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Timothy Gager’s recent poetry release called The Antisocial Network takes on numerous facets of the human condition such as addiction, the loss of innocence, father issues, and even suicide. Many of his poems reflect one’s struggle to get sober, stay sober, and find meaning in sobriety amidst life’s everyday stressors like breakups and loneliness, even the changing seasons.

As a writer, Gager relies on intense content to shape a narrator’s voice in a matter of a few lines. Some passages contain bizzaro analogies such as those found in his poem about a serial grape eater. Others were angst-ridden and unforgiving, like those in his poem titled poem for the ex-ex-girlfriend of the OD victim

you are
nothing that the world of vastness cannot smell
like bad karma caught in a pretty little package,
a trash bag, all tied up into this: yo hon
he’s dead now but recently
told people you were
a fucking bitch.

Gager’s unique perspective often emerges in his unhinged analogies. For example, in April Ends, he writes:

These are the truths to be told —
not the ones to cover up, like
schizophrenia runs in my family

(I try to hide that from my therapist)
what good would that do, she’d pick
daffodils from my head, plant them in her vase,

say to me they didn’t exist.

Gager ends his collection with a brutally honest poem called About Alison. It’s last line gives The Antisocial Network a final shank to the kidney to end on a memorable note:  

months go by
before you
call yourself an asshole,
for being out of touch,
then say, you think
of me often.

 

The Antisocial Network is available over at Redneck Press.

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The Dirty Poet depicts the horrors of emergency room atrocities through desensitized eyes and powerful narratives in Emergency Room Wrestling, a poetry collection released in April 2011 by Words Like Kudzu Press.

The poems blatantly de-glamorize hospitals, emergency rooms to be exact, not that there was ever so much glamorization (maybe just a little with shows like ER and House). Everybody knows our bodies are disgusting, they seethe random juices, crust, disease, even terminal illness, but no one has highlighted all those ailments quite like The Dirty Poet. Take this excerpt from his opening piece titled You Think You Need A Beer

he’s got necrotizing fasciitis — flesh-eating bacteria —

of the crotch

and i’m helping three nurses reinsert his rectal trumpet

Yet amidst the twists and turns of the disease, emergencies, and sick humor, there remains a fragment of hope in The Dirty Poet’s overall conclusions:

dead end

i’m going to tell you the saddest story i know

because it happened

he was big and handsome, just 22

an unrestrained passenger in a car crash

he suffered a traumatic brain injury

leaving him wide-eyed and gone in an ICU

yesterday the nurses shoveled him into a chair

mom and dad resumed their vigil

mom shaky and crying, dad boisterous

all their family superhighways

leading to this disastrous dead end

dad took his son’s large, limp hand

and said come on buddy, thumb wrestle

i bet i can beat you

come on buddy, let’s do it

let’s thumb wrestle, let’s go

his thumb hopeful in a hopeless world

Emergency Room Wrestling is a gritty and grotesque read. It is a poetry collection which has emerged from the depths of the dankest hospital bowels, unbridled and unapologetic. Kudos to The Dirty Poet on a phenomenal debut. I definitely owe you a beer, if not a tall glass of scotch.

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Charles Portis

Julie Cline writes a dandy piece about Charles Portis for the Los Angeles Review of Books

In 2003, Ed Park wrote an excellent essay on Portis that is well worth checking out as well.

Best known for penning True Grit, Portis’s cult-like status was built on his novels Norwood, Dog of the South, Masters of Atlantis and Gringos.

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I rarely, for the lack of better terminology, “fall” for a band, but recently, I’ve hit the asphalt hard for a band called Ludo: geek rock flavored with the ol’ synthesizer.

This band kicks ass because it takes on the quirky, possibly insane characters we all know: the creepy, the awkward, the desperate, and heartbroken. It’s all laid out in their brilliantly titled album You’re Awful, I Love You. Yes, at the end of the day, it’s pop rock from possibly three or so more years ago, but it tastes so good going down, and it’s fun to play in the background at a party because it’s like listening to our (possibly your) own woeful stories.

Take a track called Go-Getter Greg. There’s blatant creepiness in subject’s unrelenting attitude, and Ludo manages to maintain musicality and rhythm in the song despite the dialogue-riddled lyrics: “I haven’t seen you at the pool since the barbecue/Not that I’ve been checking/Here’s the deal/I’ve got this thing for work this weekend and I was wondering/If you don’t have anything going on that maybe/Okay, hey that’s cool you’re busy/But we should hit up Jose O’Flannegens for jello shots/Your call/It’s ok not this week/But Monday you could come over tonight/I’ll be watching cop dramas and smoking fatty fatties.” And of course, there’s the matter of the comical chorus, “I’m a go-getter guy with a gun on my hip/I’m just searching for that someone to be firing it…”

Other fabulous songs, Lake Pontchartrain and Drunken Lament, and their epic Love Me Dead. I’ve been told that every guy I’ve ever gone out with is singing this song now. Even funnier is the fact that my current boyfriend is the one who made mention of it. “Kill me romantically/Fill my soul with vomit then ask me for a piece of gum” ; “You’re an office park without any trees/Corporate and cold” ; “You suck so passionately/You’re a parasitic psycho filthy creature/Finger-banging my heart.” And then there are the awesome oxymorons “You’re hideous and sexy” ; “You’re born of a jackal, you’re beautiful” and the album title, “You’re awful, I love you.” The video is undeniably hilarious, and frontman Andrew Volpe proves himself to be one animated guy in this (seemingly…) one-shot production:

Ludo’s recent album kind of sucked balls, Prepare the Preparations (wtf, right?) but it’s possible I didn’t give it enough of a chance after a few run throughs. I was just so awe-struck by the previous album; though, the song Anything For You is a sweet take on the contemporary amorous ballad: “My ancestors planted some sequoias by a road/I’ve driven down that road since I was born/Oh, never have you ever seen so many perfect evergreens/But I would chop them all down just for you” And then “I’ve gotten drunk and shot the breeze with kings of far off lands/They showed me wealth as far as I could see/But their kingdoms seemed all shrively and they cried with jealousy/When I leaned in and told them about you.”

All in all, there is a crispness to Volpe’s voice, purposeful crackling on the high notes, a silliness engrained in the music and lyrics, lots of synthesizer and neurotic moments of self-loathing and unhealthy infatuation, though it’s all done tastefully.

Check them out, you won’t be disappointed, if anything you’ll laugh pretty hard. Happy geek rocking!

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Cross the sounds of The Killers with a dash of Journey, and garnish it with Thursday’s Geoff Rickly (if Geoff Rickly had a British accent that came and went), and you have the independent sensation PK. Every one of their songs is amazing, but three on their full-length album in particular are ones worth checking out first.

What defines a good song? To me, it’s one that retains a bit of musicality in the vocals, lyrics I can personally relate to, and how well the moving parts (bass, drum, and riffs) fit together. PK’s song 1920 is filled with nostalgic and heavy lyrics such as “My brother’s home in the darkness/Oh I remember how she was still/It haunts me in my evenings/Where will this set me in the stars?” This particular song is a great example of a piece that’s melodic but not to the point of being generic or predictable.

My favorite song off their album Into the Roaring is called Roam, which I interpret as this guy pining over his female friend who, like many stereotypical masochistic women, chase after the same asshole time and time again and no matter how many “lessons” they say they “learn,” they still end up in the arms of the next asshole. How could I decipher all of this you ask? In bits and pieces of the lyrics, “Roam/But it’s never going to change your ways/No, it just won’t change a thing/I know I’m never going to break your heart/Roam/Till it leaves you feeling old/But he’s never going to take you home.”

London is upbeat, a story perhaps of an overseas affair, told through lyrics that are terribly romantic without being cliché or tacky: “It takes me back to my hometown/My first kiss/Down under oak trees/Does it take you back to your chateau/Or Marseilles down on the seaside/It takes me back to my hometown/When you kiss me/I feel the whole train shake.” The music is a bit on the poppy side, the chorus sounds like popcorn might if it was exploding out of a drum set, but it works, and the bass line grants the quieter parts justice without overkill, and it’s all this that makes me believe this is PK at its finest. “’Cause it ain’t never felt like this/I swear I’m not fooling/Yeah, you floored me/Why I’ve never had a kiss like yours/I’m drunk still.”

They have multiple acoustic videos online, one of Roam

and another of 1920 brilliantly shot in the middle of a moving elevator 

and their music video of London, a one-shot production of Hawley migrating through the caverns of a train

To top it off, they are giving away their full-length album Into the Roaring for free at their website: http://www.pkband.com/ Keep a look out for their EP soon to be released. It’s one that I look forward to most in 2011.

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Saul Bellow’s great novel, Humboldt’s Gift, partly fictionalizes his own idolization and subsequent friendship with Delmore Shwartz. The idea of a young, unknown writing a fan letter to a famous writing and then moving half-way across the country to essentially study under the master was a profound one for me when I first read that book.

Rimbaud similarly contacted Paul Verlaine. Their famously tumultuous love affair soon followed.

I doubt Philip Roth had much of a physical relationship with Bellow, but it seems their three decades of friendship began in much the same way—with the young, unknown upstart meeting the literary figure who so influenced him. I’ve
never felt Roth surpassed Bellow as an artist, but he certainly achieved a wider fame and sold more books than Bellow did. No matter these two literary friendships, Bellow did famously complain about the lack of community with his generation’s great writers.

I always thought the only people who could possibly connect, on that very deep and fundamental level, with a great writer was another great writer. There is something deep and shared between them that is unsuspected by regular people. Or maybe there is no mystical bond. There’s no more of a special connection than the truth that people who share a mutual hobby or interest often flock to each other, while in public and in regular life they often suppress their true passions. Railroad enthusiasts and stamp collectors. I suspect these stories carry across all the arts, though, and there is always something fascinating about the friendship and appreciation between two great artists.

The literary importance of the friendship between Hawthorne and Melville after Melville contacted the older, more accomplished writer (although Melville had the earlier commercial success) is without question. Here we find Hawthorne’s genius (as Melville saw it) awakening something nascent in Melville’s own soul. Under this encouragement Melville ceases to be the man who wrote sea adventures and became the great artist we remember and admire today.

Of course, sometimes hero worship leads not to surpassing the idol, as Melville surpassed his, but to emulation, as Woody Allen, who so admired Ingmar Bergman from afar, and then later emulated in films like Interiors, going so far as to use Bergman’s iconic Persona cinematographer Sven Nykvist in films like Another Woman and Crimes and Misdemeanors. Through this relationship Allen learned of Bergman’s admiration for his films, and the two later became good and mutually respectful friends.

I remember thinking about this story when, years ago, in my early 20s, I wrote an ailing Saul Bellow a letter of appreciation. I may have implied or made assertions of our, ah, kinship, letting the master know I was also, in my small way, attempting to become a writer. Thankfully I did not bore him with any of my pages, although I have since, occasionally, reached out in this way, as they did in the old days—although, mostly out of desire to share my appreciation and humble thanks, than any attempt to make friends.

Who are your idols? Have you contacted them? Met them? Surpassed them?

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Charles Willeford

I’m always surprised to learn how few people have read Willeford.  Largely characterized as a writer of noir and mysteries (which is mostly true), my favorite Willeford novel The Burnt Orange Heresy isn’t really either of these.  At its most basic level its structure is a familiar genre setup, but then it immediately veers into satire and parody and it is funny, although in an understated way.   And for a relatively short novel it’s full of lengthy digressions into the theories of art and other such matters that more closely resembles the meta-fiction of the Pynchon and DFW sect than the standard noirish rattle of action and dialogue.   

 

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You don’t need to have read Moby Dick to enjoy John Minichillo’s witty, short re-telling, The Snow Whale. But does it help? Having spent my life in academic literature programs, somehow I never read Melville’s seminal work, so I have no idea. And given that I have smaller, prettier fish to fry, I’m happy to leave the Dick appreciation to my co-bloggers. But if I missed all or some of the referential nuances of The Snow Whale, it didn’t interfere with my enjoyment. Essentially a story about a man in search of identity, The Snow Whale is an accessible, smart satire that is full of snow, making it a perfect summer read.

(Full disclosure: John is a writer-friend, and I got my copy for free, so I may be biased, but honestly? So far? Everyone loves this damn book.  It’s got a great hook, real momentum, and relevancy.)

In a nutshell, John Jacobs, an office drone who sells corporate novelties for UniqCorps Plastics Division, has grown tired of his middle class suburban life and his stale marriage. Ripe for a mid-life crisis adventure, Jacobs’ imagination is stirred when he learns that a co-worker has taken a DNA test that suggests Mongolian ancestry:

“I need to be with my people,” Mike said. “To walk knee-deep in the Mongolian snows and breathe the free Mongolian air. Before this DNA test I was nobody. Did you know they drink oxblood and have seventeen varieties of yogurt unique to the region?”

“You’re always eating yogurt,” Jacobs said.

 “I know!” Mike said. “Now it all makes sense.”

Inspired, Jacobs orders his own DNA test and discovers that his is “37 percent Inuit,” and so begins his journey to reclaim his heritage, an obsession that is almost irretrievably hazardous to his domestic life.  A turning point comes when he discovers an online  protest against the annual Inuit bowhead whale hunt:

Despite PETA’s complaint, Jacobs knew the hunt was for the continuation of his culture. . . . He imagined chewing the raw meat and using the whale oil for light and for heat. His mood improved immediately, and he called to his wife as he read on.

“Look,” he said, oblivious to her resentment because he’d threatened their marriage, “the Inuit are allowed to hunt whale.”

“I’m supposed to care?” she muttered to herself.

“I want to hunt a whale. It’s my right.”

She stared at the lanky pale man who had been her husband for over a decade. People thought she settled when she married him, but he at least held more promise then. All her old ballroom dancing friends thought so. They called him light on his feet.  They said he cut a nice figure. Now she was married to a desk doodle salesman and he was losing his mind.

This is by no means a bad thing, but I think a lot of readers will enjoy The Snow Whale for its appeal to their research interests, whether it be cultural studies, environmental issues, general Melville enthusiasm, etc. For example, I know of a folklorist who plans to use the novel in her “Xenophobia/ Xenophilia” class. It’s the same for me I guess–I can’t stop reading as a writer because Minichillo’s modulations are so impressive; the tone adjusts to the emotional development of Jacobs, and the variation in intimacy and attention results in a dynamic narrative. The first three chapters of The Snow Whale are essentially about the frustration of being trapped in white suburban mediocrity, and the satire is dry and contemplative. But when Jacobs leaves to join the whale hunt with a black teenager named Q enlisted to film the adventure, The Snow Whale shifts into a lively buddy comedy. By the final third of the novel, when the thing-we’ve-been-waiting-to-happen happens, the tone shifts again, this time to make room for a genuinely thrilling adventure to play out. And while we think we know what to expect from The Snow Whale’s conclusion, the final chapter manages to be quite surprising and moving.

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Philip Martin

ARTIFICIAL SOUTHERNER: EQUIVOCATIONS AND LOVE SONGS

Like most people, I have certain books that I frequently pull down from my bookshelf and re-read.  Mostly these books are short story collections, philosophy and collections of essays.  I can open them up, read a few pages, an entire essay, a favorite passage and it’s enough to get my fill, to recharge me – which is often why I reach for them in the first place.  One of my favorite writers I reach for is Philip Martin.

Philip Martin is a primarily known as the long time movie reviewer for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.   I’ve read Philip’s work for years,  including the years before and after I resided in Arkansas.  Beyond his film review talents – I’ve heard from many people who have said they believe him to be one of the best and most underrated film reviewers in the country – he’s an astute cultural critic who consisently composes entertaining and sometimes brilliant social commentary.   He’s published two collections of short essays: The Artificial Southerner and Shortstop’s Son.   You can also find him blogging here. 

If you have trouble finding copies you might try contacting the University of Arkansas Press directly and see if they have any copies available.  And tell them that I sent you, and maybe they’ll give you a great discount? Maybe not? But it’s worth a shot.  However you get your hands on Philip’s books, it’s well worth it.

 

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Yesterday, while kibitzing at the inaugural Indie Lit Summit in DC, I saw the news that Reb Livingston has decided to shut down her enormously influential online poetry magazineNo Tell Motel after October and that No Tell Books would be going on hiatus after August. In a blog post Reb reassures us that this is a natural conclusion for a project that has required a lot of commitment to sustain:

Anyone who edits a publication knows the amount of time and energy required to start and maintain a literary magazine. After 7 years of channeling much of my time and energy into NTM I decided that I very much wish to channel it into new directions . . . I’m not sad about NTM ending. Everything has a lifespan.

Reb’s contributions as a writer and publisher of contemporary poetry cannot be over-estimated. I look forward to her future projects, should they be public ones. The body of work showcased at the elegantly designed Motel will astound you. If you have never been there yet, go now and spend the rest of 2011 getting caught up.

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Code Blue

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The Borrower

I love unreliable narrators.  I’m excited by writers who explore the playful subjectivity of human experience.  Because, really, as human beings, we’re always telling ourselves a story – a narration of our own consciousness, our life.  

Rebecca Makkai’s narrator, a librarian, in her debut novel The Borrower , is tender, hilarious, impractical, dishonest, selfish and just a bit of an oddball no matter how you look at it, all things considered.  You see, she kidnaps a boy, but in a good way. The writing is seamless; the story is rambunctious.  Makkai is a cross-genre ninja, employing the majestic tone of a children’s literature’s wonderous big-eyed adventure, and utilizes young adult (YA)-esque momentum and evolving plot, and fills in with plenty of grown-up adult pathos. 

You can also read her wonderful story “The Briefcase.”

 

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The Smittle Band

The Smittle Band.  Give this beautiful song a listen.


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I believe finding a balance between art and financial stability, or rather, security remains one of the biggest conflicts in generations past and present. Victor David Giron displayed dissonance well in his debut novel Sophomoric Philosophy.

The protagonist Alex Lopez tells the tale of growing up with an abusive father while navigating through an ethnic identity crisis of sorts: “I also struggle with the fact that I’m Latin American, but hang out mainly with white people. I can speak Spanish pretty well, can read it ok, but I always think in English. I worked so hard to assimilate in high school that I almost destroyed any linkage to my heritage.”

Giron also touches on the perils of aging out of adolescence, leaving behind artistic passions and aspirations in exchange for mundane reality: “Or maybe I’m just the one that’s fucked up. Maybe raising a family like that is perfectly fine—a valid dream in and of itself. And in order to focus on raising your children, you have to abandon any wishes and goals you had as a selfish adult. But abandoning all creativity, adventure, just seems like a nightmare to me.” Often, Giron’s prose read like a stream of consciousness laden with detail.

At times, Sophomoric Philosophy felt like Giron’s personal philosophy on life, death, religion, politics, art, and the balance between art and security. He’s laid out his content systematically, each chapter introduced with geometrically brilliant designs.

I am happy to see that Giron himself has found his balance between life as an accountant and the world of indie lit. He’s built small press Curbside Splendor from the ground up, and it is currently thriving. I look forward to its future releases.

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How high can you go?

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Iterations

As a writer, I regularly check New Pages for calls for submissions. If you don’t already use this page, check it out. It has conferences by state, indie press information, and up-to-date calls for multiple genres. Browsing it the other day, I ran across a call for handwritten poems, which immediately intrigued me. I regularly ask my writing friends how their process works when it comes to early drafts. My fiction friends look at me as if I’ve lost my mind when I inquire as to whether or not they handwrite their first drafts. I totally understand, as having tried a few shorts myself lately, handwriting is an ineffective way to get my words on the paper, as I can type a heck of a lot faster and not end up with writer’s cramp (although I’d prefer that to writer’s block). However, in examining my own writing process, I found that if I put my poems straight onto the screen, without handwriting the first few drafts, they are much weaker. If my poems have several iterations in my journal, they always seem much more potent when they make it to the screen (although they are by no means finished).

Because of my obsession with handwriting (and still occasionally penning letters simply because handwriting has become an intimate form of communication in a texting/emailing world), I was intrigued by Writing Matters call for handwritten poems. Their aim appears to be to capture what we lose when we typeset or put to screen our poems – to quote directly from their site: “Both print and digitization flatten literary objects, largely catering to the idea that the “text” is a series of words in the order intended by their author. What this view neglects, however, are all the other aspects of texts: the spatial layout of the words on the page, the shape of the handcrafted letters, the extraneous marks, the scribbled illustrations, etc. More than anything, the translation of handwritten texts into print and digital formats erases all trace of the composition process: eraser marks, scratched out segments of text, re-arranged words and phrases.”

An example of a brilliant poet who has taken the idea of using handwritten drafts, letters and photographs, is Anne Carson, whose latest book, Nox  is an accordion of work which elegizes her brother. This “book” is more like a scrapbook of memorabilia, poems, and an examination of a poem by Catullus, which also deals with the death of a brother. The book folds out and everything appears to be copied with no concern for wrinkles or centering or being “neat.” It is one of a kind, for sure.

In a similar vein, I always like to see early versions of poems. Drafts of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” are very far from the amazing villanelle it turned out to be, and seeing the typewritten version of it with her handwriting all over, striking and scribbling, inspires me. Same for the restored version of Sylvia Plath’s Ariel – seeing the original order and her edits is an incredibly intimate and important view as to how she wished her work to appear to the world. Artifacts such as this are insightful and useful to understanding the poet’s intention. I save all of my journals, although I doubt anyone will be digging them up to examine them. However, they provide for me the many iterations of a poem before it sees the world at large in its typical format. Early drafts are the embryonic and fetal life of a poem, and they are just as important (while not as good) as the final form. Seeing how Carson takes the journal aspect to a new level in Nox, and seeing the order and edits in Plath’s original manuscript are important, especially for early writers who think a poem is “finished” simply because it’s on the screen.  With today’s technology we have e-books, print on demand, podcast, etc.  With the ability to scan (remember microfiche?) we also can save (and learn from) the early drafts and iterations of poems, as only with these does the poem come to life.

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…over at The Oxford American today.

My interview with Daniel Woodrell. 

And William Gay.

 

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In the late 80s I worked for a short time in the composing department for The Athens Messenger in Ohio. I razor cut copy before running it through a hot wax machine and sticking the pieces onto poster boards that were sent on to the plate guys. We were supposed to stick to spatial concerns, and while we were not prohibited from proofreading, we were discouraged from it. Still I thought I knew it all, especially when they almost let a cooking column go through with the last line, “Walla! There you have it!” (I swear I had to produce proof on that one). But I wasn’t right all the time, like when I changed a half dozen instances of Festiva L to Festival in all the Ford ad copy. I learned to behave after my boss put me on the comics detail. A week’s worth of strips for each series would come in a single sheet, and we’d cut them apart so they could be pasted into their daily slots on wilted, fuzzed out templates. I’d never done it before, so my boss said, “It’s simple. Just cut around the black lines.” And I did. I cut around all the black lines. I did not cut out the strips—I cut out the individual panels. And I was careless about keeping them in order. Luckily my boss caught me before I got through too many strips, and in most cases recovering the order was a simple matter of story telling.

But then there was Henry.

I’m not sure if I can recreate the mystery of disoriented Henry, but I remember my boss stepping back and saying, “Well I guess it’s funny that way.” To simulate that event, here are four 4 panel strips, mixed up (crudely, as I mess around with graphic converter, feeling very unsentimental about my old paste-up days):

Even when you put Henry back together, the impact is a little elusive. For further help, visit this English and Vocabulary Patterns, a site that uses Henry and other comics to assist in English fluency. This site offers helpful interpretations of each panel, like this one:

 The boy on the stilts starts walking backwards, trying to get away from Henry, but since Henry is continuing to hold the other end of the candy in his mouth, he is pulled along on his skates. Henry puts his hands in his pockets and just goes along for the ride, enjoying his piece of the candy.


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Notes toward the Story and Other Stories

Corey Mesler’s publishing credits comprise a long, long list. Actually, several lists, since he writes fiction and poetry. He has published four novels, Talk: A Novel in Dialogue (2002), We Are Billion-Year-Old Carbon (2006), The Ballad of the Two Tom Mores (2010) and Following Richard Brautigan (2010), the full-length poetry collection, Some Identity Problems (2008), and a book of short stories, Listen: 29 Short Conversations (2009). He has also published a dozen chapbooks of both poetry and prose. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize numerous times, and two of his poems have been chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. With his wife, he runs Burke’s Book Store, one of the country’s oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores.

Notes toward the Story and Other Stories is a book of disparate parts, a sort of Frankenstein monster of a collection. And indeed there is a monster story, as well as a ghost story, an angel story, a mystical religious story, and a mystical secular story. Some of the work is experimental, some of it is outlandish, and some of it is as simple and comforting as a home-baked pie. It is the full range of the author’s short fiction gifts on display. They are made of gypsum, bituminous coal, red bricks and whimsy. They are equal parts crassitude and chimera. The final story, “Publisher,” the book’s longest, concerns a man working for a vanity press who discovers “the real thing,” a novel he is convinced will blast a hole in the complacency of modern literature. About “Publisher,” John Grisham said, “It’s not only funny and clever, it reminded me of the first 80 pages of Sophie’s Choice. Great work.” The stories have previously appeared in The Pinch, Orchid, Ghoti, Gargoyle and other fine periodicals.

Miles Gibson, author of The Sandman and Hotel Plenti wrote of Notes toward the Story, “Here is a collection of mischief and delight. Corey Mesler’s short fictions afford a peek into a parallel universe in which we find ourselves reflected in new and surprising disguises.  At times his writing evokes the subversive surrealism of Flann O’Brien and at others the lyrical dreamscapes of Richard Brautigan, but Mesler is always his own man, with a sharp ear for dialogue and a steady eye on the wobbling orbit of modern life.  Notes Towards the Story may easily become one of your favourite bedside companions.”

I sit down (virtually) with Corey to pick his brains on writing in general and his work in particular.

CR: What is the most challenging part of being a writer?

CM: For me, it is staying healthy enough to do the work. Since I am semi-retired from my bookstore, I have the time to devote to new projects but because of my erratic health, physical and mental, I have days where I accomplish little. A couple of years ago, I had, what we have been calling, a “summer of darkness” and I didn’t think I would pull out of it with my wits intact. (Some might say I didn’t.) I was especially bummed because I thought I had permanently lost the concentration necessary for the long haul—the novel—which is my favorite thingamajig to write. But that focus has slowly returned to me and I am feeling better in many ways.  As anyone who knows me knows, I have had a wee bit of trouble with agoraphobia and panic attacks and overall anxiety over the past, oh, 55 years or so. But, I feel better now, due to the loving attentions of my ever-patient and sapient wife, and the abler therapist I have now, who is a vast improvement over the harpy who tried to kill me during the summer of darkness.

CR: What is the most rewarding part of being a writer?

CM: Listen, I never thought I would have this much stuff published. I used to say that if I could have one ISBN attached to my name I would die happy and go to the great bookstore in the sky a contented scrivener. I didn’t publish my first novel until I was in my 40s. So I am very happy with what I have accomplished in the last ten years and feel very fortunate to have landed with some wonderful small presses and to have my work out there, tottering along the taut tightrope of modernity for me. Out there in the walking-around world, as opposed to inside the virtual reality Skinner box of the internet, or inside the cloistered walls of my agoraphobicave, there exist these little enchanted paper and glue objects which bear my name and which carry within them my cast-off shreds of ingenuity. Imagine that.

CR: Your short story collection, Notes Toward the Story and Other Stories, is forthcoming from Aqueous Books at the end of June 2011. How does this book differ from your other fiction publications? 

CM: It’s really my first book of stories. The other one I published, Listen: 29 Short Conversations, were all tales constructed around a single conceit (like my first novel), and that is that they are all made of dialogue. This new book is a little bit more of a challenge for my writerly skills, a stretching of my so-called wings, or at least that is what I have attempted to do. As such, I am very anxious about its success. It is both more experimental (because of the diversity of styles) and less (because I am not relying on the conversational trope, but, instead, for the most part, attempting to lay out plots, characters, settings—utilizing the more orthodox building blocks of fiction.)

CR: You’ve had the honor of having your poetry selected for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac. Did you ever have the opportunity to talk with Mr. Keillor or communicate with him? I can’t imagine the feeling of having my poetry read by Mr. Keillor on his radio show, A Prairie Home Companion. What was that feeling like for you?

CM: I’ve never spoken to Mr. Keillor personally, except many years ago, long before he read my poems, at a bookseller’s convention. He stands out in a crowd because he is 8 feet tall, and I simply went up to him and said, “Hi.” I think it was the highlight of the convention for him. Regarding the appearance of my poems on his show, it went like this: One of his staff members contacted me each time so I can’t say I have a personal relationship with him. I am, however, thinking about having my vasectomy reversed so I can name a child after him. This lucky happenstance came out of the blue. For the initial poem I received a phone call at the bookstore. It felt like falling in love for the first time. It also felt like being in front of an auditorium in my skivvies. I had no idea how he found that poem and only learned later that publishers routinely send him their poetry books. And they sent a check and a CD of Mr. Keillor reading my work. Then a few years ago, it happened again with a second poem, from a different book of mine. That was in 2009; the poem was “God Bless the Experimental Writers,” from my first poetry collection, Some Identity Problems. I felt like Sally Field. I wanted to tell anyone who would listen (meaning only my wife) that he likes me, he really likes me. So that was very exciting, twice. And, in addition to the great national exposure, damned if they didn’t send me a check each time. The inclusion of the poem in the new anthology, Good Poems American Places, seems like lagniappe. The anthology had a first printing of 50,000 copies. This is an audience increase of about 49,990 over any other of my poetry appearances. And, again, they sent me money!

CR: What are you currently working on?

CM: I am very happy to say that I am about 14,000 words into a new novel. It’s a story I’ve been meaning to write for some time but, for the reasons already iterated, I couldn’t get the damn thing started.  It will be another short novel, about 45,000 words, I think, and will be much more conventional in design than my other half-baked experimental works. I am also, as always, pecking away at new poems. Lotsa poems, like manna from Heaven. Or maybe like acid rain. And I have a cockamamie idea for a chapbook that I hope I am clever enough to pull off.

CR: Where do you see yourself as a writer in the next decade?

CM: Deceased. Or living in a mansion with a cement pond, bought with the money I have made selling my books to Hollywood. I don’t see any happy middle-ground available to me. Seriously, I just want to keep writing. The feeling of writing, the actual process, is so much more fulfilling than any attention you may get from publication. If I can put another novel out, another book of stories, another collection of poems, that would be deluxe. But, mostly, I just want to confront that vacant space, the page, which in my new version of Microsoft Word is called “New—Create,” (a challenge and a benison,) and say to its blank stare, I have something I wish to aver. I have something I’ve thought of that you might want to hear, my cater-cousin, my last reader.

Check out more of Corey’s publications and credits at www.coreymesler.com. Also, look for pre-orders of Notes toward the Story and Other Stories to open up in mid-June at http://www.aqueousbooks.com.

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You’d thought they drove into Bourbon, Missouri the way this line of dialogue is delivered in Lee Marvin’s 1972 movie PRIME CUT.  Hell, it’s Kansas City.  It’s not that bad, is it? I mean, I was just talking up Kansas City the other day, I mean, really talking something fierce.  Hell, with all the mob killings in the 70s, Operation Strawman, and the Civella brothers and that’s just going back a couple three four decades, to say nothing of the Kansas City Massacre and Pretty Boy Floyd, Jesse James and on and on.  Ah, nevermind me, just scratchin’ at that old nostalgia. 

Anyhow, nice little flick, and get yourself an eye full of a young and bloomin’ Sissy Spacek while you’re at it.  Just stay clear of combines and a guy sporting a blue KC Royals hat chomping on hot dogs and goes by the name Weenie.

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