands what she’s seeing, joins the pair; Lonnie shows up & shoos Billy & Candy out so he can have sex with Sammy.

At 1:23:18, “the fiberglass bodies are lowered over the drivers”—the final race, at night, culminating, inevitably, in an explosion & death; a man in flames against a starless sky.

Lonnie must destroy Phil: drives his funny car into Phil’s plane; Phil loses control & crashes into the side of a black trailer. “Maybe the next one, darling. Maybe the next one.”

[ Months after shooting Fast Company, Claudia Jennings (Sammy) died when she crashed her Porche on the Pacific Coast Highway. She was 29. In 1969, she was playmate of the month in November; she appeared on television & in films, including The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976) & Deathsport (1978)—a film about an apocalyptic future where people kill each other using laser guns & dirt bikes. ]