Month: July 2016

Illustrations: Ryan Garcia

Illustrations: Ryan Garcia

Ryan Garcia is an illustrator living and working in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. After completing his studies in architecture in 2013, he decided to change career paths entirely, and in 2014 enrolled in Seneca College’s (Toronto) prestigious Independent Illustration program. As a student, Ryan created illustrations […]

Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life & Business with Asperger’s by Joe Biel

Good Trouble: Building a Successful Life & Business with Asperger’s by Joe Biel

Microcosm Publishing, 2016 ISBN: 978-1-62106-009-3 Paperback, 222 pp., $14.95 Review by Andrew T. Powers I was excited when I first heard that Joe Biel had written a memoir. He’s a minor literary figure I’ve been curious about since I first began paying attention to zines […]

Illustrations: Lydia Guadagnoli

Illustrations: Lydia Guadagnoli

Lydia Guadagnoli is from a small town in northern New Jersey. She ventured to Philadelphia, where she attended the University of the Arts to study Illustration. Upon receiving her degree, she returned to NJ and continues to draw and paint every day. When creating her illustrations, Lydia aims to depict narratives within everyday occurences. She finds great satisfaction in filling her illustrations with decorative details, pushing her ever-closer to the point of insanity. Lydia also really likes painting birds. She recently challenged herself to paint 100 weird birds and hopes to include them in a book once the project is finished. Lydia works in Photoshop using digital gouache brushes. Her portfolio can be found at www.lydiaguadagnoli.com and www.instagram.com/lydiaguadagnoli

Rejected by Vicki Entreken

Rejected by Vicki Entreken

I recently cleaned out some old files of stories that I’d submitted more than ten years ago, before I went back to school to study creative writing. Those stories. Oh dear. I’d like to send my deepest apologies to the editors of Seventeen Magazine, Redbook, […]

My Party by Stephany Robayo

My Party by Stephany Robayo

Stephany Robayo is an artist based out of Brooklyn. She loves food and animals. And has an ever present sense of existential dread.

Bystanders by Tara Laskowski

Bystanders by Tara Laskowski

Santa Fe Writers Project, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-939650-38-2
Perfect bound, 231 pp., $15.95
Review by Eric Maroney

Tara Laskowski weaves a tense, unsettling narrative thread in her collection of short stories, Bystanders. The author walks a fine line between the expectations and features of horror and mystery genre fiction, with the gravity of more traditional literary fiction. Her stories are suspenseful without bowing to the demands of a programmatic genre, and she fully fleshes out her characters and their motivations, imparting her stories with the “high” register of literary fiction. The result is a tense, taut mix of elements. Like her confused and anxious characters, descriptions of life’s horrors are not easily forthcoming, but the backdrop drone of anxiety in our everyday lives can never be truly silenced.

The first story, “The Witness,” begins with the tragic death of a child in a car accident. Marie, who witnesses the accident, is understandably upset. The sudden exposure to this violence jolts her like an existential shock. She no longer feels comforted by the circumstances of her life: “Outside, the wind whistled. It had started to snow. It was funny how her house, which minutes before had seemed quiet and safe, now seemed like a prison.” She hopes that by meeting and comforting the old man who hit the child, she will alleviate her own anxiety, but she finds his demeanor casual, even nonchalant. This disturbs her, but also forces her to reach an unsettling conclusion: her fixation on the old man is motivated “because she is going to do the same thing he’d done. She too was going to kill, destroy, rip someone apart, and it was nearly impossible to avoid it.” Marie falls into the pit of total identification with the killer, sharing his dark plight.

In “The Monitor,” Laskowski once more exploits the theme of quotidian danger. Myra and Corey, a couple with their first baby, receive a video monitor. Myra is able to keep track of her fussy baby from anywhere in the house. She suffers from post-partum depression, having “cried every single day for the first four weeks” since the birth of the baby. Soon, the monitor appears to malfunction, appearing to show the room of the baby across the street. Unlike her own child, this baby sleeps peacefully in his crib. Myra also sees a boy enter the room, often appearing and disappearing from the scene at odd angles. The couple across the street do not have a boy, so the presence of this child, along with the video monitor’s glitch, becomes an “unexplainable, irritating, and frightening” piece of the “clutter in Myra’s life.” Overburdened by these circumstances, Myra begins to wonder if she is seeing a ghost. The story is not resolved, and leaves readers with the strong intimation that matters will grow worse: “The wind picked up then, howling as it rushed between the houses. It had a bitterness to it, that first hint of winter. The cold had arrived, and it was settling in.”

The sense of watching and being watched is featured in all of Laskowski’s stories, but is particularly strong in “Support.” A note of dissonance is sounded in the first sentence: “Nati got the first letter from her dead husband just a few days before her daughter and the new baby were coming to stay.” Nati’s husband died at sea several years ago, and his body was never recovered. Nati receives more letters and discounts the letters as frauds, thinking that “whoever was writing those letters could be out there, watching her. Didn’t these people go through your garbage? Learn things about you to mess with your head?”

But the letters continue, and Nati wonders if her husband faked his down death. His notes are increasingly cryptic and odd. He sets a time when he will come to the house, and asks Nati if she will receive him. Nati comes to the conclusion that she does not wish to meet her husband, even if he is alive. Despite her anxiety, she wishes to remain in the dark because “she didn’t miss him… She was anxious, angry…curious, but miss him?” Nati decides that resolution is impossible; she reasons that there are different worlds “out there that disappear every time you make a decision” and once these doors close, “you can never go back again.”

Laskowski’s stories deftly explore the theme of the bystander, the onlooker, the eyewitness. Most of the main characters watch, or in some other sense are witness to events they can’t control. For some, this leads to dread, confusion, or depression. Others uneasily embrace the unknown. But whether they accept the difficult challenges of the bystander status or not, all of her characters sense they are being watched as they watch. In the final story of Bystanders, “Death Wish,” the main character, running from a private disaster, sprints down the street, wondering “elated, how she must look, and [hoping] there was someone watching her run.”

Cleverly, the reader is watching Laskowski’s characters as they watch appalling events. The author, in a series of adroit moves, gives her characters their ardent wish by making her readers bystanders, too.

On Feral Pigs, PTSD, and the Love of Goats: A Conversation with YA Author Steve Watkins

On Feral Pigs, PTSD, and the Love of Goats: A Conversation with YA Author Steve Watkins

Interview by Nathan Leslie Steve Watkins is the author of Juvie, a young adult novel about juvenile incarceration published in 2013 by Candlewick Press, and the author of Great Falls, a post-Iraq War novel just released in May 2016, also from Candlewick. The first two […]

The Other Side by Valentina MacInnes

The Other Side by Valentina MacInnes

Valentina MacInnes is a female filmmaker working in Redding, CT. Her experimental undergraduate thesis film, The Other Side, introduces the viewer to the internal world of a man. Through the symbolic association with the person’s path, the film gives reference to the idea that acceptance […]

Loom by Sarah Gridley

Loom by Sarah Gridley

Omnidawn, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-890650-78-0
Perfect bound, 82 pp., $17.95
Review by Tom Daley

Nakedness is only

being itself: an uncarved block
turned on its side

a first
and last bad habit.

This is the contention of the speaker of the long opening poem of Sarah Gridley’s Loom, “Shadows of the World Appear.” The book-length meditation on Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shalott,” seeks, among other things, to undermine the preciousness of the Victorian poet’s sensual but chaste Lady with a blunt appraisal of the female form, of traditional notions of female artistry. Earlier on the same page, the artist/author who would depict this creature of Arthurian legend is instructed to “Show her bottom’s blush in the scalding bath.” Rather than wrapping her in gauzy tulle, the artist must “Show a stout cloud // of rose talc / where she dries to fragrant abstraction.”

In Tennyson’s poem, the Lady of Shalott is compelled to weave a tapestry representing people and things she saw in a mirror that showed her the progress of those finding their way to Camelot on the road adjacent to where her “silent isle imbowers” her. She cannot look out of the mirror on the world; nor can she stop her weaving, lest an unarticulated curse fall upon her. She sees the handsome Sir Lancelot pass by in her mirror and, distracted, abandons her weaving and watches as the mirror cracks. The curse has fallen; she prepares a boat and lies down in it, setting off for Camelot. On her way, she dies. Her corpse-laden bark arrives at Camelot to the mystification of both common folk and the Round Table knights.

Gridley’s last thought of the collection appears at the end of Loom’s acknowledgments page, in which she suggests, “We are here to dream with our eyes open.” Throughout the book, the craft of the fantastical lady-weaver fixed on her mirror and trapped in her island on the middle of a river becomes a kind of archaic double for the exertions of the speaker of the poems in the book. The book is a turning toward, and a falling away from, perception grasped as through a reflection, and that grasp alternately tightens and loosens through the distortion of culture, sensibility, and mystery.

In the process of exploring a word’s etymology, Gridley proffers a potent metaphor for the work of language, with words as its building blocks. In “A Phenomenon,” the speaker explains: “Nakara in Arabic is to hollow out. Nacre yields us mother-of-pearl, liquor concreted as inner shell, a little tomb of aragonite bricks that rough up light as iridescence.” In “Charcoal,” the artist who uses the medium of charcoal must be mindful that “What finds the residue of bone and willow and leaves the careful working in our hands” has a kind magical resonance to it.

A “grimoire” is a book of instructions for how to weave charms and spells. In the poem, “Grimoire,” one of the instructions might put an end to the whole business: “One was a spell for no more spells. For cutting them down, and letting them go.” The word “grimoire” is cognate with “grammar,” both, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, deriving from the Old French “gramaire: ‘grammar; learning,’ especially Latin and philology, also ‘(magic) incantation, spells, mumbo-jumbo.’” Might the grammarian’s attempt to codify, to regulate, nudge all the magic out of language leave it un-glamorous? Yet words, and their arrangements, whether mapped out or not, are the reagent for the chemical processes of perception. They are the silver paint that backs the glass that makes reflection in a mirror possible.

Modernity impinges on legend, reorganizes perception. In the long poem, “Half-Sick of Shadows,” Gridley’s speaker contends,

Here the illuminant illumines the subject:
A small magnesium explosion
where a flashlamp
startles the veil

In their fantastical yearnings for the idealized world of the Middle Ages, Tennyson and his pre-Raphaelite followers sought to retreat from the encroachments of the Industrial Revolution. Gridley’s speaker seems to be making the point that the invention of photography, and the flash lamp that made indoor photography possible, must have unsettled these seekers-after-magic. Tennyson, et al., might find “the veil” Gridley references more than startled if they had known that the inventor of the magnesium flash for photography, Joshua Lionel Cowen (founder of the Lionel train company), would sell his fuse-cum-powder invention to the US Navy to use to detonate submarine mines. Here, their concerns about the insidiousness of technology would seem, at least to them, to be very much justified.

While the book principally concerns itself with gathering grist milled on an intellectual grindstone, the reader who reads poetry for the pleasures of image and musicality won’t be disappointed in Loom. Though some of the philosophically derived thickets are over-brambled, there are lovely compensations, as in these excerpts from “Font”: “Flash of aluminum keel, spider webs wiped from its idle hollow”; “Weathers fall through a gathering basket”; and “To glean was to tell potatoes from stones.” Though Loom is not for the casual poetry aficionado, it will reward a reader possessed of patience and a modicum of intellectual curiosity. Like the work of the Lady of Shallot, it has a kind of enchantment on it.

Ostranenie: On Shame and Knowing by M. H. Bowker

Ostranenie: On Shame and Knowing by M. H. Bowker

Punctum Books, 2012 ISBN: 978-0-615744-79-7 Paperback, 38 pp., $9 Review by Andrew T. Powers Ostranenie: On Shame and Knowing, by M. H. Bowker, is both a work of poetry and a philosophical essay of sorts, one that wears the language of psychology, literary theory, and […]