Rumpus Blog

Dear Diary


…while autobiography and memoir have gained ground as legitimate and canonical literary modes, the diary retains an association with inappropriate, overly personal, or pejoratively “private” discourse.

At Huffington Post, Kylie Cardell examines the diary’s transition into public art form, from tabloid scoops and confessional blogs to contemporary figures who publish their own diaries, and our cultural obsession with the intimate form.

The Warmest Color


For ARTnews, Justin Taylor shares his thoughts on the reissue of William Gass’s On Being Blue:

With William Gass, still alive and writing at 90, it’s a bit early to play canon games, or at least to play them fairly. Still, the dedicated cultists of The Tunnel notwithstanding, it seems that this thin “philosophical inquiry” has pulled ahead of his many and variegated—and tomelier—tomes. 

A New Kind of Superhero


Not your average comic, Priya’s Shakti is a new graphic novel out of India created to combat gender-based violence and fight the patriarchy. The hero, Priya, is a rape survivor who empowers women with help from the Hindu goddess Parvati and a tiger. At the Guardian, co-writer Ram Devineni says the impetus for the comic came after the Delhi bus gang rape two years ago, when he realized “sexual violence in India is not a legal issue but a cultural problem.”

This Week in Short Fiction


With the Senate Intelligence Committee’s online release of their Torture Report summary and Melville House’s announcement last week that it will publish a bound copy of the summary report at the end of this year, torture has been in the air. Even before that, though, the murmurings of what has been going on at Guantánamo Bay since the early 2000s has undoubtedly been at work in the collective creative subconscious. On Tuesday, The Normal School released one powerful, fictional short story offshoot of that subconscious, “The Fifth Category,” that explores the culpability of those who sanction torture.

The story, written by journalist, cultural critic, and fiction writer Tom Bissell, rests in a close third-person perspective of “John,” which The Normal School invites readers to interpret as John C. Yoo in their tweet of the story. (more…)

Notable Chicago: 12/19–12/25


Friday 12/19: Bad Grammar Theater is back at Powell’s Bookstore University Village for another evening of readings from Chicago authors of horror, fantasy, pulp fiction, and sci-fi. 6 p.m.

Monday 12/22: Women and Children First hosts award-winning playwright Sarah Ruhl, who’ll read from her essay collection, 100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write, chosen as a New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2014. 7 p.m.

Tuesday 12/23: The Pungent Parlour is a reading series that presents short pieces of fiction and essay in a salon setting. This month come listen to the prose of Elizabeth Gomez, Conor Cawley, Jac Jemc, Ben Johnson and hosts Jeff Phillips, and Jeremy Johnson. Black Rock Pub, 10 p.m.

Not-So-Young Adults


Good news! Early reports show that book sales are up 4.9 percent in 2014. Who can we thank for this Christmas miracle? Adults who read e-book versions of YA novels, that’s who. Sales are up by a dramatic 53 percent in YA/Children’s e-books, while sales in Adult Fiction/Nonfiction are down 3.3 percent—maybe because all the adults are reading The Hunger Games on their Kindles instead.

Public Domain Has It


My heart pounded and my breath choked in my windpipe. I had stumbled on an accidental mention of a totally unfamiliar race. Obviously non-Terrestrial. Yet, to the characters in the book, it was perfectly natural—which suggested they belonged to the same species.

To celebrate Philip K. Dick’s birthday, the Paris Review published “The Eyes Have It”, a short story of his from 1953 now fallen into public domain.

Song of the Day: “Merry Christmas Baby”


Merry Christmas baby
You sure do treat me nice

Soul icon Otis Redding’s short career was remarkably prolific. The highlights from his electrifying catalog are varied and buoyant, even in an area of pop music that has traditionally suffered from corniness. “Feelin mighty fine girl/ Got music on my radio,” Redding cries on possibly the funkiest Christmas song we have ever heard.

Good Writing and Bad Surveillance


The idea of “good writing” is shaped by social forces—that are in turn shaped by economic and historical forces—and our own identity privileges and privileges as editors (if we are editors). Determining what is good or bad is an aesthetic choice that requires the exercising of power. People who traditionally hold power in our society are white and male.

Melody Nixon of Apogee Journal discusses surveillance and writing with The Hairpin.

Next Letter for Kids: Patrick Jennings


We’re sending our next Letter For Kids from Patrick Jennings! Patrick sends us a visual letter of some of the title pages from his rough drafts, including Guinea Dog. You can get an inside look at how the books began, and then go to the library and compare them to the finished versions!

For more information on Letters for Kids, click here. Click here to subscribe now. And, Letters for Kids is now on Facebook and Pinterest, so visit us there, too!

Joan Didion and Me


All of that is to say that because Tom Wolfe and because James Baldwin and Hunter S. Thompson and Michael Herr, but because Didion most of all, an American essay today without the sudden and revelatory personal aside is hardly an American essay at all.

Joan Didion turns 80 this month, and is still one of the most present literary authors of our times. At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Emmett Rensin recalls how the writer influenced his life and work as an essayist.

Hemingway on a Bike

Hemingway On A Bike by Eric Freeze


In his 1926 novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” Hemingway famously wrote, “Never be daunted. Secret of my success. Never been daunted. Never be daunted in public.” Generations of literary men – from Camus to Vidal – would follow his advice: A man’s man should write about masculine things, about bullfights and drinking, war and the nihilism of love, without apprehension.

The 15 essays in Eric Freeze’s Hemingway On A Bike offer a new perspective on what it means to be a literary man. Freeze’s topics range from bike riding to foosball to superheroes to Angry Birds, while he searches for understanding, slogging through the boggy waters of the mundane in an attempt to uncover truths about the human condition.

In the title essay, which is also the collection’s first entry, Freeze finds himself imagining the route Hemingway reportedly biked through Paris. He places the literary legend on a manly trip, speeding down soulless avenues and boulevards in search of brooding solitude, passing prisons and government buildings:

This was the way to do it. A sweaty, grunting American cruising along the holy artery of Paris. A big-jawed, burly foreigner, with the frame and temperament of a fur trapper, plucked from the Michigan woods and plopped on a bike on Napoleon III’s parade route.

Here, Freeze alludes to Hemingway’s stateside hunting and fishing trips, compares Hemingway to the namesake of France’s most formidable military power, and even goes on to speculate on Hemingway’s supposed refusal to wear a bike helmet. Yet side-by-side with this masculine language, Freeze opens up to apprehensiveness. Many literary scholars believe that Hemingway wanted to write about biking – in fact, Freeze begins the essay with a quote from one such scholar – but he never did. Why not? The rest of the essay struggles to answer this question. Finally, Freeze comes to the only explanation that can satisfy his obsession:

[For Hemingway], biking was like trying on a hat he’d seen in a window. It was a flamboyant hat with colors and textures he wasn’t used to. And after the first laugh, the first pointing finger, he took it off, held it in his hands. No, he’d say, giving it back to the shopkeeper. That’s a hat for someone else.

With that, Freeze sets the tone for the rest of his collection, preparing the reader for a thematic break from traditionally masculine topics.

Eric Freeze

Eric Freeze

Hemingway On A Bike is diverse and insightful. Freeze transitions seamlessly from one topic to the next. In “Freebirth,” he struggles to chronicle the home birth of his daughter:

The lexicon of birth is visceral; it’s a scene, a paragraph, a sentence composed of grunts and swaying hips and breaths and blood. As a man, I can never truly speak this language. How do I describe the poetry of my wife’s birthing body?

He attempts to answer his own question by writing about another of his wife’s creations: a book about the pros and cons of giving birth outside the sterile walls of a hospital. With this juxtaposition, Freeze is able to accept his limited role in childbirth by focusing instead on his wife’s struggles with writing – a process of which Freeze has intimate knowledge. The result is an essay that reestablishes his role as a necessary presence in his wife’s life despite his inability to truly relate to her experience of giving birth.

Many of Freeze’s essays deal with his obsessions and how they inform his daily experiences. Memories of his experiences as a missionary in France flesh out thoughts on current events. In “Angry Birds,” he attempts to explain his son’s infatuation with the popular game by comparing it to his own desire to restore houses, and in “Beard Card,” he humorously grapples with his own masculinity by recalling his failure to grow a beard resembling that of Denzel Washington in “Malcolm X.”

In the collection’s final essay, “On Intimacy,” Freeze offers vignettes of the various times, over the years, when he shared intimate knowledge with others, often naively violating the inherent trust of that intimacy. For the first time in the collection, Freeze breaks from his conventional first-person narration and addresses the “you” directly:

You’ve had me with you now for ages, lying crumpled in a backpack or on a desk with a pile of papers … I like to imagine us together at dawn or at night with the first or last rays of light flitting through your mini blinds … You crease the page, hold your fingers to your lips. I have told you my secrets. They’re here, along with the absences and all the stories I couldn’t bring myself to tell. I have changed the names, invented locales, and rearranged events. Writers tell me, this is something we do. We string sentences together and weave them between textless bands of white. They build through time, each word its own kind of violation.

This switch – the sudden direct conversation aimed at the reader – is jarring, but in the best possible way. With these final words, Freeze reaches off the page, nuzzles up to the reader’s ear, and whispers one of humanity’s most valuable secrets: Be daunted. Been daunted. Be daunted in public.

Blake’s Book of Job


In addition to his place in the canon as a seminal Romantic poet, William Blake was an accomplished visual artist. In a write-up for Hyperallergic, Allison Meier shares the fruits of her visit to see Blake’s 21-panel series of engravings on the Book of Job, on display at Manhattan’s Museum of Biblical Art (MOBIA) through January 11th. Though little-recognized during his lifetime, Blake’s works have stood the test of time; this exhibit is a testament to his artistry, particularly in his signature work illustrating biblical scenes and the trials of the everyman. Hyperallergic has published images of the prints, for those curious souls who can’t make it out the exhibit.

The Essay Makes a Comeback


2014 has already been called “The Year of the Debut” as a way of recognizing all the amazing debut novels published over the last twelve months. Now Jason Diamond is calling 2014 “The Year of the Essay,” pointing out the growing popularity in the non-fiction form and telling us why he values it so much:

Reading fiction is one of my true loves, but essays help me to understand things about the world, the writer, and if they’re really great, myself.

Behind the Scenes with Beckett


In a piece for the Times’s Sunday Book Review, Paul Muldoon leads a fascinating and warm-hearted expedition through the letters and poems of Samuel Beckett, new volumes of which will become available in the coming months. One could argue that Muldoon is prone to hyperbole, at times; he casually describes Krapp’s Last Tape as “the single greatest evocation of loss and longing of the 20th century” and declares that “to describe [Beckett’s] line breaks as arbitrary would be a kindness.” On the whole, though, Muldoon inspires confidence through his insightful readings and engaging prose, giving readers a captivating window into Beckett’s writing life, and the collaborative relationships that brought his plays and radio dramas to the world.

Notable San Francisco: 12/17–12/23


Wednesday 12/17: Fourteen Hills launches issue 21.1 with readings by contributors Chris Ames, Matthew Clark Davison, Arthur Isaac Hofmayer, Ashley K. Nelson, Jahla Seppanen, and Matthew Zapruder (Free, 7 p.m., Viracocha).

The Kinda Late Show w/Broke-Ass Stuart returns with a second episode, featuring Veronica Belmont, Gabi Moskowitz, and Josh Constine, with music by Double Duchess and MegaFlame Presents Big Band and Cabaret ($12-15, 8 p.m., Doc’s Lab).

Weekday Wanderlust presents travel tales by Katie Hammel, Angela Petersen, and Perry Garfinkel (Free, 7 p.m., Hotel Rex).

The Berkeley Slam presents its annual Anarchy Slam, featuring Mighty Mike McGee ($7-10, 8 p.m., The Starry Plough).



Tombo by W. S. DiPiero


Inundation—. Both aural and lived.  When I read  W.S. Di Piero’s poems—and particularly those in his new book Tombo—I wonder if the world doesn’t dizzy him unremittingly,  given how permeable he seems to be to that very world.  Di Piero is that pleasing and startling combination of poet: both a vast thinker and utterly sensate.  Attuned, like the dog in the preamble poem to the volume, “The Running Dog”:

…and the body

quivers through its days

unawares, but sensate,

like a dreaming dog

in the still, marbled air

of its own running, the felt

and numb times in between…

Most readers, I suspect, curious about the book’s title, will flip to the last poem from which the volume takes its name.  There are some clues here, but one has also to bring that poem into relationship with the line drawing by Paul Klee on the book’s frontispiece and with the preamble poem just mentioned.

The drawing by Klee, “Delapidation of an Architecture,” presents to the reader first-thing the façade of a Victorian-row-home-like building.  But the architecture is broken down into separate, component elements, no two touching—mostly recognizable architectural forms, with one chaotic, jumbled spot of shapes at the bottom.  The overall impression is one of fragility and disconnect, which joins “The Running Dog’s”

“…things around us,

this pigeon feather, acorn,

rinds and grounds and crusts,

any this or that, or words

that pass between us,

while we keep trying to say

here by the stove or on your street

exactly what it’s like.”

This then joins the presiding yearning in the poem “Tombo,” a search to piece together “one / inarticulate incoherent moment to the next,” a craving for “plain rotund stories/ to justify our continuity.”

Not to belabor this set of rewarding initial steps—but they do set up well the deep, seeking quality of the book.  An exploration of what we as “faint believers” try to believe in.

At times, Di Piero reads very much like a true descendant of the Romantics.  Some poems reminding me of the fullness of experience Wordsworth achieves, but a Wordsworth version 2.0, brought into the present day and given some instruction in succinctness and more modern and labile, associative leaps.  Or shades of Keats with the soft spot being so often pierced by experience.  These poems, however, are not recollections undertaken in tranquility:   Di Piero’s “vagrant imagination rushes toward the world”  and the tsunami of that world rushes in—that “…indifferent world/ that rivers through and past me.”

dipieroAt a time when so much of the poetry we read is wan, with nothing that sticks, I have always relished the musicality of Di Piero’s work, his songs with memorable phrases and vivid moments.  Many have come to expect this rich experience of sound in his poems.  And we find it everywhere in Tombo Di Piero—again in the searching tone of this book—“craves/ a sound that blends the dirt and air” and a music “giving incoherence a restless shape.” These lines from the poem “Hub Cap: An Essay on Poetry,” could also surely hearken back to the visual correlative, the Klee drawing at the very start of the book.  Here is a passage that one could only call a pyrotechnics of sound, from the poem “The Black Paintings: The Mouth”:

“…Goya’s mouths are sites

of being, fouled canals,

rain rushing gutters to flush

slops and excrement aglitter

with nervous lusts

angers, hungers, grubs

foraging life’s ruins and offal

essential to damnation and glee.”

Interestingly, Di Piero often mentions the word  “scenes”  in the poems in the book.  The way Di Piero attends to the many figures in his “scenes”—a woman being reminded to walk her dog, a the tot with a balloon, a guy with a mullet, a grocery-store prophet like Tombo—recalls to me Whitman’s “The Sleepers” and that ample, allowing to each person, each scene, a kind of grandeur—giving each person his or her full due.

Gradually, as the book continues, we become aware that what Di Piero intuits is of a rare order that we are, at best,  very slow to grasp.  So deeply does a place flow through him, for example, that we realize we may have been wrong about place all along: “…here you are the nothing/ that is this place, / and all the places are you….”   In these scenes, “steady rain isn’t really steady” and Di Piero can testify to the fact that “the quiet of night is not really quiet.”  “Our absent autumn,” claims De Piero, “waits for us somewhere.”  “And we live this moment / in every other universe” while countless yonders  take place right here.  This is life’s very “flash and flesh.”

It is, to my mind at least,  the poet’s work not only to withstand the “bite and thrust” of the world, but to be its intimate. To me Tombo is a book of great courage and wakefulness, a rally to wakefulness.   “If I go numb to our surround, my love,” writes Di Piero, “press your nails into my palm, I’ll do the same / for you, we’ll wake each other, again ….”