Candy & Cigarettes FOR MATURE PEEPLE ONLY
nautical suicide 3 wet dreams 4 subway psychosis
Vol 1. No. 1 May â€˜08 2nd Print
Candy and Cigarettes A Quarterly Journal of letterz & Contemporary Arf edited and Desgined by Reynard Seifert
Businessman Caleb Harmon
Cover Art Jonny B.
Contributors Kevin Bewersdorf Ben Snakepit Bill Jeffery Jorge Balarezzo Johnny Rat-tail Caleb Harmon Dustin Coffey Ivan Lozano Cory Ryan James Payne Jonny B.
inside cover art Taylor Roderick Jonny B.
1941 - 2006
Distributed by Noncents media
I want to dedicate this inaugural issue of this little zine to Jack Jackson, the man more commonly known as Jaxon. Partly because he’s from Austin, and far too few people know about his legacy as one of the pioneers of underground comix. But mostly because he took his own life. Which, all pretense aside, is an admirable feat — one which clearly takes more guts than you’ve had the bravado to muster — not only for fear of the unknown but especially for the shoddy treatment of crass journalists and over-zealous monotheists. Let’s not forget what Schopenhauer tried like hell to explain: They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice; that only a madman could be guilty it, and other insipidities of the same kind; or else they make the nonsensical remark that suicide is wrong, when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.
I won’t get into the particulars of the right-to-die sociopolitical situation. But in addition to submitting whatever you want, I encourage you to direct angry and/or humourous emails to email@example.com. I also have a weekly blog and podcast at
candyandcigarettes.com. All “errors” in Candy and Cigarettes are, of course, intentional and represent an artistic choice from which I, the editorin-cheef, refuse to deviate. Yours in humility, Reynard Seifert
New Pictorial Language Makes Marks
by Mr. F.C. Ware, Smartest Kid on Earth
t is the natural inclination of children to describe events common to their lives through sequences of simple pictograms and images, for such “picture stories” serve to “make sense” and “order” the exciting and sometimes confusing new world which accosts them. However, with the onset of early education, social conditioning, and class circumstance, this congenital skill has been traditionally left to atrophy, kept alive only by the occasional prick to attention by the various “napkin gags” and “refrigerator clippings” which commonly litter the back pages of our newsdalies. Such an unforunate cultural situation serves only to associate an otherwise potentially effective language with such juvenilia as lawn games, pony races, and gaily-costumed musclemen, thus greatly compromising both the maturity of material available for consumption and the happiness of those willing to submit to a life of companionless mockery in blind pursuit of its production. Despite these obstacles, a variegated loam for exciting stories and thrilling adventures has long lain untilled, yet now the seeds are being sewn, encouraged by a startling and seemingly unstoppable rise in illiteracy, and an accompanying dive in the general intelligence of the populace.
The Comics as a Social Force
by Sidonie Matsner Gruenberg, Dead Guy Excerpts from the Journal of Educational Sociology
or a century we have looked to the schools to develop a national unity in our heterogeneous population by inculcating children, as they grow up, with common concepts, doctrines, attitudes, sentiments. But the comics, claiming to be no more than toys, have been doing just that, reaching continuously more than the school, more than the newspapers. Many reject the tool, unable to see any good coming from its use. They point, for example, to the obscene or lascivious material that appears in some comics as an indication of the potentially “bad” influences of this medium, although they do not object to books in general or to painting in general merely because some books or some paintings contatin morally or aesthetically objectionable features. Or they denounce the impossible performances of the fantastic heroes as symbols of “power” such as we fear in the fascists, or as excursions into the supernatural, although they accept and even praise men’s efforts to express their dreams and wishes or to grasp what lies beyond, through folk art or sagas. But what message does this strange new medium convey? Is there indeed any unity in it beyong the fact that it does appeal to so many? We can expect no more unity in the content of the comics than we have in the output of the printing press or of the radio. Some years ago there was some agitation because in one of the comics “Little Orphan Annie” had aligned herself against strikes. Every medium, perhaps even when it is used “only for entertainment,” is likely to carry doctrinal or sectarian implications. We have to recognize that and we have to combat the offensive teachings as best we can, for of course we do not want a censored or controlled expression, whatever the medium. The comics share with all the other
media of communication a ready adaptability to all kinds of purposes, including that of expressing views and attitudes, preferences and prejudices. Artists and writers brought up on the comics have become incresingly aware of the potency of the medium and they have attempted increasingly to use their gifts and their skills with conscious purpose. When the Army and Navy were developing their training programs they called in the makers of comics, along with the markers of books and posters, animated cartoons and sound prictures, radio scripts and dramatics. This does not mean that all the various ways of reaching and influencing people are interchangeable. It means that some kinds of teaching can be done more easily or more effectively with one instrument than with another, and that some people are more easily reached through one medium than through another. It means at any rate that more is needed in the training of soldiers than spoken orders and printed pages. In form, the comics combine pictures with words, but they obviously fall far short of the best that pictures can do and also far short of the best that words can do, and they are very much slower than the radio. However, the comics have come to be as quick as the printing press and somewhat quicker than the cinema; and for reasons peculiar to themselves they have become almost universally intelligible. As a medium of expression they are coming to be at least as free as the press and, for purely economic reasons, much more so than the cinema and the radio. The comics deserve the serious consideration of statesmen and educators, politicians and publicists, psychologists and sociologists for they reflect what millions are thinking about, what they want, what they fear, and how they feel about matters of social significance.
Snake Sense: Time in Snakepit
by James Payne, Cheeseburgler
t’s not often mentioned that Frederic Wertham – the main academic force behind the congress’s witchhunt of the comics industry in the fifties – wrote a tome on fanzine culture after Seduction of the Innocent, his classic diatribe against comics. It’s fitting that the two fields – fanzines and the comics – shared commonality for him at such an early stage, since they are in fact so complementary. Snakepit by Ben Snakepit is one comic, initially published in the zine format, which synthesizes the best of both mediums while giving a day by day autobiography of the author’s life in a time compressed fashion. Snakepit is structured so that each day of the author’s life is represented with three panels in one comic strip. The days are then collected in seasonal zines and from there are reconstituted in book form. Two have been released thus far, covering six years of Ben’s life. Taken individually each daily strip resembles what a friend would say if you asked them what they had done that day, with answers ranging from “Absolutely nothing” to “Today I started a band with Mike, Nate and Amy. Then me + Amy [sic] went to a movie. Then we sat by a lake and drank beers.” (6/30/04) Ben sifts through the minutia of life as well as the full experience of time in a day and compresses it into the kind of blurb each of us form when asked for a recap of what we’ve been up to. This is different than other daily autobiographical comic strips such as James Kochalka’s American Elf (of which Ben has a tattoo) in that there
is no pretense of narrative or daily morals. The narratives in Snakepit, if there are any to speak of, open only at the macro level. With time being represented at a miniscule fraction of its reality (seconds of reading time capture a twenty-four hour day) the reader is able to race through years. If, as the author insists, Snakepit is meant to be read on the toilet, a mere bowel movement can be enough time to live a month through the protagonist’s eyes. Since each book covers three years and takes approximately three hours to read, roughly a year of the author’s life is consumed each hour; that, combined with the fact that the daily strips receive an equal amount of page space, no matter what incidents occur, creates Snakepit’s unique appeal. Which is its assertion that specific, pivotal events from an author’s life – like those in Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home – are not as important as the ongoing stream of life. Whereas Bechdel had the luxury of retrospect to identify her life’s formative events and then divine meaning out of them, Ben’s comics are usually done the same day and are thus too immediate for “meaningful” nuance to appear; they are just prosaic overviews of the day’s events. Since the format of the comic allows one year of Ben’s life to be read in an hour, a macro view of life – normally impossible to conceive of – is attainable to the reader. It is rare that anything in life transcends the present or immediate past; eventually we lose memory of even recent events and are unable to see the “grand scheme of things.” In this Snakepit is shocking because it is able to
load years of common actions into a highly concentrated snapshot which evokes the ongoing machinations of life beyond one’s present day. Patterns emerge and story arcs materialize out of nowhere, such as Ben’s struggle to keep his drinking under control in the latter part of My Life in A Jugular Vein. In this way the day-to-day doldrums of life take on an epic inevitability that eludes authors of more critical acclaim; this has led many, including the website Sleazegrinder, to call Snakepit an existential text. This categorization only works insofar as we recognize that every piece of art that allows humans to see the great stroke of existence is inherently existential, since life is largely without predetermined meaning. Although it makes sense to deem the comics of Snakepit existential due to the dread its name implies, (The Random House Unabridged Dictionary lists Snake Pit as both “A mental hospital marked by squalor and inhumane or indifferent care for the patients” and “An intensely chaotic or disagreeable place or situation.”) Still, most people seem to find that adjective fits because they regard both partying and punk to be meaningless, as the familiar capitalist definition of success cannot be applied to either. The ability to suddenly hint at big philosophical issues that lead to these existential accreditations is showcased in an early Snakepit strip from June 8th, 2001. With the backdrop of three nearly identical panels of Ben with a forlorn look juxtaposed with a background
broken by a single horizontal line, Ben writes, “I worked today. Nothing cool happened. Absolutely nothing.” The enormity of the day’s time is evoked with the repetition of the image, which works with the text to beg us wonder whether or not Ben is talking about one day in particular or of the human experience in general. This strip is paired with the Ramones song “Cretin Hop” with its incantation of “There is no stopping, cretins from hopping.” (All Snakepit strips include a song which serves as a title of sorts.) This strip works precisely because of the condensation of time; it takes the entirety of a wasted day and turns it into a single statement which takes but a moment to experience. This, combined with the painfully unchanging panels, drives home the experience of life’s attrition with uncanny ability. It is interesting that Ben once said in an interview with Nofrontteeth.co.uk that he “will never stop drawing Snakepit, no matter what.” Leaving open the possibility that a future reader will be able to do an all day marathon of Ben’s life, seeing the triumphs and abysmal failures of life at warp-speed, sort of how one is led to believe that life will flash before your eyes just before death. It would seem like that overdose of experience could have a profound affect on someone, although when I read Snakepit now it just makes me want to go to a show, eat a burrito, and make a comic about going to that show and eating that burrito. This effect is due to the transformative power of life in art and abridgment of time in Snakpit, making every statement more powerful than the action it describes. In a way, it’s what comics are all about.
Music Reviewz “Alone” // The Cry by Dustin Coffey
Crying is for pansies. But I’ll be damned if this song doesn’t make me want to lie down and sob like a baby. It’s by an early eighties band named – appropriately enough – The Cry; hailing from California, The Cry was comprised of singer Kimball Fox, keyboardist Robo MacPherson and drummers Billy Wade and Charlie Mitchell. My friend Ben Ellis hipped me to this track, and the version he gave me is a fairly rough recording and very short. The track fades in and immediately it’s all flowers, empty beaches, and grey skies. At just 1:20 the song fades out, leaving you wanting (much) more of its new romantic glory. “Alone” is written in the tradition of the best work by New Order, OMD, Echo & the Bunnymen, or Television Personalities. But there is something especially grand about this mini emotional symphony. Even some of my friends who are die-hard Smiths loyalists (to put it lightly), consider this in rank with the work of Morrissey and crew. That’s saying a lot, but I think it’s true.
“Waited Too Long” // Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 by Reynard Seifert
This junky jangle is so damn catchy it sounds like you’ve heard it a million times, but I can almost guarantee you haven’t heard it once. Vocalist Anne Eickelberg rips folkrock a new one with her piercing all-american weirdo voice; she really believes it’s too late for everything. The song doesn’t vary much, except for the ever so pleasant electric guitar interludes, but I could seriously listen to it a million times on repeat. They have one of the longest and most rediculous names I’ve ever heard but this band will make you remember it.
“Calling Dr. Modo” // The Shit Dogs by Caleb Harmon
Itâ€™s all tacos y burritos and gets eaten before it can swim away. Reynard Seifert
A Little Death by Reynard Seifert Illustrations by Kevin Bewersdorf
n Greek mythology, Uranus imprisons his children in the earth’s bowels. Their mother Gaia gets upset and decides that the youngest son should castrate his father, which he does, spilling Uranus’s man juice into the sea. The sea foam and semen meld and give birth to Aphrodite, whom you probably know as the goddess of love, lust, and beauty. Most stories say something about being human. In today’s stories, these morals are often silly particulars con-
cerning modernity or relationships. But the Greeks were clearly thinking about some heavy shit, things that few had probably considered before. So this story conveys a lot more than just an absurd instance of patricide, although it is just that. In his novel Ravelstein, Saul Bellow briefly mentions that the British used to employ the word Uranian, a common euphemism for homosexuals in the early 20th century. Bellow elaborates quite loosely that the reason for this is related to Uranus’s fathering Aphrodite, although she had no mother.
Thus connecting sex, particularly gay sex, to all those things related to the goddess Aphrodite. Take the Greeks for what you will, but the question remains: What has sex got to do with death? Actually, the connection between coitus and the big plunge is undeniable. It seems pretty obvious that it has something to do with the concepts of creation and destruction, alpha and omega. In France they used to call the moments following an orgasm la petite mort, the French for “the little death.” As if to connote that one’s life force – literally, the ability to conceive – leaves the body in those euphoric moments following ejaculation that feel something like a dream. So, recognizing that the French are basically the masters of romance, we can safely say that the connection between sex and death has deep roots in romantic notions. One of the most overtly romanticized
modes of death is suicide. The Greeks discussed it at great length, in plays and otherwise. The Japanese used to honor it as they do marriage. And the French practically hold it on a pedestal; as Albert Camus said, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” In going with this line of thinking, suicide is a bit like masturbation. Masturbation is – in the grandest sense – self-love. Which is a gentleman’s word for narcissism. So if masturbation is narcissism, then suicide is most definitely masturbation, because it takes a narcissist to commit the act – suicide, I mean. Not that I necessarily disagree with it; there are situations which I believe warrant responsible euthanasia; that’s why I’m a proponent of
Dr. Death’s methods. But, in the event that a euthanasia machine is not available since it is illegal to own one, well. Unsurprisingly, suicide and masturbation are both issues that the decidedly unromantic American mainstream has had a difficult time accepting. A former Surgeon General, Dr. Jocelyn Elders, lost her position in 1994 for suggesting that masturbation be taught in public schools as a form of practice for sex. As for suicide – I don’t think I need to explain how most Judeo-Christians feel about that. And as the foremost authority on suicide, Arthur Schopenhauer, put it, “The reasons advanced against suicide by the clergy of monotheism…are weak sophisms which can be easily refuted.” The great Italian film director, Lina Wertmüller, once said, “I don’t think suicide is so terrible. Some rainy winter Sunday, when there’s a little boredom, you should
always carry a gun. Not to shoot yourself, but to know exactly that you’re always making a choice.” According to Ralph Steadman, Hunter Thompson purportedly said a similar thing, that “he would feel trapped if he didn’t know he could commit suicide at any moment.” And Schopenhauer, again, put it in poetics: “When, in some dreadful and ghastly dream, we reach the moment of greatest horror, it awakes us; thereby banishing all the hideous shapes that were born of the night. And life is a dream; when the moment of greatest horror compels us to break it off, the same thing happens.”
All of these examples illustrate a sense of freedom. This freedom is similar to the feeling one has after an orgasm, a kind of floating sensation, like one might experience in a dream. And if, as Shopenhauer says, life is a dream, then “a little death” might be the closest
one can ever come to breaking free of the illusion. After all, the immediate realization following an orgasm is that sex is a very silly thing, and perhaps one would think the very same of life in the moments following its destruction.
ut suicide doesn’t have to be all seriousness and romanticization; for example, it’s used as a humourous device in Angry Youth Comix #13, when Boobs Pooter demonstrates a fun new gag to play on your “friends.” As Pooter sees it, a whole world of humorous circumstances become possible when one is a ghost. Namely, you can bring others into the fun-filled afterlife through your posthumous actions, which makes being dead more fun. Of course, Boobs does all of this with a smile on his face and a needle in the camel’s eye. Like a paneled Southpark, it’s all a joke and the
point is entirely to provoke reaction, daring the reader to disgust. On the other hand, this comic could be utilizing the full extent of irony in satire, which is intended to expose and criticize stupidity or vice, even to the point of containing antimeaning, like Beckett’s nonsense taken a step further. In other words, it could be seen either as a message against suicide, a commentary on the pointlessness of altruism, or nothing at all. One is sort of left to her own devices. Johnny Ryan’s Angry Youth Comix are doubtlessly among the most potent examples of absurdism in sequential art’s recent history. His lowbrow aesthetic and passionate cynicism reaffirm the notion that the world will probably end soon and no one could really give a shit to save it for some reason, which is hilarious in a depressing way. But this kind of taboobursting behavior is nothing new; in fact, the whole tradition of
underground comix is centered on it, because the genre was created by a generation of counterculture cynics who, like Lenny Bruce and other comics of the time, reveled in pushing the boundaries of acceptability in humor. For instance, Robert Crumb’s strip “Joe Blow” was so controversial that the Berkeley police tried to arrest Don Schneker and others at Print Mint for distributing it in Zap #4, raiding the City Lights Bookstore and prohibiting its sale in New York City. The strip was about a cookie cutter 1950s family that engages in incestuous sex, daughter on father, mother and son; their motto being: “The family that lays together, stays together.” It’s about as racy as you can get, and it freaked people out, naturally. But of course that was the point of the comic and as such it was remarkably effective. As Robert Hughes, the former Time art critic, said in Terry Zwigoff’s
1994 documentary, “Crumb’s work reflects the darkest thoughts to present themselves in the modern sapient psyche.” So while
most would like to avoid these inevitable desires, especially in a realistic form like photography, something in the nature of cartoons makes it possible to present them. Those artists attracted to creating non-superhero, pictographic fiction tend to lead outsider existences. And because they live and experience life in a different way, they inevitably find themselves questioning the status quo. Gary Groth pretty well nails the archetypical model for the alternative cartoonist when describing Ivan Brunetti in The Comics Journal #264:
“He was, unsurprisingly, introverted, troubled, and alienated as a kid. It probably didn’t help that he was named after Ivan the Terrible, or that his father, who Brunetti describes as ‘a domineering, tyrannical father,’ wanted his son to be ‘a tough guy’ – a boxer, an outdoorsman, a hunter, a fighter, according to Brunetti. By becoming a cartoonist, of course, he encompassed all of those vocations and more, but did not quite satisfy his father’s vision of his son … He was picked on and abused – ‘constantly, constantly’ – by bullies in school, even in Italy, though he says it got even worse in America.”
Interestingly, many of the most important post-colonial and poststructuralist scholars were themselves marginalized in one way or another, whether by sexual orientation, race, gender, or whatever. Michel Foucault was gay; Jacques Derrida was Algerian; Edward Said was Palestinian; Noam Chomsky is Jewish; and Trinh T. Minh-ha is AsianFrench. The nature of being other-ized seems to lend itself, quite nat-
urally, to an interest in further understanding what Arthur Rimbaud meant when he wrote “Je est un autre,” the French for “I is an other” [sic] – utilizing the third-person verb to fully convey his sense of disenfranchisement. In Austin, the 1960s counterculture brought about a significant change in expression with zines like The Texas Ranger, which was distributed at the University of Texas. Despite the general extensions of the first amendment during the time, a young Jack “Jaxon” Jackson and others were reportedly fired from the staff for what Jaxon called “a petty censorship violation.” Although I have no idea what this was about, it might be the reason that Jaxon invested his time into creating God Nose in 1964, which many consider to be the first underground comic, predating R. Crumb’s Zap Comix by four years. Today, a first-run mint copy of God Nose
would bring upwards of $20,000. Like most of the hipsters, Jackson left the Drag for the Haight in 1966, where he made psychadelic show flyers and partied hard. In 1969 he founded the legendary Rip Off Press with some other guys from Texas. Reading some of the comics Jaxon did during the time, it seems like they spent most of their money partying, and thus, weren’t terribly successful, but somehow the business managed to stay afloat, and a decade later Jaxon began to try his hand at revisionist historical fiction, publishing the landmark Comanche Moon and practically inventing that genre in comics – so far as I know. His historical fiction is focused on retelling stories of Texas as they ought to have been told from the beginning, without the obvious bias and prejudice of conservative politics. His second work of historical revisionism,
Los Tejanos, is considered one of the top 100 comics of the century, thus all-time, by the Comics Journal. It tells the story of Juan Seguin and other Tejas-born Mexicans who worked with Anglos to form Texas as we know it and were swiftly forgotten or written off as traitors. In all of his work Jaxon engages with complication and attempts to make sense of it, reading between the lines with a critical eye in order to reiterate what probably happened in actuality. Jack Jackson led an intriguing life. His legacy deserves more credit than has been received. And I believe most of the reason for this injustice is that Jaxon took his own life on June 8, 2006. Which is too much for some people to accept as an end. But he probably killed himself because he was dying of prostate cancer, not because he was crazy or depressed. And isn’t it every person’s right to do so? After all, if you
don’t have the right to your person, you’ve got nothing at all. Interestingly, most of the major opponents to euthanasia are also major proponents of capital punishment. Which suggests a mindset that supports the power structures already in place – the judicial branch of the U.S. Government – and thus, the status quo; the same mindset supported slavery and probably still would if things had gone differently, that mindset being, of course: conservativism.
here’s this film, The Bridge, about people who attempt suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge into the San Francisco Bay. If you’ve ever been to there, you know of its beauty and height, and thus, how intense it must be to leap from it. Apparently, the bridge is an immensely popular spot for the act, ranking very high amongst the top suicide vacation destinations in the world.
Most people die on impact; some drown in the tumultuous current; and a very few survive, beyond all odds.
But all of these people, upon taking that awesome dive, enter into a rare kind of pact with nature, one that goes against the desires of the status quo and one’s own mind, which can freeze muscles and stop fingers from pulling triggers; it is a pact irreverent to the cause of relatives or friends or even random passersby who claim empathy and compassion for these people although they clearly don’t understand the motivations nor convictions. Of course, the suicides know this and so journey to the bridge, a bridge which itself defies nature to connect two cities, and indeed, two worlds as though they were one. Hart Crane understood this pact and this way of
looking at the bridge as well as anyone. Crane was a relatively famous poet in the 1920s, but today, he’s essentially unknown. What was to be his greatest work, an epic poem also called The Bridge, was a major disappointment to himself and his supporters. And on April 27,1942, he killed himself by diving from a cruise ship into the Gulf of Mexico, becoming, in the process, a martyr of poetry and establishing himself as the bridge between: static and kinetic, modern and post-modern, death and sex. Many writers and artists have admired the legacy of Hart Crane over the years. Kerouac and Ginsberg read The Bridge together; Jasper Johns painted a number of works inspired by Crane’s suicide, most notably the seminal “Periscope” and “Diver”; and Tennessee Williams lamented that he’d like to be “given back to the sea” at the “point most nearly determined as the point at
which Hart Crane gave himself back.” The reason for this fascination with the death of this minor poet is precisely that martyrdom which Crane achieved, the ultimate in assigning meaning to one’s life in relation to her work. For Crane, the bridge is the Brooklyn Bridge. He said publicly and in verse that he was “living in the shadow of that bridge.” Although, really, the Golden Gate Bridge – finished seven years after the publication of Crane’s epic poem – would have been perhaps a far more appropriate subject. Hart Crane was gay, very gay. His work, as well, is notoriously gay; in fact, if one does not take into consideration this all-important factor, Crane’s poetry will be remarkably difficult from which to glean any sort of meaning. M.D. Uroff wrote in Hart Crane; The Patterns of his Poetry, “The obsessive nature of flight in his poetry suggests its origin in sexuality.” Uroff
elaborates, musing that the themes voyage and flight are an extension of voyage as a projection of feeling; in other words, to engage fully in a feeling is a journey – as are flight and sex – and this journey brings about a wholeness to the modern world that lacked before while evoking the obvious freedoms that all of these themes represent.
In “The Island Quarry” the gulls, the stars, the ocean, the cinema, the subway, traffic lights, even religion are all one with the bridge, all a part of the modernity which Crane so readily embraced. Similarly, The Bridge focuses on transportation in its varying but similar forms: a train
becomes a canoe, an airplane, a subway, a boat. It seems that for Crane everything in the modern world is everything else. And more than anything, Crane wanted to reinvent the myth of America to suit this vision of wholeness. However, the thing he could not seem to understand nor control was raw, unadulterated nature, particularly the Caribbean, a subject which fascinated Crane. He wrote many times about islands, the sea, and the jungle. “Possessions,” a poem about nature, has the “fixed stone of lust” is destroyed and recreated to become “bright stones wherein our smiling plays.” But in “The Island Quarry” Crane cannot change the same “fixed stone of lust.” And in “O Carib Isle!” life is expressed as being part of death, and the natural world at noon, when the sun is at its zenith, is described in poetic terms of decay and rot while creating a sense
of life beyond death with tarantulas, crabs, and terrapin. The Captain in this poem is Satan – borrowed from Blake’s The Gates of Paradise – who gives the dead narrator (the poet) an amulet to protect him from evil, but it is too late, only a shell remains. And so in his destruction he receives the power to avoid death. As Uroff wrote, “The amulet is the creative remains of destruction.” In these Caribbean works Crane attempts to lift the natural world imaginatively and fails. Because of the Caribbean’s resistance to Crane’s possession and domination of its meaning and place in the greater scheme of humanity, he is haunted by it and seems to wish its destruction. The noontime scene connotes that, for Crane, destruction is the first act of creation, so self-destruction is self-recreation, and he ultimately did so by traveling through the place which, to him, represented stagnation
because of his inability to transform it: the Caribbean. Despite his relative lack of success, Hart Crane was awarded one of the very first Guggenheim fellowships, which sent him to Mexico City to vacation and write in peace. However, Crane was struck with inexplicable writer’s block as he fell into a sordid love affair with Peggy Cowley, his good friend Malcolm’s wife. He didn’t write a single line the entire trip. Instead, he drank himself into stupor every day. At some point he had his portrait painted by David Siqueiros, which he slashed with a knife, killing himself in effigy. He immediately drew up a will and said, quite calmly, “There, I wanted to get that out of the way because this afternoon I am going to kill myself.” Then he drank a bottle of Iodine
but did not die. A few days later, on the cruise back to New York, Peggy caught her arm afire when a box of Cuban matches exploded upon her lighting a cigarette. Crane, drunk and belligerent, threatened to sue the match company and the line. He kept going to her room all night and was finally confined to his cabin. But he broke out and snuck into the sailor’s quarters for a little snack, where he was badly beaten and incarcerated in his cabin around four o’clock in the morning. A blackeyed Hart began drinking whisky upon waking at ten that morning. He found Peggy, who said he seemed sober, ate breakfast, and complained about being beaten and the loss of his wallet and ring. He was to meet Peggy in her room after a shave and change of clothes. Instead, he showed up in his pajamas and top coat. When she told him to go shave and change, he said, “I’m not going to make it, dear. I’m
utterly disgraced.” She persisted, and he said, “All right dear. Goodbye.” Hart Crane then walked up to the ship’s deck in pajamas and top coat while most of the ship was there awaiting the results of a pool to be announced at noon. According to Gertrude Berg, Crane approached the side of the boat, removed his coat, folded it neatly over the railing, where he placed both hands, raised himself on his toes and dropped back again on the other side of the rail. With the sun at its zenith and everyone on deck watching, the drunken poet executed what some would later call a perfect dive into the Caribbean. Ironically, Hart’s father, Clarence Crane, invented the Life Saver candy; a real life saver was thrown overboard to the suicidal Crane, whose last act was to swim the other way, never to be seen again. The time of death is thought to have been right around noon, since he entered the water at two minutes ‘till.
If poetry is about assigning meaning to symbols and words, Crane’s final act is indeed a poem. And what happened afterward is just as important. When Malcolm Cowley arrived to meet the ship, he found sixty journalists on the press vessel. At first he couldn’t believe Crane’s death would warrant such a fuss but he soon discovered that the journalists were there to request an audience with Alice Hargreaves, the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, who was coming to New York to be honored at Columbia University for Lewis Carroll’s centenary, a landing which is fully dramatized in a terrible film called Dreamchild. In fact, Crane wasn’t even granted the dignity of a New York Times obituary. But Cowley himself wrote an unsigned essay in The
New Republic which suggested that Crane’s death be considered a symbolic act, since Crane felt there was no longer room for poets in the modern world, and later Paul Mariani called him the last romantic poet. ike Uranus, Crane created a bridge, one of romance and passion which connects binaries with the melding power of the sea. And like Crane, Jaxon attempted to recreate myth by writing and drawing underground comix and historical revisionist novels. It’s interesting that two people who attempted to play with the putty of our American memory failed to do so and killed themselves. In some ways they were very much alike, in most very different, but their dedication to their crafts and unwarranted lack of success ought to be reminders that to be great and to be remembered as such are relative terms, and the American people are a cruel jury.
MY FIRST WET DREAM This is a drawing that depicts the first wet dream I ever had. It was of a mermaid laying on a bed. I’m not sure how old I was, but I had recently seen the movie “Splash.” The most vivid part of the dream was the perspective of the room and the way the top plane of the bed surface approached me. The room was filled with a deep purple glow. The mermaid wasn’t doing anything or moving, she just layed there looking at me with her boobs exposed. There was an empty spot at the front of the bed where I was invited to lay down. When I saw the empty place on the bed I just popped. Kevin Bewersdorf
The Clinic by Reynard Seifert
If you or anyone you know wants to make this into a comic, I encourage you to do so and send it to me; and if I get enough of them, I’ll make a little book; that would be pretty rad.
Listen up, because I’m only going to tell you this story once.” That’s me talking to you. “O.K.” That’s your reply. You need to work on your stock witticisms. I was on a suspicious, ramshackle train on my way to take a test. I’d never been to one of these places, but I assumed they were free, at least that’s what I’d gleaned from TV. Free would be good because I didn’t have any money. In fact, my taking this test was entirely dependent on my theories about the government’s dealings with the lower classes (entirely gleaned from TV). And I felt like I really ought to take this test.
Across from me, an old lady stared pensively out the window, as if her wasted life was right there in the reflection. Actually, that must be exactly what she was looking at, given my use of the word pensive, which sounds a bit like penis. Next to her, a sandwich artist named Rico was staring at me. Wait, was he staring at me? Maybe he was just looking past me at the subway wall; the pulse of lights pumping blood into his daydream of burning that other Subway to the ground, the one he works at; his boss, squealing in agony and anger, running out the double doors ablaze. I hope Rico wasn’t staring at me. The dude’s clearly loose a screw or two.
So I glance away to the rest of this screaming cylinder’s inhabitants. Shaded faces all around. It looks like a Chris Cunningham video in here. Where am I anyway? Then I see her. Holy shit, do I see her; in fact, I do more than see her, I conquer her with my singular fucking vision. But she doesn’t see me. We have to change that. We must get her attention. But how? You see people changing seats in these things all the time, but that might be too obvious. Where’s the map? Alright, it’s across from her. I’ll just get up calmly and walk over there to consult the map, as if not sure where we are, which is true. Maybe she’ll think I’m a tourist (not far from the truth) and she’ll want to show me around. We could go to a movie, play chess in the park, climb on those Alice in Wonderland statues and take pictures. Then I would confess that I don’t have a place to stay (also not untrue) and was planning to sleep in the park tonight, so she should just head on home. And of course she’ll invite us to her apartment in the city where we’ll have some drinks and cocaine and fuck like wild bonobos let loose from years in exhibition, thus strangely familiar to the scopophilic gaze of onlookers behind the screen. When she wakes, I’ll be gone, as will the sensation of my penis violating every orifice her father gave her and clearly—to his chagrin—was unable to keep for himself. Also, she’s not going to be able to resist my skinny ass directly across from her adorable little head. Do black girls like slender asses?—I wonder. But I’ve seen my fair share of interracial porn, so I de-
cide to assume that probably some do. After allowing an ample stint for my derrière to shimmy with the shake of this dubious iron horse, I turned around to greet my madoiselle de jour, but she was gone. To my right, I saw her traverse the howling doors to the next car. I couldn’t follow that; she was good this one. Sit down, she humiliated you. iPod time. Shuffle. No Age. Sudden darkness. Creepy. No electricity. Oh, it’s back. No, we shot out a tunnel. My stop. Out and...down? To the street. I knew that. Blood on the Wall. “I don’t want any.” No money for that, unfortunately. “I’m good, thanks.” Where is this fucking place? “Excuse me, where’s 168th?” Next block. Shit, I think they close at 7:00. There’s the street. Blonde Redhead, blah. Clinic. Ha, there it is. I walk through the doors into a fucking enormous, empty waiting room. And I wonder, Am I in the right place? I looked around and before I can plan my exit, a figure hidden behind dark glass mumbles something, she motions for me to approach. I do so with timidity across the ceramic expanse to the window. It gives me the clipboard but no instructions. O.K. Umm...I guess I’ll just fill this out then. Let’s just sit down here. Name. O.K. Date. Check my cell. Sexual orientation? That’s so cliché. Doctor’s name? I don’t have a doctor; that’s why I’m here. Insurance company? What is this? I’m getting out of here. Wait, I think she’s saying something. “Whatever lady.” Throw the clipboard in her general direction. God damn it was cold in there.