BURIED LETTER PRESS December 2011
Buried Letter Press December 2011 ÂŠ Buried Letter Press 2011 Cover Photo and design by Matthew C. Mackey London 2008
Buried Letter Press Akron, Ohio
Buried Letter Press Proper noun: 1. the particular magazine dedicated to innovative and quality criticism of art in all of its various forms, such as literature, music, film and theater, visual art, etc. 2. a provision of encouragement to artists and patrons worldwide
DECEMBER 2011 ISSUE Twee Didn’t Start the Fire by Angie Mazakis How to Behave in Public #2 The Public Restroom by Nathan Floom Holiday Exposure by SLM Young Becoming We: The Creative Catalyst of Writers Retreats by Larry Wormington That Blinking Red Light Is Only a Metaphor: An Interview with Robert Miltner by Matthew C. Mackey On Anthology and Exclusion by Brian R. Young Leave this World Gently: A Review of Traci Brimhall’s Rookery by Dawn Manning A Brief Look at Cronenberg’s Sex and Violence in Film by Daniel Beall Make Artistic Love, not War by Rob Balla
Twee Didn’t Start the Fire by Angie Mazakis The first time I heard the idea of a fiction writer trying to evade the label precious was after I‟d read Adrienne Miller‟s, The Coast of Akron. In an interview Miller renounced the label without provocation, “This book is not my adorable little memoir about my adorable time in New York…” I first wondered why Miller would make it a point to deflect this designation before it was assigned to her. Was it because she was a female writer and she was beating critics to the punch with those labels? (Incidentally, I did see a review of the novel that claimed its first reaction was that it was “too precious” though it was ultimately a positive review.) Then I thought, Oh great. Something else to make sure my writing isn’t doing, and I added that to the list after don’t try too hard and try harder. There are still things that may be considered “precious” that I love, like singer Rosie Thomas, for example, or Sufjan Stevens or The Innocence Mission (whose name is the essence of “twee”). Probably the movie Amelie. The word “twee” has been thrown around a lot lately in relation to indie art/music/literature, and most sources define twee as art that is too sweet, or too quaint. People/things that have incurred the twee moniker lately: Zooey Deschanel (it is rare that I‟ve seen the word apart from her name), any number of sleepy or whimsical indie bands, including Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Pains of Being Pure at Heart. At first, I thought this is exclusively a criticism of a feminine quality to art, because all of the things that seem to embody the idea of “precious” or “twee” seem to at least be perceived as feminine―frilly sweaters from vintage-inspired retail stores, DIY, insecurity, apologizing, saying “awww”―pretty much anything intended to be appealingly fragile, attractively delicate. But then, in terms of writing, Tao Lin came to mind. Lin has to be the archetype of twee literature if there is one. And about Tao Lin I feel the same as I do about many things considered “twee”—ambivalent. I really like a lot of his poetry, but I was frustrated by his novel, “Richard Yates,” which, to me, read like he wrote it in two days. When Lin sold an arbitrary lot of his random belongings on Ebay and included drafts of “Richard Yates,” I thought, “This can‟t be real… there were drafts?” But what could be more “twee” than naming your main characters Dakota Fanning and Haley Joel Osment? That and his cavalier references to hipster culture and instant messaging and his stream of consciousness confessional style make him sort of the president of twee. However, the sense of that which is labeled “precious” seems to be feminine. One might even say that feminist critic, Jane Tompkins, is arguing for the “precious” rather than the “mother tongue” over the “father tongue,” her more objective, academic voice, in her essay, “Me and My Shadow,” when she characterizes her “mother tongue” as the voice whose “works exist chiefly in notebooks and manila folders labeled „Journal‟ and „Private.‟ The person who writes in the “mother tongue”… “has seen psychiatrists, likes cappuccino, worries about the state of her soul.” Tompkins reveals that she is embarrassed to expose this voice in a professional setting because she has been
“conditioned to feel this way.” Are “twee” or “precious” derogatory in another way to condition us away from our more vulnerable, or “mother” tongue? While “precious” and “twee” in pop culture seem to focus on images, a fiction writer friend of mine noted that in writing, these labels signify any writing that is “trying too hard” and cites Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (Incidentally, McSweeney’s is another entity I‟ve seen described as “twee,” though I‟m not sure whether they‟re indicating the content of McSweeney’s or making a generalization about those who read it.) She explained, “It is essentially writing that is more preoccupied with the „sound‟ of itself rather than with the authenticity of a voice, a situation, a character, an experience.” So, I would assume that “twee” means “not real literature,” though HTML Giant contributor A D Jameson‟s article, “A Dozen Dominants: The Current State of US Indy Lit,” lists “twee/precious” as one of the qualities dominating indie lit right now―when I read this, I assume he means credible indie lit. One writer who I admire, Miranda July, is almost invariably either given or defended against the “twee” moniker. A New York Times article this past summer entitled “Miranda July is Totally Not Kidding” did a very good job of defending her against the title, when considering the question, “is Miranda July the archenemy of seriousness?” Which leads one to wonder, can twee BE considered serious literature? Though on the surface something truly considered “twee” wouldn‟t seem serious. I can‟t imagine that Stevie Smith, the British poet and novelist who lived in the early part of the 20th century, wouldn‟t be described, with her doodles and the naïve conceit in her work, as twee today. And wouldn‟t Little Women fall into that category as well? And would Smith and Louisa May Alcott be considered so because their work is immoderately female? Part of my ambivalence toward that which is considered twee seems to be because of the subtle distinction that is given to twee and what I think is then the over-attribution of the term. An article in the Chicago Tribune last week called, “Twee Time: Can We Stop the Sweet?” (which incidentally cites Deschanel and July) delineated my ambivalence for twee art, “Because twee culture often revels in sweet naiveté for its own sake. Which can feel soulless and superficial. And also because twee generally comes wrapped in protective layers of indie cred and thoughtfulness, it can seem vaguely disingenuous, denying you even the mild thrill of a guilty pleasure. (In fact, the anger you feel toward twee things is inversely proportional to the provocativeness of the thing itself.) On the other hand, twee culture traffics in a cleverness that comes off so earnest, it seems churlish to sneer.” I feel as though the article has a point about the “protective layers of indie cred” that make twee things seem immune from ascribing to guilty pleasure. It‟s hard to like twee things ironically, like boy bands, for example. Twee isn‟t straight saccharine. It‟s saccharine dressed up in darkrimmed glasses and skinny jeans with a steampunk layout and vintage font. But underneath it may lack meaning just as much as the overtly vapid. But mostly my ambivalence lies in its tight roping the line between legitimate and irritating, because it exaggerates qualities that are important to me in fiction. For example, sincerity is vital to me in fiction writing. Twee can be described as being too sincere. The same New York Times article cited earlier about July offers, “She‟s unrelentingly sincere, and maybe that sincerity makes her
difficult to bear.” The idea that “too earnest” in art is a criticism that is understandable, but one that I‟m uncomfortable with because I value earnestness. And it seems as though it‟s picking on the weaker kid for crying too visibly. Yes, art can be too sentimental or mawkish, but I feel as though often these labels are used because there has to be a punishment for not being cynical enough and out of this was born the label “precious” as derogatory. The Chicago Tribune article reflects this ambivalence as well, “See? Twee is confusing.” It‟s confusing because it can mean the opposite of authentic, but it can also mean too sincere. So as the labels “twee” and “precious” are used more often, and as literature, especially indie lit, takes on these labels, can we consider these labels another patriarchal assertion? What constitutes twee/ precious literature? Is it necessarily a weakness, or, as Jameson cites in his article, is it something that is part of valid indie literature?
HOW TO BEHAVE IN PUBLIC #2 The Public Restroom by Nathan Floom 1.
Don’t talk to me. I am not your friend.
No offense, but this is business. We don‟t have much in common. We aren‟t that good of friends, but I wish you well as we leave this place. In the end, our encounter won‟t be awkward if we keep to ourselves. We‟ll never speak of this again.
Keep eyes focused only on the wall in front of us.
2. If you pee on the seat, you ruin the world.
The toilet is reserved for those in need. If we could wait until we got home we would. We‟re in need. Dire straits. You in your carelessness leak fluids over the seat and leave us with no other option but to sacrifice our cleanliness. We come in contact with you. Know by smell what you drank that morning.
You are not a good person unless you care about your fellow man and those that journey on after you are gone.
Add more of it. Share your thoughts with the world. Tell us all how you got blown here in ‟98. How your heart was broken in ‟01. Sadie‟s a bitch. We all know.
Show us what numbers to call when we‟re lonely and in need of late night pleasures. If we‟re in here we know where you‟re coming from.
Give me something to look at. Anything while I‟m stuck here in this stall wishing that I could be safe in my own home with the soft plush seat cover and silk toilet paper.
4. Toilet Paper
It is not for arts and crafts.
Do not steal it. It is a necessary tool for the next guest.
Leave some for the rest of us.
You‟re not funny
5. Hand Washing.
You just touched yourself like everybody does. Nobody saw you. The secret is between you and your conscience. No one else.
The debate should be simple in your mind.
I shake your hand when I meet you. I want to know what you‟re all about. The smile you give makes an impression. The festering excrement invisible on your extended hand does not.
Sing happy birthday and use soap.
Use soap. Rinse. Repeat every time you use a public restroom.
Holiday Exposure by SLM Young We all know the truth hurts, so it‟s a wonder why so many people choose to write creative nonfiction. Are we masochists? Sadists? Or simply tortured souls? And can we actually distinguish between a masochist and a tortured soul? I have to wonder sometimes why we are willing to subject ourselves to our own constant scrutiny. The answer to why we do it must be connected not just to what we can learn about ourselves and our world, but also to what we hope to teach others in the process, and this interaction between reader and writer is bound together with the tether of truth. The following idea keeps running through my head—truth is the nonfiction writer‟s bread and butter—but I know that the telling of the truth is far from the simple, neat analogy painted with bread and butter. Telling the truth, as anyone caught in a lie will tell you, is more akin to gum in one‟s hair. And as any six year old girl will tell you, gum in your hair is a horrifying mess. I know a guy who enjoys referring to creative nonfiction as “CNF.” I‟m not sure why this abbreviation annoys me so completely, but the more I hear it, the more I am tempted to provide different meanings to the initials. I maintain the connection to nonfiction writing in the back of my brain as I think, CNF must stand for CooCoo Nutty Foibles, or Caustic and Nefarious Fantasies, or even Crazy, Nasty Friends, but these are all just a warm-up because I know that CNF really stands for Completely Neurotic Family. And this, of course, is at least one of the reasons why I write nonfiction. Having been constantly scrutinized by one‟s mother prepares a person to continue that personal scrutiny forever. With the holidays breathing down my neck, I am reminded of the many family get-togethers I have enjoyed and suffered through over the course of my life. Let‟s be honest, families, while often the source of so much support and love and blah-blah-blah, can also be the source of the most excruciating pain. It is only our own family that can cut to the quick and hurt us with so little effort. They know us, after all, and so it is simple for them to gut us without much thought for what to do with all the blood. I remember a particularly lovely Thanksgiving dinner when my eating disorder was outed to my mother by my sister. It was a fact that, to be perfectly honest, I had no idea how my mother could not know, but whether she didn‟t know, or whether she simply did not want to know, is not really the issue here. The issue is that I had told my sister in confidence, and after I don‟t know how much badgering, my mother got it out of her. I proceeded to drink an entire bottle of wine by myself, and since I weighed about90 pounds at the time, was good and drunk as well as pissed at everyone. I have been thinking about this particular Thanksgiving for a few reasons, most of which center on the fact that my mother is now dead and I wish to be again at her table, even if it is to argue with her about my weight or her inability to see me for who I am. As a nonfiction writer, however, I examine this memory and know that if I were to write about it I would have to do it extremely carefully. My sister, you see, didn‟t mean to out me. She was and continues to be the
truest friend, my greatest cheerleader, a person I would never intentionally injure. If I wrote the piece—perhaps just the writing of this piece would do it—I would undoubtedly hurt her. My purpose, of course, would have very little to do with my sister at all. I would likely be examining the role of alcohol in our family‟s dysfunction, or the miscommunications of my family, or the struggle I had with my mother to know me as an adult and still love me. I would not be writing to make my sister feel bad, but what I would accomplish, I know, is to do just that. This dilemma—the injurious quality of truth and the decision of whether or not to share it— was an even larger problem for me when my mother was still alive. For years, much of what I wrote centered on my relationship with her, and I knew, knowing my mother as I did, that if she ever read my writing, she would be devastated. I could not attempt to publish any of it and expect her to understand. Nonfiction writers, particularly memoirists, have a complication to their writing that writers of other genres simply do not have to consider: the feelings of the people they love. As creative nonfiction writers, we rarely write solely about ourselves. We include our tribe, our peoples, our families. We write about those who are closest to us, who have hurt us, or those who have helped to make us who we are. By including those others in our stories, we open them up to the same scrutiny and judgment from our audience that we have welcomed for ourselves. While a fiction writer may “borrow” an experience, character, or setting from his life to include in his novel, he has the benefit of denying those same experiences, characters, or settings because he writes fiction. Obviously, the nonfiction writer does not have the same luxury. If you write about the time when you were thirteen and stole a car, fled the state highway patrol, crashed the car, and ended up in traction, then everyone who reads your piece will know that you were a thirteen year old delinquent. There‟s no denying it. If Grandma had been told you were actually hurt playing football, then the cat, as they say, will be out of the bag. Suddenly your grandma is suffering angina, your mother won‟t speak to you, and your girlfriend won‟t leave you alone with her vintage album collection. It was your choice to tell this particular story, so you have no one to blame except for yourself—either for writing about it or for your former indiscretions. On the other hand, imagine that you write about how your father was an abusive drunk, who used to beat on you and your brother. This story, as much as you try to make it your story, also belongs to your father and your brother. You can‟t leave them out if it. The piece comes out, and your brother, who had never told his wife or their children about his upbringing, is suddenly facing a great number of uncomfortable conversations, or worse, is accused of being a liar and seen as a potential abuser. Your father, who has since sobered up and changed his life, is seen as a swine at work. It was not their choice to be included in your piece, they are simply victims of circumstance—being related to a memoirist—and now they must suffer the consequences of your truth. There is no doubt that the nonfiction writer has an obligation in her writing to be truthful, but how much truth is too much truth? There is no simple answer to this question. There is no formula to follow. The best I can do is to practice a bit of the masochism I mentioned earlier and subject myself to a harsher criticism and closer examination than anyone else in the piece: to not let
myself off the hook, for anything. I also have to be fair to any person I am choosing to include in my writing. None of us are only one thing and painting someone as only a monster or only a saint does an injustice to the person and the piece, and if weâ€&#x;re really being honest with ourselves, it keeps us from the truth, which is what we claim to be trying to find. I think it does us good to remember that we craft our stories through the choices we make. Even if we are telling true stories, we are choosing the stories we want to tell. We are choosing where those stories begin and end, what to include and what to omit. All of these decisions help to create the portrait we want our readers to see and color the opinions we want them to have. As we craft our stories, we are also crafting the truth, and we must be responsible as we do so.
Becoming We: The Creative Catalyst of Writers Retreats by Larry Wormington The fishbowl life has us my friend, trapped behind the glass, swimming infinity circles. Day by day we go, assholes to elbows, into the static fray, led by empty pockets, our flipped-out Hoover flags flying. For those of us blessed, or perhaps cursed, with self-awareness of this condition, life can be an exercise in quiet desperation. I was one of those blessedly-cursed souls up until a year ago. I trudged along, locked in world of commerce and product, risking only furtive skyward glances, protecting my deprived creative spirit from domestic annihilation. I would cast this all aside and write one day, I told myself. All these daily swims were merely detours in what would be a lifetime of creation and discovery. Sound familiar? Eventually, self-delusion didnâ€&#x;t work anymore and the quirky, little wordsmith-wannabe that abuses my temporal lobes while I sleep got tired of solitary confinement. He demanded I go forth and pontificate. So there I stood, one foot firmly planted in a world of reason and expectation as the other searched for artistic purchase in an exciting, yet unknown, beyond. I could either step back to the doldrums of safety or leap forward into the light. Only the void lies between. I was alone and quickly realized that if I was to give voice to the writer that lurked within, I needed support, comrades in arms for a journey of self-discovery. But where can one locate fellow narcissists of this order and connect with them? After some investigation I happened upon a lowresidency MFA program at the University of New Orleans that required a yearly summer residency abroad. When I found the school online and read about the travel abroad component, I was hooked.
It offered the change I sought and the opportunity to explore the world, to taste the life of an expat writer, if only briefly. Somehow the voices of Hemingway, Stein, Fitzgerald, the Lost Generation, spoke to someone lost. Several months later, I found myself in Edinburgh, Scotland sharing insight and alcohol with a group of poets and writers, my long-lost creative commune. I connected immediately, my very presence in the program standing in place of any awkward introduction. I, like them, was on a search for self and I was welcome. Nothing else needed to be said. This unseen glue was wonderful. It accomplished in a matter of days what only years of familiarity could back in the real world. By the end of the first day, I was passing around a wine bottle with oddly familiar strangers, blurting out intimate details of my life, my family and my journey. By the end of the first week, I was sharing meals, money and memories with what I knew to be life-long friends. Maybe because I was the old codger of the group, I felt I could see the phenomenon occurring more clearly, this crystalline moment, the metamorphosis of minds and spirits. I urged them to stop and feel it, to recognize, to taste the air and the city. Through chemical hazes and slurred sentences I preached to them, so wondrous was it all. Our time there was split. By day, we were at Napier University, the abroad sister-school to UNO, soaking up the delicious conflictions of Pound or smacking one another around in writer‟s workshops. After poetry readings and pub-crawls, night always found us camped out on the front steps of our dormitory. Those six dorm steps, we so lovingly called the Stoop, saw us become, students and strangers when we arrived, but writers, poets and friends quickly thereafter. Soon, somehow I became we; all were equals, whether twenty-four or forty-two. It didn‟t seem to matter. We were all keys and no locks, finally. We were giddy. Jokes seemed more amusing, wine more warming, beauty more intoxicating. The moments were fluid and we, lost in their torrent. The currency of the day, for once, was intellect. We were the living, laughing epitome of David Hume‟s famous quote: “Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them.” To us, it was as though the great Scottish philosopher was walking through the Grass Market with us, ushering us along and widening our gaze. We reveled in his idea of splendor and in this new-found knowledge that we were alone no more. This place, this epicenter of artistic thought and expression, imprinted itself upon us. It led us deeper within, our feet having finally found their hold. We strode The Royal Mile together, the weathered bricks themselves absorbing our meager offering while imbuing us with centuries of catharsis from Burns, Stephenson, Scott and countless others. It was an ethereal exchange none of us planned, yet all of us had sought our entire lives. All around us, within each cathedral shadow and every cobblestone bridge, was the echo of ourselves, shouting exuberantly as if just discovered. We were here, we were together and Edinburgh had us. At month‟s end, we were released, warmed still by our shared embrace. We became I once again and necessity flew us all home. Our families, our loves and our lives waited patiently and were most deserving. We‟re different now though, the residual essence of the experience still within us.
That may be the most vital part of all this. For if we are to be what the world wants us to be, we must also be allowed to give to the world a picture of the beauty we see within it. To do so, we must remember Humeâ€&#x;s words and recognize that magnificence when it appears. Together, in Edinburgh, we learned how.
Larry Wormington, second from left, makes connections and friends with other writers, poets and playwrights.
That Blinking Red Light Is Only a Metaphor: An Interview with Robert Miltner by Matthew C. Mackey It was early afternoon, and for Ohio, the weather was perfect. It was raining like hell. I ordered a pint of Guinness and waited for him to show up. I had known Robert for some time, but moved back to Ohio a year ago, and recently, we ran into each other at a bar a few blocks over from this one. I learned about his project, Two Trains Too Many. He was always ambitious, and I was intrigued. He agreed to sit down and talk with me about it sometime when we weren‟t so inebriated. The problem was that only gave us a small window. Half way through my pint, he walked in, wrapped in a wool Swiss military jacket. It was good to see him again, but I didn‟t know the Swiss even had a military. “Make it two,” he told the bartender. I turned to Robert. “We don‟t get together often enough,” he said. “Now that‟s true,” I said raising my glass. “Cheers,” he said. “Cheers,” I said and drank the rest of the pint. After we caught up a little, I turned on the tape recorder. “So tell me about this project.” “The project is called Two Trains Too Many. It‟s a collaboration kinda thing. About two years ago, I started working with Erin Vaughn in the music department at Kent State. He‟s such a talented musician, and I‟ve learned so much working with him. The goal when we started collaborating was to pair up poetry students from my class with students from his musical ensemble, which was mostly jazz. My poets submitted original poems and he selected jazz standards to accompany the pieces. He and I decided to work together on some new stuff.” “I‟ll take another,” I said to the passing bartender. I turned back to Robert. “So you guys decided to start working together?” I asked him. “Yeah, I gave him a sheath of poems, sheaf of poems. Sheath? Sheaf? Sheep of poems, I don‟t know. And he wrote original music for three of those pieces. Well, we did the show, and about a year later, we were reminiscing and thought it would be cool to put together a CD. So, he has since then written more music and I more poems, about seven, eight, seven or eight pieces all together.” “Where did you guys record at?” “Kopperhead Studios, run by Lee Kopp. He‟s recorded Third Eye Blind, Joe Walsh, and a couple of others. He‟s a terrific engineer. It‟s weird. There is a million dollar studio hiding on a back road in North Canton. It was a lot of fun. I have this picture Lee sent me. I‟ve got the headphones on, and it looks like pictures I‟ve seen of Miles Davis in the sound booth. It was a trip, man. Lee‟s just a solid talent all around, and he suggested that since this is kind of a retro project, the musician and the poet working together evoking the whole, um, beatnik readings in the fifties, he said, uh,
„well, you should get somebody on bongos.‟ And so, immediately, Erin and I thought of the same drummer, Scott Thomas. He‟s just a stunning drummer. And the record at times has that feel of those old beatnik recordings you hear of someone in the coffee shop or bar. In fact, the piece I picked to read for the bongo session is one based off a Jackson Pollack painting. It references Jack Kerouac, and the Kinsey studies on sexuality and Miles Davis‟s ideas of movement away from chords to solo notes. It‟s funny because sometimes Erin‟s wife goofs on him, saying sooner or later he‟ll start coming home smelling like clove cigarettes and wearing a beret.” The bartender brought his Guinness over. I sat and waited for him to finish a long drink. A few minutes later she brought mine over. “Okay, are these together?” she asked. Robert leaned in close to the microphone and said, “It‟s, uh, on my tab, thank you. See how generous I am? I‟m picking up the tab at my own interview.” “Did I tell you how good it is to see you, Robert,” I smiled and raised my glass. “So,” I started in on the interview again. “I‟ve heard some people say that music accompaniment with poetry is cliché and gimmicky. Since you do sort of have a retro vibe, what are your thoughts on that?” “Well,” he started. “That is a problem. Erin says that people think they‟re coming out to see Mike Meyers from So I Married an Axe Murderer. „Woman! Whoa-man!‟ Ya know? It‟s terrible that people feel that way about music and poetry, so we really try and create a new experience. It always has to do with intent, though. If you want to do gimmickry as a means of pursuing commercial success, that‟s pretty easy to do. I‟ve heard a lot of that. The challenge is to approach it as an interdisciplinary, artistic collaboration where the musician isn‟t just playing a background noise for an emotional stimulus. It‟s more of a confluence or a meeting of the two forms. My voice becomes an instrument, and his guitar becomes a voice. It‟s about allowing the forms freedom to express themselves instead of manipulating one for a particular means.” “So it‟s not just ekphrastic or call and response?” I asked. “Not just, but it does borrow techniques from those. What we have to remember is that when we‟re students of poetry and students at the university studying poetry our main impetus is the prompt. „Here‟s the assignment,‟ the teacher says, so we write very much responsively in our development as a writer. We learn to love the prompt, but it‟s almost reactionary to a fault. Why not have confluence with the two mediums? What form would that take? It‟s like Ashbery‟s poetry and his relationship to visual art, ya know? The poem becomes a painting and vice versa.” “Since you‟ve been working in this sort of manner, bringing together two artistic genres, where do you see the future of art going? I know that‟s a broad question, but do you think it‟s similar to your project? Is it more melding and reshaping or a further restructuring of genre lines.” I paused. “I gotta be honest, that I sort of hate using the term „genre.‟ I think it presents a restraint on the artist.” “First of all I have to agree with you that genres are a problem. I think new journals coming out that reject the tyranny of genre are just setting an incredible example. Genre limits us by
presenting the piece in terms of our expectations and assumptions of the work. Make of it what you will, ya know? Approach it without a frame.” “Don‟t you think, though, that „frame‟ and „expectation‟ help readers associate with your work or understand it?” “Yes, they do, and ironically, they limit in the same way. I suppose it‟s gotta be a balance, but what happens if we don‟t have those „frames‟ and „expectations‟? We have to approach the work in a way that activates everything we know. Also, besides literary genres, when we bring together the, uh, subdivisions of art, like music, literature, etc., we create larger artistic communities, and I think that those artistic communities are of tremendous importance at this time and in this place.” “How so?” I asked. “Political science studies of what is at the root of true revolutions suggests that one of the first critical stages is abandonment of the system by the artistic communities. When the artists negate the structure of the political system, they become the poster makers, the singers, the people who create a lot of the impetus for tremendous political change.” “So, you‟re looking to start a revolution?” I asked. “Ha, maybe if we have a couple more pints,” he said. “I agree with you, and I think that categories can be oppressive, but I guess any governing systems like „genre‟ is or can be really stigmatizing, stigma?” “Stigma, stigmatize, stigma, stigmaaataaa,” Robert said. “No, what‟s it like when you‟re a stick in the mud?” “You‟re a stick in the mud,” he said. “Stigmied, stigmied…Stymied. Stymied! Wow. Another pint, please?” I beckoned for the bartender. “I mean stymieing the artist and the audience in a lot of ways.” “Oh, I agree,” he said. “Another pint would be nice.” Turning back to me, he continued, You‟re right though, people have to be working together, reaching out across dividing lines. Everyone is out for themselves these days, ya know? Is that capitalism? I don‟t know.” The bartender brought us two more pints of Guinness. “Are you two still doing an interview?” she asked. “Ask him,” Robert motions towards me. “He‟s got the tape recorder.” “Is it on?” she asked. “That blinking red light is only a metaphor,” I assured her. “Okay, so you guys are writers or something?” She asked. “Yeah, sure,” Robert said. “Why not?” “Can I tell you my favorite word?” she asked. “Will this be in the interview?” She asked. Robert and I looked at each other. “What‟s your favorite word?” I asked. “When I was thirteen, I brought this book home from the library. Oh and fuck kindles by the way,” she said.
“Yeah, they don‟t smell like anything,” Robert said. “Books need to have a smell. Kindles smell like digitalia.” The Guinness had won, and I knew the interview was just about over. I let the tape recorder keep spinning. “They smell like robots,” I said. “Anyway, I opened this book up and smack on the middle of the page was this word. It was „capricious,‟” she said. “Capricious is a good word,” Robert said. “Wait, I‟ll tell you the phrase…” she said and paused for a very long time, looking at the bar. “‟As capricious as the sea,‟” she finally blurted out. “As capricious as the sea?” I asked. “No wait. I think I made that up,” she said. “Even better,” I said. The three of us walked outside to have cigarettes under the awning. We talked about turning our ashes into communion wafers. It was still raining. Robert Miltner can be found at: Also as Editor of the Raymond Carver Review:
On Anthology and Exclusion by Brian R. Young Encapsulating an entire century of poetic craft in a single anthology is a daunting task, to say the least. Certainly the so-named Penguin Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove and released this October, could have tempered its claims with a narrower scope—using words such as “Selection” or “Survey”—considering that any such endeavor is destined at its inception to fall short. (Would a thousand pages be enough? Five thousand? Ten? How could so many movements and schools be included, as well as the not easily categorized writers, such that a portrait of the impact of one hundred years of at least thousands of poets could be accurately measured and described?) I imagine that participating in such a risky endeavor is lucrative, but it also invites criticism and hostility in proportion to the reach of its claims. While there are many notable poets whom the editor, necessitated by length, excluded, I am most struck by Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsburg. Their impact on the direction of poetry in the second half of the century seems undeniable to me. Dove has thus far remained silent on her decision process, which naturally inflames the perception of an injustice that could easily be tempered by a thoughtful explanation. Robert Archambeau, in his October 29, 2011 post on his Samizdat Blog titled “What‟s the Matter with American Poetry? Rita Dove‟s Revisionist Canon” has suggested that “When it comes to excluding both Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg from an anthology purporting to represent 20th century American poetry … we‟re not really in the territory of ordinary disagreement. We‟ve entered a place where some sort of explanation is required, because what‟s being proposed is a radical redrawing of the map of American poetry.” What motives, whether personal or aesthetic, could cause an editor to take such drastic actions? I‟ve heard a variety of speculative reasons for the exclusions. For now, I‟d like to focus on Sylvia Plath. Archambeau cites “someone in the publishing industry” as saying that “Dove may harbor some particular animosity for Plath, based on the perception that Plath could be deeply insensitive about other people‟s suffering. [For example]…the appropriation of Holocaust imagery to discuss family unhappiness in „Daddy‟…” Others have suggested that Plath represents a movement towards a confessional style that has fallen out of favor amongst academics in the twenty-first century. I‟ve on occasion heard Plath dismissed as “merely” or “strictly” a confessional poet, as if the whole of her craft was the act of confession, an endpoint that serves no real political or rhetorical purpose. So, on the whole, her poetry exhibits bad taste and whining, if you will. For the past two years, my composition students and I have analyzed the literary devices at work in Plath‟s “Daddy.” What we‟ve found beneath the confessional surface and “extreme” metaphor is a clear rhetorical intent that goes far beyond navel-gazing and histrionics. A large portion of my students are pursuing careers in the health sciences, and as future nurses and psychologists, the insight Plath provides into the conflicted nature of those who are mentally,
physically, and arguably sexually abused by a parent is as meaningful now, and revolutionary in that it gives voice to the complicated desires of those victims—the anger, affection, and shame— as it would have been in 1965 when no one dared to speak of it: from “Daddy, I have had to kill you” to “I used to pray to recover you”; from the “Brute heart of a brute like you” who “Bit my pretty red heart in two” to “I tried to die/ and get back, back, back to you.” Also, many victims of abuse struggle when trying to move forward from a trauma; they can seek the same personality in future relationships: “I made a model of you,/ A man in black with a Meinkamph look/ And a love of the rack and the screw.” Although many readers of Plath‟s poetry focus on the biographical connections, which are indeed present, the fault lies with those who settle there and fail to look beyond at the statement she is making about both the victims of abuse and the larger community that allows such abuse to go on without intervening. The last lines—“And the villagers never liked you,/ They are dancing and stamping on you,/ They always knew it was you,/ Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I‟m through.”—often get attention for their theatricality, but are as much as an indictment of the villagers—who only dare to act once the abuser is safely entombed, reveling in the fact that they knew, though they did nothing about it—as they are of the father. And the ambiguity of the last two words, “I‟m through,” (Is she “through” with abusers or her life, with hiding the abuse and being victimized by it, or with hope and reaching out to other people?) undercuts the notion of catharsis for which Plath‟s poetry is often criticized. As far as the claim about Plath‟s “appropriation of Holocaust imagery to discuss family unhappiness” is concerned, I hope that the previous discussion demonstrates that it is unfair to minimize her purpose to merely “discussing family unhappiness.” In any case, it is also important to address the imagery itself. She says: I could hardly speak I thought every German was you. And the language obscene An engine, an engine Chuffing me off like a Jew. A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen. I began to talk like a Jew. I think I may well be a Jew. I would never dream of trying to downplay the suffering of the Jewish people at the hands of Nazis, nor discount the unspeakable horror that they suffered, but, in fairness to Plath, we ought to at least consider the metaphor at face value before dismissing it. Surely in 1965 the suffering of the Jews would not be a distant memory for Americans, many of whom were celebrating the fall of Germany much as the villagers at the end of Plath‟s poem. For her to compare a situation of domestic abuse to the plight of the Jews may be an attempt to say to the public that there are terrible things going on behind the closed doors of many American homes, just as there were abuses behind the walls of concentration camps. It is a pungent metaphor, but it does serve the rhetorical purpose of calling attention to an abuse that for its victims is also an unimaginable and profound trauma,
where many people look the other way instead of intervening. The German “family” in many ways resembles the household run by an abusive “Fascist,” which may very well be Plath‟s point. Archambeau refers to American Poetry as a map. I like to think of Anthologies as maps: what are we to make of one that excludes features that loom so large in the landscape? These omissions are not only misrepresentations; they can be dangerously misleading to those who are attempting to use the map. Maps are meant to facilitate and encourage travel; a good anthology is one that causes readers to actually pursue an investigation of authors and the landscape they inhabit beyond the anthology itself. One does not know the world from reading maps—one knows the world from seeing it. This is especially important for anthologies that reach a wider audience— people outside of the close circles of the literary world or students who are forming their opinions as to the relevance and importance of poetry—if readers are settling at what an anthology offers and calling it knowledge, whether due to a lack of engagement or awareness of what is excluded, then the anthology has failed to serve its purpose.
Leave this World Gently: A Review of Traci Brimhall’s Rookery by Dawn Manning The ominous black birds flocking the cover of Traci Brimhall‟sRookery forewarn that these are poems of a gothic sensibility. In Brimhall‟s inaugural collection, love is a kind of violence, both physical and surreal, and ecstatic experiences are grounded by a post-Christian consciousness grown out of a Christian childhood in which “God is a ghost / we inherit.“ Divided into three sections, Rookery opens with an imperative prologue, “Prayer for Deeper Water,” a poem that establishes the friction that electrifies these pages, and instructs us to “Walk back into the dark / you were broken from.” This is a primordial world, in which the interactions between people and with nature are brutal. Heartbreak abounds, and the first section of this book is filled with longing and anger, often delivered as aubades, as the relationship between the speaker and her unfaithful lover disintegrates poem by poem. “Aubade with a Broken Neck,” ruthlessly depicts this intersection of the natural world and humans as the speaker passes the night knowing that her lover has not come home because he is with someone else: …The dog finds me and presents between his gentle teeth a twitching nightjar. In her panic, she sings in his mouth. He gives me her pain like a gift, and I take it… … her body the arrow of longing, aimed, as all desperate things are, to crash not into the object of desire, but into the darkness behind it. Brimhall is unflinching in her portrayal of cruelty and avoids the artifice of concluding on an unearned redemptive note. The natural world continues to warn the speaker that the relationship is doomed through bats, crickets, and various kinds of birds. Their absence, too, portends the end, as in “Appalachian Aubade:” but we are still afraid, so we make love in a Confederate graveyard, my back scratched
by frost and brown leaves. We are quiet, even though there are no birds and no moon to hear us. Because we‟re lost. Because pleasure is stronger than fear, and I am afraid of everything. Because you are fluent in the gray language of winter. Because we must admit we‟re wrong—we can‟t find our way by the stars. And we can‟t remember what we came here searching for, but we found our names on separate trees. We found a dead cub in the snow, something so innocent it could not be saved. The landscape carries not only its own sense of history and place, but that of the lost couple as well. The second section delves into a youth spent among the evangelical church and missionaries, along the Mississippi and in Brazil. Elegies take the place of aubades, and the scornful lover is replaced with family, particularly the father and sister. Memories shaped by Bible verses, speaking in tongues, and drownings are reexamined by a narrator who redefines them as an adult looking back with a new framework. Whereas the first section of the book breaks open with raw emotion, the poems of the second section, though just as brutal, are conveyed with a measured detachment. In “Elegy with Mosquitoes, Peppermints, and a Snapping Turtle,” the speaker describes killing the turtle and then hunting down the nest with her father: We spread out on the banks, walked through bulrush and black-eyed Susans, and found it—a sandy mound, three dozen eggs incubating. We crushed them with the rake, dropped the snapper on top and heaped dirt on everything. I knew we wouldn‟t talk about this part, the same way we only talk about the boy who drowned and not about his mother and how she rowed out into the river, and jumped in, and pushed the boat away. Violence has not left these poems, but this is now tempered by a tenderness towards the greater tragedy of the death of innocence, or at least youth, the speaker remaining as the only one who will ever know that the boy‟s kisses tasted like peppermint.
An evangelical upbringing is also prominent, though the speaker has clearly left this tradition behind, stating “I hate the faces / lifted in awe, rejoicing at the awful language of angels,” in “Glossolalia.” There is an ambivalence towards such experiences, as in “Through a Glass Darkly” in which the speaker addresses a loved one who is being haunted by a dead woman “who told you to starve yourself to make room for God, / so I let them give your body enough electricity / to calm it.” The diction of “so I let them” is less charge than that of earlier poems—the speaker, too, has been calmed, the harshness of her calculations justified and merited. In the third section, Brimhall strays from the singular voice that has driven the collection, taking on other personas and on occasion allowing for small moments of redemption to slip through with the inevitability of human weakness and death. There is a coming to terms with the loss of faith for the speaker of “Kingdom Come” who concludes, “I touched the vanishing / wilderness for the first time, grateful and unsaved.” The heat of the treacherous lover of the earliest poems, and the cool detachment found in the childhood memories of the middle poems, finds a balance in these later poems without stagnating into tepidity. A larger history exists here, where subjects range from the Triangle Waist Shirt Factory tragedy, to the nature of Philomela‟s transformation “by suffering,” and on to Japanese women dressing the heads of fallen warriors. Redemption and hope—these notions don‟t manifest fully until the last lines of the last poem. Just as this collection opened with a prayer, it closes with one, only this time the tone is weary of violence. The speaker of “Prayer to Delay the Apocalypse” asks to leave this world gently, carried the way she was as a child by her father, “like a bowl brimming with water, like an angel / carry me to the end of the world and lay me down.” It is here that Brimhall manages a masterful balance, this softer note somehow believable after so much brutality. There is no apology and very little explanation given for the way the world is in these pages, but the dreamlike imagery coupled with the dark, meditative authority brooding through these lyrical narratives makes it all seem true. Rookery certainly lives up to the Crab Orchard Series First Book Award. With a voice that demands attention, and images that linger in the mind long after the book has been put down, Traci Brimhall is a writer to return to again and again.
A Brief Look at Cronenberg’s Sex and Violence in Film by Daniel Beall ―We have four thousand years of art that involves sex and violence. It’s because when we are pushed to the extremes of what we are and what we do, that we begin to reveal ourselves ..we’re not so…the defenses go down, the insides come out, literally and figuratively, and we start to see what we really are; it’s really an exploration of the human condition.‖ – David Cronenberg I‟ve been hearing quite a bit lately about the limits of good taste, the pointlessness of sex and violence in some films, and all sorts of other half-bourgeois, half-secretly conservative mumbling that I‟m beginning to believe masks a genuine fear of “seeing what we really are,” or what we are willing to accomplish in the creative sphere. David Cronenberg has a new film coming out called A Dangerous Method, a film all about Freud, Jung, und zex und zex und zex. The stellar cast (Viggo Mortenson, Michael Fassbender, Kiera Knightly, Vincent Cassel) is one reason to see it. A better reason is the fact that it‟s made by the enlightened fellow who came out with A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, The Fly, Videodrome, Scanners, and more. In a world of directors with an often limited point of view, Cronenberg shatters the limits and transcends them. Cronenberg achieved his auteur medals by making what is called “body horror” pictures. There are various definitions of this, but to me, and to many fans of his work, Cronenberg‟s body horror is simply an examination of the horrors of being human, whether it is James Woods questioning his primal urge for hyper-violent entertainment inVideodrome or Jeremy Irons struggling with misogyny, sexual dysfunction and loneliness (while simultaneously playing two brothers) in Dead Ringers. The harrowing gore is the icing, which more often than not, is a visually grotesque metaphor for existential concerns, much more so than the typical slasher or supernatural film. All of this makes me wonder: What is the difference between something like Sawand a Cronenberg flick? What differentiates “intellectual” horror from The Human Centipede? Take a look at some of Cronenberg films below and ask yourself a simple question: when was the last time a horror movie made you think?
David Cronenberg Filmography:
Make Artistic Love, not War by Rob Balla ―When rhetorics come together seeking to occupy the same space at the same time, the encounter can be as sweet and gentle as two people making love, each turning this way and that, wanting to give, not to take, or as hard and hurtful as two tribes making war.‖ —Jim Corder
A few years ago while I was in graduate school, I was struck by the animosity the confrontational nature among the various genres of writing. This conflict was more recently expressed by Buried Letter Press‟s own Shannon Young in her “On Defending One‟s Self with a Gravy Boat (Or Why Creative Nonfiction is a Legitimate Genre)”. Clearly the divisions and boundaries in writing and in art as a whole are more than simple disagreements and border skirmishes over what piece of artistic real estate belongs to which camp. What we have here is a full-fledged war with casualties on both sides. Virtually all of the theorists I read in graduate school were focused on destroying some other theory or discrediting some other theorist. Much of the discussions I hear about genre writers focus on what camp someone belongs to or why an author cannot be included in a camp, or discrediting a genre in its entirety. Any cursory study of Composition will lead you to James Berlin and his creation of the distinct camps of ideology and the subsequent war between them for dominance in the field. A basic course in economics will explore the perceived conflict between Socialism and Capitalism. Art History courses center on the pattern of one movement being supplanted by the next. In all of these cases, the war is an ideological one. One individual may believe whole-heartedly that their ideology is fundamentally superior to all others. This ideology then creates its own ideologically loaded rhetoric with which to attack and hopefully destroy the opposition. Compositionist Wendy Bishop wonders on what grounds such battles have been waged, and she points to current-market forces as an easy reason. Clearly pushing for a better public perception of one‟s theory/camp/school/genre gives the impression that that given
theory/camp/school/genre is more rigorous in its studies, more valid in its views, and ultimately more fundamentally correct, thereby gaining economic capital for the victor. The confrontational environment also creates an interesting battle in the world of art which is appealing to outsiders like donors, buyers, and politicians. Thus there is constant media attention and a public which is willing to latch onto the newest, greatest thing. However, there is a huge negative effect to this division and territorial warfare. If theorists like Berlin in Composition, Barthes in Literature, Marx in Philosophy, and Berger in Visual Arts have their way, artists who blend or combine or blur the lines between genres will be denied a voice and a place in the world. Writers like Charles Baudelaire and David Sedaris, artists like Jane Frank and Nicolas Schoffer, musicians like John Cage and Susanne Vega, and entire styles like feuilleton and prose poetry would be lost or worse yet ignored. Is there an alternative? Is there a way to end the bloodshed? Is there a way for Socialism to live hand in hand with Capitalism? Impressionism with Dadaism? Poetry with Creative NonFiction? Baroque music with Hip Hop? The answer is yes. The answer is Pragmatism. While Pragmatism is not an ideology and it does not espouse a particular dogma of its own, it is idealistic in that creates a space where competing viewpoints can coexist. Pragmatism is the means by which a person can abide multiple ideologies. It is a way to find unity or commonality in an effort to improve writing, visual art, economics, music, and philosophy. Pragmatism is a way to reconcile seemingly mutually exclusive theories to create a platform from which any artistic enterprise is possible.
BURIED LETTER PRESS www.buriedletter.com
Published on Oct 17, 2012
Creative criticism, literary journalism, artistic explication, and other fine shenanigans, featuring: Angie Mazakis, Larry Wormington, and o...