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.

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.

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.