Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Fate of ‘The Palomino Boy’

Born in Los Angeles in 1918, Don Emblen was one of those tough old believers, a poet, publisher and bibliophile who lived hard. Lifelong friends included Donald Hall, Robert Bly, and the late William Stafford. He worked for what was then the Los Angeles City News Service, chased submarines in the Navy, married three times, sired kids who produced grandkids, taught English Lit thirtysome years at the same Northern California college, and acted as a second father to my husband, whom he hired many years ago to teach there as well. Don’s passions were myriad. He ran a hand-press; printed …Continue reading

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7 Quick Reasons Why Writers Should Attend the Next South by Southwest Interactive

South by Southwest is a music festival, one of the country’s largest. It turned 25 this March and is always held in Austin in the spring. Half its age but just as influential is South by Southwest Interactive, the sister festival about technology, ideas and the very near future. SXSWi turned 16 this year and topped 15,000 attendees. And though SXSW’s nerdier sibling now has, according to the Wall Street Journal, “the eyes of the technical world upon it,” the festival is still significantly attended by artists, designers, business people, book publishers and journalists who wouldn’t know a line of …Continue reading

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Alexander Yates: Mashing Up the Loud and the Quiet, and the Beauty of ‘Gagamba’

There is an optical phenomenon that occurs when the moon is at its fullest (or nearly so) in which bright circular spots appear atop a lunar halo.  These “moondogs” give off a little color of their own, but their main source of light stems from the moon’s luminescence.  They do not stray far from the edges of the moon’s glow. Alexander Yates’s new novel, “Moondogs,” is titled after this piece of celestial minutiae, and the naming is apt. The book’s multiple story lines linger around the same, somewhat otherworldly event: the abduction of a wealthy American businessman by a pair …Continue reading

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Naomie Kremer: The Vocabulary of Obsession and Obsessiveness

Naomie Kremer has been described as “a remarkable and innovative colorist, with a subtle mastery of intimating interior meaning.” Her current exhibition, “Multiverse Part I,” at Modernism Gallery in San Francisco through April 23, showcases 12 of her densely layered oil-on-linen paintings, all characterized by Kremer’s sensuous use of color, her energetic and meticulous brushwork, and a complex, detailed sense of structure. Yet her work in black and white is integral to her craft, and equally compelling. ZYZZYVA sat down with the Bay Area artist in her bright and inviting studio in Oakland on a recent stormy day. As the …Continue reading

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Philip Connors: Fire Lookouts, Kerouac, and Thinking Like a Mountain

Fire Season, a first book from Philip Connors, is a memoir of the author’s summers as a fire lookout in New Mexico’s Gila National Forest. During fire season, Connors spends his nights in a Forest Service cabin and his days in a seven-by-seven-foot box atop a steel tower. He hikes, fishes, throws a Frisbee around with his faithful dog, plays endless games of cribbage. His only companions (apart from the musk deer and the occasional long-distance hiker) are literary — Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, Edward Abbey, Norman Maclean — all of them veterans of lookoutry. Connors records the day-to-day of …Continue reading

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On Oscar Zeta Acosta

If people remember Oscar Zeta Acosta at all, it’s as a Samoan attorney. Since Hunter Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was published 40 years ago this week (as duly noted by the Rumpus), the 250-pound Baptist missionary turned Oakland Legal Aid lawyer turned Chicano activist turned unsolved mystery (he disappeared down in Mexico in 1974) has all but been eclipsed by his side-kick role as Dr. Gonzo. This is nowhere near right, because to only know Acosta as Thompson’s once “partner in too many crimes,” as Thompson noted, is to be ignorant of Acosta at his finest – …Continue reading

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The Strangeness of Loss Imbues ‘Widow’

A collection of 17 short pieces, Widow (Bellevue Literary Press; 160 pages) is, as the title suggests and the opening story firmly establishes, concerned with a particular loss — that of the beloved partner. Though several of the book’s stories were written after the death of California author Michelle Latiolais’s husband, and the impact of that loss is felt on every page, Widow is not a memoir, yet neither is it entirely fictional. Drawing on a variety of genres (meditations, stories, and poetic vignettes) and points of view, Widow offers a kaleidoscopic view of the world from deep within the …Continue reading

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‘Parrot in the Oven’: An Appreciation

I first read Victor Martinez’s novel Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida when I was eleven, just a couple years younger than Manuel Hernandez, the book’s narrator and titular perico. Parrot won the National Book Award in 1996, making it more or less required reading for anyone my age (except where it was banned). Like many of the adolescents who read it, my life was radically different from Manny’s. I didn’t have to work. My parents left books, not loaded rifles, lying around the house. I didn’t have to look after my baby sister; my parents hired people to look …Continue reading

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National Geographic

Victor Martinez was eight years away from winning the National Book Award for his novel “Parrot in the Oven: Mi Vida” when ZYZZZYVA published a poem of his in its Summer issue of 1988. (At the time, Martinez was editing Humanizarte, the publishing arm of Aztlan Cultural/Centro Chicano de Escritores in Oakland.) Alternately terrifying and comic, “National Geographic” captures a besieged state of mind, one cataloging the dangers of a sinister society and a corrupted environment. Victor Martinez died Feb. 18 in San Francisco. He was 56.

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Editor’s Note #91

Dear Readers, In 1985 Howard Junker founded this publication, and kept a steady course all these years. In the case of a West Coast literary journal, a steady course requires a perpetual willingness to take risks—to offer, time and again, the thrill of discovery. Yet having survived these many years, it is now clear that we have the fortitude of some enduring values. As Howard once said, ZYZZYVA asserts “classical values: the possibilities of individual vision; the enduring magic of words; the delight of variety; absolute freedom from commercial constraint.” As we take up where Howard Junker left off, we …Continue reading

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The Heady Price of a ‘Free World’

It’s no easy thing to make the political personal, but David Bezmozgis has done it in his first novel, which follows a band of Russian Jewish émigrés over the summer of 1978 as they wait, in Rome, to find out which country will take them. The Free World tells a compelling story, dissecting the tangled, and often tortured lives of Samuil Krasnansky, an unreconstructed Communist and Red Army veteran; his loving wife, Emma; his sons, the taciturn, fearsome Karl and the hopelessly sybaritic Alec; along with Karl’s family and Alec’s wife, Polina. All of these characters emerge as distinct beings, …Continue reading

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Day and Night

Twenty-five years or so ago, when I first started coming to Los Angeles on a regular basis, I used to stay with a friend who had a satellite’s eye view poster of the city in his breakfast room. It was then — and remains, I think — a vivid metaphor. Not for the sprawl of Southern California, although you can certainly see it there, but rather for the odd tension of the built environment, which can only push the natural landscape so far. If sprawl is an expression of our attempts to control our surroundings, the satellite photo reveals just …Continue reading

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