Machine Handwriting

REVIEW — By constraining himself to a limited page size and single letter form, Nico Vassilakis has developed a tight graphic vocabulary in this book. He pushes well beyond the lame parlor tricks of concrete poetry. I often find concrete poems out of place in language. The concrete poet visually forces the words into massive arrangements like a florist or like those photographs in the late 70s early 80s of people in the shape of candles or Coca-Cola bottles.

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Tenant Laws

REVIEW — The fantasy of self reliance doesn’t just include the retreat to nature of Ralph Emerson or Ted Kosynski but it also includes the more urban counterparts of the bare bones existences lived out of a single room in a cheap hotel of Jesse Bernstein or Koon Woon; a plain trust of where they are right then despite the evidence that their current state of mind and health is not a permanent one and may come apart at any moment.

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Some of Us Have to Get It

REVIEW — SOME OF HAVE TO GET UP IN THE MORNING begins in a hardened-in-the-arteries mode. A housewife lives near a busy highway. Neighbors throw a party for the departure of the local thug on his way into the Marines. An unemployed father fights for the right to have his children. Daniel Scott tells these stories in a standard issue working-class shtick, using simple declarative sentences, the smug irony of none-too-bright narrators, and the catalog of dirty realistic detail found in doublewides.

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Non-Perishables

REVIEW — At one point, the characters Lee William’s first novel, After Nirvana, find themselves in a Safeway with a coupon book shopping for a single stick of deodorant to handle the five hustling runaways. They are five street kids teens, two girls and three boys, who banded together to watch after each other and collectively earn what they can in the park bathrooms, highway rest areas, and adult video booths along I-5 between Eugene and Seattle. This mission to buy deodorant is probably one of the most complicated tasks undertaken in the course of the story, which sort of makes After Nirvana sound like a chronicle of five mental deficients, but really illustrates how alien buying dry goods like make-up or toilet paper are to these street kids. They loiter in front of the confusing row of choices.

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Burn Your Poems and Ride the Hobby-Horse

REVIEW — In a recent review of two books from the Subtext collective (some sort of Seattle based poetry commune), Stephen Thomas, wrote, “Wallace Steven remarked somewhere that every successful poem expresses a theory of poetry… Every serious poet has had to come to terms with the power of language to express its own meanings apart from, or even in opposition, to the poet’s own intention. The Language poets seem to start with this experience. It is not too much to say that they cultivate a distrust of language and that their poems often frustrate the ‘basic’ function of language to narrate, to explain, to describe and to import knowledge or wisdom.”

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Oulipo Laboratory

REVIEW — Founded in late 1960 in France, at a colloquium on the work of Raymond Queneau, in order to research new writing by combining mathematics and literature (and also to just horse around) the Oulipo (The Ouvrior de LittÈrature Potentielle or Oulipo (The Workshop of Potential Literature)) expanded to include all writing using self-imposed restrictive systems.

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Trivial Pursuit

REVIEW — For Judith Slater Old Scratch lies in the trivial. Slater has written a volume of carefully crafted short stories with a cutting humor about seemingly trivial moments in characters lives that gradually expose the fragility of their hopes and the fleetingness of their satisfaction in live. Not to say that these are nihilistic stories, although in their simple flat sentences and carefully modulated first person voices the subject matter of couples and therapists and waitresses this books does hearken back to the eighties and that nasty word minimalism. Slater’s book does remind me a lot of Anne Beattie. Slater’s characters emerge as complex, contradictory portraits, in spite of the sometimes too good to be true situations. In “The Bride’s Lover” the bride hires an ex-boyfriend to photograph her wedding. In “Glass House,” a businessman has an affair with a visiting artist at his daughter’s school. His agoraphobic wife will not leave the glass house until an Oregon storm bursts the transparent walls.

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Psychedelic Monkey Droppings

REVIEW — Stewart Lee Allen theorizes in The Devil’s Cup that coffee launched history out of the slowly moving, drunken Middle Ages (where each man woman and child consumed the equivalent of a six pack a day) to our current, sober and caffeinated instant. Stewart Lee Allen begins with coffee’s obscure beginnings as an Ethiopian religious drug. The legend goes, “an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi one day noticed his best goat dancing about and baaing like a maniac,” and the goatherd noticed the berries the goat had eaten, ate them himself, discovered coffee, and forever altered history. This goatherd’s bean gradually stimulated history through the industrial revolution and spread of capitalism through the institutions of coffeehouses. Some of the world oldest and most powerful business, such as the East India Company and Wall Street, began as coffeehouses.

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The Cedar River Watershed

STORY — Bret balanced on the outermost oily wooden trestle ledge looking down the thirty feet of girders and columns into the rushing gully cut into the mountain side. The cataract coated the uppermost trestle timbers with spray. A fine film of algae grew on the creosote and mist. Moss grew on the pillars. Bret liked the sound of the water coming down the mountain side. He gyrated on the slippery wood and shouted back at Cindy, “You gotta cross if you’re going to cross.” He slipped for a second, after he turned back from calling her. His worn tennis shoes didn’t have any tread left on the soles. They were just a sheet of pitted rubber floating on the layer of brown algae. Bret felt himself slide. He had his weight on one shoe and the sole slipped toward the gully but before he even thought about tripping and flying out into the mist and the space and falling into the stony creek way below, he shifted back and landed in the middle of the tracks. His legs shook. Bret tried to stop their quivering, but the muscles contracted and expanded over and over again on their own.

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Joseph’s Mirror

STORY – Along a river slough, long since cut from the Snoqualmie River, something started and failed. A farm had once tried to grow along the river but the Snoqualmie had jumped the banks and had left a shallow lake. The fields turned swampy and filled with cattails. The fruit trees grew twisted and their branches filled with blackberry vines. The empty pastures filled with alders and finally cedar trees.

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