A Quick Trip to the Brothel

Isaac Dwyer experiences a new type of poetry reading, filled with coy cowboys and time-warp aristocrats.

Images courtesy of Debbie Easley of Naked New Orleans Photography.

March 21st was a warm Thursday night in New Orleans – parties, sinners, natural disasters, and freaky wack-jobs. Sitting bored at home, I began scouring the various local newspapers for something to do, but found nothing except the typical poorly put-together Jazz combos on Bourbon street, and the pretentiously swanky art receptions on Royal. Of course, that’s not to mention the gauchely over-the-top cover fees. It seemed that the city had failed me when the light of salvation peeked through on an obscure Facebook event – “The New Orleans Poetry Brothel – TONIGHT at the Allways Lounge. Doors open at 9, show starts at 10.” Investigating further, I found that little else was to be given away on the poorly designed event page, except that the cover fee was ten dollars and that there would be poetry and burlesque. The enticing title being enticing as it was, however, I decided it would be worth the trip down to the cute, fastly-gentrifying Marigny, and hopped on the streetcar.

Upon arriving at the venue a half hour late (for, being New Orleans, I knew that the performers would probably still be busy getting drunk beforehand), I was greeted by an aging fairy-princess-acting-as-bouncer with a Christmas-light-crown-of-thorns tattooed on her forehead. After lightening my wallet and ignoring my insufficient age, she welcomed me into the bustling lounge. I observed that the room was filled with, alongside the pseudo-literati also in attendance of the event, a wide array of freaks in garb varying from Victorian prostitute to Steampunk to erotic cowboy, all wearing red crocheted roses pinned onto their chests. I watched as some of them disappeared with other attendees onto the couches and into the dark corners of the lounge – was this actually a whorehouse? After a few inquisitions with inebriated strangers, I discovered the event’s modus operandi: I was to purchase tokens (poker chips) from a small woman with a credit card swiper attachment on her iPhone for five dollars each, and then use the tokens to purchase private readings from anyone wearing a crocheted red rose. The poets themselves inhabited characters designed specifically for the event, and all of the poems read would be specifically tailored for the characters they inhabited. All of it was to be original work. And yes, in many ways, it was a whorehouse. The show was part poetry, part theatre, part environmental experience, and entirely kinky and weird.  I thought the concept delightful, and purchased a handful of tokens, for five dollars apiece.

It must be noted that as a student of poetry, I am sensitive to the kinds of cliché and esoteric nonsense that many a so-called “professional” poet utilizes while constructing their works. Classic tropes (swans, death, snakes and sibilance, rosy fingertips of dawn), if utilized, must be done with new flair, and no ambiguities or references used cheaply to inspire awe in the audience go unnoticed. Thus, when I solicited my first private reading of the evening from the sexually ambiguous expatriated Parisian, going by the name of Tabitha “Totty” Quym, and she drew me into a secluded outdoor courtyard of the lounge, put a cigarette between her lips, whipped out her leather-bound notebook and began with a piece called “Mon tigre, mon tigre,” I was immediately suspicious. It was a clear, and rather generic, reference to William Blake’s “Tiger, Tiger.” In other words, nothing that I hadn’t heard or seen before. But, to Totty’s credit, her presentation of character throughout the private reading was unflappable to any distractions – the Allways is, after all, a bar, filled with rambunctious trouble-makers and inebriated proletariat. Another poem of hers, however, proved to be much more fulfilling. Titled “The Goddess’ Lens,” her blasé vocal affectation and the continuous flicking of cigarette ash onto the patio complimented the words, wrapping up with the mysterious phrases: “It’s your soul she will command;/ those places hidden deep/ she finds and twists and molds them,/ at your request, you see./ For why else would you have sought her out,/ if not to be shot by she?”

Although still a touch on the amateur side, Totty was able to overcome any lacking originality in language with a powerful presence. Her affectations were classical, which to anyone such as myself, who’s used to dealing with insufferable, purposefully esoteric and convoluted contemporary poetry (a large portion of poetry written over the past sixty years. Modernism at its worst) – the classical style can be rather refreshing.

The second poet I solicited provided an entirely different experience – going by the name of [Bi]nary, her biography is a work of digitized insanity within itself: “Kidnapped out of time by the Russians during a spat of top-secret experiments in the late 50s, [Bi]nary has been on mission back to the future ever since. With the help of a few double-agents, she managed to escape to America and disappear into the pop culture matrix. In her attempts to understand our present, she has appeared here and there in the mainstream – David Bowie, Valerie Solanas, Judy Jetson, Vanilla Ice – but finally found sanctuary in the poetry brothel.” When introducing herself, however, she generally stuck to just her name and nature ([Bi]nary, sexbot).

Her poems are quirky, sexy, reference Instagram, and are very much the student of contemporary poetry practice. Sharp phrases of violence juxtaposed with household appliances were reminiscent of Cathy Wagner’s work in My New Job, and a pervasive, confused, and robotic anxiety called Zach Savich’s Full Catastrophe Living to mind. [Bi]Nary is also a master of maniacal listing: “extra : upward : on top : advanced : engagement photos : elected : free choice : free speech : free gift : free fall : felony : fellow man,” Lounging on a velvet couch, [Bi]Nary’s voice puts you into a trance just like playing Tetris does – you could do it for hours. Were it not being read aloud by the poet, however, I doubt I could enjoy the work – for the words of her poems themselves wouldn’t be enough to get across any understandable progression.

Additionally, the event had a few main stage performances as well – a painfully acted radio play about the “Kitten Prince” unfortunately prefaced an absolutely stellar homoerotic poem of brotherly love by the cowboy Alejandro Amoretti. What stole the show, however, was the successive acrobatic act, consisting of perfectly executed flips and lifts, and a drunken, stumbling burlesque performance by Lana Turnover, who finished the final note of her number by swallowing the last drop of her third 25 fluid-ounce bottle of Jack Daniels (I watched her throw herself on strangers from the moment I arrived) and busting out of a silken corset.

The New Orleans Poetry Brothel is a relatively new organization, filled with relatively inexperienced, but colorful individuals. Although the event was very much worth the price of admission, if only for the experience, the content itself was amateur and difficult for the audience members to truly lose themselves in. This loss of self, however, seems to be the desired effect, hence the creation of poet as performer as character. The idea itself has a colossal potential for indulging the nerdy, artsy, and high sex-drive clientele who would be attracted to it, but at the moment, the spectacles embraced within the performance are too rough for anyone not under the influence of alcohol to be held in shock and awe. The night is fun, amusing, and pricey, rather than a train ticket to the sublime.

To its credit, the whole thing was completely unlike any other event I’ve ever been to. With the amount of potential and creative energy that is held within the New Orleans Poetry Brothel, I look forward to perhaps going to another one of their events in, say, a few years. I imagine then, that they’ll have perfected the art of seducing strangers into dark corners to make them rile in the pleasure of their speech.

Psychological Examinations for the Existentialists

Isaac Dwyer peers around Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi’s Fra Keeler, and finds a whole lot of neuroses, pomegranates, and manila folders.

Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi. Fra Keeler. St. Louis, MO. 2012. 128 Pages. $16. ISBN 978-0-984463-4-5

To be weird. To be confused. To drown in the dreamy, the disconnect, the anxiety. To be caught. To be introverted and obsessive, compulsive and circulatory, rambling, dark. These are the tools of this era’s writer, these are the goals, the endgames, the means, the powerhouse for all hyper-microscopic  psychological examinations. Post-modernism, existentialism, what have you: this is how today’s writer can get into your skull, dig around for a few hours, and either turn you into something new or atomize your entire existence.

This is where you will find Fra Keeler.

A man moves into a house previously inhabited by the mysterious Fra Keeler, and begins to investigate the circumstances of his death, for no other reason asides from the fact that our narrator happened to have purchased Keeler’s house. In the process, he gets so wrapped up in his own mind and pseudo-surrealist rants that it becomes a dialogue of OCD introspection coupled with pleasant, though wasted, uses of delightfully musical words such as “humdrum.”

The best way to describe the narrator is neurotic. A passage:

“When I bent down to stack the papers, I thought the sensation I had had in my brain earlier was the same sensation I had once felt when I shook a pomegranate near my ear […] it had made the same sound as the sound my blood made when it swiveled in my brain, and that both sounds led to the same sensation of having something dissolved where it shouldn’t have[…]”.

Such an examination has its place, for sure, and certainly there is a style of writing that employs sections well. One example of this is Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory, where the narrator takes extreme care in describing the object that is the namesake of the book – a device that sends wasps spiraling to their deaths, varying from drowning in urine to combustion. But, alas, this is not the case for Fra Keeler, for, to put it simply, the subject matter just isn’t wacky enough. The neuroses comes in empty-handed and aimless, like the babblings a schizophrenic makes to a lamp post about what she had for breakfast. Being disoriented can only carry a plot (or the reader’s interest) so far.

In Fra Keeler, Van Der Vliet Oloomi also has the tendency to brush by subjects of intrigue, such as the nature of death and its importance to the human condition, with blasé importance but no indulgence. The voice carries with it the alienated observations of Camus’s Mersault in The Stranger, saying things such as “The phone rang persistently. I let it ring a few times. Imagine, I thought, the possibilities on the other end.” – but, much to its detriment, masks all potential importance with mindlessness. All potential whimsy is dry and falls flat, like the icing on a grocery store cupcake: “What madness is this, I thought, when I awoke in the midst of the woods. Not the woods per se, but the trees at the far end of the garden. Everything looks larger when you are looking at it from the bottom up.”

Although it toes the pleasant border between enchantment and post-modernism, a spot that allows for mind-blowing observations and emotional investigations, Fra Keeler is unable to do either, because it refuses to touch down to focused human sensitivity. Van Der Vliet Oloomi, however, appears to possess the skill necessary for deep introspection. Perhaps, a future novel is to be looked forward to.

Early Judgments

Clint Margrave’s The Early Death of Men will die on you early – if you’re expecting something filled with skulls.

Clint Margrave. The Early Death of Men. New York, NY. 2012. 96 pages. $14.95. ISBN 978-1-935520-60-3

Cover art is in interesting thing: we see it and it calls to us, pulling our sweaty palms to the spines of dusty books – or, it makes us violently avert our eyes and wish we’d never caught a glimpse of it. When I first saw the dark drawings of scapulae and vertebrae on Clint Margrave’s latest collection of poems, my sweaty hands were magnetized to its flesh. I believed I was about to bite into a piece of epic, morbid, and perhaps even gothic humanism. In, they are poems of the existential, poems of wisdom gained, of innate humor in dark situations. They are poems of philosophy, nostalgia, of recklessness. Not quite what I was expecting – but of course, I shan’t blame the author for not succeeding at something he wasn’t trying to do. Instead, I shall examine the part that actually matters the most about the book (i.e. not the cover) – the text. A poem’s title:

“The Role of Art”

Quite a noble topic to attempt to tackle in a poem, indeed. One that, after the Enlightenment period and the coming of self-awareness in Western society and thought, that became a topic of debate in many a French salon and thoughtful letter among the edified aristocracy. Surely though, since the topic is so heavily trodden, we should expect Margrave to provide an interesting twist, a new angle. Some lines:

“Like all who tell the truth,/ Art has few patrons,/is always offending somebody./Art is solitary,/rebellious/abstract./It is not communal./And when embraced too fully,/has a tendency/to crash things down.”

Alright. Here are some ideas on this grand topic, and yet I am left asking – where is the power behind these statements? They are constructed like those in a philosophical essay, and lack the spark that is required of a poem: the ability to revitalize what has been said by saying it in a way that can’t be said. The ability to make me, the reader (or listener) have shivers rocket down their spine with the knowledge that they have heard something carrying an undeniable truth. These statements saying things like “Art is an outcast/whose only role/is to protect its value” leave me not with a feeling that I have received a truth, but instead feeling discontent. If the function of this poem was to change or enlighten my perspective as to the role of art, it was not successful.

It can be said that the difference between a novel and a poem is that a novel opens the door to your home (with your good graces) and moves in with all of its stuff – furniture, un-nameable musical instruments, and psychological disorders – and camps out in your living room for a few months. A poem, on the other hand, opens your door without knocking, screams something profound in its haggard and tired voice, and slams the door closed again, perhaps knocking a few priceless artifacts off of your wall while doing so.

And thus, I have more difficulties as I encounter another of Margrave’s poems, Exposed:

“His last night at the hospital,/my dying father was in no condition/to change himself./The nurse and I slipped his pants down,/and for the first time,/I saw he wasn’t circumcised.”

Sure enough, this seemingly autobiographical story holds within it plenty of leads – the one that Margrave chooses is one wherein he speaks that the differences between the Voice and the Father goes beyond the internal, but to the external as well. It’s a perfectly plausible avenue, but one that is executed with such blundering imprecision that I found myself scratching my head after reading it, thinking to myself, “is that really it? Why is this a poem and not a personal essay?” Sure, plainly written, everyman-style poetry has a solid place in literature – Andrea Gibson, with her raw content that screams through a megaphone, even in the dark corners of a university library, is proof of that. But, that’s because she’s effective in extracting all of the emotion out of a thought without delving into contrived similes and cliché literary devices, so the sound of spoken language streamlines the emotion as it would in a tear-jerking argument. In Exposed, Margrave fails to make use of the tools and freedom the poetic form provides to elaborate upon his desired effect, or to compact enough emotion into its lines for me to rationalize its minimal length. I want the real story. I want the background. I want emotional history. I want to feel empathy for the Voice. As a reader, I feel denied of it.

The Early Death of Men is a collection of poetry caught in its fetal stages somewhere between non-fiction essays and everyman poetry, with as much precision as a jackhammer trying to perform neurosurgery. Ignore it, and instead scour and search for some literature that will truly shake, dismantle, and empower you.

 

 

A Triumph for Joe

Isaac Dwyer finds extreme pleasure in reciting the passages of Brendan Constantine’s latest book, Calamity Joe

Brendan Constantine. Calamity Joe. Pasadena, CA. 2012. 109 pages. $17.95 ISBN 13978-1-59709-176-3

Calamity Joe, the kaleidoscopic soup that is the most recent collection of LA-based Brendan Constantine’s work, is, to put it frankly, a work of beauty. It is a walk that traverses the so-called “Legend of Joe”, a funky disgruntled man who works in a failed lab-rat research facility and holds Socratic dialogues with himself and a variety of macabre characters, such as a nine-fingered girl. This book is creepy, kinesthetic, outlandish, surreal, and downright funny – in an ironic, self-referential way – beginning with the very title of the first section:

Once

“What is done out of love lies beyond good and evil.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

“Friedrich Nietzsche was stupid and abnormal.”

-Leo Tolstoy

This is a book of psychological warfare and chained beauty, calamities in hilarity, matched with down-to-earth honesty that emerges from the most inconspicuous landscapes. From conversations with God to celebratory search parties, Joe, the collection’s main character, is confused and befuddled by his personal crises. In the second section, the first thing that he cares to tell his audience is about how when he joined a search party, he “dressed all wrong” and that “there was no cake”. A peculiar man, indeed! I cried out, left in a spot between tears and laughter, the bridge over normalcy laced with bouts of sadness.

Calamity Joe is the kind of book that you could read for eternity and still be caught off guard by. Even as your mind settles into familiarity with the   quip-y and poignant language, it is still a master fencer, dancing with its rapier like a maddened Cossack. One of my favorite pages I held in my lap for at least an hour while driving through the Mojave Desert, watching the Kern County mini-metropolises bounce around in stagnation over the dusted plains, entitled “Nobody’s daddy but my own”. The poem is a collection of Craigslist listings, with the usual sense of bizarre-ness and pizazz that the book trademarks from its first pages:

“Want to watch TV? Me – 96 5’10”/interested in soup, lawn chairs, love./ You – ageless, faceless, unnamed”

Alternative and awkward, entertaining and deep-sinking. I caught the eyes of a road urchin while reading the poem in the back of a car – a sunburned man with wispy electrified hair and sapphire blue eyes smoking a cigarette while sitting on an ATV (the epitome of sketchy skeez-ball) – and I thought that perhaps he would be the perfect mate for Joe’s Craigslist finds. For Joe and my roadside attraction, however, the spicy babushka is too far away, and so they are doomed to loneliness and petrification.

Calamity Joe is quirky, clever, and just past the level of standard comprehension. Reading it is a worthy tour through the mind of a breathtakingly beautiful poet, and it sticks and jams itself into an unknown, and yet not entirely unfamiliar, niche of even the most cultured of poetic brains. Constantine is a wily son-of-a-gun – and if you can, you should buy his book.

Maybe I’m Not Real, Either

None of this is Real, by Miranda Mellis, confuses Isaac greatly.

Miranda Mellis. None of this is Real. San Francisco, CA. 2012. 115 pages. $18.00 ISBN 978-0-9814975-4-9

Miranda Mellis is of the breed of writers who I like to call “zippy” – page after page collides with one another like an existential car crash wherein instead of airbags, the drivers are sprayed with neon acrylic paint. The result is a reader (aka myself) who, following the end of one of the short stories in None of This Is Real , is suddenly filled with a violent urge to recreate the Scottish charge on Hadrian – to paint myself blue and run down the mountains screaming, waving an enormous stick. Except, unlike the Scottish berserkers, I wouldn’t have a real cause except for the confusion of my own psyche, and subsequent frustration.

None of this is real. I am carried away in a two-story Victorian house by the branches of the trees that surround me, dragging me up beige pinstripe wallpaper on crooked hands to deposit me who knows where. Or maybe this is just the front cover. Actually, it really is just the front cover of this bizarre little bundle of plant fibers coated in plastic. See, what this book really is, is something different – not the actual story lines (mildly fantastical) or the writing style (it follows standard conventions of imagery, voice, et cetera), but rather, the way the stories are presented. Abnormally constructed characters with normal characteristics do normal things in ways that are also normal but are presented so that you have to second-guess their normalcy. In other words, nothing is very unreal, you just think that it is until you realize you’re wrong. Bizarre indeed.

In one of the stories, I found myself attempting to discover reality on the gentle curve and tumultuous waves of my face. For you see, perhaps:

“We would walk right to the edge of high cliffs, a small crowd marveling at the vista. Beautiful? Opaque[…]My body was rejecting meaning, or so it seemed. At the very least, I had learned to refrain from complaining. Or even speech. In not speaking I became a plateau.”

A plateau, then, perhaps – where my nose would meet my ears on a flat plan and would rise above my neck where the words in my lungs struggle to haul themselves up the cliffs of my trachea. But once again, none of this is real. None of this is real, but perhaps, you would think there would be a straight narrative somewhere in this multitudinous collection? I’m afraid you would be wrong. Or, if not wrong, disappointed.  You see, as I quickly discovered after reading the pages of the work’s namesake story, “None of This Is Real”, Miranda Mellis is zippy. Zippy, do you understand? Zip-zap-ziggy-zaggy-zop. You think your finger has found its definition, but then the little letters run off of the microfilm machine and you have to chase them all the way over to the trash can, only to figure out that they aren’t what you’re actually looking forward. Elusive little epistles. O, the protagonist of this story, goes to get an MRI during one of the many erratic sections. This is what he is told:

“You have developed a growth, she said. O thought it looked like a kite or a feather. No, the doctor replied, it’s nothing like a kite or a feather. It’s rigid, cartilaginous, more like a fin[…] Ignoring him, the doctor got out her pendulum. Was he born with the errant flap or not? Where did it come from? Was it an organism, a mutation? The pendulum reading was indeterminate.”

I wasn’t aware that the origin of errant flaps growing at the base of my skull could be discovered through hypnosis. I don’t expect my protagonist to be like this: “In the same way that he spoke with enthusiasm about astrological signs while what he habitually felt was a droning confusion punctuated by political despair, so too did O seek hypoallergenic pillows when he meant to be writing his encyclopedic, world-historical novel.”

Now, the true question for a potential purchaser/reader: Is the thing actually any good? You, you dodgy reviewer, what is your criticism? Should I even bother? Why are you taking your time dilly-dallying around the point? You see, the true answer to that is that I don’t know, and I don’t think that it really matters. Sure, read it, why not? You’ll probably giggle as much as I did while doing so. Or don’t.  Your life won’t be incomplete.

After all, none of this is real.

Cataclysmic Successes

Isaac really, really, really likes Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby.

Matt Bell. Catacalysm Baby. Fort Collins, CO. 2012. 105 pages. $12.00 ISBN 978-0983026372

To say that Cataclysm Baby, the new collection of Short Stories by Matt Bell published in Mud Luscious Press’s Novel(la) series is “strange,” “good,” or even “artistically and intellectually unique”, would be doing it a disservice . It is so much more than that; so much more than a single category, a single adjective. The book tells the stories of and examines a series of births, with the babies’ names organized A through Z, in individual sections, with titles such as Fawn, Fiona, Fjola and Griffin, Grayson, Guillermo. With each section, the author skillfully reveals disturbing and cleverly constructed events having to do with the children, crossing such other-worldly incidences as a baby being replaced by a “chrysalis, this cocoon, this child-shaped bundle found wrapped in our morning sheets, tangled in the space where our toddler daughter once slept.”

Alongside the brilliantly gruesome plots and development, even the basic prose of this book is perfected down the choice of every word, the inflection and connotation behind every sentence. Bell has especially mastered the art of opening a charismatic and enrapturing story, oftentimes giving depth and emotion to an image and characters within a single sentence. This artistry is visibly prominent from the moment the book is opened, for instance, in the first story, Abelard, Abraham, Absalom:

“This smoldered cigar, last of a box of twenty, bought to celebrate happier times, now smoked to keep away the smell of our unwashed skin, of our slipping flesh, of our baby grown in my wife’s belly, the submerged sign of a prophecy burning, stretching taut her hard bulge: All hair, just like the others, gone wrong again.”

Raw, vicarious, exploratory, creative, unique, and with a voracious sense of human emotion -the passages, throughout my reading of them, have continued to exhaust me with the density of these qualities. Alongside these qualities, the book has also managed to hold onto what many avant-garde authors tend to lose – a sense of connectedness to reality. When reading, the reader never feels alienated, distanced, or disconnected, but instead has the capacity to latch onto every wrenching moment, every challenge and conflict. Every story is more than a journey, it is an odyssey cramped and boxed into a few pages and slammed into your mind via an IV: direct, potent, and most of all – powerful.

Get a hold of this, somehow, someway. You won’t regret it, even if your schedule keeps you from being able to get past the first story, for you will have felt enough by then to last yourself for years.

Where Violet Dies, Poisoned by Her Own Self-Hatred

Isaac Dwyer’s character suffers a violent death.

Visual art by Lydia Claussen
Emerald dress drapes enviously on perfect skin,
		tulip petals budding from her laced cuffs,
heavy make-up on a waxed face,  head  low—
Her locket turns on chain-link thread, frame & glass
		brittle and black by the smokestack’s exhaust.
	She never wants to see the sepia photo of the deceased, last
chances to see yellowed façades—
		lips absent—platinum sunrises
	through scratched skylights embroider arachnids
into corneas. Spiders trace steps on linen—whispers
		from the thumps of the flowers on floorboards.
	I tie my fibrous tendons through the grommets of her dress—
held together by thumbprints traveling on grease trails:
		crystalline satin folds ripple, and I send
	stalactites falling through her porous, tender scalp.

Caustic Romanticism

Isaac Dwyer reviews the debut translation of Juliusz Slowacki’s drama of a romantic youth in the Warsaw insurrection.

Juliusz Słowacki, tr. Gerald T. Kapolka. Kordian. Chicago, IL. 2012. 144 pages. $20.00 ISBN 978-1-4507-4208-5

Juliusz Słowacki’s drama Kordian tells the tale of a disgruntled fifteen year old who, after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, travels across Europe in a romantic attempt to find both love and purpose. Kordian, our hero, finds this purpose when he becomes a larger player and leader of the Polish November Insurrection  of 1831. Słowacki’s play is commonly credited as being the most influential in Polish theatre history—despite the fact that during Słowacki’s life, he spent most of his time writing poetry—and, until the wonderful translator Gerard T. Kapolka and Green Lantern Press came along, had never before been translated into English. After seeing the press release, I was enraptured, being a bit of a theatre nerd myself, as well as a fan of all things Eastern European (despite knowing next to nothing about its literary history), and while reading it, I was not disappointed in the slightest.

The book itself comes with a screen-printed cover and illustrations by Aay Preston-Myint, whose powerfully monochromatic characters, such as ones displaying Kordian’s terror and imagination, manage to summon from the reader both a comfortable curiosity and a repelling sense of mystery. The language itself is colorfully romantic, with Kapolka’s translation of Słowacki’s verse calling forth with ease both senses of hilarity and revulsion. When our darling, and pitifully cute adolescent Kordian makes an attempt to woo an Italian enchantress, Violetta (who eventually leaves Kordian after he accidentally tosses her off of his horse), he offers delightfully embellished lyrics such as “So when you cast/A languishing glance, I wilt, fall, and faint;/Just so the golden butterfly will die/After feasting on the oversweet rose;/But one glance from your sparkling eyes drives me mad!/So I’ll come to life for the length of a kiss.” The comical nature of his starry-eyed promulgations is executed with both scholarly and artistic precision in Kapolka’s translation.

Kapolka again proves his salt, this time with darker lyrics, when, in a discourse with Czar Nicholas, Grand Duke Constantine summons a cartridge of poisonous words after he is accused of betraying Russia in favor of the Poles:

“You call me a murderer, My Czar?/I’ll shove those words right down your throat!/Can you stomach the secret you have swallowed?/You think I used a sword to pierce her heart?/Perhaps I will rip out your heart as well!/ Perhaps I shot her in the head? Well then/I might decorate the walls with your brains!”

Below the dynamic and pithy lyric that Kapolka has dutifully translated, he has also provided a fantastic collection of notes, concisely instructing the reader on Polish history and society, Greek mythology, and biblical references.

This pleasantly scholarly and artistically translated book serves not only as an effective lesson in history and literary culture, but also as a fascinating, and truly enjoyable read.

 

Missing Out On the Grotesque

Isaac Dwyer dissects the downfalls (and merits) of Nick Blinko’s novel, The Primal Screamer.

Nick Blinko. The Primal Screamer. Oakland, CA. 2012. 122 pages. $14.95 ISBN 978-1-60486-331-4.

Rearing his avant-garde head from a sea of psychological torture and anarchy, Nick Blinko, of the eighties British punk band Rudimentary Peni, has constructed a semi-autobiographical tale accompanied by his own bizarrely intriguing pen drawings.  In The Primal Screamer, the story follows the transformation of Nat Snoxell from a quiet yet tormented soul into a still tormented, still suicidal but at least almost-famous punk-rock star that manages to survive the adolescent merry-go-round. Told through Nat’s psychiatrist, Dr. Rodney H. Dweller’s journal, the story’s plot is delightfully rich and the images and events described in Dweller’s journal entries intriguing and fanatical. However, a majority of the actual prose of the book lacks the macabre poetics that the plot sets up the reader to expect.

The book begins with a telling of Nat’s first visit to Dweller’s office, where he ends up after a nearly successful suicide. The reader is intrigued by the mere shock value of the situation, and continues to read the descriptions of the various lengths Nat has gone to, including using the jaw bone of a dead animal to slash his veins. Searching to rattle his readers, Blinko goes on to write that, “Nat had hacked away at his wrists but, he claimed, become too bored with the murderous task to finish the job. Lacking this passion, he had returned home, where his mother found him when she got back from her part-time work.” Who wouldn’t keep reading about someone who finds suicide as boring as watching paint dry?

After the initial fascination, however, the reader’s interest begins to wane — as much of the rest of the book is written in a detached first-person that makes the reader flatly disinterested. While the plot that the narrator describes appears to be interesting, the format handicaps the reader’s ability to truly enjoy the bizarre images being described. Instead of constructing prose that incites the reader to feel the intensity of the imagism, the writing relies instead upon goofily bolding any word that Blinko hopes will make it sound important:

“Nat’s fantasy fear here was that an evil nun lurked menacingly behind a tree, waiting for him. We found no such thing, so Nat pointed out that the towering trees had faces in their branches.”

While having a tree populated by nun faces is cool, weighing it down with bolded text and detached prose makes it lamer than a donkey with laminitis. To its credit, however, the book nearly makes up for it all with the final journal entry, which describes a torturous dream of Dweller’s:

“A grotesque with a hollowed out head and titanic green fungus sprouting vigorously, visibly growing where the brains should have been, was shuffling among us. Creatures of predatory inclinations snapped at the morbid growths; indeed, all and sundry soon partook of the pickings.”

Perhaps if Blinko were to write a novel of surrealist nightmares, it’d be worth picking up before bed for a little roller-coaster ride through hell. As for The Primal Screamer, nick a copy from a friend to read the last six pages and look at the pretty drawings of malformed fetuses, leichenwagens, and distorted heads being strangled by ribcages.

Sand Screamer

Isaac Dwyer delves into the world of the mechanized mind.

Visual art by Han Byel Kang.
In the barn: 	bare-chested, teeth clenched,
shaved scalp opens to the sky-
	Brain falls out, unraveling yarn
	across the scattered hay.
If I may bother you for a light,
	this dry and dead grass		will become
		the nature of	my chapped body.
										I dig:
	Tearing open my abdomen like a stuffed animal.
Sand pours out of me, tears
of unpolished glass for all the cuts,
		abrasions of delicate songs. Cavalier
			who breathes but has no lungs.
pig blood on the knuckles,
nail varnish for the senseless.
doves of the dirt,
ecstasy for the hurt.
It keeps coming:
		fire-white crystalized		infections
				tampered with by disintegrating words.
	mounds turn to mountains of sand.
	Pucker the whites of my eyes.