What to Make of Memories? Pig Iron Theatre’s ‘Chekhov Lizardbrain’

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It’s easy to see why Pig Iron’s Chekhov Lizardbrain, running for a very limited time this weekend in San Francisco at Z Space, was named one of the New York Times’ top theater events of 2008. The performance vivisects a human mind (no small feat) while drawing the audience into a strange and gripping voyage through the “menagerie of human possibility.” Successfully experimenting with style and substance while retaining heart, Lizardbrain leaves one wandering out of the theater feeling transformed. The play, devised by Robert Quillen Camp and the entire Pig Iron production team, concerns Demitri, an autistic man who […]

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Poetry and Its Public: One Conversation Within A Long-Running Discussion

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The debate on poetry’s responsibility, or lack thereof, to an audience is undoubtedly as old as the art itself. Recent movements have taken noted stances on the “for” and “against” poles, from hermetic aesthetic-worship to cries for accessibility. Critic and author David Orr took up the debate via a review of several new books in Poetry’s April issue — and continued the discussion by responding to my Letter to the Editor in the June issue regarding his essay. Using releases by Thomas Sayers Ellis, Timothy Donnelly, C.D. Wright, and Eleanor Wilner as points of departure, Orr’s original piece, “Public poetry?”, […]

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Strange Transformation: Shotgun Players’ ‘Care of Trees’

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How do you tell the story of a woman’s transformation into a tree? What does that even look like, especially on stage? Does it happen by degrees — does she begin by becoming something more pliable, like a strand of ivy or a sapling, or an artichoke? Playwright E. Hunter Spreen, in Care of Trees (at Shotgun Players’ Ashby Stage through June 26), tells the story of budding arboriform Georgia Swift (Liz Sklar) by showing the distance Georgia must travel from her partner, Travis Dekalb (Patrick Russell), in order to fulfill her destiny. Illness becomes the metaphor (or the medium) […]

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From a Treasured Vase to a Cutout: Stephanie Syjuco’s Solo Show ‘Raiders’

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  On the back wall of the Catharine Clark Gallery hangs one of the more baffling works from “Raiders,” Stephanie Syjuco’s solo show: a photograph of a pixilated jungle wedged between two patterned linen lumps. Bed sheets cum tropical mountain terrain? They’re Syjuco’s pillows, and in the valley between them is an image of her birthplace, the Philippines, that the San Francisco artist snatched from a quick Google search and turned into a cutout. The terrain of that country, her dreamscape of a piece leads us to recognize, is only immediately available to her in digital form. The predominant themes […]

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A Beautiful Excuse for Rumination: César Aira’s ‘The Seamstress and the Wind’

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César Aira’s The Seamstress and the Wind (New Directions; 144 pages), translated by Rosalie Knecht, is simultaneously minimalist and epic. Aira’s voice is clear, his characters are palpable, and his ideas — elucidations on literary theory, existential ruminations, and thought experiments — are evocative and infectious. The story, which concerns a seamstress and her husband who travel the Patagonia desert in pursuit of their accidentally kidnapped son, careens with each chapter at dizzying speed. Seamstress might be thought confusing and possibly incomplete, because the story’s inciting incident — the kidnapped child — goes completely unresolved, even forgotten by the seamstress […]

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The Famous Artist as Art: ‘Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories’

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In a 1924 print by Henri Manuel, featured as part of a new exhibition at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Gertrude Stein is at work. Avoiding the camera, she sits dressed in a dark jacket and regal brooch, a pen in one hand; before her, a single sheet of paper glows luminously against the desk. The retrospective show, which examines both the biography and cultural influence of the lauded American-Jewish writer, contains innumerable inventions of both portrayal and homage. Stein, a patron of renowned artists from Picasso to Thorton Wilder and collaborator with musicians such as Virgil Thomson — with whom […]

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The Bay Area Benefit for Dean Young

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ZYZZYVA and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers present an evening of readings from some of the nation’s finest poets and writers in a special Bay Area fundraiser for Dean Young, the acclaimed poet recovering from heart transplant surgery. The event is at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 23, at Wheeler Hall, Maude Fife Room 315, at the University of California, Berkeley. Admission is free.

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An Embarrassment of Riches: The California Book Awards

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Year after year — since 1931 — the California Book Awards, sponsored by the Commonwealth Club of California, has steadfastly proven what anybody living in the Golden State should already know: We’re not hurting for fine authors. All kinds of authors. Authors who go on to win National Book Awards, PEN/Faulkners, Pulitzers, even Nobels. (If you go here, you can see for yourself the long list of distinguished authors bestowed with a silver or gold medal from the California Book Awards over the decades. The long list includes John Steinbeck, M.F.K. Fisher, Wallace Stegner, Czeslaw Milosz, Gina Berriault, William Saroyan, […]

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

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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 […]

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Other Voices, Other Rooms

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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 […]

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Piropo

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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’

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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 […]

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