Posts Tagged ‘Book Reviews’

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

A Review of “Poena Damni, Z213: EXIT” by Dimitris Lyacos, Translated by Shorsha Sullivan

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

Spencer Dew

We begin in what may be an internment camp, some complex, “four wards separate not far from the sea … and ashes spread out on the floor black stains and ashes … and next day in the morning they would come and take them from there and you could hear at that time they were going in and calling their names…” The vagueness of the prose style establishes the limits of this world and the concerns of the text. We have a camp, a train, soldiers, a Bible with notes inside, and we have encroaching darkness, the struggle to remember, the struggle of hiding, physical pain. A war, just ended or ongoing, shapes the experience as well. “Remnants of the very last attack” mark both the landscape and the prose, which yearns for “Human traces” in a wasteland of loss, lost memory. “Remember to write as much as I can,” we are told—a first person phrasing for the voice of the text, a shifting protagonist—“As much as I remember. So that I can remember,” and yet, this person forgets and, chronicles, in pieces, in poetic fragments and impressionistic prose, this very forgetting, the gap that opens between self and memory, self and world, self and other. “I think of you but not like before.” The man leaves the place of wards, pushes on, boards a train, travelling from one zone to another—“Cruel the evening again in the station and the train and another station, silent, and the train…”—but the main drama of this text is interior to this person fleeing, attempting to flee, forgetting, attempting to remember:

One by one all those that fled all those you left, pieces, pieces like ice breaking and falling in front of your feet. And it melts before you can move…. Cramp in the stomach, the usual. You cover your feet with the pullover, fall face down. Chilly berth that sticks to your face. You wear the pullover, under the jacket you put the Bible for a pillow. Her breast, her half-opened mouth. Some life. You unbutton your trousers put your hand in.

Thus, while travelling onward, there is a sense, of moving in a circle, a spiral even. Passing the same tree again and again, remembering the same woman, moving yet not making an exit, only sinking deeper, descending. “I try to stay awake. I wet my face with some water.” This retreat is not orderly, nor is the only violence here that of battle, of beatings and whatever bombs leave castles in ruins along the route of travel. “I have no painkiller,” our narrator says, in response to a pain in his foot but also to the larger problem, the journey, the attempt at exit.

And when you can no longer remember, just meaningless things here and there, and you can’t. But still try even then, as the twilight sets in, stand and look at the past, walk again along the corridors where your eyes used to wander, attentive ghosts, open the boxes, think of the other side of the wall. Sit at the side of the road and see yourself pass.

Z213: EXIT gives us not a conventional story but, rather, “a tale you remember unfinished.” Which is not to say that there is no drama, no danger, no desire.  There is even sex, or a memory of sex, maybe a dream of a memory in the process of its own erasure. At times in this hypnotic little book it feels as if everything exits except for our protagonist, whom, while in many ways mysterious, is also something we feel and thus know. The stream of his thoughts define our experience of the text:

they change, all things, memory changes, you change yourself, some woman you search for, you don’t know if you were seeking another, if you had some other hope, other aim. Tomorrow perhaps something else might erase those things as well, the new veil of the world, but you will never know it, you won’t be able to know it.

Of note, too, is the role this book plays in a larger trilogy (which I have not read). Last written but first in the series, simultaneously final installment and a prelude to the other parts, the role this book plays likely finds echo in its own obsessions with memory, loss, with exit and, indeed, beginning. One plot device, such as it is, present in this text is that of being pursued. There is an element of chase in all the travel, and, thus, a touch of paranoia, perhaps well justified, in some of the concern with memory. “Nobody is coming after me,” we’re told at one point.

Surely they have forgotten about me. Nobody will ever come here to find me. He will never be able to find me. Nobody ever. And when I fled they didn’t even realise. They took no notice of me no one cared no one remembers. Now they will remember neither when nor how. Not even I. Tracks only, a hazy memory and those images when I look at what I have written, tracks of footprints in the mud before it starts raining again. Uncertain images of the road and thoughts mumbled words, and if you read them without the names you won’t understand, it could have been anywhere, and then I spoke with no one and those who saw me no chance that they remember me.

Who is this “he” so central to the hunt? Herein lies, I think, a key to the text, to the real drama playing out in this slim volume, a drama of the phenomenon of writing itself, the drama that is textuality, the process of words, preserved, of voices, living on the page once long forgotten in the world of flesh. Considered in this light, the end of the book is already the beginning of something more, another loop back into memory, an urging for us to turn back to the beginning, those cold wards by the sea, and rechart the travels of this man, his notes, his memories, his forgettings. But in the context of a larger trilogy, this ending is, in another sense, the start of something more, an exit, perhaps, into deeper considerations of the phenomenology of the self as something written, that “I” as it slips into the alien third person on the page, becoming a “he” of a drama no longer the writer’s own. By tapping into—and engaging with such visceral detail, as the scraps and scrims of scenes here provide—this issue of how writing works on the most basic, universal level, Lyacos has created a book of real interest and reward. One such visceral tool is the second person—the “you” written by some “I,” some “he”—who becomes the protagonist, allowing us, as readers, to embody the place ourselves in the volume’s inconclusive end:

… you look behind and expect him, you get away again, you are drowsy, you close your eyes, you see him before you, you get away you are tired, mostly you stand, you close your eyes open them again, you don’t want to go any further, you shall sink to your knees, the tiredness hurts even more, you are less afraid, you are feeling the blow, you open your mouth, you look at his mouth, you don’t want to stand up any more.

Official Dimitris Lyacos Web Site
Official Shoestring Press Web Site

A Review of “badbadbad” by Jesus Angel Garcia

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Spencer Dew

“We are who we pretend to be at any given moment, no more, no less, no one, no thing. We are nothing, less than, duped into believing we’re something we’re not,” writes Jesús Ángel García, relaying the thoughts of a narrator and protagonist also named Jesús Ángel García, or JAG for short, who has a tendency to philosophize in light of his experiences in two alternative arenas, each rich with symbolism and writhing, inchoate need. JAG straddles, so to speak, two communities, working as a Web designer for a local pastor intent on extending the gospel message into political action (banning sex toys, for instance) while also (thanks to said pastor’s prodigal son) spending time on another Web site, one built around the Internet’s paradoxical offering of anonymity alongside the opportunity for over-exposure, a site where people can post their most private desires, their secret lusts, along with pictures of themselves or of someone they want to be, are pretending to be, etc.

Christianity, from its inception, has also always been about trying to be something you are, at present, not. The imitation of Christ might seem a far cry from posting shadowy and sharp-angled cell phone pics of cleavage, but García wants to toy with the similarities, crafting a narrative wherein the desires of disparate communities are revealed to be not so different after all—wherein addiction, manipulation, and insincerity exist alongside transcendence, radical freedom, and utter authenticity, all of these manifest, at times, by hypocritical zealots, pious believers, abusive pervs, and vulnerably open creatures aware that whatever they are, this identity is constituted, foremost, by their physical needs and wants.

So some people await a messiah who will come bearing a sword, and some folks have a fetish for reliving a formative rape. Some throw stones at any trace of difference and some rock out in a perpetual masquerade. Some cultivate snuff fantasies and some just want to see their son, sleeping in a nest of blankets at their ex’s house. And, as is the case for JAG, some are willing to tote guns and go covert in order to catch such a glimpse, all earthly laws and norms outranked by some irrational call.

JAG’s got plenty of issues, apart from the son—to whom this book is dedicated, raising another level of doubt about avatars and authors, characters’ names and continual fictions. He’s got a little thing with the pastor’s wife, a brother he’s speaking to throughout the text—in the traditional Christian autobiographical form of confession—and assorted associations with women whose desires are elaborately specific, including the one who feels the need “to reconstruct this atrocity” that happened to her years previous. “I need to be hurt to be healed,” she says. JAG gets his own dose of hurt one night at a bar, and while he’s initially reluctant about putting that Chekovian gun in the rifle rack of his new truck, he’s as driven by missionary zeal as any fundamentalist reformer. Taking a virtual hatchet to Web site servers, JAG wipes away those profiles while he takes to be products of “fakes, flakes, freaks, fantasies and fraidy cats” as opposed to the work of “those seeking true fulfillment,” while simultaneously contemplating how all identity might be nothing more than temporary play-acting and how God might be a collective. John Coltrane, jpegs, and alcohol can lead a man to think all sorts of things.

But badbadbad, while populated with straw man preachers who rant against teen sodomy and the evils of relativism, makes clear the asymmetry of otherwise neatly parallel stances. In a major scene, JAG shows up for a showdown protest/counterprotest of white supremacists and gay pride contingents. “The Klan processional was led by a pointy-headed knight on a white horse, trailed by a contingent of foot soldiers. Spearheading Gay Pride was a team of pony boys, saddled and harnessed, silver bits in their mouths. At the reins a king and queen in swapped gender roles steered an outsized red wagon straight down the thoroughfare.” There’s a neat visual parallel, two campy camps in outlandish outfits, theatrical, each with their own flags. But the parallels stop there, for while surely “advocates for broadmindedness and equality” can fall prey to plenty of flaws—self-righteousness and solipsism among them—“gay pride” and “white power” are ideological platforms that just don’t line up. There may always be a whiff of queer supremacism at such rallies, but it’s far from the defining line, are not coupled with canned hatred, weapons or the implication of weapons, or eschatological dreams of a “purified” world. In short—and this is an obvious point but worth belaboring in order to dig deeper into García’s text—a rainbow clown wig differs in some basic, practical ways from a face mask designed to allow anonymity while participating in terrorist action.

For JAG, however, the goose-steppers and the glitter queens are all acting out fantasies of self, all edging around issues of anonymity intertwined with loudly out self-expression. At one point a Klansman yanks up his mask, so angry he is with the motley mocking crowd. And for JAG, the street is already an old time venue. While the novel begins on the asphalt of a Piggly Wiggly parking lot, soon most interaction is happening online. “I realize the digital domain is a place where some folks play identity games,” JAG says, and though he means a more blatant adoption of new identities, he, too, is pushing into a kind of game of self, scrolling through profiles, “reading between the lines, holding close the heartache, the longing in all the profiles I’d come to see as naked portraits of need built up over a lifetime. There were so many girls I could care for. It was my moral responsibility to do so.”

So in a world where people are constantly pretending—what JAG calls, elsewhere “endless storytelling”  wherein “life comes to you in fragments”—our narrator develops some kind of odd messiah complex, seeing himself in a unique position to salve the wounds of various damaged girls. But while he at once argues that we’re all always pretending, posing, he also obsessed, especially in connection to the online spaces where he’s doing all his foreplay, with “what’s for real and what’s made-up, who’s authentic, who’s a poser, what matters, what means nothing.” There’s a desperation for meaning even in a world where meaning seems to be nothing more than a wig worn for a particular parade. All of which makes sense. What doesn’t make sense, to me at least, is why this need for meaning gets channeled into sex, into picking up girls from an online site and helping them fulfill their pregnancy or snuff kick. Why is some need, some desire, recognized as marrow-deep and therefore commendable, even when it’s explicitly nutty and destructive (of self and others) when other needs (like, say, those white folks with their Nazi badges and dimwit chants) are quickly dismissed. The preacher who wants to rid his town of dildos seems as deeply motivated as his wife in wanting to fill up her vagina, but the sexual need is linked here with something admirably true, transcendent, positively communal—everything “good,” in short, in a system that rejects relativism on gut reflex—whereas the prudish anti-dildo stance is seen as a kind of repression, an inauthenticity, as if the preacher, in his opposition to such devices, is just lying to himself, refusing to acknowledge his actual and inescapable nature.

This is less Rousseau than de Sade—the path to be followed here is through the lusts of the body, however twisted by society. Exit through the sewer, as it were, or the bowels. The denial of desire is a deadlier perversion than the aforementioned snuff fetish, and JAG seems to mean this literally—he’s even, via all the bits of Christian symbolism that have been tossed his way, able to view an individual death as redemptive, holding up the hope of salvation for a wider society that needs to get in touch with its true urges before it morphs into monsters. The human, JAG insists, is right there above the tendrils of those Daisy Dukes. “For the record,” he tells us, “I’m not a sex addict. I’m not a pervert or a freak. I’m not less moral than anyone else who lives his life according to his beliefs, who tries to do right on the path laid out before him.” The addiction, the perversion, here is precisely one of beliefs, of moral claims. badbadbad is the story of a man who feels there is a “path laid out before him,” a straight path in a crooked world. It’s an odd religion, one that passes judgment on the jukebox and the sex site with far more fury—albeit it also with more nuance, more investment—than it does on the Klansman or the raving preacher. It is a path that leads to extreme acts, and, in turn, to this extreme confession, a weird gospel, one man’s account of his journey through the wilderness.

Official Jesús Ángel García Web Site
Official New Pulp Press Web Site

A Review of “Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer” by P. Edward Cunningham

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

On first introduction, the page featuring Cunningham’s collection seems confusing. I had been expecting a collection of poetry, rather than a series—but from the very start each poem links to the others like songs on that political Green Day album or an early Raveonettes LP.

The first poem of the series is the longest. It brought Ted Hughes’s “Panther” to mind. It sets the scene. You’re a child in a dream of zoos, of lions.

With Kool-Aid stained teeth
and a paper mask,
you roared like a man-eater.

The poetry that follows doesn’t resemble poetry in the way that the first does. There are no familiar left-aligned lines, stanzas or any of that malarkey. What we have are paragraphs. Is this poetry? What makes poetry poetry anyway? I once heard the argument that the two words that elevated William Carlos Williams’s note about eating the plums in the ice box were, “forgive me.” What about here? Here we have stark colours and images set before us in crisp lines. “These lights and red organs stretched for miles and you realized earth’s seams were coming undone.” If this is poetry, then the novels of Michael Ondaatje should surely also be poetry. Or have we crossed the boundary between poetry and prose poetry? In these post-modern times, does such a blurring matter, or is it expected?

The sequence continues in a blur of metaphors and similes. It probably sounds like this is turning into a roll-call of names and allusions, but I am reminded of Glamorama:

Inside the space where its heart should have been, you retrieved a fistful of red confetti. You held your fist outside the cage and hummed as you released a paper roar.

Wrenching my head out of the other books I recognise, I realise that we are turning a corner here. The lion of the first poem has transformed, and so has the child.

The collection masses itself in the mind as a primeval collage-cloud, coiling in suspension, in myriad colours. Hopefully it won’t leave any time soon.

Official P. Edward Cunningham Web Site
Official Pangur Ban Party Web Site

A Review of “Happy Fat Children and Protein Enhancers” by Tom Duckworth

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Jessica Maybury

It’s never a good sign when a writer prefaces a collection with an apology. It’s best to skip it and come to the poems with no preconceptions.

This collection from Philistine Press is a delight in the way that some professional photos of babies are a delight. Most professional photographs concerning infants are disturbing travesties, but every now and then you get one or two that work. Happy Fat Children and Protein Enhancers smiles up at you from the Internet with an uncomplicated glee that I can only compare to Neil de la Flor’s excellent Almost Dorothy.

One thing that caught my eye on the first scan of these poems is Duckworth’s use of sound effects. I was going to use the word ‘onomatopoeia’  as a descriptor here, but it doesn’t exactly fit. Not as complex as Joyce’s thunderwords in Finnegan’s Wake, the words nevertheless splat off the page as sound rather than language. The title of one poem is “The plane went Bang! pvff cLK”. The text of another is:

End tune

A fly gaped, size of me bewildering,
He smiled too,
insecticide immune


Um … gutted

Other things that charmed me? The line and sentence lengths vary, creating a rolling rhythm that carries the reader to the last poem on its own momentum. The language is fresh, serving up a view of the world perceived with new eyes. I’m not going to talk about the contents of the poems, the themes, the tropes—I am neither a Structuralist nor a believer in the idea that the poetry of this post-modern age has to be ‘about’ anything. Each image materialises on the page utterly detached from its fellows; it stands alone to be turned every which way, and admired. Some examples include, “Walkers pack logo bag before them, / the sun rains a dry flavour,” “Sixteen hooves fight, / clash, rider spirit fiery,” “Survived the blur of watching shoals, / Constantly surfacing to pinch at all the fleshy parts,  of gruesome, dishevelled bodies.”

There are many things I could continue to pick apart and display from this collection. If I did, this review would run on longer than I intended. Text on the Internet should be short. So we come to my final point. The collection is bookended with a strange collection of text taken from signs. There are photographs of each sign, apparently taken on the way to and from Duckworth’s walk to university. I read the texts through quickly, thinking it was a cool idea to present texts like these as poetry. After a few days, however [I’m not the brightest bulb in the box], I noticed that the title of each text corresponded with the title of a poem in the collection. A ping! moment  reverberated in my brain. On studying the similarities and differences between the poems themselves and their corresponding texts, I was reminded of Pale Fire. Anything that makes me think of Nabokov gets my vote.

So, how would I sum up this collection? With a glimmering smile and steely teeth:


Official Philistine Press Web Site