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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Old Things

STORY — I had more than a sense when I was nine years old that my father and mother were different than the other parents living in the logging towns of Snoqualmie or Tolt or Skykomish. Once while we camped at Monte Cristo, the site of an old gold mine town, the son of one of these parents, a child I had somehow coerced into playing with me, noticed my father’s pony tail looping over his shoulder like an oiled tentacle. “Is your Dad a hippie?” He half shouted causing me to jump and then look around to make sure no one had heard anything.

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Wrecks

STORY — Lane’s eggs started to scorch and fill the kitchen with smoke. Lane scrapped the thick skin from the skillet but his sister Sheila had already wrinkled her nose. “We’re going to get it.” From the cupboard she removed the brownish mugs that they always used for breakfast. Lane opened the window, allowing the cool morning to fill the room, but his sister muttered that nothing was going to help now. She poured the coffee and mixed in Uncle Rex’s spoonfull of sugar. Lane stood in the middle of the floor, holding the pan of burnt scrambled eggs watching his sister rush around the room. He liked to watch how she closed a cupboard with the back of her head while she wrapped the flour bag with her hands. “Come on,” she said. “Throw those out and start again.” But Lane didn’t move.

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My Father’s Orchard

STORY — Linda Lane, my name, is a porn star’s name with the cheap advertising of alliteration I like to credit to my mother. She left when I was three years old and she was twenty, probably because she knew things were about as good as they were going to get then, my dad working two jobs as a janitor and as a landscaper, my dad spending his days off plugged into ear phones on his stereo, my dad smoking joints. She never saw him. One day she drove his truck, with the sofa loaded in the back and all the appliances squeezed between the hairy arm rests, and disappeared into Seattle. She might have wanted steady improvement. She didn’t see it, so she left. I suppose she is happy now.

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