Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Yes, Leopold does know Wred. But Leopold also writes honest reviews, just like Wred writes honest novels. You can find out more about Leopold at www.redfez.net.
As for Wred, check out his site: www.wredfright.com. It's worth the visit!
Available through: ULA Press. Purchase at: http://outyourbackdoor.com/article.php?id=684
A victory for literature that does not take itself so seriously.
The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus is a great book. And it’s great without ever making any pretensions about being great. And that’s what makes it great. Got it?
It’s not the concept, but the execution that makes the Emus (and no I won’t be spelling that out in full again) such a good novel. In fact, you could argue that a book about a band has been done before. About a million, bajillion times. It’s even been done well in some rare cases – Hard Core Logo being a good example. But the charm of PFE is not staked in its concept, but in what has to say and how it says it.
In a world increasingly full of pompous, masturbatory, navel-gazing BORING books, The Pornographic Flabberghasted Emus is a rare and much needed breath of fresh air. So few band novels manage to grab the energy of actually being in or seeing a band, but PFE reads like a punk show put on in some suburbanite’s basement while the parents are away. It's something you just can't find but in an underground novel.
The plot of PFE is refreshingly non-complex. In fact, it doesn’t have so much a plot as a premise: the novel is about a group of zany housemates-cum-garageband who never come close to ‘making it’ but rock on anyway. And rock on they do, through a series of housemate/band related events, all of which are often too bizarre to be NOT true... Emus reads like a series of episodes, which makes sense as the book, in its original incarnation, was published as a series of 7 zeen instalments.
There's not much point listing all these zany and humourous events here because there are a LOT of them. They fly out of the cupboards, drip down the stares and blare through the doorways. There’s so many crazy, different and overlapping situations going on in the book, reading it is almost like running a gauntlet of chaos-induced fun. What one feels being part of the Pornographic Flabberghasted Emus might just be like.
I won’t leave you totally hanging, though. Some of the situations you can expect to enjoy in PFE are as follows: an episode of band-poster rivalry resolved through stapler-based violence; a housemate who is a witch and curses the band member’s girlfriend prospects, a safari-outfitted ethnomusicologist studying the band for his degree, lesbian groupies, a man wheeling a giant fridge from the suburbs into downtown so he can get his damage-deposit back, sound violations of various degrees and the usual sex, drinks and rock and roll.
It should be mentioned again, though, that the enjoyment of emus is not just in what happens (and a LOT happens as, according to the author, this is largely a collection of several years wroth of real-life band stories crammed into one year and one house), but in the characters and how they tell their stories.
The band is made up of 4 members who each take quick turns narrating the book from their point of view. George Jah, Theodorable, Alexander Depot and Funnybear. Chapters are divided up as one might divide up a song (with an intro, several verses, a chorus and a coda) and on top of this, several bit characters get a quick ‘Middle Eight’ in the middle of each chapter, offering funny (and rhyming!) insight into aspects of the story outside the main characters’ viewpoints. The splitting of the narration up into four people really helps drive the story. Due to the episodic and loosely-plotted structure of the novel, the multiple narrators really helps keep interest in the piece, and provides a lot of nice tension to keep the book moving.
I’m sure the book was written to be just fun, but it would be a mistake to take it that lightly. In between all the rampant tom-foolery and chaos the characters offer up a number of clever, insightful and original views on the world. More than once I found myself pausing in the middle of yet another example of band-debauchery to ponder aspects of feminism, capitalism, homosexuality, pornography, world politics, before being pulled right back into rocking out and having fun. This aspect of the novel gives the book a great realness. Just as one might expect in real life, most people are rather intelligent and insightful in their own ways – but 95% of the time they aren’t.
I’m a very critical person and I think the thing that made me most realize that this was a great book was that I couldn’t think of anything really bad to say about it. At worst, the serialized nature of the book takes away from the ‘building tension’ you expect from a novel. There’s no real climax, or mystery as to where all this is leading. But considering that momentum is the biggest trouble with novels about ‘nothing’, PFE did an amazingly great job of keeping my interest. And that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a climax, or, most importantly of all, a satisfying ending. Because Emus does.
Overall the message of Emus is of fun and tolerance. And that, if entertainment isn’t enough for you, alone is a great reason to read a fun book. Highly recommended.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
It is not clear whether or not Pat knows Misti. However, Misti sent him her book, apparently. Misti did not send me her book. I'm jealous. What does Pat have that I don't? Well, don't answer that!
Misti's newest chapbook is available on Lulu, just type in her name!
Misti Rainwater-Lites is a super-talented and super-prolific underground writer. I just got her newest chapbook, Mnemosyne's Pool in the mail today and couldn't put the thing down until I reached the end.
Mnemosyn's Pool is a long poem that mixes mythology with the personal. Misti wails for the gods and wails for her humanity.
There's an angry music to her poetry, in short, tight lines. Sometimes one can hear the trumpets, sometimes a soft flute, sometimes a guitar, played slightly out of tune. Her anger is sad and beautiful. Wail, wail, Misti!
And play us some more sweet songs of loss.
Mnemosyne's Pool is available at www.lulu.com.
Blogperson's note: Misti has taken on an awesome project. She is preparing an anthology of poetry to help raise money for The West Memphis Three. Don't know who The Three are? They appear to be three men unfairly convicted of a horrendous crime, one of whom is on death row--Google The West Memphis Three and find out more. And go to Misti's site on Lulu, to contact her for more information about the anthology--or to pre-order copies!!
You can email Misti at email@example.com. You can order copies of the chapbook there, I'm sure, and also find out more about the anthology.
Sunday, February 25, 2007
I've never met Todd, but we have periodic email conversations. Todd sent me several copies of his work, "The Name is Dillinger" being the oldest. So I started there.
Where can you get this book (24 pages, all one poem)? The edition I have is from Kangaroo Court Publishing. I could not find this small press when I Googled it--it probably no longer exists. I did check out Amazon, and found one used copy available, for $57.75.
It was a surprise to read “The Name is Dillinger”. First published in 1980, it is the American gangster icon John Dillinger musing in the first person about where he is from, what he means to other people, what he means to himself (what he means to himself seems to be what he means to others). The surprise? The writing style—not lean with very brief lines, but closer to Carl Sandburg with a heavy dose of Walt Whitman and some echoes of Allen Ginsberg: musical, long flowing lines filled with rhythm, invoking a song to America. No, not a song: a chant.
Dillinger is always on the run, “gun hand in my clothes”, both living and running past life (at least, the life the rest of us know). He has no peace except in tiny moments:
Turning my rabbit’s foot between my fingers
For good luck
Turning my lady on her back
Turning down a drink just before a job
Turning my name over in my mind
My magical Dillinger name
Turing the pages of a magazine
w/an article about me
turning my collar to the cold
asking someone to turn the eggs over easy
turning quickly on the avenue
turning over in bed w/handful of pistol
whenever footsteps come up or go down the hall
It is not a peaceful life. He is always on the move, and always seeing people while moving.
The poem is not just about Dillinger, but about everything around him: people, cars, those who hunt him, the women who want him for what they think he is—it’s even about farm animals. He has a mother and father—he writes some about his mother, but it is his father who repeatedly reappears, haunting him. The women he engages in fleeting encounters are phantoms, as are the FBI agents watching for him. Of other human beings, only his father stays in his thoughts, always distant, waiting for his son to come home. His mother is warmth, the sun. His father is his lost life.
The poem is long, 24 pages. At times I would start to think it was getting repetitious, that I had already read these thoughts, but just as that feeling would begin there would be a twist. It was as if Moore was playing with the reader, bringing the reader along to an expectation, then playing with that expectation to show one more side of a man everyone thinks they know, but whom none do know.
The writing style is consistent. At one point, though, the page splits in half, with a line beginning on the left, then being finished on the right, only to lead to the next line on the left. While that may sound tricky, it worked, and did not feel like a “style tricky”. Like Dillinger doing a bank robbery, Moore gets away with it (except he is not stealing anything from us, he is giving to us). So no, not tricky: but then, there are very few poets who could write an extended stanza about urinating on various objects (okay, “pissing”) and get away with it—like a Dillinger getaway.
A man defined by how others see him, by what he does—but the real man himself remaining a dark enigma.
It is a long poem but suddenly it is over, at just the right moment and on just the right note.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Charles does not know Mike. But can we trust them? Are they hiding something? Do inquiring minds want to know? Do inquiring minds care? Or are inquiring minds still waiting for news on those weapons of mass destruction (you know those weapons--they're called federal electronic voting machines).
As for Charles, if you've read other reviews on this blog, you know this, but if not, it's worth repeating: he lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and we have exchanged emails about cheese.
His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over one hundred and sixty print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing, and most recently read his poetry on National Public Radio’s Theme and Variations, a program that is broadcast over seventy NPR affiliates. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory. Ries is also the author of five books of poetry — the most recent entitled, The Last Time which was released by The Moon Press in Tucson, Arizona. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (www.wordriot.org) and Pass Port Journal (www.passportjournal.org). He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore (www.woodlandpattern.org) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Most recently he has been appointed to the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. You may find additional samples of his work by going to: http://www.literati.net/Ries/
Alternate Endings is published by Foothills Publishing, P.O. Box 68
Kanona, New York 14856, www.foothillspublishing.com
Price: $7.00, 32 Pages/ 26 Poems
Alternate Endings is Mike James fifth book of poetry and a nice collection it is. The majority of the 26 poems are thematically rich and well structured; and a few blew me away.
“The Smiling Man: A Children’s Tale” does an eloquent job of telling a complete fable in just 17 lines. I enjoyed its economy of language and image. James also writes a nice batch of message poems. Poems that render a defining and insightful meaning such as “Poem”: “mother called crows / nothing birds // because she did not love them // because she knew / that magic of naming / what she did / note love”.
Another winner is “Homemade Routines”: “i finished the last part of today’s crossword puzzle / by throwing it in the trash // I need to waste some time every day / as surely as I need gossip and sandwiches // this morning i shaved at the sink / instead of in the shower // all day i’ve walked two steps slower then normal // too many days of this and my hair will grow long / I will begin to speak in riddles of broken syntax // too few days of this and not even my shadow / could find me beneath the sun”.
James brings wisdom to the common moment. There were only a few lines in this collection where I felt his work inched a bit too close to sentimentality, but this may be more a matter of my own tastes than any indiscretion on James part.
All in all, a very fine collection of poetry.
I should have asked Charles if he knows Mark, but it was excited to receive some new reviews from him, so I posted this right away, and if you don't like it go sue me: my legal name for law suits is Vice President Dick Cheyney (oops, the secret's out). Later, Charles did tell me he does not know Mark, so you can sue Dick Cheyney about that also.
Platonic 3Way Press, PO Box 844, Warsaw, IN 46581
41 Pages/ 17 Poems
Mark Wisniewski writes long prose, short stories, and very short line poetry. He has held two Regent’s Fellowships in Creative Writing from UC-Davis and won the 2006 Tobias Wolff Award. It is exhilarating to read poetry informed and guided by the muscles of a long writer – not just a poet, but a true story teller.
One sees the usual conventions of the long form writing in Wisniewski’s poetry: dialogue, narration, tension, and structure all in a highly compressed form. This compression is further amplified because Wisniewski prefers short lines and limited punctuation. He gives the reader just enough information to hang his meanings on.
There are many gems in One Of Us One Night. His long opening poem, “Nebraska” is a beauty. Here is an excerpt, “a woman pulled over / & let me in // she was as ugly / as that October in Nebraska / & I was thumbing my way / away from myself // trucks full of hope for / sale swishing past // & all around us / were night-hidden wheat / stalks & silos & children who’d never / be rock stars // well this woman smoked & talked / about time in jail // & a man / who’d been hers // about her hatred of him / & all of them // they were all pussy- / sniffing bastards”.
In his four page poem, “Omaha” I sometimes found the short lines and the rapid bulleting of words tiring and making it hard for me to follow the poem. I wondered how this poem and a few others would read if reconstructed using longer lines and stanzas, but each poet to his own devices. One Of Us One Night is a wonderful piece of writing by a poet well schooled in the tools of the trade.
Sunday, February 18, 2007
I have not met Ralph. This review came to me through Charles Ries, who thinks Ms. Kendall's site is so terrific he wants everyone to know about it. Ralph gave his permission to use his review.
I checked out the site myself before posting this review. Normally we don't review zines, but Sein und Werden is something else. It really does deserve a wide audience--although it is edgy enough, bless its heart, that the 'mainstream' would probably never be interested. If you like horror with a surrealist bent, and bent is the word, Sein und Werden is a treat--in the trick or treat vein!
I read only some of the pieces, as I have just finished my first week back at work after six months' medical leave--and that's been 'surreal' enough, hahaha. But what I have read of it pressures me to read more, and I think you might feel the same. I'll tell you one thing: after reading one particular story on the site, I'll be DAMNED if I ever go skiing again (not that I ever have)!
After reading the review check out the site itself, which is easy. Just go to:
It's free. What are you waiting for? Godot?
If you want to purchase the print version, which would support art, it is available to purchase with Paypal or cheque/check, through Rachel Kendall or Spyros Heniadis, the print editor in America. Go to:
It is also available through Shocklines.com.
Meanwhile, if you're wondering about Ralph Robert Moore, he's never met Rachel, but emails with her, following her accepting one of his stories in an issue of Sein und Werden. Ralph's own fiction has been widely published. "The Machine of the Religious Man", a short story he wrote, was nominated as Best Story of the Year at the 2006 British Fantasy Society Awards. "Father Figure", a novel, was published in 2003. He is also an editor of the literary magazine Decoy. His website is www.ralphrobertmoore.com--check it out!
The goal of Sein und Werden, as stated on its website, "is to present works that evoke the spirit of the Expressionist, Existentialist and Surrealist movements within a modern context," an approach founder Rachel Kendall refers to as "Werdenism." In late 2004 she created an on-line version of Sein und Werden; and in 2006 added, with Spyros Heniadis' help, a separate print edition.
The third issue of the print version of Sein und Werden is called The Collaboration Issue, in which two writers (on one contribution five writers), or a writer and an illustrator, work together on a project.
The collection opens with The Birth of Athena: Redux by Paul Bradshaw and Peter Tennant, the best tale in the issue, and in fact the perfect beginning for this collection, since it signals by its extreme language and imagery that "everything is permitted" in these pages. The story starts with a son beating his father to death, then deciding to have sex with his girlfriend while both are virtually on top of the corpse. Things get more depraved with each new plot twist.
Part of the game of reading is trying to imagine what will happen next, but in this particular game, Bradshaw and Tennant are so far around the next corner before the reader, you go down the pages with one surprise after another popping out of the paragraphs. Athena stands as an excellent example of how an idea, no matter how bizarre, can be developed into a full plot. It should be required reading for all aspiring authors.
The idea of collaboration is carried forward in an ingenious way in the next selection, Adam and Eve. Here we have Matt Williams transforming one of Juliet Cook's prose pieces into a poem, after which Cook turns one of Williams' poems into a prose piece, two writers' different talents entwining around each other, braiding; the dual triangular heads flickering with some terrific lines: "I had to force myself to look at her breasts and see them as evil apples."
The poem Ghazal, the product of five authors, is a meditation on Cleveland, effectively ending each couplet, with a 'Nevermore' constancy, by using the city's name: "your past industrial might, now just a shadow/the river is healing as in a fog you creep, Cleveland."
In the pair of poems that follow, Witches of the West by
Ellaraine Lockie and Gypsy on the Boards by Patrick Carrington, the theme of collaboration is carried forward in a less traditional manner, each author creating their own poem, set side-by-side on the page, collaboration here meaning two poets who both write poems with a strong sense of place, and who are now working on a joint collection based on their shared approach to poetry.
Career Path by Dominy Clements and DF Lewis is a short, haunting piece about a brother and sister who suffer separate misfortunes. He falls off stage scaffolding, becoming paralyzed, after which, wheelchair-bound, he gradually gains a great deal of weight; she, while snow skiing, pushed by the angle of the slope against a razor fence all the way down the mountain, is lacerated beyond cosmetic recovery (giving us the charming image of her, post-recovery, "smoking cigarettes and puffing the smoke through the perforations in her cheek.") This story can in fact be seen as a metaphor for the issue itself, in that both protagonists then create a third person, collaboratively.
To me, the best-written story in the collection, on a sentence level, where you admire each word choice made by the authors, is Atom Bomb, by Willie Smith and Paul Kavanaugh. Here's the first sentence: "'Leche fesses,' sings this queer mellifluously, dressed in lederhosen, extremely tight shirt, count the ribs in his chest, nipples erect belly button like a little clit, still reeking of Dresden." The observation "belly button like a little clit" reminds you, after so many 'like' and 'as' atrocities by others, just how powerful and apt a simile can be, and how graceful alliteration can be.
Along with several other stories and poems, including part three of Cameron Pierce's Keeping Angels, the issue also features a number of collaborative efforts between writers and artists. The best of these is editor Kendall's collaboration with illustrationist John Brewer, which plays with the idea of the exploration of a lover's bare back expressed in terms of cartography, producing a hush of words spread across a rear view of a torso and what looks like a reversed image of Great Britain.
Spyros Heniadis is the Print, Layout and Design Editor of the print edition. His vision contributes quite a bit to the "feel" of the magazine. The design of the previous issue, with its black brick wall, reminded me of something dangerous that might be rolled-up and slid into a pipe in a public bathroom, to be retrieved by someone looking over their shoulder while they needlessly flush the toilet. The present cover is a pale swirl of blue and white, like wallpaper in a hotel bedroom, in which faces and out-reaching hands can be discovered in the quiet patterns, every number dialed on the bedside phone producing an unending rhythm of unanswered rings.
Rachel Kendall is clearly trying to do something different with Sein und Werden. Of all the genres, horror has consistently been the one that achieves its best effects through the distortion of "reality" (the one word in the English language, according to Vladimir Nabokov, that should always be encased in quotes). Her exploration of the exaggerating techniques of Expressionism and Surrealism is exciting and, as evidenced by this issue, worthwhile.
I highly recommend the magazine.
Alan does not know Steve. Not really personally anyway, but he has exchanged emails with him. Apparently they have never met. Maybe they should meet. Good poets should meet. Send Alan and Steve money to finance this meeting. Don't you want to support the arts; or, in this case, the Alans and Steves?
Alan, by the way, is a very good writer. Google him. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, provided you will not tell him he has won a Swedish lottery he never entered, or that you have twenty million dollars in Nigeria to invest but need his bank account to do it. Instead, you should send those emails to email@example.com.
Ugly Duckling Presse, www.uglyducklingpresse.org, (distributed by Small Press Distributor's) ISBN 1-933254-15-17, 247 pages, 2006, $16.00
Jazz is the subject, permeates the sensibilities, the words, the poems/meditations in this substantial collection by NYC poet Steve Dalachinsky. This is a life's work, spanning twenty years of concerts in select small venues around the city listening to jazz artist Charles Gayle.
"I stand outside
on the edge of my shadow
at the edge of the doorway
& the nite is crying
(from "poem 1 7-12-89")
Pick a page, any page in this collection, and you will find highly impressionistic, personal reflections on the music and the man, that is the primary focus of this work. As the poems are unedited, they do not have the feeling of polished gem making, of something honed to perfection and thereby deprived of life. Instead they have an improvisational feeling, fresh as the music that inspired them. The poet is willing to take the risk of originality at the expense of Art; as he would say, "It's about the music."
"& he said on the 4th day-
he simply said "blue"
& little else followed
& all around him
things swam like the blue
blue were a new thing
which it was
as was swimming"
(from "god 3 (addendum blue) melody")
If there is such a thing as an approximation of music in poetry, this would be poem, all the poems in this section, would be among the best examples of one art rendered in another form. In addition to the well over 240 pages of musical musings, six color paintings of Gayle in his element, are included with the text.