Rumpus Blog

Highway 61 Revisited Turns Fifty

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Bob Dylan’s jump to electric turned fifty this past Sunday, and to celebrate the milestone Consequence of Sound interviewed two of the session musicians who worked on recording the album. One of the musicians, Harvey Brooks, remembers Dylan’s songwriting style:

He’s writing by instinct…It all came out of his mind. As he was receiving it, he transferred it right into his chords. That’s why the changes aren’t so locked in. It’s kind of the same way old blues singers used to do it. They do things by the phrasing, and Dylan’s a great phraser. That’s really what we were doing subconsciously.
There’s all different kinds of ways to play….You can play on the beat, in front of the beat, behind the beat, playing in the pocket, a little out of the pocket. Highway 61 was the beginning of me thinking about all those kinds of things.

This Week in Short Fiction

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If you’re a woman over the age of 25, you are familiar with the pressure to procreate. The parental inquiries of when you’ll be settling down, when you’ll give them grandkids. The friends on Facebook popping out babies like clockwork. And if you’re married, the judgment-loaded questions from anyone you’ve barely met: Do you have kids? Oh, why not? Recently, women (and men) have been pushing back against the assumption that everyone wants children, in places like the Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed anthology edited by Meghan Daum, and also in short fiction. Enter “The Surrogate” by Caille Millner, this week’s release from Joyland.

“The Surrogate” begins like this:

Cecily is six months pregnant with someone else’s child when her husband tells her that he wants a baby of his own. It’s not a complete surprise — if he never grew jealous of all the other babies she’s carried, she’d wonder.

Cecily is a surrogate. She’s had a several babies for other people, but none of her own. One of the most revolutionary aspects of the story is that Cecily displays absolutely no sentimental attachment to the fetus she carries in her body. (more…)

Growing Up with Little Women

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Four sisters, each vivid, but composed, really, of just a few brushstrokes. Here, neatly categorized for us before we’ve made it out of the first chapter, are four different ways of being a girl. There’s something tempting about this drawing of lines.

For the Ploughshares blog, Clare Beams discusses why Little Women continues to appeal to readers over a century after it was written.

Notable Chicago: 9/4–9/10

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Tuesday 9/8: Anne-Marie Fyfe (The House of Small Absences), Cahal Dallat (The Year of Not Dancing), and Jacquelyn Pope (Watermark) read from their respective collections at City Lit Books, 6:30 p.m.

CA Conrad talks about Exorcism: Reparative Rituals with the Poetic Blade for the Harriet Reading Series. Poetry Foundation, 7 p.m.

Wednesday 9/9: Michele Weldon reflects on Escape Points: A Memoir. Women & Children First, 7:30 p.m.

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(Don’t) Stick To What You Know

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At the Atlantic, Angela Flournoy, author of The Turner House, discusses her struggle with writing about Detroit without having lived there, and how Zora Neale Hurston’s work helped her give herself permission to write outside her own experiences:

It’s not about having a background that lines up with the characters you’re writing about, I realized. That’s not the responsibility of the fiction writer. Instead, you have the responsibility to be sympathetic—to have empathy. And the responsibility to be knowing—to understand, or at least desire to understand, the people you write about.

Not All Books Are Right for All People

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The Captain Underpants series has topped banned book lists around the world. Dav Pilkey, the author of the popular children’s books, explains what it feels like to have written a famous banned book:

People often ask me how I’d want to respond to those critics who would rather see my books pulled from shelves than handed to young readers. I do have an answer, and it boils down to the fact that not every book is right for every person. Some grown-ups are not amused by the kinds of things that make most children laugh, and so they try to stomp those things out.

The Kingdom and After

Kingdom and After by Megan Fernandes

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Humanity as historical reality is an antyphysis taking control of the surrounding on its own behalf. One such offering of control is patriarchy and the conscience of possession and expansion of authority by arrogation.

Megan Fernandes’s debut collection of poems, The Kingdom and After is a an enquiry into such historical reality, of development and debris, with particular critique of colonization as widely noted in the 20th century and continuing. Readers may notice a certain kind of inflection, a turn in modality, and synesthesia in Fernandes’s craftsmanship while content wise, the poems are surely thought provoking as they render a patchwork of time, space, histories, psychology, communities and intimacy- often times, not limited to lovers but absolute strangers; say, a co-passenger insisting you to “see some photos?… but dead men, / misshapen// in an uncanny grace, their haggard postures lolling in the mix of /grass and dust.” from “The Flight to Sacramento”

The book does offer contradictions in feminist understanding or point of view, therefore a good dig for scholars and theorists. In her poem ‘Afrikander’; where the father points out to his daughter, one of the many feminine flaws as discussed in the ‘Second Sex’ by Beauvoir;

my father said, “is that you think like a man,
but have all the desires of a woman.”

which is why, the daughter arrives at an agreement although uncomfortably-

I know he did not mean to mean weak,
but it is what he meant.

The poem, ‘Afrikander’ has a certain audacity and temperament to outlive the challenges of ruins by taking a wife and begetting four children. He deploys his masculinity to convert ravages into living and sustain the cost of upbringing a family but family is the most absolute kind of kingdom, the intensity is only reduced by peripheral emotions and stakeholders. This is how the poem reduces the epic strength of the man to rubbles with the daughter in an implicit disquiet.

So in The Kingdom and After, what is the ‘after’ relating to?” To that poet replies, “The ‘after’ is ‘bursting with queens, daughters, female usurpers of thrones.’ The ‘after’ also wants to explore the remains of that era which is more fragmented, slippery, and nuanced… The “after” is trying to understand the death of a friend who was brutally raped and murdered. The “after” is talking to a war veteran coming back from Afghanistan. The “after” is trying to understand the stereotyping of the hijra in India, looks at the aftermath of certain violent patriarchal practices”. Indeed each poem has an aftermath; it does not close after the tongue has pulled the curtains.

…The whole
damp city
smells like your teeth,
stained with cheap sugar.

from “The Kingdom and After”
The hijras in India have guru-chella relationship which would mean members of the hijra community must adhere to the instructions of the head. It is by the order of this guru, members must beg to remain a part of the community which promises safeguard against malicious interference of the society. This awareness dates back to 1993 when All-India-Radio aired poetry and literature by eleven transgender intellectuals, also discussing how they not only resisted to social criticism of their orientation but also pursued their gurus and parents to assert their rightful claims. ‘Queens’ in The Kingdom and After is a critical gateway to this obscure paradigm of life. Although the poem will read like a critique, but a critique of the ‘hijras’, not the one among them who fought against norms of begging and paid bills from his own sweat.

In “Quentin Compson at the Natural History Museum, Harvard University,” Fernandes renders the speaker an original, sharp and uncompromising voice-

Caddy, surrounded by glass.
Caddy, surrounded by glass, a little tree inside her.
Caddy, surrounded by glass, smells like trees.
Couldn’t you die here, Caddy?
In all this glass?

The Kingdom and After has elements of violence, peace, love, denial but no mortifying affectation that will cease to charm you. One thing which is certainly beautiful about the poet is how she gives a shine of nacre in the underbelly of her poems that they are often so elegant and wanting at the same time.

…One day,
you will have a wife, and
I will have a daughter and
we won’t meet like this again.

from “Dig”

or

so pain and flesh collapsed
into notes and later,
with improvement,
an arpeggio.

from “Ella”

A simple sentence like, “we won’t meet like this again” or “in half-light, / I think about it” can do so much to the conscience. The Kingdom and After is synaptic, eloquent and persuasive. If you can allow a one on one with this eclectic body of work, take it from me, you’ll certainly want the poems to sit by you for long. Also, do not miss Corinne’s take on physics, aging and bodies of water.

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The Daniel Swiftboating of Poetry

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I want to get to why this grumbly, axe-grinding, British review of Vendler relates to two trends I see now in American poetry—the confusion over the critic’s role and the rise of literary teams—but first, the question that’s probably foremost on your mind: does Daniel Swift have a case?

For the Kenyon Review, Derek Mong takes a look at Daniel Swift’s overtly personal critique of Helen Vendler and how it exemplifies a trend in current poetry criticism.

Books That Create Original Dialects

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Many of the best books in classic literature innovated some aspect of storytelling, but few can claim to have ventured into tinkering deeply with language itself. Over at Lit Hub, Stephen Sparks writes on some of the best books that have created their own languages. To “inhabit languages unique [to the book],” Sparks argues, is to attempt to capture “the singular nature of consciousness”

Morrissey Is Miserable for Australian Cats

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Morrissey has spoken out against Australia’s plan to cull two million feral cats by 2020, calling the animals “two million smaller versions of Cecil the lion,” reports the Guardian.

According to Australia’s environment minister, feral cats are responsible for killing an extraordinary number of native species each day, contributing significantly to Australia having the worst mammal extinction rate in the world. His office has called the estimated twenty million feral cats living in Australia a “tsunami of violence and death,” and, as a solution, has blended a special poison for the two million cats it plans to exterminate. (more…)

Song of the Day: “The Less I Know The Better”

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Australian musician Kevin Parker’s band, Tame Impala, is known for blending musical influences like psychedelia and lo-fi, but Parker’s proficiency as a songwriter only adds to his resume. On “The Less I Know The Better,” off the album Currents, a catchy bass line propels Parker’s voice as he sings about his longing for another man’s partner:

She said it’s not now or never
Waiting years we’ll be together
I said better late than never
Just don’t make me wait forever

Notable Portland: 9/3–9/9

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Thursday 9/3: Join the Red Umbrella Project for a sex workers writing workshop, which will help local writers generation stories for the next issue of Working It zine and Prose & Lore journal. Pivot, 5 p.m., free.

Justin Taylor reads from his third acclaimed work of fiction, Flings. Powell’s on Hawthorne, 7:30 p.m., free.

Saturday 9/5: Burnt Tongue, a quarterly literary event created to honor the author and writing teacher Tom Spanbauer, welcomes Domi J. Shoemaker, Melanie Aldritt, Steve Tune, Christi Krug, Josh Lubin, Krista Dabakis, Megan Kruse, Sean Davis, Kevin Meyer, Liz Prato, Doug Chase, and Tom Spanbauer, to read for this month’s event. The reading will be emceed by Lisa Loewenthal. Crush Bar, 4:30 p.m., $5.

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Why Internet Comments Suck

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Wittgenstein explains why discourse on the Internet sucks. And it’s not just because of your crazy uncle.

So, language is quicksand—except it’s not. Unlike the parlor tricks of the deconstructionists who bloviate about différance and traces, there clearly are rules that shouldn’t be broken and clearly ways of speaking that are blatantly incorrect, even if they change over time and admit to flexible interpretations even on a daily basis. It’s just that explicitly delineating those boundaries is extremely difficult, because language is not built up through organized, hierarchical rules but from the top down through byzantine, overlapping practices. Some things can be pinned down with practical certainty, just not in isolation and without context.

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Amina Gautier

Now We Will Be Happy by Amina Gautier

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I first encountered Amina Gautier while listening to the podcast “All Write Already!” She read from her debut collection of short stories, At Risk, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. Usually I’m not a fan of listening authors reading their work, but Gautier held my attention. Soon after, I obtained a copy of her newest collection, Now We Will Be Happy, published by University of Nebraska Press in 2014 and winner of the 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction.

One of the reasons Guatier’s voice drew me in is because it is both lyrical and pared down, qualities that less-skilled writers might take too far in either direction but that Gautier pulls off with perfect pitch. There is a lulling rhythm to her sentences and a ripeness to her language that makes the reading pleasurable. She takes small snapshots of the often overlooked pieces of daily life and delivers them to us with an eye for the beauty and sadness they hold. In “Bodega,” she describes a woman relishing the brief moment of quiet just before her and her husband’s bodega opens:

Each day, in the quiet hour before the bodega opens, before the store becomes filled with young girls with tattoos on their arms and babies on their hips, before the endless round of unemployed men who buy their cigarettes one at a time, before the afterschool influx of children buying chips and snack cakes one quarter at a time, before she begins a day of making change, selling loosies, and cashing WIC checks, Nelida leaves her body behind in the bodega and lets her soul fly out across the Atlantic Ocean, sailing home to Puerto Rico.

Gautier has complete command of both her syntax and her storyline, pulling readers gently along to endings that often drop off, like we have been running along only to suddenly find ourselves looking out over the edge of a cliff. Although I found myself often surprised by the story’s endings, I was still satisfied by them, reminded that life rarely resolves itself in any neat or predictable way. That is the honesty of Gautier’s writing.

Amina Gautier

Amina Gautier

The book, in its physical form, seems to almost mimic the style of Gautier’s writing. The cover is a black and white storefront with a yellow strip at the top reading “SUPERMARKET. LA ESPERANZA.” Before we even begin to read, we are already seeing English and Spanish pushed against each other, encapsulated in one building. The title of the book, “Now We Will Be Happy,” also lends itself to the theme of this collection. Here are characters who have left Puerto Rico for America, believing that they, now, will be happy, only to find one set of struggles traded in for another. Many stories reveal how identity intersects with hope: characters often compromise, bend, and erase their former identities in order to finally “be happy” in new ones.

Food is another way Gautier intersects hope with identity. The second story in the collection, “Now We Will Be Happy,” introduces us to the character Rosa, who is preparing tostones for both her husband and her lover:

Tostones make no excuses. Plantanos – plantains – burn in hot oil, their golden      edges blackening before she remembers them. . . Rosa plucks the tostones from the pan with her spatula and slides them one by one onto the wooden tostonera, where the oil seeps into the fibrous threads, drenching the wood dark wet. . . The tostones that emerge are hopeless. Instead of perfect golden discs, they are charred beyond recognition, black around the edges and raw at the center. Pedro would never eat them, but Yauba is not so demanding.

The story “The Last Hurricane” also represents the devastation that can occur when identity is compromised, or worse, forgotten. It is almost as though the hurricane in this story, forming between The United States and Puerto Rico, represents the devastation that can occur between two places, two languages, and two cultures. Gautier opens the story with, “Hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico have Americano names like Alice, and even when they name one Hugo the weathermen don’t’ pronounce it correctly. Hurricanes never have the names of your children or relatives. Names like Milagros or Rafael.” Again, Gautier is forcing us to look at the struggle to claim ones identity when that identity can so easily be yanked away, pulled apart by forces as strong as those of a hurricane.

With a style that feels like a mixture of Junot Diaz and Edwidge Danicat, Gautier is a writer more people should be talking about. Through her stark honesty and skillful use of language, Gautier siphons flawed characters onto the page that readers may come to love or hate but will always believe. The immigrant journey of these characters expands to all readers, reflecting our shared human experience of hope, identity, and loss. In Now We Will Be Happy, Gautier presents the reader with humans who are struggling with identities that cross oceans, languages, and cultures, delivering the complexity of the human lives with a voice that is engaging and as richly layered as the world it describes.

Humans Dream of an Electric Philip K. Dick

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Creepy robots were often at the heart of Philip K. Dick stories. The future is now: a company is building a realistic looking robot to haunt your dreams and it looks strikingly similar to the science fiction author. Electric Literature reports on the project from Hanson Robotics:

On their website, Hanson Robotics highlights their desire to “realize the dream of friendly machines who truly live and love, and co-invent the future of life.” Philip K. Dick’s robot, when questioned in a 2011 interview with PBS, engages in thoughtful conversation with his interviewer, and eventually provides a calm yet chilling answer to a question many of us have on our minds: Will robots take over the world, Terminator-style?

A Bookstore in Brookline

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Do you ever dream of working in a bookstore? Well, in an exclusive interview with Lit Hub, the booksellers of Brookline Booksmith provide insight into what it’s like:

How incredibly complex … and never-ending, always expanding the work is. How much evolution is required to stay relevant. How many surprises there are every day. How unusual and fascinating each and every person, customer or staff is. How books never stop changing lives.

Let’s Get Cozy: A Letters in the Mail Special Promotion

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The cool weather is approaching and The Rumpus wants to help you curl up with a good book! Purchase a yearly Letters in the Mail subscription anytime during the month of September, and you’ll receive an autographed copy of Matthew Salesses’s The Hundred-Year Flood, just released 9/1 from Little A/Amazon Publishing! You’ll also receive Matthew’s Letter in the Mail later this month!

If you already have a yearly subscription, extend it for another year and you’ll receive The Hundred-Year Flood. You must purchase your new subscription or extension during September to receive this special promotion. Due to shipping costs, this offer is only available to US-based subscribers.

Click here to SUBSCRIBE TODAY!