Silent Child: A Joke With No Punchline

Sarah A. Denzil, Silent Child, $15.99, ISBN-10: 1542722829

Sarah A. Denzil’s Silent Child sets itself up to be the thriller of the decade through the use of cruel and disturbing real-world events, an intriguing and unique concept, a well fleshed-out cast of characters, and an intricately woven collection of minor plotlines that relate to the main plotline—and not in the way I expected. It remained wonderfully calculated and kept me on my toes…until the plot twist arrived.

In the beginning, the book introduces its main conflict: Emma Price’s child, Aiden Price disappears during a flood and is presumed to have drowned. The only thing left is his red jacket. His body is never found. Emma eventually declares him legally dead, closing the investigation. Ten years later, he wanders out of the woods, mute. He also has not properly learned to write due to being kidnapped at such a young age. Aiden Price is the only one who knows what happened to him, but he can’t tell his mother or the police for reasons unknown. Emma has regained control of her life in Aiden’s absence, with a new husband and a baby on the way, but that begins to disintegrate. Nothing is as it seems. Familiar faces are coming out of the woodwork. Emma’s friends and family are no longer to be trusted, as they are all turning against each other and Emma, for many reasons . The stage is set for the big reveal, some shocking plot twist, and in the moments before the final chapters, I was thinking almost anyone could be guilty of kidnapping Aiden. It was enthralling, it was exciting, and I was on the edge of my seat, expecting my mind to be blown.

When the plot twist is unveiled, the novel’s plot unravels in the most unsatisfying way, and the twist falls flat. The novel turns out to be more about Emma’s new life than Aiden’s trauma, and the resolution of his plot is poorly executed. My excitement that had been growing exponentially as time went on was lost—not popped, but slowly deflated, like someone letting go of the balloon they spent five arduous minutes pushing air into. I got whiplash from how quickly the focus of plot shifted, and the novel’s sloppy ending and explanations certainly didn’t help matters. I was left confused as to what point the book was trying to make by focusing all of its drama on the specifics of something that, in the end, didn’t really matter to the resolution. There are very few books that I would say do not provide any sort of payoff, but this book makes that list. Overall, Silent Child is a book that resembles hosting a slumber party: it began on a strong note, held my attention for the majority of its duration, and as I neared the end of it, I realized that I had wasted my time and that the book had overstayed its welcome. The book departed in a hurry, and I was left sitting on the floor, staring at the mess it has left behind in a mixture of awe and resentment.


By Kalista Puhnaty

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A Prank Gone Too Far

Cheon “Alan” Lee on “You Gotta Want It” by Jake Paul

Jake Paul, You Gotta Want It, $15.00, 2016 (ISBN 978-1-5011-3947-5)

Unless you spend an exceptional amount of time on the Internet, it’s likely that you’ve never heard of the YouTubers Jake and Logan Paul, their exploits, and their rise to Internet infamy. Ask the average YouTube user, however, and they’ll likely criticize the Pauls for their obnoxious and offensive behavior. Examples include recording celebrities without their permission, burning furniture in their empty pool, and filming corpses in a Japanese suicide forest. Through these events, I initially concluded that the Paul brothers were nothing but pseudo-celebrities and was content with leaving it at that. However, I grew curious about their upbringing once I passed Jake’s memoir, aptly titled You Gotta Want It, in a Barnes and Noble, neatly stacked in front of the entrance. Instantly, I knew I had to plunge into this enigma of a book.

The memoir covers the Paul brothers’ journey from youth to adulthood, which is surprisingly well-documented. Easily one-third of the memoir covers their original goal of competing in professional football and wrestling. This, however, falls by the wayside once they discover several YouTube creators whose comedy routines inspire them to pursue this emerging medium. This involved creating a YouTube channel in their early teens, where they posted amateur prank videos, viewing YouTube as a hobby rather than a full-time job.

The early chapters carry an eerie sense of relatability. Of course, not many of us have experience in creating popular Internet content, but the non-Internet-related obstacles and events that occur early in Jake’s life aren’t different from what readers might have faced as children. There’s even an entire chapter titled “Really, Truly Stupid Behavior” where Jake regrets not trying as hard in school as he should have. At one point, Jake is accused of creating a video where he impersonates a fellow high school student. Though Jake is initially reluctant to apologize for his unintentional mistake, he later turns around and apologizes to the student, stating that he makes efforts to “never bully…intentionally.” Although one might doubt the accuracy of this quote based on his current behavior, the sincere tone of his apology humanizes him. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I had at least an ounce of sympathy towards Jake. I guess if you put anybody in a situation where they are at their lowest, you automatically see a human side to someone that just clicks.

Unfortunately, this optimism dies off by the next two-thirds of the book. Whereas the earlier chapters are understandably mischievous, it’s the later chapters that really start to resemble modern-day Jake. Readers are given a constant stream of information regarding Jake’s growing dislike for school, as he begins to devote more and more of his time to creating Vines, a former social media outlet in which people posted six-second long videos. When Jake finally gains traction in the social media world, he begins to look for any opportunity to branch out, eventually signing on to the Disney Channel show Bizaardvark and using his popularity on Vine to form a group of fellow content creators in an attempt to resemble Dr. Dre’s influential rap group, the N.W.A. From here, the book reads more like a list of accomplishments, a far cry from the more engaging and endearing childhood stories. It also doesn’t help that, in reality, nearly all of these ventures fail spectacularly, with Jake losing his job as a Disney actor and several members of his group leaving due to accounts of possible sexual and racial harassment.

The later chapters are held together in an irregular format, as loosely chronological events are intermingled with short lists of things Jake likes, a mini-chapter dedicated to Megan Fox, and exclusive photos of Jake Paul half-naked. Whether or not the informality of this book was intentional, Jake’s fanbase seems to greatly appreciate his style of humor that echoes the nature of juvenile Internet comedy, judging from the YouTube and Amazon reviews of this book

In short, You Gotta Want It is as much of a character study into Jake Paul as Trump: The Art of the Deal is for Donald Trump; both books provide a never-before-seen insight into a controversial individual, allowing readers to learn the history and motives of said subjects. Neither book really counts as “pleasure reading,” however, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything genuinely entertaining about Jake’s memoir. What few relatable moments or decent tidbits on how to create an effective social media presence Jake includes are then offset by entire passages outlining how many girls Jake hooked up with, or borderline-egotistical ramblings about how famous he once was on Vine.

At its best, You Gotta Want It is an inspirational autobiography that provides a glimpse into the limitless potential the Internet provides this generation. At its worst, You Gotta Want It is a poorly-timed “memoir” about a jock in his twenties who wants to go down as the icon of his generation, written more out of necessity for merchandising than out of a genuine desire to express his thoughts on his chaotic life.

By Cheon “Alan” Lee

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What You Didn’t Learn in History Class

David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, $12.71, ISBN-10: 0307742482

Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann, is a book you wouldn’t pick up on your own if you saw it on the shelf of your local bookstore. With a tiny sign that reads, “A great read! Based on a true story! It’s riveting! An absolute brilliant non-fiction book!” its cover is a reminder of how you were forced to read a book like this for an English class in your freshman year. You should still pick this book up though; covers can be misleading.

The novel follows the story of a bizarre case of murders in Osage County, Oklahoma, that occurred in the early 1920s which ultimately lead to the formation of the FBI. The murders appeared as elaborate but randomly timed events, and the government thus formed a group of highly-skilled detectives to solve these cases; this led the government to keep the newly-founded Bureau for future cases. The case study is examined by the novel, and David Grann exposes the corruption that was a result of greed and racism the government held for the Native American Osage people. Grann does a beautiful job of unraveling the mysteries behind these horrendous crimes, bringing to light what is left out of the history books.

Reading Grann’s book, you almost forget that this all happened in American history—it’s written as if it’s a work of fiction. The incredible details put into the book are remarkable, detailing the most trivial of minutia, such as how the sun was shining on the day of the first killing. Killers of the Flower Moon makes you search for the reason why someone would commit these murders, leading you to believe one thing until it pulls you into a different direction. It’s thoroughly researched to the point where the Osage people seem almost to be like characters you could touch with your own hands at any given moment. Grann goes into great detail about the people’s past, such as how their lives were  previously disturbed by the US government forcing them to move from their native land.

Even if this book looks like one you were forced to read in high school, it’s not; it’s much more. This is not your average high school non-fiction read—it details what others refused to look at previously, and goes in depth as to what these people suffered through, keeping their tales alive while still being fascinating to read.

By Ryan French



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Adultolescence: A Money Grab for a Social Media-Crazed Generation

Gabbie Hanna, Adultolescence, $16.99, ISBN 978-5011-7832-0

Adultolescence by Gabbie Hanna is a playful and childish book of poetry, paired with Hanna’s own simple and beautiful artwork. It explores the mentality and struggles of the new adult generation, as well as the influence of social media on mental health and real life relationships.

The book depicts grueling subjects such as breakups, the struggle to find oneself, and even depression and suicide. However, despite the subjects, Adultolescence remains sarcastic and immature. The childishness of Hanna’s poetry has its charm, and follows the newly developed “Twitter-speak” form of poetry which derives its language and audience from the short, cynical style of the new social-media-crazed population. However, this style does not serve the subject matter in an effective way.

Some of the poems follow a rhyme scheme, yet are too short to fully carry it out. The poem HIDE (15) for example, follows an AA rhyme scheme, and explores the effects of hiding depression and other mental health issues. But this poem is too short to have an important or influential message of any kind. It seems that these subjects, which are common topics among teens and young adults today, are only there for the reader to relate to. In addition to falling short in the linguistic department, the shorter poems deal with heavier topics like mental health issues, even addressing death and the desire to die, or wanting someone else to die; yet the poems seem to trivialize these issues. For example, POUT examines these issues in an immature way, saying, “life sucks. be grateful, you woke up this morning. that’s the worst part.” (8-9) This type of language is often used by teenagers today; they joke about these feelings in conversation in order to mask them, using humor as a coping mechanism, which is not often a positive message for someone to be promoting. These short anecdotes are paralleled by longer poems and anecdotes which seem repetitive and dry, devoid of the sarcasm and wit that is present, albeit misused, in the shorter poems.

The art is interactive, often incorporating the poem into the drawing in one way or another. At times the art pairs well with the pieces, but ultimately does not help readers obtain a meaningful takeaway. Hanna is clearly artistically inclined, as her drawings are impressively detailed, while still sticking to a line art style. The realism of the drawings may take readers by surprise, as the people in them are easily recognisable, and often appear with Gabbie in her YouTube videos. All of these positive traits, however, do not make up for the writing, some of which is worked into the drawings in rather disappointing ways. One example of this is a poem titled “K,” which is an blank page, except for a text bubble with the letter “K” inside and a read receipt underneath.

Adultolescence follows a common thread, which seems to have stemmed from the Milk and Honey phenomenon, and follows the same pattern of good artwork paired with–at best–mediocre writing. Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur was one of the highest grossing poetry books of 2017, and was Number Two on Amazon’s Best Seller list. It is widely loved and cited as an aesthetically pleasing and relatable work by many teen readers. That being said, Milk and Honey shows a pop-culture side of poetry, rather than the traditional style which uses beautiful language, and images found in the work of poets like Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson. This new and vulgar style is now simply being accepted by readers without much thought, due to its easily interpreted, relatable content.

Adultolescence–along with Milk and Honey–represents a new idea of “money grab” poetry, which stems from social media influencers, and the new Internet-focused generation. These influencers write books in the anecdotal style of Twitter and other word-space-limited social media platforms, and then claim them to be artistic and poetic, when really it is a way for an already well known celebrity to make even more money. People like Gabbie Hanna, who could be considered second tier influencers, and have a smaller audience than other big-name YouTubers, often share their financial situation with their fans and may have a lower income than larger influencers. This somewhat justifies the “easy money” of writing and selling books, as it pulls in readers from a smaller fan base, and expands the writer’s brand.

However, this does not justify the claim of “art.” Adultolescence does not represent what poetry really is to most published poets. The claim of poetry and art should be reserved for beautiful, intelligent, and playful works, and should not be applied to collections of on-trend, relatable, and sarcastic content, which sells more copies than authentic art, due to the popularity of the writer rather than the quality of the work.

By Delany Burk

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Love In The Time Of Stomach Bacteria

John Green. Turtles All The Way Down. 2017. 304 pages. $12.28. ISBN: 0525555366.

Turtles All The Way Down, John Green’s seventh novel, focuses on both a missing person and sixteen-year-old Aza Holmes, a teen struggling with mental illness.

The book’s strength is also its weakness: a complex character study of Aza and her challenges is made subplot to the mystery of a missing billionaire, as well as a budding romance between Aza and the billionaire’s son, Davis. The portrayal of anxiety and OCD in Turtles is well-done, but it gets overshadowed by the flimsy mystery of the missing man which takes up the first three-quarters of the book.

This is the sort of book you’d expect from John Green, as much of his work focuses on romance. His most popular novel, The Fault In Our Stars, follows two teens whose struggle with cancer draws them together. But despite a history of similar plots in Green’s past, Aza’s story feels original. Her character’s voice is shaped by a unique struggle to find out who she is, while often feeling out of control of her emotions.  

Aza meets Davis Pickett at a camp intended for children dealing with grief from the death of a parent, as they both lost a parent at a young age. The duo is drawn together by their mutual loss, as well as an unspoken understanding between them referred to as “seeing the same sky.” But the romance in this book is not nearly as sappy as Green’s previous works. For example, every time Aza and Davis make out, Aza falls into a “thought spiral” about how she’s going to get a bacterial infection called C. Diff—which leads to inflammation of the colon and potential death—if she continues exposing herself to Davis’s germs.

Aza’s self-destructive coping methods, such as compulsively sanitizing a cut on her thumb, escalate in the background of her new relationship. Her regular teen problems only add to the stress, with many of her relationships deteriorating as people feel pushed away. While there are attempts to solve the mystery of Davis’s missing father, including some Internet detective work, little progress is made. Sprinkled throughout the narrative are red herrings, like the shady nature of the billionaire’s staff; some are consistent to the point of convincing the reader they’re vital information, only to come to nothing.

The climax of Turtles All The Way Down reverses the main plot and the subplot, making Aza’s mental illness more significant than Davis’s missing father. Although Davis’ father’s disappearance receives closure, it comes late and feels forced, as if the author only remembered it at the last minute.

Watching Aza’s character grow and change is far more interesting than the romantic element of the novel. The darker elements of this book—poverty, the death of a parent, and a missing parent—are present, but unexplored. Most of the time, there’s too much going on to center on one thing.

Loyal John Green fans will appreciate his characteristic dives into philosophy, focusing on ideas of the self and free will, and the “intellectual” vocabulary the characters use. However, for casual readers, it does not hold a candle to his earlier successes.

Turtles All The Way Down is a decent book from a competent author, yet it attempts too much. Whether it was the pressure to meet the acclaim of his previous books, or the stress of accurately representing mental illness, Turtles All The Way Down is all over the place. While being dragged along on Aza’s spirals, you fall into one yourself—but it never reaches an end, and you are caught in the middle.

By Bailey Bujnosek.

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“Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.”

Roxane Gay. Difficult Women. 2017. 272 pages. $9.58. ISBN: 0802127371.

My dad and I are sitting behind a table covered in rainbow strips of cloth, ready to teach festival-goers how to twist them into cordage bracelets. I stand to look at the thick layer of thigh-shaped sweat on my metal chair and think, This is so something that would be in Difficult Women. A man sitting in the booth to the left of me glances over at the book in my hands and says, “That’s yours? For a second I thought it was your dad’s and I was gonna say, that’s a dangerous book for a man to be reading in public!”

I mean come on! If this isn’t the total epitome of Roxane Gay’s recent collection, I don’t know what is!

Twenty minutes later, my cheeks are covered in tears. Not because of the man but because of the honesty in “I Will Follow You,” the first story in Difficult Women. Forget the sexist guy who interrupted my reading! Every woman should read this. Every man should read this. Everyone should read this.

Difficult Women is not a book in which women overcome male-inflicted violence. Difficult Women is not a book in which women discover their sexuality. The women in Difficult Women have always embraced their sexuality. They use violence and tragedy to empower themselves. Gay whips her readers into shape with sharp commentary and humor with lines such as “We were young once and then we weren’t,” and “Honey, you’re not crazy. You’re a woman.” Roxane Gay makes her readers forget they ever enjoyed ‘skimming.’

From a woman receiving a fiberglass baby arm as a gift to a man flying into the sun and ridding the earth of light, Roxane Gay’s storytelling causes her readers to consider concepts that wouldn’t seem to be feminist. The feminism in Difficult Women sneaks up behind you only to laugh when you jump. In “I Will Follow You,” two sisters suffer through childhood violence and disparaging marriage; they are always together and always suffering.

Difficult Women is full of varying structures, and takes on a less traditional tone than most fiction collections. Stories such as “How” and “Difficult Women” are split into titled sections and read more like developed character studies than traditional short stories. “I am a Knife” uses a lyrical voice and focuses on poetic narrative rather than following a clear storyline. The first lines of stories like “Water, All Its Weight” and “La Negra Blanca” are bold and immediately submerge the reader into the story.

These stories are like nothing you have read or will read again. I didn’t spend hours in bed with this book and finish it feeling fresh and cheery. Difficult Women haunted me for weeks. I felt that Gay’s stories were my own. I was every main character she created. I took hour-long showers drenched in hot water and Gay’s words. I submerged myself in her narrative. This book will swallow you whole, but do we remember and cherish the books that don’t?

Emily Clarke is a Cahuilla Native American writer whose favorite words include meat, belly, milk, and mud. 

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Pig Park” by Claudia Guadalupe Martinez


“I thought myself into a circle-or maybe a knot–like a dog chasing it’s tail. I arrived at an impasse. Like I said, even if things didn’t work out, at the very least my friends and I would get to spend our last summer together. It was something like my last meal or–since I’m the Cinderella of crumbs–having a fairy godmother grant me one last wish.”

Claudia Guadalupe Martinez, of El Paso, Texas, has written a lovely summer story about the hardships of a failing town just outside of Chicago, and the families trying to keep it alive after its economic downturn.

After the lard company left Pig Park, many of its inhabitants left with it. The high school shut down, businesses lost customers, and everything seemed to be going wrong until the last man making money offered up a way to save Pig Park. “A pyramid is little more than simple geometry. Two triangles here, two triangles there. I can lead the construction project,” he said and waved his hand. The grown-ups huddled together. Colonel Franco had hit on it with fewer words: a crazy plan had to be better than no plan at all. They were desperate enough that they decided every girl and boy would report to the park to help Colonel Franco with the construction.”

If you’re thinking that manual labor is not the way you’d want to spend your summer, you wouldn’t be alone. But for Martinez’s protagonist, Masi Burciaga, it was the perfect excuse to get out of her family’s bakery and into the sun with her best friend, Josephina. Unfortunately for Masi, Colonel Franco moves all the girls inside temporarily to write letters telling government officials all about Pig Park and La Gran Piramide. Masi, unsure of how to ask complete strangers for their attention and money, writes dozens of drafts before deciding on the two brilliant sentences that she thinks will save her town:

“So a bunch of us want to hang out, build a pyramid in the middle of Pig Park and save our neighborhood. Are you in?”

Pig Park is an incredibly relatable story that deals with everything from boys to divorce, baking to disease, in the eyes of a fifteen-year- old girl one summer where everyone seems to be getting the short end of the stick. Martinez does a fantastic job bringing up all of the beautiful, tiny, everyday details like burnt toast and melted chapstick to relieve the reader of the intense topic of a failing economy and its stressful repercussions within individual families. Pig Park is a great read with a great message about appreciation and rolling with the punches.

“Are we going to be okay?” I looked at my dad. My dad couldn’t give a simple answer to my question because he was hopeful. He was willing to gamble, but it wasn’t just up to him or my mom or me. Our entire neighborhood was on the line. The Nowaks, the Sanchezes, the Fernandezes, the Sustaitas, the Wongs and everyone else had as much of a stake in this. One thing was clear. This wasn’t MesoAmerica. MasaAmerica maybe. Or even MasiAmerica.”


By Kathleen Johnson

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Pink Weddings with Kristina Darling & Carol Guess.

Kristina Marie Darling & Carol Guess. X Marks the Dress: A Registry. 2013.  100 pages. $15.15. ISBN: 0985919159.

Kristina Marie Darling & Carol Guess bring a wonderful collection of poems in their book X Marks the Dress: A Registry. These poems explore various themes, such as relationships, identity, and love, but the authors manage to write them in such a way that the collection reads like a short story. Darling is a recognized author of seven other books and is the winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award; Guess has published another twelve books, some of which were nominated for the Lambda Literary Award. This collaboration resulted in one of the most interesting and catching poetry books I’ve come across this year.

From the very first poem, we are transported into a vintage, pink world that gives the sense of being part of a fairy tale. However, as one moves on, we realize that this is more of a bittersweet story, like what happened before the characters could live happily ever after. We get to witness scenes previous to the wedding and how they affect the vision we have of ourselves, the experience of becoming parents, the fights the couple has, the struggles we go through trying to regain our sense of identity. The authors do a perfect job keeping the readers interested, drawing them into a knot of experiences and emotions that get more and more complicated. While reading this, I found myself feeling nostalgic, as if I was looking at the wedding album of someone I knew very well, knowing that their lives weren’t exactly a perfect fairytale, but that there is still a bittersweet love between them. This is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone, because even if the reader is more into fiction stories than poetry, X Marks the Dress: A Registry, can be read as a plain, sweet short story.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book was the experimentation with various formats to take us on this journey. Filled with prose poetry, appendixes, footnotes and line breaks, it creates a very unique and creative reading experience. For example, the poem “A History of Wedding Invitations: Glossary of Terms,” just consist of various definitions of many concepts that surround the idea of weddings; however, they are not “formal” definitions that we would find on a dictionary: the writers here played with the concepts they have been working on the book so far, adding their own original ideas to these concepts, making it fun to read. Or in their poem, “Appendixes,” where it just consists of footnotes, but there’s not text at all. Yet, as we read the footnotes, we can have an idea of what the “invisible poem” would be about.

Even when the formatting is so varied, it does not make the poems hard to follow, which comes back to my earlier point that this book can be also read as a short story. This is the perfect book to have a date with on a weekend. This book must definitely be part of your bookshelf!

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The Not So Wild Girls

Mary Stewart Atwell. Wild Girls.  2012. 273 pages. $17.84. ISBN: 978145168327.

Mary Stewart Atwell has left behind her usual short stories to write her first novel, Wild Girls. In this novel, Swan River County has nothing to offer for Kate Riordan to stay after graduation: all she wants is to flee from her dysfunctional family, her good-for-nothing friends, broken relationships with a couple of boys, and what she’s most afraid of—the wild girls.

Some people consider them a legend, characters from superstitious stories, but Kate knows better: teenage girls suddenly go mad, as if possessed, and destroy everything in their path, from buildings to lives, committing the most atrocious murders. Kate refuses to become one of them, doing everything in her power to avoid getting stuck in Swan River for the rest of her life as all the surviving wild girls do when they return to their normal selves. Even when Kate tries to avoid becoming a wild girl, one frustrating thing about these mysterious beings is that nobody knows the reason why they turn into serial killers or how to avoid it. At the beginning of the story, Kate witnesses the transformation of a wild girl, and, from that moment, the reader’s perspective changes.

“He prowled among them, and Rosa reached out to caress his shoulder. As if on cue, they circled him, their black robes hiding him from sight. I hears one scream, guttural and rattling, as if he were choking. The wild girls were screaming too, and streams of blood blackened by moonlight ran from under their robes spilling over the edge of the stage.” (Wild Girls, pg. 242)

Atwell does a great job of show-don’t-tell, making the reading flow easily for us and drawing us in to continue the reading. The flaws, wants, needs, and characters’ personalities are very unique, making the story unpredictable and therefore making it even more interesting to read. Even though it’s a story about a teenager with all her friend/boyfriend/family problems, Atwell doesn’t make her problems fall into clichés but transforms them into bigger problems that put Kate in danger.

As gripping as it sounds, as one goes through the pages, the idea and concern about the wild girls gets lost because we don’t hear from them as often as we would expect. Well, nicely played Mary Atwell, because she let our guard down and then we have this spectacularly macabre twist of events that make your hands shake while reading. As I read, I found that the perspective I had of this story before I started reading it changed. It sounded like an exciting thriller about girls going wild and the role of a teenager trying to avoid joining them. It turned out to be a powerful story, but maybe one missing the nail-biting suspense of the best thrillers. Wild Girls is indeed a unique story, with original characters and a very good plot, undoubtedly making it a worthy read.


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A Quick Trip to the Brothel

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.

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