Rumpus Blog

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.

This Week in Short Fiction

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When literary magazines publish “Women’s Issues,” they can run the danger of making women into a theme. As if fiction by and about women is a curiosity, something to enjoy for a moment, in one issue a year, before returning to your regularly scheduled old white men programming. The title itself can imply that the pages therein are devoted to, well, women’s issues (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but women don’t only write about women’s issues), sending grown men running for the hills for fear of reading about menstruation (their loss). But sometimes, a women’s issue comes along that takes those stereotypical “women’s issues” and completely turns them on their heads. I’m talking about Gigantic’s Women’s Issue, which went live this Tuesday.

With stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman, Silvina Ocampo, Xuan Juliana Wang, and Vanessa Norton, this isn’t your grandma’s women’s issue. (more…)

Vault Release: Davis, Montgomery, and Ellington

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Aquarium Drunkard has highlighted some incredible recent vault releases from the jazz masters, including archival footage that definitely merits a listen. From Miles Davis there’s a Bootleg Series spanning live performances from 1955–1975: four CDs of unreleased material of Davis at Newport Jazz Festivals over the years. Resonance Records is putting out an early pre-fame ’50s recording of Wes Montgomery live in Indianapolis that inspired Pete Townshend to write “you can almost taste the smoke in the air” in the liner notes. Finally, the Conny Plank Session shows Duke Ellington late in his career working with a pre-krautrock Plank (NOTE: Groenland Records, which released the album, is having some virus issues with their website—check out the record here instead). Listen to some songs off each record and read more on Aquarium Drunkard.

Notable Chicago: 7/31–8/6

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Friday 7/31: Uncharted Books welcomes John Colasacco, Maggie Queeney, and James Niesen. 7 p.m.

Tara Ison examines film and identity in Reeling Through Life: How I Learned to Live, Love, and Die at the Movies. The Book Cellar, 7 p.m.

Sara Paretsky reads from Brush Back at Women & Children First, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday 8/1: The 2014–2015 Young Chicago Authors Teaching Artists present (In)visible, an evening of new works by Fatimah Asghar, Jasmine Barber, Britteney Kapri, Reginald Eldridge Jr., Dianna Harris, Tim Henderson, and Jamila Woods. Poetry Foundation, 6 p.m.

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Growing Up With Signs

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At Vela Magazine, Katie Booth writes on the historical repression of sign language in favor of oralism, and her experience growing up hearing with a deaf grandmother:

Everywhere she went, she brought Sign. In my mind, it was an act of rebellion as much as it was an act of preservation. The schools told her that she would need to learn English in order to get by; instead, she taught other people her language. I couldn’t think of a stronger, more stubborn, more glorious thing to do.

Pool 5 Choruses

Pool [5 choruses] by Endi Bogue Hartigan


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What is collective collects among all the things that were collected together, though properties of “collected” should likely include “among” and “within.” Observing, too, the role “without” must carry, so the collective appears more than just an among, or the among amongst what we see. But, of course, the collective is, and then is singularly collective together, but together is problematic. Does this make sense to you? What about a collective modeled from a field of poppies? Could all those poppies, all the activities among poppies, a woman on a horse riding through, people walking through, the look of other poppies up against the poppies that are further out, fit into the figure you call “poppies” or should it be “field of poppies”? How many poppies? 10,000? Would it change if it were 10,000,000? That’s how many Endi Bogue Hartigan starts with in her new book Pool [5 choruses]. So many poppies makes you think differently about the single poppy. It makes you think differently about a collective of poppies. Should you consider the collective of poppies a single entity, or a compound entity reliant on all the individual parts, or are they just background, something invisible or at least inconspicuous? But who, if they have actually seen poppies, would want to leave them to the background?

And so the issue of chorus. Is it merely an abstract idea referring to “a collection of people acting in a single body”? Is it actual people standing behind the pulpit singing? I am mainly familiar with “chorus” as a collective presence weighing in on the events of a Greek tragedy. “Oedipus, what are you doing?” says the chorus. And the chorus, I suppose, isn’t supposed to know what Oedipus is doing the way that the audience knows all along where this play is going, because Oedipus is a tragedy not a suspense. Oedipus is a reenactment of paradox again and again. With the chorus standing to the side as a support structure helping us remember and reimagine and recapture all Oedipus’ mistakes like we were seeing them for the first time. Supposedly, they are. Chorus as monolithic response. Chorus as entire city of Thebes. Chorus as all the people around Oedipus who can register the sentiments and reactions that all people would have if they saw what their leader was capable of.

But what’s the deal with “all”? Hartigan never asks this question, but the question lilts over almost every poem. Why is “all” such an easy mechanism in rhetoric, and we, as readers, are so easy to be swayed by it, even while “all” is seldom really all that’s being named in the sentence. In the poem “Experiment with Seven Hearts,” Hartigan crafts lots of different all’s. What about all seasons, and all teenagers, and all the starlings you might let in the attic, what do each of those all’s consist of?

Try now seven seasons static
in the streets
Let eleven teenage, walking, wearing headphones,
Let in deafen,
amp and prison, see what they do

Take your heaven from the attic
Let in missiles and fanatics
Let in starlings pecking sunflower hearts
Let in failure, punching
carts
The presences impart
presences anew

Of course, the poem itself presents a certain kind of “all” in its sonic echoes. There’s “static,” “attic” and “fanatic.” There’s “deafen,” “heaven” and “presences.” On the sonic level alone, the poem starts to complicate our sense of an “all” that acts as one single agency. Maybe two things can sound the same, and maybe that sonic sameness can tighten the correlation between the “static” nature of an “attic.” But what of a word’s single entity-ness? These two words represent very different sensibilities. “Static” can act as adjective or noun. It can be that kind of boundary where the real, concrete world inhabits our immediate vicinity, and it starts feeling like what we imagine an abstract blank cube would feel like if placed in our chest. This richness of denotation contrasts markedly to “attic,” which solidly refers to a specific portion of a house. And yet it’s that solid signifying that makes it available for figuration. For instance, when Bachelard equates the attic to the intellect. 

All of this might look like an indulgence of language play, but it lies at the heart of Hartigan’s project. What is a chorus? What are people together? What is this gigantic amalgamation of media that we intake every day supposed to mean as a collective and, simultaneously, as individual bits. Take that same notion and apply it to the groupings proposed in the above poem. Seven seasons would all be seasons, would all represent that overall sense of time of year and the presence a specific time of year has when it settles over a neighborhood or a city. It dictates the habits of a home. But a static winter is hardly the same as a static spring. One season must be different from another. The physical conditions alone, in terms of temperature, in terms of the appearance of trees, are radically different. But conceptually, too. A static winter is itself typical. A static spring is atypical. 

I’m not capable of writing enough here to fully express just what Hartigan does with the dilemma of sense-making, especially because I feel like she’s making so much sense the whole time. Yes, I see how many different directions poems take a reader on the literal level. Her poem, “The sun left scripts,” is actually a tame example of this radically varying literalness:

Silver shiver silver surface, only that.
Silver doesn’t ask itself what would it give, give up
or give away; is wouldn’t be silver then,

right? It wouldn’t be shining
through the center, apparent and profitless and barely white.
The water moving turned to silver for a moment then
to clear again–the sun

on the water turned to silver blinding then to sun.
The sun left scripts of silver on the reservoir then only water.
Pull them apart
without ripping: paper pasted with old glue

Endi Bogue HartiganFor me, the obvious reading of this poem is the image of sun on water, and that reflective surface that can blind in its glare. The movement of sun on water. The water moving so the sun appears to move over the surface or hover on the surface. For Hartigan’s poem, the challenge is expressing that contiguity, simultaneity and separation (“ripping” “pull them apart”) of the light’s reflection. And she goes at it sonically (“silver shiver silver surface”) and sensibly (“The water moving turned to silver for a moment then / to clear again”) and figuratively (“Silver doesn’t ask itself…”) and linguistically (“what would it give, give up / or give away,” implying that lilt of the lake water). Again, I’m not capable of writing enough here to fully express just what Hartigan is doing.

What is the conceptual center of togetherness and chorus and “all” and collective? And the examples I’ve given in this review are the most review-friendly pieces I can provide. 

If you’ve read Hartigan’s One Sun Storm, I would say Pool [5 choruses] is most like the final poem, “Tiger Entries.” Maybe because that was my favorite poem in her first book. Just for the poem’s accumulation of partialities that all feel like they’re pooling together, the way mercury would pool on a surface. Pool [5 choruses] is like One Sun Storm pulled over in the lyric direction of Julie Carr, Eleni Sikelianos and maybe even the extremity of Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge. In fact, imagine these poets the individual voices Hartigan sometimes requires her poems be read in. “Running Sentences,” for instance, has directions to be read by three different voices. Which is all to say that you’ll likely need to invite friends over if you’re planning to read Hartigan’s book. There are many voices necessary to fill out your own personal chorus.

The Old Sad Soak

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The Old Soak is a hauntingly one-note character, and one wonders exactly what about his alcoholism made him such a bankable franchise. Imagine the pitch meetings that followed: “He’s a lush, see? He wants to booze it up, but he can’t, because of that cursed eighteenth amendment!” Yuks ensue, contracts are signed, and everyone has a glass of whiskey.

The Paris Review looks back at humorist Don Marquis’s “The Old Soak,” an alcoholic character that isn’t as funny as he was intended to be.

Upcoming: Lou Barlow Solo Record

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Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh‘s Lou Barlow is releasing his first solo record in six years, Brace the Wave, on September 4 via Joyful Noise. A full track list is available from Consequence of Sound, along with some advance knowledge of the record’s sound, such as that Brace the Wave was recorded with Justin Pizzoferrato (Pixies, Speedy Ortiz, J Mascis) in less than a week, and that a press release has announced that “a number of songs ‘employ his early methods of tuning his ukulele down low’… while others are ‘traditional-style folk’ numbers.” September and October tour dates are up, mostly coastal stops with a few European shows. Watch the album’s trailer after the jump.

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What Not to Say Around Writers

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Writers have heard it all from readers, non-readers, strangers who question if books are still relevant, acquaintances who sigh about how nice it must be to stay home all day and write. Several popular authors have taken to Twitter to air their grievances with the hashtag #TenThingsNotToSayToAWriter, and Time has the story, along with some of the best highlights.

Song of the Day: “Fountain Stairs”

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The influential indie group Deerhunter have allegedly described their unique music as “ambient punk.” Founding member Bradford Cox—known also for his side project, Atlas Sound—provides eerily beautiful vocals to accompany compositions boasting everything from pop-friendly melodies to reverb-laden psychedelia. All this makes the more straightforward rock song “Fountain Stairs,” off Deerhunter’s record Halcyon Digest, more memorable for its cohesive guitars and tasteful, Lou Reed-esque vocals from Bradford Cox.

Notable Portland: 7/30–8/5

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Thursday 7/30: Poets Kate Kingston and Carolyn Martin read from their latest work while accompanied by an artist talk by Lawrence Wheeler. Glyph, 5 p.m., free.

Rinker Buck read’s from his epic account of travelling the length of the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon with a team of mules, The Oregon Trail. Powell’s City of Books, 7:30 p.m., free.

Friday 7/31: A reading to celebrate the life and inimitable work of James Tate, who passed away earlier this month, features Graham Hunter Gregg, Emily Kendal Frey, Jeff Alessandrelli, James Gendron, A.M. O’Malley, Sara Guest, Chelsea Carpenter, Andrew Michael Roberts, Derek Hunter Wilson, Hajara Quinn, Mike Young, and Zachary Schomburg. A broadside of Tate’s poem, The Lovely Arc of a Meteor in the Night Sky, will be given away for free at the reading. Attendees are encouraged to bring and read one of their own favorite Tate poems. Mother Foucault’s Bookshop, 7:30 p.m., free.

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3-D Printers Modernize Libraries

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American libraries have always been a place for ideas and the exchange of knowledge. In recent years, libraries have invested in computers and other new technologies. One of those popular technologies has been 3-D printers. Now, libraries with those tools are operating at the forefront of modern manufacturing techniques. Pacific Standard takes a look at how 3-D printers are changing libraries, and a future where the institutions are the center of manufacturing.

Out Like a Lion: Kathy Acker’s Last Hours

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Her genre-defying fiction, from the mail-art chapbook The Childlike Life of the Black Tarantula to incendiary novels ­like Blood and Guts in High Schooland Empire of the Senseless, were ways to think against every repression, to overturn the worlds—and words—of parents, gender, the academy, rationality, the traditional novel.

Let us remember Kathy Acker, whose unrelenting passion for living came through in her dying, as captured in a recent essay over at Hazlitt.