- July 17, 2014
ZYZZYVA All Stars Summer Celebration!
Location: 6 p.m., McRoskey Mattress Co. Showroom, Market Street, San Francisco
Description: Join us for a free celebration, featuring readings from recent and past contributors, including Dan Alter, Glen David Gold, Edie Meidav, Vanessa Hua, and more! Refreshments courtesy of our friends at Boccalone Salumeria and Wine and Spirits Magazine. RSVP your ticket here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/719864
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In our newest issue, we gather contributors past and recent:
Rebecca Solnit’s “Grandmother Spider”: A meditation on the paintings of Ana Teresa Fernandez and the ways women are made to disappear from history.
Daniel Handler’s “I Hate You”: The story of a souring young man at a birthday dinner with old friends in Oakland. (The party is over.)
Elizabeth Tallent’s “Mendocino Fire”: The peripatetic life of a young female tree-sitter, raised, and perhaps forsaken, in the wilds of the forest.
Katie Crouch’s “To Bloom, to Burst, to Blaze”: An essay on Sylvia Plath, and a haunting failure of friendship set in the days of the first dot-com boom in San Francisco.
Erika Recordon’s “Normal Problems”: The tale of an otherwise perfect mate turning over a new leaf for his love … no more murdering women.
Glen David Gold’s “The Plush Cocoon”: In which the best-selling novelist recounts a short-lived childhood in a beautiful house full of amazing objects, and a dark past his young mother tries to keep at bay.
Also, fiction from Héctor Tobar (falling asleep is the hardest thing for a successful Mexican contractor in Los Angeles), Ron Carlson, Michelle Latiolais, Scott O’Connor, and artist Paul Madonna. Nonfiction from Jim Gavin (on the education of a high school sports stringer), David L. Ulin (why magical thinking gets us through plane flights, if not life), Edie Meidav (“What is the story of death? The first is that death creates stories.”).
And new poetry from two former U.S. poet laureates and early ZYZZYVA contributors—Kay Ryan and Robert Hass—as well as from Dan Alter, Valerie Bandura, Noah Blaustein, Christopher Buckley, Michelle Patton, and Austin Smith. Blueprints from artist and author Jonathon Keats on how to mechanically slow down time for entire cities, and incredible photographs of California on fire and in drought by Jane Fulton Alt and Bill Mattick.
Shortly after World War II, Minor White (1908-1976)—a photographer of some repute before the war—was in New York, freshly discharged from the Army intelligence corps, and speaking to Alfred Stieglitz in Stieglitz’s gallery, An American Place. In an often-quoted exchange between the two men, White, who felt the war had sapped some of his former verve, asked Stieglitz whether he could still take photographs. “Well, have you ever been in love?” Stieglitz said. White answered yes, and the elder artist explained, “Then you can be a photographer.” The conversation had a profound effect upon White. Indeed, whatever the immediate subject—the swirling figure of a tree trunk, the geological minutia of shoreline rocks—White’s photographs seem exceptionally intimate. Unknown to many at the time, however, was that as a gay man of that era, White struggled his entire life with love. Later, he would say his photographs were merely “reflecting the loneliness, the frustrations, the search for intimacy without embarrassment, and not much more. I am merely letting the camera visualize my inner-wishes—a lazy way of working.” It was Stieglitz who used to say, “When I photograph, I make love,” but that may have been far more true of White.
Still, the photographer was correct to note elsewhere that “Sexual expression is only the foundation on which the cathedral is built.” So much is clear from the work reproduced in Minor White: Manifestations of the Spirit (Getty Publications, 200 pages), which accompanies the current retrospective that opened July 8 at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. (It’s the first big retrospective of White’s work since 1989, and runs till October 9.) An unblinking, no-frills biographical essay by Paul Martineau, an associate curator of photography at the Getty, lucidly surveys White’s career as an artist, educator, and co-founding editor of Aperture. While he presents judicious commentary throughout the book, Martineau generally lets White’s life and work speak for themselves. He reveals White as an extremely lonely individual; a student of Catholicism, Christian mysticism, and Zen Buddhism; and an eccentric proto-hippie with, according to one photographer, “the persona of a guru,” who was worshiped by his pupils as a creative visionary. White was, writes Martineau, somebody who “believed that photography would help him to balance his natural tendency for introspection with his need to be engaged in the world.”
Dipping into our anthology Strange Attraction: The Best of Ten Years of ZYZZYVA (338 pages; $20), we first excerpted for you Po Bronson’s story “Tracking the Family Beast.” We now offer an excerpt from Elizabeth Tallent’s story “Black Dress,” which originally appeared in ZYZZYVA Issue No. 25 (Spring 1991). (Most recently, Tallent’s story “Mendocino Fire” appears in our 100th issue.)
Tallent, who is a professor of English at Stanford and the author of several books, including the story collection Time of Children and the novel Museum Pieces, tells the story of Caro, a young pregnant woman getting ready to attend the funeral of her stepson’s teen girlfriend, who overdosed on pills. “She had taken the pills from their hiding place under her mother’s tissue-wrapped lingerie, snapped off the child-proof caps, and eaten them in handfuls. It can’t have been easy swallowing so many times; wouldn’t her body have been on the verge of refusing? Wouldn’t nausea have entered in? Ah, Caro thinks, and places her own nausea: with no sense of linear time, no conviction that things that have happened are irrevocably over, her own body is mimicking the girl’s nausea, the nausea she wishes the girl had felt. Caro’s pregnant body wants the girl to throw up. Caro’s secret sense, which she has not mentioned to her husband, is that death has alarmingly little respect for boundaries, that once tipped out it can spill through entire families. That she should stay away.”
It can be argued that the post-apocalyptic science fiction novel was invented in California. Although there had been such end-of-days precursors as Mary Shelley’s The Last Man or E.M. Forster’s story “The Machine Stops” (and even the novel The Scarlet Plague by Oakland’s own Jack London), it was Earth Abides, published in 1949 by University of California English professor George R. Stewart, that established many of the tropes associated with doomsday novels, ranging from Stephen King’s The Stand to The Road by Cormac McCarthy.
Stewart’s novel follows geography grad student Isherwood “Ish” Williams after he recovers from a snakebite-induced coma in the Sierra and returns to Berkeley, only to find the human population decimated by a plague. Over the course of the narrative, Ish embarks on a cross-country reconnaissance mission, returns to California, raises a family there, and observes the further, perhaps unstoppable, deterioration of civilization.
Consciously or otherwise, Edan Lepucki’s first novel, California (Little, Brown; 394 pages), owes a debt to Stewart’s West Coast apocalyptic masterpiece. Her characters, however, forsake the So Cal flatlands for the wilderness to the north, and their concerns for the future are as much domestic and existential as global and philosophical.
“E-mail,” snorted Molly Young, in the New York Times last December. “A medium I associate with cowardly ex-boyfriends and offshore Viagra vendors.”
On the face of it, yes. Social media scorn the e-mail habit: a sad old grandfather, smelling of camphor and oatmeal.
But I’m still waltzing—more like, locked in a tango—with Grandpa. I depend upon e-mail, check it obsessively, prefer it over real-time, physical confrontations for the same reasons I turned to writing in the first place: leisure to think deeply (or stall for time), speak from the heart in shiniest prose, curry favor and influence—all this accomplished either as subterfuge during day jobs, or in pajamas.
I sense, too, that I’m in a big club.
A writer’s love for the form dies hard. It’s our last remnant of old-fashioned letter-writing, a ritual most of us adore. E-mail’s as malleable, swift, and cheap as air. Sometimes it lets us discover what we think. But because e-mail is also how most writing business is now conducted, we’ve no choice but to learn (and re-learn) the etiquette, the rhythms.
Whom to bury, whom to praise.
“Write what you know” is a common phrase in the writing world. Daniel A Olivas’s new book, Things We Do Not Talk About: Exploring Latino/a Literature Through Essays and Interviews (202 pages; San Diego State University Press), raises and discusses questions with himself and other authors about what it means to be a Latino writer and how that may (or may not) influences their writings. Olivas, the author of seven books (The Book of Want, Latinos in Lotusland), doesn’t claim, though, that this collection of various Latino authors’ ideas and thoughts on their cultural lineages and their work (as captured in Olivas’s previously published essays and interviews) has all the answers.
A past contributor to ZYZZYVA (her essay “Cuba+Kids-Water” ran in Issue No. 95), novelist Edie Meidav makes another welcome appearance in our pages, this time in our 100th issue. Her essay, “The Dead Ones,” takes her back to the home of her youth, the Bay Area.
When asked about the background of “The Dead Ones,” Meidav writes, “Sometimes I feel we have these hearts that are like ships crowded with all the people we love or once knew well—so the question becomes how crowded can your ship become?—and every time I beat a path of return to the Bay Area, walking certain streets in that balmy air, I feel both cradled and pierced by memories: the Bay Area is something of my pastoral. (I remember, now, Philip Roth talking about walking Newark before writing American Pastoral.) In the last few years, I kept walking near my former mentor’s house in a state of disbelief that all that vitality had vanished, her wit, her stockinged legs.”
The following is an excerpt from “The Dead Ones.” Edie Meidav will also be one of the readers at ZYZZYVA’s All Star Summer Celebration at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 17. You can RSVP your free ticket here. And you can order a copy of Issue No. 100 here.
“I want to say what happened / but am suspicious of stories,” begins a poem in Stop Wanting (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 72 pages), Lizzie Harris’s debut collection, winner of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s 2013 First Book Prize. The simple statement of these opening lines illuminates the entire collection, because at the root of these poems, Harris questions how to retell memory without overwhelmingly fictionalizing. This is especially difficult when what happened frightens both writer and reader. Yet Harris investigates her memory with grace and courage in such beautiful poetry that she leaves the reader shivering, line after line. Her poems curl in and out of the experience of living with an abusive father and how that leaves a daughter to fight for her own in the adult world.
With our 30th anniversary approaching in 2015, we would like to occasionally look back on here at some of the incredible work ZYZZYVA has published over the decades—work that announced itself as special even from the journal’s start.
Many of those select stories, poems, essays, and dramas appear in the anthology Strange Attraction: The Best Ten Years of ZYZZYVA (338 pages; $20), which you can order here. Edited by founding editor Howard Junker, the book contains a rich collection of pieces published between in ZYZZYVA between 1985 and 1994, and features writers such as Sherman Alexie, Tess Gallagher, Dennis Cooper, Karen Karbo, Octavio Solis, Lois-Ann Yamanaka, Brenda Hillman, Robert Hass, Kate Braverman, Jane Hirshfield, and many, many more.
Among those stories is “Tracking the Family Beast,” written by a then little known writer named Po Bronson. Published in Issue No. 31 (Fall 1992), the story marked Bronson’s first fiction appearance in print. At the time Bronson was an MFA candidate at San Francisco State University, but he has since become known as a best-selling author and journalist and one of the founders of the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. The following is an excerpt from “The Tracking the Family Beast,” which is set in San Francisco and details a young man’s crack-up. “I’m not who I thought I was,” says the narrator, at one point. “I didn’t think I could do this sort of thing.”
Riccardo Duranti is perhaps best known for being one of the select people in the world to have translated all of Raymond Carver’s work. (According to Duranti, there have only been two: he and Haruki Murakami). But his work includes translating more than one hundred titles by authors such as Richard Brautigan, Peter Orner, Elizabeth Bishop, Cormac McCarthy, Philip K. Dick, Tess Gallagher, Lou Reed, Sandra Cisneros, Ted Hughes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tibor Fischer, Michael Ondaatje, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and many more. Duranti is one of the most notable literary translators of English into Italian, and his career has its roots in the United States, where he met Tess Gallagher, who introduced him to Carver.
Translator, essayist, and poet, Duranti taught English Literature and Literary Translation at “La Sapienza” University in Rome. In 1996, he was awarded the National Prize for Translation, Italy’s most important translation prize. Recently, he decided to fulfill his dream of refurbishing his family’s old country farm located in the wild hills of Sabina just outside of Rome. Now living with his two dogs, Baldo and Nero, and eight cats, he spends his time sowing seeds into colorful flowers and fruit trees, turning organic olives into delicious oil, and translating powerful visions into graceful haikus. We spoke to him at his farm about his work.
San Francisco has long been thought of as the great exception, to use historian Carey McWilliams’ phrase. Located at the far western edge of America, it was also a cultural and political frontier, a very last urban refuge from the rest of the country. In “The Poetic City That Was,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti recalled San Francisco, circa 1951, as “an island, which wasn’t necessarily part of the United States…like Athens at the height of Greek culture.” He woke up 50 years later to find his friends being evicted from their homes, himself priced out of his apartment and art studio. The poet lamented how “Corporate monoculture had wiped out any unique sense of place … And I was on the street.” (This, it should be noted, written well over a decade ago.) To be on the street meant nothing less than to be a man without a country, to have no frontier to escape to, no New World. Thus Louis Simpson’s poem “Lines Written Near San Francisco” likewise concludes, “the banks thrive and the realtors/Rejoice—they have their America.” Many feel they have lost, or are fast losing, this little vestige of theirs, with evictions on the rise in San Francisco and the culture fundamentally changed.
That sense of loss, that erosion of what Ferlinghetti called a unique sense of place, is reflected in the title of Brazilian artist Marcelo Cidade’s incisive new work Somewhere, Elsewhere, Anywhere, Nowhere at the Kadist Foundation in San Francisco’s Mission District, which he completed while in residency there. Cidade specializes in conducting critical interventions in the urban environment; he feeds upon the structural logic of cities and cultivates the art of the accidental, particularly in his hometown of São Paulo, a megalopolis well-acquainted with grim social inequality and insufficient affordable housing (hence the disappointment with, and direct opposition to the World Cup and its huge price tag). Not surprisingly, Cidade’s street-level tactics have their origins in skateboarding and graffiti. From such vantage points, he was able to diagnose the social and structural problems confronting São Paulo; and now he has brought those same tactics to San Francisco.
Dan Alter is a poet whose work has been published in Camelia, Southern Lights, Zeek, and, now, ZYZZYVA. His poems “Labor Poem No. 10″ and “Labor Poem No. 11″ appear in Issue No. 100. “I took the form for this series of Labor Poems from Joshua Beckman,” Alter says, “who developed it in his book Shade.”
Alter, who lives in Berkeley and is a union electrician, will be one of several readers at ZYZZYVA‘s All-Stars Summer Celebration on Thursday, July 17, at the McRoskey Mattress Company Showroom in San Francisco. The event is free, and you can RSVP your ticket here. In the meantime, we offer one of Alter’s poems from our milestone issue.
Geoff Nicholson’s newest novel, The City Under the Skin (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux; 272 pages), takes place in an unnamed city where women are kidnapped, then released back into the streets, now bearing poorly tattooed maps across their backs. Told from various points of view, the winding story follows a handful of characters—Wrobleski, a professional killer who begins to collect these tattooed women; Billy Moore, a criminal trying to turn his life around but who agrees to one more job; Zak, who happens to work at a map shop and is unwillingly dragged into the mystery, and Marilyn, who’s obsessed with finding out who’s collecting these women and why—until all the parties, and loose ends, arrive at an almost too tidy end.