Monthly Archives: May 2011

How the Desert Got There: David Rains Wallace’s ‘Chuckwalla Land’

David Rains Wallace admits that for years he never really noticed California’s dry, empty spaces. It wasn’t until 1983, when writing about a Central Valley riparian woodland on the Kern River, that his attitude shifted from indifference to curiosity. Prior to that, whenever the award-winning nature writer found himself crossing California’s deserts he dismissed what he saw as an enormous vacant lot rather than a living landscape. In Chuckwalla Land: The Riddle of the California Desert (280 pages; UC Press), he explains this transformation. Wallace’s revamped attitude toward the desert and its denizens took shape during a serendipitous side trip …Continue reading

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Other Voices, Other Rooms

BookExpo America has wrapped up, so now we can sift through the rubble of lanyards and business cards, of wine-stained plastic cups and mistakenly pocketed linen cocktail napkins, and see what stands out: The big book of the convention sounds like it might be Jeffrey Eugenides new novel (coming out in October), The Marriage Plot. Here are nine other “hot” books from BEA, including the Bay Area’s Adam Mansbach‘s “Go the Fuck to Sleep.” (Its pub date has been moved up from October to next month.) Maile Meloy will have a new book out in October — The Apothecary, a …Continue reading

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Leticia del Toro is a writer living in El Cerrito. Her short story “Piropo,” which was published in ZYZZYVA’s Spring 2011 issue, marks her first time in print. (Not counting the liner notes she’s written for Tex-Mex CDs from Arhoolie Records.) The story’s narrator, Carolina, is a woman asserting herself in a man’s world of manual labor. (She disguises her sex to get work). Meanwhile, she contends with Joaquin, the feckless father of her little boy back in Mexico, and navigates the unpredictable world of well-meaning Anglos. The following is an excerpt from “Piropo.”

On June 4, Leticia del Toro will be reading with D.A. Powell, Michael Jaime-Becerra, Peter Mountford and others as part of Babylon Salon in San Francisco.

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Ruins of the Real: Inger Christensen’s ‘Light,’ ‘Grass,’ and ‘Letter in April’

Reading the late Inger Christensen’s poetry collections Light, Grass, and Letter In April (New Directions; 148 pages), as translated by Susanna Nied, is akin to stepping into a river of deceptive depth. The long-celebrated Danish poet doesn’t parade with fanfare the complexity of her work. (The first poem in Light is just six lines.) Yet progressing through these poems, a strong, invisible current pulls on the reader with gathering strength. With a plaintive tone easy to underestimate, Christensen allows her algorithmic language to work as a sort of vortex that warps one’s perception of reality. In Nied’s crystalline translation of …Continue reading

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Everything That Happens Can Be Called Aging

Carl Adamshick, who lives in Portland, Ore., is the 2010 recipient of the Walt Whitman Award. His first poetry collection, Curses and Wishes (Louisiana State University Press), was just published in April. “Everything That Happens Can Be Called Aging” is one of his two poems in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA.

The poem evokes the giddy moment when we realize how much we love our somewhat average existence, when we grasp how remarkable and vibrant our seemingly unremarkable lives really are.  “I need no resolution/just the constant turmoil of living,” says the speaker, who notes in the poem’s first line: “I have more love than ever.”

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A Fight Against the Meanness in This World: Q&A with Matthew Dickman

Matthew Dickman’s first book, All-American Poem, received the 2008 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize in Poetry, and his second book is slated to appear in 2012 from W.W. Norton. Featured in ZYZZYVA’s Spring 2011 issue, Dickman’s work has also appeared in The New Yorker, AGNI Online, and Tin House, where he works as an editor. The twin brother of poet Michael Dickman, his poems function as both paeans and laments of the zeitgeist of modern American life — tessellating mythology with reality, Beat zeal with modern nods toward restraint. The Oregon native sat down with ZYZZYVA at Stumptown Coffee …Continue reading

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Fever Dreams: Roberto Bolaño’s ‘Between Parentheses’

It’s a little embarrassing to recognize, when reading Between Parentheses (New Directions; 352 pages) — a collection of Roberto Bolaño’s essays, speeches and newspaper columns, translated by Natasha Wimmer — not only how little one knows of Spanish-language literature, but how much more Bolaño knew of English-language and European literature. Yes, he was on intimate terms with Poe (who could be seen as Borges’ older brother from Baltimore — and Borges, writes Bolaño, “is or should be at the center of our canon”), but he could speak with equal authority on ancient Greek epic poetry, Provençal troubadours, and Snorri’s Edda. …Continue reading

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Son of the General

Pamela Rivas was born in San Francisco and grew up on the Peninsula. She is a bilingual educator for Santa Cruz County. “Son of the General,” which appears in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA, is her first work of fiction in print. Her tight, concise story was inspired by her family’s first trip to Central America. Something like a prose poem, Rivas’s fiction here delineates a legacy of societal brutality, a legacy that dovetails with the well-deep, universal anxiety of parenthood — how to protect one’s children.

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Seth Fried’s ‘The Great Frustration’: Alternate Realities and Bloody Allegories

In Seth Fried’s The Great Frustration (Soft Skull Press; 192 pages), strangeness and morbidity are the rules, not the exceptions. Through a pastiche of bizarre worlds and landscapes separated by only one or two degrees from our own (which is, of course, already thoroughly frightening) Fried fashions telling scenarios and the nightmarish half-realities in which they occur. Deftly evoking a familiarity before diving into fantastical realms, the stories in this collection exhibit a surprising wealth of ideas belied by Fried’s spare prose. “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre,” a paralyzing allegory of modern-day groupthink, brings into plain view the ubiquity of violence …Continue reading

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On Entering 2nd Grade

Kate Martin Rowe is a writing instructor at Glendale Community College and Los Angeles City College. She’s also a published poet. Her poem “On Entering 2nd Grade” appears in the Spring 2011 issue of ZYZZYVA. A benediction of sorts for a child who can’t possibly see coming what the poem clearly can — the rest of her life — “On Entering 2nd Grade” is both lovely and hopeful, if tinged with an understandable anxiety.

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And You Shall Know Patrick deWitt’s Western by the Trail of Dead

Early on in Patrick deWitt’s new novel, The Sisters Brothers (Ecco/HarperCollins; 328 pages), a grotesque old woman strings beads onto a piece of wire as the book’s titular brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, watch from across the room. Having taken refuge in her eerie cabin, they are repulsed by the “long gray hairs quivering from her chin” and the way her dented skull “caves in like an old piece of fruit.” When the brothers awake the next morning, the witch has left, but the beads have been fixed above the cabin door. Determining them to be an evil spell, Eli and …Continue reading

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In a Car, Far Away From Here

Paula Priamos teaches English and creative writing at California State University, San Bernardino. Her published work includes pieces for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Her memoir, The Shyster’s Daughter, will be coming out next spring from Etruscan Press.

An excerpt from The Shyster’s Daughter — titled “In a Car, Far Away From Here” — appears in the Spring 2011 issue of  ZYZZYVA. It’s an unsentimental, perhaps even hard-boiled story about a family on the verge of drastic change, seemingly drifting toward danger. Told against the background of Kevin Cooper’s  1983 prison escape, it deftly evokes adolescence dread in Southern California. (The following is a portion of that excerpt.) Paula will be reading with Vanessa Hua at 5 p.m. on May 14 at the ZYZZYVA Spring Celebration at Skylight Books in Los Angeles.

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