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Propeller JANUARY 2010

MAY 2010


is Love

Propellercontents contents 44 | Kevin Sampsell tries a pair of Nikes

84 | Marci and Deth share studio space

The author of A Common Pornography discuss- Two artists in San Francisco draw what they es writing about sports in memoir, when the like. By Shea’la Finch memoir is not a sports memoir.

54 | Hawthorne visits the farmer’s market In the summer of 1841, Nathaniel Hawthorne joined a commune. It didn’t take. By Evan P. Schneider

108 | Bookscent Through the Decades Antiquarian books exhibit olfactory pleasures that vary not by region and soil acidity, but by publication date, paper, and other environmental factors By Sarah Kruse





102 | Landis Everson Knew San Luis Obispo In Everson, Jean Harlow really slams the fucking phone down! In San Luis, Joan Baez goes to the movies with her daughter. By Lucas Bernhardt


8 | Hermitage Rachael Wilson visits a context for books. (It might be gone.)

Propellercontents Propeller contents 16 | Music Roy Tinsel The Portland musician completes our aphorisms while in a reflective mood.

24 | Aisles Nicholson Baker’s The Anthologist

34 | Library Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild

A different kind of cinematic literature. Review Butler depicts humans and insect aliens with equal empathy. Review by Lisa Sibbett by Evan P. Schneider

28 | Aisles Kiki Petrosino’s Fort Red Border The title of this collection of poems is an anagram. Answer to the right. By Daneen Bergland

38 | Craft Justin Taylor

120 | Poems Cheryl Clark Vermeulen

Fiction, Serafini, and how to make rent.

“Thanksgiving Armature” and “Another Body Forms”

126 | Aside “Inflating Koons” By Barchael

52 | Aside “How to Get What You Want for as Little as Possible” By Barchael

70 | Poems Mark Leidner “Pretty Girls” and “Story”

“I didn’t mean to destroy it. It was the power, the Chocolate Thunder. I could feel it surging through my body, fighting to get out. I had no control over it.’” — Darryl Dawkins

Propeller Volume 2, Issue 2 April 2010 Editor Dan DeWeese Managing Editors Lucas Bernhardt Benjamin Craig Evan P Schneider Contributing Editors Shea’la Finch Matthew Hein Alison Schneider Lisa Sibbett Keri Thomas Design Presence/Absence Information News Archives Store Letters Submissions Publication January April (ish) July October





By Rachael Wilson To So-Kin of Rakuyo, ancient friend, Chancellor of Gen.


he first thing we think we know: “Hermitage is a context.” Now I remember that you built me a special tavern We puzzle it out. By the south side of the bridge at Ten-Shin. A man by the name of Jon Beacham sells With yellow gold and white jewels books. He sells books, we know, on Bedford Avwe paid for the songs and laughter, enue, on a little sidewalk table where our friend And we were drunk for month after month, forgetting the kings and princes. once met him one February afternoon. Intelligent men came drifting in, from the sea He sells books on a sidewalk table on Bedand from the west border ford Avenue in Brooklyn but he also may have And with them, and with you especially, a store, a storefront, or something like it, where there was nothing at cross-purpose, he sells books by appointment. He calls it HerAnd they made nothing of sea-crossing mitage. And Hermitage is a context. or of mountain-crossing, If only they could be of that fellowship, Hermitage is a context and Hermitage creates And we all spoke out our hearts and minds, a context and Hermitage has a context. and without regret. The (first) context: Hermitage is two book—“Exile’s Letter” Translation of Rihaku (Li Po) by Ezra shelves, one of which is Beacham’s personal library, and the other, carefully filled with books Pound for sale. Everything here is clean, neat, the ex-


“‘Feel that,’ Beacham tells me, dropping Flaubert’s Sentimental Education into my hands. It’s heavy. It’s a brick.” pression of thoughtfulness and attention. We are in the hermitage. It’s a bright studio loft in Bushwick—simple, open, with wood floors and high ceilings, occupied by a table, a bench, a chair, a few shelves, a few boxes, a printing press (yes, a printing press) and its accessories. On the walls, a handful of prints, and a very solid, old, dark wooden box. Tacked to the bottom right corner of the cube is an old photograph of a very beautiful woman. A bobby pin rests delicately on top. Beacham tells me it’s hard to call yourself a bookseller with so few books actually for sale. I get the feeling he is more than a bookseller, though. He’s an aesthete. He’s a curator. The (other) context: Beacham selects his books in accordance with exacting tastes. The books, always hand-picked, comprise a collec-

tion. Featured here are independent and small press books (Auerhahn Press, Something Else Press, Zephyrus Image) and vintage mass market books (New Directions, Grove Press, Meridian Books...Beacham likes these old paperbacks. “Feel that,” he tells me, dropping Flaubert’s Sentimental Education in my hands. It’s heavy. It’s a brick. Simple and substantial). The books are all in excellent condition. I think of my books at home—battered, dog-eared, with bent spines and crammed on the shelf like bodies on a rush-hour commuter train—and wince. I skim the shelf: Samuel Beckett, Charles Olson, Kenneth Patchen, Wallace Berman, Ezra Pound, Lorine Neidecker, Ted Berrigan, and Don Allen. Beacham’s focus is clearly 20th century American with some exceptions. He carries


“The idea behind such a collection is to show the intentions and vision of the ones putting the work into print.” art monographs and works in translation, too, and everything fits together in a way that seems natural, or maybe just felicitous. As Beacham explains, “The idea behind such a collection is to show the intentions and vision of the ones putting the work into print.” Hermitage creates a space that enhances the visions and intentions of the authors and publishers. The context reestablishes those intentions, which Beacham feels are integral to the work. The (meta) context: I ask the obvious question, “Why Hermitage?” By which I mean, why this name? Beacham answers that it comes from

the T’ang Dynasty poet monks. It’s got something maybe to do with the Tao, but also maybe something to do with Ezra Pound and his “translations” of Li Po. This is just a hunch. I ask about Beacham’s name for his press (have I still not gotten around to the press?): The Brother in Elysium. He shows me a book by William Bronk called The Brother in Elysium: Ideas of Friendship and Society in the United States. It’s on friendship according to Thoreau, Whitman and Melville. I am sipping from a pretty porcelain cup of peppermint tea Beacham has kindly brewed.


While I drink my tea, Beacham ranges over subjects like gentrification, lack of community, the integrity of art in a world obsessed with fashion, attention to detail, and tidiness. Sometimes I think I follow him, but I’m not certain. Eventually, Beacham tells me he’s not going to sell his books in Bushwick any longer. After a nice review from Arthur and another from the New York Times it seems frequent appointments from unserious browsers have monopolized too much time. Since Beacham runs his press out of the same space, the visits, he recently decided, have become too disruptive to his work. Brother in Elysium may now take over Hermitage, though Beacham plans to continue selling books on Bedford (in fair weather) and at Abe Books online. It seems like odd timing to be

doing this interview with all the flux. But I’m glad to be doing it anyway, and I have the feeling that Hermitage will persist indefinitely in one form or another. There is an ineradicable feeling about Hermitage. It’s an intention, to use Beacham’s phrasing. It’s a context. Ω

Hermitage 35 Meadow Street, Suite 307 Brooklyn, NY 11206






Start/Finish Roy Tinsel has been strolling the streets and avenues of Portland, Oregon, for some years now. Though he is not shy, neither does he “do press” very often. But hand him the opening phrase of a possible aphorism to finish as he sees fit, and what follows is reflection, reminisence, and wisdom.

Heidi Tucker

Portland in the mid-to-late 90s was like... It was so nice to keep noticing the same strangers around town. Sometimes they became your friends. I feel like it was a thing, not just with me, others said it too. If you noticed someone interesting, before you knew it you’d see them three times that week. I don’t think you can underestimate the role this phenomenon has in making connections and creating cool shit, and I do think it’s cause is related to how the buildings, streets, commerce, housing and public spaces of a town are laid out. I remember seeing one guy at Sauvie’s Island playing frisbee on the nude beach. We watched him for awhile; he was young with a wild but well-behaved fro. His penis danced so actively as he ran and


“I once told a woman I liked that she looked like Oscar Wilde, one of my favorite people ever, but she didn’t take it so well.” jumped to catch the disc. It was not shriveled, but jounced about like the happy worm in the apple on my grade-school notebook. Also, it’s darkened skin had a truly silvery glint. A day or two later I was delivering architects’ paper downtown. The very same guy walked right past me going the other way. He was wearing clothes this time, and shades. I guess I didn’t become friends with him and never saw him again, though. I did think to myself, though, “I know what that guy’s silvery peter looks like.”

blame there. I told someone at the post office the other day that I loooved his gold teeth and he just mumbled and walked away. I think he thought I was making fun, but I was admiring, or commiserating? Dammit. I once told a woman I like that she looked like Oscar Wilde, one of my favorite people ever, but she didn’t take it so well. So yes, I agree that a scarf may have helped people figure out what the heck’s going on in my poor face.

Fatherhood is like... (if you prefer: Marriage As a scarf provides a setting to the face, the is like...) jewel of the head, so... Someone once told me that even if I were fabuI can never tell what’s going on in people’s heads. lously rich I could still only eat one meal at a I’m certain others think the same of me so no time. Good point. One of my favorite pastimes

Jen Friedman

is crying over all the things I would so strongly prefer to be doing right now (actually only one thing). Having a Better Half and a chip-off-theold-block staring back at me now has helped me calm down, take a seat, and tuck into the steaming plate that happens to be in front of me.

a greater effect than the carefully considered advice of an intimate, so... I can’t help but wonder if you’re referring to what I just said about the scarf. It’s true, the one who would make it clear how ridiculous my True Scarf is would be someone who doesn’t know me. As an offhand remark by a neighbor can have There was a basement show once. Walking


Chelsea Mosher

down the stairs into the smell of warm bodies is so delicious. Their steam in my nose is right on; these are the people I do it for. I’m late because I’ve been at home mid-wifing a delicate, tender and brash little song nugget. Maybe it was called “Hand in Your Pants.” The band ends and I still can’t find my friends who said they were coming. The lights are on and some tall skinny jerk keeps blowing a whistle. Oh, he’s the DJ getting started. All these people just want to dance, they don’t care about Songs.

Believing individuality is a delusion is like... Virginia jilting Santa Claus. Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus with feeling is like... celebrating New Year’s Eve...A-GAIN.

Attempting to book a bus-plane connection in a dream is like... It’s like writing a song: you never know where you’ll actually end up. The usual laws don’t apply. You needn’t go from point A to point B and Coming of age in Wyoming is like... then on to C. You may walk down the jetway I watched that from afar. I came of age in Ne- and into that Dim Sum place in Oakland which braska, or somewhere on the highway between would explain the fishtanks as you walked down. the two. I know you learn to be tough, though. Or you may go to retrieve your bags from under the bus and find your third grade class smiling Like a rat in the teeth of a terrier,... under there. Or eat two meals at once. Watching prey losing, I’ve found them to be remarkably calm in their final hour, considering. The overstatement of the trumpeter is like... The racoon, wet and skinny on the rocks at the I’m so happy you remember this anecdote. It’s lake’s edge losing to a dog, seemed to be just cal- hard not to find yourself wishing or even exculating, wholly concerned with finding a way pecting that people will notice your subtle clues. out alive, even when it was clear his or her back But a trumpet teacher of mine once told me that was broken. Less time was spent bemoaning the in order to get your point across, in order to sad state of the steaming plate in front of him make the phrase sing out, you must not mumor her. So like a rat in the teeth of a terrier I will ble but should exaggerate the phrase, or what become single-minded in my purpose, uncon- seems like exaggerating at the time. Listen back cerned by misfortune, ready to soar or fall with and you think, oh yeah, lively and just right. a style all my own. And I think generally, when I’ve followed that

advice in my life I’ve been successful and when I haven’t I muddle. Purity of purpose? Face wide open? Tuned into others perspectives instead of inwardly focused? Excuses are like sneakers,... Wet sneakers, especially. That night we were trying to find where the bikes were going to explode. The asphalt was wet and black like a silent cat; the air tasted cold. I knew you were out but I didn’t know where. Every block, it seemed, had a house with a group of loud voices and glowing cigarettes on the porch. Bottle rockets were going off. Some Black Cats waited quietly in my pocket. Down the street a shower of sparks hissed to life, creating a silhouette I began to recognize as unmistakably yours. Your slight hunch gave me the feeling I could almost see those unmistakable wine-stained lips, too. Why was I still wearing those falling-apart shoes? Why did I keep on with that? I was so much more comfortable when I later found those waterproof boots.

Jen Friedman

The smile of the ingenue is like... a tiny cabbage sprout pushing aside the muddy soil of centuries ferociously. Ω







here’s just something about Nicholson Baker. And since this is a book review, I would be willing to bet you want to know what that is. You’re sitting there wondering to yourself, What’s this “something” that’s so great? First, I suppose it’s probably that his work goes into great and lovely and resounding detail about everyday existence, and because of that, there’s something for everyone in his books. I go around preaching his name to anyone I know who likes to read—even to people who just like to read a little bit, which is really saying something. Here’s this author who can appeal to both voracious readers and vehement nonreaders at the same time. How can that be?

Here’s the thing: I guess I can’t actually recommend The Anthologist to everybody. If I was looking for a Nicholson Baker book to recommend across the board, to everyone I know, it would be A Box of Matches. That’s the one. It really is. But I’ll tell you what, if you like yourself some really great writing, and you’re into poetry even just nominally, The Anthologist will blow your wig right off. Clear into last week. You’ll have to go searching for that wig, because it will have been taken off your head by a deft draft of surprise when you weren’t even expecting it to be windy. You didn’t even know you wore a wig, did you? Though I’d really, really like to, therefore, I


cannot in good consciousness recommend The Anthologist in a wide sweeping arc—like those seed-sowers of yesteryear who stood in fields open-handed—but it has nothing to do with how great or not great the book is, because The Anthologist is truly magnificent. Simply stunning, in so many subtle ways. For example, when the narrator, Mr. Paul Chowder, a poet who has been hired to write an introduction to an anthology that he cannot bring himself to write, dashes off, “And we all love the busy ferment, and we all know it’s nonsense,” it’s just heartstoppingly beautiful and true. The reason I can’t recommend it to everyone, then, has more to do with the fact that not everybody is ready and willing to climb into a book that’s ostensibly about a poet thinking about poetry. But I wish they were, because then they’d get this line, too: “So poetry and alcohol are what the responsible doctor should prescribe, and maybe letter writing, as well.” How amazing is that? Baker’s protagonist argues that without depression, without angst, we would have no art, no poetry, and no music. None of it. Medication, and our country’s tendency to overindulge in it as a means of “coping,” has gone off and killed greatness. Anyway, because Paul Chowder can’t do what he’s hired to do, he finds himself unable to pull his life fully together, and thereby loses many of

“Because Chowder c has been hired to d self unable to pull his thereby loses many o that are going well. Th stead of writing the i alone and think about left him—for not writing the only things that are going well. This causes him, instead of writing the introduction that he should be writing, to sit alone and think about his girlfriend, who left him for not writing the introduction, and about her lying next to him in bed at night. “What if sometime Roz let me hold her breasts again?” Paul wonders. “Wouldn’t that be incredible? Those soft familiar palmloads of vulnerability—and I get to hold them? That’s simply insane. Inconceivable.” The faint humor innate to Baker’s work is ten-

der As y you smi writ offe ciou eat.

can’t do what he do, he finds hims life together, and of the only things his causes him, inntroduction, to sit t his girlfriend, who g the introduction.”

and endearing and can even choke you up. you walk out of the back of The Anthologist, u won’t necessarily be laughing, though. Just iling, happy to be alive in a world in which a ter as grand as Baker still roams around and ers up his thoughts, like simple, juicy, delius little plums, on a chilled plate, for us to Ω







recently read Kiki Petrosino’s poem “Afro” on Verse Daily and, curious, hit the link to her book at the bottom of the page and opened my cyberwallet. Unlike most impulse buys, Fort Red Border isn’t easily abandoned. I carry it in my bag, ask friends if they know her work, and keep thumbing back through to revisit a particularly crystalline image or startling juxtaposition. The first section, in which the reader witnesses several intimate scenes between the speaker and her lover, “Redford,” explains the title, an anagram of Robert Redford. But the reader is no voyeur here. Instead, these image-rich poems prefer the extreme close-up, inviting the reader to participate in the romance: as Redford leans over to shampoo the hair of the speaker, she can see his ribs through the hole in an armpit of his shirt; in early morning light, she watches “the shallows of his ears” where “the new sun reddens.” I couldn’t help hearing echoes of Lucille Clifton’s poems addressed to Superman from The Book of Light. But unlike those spare, clear

eyed poems in which Superman has already disappointed the speaker, who speaks to him from the distance of after, in Fort Red Border, each detail contributes to a sense of the speaker’s intoxication while at the same time making the dreamlover seem more real. This realism extends to the sense that the speaker doesn’t trust “Redford” to see who she is. There’s a tension between familiar and other here, but that tension is also what drives the poems. Petrosino’s identity as a black woman, and Redford’s as an iconic white man, inflates these tensions even further. In so doing, these poems remind us about the reality of passionate love, that its fuel is lit at first by a competing sense of otherness/familiarity, and keeps burning on the recognition that the love can’t possibly last. The second of the book’s three discrete sections is “Otolaryngology,” a medical term for specializing in the treatment of the eyes, nose, and throat. This section takes an internal turn, and feels more experimental, less planned. These investigatory poems wonder how strong-

“These image-rich poems prefer the extreme close-up, inviting the reader to participate in the romance.�

Robert Redford. The Electric Horseman (1979).


ly sound, meaning, and symbol adhere, plumbing words to see what happens when one is bounced around enough that its shape changes, or what happens to its identity when placed in a foreign context. In the same way, the voice(s) of many of these poems seem intent on doing the same for identity. One of my favorites, “Or,” uses the word as a sonic riff, letting the sound pinball through the poem: “Or oreo, or worse./ Or spork. Or smorgasbord./ Or tender lure of colored blood/ or centaur”. The poems play with metaphor, creating new resonances of myth, nature, history, language, race, and identity. The poems of the last section, all sharing the title “Valentine,” return to the conceit of I and Thou. But in this section, the tone is more playful, the characters varied, the setting hipper. One poem wonders, “Suppose it was a cold throwdown for my affection./Who would win, Jack White or Jack Black?” The speaker is “in the fourth dimension in a yellow wig and small purse./ OK, let’s have a ref./ I choose Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat, of Vermont.” What starts off sounding like the beginning of an elaborate joke, ends cryptically, with a nonchalant shrug tinged with rue. These poems, with distinctly different voices in terms of diction and tone, share an unwillingness to meet initial expectations. They insist on being dimensional. While I know better than to conflate the

speaker with the writer, there are things I can tell about the writer from reading the work. Kiki is cool. As a poet, she is confident in a way that many poets are not. She can say, “These strands wherein silence bides, close as horses in an afternoon of rain, these ropes which rise against containment & the blur of slang” and “You don’t know where my cave is./But I come out./Every day!/ To buy mustard & relish!” and can refer to “the leggy hellothere of crickets” all in the same book. The speakers are cocky and vulnerable, they try on dialects, they role-play, they are dead serious, they make fun. Some are willing to be lovely and earnest, others strange and difficult. But Petrosino isn’t just showing off. That’s what makes her cool. Perhaps this is a confidence instilled and encouraged by being brought up in the Iowa Writer’s workshop, still considered the petrie dish for “important” poets. Or perhaps it is born from her varied experience, having lived in foreign countries or having felt at times like an outsider in her own, relying on language to hone her courage and mark out her territory. As one poem says: “Growing up, I didn’t know/ milk or cottonwood tree but I could say/ May you shit an orb of fire from your diseased asshole/ in pristine dialect.” It’s also possible that it’s all a big show. But I’m convinced. Ω








he African-American writer Octavia Butler was raised by a single mother in a racially mixed neighborhood in Pasadena, California. In 1995, she won a MacArthur Genius Grant. Until her death, of a fall and head injury and stroke (in unknown order) in Seattle in 2006, she was a writer of science fiction. I know, right? Isn’t that unexpected? I first came across Butler’s work when, this past year, I was asked to teach a science fiction class. I’m no sci-fi expert, but because the school asked me to assign a prescribed reading list, I figured I could wing it, and took the job. Butler’s “Speech Sounds,” which we read for dystopia week, was the loveliest story I read all summer.

The story is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which the human race has been afflicted with a virus that robs victims of the ability to read, write, or speak, and reverts them to a primal, aggressive state. No one is immune, but some are less afflicted than others—and therefore more alone, more vulnerable. “There was trouble aboard the Washington Boulevard bus,” the story begins. “Rye had expected trouble sooner or later in her journey. She had put off going until loneliness and hopelessness drove her out. She believed she might have one group of relatives left alive—a brother and his two children twenty miles away in Pasadena. That was a day’s journey one-way, if she


were lucky. The unexpected arrival of the bus as she left her Virginia Road home had seemed to be a piece of luck—until the trouble began.” And then the story unfurls, action-packed and full of crashing and soot, yet at the same time lucid and deeply humane, akin to the movie Children of Men. After reading “Speech Sounds,” I went out and found the short story collection it was originally published in, a slim volume called Bloodchild (1995). The title story is told from the pointof-view of a kid who lives as the love-pet to an enormous insect-like alien. The kid’s family— his race—the human race—have sought refuge for whatever reason on a distant planet, and been put to service by the insect aliens in return for their protection. Butler’s humans and insect aliens alike are drawn with enormous empathy, their failings and trespasses the understandable consequences of their lived experience. Some have called “Bloodchild” a slavery story; others have called it an unlikely love story; others, a coming-of-age story. Butler herself called it her “pregnant man story.” It is all of these things, and it is terrifying, and disturbing, and beautiful, and kind. When she was alive, Butler viewed herself primarily as a novelist, but my one test of her

“Butler’s human and insect aliens alike are drawn with enormous empathy, their failings and trespasses the understandable consequences of their lived experience.” long fiction—her early novel Kindred, the story of a contemporary African-American woman repeatedly thrust back in time to interact with her own white slaveowning ancestors—was not successful. So now I’m in that position of wanting to read more of Butler’s good stuff, but feeling apprehensive that I’ll accidentally read something I don’t like. I want to keep her work in my mind as it first landed there: dark, sharp, and full of love. Ω



ustin Taylor’s debut short story collection, Everything Here Is the Best Thing Ever, was published in February and named a New York Times Book Review “Editor’s Choice.” Also the author of the poetry chapbook More Perfect Depictions of Noise and the editor of The Apocalypse Reader, Taylor answered a few questions from us about his development as a writer, as a teacher, and as a fan of the Codex Seraphinianus. Propeller: How would you say that your experience in the MFA program at the New School shaped you as a writer? Justin Taylor: Where to start? I had an excellent experience in that program. I worked with

a number of great writers, but most extensively with David Gates—by the time it was over, I had taken his literary seminar and his fiction workshop; I even cadged him into advising my thesis. He taught me how to edit myself—and a hundred other things besides, but knowing how to self-edit is something I use every single day. Two fantastic poetry seminars—one taught by Mark Bibbins, and the other by Paul Violi. Those guys taught me how to read poetry—I mean really read it. I made a lot of friends in that program—some of my best friends, in fact. It was an extremely supportive environment, with a lot of encouragement and camaraderie, among the students as well as between the students and the faculty. Also, attending the New School was my reason for moving to New York,






“Apart from the education-proper, what the New School offered me was two years in which to figure out how to make a life for myself as a writer, and as a New Yorker (which is of course to say, as a Brooklynite).” which is pretty significant in its own right. I knew I wanted to be there, but I didn’t know how to get there, or what to do upon arrival. Apart from the education-proper, what the New School offered me was two years in which to figure out how to make a life for myself as a writer, and as a New Yorker (which is of course to say, as a Brooklynite). Propeller: You noted recently that you’ve taken some time away from teaching to work on various projects and to tour with Everything. Where and what do you teach? Has teaching had any impact on your ability to craft fiction, or influenced your writer self in any notable way? Justin Taylor: The past three semesters (until this spring) I’ve been an adjunct at Rutgers, New Brunswick teaching expository writing

and some creative writing. Teaching is a lot of work, but the bulk of it (lesson plans and papergrading) is done outside the classroom, on my own schedule. It gives me autonomy over the hours in my own day, which is what a writer needs more than anything, while ensuring a subsistence-level income, so I don’t get turned out of my apartment (writers need those, too). I took this semester off because I had a novel to finish and an editorial project to work on (I’m co-editing a book of photographs of literary tattoos). I didn’t want to go risk blowing my deadlines because it was mid-terms grading time or something; I also didn’t want to miss any opportunities to travel in support of my story collection (in fact, I’m writing to you the day after reading at Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Ore., and two days before I go to Denver to read at the AWP conference). But I genuinely


“Well there’s nothing in the world like the Codex Seraphinianus...but the Codex itself is a gift that just keeps on giving.” enjoy teaching—especially literature and creative writing—so I hope to be back in the classroom before too long, at Rutgers or elsewhere. Propeller: Back in 2007 you had a nice piece in The Believer about tracking down and reading the Codex Seraphinianus, a weird sort of visual encyclopedia from the 1970s. In your time since “discovering” that bizarre book, have you had any other notable runins with interesting/otherworldly literary endeavors that have grabbed your attention, some writing or author that has really tantalized you, making you want to seek it out further? Justin Taylor: Well there’s nothing in the world like the Codex Seraphinianus,

so no, I haven’t made any subsequent discoveries of that kind, but the Codex itself is a gift that just keeps on giving. I still get letters about that piece, two just this month, and I’ve become friendly with a pair of Codex-lovers (doubleentendre fully intended—they’re a married couple) named Jordan and Justine Hurder. They make gorgeous little books under the name Chance Press, and Jordan just wrote a piece on a new book of Serafini’s—his first in many years, I believe—an illustrated edition of Jules Renard’s Storie Naturali. Anyone interested in Codex stuff should really know about these two. The Renard post is here: luigi-serafini-storie-naturali-photogallery/ Ω

Codex Seraphinia

anus, by Luigi Serafini. Pictured is the cover of the Abbeville Press Edition, 1983.






Q/A Kevin Sampsell is an editor (Portland Noir and other books), publisher (Future Tense Books), bookstore employee (Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon) and author (Creamy Bullets and his new memoir, A Common Pornography). A friendly gentleman, he was gracious enough to chat with us recently about sports and memoir. Propeller: One of the many things I liked about A Common Pornography was your ability to discuss or describe your relationship to sports in a way that seemed perfectly natural. There are books that are specifically about sports, of course, but what I mean is that in “non-sports books,” we often see depictions of the negative aspects of sports (the awfulness of P.E., for instance, or cruel jocks) without many references to sports as something most people watch, at least a bit. Did you make any conscious decisions about how many entries in your book

would be about sports? Or did you have a sense about how long a chapter like the one about the death of football player J.V. Cain “should” be to make it work in your book overall? Kevin Sampsell: I didn’t have any preconceived idea about how much sports I should have in the book, but I knew they had to be mentioned. I think for a lot of kids, whether you’re a jock or outcast or something in between, sports can be an escape or true passion that you cling to. I know that it was for me in a lot of ways. I’d stay up late shooting baskets in the driveway until it got dark. I’d look forward to playing football every weekend with my brother and his friends. I’m still a big sports fan—basketball and football, anyway—and I still get nervous and excited watching a game. It’s kind of funny. My usual demeanor is kind of quiet and low key, but if you see me watching a game I can get all excited


and start shouting at the TV and pacing like a coach on the sideline. As far as that J.V. Cain chapter goes, I probably could have done more research and written more about him, but I just wanted to make the chapter be what I remembered about his death. I am curious if that chapter actually makes people stop and google J.V. Cain. Interesting side note: one of the first books I ever read was Brian’s Song, when I was in 8th grade. And of course, it made me cry. Propeller: Well, we have that in common, except that I think your relationship with Brian’s Song is more literary than mine, because I’m not sure I read the book. Maybe. But I definitely know that I watched—and cried during—the movie version with James Caan and Billy Dee Williams. In fact, I can remember that when I got into junior high school I avoided watching Brian’s Song with some friends once—I think I suggested we watch something else—because I knew I would cry, and I didn’t want them to see me cry. As a kid, I also cried while reading The Other Side of the Mountain, which was actually a novelization of a 1970s TV movie about Jill Kinmont, a skier who was paralyzed after a crash. (I never saw the TV movie, I only read the little paperback book version—two or three times, I

think.) Besides Brian’s Song, were there other sports-oriented books you remember having an effect on you when you were growing up? Or writers whose sports writing particularly entertained you? Kevin Sampsell: I didn’t read other sports books—or really any books—for most of my childhood. I was always a big fan of those yearly football magazines, though, the ones with all the rosters and schedules and predictions. I still pick one up each year. I became more of a serious reader when I was about 22. Can’t remember reading any good sports books in the last twenty years, though. Can you think of any? Propeller: Oh, there’s a whole genre of easyor middle-reader sports fiction for kids, or at least there was when we were kids. What they do, essentially, is narrativize the attractions of looking at those rosters and schedules and predictions. One of the big names in the genre was a guy named Matt Christopher, who wrote tons of these books—Catcher With a Glass Arm and The Boy Who Only Hit Homers are a couple I remember, but he wrote about all sports. In most of these books, you follow a kid (usually a boy) through his sports season, often game by game, and you live the dramas of that season with him. Of course, he’s usually going to


learn something about himself or about others through his or the team’s struggles, but the surface attraction is often that you learn the team’s players and you have an understanding of what their schedule will be like, and then as the reader you are vicariously along for the up and downs of the wins and the losses. I want to ask about something else you mentioned, though, which is that you’re normally low key, but get excited when watching sports. I think a lot of people can relate to that. I’ve often felt that sports, from a narrative aspect, are really some of the most challenging (and sometimes brutal) narratives a person can experience. In a romantic comedy, you have this kind of background security that you know the couple is going to end up together, but when you’re watching a game, there’s none of that security. The “story” of the game might appear to be that your team is coming back and will triumph in the fourth quarter, but that might not happen, because sports are essentially episodic, and what makes people shout at the screen is that kind of simultaneously addictive and awful feeling that anything could happen at any moment—there’s zero security. But I describe all of that because one of the things that made your memoir addictive for me as a reader was that you’ve used an episodic structure—a large number of short chapters—

“Sometimes really obvious things like that don’t occur to me. They’re like accidents in the process.” and I quickly felt that in this story of your life, I really had no idea what was going to happen next. I just turned immediately to the next episode. How did you hit upon this way of organizing the book? And did you have a “strategy” or guiding sense of how you would order or organize these episodes? Kevin Sampsell: I like the way you describe it, that “what will happen next” quality. I didn’t really think of that when I was putting it together. Sometimes really obvious things like that don’t occur to me. They’re like accidents in the process. I don’t approach my writing in a hyperanalytical way. I’ve seen a few reviews of my books that talk about how they’re doing this or that and stealing tricks from other fancy writers and I don’t know what the heck they’re talking about. I have to keep a dictionary close to de-

Sampsell getting ready for work. 1984 or 1985.


if they had chain nets, if the competition were “hackers” or the “occasional college player.” I found a copy of it a couple years ago so I have it in my possession again. I bet you eighty percent of the courts are still around. Good courts never seem to die. Propeller: Oh, yeah, you mention that one in your book, in the chapter called “Dunk Contests.” You also mention you were a 76ers fan growing up, and that your Mom took you to Burger King to celebrate their 1983 title, which I love. People these days always seem to compare the top pro players to Jordan—and sure, fine, cipher it! So, I guess the short answer is that I he was amazing—but it sometimes seems as if didn’t really have a strategy, but rather a tone I they’ve entirely forgotten about Julius Erving. was going for. And a lot of memories to sort out Do you have some Dr. J memories, from 1983 or into some kind of narrative. any other season, that you still carry with you? And before you get to the next question, I just remembered another sports book I totally loved Kevin Sampsell: I have memories about a lot as a kid. I somehow found this book called the of those guys, from Julius and Moses Malone to In Your Face Basketball Book. It was this great Bobby Jones and Andrew Toney. That one Julius rundown of outdoor basketball courts all over Erving dunk that you see a lot, the one against the country and the kind of people that play the Lakers where he cradles the ball as Michael pick-up games there. I was pretty obsessed with Cooper tries to get out of the way—that’s a thing this thing and I fantasized about traveling the of beauty. The thing about Julius is that he had States, playing at all those different courts. Each huge hands. The ball looks like an orange when description had these really cool symbols next he has it. I also remember that sweet bank shot to it that told you all the little details, like if the that he had, too. Tim Duncan has done that court was lighted, if there was a water fountain, shot a lot in his career now as well, but it looks

less graceful when he does it. Dr. J was smooth. Propeller: There’s another charming NBA reference in your book, when you describe the time you and a friend found some discarded basketball jerseys that said “Echo” on the front, and you decide that will be the name of a planet the two of you are from, and that your enemy planet will be Lovetron, the planet Darryl Dawkins sometimes rambled about in a kind of inspired-by-Sun-Ra way. Now that you’re many years removed from your Spokane childhood and the years covered in A Common Pornography, how often do you still find time for basketball? Are you still strapping on your Chucks to defeat Lovetron and their abominable Nikes? Kevin Sampsell: I finally let myself wear Nikes recently. Last Christmas my friend regifted a pair of Nikes to me because they didn’t fit him. I had never worn Nikes before that. I like them now. I’m not a big shoe snob anymore. To tell you the truth, I don’t think Cons are the best anymore because I’m more concerned with style. I like Pumas or Adidas more for the looks. But as far as playing goes, I don’t get a chance too much. I like to go out and shoot every other week or so when it’s nice out, but it’s hard to avoid the rain and wet courts here. My jump- The Doctor, dunking. 1981. shot isn’t bad, though. Ω









By Evan P. Schneider


y early spring of 1841, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s employment with the Boston Custom House had come to an end. Then in his late 30s, Hawthorne had just published his first collection of short stories, Twice-Told Tales, to little acclaim, and he was occupationally free to explore lifestyle options for himself and his brideto-be, Sophia Peabody. So in April, though scholars are not wholly in agreement as to why, he packed up a few possessions and headed off into the forest to learn how to grow food, tend the land, and raise animals at Brook Farm, a transcendentalist experiment in communal living among the woods of eastern Massachusetts. The Hawthorne that readers most often encounter in the 21st century—almost exclusively by way of high school drudgery—is the Hawthorne who surveys the landscape of Puritanical guilt and repentance via the likes of The Scarlet Letter and “The Minister’s Black Veil.” Lesser known, but perhaps more fascinating, is the Hawthorne who was as deeply interest-

ed—at least for a time—as Emerson and Thoreau in the ideals of transcendentalist protest; the Hawthorne who for a summer was “transformed,” as he writes in a letter, “into a complete farmer” in an environment he regarded “one of the most beautiful places” he ever saw; the Hawthorne who by the end of that very same summer, though, was ready to swear off, once and for all, the eco-minded and cooperative living he had found there. Enter The Blithedale Romance, a novel not widely considered one of Hawthorne’s best, but a tale based on the writer’s farm-filled summer that he published in 1852, some ten years after his stint at Brook Farm. In it, dandy poet narrator Miles Coverdale decides to escape bustling city life to take up residence at an idyllic and secluded community, where he makes friends with a bewitchingly intelligent and lovely feminist named Zenobia, a workhorse philanthropist named Hollingsworth, and a waifish young orphan girl named Pris-


Daguerrotype of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Whipple & Black, c. 1850–1855.

reminding current-day eco-praising locavores “Brook Farm’s that the desire to have chickens in the backand vegetables in planter boxes is not as brand of rural Ro- yard revolutionary, sustainable, or utopian as we all manticism seems might think. hereas globalism was the bent of the to be enjoying a reW 1990s—if not the whole of the 20th newed popularity.” century itself—Brook Farm’s brand of rural cilla. What transpires between them is mostly dry highfalutin debates sustained over hours of hoeing and cooking, with one or two curious and furtive forest meetings—that is, until the narrator poet goes back to the city, having tired of the whole experience. “I was beginning,” Coverdale thinks to himself, “to lose the sense of what kind of a world it was, among innumerable schemes of what it might or ought to be.” As its characters lose their physical way and their moral bearings, each attempting to discern the most responsible means of existing together, and as the rural union itself begins to crumble, the novel becomes one in which a disillusioned Hawthorne indirectly criticizes the reasons people seek to leave society. While The Blithedale Romance can hardly be used to exemplify Hawthorne’s literary prowess, it nonetheless remains a convincing testament to the dangers inherent in communal living. Furthermore, the book goes a great distance in

Romanticism seems to be enjoying a vigorous and renewed popularity in the form of contemporary anti-Industrialism. Lawns everywhere are being uprooted, and expansive vegetable gardens put down in their place. Major newspapers routinely run articles about how live chickens and goats are the new decorative yard gnomes, and how small communities across the country are dedicating themselves to growing, buying, and eating locally, with reference to the calendar. Michael Pollan’s books on food and food systems are by now mainstream commodities, and even my mother calls to tell me she saw Oprah and Martha talking about ways to live more organically. With all this environmental “green” commotion—eating what’s in season, minding our carbon footprint, supporting farmers, and compost, compost, compost—it’s fair to wonder if we’ve haven’t wandered into some Neo-Neo-Romantic era. The romantic (Romantic?) envy of many


“‘Green-ness’ itself has already been co-opted and marketed back to us by makers of automobiles and bottled water—the very products environmentalists most often speak out against.” neighborhoods is now the yard from which not a drop of rainwater escapes unused, and the excited talk of the housing blogosphere is intimate square footage rather than baroque and unwieldy vastness. It has even become fashionable to consider getting off “the grid” entirely, and then to invite friends to live at self-made sustainable communes. And as we all know, “green-ness” itself has already been co-opted and marketed back to us by makers of automobiles and bottled water—the very products environmentalists most often speak out against. Instead of passing each other impersonally in the fluorescent aisles of the supermarket where everything is flown in from—gasp—South America, we convene at the farmers market and buy up each other’s merchandise, while

wholesome bluegrass music reminds us of our humble organic origins. The modern day run at revolutionizing our world is one in which we’re trying to have fewer cars clog our streets so that we can hear the hum of bicycle tires. Earth and soil and health and community—why haven’t we thought of this before? We have, of course. Steward Brand, publisher of The Whole Earth Catalog back in the 1960s and 70s, would have us remember the “firstwave” environmental movement of those decades. But that wasn’t actually the first wave. Or, at the very least, the steps Brand and his clan took thirty years ago beg comparison to an earlier era still—the 1840s—during which more than fifty different agrarian-centric communal experiments sprouted up across the country.

Brook Farm with Rainbow. Josiah Wolcott, 1845. Image from the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.


And Hawthorne joined one because he was like us: he wanted to find another way.


n a letter to his sister Louisa that Hawthorne penned shortly after arriving at Brook Farm, he earnestly exclaims, “I have milked a cow!” Hawthorne’s excitement is that of someone learning about natural cycles and truly experiencing Earth systems for the first time. Admittedly, who hasn’t grinned widely when picking fruit off the vine, or when convening with nature in some way that one doesn’t often experience in a city park? The Bowdoin graduate had begun to rise early every morning to tend to the chores of a full-on small-scale farm, hoping to then spend the afternoons writing. “We found,” Hawthorne writes to his fiancée later on in his stay, “white and purple grapes, in great abundance, ripe, and gushing with rich juice when the hand pressed their clusters.” His sincere response to the affect of the countryside is the very core of Romanticism. The life he was living at Brook Farm, as well as the life he depicts at Blithedale, were undergone, as Coverdale says, “in quest of a better life.” The dichotomous relationship between the urban and rural lifestyle that Coverdale uses when saying, “Air, that had not be been breathed… Air, that had not been spoken into words of falsehood, formality, and error, like all the air

“Pigs! Good heavens, had we come out from among the swinish multitude, for this?” of the dusky city!” is really just a 19th century version of the same oppostions we still banter around today in discussing conventional/organic, sprawl/sustainable, or local/not, whereby the city is vilified, and the rustic triumphs as emotional and moral victor. Like Hawthorne, Coverdale is overcome with how great it is to be in the openness of the country. Unfortunately, it wears off. He is not long in residence at Blithedale before he cries out, “Pigs! Good heavens, had we come out from among the swinish multitude, for this?” Reality sets in. It doesn’t take Coverdale much time to believe that “in reference to some discussion about raising early vegetables for the market—We shall never make any hand at market-gardening.” The life of the farmer is hard and humble, and therein lies one of the most contemporarily-relevant aspects of the novel: it questions our own swooning infatuation with the pastoral, and the way many of us have brought that lifestyle into

Brook Farm, 2008. vogue—and onto our property—without fully understanding what it means or what it takes. In other words: If rural farm life was that great and that sustainable, why did we collectively give it up?

Meandering through the pages of Blithedale, it’s difficult not to see the similarities between its growing number of us in the 21st century who are taking up an Earth-friendly rhetoric more energetically every day. There are many


cries to raze our food, transportation, or health systems and replace them entirely, and they sound similar to the folks at Brook Farm who intended, as Phillip McFarland writes in Hawthorne at Concord, “to save the world by setting a good example.” The self-secluded activists like George Ripley and Margaret Fuller, upon whom Hawthorne drew in writing Blithedale, wanted little more than to live sustainably (veganism, for example, was a documented practice even back in the 1840s), pool their labor, share their knowledge, be collectively self-sufficient, and thereby offer a model solution to the ills of their world. These groups emphatically turned their backs on the unhealthy habits of society, and preached a back-to-the-land movement. “How difficult a task we had in hand,” Hawthorne writes near the beginning of Blithedale, “for the reformation of the world.” By the middle of the story, Hollingsworth, a character whose utopian designs include building a giant institution for the reformation of criminals, goes on a sort of tirade and yells, “Your fantastic aspirations make me discern, all the more forcibly, what a wretched, unsubstantial scheme is this [farm], on which we have wasted a precious summer of our lives. Do you seriously imagine that any such realities as you, and many others here, have dreamed of, will ever be brought to pass?”

But Coverdale is in the thick of a daydream about one day when the members of Blithedale will be remembered as farmer-hero-saviors of the future world, people who had prescience enough to make a change toward a “simple, natural, and active life”—a change that would, in effect, save the entire world from the clutches of unhealthy urban industrial destruction.


rook Farm burned down. This was in 1846, though, five years after Hawthorne had shoveled his share of dung there through the hottest months of the year. Though its remaining residents tried to rebuild it, the enthusiasm surrounding the endeavor had evaporated, and people began to leave. They were unable to keep alight the “warm and bright beacon-fire” Hawthorne describes the characters of Blithedale as having in mind, a fire which they “kindled for humanity.” In the novel, Coverdale states that he and his kin are in “a day of crisis,” and “in the critical vortex.” With a very serious global warming conundrum to be solved, a rising world population, massive food and clean water shortages, a dwindling supply of non-renewable energy, and many clogged transportation systems, it’s hard not to think we are in just such a critical place. Just as importantly, though—and as Hawthorne would perhaps counsel—we would be


Brook Farm print shop, 2008. wise to make certain that in going green, we aren’t just slumming in want of entertainment. Giving up a fancy lawn for corn and leeks and heirloom varieties of umpteen different tomatoes could prove just another passing fad. “Though we saw fit to drink our tea out of earthen cups tonight,” Hawthorne writes, “and in earthen company, it was at our own option to use pictured porcelain and handle silver forks again, tomorrow.” One of the lessons of Blithedale is that if and when we fill our yards with chickens and grow-

ing food, we might eventually come to feel like Coverdale: “I seriously wished that the reformation of society had been postponed about half-acentury, or at all events, to such a date as should have put my intermeddling with it entirely out of the question. What, in the name of commonsense, had I to do with any better society than I had always lived in!” The reality is that dirt is dirty, animals are animals, and if you’re going to sustain yourself at a remove from society, it’s going to be a lot of work. The most enlightening revelation of The

“I confess to you, my dear Sir, it is my present belief that I can best attain the higher ends of my life by retaining the ordinary relation to society.” Blithedale Romance and Hawthorne’s time at Brook Farm is not that the well-known writer couldn’t hack it as a farmer, though. Neither is it that people, even the most forward- and collective-thinking among us, are egotistic and selfserving in the innermost recesses of their being. It’s that when we seek to overhaul a system we believe is failing, there are going to be millions and millions of different opinions on what must be done to fix it. The opinion that survives in the pages of Blithedale, as Hawthorne gripes, via fiction, about the failures of farming and socialism, is that “real life never arranges itself exactly like a romance” and that “honesty and wisdom are such delightful pastimes—at another person’s expense.” In a letter to David Mack dated May, 1842, in which Hawthorne considers the merits of in-

vesting himself back into a communal farm, he writes that the most important question is “how my intellectual and moral condition, and ability to be useful, would be affected by merging myself in a community. I confess to you, my dear Sir, it is my present belief that I can best attain the higher ends of my life by retaining the ordinary relation to society.” Blithedale poses the question of whether removal from society is praiseworthy at all. Total removal, nowadays, is almost wholly impossible, but people can still distance themselves from participation in what they see as mainstream destruction and unhealthiness. Hawthorne seems to suggest that going a step further—undertaking a revolution of that mainstream system—needs to be done carefully, or the result could be as regrettable as the system it replaced.


hilanthropy,” Coverdale reflects at the novel’s end, when tragedy of some variety has struck down almost every character associated with the farm, “when adopted as a profession, to be often useful by its energetic impulse to society at large, is perilous to the individual.” Using a metaphor of alcoholic distillation, Hawthorne goes further and posits, through Coverdale, that when we use philanthropy, like local farming, to forcefully reform world systems, it “ruins the heart,” because “the rich juices of which God never meant should be pressed violently out,” will ultimately render life bland. Is it unwise to think about our individual contributions to the world’s decimation, or how we may be inadvertently polluting or reinforcing awful systems? Of course not—it’s helpful to the health of our bodies and our planet to think about what we consume, where it comes from, and how long it will last. But The Blithedale Romance suggests that the desire to overthrow an entire system—seeing a utopian alternative on the horizon if we can get everyone to give up their cars, eat organic, and stop consuming so much—is just as dangerous. The true test, of course, of the lasting power of this third-wave environmentalism—like the two that have preceded it—will be how many seasons its proponents can keep it up. Chickens are noisy birds, and vegetables can be difficult

to keep alive. Cows need milking, and other animals run off. Just as some people are naturals at community organizing and others good at running businesses, still others are great at farming. The beauty of a free society is that we all have the possibility to do what we like—or at least not to have to do what we don’t. Socialistoriented communities—or at least Hawthorne’s experience of them—can require us to give up far more than what we get in return. It’s also possible that Hawthorne just wasn’t cut out for farming. And maybe he just wanted to vent about how poorly that summer turned out. But the question remains: was it even necessary for him to be self-sufficient in the first place? And maybe Blithedale, like the real-life Brook Farm on which it was based, was not particularly well organized. But that still leaves the central question: must we wholly detach ourselves from society in order to revolutionize it? For Hawthorne, the answer seems clear. “Is it a praiseworthy matter that I have spent five golden months,” he muses near the end of the summer in another letter to his sister, “in providing food for cows and horses? It is not so.” Ω


Pretty Girls Pretty girls have taken over the town Worst of all, they’ve started saying smart things All the gay people have booked it fleeing here on private planes like startled quail There’s no longer a single straight male who’s willing to stand up to them Why would he? These are extremely beautiful, talented women hurling themselves at us coming toward us on their knees fucking, sucking, giggling, gulping with beautiful nipples like lily pads in ponds of milk turning around and lifting their haunches in our general directions and smiling back at us bright as the sun? What the fuck are we supposed to do?

Get laid and be intellectual all day? This is like getting sunburned without pain It’s like we’re all out by the pool getting drunk and laughing making fun of the weak and it’s fucking beautiful and the city is the pool— streetlights, people, boulevards— the girls are everywhere the city is each one prettier than the next looking up at you with “fuck me” eyes and start to feel like Swiss cheese full of all the holes of all your future orgasms and they’re quoting French poetry and Foucault and Zukofsky and your own poetry back to you whenever you converse with them The city thronged, colossal with them Wielding their eyes like fresh bait but without any hooks but invincible minds

and luscious breasts and they’re not afraid to talk about anything and everything they say is erotic and clever and wildly clear and everywhere they go they’re exquisitely garmented in colorful fabrics from distant locales … of different ethnicities and body-image types and political persuasions spouting off their various philosophies of the world in sensual accents and they can cook and they’re all wealthy with shining hair and fucking comprehensive liberal arts educations from major schools … in magnificent skirts Powerful, gorgeous, flirtatious libraries of womanhood you can just stroll through for free, flowing everywhere and they get all your jokes

and they gasp when they laugh at them and you get all theirs which are as close as they can be to your own jokes in hilariousness without surpassing them “… not better, just different” so you’re never insecure and they want you to fuck them in a manly style in different positions against things, bent over things hard from behind, slow from below… whatever and they gasp when you fuck them and you gasp whenever they say what they think about anything and their real idea of who you really are finally fits your own ideal idea and they’re all individuals… sweet, dimpled, and complex who unilaterally adore paradox and the phrase “too good to be true” comes roaring to mind and that’s what’s so fucked up, it is true and you can’t fucking believe it This is like breaking up with someone “… because I love you too much”

This is like hurling a briefcase of money off a cliff into the ocean because “it’s just too much money” Watching it fall pop open mid-air, spewing loose bills—fuck! No! Why did I do that?! Watching the wind whisk the money away out to sea Watching the case splash below—mystical, insignificant—instantly erased by waves That is how stupid this is Leaving this city That’s why I’m doing it Because I can’t take all this shit all the time Getting everything you want, all the time There’s nothing to do I’ve got to get here, not be here I’ll be back

Story There once was a man in love with a woman, but he couldn’t tell her. He wasn’t a coward. He wasn’t someone who was afraid of love. He was brave, and he loved love. It just would’ve burned down the town. The woman was with someone else in the town, a prominent man, and beloved. Everything was dark and political. The man who loved the woman didn’t want to upset her in her involvement with the other man, whom he also admired, and whom the woman also loved, very deeply, and who also loved her in return, perhaps even more than the first man, the main man in the story. It was an old story. All true stories are. It wasn’t complex, and it doesn’t even need to be told, but I’m telling it, because I have to say something. The woman loved the man she was not with, too, but was terrified of disappointing the man she was with, the prominent man, whom she admired in myriad ways, because he had so many things going for him, and amazing, decent characteristics— except perhaps for the one characteristic she most admired in the other man, the first man in the story, which sometimes felt to her like a much more powerful characteristic.

Of course. It was the most powerful characteristic there is. That’s what makes this a story. It is—in fact—the story. But the man loved the woman enough not to tell her because once something like that is said— once something like that is released into the air where it takes up physical space, and has a physical manifestation like a cloud of speech just sort of hanging there—dense, frail, almighty— at least for those who love language and believe in its majesty as everyone in this town happened to—well, language like that cannot long remain inactive. It calls action forth, out of the body. That is what powerful, believed language does. It is the wind in front of the locomotive that pulls the rest of the train into the future. If something true is said between two people, it must then be behaved. This was the saddest thing. The one piece of language with the greatest tenderness and force was the one piece of language that would’ve unspooled the whole place—the town— the place with the most faith in language or at least more faith than any other place the first man had ever been. That was how he found himself there. Of course. That was why he came. This was exactly why he was there. But he never uttered a word—and let me tell you, this man was loquacious. This man loved to utter things more than living, more than life itself. Can you imagine what that must have meant for him?

Because he didn’t live his life in life, but in language this man who otherwise felt unimprisonable—not by geography, not by mortality, nor even by the corporeal boundaries of his own body— nevertheless felt utterly imprisoned by the unuttered thing. And found himself surrounded by a force more powerful than language. As a result, his love was only hinted at, dreamed, dissolved in hyperbole, watered down in understatement, dispersed by the capricious winds of comedy, and slowly drained by the passage of time. And although consistently, gloriously revived and ever more-torturously detailed inside his own imagination, his love was ultimately run away from, and self-torn down, and reigned in the very moment it threatened to spill out of his mind, through his mouth, into the reality of the town. The story is important to tell because the town was real. Frankly, it should have been told much earlier, with greater urgency, perhaps to a different audience, and from a different point of view than it is currently being told now, by me. Because in spite of everything in the man’s mind, the town went on almost exactly as it had before, with very little difference. The insignificance of the difference was shocking to both the man and the woman and its net effect on them ended up being nothing more than the crudest, most Philistine knowledge imaginable— that of better understood sociopolitical equilibriums. Time passed.

The man internalized the sky so the sky would remain blue for the woman and the other man and everyone else in the town. The man internalized the mountains surrounding the town so the sky stayed in place. The man internalized the buildings so the buildings stayed standing. The man even internalized his own friends, and his friends remained friends, and the friends of those friends remained friends with the friends of the friends of those friends— the entire town knit together with the man’s internalizations knit further together by the unuttered thing like a ball of lightning without any thunder located in the center of his chest, where his heart used to be. So, one day, when the town suddenly burned to the ground, it must have been for a different reason. And when the man and woman finally found themselves in the dark, in each other’s arms, untying the knot of each other’s minds with each other’s bodies, in the bath of pale light cast by the flames of the town, lighting the face of the man and woman while it played in the eyes of the other—well, it must have been something else that did it. Because the woman would have never loved the man as she eventually came to, had he not been able to hold the thing in for as long as he had, under such tremendous pressure and held the town together—the town she loved.

Maybe someone new came to town and changed everything. Maybe it was a natural disaster, or an act of God. Maybe sociopolitical equilibriums were never understood quite well enough. Maybe instead the immutable forces inherent in all human systems, the serendipitous error, if you will, woven within, instead of being its obstacle, drove everything to this. Whatever it was it was a force more powerful than language. Now, this is how the man ends the story when he makes love to the woman. He looks at her and says, It doesn’t end, it isn’t a story. It’s a poem.


Marci Washington Deth P. Sun


By Shea’la Finch


arci Washington moved a lot when she was a kid. Like most children with shifting environments, she turned to something stable to keep herself grounded. Marci carved out a place for herself in books—since they were portable and easy to keep on hand—and aspired to become a writer from a young age. “The first drawing that I remember making was a portrait of Greta Garbo from an old Vanity Fair book at my grandmother’s house when I was ten years old.” Aside from that single portrait, however, the visual arts simply weren’t a consideration for the young bookworm. It wasn’t until high school that Marci developed an affinity for painting, and even then it was borne out of a desire to be with her friends. Enrolled in an arts magnet high school, Marci

forged the signatures needed to enroll in the same AP Painting class all of her friends were in. Growing frustrated by the specificity of writing, Marci found that painting allowed for the mystery and suggestion she sought for her work. “I wanted to make something more open ended and mysterious and that could mean one thing to me but was also open to interpretation. Painting let me talk about things in a veiled language that felt really safe, but also closer to the truth.” With that realization, Marci left high school in 1996—when she was only sixteen— and enrolled in art school. Ten years later, I began working with Marci when we first featured her work on Tiny Showcase. Even then, without knowing her history, I called her a reader’s painter. Her work cen-


tered on tragic figures seemingly familiar to me from a teenagehood spent devouring The Brontes, Dickens and Henry James. If you unbound a stack of Victorian social commentary novels and interleafed them again with stills from haunting horror films, you would begin to understand the terrain Marci was treading, as if Jane Eyre had met a cannibal, or if The Turn

of the Screw had cranked up the lust. Marci’s painted characters, in short, were caught in a landscape of their own creation, and were being devoured by it and each other. At that time, however, there was still something sweet to Marci’s vision, and over the past few years her work has begun to shed that coyness and stare the viewer full in the face. Marci’s


paintings no longer merely suggest, but now overtly attest to things that give us the creeps after dark—those thoughts that keep us awake until the blue light of morning, dark ghosts of our weaknesses and the elements beyond our control that dictate our lives. No matter how gruesome her creatures become, or how low we see them sink, Marci’s subjects still stir a deep empathy. We feel for them in the way we feel for others when we watch them suffer from their environment and their own inner turmoil, only to watch them finally succumb. Similar to the working style of a writer, Marci remains alert to her surroundings, gleaning inspiration from her environment. Her paintings usually begin from a photograph or a scene in a film, although admittedly sometimes Marci has

an idea of what she wants to have happen in the story and looks for a photo that’s doing what she needs. “Found imagery is really important,” she says. “It’s like I’m finding evidence of this feeling, this situation in our culture, like the photo is proof that it really exists.” Through drawing, she recasts the scene into her own story, heightening the sensation of what she feels lurks beneath the surface. It takes approximately twenty hours to paint one foot of Marci’s signature wallpaper, the patterns that drape the background of her scenes, defining the indulgent ambience that allows for an air of neglect to haunt her atmospheres. The last painting she completed, a 44” x 30” piece, took 157 hours. Dismissing the need for “natural talent” as a

Connor Collins


necessity for a career as an artist, Marci taught herself to draw through hours of hard work and determination, in spite of frustration. If anything, Marci continues to dispel the myth of the “genius artists” who effortlessly create brilliance from their madness. “Everyone I know who’s really good,” she says, “just works really hard. No matter how well you draw, if you’re not using

your own voice to express the certain way you see the world—your own foggy lens of history and personal experience—no one’s gonna care. If you have something you need to say, you’ll find the skills you need, no matter what.”


hen I was little,” says Deth P. Sun, “if I didn’t know what to draw, I’d just go

Connor Collins

through a room and spend the day trying to draw everything in it.� Deth, who began drawing when he was five, claims he wasn’t remarkably gifted, but simply loved to draw, and as such, filled his hours sketching every object in a single room or picking a letter in the encyclopedia and drawing everything listed under it. Drawing often and from such an early age, Deth

developed a skill that seems effortless. To watch him making lines with confidence on a scrap of paper at the kitchen table or in his sketchbook, it’s difficult to think of his talent as anything but natural. Cataloging his world visually since childhood, these days he has been keeping a food journal, drawing everything he eats and drinks in a day.


Begun as a way to monitor his eating habits, the journal has become a captivating archive of the food and drink that punctuate Deth’s life. Its pages filled with small, labelled sketches, the journal resembles a Richard Scarry book, an illustrator Deth cites as an inspiration. To look through any other of Deth’s sketchbooks is a similar experience—another catalog, but of his familiar characters and the objects that daily surround him. Deth pulls from these sketchbooks when developing his finished work. Sometimes painting a scene from a film, other times of his own invention, he transposes these sketches into scenes that create alternate realities where cat-heroes embark on quests as often as they consult kiosks for local maps. As with Marci Washington—to whom he is engaged—I first began working with Deth in 2006, at which time he was creating worlds filled with what can only be described as an unyield-

ing sense of purpose. While trailing through dark woods, shallow waters, on the verge of a battle or reflecting afterwards, his characters seemed certain that fate would tell them where to go next. Seeing his characters living so truly, holding fast to their sincerity, it’s easy to replace the trees of the forest with the city, the anonymous monsters with our everyday concerns. It’s similarly easy to see an invisible sash across Deth’s chest as he goes about his days, quietly allegiant to some abstract principal. As a child, Deth once decided to skip school. He hid in the backyard until his parents left for work and then spent the day at home without doing much at all, before coming to the realization that skipping school wasn’t any more fun than going to school. Thus, he never did it again. It wasn’t fear of punishment that led to his decision to stay true to the rules, but instead a rational consideration of what was more interesting.


At one point early in his career, Deth was offered a position illustrating for a skate company—an opportunity which carries a certain prestige for most young illustrators—but Deth didn’t skate, and so he turned it down. Though Deth still won’t draw for a company he can’t get behind, such decisions to turn down offers are never made out of righteousness, but rather with an everyday air of logic. “I just naturally draw the things I feel like drawing,” Deth says, “and stop when I don’t feel like drawing them anymore.” Deth’s newer pieces possess the same certainty of mood, only they convey a wider range of emotion than his early work. More vulnerable, more questioning, we see hero subjects beneath the covers slumbering away a winter; we see them emerge with a rainbow of energy projecting behind them, wielding a sword in a sea of kind ghosts. In Deth’s work one can in fact witness an entire spectrum of consciousness, the ebb and flow of confidence and of certainty, and, as has been the case with his work for many years, subtle humor. These are cat-heroes, after all. This balance of confidence and vulnerability, lightened by quiet wit, is also reflected in Deth’s

many hand-drawn typesets. Sometimes made of bones, sometimes wood, his typography announces a balanced range of sentiments from “dear friend” to “damn bitches,” not unlike the marginalia of our own minds. In his book I See It All, for example, chopped wood with spindly live branches spell out the word “Heavy”, and it feels heavy, with small leaves and thin tendrils of hopefulness reaching out to the light. Thoroughly devoid of agenda, Deth draws what he likes, and it’s a lucky alignment, a fortunate accident, that the worlds he continues to create tap into our own alternate realities. We are all wearing invisible sashes across our chests. We are slaying fictitious monsters for the people we hold close as often as we are spending our winters four-blankets deep, regenerating our powers for the spring, when we will emerge, maybe not with a rainbow radiating behind us, but maybe, at the very least, with the sun at our back and an easier, more confident air in our stride. Ω





By Lucas Bernhardt


eople looking for reasons to dislike poetry usually find them, and in this regard Landis Everson’s work is exemplary. If you choose, Everson’s poems can seem a string of hermetic (though published!) hieroglyphs, or a rather plodding assemblage of meditative narratives. They even look like poems. For some, such as the Library Journal’s Diane Sharper, “all of the poems are cut out of a similar surreal cloth” from which Everson tailors a dreamcoat that “lacks transcendence.” Others may find his associations with either the avant-garde or with the Poetry Foundation reason enough to cut bait. Still others may feel that he lost his spark after breaking with Spicer and the Berkeley Renaissance crowd, and truly his later poems possess a modesty out of place in a self-identifying Renaissance. Usually when people don’t like poetry, there is nothing to be done. If you are an open-minded poetry enthusiast, you think to yourself some-

thing along the lines of, Well, I can’t stand opera, and there’s nothing really wrong with me, and move on. However, it sometimes happens that providing a little context is all it takes to usher the unenthused into the kingdom of a particular imagination. In Everson’s case, it may be enough to mention that he ended his own life—and for many every word of his later poems is bathed in a light at once both infinitely accessible and infinitely mysterious. For the purposes of this essay, I ask you to join with me in assuming that, despite its merits, using Everson’s suicide as a key to the lock on the door of the essential meaning of his poems will not grant us access to the rooms of edification. Instead I would like to describe for you my home town, San Luis Obispo, California, and to forge certain links between this city in which Everson lived out the last years of his life and the content of the poems he wrote during that time.


We’ll begin slowly. San Luis Obispo translates to St. Luis the Bishop. It is home to the Madonna Inn, a fanciful if tacky place where one enters the men’s room and finds the urinal is a waterfall. In Everson’s poems, Victory is a primitive corruption of love. San Luis Obispo also boasts the one and only “Bubblegum Alley”. Yes, an alley coated in bubblegum graffiti from well above where even the tallest locals can reach without the assistance of a ladder down to the sidewalk, featuring names, letters, occasional phrases and illustrations surrounded by a galaxy of individual blobs. Everson’s pearls orbit, encircle, persevere, cancel, humble, withdraw, are, open, get, harbor, repeat. Once I paused in the middle of Bubblegum Alley and stared into what looked like a mummified layer of gum. To my left, way down the alley, a couple of dudes appeared to be exchanging money for drugs. To my right, a family of Japanese tourists were filming the attraction. In Everson, you will find some reasonably good reporting. Despite its ideal climate (described as ‘cool Mediterranean’), beauty, and proximity to major cities, San Luis Obispo has succeeded in not growing much.

I am sorry, but Landis Everson is not the avenger of Jack Spicer’s victims—though perhaps of Jack Spicer. He is, rather, someone who likes the way other writers smell. Even now, Everson is really quite timid. Likewise in San Luis (locals call it San Luis), scores are never really settled, every contest is a scrimmage. You can eat all the time and stay thin, or get fat. I once heard a woman claim that she ran the only tanning salon that doesn’t cause cancer. Everson can put to rest unworthily famous pop songs with just one hand and three oblique references. San Luis Obispo was the first city in the world to ban smoking in public buildings. In Everson, Jean Harlow really slams the fucking phone down! In San Luis, Joan Baez goes to the movies with her daughter, a student at California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, reputed to have been Ronald Reagan’s favorite school. Everson is realistic when the situation calls for it, such as one’s chances with The Lost and Found lady, or lemons. Cal Poly used to host a yearly festival and open house, called ‘Poly Royal’, a bit like a county fair with an educational emphasis. I can remember demonstrations of lasers, goldfish won with a lucky toss of a ping-pong ball, and seeing the

“Bubblegum Alley,” San Luis Obispo, California.


head of a jackhammer fly off and knock a member of the crowd unconscious. In 1989, ‘Poly Royal’ degenerated into a riot resulting in hundreds of injuries and hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage, the mob all the while chanting “Free beer!” Truly. Landis Everson speaks fondly of Gulliver’s unit. At lunch, in the air above San Luis Obispo Junior High, throngs of seagulls reenact operations in the Pacific Theater. They live on the shores of nearby Laguna Lake (translation: Lake Lake). Imagine you are in Junior High, eating your lunch as the others do, out on the playing field, every day. In Everson, there is backtalk, bankruptcy, rainbows, Bach, rubber, barking, Ozma, Okinawa, Oceanside, miasma, constellations, and earplugs. In San Luis, the fog burns away by noon.

Sometimes Everson cannot help himself. You hear, —Dude! —Nah, dude. —Dude! —Nah, dude. —Dude? —Nah, dude! I won’t even begin with the Likes. Everson’s poems stump for the cause of people not paying too close attention to one another—until it catches on. San Luis Obispo also banned drive-through restaurants for a time. For Everson, a person falling in love is like Aesop boxing his fables. In San Luis, one walks in mild weather the same streets so often as to mostly forget. Likewise on the edges of Everson and San Luis there are pastures. In Everson, we meet Santa’s favorite dwarf. In San Luis, we meet Colin Wenzl, recently married. Ω

“In Everson, th Bach, rubber, miasma, const

San Luis Obispo, California. View from

here is backtalk, bankruptcy, rainbows, barking, Ozma, Okinawa, Oceanside, tellations, and earplugs.�

m Terrace Hill showing the city, Cerro San Luis Obispo and Bishop Peak. Photo by Ken Broomfield.


Just as that Tuscan s hibit “complex black mas with hints of sp vety tannins,� or a m fruity with notes of c floral aromas, antiqu olfactory pleasures t gion and soil acidity, date, use of paper, a mental factors.

style red may exk and red fruit aropicy oak and velmellow white may be citrus and hints of uarian books exhibit that vary not by re, but by publication nd other environ-


The 1920’s Jack London’s Star Rover, 2nd edition While hints of previous decades’ smokiness still linger on the page (think of smoked salt rather than woodsmoke), a slightly floral fragrance creates the main distinction in this decade. As if moving into the age of modernity, the rougher fragrance from the previous decade has been displaced by an almost milky sweetness which blends quite charmingly with the slightly brittle yellowing pages that exhibit signs of foxing. The perfect book for reading in a hammock on a warm summer afternoon.

by SarahKruse


The 1930’s John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, clothbound The paper quality here is similar to that of the 1920’s, but less foxing and a more vigorous scent emerge as a result of this decade’s mechanization. Representative of this is a lovely clothbound volume of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Just as the subject of literature was becoming more rugged in its take on the modern idea of the gritty anti-hero protagonist, the scent of this edition is devoid of that sweet smell of the 20’s. Woody notes and a clean finish make up some of the distinctions of this decade. Hints of tobacco smoke begin to develop more fully as this decade gives way to the 1940s.


The 1940’s James Joyce’s Ulysses, 1946 edition While the giant double jj on the deep turquoise cloth cover and simple block lettering of “Random House” on the spine give it away as a decade dedicated to utilitarian values in a post-war world, this tome exhibits the classic aromatic distinctions of the 1940s: earthy overtones with a finish something like the aging of autumn leaves and wet wool. The paper sports a creamy finish with lingering notes of old cigarette smoke. Since many volumes were aged in smokefilled personal libraries, a particular distinction of this era is the gentle, lingering smoke scent that can be distinguished in almost every volume published at this time.


The 1950’s Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus A 1955 edition of Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus has that aging laundry scent of the 50’s. A light, linen-like overtone mixed with an exciting thread of verbana notes give this a clean finish, with just a hint of sweetness. Recommended with early coffee on a crisp spring morning, just after a rain.


The 1960’s Herman Hesse’s Journey to the East This copy, from 1969, sports the quintessential 60’s cover of a bold line drawing in cobalt blue and canary yellow. The subtle yellowing of pages occurs only at the edges, lending each page a rosy glow. The star scent in this volume lies somewhere between dried grass and lingering incense. If this selection were a time of day, it would be a warm, late afternoon in August. The sun is low. The sky is just beginning to be tinged with pink.


Thanksgiving Armature Answering the door with an armful of tiny tinfoil pans, he said I want children. Could never feel the look on my face. I’m unfit (what I could blurt) seeing him kick G the dog in the jaw after he’d bit my ankle. Saved and frightened, my bemusement, I drank moonshine from baby food jars and set my eyes only on the smooth skin between the punctured (impossible) as his clay sculptures braced by steel rods up through the base forged the only steady conversation, a roomful of those neckless heads. Sculpt, mist, and wrap them in a black garbage bag. So few understand the skull, he argued, driving slow since the shocks were shot. He said, eyes only on the road, I’ve been accused of raping my roommate’s girlfriend. The details of the night were vague when I asked. He never said no. How I forgot or hesitate to mention.

“The Chapbook--Thanksgiving No.” Will Bradley, 1895.

Another Body Forms Sicker than a curbside rainbow, fast as a peephole double checked, she shakes off any protectors, this time three people from a party, so she can sleep on the lawn. Later, draw a pair of eyes on the palm flush with

the window. Nothing. As is, I run and run and save no one. Like a finger dipped into the glass to find out when to stop pouring,

she’s gone back to the dog living in a yard of his shit and her yelling at the man too soon. Couldn’t, large-minded, keep quiet—all rash, had to mix it up, handle it head on. Nothing but a vacant house now. You ass, like her next door neighbor who moved on to be someone else’s neighbor beating his dog.


Contributo RACHAEL WILSON is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in English at New York University. DANEEN BERGLAND is a poet and writer. In our October issue, she tested pencils.

LUCAS BERNHARDT, in addition to being a poet and writer, is a managing editor at this magazine. SARAH KRUSE works in the legal profession. In January, she wrote about the notebooks of Albert Camus. LISA SIBBETT teaches in Seattle, Washington. In October, she wrote about Rumer Godden’s An Episode of Sparrows. SHEA’LA FINCH runs Tiny Showcase, at She lives in Providence, Rhode Island.

ors RYAN TINSEL, when not performing as Roy Tinsel (, writes songs and builds cabinets in Portland, Oregon. CHERYL CLARK VERMEULEN, author of the poetry chapbook Dead-Eye Spring (Cy Gist Press), grew up outside of Chicago, and now lives in Boston, where she teaches writing. MARK LEIDNER lives and tweets in western Massachusetts.

EVAN P SCHNEIDER, in addition to being a managing editor at this magazine, is Editor-inChief of Boneshaker: A Bicycling Almanac.

BARCHAEL is the combined creative identities of Michael Bernhardt and Barry Whittaker. Barchael has shown at the Centre International D’Art Contemporain, Pont-Aven, France; Vertigo Art Space in Denver; and at Softbox in New York. More of their work can be found at

see you baby



Propeller Quarterly Volume 2, Issue 2