Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

A Review of “TUND” by Thor Garcia

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Spencer Dew

There is a voice, predominant in these stories, always at some distance to itself. Not numbed, maybe, so much as slightly disassociated, tingling, like hands on the verge of sleep. Experiences slide by, then there is some odd prickling. Objects and events are studied, sometimes in detail, but the focus, narrowing in, verges on the absurd. The newspaper, for instance, reports “The economic indicators were open to differing interpretations, but some of the executives were quoted as saying the cycle could be near an end. The Semites were haggling over land. In athletics, one of the teams had won.” And of a girl, far from unattractive, we learn that “while her hips were rather wide, they didn’t quite protrude. Her buttocks did, however—just slightly more than was perhaps too far. The twin insane globes of that device heaved, they quivered and juked. They jiggled and jimmied independently, but also in supernal, near preternatural concord.” Wandering, dazed, through a world at once blurred and hyper-detailed, of vague Semite struggles and asses analyzed with everything but a physics equation. This is the straight face of TUND, to which time happens, events happen, and the actor, as if passive, presents himself as merely on the receiving end of events in which he plays, in fact, a vigorous, even initiating role: “And so I was hard again. I flipped her over. I had to work to make the third time happen. It was long strokes, then short stabbing ones, and sucking on her earrings, her hair, her neck. Finally it happened.” Yes, even that just happens, as the arousal happens, as the situation happens, as the relationship happens and as the collapse, gradually and then all of a sudden, happens, just comes to pass. “So suddenly everything was falling apart. It’ll happen like that. You know, things slipping right by you in one big flux—and there you are, trying to make sense of it. This was me.”

Some of these stories are set in Europe—“Eastern Europe, to be exact, in the time following what were popularly called revolutions,” a place presented as perhaps especially suitable to this sort of detachment, this approach to history as something that rolls in and over, then breaks for a little picnic weather. Narrators find themselves in places, with people, as if they are waking up or becoming aware of their existence, as a passive player, in a dream. Alcohol gets drunk; dreams get discussed. A mother, a castration, the size of the severed penis, its smoothness—all of this happens in proximity to a sauna scene, two men, wrestling, one “half-observ[ing]” the other’s “flaccid penis and heat-engorged scrotal sac, resting on the tiled slick floor.” It’s like a scene out of Saint Augustine, only it ain’t, quite, for while the Bishop seeks, in his prose, to cut to that which can be known, to express his visceral emotions and wrangle through the complexities of his own mental life, here a group of somewhat friends try to get high and take turns talking. Everyone and everything is disassociated, like pool balls after a break, sliding farther and farther apart. Here’s one friend on his companions:

He looked at the flesh, the flesh vaguely glistening in the low-watted light. Ugly flesh casting invisible rays, nipples casting shadows, deep crevasses in the fat like expired sausages bundled in twine. He concentrated on shriveled ghostly penises, saw gaping, dripping vaginas—layer upon layer of them, piled on one another, hairy and shaven, blurring into a single folding, receding, bifurcating, suffocating pink-red sludge, and scabs and little holes, dozens of them, woven into the red-pink walls themselves. And new noises came to him, the crunching and cracking and grinding of bones, and scalps tearing from heads, skulls smashing against stone, faces grimacing in howl.

Such a paranoid trip is, in TUND, our world, more or less. The folks here don’t always know whether to ralph or jackoff, to cite some parlance used.

Meanwhile—as with those Semites and their “haggling”—mayhem happens, and murder, mischief of various sorts. There are dog deaths, dog surgeries, dog torture, dog love (dogs predominate, like that detached voice). People watch porn, or make porn, or worry, aloud, about their sperm count. Meals are served, “tasting more like a recipe looks than a meal is supposed to taste” and artists endure “years of surviving on ketchup soup and kool-aid” until they are hailed as geniuses, become rich, and indulge peculiar habits like making a “handmade stone pornographic chess set.” To cite a somewhat similar writer, it is difficult to merge in these places. Here’s how a relationship falls apart, while waiting for a second opinion on the test results:

There were difficulties. I began to be troubled by some of her characteristics, which included drinking coffee from a cup the size of a small bowl. She was always making pasta dishes, which she would never throw out but leave sitting in the refrigerator, sometimes for a week or more. / We never went out together in public, and never once did I see her lay a brush on her paints. She had slender hips, a beautiful long back, hardly any breasts at all. I answered a great many questions, mostly of a technical, mechanical nature. Sometimes she smelled. She said it was infections and viruses, of the kind exclusive to women.

And here’s how another narrator feels about coming, finally, to the big city, to live the dream imbibed via advertising: “Bay City, I sneered. You bitch. You lying whore sack of come. You four-on-the-floor mother-cunt. Come on, you filthy bitch. You cheap whore. You dirty lying two-dollar strumpet.” But soon, despite his desire to rape and dominate the city, our hungry young narrator finds himself fantasizing about his own assault, the urban promise simultaneously a threat:

He would knife me first, surely, then drag me off and rape away at me frenziedly in some alleyway. I would beg him NO PLEASE NO. But it would mean nothing, to him. He would slap angrily at the back of my neck, as if I were some loose red-headed woman—his loose red-headed woman. I would shriek and cower as he pulled my shirt from my back and lashed me with enraged swipes. Onlookers would hoot down from the apartment blocks, giggling and turning up the television as my assailant pounded away, clubbing away into oblivion all my tender beliefs and chivalrous instincts.

Better, in such a world, to just give up, have another beer. Or so that narrator decides. And another. Then another after that.

I’d figured this out before, it was so damn obvious, but sometimes you’d forget. But it was always good to remember:
The first step was to surrender.
The second was to give up.
The third was to toss in the towel.
The fourth was to relinquish all hope.
The fifth was to forget any of it had ever happened.

The voices and happenings of TUND are not quickly forgettable. The panoramas may mesh together, the paranoias and detachments of the various characters may echo each other, but the overall result is a seductive, disturbing vision of life and one way of relating to it, as spectator to spectacle, as victim to one’s own agency, actions and inactions.

Official Thor Garcia Web Site
Official Litteraria Pragensia Web Site

A Review of “The Field” by Martin Glaz Serup, Translated by Christopher Sand-Iversen

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Spencer Dew

A brooding field is the dominant presence in this beautiful little book; a field that wakes slowly, sitting on the toilet in the morning; a field that “spends far too much time on Facebook” and “spends far too much time watching TV”; a field that has anxieties about photography and memories of sex in public; a field that believes “many who directly or indirectly accuse working people with conservative values of being complacent, superficial consumer fetishists, are, perhaps, without even having realised it themselves, hypocrites”; a field that “doesn’t know when it would find time to exercise . . . doesn’t understand how everybody else finds time to exercise”; a field that “has yet to decide whether it can be bothered to keep itself up to date with the risk of brain tumours caused by radiation from mobile phones.”

The psyche on display here, in the third-person, is presented as something radically other, a sentient non-sentient thing, a place, an absence even, because what is a field, exactly, other than a grounds for something and thus not quite something itself? A field is not landscape, at least not in this text. Indeed, the field, our protagonist, “can be jealous of the landscape from time to time, the landscape doesn’t have any colleagues it has to see again and again, the landscape doesn’t have friendly, superficial conversations in the kitchenette with them; the landscape, the field thinks, doesn’t find itself as a Christmas lunch confessing all to a boss.” The field here obviously isn’t a field at all, either; no field finds itself “On a trip to Paris without the kids,” let alone able, then, to ask, “do you think we’re having a crisis.”

It happens—though this is not noted in or on the book itself—that in Danish, the original language of this poetic meditation on identity, “Marken,” the field, puns on “Martin,” the author’s first name. So “The field wishes its brooding would soon be disturbed, that the telephone would ring, that the smoke alarm would start wailing” sounds quite different in the original, and interjects an explicit autobiographical valence lost in translation. Through this autobiographical valence—reminiscent of Gertrude Stein’s explorations of psychology in the third-person—is generated a depth of field, as it were, an accumulation of opinions, echoed notions and claims, from all of which emerges a portrait of a particular self, a subjectivity, reflecting back on itself, critiquing its own opinions and ideas, relishing the taste of its personal pleasures. In keeping with the distance inherent in framing this slew of intimate (if they are intimate) bits and pieces via the abstract “field,” there is a recurring motif, philosophized here, on exile as an interior condition, on existential location as in some ways like the position of a field, subject to rather than agent in: “The field thinks it makes no difference what it’s interested in, the field will in any case have forced upon it and be exposed to both this and that, no matter what it’s interested in, and that’s what you have to take notice of, in the field’s opinion.”

Though, of course, this field is constructing its own field of meaning, quilting together tiny comments into a book, contrasting simple preferences—“The field is fond of long legs.” “Tits or arse, the field is a tit-field.” “The field notices shoulder blades.”—and idiosyncrasies—“The field finds words such as euphemism challenging.”—with seemingly important, formative claims—“The field remembers when it was younger; when it realized how a kaleidoscope works, mirrors, not magic, the disappointment, that feeling, like being abandoned by oneself, like having one little part of the world exchanged for another, coarser.”—and the sorts of deeply considered pleasures that reflect the guiding interests of the author as author, as poet, as constructor of texts:

The field loves talking on the phone, the intimacy of it, being together without being together, the sound of the other person in that person’s own sitting room, the sudden nearness that can be broken off as you wish like turning off the TV. It can talk for several hours until its ear gets warm and dark red and throbbing.

For all the anxiety about the “incredible amount of meaningless communication” and the contemporary anxiety about “missing out on something,” the need to keep “up-to-date . . . to know what everybody else is doing right now,” Serup is crafting a text that both moves at the speed of Twitter, page by page, quip by quip, but also builds like a novel, like a piece of music, dependent upon a lengthy engagement, focus. It’s hard not to read the obsessions over photography in light of the obvious preference for words, just as a line like “The field thinks that hearing as a sense will make a comeback in the near future” seems to speak, too, to the quality of listening involved in reading a text like this, in which the line speaks, both on a page by itself, quickly turned, and within a wider mesh or matrix or field. That “The weather . . . is the most watched TV programme in the world” is both a humorous line and a kind of commentary on public consumption, but it’s not, as I read it, within the scope of this book, a line lacking in hope, even in poetic appreciation. The book begins, after all, with the line “This is a nature poem which is also concerned with other things,” and, indeed, there seems to be little of the “nature poem” in it, but then again, a certain type of nature poetry is always, at its best, about the field inside the mind? Some such notion has been considered here, of course: “The field has thought about it, it has reached the conclusion that the most interesting things in reality don’t happen in reality but in people’s heads, in the imagination.”

Official Martin Glaz Serup Web Site
Official Christopher Sand-Iversen Web Site
Official Les Figues Press Web Site

A Review of “Here Comes the Nice” by Jeremy Reed

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Spencer Dew

On one page, it’s the early 1960s. Faces, first-wave Mods, cluster near their customized scooters outside a club from which bluesy rock emanates. “As self-regarding stylists they weren’t going to sweat it out inside the club for the Stones. They were too cool for that, and weren’t going to risk spoiling their clothes.” On another page, it’s a little past now, some dystopic alternative future, London, with terrorist bombs exploding in the distance, and Mod-obsessed journalist Paul, procrastinating from writing, is watching

parts of the grainy, extensive archive footage of Stones in Exile, a re-mastered documentary of the degenerately substance-fuelled band’s bitty recording of Exile on Main Street at Keith Richard’s villa, called Nelicote, in Villefranche-sur-Mer, in 1971, as ultimate Stones cool, a kick ass blues album that sounded dirty, like mixing blue paint above a drain cover. After watching heroin-based seventies Stones footage, Paul shifted to scrolling the sci-fi marketing claims for resveratrol, as activating a longevity gene that theoretically extends life expectancy by 70 per cent; the was drug (sic) believed to ramp up the activity of SIRT1, a protein implicated in age, and was useful in stopping the progression of cancer growth. Paul was interested too in pulling info from the web on a new dopamine reuptake inhibitor MDPV, noted to have characteristic hypersexual effects, but still under clinical trial, and on the aphrodisiacal effects of yohimbine as an alpha-adrenergic antagonist, increasing genital bloodflow and inciting unusual sexual sensitivity.

Shot, count-shot. The Stones, something like time travelers themselves, are woven throughout this narrative as past and future open to each other, the sixties and their promise—Mod fashion as a new form of identity, new music as a transport to ecstasy—and the future’s grim but amped-up potential—pills for arousal and long-lasting erection, pills even for the cessation of aging, pills to combat time itself. Time, in this novel, is not what it once was. Or rather it is, in moments, precisely what it once was, and both Paul’s investigations and desires and the author’s attention to long-lost styles and feelings lead to an injection of then into the now of reading:

The Face stood apart from the Shepherd’s Bush Mob contingent busy investing in a tin of Smith Kline and French blues, clearly stolen by a wised-up dealer from a Boots chemist. The Face was his own creation, wearing a purple Dormeuil tonic-mohair jacket, with Prince of Wales dogtooth check trousers from Harry Myers in Bethnal Green. The trousers kept narcissistically attracting his attention, no pleats in the front, and a 1-inch step at the foot of the trouser leg that went halfway down his heel at the back, almost touching the floor, and the front half of the trousers had a button on the outside leg. Cloth covered in the same material, and sewn at the point where the step began, hung just right over the shoe, worn with a pair of short-point side laces on Cuban heels.

He really had the edge on all fashionista rivals. He was the Face, the acknowledged king of Mods, but he lacked Mick Jagger’s infamous celebrity, and he knew it, with an acute stab of jealousy.

This is addictive stuff, amidst a sea of addictive things. So Paul experiences something like a time warp, questing, all the while, after sex, in an increasingly herbal-and-pharmaceutically-fuelled manner, falling in with a young girl who, with her teen energy—“spellbinding teen pheromones”—and youthful enthusiasm seems also to represent something about aging, about fads and what happens to them with the passage of time. The girl talks about “crazy, disassociated things, like banana problems on the web, e-democracy as the new global politics,” and she takes Paul to a restaurant

with tablecloths that were touch-sensitive screens, on which you could scan a menu, order a cab, or morph the screen saver on your tablecloth from clouds, to bamboos, to geisha girls etc. The table, she told Paul, was like a sexy kind of iPhone, and the place provided top quality pan-Asian food. Suzie was right up on iPhone games, gadgets, UFOs, retro-pop, Michael Jackson’s pigment whiteners, the fatty acid DHA, which increases acetycholine, the g-spot as sensory epicentre, Chinese girl bands, Ts with graffiti slogans, and being mutant Eurasian cool.

This “mutant Eurasian cool” is worlds away from the first generation of Mods, who started trends like “spiking shocking pink drinking straws into bottles of beer they never touched, but placed on the bar counter as artefacts viewed with visible disdain.” Or is it?

There is some plot here, obviously, and some boilerplate bafflement: Paul has trouble, as he explains it, with “the notion that you’re first-wave from the sixties, and that you’re still twenty-one, and that all the sixties icons, who are dead, still visit this place.” There is lots of sex, fucking “like re-immersion in a steamy Chinese river, the current working at him to come in rhythmic contractions, and they did, together, simultaneously, their skin like sauna, as they exploded into optimal sensual reward, kicking at each other ferociously until the climax subsided.” There is some jarring echo of imagery, as when Paul helps pull a girl “out of her skinny jeans, like squeezing a tube of black toothpaste,” and then, a few pages later, the same girl “squeezed out of her skinny jeans like a squirt of toothpaste from a tube.” But the real thrill of this book—much like those pink straws spiked in those beer bottles—is with how it looks, how it sounds, not the storyline, the engines of character motivation.

It is an endlessly quotable book, addictively precise in its prose.  Here’s a bit of seemingly throwaway background noise, from a restaurant scene:

There were city suits to either side of them, men in conservative charcoal Paul Smith suits, who were part of an increasingly demoted corporate sector, exposed for their banditry, corruption, dodgy futures contracts, and consolidated fraud. There was a group of them, like a retarded planet, a species largely unable to individuate, and reliant on shared lo-fi intelligence. Their A-line skirted blondes were much the same, anxious to collectivize, drink beers, and industriously fork chewy sinew, by way of what looked like Wagyu onglet, slow-cooked beef served with braised yam bean. They were loudly talking company politics, and eliminating rival colleagues with bitchy rapid-fire verbal bullets…

And here’s Paul doing journalism:

“I’ve got a colour question for you, if you don’t mind,” Paul said. “I’m such a completist for detail that I’m curious from clips, and photos, about a very specific ice-blue, that is almost white, that seems to have existed in shirts only at this period. Can you remember it?”

“I can, now you mention it,” Max said. “The shirt was a favourite with Mods in the early sixties, and was worn with black knitted ties. You’re right: it was a blue indistinguishable from white, almost the colour of vodka.”

And here’s Paul’s notion of the coming apocalypse:

…an imminent London flameout, with ministerial armour-plated Jaguars screaming out of the city, discharging oil-and-tack slicks to de-road pursuing vehicles, lasers scanning the road up to 300 metres ahead, towards an underground warren of cells concealed somewhere in Oxford for Cabinet usage. These warlords, and their lugubrious killing fields, were all part of London’s B-side, ministers who employed organised crime as a means of personally stockpiling weapons, food, pharmaceuticals, Tamiflu vaccines, and boxes of scotch and gin—as provisions for their intended resistance to the militant, Soho-based Blackjacks, who were looking to establish lawless supremacy in a capital in which a discredited government was harnassed to the army for its unsanctioned defence.

Sometimes, the task of the critic is to lean back and say, wow, that’s sharp, and these passages make me do that, have that sheen, that crispness. There is much that could be said about this book as a meditation on time’s arrow—from metrosexuality to gay-hatred, from hippies to Hells Angels, or the thought Face, after some exposure to both anti-gay slurs and Hells Angels spit, has: Mod, he realized, was irretrievably over, like the thought he had just left behind as part of his continuous biological acceleration towards death.” But this book is more fun as a romp through and against time. Paul is given an offer: “You can join us in the sixties—the orange sunshine decade. You can cross the time barrier.” But it doesn’t really matter what he decides; the time machine is the book itself, its realizations of specific moments with addictively cool prose, prose the color of vodka.

Official Jeremy Reed Web Site
Official Chômu Press Web Site 

A Review of “Gardens of Earthly Delight” by George Williams

Friday, October 19th, 2012

Spencer Dew

“You will not,” one story here informs us, “at your boss’s annual summer evening Hawaiian pool party walk up to your associate’s wife and pluck the nursing newborn from her disbelieving arms and dash it on the mossy stones of the Japanese rock garden.” But the idea is there, and that level of violence, explosive, cruel, and horrifying, is veined throughout these otherwise dull tales.

The stories here disturb, but less in any sense that art should; more the way images of pain and suffering appropriates for pornographic purposes do, the way Faces of Death did back in middle school when kids would make out in front of it, or certain Web sites today that show photographs of white phosphorous burns for the titillating “gross out” factor. Williams is poking his finger at something he takes to be profoundly American, a bone half-buried in this blood-soaked soil of ours, but his response to that undercurrent of violence is another layer of violence, reading like a photocopy of a photocopy, numbed to its own force, distanced from the reality it signifies.

In another story, a man with a gun takes a hostage and then blows up a Hooters. They speak, terrorist and victim, in stripped-down dialogue, lacking, as all dialogue here does, punctuation marks. This can be confusing, as a tactic, though in its implications of purity it, too, is almost violent, an over-worked minimalism, clenched, like the fists of a man who will soon flare up in magnesium, eradicating his physical form due to some unspoken anger. Men draw guns and fire, randomly, in anger or something like a toothless joy. Not that there aren’t also career criminals here, and agents of various sorts, and myriad occultists. And some of the violence, for all its wild lashing, does have a motivation: there are hate crimes against Muslims, a protagonist obsessed with dealing revenge for the imposition of sounds into his world. Yet under both the clear, caused rage and the inchoate, frothing anger, there is a sense, from Williams, that violence has a deeper, religious root.

Religions recur here, as well, from caricatures of Scientology to those wounded Muslims, the blood of the lamb that washes over revivalists in the pine woods, the blood rites of various imagined initiatory communities, the secrets of and related slanders associated with the Masons or the Templars or Hubbard’s own sect. Even the ghost of a young girl blames something like religion: “My father made us believe he was god. We believed him. That’s why we killed ourselves. God said it was time.” More than one story involves the idea of a coming anti-Christ, a new nativity, the incarnation of evil itself. One couple wants to revamp “the Cult of the Sacred Whore.” “In three years their web site had 786 million hits, five percent paying. Their latest adventure: traveling through Spain. The goal: to get pregnant. The phases of the moon, temperatures, graphs of peak ovulation.” There is a riot in the wake of Easter. Skulls are smashed. This sacrality of violence, not merely the notion of violence as something ancient and incubating but its unleashing as somehow transcendent, even a good in itself: this echoes through the museum hallways lined with weapons, the Quixotic old man who unsheathes a sword, even the excessively effusive epistolary responses, spinning out fantastically, to singles ads, which culminates in a sinister new paganism: “In my garage I am building a gift for you, a sacrifice.”

While one narrator, struggling to contain himself, repeats to his own disbelief the claim that America “is not a rabid behemoth of greed idiotized by advertising and stupefied by cathode rays and narcotized by Twinkies. America is not a land-fill,” this sense predominates, and some of the return to a sacred violence is out of a sense of needing to purify a polluted land. Blast the Muslims away with sonic weapons, for instance; plow through the Virginian suburbs with a tank. But Williams treats the employ of this violence like he treats the lack of question marks, a literary tactic only, rather than taking such things, even when only on the page, seriously as already a reality, a real force. Consider: “You motherfucker, the woman said to Leland. You killed my boyfriend. I’m like God now and like God I’m like God now like God I’m like God now goddamn you killed my boyfriend you goddamned son of bitch.” The quote is accurate, and here maybe Williams is capturing something of the shock, the physiological force of violence not on the body but on the nervous system, on perception and speech, but the story is too slick, transient, for this statement to have much force or give the reader much pause.

Imagining the events described here, away from the book, is much more viscerally affecting than reading the prose. The congregants outside the mosque buckle and drop, and in my mind, this matters, this hurts, whereas in these pages there is an immediate moving on, an insulation in the prose, a retreat from engagement with the power of the violence that gets thrown around here as reference but without respect for its weight. In one scene, a woman climbs out from under a table to examine the consequences of a Tarantino-like shootout scene: “The room filled with the keen odor of cordite and blood. Eight bodies.” It is oddly bloodless, this writing, for all the blood shed within its narratives. And this distance—like that “you will not” that conditionally adjusts the opening quote to this review—heightens the disturbing reality of violence even as the violence here is inserted, imagined, and shuffled around as a plot device.

Official Raw Dog Screaming Press Web Site

A Review of “The Life of Polycrates & Other Stories for Antiquated Children” by Brendan Connell

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

As a reader, I’m sure you know that feeling you stumble across sometimes where you click absolutely with the text in hand. I’m sure you know that feeling very well. I’m sure that small snik of recognition is why some people continue reading as much as they do, whether they’re aware of it or not.

Connell’s The Life of Polycrates has proved to be one such experience.

The name is off-putting, I know. It paints pictures of dreary schoolroom afternoons and Homer, the endless list of ships.

It begins with a novella, the title piece. It reminded me of Homer, not as I read him in my younger years but in my later, when studying Ulysses, The Odyssey was suggested to be read alongside. Like with those initially off-putting tomes of ancient lands, when I began reading I found myself submerged in a strange, angular world where the names were half-familiar and the scenes mimicked films we’ve seen of late—or is it the other way around?

But it’s not until after The Life of Polycrates that you get into the heart of the matter.

Connell has been described as a Master of the Weird. There’s that irritating saying about books and covers, and I confess to list that special form of judgement among my many sins. With this collection you would be expecting something completely different to what you’re getting, as far as externals are concerned—your eyes are only fully opened when you’re deep in the belly of the beast.

It’s almost as if Connell wanted the novella and the cover and the title, the whole shebang, to be perfect as far as cunning traps can ever be perfect. The reader stumbles out of the ancient names and nouns of Polycrates and into such extraordinary, ghastly rooms and scenes (Collapsing Claude, The Dancing Billionaire) that the confusion is almost comical.

This is a form of story that is not often encountered. Having finished anything Lovecraftian, Poe-ish or even Goremenghastian and entered the 21st century in despair that such oddity would be experienced again: The Life of Polycrates is a delight.

Aside from the gentlemen and the text above, the only other works I can relate this with are those of Dickens. If you’re thinking The Muppet Christmas Carol, think again. I’m talking about the spontaneous combustion; endless, awkward corridors and corners of cities and palaces that go nowhere; bizarre caricatures of characters that seem to be all nose or all hunchback; dirt, slime, vice, greed.

This is the filth and grotesque of literature in its entire unabashed and hideous phantasmagoria. It is a collection to haunt the corners of the mind, with stories that will be thumbed over again and again, for lifetimes.

Official Brendan Connell Web Site
Official Chômu Press Web Site

A Review of “Kissy Killy” by Vox Anon

Friday, September 16th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

I like books that come with add-ons. Sometimes review books do. They’ll come with a press release statement, or sometimes they’ll be signed. My copy of Kissy Killy included

  • The author’s signature
  • Three postcards of strange sketches
  • An A4 page of lipstick kisses
  • A letter
  • Some unpublished poetry that the author is currently working on

Good show. The add-ons occupied me for hours. I would like to suggest to any authors out there reading this that they include stickers when they send their books out.

Then I turned away from the swag and focused on the content of the collection.

Vox Anon described this collection himself as a “diary-type collection of poems composed in experimental, voyeuristic, & confessional modes.” We are told that the main themes are, “kissing games, metaphysical love, & gross anatomy.”

As a reader, I am always gratified when an author describes what a collection of poetry is supposed to be about, or what themes/issues it is tied together by. It gives the reader a framework to hold in their mind as they go in to read. Some people would disagree, arguing that a work should be explored without prior knowledge/influences, and obviously this is their choice. Perhaps only Structuralists would agree with me.

I was halfway through the collection before I read the letter and the description of themes, and this summing up elevated the poetry to a status that I had demoted it from on first reading.

On first reading, you see, Kissy Killy smacks of adolescent angst and general emo-ness. I pitied the man in his 40s who would be driven to write such juvenilia. It brought to mind the books of Judy Blume, whose explorations of the body and beginning awareness of sexuality so edified me as a teenager.


Then came the letter. A little flash of understanding came into my head, an aha moment where what the author was trying to achieve came together. Perhaps it just goes to show how little I understand art that I would need the over-arcing messages to be spelled out, but perhaps I would represent the majority of people who aren’t artists.

In speaking about the reactions of a reader to certain subjects, I wonder if the response says more about the reader than the subject. My immediate rejection of a work that deals with physical love probably reveals more about me than about how ‘bad’ or ‘good’ a work of art might be, if such value judgements can still be applied.

With that in mind, once the initial knee-jerk reaction is dealt with, Vox Anon does address some issues that are lacking in an awful lot of literature. By this I refer to the reality of the body, or the feelings that people don’t admit to themselves that they have, the twisted, ugly desires and needs that many people and works of literature like to pretend don’t exist. I exclude Nabokov’s works in general from this, of course, Jean Genet in entirety, and, finally, Ulysses.

Perhaps such works deal so extensively with masturbation and disturbing sexual fantasy that other texts feel they don’t need to cover the same ground.

Kissy Killy moves from genital mutilation to the expelling of the ovum during menstruation, to the feel and taste of the inside of a woman’s most secret places. These are only three examples.

We live in an age of distance from the body, of immersion in virtual reality, of transformation and scientific advances as regards cosmetic and bionic bodily ‘upgrades’. Kissy Killy brings the reader back to the simple actuality of the corporeal fundamentals that they’ve forgotten—the body they already possess. Like Erlend Loe’s magnificent Naïve. Super, Kissy Killy should be required reading for the new generation—of which I am a member—who exist on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter as well as through blogging and text messaging. We need to be reminded of who we are in the first place.

Finally, the style and techniques of the writing itself.

The poetry is abstract in the extreme. There are little quirks that I found endearing. God is never mentioned aloud, for instance, and is always represented as G-d. As a taste of everything I’ve been discussing here, and everything that Kissy Killy is offering to the reader, I leave you with an extract from ‘Every Time I’:

the way you stare i could never
be your camera or ocean mirror
captive in your bird
cage my dear when
darkness feels like home
the eye of the calm appears
a storm palace swarming
alarming whirlpooling wisps
shipwrecks set sail i try
tangled in your tentacles sheer
childhood tears will never tear
the seventh veil i am

Official Vox Anon Web Site

A Review of “Airplane Novel” by Paul A. Toth

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

Toth has been described as a “notable force in contemporary fiction” and a “literary wizard.” Other reviews of the novel say that it’s a “wonderful cubist and surreal tale of truth through fiction.”

What is it, anyway?

THE 9/11 novel, apparently.

I wasn’t aware that there were others. The idea of there being others is slightly distasteful to me. Yes, there are novels about other dreadful happenings. The Holocaust, for example. The good books about it were only written decades later, when the writers had escaped a devastated Europe for a cleaner America. Or they’ve been starting to appear now,  when everyone who could remember what living in Berlin (for example) in 1941 was like.

Is Airplane Novel too soon?

Oddly, no. 9/11 was a strangely 21st century atrocity. Everyone feels they were there; it’s over familiar; it’s imprinted on our minds like movie reels when we close our eyes. It was bombarded at us from TV screens everywhere across the globe for months. Years later there are tales of dust settling, lungs clogging—memories of where we were, who we were with, the people we were at that time and place. The weather of that day is forever cordoned off in the mind.

In this respect, Airplane Novel is almost about something that didn’t happen.

To clarify:

The event has been so twisted and ballooned out of proportion, and blasted in our faces for so long, that a certain sense of desensitisation has crept in.


Correct me if I’m wrong, and I do of course mean no offence. I write from a country far away from America, from a viewpoint removed. When all you know of something is what you see on television, after a while it becomes almost like a story you’re watching on-stage, acted out by real people, yes, while remaining fundamentally unreal.

Reading Airplane Novel as a European, I read it without the visceral emotional investment that I know some of my American friends would have done. I read it, really, as a piece of fiction. A life and death of a building, the South Tower of the World Trade Centre.

As a literary work, the piece is tiresomely self-reflexive. I know that post-modernism is avant-garde in some other decade, but I do hope that we’re moving along a little now.

I got Toth’s point, though:

9/11, as broadcast on every station in the world, was a narrative, and as a narrative of this narrative, it’s therefore apparently imperative that we’re reminded it’s a narrative. The table of contents, for example, being the first thing we meet, is laid out in the arc of a novel’s perfect action: Exposition, Rising Action, Climax, Falling Action, Denouement.

Airplane Novel is not unlike a Quentin Tarantino film: brilliant beginning and end…and the most boring tosh in the middle that you’ve ever had to chew through. By this I mean pages upon pages of pointless extrapolation that reads as if it’s been put there to fill up time, as though Toth was being paid by the word.

As for the plot itself:

We are provided with an autobiography of sorts of the tower, and then sympathetic characters so that we can connect with the story, and finally, of course, the day itself.

My favourite character was George, the chronic masturbator, and his ex-wife Muriel, with her telescope. The characters are very vivid, moving through the mind’s eye as though they’d spontaneously come into being there. Not very many writers achieve such fluidity without reams of Dickensian description.

In summary:

Eminently quotable—the man can certainly write a damn good sentence—and with endearing, terribly ‘real’ characters, Airplane Novel, nevertheless, feels wishy-washy. The bombing, when it finally does come, is anti-climactic, but perhaps that was Toth’s point all along. Violence means nothing to us anymore.

Official Paul A. Toth Web Site
Official  Raw Dog Screaming Press Web Site

A Review of “Sparrow & Other Eulogies” by Megan Martin

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Spencer Dew

This beautifully produced little book relishes around with language, ranging from quirky trips of tinfoil meditations, newsprint postcards and bleeding disco balls to more sober consideration of words in the gaping maw of time. Eulogies and playfully quilted epistolarities bloom here, lush and pleasant to romp around in. “When I pray for doves, stray pigeons descend to me; I strap sentence-scraps satcheled to their backs, fly them off cross-country at random intervals,” we hear at one point. “Inside the hot black pit of you,” we’re told at another, “objects once ours floated on the dark. Scraps of postcard, photograph, mandolin, blooming forest: too heavy to swim up.”

So while some of this volume locates itself “Inside the velveteen whalemouth” or with the hallucinogenic wisps of narrative accumulated in phrases like “The mailman arrives with notification that my lightbulb resides in Antarctica, in the cellar of the Nightmare Fishery Museum. He has a picture. He has a map.” there is a lower key as well, wherein “the whale corpse” washes up on the beach, “its ruined, mineral grin” stark in the morning light. “Someday bits of my story will fall somewhere in the vicinity of your coordinates?” a narrative voice emerges, at one point, to ask, and while such fallout is envisioned in the same wild register as the mailman’s news (will my story “Materialize in your medicine chest, the toe of a brand-new tubesock, on your tongue during a dream of snow?” the poem asks), this is no nonsensical surface play. Rather, there is something painfully real under the images, visceral as a “Gash of belly; an opening in a gutted story to swim out of; a cloud of ink-stained blood.”

“I will never have that hot sauce, that grandmother, that handwriting again,” reads another poem, archiving loss. A nostalgia for that which has been drowned, ruined, bled over and lost its teeth permeates this collection, yet relayed in crackling braids of phrase. “Problem:  I’ve forgotten the correct dimensions with which to construct a tear. (I believe Mother used romancenovel-cornstarch-laced-with-celebrity-obituary. But hers turned out flat and unintelligible as razor blades.)”  This is a satisfying book, well worth the ticket price.

Official Megan Martin Web Site
Official Gold Wake Press Web Site

A Review of “Emergency Room Wrestling” by The Dirty Poet

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Spencer Dew

The first image in this book is of “a 400 pound naked man” with “necrotizing fasciitis—flesh-eating bacteria—/of the crotch” and of the poet-narrator “helping three nurses reinsert his rectal trumpet.” There is horror, to be sure, in a scrotum, devoured by some invisible force, but what haunts about this brief, rough, solid poem is the patient’s denial, that he acted “like most men—ignore it, hoping it would go away,” which says as much about the sociology and economics of medical care as publisher Karen Lillis’s passionate preface on the medical-pharmaceutical complex.  Whoever the Dirty Poet is, he has worked as an emergency room attendant for several decades, and he has scenes to relive and stories to tell, which is what he does in this slim but gut-wrenching, extremely impressive volume.

A line in the dedication note says “hospitals exist; misery is real.” Respect for and allegiance to the reality of human suffering characterizes Emergency Room Wrestling, thick as it is with blunt trauma and victims of assorted accidents, the tears of parents and the sting of catheters and addicts bucking against their restraints or ripping loose from their various life-preserving tubes. A man spits one of his own teeth at a nurse. A bloodied kid, when “asked what happened … looked up at us and wildly offered / i just got my ASS kicked.” A man believes “the i-phone in his chest / told him to take an x-acto knife” and sever his penis, “plus one testicle for interest.”

Another man, upon admittance, “was so wasted he asked was anyone else in the car? / only your dead wife, dude / no one told him this / but he saw it on the news that night.”

Gallows humor abounds, as it must, a survival mechanism in a world crowded with botched suicides, where nurses and attendants are desperately “juggling bodies, crises, bloody tracheas / wall-to-wall patients gasping for air.” But these poems are also marked by stripped-down, functional language—the language of work, work wherein every second matters and where everything is at stake. “i hustle to the trauma bay,” reads a representative line, “blasted like that, the man’s gonna die / but maybe not.” So much depends on that slim hope, which, in turn, depends less on the “voodoo” the surgeons perform than the basic, repetitive, maintenance and preparatory tasks, the messy, often explosively liquid tasks. “but i’m sweating with this guy i extubated and can’t reintubate / he absolutely could use oxygen about now,” read another line, capturing the pace. There is tragedy in these pages—extreme sadness, loss, horror—but for those who work elbow-deep in it, there is also always somewhere else to be, someone else with vitals to check or bedpans to change. The emotional drama of the patients and their family is at the sidelines here, as in one stunning piece describing the step-by-step measures taken on the slim odds of keeping one man around:

i stick in a nasal trumpet
i stick in an oral airway
i stick a suction catheter up his nose
triggering a vast bubble of yellow bile out his mouth
step back! i shout
the room screams

What impresses me the most about the Dirty Poet is he is that, with minimal language, he allows the humanity of everyone involved to be present, palpable, even while the main concern here—the most engaging perspective—isn’t that of the grieving or freaking or hand-wringing relatives, nor the walking or wheeled-around wounded, but the man and women whose job it is to pick up that patient who has “fallen out of bed” and who looks “like a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich / smeared with shit and blood.” The coexistence of gallows humor and empathy, and the ability to convey this confluence on the page—this is what gives Emergency Room Wrestling real wings. So when the narrator speaks of needing “a couple of beers to cut the grease in my soul,” we know well what he means, and may even feel likewise…knowing, too, that it can’t ever be enough. “hospitals exist; misery is real”:  and here are poems that bear necessary and affecting witness to that reality.

Official Words Like Kudzu Press Web Site

A Review of “Imperfect Solitude” by Tom Mahony

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

On first glance, Imperfect Solitude looks like a tourist guide to Ireland. I wasn’t particularly psyched about receiving it in the post, but it was the first novel in the little package that I decided to read because two words jumped out at me from the back cover: surfing and biology.

Writers who aren’t just writers are always an interesting find. Mr. Mahony is a biological consultant. Williams, as we know, was a doctor. I admire that. I think people do need an external life in order to be able to write, lest everything they write be just dreams. It’s is fine sometimes, it’s true, but reading about people who aren’t writers is always fun (looking your way Stephen King and John Irving).

Books about things are also an interesting find. So often modern literature is caught up with character and relationships, cause and effect. Imperfect Solitude, however, promises a glimpse into a world out of the ordinary, full of facts and figures, rituals with meanings different to the common lot.

And so, biologically speaking, and in terms of surfing as well, Mr. Mahony’s novel is great—exhilarating, even. Very few people seem to actually do any work in novels anymore, so this aspect of the narrative lends a realism to the work that some others would find difficult to obtain.

Reading-wise, however, after I got over my initial excitement about soil charting, the book would be good as a condensed version of the story. A book of a film of the story. There were beautiful landscape descriptions which landed you right there and then, but the rest of Imperfect Solitude was kind of akin to a plot summary. Which is a bad thing to have to say about a book I nevertheless enjoyed, but perhaps Mr. Mahony would be better suited to poetry that contained lyrical landscape description?

Official Tom Mahony Web Site
Official Casperian Books Web Site