Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Catching up with Tim Seibles

Wednesdays continue to be a very funky day for us and we hope they are for you too. To add a little extra funk to your day, check out editor emeritus Abdel Shakur's interview with poet Tim Seibles (author of Buffalo Head Solos, Hurdy Gurdy, Body Moves, and Kerosene) over at Misstra Knowitall. Tim expounds on the funkiness of Bullwinkle, Blade, and Barack, as well as the inspiration for his poem included in our Funk feature (issue 30.1).

Monday, August 25, 2008

Review of The Water Cure from IR 30.1

Percival Everett. The Water Cure. St. Paul, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2007. $22.00 hardcover (ISBN 978-1-55597-476-3), 216 pages.

Reviewed by Jackson Brown

It’s a novice reader’s faux pas, but even the most seasoned critic could lose sight of the distinction between narrator and author in Percival Everett’s novels. Everett has a knack for straddling that line just enough to make his Black male narrators read like variations of himself. Erasure, one of Everett’s previous novels, is widely acknowledged as having autobiographical elements, its plot involving a Black writer’s struggle to successfully define himself outside of a stereotypical literary persona. Moreover, Everett’s bio on Erasure’s dust jacket could double as a description of the book’s narrator: a California-based professor who enjoys fly-fishing and woodworking. In Everett’s latest book, The Water Cure, his Black male novelist/narrator, Ishmael Kidder, represents authorial self-definition gone awry. The story serves as Kidder’s personal account of how he has captured, tied up, and is torturing the man he suspects of raping and murdering of his eleven-year-old daughter. In this case, the narratorial/authorial distinction is clear, at least until one turns again to the dust jacket, featuring a photo of the author, Everett, hovering protectively over his own infant son.

A similarly multifaceted plot undergirds the novel’s multifaceted narrator. When not physically or psychologically tormenting his victim in the basement, Kidder entertains his literary agent, Sally, upstairs. Kidder’s double life is compounded with his recent tragedy and his lingering sense of loss from walking out on a stale marriage. By the end of the novel, Kidder’s left wondering whether any of it—his career, his anger, his solitary existence—is worthwhile. Everett manages to keep all these balls aloft in the narrative air, but the effort is so conspicuous that the juggling act itself becomes more prominent than the plot. The torture narrative is vaguely resolved. Frequent gaps in the book’s fragmentary structure make the narrator seem shadowy—more “there” than “here.” And throughout the novel, Kidder can’t decide what he wants to talk about: ancient philosophy, the Bush administration, semiotics, or the weather. What’s even more displacing is that Cure directs all its high-academic and far-ranging banter unequivocally at the reader, at “you.” Be assured: if Everett’s novels have a reputation for being cerebral, The Water Cure indeed follows suit, and aggressively so. While Everett intentionally conflates his voice with his torturer/narrator’s, the muddy second-person narrative conspires to displace us, the readers, into the position of the torture victim.

That’s not to say that Cure’s author/reader, torturer/victim dynamic creates an unpleasant experience—no more unpleasant, at least, than it’s meant to create. Though guided along by a violent, grief-stricken narrator, at no point does the novel feel outside the control of a capable storyteller. Everett’s humor and ear for dialogue keep the narrative afloat, so to speak, in places where it might, in less able hands, drag. Take for instance Kidder’s exchange with a JCPenny’s sales associate when he sallies out from home to purchase new instruments of torture for his victim—full-length mirrors:
“Why do you need two?” she asked.

“An experiment,” I said. […] “I’m interested in various angles of incidence and refraction,” I lied to her, leaning an elbow onto the counter. I then went on, “Do you know what the Venus effect is?”


[Kidder goes on to explain.]

“Okay.” She didn’t want to talk anymore. [Her voice’s] truckish quality was replaced by one of, not annoyance, or boredom, but of a hushed, tight-lipped, subdued alarm.


I then went to the drugstore and bought the largest hand mirrors they had.

When the clerk there asked me what I needed all those mirrors for, I told him that I was vain and left it at that.

What emerges from Cure’s unconventional plotline is a nuanced and raw depiction of troubled interiority. In an attempt to logically justify his brutal actions and disassociate himself from the greater American barbarism his victim comes to represent for him, Kidder translates his situation into word problems and algebraic equations, neither of which he can successfully work out on the page. Likewise, language frequently breaks down throughout the novel: Kidder resorting to pen sketches in moments when he finds his anguish ineffable—words devolving into garbled phonetics, as if spoken through water. Despite Kidder’s alternate intellectual posturing and narrative flippancy, he—and perhaps Everett as well—straps himself down in the basement right along with us, helpless as he relentlessly deconstructs his own project, with merely the act of expression offering hope for salvation.

Everett’s latest work is nothing if not ambitious. Unabashed in its critical commentary on America’s own special brand of ruthlessness and unflinching in its gaze at its own authorship, The Water Cure can’t be called a success in its resolution so much as successful at its own dissolution, highlighting the problematic relationship between language and our national and personal pathologies.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Review of I Carry A Hammer In My Pocket For Occasions Such As These from 30.1

Anthony Tognazzini. I Carry A Hammer In My Pocket For Occasions Such As These. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, Ltd, 2007. $14.95 paper. (ISBN 978-1-929918-90-4), 142 pages.

Reviewed by Christopher Citro

In his 1928 Dada short feature Ghosts Before Breakfast, Hans Richter creates a world where it's impossible to simply wake up, get dressed, and have breakfast. A necktie will come to life and crawl about on one's head. One's hat will lift off and join a flock of other hats flying around, just out of reach. This is a world in which Anthony Tognazzini, author of I Carry A Hammer In My Pocket For Occasions Such As These, would comfortably sip his morning orange juice.

Published by BOA Editions in their American Reader Series, Tognazzini's debut collection is the well-respected poetry press's first foray into fiction. This lush hybrid of short shorts and prose poems mixes fifty-seven stories of differing lengths a la Lydia Davis. These are stories with one foot in the mundane everyday world and the other in the fantastic and grotesque—with objects and characters swooping unexpectedly between like hats through the morning air.

The collection begins, appropriately, with a section entitled "Ever Since This Morning." Here, images of awakening after late nights and shaky dreams blend with the sharp colors of a new day. Again and again the quotidian world is invaded by chaos and absurdity. The theme comes most alive in dialogue, when everyday, terse utterances bump against ones more appropriate to hothouse Victorian versifying, calling to mind such American surrealists as James Tate and Russell Edson. In the story "In Love With Nowhere To Go," a man awakes hung-over to find all his furniture stacked in the kitchen. He remembers he's in love with a woman named Jane, and then inexplicably heads out to visit a drive-thru liquor store called "Stop and Sop."

The microphone at the drive-thru was designed as a plastic beer bottle.
"Hello," I said.
"Murf, murf," said the lady.
I told her she'd better articulate herself or else.
She said, "From this blanket of ashes, our Life, springs not one but a thousand dancing angels, their hearts dappled flags of moonlight, their wings slim and silvery."

After this poetic exchange, the man drinks two bottles of whisky while driving, blacks out, and returns home the next morning. Remembering that he's in love, he crawls into his couch, balanced on the kitchen counter, and falls asleep. Having come full circle—by way of cars, liquor, vomit, and toothpaste—we have about as coherent a portrait of a day in the life of a young man in love as one could wish. In the end, the absurdity seems more than the means to an end, it's the end itself—a psychological point acute in its refusal to deliver anything resembling a tidy analysis of the foibles of love.

In section two, "Second Thoughts," characters react with sudden violence to the various interruptions of their routines, as in the Daniil Kharms-like title story, in which a speaker is asked for a loan and responds by reaching for his hammer. We meet couples attempting to survive "love's ever-ragged disequilibrium," such as in "Accident by Escalator," in which a man gets pulled into an escalator and permanently flattened to a grooved pancake. His girlfriend puts up with this for a while but ultimately leaves. Thankfully, along comes a new girlfriend—"a doormat named Rebecca."

In the third section's "Gainesville, Oregon—1962,” Tognazzini's absurdist axe reveals a rotten core to an otherwise tranquil, suburban family. We start in a safe, "Leave it to Beaver" world and end with underage group sex, a drug-overdosed mother in a coma, a liquored-up neighbor boy dead in the shrubbery, and a dispirited father pulling up the drive after first having run over the family cat. This violence—the rending of reality that characterizes most of the stories in the book—can at times feel forced, and the sexuality sophomoric, but the overall effect is one of revelation. And also joy—these stories are fun as hell to read, full of humor, lyricism, and playfulness.

The stories of the final section, "Gift Exchange," culminate, surprisingly, in resolution and rest (often in the form of a nap)—in rebirth even—though always in a world haunted with mystery and loss. The book ends, as do so many of the stories, with the breakdown of simplistic understandings into a less comforting, but more realistic, recognition of the danger and chaos that underlie everyday life. In the story "Same Game," an adult on his weary way to work in the morning is thrown a ball by a child playing in the street.

"You look sad. Where are you going?"
"To work," I told her. "Everyday I take the bus, same time. See my briefcase. It's an adult thing. When you grow up, you'll see. It's not sad. You ride the bus, work, come home atnight. Like that." I tossed the ball back, "You?" I asked. "Where're you going?"
The built-in reflector on the girl's sneaker gleamed. She said, "I'm going to be brave in
ways you won't recognize." Then she pocketed her racquetball and ran away from me.

One can almost hear the hats swooping overhead, chasing the rising sun.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What a steal.

We gave you a heads up a couple months ago, but now's the time to know: former editor Danit Brown's collection of short stories, Ask for a Convertaible, is finally here, and it's a steal on Even more economical (given you have the hardware) is the version for Kindle.

The book already has a reader review over there, and you can also read a write-up on the book over on The Ann Arbor News's blog.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Remember this guy?

So even though our funk contest is over, we did leave one thread hanging. We never revealed the answer to Contest Four, our funked up Where's Waldo. For those of you who have found themselves lying awake at night, tossing and turning, haunted by visions pink shoes and purple spandex, rest easy. We got you covered.

The man in question is in fact a member of Parliament/Funkadelic and the picture was taken from their album cover, Gold. He also appears in our Summer 2008 issue (30.1) . (Check him out on page 114.) We're very honored to feature in this issue previously unpublished artwork by the four artists who designed the Parliament/Funkadelic covers: Pedro Bell, Ronald Edwards (aka Stozo the Clown), Diem Jones and Overton Llyod.

Big thanks to all who participated in our contests. You made our July funktastic!


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The month of Funk is over, and we have our last winners.

Congratulations to Michael of Minneapolis, Minnesota and Angie from Tallahasee, Florida.

1. What two elements did Jericho Brown want to include in his poem "All That Crawls beneath Me"?
2. What is the relationship between these two elements in the poem?

1. Jericho Brown wanted to include roaches and Chuck Taylors in his poem.
2. The youngest roaches laugh at the speaker's Chuck Taylors.

Thanks, everyone, for your participation in these five hump days of Funk contests!