ZYZZYVA EventsNovember 10, 2017
ZYZZYVA & Rare Bird All-Stars: Lit Crawl Portland
Location: 7 p.m., Literary Arts Studio, 925 SW Washington St., Portland, OR
Description: ZYZZYVA contributors and Rare Bird authors team up for a one-night event featuring Sallie Tisdale, Matthew Dickman, Natalie Serber, and more. For more info: http://sched.co/C8Rz
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As you take time to enjoy the long weekend ahead, we’d like you to consider something that might make the barbecues and binge-watching that much more enjoyable. For only today through Tuesday, September 5, we’re shipping a free set of our brand new ZYZZYVA pins with every purchase of a subscription or a subscription renewal.
You’ll be able to get the pins (stylish, no?) on our shop page soon enough. But why not get them sooner by simply renewing or subscribing to ZYZZYVA this weekend? So subscribe to ZYZZYVA and be prepared to wear those pins proudly!
Congratulations to Dominica Phetteplace for her recent win of a 2017 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award. Her writing has been published in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, PANK, and the Los Angeles Review. Phetteplace is also a winner of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from I-Park, the Deming Fund, and the MacDowell Colony. She lives in Berkeley, California.
The following is an excerpt from her short story “The Story of a True Artist,” which you can read in its entirety by purchasing a copy of ZYZZYVA No. 105.
Poet Troy Jollimore hurtled onto bedside tables everywhere when his widely celebrated debut, Tom Thomson in Purgatory, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2006. Since then, his tightly wound, exploratory poetry has touched on everything from the the nature of beauty to meeting Charlie Brown in a bar. We are pleased to say Jollimore will be leading ZYZZYVA’s first ever Poetry Workshop. The deadline to submit your work is September 15th. The poet, who has appeared in ZYZZYVA No. 92, 101, and soon in 111, recently took time out of his busy schedule to talk with us about Writing Workshops, living in the age of On Demand content, and what we mean when we discuss Poetic Craft.
ZYZZYVA: Poetry workshops sometimes don’t come to mind as readily as fiction workshops – what do you think the communal, learning atmosphere of a workshop can bring to poetry, specifically?
Writing poems is hard, and we need all the help we can get. That’s an obvious thing to say, but there’s a great deal of truth in it. Beyond that, I could say that every poem, and every act of writing a poem, implies a community, or perhaps several intersecting communities: the readers for whom the poem is intended, the writers of the poems that preceded it and form the background against which it is written, the community one physically lives in, which sustains the material conditions in which poems can be written.
The writing workshop is a quite special form of temporary, semi-spontaneous community; a place where we come together, as people do in church or at the movies, to give our shared attention to one another’s works and ideas and, in the process, to discover and come to know each other a little more deeply. Sometimes a poem will crack open before your eyes in a workshop; sometimes the blockage that was holding it back will simply disintegrate and fall away. Sometimes someone will say something—a casual, offhand remark, as often as not—that solves your poem’s problem, or makes you realize that your poem really doesn’t have a problem. Sometimes you can even find solutions for problems having nothing to do with poetry at all. And sometimes you just walk away feeling enriched and comforted by having spent time in the company of other people who, like you, share this odd particular interest for an art form that has, against all odds, persisted through the millennia.
Z: What kind of intentions–formal, personal, poetic–do you hope people come into the workshop with?
TJ: To share their passion and enthusiasm with each other. To talk openly about poems and other things they care deeply about. To get to know other people, and themselves, a little better. To open up their work, expose it to the air, and help it grow. To discuss their artistic struggles, to display their imperfect works in an atmosphere in which imperfection is forgiven and even loved for what it is and often turns out to be the first step toward something wonderful. And to make friends. That might sound a little cheesy, but I really mean it. Friendship is vastly important and our present society seems to be becoming more and more inimical to it. Art—whatever particular art form happens to turn you on the most—remains one of the best sites for finding friends, real friends, others of your kind.
Josh Weil’s first collection of stories, The Age of Perpetual Light (272 pages; Grove Press), spans the course of history to examine the miseries and ambitions of humanity, tracing the mysteries of light and darkness that have long confounded and mesmerized us. Beginning with the tale of a Jewish Russian soldier, who deserts to America where he peddles Edison Lamps and falls broodingly in love with an Amish woman, Weil’s themes reveal themselves. We see the invention of electricity and man’s emerging dominance over light as a magnificent, almost magical trick. But at the same time, as the collection’s stories about the excesses of ambition show, that desire to dominate the dark ultimately raises the question of at what point does our appetite for knowledge and control begin to control us? What happens when the metamorphic light becomes too bright to turn down – when we begin to miss the darkness but have no way of bringing it back?
The eight stories in Weil’s collection—narratives ranging from the struggles of parenting an autistic child to a woman’s tenacious passion for flight, as well as the strife that follows a pair of Serbian immigrants (a young boy and his abusive mother)—were written over the course of a decade. The intonations in each story, by consequence, vary drastically—from lyrical? to almost dystopian. But they all share revelations into the heartbreak and inspiring moments that shape the human spirit.
The collection closes by returning us to the story of the lonely Edison Light peddler. We revisit him at an earlier time in his life, when he is about to embark for America and flee the police who have discovered his desertion. Writing a letter home, Shimel—who has adopted a false identity to protect himself from anti-Semitism—describes his fear of losing himself and those he loves, and his conviction to carry on regardless:
“And here he comes again: the lamplighter, crossing from one side of the street to the other, unlatching the panes, reaching up, snuffing the flames. Watching him it seems as if he might have just kept walking. Followed the night around the globe, lighting lanterns until the dark crossed into day and, coming upon the flames already lit, he flipped his pole to its snuffing end, simply kept on. Maybe, some night in another city in another country I will see him coming down another street. I will call him over. I will ask him to bring a message back to you. ‘Tell them,’ I will say, ‘hello from here.’”
Weil beautifully illustrates the conviction that as we all bear witness to the continual rising and extinguishing of its power, the “light,” and our moth-like attraction to it, can keep us bound both to its elemental force and to each other.
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say Vanilla Ice
From what I’ve tasted of desire,
I’m thinking of a funeral pyre.
But if you had to ask me twice,
I’d throw the dice.
Bring Kid Rock over for a round or two,
Burn one or two or three or four,
Look out for lice. Watch the backyard
Barbecue glow. Orange in the night.
Let’s do it twice.
In this issue:
City Lights Books bookseller Paul Yamazaki in conversation with Point Reyes Books owner Stephen Sparks about the responsibilities of bookselling (“For me, it boils down to conversation”) and the Bay Area’s literary community (“I forget sometimes how lucky we are”).
Jesse Nathan on the perhaps the most impressive tool behind Bob Dylan’s artistry: his singular voice.
Peter Orner on the final brief moments of a couple slain on an isolated beach.
Arrival and Immigration: stories from Michael Jaime-Becerra (“¡Dale, Dale, Dale!”), E.C. Osundu (“Alien Visitors”), Christine Ma Kellems (“The Children of Dissidents”) and Greg Sarris (“Citizen”).
Liza Ward’s “The Shrew Tree”: a young woman abandons the bookish world of her father to chase an uncertain future with the son of a local farmer.
Christian Kiefer’s “Ghosts”: the survivor of a car accident is haunted by the lingering visage of a woman who may not have survived the pile-up.
Plus stories from Adam Schorin, Annie DeWitt, Molly Giles, and more.
Kelly Cressio-Moeller, Melissa Hohl, Amanda Moore, Jennifer Moss, Andrew Murphy, and Adam Scheffler.
Featuring the acrylic on canvas paintings of Samantha Fields
It’s not easy to write a love story devoid of the usual clichés such as the “meet cute” or unrealistically idealized physical descriptions, but author Sylvia Brownrigg does just that in her new novel, Pages for Her (373 pages; Counterpoint). The book is a sequel to 2001’s critically acclaimed Pages for You, in which the young and timid Flannery Jensen falls for her confident and much older professor, Anne Arden. Told in three parts, Pages for Her offers readers the chance to return to Flannery and Anne’s ardent, but lost, connection twenty years after their separation. While the time jump provides an eloquent exploration of memory, nostalgia, and individual growth for both Flannery and Anne, it is also filled with a lengthy recounting of mundane, everyday details which delays the reunion of these two characters. The languid pacing, which contains a myriad of tender and painful moments, deepens the bond between the reader and the characters, but somewhat diminishes interest in the central love story since the only trace of their romance resides in Anne and Flannery’s memory.
Instead, the strongest and most poignant parts of Pages for Her have less to do with plot and more the intimate relationships these women have apart from each other. It is a poetic and in-depth look at the self – as individual, writer, mother, wife, daughter, and lover. Flannery’s transition into motherhood becomes one of the most important aspects of Pages for Her; Brownrigg portrays her sometimes-limiting yet always unconditional love for her child, a love Flannery finds deep and life-altering.
The gentle exchanges between Flannery and her daughter Willa serve in stark contrast to Anne, who has proven unwavering in her decision to remain childless and lost Jasper, her partner of twenty-years, as a result. Anne and Jasper’s relationship is just unconventional enough to keep the reader’s attention, with their fresh take on monogamy being perhaps the most interesting part of Anne’s story. We feel Flannery’s marital and creative frustrations, we feel her primal instincts as a mother and the zealous love that accompanies it. We also feel Anne’s quiet but piercing grief over releasing the man she loves to a life she cannot agree to, and we feel her slow return to a lover she has long cherished but could never pursue due to her bond with Jasper.
These relationships comprise the backbone of Pages for Her, depicting the intricate, complicated, and beautiful moments that lead Flannery and Anne back to a relationship they both knew was unfinished. As in our own lives, no matter how many years (or pages) it takes, “[w]hen two people came together who were meant to, the night and the meeting were elemental, and the trappings ceased to exist. All that mattered were the bodies. And the selves.”
Kristen Iskandrian’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, PANK, Gulf Coast, Ploughshares, and other publications. Her debut novel, Motherest is out now from Twelve/Hachette. Look for Kristen Iskandrian’s book tour in a town near you.
The following is an excerpt from her short story “Good With Boys.” In the piece, middle schooler Jill is on a determined quest to win the affections of her oblivious crush Esau – while on a parent-chaperoned trip to the local museum. You can the story in its entirety by purchasing a copy of 109 here.
Over the course of eleven novels, Scott Spencer has earned an incontestable place as one of the major novelists of our time. Best known as the author of Endless Love, an incandescent narrative of youthful passion and obsession that became the subject of two unfortunate film adaptations, Spencer has chosen to stay out of the limelight since its publication in 1979.
In works such as Waking The Dead (1986), also adapted into a (more credible) film, A Ship Made of Paper (2003), The Rich Man’s Table (1998), and Willing (2008), he has covered fictional territory ranging from an American activist gone missing in Chile, to the illegitimate son of a cult music icon’s search for his absent parent—even the seriocomic adventures of a freelance writer who takes an all-expenses paid trip to a sex tour to get over a bad break-up.
Love, and its complicated consequences, is at the heart of his fictional explorations, but he has an uncanny ability to switch gears, from hopelessly romantic to high (and sometimes low) comedy, without seeming to break a sweat or lose the reader in the process.
His new novel, River Under the Road (384 pages; Ecco), is Spencer’s strongest achievement yet, the work of a mature artist who understands his craft and how to control his narrative. With an epigraph from Lincoln—“Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history…’’—he turns his lens on a wide cast of characters as seen through thirteen scene-setting parties, from 1976 to 1990, and from Chicago, where his protagonist, Thaddeus Kaufman, was raised in the fulcrum of leftie parenting, to New York and then the Hudson Valley, (where Thaddeus repairs to after surprise success as a screenwriter), with pit stops in Hollywood and even Plato’s Retreat (or “Nero’s Fiddle,’’ as it is called here).
The demands of keeping his marriage together with Grace Cornell, the struggling artist who has accompanied him on the ride from the Midwest to what is laughingly called “success,’’ are chronicled here, along with the class struggle between the townies of Leyden (the fictional town he has moved to) and the couple’s nouveau riche friends. The temptations of La-La Land—the real thing, not the movie—are shown in living color, as Kaufman tries to fend off the blandishments, and the bullshit, that goes with the territory.
It’s a rich emotional landscape that is about as far from modish post-modernism as you can travel. These are real people, not poster children for a post-irony age. Literary comparisons are probably a mug’s game, but, for my part, the author’s seriousness about the wayward ways of the human heart puts him far beyond perennial Nobel Prize-bridesmaid Philip Roth’s often cartoonish depictions of sexual politics (or politics, period).
We talked to Spencer about River Under the Road. Our electronic conversation follows:
ZYZZYVA: River Under the Road feels like a “big’’ novel—large in scope, ambition and range—a portrait of class conflict and the never-ending war between the sexes over time and geography. Although very different in some ways, in others it seems like a return to the emotional roller coaster of Endless Love, with the distance of life experience and artistic maturity. Do you see any parallels—or significant differences—between the two books?
SCOTT SPENCER: Like everyone else, writers grow older and we have more opportunities to measure what we somehow believe to be true and important against what our experience has taught us. Don’t we sometimes feel that life is continually trying to grab us by the shoulders and give us a vigorous shake, imploring us to revise or abandon altogether half of our assumptions? I don’t write novels as a means to self-improvement or self-analysis, but if you work as I do, and create narratives in which characters deal with the consequences of their actions, you cannot escape continual confrontation with your own thoughts and feelings. Endless Love was the third novel I had published, and it is not a book that I would or could write now. Because it was more successful than my other novels, it is used often as a benchmark in discussing a new book I have written. This is probably useful to someone attempting to evaluate a writer’s oeuvre, but I don’t believe many writers think too much about previous work when they are engaged in the labor of creating a new fictional universe. Aside from never using the word “endless” again, I don’t write into or away from what I have already written.
Karl Geary’s first novel, Montpelier Parade (217 pages; Catapult), presents us with the fraught experience of first love, told in beautifully doleful prose that sometimes exhibits Salinger-esque sparseness. Referring to his protagonist, Sonny, as “you,” Geary draws the reader into a hypnotic and haunting intimacy. The directness of the second-person point of view demands both Sonny and the reader are left weary by the cloudy Dublin skies and by the “howl of feeling.” It’s a delicate work that treats its subject with great sensitivity, ensuring we experience that same tenderness of feeling that Sonny does, and hear the words on the page like the brutally honest voice of a friend.
Sonny is a pitiful Irish teenager growing up on the decaying outskirts of Dublin. He longs to escape from the drab confines of his father’s expectations, his mother’s depression, and the mindlessness of his TV-consumed brothers. More than any of this, he longs to feel a sense of belonging and the soft embrace of a devoted lover. He is so alone he seems afraid of being noticed. A quiet and keen observer, Sonny breaks the reader’s heart in the most banal of ways. The moments of tragedy in Sonny’s life are delivered in the same quietly devastating manner as his mundane experience: the novel begins with the accidental death of a drunken man leaving the butcher shop at which Sonny works and ends with the suicide of a character he literally worships, yet Sonny reacts as though these events are no more momentous than the stale loaf that rests forgotten on his kitchen counter. All too accustomed to pain from every direction in his life, Sonny appears to regard suffering as both inevitable and unavoidable. All the while, his hunger for love proves so fundamental one wishes to somehow feed him. For Vera, the older woman who becomes both his secret lover and the hope he is terrified to possess, continues to deny Sonny––for she, too, is frightened by her own desperate need.
And so Sonny is left in that space between longing and pursuit, kept company by a slight boredom, the hum of the refrigerator, and the rustling of spiders. When he’s not in the shed fixing his bike with stolen parts or working at the butcher’s shop, he’s usually with his friend Sharon at the Cats’ Den. Sharon, the girl whose punches “hurt and were lovely and a comfort” and who’s been everybody’s girlfriend, shares her cigarettes with Sonny and follows him to the museum even when he’s thinking of Vera. It is Sharon who reminds him of the world he is expected to belong to, the everyday world his mother inhabits. Walking arm and arm with Vera, at one point, Sonny sees his mother struggling with the pull of “four or more plastic bags…like demanding toddlers,” but he never breaks his stride. He only turns to look back once she becomes a shadow, and is ashamed by his betrayal of the woman who raised him and never hugged him back. By the time Sonny’s two worlds collide––the world he lustfully imagines and the one that comprises his waking life––Montpelier Parade leaves us as it leaves Sonny, pondering how life can be both empty and full at once.
It’s the rare writer who is able to straddle the line between literary and horror fiction. For every author like H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson who has since been adopted into the canon, there are countless others who remain on the outskirts of the literary scene. Of course, working in the fringes of any genre allows one to take creative risks and make provocative choices. Readers who find themselves drawn to the new story collection Entropy in Bloom (252 pages; Night Shade Books) by Portland writer Jeremy Robert Johnson will likely believe that the author has indeed gotten away with something.
One of the pleasures of reading any collection that culls together stories produced over a span of time is witnessing a writer’s preoccupations and obsessions emerge on the page. With stories written between 2004 and 2011, Entropy in Bloom reads like a tableau of Johnson’s pet themes. Despite their Lovecraftian titles, stories such as “When Susurrus Stirs” and “Cathedral Mother” explore Johnson’s fascination with the way microscopic entities like parasites and tapeworms can alter human physiology for their own purposes. The idea of an invisible passenger in our bodies (“…I imagine the fibers of my spinal cord stretching out towards him like feelers”) has long been a potent theme in the genre, particularly in the body mutations conjured by filmmaker David Cronenberg, but in these tales Johnson tends to go for the gross-out rather than generate the lingering psychological effect of the best literary horror.
W.S. Di Piero is the author of several books of poetry and essays. His most recent book, Mickey Rourke and the Bluebird of Happiness: A Poet’s Notebook (Carnegie-Mellon University Press), will be published in the fall.
The following is his poem “Alfonso’s Shadow Gets Away From Him” in its entirety. You can read two other poems from W.S. Di Piero, as well as an interview with him conducted by Andrew David King, by purchasing a copy of 109 here.