Thursday, April 30, 2015

Indie Ink Runs Deep: Stevie Edwards

Every now and then I manage to talk a small press author into showing us a little skin... tattooed skin, that is. I know there are websites and books out there that have been-there-done-that already, but I hadn't seen one with a specific focus on the authors and publishers of the small press community. Whether it's the influence for their book, influenced by their book, or completely unrelated to the book, we get to hear the story behind their indie ink....

Today's ink story comes from Stevie Edwards. 
Stevie is a poet, editor, educator, and an advocate for mental health awareness. She is currently Editor-in-Chief at Muzzle Magazine, Acquisitions Editor at YesYes Books, and a Lecturer at Cornell University. Her first book, Good Grief (Write Bloody 2012), won an open manuscript contest and received two post-publication awards, the Independent Publisher Book Awards Bronze in Poetry and the Devil's Kitchen Reading Award from Southern Illinois University - Carbondale. Her poems have appeared in Verse Daily, Rattle, Devil's Lake, Indiana Review, Salt Hill, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Cornell University and a BA in economics and English from Albion College. Her second poetry collection, Humanly, was released in March 2015 by Small Doggies Press:


I have several tattoos: orchids on my ribs, a map of the Great Lakes on my back, a CTA transit map on my foot, an EKG over my heart, the ending of the poem “Won’t You Celebrate with Me” by Lucille Clifton on my forearm, three circles on my wrist, and the word “Feral” on my neck. I guess I’d better never commit a crime because I’m pretty easily identifiable. Like every good bleeding heart indie girl, all of my tattoos have stories and are very meaningful to me. I’m going to tell you the story of the biggest one:


I had this tattoo done in 2011 by Hannah Aitchison at a shop in Chicago called Deluxe. I didn’t really know it at the time (I just liked her portfolio), but apparently she’s kind of a big deal and was on that show LA Ink for awhile. It took two sittings of a little less than four hours each to complete this thing. During the first sitting, I was holding my breath so hard that my hands went completely numb, but I didn’t want to say anything and sound like a dweeb to the artists in the room. That night at a poetry workshop called Vox Ferus, a friend I don’t know how to love anymore came into the bathroom with me, peeled the plastic wrap off my back, and washed my tender skin with the gentlest hands.

This picture was actually taken by a photographer at the Slut Walk Chicago Protest in 2011 (I’ve since slightly upgraded from the flip phone I’m holding but still wear that dress a lot when it’s warm). That protest was the only time, at least to the best of my knowledge, that I’ve ever had someone try to find me via a Craigslist “Missed Connections” ad-- but it was just someone trying to find out who my tattoo artist was, not someone who fell in love at first sight and wanted to buy me a house or dinner or anything. The tattoo is based off an old map of the region by French hydrographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, which first appeared in the Homann Heirs Atlas Major in 1755.

1755_Bellin_Map_of_the_Great_Lakes_-_Geographicus_-_GreatLakes-bellin-1755 (1).jpg

I don’t actually have a great reason as to why I chose this particular map of the Great Lakes other than that I thought it was pretty and wanted to put something aesthetically pleasing on my body. I’m pretty sure that I Googled  “Old Maps of the Great Lakes,” and this one came up as one of the top results.

Anyways, I suppose those are stories about the tattoo but not the story of why I got it in the first place. The short answer (that I give to dudes at bars who think asking about it is a really original conversation starter) is that I got a tattoo of the Great Lakes because I’m a native Michigander and spent my first couple of years out of college in Chicago. I’m proudly and staunchly Midwestern. However, that doesn’t quite capture what the Lakes have meant to me. At the time I got the tattoo, I lived in an apartment in Uptown Chicago that was about a 12 minute walk from Lake Michigan. I used to walk out to it at night whenever I was upset, even when it was cold and terrible out. I always liked the look of everything all iced and quiet. I liked that I could walk out to the shore and there’d almost always be someone within eyeshot doing the exact same thing as me. I liked that they’d never do anything more than nod at me. To speak would’ve broken some sort of contract. It was the one place in that neighborhood I never got catcalled, at least not at night. There’s a poem by James Wright, “As I Step Over a Puddle at the End of Winter, I Think of an Ancient Chinese Governor,” with a line I used to always mouth to myself while looking at the Lake: “Where is that sea, that once solved the whole loneliness / of the Midwest?” It was there. It was there for me. I think that the rest of the late night crew chilling on the cement revetments at the stretch of shore off Lawrence and I must have come out there again and again because we knew it (Lake Michigan? sky without buildings? light pollution? the quiet of strangers?) was solving or resolving something. I wanted the Great Lakes on my back because I knew that I’d be leaving for grad school soon, and they were the closest I’d gotten to believing in any kind of higher power in a long time. I wanted to take them with me. I am in a place now  (Ithaca, NY) with a landscape that is beyond gorgeous, but there’s nothing that gives me the feeling of staring out at Lake Michigan-- the feeling that it was okay to be alone, of how small that alone looked next to the water.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Lindsey Reviews: Immortal Medusa

Immortal Medusa by Barbara Ungar
Pages: 97
Publisher: The Word Works
Released: 2015

Dog Eared Review by Lindsey Lewis Smithson (review contributor)

Barbara Ungar’s newest collection, Immortal Medusa, is another beautiful piece of work in her cannon.  What attracts me to Barbara’s work are the moments of earnest beauty and the subtle humor. Throughout the father and son of the speaker are reoccurring characters, serving as a means to filter everyday moments. The final poem, “Book of Sand,” is a an example of simple things (a book full of photographs of sand) heightened to a bigger view of  life: “how we all walk/blind.” In an opposing view, when discussing her son in “Blue Whale,” the speaker realizes that he can’t take in the grandeur of the whale skeleton hung on the ceiling of a museum. Walking underneath the great mammal she muses, “how many years will I put in/visiting this dim Wunderkammer/until I’m big enough to see?”

To contrast these more serious moments of reflection there are several charming, funny, and gentle poems.   “Lost Hat Karma,” “Hearing Test: List B,” “Giraffes,” “Call Me Medusa” and  “Athena’s Blow Job” speak to a bigger place and purpose in life without weighing heavy on the reader. It’s this light touch, this carefully crafted back and forth, that allows readers feel a wide range of emotions without getting overwhelmed.

Dog Eared Pages:

17,  18, 19, 20,  22,  24, 25, 29, 30,  34, 35, 37, 46, 47, 48,  51,  53,  54,  56, 57,  61,  64, 65,  67, 73,  74, 83, 88

Lindsey Lewis Smithson is the Editor of Straight Forward Poetry. Some of her poetry has appeared on The Nervous BreakdownThis Zine Will Change Your LifeThe Cossack Review, and Every Writer’s Resource: Everyday Poems.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book Review: The Dead Lands

Read 4/6/15 - 4/9/15
3 Stars - Recommended to fans of post apocalyptic fiction that feels more like an epic fantasy
Pages: 400
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Released: April 2015

Let's get one thing straight right from the get-go. When I rated this book, I was really torn between three and four stars. A big part of me wanted to rate it four stars because I read the hell out of this thing in a matter of a few days. I didn't want to put it down and it's not very often that a book really pulls me in like that. But there was another part of me that thought about who I was rating the book for. I rate the book for you. The reader. To help you decide whether this is the kind of book you'd want to go out and read for yourself. So I had to look at this book through the eyes of someone who reads post apocalyptic fiction and compare it against all of the other books out there in that genre. And while The Dead Lands is most certainly a post apocalyptic book, it also reads like an epic fantasy. So much so that at times, I had to remind myself that it was taking place in an undisclosed future (or possibly a very distant past?!) and not some alternate world.

The novel opens up one hundred years after a series of apocalyptic events wipe out most of humanity. While the threat of nuclear war and super viruses are things of the past, the world still suffers the effects of it greatly. Most humans are deformed in some way - stunted limbs, blindness, the development of strange powers - and their deaths are usually brought about by cancer, melanoma running rampant due to the nuclear fall out still polluting the air and the dust. And theirs is most definitely a world of dust.

Our group of survivors live in The Sanctuary, located out in old St. Louis. It's supposed to be a kind of safe haven - high walls surround it, an internal government rules it, and everyone's got a job to do, a way to contribute to the greater good. But things are bad and only getting worse. They are barely hanging on -  the water supply has run low, food is scarce, and everyone is fearful of Thomas, the new Mayor.

Outside the walls is what is known as the Dead Lands. Untold miles of dust and destruction, inhabited by super-creatures. Gigantic spiders and bats, hairless sand wolves. Animals that were forced to evolve, that were poisoned during the fallout. Those that rule within the Sanctuary's walls use these creatures as a consequence for potential usurpers and nay-sayers. Anyone who speaks out against the Mayor of the Sanctuary will find themselves exiled, tied to a tree in the woods beyond the walls, and left to be eaten by the horrors beyond as a warning to the others.

Of course, for some, the Sanctuary is anything but. And there's a small group of people who are planning to escape from it, in the hopes of finding something, anything better. Led by Clark, a female sentry and supply runner, the group's willingness to flee the walls becomes a necessity when a strange rider named Gewea arrives at the Sanctuary's wall, pleading with them to come with her, back to her home, in Oregon. She tells of green grass and endless supplies of water. She speaks of their leader, Aran Burr, and has with her a letter, addressed to Lewis, a quiet man who runs the Sanctuary's museum and who is feared and mistrusted by many of the inhabitants. Lewis recognizes Aran as the man in his visions, the man who has been calling to him in his dreams. And so Lewis, Clark, Gawea, and a handful of others sneak out of the Sanctuary on an epic journey towards an uncertain future, towards a promise of a New America, all on the word of Gawea, a women whose jet black eyes hide many secrets.

From here, the book breaks in half. On one hand we follow Lewis and Clark's trials and tribulations as they make their way to Oregon, and on the other we remain within the walls of the Sanctuary and watch as Ella, Lewis's assistant at the museum, and Simon, a local pickpocket, take steps to tear down everything Thomas (the Mayor) has worked so hard to build.

Part Station Eleven (sprawling epic, years after an apocalypse, relics of the old world stored in a museum), part LotR (minus the elves and dwarves but with just as many bad ass battles), and part history lesson (Lewis, Clark, and Sacajawea - there are so many parallels), The Dead Lands can sometimes come across as a book that doesn't know exactly what it wants to be. And while there were moments where I felt Percy was trying to take on way too much, or was losing his focus, in the end he did a really nice job pulling it all together.

It's been interesting, watching Benjamin Percy's writing evolve over the years. With each novel, he tackles larger landscapes. His world building and story telling becoming more solid, more confident. His books demonstrating a bit more swagger. Which makes it all the more interesting when you realize that The Dead Lands is quite possibly his most polarizing novel to date.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Page 69: The Zoo, a Going

The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 
we put JA Tyler's The Zoo, a Going to the test. 

OK, set up what we are about to read on page 69:

Jonah is at the zoo with his folks, and as much as he’s watching the animals in all their various surroundings, he’s also taking in his parents and their relationship, and his own place in this world. On pg. 69, we see Jonah midway through the aquarium section of the zoo, at a tank where kids can get an ocean perspective through a special viewing window.

What is The Zoo, a Going about?

The novel follows Jonah on a route across the entire zoo, and each animal on that path is a short chapter in which we learn bits of Jonah and his parents. They love each other but might not be in love anymore, his father suffers from post-war trauma and has recently lost his brother to suicide, and Jonah is growing up both too fast and too slow for his liking. By the end of the novel, we see a family like so many in the world today, unsure of how it all works but fighting through anyway, pushing and pulling in a thousand unseen ways, trying to avoid all the spaces between like so many false landscapes in an unassuming trip through the zoo.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what the collection is about? Does it align itself with the collection’s theme?

Absolutely. Jonah’s mind works like many young ones, framing one moment then the next as quickly as possible, so this small chapter is a nice glimpse of both the way the book is built and the construction of Jonah’s voice. The novel resonates with themes of loss, transition, and existence, making its path chapter by chapter, animal by animal, just as Jonah does here.



The Shark

There is a dome of glass that goes in and upward, and all of us, all the kids here, we can go inside it because we’re small enough. I go up and stand inside this bubble, and I can look up into the water as if I’m drowned. This is how it would look. Me as a treasure chest sitting on the ocean floor. I watch all the rocks above me and see that they aren’t rocks but only more cement. In this place, this house made like the sea, this cave we are in, nothing is real.

When I’m awake in bed not sleeping I think about how maybe nothing is real, but it doesn’t make me shiver.
The glass is cold and a shark in the tank passes over me, not even looking down.
In this bubble on the ocean floor, I’m still the invisible kid. I smear the glass with my fingerprints.
The water goes in and out of the shark’s gills, and I can see the layers and layers of teeth that keep coming into its mouth.
Sharks tear chunks but I’m more like bit by bit, leaving my
fingerprints all over the place.

Meat and teeth I say.

What? my mom asks me, but I don’t say anything back. Then I say
Nothing because I don’t know how else to explain.


J. A. Tyler's work has appeared in Failbetter, Black Warrior Review, Redivider, Diagram, Fairy Tale Review, and New York Tyrant among others. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and recognized in Wigleaf's Top 50 Very Short Fictions, the StorySouth Million Writers Award, and Wake Forest's &Now series. He lives in Colorado.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Audio Series: Hosho McCreesh

Our audio series "The Authors Read. We Listen."  was hatched in a NYC club during BEA back in 2012. It's a fun little series, where authors record themselves reading an excerpt from their own novels, in their own voices, the way their stories were meant to be heard.

Today, Hosho McCreesh reads excerpts from his poetry collection A Deep and Gorgeous Thirst. Hosho is currently writing & painting in the gypsum & caliche badlands of  the American Southwest. His work has appeared widely in print, audio, & online.

Click on the soundcloud image to listen to Hosho read excerpts from A Deep and Gorgeous Thirst:

The word on A Deep and Gorgeous Thirst:

In the footsteps of Charles Bukowski comes Hosho McCreesh's magnum opus of drunk poetry. Mammoth in size and scope, A Deep & Gorgeous Thirst is unlike any of McCreesh's previous collections.

"A Deep & Gorgeous Thirst is for anyone who's ever had a drinking buddy—and who hasn't? A perfect elegy to the illusions and delusions of alcohol. A book to be tasted and savored.” —Mark SaFranko, author of Hating Olivia, and No Strings
*lifted from goodreads with love

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Book Review: From Here

Read 4/12/15 - 4/15/15
4 Stars - Highly Recommended to fans of short stories full of disappointment and unfulfilled dreams
Pages: 265
Publisher: Aqueous
Released: 2014

As I read Jen Michalski's From Here, I became aware of an overwhelming urge to find her and hug her. To just pull her head to my chest, pat her hair, and squeeze her until all of the sadness in her stories has been replaced with playful puppy dogs, rainbows, and happily ever afters.

Her stories are like a never ending parade of subtle suffering. In them, she forces her characters to live with their loneliness. She traps them in abusive relationships and broken homes. She smacks them in the face with unrequited love. She punishes the fathers - they are dead or dying, withering away from cancer. Or they are just a bunch of deadbeats, walking away from their pregnant wives and drinking themselves silly. And she punishes the animals too. As with any other author, dogs, rabbits, birds, beware. Your lives are not safe in her hands!

Of all of her stories, Dog Days bothered me most. In it three young brothers find themselves at the baseball park, taking turns throwing and hitting, when the youngest befriends a stray mutt. Just as they each begin to picture the dog as a part of the family, the oldest hits a line drive straight into the dog's head. The dog, of course, drops like a stone and never gets back up. The youngest is devastated and one of his brothers tries to console him by saying "at least he died happy".  Sure, the dog might've died happy, enjoying the attention the boys threw his way, but what about me, us, the reader? Now we have to live with the death of that poor, innocent dog. We're left to picture him, laying there in the dirt and grass of the outfield. Hearing the dull thud of the ball as it connected with his skull. And we're left with the what if's. What if she hadn't killed him? Would the boys have brought him home? Would their mother have given in and allowed them to keep him? Would he have spent the rest of his days there with them, in a comfy home, taking turns sleeping in their beds?

They didn't all pull on my heart strings are strongly. Some just aggravated me. Not in a "boy this story sucks" way, but in a "are girls really this cruel" way. In Lillian in White, Lillian calls up an ex boyfriend and asks if he'd accompany her to the abortion clinic.She's totally playing the guy here with the whole "I didn't know who else to call" crap. He's still pining for her something awful and thinks this is his opportunity to get back with her, especially when he learns that the baby-daddy ran out when he found out she was pregnant. Will he get what he wants, or is she just toying with his emotions? Do all girls run back to the "nice one we let get away" in times of turmoil? Is this what we put those poor guys through? Of all of Jen's stories, this one felt the most familiar. I had the impression I've read it somewhere before.

In contrast to Lillian, who chose to abort her child, there's Carlotta in The Mural, who really wanted her baby but miscarried mid-term. The father, much like Lillian claimed, took off when he heard the news, so now Carlotta is left alone with the empty nursery and her visions of the mural she was going to paint for it. Pushed by her doctor, instead of letting the death of her child steal her creativeness, she releases it in a unique and therapeutic way.

A girls get sucked into a dangerous relationship with a small time drug dealer in The Safest Place. In You Were Only Waiting For This Moment to Arrive, a divorced dad sees his daughter for the first time in two years and takes her Disney World, knowing that the trip will remain with her for the rest of her life while the memory of him and their relationship has already begun to fade.

Both of the main characters in From Here and The Substitute find themselves back in their home towns, caring for their dying fathers. In both stories, these characters had to give up the things they loved and live with the regret and frustration that comes along with it.

Each story has a strong sense of place and Jen douses her characters will their own unique voice. The collection reads quickly but the stories have a tendency to linger. They remain in the periphery, haunting the sidelines. They are tender and hesitant. Michalski seems reluctant to allow them to let go, and so they ache within you long after their stories are over.

The unifying thread, the thing that Jen took pains to infect her characters with, is resilience. It's her characters' unwillingness to let these situations, these decisions, these shitty times stop them from actually living that keeps you reading. Though they don't typically get what they want, they don't seem to dwell on it for long. They pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and turn the other cheek. We get the feeling that, in the end, things will work out for them, even though we have no proof of it.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Poetry for the Masses - Our Celebration of National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month and we here at TNBBC wanted to take a moment to add our praise and appreciation towards poets and poetry. Whether you are into the classics or prefer more modern and contemporary forms, you're bound to find a few new poets to fall in love with after checking out who we've been reading and admiring!

 What Drew's Into: 

So I was never much of a poetry guy. Love me some Shakespeare, of course - but beyond that, it was pretty much Billy Collins and Seamus Heaney.  In fact, Heaney was my stated favorite poet until early this year when I read Saeed Jones' absolutely tremendous Prelude to Bruise. Not only is it the best collection I've ever read, it's the best thing I've read so far in 2015. 

There's a physicality to the poetry and a confessional sense that transcends the words on the page. I felt changed after I read every single poem in the collection, somehow made new. Plus, I was lucky enough to see him read a few poems at an event and his gift with flow and rhythm and meter is even more apparent than it was on the page. 

I've also been reading Amber Tamblyn's brand-new DarkSparkler, which is great so far. And although I'm honestly not sure if I like all of his work, Michael Robbin's poems are like the South Park of poetry. You shake your head at the silly dumbness and then stumble on brilliant social commentary. Still, he could be a bit less prolific and make that commentary hit harder.  But a line like "Is this Mick Jagger that I see before me? / Come, let me clutch thee" in his The Second Sex made me a fan for life.

What Melanie's Into:

Nick Demske's self-titled collection (Fence Books, 2010) was one of the first collections of poetry I remember reading and being excited by how the poet used the genre to play with language in a visual way. The line breaks often suggest the line ends with one word, only for the ending of the word to be on the next line. Demske's use of this strategy made each poem something I had to read and read again, filling me with surprise. I remember being intrigued and wanting to read different parts to someone nearby.

My favorite poet ever is Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906). This was a man who captured the essence of the black experience in the U.S. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar is free to download, and it is in this collection that you can experience some of the best poems with the most soul around: "An Antebellum Sermon," "A Negro Love Song," "We Wear the Mask," and "The Colored Soldiers." The poems are written in dialect, so they take some getting used to, but you can listen to some performances of the poems by Herbert Woodward Martin.

Alphabet, by Inger Christensen (New Directions 2001) was translated by Susanna Nied and originally published in 1981. This collection is structured using a mathematical formula. For those who feel that poems can be challenging, understanding the formula helps you predict how the poem is shaped and why. I had a good time teaching this collection in a class and then having students use the math formula to create their own series of poems.

Sometimes it's hard to decide which collection I should recommend from Langston Hughes (1902-1967), so I'll just suggest The Collected Poems, a 736 page tome (Vintage Books 1994) that gets it all in there. Hughes writes some of the most important and beautiful works in American history. If you don't want to invest in a whole book, at least read these poems: "I, Too," "The Weary Blues," and "Dream Deferred" (The play A Raisin in the Sun got it's name from this poem).

What Kate's Into:

Ten Years in an Open Necked Shirt by John Cooper Clarke

 Punk poet John Cooper Clarke is still writing and performing. In this reissued 1983 collection, you can sense the atmosphere of his gigs in the relentless rhythm, audacious rhyme and blunt language he uses to chronicle Eighties Britain. There is dark comedy, a strong sense of the ridiculous and moments of poignancy. And anger. Always anger.

Selected Poems by Federico García Lorca, translated by Merryn Williams

 This is a bilingual collection of poems by the Spanish poet and playwright who was killed in 1936 in Spain’s Civil War. I particularly like the spare, haunting imagery of the early poems. If, like me, you have some but not fluent Spanish, you can enjoy the rhythm and music of the originals then tease out the subtleties of mood and meaning in Williams’ translations, which are fine poems in their own right.

Selected Poems by Stevie Smith

 The poet and novelist probably best known for “Not Waving but Drowning”, Stevie Smith’s poems become odder the more you look at them. Apparently simple, even childish, with their engaging rhymes, they are full of melancholy, sly humour and something elusive. Which is just what you want from poetry.

What Lindsey's Into:

Favorite Living Poet

It’s almost impossible to pick one favorite living poet. I love several different poets for extremely different reasons, but I think for this I’m going to pick Billy Collins. I could have said Barbara Ungar since I love her new book, or Jill Alexander Essbaum, or Jennifer L. Knox, or Matthew Zapruder or… the list goes on basically. But Billy Collins was the first poet where I thought “Hey, this poetry thing doesn’t have to be all serious and dark and overly deep.” Once I saw that, I would introduce Billy Collins to the high school students I used to teach, and I have the pleasure of watching a new love of poetry dawn on them the way it hit me. He may be a big mainstream poet now, but my experiences with him are very personal and very real.

Dead Poet

Easy. Sylvia Plath. My love started out like a lot of female poets, with a sick fascination in her life and a passing interest in her poems. After three or four rereads though I fell in love with her careful words and her unique images. By grad school I fell deep into Plath’s world, reading her Unabridged Journals, her Letters, her fiction, even her children’s stories. My thesis argued that The Colossus is a technically stronger collection than Ariel. She’s more than the jilted woman writing emotional poems, she is an ingenious, determined and skilled artist.

What Lori's Into:

I'm writing a post about my two all time favorite poets (Rod McKuen and Ryan W Bradley) for Alternating Current's blog The Spark, and rather than get redundant and talk about them here, too, I thought I'd share the quirkest, coolest collections I've read in the past few years instead:

Panic Attack, USA - Nate Slawson

Holy hell, this is some wild poetry. This is everything that poetry should be and never was until now. Honest and naked. Sensitive to the point of sappy but with a surprisingly hard core edge. Nate Slawson's words punch you in the gut with their beauty. They make you wish your boyfriend/husband/partner pined for you in such painfully raw and inspiring ways. This book touched me in places I shouldn't have enjoyed but did. I love it's naughty, raunchy little heart. If Panic Attack, USA were a person, I would kidnap it and hold it hostage in my closet and make it whisper its dirty little poems to me every night. It's slam. It's ragged. It's dirty and delicious.

But Our Princess is in Another Castle - BJ Best

Who doesn't love old school video games, right? If you're a GenXer like me, you can't pass up this collection of poetry inspired by the best of the retro-80's Atari and Nintendo games. Finding inspiration in the likes of Dig Dug,Pole Position, The Oregon Trail, and Space Invaders, BJ Best infuses his words with nostalgia and longing. Each poem recalls to us the wonder or aggravation of the game for which it was named, forcing us to recall those simpler times and sweeter victories. How very alike our feelings for these games mirror our interpretation of the world beyond the cartridge and console. Even the collection's title, cleverly stolen from the Super Mario Bros game in which each castle defeat left the gamer frustrated because the prize - the princess - was yet at ANOTHER castle... even the title causes that familiar ache of love, expectation, and disappointment to wash over us. Imagine what the words contained within will do.

Injecting Dreams into Cows - Jessy Randell

Jessy Randall is a girl after my own heart. Her poetry is about robots, muppets, monsters, dreams, video games, and motherhood. It's perfection parading around as paranoia. It makes you giggle, snort, hiccup, and gasp. I stumbled across her collection just a few weeks ago while flipping through my twitter feed. Her Muppets Suite poem was linked through The Nervous Breakdown and I thought it was absolutely brilliant. The good news is... as awesome as this is.. there are poems within this collection that are even better. I know, how could that be possible, right? Her approach to poetry is so refreshing. I'm betting she'd be a cool chick to hang out with. Go on and get this one. You're going to find so much to love here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Page 69: Fram

The Page 69 Test is not mine. It has been around since 2007, asking authors to compare page 69 against the meat of the actual story it is a part of. I loved the whole idea of it and so I'm stealing it specifically to showcase small press titles - novels, novellas, short story collections, the works! So until the founder of The Page 69 Test calls a cease and desist, let's do this thing....

In this installment of Page 69, 
we put Steve Himmer's Fram to the test...

OK, Steve, set up page 69 for us.

At this point in the novel, our protagonist Oscar has returned home from work and is alone in his apartment after his wife texts to say she’ll be out for the evening.

What is Fram about?

Primarily, it’s about Oscar who works in an obscure, minor agency of the US government — the Bureau of Ice Prognostication —  where he’s responsible for creating fake records of what was discovered on Arctic expeditions to avoid the expense of anyone actually going. Early in the novel he gets sent on an errand to the actual Arctic, fulfilling (in a fashion) his boyhood dream of being an explorer, and the further north he travels the more he is pulled into a mysterious and dangerous struggle between competing agencies and interests. But it’s also a story about marriage, and the distance that grows over time even between people who are close, and about the distance between the Arctic and the southern cultures trying to force it to mean one thing or another.

Do you think this page gives our readers an accurate sense of what Fram is about? Does it align itself the book’s theme?

It certainly reflects the marriage part of the story, and shows Oscar’s alienating obsession with all things Arctic, and his inability to see the world through any other lens. It’s a quiet moment in what is, overall, a pretty active and fast-moving novel—on purpose, because I set out deliberately to write a novel of overwhelming momentum after my first novel was so intentionally quiet and still.


Page 69

They’d go months sometimes without sex or anything like it, months without touching each other in bed, her body closed off to him however warm she’d been over dinner, over drinks on the porch, even on the couch a few minutes before. Some nights the result was an argument after dark, more or less the same one every time.

Him saying she’d changed and her saying of course she had, they were older, their lives busier, insisting the question to ask wasn’t why she had changed but why he had not.

And Oscar insisting sex wasn’t the point but the effort was, her being willing to rise above being tired, to muster some last reserve at the end of the day for his sake. To show him he mattered that much. Once he made the mistake of insisting that Peary’s last push at the Pole, when his team finally reached it, wasn’t only about wanting to but about honor and debt and what partners owe to each other, and she’d stormed from the room to sleep on the couch, mutters of “P goddamn F,” trailing behind her and Oscar left alone in the bed, wide awake, knowing he’d gone too far but with no route of return that didn’t lead through the living room where his wife steamed.

Another time he’d raised the specter of Peary’s wife Josephine and how game she always was for adventure in the dark of their bedroom, and Julia said, “For fuck’s sake, Oscar. There’s no North Pole in our lives. Stop trying to turn everyday life into big, dramatic moments and important moral dilemmas. It’s not like that. No one’s life is. That’s what we watch TV for. I’m just tired, okay? That’s all there is to it. Some days you’re just tired and it doesn’t have to mean anything. Now shut up and let me sleep.”

More often the argument ended with Julia yawning, clamping down on her anger and telling Oscar not to get so insulted, not to take it so personally, that the last thing she wanted at the end of a long day was more expectation—she came home to get away from demands for a few hours and to put her body aside.


Steve Himmer is author of the novels Fram, The Bee-Loud Glade, and Scratch (coming in 2016). He edits the webjournal Necessary Fiction and teaches at Emerson College in Boston.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Kate reviews: The Devil's Workshop

The Devil’s Workshop by Jáchym Topol (translated by Alex Zucker)
4 stars - Highly Recommended by Kate
Pages: 166
Publisher: Portobello Books
Released: 2013

Guest review by Kate Vane

This novel by Czech writer Jáchym Topol is a dark satire which asks troubling questions on what we should remember and what we should forget.

The unnamed narrator grows up in Terezín, a town which houses a Medieval fortress and a former Nazi prison. His father is a military bandsman, his mother a survivor of the prison, as are most of the people of the town. The narrator grows up, in a mockery of a pastoral idyll, herding goats on the fortifications, scrabbling in underground tunnels for Nazi memorabilia and failing to live up to his father’s ambitions before he is forced to leave.

Years later he returns to Terezín. The army has left and the authorities no longer want to maintain the town. His “uncle”, Lebo, born in the Nazi prison, is determined that nothing should be lost. They begin a protest movement which draws international attention – and lucrative opportunities as they sell souvenir T-shirts and accommodate visitors and obtain funding from philanthropists worldwide. Then political upheaval means the narrator has to leave for Belarus where the book takes a darker turn.

The narrator has a sly naivety. He recounts events as he experiences them, stripped of context. This can make it difficult at times to follow events. There is an afterword by the translator which fills in some of the gaps but I think he was right to put it at the end. It means that like the narrator, the reader experiences conflict and instability as most people do when they are at the heart of them –seeing details, specifics, without a coherent narrative, which is only imposed later, and somehow make whatever occurred seem inevitable.

The narrator has no sense of history, only of a home. He accepts the world as he finds it and makes the best of the opportunities he sees. In contrast, Terezín attracts what he calls the “bunk seekers”. They are distinct from the casual sightseers who take photos and walk the heritage trail. They are western descendants of Holocaust survivors who believe they have a personal interest in the town’s story. They look for meaning in the prison camp, something to give them an identity.

The book’s humour lies in the way it overturns assumptions. Sara, a bunk seeker from Sweden, berates the narrator. She, not he, is the one that truly suffers the legacy of Terezín. His complexes only arise because of what he’s lived through. Hers are a product of her unique personality.

The simple language of the book contrasts with the complexity of the ideas as the story turns in on itself. How is the past commodified, and for whose benefit? If you don’t know your history, does it still shape you? Does it even make sense to call it “yours”?

This book is dark, unsettling and raises lots of questions. It also resolutely refuses to provide any answers.

Kate Vane writes crime and literary fiction. Her latest novel is Not the End. She lives on the Devon coast in the UK.