Thursday, August 31, 2023

Kimberly Reyes, vanishing point


I know the misappropriation
of American gothic

how Blackness seeds
the bayou

of unburied fruit,

rice in the Carolinas
white-rife with grief.

I also know better—perhaps,
what it is to hold a man’s knives,

have the ancestors scare away the vampires
reclaiming land over Calypso tunes,

Keaton’s zebra snake Hoodoo. (“Tim Burton says I’m not his aesthetic”)

Kimberly Reyes’ third poetry title, and second full-length, following Warning Coloration (dancing girl press, 2018) and the powerful Running to Stand Still (Oakland CA: Omnidawn, 2019), is vanishing point (Omnidawn, 2023). I had attempted to make notes on Running to Stand Still when it appeared, but the timing of the book fell into the black hole of attention during caregiving weekends across my father’s decline, so a review never did actually happen. Just to say: Running to Stand Still was an impressive collection, and you should completely read it. This latest book, vanishing point, was composed, as her author biography offers, “while splitting her time between San Francisco, Ireland, and her hometown of New York City,” feeling out an articulation of layerings of a cultural sense of between-ness, including her connection to multiple points but not feeling entirely at home in any one. Her writing is staccato, precise. As she writes as part of “The Great Race Place”: “our wildness / clutches the race card. // After hoof, / soot, utility / has caked / into a brown ‘U’ // a bulb dims over the pedigreed / in the waste plant //  an unassuming man / avoiding razed eyes // skins the bodies.” She writes of ghosts, and magpies; she writes of Atlantic crossings, and invisible distances. She writes of hypens, such as in the poem “A hyphen is a rejection of negative space,” that includes: “I am the construct of some unwinnable race / a DNA scar tissue / warning coloration // a who we are, tongues out, / backs bent [.]” Reyes writes of disappearance, even as certain of the text begins to fade, while simultaneously declaring herself present across such slipperiness, situated in a space deemed incomplete, invisible or beyond. There is a way in which Reyes’ lyrics demand and declare, solidifying this perceived otherness into a direct presence. “I worry mi gente will never see me if I don’t speak Spanish      but why / demonize dad,” she writes, to open the poem “Upon the realization that I don’t have a natural habitat.” A few lines further, adding: “why should he had             it’s not his people’s language             anyway, not / anymore than English is mine // 23&Me can’t make me pronounce an old world.” Reyes works to write her way back into view, or to write enough to be seen, before she completely disappears.


Wednesday, August 30, 2023

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Joshua Mohr

Joshua Mohr is the author of five novels, including Damascus, which The New York Times called “Beat-poet cool.” He’s also written Some Things that Meant the World to Me, one of O Magazine’s 10 Terrific reads of 2009, and All This Life, winner of the Northern California Book Award. Termite Parade was an editor’s choice on the New York Times Best Seller List. His memoir, Model Citizen was an Amazon Editors’ Pick. In his Hollywood life, he’s sold projects to AMC, ITV, and Amblin Entertainment.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first book made Oprah’s “10 Best of the Year” and it didn’t change my life at all! Sure, I sold more copies, but the big literary lesson for me was to just be thankful and gracious when good things happen. I try not to take external success or failure very seriously. That can poison a writer’s brain. For me, the important part is making the art, not marketplace “success.”

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?

I write in both genres. I find there is always a fascinating juxtaposition. My new book FARSICKNESS is pure fiction, and yet it is having a conversation with my last book, a memoir called MODEL CITIZEN. Most authors have certain stables of preoccupations that we’ll examine from various angles during our careers.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I’m a punk rocker, so I don’t plan anything. I wrote the first draft of FARSICKNESS in three weeks. Us punks like to Fail Fast. LOL.

4 - Where does a work of prose usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I only want to know the opening image for a new project. I don’t want to know anything else, so I can follow the wanton and clumsy process of discovery. To me, that’s one of the great pleasures of being an author. I feel very lucky to spend my life writing about the confusions of being alive. So long as we bring an open heart to the book, that will usually inspire a reader to bring her own open heart.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I love readings! Being a writer requires us to spend so many hours sequestered away. Book tour is always a treat for me. I like nerding out with my people.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I like to write about unanswerable questions. FARSICKNESS is a surrealist road trip story into the human psyche. It sits in that sweet spot between ALICE IN WONDERLAND and APOCALYPSE NOW.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

My job is to write honestly and authentically about what it’s like being alive right now. My job is to do that without thinking about reader responses, reviews, or social media followers. Those things will impede your capacity to find truth on the page.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

Everyone needs an editor. The trick for the writer is to hone the muscle to tell the difference between helpful versus unhelpful criticism. At the end of the day, it is our name that will be on the cover. It has to be our vision, and yet in order to fully realize it, we need to listen to trusted voices, especially those who tell us the thing(s) we don’t want to hear.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Write what you know, but never write what you understand.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (fiction to memoir)? What do you see as the appeal?

It’s not only easy in my world, but it’s necessary. I super dig that “cross talk” between the genres.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I’m an insomniac. The magic happens between midnight and five a.m. That is when my imagination is at its wildest.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I’ve never had writer’s block. I’m always working on multiple projects at once, so if I need a break from one, I just flop over to something else. Making art is a gift, and I do it every day. I rarely ever miss one. It’s really the only thing that makes sense to me.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Box wine.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

I’m also a musician, and I always listen to loud songs while I write. For last night’s session, it was The Melvins screaming at me. I also write for Hollywood, so I try and interact with as many films and TV shows as I can.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

James Baldwin, Amy Hempel, Denis Johnson. Those are my angels.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

This new novella of mine, FARSICKNESS, is actually illustrated by my nine year old daughter, Ava. Making art with her was one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done—so I can’t wait to see what other artistic bursts of high jinks she and I get into…

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I would have made a fantastic carnie.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I came to writing in reaction to music. I was tired of playing in bands, relying on other people to express myself creatively. When I write, I don’t need anything except my imagination and my damage.

19 - What was the last great book you read?

I just read Kevin Barry’s NIGHT BOAT TO TANGIER and had a blast with it. He is the real deal. His dialogue kills.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I sold a TV show to Steven Spielberg’s company Amblin, and I’m having a blast putting that pilot script together. I can’t wait to share that work with everyone in next couple years.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Jahan Khajavi, Feast of the Ass


On the Eve of Our 31st Birthday

We were born to be served—not like a king,
but Peking duck or a cake scribbled upon
with white frosting: the number 31.
Jerking Off to a Turk. Short poem in
sugar while a ballad on our beloved’s
sweetness would be a long & wordy one.
The great shame of this world is that it can
construct a billion atom bombs but it can
not clone a drop of their youthful gusto.
They’re teenaged baklava—speak in honey!
Let us peck the pistachios from their
halvah face. Let us be the old, dirty one.

I’m charmed by the full-length debut, Feast of the Ass (Brooklyn NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2023) by Fresno, California-born Iranian-American poet Jahan Khajavi, composed as a lyric collection of swagger, performative gestures and declaratives both joyous and thoughtful. As the final poem in the sequence “Eve of the Feast of the Ass” offers: “If you were here, Jahan, you would adore the form / the trees in Autumn take. To watch their gold leaves dropping, / to witness in the still after a winter storm / a bough burdened with snow & how it heaves, dropping / finally its load—a heap of white on white.” Described by Vogue (as included in Khajavi’s author biography) as composing “wildly amusing & explicit queer poetry,” the poems in Feast of the Ass range from standalone short poems to extended sequences of short bursts that string through the collection, writing overtly queer and sexualized poems that also reference writing retreats, Persian lyrics and the Rubiyat, travel, love and magnolia. In many ways, these are meditative poems with elements of swagger and sex, allowing the whole package to exist simultaneously, without contradiction. “Step into this room as if our confidence / to hear our messy arguments.” the sequence “Profane Geometry” offers, “Who cares about / the subjects—be they love or death or common sense.” There is such a sense of joyful play in Khajavi’s rhythms alone, providing a delightful cadence in poems such as the opening piece, “An Organ That Vibrates for You.” The repetition of phrase and rhythm in this particular poem exists as an anchor, which itself allows other elements their myriad directions, knowing how grounded they remain, and playing off those two seemingly contradictory narrative structures. There is something of the rhythm as well that provides calm, a comfort; something akin to prayer. As the poem begins:

Roughly everything’s to share in this room.
Buried treasure here & there in this room.
Goldfish in vases topping mirrors &
flowers in bowls on each stair in this room.
A mattress not unlike a peacock throne
with all of its stains laid bare in this room,
on the floor a rug that when it farts lets
out a little Persian air in this room.
You could see the furniture if it were
not covered with thick black hair in this room.
Sitting on stiff wooden shelves, hardbacks by
Baraheni & Baudelaire in this room.