If our recent post about the writing of poetry editor Michelle Chan Brown left you wondering what our fiction team is up to these days, look no further: today, we’re spotlighting some wonderful recent work by our lovely fiction editors, Sybil Baker (left) and Holly Wendt (right).
Sybil’s most recent work online appeared in Prime Number Magazine and can be viewed here:
Here’s a small excerpt from Sybil’s story:
I wanted to say, but if I don’t live forever, then who will remember? Who will remember the way your pinkie won’t straighten because Luke slammed the car door when he was late for soccer practice? Or how your father made the best ice cream, hand cranking the cream and vanilla cooled by salted ice because he swore that it tasted better that way? Or your hands, the color of red wine from the blackberries you picked at the edge of the woods to put on top of the ice cream, like an exotic bird’s wings as you lifted the spoon to your open mouth?
A recent story of Holly’s appeared online in Memorious (which will also be co-hosting an event with us at AWP — check it out at https://www.facebook.com/events/287026274693649/); it can be viewed here:
Here’s a small excerpt from Holly’s story:
He looks like Hulk Hogan, maybe, if the Hulk never did steroids and wasn’t California-blond. If the Hulk never had a reality television program and might have been someone’s grandfather. Because this man is easily of a grandfatherly age, surely close to sixty, an aging kind of muscular going soft in the middle, with a gray ponytail and a thick, drooping mustache. Maybe he’s not even going to Sturgis, is a local, and that’s why he’s got so little with him. But he’s wearing a Sturgis t-shirt, long-faded blue, and he, too, has a map. He catches her looking at him, and he grins, folds his map up crisply, and tucks it into his back pocket. Kim ducks her head, embarrassed, and thinks instead of the land ahead of her, the fossil and bone and black liquid remains fermented deep in Wyoming’s oilfields.
We know you’ll enjoy reading the rest of these terrific pieces!
A Look Back to DB10’s Conceptual Fiction Folio w/ “Stranded” by Marcos Mataratas
The 15th issue of Drunken Boat is coming together – every word, each letter being arranged just where it should be – but it’s always good to take the time to remember what came before. In our current age, there are many uncertainties about the transition from physically printed, immovable words into a landscape where digital text is the norm. There are those who have their doubts about the permanence of electronic literature, but right now I’m enjoying how great it is to be able to access Drunken Boat’s entire back catalogue with only a few clicks.
An issue that caught my attention is DB10, the 10th anniversary issue, which is packed with 10 folios and over 300 contributors. The Conceptual Fiction folio puts an unexpected twist on the writing, many taking a form much different from what readers typically find in fiction. In the folio’s introduction, Sina Queyras, who edited the conceptual fiction with Vanessa Place, writes, “Conceptual fiction reveals to us something about the structures of language and writing as much about human consciousness and contemporary culture. It often does this by creating texts that illustrate concepts rather than ‘tell stories.’” These thoughts were in my mind as I explored the folio, and I became fascinated by the interplay between concept and story in “Stranded” by Marcos Mataratas.
“Stranded” tells the story of X, a protagonist who has recently “run out of memories.” Even though it reads like a story, does it fit your definition of a story, or is it something more abstract? Are memories required to construct what we think of as a story? Like most of my favorite stories, “Stranded” left me with a lot of questions to contemplate.
Since it is clear that the piece is interested in linguistics – in the use of language and the meaning or lack of meaning that can be taken from it – I find it no coincidence that the protagonist is merely named with the algebraic unknown, “X.” It is reminiscent of Kafka, who knew of the debris that clings to names, and of the – perhaps unwanted – storied histories that go along with them. Like the surveyor known only as, “K.” who enters the village at the start of Kafka’s The Castle, Mataratas’ protagonist “X” offers scant clues to his past or identity: “X calls himself a secret, a puzzle, he will tell no intimate details and will share no sadnesses.”
When X misreads a quote from Roberto Bolaño (mistaking “comers” for “comets”), he “is amazed by his misunderstanding but then he remembers that post–modernism is dead.” It raises fascinating questions about a writer’s use of similarly spelled words. Should the writer be careful to select words that would not be mistaken for similar sounding words with entirely different meanings? Is it even possible for a writer to anticipate this?
X’s memory has been called into question, and his recollection of post–modernism’s death seems dubious, as he had previously referred to a Derridean character he described as a “bad linguist, with a generally pessimistic outlook on meaning.” The message this linguist left to X: “A word is like a marionette strung to a billion unintentions (and one or two conscious intentions).” Ironically, X reports, “The rest of the message is unintelligible,” implying that perhaps the linguist’s theory has some traction.
At the end of it all, I’m left with an uncanny feeling of plot, even though after X met the girl with the eyelashes, it largely became the epistolary story of her suitor, a Utopian writer who drafted “treatises on the soul of the universe where never again another puppy was kicked, another kitten discarded, another Arab water–boarded, another baby shaken.” Mataratas manages to stuff the short piece full of clever turns of phrase, vivid imagery, and enough fascinating concepts to leave you ruminating on it long after you’ve finished reading.
If you ever wondered what sorts of brilliant creations the Drunken Boat editors concoct themselves as writers, you’re in luck: in the coming days and weeks, we’ll be featuring some of those creations here on our blog for our readers to enjoy. Today, we’re spotlighting our lovely Poetry Editor, Michelle Chan Brown.
Country Dog Review:
This should probably be under the rubric ”what I am teaching,” since it’s the time of year when all my reading is toward that endeavor. And what I’m teaching is Jack Spicer. With my undergraduates, I’m deep in the lectures and the collected poems, and we are being dumbfounded and passionate together. Alongside it, I’m dipping into the biography, Poet Be Like God, again, maybe the gossipiest bio I’ve ever read. Do I need to know that Spicer had a small dick to better appreciate the poetry? Do I tell my students about Spicer’s miniscule cock? (A propos of penises, I learned on the radio today that some male ducks have two-footers, which is pretty impressive in terms of body ratio, but some female ducks have labyrinthian vaginas which can ward such a penis off, send it down a false passage, or tighten it up in a spiral. I believe this to be related to poetry.)
Next we are delving into Césaire’s Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, and I will tell of the pleasure of landing in the Aimé Césaire airport in Fort-de-France when Césaire was still alive (amazingly, not that long ago), and of talking about him with cab drivers. What is new to me in this edition (which has this long poem solo) is Bréton’s moving piece on first meeting Césaire in Vichy-occupied Martinique as Bréton made his way to war-time exile in New York.
Over winter break, I read Merwin’s translation of the Purgatorio, which was like looking through a cloudy glass at something beautiful, then I switched back to the Esolen translation I’d read before but had no memory of (Montaigne, who claimed to find the marginalia he’d written in his own books foreign, is my consolation there), and got stalled again at the same spot, Canto 32. If I could understand the notion of purgatory it might help, but Christian penitence makes no sense to me. Suffer in a second realm, but this time for 900 years instead of eternity for a sin somehow derived from love? Like Spicer, I can better intuit the false-bottomed mirror between heaven and hell that allows heaven and hell to haunt each other. Although maybe purgatory is exactly where Spicer’s poems reside — with Heaven and Hell shouting in through a megaphone.
Come out tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 8th) at 7PM to see our own Ravi Shankar read at KGB Bar (NYC)’s “Break Up Night”! For details, see below: