Debunking the “otherness” of nature: Companion Grasses by Brian Teare (Omnidawn, April 2013)

Debunking the “otherness” of nature: Companion Grasses by Brian Teare (Omnidawn, April 2013)

Companion Grasses, by Brian Teare (Omnidawn, April 2013)

Are veins of blood so different from tributaries of rivers? Is the way grass in the wind might blow dark on one side, and flip to silver on the other so different from the way we might turn a dark thought in our heads to see the brighter aspect from another perspective?

Briane Teare’s fifth full-length book of poetry, Companion Grasses, offers a new perspective on the human relationship with nature.

Read my review here on the incomparable Litseen.

Here is How it Happens, Spencer Dew (Ampersand Books, March 2013)

Here is How it Happens, Spencer Dew (Ampersand Books, March 2013)

This is How it Happens, by Spencer Dew (Ampersand Books, 2013)

Irony’s chokehold on fiction is beginning to crack, and Here is How it Happens.

It happens in art school in Ohio. It happens in a greasy spoon on the highway at sunset, and again just before dawn. It happens not in spite of, but because cinnamon-apple is not in alphabetical order, household products kill, and killer bees are on the way. It almost happens on a dryer during the permanent press cycle. And it never happens the way it is supposed to.

Billed as fiction, but with lyricism borrowed from poetry, a California Sea Lion tranquilizer dart, and a day-glo orange hunting cap with earflaps, Spencer Dew‘s debut novel, Here is How it Happens, tracks a group of art-school sophomores in a small Ohio town.

Armed with scalpel-sharp wit and dwindling hopes, its characters have grown up in a culture saturated by a propaganda of naive optimism, oversimplified morality, and cookie-cutter trajectories: fall in love, get married, work hard in a fulfilling career, be satisfied and happy. Presented with a very different reality- parents lost to mental illness or alcohol-fueled absurdist beach parties; a tuber-like populace eating their way through chain restaurants; love that fizzled early and quickly descended into obligatory ritual- these characters have responded the way a real generation of young people has responded: by falling into a numbed, cynical detachment. Every moment turns into an opportunity to chain-smoke, huff paint thinner, or pillage someone else’s box-wine while quipping mordant slogans like, “Faith is a bit clichéd,” and “The kitsch of the past is the discourse of the future.”

This territory would instantly become tedious if the author were offering us only smart-alecky, ironical humor as a reason to read this book. But Dew is not a coward: he, like his protagonist, Martin, is a circumspect hunter out to bullseye the target on the dummy-deer in the Walmart sports-supply department, proving that it rests directly over an empty place that should contain a heart. One of the book’s principle characters, Kim, is the art “star” of the group. Rewarded with droll accolades by her teachers and held up as an example before other students, she is a vulture incapable of not creating art out of every waking experience, including those of her friends. She is the ultimate in righteous self-obsession, and is Dew’s acknowledgment that aloofness and abstraction is no better answer to the dark night of the soul than cleverness and self-destruction. But for a group of young people whose lives already feel as if they are nearly over, what is the answer? An overdose? Giving in to expectations and marrying the person you should love, but don’t? Cultivate the thickest skin possible? Concede futility and pursue one of many paths to zombiehood?

Rather than remain in the safe buffer zone of intellect, Here is How it Happens takes a brave step out of the realm of cynicism toward the infinitely more risky territory of tenderness. Dew does this best when he is not padding his good work with lyric flourish. Though there is plenty of heady, well-crafted language here for those who need the illustration of metaphor to solidify the underlying emotion, “a storm of blood light, clotting the sky,” the most powerful moments are simple and guileless, like the night Martin comes home to the attic dorm room he shares with Eddie, whose art takes the form of painstaking miniature dioramas of famous political scenes like the mass-murder at Kent State. Eddie, who has been working for hours and is covered with paint, puts a comforting hand on Martin’s shoulder, leaving a smudge:

“He dabs at my jacket with one of his rags, the rag smelling of heavy turpentine, blotched with military-tone paint.
‘It’s okay,’ I say. ‘Please don’t try and fix it.'”

 

Here is How it Happens
by Spencer Dew
Ampersand Books, March 2013

This Terrible Symmetry: a review of Helsinki, by Peter Richards

This Terrible Symmetry: a review of Helsinki, by Peter Richards

by Peter Richards

I rarely have a viscerally bad reaction to a book, but when it comes to connecting with a reader, I find it frustrating when surrealism is confused with, well, confusion. Other reviewers describe this book as containing an “exuberant grief,” but in my review this month in Gently Read Literature, I argue that there is a way to use surrealism in poetry to heighten and clarify awareness, particularly when writing out of grief -T.S. Eliot did it in The Wasteland– but Richards does not sustain it in Helsinki.

Read more

Sharks in the Rivers at Gently Read Literature

Sharks in the Rivers at Gently Read Literature

While reading Ada Limon’s Sharks in the Rivers, I shapeshifted into a bird, a fish, a river, a horse, a desert, and another woman.  I took on other forms but those are secrets. If you want to try on wings or fins yourself, you should check out the brand spanking new May issue of Gently Read Literature, and read my review.

eavesdrop…dream…subvert (at work!): evan karp’s podcast pilot

eavesdrop…dream…subvert (at work!): evan karp’s podcast pilot

Wish you could read a book of fine local literature instead of working?  Now you can!

I know all you creative people wear headphones at work, so just tune in to evan karp’s podcast pilot and experience literary dissidence while only appearing to be running on the usual mental hamster wheel:

A CONVERSATION WITH TUPELO HASSMAN: girlchild and the city with the most trailers in the world

A CONVERSATION WITH TUPELO HASSMAN: girlchild and the city with the most trailers in the world

Check out my interview with Tupelo Hassman about her new book, girlchild, being released today from Farrar, Straus and Giroux!