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Josh Maday Interviews Mike Heppner

Back in June, 2009, I reviewed a chapbook entitled “Talking Man” by Mike Heppner here at The Chapbook Review. First, I read the piece on its own, without knowing anything about the work or the author beyond what I read on the chapbook itself. Then I did some investigation and learned that the chapbook is one part of a four-part writing/publishing project of Heppner’s. The project is described on Heppner’s website:

The four novellas were written between 2007 and 2009. Three of the four were released in full over the past year. One cannot find the entire project in a single location, however it is possible to collect and read the project in its entirety. Part One, Talking Man, was published in September 2008 by Small Anchor Press. Part Two, Man, was released in December 2008. Five hundred photocopies have been left in random locations across the United States for readers to find and comment on. Part Three, Man Talking, the third in the series (but the first to be made available), can be read for free here.  Part Four, Talking, is a piece of writing; it’s also a contest.

Mike Heppner was kind and generous and patient enough to talk about the project and his experience with big and small publishing.

Josh Maday: You have published two novels with a big publishing house, and now you’re engaging readers in a much different way and with a different kind of writing in the Man Talking project. Will you talk about the genesis of the project and what led you to these alternate channels of reaching an audience?

Mike Heppner: The novella “Man Talking” came at the end of a number of years working in a more introspective vein than my first two novels. I was looking for a more personal, less contrived means of expression. I also realized that with the lack of industry support came a certain creative freedom. The other three sections, “Talking Man,” “Man,” and “Talking,” were all afterthoughts. Initially “Man Talking” was to be a stand-alone work, but once I started writing “Talking Man,” I began to see connections forming and grew the project from there. The alternate means of publishing and promotion simply came from the fact that I had this multi-part work that could be promoted in stages, and the question became how to do so in the most creative and attention-getting way possible.

Maday: It’s interesting how, in hindsight, the evolution of a project like “Man Talking” could not have been planned better than growing organically out of the convergence of a few crucial situations, e.g. the internet, your writing taking a new direction, etc. And, of course, chapbooks have been around for a long time, but the form has seen a revival in the past few years (due largely to the internet, it seems). What do you think are the major factors that contributed to making the project possible?

Heppner: Specific to my project? An awareness of the lack of my commercial viability due to industry realities and the nature of the writing itself; also coming to the acquaintance of Jen Hyde (founder of Small Anchor Press) at the right time–her enthusiasm as publisher and editor bolstered the project in its later stages. In the years between Pike’s Folly and Man Talking, one of the frequent refrains I heard from publishers was that they liked my work and felt confidence in my continued success, but…. “Sorry, got to pass on this one. Maybe send us something else next year. (So we can reject it for the same vague reason.)” I began to realize that the problem wasn’t with the writing per se, but that I wasn’t presenting a sexy enough package (in marketing-speak) to publishers. Sexy marketing angles are important even to small presses, perhaps even more so. So I began working in a more deliberately outgoing way, even as the writing itself because more introverted. Funny, that.

Maday: You say that you “began working in a more deliberately outgoing way.” Do you feel like you were allowed to write for yourself rather than the market?

Heppner: If so, it was simply permission I’d granted to myself based on my awareness of the commercial writing market’s disinterest in my work.

Maday: Do you think the renewed interest in the chapbook will prompt big houses to consider trying to get in on the growing demand and absorb the indie publishing aesthetic in the way that the indie DIY clothing fashion has become something available in the mall?

Heppner: Only if they can find a way to make money off it. You mention a growing demand, but you have to understand that you’re still talking about a very limited niche-market that doesn’t register on the scales of big publishing.  I always tell people that the problem with publishing is that there IS no problem with publishing. The people in commercial publishing have no motivation to reform their industry. Yes, people are getting laid off and money is being lost, but from a business perspective the solution to that is to become more crass and more oriented toward the bottom-line, not less. So as artists, we can’t look toward commercial publishing for answers. The fact is, what we do does not have broad-based appeal in the culture at large. It’s debatable whether challenging fiction has ever had that kind of appeal. We can cry about it and say it’s not fair, or we can just accept it as reality and move on. I can’t expect someone who’s ga-ga over the latest Dan Brown to have the slightest interest in what I do. If you’re that easily led, then God help you. But to answer your original question, if chapbooks can work as a marketing tool to lure potential readers toward making bigger purchases, then I’m sure commercial publishing will jump on it.

Maday: What has the response been to the project? The writing?

Heppner: Uniformly positive, so far as I can tell. I haven’t really heard a harsh word about it. My two conventionally published novels attracted their share of nasty reviews, but often when you work for a corporation you absorb some of their karma. It happens and you can’t take it personally. Most of the response to “Man Talking” hasn’t delved much into the writing per se, but the half-dozen or so critics who’ve reviewed it either in whole or in part have generally been positive and supportive.

Maday: Do you wonder if the concept of the project might overshadow the actual writing?

Heppner: Do I worry about it? God no. Josh, when does that NOT happen? Dan Brown? How about Ulysses? Here’s how it works. You write a book. In your heart of hearts you know that the book has integrity. You also realize that the quality of the writing is not a selling point in of itself. So you do something sensational to call attention to it. A bunch of people will casually glance over and say, “Oh, neat,” before passing on to the next item. A few—five percent might be a lot to hope for—will actually bother to read the thing itself. And so you’ve won, you see. The “concept” has served its purpose.

Maday: What, if anything, are you hoping to accomplish with your experiment? To grow a new readership? To gain fresh marketability in the eyes of big publishing houses?

Heppner: First and foremost, to connect with readers. The novellas in the “Man Talking” series are good stories and worth a look. To illustrate some realities about publishing. To gain fresh marketability, yes, but only toward the end of being able to continue to write for readers, which at some point means getting involved with publishing. It doesn’t have to be on a big level for me, though.  I’ve done big.

Maday: You mentioned earlier that the work in Man Talking is more introspective and “less contrived” than your earlier work. Can you talk more about that?

Heppner: My plots have gotten simpler over time, and that cuts down on some of the surface static. My first novel, “The Egg Code,” was a heavily-plotted book that involved a certain amount of jury-rigging to get it to hold up. The best moments tended to focus on the characters’ personal struggles rather than the byzantine world I’d designed for them to live in. My second novel, “Pike’s Folly,” kept the plot in scale for the most part, though it had its rickety moments as well. All of the unpublished work I’ve done since “Pike’s” tends to be more character focused, which I suppose is just another way of saying the plots don’t overwhelm quite so much.

Maday: I’m curious why you have made part of the project free and easy to find (the free pdf download), part of the project available in limited quantities and at a price (the Small Anchor Press chapbook), part of the project extremely rare and difficult to track down, and part a vague contest that will be even more difficult to engage with. What is the reasoning behind these avenues of engaging the potential reader?

Heppner: It’s actually one of the aspects of the project that I find most interesting. Part of what I’m exploring is the value that people assign art. In other words, “What’s it worth to you”? Do your feelings about the piece of art change depending on whether you can access it for free at the click of a button, or if you have to pay twenty dollars and wait for it to come in the mail? Can a piece of art still engage even if you have no real practical means of accessing it; if the work of art remains essentially a withheld idea? (And remember, that’s the case of any number of worthy books that never find their way to publication.) I should add a few things: the four sections of the project can be read independently of each other, so the reader of “Man Talking” isn’t missing any crucial information because they haven’t read “Man.” It’s also always been my intention to one day publish all four sections together in a commercially available volume; interested parties should contact me through my web site. Lastly, someone actually wound up winning my contest; a very nice guy named Dan Pope guessed the answer correctly (go to to see the contest rules) and I’ll be hand-delivering his prize later this month. Dan will receive a copy of the Small Anchor edition of “Talking Man,” a copy of “Man,” a copy of “Man Talking,” and a unique handwritten edition of “Talking,” making him the only person to actually possess all four sections. I’ll be making a short video of presenting the prize, which will be on the web site in the months to come.

Maday: Would you publish more of your work in chapbook form in the future?

Heppner: Only if it made sense given the nature of the writing. I’m also happy to write without publishing. It’s not my loss, after all.


J.A. Tyler Interviews Aaron Burch

J.A. Tyler: HOW TO TAKE YOURSELF APART, HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF ANEW is subtitled “notes and instructions from/for a father”, and is dedicated to your dad. Would you talk to us about the relationships between this book, you, and fatherhood?

Aaron Burch: Yeah, sure. I guess, more than anything, father/son relationships are just one of my default themes that I write about, without even thinking about or realizing it. Or at least, I used to not realize it. One of the interesting things about putting together a collection, at least for me, was noticing all these words and phrases and themes that I thought was cleverly sprinkled into a story or two, only to realize I’ve done it a dozen times. After I noticed the fatherhood theme running throughout (actually, more honestly, after someone else pointed it out to me) I figured the chap already had an obnoxiously long title, so why not make it even longer with a subtitle that would then make the whole thing seem more cohesive than I’d intended when writing all the pieces individually. Also, my dad is pretty important in my life and, being a writer, I tend to… you know… not really talk to people or tell anyone anything, and so I thought/hoped it would be a nice gesture for my dad.

J.A. Tyler: The ending phrases of nearly every section seem very staccato and curt in their finishes. Is this something conscious in the writing/editing of this book, or is it a (lovely) symptom of your standard writing style?

Aaron Burch: I think it is probably most of all a symptom of my writing style. The short, staccato ending is probably my short short/prose poem version of the more traditional-length short story’s epiphany, opening everything up to the larger world, character pondering the “useless” and “too distant” stars ending, that writer’s always think is clever and beautiful, but is really kind of overused and samesame.

J.A. Tyler: HOW TO TAKE YOURSELF APART, HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF ANEW is like the mixture of a hug and a shove. Would you address this combination of violence and the genuine?

Aaron Burch: Hm. I’d never thought of it like this, but I like it. I think, again, my default nature is probably to lean toward the hug, and, frankly, I often get kind of tired of and annoyed by my own tendencies to write, and so I try to throw a shove or two in there to mix it up. Usually, when there’s any kind of violence in my stories or short shorts or whatever, it is me trying to throw a kink into whatever I’m writing and then see how I deal with it. I have a kind of imaginary WWBED (What Would Brian Evenson Do?) bracelet that I consult when I start to get bored with my own writing, and that’s when I make a character cut her own hand off, or cut open their scalp, or extract their own teeth, or whatnot. Also, kind of tied to this, I don’t think I’m really a language-driven writer and so these shorts/this collection (and they were all written individually, with no intention of cohesion or collectivity, although they were also all written pretty quickly and during a similar time-span) was especially fun because they were, mostly, me trying to… well… honestly… incorporate the type of writing that I’ve been so interested in lately, people like Evenson, and Peter Markus, and Blake Butler, and Deb Olin Unferth; and I realize now I shouldn’t have even started listing names because of everyone I’m not including. Ah well. I’ll leave it at that.

J.A. Tyler: This book places a high emphasis on introspection and digging—the vignettes almost always geared towards tearing something down, breaking something apart. How important do you think it is for writers to re-fold, to re-structure, to cut open and newly digest as they write and edit?

Aaron Burch: Um… yes? Also: I like how the structure and language of these questions makes me sound smarter and better than I am. Oh wait… you asked how important, not just is it important. I think, to some degree, I got into this above. I think my favorite stories, of those I’ve written, in this book and elsewhere, are the ones where I tried to twist a story by adding some kind of element that I wouldn’t normally, and then kind of recalibrating to see how I can make sense of that.

J.A. Tyler: Where can we find more Burch, and what can we look forward to down the line?

Aaron Burch: You can find more of me in Champaign, IL, probably at the bar. As for my writing… I’ve had a decent number of “longer” stories come out in journals in the last couple of months (and/or that are forthcoming in the next month or two), which has been exciting, to finally get some of those accepted, because before this stretch it had only been short short stuff, and then just one or two longer things. These stories are in New York Tyrant (which includes the character “extracting his own teeth” as referenced above), PANK, Barrelhouse, and Los Angeles Review. I’ve also got a collection, HOW TO PREDICT THE WEATHER, coming from Keyhole Books later this year. It was going to be a chapbook but grew into more of a full-length after this chap won PANK’s contest. It looks like it’s going to also be all shorter fiction and prose poems and whatever you want to call them. It will feature some of APART/ANEW, kind of like this chap is the ep that has some rad bonus songs that actually ended up being your favorite, you know, and then a bunch of other stuff, like my series of “Overcast” stories, and more of my more narrative shorter pieces.


John Dermot Woods

Interviews Catherine Kasper

About Notes from the Committee (Noemi)

Woods: How did you approach this book’s construction? Did one piece organically grow from another or did you plan and conceive of it as a whole?

Kasper: I found myself writing sections down whenever I had time. As time is a very spare commodity in my life, that reality tends to dictate the arc of each section. It was only later that I sat down with those sections that I had written that I began to see the work as a whole, and then, to write further sections that seemed to be needed. In the editing stages, I wanted to preserve the idea of “notes,” of a document that would always be incomplete and whose text was a comment on what was not included, as much as what was in this “document.”

Woods: I’m interested in the locale of this book’s composition (structure of place seems at the core of the narrative of Notes). What specific places do you connect with writing this book?

Kasper: I am interested in urban architecture, in how cities come to be built, as well as city-states. The more I learn about the process, the more I am baffled that any building remains standing, or that any institution is able to continue, given the real inner workings of its systems or lack of systems. This book is borne from that, perhaps naïve, sense of astonishment.

Woods: I know that you have a particular interest in the interaction of the visual and the written (we’ve worked together on our own image/text project). The book seems very much inspired by objects and their arrangement. Are you trying to create a physical structure out of the abstraction of words in Notes?

Kasper: This is much better said than I could say. I love text and image works, and I have a great admiration for visual artists. I also would like to spend much more time drawing and involved in visual arts activities. I imagine this gets into my writing.

Woods: This book was written (presumably) at a time when the abuses of authority affected us quite immediately. While in many ways the narrative criticizes (even mocks) those systems of power, it also seems to celebrate and even enjoy the absurdity of these systems. Assuming my reading is a fair one, do you see this as a political gesture, a way of mitigating the threat of a system by enjoying it for what it is? (This is a truly funny book, sometimes in the vein of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, particularly in the sections called “procedures.”)

Kasper: I’m pleased you understood the dark humor here, which seems integral to the world we live in. This book was actually written five years ago, when the systems of power in our country were revealing their particular incapacities and horrors. The book clearly examines all institutions, all Kafkaesque levels of bureaucracy. At this point in my life, it is sad to see that most institutions and governments don’t really work through design, hard work, and dedication alone, but through default, through accident. As human beings we have a kinship with absurdity, since if we looked straight into the truth of what we do, the reality would be terrifying.

Woods: Much of your published work is poetry, but this is an extended work of fiction. Do you find that you work in different “modes” when writing verse versus prose? What effect has writing Notes had on your subsequent writing?

Kasper: I’ve written fiction all my life, only most of it is published in small chapbooks and literary journals, since the fiction I write is what others call: experimental. Just recently, a chapbook of my short stories, Hovering, was published in 2008 by Paul Rosheim’s Obscure Publications. I don’t think of myself as a poet or fiction writer, but as a writer, and for me, the work itself dictates the genre.

Woods: Reading Notes, especially “The City” chapter, I kept wanting to watch a film adaptation of the work. Would visual representation ruin the “Theater Spectacular” or “Diorama Alley”?

Kasper: Although I personally enjoy the all the sounds of the language itself, a visual representation seems like a wonderful idea to me. Certainly films like those of the Brothers Quay, and The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari are also at the heart of this work, like the film Brazil, that you mention, as well as the fiction of Kafka, Dubravka Ugrešić, Calvino, and Borges.

Woods: If asked to describe this very complex chapbook in a couple of sentences, I might write: “Notes from the Committee is an anti-hermetic manifesto buried in the narrative of a fearful and stricture-bound municipality. From inside of this anatomy comes a voice asking for free, greedy gasps of carelessly polluted air.” How does that work for you?

Kasper: It’s curious to me that you see it as “complex,” since I haven’t thought of it as that. It’s a manifesto that calls for the will to dissemble and/or refashion the bureaucracies we’ve made instead of perpetuating senseless and often inhumane systems. For example, we’ve all known about the consequences of poisoning the earth since at least as early as Rachel Carson’s famous study and book (Silent Spring ) from the 1950s. Still, people like to ignore the truth until they’re absolutely forced to, or until it’s too late, even though so much damage could be prevented. Whether that’s due to greed or laziness or a will for ignorance I don’t know. The voice of this book is amazed that others have given up the desire and the right to breathe unpolluted air.


David Highsmith
Plan B Press

Reviewed by Janey Smith

Imagine gathering together to celebrate something small in a church—something that you will probably forget because you have TV—to find that you are not in a church, but an orgy, a really delicate orgy. Reading David Highsmith’s chapbook congregations is something like that. If you have a TV, you will probably watch it while holding congregations in your hands, but that probably won’t stop the book from seeping into your skin, through your fingertips, like acid or pot smoke or something.

Seriously, this little book will make you high. You will be watching Adult Swim and you will be like, “Oh shit! I’m high.” And then you will look at congregations, still in your hands, and you will stare out the windshield of your imagination and you will confirm it, “high.”

And then you will start reading it again. Or you might think, like I did, that this little chapbook would also be fun to read if you were reading it with a bunch of aliens from outer space determined to resurrect the dead to thwart nuclear annihilation—that is, if you were reading it with friends who liked to read.

For example, there’s this one poem—because none of the chunks of “poems” have titles (or are these stanzas? I don’t know, anyways)—that “begins” with the words “they, too” and what’s great about it is that it invokes a scene from a Ren & Stimpy cartoon where all these alligators are packed into a bus waving pennants and stuff and singing “happy, happy, joy, joy,” except the “poem” refers to crocodiles not alligators and it’s not really crocodiles that are on a bus, it’s people, and the people don’t seem to be singing so much as getting really drunk and there is something overtly inuring about the whole thing that makes me somewhat deferential to it—like I’m in church or something.

So, instead, I also read this other poem in the book. And this one is weirder. It’s called “midnight” and it must take place in Alaska or some place where there is lots of snow (like the North Pole) because the sun is still shining—even though it’s midnight! And then everything gets really creepy: blood is spilled (which I like), people eat their god (this is like me going down on my boyfriend), then the people kill this animal (this is like me going down on my boyfriend), except the poem makes me unsure if any of that stuff is true because it turns out that it’s this boy who is doing “all” the thinking in the “poem” for a second, and then the boy, himself, seems to not even know what’s happening (which is like me going down on my boyfriend).

Here is the other thing, real quick, I have to say about all these “poems” or “stanzas”: they slow things down. A lot. If you think your life is spinning out of control or if you are looking for a different approach to mitigate the effects of your antidepressant medication, or if you suspect that there may be something more to life than visits to McDonalds or Taco Bell or vegan restaurants or whatever, then I think you should maybe sit down somewhere quiet and, without looking around to see who’s watching you, just open up this little book and spend some time reading it, slowing things down so that you make sense of stuff, maybe even yourself, for a little while.

One more thing (listen closely): this little book is positioned in proximity to laughter. It’s a one inch equation that almost defies paradise, theory, and presence. It is a little book that leaves the fold of other little books and, inserting the sound of something like poetry—something, I think, that we have forgotten—comes very close to “here.”

The voices of it are fenced-in (really) with what will not be: a picture of “the oldest book,” or, at least, its scenery.



Dana Teen Lomax
Dusie Kollektiv, 2009

Reviewed by J. A. Tyler

Here is what happened when I read Disclosure: First, I had to break a wax seal that tightly held down a bright red ribbon, that buttoned up the stark black cover, a cover with ‘Disclosure’ printed in shadowy ink.

Then, I had to figure out what the fuck was going on.

Disclosure is these pages and nothing more:
Dana Teen Lomax’s Work and earning Summary.
Dana Teen Lomax’s Peace Corps Placement Letter.
Dana Teen Lomax’s Wells Fargo Account Activity.
Dana Teen Lomax’s Wells Fargo Account Summary.
Dana Teen Lomax’s Refund on Rent Increases Memo from her Landlord.
Dana Teen Lomax’s Federal Student Aid Online Payment Form.
Dana Teen Lomax’s Spring 09 Schedule.
Dana Teen Lomax’s Physical Exam Notes.
Dana Teen Lomax’s State of California Direct Deposit Receipt.
Dana Teen Lomax’s Prayer Requests.

And, as I only understand via the last page of this chapbook, this is number 16 of 75 and each copy of Disclosure was ordered at random.


So, what to make of this then: Disclosure resists reading while simultaneously pulling a reader in, resists via its random nature but engages by its constant feed of private information: detailed personal snapshots that cause a guttural reaction in a reader. And the cover itself similarly pushes and pulls albeit in smaller form; it displaces the reader by printing black on black while also begging the reader to search, to look, to tilt the book at angles in order to decipher the words. Come in, stay out. Come in, stay out. So while this is not a particularly interesting volume to read, it becomes an engrossing work to chew on, to think about, to steep in once the final page is turned and the wax seal is thrown in the trash and the ribbon is laid within its pages.

Disclosure is an exercise. Disclosure is an artistic expression. Disclosure is a double-take.

Fabulous Essential

Niina Pollari

Reviewed by Steven Karl

Animal Apoplexy

Fabulous Essential is the first chapbook by poet, translator and editor, Niina Pollari. The poems are a whirlwind tour of interiors and exteriors—the interiors capturing, celebrating, or examining the tensions of domesticity while the exteriors represent nature, a place where wildness roams, a place where you are subjected to the weather’s indeterminacies and indifference, a place where animalistic instincts are exposed and our modern-day technologies are (or should be) left behind.

The opening poem, “The Meteorologist At Home,” sets up a domestic scene:

…All that sodium, can after can
we eat gorgeous little beans.  Make the body cry

tapwater. Make external
hygiene a secondary beast.

The poem which follows, “How to Dress when it’s Weather,” continues to build on this idea of “secondary beast,” and the undercurrent of recklessness which runs throughout the entire chapbook:

— I have a tendency to wear for weather
inappropriate, shell a half-closed ear with a criminal
gold clip, forgo a hat.  Expose the hair. This called

conducting, like a Franklin key.

And then later in the poem, “so put on your harm gear, / go and get wet out there: the great outdoors/ will still be waiting—hello, and welcome/ and please leave electronics not at this time.” Pollari is inciting the reader to action, to leave behind some of these comforts of modernity; in fact, these poems imply that these comforts are causing us to lose touch with nature and our animal instincts, the way we revel in simple pleasures.

One aspect which makes this chapbook both essential and engaging is that Pollari infuses much menace in the poems by using words and phrases like “harm gear,” “beast,” “criminal,” and “pick it to a scab, small, /wounded moment.” Knives and fire serve as recurring images, never allowing us to get too lax in Pollari’s language, making us acutely aware of violence; and yet, because of her tonal reach and flexibility, her poems don’t meander into the territory of doom and gloom or dirges. One moment Pollari is coy and the poem coos, and the next, she embodies that smart-ass you love to have on your side. And then, she’s serious, almost deadly, as in the poem, “Sexy Apoplexy”

(Turn and retrieve…)
Body long, exhausting and blatant
The erratic order of the plants overtaking the site
The demolition’s strange edge
The green and its balm
It’s a terror to be calm when—
Shatter- An explosion- The greenery- Where were you when

Reading and rereading Fabulous Essential, you are compelled to wrestle with recollections of latent wildness, to smile at simple suppers with knives promised for dessert, and ultimately reckon with each poem’s raw beauty.



Aaron Burch

Reviewed by J. A. Tyler

There is a vibrant and steady aggression to Aaron Burch’s writing, and HOW TO TAKE YOURSELF APART, HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF ANEW is especially thick with this wrenching, forceful language:

Try to let it happen naturally. Don’t think about it, don’t think about not thinking about it. It isn’t in your shoulders like you think. The most common misperception. A whole generation, more, all doing it wrong, a mistaken translation. Try to forget everything you know. Everything. This is the first step, though, admittedly, the hardest. Impossible for most. It is in the neck, the small of your back, your triceps. But if you haven’t been able to forget everything, knowing this is pointless. Will only make it worse. If you think about where it is and isn’t—the shoulders, the neck, the back, muscles in your arms you didn’t know you could control—you’ll never get it. But if you get this far. If you get it.

Subtitled as “notes and instructions from/for a father,” Burch mixes seemingly actual directions for cutting ourselves open, for digging inside, with vignettes of boyhood / fatherhood and the powerful distinct nature of that relationship:

Saw, back and forth. Think of your father, out in the garage, handsawing 2x4s into smaller pieces in what seemed an impossibly few number of back and forths. Try to remember what he made, the different things he’d cut himself free from. With one saw in each hand, hold them to your head like antlers; or, reach up to your head and grab your antlers like saw handles. Realize: without both, you aren’t real. A myth, a unicorn. Think of right and left, before and after, old and new. Back and forth.

HOW TO TAKE YOURSELF APART, HOW TO MAKE YOURSELF ANEW takes the tangible concrete instructions of folding paper, finding shapes in clouds, making connections with those around us, and turns them into weapons, uses them to impale us, makes a father a spearhead and launches it through our sternums. Burch is somehow lovingly violent with words and smiths a text here that hacks at our limbs and then shows its own blood. A wonder, this book—how it fits so tightly under our skin:

I don’t want to go.

I could just fold you up and put you in my pocket and keep you with me, I said.

And I did just that, in half, then half again.

I can remember only two facts from growing up: nothing can be folded in half more than eleven times, and swallowed gum stays in your body for seven years. I fold her in half and tuck her in. There, there.

Or, I fold as many times as I can, counting. I put her, folded, in my mouth and swallow, pushing her down my throat with my index finger, inviting her to stay forever.


Museum of Fucked

David Peak

Warm Milk Printing Press, 2009

Reviewed by Matt DeBenedictis

Museum of Fucked by David Peak is a Pawnshop

Have you ever been to a pawnshop? A real one. Not one of those reality show types where they sell shined and gleaming personalities behind the counter. A true pawnshop has shelves stuffed with items still clothed in dirt and grime, with the cracked-knuckle moves that got them there. Those shelves are built on Burt Reynolds jokes and bad bluffs three decades old. The conversation there would be sour and sound like a shower before your execution. The people who live in Peak’s Museum of Fucked have nothing left but desperate moves, and are like those low-priced items that haven’t had value since they were stolen the third time.

This chapbook contains fourteen tightly laid out tales that make you feel like a lens has been zoomed in on one specific concrete slum, one where the liquor stores close, where the sun’s left, and where it’s always winter. Fucking year round. Avoiding Sam Lipsyte or the hallowed Jesus’ Son-style of connecting each story through locations and characters directly, Peak’s stories are instead viewed through a scope of desperate language. If Peak’s sentences were pulled any tauter, their length cut any shorter, the frantic actions depicted here wouldn’t truly be captured, or at least they wouldn’t be felt to a point worth a damn. Each sentence is a quick drag from a cigarette, just enough to fill you up, just enough to matter, just enough to get you to the next one. You can read each story quickly as if your breath is fading off to the next world, that way you can taste the yearlong winter cold of Howard Street in the opening story “End of the Line”:

It’s midnight, Howard Street, the end of the line. Corridor of storefronts and brick, glass and brick, the bus terminal down the street, intercoms buzzing. The streetlights buzz, flicker. This is where my friend gets robbed, where someone held a gun to his forehead, stole everything, even his shoes. The sky is purple. The streetlights flicker orange and there is mist in the air. The street is filled with shadows.

In Museum of Fucked, a clenching, thick context, rather than dialogue, keep the characters moving. That context creates the purpose for deathblow words and movement from characters that are more dying than alive; and lets us know who is really fucked, who, according to one voice is all of us: “Close it down. Just close it down. I don’t even want to hear it,” a man on the phone says in the chapbook’s title story, declaring us as all fucked.

The most cutthroat of all the stories in Museum is “Economy,” and it’s not because it’s gruesome; it’s just that these three sentences inked to page are the Sermon on the Mount for the fucked ones:

I read in a magazine that you’re never supposed to give away pets for free on Craigslist. You’re always supposed to charge money, like forty dollars minimum for a cat, or maybe more for a dog. A person interested in killing animals for pleasure would never pay forty dollars.

Museum of Fucked may be teaching us that when nothing is left, take what you can get.


A Parable of Women

Poems by Philip C.  Kolin
Yazoo River Press

Reviewed by Anne C. Fowler

Philip Kolin’s ambitious collection of poems, sketches of individual women and their experiences, becomes an overall parable, or illustration, of loneliness and isolation. His characters and speakers include Biblical characters – Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of Jesus, Herodias, and Hagar– as well as historical and contemporary American women. And Kolin explores class and age as well as time and distance: nuns and homeless women, widows, young girls and women populate his lyrics.

This poet articulates his profound insight into the lives and souls of women, his deep empathy with their quiet, or not so quiet, desperation. There’s pathos aplenty here, and it’s spread democratically throughout the pages. For readers who find characters from Scripture unfamiliar or alien, Kolin introduces biblical women whose thoughts and yearnings are as recognizable, and universal, as any we might encounter in our own friends and neighbors. For those who are well acquainted with these women, Kolin takes the old myths and makes them new.

The characters inhabiting these poems all speak, or are spoken of, in accessible language. We can read the words of Hagar, Abraham’s concubine, or hear of the sleazy trappings of a modern singles party, without struggling to decode meaning.  The benefits of this approach are several: to stress, again, the commonality of women’s experience throughout history and society, and to put readers at ease with towering figures of Christian myth and tradition.

And Kolin’s lyric style varies with his subjects: the biblical women speak with more elevated diction, and employ figures and images drawn from their worlds. For instance, in “Hagar’s Lament” the titular character declaims:

But God opened
My eyes to wells
Deeper than the Red Sea:
My son’s sons all darkened
In the promise that baptized
The offspring she weaned
In the shadow of my tent.

And here is Kolin’s description of Magdalen:

There before her
The laughter of angels
Sprung the snares of time.

I find, the poems featuring women from the Bible more arresting and more artful. Kolin demonstrates equal compassion for, and identification with, the plight of contemporary women, his language in these poems sometimes suffers from flatness or awkwardness. Here is a stanza from “The Singles Again Party”:

The room is skewed
Toward the door and windows
Escapes for all eyes
That have not discovered
Someone worth a second glance.

And from “Midlife”:

Orange and yellow lights
On every porch or above
The condo balconies
Flicker like votive candles
To a kind desire
Mellow, at midlife, now
Comfortable, predictable, assured.

And some of the poems would benefit from less telling, more showing.

Kolin has an unflinching eye. He directs his attention to the tawdry, the wretched, to the least, the lost, and the left behind. He does not offer false hope or facile resolution; his view is often bleak. But what shines through in his work is the indomitability of these assembled women’s spirits: these poems are parables of how we endure.



Lonely Christopher
Small Anchor Press

Reviewed by J. A. Tyler

Satan is an interesting book in that it attempts to do (a least) two things at once: to tell chaotic stream-of-consciousness stories while also consciously experimenting with language, playing with rhythm and meter and rhyme and pacing.

Some pieces, like “Telling”, read more straight-forwardly, exposing holes and gaps in language where more and other words can be inserted, but attempting a stronger through-line:

Okay always hard nights better days. This is not a reaction. I’m going to wake up and be something I’m sorry. Liked creation. Not okay dictionary. Not aware of that fact but thanks for telling me, Susan. This is the time for the end times.

Other pieces in Satan, like “I Found You There (VII)”, read as pure experiment, any intentional narrative seemingly pecked out of the sentences, leaving room where only repetitive and chugging words exist:

I found you there. I found you there. I found you there finally. I found you there in church. I found you there finally. I found you there. I found you there in my arms. I found you there with numbers. I found you there.

For me, the problem with Satan is that it is a book in which it is hard to draw a line; sometimes Satan is a vibrantly aggressive piece of literature where the stories, though not inter-connected by narrative or plot points are driven by the same attempted language, but sometimes instead of reading cleanly or with much obviously clever gathering, Satan reads like a riddle that is never uncovered, a puzzle that is not completed and shows no signs of resolution, an unfinished object.

Satan is good, but it is not excellent. Satan plumbs the depths of language, but does not always satisfy. Satan is worth the  time, but will take time to gnaw through.

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  7. I fucking love Sparling.

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  12. […] November 17, 2009 Like a beacon in the cold, quiet world of chapbook publishing, The Chapbook Review is, according to their website, “A monthly online literary journal focused on the critical examination of the venerable chapbook: slim, soft-cover books, usually inexpensively produced and independently published.” This description of the chapbook warms our lonely hearts. Check out the latest issue, which features a roundtable discussion of the chapbook, here. […]

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