‘Dear Sylvia Plath:
‘Hi I am 14 and I know you’re dead but it’s 1 AM and my dad is swearing and falling around in the pool like a drunken pork sausage, what a fucking asshole, I was standing in the kitchen two seconds ago with a butcher knife to go kill him before he shoots us to death, but I chickened out, which I know your dad was a problem too so I could totally relate to your poems about how he’s a Nazi who kept you living in his boot even though I basically hated poetry until this minute, so I’m just writing this fake letter because NOW HE’S GETTING OUT OF THE POOL LIKE A MONSTER AND SAYING FUCK, Jesus Christ Sylvia, if you could hear him, it’s like he’s not even human. Now he just massively fell back in, Achtung you Nazi motherfucker, just drown and get it over with so I can RELAX. Listen, Sylvia, I can’t believe you stuck your head in that oven, you crazy nut! I’m completely terrified to die, even though vastly depressed. There is so little time in this life to do what you want, more on that later.
‘I had to look out the window because it got all quiet but he’s just slumped over in the grass like an ape. It’s sad but Fuck him. Anyway, Sylvia, I’ve been tortured about dying for years, ever since reading Little Women made me realize we’re all doomed and ruined my life. But, one day however, I opened your book THE BELL JAR and literally died of shock. For the first time I saw someone in a book portraying emotions that were exactly mine, I never even knew it was okay to write about them! I never would have figured it out by myself. Like when you said how the tulips were breathing I realized I always saw them breathing too but I was in denial. Oh my god I fucking HATE feeling bad for him after he just scared the shit out of me all night, I try not to but I can’t handle him being all lonely in the grass like that, he seems so ashamed and confused, like he doesn’t know what’s happening and no one can help. I don’t want him to slip and die for real, just knock himself out a little so I can sleep. Even though then I’ll dream he’s chasing us with the gun but whatever. I always want to tell him don’t worry, it’s not your fault, everyone loves you, we’ll figure out how to make it stop. But I CAN’T, being insane and not human when he’s like this you can’t get him to make sense, plus no way am I going out there alone, he’s like a bear who never learned English and seems sweet and nice when you pet him, but all of a sudden you feel a fang in your brain and a massive cracking sound blasts your eyes out, as slowly you realize your head is being crushed to death in his rampaging jaws!
‘Sylvia, there’s so much to express but it’s a school night, I will tell you more later. IF I am still alive tomorrow. How perfect would it be if my dad killed me tonight and they found this letter under my body, all smeared with blood!!’ — Laurie Weeks
Laurie Weeks Zipper Mouth
‘In this extraordinary debut novel, Laurie Weeks captures the freedom and longing of life on the edge in New York City. Ranting letters to Judy Davis and Sylvia Plath, an unrequited fixation on a straight best friend, exalted nightclub epiphanies, devastating morning-after hangovers—Zipper Mouth chronicles the exuberance and mortification of a junkie, and transcends the chaos of everyday life.
‘Laurie Weeks has been a superstar in the New York downtown writing world since the 1980s. Her fiction and other writings have been published in The Baffler, Vice, Nest, Index, LA Weekly, and Semiotext(e)’s The New Fuck You. A portion of this novel appeared recently in Dave Egger’s The Best American Nonrequired Reading. She has taught in writing programs at UC San Diego and the New School, and has toured the US with the girl-punk group Sister Spit.’ — Feminist Press
“Laurie Weeks’s Zipper Mouth is a short tome of infinitesimal reach, a tiny star to light the land.” —Eileen Myles,
I decided I was in love with this girl so I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. I smoked cigarettes and lay on the bed. I wanted her to drop by in the afternoon for a nap. It didn’t seem likely and this was part of my pleasure, like the agony of fixating on a dead movie star the way I’d become obsessed at age fifteen with the long-decomposed actress Vivien Leigh, a.k.a. Scarlett O’Hara, and her later, more bummed-out incarnation, Blanche DuBois. Instead of rock stars, I had pictures of Vivien all over my room, glossy publicity shots and film stills I’d ordered or simply received in the mail, gifts from sad obsessives who advertised, as I did, in the back pages of Nostalgia, Illustrated, a creepy classic-movie magazine for shut-ins and losers that I’d stumbled across on the racks at Consumer’s Supermarket while leafing through Seventeen and holding my breath against the stench from the sugar beet factory reigning over adjacent fields. At night I lay awake in sadness, grieving that Vivien had died alone, coughing herself to death consumptively long before I was old enough to intervene. “She was a great actress,” I said morosely to my friends, trying to visualize her having sex with Laurence Olivier, an image not so easy, really, to wrap your mind around. Part of her allure was the fact that she spelled “Vivien” with an e, not an a, the e more refined and seductive, the a somehow thudding and crude, witness the barbarian Vivian Vance.
In one of the photos tacked up inside my teenage closet, Vivien leans into the lens and smiles, glamorous in the low-cut red velvet robe she wore in Gone With the Wind when Rhett takes her upstairs and rapes her, at which point she blossoms into the fullness of her love. The shot’s a medium close-up taken as she relaxes on the set, in her hand a cigarette, she’s smoking. Each day after school I’d lock my bedroom door, open the closet, and stand with my peanut butter sandwich, staring into Vivien’s green eyes as if my gaze, held long enough, could jump-start the pulse in her throat, compel the hand with that cigarette off the page and up to my lips to offer me a drag, her body following to step gracefully into my room, suspended tobacco smoke drawn back into the chamber of her mouth as she starts to breathe again for real. Jesus, I couldn’t imagine: Mom vacuuming the same spot suspiciously outside my door while inside there’s this movie star thing looking into your eyes. Oh my god you just want to be the smoke pulled between her lips. What happens when you get inside a person anyway, up that close, inside their mouth? It’s like a photograph blown up. They just dissolve into a haze of black and white dots until all you have is molecules and air, nothing there.
That day on the sidewalk you lifted your arm above your head. There in the hollow the wispy dark hairlets, I couldn’t breathe. I lit a cigarette, walked inside a building. Dreamily I got through my task, propelled by shots of adrenaline at the thought of your name. The job was easy, I didn’t care. I drifted home, not minding the sidewalk, the wreckage percolating around me. Your name is Jane. I floated through my door, lit a cigarette, my nerves were black. I thought I might buy some drugs and call you up.
“I’m a Scorpio,” Vivien explained to a reporter, “and we Scorpios are like that: we eat ourselves up and burn ourselves out.” At fifteen, I lumbered numbly through various hallways—from my bedroom to the kitchen, from the snack bar to math. In geometry I sat there flunking and stared with loathing at my forearm: it looked so meaty. Whenever the guy next to me glanced over, I hid it in my lap. I had long, thin limbs but in my mind I was a sausage, the wrapping stretched tight to bursting with a putrid, ground-up meat inside. I pictured the finespun Vivien huddled in the corner of a darkened hotel room in Rome, abandoned by Olivier, career on the rocks, cold flames rolling off her, burning alive in the firestorm of her manic depression. I watched the scorpion stinger on her tail, stuck in her own throat and convulsively pushing poison into her neck. Something that doesn’t hurt one part of your body can leak from its sac and paralyze another.
Writers Who Love Too Much: Laurie Weeks Introduced by Dodie Bellamy
Michelle Tea on ZIPPER MOUTH
‘Reagan invented crack deep within his racist bowels, pummeling his vagina with a log, shellacking his penis with Russia, his bullet wounds sporting wigs of diamond. He lives the century backward from all saying, is all about turning the skyline his. The cult of Reagan explodes litter from every hole, super-sized and baying the dust of queens, a doo-wop monarchy ripe with frowns, a dollhouse built of cocaine. Our desks are full of the blisters our halos said. Reagan carried out abortions with his stride, updated the bible with quarantines about himself. Reagan fucked his jewelry and had it killed. Reagan is behind the chatty nature of every drug. The yeast beneath his wrinkles is the twenty-first century’s calendar.
‘We are the speech of sutures. We have missiles in our hug.
‘Our flag is made of scars. We worship our own corpses instead of singing songs.
‘Our poems are lice in the eyes of prosperity and culture.
‘Our poems won’t survive: the rat trap stuck on a wet jacket of skin. Trailed through the kitchen, in a V of blood, the rat twitching, muscular system exposed, three feet away, dead but free, pointless effort, but amazing, a genius magic trick we bow to, the artist on the tile.
‘We coddle our waste by ranking it. There is no hierarchy in a coffin.
‘Pussyfooters of snark, academic wine aficionados tied callow by their stringy balls, the Reich of snoozy nitpicks, to the pissy art of edifice, ideals baked gimpy by courts, courts and their parasitic pews, the pious and ordained, to the clock for being slow – may you all be granted lives long beyond living.
‘Save for the flail and its evening, our shedding gasoline in expensive rooms, the vulnerable and their beautiful hate, the hate that grins, for the bullet and its path, for Columbine and Christmas, for crack and all its fucked helicopters that let one see, for the rat glowing outside its skin, the lush bounce our heads piffle, for the audience of cuticles, we grow vast inside our blood.
‘Now the graft whittles loose by the noise of its being snorted, borrows everything we love and performs arson in the gradation of its own jury’s severed wet.
‘The smoke rising from us is our property.’ — Sean Kilpatrick
Sean Kilpatrick fuckscapes
Blue Square Press
‘The violent, sexual zone of television and entertainment is made to saturate that safe-haven, the American Family. The result is a zone of violent ambience, a ‘fuckscape’: where every object or word can be made to do horrific acts. As when torturers use banal objects on its victims, it is the most banal objects that become the most horrific (and hilarious) in Sean Kilpatrick’s brilliant first book.’ – Johannes Goransson, author of A New Quarantine Will Take My Place
‘Pregnancy dream of poetry has this Sean Kilpatrick book by the fist. You learn to signal to others from the woken state, here, line-by-line. Do you have any extra money? Buy this book! If you have to skip lunch, buy THIS BOOK! “I held my breath so hard I ended up in the country.” Some poetry you read is forgotten, and never remembered. Some poetry, this poetry, Sean Kilpatrick’s poetry, is a manual for exciting the engine to throw you out of the vanquished pleasures. Here is your I.V. drip of sphinx’s blood.’ – CAConrad, author of The Book of Frank
from The Collagist
A man strangles a woman. She is lifted into the air. Their bodies lit, frozen. These are paintings wobbling on a series of backdrops, actors’ heads poking through.
MAN: I’d like to get to know you. If that’s okay. I’ll fetch myself wrecked by movement. Treasure you about an inch. I’ll ruin your sense of alarm. I’m building a home of every sneak you snuck, dude. Where I rid you of bitchiness with a single tusk. You give snippets of approval here and there just to keep me conscientious. (Small explosion). I bow through your moods ready to reply. Are you self-conscious about your body? Spaces don’t count if they haven’t been torn there. That pussy claps around. An altar for crime, my crimes, mega-plural. They start when I wake up. Approximate the joke. No, someone looking good as you ain’t required to contribute. (Explode). I hug you a lot. You get annoyed because I’m kind of silly and your disappointed expectations have turned you constantly quite serious. Cute toenails. I cheat on you with the television. A man does not love outside whatever maximizes relaxation. Screen the socket where my nuts guess. Objective distance quells you. I always keep within my rights. Still, I sleet apologies. (Explode). Offspring, build a roster. Basically garage my expellant. Our chum silent bitch-girl. Her groin is ours recycled. Mmm, sliding contour through feigned darks. We are the proud infectors of a life. My main job: jabber everything’s okay. Nothing’s been okay since the big bang. Anyway, roll baptismal juice fallow districts from change. Bomb the new. I believe in free assisted suicides for everyone who shakes my hand. I believe outside my house is all pennies. Step back, my hygiene dines on itself. I liposuction our crabs because they touch. You hike into nests. (Her period covers his arm). Aw, love every pain you’ve had. I swaddle your feces. I’m a flea jockeyed in your stoma twenty-four seven. Pagan in that feed. The testimony of everything right about being alive becomes activated the moment you flinch.
WOMAN: Boy, I’m the calamity being said. Note the sorry varnish. Note your propensity for shrinking. All this would and could. Such male tutelage ralphing its own veneer. Now let me visit gravity as a second pan full of tame spitties spat by saying rawr. You poorly steer the immaculate. You’re an ingrown patient beeping his Hot Wheels. Plus, the ceiling’s dirty. Plus, I shower in your tools. Hello! I give out the belly buttons here, fuck-flak. Men pass through my prayers throat-banged by mountainous clit. Meanwhile, your every succinct point gets clenched through my halo. When I rip loose our little boy he’s going to wear each dress I hate until his peener swabs the deck. I keep snoring through the trial they’ll give me for his death. Men who best themselves at love equal unvacuumed fetus I’ve yet to huff. Oh, and all silence is not stoic. Yours feels practiced. Set me over by my flowers. They tell me what to do. They span the gimmie gimmie this home constantly booms. This home, this home! I’ve planned an escape from debt so fucking long I’ve learned to despise whoever hands me gifts. I’ll tangle your daydream. We’ll pursue drawn-out deaths. My clothes are the only bracket between me and other men. That’s why I need so many. I soil myself on purpose for your legacy. Where are all the self-improvement books I keep molesting you with? Why don’t their clipped paragraphs line your unhygienic foreskin? But I do enjoy being an object bound higher than maybe television. I have good stories. I’m shiny. I have relatives that hate you and give off radiation. Your unfulfilled needs afford my every strength. Looky-look, I’m your gunky dame, like, bondage is over. I can sit through anything you try. Thus I’m better organized than all beliefs. Not much will do. At least I conquer. All the way Disney.
Sean Kilpatrick – Readings
GIL THE NIHILIST a sitcom by Sean Kilpatrick
‘What is so magical about this book? Actually, a lot. These stories traverse the cultural spectrum in a way that many books don’t quite get to do, maybe partly out of luck, maybe partly because Trinie’s work is edgy and full of a vibrancy that kids politely, that pokes fun at the underbelly of stereotypes, that tries to hit on certain affects and types without being altogether mean about it. As Eileen Myles writes on the back cover, “things just kind of dead-end in a macho way that feels like porn that didn’t happen––the dirty scenes I mean. Trinie’s writing absolutely unfeminine work.” This may be true.
‘Trinie’s book ends with a collection of “Sad Drag Monologues,” which are worth their weight in gold. Baby Geisha concludes, emphatically, after having traversed the lonely monologue turf, with a sentence that gives us a clue as to what Dalton is up to: “If it doesn’t hurt, I’m lost.” Who are these characters, and why do they fail so miserably? We could ask ourselves that, and if we need to ask, maybe we haven’t been paying attention to the arc of the book, which is, indeed, somewhat masculine, as Myles writes in her blurb. It pokes fun, it’s satirical, there’s an underlying delicious irony to it, and the telling parts are the ones where Dalton coins names, cuts down trees with her paragraphs, gives us just a touch of the absurd to make the stories palatable (to make the medicine go down).
‘I wouldn’t say these are entirely Flarfy, but again, Flarf is for grown-ups, and these stories emulate a little bit of that “high edge” to make an easy task more complicated, to make the ways stereotypes that we can’t help but falling into seem palatable. There is depth to these characters, and there is symbolism here that can’t be ignored. We wonder how Dalton has chosen her names, what she is up to in writing so much about trees, the girth of history found there, and we wonder what’s behind the scenes at the crime-zone of these cultural mélanges. In a way, it’s all set up for us––yes, there’s a dude who read Ram Das; yes, there’s a baby with a penchant for casual affairs. However, when it comes down to it, we get to thinking: If these stories provide mirrors, then what is next? Dalton’s skill as a writer, and above all her expertise in choosing words that play into a darker cultural picture––an offsetting of America’s natural high!––are not to be missed here, and there’s food for thought in these pages. But also: simply food. Either way, the intricacies and laughter-filled pages of these stories will prove rewarding on any ordinary day, whether in sun or shadows.’ — Laura Carter, Fanzine
Trinie Dalton Baby Geisha
Two Dollar Radio
‘Baby Geisha is a collection of thirteen sexually-charged stories that roam from the Coney Island Ferris wheel to the Greek Isles.
‘True to Dalton’s form, the stories in Baby Geisha are distinctly imagined while also representing a more grounded approach in the author’s style. There’s the Joan Didion-obsessed starving journalist of ‘Pura Vida,’ struggling to maintain a relationship with her performance artist sisters (or anyone, for that matter), on assignment in Costa Rica to write an article on sloth-hugging. ‘Millennium Chill’ is about a woman who discovers that her body heat is mysteriously linked to that of an elderly beggar.
‘Baby Geisha serves to underline Dalton’s reputation as a remarkable stylist and original artist.’ — Two Dollar Radio
Escape Mushroom Style
The animal hospital looked out upon the Wonder Wheel, an antique ferris wheel constructed of enough metal to build four skyscrapers. Plate glass windows in the waiting room gave the office, where Scruffles and I awaited a meeting with a soft tissue surgeon, an airy feel. But carnival views don’t make cancer fun. I stroked Scruffles, panting at my side with a golf ball-sized tumor hanging off his dong. Snake skinned ladies, men with gorilla wives, fire-breathers, poodles riding tricycles, elephantitis—it had all gone down here on Coney Island. Penis tumors were probably old hat. Made sense that a polluted beach would be a mutant culture hub. The world’s oldest roller coaster loomed three blocks away. Was this vet going to be Siamese twins? Suddenly, it was moronic instead of ironic that I had considered administering dog cancer treatment at a facility bordering a decrepit amusement park. It was more moronic that I lived nearby.
“Scruffles?” I asked, scratching his woolly, red left ear. “Will you feel like a freak if we operate?”
Scruffles wagged his tail. Any question involving upped intonation at the end of the phrase produces in him a hope for fish.
I kept this appointment because I needed a surgeon’s opinion.
The receptionist called us in. The doctor was not a Siamese twin but rather an emaciated man whose head reminded me of a calavera azucar, a Day of the Dead sugar skull. He groped my dog in a twitchy way and recommended something horrible.
“I’m not removing anything except the tumor,” I vowed, petting Scruffles as I committed to keeping his body intact.
“He’ll die,” the surgeon said. Who was he to issue the death sentence?
I slammed the office door on the way out.
Soft tissue surgeons are too obsessed with slicing to know what you do and don’t cut. It’s just not right. Amputating a dog’s penis is ludicrous, I fumed in the taxi home. Scruffs panted, which I took as agreement. What would I tell people when they ask where my dog’s organ went?
A week later, I left Scruff at home with thr
ee chew toys and took the train instead to ride the Wonder Wheel, whose cars, every quarter rotation, swing out on railings to the edge of the wheel’s circumference. These cages, called the Danglers, dangle you over the boardwalk like a hooked worm being lowered into a lake of big mouth bass. My brother and I, swinging every two minutes, questioned how long our corroded cage would hold. We needed a meaningful conversation during our limited time together, while he visited. Today, we cried a lot. Privacy was non-existent in this city, and we needed some. At least on the Wonder Wheel we had a car to ourselves.
Trinie Dalton ‘Writers With Drinks’
Trinie Dalton talks W&P
‘Yeah, I think there’s something really phony about saying you don’t want to create something within the reader or you could care less about issues of politics, Frisbees, whatever. I’m from a state where people die every week so that you can check your e-mail. The outside world exists.
‘I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had with people over the past couple of weeks going on about the dangers of nuclear power. I want to say, “Do you know how many coal miners across the globe have died in the past sixty years?”
‘Now, do I want to write about that? Of course not, but is it part of my world? Of course it is.
‘I’m just saying that people are alive. I’m just saying, “I exist. Do you exist? Isn’t life fucking miserable sometimes, but isn’t it fucking great to be alive sometimes too?”
‘I know existing doesn’t create a sense of obligation in anyone, but I’m just afraid we’re going to lose our capacity for joy if we’re not careful. We are the Pill Generation. Who wants to be against JOY? I don’t. Some folks just want to talk you to death.
‘I even have directions to my house in the new book. Come on over, I’ll cook you a steak or a veggie burger.
‘Of course, these directions to my house could bring an assassin, but it could also bring a great friend I have yet to meet. I have an Iranian father in law and he’s not scared of the world. It seems like only Americans are scared to go outside unless they’re carrying a machine gun.’ — Scott McClanahan
Scott McClanahan The Collected Works of Scott McClanahan, Vol. 1
Lazy Fascist Press
‘Scott McClanahan is a powerful, exceptional writer, and the overall effect of reading his deceptively simple stories is like getting hit in the head by a champion cage fighter cranked up on meth that was cooked in a trailer without running water in some Kentucky backwoods where people sing murder ballads to their children to put them to sleep.’ -DONALD RAY POLLOCK, author of The Devil All the Time
‘He might be one of the great southern storytellers of our time.’ -VOL. 1 BROOKLYN
‘When I discovered the stories of Scott McClanahan last year, I was instantly enthralled with his natural storytelling voice and freaky funny tales. There’s no pretense to Scott’s work. It’s like you’re just dropped right into the middle of these fantastic and true stories. It’s like a sweet blend of my favorite southern writers, Larry Brown and Harry Crews. Reading McClanahan is like listening to a good friend telling you his best real-life stories on your back porch on a humid night. And you both got a nice whiskey buzz going.’ -KEVIN SAMPSELL
The Baby Birds
It happened over at my Grandma Ruby’s house. It was a Sunday afternoon and we were all sitting around on the porch, and my Mother said she wanted to show me something.
I was probably only 3 or 4, so I followed behind her white dress to the side of the house asking, “What is it Mommy? What is it?”
She stopped at these old grapevines and pointed at the vines. Then she picked me up and let me look down at it. It was a twisted mess of twigs and vines.
“It’s a birds nest,” she said, holding me up and letting me look down into the nest.
“WHOOA,” I said, looking at the baby blue robin eggs just resting there…1…2…3…4…5…just like that.
“Now don’t touch em now Scott. You don’t ever want to touch an egg because the mommy’ll leave the babies. So all you can do is look at them, but you can’t touch.”
So I shook my head “yes” and she let me look a little longer before she dropped me down. And then I couldn’t see any of the baby bird eggs anymore.
We walked back around the house and I waited until she went back inside.
I kept thinking, “I want to see the baby birds again. I want to see the baby birds.”
So she finally went back inside and I snuck back beside the house and tried seeing them.
I tried standing on my tip toes to see inside the nest, but that wasn’t working. I tried jumping up and down but that wasn’t working either. I tried grabbing a hold of the grapevine and pulling it down, but I could hardly reach it. But then…I finally got a hold of the grapevine and pulled it lower
…and then lower
…and then lower
SPLAT SPLAT SPLAT—the baby bird eggs busted against the ground.
So I let go of the branch, which sent the baby bird nest bouncing hiiighhhhhh into the air before landing back on the grapevine—soft.
I looked down at the ground and the baby bird eggs were all busted open. There was a little baby bird who didn’t have any feathers yet, squirming and crying and kicking and shaking on the ground. It was kicking its little half formed wings around and crying out from where its beak should have been. You could see all the blue veins in the soft pink skin and a purple heart beating beneath it–
I just froze.
And then my Mother was right beside me. I started crying a cry like I cried when I stole the walnut from Kroger a couple of weeks before.
Then I watched her as she picked up the gooey crushed eggs which slipped between her fingers. She tried putting back the baby bird gunk into its nest, but it wasn’t working.
She tried putting it all back in, but she couldn’t. And then she picked up a baby bird with its invisible skin and it just sat in her hand, shaking and shaking some more.
I said, “I guess the mommy won’t feed em anymore.”
My Mother said, “I don’t know” putting the baby bird without any feathers back into the nest. Then she took my hand and led me away from the nest. She told me to sit on the porch and think about what I’d done.
I sat on the front porch and thought about it. I shook my head trying to get rid of the sight of the gooey baby bird without its feathers. I shook my head and tried getting rid of this memory, but I couldn’t. I cried and I couldn’t make it go away. I couldn’t make it go away and I couldn’t change it.
So I said, “I killed the baby bird Mommy. I killed the baby bird.”
My mother tried to calm me down by whispering “Shhh.”
This was the way the world worked sometimes. This was life.
So I tried drying my eyes but all I could hear was one thing now.
All I could hear was the mommy bird, crying from somewhere far away in the woods.
Scott McClanahan reads at Franklin Park
‘In a future land called Nation, late-stage capitalism and an unchecked faith in technology have wreaked planetary havoc: “Distressed survivors huddle illustratively or claw up cliffs or weep on overpasses dressed in neon, rainsoaked T-shirts screenprinted with the slogans of corporate sponsors: Product is Life. Life is good.” Earth has been pushed beyond what its “immune system” can bear. The environment befouled, people eat synthetic honey and drink chemically constituted milk. The Continuous Heritage Board produces propaganda for nonstop viewing on ubiquitous “filescreens,” and personal liberties are severely limited.
There are vast areas of Nation that are off-limits to the populace, and citizens can travel only via preapproved routes. Real freedom of movement is unknown. An unnamed geographer, who works for the Bureau of Maps, notes that “sometimes in the interest of national security we would remove a land or water route from all future editions of a map.” Think Brave New World, 1984, or J. G. Ballard’s dark, prophetic sci-fi. Touted on its back cover as “speculative fiction,” Joyelle McSweeney’s Flet could also be described as a poetic fever dream of the future.
‘Flet is composed of short, dense chapters, with titles that range from simple informative phrases (“The Leader Speaks”) to self-reflexive commentary on the writing process (“Plot as a Topology of Hydrostatic Pressures”). McSweeney is also a poet—she has published two collections—and here, straight narrative loosely alternates with stream of consciousness. The latter spills forth in compressed, postapocalyptic mind gushes, full of wordplay, branching associations, mixed diction, and copious references: “For when the eye has lost its slaver, what then? Blind man, by your sense of the sea, steer the vessel. Lift the staff. Part the water. Strange fruit swings in stormy welter. Waxwings. The storm at sea. Wax lips and jelly babies. Learning, the barefoot boys in straw hats before the red schoolhouse. Leaning.”
‘The novel is both coded and elegiac. It is a warning cry and an evocation of nostalgia for eras within recent memory, when we and our planet were healthier. Flet’s cautionary aspects are timely and dire, yet the book also pays tribute to the urge to hold tight to the ephemeral pleasures of language while so many other joys fizzle and wink out.’ — Amy Gerstler, Bookforum
Joyelle McSweeney Flet
‘Flet goes down in a spaced-out, delimited future in which all cities have been evacuated after an oft-invoked “Emergency.” As the decentralized citizenry binge on the endless, aimless filetape transmissions draining into their homes, our eponymous heroine, a quiescent-but-full-of-agency Administration flunky, is poignantly alone in her suspicion that the Emergency is a tool of sociopolitical manipulation, if not oppression. A face-off between this tentative muckraker and her icy superior is inevitable at the mandatory, nationwide Reenactment, in advance of which Flet finds herself dreaming and driving endlessly off the map. Will she find the missing cities, or will she lose herself in the flood-tide of images that wash over the Nation?
‘An elegant entry in the field of speculative fiction, Flet finds poet Joyelle McSweeney slowing her distinctively hyperactive imagination up to the speed of narrative.’ — Fence Books
The black scarf knotted at her nape plots a green epidemic on her skull. The black skiff skirts a knotty sea, a needle in mourning weeds, a razor-edged reed, a toothed fish: a decision in motion. Not me yet. Whipping of the foam of the sea: a fate or a fait accompli. Who wants to be drawn out. Who would want to wear this crown. Poised on the crest, down in the flood, rests in the pit, hurled up. Aurora dolorealis, spider writing, green vernal ink, dawning branch. Scrawl from which I’ll never rise up. I’m down now, I lie in the graphite dust. Burning, the atmosphere snags and the child’s writing lights like a fuse. These are the Russian-made night-vision goggles that were his eyes. These are the slick children’s vitamins that reflect light but don’t produce it. Coin in the hand. Coin on the eye. Twist of bread. Coin in the mouth. A child’s braid. The wisps pull lose in the photo on the grave. The milktooth in the clay. The skull glares back, drinks the day into its channels of vision. A big-veined valley empties sightless amid the hills of the hand. A future written in roods, routes, in roads on the bottom of the lake. And now the future silts closed with dust from the bit-factory. Waste water shuttling with industrial gems. To drink it scrapes the throat: to become raw and written on. It makes a surface inside. Cone of flowers in the hand, untwisting. Stitch dropped. Rotting flowers sickling the halls, revolting aptness. Hose it down. Everything drains away to become unreadable. Somewhere the purest water lies where everything has come undone, reduced past its separable elements. But not yet. Insufferable catalog: Nose cone of the shuttle. Fishbones sunk in the rows to swim the spent soil black. Choke fish turning mammal. Fin turning manual. Refuse fish. Man turning mamma. Mad dog barking at her capsule-horizon, it comes back constantly, hypo-fangs glinting with light thrown by the various satellites. Thrones natural, manmade. Mother’s milk, simulacrum. Saliva way, milk way, lymph way, pleghm way. Filament way, lightbulb way, tinder way. Cough and sleeve. Pillow slept. The humors of the universe. Pour them out and sift them back. In the closed and continuing classroom, the brass brace holding up the earth. Soundproof windows. Crayon-shaded continents that fit the child’s hand. Calm child sleeping between the lines of the lined paper. Between the red line and the blue line: pencil in hand. Plot the difference, between the top of the letter and its tail. It makes a stuttery document to be measured but not read: the single letter stuttering across the page. Never on to the vowel, the heart of the word, which we supply in stereo, hurling it into the air, into the roots, into the stalks, into the knock-off microphones, the community boards, the sympathetic magic of peripheral democracy, wired to nothing. Only bouncing lightly off the satellites. The knife’s glint, but not its edge. Noone feels it. We enlace ourselves. Everything waits to be crowned or drains away. Heads and tails. We draw the pictures and burn them up. We drink and we bleed. The moon comes up. At the bottom of the channel/the purest water/lies. We don’t believe it. We move back and forth, drive the warp through the grid, gird in fifth-rate nylons, the sweaters and shawls of manmade fiber, our lot. It must be worn out, or nothing destroys it. It neither burns nor breathes.
The Missing Cities
The missing cities grow taller and higher. They grow over the vat. They grow portable; they blow like living yeast. They spread out and take a breath. They build the strongest net in the world: spider webs. They build an grave-blue cotton in the joists and laddering. They build a planked floor that the dust silts through in lines. The lines form the blueprint for the second city. The second city: the plank city: the roof city: the sky city; the weather city; the tropo-city: the atmocity: the core: the mantle: the bodice: the beeline: the instep: the torchsweep: the hatband: the screw: the driving glove: the foil tip: the eel cast; the net haul; the polished angle; the chopstick: the dagger; the dendrite; the patch and stain; the cobwebbed brain. Modeled where the proteins formed a hummock and a site; the sugaring the blood till it crystallized (crystal city); the baby suckedthe cuts; the baby tasted greasy or sweet, depending on its alkali; sweaty with lucky neutrality. First it was a symptom, then a system in the bassinette; to mint and multiply, to cover the mutation. To print the communication in relief from cell to cell. A material crier on hoofbeats. A ghost reiter that swept up late for the massacre at the crossroads before the Rite-Aid. No the city: the center: it is already crumbling away: it is already hard to look at, macular, marked out in milestones and hot keys, levers in the code that flip the stalwart passengers onto the next logroll. All politics is logroll, all free beer for the city, ladled out around the stump speech. High as a blind knee. This passenger tall as a leg of beer, in his pre-beard, non-electable. Then bearded and electable. So this is the little ladle that saved the big wand. So this is the address on the back of the envelope which ground will save the war. His roman a clef is sweet to the taste and turns like a key in the ear: ta dum. It turns like a key in the back. It’s a wind-up. It’s the pitch. When wind clattered clean through the hole in his ear that’s the end of the wind-up. You’ve lost the battle, now the war. Your bad ankle is about to get worse, despite your excellent angle. Off into the night on hoofbeats and women’s clothing. The bad message wants to copy itself, someone will tell it. The city joins hands and spreads out in a circle, looking for the drowned. Its windowpane walls can’t bear it, then it’s cellophane, it has Hincty Cell Syndrome. Once it’s gathered and crimped it won’t hold the same information. The city corrodes, gapes in the walls. Everyone leaves their posts and spends time sipping in the outposts. Flet alone through the enjambments and ambuscades. Outside people, inside weather and exposure, the city is materials, mutating and corroding and becoming cyclical. Becoming self-sufficient.
Reading by Joyelle McSweeney, 11.12.15
A Reading and Conversation with Joyelle McSweeney
p.s. Hey. ** Dominik, Happy Monday, D!!! —Corpse— does have a certain je n’ais c’est quoi. My pick? Hm … maybe HardKitten for some reason. I would love to have read that thesis, that’s for sure. Your weekend’s love was like Jesus Christ for cool people. Love using his magic powers to make everyone else in the world look like Billie Eilish’s dad, G. ** Bill, Hi, B. I will admit the dancer had some commenters who waxed very positive about his dancer bod, but they were boring, so I edited them out. So I guess I’m the one who needs to chill, ha ha. The Secret Room Gallery will definitely help pass the time, thank you, sir. Only three more days, whoop! ** Steve Erickson, I would guess you had that feeling because your feeling is correct? I haven’t read a new William Gibson novel in a long, long time. Let me know if should restart with the new one. Very, very interested to see that lost/restored Romero for all kinds of reasons. Did you see it? I have not done a Sion Sono post, no. But that’s a capitol idea, so I’ll look into it. You must’ve reviewed ‘SwT’ before I’d heard of it, and I seem to have blanked. I just knew the Screamers thing would end up downloadable. Thanks for the news. I’ll snatch it, obviously. ** David Ehrenstein, I wonder if opening a roller disco these days would be fresh/retro enough to be a smash hit. Hard to figure. My guess is that gar backs are going to make a comeback in some limited way for the same retro/nostalgic/fresh reasons that brought vinyl back. ** Billy, Hi. If you’re asking what site they came from, they came from a number of different sites, and they were edited and altered. ** Montse, Hi, Montse!! Oh, yeah, I’m hanging in there, at least now that I know it’s almost semi-over. No curfew, nice. Ours gets moved from 7 to 9 on Wednesday, then to 11 in early June, and then removed in late June. Seems really overly cautious. I get my second shot on June 11. they make you wait a long time in-between shots here for some reason. Are you vaxed? I’m so sorry to hear about Xet’s mom. Parents dying is hard even in the easiest of circumstances, but I’m glad he’s ok. A small town in the mountains sounds heavenly. I’ve been almost totally stuck in Paris for well over a year, and I’m so stir crazy. Yes, yes, come to Paris! I figure by the fall we’ll be back to being wonderfulness-central again. Oh, I’m doing a post this weekend about Alberto García-Alix whose work you turned me onto via a guest-post here years ago! Big hugs to you, my dear friend, and it’s so sweet and good to see you! ** Brian, Hi, Brian! They were a lively bunch, weren’t they. Thanks, guys! I haven’t checked to see what movies will be playing when the theatres reopened. The last time they reopened it was mostly just a bunch of middling junk that had been in mothballs for months. But surely there’ll be some goodies. And I’ll go see almost anything at the moment. Oh, yeah, ‘Days of Being Wild’ is terrific. His films in that earlier period are so good. My fave is ‘Fallen Angels’. Very nice. Yum. I hope it gave you some propellent to get through finals week. Eyes on the prize, man. Oh, the disaster movies I killed time with were ‘Greenland’ (ok, did the trick, albeit with too much character-related stuff that you were supposed to care about), ‘Pompeii’ (surprisingly fun), and ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ (pretty good, best of the bunch). I really enjoyed the podcast. I love Wake Island and always listen to it, so it was very cool to actually be on it. I think it’ll drop in two weeks. Man, very best of luck and everything else with the studying and test taking. How did the first day go, do you think? ** Okay. I’ve made another post focused on some books published in the last five or so years that I love and that I think should be more on current people’s lips and reading lists than they seem to be. Enjoy the display please. See you tomorrow.