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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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