BURIED LETTER PRESS November 2011
Buried Letter Press November 2011 ÂŠ Buried Letter Press 2011 Cover Image and design by Matthew C. Mackey
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
NOVEMBER 2011 ISSUE: On defending one’s self with a gravy boat (or why creative nonfiction is a legitimate genre by SLM Young How to Behave in Public #1 The Late Night Diner by Nathan Floom Reading is for Humans by Molly Fuller Outlaws in Ohio by Matthew C. Mackey On the Nomadism of Poets in Search of Language by Brian R. Young It’s Not Only Rock and Roll: A Review of Vinyl Press’s Kali’s Tongue by Matthew C. Mackey
On defending one’s self with a gravy boat (or why creative nonfiction is a legitimate genre) by SLM Young Occasionally, just after I have leapt across a table strewn with the remnants of a dinner that had been meant to be a peace offering, and grabbed a pudgy man by his lapels and dared him to say it again, “Go ahead,” I say, “call my baby a red-headed step-child one more time,” I realize how sensitive I am about my genre (let’s call it what it is, an obsession) being called a hybrid. I’m a tad bit defensive about having to defend myself to him, a fiction writer. “I’m nothing like you,” I spit. “And I certainly don’t borrow from you.” I call him a coward who hides behind scenes and setting and plot, and for good measure, I say that he and his genre are infants. “Short stories have been around for what? A hundred years tops. Essays have been around for hundreds of years.” The fingers of my right hand blindly search, as only fingers can, for something to grab ahold of. They find the prongs of a fork, the stem of a water goblet, the curved handle of a gravy boat. My fingers settle here and hold tight to this gravy boat, wanting to pitch it across the room, desiring the satisfaction of hearing the ceramic shatter against plaster and watching the congealed mess stick to and slowly crawl down the wall behind the fiction writer’s head. To be clear, I’ve never in my life grabbed anyone by his lapels, even in jest (okay, perhaps in jest, but never in fury). And I need to state this precisely, that I have never actually grabbed anyone by his lapels, or by his collar or shirtsleeves or any part of his shirt at all, because I’m not a fiction writer, I am a writer of nonfiction, and because I am a writer of nonfiction, I have this contract I’ve signed and initialed on twenty-two different lines that promises to my reader that I WILL TELL THE TRUTH. Sure, I could say that I leapt metaphorically, and grabbed his lapels metaphorically, but that sounds stupid, and what the anger felt like inside was what it would feel like to hurl myself forward with no regard for decorum or concern for safety. I fear that I’ve started off on the wrong the foot with you, Dear Reader. I am not a hater of fiction. I have on occasion realized that the truth I am trying to tell would better be illustrated through the creation of scene and setting and plot. After all, finding and exploring the truth is what we all are attempting to accomplish. There is simply a part of me that is so thoroughly attracted to the writing of essays that I cannot help defending this lover of mine (didn’t I start this metaphor defending a child? How the child became a lover perhaps only Kathryn Harrison could explain). I love the essay. I love that the word itself—essay, essai—means only that I promise to try. I will try to discover, to explain, to entertain; I do not promise to succeed. An essay is nothing more or less than an attempt. Is there, really, anything more profound in our lives than the moment when we lift our foot from the floor to move forward? (Yes, yes, metaphorically! Obviously I don’t mean literally every step is profound. How boring would that essay be?)
As a fiction writer—ah, yes, it is all jealousy you will soon assume—I was a disaster, for I was constantly imagining myself in peculiar situations, then writing about it. Simply, I wasn’t writing fiction, but I didn’t yet know I was allowed to write about myself. No one had given me the permission to tell my own story, so I had assumed I couldn’t. Nonfiction, to me then, was journalism, and I had gone running from the lecture hall when my journalism professor discussed the problem of “ethics,” which didn’t seem like ethics at all, and never returned. Limping from the beating I imagined I had taken, I traversed the college green and stumbled upon the glistening, coffee-scented oasis of the English building, and there I stayed. I was pushed down this particular rabbit hole as a senior in college when, too chicken to enroll in poetry writing classes, I opted for “nonfiction” instead. The classroom was too small for the massive table in the center, so when all ten or so of us were crammed around it, the room felt warm and tight like a womb, but luminous because it was autumn in Athens, Ohio, and there was a window nearly as large as the entire outside wall, and through it afternoon sunshine cascaded over our heads. I was happy there. Early in the quarter, my professor told us that “the plot of an essay is the mind of the writer at work.” And I realized the safety of this room never had to fade. The plot of my essay is my mind at work, and I knew, even if I knew nothing else at all, that the way I saw the world was different from how others saw it, and that perspective—the way my mind worked—was the vital component to essay writing. I dove into the pages of reading we were assigned and learned how to write from Michel de Montaigne, and Richard Selzer, and M.F.K. Fisher, and I forgot about fiction writing entirely. It was a monster inside of me, and it was nothing like anything before. This experience for me was the same as so many I’ve heard about when a child who has desperately needed eyeglasses for years finally slips them on and gasps, “Why, there are leaves on those trees!” I had been fumbling through life, tripping over ottomans and bumping into walls, never cognizant of the fact that just outside the window, the rustling sound I was hearing was made by leaves on trees, and all I had to do was see them. Essay writing provided me the opportunity and the ability to see the leaves, to see everything, more clearly. So you see, can’t you, Reader, why I won’t admit to being the illegitimate daughter of fiction and journalism, even if I slept in their beds? (Daughter, lover, daughter, lover.) I simply don’t believe it. An essay is not merely the combination of fact and fiction any more than a child is only the ears and nose of her father, the manner of her mother. An essay, as a child, is an entity itself. Some people may point out that creative nonfiction uses the tools of each of these other forms of writing, proving that it is a hybrid. To this I would respond, good writers use all the tools available to them to create art and communicate truth. Now leave me alone, before I throw a gravy boat at you.
HOW TO BEHAVE IN PUBLIC #1 The Late Night Diner By Nathan Floom My friends and I go to the late night diner after a short trip to the bar, simply because it’s a place to go. To drink more would result in DUIs, and to go home would be, well, lame. Late night diner it is. It’s a place to go where there are no more places to go. The debriefing at the end of it all. The hard plastic booth and sticky floor, the cooks in the back with piercings. They all know what it means. A club sandwich as my friend watches the server glide between the counter and the front door where the jaded, the overworked—all with the faces of hard adolescence, come in. She’s got a bop-cut and a slim body. She is too nice to work there. I didn’t come here for a friend. I came here for a sandwich. We eat fast and in big bites, tipsy, we have forgotten proper dining etiquette, but we don’t give a shit. It’s 2:30 in the morning. We shouldn’t have to. The table across the room is full of old couples laughing and touching each other. My friend believes them to be swingers and we spend the rest of the time hypothesizing over this curious new development. We get loud and the swingers can probably hear us. We secretly hope they do. In a corner, a stoned Mexican eyes the pretty drunk girls, who are both pretty and pretty drunk. We compete with leering glances of our own. The waitresses’ chain-smoke any chance they get, even the pregnant one, oblivious to those watching and commenting quietly to themselves in their booths. An old black man sips his coffee and reads his paper, casting his glance over the place in-between sips and page flips. He quietly keeps to himself, and the waitresses know to leave him that way. We leave when the neo-Nazis come in. Skinned heads show tattoos and they harass the old fat waitress for coffee. They are seated next to us and we sit awkwardly. Mentally trying to communicate with our waitress for the checks
Outlaws in Ohio by Matthew C. Mackey I knew I was in the right place when I saw Attack Cat slouched up at the bar. Word was they had just high rolled a casino train and were holin’ up at Musica until the heat was off ‘em. I had just blown into town from a stint with a crew in Boston, petty stuff. I had been slingin’ freight for a couple of months and was amblin’ for something a bit… riskier. Maybe it was a need for danger that led me to Attack Cat, but whatever it was I wasn’t prepared for that evening. Making my way to Akron, I heard all sorts of tales about the gang, some called them the Dandy Outlaws, some said they met and fell in love during a shootout, both of them tippin’ over the same bank on the same day. Both of them tough as nails and devilishly charming. The six stringer, Dave Douglas caught me eyeballin’ them from across the venue. He ordered a gin and tonic for himself and one for his partner, the lovely Rachel Hoskins. I pretended I was just another guy looking for a drink. I didn’t want trouble, but Attack Cat was known for trouble. As I sauntered up to the bar, Dave and I locked eyes for a moment. It was like staring into the cold eyes of a rattlesnake, and he was the tame one they say. “They were a regular Bonnie and Clyde” I heard as I began to drink. “Course, I also heard that if you were one of the lucky ones that made their good graces, you’d be set for life.” I didn’t want to think about the ones who crossed ‘em. A couple of bands played that night, good ones too. I was impressed. They really got the crowd kicked up, riled up, shaken. Maybe too on edge cuz someone called out Attack Cat. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of a gunfight. Mama was right, as usual, “You let a sleeping cat lie else you might get the claws.” Once they took the stage, they started shooting from the hip. Each riff was a barrage of bullets, and they kept shooting until no one was left standing. Dave hammered away like his life depended on it, aim like a hawk. Rachel’s eyes were on fire picking out note after note, and bringing her victims to their knees. They were tough alright. We didn’t stand a chance. I had jumped behind the bar when the sounds of Dave’s steady six strings started blasting up the mob. I’m used to the floor end of the bar, so I made myself plenty comfortable with a bottle of tequila. Hell, I thought it might have been my last drink. Peeking passed empty or shot up bottles, I could see the two through a cloud of gunpowder. They were really somethin’. See, the two of ‘em got a real clean way of performing together, each one playing off the strengths of the other. They were professionals, and they made it look easy. As soon as they started, they got everyone in the place dancin.’ With shots like “RCA,” “You Never Knew” and “Shoot from the Hip,” it’s no wonder Attack Cat has such a reputation for leaving a crowd stunned. When “You Want Me Crazy” started pumping through the air, it was madness. Attack Cat can show ya what crazy really is. The show was sexy tough, real outlaw swagger. Rachel’s delicate attack on the keys swept across the venue. Her rich, sultry voice set even the
stoutest man shaking in his boots. The precision of Dave’s ambush on the strings and gutsy vocals left the crowd clean knocked out. They didn’t need much, just the two of ‘em and their guns and the steady rhythm of a drum machine. By the time they finished their set, not a single man or woman was left unscathed. I was still behind the bar with my bottle, and when I finally mustered up enough courage to look again over the bar, the place was in chaos, and the two of ‘em had fled out the back. They left a calling card, though. A clean, polished EP featuring their personas, “The Dandy Outlaws.” They’ve done a number of different jobs together, sometimes riding with other gangs, sometimes by themselves. In 2009, they released another EP, “When the Moon Was Big.” They’ll continue to ride, leaving a trail of mayhem wherever they go. If I were you, I’d check ‘em out here at: http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/AttackCat.
On the Nomadism of Poets in Search of Language by Brian R. Young
A couple with whom I was friends in grad school—he a poet and she at work in the sciences—were arguing one night at the bar where we would meet after our writing classes. When he complained about how much work he had to do, she responded that his “work” (her air-quotes) consisted of a “grueling” ten to fifteen minutes of tapping at the computer. Then the printer would whir and he’d snatch the draft, glance it over quickly, and place it in his folder. The front door would open and he walked out with his bicycle, leaving her alone for hours in an avalanche of textbooks. With my love, I have what on the surface may sound like the same discussion. She, who writes essays, will toil before the monitor for two hours, while I, a poet, clack away for only twenty minutes. I’ve mentioned to her that those hours she spends in front of the computer working on an essay seem like forever. Having observed and practiced them myself on occasion, I respect the cool deliberation and patience of the writing processes of the non-and the non-non-fiction writing genres. When compared only by the time spent typing, poets do measure up lazy. I would never suggest that any one genre is more valuable than another, or that the demands of a genre have anything to do with the comparative quality of the writing it can produce. I do believe that the kinds of attention these areas call for can inform us about the differences in what language is capable of. A closer attention to language and sound demands something different than the calculus of reason and memory. It burns. Any writers of volume would combust in their chairs if they had to give that kind of sustained attention to every sound, allusion, ambiguity, color, and emotional link in the language itself. We poets must step away—both literally, in terms of the writing process itself, and figuratively, to wander more than measure in the act of composing—although that doesn’t mean our preparation is any less rigorous. The picture isn’t complete if we only consider the act of writing; I know that essayists need to scour their memories, to open themselves to repressed or ignored thoughts, and fiction writers need to dream of, encounter, and inhabit all their characters and scenes in order to prepare them for coming to the page. Essayists need space and time to delve into and represent the complexities of their cerebral processes on the page, and fiction writers develop characters and associations over chapters. But modern life requires us to devote so much energy to repressing and containing the very emotions which writing poetry asks us to invite in. Just as the march of civilization requires walls and gateways, streets and alleys to regulate and amplify its process, the necessity of our minds to function in the world—to acquiesce to the demands of society—forces us to hack down our forests and dam our rivers. While writers in other genres are busy about their tasks, we poets must be silent, waiting for the well-trained and muscular bouncers to get bored and step away from their posts. There are walls behind walls—who knows how many?—and writing poetry is about always looking for more secret passages. This part of the process is where we wait for the wisdom outside of us to fill in the space we’ve created. Certainly there is knowledge in the external world beyond the interior of a single mind. I know we can’t truly escape our physical selves; we are, of course, limited by the demands of
the body and our experience, but I believe that we can move closer to the membrane that divides us into internal and external worlds if we step outside of the everyday urgencies. So the writer who leaves her work and computer behind to step “outside” isn’t quitting the task of developing her piece, but rather expanding its territory. She pursues the connection that this outside world has to language, as well as that which eludes language—seeks to discover the greater body that lies beyond our mind’s reach, such that patterns emerge, if not verdicts. The disjointed sounds become music that can’t be composed, and perspective dispels the illusion that the boisterous familiar songs of our orchestras are anything more than the barely audible leg scratching of a few crickets in immeasurable fields. Perhaps if we hold still a bit longer we will make another discovery in that place outside of the act of writing. Imagine being still for days, starting in an exact slant of light and temperature, and then finding yourself returned there—experiencing the world as movement independent of your own preconceptions and learned attitudes. All the uncertainty about our importance that it brings to us. Anyone can make themselves still enough to catch a glimpse, but only the attentive and practiced writer can find the language that truly suits it. We can measure these encounters in terms of what we’ve seen unfold in our craft on the page. The work requires physical and metaphysical wandering, openness between words.
Reading Is for Humans by Molly Fuller In his September, 2011, Salon.com article, “Writers Who Don’t Read,” Buzz Poole concludes his article with the summary sentence: “Wanting to write without wanting to read is like wanting to use your imagination without wanting to know how.” Poole wrote his article in response to the findings of a University of Boston Instructor who found that many wannabe writers have no interest in reading. May I just say, in the texting parlance of today, WTF? My favorite thing about fiction is that it is not limited by what is; it is only limited by the writer’s imagination. A great work of fiction not only can show us the world reflected as it truly is, but as one of many possibilites. Fiction gives us a glimpse of who we are, as humans, within the confines of a harmless play area of a created reality. It is not limited by laws of society or even physics; it is the ultimate playground of the imagination. As a writer and as a reader, we can explore the creative freedom of our mind without repercussions. Take Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Kafka’s The Trial, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere as just a few examples of works of fiction that take the reader on a journey beyond our reality, into realms where oftentimes we learn important lessons. Then, also take into consideration works of fiction that explore notions of contemporary culture and turn them upside down: Jeffrey Eugenides’Middlesex, Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues, and Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven as just three examples. These authors are free to address any number of themes while using fictional characters and circumstances. Eugenides and Feinberg explore and redefine gender and transgender issues; Alexie embraces, deconstructs and reinterprets Native American stereotypes. In The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Alexie writes, “Imagination is the politics of dreams; imagination turns every word into a bottle rocket. . . . Imagine every day is Independence Day and save us from traveling the river changed; save us from hitchhiking the long road home. Imagine an escape. Imagine that your own shadow on the wall is a perfect door. Imagine a song stronger than penicillin. Imagine a spring with water that mends broken bones. Imagine a drum which wraps itself around your heart. Imagine a story that puts wood in the fireplace.” Jeffrey Eugenides begins his novel, Middlesex: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” And I am hooked by the narrator who is at once one thing and then another, with one foot in the world of women and one foot in the world of men, a complicated, complex human whose life story cannot be bound by the constraints of gender. The laws of gravity and convention are unable to hold the imagination of these writers. We learn from reading them. By reading these writers, we learn how to do what they do: to push boundaries, to lovingly create characters, how to create realistic places in time and space, how to
evoke emotions, we learn how to make our readers feel something and perhaps, most importantly, we learn something about what it is like to be human by watching these characters interact in all their emotional messiness. As we become more enmeshed in facebook, twitter, texting, and the instant gratification that these networking platforms allow us, we no longer know how to be alone, how to foster our imagination, how to create our own environment unimpeded by the constant bombardment of the awareness of the other: Is what I’m doing as exciting, as good, as fun as what my friends are doing? We are constantly aware of ourselves in our own fictionalized universe: taking pictures of what we are doing for upload onto social networking sites, turning our activities into one-line status updates, making sure that what we are doing and who we are with is better than… And still, we are increasingly becoming disconnected from our own lives. Are we even really aware of our experiences at all beyond the confines of social media? Reading a book is one place where the mind can be at rest from this constant comparison. It is free to wander at will, alone, in exploration through a forest of words. However, Poole notes that the solitary act of reading is no longer valued: “The pervasiveness of social networking corrodes the ability of words to bestow the enchantment of solitude. Being alone is not so much considered a freedom or luxury anymore, especially among teenagers. It’s considered a punishment.” When being alone is considered a punishment and reading requires a certain degree of isolation (and books are left to languish), Poole then poses the question: where is our culture headed? A very scary place. The point is, if you want to be a writer, you should be reading; if you want to be a human being, you should be reading. Reading is for humans. Good fiction tells us who we were, who we are and, most importantly, who we can be.
It’s Not Only Rock and Roll by Matthew C. Mackey Kali’s Tongue, the premiere book of poetry from the up and coming Vinyl Press, is a smashing, high-energy show of poetic craftsmanship. Mimicking the powerful music of the classic Rolling Stones’ 1971 album Sticky Fingers, the pocket size publication acts as a guide through the sounds of a band hell bent on kicking the music world in the ass. Kali’s Tongue is full of the same “swagger,” determination, and in your face attitude that Jagger, Richards, Taylor, Watts, and Wyman made famous. Each poem walks onto center stage, looks you in the eye, punches you in the gut, and buys you a drink. Unlike many books combining poetry and rock and roll, Kali’s Tongue is an album all to itself– a new breed of poetic interpretation. Since it focuses on one particular album, it is able to be much more concentrated and intense than a poetry book dealing with a multitude of albums or musicians. The real power of Kali’s Tongue, however, comes from the rawness of emotion and presentation. In “The Residue of Morphine,” by Carl Della Badia, pure adrenaline inks onto the page in such riffs as, Everyone here is dead. Glory’s beat has been sucked out of the chest, impaled on the sidewalk by a credit card stiletto and vomited on by the mortgaged mass of red white and blue dresses hanging in the stores on Communion Street. And in Shawn Klocek’s poem, “Strutting Out,” the tension and ecstasy of performance screams on the page. He concludes with typical Stone’s style, “fuck it, cue the fade”. At times, Kali’s Tongue shouts wildly while at other times it slips into a raspy blues croon; and no subject is off limits. Drugs, sex, and of course rock and roll all make the set list. Justin Kishbaugh tears up the taboo on drug use in his piece “Roar-Shock,” driving the maddening needle of addiction through and through the thin skin of our sensibilities. “Standing Ovation” by Jess Eagle challenges our reservations about menstruation and sex. Even an exposition of the song “I Got the Blues” makes its way into the chaos from poet Michael S. Begnal, demonstrating not only the seriousness of the Stones when it came to music, but the intellectual engagement the poets in Kali’s Tongue give toSticky Fingers. And the music! God, the music! Killer lines from Kali collaborators pop, tick, boom, shriek, howl, and wail off the page. Each poem is littered with rhythms and lyrical grinds that beg to be played over and over. The tunes got stuck in my head. Now, here’s something that an admirer of
poetry doesn’t find every day. Play the Stones’ album in the background and read along. Something new happens when the gritty guitar and leather vocals kick on the stereo and the poetry from Kali’s Tongue is read side by side. It blew me away. This limited edition chapbook is a must have for poetry lovers who enjoy cranking the amps to eleven every once and a while and pushing the bounds of performance. At only six dollars on Etsy and Ebay, one can plug in, rock out, take it slow, or just get lost in the dizzy, mind bending confluence of Kali’s Tongue and Sticky Fingers.
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