Rumpus Blog

This Week in Posivibes: Mykki Blanco

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If you haven’t benefited from the challenging force that is Mykki Blanco, that’s a problem that should be corrected. Blanco spoke out last week about the division being created by the #AllLivesMatter trend, identifying out the key point behind all the yelling, as she is wont to do, namely that a reactionary social media trend shouldn’t send groups who experience oppression into a fight against each other. Which seems about as good a reason as any to celebrate Blanco’s work in music, as a performer at large, and as an all-around intelligent human voice in the weird shouting hum that is our media-saturated moment. (more…)

Lydia Davis: A Prolific Tweeter

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For The Millions, Adam Boffa compares Lydia Davis’s short stories to social media. He argues that Davis’s compressed language, as well as her emphasis on routine and tragedy, works to “recreate a phenomenon that occurs daily on social media”:

Davis’s work, and maybe social media at its best, becomes a sort of celebration of the ordinary, the boring, the totally expected, the regular. They both identify and even welcome the power granted by our taking stock in those things we might otherwise overlook. And they implicitly acknowledge the ability of our boring lives to help us recover after tragedy; they know that persistence can be resilience.

Writing Homosexuality in Africa

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Within the past five years, we’ve seen a sea change in attitudes towards homosexuality by writers, in part a response to virulent anti-homosexual legislation in key locations. Writers such as Chimamanda Adichie and Binyavanga Wainaina have been very open about their personal views on homosexuality and have gone on to challenge and change how homosexuality and same-sex desire is represented in fiction.

Over at Africa Is a Country, Ainehi Edoro and Neelika Jayawardane consider how the representation of homosexuality in literary fiction by African writers has changed in the last few years, thanks in particular to writers such as Chimamanda Adichie and Diriye Osman.

Fitzgerald Can Be Funny, Too

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The most recent issue of the Strand magazine includes a previously unpublished short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The story, titled “Temperature,” was discovered in the Princeton archives by the managing editor of Strand, Andrew Gulli, who described the manuscript as one of Fitzgerald’s more comedic works:

“When we think of Fitzgerald we tend to think of tragic novels he wrote such as Gatsby and Tender Is the Night, but Temperature shows that he was equally adept and highly skilled as a short story writer who was able to pen tales of high comedy,”Gulli told the Associated Press. “Fitzgerald … couldn’t help using his satirical abilities to mock everyone from doctors [to] Hollywood idols and the norms of society.”

In a World…

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With so many contemporary young adult novels taking place in dystopian settings, we’re beginning to wonder whether it’s even possible to come of age in a world that isn’t on the brink of collapse. Soon enough, paragon network of teenage melodrama The CW will adapt Little Women to the “dystopic streets of Philadelphia,” thereby robbing us of one of the last remaining relics of a time when children could grow up without reference to apocalypses past and present. May the odds be ever in their favor.

The University Press That Doesn’t Exist

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As part of austerity measures, the University of Akron eliminated its university press. The director and two staff members were both let go as part of budget-trimming layoffs. The press focused on regionally significant publications that chronicled Ohio history, culture and poetry. As Inside Higher Ed reveals, once people noticed that the press had been eliminated, the University began insisting the press still exists as part of the library system. But librarians are not editors, and nobody at the University as said what will happen to the twenty-five books the press has signed contracts with.

Hoaxing History

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The mythology of the New World – as expansive as the continent itself – engendered a mania for magical thinking, for reinvigorating Old-World myths in a land that still felt only half-real…. a land without myths can be a lonely place.

Ted Scheinman writes for Aeon Magazine on the history of archaeological hoaxes and why these unbelievable stories are so readily (and eagerly) believed.

All Bikini Kill News is Good News

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The band formative for all things riot grrrl has announced it’s releasing the 1991 demo Revolution Girl Style Now! on vinyl, CD, tape, and electronically. Previously only available on cassette and in seriously small, self-released quantities, the reissue is slated for September 22nd on the band’s own Bikini Kill Records. This edition includes three unreleased tracks and is available for pre-order if you want to make sure you get it as soon as you can, which is totally understandable. Watch the album’s trailer after the jump. (more…)

Literary Redo

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Over at Lit Hub, Tobias Carroll takes a look at three recently reissued books (Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns, Genoa by Paul Metcalf, and A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin) trying again to seek out the success they deserve based on merits of exemplary craft and wonderful stories, and meditates on all these authors can offer in their previously overlooked works and what makes literary reissues so appealing.

This Week in Indie Bookstores

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An “Honesty Bookshop” has opened in Najing, China where there are no cashiers or staff of any kind and customers pay any amount they want.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney is following a childhood dream and opening a new bookstore in Massachusetts.

Have you ever wanted to sleep in a bookstore? Now’s your chance. A bookstore/hostel plans to open in Tokyo.

Denver-area BookBar combines two great things: an indie bookstore and a wine bar. “Happier Hour” features local authors and cheap drinks.

James Patterson is donating $100,000 in gifts to indie bookstores across Australia in effort to get children reading.

New York City’s Rizzoli Bookstore has reopened in the Flatiron district after the previous store was displaced by a luxury apartment development.

Why We Write with Words

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For wherever writing seems to achieve preeminence as a tool of the powerful, we find at that moment that it becomes possible to take it apart and turn it upon itself, a line of that same material quickened once more into a truth-making, universe-etching voice.

At Lapham’s Quarterly, Matthew Battles writes on the evolution of the written language, from the ancient Greeks to the monasteries of ancient Britain.

Notable Los Angeles: 8/3–8/9

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Monday 8/3: It’s the first Monday of the month, which means it’s time for another Speakeasy/Open Mic Night! You’ve spent countless hours muttering to yourself as you tried to fix that line of dialogue, now it’s time to say it out loud in front of a supportive audience. Sign-ups begin at 7:45 p.m. at The Last Bookstore.

Tuesday 8/4: When’s the last time you volunteered at 826LA? You should get on that.

Thursday 8/6: Ruth Galm discusses and signs Into the Valley. 7 p.m. at Book Soup.

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Weekend Rumpus Roundup

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In the Saturday Essay, Gila Lyons laments Asif Kapadia’s portrayal of Amy Winehouse in the documentary, Amy, and contrasts the film with the recent biopic of Kurt Cobain. The gender-based double standard is alive and well here. Women are still being objectified and martyred by the media. “The film eschews Amy the artist for Amy the addict,” Lyons writes, “and that’s a show we’ve already seen.”

Next, Julie Marie Wade reviews Shipbreaking. (more…)

Canon Cannon

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Begone, Wordsworth!

The Times‘s Sunday Book Review brought in acclaimed writers James Parker and Francine Prose to answer the question: who should be kicked out of the literary canon? They responded by offering some lovely (or heartbreaking) discussion on Samuel Taylor Coleridge and William Wordsworth, and challenging the very idea of a “canon” in the first place.

The Poetry of Laura Victoria

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Kiss me like this – slowly.
Your tongue, like a living flame,
feeds my burning dreams –
and after my heavy-hearted abandonment,
a clean breeze brightens
the jasmine in my bed.

Emily Paskevics, writing for Luna Luna Magazine, profiles Laura Victoria, the pseudonym of Colombian poet and diplomat Gertrudis Peñuela (1904-2004). Paskevics provides translations of several poems from Victoria’s 1930s collections, Cráter sellado (Sealed Crater) and Llamas azules (Blue Flames), including the above excerpt from “The Kiss.”

Notable NYC: 8/1–8/7

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Saturday 8/1: Nicole Haroutunian, Maggie Serota, Allison Devers, and others read at the Chilltown Literary Festival. WORD Jersey City, 11 a.m., free.

Diana Hamilton, Ben Fama, Rob Fitterman, Monica McClure, Purvi Shah, Christina Olivares, Julia Tolo, Chia-Lun Chang, Krystal Languell, and others read at the Small Press Flea. Brooklyn Public Library, 11 a.m., free.

Sunday 8/2: Elissa Bassist, Maris Kreizman, Celeste Ballard, and Ryan Ballard discuss Jennifer’s Body with Diablo Cody via Skype. Videology, 9 p.m., free.

Monday 8/3: Christina McDowell reads After Perfect, a memoir of a family’s destruction. BookCourt, 7 p.m., free.
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Shipbreaking

Shipbreaking by Robin Beth Schaer

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At any given moment, there is a poetry book in my bag. There is another on my desk, under my nightstand, wedged inside the glove box of my car. Because you never know when you might end up stranded somewhere—a waiting room, a traffic jam, a day when the work isn’t flowing, or a night when the sleep won’t come—and the only thing that could worsen your situation would be to find yourself stranded without poems.

So it is for me, anyway.

I recently stopped in at Jiffy Lube for a routine tune-up and oil change. I left three hours later convinced my life had been saved by Robin Beth Schaer’s debut collection, Shipbreaking. What can I say? The lobby reeked of motor oil, and the Keurig was out of coffee. There were too few chairs, or too many people, or both. Good Morning, America was blaring like a fog horn, but it still couldn’t drown out the whoosh and roar of the customers’ rising complaints. So I slouched against a wall, and I reached inside my bag, and soon I found myself reclining in the hammock of Schaer’s smooth, taut lines, her prosody of absolute precision. Some poets play the spoons, but Schaer plays the knives. Her words are not so much written as carved, her lines not so much offerings as incisions. As a consequence, whatever this speaker tells me—“Even coral must dream of cobwebs,” “Without grief, the gun is artifact,” “A javelin anchors the air/ between us”—I’ll believe.

Hammocks are hard to hang and harder still to secure. They look pleasant and jaunty while unoccupied, rocking in the ocean breeze, but how does something twined and porous safely support the weight of a grown body? Perhaps this is the paradox of the poem as well. What combination of exact language and elegant arrangement will bear the weight of the consciousness that weaves it? What strange union of the substantive and spare will bear the weight of the consciousness that combs it? And why does Schaer’s Shipbreaking pass the poetry test of Ultimate Tensile Strength with flying colors?

One reason: the colors.

The central intelligence of this book is keen and wisely “silver-eyed.” Her synesthetic tides criss-and-cross until you can hear “a gray sentence spoken over a green one.” Schaer’s diction is “heavy and black as your hair,” yet light and translucent as “blue glass.” Her “red mangroves” gleam with mythic splendor. Her “hope is a yellow shore.”

Of course a hammock is only as sturdy as the material it is made from. A poem, I reason, is only as sturdy as its verbs. A citizen of Schaer’s “shoaled world” may be “savaged by sky,” “marooned in the forest,” “married to darkness.” After all, “history [is] only revealed in ruin.” There, bodies “smolder,” a “toaster//accepts the bread by design,” and “the future clock of disappointment chimes.” So many kinds of longing comprise us. In this furtive narrative, someone doesn’t just waste away; someone “macerates, waiting to overthrow.” I can hear the difference. In this spectral lyric, contusions don’t merely mark and darken the skin; they “stipple [it] with soot.” I can feel the difference. Here, “snakes may cling to trees, and men//tear at bread, but the sky stays hinged.” It will not fall. It is like the sea, which “is the opposite of falling.” 

Let’s remember the trees.

A hammock—like a ship, like a life, like a poem—requires ballasts. Often, it is ballasted by trees. In Schaer’s Shipbreaking, these symbolic trees are everywhere juxtaposed: “the argot of twins,” “a shelter// of speculation and tin.” This poet bears the gift of naming unlikely pairings that illuminate the space between them—which is also a hammock. Put another way, Schaer’s is the gift of seeing the hammock for the trees.

Look here:

          Current

is the cure for both a stopped heart 

and one that beats too much.

[Stopped heart.] Hammock [Heart that beats too much.]

And if it must be shocked twice,

the surgeons call it a reluctant heart.

Love is haywire.  Hold fast,

between us, [hammock], pass subtle particles

that singe and seize [trees].  We are electric.

Notice our “silver-eyed” speaker’s noticing: 

My love, remember, the polestar

is not alone, but twinned,

a pair of suns, guiding you North.

Now see how she turns hammock herself, the way another woman in another world turned salt. Both are evidenced by pillars:

waiting.  I am tethered here, while you chart home,

north through narrow clemency, spared between sharp

Carolina coast and Atlantic beaten

barrier islands.

Robin Beth SchaerA freighted symmetry impels this collection forward. The book does not move so much as it glides and sluices, heavy but light. Schaer’s speaker, heady with momentum, becomes the “sweet locomotive” she describes. Her linguistic “impact sh[akes] loose sequins/ and concealed keys,” which I decipher as images (that dazzle) and insights (that unlock). The ship of this book, both literal and metaphorical, splits open with every deft parsing of Schaer’s lines. Piñata-like, these poems scatter their treasures of sound and sense.

I find an exemplar here of what I’ve been trying to articulate in the poetry classroom for so long. The poet walks a tightrope (or perhaps she rocks a hammock) between what is seen and what is said. All showing is no insight. All telling is no image. Art seeks the fulcrum between them.

“Show me something,” I urge my students. “Show me something I have seen before in a way I have never seen it before.”  I want the luminous clarity of astute noticing. I want the vision of a silver eye: 

       wheat-paste posters peeling off walls,

and drifts of newspapers and boxed tied

with bakery twine

Can you see this?

a starving dog,

a misaligned fence, the children swimming naked.

What about this?

We lie stiff together, a pair

of matchsticks.

And this? Tell me you can see this, too:

Someday, someone

will find our ribs in a midden of oyster shells,

ship hulls, and wooden doors. 

“Now tell me something you have learned from your showing,” I say. “What has your seeing led you to believe?”

What about this?

            Even swooning

is a kind of fainting, overwhelmed

by bliss, instead of pain.  We cross

our breaking capacity:  too much

current in the wires and a strip

of metal melts in sublimation.

but without the blown fuse or insulated

mica, the charge could stop a heart.

I read the abstract nouns—“bliss,” “pain,” “sublimation”—but they are connected now, insulated even, by the intricate image system Schaer has knit. Where there is swooning and fainting, where there are currents and wires and strips of metal, these abstractions hunker down and build a concrete home.

And here? What about this? 

History

is full of flightless falls: metal wings

and bird machines built without destination,

just to be loose of the anchor. […]

The sky utters reasons,

lies told to other lives.

The theme of breaking recurs; now the theme of falling recurs. The poet circles back again to flight and anchor, reasons and lies. Culmination is close. The reader watches the sky of these poems, the fog across it burning away.

Near the end comes the insight Schaer seems to have been writing her way toward. The speaker climbs it, in fact, like a starboard ladder, image-rung by image-rung, until she pronounces something we might more rightly call epiphany. (A student, some years ago: “Is it fair to say epiphany is insight squared?” Exactly.)

I want to promise you

permanence, my constant orbit, but even continents

are revisions.

Think of that rupture. That split. That ultimate breaking. Imagine Pangaea anew, the world as we know it a second draft. Now, imagine the in-between, the wild blue hammocks of ocean. 

Schaer has given us the world in this debut: the sea and the sky and the many islands of desire spread between them. She has plumbed our dual human yearnings for escape and return, love as liberation and love as captivity. In her lexical and historical wanderlust, she has grappled with what it means to name and what it means to leave unnamed. No matter what we choose, we will lose. To be human is to “harness ourselves over and over.”

I’ve ridden these poems to the end of the line, to the place where “the sky stays hinged.” I’m ready for the next installment, Schaer. Take me onward and upward, as only you can. The earth is all hammocks strung between trees. But let it be as you have promised: “Only heaven is full of furniture.”

The Super-Secret Identities of Clark Kent and Stan Lee

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Such is the paradox of comics: they’re the medium of the marginalized, yet they remain wildly popular. Perhaps that’s because in some way, at some point, everyone will feel marginalized and need a seat at the table in the cafeteria away from the jocks. Even the jocks.

Jabeen Akhtar looks back to the publication of the first American comic book in 1933, and traces how we historically have viewed comic books, from a once-widely-accepted theory analyzing Superman as a “Nazi dream child,” to Mad Magazine’s sexually perverse version of Archie, to Burka Avenger.