Friday, December 29, 2006

t. kilgore splake: Backwater Graybeard Twilight

Review By: Charles P. Ries
Charles has recently been appointed to the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. Holy smokes!! Don't you think you should check out his own work at: ?

Thunder Sandwich Publishing
191 Pages/ Poetry, Short Stories and Photography
Price: $17.50
Order directly from Splake at P.O. Box 508, Calumet, Michigan 49913. Make all checks and money orders payable to t.k. splake.

As you will read below, Charles and t. have embibed a beverage together.

Thomas Hugh Smith was 44 years old when he wrote his first poem in 1979. Now known as t. kilgore splake, he has become one of the small press icons. His work and name appear everywhere. The self-proclaimed “graybeard dancer” told me, “Early one l979 morning while nursing a modest hangover and drinking a cup of coffee brewed from the coals of the previous night’s campfire, I felt compelled to write my thoughts about the past several days living in the pictured rocks wilderness outback. I collected several additional poems over my summer of camping, and upon returning to Battle Creek after Labor Day, they were published in my first chapbook edition titled pictured rocks poetry.”

Until that day Splake had never written poetry, “I taught political science at Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Michigan, for twenty-six years. I lectured on the dynamics of a federal system of government and outlined the characteristics and functions of the American political party system. However, outside the world of academia, my job status was at best anonymous. If I was in with a strange group of people and asked what I did for a living, I might as well have replied I was a brain surgeon for the understanding most people have of what is political science. Now, I declare myself a poet, and it still seems I am anonymous to the average individual.”

Backwater Graybeard Twilight is the magnum opus of Splake's work. It is a comprehensive collection of both his word and photo art. The 150 pages devoted to his writing are dense and word filled; word overflowing, words everywhere; for Splake puts to paper what comes to his mind in what he calls stream of consciousness prose. I asked him about this and he told me, “What initially attracted me to poetry, and later writing stream of consciousness prose, was the absence of necessary writing rules. In a doing contest with the ever elusive damn-dame lady muse, I seize a passion and redline it. I still compose my writing works in long hand, scribbling between the lines of quill econo legal padlets. With the rough long hand drafts, I then key a poem or a story into a word document and turn to the fine-tuning the writing into the best shape possible.”

One of the characteristics of the writing in Backwater Graybeard Twilight is its sheer volume. I often felt like I was drowning in a tidal wave of images and metaphors. This machine gunning of words often left me feeling lost and falling; not an altogether unpleasant experience, but even numinous falling needs nuance and direction lest we shut down the sponge in our head that reads and absorbs. Here is an example from, “homeboy escape”: “small town, womb nurturing captive population of fascists / and losers, hometurf where acting like a man is all important, // a few basking in fleeting, momentary athletic glories, awash / in school colors, cheers, the rest settling for spectator status, small // value for sadness of beating nobody, // small numbers move on town the highway, seeking college / education, others off to a career, some branch of the military service, most quickly back at home, armed and relieved, convenient excuse,” and on it goes for two more pages. Image on image, metaphor after metaphor, with only commas to give my mind a breath.

I asked Splake about this volume of words and whether themes get lost in the word pile. He sort of answered my question, “I believe in a pizza theory of poetry. Imagine being on a date and discussing what kind of a pizza to order. If I might suggest a pizza with anchovies, my feminine acquaintance might reply, “Ugh, I can’t stand those slimy little fish.” Where if she would suggest a pineapple pizza, I would not find pineapple agreeable to my culinary palette. Yet neither anchovies nor pineapple are bad, they simple represent a difference in individual tastes. I think the same analogy holds true for poetry. There are no good or bad poems, and what is good in poetry simply appeals to one’s aesthetic sensibilities. I can, and do not believe that the poems and stories I write will be liked by all those who read them. An anchovy lover will not win over a pineapple devotee.” I can’t argue that all art is loved by someone and finds a home, but does poetry lose its power (brevity) when it becomes overloaded? I think it does, but this does not diminish Splake's achievement or skill in accomplishing it, it just means his audience will be filled anchovy lovers who welcome his form of word art.

Backwater Graybeard Twilight is broken into titled, Being, NonBeing and Becoming - I was most drawn to Becoming (can I say the pineapple section) where Splake delivers more then a few poems I could read, digest, inhale such as this excerpt from, “the mountain beyond”: “mournful foghorn elegy / chuck spires vanishing / gray dying light / san fran bay / union street hill / below Washington square / bro brautigan / bench shadows / ben franklin statue / brown sipping sack / bard blood a-hummmmmm/inviting Alcatraz gulls / to carry him home / musical wings / through vivaldi’s season / escaping / life’s surface mirror.” Splake’s gift is his facility with image, his challenge maybe mitigating the blinding speed with which he lets these images fall to his paper.

I asked Jim Chandler, whose Thunder Sandwich Publishing published Backwater Graybeard Twilight what drew him to Splake’s work and he told me “I believe Splake is unique because his style is unlike that of anyone I'm familiar with. I suspect that most people who have read any Splake could pick his work out of poems by 10 (or 20 or 100) poets by reading a line or two. I know I can. The talent obviously speaks for itself, since one doesn't bother to interview untalented people. Splake is the most dedicated writer I know; perhaps driven is a better word. He sets goals and he doesn't rest until he achieves them. “

Indeed, he is a Type-A poet if ever there was one; a volcano of productivity. In an interview conducted by Peter Magliocco of ART:MAG Splake describes himself as a proverbial over-achiever who TRIES HARDER and I would agree. I asked him if, as he nears his 70th birthday, if he has enough time to get it all done and he told me, “ NO! I do not have enough time in the working day to bring my attention to all of the works that I currently have in progress. What I call “rat bastard time” has truly become my primary adversary. I often hear some of the truly geezer gents at the evergreen cafĂ© sigh over their coffee mornings and whisper “what am I going to do today.” I feel, how sad I cannot allocate a couple of their unused hours, and possess twenty-six for a day’s lit-laborings. It is obvious they would not miss them.”

Splake has published over 70 chap books of poetry and if that weren’t enough, he is also an excellent photographer. Backwater Graybeard Twilight has over forty pages of his photos, and these are exceptional. His subjects are common and clear. They are lit on the page and easy to assimilate. I asked him if he had to choose poetry or photography, what would it be? In characteristic Splake fashion he didn’t exactly answer my question, but rather the associations my question prompted in his mind, “At present I am moving away from writing poetry and short stories and into the field of movie making. However, note, I am not abandoning poetry, but incorporating a poetry on human “being” into the camera footage that I work with. To date I have produced three DVD movie-length productions: “Splake poetry on location i,” “Splake poetry on location ii,” and the most recent film creation “Splake: the cliffs.” In regards to my filming perspectives, I have been greatly influenced by the work of Jim Jarmusch, and particularly his early movie “Permanent Vacation.” I have also learned a great deal of cinematography from the works of Richard Linklater. His experimental movie which is part of the criterion film package for the movie “Slacker,” has had a strong effect on my movie making attitudes.” Can you hear a man sprinting toward his art? I can.

In less then 20 years Splake has created a lifetime body of work. I asked him about his legacy, “If I flatter myself, I think that t. kilgore splake writings and photographs “might” still be remembered l0 days to a possible full two weeks after I pass on to that “quiet darkness of nothing.” However, I still continue to post my work and daily correspondence to Marcus C. Robyns, archivist for Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Michigan. I do entertain the remote possibility that I possess an Upper Peninsula artistic consciousness and regional identity. So, maybe some future NMU literature or writing students will study the works of Splake. I would like that.”

Jim Chandler is right. Here is a unique voice, talent and personality. Splake is a small press original. While anchovies are not for everyone, even a pineapple lover like me can see the glory in an anchovy. I strongly encourage you to add Backwater Graybeard Twilight to your library.

To Find Additional Information on Splake Go To: = Order More Splake Books = Sample Splake Poetry = Splake Photos = Splake Photos = MiPo Print = MiPo Print

Angela Consolo Mankiewicz: An Eye

Review By: Charles P. Ries
Charles is the Poetry Editor of Word Riot, and a fine poet in his own write. You can see his own creative writing at .

13 Poems / 37 Pages / $9
Pecan Grove Press
Box AL
1 Camino Santa Maria
San Antonio, Texas 78228-8608

As you will read, Charles has actually spoken with Angela.

AN EYE by Angela Consolo Mankiewicz is the third book of poetry by this very fine writer whose work appears throughout the small press. Her previous two chaps were CANCER POEMS from UB Press, and WIRED from Aquarius West.

Mankiewicz walks the gracious line between pure narrative poetry and image poetry; this lends a transcendent aspect to her work. Here is excerpt from her poem “The Cell” which illustrates this quality, “I found him in his cell / not as in jail, as in catacombs. // He smiled but did not look well, / frail, in a thin, pinstripe suit. // He stepped down, almost fell / but righted himself, winking.” And later in the same poem, “He stopped, climbed / onto the sun and swooned // while flames brushed his lips red / and painted his face // like a middle-aged whore, overfed / and grinning. I carried him // back to his cell, into his bed, / where I watched the dust // fill his nostrils and blot / his spotted cheeks.” I asked her about the tone of the poems in AN EYE, many of which I felt had a personal journal aspect to them, “Yes, I'd characterize these poems as both narrative and image-driven. I don't see or hear the "journal aspect" - which certainly doesn't mean it isn't there! I learned early on that I'm more an explicator than a good story-teller - perhaps that's how that combination developed in my work.”

These poems are reflections on motherhood, love, age, memory, regret, and time. A few poems in this collection that didn’t seem to fit this flow – “The Lady Livia” and “The Cell” in particular seemed to be poems for another collection. I asked Mankiewicz to explain this thematic discontinuity. “Yes, your perceptions are accurate, although I would include political in the mix. “The Lady Livia” and “The Cell” also fall into the same areas you note – “The Lady Livia” began as a piece about the historical figure and dovetailed into a reflections on my mother. “The Cell” began with a dream of my father and blended into a memory of Rome. When I considered groupings, I didn't consciously have a theme in mind. I saw AN EYE and “Young Girls” as bookends, “Sleeping with Nietzsche” through “Armchairs” as introspectives. The other three, with “Caiti”, as externals - assuming that makes any sense.”

I asked her how Pecan Grove Press came to publish this collection. “Pecan Press published a little magazine called "Chili Verde Review" which printed a few of my poems over the years. Its publisher/editor, H. Palmer Hall also ran a chapbook contest, judged by someone else. I would submit, and though Palmer was very encouraging, I never made it. The press and magazine seemed to disappear for a while, and then I saw a review in Small Press Review of one of Palmer's books. I wrote to him, and he invited me to submit a manuscript which became AN EYE.”

Many of these poems gain their power from the personal, and from the skill and willingness of Mankiewicz to disclose. Here are three endings to poems in the collection that illustrate this. From “The Girl Who Loved Armchairs”: “I’m told, love will outlast passion’s appetite - / then may it rage as it slips into that ungentle night.” From “Dinner Party”: “She turned off the sound, let herself drift / on the tremble of purring on her lips, / steady, with an extra beat // here and there, to remind her of / who she is.” And finally from “After All These Years”: “Later, we will meet, face-to-face and embrace like paper dolls. / We’ll bob our heads and flap happy little arms in the wind. / We’ll rush home to draw big black remainders to call on / our calendars / for old times’ sake.” Mankiewicz’s ability to write so personally is her great strength.

I asked Mankiewicz about her writing process, “Basically, it's a matter of shot gunning everything a particular thought or series of thoughts brings into my head and setting that down on paper/screen. Then, I start discarding, inserting, re-inserting, read a little, put on Callas if I want to indulge myself, Beethoven if I need to escape. I may sweep the kitchen floor or play at preparing to wash the car. I do put poems aside into "In-Process" folders if I don't like what's happening or not happening and I will go back to a piece, but not that often. Sometimes I revise a lot over many weeks, sometimes hardly at all - it depends on the piece of course. Sometimes I force a completion because I can't deal with the piece anymore - and because I don't know if I ever feel a poem is "done." Occasionally, a poem comes in a sitting. Rarely is it a really good piece, but it can be satisfactory, and if so, I'll keep it.”

AN EYE is a strong and varied outing for a poet who does not blink in the face of emotional tension and confusion. Mankiewicz stands firm and reports what she sees through an eye that is painter, poet and philosopher.

William Taylor Jr.: So Much Is Burning

Review By: Charles P. Ries
(Charles is a fine poet. He is the Poetry Editor for Word Riot. Check out his work at

16 Poems/5 Photos/$10
Sunnyoutside, P.O. Box 441429
Somerville, MA 02144

Charles has met William, as this review indicates.

The eyes of a poet often find beauty in rubble, and hope in a sea of sadness. So Much Is Burning by William Taylor Jr. is a study of poetic transcendence, an examination undertaken by a writer well suited to seeing common miracles. Taylor’s work conveys longing as well any poet writing today. I first encountered his work five years ago when I discovered his wonderful poem “Being Lonely” in Zen Baby. It was such a remarkable poem of searching sadness that I have never forgotten it. So Much Is Burning demonstrates why Taylor has attracted such a devoted following in the small press.

This collection is grounded in place and set on the humble stage known as the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. I asked Taylor why he wanted such a sharp thematic focus. “I had the idea of publishing a collection of poems and photographs all about a particular place, or city. I originally had the idea while living in Santa Cruz. Nothing came of it until I moved to San Francisco and the Tenderloin about a year ago. A lot of poems came from just walking around and hanging out in the neighborhood. Most of them were written in maybe a six month period. I would just send batches of them to David as they were written, and then we’d [David McNamara, Editor of sunnyoutside] usually discuss whether or not a particular piece fit the mood, or theme of the book, and go from there.”

Taylor’s ability to find beauty and hope in this sad town is demonstrated in his poem titled, “At the Corner”: “It is mid afternoon / and I am already tired of the day / Just another thing wasted / another sad mistake / and at the corner of Geary / and Leavenworth / the sky is perfect blue / high above the bus stop / where the strung out / red-haired prostitute waits / her crazed eyes almost / but not quite / beautiful.” And again, in his poem titled, “Like the Dripping of Rain”: “The 4:00 a.m. sound of the / tranny prostitute’s heels / click clacking up and down Post St. / beneath my window / is strangely comforting, // like the dripping of rain / it lulls me to a gentle sleep.”

Only a few lines in this collection step perilously close to becoming melodramatic such as in, “The City”: “Some days the city is a beautiful / as anything that’s ever been // and some days the city is a living thing / whose only purpose / is to devour you slowly / and completely, body / and soul // with jagged / poisoned teeth. // Some days the only victory / is to be alive enough to feel it.” Taylor’s gift is restraint, and in this poem I feel he may have chosen other words than devour, jagged and poisoned teeth to describe this city.

I asked him about what he does to walk this line between pathos and the melodramatic with such agility? He told me, “In much of my work there is a certain mood or feeling I want to convey and I simply try and use the best words possible to do so. I don’t know how else to explain it. I do believe there is sadness in beauty and sometimes beauty in sadness. When I am affected in some way by something I try and write about it in a way that will make the reader feel whatever I felt at the time of the experience.” I also wanted to know if Taylor was filled with as much pathos as his poems often depict. “I don’t think so. I’m generally relatively happy in my everyday life. I tend to release my dark side, if you will, in my writing. Most happy stuff tends not to make interesting reading. To quote old Thomas Hardy, If a way to the best there be, it exacts a full look at the worst. Meaning, the dark aspects of life must be confronted and accepted before any real peace of mind or happiness can be achieved. A kind of peace must be made with the darkness.”

Here is another poem from So Much is Burning titled, “Sucker’s Bet”: “I imagine most of the / people in my neighborhood / don’t believe much in poetry / and I’m not sure if they should / it’s a sucker’s bet / to look for beauty in these / sad broken streets”

I believe the roots of the writer’s voice can be found by looking at his or her life. Since Taylor used “Jr.” in his pen name, I asked him to tell me a little about his father. “My father was a WWII veteran. I think there was a lot he experienced in the war that he never really talked about. His father, from what I gather, was an abusive alcoholic and a preacher. My dad had nothing good to say about him. All of my life my father was a devout atheist, bitterly critical of organized religion of any kind. My mom was, and still is a practicing catholic. It made for an interesting relationship. My dad generally was a quiet, decent man, prone to fits of violence when provoked in a certain way. Now that he’s gone, of course, I wish I’d known him better.”

I also wanted to know about Taylor’s training as a writer, “Right after high school I attended a junior college in my hometown of Bakersfield for a few years. I mainly took art and literature classes. I did well in those, and not so well in the classes that I wasn’t as interested in. I’ve never had much discipline for the classroom setting. I’ve never liked doing things in groups. At the time, I didn’t have a job in mind that a degree in literature would help me get. I didn’t have an interest in being a teacher. I was rather directionless, as far as school went, so after a few years I dropped out.” I asked him when he began writing, “I’ve been actively publishing probably about 15 years now, since my early twenties or so. I told myself that when I had written what I thought to be 100 good poems, I would start submitting. I got a fair amount of encouragement early on; a lot of my work was being accepted by the little zines and such, so I just kept at it.”

When he told me his two favorite dead poets were T.S. Eliot and Robinson Jeffers I began to see Taylor’s writer’s soul come into sharper focus for me. “Eliot was probably the greatest poet writing in English in the 20th century. A true poet’s poet. You can read his best work over and over and never tire of it. There is always something new to discover. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is probably my favorite poem by anyone, ever. Jeffers was the last great poet of the epic tradition. He captured the natural beauty of the earth like few poets could. He found comfort in the fact that the universe and the great beauty of things will continue long after humankind is gone, when there is no heart left to break for it, as do I.”

It’s such pleasure to read Taylor’s work and meet his city. He is a writer with a long future, and an audience that will grow. I was pleased to learn that Chuck Nevismal’s Centennial Press will be publishing an expansive collection of new and selected poems by Taylor called, Words For Songs Never Written. No date has been set for that release, but it is about time this fine poet got a book large enough to showcase his considerable talent.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Fawzy Zablah: Ciao! Miami

Reviewed by: Christopher Robin

Available on Lulu (, $9.18 paperback/$2.53 download. It is also available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other sources.

Christopher Robin is a member of the ULA. He does not know, to the best of my limited knowledge, Fawzy Zablah (who has a fabulous name). It goes without saying that Fawzy, therefore, does not know Christopher--but should we make such assumptions? And, if it goes without saying, why am I saying it? And, have you noticed, I have not said anything, I am writing? Is this any way to end 2006?

Ciao Miami is a book of short stories set in the late 90’s about Miami’s marginalized population. The characters include immigrants, prostitutes, and transsexuals. The writing is strong, well developed and full of surprises, while the dialogue is realistic and believable.

There is so much intrigue in this book, in even the most simple of premises, I found myself lingering so as not to finish them too fast.

My favorite was a long piece called “The Women’s Army” about a mentally ill man who think he’s an angel and is obsessed with a Cuban boy who was “saved by a dolphin” (Elian Gonzales). Some other stories include: an Egyptian busboy mistaken for an Afghan after September 2001, (“The Existence of Nabil”), a man who falls for a crack whore who he is determined to save; but instead nearly destroys his own life in the process, (“Darling, It Was An Uphill Battle Loving You),” and a young man dying of Aids who tries to fulfill the wish of a former high school ugly duckling, (“Post Bug Billy Flint.”)

I found myself drawn to the characters who were sometimes not the least bit likeable but who had a certain sad appeal. There is also humor in the dreadful lives they inhabit, whether the author intends it to be so or not. These are portraits of many different types of people who are all at their wit’s end, against a backdrop of the headlines and popular concerns of the 1990’s.

These are examples of what happens when people break, either trying to do good, or deluded into thinking they are doing so. Folks who are holding on to what’s left of their humanity, and those that have given it up. These stories are every bit as good as what you would find in Charles Bukowski’s very early short stories. I highly recommend it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Joe Ollman: this will all end in tears

"Tony, it's taken me 37 years to get this fucked up. I'm betting it will take more than a week to make me okay."

Reviewed by: Brady Dale Russell

Brady was sent this book in the mail by its publisher, Insomniac Press, in Ontario, Canada. Brady has never met Joe. And, in terms of hunting trips and shooting either deer or lawyers or even good friends, it is unlikely that either Joe or Brady have met Dick Cheyney. With luck, they never will.

Insomnia Press published this book. You can find more of their books at The book is also available on Amazon. You can find Brady Russell's site link in our links section. Joe's personal site is located at

Lately I've been talking about things in terms of whether or not they are good for America or bad for America. Usually, I prefer identifying the things I see as "good for America." For example, if I see a movie in which an anti-hero type takes an amusingly sadistic pleasure out of beating the crap out of some government functionary, I say: "that's good for America." Or, if I eat a donut that somehow hits me just the right way, I say it was "good for America." Or if someone gets really, really drunk and makes an impressive ass out of himself by hitting on a woman who's totally out of his league only to take a sweeping bow that everyone can see after she (amazingly) grants him the digits, I say, with great reverence, that that it's "good for America."

The point being that I never really like to say anything is good or bad for America if it actually does have any clear or meaningful link to nation, nationhood or our political moment. In fact, you could even argue that I don't usually tend to say anything is good for America if it might be possible to make any argument under any circumstances that the thing actually did benefit America.

Because if you could it wouldn't be funny to say whatever-random-ass-thing was good for America.

It's only slightly more ironic, then, that I found myself trying to decide un-ironically whether or not Joe Ollman's collection of graphic short stories, this will all end in tears, was good for America, since Ollman is Canadian and probably finds America pretty annoying. I mean, we could get all technical about it and say that Canada is also part of America, depending on how you define the thing, but we all know that no one thinks about Canada when they think about America. When they think about America they think about Jazz. Okay, they think about NASCAR and guns, but the point is that whatever you think about when you think about America, it probably doesn't have anything to do with Canada because we are two pretty different states of mind.

In fact, no one thinks about Canada when they think about America because, let's face it, no one really thinks about Canada.

Unless you're talking about comedy. Then we're pretty much on the same
page. Canucks can be pretty funny.

Not that this will all end in tears is exactly funny. John Candy was funny. this will all end in tears is mostly depressing and disturbing. But it's depressing and disturbing with a comic sensibility, sort of like the movie Happiness, only the book strays a little too far in the grotesque and ugly to really maintain an ironic comedic tone - plus it doesn't have a dorky little kid who can't jerk off. If nothing else in this world is funny anymore one day, little kids who can't jerk off will still make me laugh.

What's not funny are chubby near-middle-aged women who have crushes on guys with bad skin only because maybe Mr. Bad-skin-spare-tire-belly
might sleep with her once he realizes that he's not exactly Tom Cruise. Well, I guess that is sort of funny, especially when Ollman shows his porcine main character all bug-eyed as she kills herself on an exercise bike in her basement so she can drop a few ounces that she never manages to drop. That's funny. Only you feel guilty laughing because this character is one sad girl who hasn't done anyone any harm. So you don't exactly laugh but you do sort of secretly giggle and it's not like anyone will blame you because they see you're reading a comic, and comics are supposed to be funny, right? They don't know you're laughing at a lonely girl.

What I'm saying is that it is nice to see that Canadians also share the darker side of American humor. The more sophisticated brand of our macabre tastes that we inherited from the Brits but improved with guns like we do everything. The sort of humor that makes you laugh when little kids go to talk to their dads about the fact that they can't jerk off because you know that the kid's dad is a pedophile and the kid doesn't. That's funny. Only that's Happiness I'm talking about again, because, like I said, no impotent pre-teens in this will all end in tears.

There are guns, though, and God bless America for that. This one character has the lamest little rifle, a .22, but somehow in the story he's managed to kill this deer with it. It's his first hunting trip ever and he kills this great big buck with one shot from a .22, hitting it somewhere in the back no less. Now, setting aside that a kill with this sort of shot is pretty much impossible with a .22, this is one of the darkest pieces of humor in the whole book. You have to love a story where a guy goes to move a deer that's been dead in his garage for almost a week and its front legs come off.

Now, I know a little something about dead deer in garages. I've lived in a house with a dead deer in a garage, after all. Through this whole story, the main character keeps having more and more trouble with the deer he never meant to kill in the first place, and, knowing a little about dead deer, I know that all the problems could have been prevented if he'd just done this, or he'd just done that.

Then I realized that the point of the story was two-fold: first, that no one in the story really knew what to do if any of them actually did manage to kill a deer and, second, that Ollman wanted to do a scene where this guy accidentally pulls a deer's front legs off.

And who can blame him*?

So there I am on page 66 and the main character of the book's third story (of six), "Oh, Deer," accidentally pulls off the legs of this deer and I think to myself, "Yeah, okay, this book definitely is good for America."

* Note: I didn't read the endnotes of this book before writing the review, but then I did afterwards and it turns out that Ollman pretty much did write this story for the purpose of showing this guy unintentionally ripping a deer's front legs off. Wow.

[Victor notes: okay, now I gotta read this book! However, I must note that one of my dear movies is Bambi. And I have to wonder about what Brady keeps in his garage...besides Joe Pesci...]

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Cristy C. Road: Indestructible

Reviewed by: Victor Schwartzman

This book was published by Microcosm Publishing ( Cristy C. Road’s website is

Victor has never met Cristy. He found out about her when he received a compliment about this site from Brooklyn Frank. Brooklyn Frank is a person and not a New York hot dog. Victor thanked him for his comment and asked Brooklyn Frank which books should be reviewed on this site. He mentioned Cristy. Victor contacted Cristy. She had never heard of Brooklyn Frank. But Cristy lives in Brooklyn, and Victor grew up in Brooklyn, so it all seems somehow connected, kind of like the circle of life from The Lion King, but without Walt Disney (who probably would not have liked this book).

It ain’t easy growing up in Miami as an Cuban overweight adolescent girl who starts out bisexual and eventually grows into being gay, at the same time an outcast in but a member of her high school, community and immediate family. It isn’t easy growing up, but Cristy had more than her share of crap to deal with.

This novel (that is not a novel) comes out of the zine world and looks it. The font is typewriter style, the layout cut and paste. The spelling and grammar would occasionally make White and Strunk fidget. The look of the book matches the troubled early life of the narrator, who appears suspiciously similar to the writer/artist, and whose name is, uh, Cristy Road.

The writing style can be awkward. At times the vocabulary does not match an adolescent’s—but then again, the story is told in retrospect and the awkwardness provides a realistic edge. Reading it feels like you are in the same room with Cristy as she tells you her early life story. The edge in the writing is matched by her bold black and white drawings—in your face art, using a blunt and somewhat cartoony style that effectively matches the writing style. The combination of words and art works nicely, playing off each other.

If you want a plot you should read another book. The book covers Cristy’s high school years, her ‘coming of age’, with that being an operative phrase in so many ways—she is obsessed with sex, along with punk rock, being oppressed, stupid boys and interesting girls. More a collection of memories tied together chronologically than a novel, the book has a genuine narrative power stemming from Cristy’s growth.

It is easier to show than explain:

One day, Cristy asks her high school biology teacher, Mr. Rodriguez, to discuss birth control. He is not pleased.
“’The basis of sex is procreation.’
‘No, it’s not. The sex you’re teaching us about only talks about the pleasure of dudes. Ya’ll know dudes gotta cum to make a baby, and girls don’t. Teaching this way only feeds to the idea that a girl’s pleasure isn’t as important as a dude’s. And hell knows everyone in this classroom wants to know how not to make babies as opposed to how to make them.’
‘Christy, if you don’t stop, I’m gonna ask you to leave the class.’
‘Awesome. The drugs are kicking in right now, anyway.’”


“’You’re a sell out. Last week you weren’t wearing fucking khakis and loafers. What’s your fucking deal?’ I asked Roberto one day.
‘Whatever Cristy. In the future, when you’re moshing in a pit somewhere, drunk off your ass—I’m gonna have a family. I’m gonna have money. I’m gonna be successful.’
‘Who are you to measure success? You’re just gonna end up fucking poor people over. You’re just gonna start shitting competition from the hole in your brain your CEO job is gonna drill. You and your imaginary family can suck it.’”


“On some nights, I found that girl-solidarity when this one girl, Marietta, sat on my bed until 3am talking about how useless facial masks and pussy deodorant were. I shared my room then with relatives, but sectioned off my side with yellow caution tape and a wall-collage of posters, flyers, and strategically placed crap. I was into dim lighting and denying others’ intrusion so I could achieve a private space for writing zines and jacking off. We talked about fucking, punk, metal, crank, and weed. I didn’t smoke weed at the time; I only wanted to be sociable and stay awake, mostly. On some nights, I also wanted to be skinny; but only Marietta knew this.”


“In my home our tone swerved by way of narrow traditions and belief systems. We went from talking about politicizing our choices to talking about how to raise baby parrots and make flan. At home there wasn’t a space for anything remotely sexual. While my culture welcomed that political progress that entailed fighting for fair pay and abiding by self-sufficiency—the revolution wasn’t very gay. Queerness seemed ten times more repressed in my cultural boundaries than that of white commercialized America.
’Why can’t queers just be a hot commodity?’ I asked Marietta. ‘You know, the way homos are in white people culture.’
‘Because you want to be respected for who you are, not your novelty.’
“Fake respect is better than none at all.’
“No really, it’s not, trust me.”

Cristy’s sexual growth mirrors her community situation as an outlaw. She hides who she is from her family, but can not abandon it: “It became okay that I couldn’t share my innermost feelings on oral sex, fisting, and Selene [a woman whom Cristy admires] with my family. Because we could talk about other things. We could talk about our formative heroes selling out, and about cast aside neighborhoods. We could talk about dismay and how it’s sometimes followed by deliverance.”

“We learn a lesson from every mistake, very apology, every assumption at love, every new friend, every lost friend, every reconciliation, every death, very bout of belligerence, every bad decision, every kiss, every fuck, and every failed attempt at starting that stupid punk rock band…. And it wasn’t invincibility, but we were surviving outside of those conditions we had fought off for years. In the end, we remained poised while doing what we were never meant to do. And people often told me that teenagers were never meant to love themselves.”

The book concludes with autographs and comments from her fellow students, as in a high school year book.

Cristy has graduated.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Gail Sidonie Sobat: The Book of Mary

Reviewed by: Victor Schwartzman

Published by Sumach Press, Toronto, Ontario, Canada ( Available on Amazon.

Victor does not know Gail. Gail is not a ULA member, and maybe has never even visited Philadelphia.

See, there is this fourteen year old girl. She wants to taste life. Although independent, she still defines herself in terms of how men see her--she is a product of her times. To spread her wings, she starts hanging out at the local “bad girls” place. Soon enough this guy comes along, a sweet-talker, who has trouble remembering her name. They fall into the sack...frequently...he starts to remember her name...and she becomes pregnant.

Then he tells her the truth about himself, at least some of it—he is married. He agrees to run away with her…only, he never shows up. The girl is in crisis. Where she lives pregnant single women are stoned to death. To save her life, she makes up a story and agrees to marry a jerk. Her story? That she became pregnant not by her boyfriend, who turns out to be a drug dealer, but by God. And that she carries the son of God.

By now in the girl's story, it is around six months B.C. The girl lives in a hick town called Nazareth. Her name is Mary.

And so begins “The Story of Mary”, a wonderful, controversial, thought-provoking novel that takes Christianity and shakes the hell out of it. Literally.

At first, true to the spirit of a rebellious teenager, the writing is snarky and often hilarious. Mary’s description of riding across the desert with her new husband, Joseph, who is not terribly bright: “I have a pain in the ass from riding one and being married to another.” In Bethlehem the three wise men she meets are characterized as the three “wise guys”, straight out of a Martin Scorsese film, complete with Brooklyn accents.

However, as the book progresses and Mary ages, the tone matures with her. One of the lovely aspects of this novel is how it not only grows on you, but that it grows, period. As Mary would say, just like a person already. The hilarity of the opening third of the novel evolves into a more deeply felt narrative as Jesus is born and grows up believing the crazy story mommy spread about him being the Son of God. Meanwhile, it is Mary herself who is the healer. In fact, she opens up a hospital, becomes a midwife and….

This book has too many enchanting discoveries to give you spoilers.

Gail Sidonie Sobat has written a remarkable novel. It is like its human narrator, growing from adolescence to maturity as it progresses. Yes, you already know how some of the book ends. Her son Jesus’ story is well known, the meshegunner rabble rouser. What you do not know are the funny, insightful, dramatic twists she creates to make the reader think about what religion is all about, what responsibility is all about, what—well, pretty much, by the time she is done, what pretty much everything is all about.

This is what “underground” literature should be and what mainstream literature all too often avoids. Sidonie Sobat takes on patriarchy, Christianity, medicine, life responsibilities, family relationships, commercialism, social politics, political politics--you name it--—and turns them all on their ears stunningly, leaving the reader with a lifetime’s experience to think about. But this is no polemic (although, it gets close at times, and, frankly, guys don't turn out to be that wise). It is very entertaining, funny, dramatic, profoundly involving, and certainly worth the scheckels.

The World Is Ours--and Yours!

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