Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Charles Burns's X'ed Out makes me hope the next volume comes out much more quickly than Black Hole, which took ten years. First of all, the book looks beautiful, over-sized and brilliant color, reminding me a bit of those reprinted hardcover EC horror comics that I subscribed to as a young teenager. Burns has mashed up EC with Tintin into a kind of horror-adventure dreamscape. It's hard to keep track of the narrative, the multiple times and spaces Burns is playing around with. We open with a Tintin look-alike following his dead cat into an exotic, desert village, where a guide eventually helps him find something to eat--eggs--and tells him that a woman they see passing is the new queen of what appears to be a large beehive (this serves as the cliffhanger that ends the book). This part of the narrative--which we cut back to throughout the book--appears to be the vivid dream world of the main character Doug, who has been in some sort of accident (he has a bandage on his head), has haunting memories of his father, and has been (still is?) involved in an intense relationship with a photographer who has a predilection for pig fetuses and self-mutilation. Doug is something of an amateur performance artist who wears a Tintin mask and calls himself Nitnit while playing a tape of ambient noise and reading cut-up text inspired by Burroughs.

Also, large red speckled eggs make multiple appearances.

The above makes this work sound jumbled, as cut up as Burroughs perhaps, but instead of frenetic energy, we get cool, elegant, and haunting threads of story and a tension between playful wry humor and the earnest yearning of teenage angst. But what impresses me most about Burns's work, and this is true of Black Hole as well, is way the narrative follows an associative dream logic, in which repeated images surface in different contexts, vibrating with a palpable meaning that remains out of reach. The narrative is circling something (what's in those eggs? what's through that hole?), a navel, as Freud might call it, "the spot that reaches down into the unknown." One never knows what will emerge--part of the pleasure of this sort of narrative--but it will likely be both horrifying and fascinating, it will repeat itself endlessly in different guises, it will never fully come to light.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Leslie Scalapino (1944-2010)

Ron Silliman's extensive list of links, which includes some of her essays and poetry, audio readings, and reviews and discussions of her work.

One of the first books I began reading this summer after grades were due was Scalapino's selected poems It's go in horizontal (reviewed here in Jacket), and I am looking forward to reading her most recent book, Floats Horse-Floats or Horse-Flows (reviewed here at Tarpaulin Sky).

Reading Scalapino is having your mind patiently fractured, your grammar interrupted by another grammar, and by mind and grammar I mean also perception of the body, of the social and political as outside crossing inside, being thought one word at a time, word and pause, pause and word. You must pay attention.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Wigleaf has announced its Top 50 very short fictions 2010, selected by Brian Evenson. I'm happy to say my story "The Devil Called Satan Had Me for a Snack" made the list (see the stories in Action, Yes on the sidebar), and even happier to be in the company of such excellent work, both on the Top 50 and the long list. Editor Scott Garson is a great champion of this form, and he's doing a real service to writers and readers in highlighting these fictions and the journals that publish them, as he's been doing for the past few years. His foreword and Evenson's introduction are both worth reading. Garson is right that this is a "boom time" for very short fiction (which Garson's rules for selection define as under 1000 words), largely because of the editors of web journals who support this new-ish genre and the "real openness," as Garson puts it, that the form demands of both writers and readers. As Evenson writes, "The future of short-short fiction seems to me increasingly to be found online."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Those who braved the weather to walk against 55-mph winds and sideways rain and make their way to Suffolk University's Poetry Center in the Sawyer Library, overlooking Boston's Granary Burying Ground (one of my favorite views in the city), this past Thursday evening were rewarded with J. Robert Lennon's lively reading of stories from Pieces for the Left Hand, Oulipean exericses (e.g., sentences made out of every letter of the alphabet), and, the main event, a brand new and very funny short story about a college campus tour. Lennon is an engaging and inspiring speaker, and a great guy all around. I had a wonderful time chatting with him about our mutual love of David Foster Wallace, our interests in genre fiction, and hobbies such as music, cooking, photography, and raising chickens. Those hobbies are mostly his, by the way. How he has time to get any writing done is a mystery to me. He was also an excellent additional voice in that day's fiction workshop, which I'm sure the two students whose stories were discussed especially appreciated, and we all learned from.

If you don't already know Lennon's work, I urge you to seek it out. Pieces for the Left Hand, his collection of 100 (!) short short stories about a small town in upstate New York, and Castle, a haunting gothic novel that becomes a surprisingly relevant commentary on our post-9/11 world, are his most recent, and his best, in my humble opinion.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

J. Robert Lennon is reading his fiction at
Suffolk University's Poetry Center
Thursday, Feb. 25, 7 pm.
Sawyer Library
73 Tremont, 3rd Floor
Entrance around corner on Tremont Place

J. Robert Lennon is the author of six novels, including Mailman and Castle, and a short story collection, Pieces for the Left Hand. He lives in Ithaca, New York, where he teaches writing at Cornell University.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I requested--as I do with all required texts for the courses I teach--a desk copy of Lorrie Moore's short story collection Birds of America, which I am teaching in my Advanced Fiction Workshop this semester. I received instead Birds of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. While an obvious mistake, I am not unhappy. In fact, now I wish I had selected the latter as a required text in my course. A whole semester writing fiction about birds? Why not? My students' short fiction would receive a boost. Instead of the banal,

  • I stared out my window and reflected on my mother's suicide, watching the birds circle above the tree tops.

they could write,

  • I stared out my window and reflected on my mother's suicide, watching the ruby-crowned kinglets circle above the tree tops.