Archive for September, 2011
Posted By jatyler / 25th September 2011
Gregory Sherl is going to be huge. Plain and simple. His chapbook I Have Touched You won Dark Sky Books’ first chapbook contest and is a whirlwind of sex and want and loneliness and worry. Poems of panic or panicked poems. Then comes Heavy Petting, the inaugural perfect-bound release from Katherine Sullivan’s YesYes Books and the first full-length collection from Sherl, which is as much a torrent of poetry as I’ve never seen – lovely with bitterness and obsession and angst and the most earnest love. And because Sherl is not only awesome but accessible, we get to ask him some questions and report out at this Monkeybicycle hub:
In Bob Hicok’s foreword to Heavy Petting he says, of himself: ‘I made Greg Sherl write poems by telling him he was writing poems.’ Help us detail your side of this MFA conversation – what was this exchange like for you and what did it do to your writing?
The exchange that Bob explains in the foreword was exactly the exchange that happened. He called me into his office and he was like, “You’re a poet.” My thought: “You might be famous and important and people line up to take your class, but you’re fucking nuts, man.”
Still, I sat there holding my awkwardly red, chapped hands and listened to him tell me why I was a poet, not believing him.
I left that meeting confused. When I signed up for his poetry workshop, I did it because my friends were doing it. I had a spare class to take, so I figured why not. I had no idea who Bob Hicok was (I believe he knew this and was probably amused), and I had no idea what poetry was, either.
I had a lot to process.
I will say one thing: I have always felt the compulsion to write. So much so that it hurts sometimes. It sounds cliché (and is) and countless writers feel this way (and they should!), but it’s true. It wasn’t until I discovered poetry that I first started enjoying the actual act of writing. It used to be a chore I couldn’t stop doing—writing shitty short story after shitty short story—and then I discovered these poems, these sequences of lines that sometimes made sense but sometimes didn’t, and then, out of nowhere, I started enjoying the process, the discovery, the creation.
Bob Hicok raves about your poems – even dissects one in his foreword – what does that feel like as a poet, for your first collection, to have such an introduction from such a poet?
It started out as a joke. A “Hey, let me ask my poet hero to write a foreword for my poetry book that maybe twenty people will read.” Did I think he would say yes? No fucking way. But why not go big? You get one first full-length, you know? One. Why stop at a blurb, let’s get a fucking foreword. In a way it made sense. In a way I owe the book to him. If I had never met Bob Hicok, do I think I would have written a book that eventually might have been published? Sure, maybe. But would it have been a poetry collection? Doubtful. Almost impossible to say yes to that. This book starts at the beginning of my life as a poet. Poems in this collection, poems like “Notes on a Candy Cane Tree” and “Tampa,” these are some of my first “realized” poems. They happened in Bob’s workshop. They happened because of him.
What does it feel like? It feels like the most important part of the book. To me, it feels like the book wasn’t a proper book until Bob wrote those few words in those first few pages.
If we dive into the thematic movements of Heavy Petting, many of the poems are either overtly or covertly concerned with food or the consumption of objects or relationships. For instance, from “Opening Credits”’:
We kiss with our eyes closed.
I say You look like the kind of girl who should be on the cover of a box of cake mix.
For foreplay, you show me the knobs on your gas stove.
Or in ”Burnt Lemon Cookies Smell Bad”:
Like: even when I love you I get lonely. Eating Cocoa Puffs
gets lonely. Getting lonely gets lonely.
Or in “Fall Down the Stairs, I Will Catch Your Lonely Head”:
I say I love you like waterfalls love
shampoo commercials. There are only 5 calories in a serving
of Crystal Light. We drink like marathon runners. We drink
each other, drink each other like our fingers are straws
Can you talk to us about how this theme comes into your writing and what intentions it has (or you suppose it has)?
I used to have a joke that I couldn’t write a poem without referencing cereal. Why is this? I thought about it for a while until I realized how blatantly obvious it was: I really fucking love cereal. I eat it almost daily. Sometimes twice a day. The things that happen most in my life are the things that show up in my writing. I am from the school of “write what you know”. Rinse. Repeat. Write more.
Now, this school of “write what you know” has gotten me into a lot of trouble, and I am starting to steer away from this. You will see this a lot more after The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail and Monogamy Songs (a few projects are currently in the works, in very early stages, and they are very, very different than what I have been producing these last few years).
These days I am very excited about the future. I can’t wait to see where it takes me.
Also, thematically, there is a studied focus on relationships, but always between a narrator of the poem (its voice) and an unseen third party (consistently referred to as ‘you’). Are we intended to be your ‘you’ in these poems? Are you targeting us, the reader, the audience? Or is there another reason for the ambiguity here, the openness to our own interpretation?
I want to say yes to all of this just because I don’t know how to answer these questions. I want my writing to target whoever is going to feel something after reading the book. If you felt something from a poem, a line, a word—then I was targeting you. And thank you for feeling.
Ambiguity. Sometimes emotions are so ambiguous, who knows where they came from or why they were there. Sometimes lines just show up and I didn’t ask them to show up but they showed up anyway. They might mean nothing to me, but they might mean something to someone else. Something good, I hope. If that’s the case, then I’m happy and I believe my poem is happy.
One other large thematic focus in Heavy Petting is that of meta-fiction (meta-poetry?) – references to the book itself or writing or poetry. For example, in “Fiction”:
This is what you tell me: you’re writing a book
about forever. My children are in the pages, their
Or in “I Read That in a Book”:
There are too many love poems
on my hard drive, so I’m murdering miss you with a chainsaw,
dropping it from an eight floor stairwell, watching every
letter that smells like you scatter like links from a broken
Or in “Master of Fine Arts”:
In Poetry Workshop, they tell me not to use pop culture references in my
poems. I cross out lines about necking with you in the backseat of my car
while listening to “La La Love You” on repeat. I cross out: Natalie Portman’s
hips are boss, but your hips are more boss.
How do you want this meta-fiction/poetry to function in your poems, and where does it come from?
I find myself constantly talking about myself. This is a bad habit. It is also probably very annoying (I apologize, I think). Anyway, some of my favorite pieces of pop culture are very self-referential, very self-aware of what they are and where they come from (Arrested Development, Kevin Smith, Adaptation, Bret Easton Ellis, Bukowski, Bob Hicok, etc.), so I’m sure much of my own writing was and will always be affected by this. I like the idea that whoever is reading my book is aware that they are reading my book. It is an object, an experience, I hope, and I never want to take myself so seriously that I have to disappear while the reader is having that experience with the object I created.
Remember me, reader, as selfish as that might sound.
I have always been so fascinated with the process of craft, or how something became that something. So, why not accomplish two things at once: Explain how that something was created while experiencing the thing that was created.
As you mentioned earlier, beyond Heavy Petting we can look forward to your novel(la) with Mud Luscious Press The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail and your forthcoming title with Future Tense Books Monogamy Songs. Can you give us a little sneak peak of each, or tell us what differences and similarities we can expect between Heavy Petting and these upcoming titles?
One of the first lines from The Oregon Trail is the Oregon Trail: “They think about your hair/while they’re inside their wives, think about/your dimple while they try to repair the axel/on their wagon.”
One of the first lines from Monogamy Songs: “K and I are always high-fiving after we fuck.”
There are so many differences between the two collections (so many!), but what I can say about The Oregon Trail and Monogamy Songs is this: they are both love letters. The Oregon Trail is a love letter to a computer game, a never ending fleeting moment from my youth, and Monogamy Songs is a love letter to love, this feeling of now, this hopeful feeling of forever. Love letters in the form of line breaks and page-long paragraphs about video games and a pretty girl whose name starts with K.
These are what these future books are, and I hope everyone who reads them truly enjoys them.
Thank you for asking me these questions, J.A., it was very kind of you.
I hope you all enjoyed reading them, at least a little bit.
Thanks for talking with us Greg! Heavy Petting is really a beautiful book full of beautiful poetry and I could ask a million more questions, but instead, I say to you, readers of this review + interview series: buy the book, digest it and start a relationship with Gregory Sherl, then email him some questions of your own – I’m sure, if I know anything about Mr. Sherl, that he will respond quickly and in kind.
Buy this book here. Read more about / from Gregory Sherl here.
Posted By admin / 22nd September 2011
This Saturday our friends from The Enclave Reading Series are starting their fall season with a terrific event featuring the great Gary Indiana and Melissa Febos. If you’re around NYC on Saturday, please stop by. Full details are below:
The Enclave is kicking off its fall season right: with a reading from the legendary Gary Indiana. Melissa Febos is also on the bill, so come on out this Saturday!
The Enclave Reading Series
September 24, 2011
152 Ludlow Street, NYC
Gary Indiana is the author of seven novels, including The Shanghai Gesture, Do Everything in the Dark, Depraved Indifference and Resentment. He has also published several books of nonfiction and directed many theater plays and spectacles. His most recent publications are To Whom It May Concern (in collaboration with Louise Bourgeois) and Last Seen Entering the Biltmore, Plays, Short Fiction, Poems 1975-2010. His forthcoming books are a memoir, I Slept With The Dead, and a novel, Diving for Teeth.
Melissa Febos is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, WHIP SMART (St. Martin’s Press, 2010). Her writing has been published in The Southeast Review, ReDivider, Dissent, The Chronicle of Higher Education Review, The New York Times, and Bitch Magazine, among many others, and she has been profiled in venues ranging from the cover of the New York Post to NPR’s Fresh Air. Melissa is the winner of the Memoirs, Ink half-yearly contest, and a 2010 & 2011 MacDowell Colony fellow. The Enclave Reading Series are starting their fall season with a really great event here in NYC. Their readers are the wonderful Gary Indiana and Melissa Febos. Full details are below. If you’re in the city, we highly encourage you to stop by and take in some great writing.
Posted By jatyler / 19th September 2011
Kathy Fish’s previous collection sat amidst the other also stellar words in Rose Metal’s A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness: Four Chapbooks of Short Short Fiction by Four Women, and her words there made me eager for her words elsewhere. Luckily, through the new editorial hands of Matter Press, run by the esteemed author Randall Brown, we have this new book to fill our need: Wild Life, a collection of undomesticated flash fictions. And thanks to the kindness of Kathy Fish, we get to ask this wonderful author some questions.
Let’s talk first about length. You work in the arena of flash fiction, but this does not necessarily designate a standard size. In fact, your pieces are varied in length throughout Wild Life. There are some, as ‘Sweep’, that come in at a paragraph total but are full of livid language:
Sweep feathers off the porch before the rain comes and makes a paste of them. Lean on the broom handle and watch the clouds, roiling like indigestion. Hear the soft boom of distant thunder; feel the ache in your knees, the hot blisters on your palm.
and others, like ‘Cancer Arm’, that are just as beautiful, but several pages in length:
It’s Thanksgiving and your mother appears and disappears at will. One second ago, she was touching your shoulder, whispering something funny. You think you might grab hold of her, bury your face in the folds of her neck, but you look up and she’s gone. It’s as if she’s a vapor, sprayed from a can.
What dictates the final resting size of each piece you write? And do you think much about length or diversity of page counts when you are putting together a collection like Wild Life?
The length of the work feels almost pre-determined. I never set out to create a story of a certain length, though flash length is what seems to come naturally to me. I know as I’m writing the very short pieces, that it’s going to be fewer than 300 words or so. Those feel more like prose poems to me. I have one strong image or one emotion that I’m going for, one instance in time or a statement I want to make and it feels complete and I don’t feel a need to expand. Other times, I’m writing more what I feel is a traditional story and I’ll want dialog, a scene, or half-scene and those I know will go longer.
Varying the lengths of the stories in the collection was a conscious decision. I wanted to give the reader a chance to pause and settle in with a longer story every now and then. But also I thought of it the same way we try to vary sentence lengths within a story, to give a sort of music or rhythm to the collection as a whole.
If we talk thematically, the first half of the book places great emphasis on children and mothers, specifically sons and mothers. For instance, ‘Payless Boy’:
It’s mostly mothers and small children at Payless. Sometimes the boy gets to help the mothers find pumps or sandals or jogging shoes. But all the shoes are right there on the shelves. It’s pretty self-serve. A woman in her forties came in once, just before closing. She asked the boy to measure her foot, which was on the scaly side. Also, the foot appeared to be dusted with talcum powder. The woman asked him to suck her toes, but the boy declined.
My toddler’s sick going on three days now. He only wants to sit with me on the sofa with his blanket and his stuffed koala named Dick. The blanket smells sour, like vomit. I’ve washed it but no bleach can penetrate. For three days I’m watching him and I don’t sleep.
What drives this focus, and how conscious was it in the writing and/or editing stages?
It is definitely a focus of my writing but I guess I would say that’s just what emerges. There’s no conscious decision to write on a particular theme and I hadn’t thought of how much of the first half does deal with mothers and sons. I think the two halves of the book differ tonally and I kept most of the really short pieces to the first half. I had so much material to draw from for this collection and I think the fact that a particular focus came through was more intuitive than deliberate.
There is also a strong sense of place in Wild Life, with particular attention paid to the mountains and scenery of Colorado and the surrounding Midwest. How important is place to your writing, environment or physical landscape?
I think the place where you’re young always gets imprinted on your heart, for good or for bad. Wherever you lived when you experienced all those important “firsts” and particularly emotions of love, and loss, is just always going to be the go-to of your imagination. Also, I don’t think we ever in our lives experience the natural landscape of home more than we do when we’re young. So yeah, Iowa, the Midwest of my childhood flows through everything I write. And I love where I live now, in Colorado. I’ve lived here 11 years. I’ve lived lots of other places but these are the places I’ve truly bonded with. Place/setting adds so much to a narrative, even if it’s not there on the page, it has to be there in my mind at least, as I’m writing a story.
If we switch gears to talk about Matter Press, can you tell us a little about how Wild Life came to be, how it was to work with the fine folks at the press, and what it means to be the first title in their catalog?
Randall Brown at Matter Press is an absolute joy to work with. I felt extremely honored when he approached me with the idea of publishing a collection of mine as the press’s first title. He’d seen an early version of a chapbook originally called Tenderoni and wanted to publish that, but I’d already promised that collection to Molly Gaudry at Cow Heavy Books (another wonderful person to work with, by the way). Luckily, I had another collection I’d put together with the idea of submitting it to contests. I sent him that one and he liked it and so Wild Life was born.
Also, now that you have your second collection out, we can begin talking about the trajectory of your work as a whole. Can you tell us a little about the differences or maybe evolution of your writing from the Rose Metal collection to Wild Life? And what can we expect the differences to be between this current collection and your forthcoming one from Cow Heavy Books?
I still really love those stories from the Rose Metal collection. My flash fiction then was more traditionally structured I think. I had a lot of fun with characters and humor, but there are also the deeper, stranger, Midwestern gothic type stories in there as well. Then I started writing more microfiction and work that’s less linear, less traditional, more like vignette or prose poetry and a lot of that is what’s included in Wild Life.
My forthcoming book from Cow Heavy Books, Together We Can Bury It, is a longer collection and includes both short stories and flash fiction. The point of view as a whole feels more feminine if that makes any sense. There’s a strong theme of connection and disconnection and notes of surrealism through some of the stories. I love all three collections, but yeah, they each feel very different to me.
Wild Life is an extremely adept show of how flash fiction works, how it can stretch a vignette length piece into what feels astounding tall, large, filled with pumping blood and organs, a full-fledged human tangle fit into a curt space. Fish is a master at short short fiction, and Wild Life confirms her place among its veterans.
Buy this book here. Read more about / from Kathy Fish here.
Posted By bl pawelek / 16th September 2011
In 10 words (no more, no less), describe your collages as a whole.
GBB: I illustrate my writing and the universe in my dreams.
What do you think about during creation?
GBB: Truth be told, not much I can verbalize. I pursue a psychological atmosphere, I try to open up a window on that dream universe. I amuse myself with the world each piece seems to describe. After the collage is coming together, I tell myself stories about the figures, but in the moment, it is the depth of the world that I fall into that I want. I feel very close to childhood, and I tend to wallow in that a bit. If there are overtly sexual elements in the collage, I often have an experience not too terribly dissimilar to what I experience when reading an erotic passage. I am a student of history and I can feel a great stirring sensation, a kind of fullness when manipulating images of historical significance. I enjoy some science fiction, particularly Borges and Lovecraft, and manipulating the horror and fantasy elements in the collage give me a similar feeling of deep, intellectual dread that I get reading them. Choice, jewel-like fragments of exploded narrative, Lowells “grand opera fixed in their veins.” That is what I am pursuing, those feelings. I want to disturb myself, to stir myself, in a good way. And hopefully other people.
Can you describe your process a bit?
GBB: I am a bibliophile. I collect books compulsively. This has gotten to be a problem. I collect hundreds of Childcraft books, old encyclopedias, time-life popular history collections, science-for-the-people collections. No yard or estate sale is safe. Year books, training manuals, cookbooks. I began cutting them up to illustrate my poetry, and the elements started to come together as collage. I was writing a book called VACATION and I began cutting images out of these books in order to find and fix in place the spaces and scenes I wanted, and some of them started becoming collages. Now I do collage for its own sake and the process is essentially sitting at a table surrounded by a junkyard of books with an exacto-knife and some glue and cutting images that I like out and pursuing a fantasy-feeling down whatever narratives start suggesting themselves. I get a perverse sense of power destroying the books, also, laying claim to the elements of the collage, de-contextualizing them to re-contextualize them. I also get lost in the fine-motor-skill elements of detail cutting.
‘Berserker’ – when I saw this, I thought of the lyric, “I spent time in the universal mind.” What are some words that describe it best?
GBB: Is that a Jim Morrison reference?
I conceived of Berserker as an illustration for the Universe War, a collage graphic novel I am working on, in which two secret societies of scientists begin to violate the basic laws of the universe in order to gain total control over Being itself. This was to illustrate one of the battles. Of course, the title ‘Berserker’ refers to the Norse warriors who would essentially suffer a psychotic break during battle and perform insane, homicidal/suicidal acts. There was a confused claim in English histories that they entered battle naked, as some Gauls did, but the image stuck with me of naked psychopaths covered in gore. When I saw this image in a wonders-of-the-human body style book, it was open next to a book about NATO air superiority. I thought, what could be more naked than to be without skin? How could you be more gory than to be exposing your own viscera? What is more homicidal than modern Air Power – what if you could defy it?
What is the first line of the ‘Song of Stars’?
GBB: “Hey! You in the skyyyyyyy . . .” Very France Gall, I imagine, but folksy.
Give odds on the donnybrook.
GBB: I never bet, I hate losing money. I also suffer under the unshakable conviction that my wagering somehow magically influences the outcome against my favor. Poe’s paradox says that the odds of rolling three twos in a row on a six-sided dice become immeasurably longer if you put money on it. I believe that. So, without getting more specific, I would bet against me. But I don’t bet.
What is the boy thinking in ‘I was Often Willfull’ (my favorite)?
GBB: I identify very, very closely with that figure. It is hard to verbalize. I suppose it is similar to the emotion that the little boy with his globe and stamps has at the beginning of Baudelaire’s “Le Voyage.” My father was a merchant marine and he had a cigar box full of coins from – literally – around the world that I would play with, and that poem means a lot to me. I loved maps and I still draw fantasy maps. I love that little boy so much – stolen from a radical protestant publication for youth from the 19th century called “The Little Gleaner” – that I want him to speak for himself. But I think he is living out the vastness of a world I caught glimpses of as a boy, to the dismay of the adults he does not care to acknowledge.
In ‘Picnic’ – are there any birds living in the tree house?
GBB: Not anymore.
‘ApostrophecasT’ – what is your favorite word that contains an A and T?
GBB: Attenborough. Do names count? If not, anastomosis. I think it accurately describes how a good collage comes together.
‘Gravelevity’ – What are the benefits of partial gravity?
GBB: As in the image, I imagine they would be mostly sexual. But “partial gravity” is a very nice phrase to isolate. I think that is how I would like people to approach the collages, serious play. To be delighted, but also to be willing to explore the ideas that arise, the implicit propositions.
‘Whiskey Beard’ – When was the last time you were quite capsized?
GBB: The last time I was reunited with my brother I put quite a dent in the whiskey supply. Concerns were raised. I believe at some point in the night he hid the bourbon in the pantry amidst the cereal flake boxes to cut me off.
In 10 words (no more, no less), describe your next project.
GBB: A novel about a war of spies across alternate universes.
Guy Benjamin Brookshire, artist
bl pawelek, Ten Everywhere
Posted By Steven / 11th September 2011
When I moved to the NYC area eight years ago, St. Mark’s Bookshop quickly became my favorite place to spend time. It had an incredible collection of literary journals and small press titles, along with a killer art/design section, and just about anything else you could want. I was poor, so I didn’t buy a lot. But I when I had a little money in my pocket, this was where I went to spend it. You can’t be without a book when you commute in NYC and St. Mark’s Bookshop is where I built my library. They also won a place in my heart by being the first store in town to pick up Monkeybicycle on consignment. They did this when I wasn’t even local yet–I was visiting from Seattle when I approached them.
That seems like so long ago, and I’m happy to know the store is still there. Whenever I get into the neighborhood it’s the first place I go. The shop is still the same: quaint, eclectic, and inviting. And, if anything, in that time it’s gotten better; They started a fantastic reading series that has hosted some really incredible writers over the past year or two. And the selection is still amazing, even as my tastes are changing. I feel like this store is an old friend, and that’s why this news of them facing that terrible fate that so many independent bookstores have recently suffered–closing because of money–makes me so sad.
St. Mark’s Bookshop is in need of a rent reduction. Their landlords, Cooper Union, are in a position where they can save the store from closing. And you can help by joining the Cooper Square Committee and petitioning Cooper Union and asking them to save an invaluable Lower East Side tradition. Please take a moment to sign the online petition here, and be sure to send the link to your friends. The publishing and booksellers industries are crazy right now and there have been a lot of unfortunate casualties. Please do your part to help avoid one more.
Posted By jatyler / 9th September 2011
Freight is a novel of recounted stories that amounts to a study of (and search for) love and a philosophy of life. Reveling in anecdotes and casual regrets, Freight opens itself up to be a complex fiction, to be a book about memories and existence and meaning, to be more than just a novel.
First let’s talk about the meaning of the word ‘freight’ – how do you define it, how does the book define it, and what makes this word so potent and important for your novel?
I define ‘freight’ as cargo, which is a pretty standard definition, I think, and the book’s definition isn’t much different, only more expanded. The book’s definition is a better catch-all definition in that it’s more inclusive of all things intangible, like thoughts and memories. For the book’s definition and my own, too, I suppose, ‘freight’ is pretty much anything we experience. ‘Freight’ can be a gesture, glance, feeling—something subjectively meaningful. ‘Freight’ is important for the novel because it’s the accumulation of everything important in the narrator’s life. ‘Freight’ is what he’s carrying but it’s also the path beneath his feet.
Freight is deeply concerned with love. There is a thematic insistence on it in the book, reminders cropping up in a variety of forms – some about the love for a girlfriend, some about the love for family, and some philosophizing about the act in and of itself:
No one wants to be an enabler, though sometimes love gets in the way.
So maybe it’s best to love things for what they are, or let them go if we can’t afford to love them anymore.
I loved that it was over.
I loved that I was safe.
I loved that I was home.
Is Freight a love story? A romance? A calling to some kind of love?
Freight is a love story, though mostly the unrequited variety or the just-didn’t-work-out variety. And yes, it is a calling to love, too, a calling to self-love, mostly, to be comfortable and clear in your own skin, your own home.
Freight is also full of stories that sound so genuine and so real, we wonder if they came from the author’s personal experience. For example, this story:
I destroyed two baby birds when I was a kid. I shot them with a BB gun. I’d killed their mother, a black-capped chickadee, or at least I thought I’d killed their mother. My father was disappointed in me when I told him I killed their mother, so he said “Since you killed their mother, you have to kill them too”
Maybe he didn’t tell me to kill the babies, though. I could be wrong. It’s not uncommon.
I was young and fat then. I wore jeans called “Huskies” that my mother bought for me.
Did you kill a bird with a BB gun? Were you a ‘husky’ kid? How much of Freight is a part of your own personal life?
I’ve killed some things in my life, both intentionally and accidentally, some animals, probably a bird or two, and I’ve never walked away feeling good about it. These days I try to be kind to the creatures out there, though sometimes I’m a real jerk to spiders and bees. It’s true that a lot of Freight comes from my own personal life. Even the pure fictions in the book are rooted in some kind of personal truth. I think that’s fair to say about any piece of writing, that even the tallest of tales grow from the precious seeds we keep in our pockets. I’m not sure what that means to ‘fiction’ as a category, but the armor on anything wears thin if you rub it long enough. The knees on a pair of husky jeans, however, won’t wear thin no matter how long you rub them. I know that from experience.
And if we are talking about places where Freight takes some of its cues, there are quite a few parallels between this novel and other classic or contemporary books. For example, like Holden in The Catcher in the Rye your narrator smashes a car’s window because he ‘needed to say something’, and like Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried an early chapter of Freight recounts the physical and metaphorical items that the narrator carries with him, including moments that he doesn’t want to carry but must because, as he says: ‘I think it’s important that I don’t forget.’ Does other literature pervade your thinking as you write, or are these instances an indication of a literary collective unconscious?
Great question, and I’d have to say that these particular instances are an indication of a literary collective unconscious, which is funny because I was thinking about this just the other day, not in terms of Freight, but just as an idea of a collective consciousness/unconscious as something that exists. Were you thinking about this, too? I think it’s fascinating, and I’m more than willing to drink that Kool-Aid. Ha. Seriously, though, while these examples weren’t at the forefront of my mind as I worked on Freight, other literature, stimuli, certainly influences how I move throughout my day, how I think at particular times. I was reading lots of indie lit while writing and revising Freight, and Robert Lopez’s Kamby Bolongo Mean River was very much rolling around in my head early on, and Steve Himmer’s The Bee-Loud Glade kept my brain dancing during the later stages. For me it’s about latching on to something that resonates, something strong like a good cup of coffee or tea, a great line, a great voice, delivery. Freight took its cues from daily inspirations and the memories of them.
Freight also takes a leap from R. A. Montgomery’s ‘choose your own adventure’ books by presenting itself as both a straight-forward novel and a book with margin notes that allow a reader to skip back and forth across sections, following indicated page numbers. Can you talk to us about how this design came to be? And what do you think the difference would be for a reader who only reads Freight straight-through versus one who follows the notes to skip across pages of the book?
Being online as much as I am now, I’ve grown to appreciate hypertext and how it allows you to string thoughts together from different places, times, feelings, etc. I feel like hypertext is a good paradigm of how our brains work when processing certain memories or experiencing new things. Trains of thought derail all the time but, unlike actual trains of steel and diesel, they keep moving. They’re more like wormholes, sprouting new tunnels as needed. The margin notes are based on that idea of hypertext, of having the ability to jump back and forth, to explore connections great and small, and to glean a sense of the web-like nature of our existences. In an early PDF I sent along to the folks at Folded Word, blocks of text were bracketed and then footnoted. During the design process, they presented me with the idea of margin notes, and I immediately thought they were great. They really captured what I was trying to do, and felt less intrusive than the original setup. They’re easy, I think, to move between in the print edition because you can simply buzz the pages with your thumb, and they’ll be just as easy to navigate in the e-book because they’ll act as actual bits of hypertext. And as far as determining what the difference would be for readers moving straight through versus those bouncing around, I’m not really sure what would be different. I can only hope that readers find some enjoyment however they choose to digest the book.
And in general, speaking of production and design, how was it working with Folded Word, especially considering that Freight is this press’s first foray into full-length novels?
I’ve been dealing with Folded Word for a few years now, and they’ve always been great to work with. They gave me my first chapbook in 2009, and their work ethic and attention to detail is outstanding. However, that being said, I think both sides were pleasantly wowed with how well Freight came out. I sweated the words from my pores, Folded Word encouraged me through the revision process and then nailed down a great layout, and Brian Manley (our jacket designer) supplied the gorgeous wrapping paper. Everything clicked together perfectly, and as a first full-length novel for both me and Folded Word, I couldn’t be happier with the finished product. I’m certain they feel the same way, too.
Freight is a soothing kind of book, one that feels very much like telling stories around a dinner table, each new narrative attempting to outdo the last while the thematic through-line holds of its own easy accord. Mel Bosworth has asked his debut novel to be more than just a book – he has asked it to be an adventure and a memoir, a collection of stories and a glossary of being, and it all works wonderfully.
Buy this book here. Read more about / from Mel Bosworth here.
Posted By jatyler / 3rd September 2011
I just can’t keep my mouth shut about this one.
Mud Luscious Press has a new Nephew title, available now & shipping immediately: HOW THE DAYS OF LOVE & DIPHTHERIA by Robert Kloss. This book kills me every time I read it. It does to language what I want all books to do to language. It wrecks me (& words & phrasing & images & everything).
Posted By jatyler / 2nd September 2011
‘Hunger’ utilizes 28 condensed moments instead of the expected 10 fingers – how important is the incremental process of this piece?
In writing I was interested in the mundane way in which abuse can permeate a relationship. The first event might be shocking, but gradually I think a couple can contextualize nearly anything and whatever it is that is happening just becomes something that happens.
Can you talk to us a little about the disparity between Lindsay’s hunger (desire / drive) with the narrator’s peacefulness (dishes sutra)?
I was reading about mindfulness and various Bhuddist practices in regard to addressing what they see as the principle cause of suffering in humanity, namely desire. A monk I was taking classes from told a story about the founder of Zen Bhuddism and how the founder achieved enlightenment and immunity from desire and hunger. He spent nine years meditating in a cave and the founder’s leg’s rotted off. The monk who told the story laughed about this. He had a kind of dark sense of humor, I guess. But in reading about mindfulness, I learned how to produce a state of calm. The first success I had was in doing the dishes. I’d read an essay by Thich Nhat Hanh. But it occurred to me virtually anything could be tolerated in this way. Not just the unpleasant tasks of doing the dishes. Thick Nhat Hanh has taught mindfulness to prisoners, for instance, in order for them to develop the skills to be happy while in prison. It seems to me there is a point where what passes as enlightenment in Bhuddism or peacefulness is actually a form of dissociation and escapism.
What are you hungry for linguistically?
I remain very unsure about the role of sentences and the degree to which syntax should be a primary interest for a prose writer. While I admire Gertrude Stein and Gary Lutz and feel a degree of debt to their exploration of syntax, I find myself equally drawn to writers who are not really concerned with syntactical novelty. For example, Stephen Dixon isn’t a particularly innovative writer of sentences or short passages in the way that Gary Lutz is, but then his plain spoken narrators often support very strange and to me insightful ways of structuring stories. So I can’t put my finger on a kind of linguistic trait that I desire either for my own writing or writing that I find compelling to read. I think it has to do with a less linguistic element, although it finds its expression in sentences and stories, and that would be I think engagement by the writer with how sentences and story relate to experience. When I read something I kind of want the end result to be that my world has expanded somehow, and I guess I feel the writer is kind of a guide into unexplored territory.
What are you hungry for food-wise?
I am a carnivore. I like meat. Right now I am hungry I think for something that has been seasoned and cooked on a spit over flames.
You are the author of two novels and four story collections – if a reader wants more Matt Briggs where is the best place to start?
You can read my two novels online at the Publication Studio in their reading commons. You can also purchase the books there if you feel so inclined either for your digital reading device or as a paperback book printed to order and hand bound at the studio.
The Strong Man: http://www.publicationstudio.biz/books/65
Shoot the Buffalo: http://www.publicationstudio.biz/books/11
Thanks for your questions.
Read “Hunger” and 21 other great pieces in Monkeybicycle8, available here.