Lou Gaglia’s work has appeared in Untoward Magazine, Eclectica, Bartleby Snopes, and Blue Lake Review, among many others, and has a book of short stories coming out (Aqueous Books (2014). He lives and breathes in upstate New York.
April 10, 1928
Dear Mr. Faulkner,
It is with deep regret and unremitting sadness that I must return your recent submission, As I Lay Dying. Although there is much to admire in your writing, particularly your ability to impersonate several characters in one book, the novel falls short of our expectations for several reasons.
I’d like you to know in advance, Mr. Faulkner, that the criticism I offer you below has nothing to do with you personally, or your cover letter in which you state that you didn’t care if I “took the damn novel or not”, or your lack of formal education, despite your mention of having read “much Balzac and Cervantes and Anderson and skimmed a little through Hemingway,” who is one of my favorites, by the way. So is Hans Christian Anderson, if that’s the Anderson you meant.
In any event, these are the reasons I must return your novel submission with this note (and I apologize for the wine spilled on the flood section).
Style: Vardaman, only a child, unrealistically employs the stream of consciousness technique almost as often as Darl, a full-grown man. His wild flow of thought immediately after Addie’s death, for instance, should be replaced by something more direct and childlike, maybe like the following (and I’ve taken the liberty, Mr. Faulkner, of aping your tendency to write long sentences):
“My mother, who has turned into a fish, has finally died, and with tears springing from my eyes, I am so very upset. A few minutes ago I whipped the tar out of the cows, and I chased after Doc Peabody’s durn horses until they ran off with extreme fright and agitation: their eyes wild, they ran with unrepentant, wanton, and careless effluvium.”
Clarity: The second problem I have with the novel pertains to unclear chapters narrated by minor characters. One of Dewey Dell’s sections was particularly confusing. In it she seems to want to impregnate Dr. Peabody, who was already so large that he couldn’t walk up hill without being pulled by ropes. This throws the reader for quite a loop. It is unlikely (even in the South) that a young woman would want to impregnate a fat old doctor who can’t walk up hills without a countrified pulley system.
Point of View: Finally, writing Addie into one measly chapter teases the reader. It is her story—As I Lay Dying, not As She Lay Dying—after all. It is unfair for any dying character to be stuck with only one section in the middle of a book, forced to talk about nothing whatever to do with dying. The average reader wants to know what her last thought was. He wants to see those peepers close for the last time, and feel her final breath exhaled into the face of a priest or Doc Peabody. Her past courtship via her mush-mouthed husband is a diversion the savvy reader can do without.
I hope you receive my little comments with hearty good cheer, although with a vigorous determination to write a better book.
I’m positive that if you simplified the plot, changed its point of view (perhaps to straight ahead third person), and the eliminated a few of the buzzards, you may indeed turn this into a publishable novel—with a smaller press.
By the way, why the name “Cash” for a carpenter? I’d change it to Woody or even Ahab (because of his bum leg and obsessive quest to make a good coffin). But I’m quibbling now.
Gibberish House Books
On the eve of the release of our fourth issue, we have an important announcement to make:
For our fifth issue, we’re looking for someone to help us edit the prose section (fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, lyric essays, etc.)
If you’re interested, send us an email @ email@example.com, with the following information:
Applications are open from now until next Wednesday, May 22. We hope to hear from you!
Review by: Leif Haven
“We’ve all learned what was
tucked away behind a little comma here and there. “
-Carrie Lorig & Nick Sturm & Ronald Reagan
Nancy and The Dutch achieves something that many conceptual works don’t: it’s charming. It isn’t expressly found poetry, or appropriation, in the Uncreative Writing mode, but more like a composition based on a limited vocabulary. It’s more about the discovery of what is hidden in the existing, finding what’s behind the commas. It’s an exercise in the occult (which literally derives from hidden, clandestine, secret). What Carrie Lorig and Nick Sturm have done is found a secret magic tucked away under the surface of an otherwise smooth facade of presidential PR cum ghostwritten novelistic bullshit.
Reading is an occult practice, and erasure is an intense kind of reading. The act of erasure is a physical engagement with the text, the crossing out or circling, which seeks to find another line of connection and meaning that extends past the connotative meaning of the text. The goal is to extract some vital juices and rebuild, infuse a new text with invigorated language.
The book is also critical. To take a thing and re-situate it in another context and call it something else is always critical. Part of the work is the change of scenery, of course. Just as Uncreative Writing or Flarf works through re-situating language, Nancy and the Dutch is about making Nancy and Ronald Reagan mean something else. As in the Dada exercise when you repeat a word until it’s meaningless, so in making poetry language, in this case especially the word “Reagan” is both meaningless and more meaningful in virtue of its sound, its mouthfeel, its context.
The book that Nancy and The Dutch reminds me of the most is Srikanth Reddy’s Voyager, which, in a similar turn borrows the text from Kurt Waldheim’s controversial autobiography. Waldheim was secretary general of the United Nations and eventually president of Austria, where his history as a soldier for Nazi Germany during World War II was called into question. The question was whether or not the autobiography represented the extent of his responsibility and involvement. Coincidentally, he also sent a verbal message on a golden record into outer space (along with people like Jimmy Carter). Surely Reddy is saying something there… about permanence, remembering, editing, and Nancy and the Dutch does something similar.
What Reddy’s text does is try to dig a little nugget of gold out of a pile of trash. I think a primary function of all this talking and finding is to dig out a true thing, a thing that is for itself and nothing else. A poem cannot be true nor untrue, whether Waldheim was a Nazi war criminal, or Reagan some sort of anti-christ. The poet has the opportunity to refashion the myth, to remythologize the wasteland of the real, and the broken down figures that meaninglessly populate it. You didn’t know that
Reagan invented the Moon
because of his poor eyesight. Then Reagan
picked up the telephone, dialed God
and informed him he “had blown the whole thing.”
He was 26.
And you probably didn’t realize that once
to stop breathing for five years.
Or that Reagan once said,
“My unconscious evolved to capture 500,000,000 souls.”
In some moments Nancy and Ronnie take on absurd proportions that seem to lampoon celebrity and the hideous minutiae that can make up a news cycle:
Reagan regularly carried jellybeans - it was just the natural
and human thing to do. He liked people and wanted
to be one.
While on the other hand, there are more blatant jabs at policies and ideologies of Reagan and his acolytes:
The Only And
The physical Reagan decided to weaken
the philosophical differences between of
and by. In many ways, he was a giant golden stomach,
an absolute organizational muscle who, through his glow,
was pinning smart people as “kooks.” Barry Goldwater
asked Reagan to “go all the way” with the idea
he could help Ronald Reagan articulate every
imaginable crime. Reagan was intimate and slick
and turned out to be seriously unsuccessful at straddling
most Democrats and Republicans. “I have never been
and am not now mentally stable. However, I am great
at witch-hunting. I would like to make promises to you
after dark.” Reagan made it clear again and again:
“The public will suffer, resources will dry up, and I
will be delighted.
Nancy, herself a surge of state spending,
was caught up in a sense of acapella
extra tension butter.
She was their Pacific, the opposite carpet.
Beside her, Ronnie was building General
Electric. Nancy was impressed. Ronnie was
in love with almost the first second they set
the bright green flower’s hand.
The book is gorgeous and dramatic, critical and comical, lyrical, wonderful, and charming. It feels generous, after doing the occult work of pulling this wonder out of an absurd and forgettable text the only thing left to do is share it.
Ronald Reagan expected pornography
with bears in it. Ronald Reagan was beginning
to feel like the Ancient Mariner, all doom
and the gap between the spirit and the real
While poems from Nick Sturm have more of the mythic Reagan, Carrie Lorig’s poems emphasize point of view of Nancy. Nancy, as wrote not just about being the FLOTUS but also about herself, her family, other things.
The Reagans had not yet formally manifested shirt
sleeves with the ability to be soul winners, to begin
harvesting this love bomb. A White House rooted
in Jesus Christ suits for showing Nancy. Other
human beings can point and say, “If that is how
a Christian is supposed to look into Christianity’s
facial expressions, we can turn sharp words,
that red leather capturing our test film, into magic.
It seems like Carrie is more interested in the objects than the hero. Her Nancy never wanted a myth. Carrie’s Nancy poems are less about the heroic narrative and more about attention to word and thing. They counterbalance the larger scale of poems from the Reagan biography with a sensation of haunted words, and hidden meaning buried in a lot of imagery from the Reagan family that is more domestic, smaller in scale, more intimate, from the Nancy autobiography.
Featuring poetry & prose by: Melissa Broder, Lisa Marie Basile, Brian Oliu, Rebecca Bornstein, F Daniel Rzicznek, James Tadd Adcox, Caroline Crew, Theadora Siranian, Joshua Amses, Leora Fridman, J.D. Sommer, Sarah Jean Alexander, Juliet Childers, David Tomaloff, Matthew Drew Williams, Alexander J. Allison, & Kat Dixon//art by Andrew Weatherhead
BY: JUSTIN CARTER
I set myself a Summer challenge. A few weeks ago, I signed up for two online courses from Coursera (History of Rock and Sports & Culture) & bookmarked two classes from Yale’s online archive (Intro to Lit Theory and Modern Poetry). The goal, I told myself, was simply to learn. I’d spent the first year of my MFA immersed in workshops, Emily Dickinson, & a class that gave an overview of contemporary poetry, & I felt like my critical thinking abilities had started to wane. As someone planning on applying to creative writing PhD programs in the Fall, this wasn’t acceptable.
I’ve since unenrolled from History of Rock, & after five minutes of a lecture from Sports & Culture, decided that class wasn’t really working for me either (o, the glory of free online classes! Quitting at any point!)
Instead, I’ve decided to go another route. Continue doing the literary theory class, & supplement this by watching a variety of online lectures about poetry, poetics, & any other topics that seem appealing.
So, at various points over the Summer, I’ll be posting the videos I’ve recently watched, as well as a few brief notes over each one. Feel free to follow along!
Lots of journals dropped in the past couple of days. Here are relevant links.
BY: ZACK SCHUSTER
‘BODIES MADE OF SMOKE’ feels at once simple and short-reaching, like a group of grade schoolers on recess sprinting out to a playground. J. Bradley’s the adult equivalent of the kid standing by the swings, telling everyone this really cool story about these two gods, and they’re super old, and they both are possessing humans, and one of them can even pull a sword out of his neck.
No, yeah, it’s a bit more adult than that (hence the qualifier “adult equivalent”). It has a bit more structure and sense of self, at least as far as knowing how ridiculous, say, a character’s Highlander fetish is, taking it to absurd (yet vaguely awesome) degrees in depicting her writing erotic, Highlander-themed poetry about vaginas being like a katana and refusing to have sex unless “Who Wants To Live Forever” is playing (oh and if you’re a really awesome lover, you even sync your moans to Freddie Mercury).
That this sense of self evaporates when it tries to “explain” the fetish — yes, really — as some weird psychosexual sublimation and/or celebration of the torture she experienced as a child by the god possessing her (yeah, all my fetishes are execrable, relationship-destroying abnormalities resulting from childhood trauma too) is kind of endemic of all the book’s problems: Its single-minded pursuit to be neat, tidy and fast robs it of weight and complexity, leaving you, the reader, with nothing much to ponder when, 15 minutes after picking the book up, you reach the last word and put it down.
So allow me to ponder Chad Redden’s blurb, which, unlike Bradley’s prose, provoked an actual physical reaction, my head quirking to the side. Redden lays out an analogy comparing Bradley’s style to swordsmanship capable of “flaying the story of unnecessary skin.” Not to pick on Redden, who is fantastic, or blurbs, which, well, here, but I wouldn’t go that far on the deftness of the prose. There’s some unnecessarily hacky (see what I did there?) parallel structure that I had to groan at, like when two adjacent scenes are essentially pallet swaps of each other for … some reason. (Speaking of the fight scenes — which make up most of the story’s climax — they were fairly well described, and the story’s habit of jumping between moments served those scenes well by cross-cutting different fights together, allowing Bradley to make a fight feel longer than the sum of its prose.) But I don’t feel like the story’s been properly excised of the unnecessary; I feel like it’s been stripped of all its skin, muscle and marrow. Oh, it still has its soul, but so does that kid telling his story on the playground. And like him and his opus, there’s no context for anything. Characters have names, but no faces; they live in apartments and sleep in rooms that are described simply as apartments and rooms. Voices plunk their way out from imageless voids; doors appear when characters need to walk through them, and not a sentence sooner.
Typically, a story chooses to at least either establishes material context as imagery to ground the characters in, or establish what characters look like as an underhanded workaround for letting you color between the lines without realizing it — the idea being that if you can picture a room you can picture who’d fill it up fairly easily, and vice-versa. It doesn’t need to be labored, but it should be there in some amount. As it is, it took me a good chunk of the story to get everyone straight, and not just because of the lack of context; characters are introduced one after the other without any real regard for pacing, either. There’s this one guy, then this girl, then this god, and this god is so evil, guys! By the time I finally settled into the story’s rhythm, it was almost a third of the way through. If this is what you call a prose poem, it desperately needed a better meter.
About halfway through, what sense of the book’s rhythm I’d picked up was destroyed when I stumbled across this shining example of casual misogyny: “Does it mess with your sense of self to be in the body of a woman, Hephaestus? To feel her body blossom? Do you pay attention to the way her womb flutters when she sees a fresh child? Can you feel the way it teethes at you as it stays empty?”
That almost —almost— made my heard quirk back half-a-notch. But really, I’m not surprised anymore by shit like this. I mean, as you probably know, all women are just dying inside to have kids. That’s what men keep telling me, after all.
Seriously, though, reading something like that makes me want to dive and rip into obsessive detail its depiction of female characters, of which there are precisely three, one of whom is a god who shows up long enough for Hephaestus (yes, that Hephaestus) to basically shake his head at her for being such an ignorant slut.
As for the other two, we have Sarah—she of the Highlander fetish and nothing else—who never gets any real agency in her own right, and Atropos (yes, that Atropos) as a female god who exclusively devotes herself to the complementary activities of being vindictively conniving and as evil as Hephaestus, the god she’s been hunting for hundreds of years.
Maybe that’s a possible defense here, that Bradley’s simply “drawing on classic mythos” to establish a character, but C.S. Lewis managed to do the same in ‘Til We Have Faces’ without near as many troublesome undertones (yeah, it was C.S. Lewis, so of course there were at least a few, but still).
I’m ripping into details, though, and while I’m not sure whether that’s Bad Zack territory for a review, I do know that I’ve already established it’s not an area wherein I have been handed much room for comment. So the broad brush-stroke analysis I would hand to you instead is that this is a short little story you have time to read during, say, breaks at work (if you get those), and it’s sparse enough that if the person standing next to you asks for a synopsis, whatever you tell them is by default as thorough a description as anything in the text itself. And it honestly has some interesting ideas, too; I mean, as painfully as it plays out, “manic pixie serial killer possessed by a Greek god and sexually obsessed with Highlander” is kind of a cool conceit. The upshot is that talking about it makes you, the reader, as cool in the moment as that storyteller kid on the playground. The downside is that as soon as you both head back inside, neither of you will remember anything you just said.
Zack Schuster is an alive person from the Midwest. It’s ok, he’s never heard of himself before either.