Saturday, May 21, 2022

233. Sawako Nakayasu } leaves.

 Kate K. texted the following three photos: 

& she wrote, “This issue of poetry… did you know about Sawako's poem? I did a double take when I saw you there…”

I did know. Pink Waves, Sawako’s latest book, was written in a theater space. Visitors were encouraged to be in the space while she worked. Twice, I sat in the theater & wrote while Sawako worked. I drafted sections of “San Francisco Essay” (which will appear in an upcoming issue of Bennington Review).

The theater where she wrote was located beneath my office. Some mornings, early, I’d let myself into the dark theater before anyone else was in the building. Feel my way down the spiral staircase. Pause at Sawako’s worktable. Move past the mirror & through the black curtains to the exit.

I “went away again” in the April issue of Poetry; I am “going away” in the May issue of The White Review.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

232. Mister X proposal for } Critical Cartoons.


Throughout 2015 & 2016, Tom K. (editor at Uncivilized Books) & I corresponded about Critical Cartoons; in May of 2016, I queried about writing a volume,
I keep toying with the possibility of proposing a book for your series... but I imagine you're well set for the future. I'd do Mr. X (Vortex) or The One (epic) or (heaven forbid!) Gore/Shriek (FantaCo). So much to think about.
He replied,
Please propose a book! I’d LOVE a book about Mr. X (architecture & comics is one of my pet topics!) or The One!!! I haven’t thought about Gore/Shriek in ages, I’ll have to dig them out of my long boxes! There a lot of proposals I’m juggling, but a [sic] many of them are not very solid yet. There’s a lot of room to maneuver if you’re serious.
A week later I sent a 7-pg. proposal. What follows is from the first pg. of my proposal.

# # #

Definition destroys the beauty ambiguity makes.

Eye-level with the street, man-hole cover lifted light as a nickel, “It wasn’t easy for the man to return to the city”; his bald head, the thin bridge of his nose—his sunglasses reflect Radiant City. Behind him, skyscrapers and sky-bridges and spotlights. Or, behind him is the dream city “he himself designed” but left unfinished. Or, he is at the center of Radiant City. The city stands behind him and, reflected in the dark lenses he wears, in front of him. He is Mr. X.

Dean Motter, who “created and designed” Mister X, articulates (unintentionally) the problem with the original 14-issue run (1983 – 1988), “People remembered [Mr. X] without ever having seen him.” A better word than “seen” might be “read”—seeing Mr. X suggests much, but, “While the imagery that collaborator Paul Rivoche and I were developing looked interesting, the premise began to seem rather banal by comparison.” And, “[Mr. X’s] cache was, after all, his ambiguity. His mystique. His aura of menace. His sheer unconventionality.” Mister X is beautiful when it is allowed to be ambiguous, mysterious, strange. “But,” Motter writes, “that all seemed to be falling to the wayside the more I tried to define him.” Of course. Definition destroys the beauty ambiguity makes. Motter “& Co.” tended to explain rather than allow, to restart rather than proceed.

Nonetheless, Mister X was not resolved, so beauty remains.

# # #

After a follow-up from me, K. wrote,
Apologies for the big delay! We were pretty swamped with pre-sales for the Spring ’17 season. I’m planning on taking a look & giving you some feedback this week. I really appreciate this!
I never heard from K. again. My sense is that Critical Cartoons stalled or went in a different direction. Maybe my proposal is wretched. What do I know?

I know I like the proposal I wrote. Mister X is a flawed comic, but it loomed large in my teenaged imagination. The story is mysterious & it was mysterious in the world (my classmates didn’t read it & I couldn’t buy it at Dairy Mart, where I could always grab the latest X-Men or Batman).

My father bought me the first issue. I hunted & hunted for the rest.

Now you can easily get the whole thing from Dark Horse, complete w/ a hyperbolic introduction by Warren Ellis.

[ Note: Lars Ingebrigten wrote a good overview of Mister X on his blog here. The image above is from the Dark Horse collected Mister X, w/ my Post-it note (“Pathways / his motivation... to keep them secret?” attached. ]

Saturday, April 30, 2022

231. Conversation w/ } Spider & the Undiscovered Bug.

…carefully typewritten by myself when I was fifteen (or thereabouts), 3 pgs. of a play dedicated to my then-girlfriend. Here’s an excerpt:

SPIDER: I saw a movie the other night.
UNDISCOVERED BUG: Oh? & what was it called?
SPIDER: I believe it was called A Boy and His Dog.
SPIDER: Oh, no. It wasn’t nice. But I thought you might be interested to hear about it because it's a love story.
UNDISCOVERED BUG: Yes! Yes, Spider, that might prove interesting.
SPIDER: The boy—I don’t recall his name. Let’s call him Smith-Corona Coronamatic. Smith-Corona Coronamatic went underground where most of the human race lived to find a girl. He wanted her very badly.
UNDISCOVERED BUG: He was in love with her?
SPIDER: I’m sure of it. When he found her, he & she were stuck underground. They worked together to escape. She said she loved him & he said she loved her too.
UNDISCOVERED BUG: & they lived happily ever after with the boy’s dog?
SPIDER: No, the dog & the boy ate her.

Spider’s retelling of A Boy and His Dog (1975) deliberately misunderstand the movie—but that’s me, appropriating a film to tell my own story. That story being about the indignities of love.

The film, by the way, is a black comedy set in the wake of WWIV during the year 2024. I’d like to know how the human race survived WWIII, but I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

The MS. is missing its first page & whatever else I wrote after pg. 4. The last page introduces a character who is clearly a stand-in for me: Paperboy. (I delivered newspapers for several years, back when newspapers were carried in big canvas shoulder-bags early in the morning by gals & lads who rode bicycles & saved their tips to pay for college.) This part of the play doesn’t exactly make sense. Paperboy is depressed. Radiator told him he “is a stupid idiot” but Grapefruit told Paperboy she loves him. Paperboy then renounces Spider & Undiscovered Bug. They’re not the gurus he thought they were, apparently.

[ image: a screenshot from the opening sequence of A Boy and His Dog ]

Monday, April 25, 2022

230. Marie de France & } Tales from the Darkside.


King Arthur dishes out wives & land to all who helped repel the Scots & the Picts—all except Lanval. No one puts in a good word for Lanval. He’s excellent, but not one to boast. & the knights who notice Lanval envy him, so they stay mum. “Now [Lanval] was in a plight, very sad and forlorn.”

Aimless, he decides to “take his ease” in a meadow. It’s a strange meadow; his horse senses this but Lanval does not. He takes a nap. Or maybe he’s awake. Two maidens arrive & ask, on behalf of “my damsel,” that Lanval follow them to her tent. The tent is fabulous (“There is no king under the sun who could afford it”) & the damsel inside is fabulous.

She offers Lanval her love & wealth, but w/ a single stipulation: he mustn’t tell anyone about her.

For a time, Lanval enjoys the damsel’s company & his new found wealth—but the knights, who previously ignored Lanval (specifically Gawain), decide to invite him to a garden party & there, at the party, the queen (Guinevere, I presume), hits on Lanval. Lanval rebuffs her advance. She says, “I have been told often enough that you have no desire for women. You have well-trained young men and enjoy yourself with them.” Lanval denies he’s gay & tells her he is “loved by a lady who should be prized above all others I know.” He adds that the queen is worth less than even the poorest girl in the kingdom.

In turn, the queen promptly tells Arthur that Lanval made a move on her at the party. Lanval is put on trial; to defend himself, he tells the court about the damsel—& realizes, the moment he does so, that he’s broken his promise & lost her.

Since he can’t produce the damsel in court, he’s jailed. His sentence will be banishment. Unless… at the very last moment the damsel arrives. She declares her love for Lanval & no once disputes that she’s more beautiful than the queen. Lanval is freed, & he rides with the damsel to Avalon.

Now, there’s plenty that’s different about “Lanval” & the Tales from the Darkside episode “Ring Around the Redhead” (based on John McDonald’s story)—but there are striking similarities. The damsel—Keena, she’s named—offers not only beauty & material wealth but also intellectual gifts that appear to be magic. The hero—Billy, not Lanval—is in love with her knowledge & w/ the promise of a life in the perfect world where she’s from. Although Billy is not accused of insulting a queen, he’s in jail, about to be executed, unable to prove to anyone that there ever was a Keena. Lanval’s advocate is Gawain; Billy’s advocate is a journalist. At the very last moment, before Billy’s execution, Keena returns & whisks him away to her perfect land—Avalon.

Bob Byrne, writing for Black Gate (“Birthday Reviews: John D. Macdonald’s “Ring Around the Redhead”), dismisses the episode:
The story was adapted in 1985 for an episode of Tales from the Darkside, starring John Heard and Penelope Ann Miller. By all accounts, it was forgettable and did not justice to MacDonald’s writing.
I can’t dispute this, since (I’m embarrassed to admit) I haven’t read McDonald’s story (I will!). However, “Ring Around the Redhead” is one of my favorite episodes of Tales from the Darkside, one I rewatch often.

I don’t claim that McDonald took inspiration from “Lanval”—although there’s no reason why he mightn’t have. We can, however, be fairly sure “Ring Around the Redhead” wasn’t influenced by Roxy Music.

[ Image of Keena from Tales from the Darkside "Ring Around the Redhead" ]

Friday, April 22, 2022

229. Abbey Road sketches } (home demo).


A student wrote “zone-off” instead of “zone-out.” She zoned-off. I dig it. Like, to get-off. Zoned-off to “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”—but, as often, study / attend to it.

Oversized load & “Old Brown Shoe.” A house on a flatbed. Mom & Dad bought a house on a flatbed & set it where the old house used to be. Stood in the pit where the old house was & Marci said, “Yr grinning, Adam.”

“Sun King” begins w/ nighttime sounds.

Choosing a name fr yrself. “Oh, Darling!” Mom & Dad name you X but yr called Y. What of us who don’t make or acquire a nickname? Anything we don’t need to decide / think about is good.

Steer the car beneath the wheels of a K-Line tractor trailer. “He shut his eyes & came out…” the countdown “1, 2, ah 1, 2, 3, 4.” Cars keep losing the lane. Veering into mine “Oh, I’m losing my cool.”

Or you all came in too late.

A bright blue car full of plants. Not potted plants. Rooted in the upholstery. Grassland in the back seat. Driver in a camo poncho, stalked by a lioness; she’ll wait until the car is in park before she pounces.

Friday, April 15, 2022

228. Cricket for } Mira Calix.


Mira Calix is dead. I bought Eyes Set Against the Sun (2006) at a record shop in Cambridge. Not long after, the shop closed. This was before the restoration of vinyl. “the stockholm syndrome” begins w/ plucked strings. Autoharp? An electronic squelch repeats. A voice & a beat. Calix chants, “he said, ‘walk away.’” There’s a full moon this morning. At the Road Runner gas station damsel flies rise up & down in the lights. I brush them aside as I wait for the car’s tank to fill. Frogs gulp. Across the street the reservoir. Animals that live in mud. Calix incorporates a cricket—briefly—at the end of “the stockholm syndrome.” A nod to Nunu. Mira Calix is a field during the hot of summer. “eeilo” is mournful; “the stockholm syndrome” isn’t joyful but energized. Last night I thought of a scene w/ a jet-black cricket chirruping in someone’s bedroom. Mine, I suppose. The presence of the cricket erased the barrier between indoors & out-of-doors. I was annoyedI wanted to be well-rested for the next day (today) but I’m not sure I was awake. I dreamed I went to a train station to meet a girlfriend I haven’t seen in decades. When she arrived, I recognized her immediately. Her hair was gray but I knew her by her size & by her gait & I laughed. Now it’s 4:39 am & dark & I’m on a highway. “the way you are when” a plucked cello. Mira Calix is dead young; dead is on my mind. Green shoots, the azalea will flower pink soon. All this w/out—after Mira Calix.

[ Composer Mira Calix died March 25. ]

[ for the now defunct Coldfront I wrote the following in 2017 about Calix's NunuBlack sky white flora fringed pink and green. “piece not about the field recording” Here is a home movie wave. Whales in captivity. “I frantically” Treated strings and insects. Sailboats. “wasps, flies, larvae hatching, butterflies beating, and with this menagerie” A little girl dances in her swimsuit; wade in: track: “NUNU” taken from “3 commissions” ep music by MIRA CALIX filmed by PAPA CALIX directed by AV; TV ©2004 “site specific music” Walk backwards into the garden. Ingest to transform the sun. ]

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

227. Caitlin R. Kiernan's } unstable "Onion"

Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “Onion” is about two miserable young people who suffer glimpses of another world. Frank sees it through cracks in walls; Willa sees it in mirrors. They work shit jobs. Barely eat. Go to meetings in the basement of a synagogue where bitter coffee and day-old donuts are served. Willa accepts an invitation from a wealthy man who has an enormous glass tank full of seawater in his basement. Via that tank, some people can navigate to the world Willa only glimpses. Frank is jealous, feels betrayed, is a little bit really worried about Willa’s well-being. His rescue attempt is a bust: he finds Willa in the tank, hideously transformed and simultaneously convinced she’s in her mirror-world.

Only, that’s not how Kiernan’s “Onion” ends. Not this time. That’s how it ended when I first read it (collected in the chapbook Wrong Things, picked up for a couple bucks at a used book shop). When I read it today, I found no tank, no Willa-thing. Instead, Willa bums a cigarette and leaves Frank morose in Central Park.

To be clear, I didn’t misremember the story. The story changed.

[ Image: Richard A. Kirk's "Anguish of Mind" (2017); Kirk's art appears on the cover of the Subterranean Press edition of Wrong Things by Caitlin R. Kiernan & Poppy Z. Brite ]