Sunday, December 4, 2011

49. Of critics } and their nasty reviews.

Oedipus asks Teiresias to identify the murderer in Thebes. Teiresias does, but Oedipus doesn’t like the answer (“You are the murderer you seek.”), so he must accuse the seer of blindness, declare that, “Whatever you say is worthless,” and that Teiresias is motivated (via Creon) by envy, not truth.

What a typical response to criticism.

King Lear asks to be told “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” Goneril and Regan say what Lear wishes to hear in the way he wishes to hear it; Cordelia, possessed of integrity, cannot, says “Nothing” and then, “I love your majesty according to my bond, no more nor less.” For her integrity, Cordelia is disowned. Kent, loyal to the king but not a sycophant, attempts to intervene. His loyalty is met with banishment.

Lear’s pride is wounded by Cordelia’s “plainness” (honesty). To save face, he must declare her honesty to be something else. He calls it pride. When Kent—presumably Lear’s longtime and trusted adviser—points out that Lear is unreasonable, Lear calls Kent a traitor. Lear must declare reason to be worse than its opposite—to be betrayal.

Again, typical responses to criticism—at least in my experience. In the case of a book review, a fan of the author I criticized said I was jealous because I’m not a famous, Edgar Award-winning author. When I questioned the approach an awards committee took to fund-raising, I was accused of doing so because I hadn’t been nominated for their award.

Cordelia and Kent defend themselves against Lear’s accusations by staying true. Kent, disguised, becomes Lear’s closest adviser once more, and Cordelia returns with France to challenge the gross rule of Goneril and Regan. (I know. For Kent and Cordelia, being proven right is bitter consolation.)

For the second issue of Shadows & Tall Trees I reviewed Al Sarrantonio’s Portents. David B. Silva (I assume he’s the “Dave” at Hellnotes) reviewed the issue. He characterized my review as “nasty.” I find this characterization to be misleading, and I don’t want people to think that Shadows & Tall Trees—a very valuable journal—is in the business of publishing reviews that are merely nasty. (For a sense of my critical approach to Portents, I wrote about my thinking here. And Silva's review, it should be noted, is favorable.)

Toward the end of my review of Portents I wrote, “I don’t mean for this to be a hatchet job but a spur,” and I mean that. My greatest wish for Portents is that its editor will react to my negative criticism by editing a flawless second volume. A hatchet job is a gleeful thing; reviewing Portents made me sad.

Friday, December 2, 2011

48. A little more } year end reading.

As a contributing editor for Open Letters Monthly I periodically criticize the organization and less frequently submit an essay. This month, see “Our Year in Reading.” My bit’s very highfalutin, Virgil, Vergil, epics, and “Ozymandias. ” Do read it though, and the other editors’ recommendations, too, but before you link away let me add to my list, with a little less finesse, a few titles more.

I mentioned James Belflower’s Commuter here once before. I will write about the Side Real Press anthology Delicate Toxins—I haven’t finished reading it yet—but thus far two stories really impressed me: Angela Caperton’s “Tlaloc” (I owe you a letter, Ms. Caperton) and rj krijnen-kemp’s “Dogs.” I’ve been afraid to write about Christopher Barker’s collection Tenebrous Tales because Barker is rumored to be evil, and I generally try not to invoke the names of demons. I liked his story “Subtle Differences.” And by virtue of being an Ex Occidente title, the book itself is exquisite.

For a buck I picked up The Year’s Best Horror Stories VIII (edited by Karl Edward Wagner in 1980) for the Alan Ryan story. Not the same Alan Ryan who writes for The New York Review of Books (sorry for the mix up, Mr. Ryan!), but the Alan Ryan who wrote a handful of excellent stories in the 1980s, then disappeared—though apparently continued to write. Ryan died this year.

And Voice of Ice / Voix de Glace by Alta Ifland. The book, part of the 2007 Les Figues Press "TrenchArt: The Parapet Series," is tall and slim like a Zagat guide, but black, and filled with little stories en français and in English. "I speak from inside the stem of an ice flower." Very beautiful.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

47. “I could play all day } in my green cathedral.”

The storm came two days before Halloween and left the city dark. My eldest and I read by candlelight and watched lightning strikes.

During the bright morning that followed, I walked from the house to the top of the street. Fall leaves torn from trees—red and still green, bright against the snow. A power line sagged low it touched the road. A tree’s limb had flattened the chain-link fence in front of the house where the Crown of Glory van parks every Sunday morning.

In the backyard, I discovered the storm cleared much of the vegetation that grows in a fenced-in no-man’s land between my property and the neighbor’s. A plant my size—I’m a tall man—was now exposed growing from the center of a vernal pond. An odd plant. Its stem looked like bone, like a spine. Its flower, which undulated even when the air seemed still, was like the fronds of a fern. The leaves were orange.

May still be. I’ve yet to examine it more closely. Then, the fence kept me from it—though I could easily hop the fence, there was much to do. I needed to find a place where my family could stay—20 degrees the predicted temperature at sunset.

We were without power till Thursday. Today begins a regular week.

Friday, October 7, 2011

46. Sweep up } for the author’s note.

Anna Eyre inadvertently caused A panic in man me. A cog in spin A spoke in wheel me is thrown out all windows me.

Poet Anna Eyre is this month’s featured poet for the Inescapable Rhythms series at Real Art Ways. Now hosted by Kristin Kostick, Inescapable Rhythms brings a writer to the microphone to read, then invites its audience to read. Rarely all at once. On our best nights, the power fails and we read by candlelight, or our guest says “train” and a distant whistle blows. Anna may or may not read from her chapbook are me, or she might read from her upcoming collection. Let’s all go to the lobby for wine, beer, soda, and snacks. Inescapable Rhythms happens every second Wednesday of every month. All are welcome to come listen, and to come read their poetry or prose. Anna and I may or may not work on our collaborative poem live during the open.

“A make sense this pulse they / all about not not given up an answer they / not sure the correct answer of they / not sure of these questions they / struggle round immeasurable rulers they / want A balance to make up they” [from Anna Eyre's “they”]

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

45. Worse than } marginalia.

I reviewed Portents, an anthology edited by Al Sarrantonio, for the second issue of Shadows & Tall Trees; anyone who orders the new issue is entered to win the copy of Portents I used to write my review. This is a hardbound book, numbered and with Sarrantonio’s autograph, but what makes it a singular object is my extensive marginalia. I used Pigma Micron pens, with either .25 or .45 millimeter line width, and various shades of blue or brown. Some of my notes amount to rough drafts for the review, but most are immediate reactions to the contents—from Steven Jones’ forward through the last story and contributor’s notes. A sample page can be found at the Shadows & Tall Trees blog.

Whoever wins the Portents + Golaski marginalia will want to work vigorously to make me a famous author, in order to boost its value. One way to do this is to write favorable reviews of my books. Here’s a line you could write: “…the style, the execution, the refusal to offer up a warmed-over and simple explanation or denouement …are marks of quality in my book.” Or you could write, “It is with… subtleties that Golaski most impresses; while he’s gorgeous on ‘the allure of the accident…’ he’s even stronger on those unpicturable things: the “heavy nostalgia” of watching discarded videocassettes with a loved one, or, even more, those post-coital feelings, as in a tremendous scene where a man’s wife lies on her back and ‘pictures a glass jar, a large jar... emerging from her ribs, just below her breasts.’” Of course I don't mean to impose.

Purchase Shadows & Tall Trees #2, edited by Michael Kelly, with all new fiction including a story by New Genre author Eric Schaller (“The Sparrow Mumbler,” issue #6), my review, a set of really fine film reviews by Tom Goldstein and YOU might win a book I thoughtlessly destroyed.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

44. Aaaaaaaaaaaalice } read.

Aaaaaaaaaaalice, the second single-author collection published by Flim Forum Press, my and Matthew Klane’s poetry press, was favorably reviewed by poet Erika Jo Brown for the Iowa Review.

Jennifer Karmin’s book-length poem was emphatically a yes for Flim. When we first saw cantos from the poem, a submission to Flim’s A Sing Economy, there was no discussion; we took ‘em. That’s not customary. Matthew and I still bear scars from our debates over a good number of the poems that did and didn’t make the Sing cut. Karmin’s cantos were salve. We were similarly of one mind when the full Aaaaaaaaaaalice ms. was sent us.

Brown's review begins by describing the book’s overall aesthetic, and while I can take some credit for the look of our titles, the lion’s share must go to Matthew, who labors over every page in his little basement office. Back then, he was still constructing mock-ups with print-outs and a paper cutter. He not only made mock-ups of the book, but also constructed paper bookshops and paper readers. This of course made for a very strange scene, a bit like a Robert Wilson installation. Matthew’s wife still refuses to go to the basement at night.

Brown also described an Aaaaaaaaaaalice reading:

Karmin distributed slips of printed paper—later revealed to be ribbons from her book—to a crowd of about a hundred people. She invited the group to interject with their given words at any volume, at any interval. Then, she began to recite evenly and energetically. Thoroughly unruffled, her voice seemed to absorb the intrusions that eventually evolved into enrichments.

This is only one form Aaaaaaaaaaalice readings take, but they are always collaborations with the audience. Never, I hasten to add, free-for-alls. Karmin conducts, so even accidents fit. If the opportunity arises, hear her read.

Monday, July 25, 2011

43. Bookstock and } the Dire Literary Series.

Alone in a miniscule Vermont town, alone for days, wandering around in a French-cuff, white dress shirt, gray trousers, and black, leather boots, lost off a trail, I ended up at a post-and-rail fence, looped with barbed wire. There ahead was a field. Horses, all of them white, grazed. One turned to the noise I made when I stepped on the bottom rail of the fence to test its strength. Green plants dangled from the horse’s mouth. Looked more like seaweed than grass. We stared at each other.

With minimal damage to my clothes I managed to hop the fence. The horses mostly ignored me and I did my best not to look at them, as if they’d recognize me later when they were questioned by the rancher. I’d been out all night, and the sight of a road—a real, paved road, with route numbers on signs posted alongside—was a huge relief.

Just a few feet from the fence that closed the field to the road, I felt a sharp pain between my shoulder blades. Very briefly, the road ahead of me turned red, and flowed, and all over the banks of this blood river were pale white flowers, blooming, and the trees withered white, and the sky, white. Beside me stood a horse, but not a horse: from between its nostrils was erupted a horn, its tip bright red. It snuffled—I felt its wet breath on my cheek. I made for the fence and got over it, started up the road, and finally found my car.

This weekend I’ll be in Vermont again, but with family and clear goals to keep me from late night bacchanalia. I was invited to present at Bookstock, “a Green Mountain Festival of Words.” I’ll read from Color Plates, and talk a little about writing short fictions; I have it in mind to talk about Angela Denstad’s as-of-yet unfinished collection of shorts, maybe read one or two. I’m also on-call to workshop high school student writing.

If you’re in the neighborhood of “the beautiful village of Woodstock, Vermont” Friday and/or Saturday, July 29-30, come see, “Over thirty authors of national and local renown will speak, read from their work, offer interactive programs and mingle with the participating public.” There’ll be book vendors and music, too.

The following weekend I’ll go Cambridgeward, to read for Timothy Gager’s Dire Literary Series, August 5, 8pm. The evening begins with an open mic, which means I get to meet you, and then features, Anne Ipsen, Ray Charbonneau, me. Timothy asked me to participate after I read at Ron Goba’s. I hope it’ll snow.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

42. "la Porte de l'Orient," } where I note things.

Dan T. Ghetu, the man enslaved by the beautiful and malevolent creature called Ex Occidente, has published The Master in Café Morphine: A Homage to Mikhail Bulgakov, the second in what appears to be a series of anthology tributes to European authors of the weird (the first is Cinnabar’s Gnosis: A Homage to Gustav Meyrink; the third will be This Hermetic Legislature: A Homage to Bruno Schulz). The Master in Café Morphine is under “real-time review” by D.F. Lewis at The Hawler, and my contribution has already been reviewed.

Tho I type “review” certain that it’s not the right word. Here’s a sample:

“…a Thomas Hardy, D.H. Lawrence, Anton Chekhov incident that haunts the stiff pages of this book, one of which pages might be used to funnel or chase dreams of forgetfulness in powder form… the sharpest funnel of all being the one that can deliver dreams of forgetfulness melted or distilled from the Winter of our souls by directly penetrating the skin with such a page’s words made fluid.”

I do know what Lewis means, by the way, and from his review it’s obvious he’s insightful. Chekhov was very much in mind while I wrote. My story is called “The Country Doctor” a title taken from Kafka, but also Bulgakov’s A Country Doctor’s Notebook.

Lewis also reviewed Cinnabar’s Gnosis. My contribution, “Her Magnetic Field,” is a story I am very fond of, which introduces Theophile, his amoral sister Monica, and his friend Philip (who once did battle in outer space with “the stone that thinks”). Lewis wrote:

“Proustian selves by cassette tape. Proustian selves as flies. This brings back for me the days of cassettes, when I recorded not only music from the wireless but echoes of sonorous existence from blank tape to blank tape and back again as sounds mounted sounds like randy insectoids…”

Proust! Thank you Mr. Lewis.

…and Lewis reviewed Old Albert: An Epilogue, another Ex Occidente title (in the Passport Levant series), this written by my friend Brian J. Showers. I’ve yet to read all of this revised and expanded version of the story, but I accepted the original “Old Albert” for New Genre #7, so I know at its core is a stellar story (I sold the rights to “Old Albert” for an astronomical figure, which explains why I’m writing this post from a club in Ibiza, for those of you who wondered). The book itself, as is the case with all the Ex Occidente titles I’ve seen, is gorgeous.

Earlier this year I heard Lance Olsen talk about books and their future (or non-future, says the hideous structure that once was a Borders). He said something along these lines: in the face of the e-book, many publishers of print books are showing us what the book can do.

What can a book do? The physical book lends atmosphere to the text it carries. Even the crummiest paperback, pages loose and yellowed, can enhance a text (what better way to read hardboiled detective fiction or Burroughs?).

The stately elegance of a volume from Ex Occidente is exactly the right setting for the collections and novels they publish. If I were in Romania, Dan and I would right now be standing over a table, smoking horrible cigarettes and examining the pages of the novel I am making in my head at this moment, and considering which silk ribbon bookmark and which silver foil stamp will best suit the horror.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

41. The murky depths } of the frog pond.

At last back from Boston, where my ship wrecked in the middle of the frog pond shortly after I left Emerson College. There was nothing to do but sit below the fountain and watch dryads mock me from the trees. A little girl led me and my crew to the shore, only to transform us into carousel horses. As I went round and round there was time to contemplate Emerson's Pre-College Creative Writing Program, for which I was a guest speaker. Thirty high school juniors and seniors listened to me during the day's Coffehouse Hour. I was asked to "prepare a brief introduction that touches upon what you wish someone would've told your teenage self about writing… and read about ten minutes worth of an excerpt from a recent publication or something you are working on." I spent all morning thinking about what I wished people had told my teenage writer self, but my thots all rabbitholed back to the fact that people did tell me, gave me fine advice, a very little of which I followed. If I could tell my teenage writer self something it would be to take some of that advice more seriously. So I told them to watch less television, eat reasonable after-school snacks, read more and more widely, and to fold and put away their school clothes.

I also showed the students OUTLAND, read a new story called "Open Houses," and encouraged questions. I'm not sure what I would have asked if I were in their position, but at least one student was determined to go home to his mom and dad with proof positive that a writer can make a living so mom and dad please send me to college for creative writing and not dentistry. I was little help, since I am a dentist.

While I went round and round the carousel, Speculative Fiction Junkie posted a positive review of Shadows & Tall Trees #1, and editor Michael Kelly can now wear a “British Fantasy Awards Nominee” badge, if he so chooses (Murky Depths won last year for best magazine? Murky Depths is what’s wrong with horror magazines. And its victory illustrates how broken fantasy literary awards are). Whatever. I’m pleased to see S&TT get some attention.

Night fell on Boston. The children went home and the gates to the carousel were locked. All we could move were our eyes.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

40. Efflorescent } Barzakh.

John Cotter and I read to a handful of people at the Center for Social Justice in February. In Albany. John brought strange wine. I tried a shortcut across a snow-covered vacant lot but was stymied by a precipitous drop. I read February newspaper notes (above, a page from; the first two lines transcribed from text messages sent to myself just prior to a reading by Abraham Smith).

Our hosts were Anna Eyre and James Belflower. I read James’ book and wrote him, “Yr Commuter arrived today. Sat down to read a few pages and read the whole book. Good to read it in one sitting. The bomb-narrative carries the reader thru and tends to generate the most poignant moments, but of course some of that is juxtaposition, honeymoon and lost limbs, for instance.” And, “this poetry comes at just the right time. I think it and Anna E., and some other poetries may save me and push me deeper into what I began with what I read in Albany.”

And indeed. Anna asked me and John to send poems for Barzakh, a new journal out of the English department at the University at Albany, SUNY. We did. The new issue was posted a few days ago. Anna telegraphed from Alaska to tell me. From co-editor Sarah Giragosian, “Barzakh wishes to consider in what ways traditional and experimental forms may provide an efflorescent zone for marginalized communities.”

John’s “Rus in urbe” is one of (I believe) a chapbook length ms. of Norwich (CT) poems. The river that is “blue one day and gold the next” features in other of his Norwich poems, such as “They Want to Convert the American Finishing Company”: “While your poison colors / streaked the river / Norwich ate hearty, / woke up early.” Anne Gorrick’s “When Noon Wears Ermine” is dedicated to Lori Anderson Moseman; Flim Forum Press will publish her next. The Evie Shockley poem “ode to the taxicab” moves vivid, “which candles night’s feast of onyx / and jet…”; an interview follows. My selection is from a long poem called OUTLAND. OUTLAND is dedicated to the poet Jessica Smith.

Friday, May 6, 2011

39. New Pages, New Genre & } the Color Plates.

Regarding New Genre issue #4, Jennifer Gomell wrote, “I think this magazine has the potential to really stick its thumb in the eye of literary snobbery” (New Pages, Oct. 14, 2006). That’s the quote I pulled for our meager press material. The quote begins, “Bump up the quality of the horror, and…” She “found the horror tales a bit conventional (one downright plodding).” I’m not here to bicker. My guess is she found Christopher Harman’s story “plodding.” Harman, in my experience, tends to write stories that make tension with a near-infuriating attention to apparently inconsequential details that culminate in the kind of horror that for me, at least, is devastating. Harman’s story (“The Last to be Found”) was reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, though I’d be the first to admit that this is a dubious measure of a story’s excellence. His story was the first story I selected to be reprinted in that series. From that same issue, Don Tumasonis’ “Thrown” was reprinted in the Stephen Jones series Best New Horror. Gomell did love the science fiction, and it was brilliant—Jeff Paris was then science fiction editor.

(“Thrown” suffered a big cut and paste error I should have caught. Tumasonis was gracious about that. He was upset about a section break that was (accidentally) removed. As an author, I totally sympathize, but I read the story many times without the section break, and I still prefer the story without it.)

Kenneth Nichols reviewed #5 (New Pages, Nov. 3, 2007) and Trelaine Ito #6; Nichols was delighted by the whole of #5, and I unabashedly am as well; Ito had some mild reservations about the “over-the-top prose” in #6 choosing as his favorite story Stephen Graham Jones’ “Lonegan’s Luck” which is absolutely an excellent story, but also the issue’s most conservative. (It, too, was reprinted in a year’s best, and nominated for an award, as was the most conservative tale in #5, Paul Walther’s “Splitfoot.”)

A few days ago my publisher informed me that New Pages posted an extremely positive review of Color Plates. The author, Alex Myers, writes, “When I first sat down to read this collection, I approached it as I would any other short story collection” but that he found a different approach was necessary. “I set up my laptop and found an online image for each painting that Golaski writes about.” This slowed Myers down, but “enriched” his reading experience.

The paintings are not required to understand the stories, but I love the idea of a reader who takes the time to look at all those paintings, and isn’t it fortunate that—from his desk—he can do so. Over a sandwich, he holds my “Luncheon in the Studio” in one hand and with the other visits Wiki for Manet’s.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

38. A review and a review } New Genre.

New Genre (the literary journal I edit) is an argument. If horror and science fiction is carefully selected and presented with seriousness (rather than as an ongoing homage to the template established by the pulps), then horror and science fiction will be approached by readers as literature, not as something less than. That’s all New Genre is.

Incredibly, there still isn’t another journal like it.

I am currently reading a review copy of a new horror anthology, preparing notes for what will be a negative review. The book itself is physically attractive. The cover is a throwback, but it’s meant to be. The authors include one major literary figure, and about half a dozen writers considered to be among best fantasy writers alive (considered by fantasy readers/writers, at least). Some of the more minor names still stand out, too—many have published fantasy work for more than a decade.

Which makes all the more distressing how bad this anthology is. I cannot believe that the editor edited. A few of the stories are good, two are very good, but most range from mediocre to bad. Bad how? Filled with cliché language and other symptoms of lazy writing. Good ideas squandered by lack of development—flat characters or narrative too rushed to develop properly. Most of the stories needed an editor’s involvement and I can’t believe the editor of this anthology was involved. A few of the stories are not publishable—one of these by an author who has written what are considered to be horror fiction classics in his decades-long career.

This anthology is an embarrassment. Another embarrassment. Too much that is mediocre in horror fiction is praised as the best by its readers, and too much that is bad is published. This is why it is perfectly reasonable for a reasonably informed, intelligent reader to conclude that horror fiction rarely (if ever) produces worthwhile literature. We can’t keep pointing back to Poe, to Hawthorn, to James, etc. and expect to be taken seriously.

I don’t have a lot of hope that things will change. Too many of horror fiction’s influential tastemakers are unreliable and unsophisticated. I am always grateful when good work is done, and there is good work. (Much of it written oblivious to what I think of as the horror fiction community, some of it coming from within.)

When I write my review some names will be named but I’m not interested in that now. What’s important is that horror fiction can be serious literature, but the genre as a whole will never be taken seriously unless it gets serious about itself. I’m close to not caring if it ever does, but I’m not free yet.

Issue #7 of New Genre isn’t ready. That’s why I haven’t published it. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

37. The Old Poet } Moves to a New Apt.

(but sometimes a meter's a voice.


After all—
interests me
when it is full of being.


Tiny sarah golden

(so taken in

by the beauties
of the suites

Saturday, March 12, 2011

36. A song heard } through the ceiling.

At the end of winter, I dream of an ice-buried, primeval landscape.

Freshman year of college a storm came through Boston that shut down the trains and stranded me in the city. Geoff, a German who sat next to me in sociology, offered me a couch for the night. His place was “a couple miles” from campus. Snow whipped across my face. The walk across the Mass. Ave. bridge was brutal, but the view of the frozen river and the city lights—ample recompense. Geoff turned occasionally to shout encouragement. We stopped in a bar Geoff knew. The bartender didn’t card either of us, Geoff was a regular, the Irish bartender a pal who liked to give Geoff shit. Except to ask questions, I kept my mouth shut.

Geoff worked on an off-shore oil rig and a cook’s assistant. He told us about the time the cook cut off all his fingers, how he was ordered to pick them up, pack them in ice, and bring them to the infirmary. He told us about an accident with a pipe, it swung loose, crushed a crewman’s head.

The walk from the bar to Geoff’s—a large, empty apartment behind Central Sq.—took a drunk minute. I flopped onto a couch by the window. He brought me a glass of water and a bottle of Tylenol. Boston was a dream. I woke. I reached for the army-green blanket kicked to the end of the couch and saw out the window a man, standing in the tiny yard, dressed head to foot in fur. He roared, and rushed the glass—I shouted and tumbled off the couch. Geoff staggered out of his room, clad only in bright tighty-whities, cursed at me and staggered back to bed.

Numbness the aftereffect of my fright, a fine hangover cure, I stood in that stranger’s living room and stared out the big window. The yard was lit by a flood, mounted on a blank of gray plywood. Snow fell, blurred then erased the man’s tracks.

Next morning, classes canceled, we at omelets Geoff made. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

35. Built on a walk } thru (a bar of green soap).

First “a field of colors” by Charles Lennox, sent to me 4 June 2009, in a cream envelope, by someone who lets their commas hang low. Dialogue in this story is written in ALL CAP, yet remarkably doesn’t read shouting. “a field of colors” is a place where a divorced father goes with his daughters and sometimes alone. The field is of colors, dismembered body parts (human and otherwise, less revolting than an opportunity to make new bodies), chairs, paper, etc. His daughters do what they do, they are bored, they are with their mother, they make origami. It’s a lonely little piece, and I was immediately attracted to the writing and to the presentation Mud Luscious Press (MLP) gave: a little chapbook, with a pale blue paper cover, stamped MLP. MLP was new to me but by goodness gracious not new to anyone else, I guess. J.A. Tyler published the first of these chapbooks in 2008, “a field of colors” no. 33 or thereabouts if y’r counting.

Another envelope, manila, arrived shortly after the first, no commas, no date (the $1 stamp hand-canceled with a sharpie), with three more chapbooks enclosed. Of the three, Elizabeth Ellen’s “a thousand & one others, yes” shocks the most, about a boy, the son of a garbage collector, and a girl, his nearby neighbor, and violence. Unexpected and brutal.

So I don’t know a whole lot about MLP or J.A. Tyler, but for the four chapbooks I’ve read. My editors emailed to tell me he reviewed Color Plates today. My first thought was to read those chapbooks again and maybe say a word or two about them. All are out of print. Maybe a lot of the stories can be found elsewhere? On the MLP site C. is announced, an anthology of MLP “Stamp Stories.” They’re not the chapbooks, see for yourself. However, as part of the announcement for C. are two stories from C. and one is “from Charles Lennox.” I won’t quote it here but here it is and it has origami: “My girls come to me & say THIS IS BORING. CAN WE GO BACK HOME NOW? When we reach the truck they say NO. OUR OTHER HOME.”

I know very much less about Spencer Drew except he also reviewed Color Plates. Thank you Mr. Drew and Mr. Tyler.

Friday, March 4, 2011

34. Live past } the wrong house.

Ron Goba now hosts, with Tom Daley, a poetry salon in his home just south of Boston. Tom invited me to read as feature, so last week I read. I asked Sarah G., the screenwriter/traveler, to join me. She and I used to attend the open at the Cantab Lounge, where Ron was the doorman/last reader for decades. Rain turned to snow at 6:30, when I picked Sarah up at the train station. Look up into the snow it’s dizzying. Sarah wore a white coat. I drove a black sedan.

First we walked to the wrong house—knocked on the wrong door, peered into the brightly lit and comfortable home of Ron’s neighbor. When we were invited in, we hadn’t yet realized our mistake. Not much of an audience, I thought, just an elderly couple. I looked at the old man, thought, Ron has changed he’s unrecognizable. Sarah asked to use the bathroom. She came back, like, in a minute and said, “This is the wrong house.” No one spoke: we left. Sarah said to me, when I asked how she’d figured out we were in the wrong place, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Ron’s house is well-stocked with single malts and decorated with clowns. After a warm welcome from Ron and Tom—the only people at the salon who knew me—I was offered a seat. Twenty-five people came. Before the feature, everyone there is offered a chance to read in what’s called a “round robin”; two more round robins follow a break after the feature. During the round robins, it was suggested I read poems by other poets. I read “The Yellow Bicycle” by Czeslaw Milosz, “Psalm” by George Oppen, and “Why Trees Weep” by John Taggart. The introductions Ron and Tom gave me were most generous. Interesting for me to hear about the impression I made as a young poet, reading with the likes of John Cotter, Jeff Paris, and Matthew Klane. Sarah and I shared an excellent red donated by my father. I read from my unpublished ms. The Rescue: I read the poems about “our daughter,” the Metamorphosis (Ovid’s) poems, “St. Emma,” the entire Dante series, and ended with “[The Forest by the River is Never Empty]” (“Beowulf is ashes. / So bury ashes.”). What a pleasure to read for so long and to be heard. After, for about fifteen minutes, I was asked questions and kindly enthused over. I enjoyed hearing, too. Good to hear Ron and Tom again. Sarah and I were both especially interested in Carol’s poetry—I didn’t catch her last name. We guessed her to be in her sixties. She carried a fossil with her. An ammonite. At the end of the evening, I was offered two features (dates to be announced), one at an art gallery named for the place where I once weekly met with The Blue Poets, the other at The Boston Conservatory. (I wonder if Nina J. would choreograph something and join me on stage?) My thanks to Ron and Sue for hosting me, to Tom for the invite; I am grateful.

Sarah and I found the car covered in snow. We drove north to Boston.

Friday, February 18, 2011

33. AWP } Paul Dry on a park bench.

Suffering from a bout of angst, I found myself a bench a little ways away from the conference hotels and took out Mandelbaum's Iliad. A gentleman, waiting for his lunch companion on the next bench, asked what I was reading and when I told him he and I had a brief conversation about the translations of Greek and Roman classics that we preferred. In about a minute all I knew on the subject was exhausted. The gentlemen, Paul Dry, told me that he is the namesake of a small press that mainly does reprints, and that if I stopped by his table at the book fair he’d give me a copy of the Arthur Golding translation of Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Thus he unwittingly but ably cheered me.

And his Metamorphosis is a fine edition, based on the edition edited by John Frederick Nims. The cover, designed by Adrianne Onderdonk Dudden is striking—an elegant grid transforming patterns. Also included is an essay by Jonathan Bate that discusses the influence of the Golding Metamorphosis on Shakespeare.

Much later that night found me in a café called Luna (for the second time) with poets Kristin Kostick and Andrea Henchey. Matthew Klane, by this time, had called it a night. Andrea was in her own world, possessed by a series of lyric poems she conceived over a gin fizz and had to write down immediately. As text messages. I’m eager to read them/hear them read at the next Inescapable Rhythms.

This left me and Kristin to entertain each other. We talked civilization. What is it, and just how civilized are we? We talked Mumbai: the extreme proximity of its wealth and poverty. Civilization is peace, or freedom from fear, I figure. When we called it a night, I put Kristin and Andrea in a cab and returned to my hotel, where I talked with C.S. Carrier for a while about typewriters. Better than laptops for dictating epistles from the dead. For writing “shapes transformed to bodies straunge.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

32. Weird AWP } the glass mannequin.

Kristin Kostick sent me a text, told me I had to go to the Book 12 reading down near Eastern Market. I read the text, then deleted the text, and flipped the numbers in my head: instead of 1337 St. George I walked to 1373. Since the street entrance to 1373 was dark, I ventured down the cobblestone alley that ran alongside. There was a velvet rope and a sign (an illuminated human heart), so I figured I’d found the place. There was no line. I was late. I asked the bouncer, “Is the reading in here?” He nodded, shone a little light on my ID and waved me in.

Nothing was going on inside. It was an empty bar. No bartender. No bottles of anything on the shelves behind the bar. But: I heard voices and applause. Coming from above. I found the stairs and climbed them. There I found a big open room, a stage with drawn curtains at one end, and dozens of round tables on the floor and lo! a bar with a bartender and booze. The only lights on in the space were strands of green lights, webbed across the ceiling. Many of the tables were occupied and a poet was on the stage. I couldn’t understand what she said. I went to the bar, leaned against it and ordered a drink, scanning the room for Kristin. A number of women in skirts and with thick black hair were seated among the crowd, but I wasn’t sure if any of the women were her. I turned to the bartender to ask about her gin selection—the low light made it impossible for me to read the bottles.

The bartender didn’t reply, didn’t even move. I figured she was listening and I was loathe to interrupt but she was the bartender so I said, a little louder, “Excuse me. What gins do you have?” Again, no response. I moved down the bar a little, as close to the bartender as I could (odd, I thought, that no one else is at the bar) and that was when I realized the bartender was a mannequin.

I admit I recoiled from it, and backed clumsily away from the bar. I looked around, to see if someone was watching me, maybe laughing at me? I looked around and the stillness of everyone in the room—even the poet—became horribly apparent to me. There was no actual person in the room but me.

That there was the sound of speaking and then—it happened while I was in the room—applause—tipped the balance from interesting-weird to freaky-weird and I got downstairs right quick, worrying a little that the bouncer was not only in on the gag but that he was in on the gag and the gag wasn’t funny. Indeed, by the door, stood a man.

As I approached him, I asked dumb questions, trying to keep my cool, “Is that an installation? Where’d you get all the mannequins? Was the whole event the poem?” until I saw that, like the bartender, he was a mannequin. I cursed and brushed past. Doing so, I knocked it over, and it fell and shattered. I didn’t look for someone to apologize to, I just took off. Once I was a good distance from 1373 I texted Kristin who was like, “Where have you been?” and gave me the correct address.

I don’t remember much about the Book 12 reading.

[I should mention that John Cotter and I are reading in the Yes! Reading Series this Sunday. The reading starts at 4pm in the Social Justice Center, 33 Central Avenue. More information about the reading can be found here.]

Sunday, January 30, 2011

31. Autographing books, readings, } & where to when.

Immediately following: a few happenings tied to the upcoming Association of Writers & Publishers (AWP) conference in Washington DC next week.

Wednesday, Feb. 2nd. I will read poetry at Busboys & Poets with James Capozzi, Geoffrey Gatza, Matthew Klane, Adam Liszkiewicz, Marjorie Maddox, Brittany Perham, Sarah Sarai, Jon Thompson, Daniel Tiffany, Sam Truitt, and Bryan Walpert; we’re hosted by the journals Free Verse, Reconfigurations, and Word For/Word.

Thursday, Feb. 3rd. I’ll be hosting with Flim Forum Press (and quite a few others) a reading with Jennifer Karmin, Charles Alexander, Amy Allara, Andrea Bates, Joe Elliot, Laura Moriarty, Hoa Nguyen, Sarah Suzor, and James Belflower,. [James Belflower, by the way, will host (with Anna Eyre) me and John Cotter in Albany on the 13th as part of the Yes! Reading Series.]

Friday, Feb. 4th. At the Rose Metal Press table in the AWP book fair, I will be available to autograph copies of Color Plates (or whatever) from 10:30am until it ceases to be reasonable for me to sit at the RMP table with an uncapped pen.

Saturday, Feb. 5th. The AWP book fair is open to the public from 8:30am until 5:30 pm, and there are three tables I would like for you to visit: the aforementioned Rose Metal Press table, the Flim Forum Press table, and the Open Letters Monthly table. The Flim table, by the way, will be a nexus of the new, sure to be graced by poets your children and grandchildren will one day ask about. “Dad, did you ever meet Jessica Smith?” they might ask. And won’t you feel lame if the answer is, “Uh, nope.” Open Letters Monthly will be selling copies of their anthology, which includes an essay of mine about the poet Paul Hannigan.

[photo: Jennifer Karmin reading from Aaaaaaaaaaalice (with Jessica Leigh) at last year's AWP book fair.]

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

30. Books that aren’t } and books that do.

After Christmas John Cotter asked me if I’d heard of Lance Olsen and I thought THAT name rings a bell but why say so? I said, “I’m not sure,” so John told me all about Olsen’s Calendar of Regrets (SEE John’s review at OLM). What I wish I’d said when John asked if I’d heard of Lance Olsen was, Uh, yeah. I’m in a book with Lance Olsen.

That is, ahem, The Official Catalog of the Library of Potential Literature, edited by Ben Segal and Erinrose Mager.

Ben and Erinrose pitched it so: “The Catalog is to consist of a series of blurbs/short descriptions of books that do not exist. In order to compile that Catalog, we have asked many of the writers, theorists, and text-makers we most admire to imagine that they’ve just read the most amazing book they’ve ever encountered and then write a brief blurb about the imagined text.”

An advanced e-copy was sent to me so I might splendor on its grass before the actual encounter (the Catalog will be at the AWP conference). I’ve been doing. Let me mention a few I especially liked. Matt Bell’s “The Big Book of Infinitely Possible Timetables,” which sounds like the Catalog’s cousin and is similarly interested in the impossible, specifically, the wish to be in all of our possible lives. There are a number of impossible books described—my contribution is such a one; the Catalog lends itself to the improbable. Such as “The Slow Book,” by Shelly Jackson, which imagines a book that is written over the course of centuries (her blurb reminded me of John Cage’s “ORGAN2/ASLSP,” currently being performed as slowly as possible—for 639 years—in the church of St. Burchardi in Halberstadt), or Ben Mirov’s “Inadequate Pillow,” about a book that’s literally all things and nothing. Then there are books more possible. Mallory Rice’s “Hugging in the Kitchen” describes a novel made of the moments after the protagonist cries. I noticed frequent furniture moving in these blurbs. There are a few the-book-as-me blurbs, including Diane Williams’. There’s a lot of language that can’t be read. Lots of incredible cities, too, like the beautiful “Haven” by Evelyn Hampton I’m sure other patterns will becomes apparent to careful readers.

The blurb most unlike all the others: “The Gardens of Krakov” by Brian Reed. I like it most of all the blurbs.

By now you’re suitably interested.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

29. A long story written } with teeth.

While swimming Thursday afternoon I met three booksellers, members of the ABA and attendees at the Winter Institute. I tread water while these women from Illinois, all owners of independent bookstores, asked me about Color Plates. Thus began (for me) two days in the mighty Crystal City of being introduced to booksellers. A few hours later I joined Meg Taylor (from SPD) and Abby Beckel in a ballroom occupied by authors signing their new books for booksellers. We did our best to politely ingratiate ourselves with the crowd. The crowd was kind to us. We took a few books. I did meet Tim Wynne-Jones and he was eager—eager!—to speak with me about Nightfall and the Bay of Fundy. Afterward, a quiet Chinese dinner with Meg and Abby.

Written on a plaque in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History: “…using its front teeth and claws, this palcocaster dug its burrow in soft sediment. After its death, sediment filled the hole and preserved the beaver’s skeleton.” Behind the glass a corkscrew of stone—a petrified tunnel—that culminated in a burrow full of its maker’s fossilized bones. I found this affecting. I spent half of Friday in the museum, and most of that time among the bones of prehistoric mammals. I was similarly affected by a phrase that finished the Museum’s narrative on the evolution of horses: “…merely the current stage in a long and complex evolutionary history.”

All this and reading Andrew George’s translation of The Epic of Gilgamesh—now my favorite of the translations I’ve read—put me in a peculiar frame of mind for my second night of the ABA’s Winter Institute, where I was scheduled to autograph copies of Color Plates for booksellers. I had no idea what to expect and was surprised when people eagerly came up to me, already excited about CP, and in some instances urging me to come read at their store. We ran out of copies before we ran out of interest. Much of this excitement was due to a presentation Meg gave Friday morning—while I was sitting in the shadow of an Irish Elk, wondering (as I often do) about its antlers.

Ralph Nader sat next to us and signed copies of his book. He and I did briefly touch on the subject of our (essentially) two-party system, but he was preoccupied by a sour stomach. Bad cream, he thought. Ginger ale and cheese, he thought, would settle things nicely. I’m wasn’t so sure. Ginger ale, yeah, but cheese? He also praised a set of legal books, designed to help non-lawyers navigate the law. You know, write your own will. The three of us were invited by the publisher to join Mr. Nader for dinner, but he and his publisher left a couple hours before we could, so—a missed opportunity. Mr. Nader seemed exactly as he seems on television, etc.

Saturday, today, I went back to the Natural History Museum. I considered my many other options, but realized I wanted to be there, and in those thoughts. I was particularly interested in the “mammal-like” reptiles. Dimetrodon! My brother! I dwelled a long while beneath the prehistoric whales—the subject of one of my better elementary school papers. (I fondly recall an afternoon spent in the Boston Aquarium library, photocopying papers on the subject.) I confirmed that I like crinoids. I will write a slim volume about crinoids.

Perhaps in a few years I’ll be autographing copies of my crinoids monograph for booksellers attending the Winter Institute. Perhaps in a few million years someone will put my bones in a museum.

Monday, January 17, 2011

28. SPD will feature } me.

Thursday will find me on the train to DC again, but not for a reading—Small Press Distribution (SPD) has asked me to represent them as their “featured author” at the American Booksellers Association Winter Institute. I’m still trying to get my head around what that is, but I gather copies of Color Plates will be put into the hands of hundreds of Independent bookstore owners, and I’ll get the chance to meet them all.

Friday appears to be small press day at the Winter Institute. I’ll be autographing Color Plates in a room with just three other authors: Sharyn Wolf, Alexander Maksik, and Ralph Nader.

Also in attendance at the Winter Institute will be Tim Wynne-Jones, who—if it’s the same Tim Wynne-Jones—wrote several radio scripts in the ‘70s and ‘80s for Nightfall and Vanishing Point, including one of the most mysterious and beautiful episodes of Nightfall, “The Road Ends at the Sea,” set in a lighthouse on the black rocks of the Bay of Fundy.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

27. In the pages of } Paul Hannigan.

Spent the last three days in Brunswick, GA. with the papers of the poet Paul Hannigan. The second such trip. I had the feeling that I was seeing the future.

On the way home, at a restaurant in the Newark airport, I wrote a letter to a friend and felt as I was writing that the tone wasn’t mine at all but Hannigan’s.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

26. Color Plates loves } Worse Than Myself

I don’t know what it means to be on the Small Press Distribution (SPD) bestseller list, but Color Plates is on that list. In September, the month the book was published, CP was no. 7, just below the Starcherone Books title Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting; CP moved up to no. 2 for the October / November list. The result of that activity: CP is no. 26 on SPD’s 50 bestselling titles in 2010. Right now, SPD is promoting their top 50 with the “Kiss-Off 2010 Sale”—use the code “kissoff” and your copy of CP will be shipped to you for 30% of the cover price, which is, uh, $11.16 + tax and shipping.

Brian J. Showers informed me that he and I were among the Speculative Fiction Junkie’s “top 5 reads of 2010”—I for Worse Than Myself and Brian for The Bleeding Horse & Other Ghost Stories. I recently came across a review of Datlow's first best of for Night Shade, that dwells enthusiastically on “The Man From the Peak,” a story from that collection. Thoughtful reviews take time to write. I do appreciate the effort.

At about this time in 2008, I was in a branch library in Harrisburg, PA, revising and writing the stories for Worse Than Myself. At that library, in a box marked $1 CDs, I made some finds: Mono’s Walking cloud and deep red sky, Flag fluttered and the sun shined, a beautifully designed Gregor Samsa EP, a Naxos recording of Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, paired with “Three Olden Style Pieces” (which are excellent), Albedo 3.9 by Vangelis, and set fire to flames’ signs reign rebuilder. That library also had a heap of 331/3 book/CD sets. I read Chris Ott’s book about and listened to Unknown Pleasures. Joy Division doesn’t mean much to me, but at that moment, it was absolutely the right record.