Monday, October 30, 2023

248. On Gladiolus } “the largest blossoming flower.”

Inscribed on the title page of Rikki Ducornet’s Trafik, the following notes: “dreamt I was given a book filled w/ ads from the 1970s & was convinced Dad was in one of the ads. Kept losing the page, trying to find it to show Mom” & “dreamt I was at a show w/ my sister & Dad was there & we both looked at him & thought he looked dark.”

Quiver & Mic arrive on planet Gladiolus, “The surface is white clay; it is all clay.” The people are dolls, made of “local clay.” They are hostile bureaucrats who insist that any visit “will be brief and tedious to the extreme.” In grass cages are dolls holding cages that imprison dolls ad infinitum. That is, “Dolls in cages all the way down.”

Episode 4 of The Cinnamon Bear brings Judy, Jimmy, The Crazy-Quilt Dragon & Paddy O’Cinnamon to the land of the Inkaboos, doll-people cut from blotting paper, ruled by a king w/ a grocery list blotted on his chest & who live in fear of the Enormous Inkwell.

It is true that these all are different stories, but they all ask the same question: “Am I real?”

Monday, September 18, 2023

247. Jackie Sibblies Drury speaks } Jimbo.


Fairview comes close to calling for white people to become spectacle only [“…simply ‘Look! A white person!’”]—but draws back, opts for “A Person Trying.” Fairview is a comedy—& thus ends w/ a marriage.

# # # 

I’m fascinated by the roughly six-page monologue delivered by Jimbo, Fairview’s villain [or, rather, the play's most obnoxious character]. While Fairview references late 1980s / early ‘90s American television sitcoms, specifically those centered on Black family life, Jimbo’s monologue introduces Hostel (2005) & Hostel II (2007) to the material of Fairview—he explains why both are “kind of good” movies. He doesn’t name the films—perhaps to muffle incongruity of the reference?

Hostel & Hostel II are witty exploitation films concerned w/ gender, w/ American parochialism, &, most of all, w/ class. A wealthy European aristocracy rule over the merely rich who purchase from them kidnapped travelers to torture (not poor people; the kidnapped are young people of leisure—some of modest means, others rich; the only poor represented in the Hostel films are direct or indirect employees of the torture club). Any member of the torture club who break rules / show weakness suffer consequences—they are merely rich.

Jimbo recounts a specific moment from the first Hostel film:

…and so he’s doing that with the chainsaw
and slips in blood or something
and the rich guy decapitates himself
with his own chainsaw.
And it’s pretty obvious what that means.
Do you know what I mean?
It means he’s the victim of his own damn thing.

This scene is misremembered; the rich guy cuts off his leg—his victim, the film's protagonist, shoots the rich guy in the head. Easy to check (search: “Hostel chainsaw scene”). Deliberate? Details don’t matter to Jimbo. & his point weakens if, in fact, “the rich guy” is ultimately the victim of “his own damn thing” + the victim of a victim determined not to die. Alternatively, it’s possible Drury didn’t bother to check. She saw the Hostel films & remembers the impression they made & that was enough for her.

Do the Hostel films appear in Fairview as shorthand? Jimbo isn’t a character but a mouth; he is incapable of subtlety & lacks culture. Hostel is as close to art as he gets. Hostel & American television. Jimbo watches the show w/in Fairview & has a store of sitcom tropes—specifically Black sitcom tropes—well-memorized. Instead of Hostel, is there a less dissonant shorthand Drury might’ve reached for?

I first read Fairview in 2018. Then, I made the following marginal note on the script’s last page: “This play is weirder than the critics say it is.”

Monday, July 10, 2023

246. “Distant Signals” } attends Readercon 32.


Publisher John Thompson proposed NO Press make chapbooks to promote the forthcoming Stone Gods, a forthcoming collection of my stories. Thus, “Figure Between Two Houses”—the first part of a sequence of stories. The second part is “Caught Hand.”

According to the program, I’ll read both parts on Sat., July 15 at 6pm. & maybe something else? Maybe “Palace,” my contribution to Scott Dwyer’s latest anthology The Pinworm Factory?

Also Sat.—at 11am—Mr. Thompson will host a Mooncalves group reading. Christi Nogle & Brian Evenson will (presumably) read their stories from the anthology; I’ll read from mine—“Distant Signals.” Christi, it should be noted, is nominated for an award (to be announced Sat. night).

How Mr. Thompson will distribute the chapbooks, I don’t yet know—I bet you can get one at the Mooncalves reading & (if supplies last) at my solo reading.

# # #

The Readercon program includes photographs of Readercon participants; I was not asked to provide a photo of myself for the Readercon program—so, I scrolled through the program PDF with some apprehension. I hoped to find no photo. I worried I’d find an embarrassing photo. Instead, next to my bio, is a photo of a man I’ve never seen before.

What a simple trick! By pairing my name and a few details about my work with a face, that face becomes my own.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

245. "Where the clock } is hidden behind the bar."


My friend John published an essay in the New York Times Magazine. It’s about quiet bars. Or… dwindling spaces both public & quiet (where alcohol is served). Places where he can talk w/ another person & hear what they have to say (“My hearing is nearly gone,” he writes). John’s essay is about interior design that favors conversation. I might suggest he bring a pint of rye & a pair of tumblers to a public library—libraries currently favor community outreach over silent study. Public libraries are loud. So, not the library, John. John recommends mid hotel bars—“a Marriott will do, a run-down Hilton….” Plush spaces. Great absorbers of noise.

Don’t be distracted by the summarized conversations offered for color. Polyamory, you say? Romance novels? Sex workers? Don’t be distracted by the word “spider”—it appears twice in this essay.

For a directed study on “dread” my student & I watched Giulio Paradisi’s film The Visitor (1979). There’s lots & lots & lots going on in that film but relevant to John’s essay is a scene shot inside a hotel in Atlanta. I once stayed in that hotel. There’s a lagoon in the lobby & around the lagoon are little pods—circular couches that create intimate spaces that overlook the water. Interior design meant for real conversation (& canoodling).

When you enter Barbarella’s shagpile spaceship cockpit, do you wonder just who shampoos the place? Perhaps humans of the 41st Century weave their wall-to-wall from a self-cleaning organism. Otherwise, an all-fabric d├ęcor might not be sanitary. Isn’t that what we think when we end up beneath the water-stained popcorn ceiling at a Radisson lounge? Implied cleanliness is part of what appeals about, “bars and coffee shops… made of materials like slate and metal, with high ceilings….”

What’s the middle ground?

John’s essay is about interior design & what certain aesthetics fail to consider or actively discourage. His essay is about people inured to noise & about people who find conversation uncomfortable. The effect of his hearing loss is amplified by the ruckus, but his essay (unintentionally) speaks to anyone who wants to listen & to be heard.

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.