Rumpus Blog

Artists Wanted!

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Are you an artist looking to get exposure for your work? The Rumpus needs artists to create original illustrations to accompany the essays we run on the site.

For more info, email marisa@therumpus.net with a link to your portfolio or website!

YA Lit Tackles Modern Concerns

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Plenty of critics have lamented the rise of Young Adult literature, but its popularity isn’t accidental. The genre is focusing on contemporary problems and, more importantly, manifesting them in easily digestible ways that appeal not just to teens, but to adults as well. Damien Walter explains at the Guardian:

Young adult novels externalise evil as an enemy that can be seen and understood. They give teenagers a Lord Voldemort, a monster that can be defeated, an evil that can be vanquished. But increasingly the evil in young adult fiction is the adult world itself.

Works to Watch Out For

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If Alison Bechdel’s Genius grant weren’t reason enough to celebrate, she’s got another graphic memoir due in 2017. As the New York Times puts it:

“The Secret to Superhuman Strength” is Ms. Bechdel’s third graphic memoir and chronicles her decades long obsession with various fitness and exercise fads, including downhill skiing, uphill skiing, rollerblading, martial arts, running, hiking, weight lifting and home workout videos and currently, yoga.

It’s something to look forward to, but while we’re waiting, be sure to check out her interview with The Rumpus.

Classic Literature Or Social Construct?

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Classic literature is neither timeless nor fundamental. Writing is bound by its place in history, both as we read it and as it was written, and the idea of a universal experience is simply another construct of the dominant culture, argues Eric Williams, over at The Airship:

When we treat The Classics as preordained with intrinsic value, we obscure the fact that what is Classic and what is not has been determined by individuals with discrete and understandable histories. Most often, those individuals were white men in European or American universities, and their choices reflect characteristic politics and values dependant on the context of their time.

Notable Los Angeles: 9/22–9/28

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It’s Banned Books Week! Stand up for the freedom to read, write, and publish without censorship.

Monday 9/22: June Melby presents and signs My Family and Other Hazards. 7 p.m. at Book Soup.

DTLAB by Writ Large Press presents the hosts of Long Beach Poetry Festival reading their own poetry. 8 p.m. at Traxx.

Tuesday 9/23: No Sudden Movements, a comedy benefit for Homeless Health Care Los Angeles. Featuring performances by Matt Braunger, Ricky Carmona, Emily Maya Mills, Beth Stelling, and special guest Nate Craig. Curated by Kyle Kinane, and produced by Lisa Dusenbery and Zoë Ruiz. Doors at 8:30 p.m., show at 9 p.m. at The Virgil. $7 at the door. 21+ only.

Book Soup presents An Evening with David Mitchell, in celebration of his latest title, The Bone Clocks. In conversation with author Pierce Brown. 8 p.m. at UCLA’s Freud Playhouse. $35 + tax, includes one copy of the book. Tickets available here.

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Weekend Rumpus Roundup

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Meet Invincible Eric.

Then, Matthew Daddona reviews Carl Adamshick’s “empathetic” collection, Saint Friend. The poet employs a “smooth and elegiac rhetoric that is more concerned with sonic repetition than it is flawless consistency.” Adamshick’s book is worth a look for its “flair,” its “speed,” and its willingness to experiment with form.

And in the Sunday Rumpus Interview, author Jeff Parker sits down to talk with Thomas Burke about his novel Where Bears Roam the Streets. The book is about Russia and a bald-headed, foul-mouthed character named Igor. In his conversation with Burke, Parker rehashes some important moments from the writing process that eventually produced the novel and discusses its “humane” coming-of-age story that focuses on a young man who has matured under the regime of Vladimir Putin.

The Blues Can Make You Dance

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When it comes to comedy, Ted Alexandro champions thoughtfulness:

Comedians are thinkers. The best ones are akin to philosophers, in my opinion. Not that that’s the goal, but sometimes these funny insights can also be deeply profound. I think the more you hone your voice, take risks and talk about things that matter, the better chance you have of getting into the realm of the philosophers of stand up. But you have to be funny. People don’t come to a comedy club simply to hear someone’s thoughts, no matter how profound.

Chris Cobb reports the rest over at The Believer: the budding comedian also talks up New York’s bar scene, community amongst professionals, and how laughing at something is really acceptance in disguise.

Other Voices Querétaro Dates and Faculty Announced

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Now in its third year, Other Voices Querétaro, launched by longtime Sunday Rumpus editor Gina Frangello, and boasting a host of Rumpus regulars as faculty, including Emily Rapp, Rob Roberge, and the newly added Jennifer Pastiloff, announces its 2015 dates: May 15-25. All participants have the ability to take Pastiloff’s experiential writing/yoga workshop (no previous yoga experience necessary) and then choose between Rapp (nonfiction) and Roberge (fiction/CNF) for a smaller, “traditional” workshop format. The program, which offers guests like OVQ co-founder Stacy Bierlein and journalist Kent Black, also features an Evening Series focusing on special topics like “writing the body,” “journalism in the online age,” “Publishing 101″ and “building a platform.” An excursion to the nearby artists’ haven San Miguel de Allende is included, as is a closing party in which OVQ participants share their work with the local English speaking community. Private consultations are also available.

Email ovbooks@gmail.com for more information and be sure to check out our updated website!

Notable NYC: 9/20–9/26

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Saturday 9/20: Amber Atiya, Keegan Lester, Emily Present, Cecily Iddings, Katie Fowley, Liz Clark Wessel, Lucia Stacey, Anna Marschalk-Burns, Alexis Pope, Amy Lawless, and Bridget Talone celebrate the latest issue of The Atlas Review. BookCourt, 7 p.m., free.

Paulo Scott, Katie Gerlach, and Eric Becker discuss Nowhere People (August 2014), Scott’s novel about a cross-cultural love story translated from the Brazilian. McNally Jackson, 6 p.m., free.

Christie Ann Reynolds, Lisa Ciccarello, JoAnna Novak, and Sasha Fletcher celebrate the release of Test From My Mom. Mellow Pages, 7 p.m., free.

Sunday 9/21: Diana Hamilton and Lyric Hunter read at The Floating Library pop-up, presented by Ugly Duckling Presse, along with Twins of El Dorado. The Floating Library, 4 p.m., free.
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Saint Friend

Saint Friend by Carl Adamshick

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There is so much empathy in Carl Adamshick’s Saint Friend—for the reader, for his multi-voiced characters, for the poetic form itself—that it seems the lines are not enough to contain its self-aware effusiveness. Luckily for us, we are not expecting them to. In his second poetry collection, Adamshick rampantly pushes forward the way emotion is neatly received, and displays how thoughts can jumble, jostle, and cross each other with expressive sureness.

Adamshick’s interest in people is the heart of the empathy. A man walking aimlessly through an airport, Amelia Earhart imagined as a practicing nurse during World War I, two lovers captured over the course of a month as physical destruction looms, are among the subjects that occupy his poems. But the empathy lies at the core of what makes us human, the internal struggle of trying to ration humility and mortality amid the quest for eternal meaning. Adamshick’s answer, I believe, is that meaning requires the sum of its antithetical parts, a way of culling these uneven histories together into the specter of the moment. And these are the moments that catapult Saint Friend to a special, almost discerning realm. Throughout the collection, fantasy converges with reality as in, “She told me her dreams/are water and bone, grief, ash and mold//She is fifty-four./Gray strands tangle in the white bedding./How do you collect the details of her,/the creases by the eye?” It’s a rhetorical question, meant to imply how unconsciously our perceptions are deluded by our dreams. We see through people often without seeing them.

Carl AdamshickThe lyricism in the poems is apparent despite the lack of form, a smooth and elegiac rhetoric that is more concerned with sonic repetition than it is flawless consistency. “The sadness isn’t their sadness./The sadness is the way//they will never unpack the russack/of happiness again,” and “again and again,/they will never surface.[,]” he writes in “Thomas,” the first of three consecutive poems meant for different people. These poems’ set-ups are that of odes, but Adamshick transforms that form’s purported seriousness into something more transcendental, unfastened. Even when he writes tired, recycled phrases like “My only wish/is that I die before you/so I don’t meet that pain/or court that suffering/or marry that awful hollowness.[,]” he transfers the activeness to the forefront of the line, accentuating the verbs with musical affinity, wherein the retort to them defiantly becomes, “So I don’t have a child with grief/that will open my breast/and drag a thread of loss/into the infinite pool of air.”

These lines are from “Near Real-Time,” the collection’s longest poem, an interplay of two voices that are madly in love with each other but are unaware of each other’s more menacing capabilities. Just as the two lovers are offset by acts cruel and unusual to them, so are Adamshick’s turns of phrases, which he writes with maddening rapidity in between domestic scenes. Perhaps my favorite: “Days kept passing./I remember now./We were drinking red tea./You were telling me about the stars/and all I could think was how your hat/was blocks away sitting/on a pile of raked leaves.” There is an Oppen-like simplicity to this verse, a subdued insinuation that is neither harsh nor didactic, but makes us more aware for reading it. What pile of raked leaves? Which hat?

Meanderings like these are natural to a poet’s oeuvre. Indeed, the collection’s first lines prompt a thematic meandering, the invocation of the other unto the self, and the forbidden places our thoughts and people go. Adamshick writes, “They keep paging Kenneth Koch at the airport./Someone should let the announcer know/he is dead, that there is no city he can go to,/that no one is expecting him. Once, I applied/to be a horse.” It’s a comical opening, but the airport scene that follows proves the multifarious destinations thoughts can go within a single setting. The result is sensory, deafening, transfixing. Adamshick writes these pages with such flair and speed that we are lost times over, only to realize that nobody is expecting us either. And that is the point. We give Adamshick permission to jump between ideas simply because we trust he is not leading us to a single destination, but rather a multitude of places, each stranger than the last. That is rewarding.

But the uncertainty has shape, too. There’s philosophy in these poems, fostered by a quaint levity. In “Happy Birthday,” he writes, “As long as you are living/it is your birthday. And maybe,/even if you are not./So, happy birthday.” The mood seems sarcastic here, if only because the poet has to justify the space between a singular event and future events to come. It’s scary, so what is a poet to do? Fill in the space, naturally. But as many details, images, and symbols fill up Adamshick’s poems, they are only the precedents for the distillation of moods he’s relaying. He cares that we feel them, too. That is empathy.

Writing Tomorrow Better

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Find yourself at the New York Times for Nick Bilton’s most recent article, a piece on the ways in which the sci-fi of the past has affected our real-life present. Moreover, Bilton highlights a recently formed group of writers, aware of literature’s future-shaping effects, interested in writing more auspicious future fiction:

One thing writers are pushing back against in particular is Hollywood’s depiction of the future. You know, where robots roam the earth killing puppies and enslaving humans. Take “Transcendence,” an action film this year starring Johnny Depp, who plays a brilliant scientist who is resurrected as an artificial intelligence program that becomes evil. Or “12 Monkeys,” in which a man-made virus wipes out most of the planet’s population.

Michael Chabon’s Punk Rock Days

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[The] Bats were a fine little band, a unique assemblage of diverse strengths and quirks, anchored by one of the most rock-solid drummers ever to grace the Pittsburgh scene, and hampered only by the weakness of their goofball frontman.

That’s a quote from Michael Chabon, novelist, screenwriter, and “goofball frontman” of 80’s Pittsburgh punk band, the Bats. The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette has the full story.

This Week in Short Fiction

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On Tuesday, Margaret Atwood released Stone Mattress, a collection of “wonderfully weird short stories.” Stone Mattress is Atwood’s eighth collection of stories, not to mention her 14 novels and other formidable volumes of poetry, children’s literature, and nonfiction. Reviewers across the boards are heralding this most recent work as “wise, sharp,” and “rich.”

Let’s look at the title story of the collection, published by the New Yorker back in December 2011. Take the absurd world of cruise ships, this one bound for the even-more absurd location of the Arctic region, then give us an aging, slightly narcissistic widow of at least four, and send in the man who raped her as a young girl. It’s probably no surprise that, with ingredients like these, you get a tremendous story. But even better, you get a tremendous Atwood story.

Perhaps beyond even that, you can’t help but feel this might be an Atwood story in conversation with a Munro story. (more…)

Notable Chicago: 9/19–9/25

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Friday 9/19: Claire Zulkey’s getting the original lineup of Funny Ha-Ha back together at The Hideout for an evening of storytelling, reminiscing, and hilarity. Mark Bazer, Kevin Guilfoile, John Green, Nathan Rabin, and Amy Krouse Rosenthal join Zulkey. 6:30 p.m.

Beatriz Badikian-Gartler stops by Women and Children First to read from her new collection of poetry, Unveiling the Mind. She’s joined by poets Mike Puican, Yvonne Zipter, and Natalia Taylor. 7:30 p.m.

Curbside Splendor is on a hot streak of publishing great indie-lit books, and that streak continues at the Empty Bottle, where they’ll celebrate the release of Losing in Gainsville, Brian Costello’s second novel. There’ll be a bunch of bands to back him up. 9 p.m. 

Saturday 9/20: Mike Birbiglia tells jokes through storytelling. He’s been on This American Life, starred in the film Sleepwalk With Me, and this week, he’ll stop at the Chicago Theatre on his “Thank God for Jokes” tour. 8 p.m.

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Little Jack’s Love Letters

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I shall worship her with quiet dignity. I shall draw her attention to me by exploits, success, and possibly a small measure of fame,” wrote a young, romantically inclined Jack Kerouac to a friend in one of a cache of letters by the Beat author that has come to light.

Writers often find interest in great authors’ early work—to compare to, to learn from. Follow this link to the Guardian for Alison Flood’s article on a stack of Jack Kerouac’s teenage love letters, recently excavated, going up for auction.

Once in the West

Once in the West by Christian Wiman

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Kevin Young, editor of The Art of Losing, writes “One modern aspect of elegy is the way in which death seems our one certainty, and yet the one thing we cannot easily discuss.” This is when—this is why—we turn to poetry.

The speakers and people populating Christian Wiman’s Once in the West suffer the loss of lovers, childhood friends, family, and even a landscape made nostalgic by time and distance (West Texas), but Wiman offers more than lines of longing and absence: he looks at his own mortality, the pain rising from all gradations of unknowns and imminence, and then subverts the elegiac from memorial to electricity.

Too many elegies elevating sadness
to a kind of sad religion:

one wants in the end just once to befriend
one’s own loneliness,

to make of the ache of inwardness—

something,
______music maybe. . .

In the margins of this poem I wrote “or poetry!” next to “music maybe.” It is why we go to art: not only to make something of inwardness, but to look (as directly as possible) at inwardness and its implications. Throughout Wiman’s work, in both his poetry and prose, mortality confronts art, the human condition of limitation and finitude challenging aestheticism. And vice versa; art confronts our condition. This poem especially, but throughout Once in the West, Wiman embraces loneliness, that nuisance we seemingly always want to reject, dismiss, even annihilate. But it is in us, stubborn, sometimes dormant, sometimes eruptive, but often quiet and steadfast. Not to be anesthetized. We survive our solitude, our interiority of experience, by embrace and by touching that inchoate thing that connects us to all other creatures with hearts beating in their own insular ribcages. We are apart together.

“Music Maybe” ends with a child watching a bee bang against glass “like an attack of happiness.” The energy, the activity of relating, brings us to our most felt selves, not the perceived success of having done so. It flees, and in a blaze leaves only its burned impression on the back of our eyelids. Memory takes over.

In “Rust,” a title connoting the slow, unseen progression toward decay, memory is slow, subtle imitation—the movement away from the present. We are always falling into a new present, the past an exponential collection of elegy: “Is nothing pure? / Is it the soul’s treason to think so?”

Wiman avoids memorialization; Once in the West refuses monument, as that would not honor the activity of memory, the chaos of both the living and the no longer living. So, what then of art, which by its very nature makes a subject an artifice? “And art? // When the rocking stops. / A sense of being henceforth always after.” In another poem aptly titled “Memory Mercies” it is gently explained that “Memory’s mercies / mostly aren’t.” Wiman then inculcates the rest of that poem with images of temporality: “like a lucky / rock / ripping / electrically over // whatever water / there was.” And later “when it plunged // bright as firefly / into nowhere, // I swear.” Note the only adamancy comes from the poet and his language in “I swear.” What more do we have, as poets, but mostly has human creatures, than our shared language born from shared experience? In “Keynote”:

I had a dream of Elks,
antlerless but arousable all the same,

before whom I proclaimed the Void
and its paradoxical intoxicating joy,

infinities of fields our very natures
commanded us to cross,

the Sisyphean satisfaction of a landscape
adequate to loss.

When we fully inhabit our creatureliness—Sisyphean sweat dripping from our brows—we fully inhabit that which is fraught with anxiety, suffering, doubt. But also (paradoxically) love, introspection, and sensitivity. Joy lays in the confluence. In another poem titled “My Stop is Grand”: “I have no illusion / some fusion / of force and form / will save me.” The speaker, standing in the dark rut of an el station as the train hurls by, witnesses a fast shower of sparks, an ignited moment shared among strangers. Severe loneliness occupies Wiman’s lyricism. We are humans sharing the human experience, and yet each of us is contained in our unique experience. We cannot transcend ourselves. We are always just out of grasp of the other.

a grace of sparks
_____so far out and above
the fast curve that jostled
and fastened us
_____into a single shock of—
I will not call it love.

Though, of course, refusing the word in the last line only reinforces that “love” is the sole signifier he can get close enough to. His language resists, but doesn’t reject. Strangely, because of this I trust more readily than if he were to fully embrace, to call it outright, “love.”

Once in the West is populated by noise, chaos, things that recede and undulate. There is fire, burning, dawning, electricity, climbing—constant movement, though it isn’t always linear, momentous, or climatic. Religion is a system straining against this chaos; and Wiman fights religion and its failure to answer its own silence. God is in every poem, rejected in every poem, and therefore deconstructed. The false god of religiousity is dismissed for the greater unknown. God is presented variously as silent, insufferable, meaningless. And yet none of these qualifiers are negatives, or negations. “We lived in the long intolerable called God. / We seemed happy.” But later “Lord if I implore you please just please leave me alone / is that a prayer that’s every instant answered?” This poem, titled “We Lived,” ends abruptly with “Dear God—” There is no conclusion to prayer. Or to poetry. The end is really a beginning: the act of calling out, interminably.

Once in the West begins with a poem called “Prayer” that extends itself to readers, inviting those “blurred // by anxiety / or despair” to these pages and, maybe, “find / here // a trace / of peace.” Wiman joins in centuries of raised voices seeking peace amidst pain, joining those constrained by anxiety, those both endeared to and fearful of their loneliness and finitude. Throughout the book, “prayer” surfaces always in confliction, disappointment, frustration, always in its guttural origins. But Wiman’s call to prayer receives only silence, again and again. In one poem, “I will not violate my silence with prayer.” And in another “I tried to cry out in the old way / of thanksgiving, ritual lamentation, rockshriek of joy. / There was no answer. Had there ever been?” The guttural origins descend from our ancestors, but our methods of expression innovate themselves. Not unlike poetry.

wimanSo much in Once in the West collapses in on itself, is unlearning, un-becoming and therefore, paradoxically, becoming a fuller—perhaps more original, pure, Platonic—version of itself. In one poem “believe in nothing but the fact of absence.” And elsewhere “a purity // of emptiness you had to admire.” Or simply, “I felt nothing.” Antitheticals are bound to one another: “whisper-rupture” and “feathery detonation.” Definitions obliterate themselves: “too meaningful / to mean.” Forms become their original forms: “sun before sun: undawn.”

Everything is paradox and that paradox, if it wasn’t so evasive and even ethereal, might be or offer or explain god. The unmeaning, meaninglessness of our lives is so intimately infused with moments of intense meaning. “Meaning” defines itself in an instant—this matters. But often that’s all we’re given, little synaptic, surging introspections that fire and abandon. Why it matters escapes us simultaneous with asking “why?” Temporality, presence, a flash and spark and light quickly waning in darkness. Wiman calls this grace. Memory proceeds out in imitation, gradations. It serves us, but mostly it fails. What else do we have though?

So much life in this poem
so much salvageable and saving love

but it is I fear I swear I tear open
what heart I have left

to keep it from being
and beating and bearing down upon me.

Poetry is prayer. Is the act of calling out, bearing witness, exposing our groan so as to share in the universal groan, which is both pained and loving. “This cry I am inside / is not mine.” Language is an act of hope rising out of its limitations, its human origins. Language is that atom of grace and the extrapolating imitations and memorials.

“Coming into the kingdom / I was like a man grown old in banishment, / a creature of hearsay and habit, prayerless, porous, a survival of myself.” But before there is kingdom, there is soil, Sisyphean sweat, skin. There is no conclusion, no transcendence, no revelation. Instead, an act of rebellion, a refusal to transcend and to instead remain in a moment that matters, that is: human connection. “Like the constellations / of kinetic quiet // that bound us beyond us . . . And I held your hand.”

A Sentimental Translation

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Although A Sentimental Novel, the final work from Alain Robbe-Grillet, was published in French in 2008, the English translation didn’t follow for almost another four years. Partially, this was due to the book’s content: a lengthy series of Robbe-Grillet’s sadistic fantasies. For the New Yorker, Elisabeth Zerofsky interviews the mysterious translator behind the English edition.

The Non-Fiction Dilemma

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Ever wonder how to write about other people without getting sued? Well, here are some answers.

Another flavor of invasion of privacy is called false light. Suppose you post a photo of a criminal arrest. Jane Doe, a bystander, appears in the picture, a true fact. If the photo creates the impression that Jane was arrested and you do not take reasonable measures to dispel that impression, Jane could sue you for portraying her in a false light.

Angelheaded Hipsters Burning

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And we are, aren’t we, us fiftysomethings? We’re the pierced and tattooed, shorts-wearing, skunk-smoking, OxyContin-popping, neurotic dickheads who’ve presided over the commoditisation of the counterculture; we’re the ones who took the avant-garde and turned it into a successful rearguard action by the flying columns of capitalism’s blitzkrieg; we’re the twats who sat there saying that there was no distinction between high and popular culture, and that adverts should be considered as an art form; we’re the idiots who scrumped the golden apples from the Tree of Jobs until our bellies swelled and we jetted slurry from our dickhead arseholes – slurry we claimed was “cultural criticism”.

In other news, British author Will Self thinks that it’s his generation—and not those Millennials—who are to blame for the golden age of Hipster. He explains why over at the New Statesman.