Daily Postings
literature : review

A Wrinkle in Swing Time

by Chase Quinn

Friendship and the lies we tell ourselves in Zadie Smith’s Swing Time.

Swing, a jazz term, is about resisting expectations, embracing surprise, and establishing flow. Zadie Smith's Swing Time (Penguin Press, 2016) evokes this concept in literature by depicting how powerful our illusions about time and place can be. While tilling the ever-fertile soil of race, class, and gender relations with signature wit, Swing Time achieves its greatest insights engaged in questions about friendship and shifts in perspective. What results is an unswerving examination of some of our deepest and most neurotic anxieties. The fear that, for instance, people are far less predictable than we might like to believe. Or worse still, the notion that someone you thought you knew, beyond hurting or disappointing you, might utterly exceed your expectations.

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literature : interview

Laura Sims

by Claudia F. Savage

"Humans are complicated, and I find that complexity—even as it pertains to murderous behavior or planetary sabotage—fascinating and repulsive in equal measure."

The latest book by Laura Sims, Staying Alive (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2016), doesn't pull punches. The world is on fire, the world is ending, and it is highly unlikely we are going to get out of this mess. Yet, somehow, as Cormac McCarthy writes in The Road, there are moments of relief, even beauty. Sims renders the apocalyptic terrifyingly gorgeous, desirous even:

You were always a murmurous forest
But now you are
This
                                    Incandescence

Referencing texts as varied as Bradford Angier's How to Stay Alive in the Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House on the Prairie, the TV series Battlestar Galactica, and Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl, Sims's tone is one of both commiseration and warning: "Not simply torn between longing and safety / But torn." We want to forget. We want to start over, but we're not sure we can.

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literature : interview

Joel Whitney

by Rob Spillman

"If we know the government is funding the arts or funding journalism, then it behooves us to put structures in place that will allow for them to be fearless."

It's long been known in the publishing world that in the 1950s, the CIA was involved in founding the influential literary magazine, the Paris Review. My wife, Elissa Schappell, was senior editor of the Paris Review under George Plimpton in the '90s, so I saw firsthand his charismatic charm, and it was hard to imagine this liberal lion anywhere near the CIA. Yet Peter Matthiessen, one of the other founders, was employed by the agency, which was formed after World War II to counter worldwide Soviet influence. Its focus was not just political influence, but cultural influence, so-called "soft power," which the Soviets were successfully wielding, winning hearts and minds of Western cultural elites. The CIA also funded the first American abstract expressionist exhibit in Europe, the Boston Symphony's first European tour, and dozens of cultural magazines.

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literature : review

A Circus of Meaning

by Kyle Paoletta

Animals say it better in Yoko Tawada's Memoirs of a Polar Bear.

Yoko Tawada's novel Memoirs of a Polar Bear (New Directions, 2016) opens with a bear, the first of three generations of authors, recalling her traumatic childhood in a Soviet circus. A sea lion editor circulates her story in a literary magazine, the Russian censors take notice, and the bear is exiled to West Berlin. The novel is less about the politics of the time, though, and more about the struggle of expression itself. "In the past," the bear agonizes, "I'd used language primarily for transporting an opinion to the outside. Now language remained at my side, touching soft spots within me." But when her work is translated, she becomes alienated from her own story, complaining that the German translator "turned my bearish sentences into artful literature."

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literature : first proof

Four Poems

by Claire Donato

I am in the Void
I sd to my friend
To which he responded
How was your day

Re: the day:
It was a Pool of Tears infested by social media
It was an infinite regression accented by yr texts
It was akin to http://www.instagram.com/tsa
It was a pair of CGI black boxes: ◼️ ◼️

And last night I dreamt twice. First, the second
Body was burning, then the world was a machine, and you
Were lying beside me like some inert butterfly effortlessly, an image
Which depends upon notions of nearness that can be defined
As follows:

I woke up
You were not there
I wanted to throw up
Then I went back to sleep
Feeling the same or similar

And of course I thought the world
Was deeply stupid, but then it opened up
Into sighing choral harmonies that moved
Me toward the pronoun we, and a door 
Appeared leading into another world
In which I, a black box filled with music, said
How was your day to you.
In other words, you said hi first.
And then we merged: ◼️

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literature : interview

Michelle Tea

by Sara Jaffe

"I'm just using language to manipulate the reader into feeling my feelings, or the feelings I hope they feel."

A little less than halfway through Michelle Tea's new novel Black Wave, our narrator—also named Michelle—reveals that the story she's been telling is not the "true" version of events. Originally, she tells us, this was to be a book about the end of a major long-term relationship, but the ex didn't want to be written about. In the past, Michelle powered through such discomfort with the mantra "don't act that way if you don't like to see it in print," but she's increasingly "haunted by the thought that the work she did, her art, brought pain to other people." So she shifts around the order of some encounters and events, and has herself move from San Francisco to Los Angeles alone, rather than with that ex, which is, we're told, what "really" happened. Also, the world is literally about to end.

The looming apocalypse is present from the beginning of the novel—late '90s San Francisco is a "vampire town," heated by a "killer sun," so we already know we're not reading straight-up memoir. But something happens when Michelle the narrator, who, of course, we can't help but read as a stand-in for Michelle the author (of numerous memoirs and novels), intervenes to let us know that she's presenting us with a manufactured reality. The whole book begins to buzz, glow, backward and forward, with the possibility of both the imagined and the real. Every utterance becomes multivalent. The effect is more complex and compelling than the typical state of suspended disbelief fiction typically invites us to embrace. Black Wave—brainily, hilariously, heartbreakingly—makes felt the labor of dragging language onto experiences in order to give them a shape that will reveal their emotional truth without bringing pain to other people. Every sentence is thick with what it both can and cannot communicate about a person, a time, a place, a life.

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literature : first proof

Spring

by Ari Braverman

The city has turned so beautiful in its new season that being indoors is giving the woman a stomach cramp. From her desk, the woman can see the whole expanse of the parking lot. On the medians between parking spaces, white flowering trees fill the air with the odor of semen.

"My son's room smells like that all the time, now that he's hit puberty," says the woman's office-mate.

"They're a varietal of pear tree," says a person nobody likes, plunging a fork into a microwavable meal.

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literature : interview

Edmundo Paz-Soldán

by Scott Esposito

"Breaking away from magical realism ended up creating another stereotype: that of a generation obsessed with mass media, new technologies, and disdainful of politics."

Edmundo Paz-Soldán is one of the leading Bolivian writers of his generation. A widely decorated author and Cornell professor of Spanish literature, he has generally been grouped with the McOndo movement (a sort of repudiation of magical realism), but in truth Paz-Soldán's work is so multifaceted that any single classification disserves him. His books include noir, sci-fi, and a hacker novel, just to name a few, and he has also been a prolific political columnist for various newspapers, including The New York Times.

Paz-Soldán's 2011 novel, Norte, has just been released by University of Chicago Press in a sterling translation by editor and translator Valerie Miles. It traces three thematically interlocked narratives of Latin Americans who have made the border crossing and, to quote the author, have become "lost in the US." Containing elements of popular pulp fiction, academic satire, metafiction, and psychological realism, it is a riveting book that gives a complex perspective on the borderlands shared by the United States and Mexico.

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literature : interview

John Reed

by Gee Henry

"The best way to write myself out of the project was to overwrite my own biography. I mean, who is this 'I' anyway?"

John Reed has been writing hard-to-classify books for over a decade, to great acclaim and sometimes greater notoriety. His novel Snowball's Chance was a blistering and controversial sequel of sorts to Orwell's Animal Farm that culminated with a 9/11-like attack on two windmills. Jonathan Ames called it "scary" and "engrossing," as well as a "sustained triumph." Reed's novel The Whole was a satire inspired by his relationship with a certain MTV VJ and was published, bravely, by MTV Books. My favorite is the aptly titled Tales of Woe, a grim collection of tragic accounts from around the globe. Fictionaut said the stories were "without any redeeming character whatsoever—just bleak, bleak, unremitting, and undeserved." In truth, they actually loved the collection.

Reed is a real New York City character—mysterious yet completely accessible, old-school but cutting-edge. A few years ago, he started sharing some newly written sonnets on Facebook. Although they were largely about love, or desire, they weren't really fit for readers looking for happy-ever-after scenarios. Many ended with a narrator seemingly suspended above a great metaphorical chasm, either about to descend into oblivion or ascend to something sublime. Reed collected these sonnets and others in his latest project, Free Boat: Collected Lies and Love Poems, out now from C&R Press. And, since no book of Reed's is written without adding a "remix" (a term often used by reviewers to describe his writing), he added something strange throughout—a semi-autobiographical letter to guide the reader through all the poems. Sometimes this letter is addressed to Reed's current or former wife, sometimes it's addressed to his literary agent, and sometimes it's directed to the reader. In these, he goes from childhood to adulthood, to a decadent period spent in Cuba, then to the present moment. It contains mug shots of multiple "John Reeds" from around the country, as well as pictures of people Reed identifies as family members. This may be the closest thing to a memoir he'll ever produce.

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literature : review

This Rude World

by Cypress Marrs

Jen George's The Babysitter at Rest tells tales of the absurd expectations of womanhood.

In The Babysitter at Rest (Dorothy, 2016)—a brilliant and surprising debut collection of short fiction—author Jen George subverts conventional narrative form to reckon with socially imposed ideals of womanhood. Each story follows a woman in her twenties or early thirties as she negotiates the cultural expectations made upon her life and body. It's well-trodden ground, but George hurtles us through the landscape of such archetypes with prose crude enough to be refreshing and dark enough to be funny.

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literature : review

Floating Market

by Caitlin Youngquist

White space speaks volumes in Hoa Nguyen's Violet Energy Ingots.

Something numinous lies in Hoa Nguyen's newest collection of poems, Violet Energy Ingots. Slender and minimalist in appearance—and sheathed in a spare cover of flecked paper like other publications by Wave Books—it contains sixty-one poems, totaling no more than eighty-three pages. In one's hands, it gives the impression of a fast, sprightly read; flipping through, Nguyen's fondness for blank space is easily discerned, with pockets of emptiness carved out between words in nearly every poem. But the book's sparsity of text belies its gravity and nuance, not to mention the time it insists readers spend to really regard the poet's elegiac cadence, beguiling complexity, and evocation.

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literature : interview

Carlos Fonseca

by Chloe Aridjis

"How many fragments are needed in order to describe the life of man?"

Carlos Fonseca Suarez is the youngest author to appear on the renowned Spanish publisher Anagrama's list. His first novel, Colonel Lágrimas (now available in English from Restless Books), is indeed astonishing in its wisdom and maturity—the product, one would guess, of decades of deeply engaged reading. Yet its author was a mere twenty-seven when it came out. Written at any age, the work is a true feat of literary ventriloquism and cinematic control, tinged with a humor and melancholy inspired by the human condition. Whether we think of it as a game of masks or as a Cubist portrait, Fonseca's novel reads like an Oulipian puzzle where historical memory can play hide-and-seek.

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literature : first proof

the rou of alch / el cam del alch

by Pablo Katchadjian

Sudden, recombinant abbreviations and looping queries make up the rou of alch by Buenos Aires-based author Pablo Katchadjian. What follows is an excerpt from this book-length poem, which is the third release from Señal—an ongoing series of contemporary Latin American poetry publications produced collaboratively by BOMB, Libros Antena Books, and Ugly Duckling Presse. Katchadjian—along with authors Florencia Castellano and Luis Felipe Fabre, and translators Stalina Emmanuelle Villarreal, Victoria Cóccaro, Alexis Almeida, John Pluecker, and Rebekah Smith—will be reading at the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center at NYU on October 13 and at The Poetry Project on October 14, 2016.

the rou of alch

I don't want them to leave so I give them all I have
the buc and the rou
the inf and the cont

that's to say
concepts and materials

with those two things they could make anything
and would even see their shadows grow

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literature : review

How To Suffer Well

by Charlotte Lieberman

On Max Ritvo's Four Reincarnations

The first line of the first poem of Max Ritvo's debut poetry collection Four Reincarnations begins with a loud and threatening announcement: "The bed is on fire," then the speaker asks, "and are you laughing?" Here Ritvo invites us to simultaneously accept horror and humor.

The rest of this poem, cheekily titled "Living it Up," unfolds with authority through a series of subjunctive utterances that include candid expressions of fantasy ("I wish you would…"), conditional statements about a somehow-certain future ("they will never / be able to hold anyone"), and gauzy descriptions of air as an "other child." At first glance, it may be tempting to dismiss the work as ironic. But how is it that the future and the world of the imagination could be expressed so absolutely? How is it that anyone could laugh amidst the flames?

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literature : interview

Alexandra Kleeman & Lincoln Michel

On genre, influence, and getting weird in fiction.

If you were taking the pulse of American short fiction circa now, you might begin with Lincoln Michel’s Upright Beasts (Coffee House Press, 2015) and Alexandra Kleeman’s Intimations (Harper, 2016). The writers, both graduates of Columbia’s MFA program, create stories that are disorienting and alive, winning praise from Margaret Atwood (in Michel’s case) or drawing comparisons to Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon (in Kleeman’s). As one might guess from reading their work, Kleeman and Michel possess voracious appetites for culture; their conversation doubles as a syllabus for The Dozen Great Books You Should Read Right Now.

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literature : first proof

Four Poems

by Aimee Herman

on an island of love poems

he plays with her side ponytail, as though
he is playing with himself—
with knees spread apart
lips swollen and fingertips dipped in bee stings

while
she watches skinny, tattooed legs pass her by,
attached to a woman wearing two partially shaved
heads,  curls down the middle

she wants to tell him she’s remembered she’s gay
never forgot, exactly—
she just really dug the way he dug into her
until    until    it just wasn’t enough

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literature : interview

Lewis Freedman

by Judah Rubin

"We experience the content of ourself emerging by making shapes around it."

Lewis Freedman is the author of Residual Synonyms for the Names of God (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2016) and a writer whose investigation of what might be called biblio-cognitive aporetic states is perched somewhere on the ledge of Mallarméan-cum-Jabesian trickster engagements with the very fundament of language. Freedman's works—which include a DIY program for the autopoesis of solitaire, Solitude: The Complete Games (with Kevin Ryberg, Troll Thread, 2013); a notebook on notebooking, Hold the Blue Orb, Baby (Well Greased Press, 2013); and a record of loss in language, Pretend to Think—all bend the ear of thought, constantly seeking that place just beyond the act of naming. I spent an afternoon with Lewis discussing divination, food science, taxidermy, rabbinic literature, and the act of discussion itself on the banks of Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin.

Judah Rubin Last night I was reading your Residual Synonyms for the Name of God, where you write: "Great wealth passively corrects its crime by making pubic hair iridescently visible through cloth as a metaphor for the negation of the said." Can you maybe speak to that? What is the divine character of iridescently visible pubic hair?

Lewis Freedman Let me not pretend to know precisely what I've made, but just jump off from it instead…

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literature : first proof

Mooning

by Kenward Elmslie

I felt something bosomy pressing against me. I opened my eyes, and craned around. It was Mummers. His lips were moving rapidly. He squatted down beside me. I took the wads of cotton out of my ears.

"…to share whatever it is you're experiencing… not a stickler for everyday reality so-called… ha!… see by your eyes you're onto something… layers… not forcing… trust… mutual trust… wouldn't force anything… privacy… particulars… not forcing you."

I said no.

A diatribe followed, difficult for me to make much sense of—an attack on everyday reality, "Satanic" trick, any logical system that can be laid out can be controlled by viewer, dangerous, imposed on other viewers who become feeder stations to original viewer, vision widened with auxiliary antennae—distance between center and perimeter so immense, visions become garbled—weird statistics become law—misplaced zeros—cow is elected President of Meat Board (regulation to implement democratic process)—enforced Daily Poet Celebrations (regulation to implement anarchy necessary to weeding out of outworn regulations)—newsflash: Venice has sunk—all cities try to figure out how to sink (regulation to—to—layers—fragments—)

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literature : review

Sit, Scroll, and Fume

by Sarah Jean Grimm

Tommy Pico's IRL searches the catacombs of history and hashtags of today to create what can't be salvaged.

Tommy Pico's debut book, IRL (Birds LLC, 2016), is an origin story rooted in epic tradition and a long-form poem that unfurls as a hyperconfessional scroll. Confronting legacies of colonial trauma, it inscribes an identity in "a post-apocalyptic America / that started 1492." Pico's speaker, Teebs, is an alter à la Sasha Fierce, navigating his experience as a queer Kumeyaay Indian alienated from his ancestral language, religion, and history. The personal is always political, but rarely is it treated with such deft humor. Sharp, successive pratfalls land us firmly in tragicomic moments, so that even as Teebs mourns a cultural inheritance marred by loss, there is play—or rather play is employed to access that mourning. Despite its precision and proliferation of wit, it would be a mistake to frame IRL as light.

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literature : interview

Yoss

by Jacqueline Loss

"Look at me, I have an inner life, I think differently, I am different, and yet, I can also reflect back your own thoughts."

I first met Yoss, a biologist by training, around fifteen years ago through a friend who studied snails. This mutual friend also happened to be a rabid fan of heroic fantasy fiction and predicted, way back then, that Yoss would become something special in the Cuban literary scene and beyond. It wasn't until years later, though, that Yoss—now an acclaimed sci-fi author, among many other things—and I were able to exchange ideas about the differing ways that Cubans remember the Soviet era. More generally, it's indeed his ability to examine the human experience from different vantage points that really entraps readers of his work. Fortunately, Super Extra Grande, the 2010 winner of the prestigious UPC award in Spain, was published by Restless Books this past summer, giving English readers another taste of Yoss's generous fiction.

Jacqueline Loss Could you speak about this current interest in Cuban science fiction?

Yoss Well, Cuba is at a crossroads with regard to its future right now, and sometimes it's only by contemplating the future that can we understand what's happening in the present. Two years ago nobody could have predicted this moment, when Cuba and the US are getting closer and there are so many possibilities. The unimaginable might happen: the first woman president of the United States might be elected, and right after the first African-American was. But it's important to hear what sci-fi authors think, because, in a way, they can be a nation's conscience, even though the work often transcends its own historical moment. They worry about the consequences of decisions being made today.

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literature : first proof

From Vegas Girls

by Heather Skyler

She was still wearing her nightgown but decided it could pass for a simple sundress with its spaghetti straps and cotton material. It hit her just at mid-thigh where there was a centimeter's hem of red lace, the only real clue, she hoped, of the garment's intended use. As she walked down the sidewalk she wished most of all for her sunglasses, because her head was pounding. Her second wish would be for a cold glass of water. It was already hot out there, and sun burned the space between her shoulder blades as she trudged blindly up the walk.

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literature : review

Speculative Heroism

by David Burr Gerrard

Alexander Weinstein's debut collection, Children of the New World, presents us with a future absurd enough to be our own.

Children of the old world respected distinctions between realist fiction and speculative fiction, earnestness and satire, prophecies of apocalypse and unexaggerated descriptions of the present day. In a year that has seen the rise of Donald Trump, Pokémon GO, and seemingly impossible phenomena like luxury cruise liners touring a rather warm Arctic Circle, it's difficult to see how these old aesthetic boundaries can be maintained.

The jacket copy of Alexander Weinstein's funny, discomfiting, and excellent debut collection Children of the New World says "speculative fiction," but we could really classify its short stories as "realist fiction" and be just as accurate. Better yet, we could regard both of these labels as the distorting goggles they are, and simply take them off.

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literature : first proof

One Poem

by Ian Dreiblatt

cant will

and to the republic
cartwheel grimace
skitting filmily across
a sea of culpabilities
the boy is witched
language goes out
of his mouth like a
firm red egg

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literature : first proof
literature : first proof

Three Poems

by Francesca Coppola

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

She’s an archaic, the last meaning of a word. He’s a drunk, but of the ultramarine kind. Her body is a library he eats and sleeps in. Books fluttering seagulls in her electric hair. The alphabet hangs a wet towel on the door, while other birds are exchanged in their mouths. “Danish charcoal”... then another doorway, then “A little yellow tree”... then a few inches of carpet touched by human fingers. Sentences remain in the cupboard. Everyone else is asleep in the city, holes cut to the shape of their feet. Behind the glass is the ocean, the tree, a beard, tall African masks. Inside the dark lays furniture like perfect bodies... “Dying is not a tendency or the bottom of a well”... appearing faintly, in a fingerprint, then “Green, incapable clouds”... “We’re barely here,” she says. It was cold and rainy and full of shoes.

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