Happy New Year! As luck would have it, the first day of 2015 is a terrific Throwback Thursday, and thus the perfect opportunity to usher in the new year with a post that combines both old and new. Alicia Eggert and Mike Fleming’s symbolic sculpture, “Eternity,” which appeared in DB 14, Summer 2011, is the perfect post to mark the passing of 2014 and ring in another amazing year for Drunken Boat, the vintage series, and all our readers.
“Eternity is a wall mounted sculpture made by American artists Alicia Eggert & Mike Fleming consisting of 30 electric clocks rear-mounted to a large sheet of white acrylic. During installation, the black hour and minute hands of the clocks are aligned to spell the word “eternity”, and the clocks are plugged in to a series of power strips on the floor. The hands begin to move as soon as the switch on the last power strip is flipped, and the word almost immediately becomes a jumble of moving black lines. “Eternity” does not reappear until the hour hands return to their original positions twelve hours later. And even then, it lasts a mere split second.”
Alicia Eggert’s work has been exhibited throughout the world and featured in such notable publications as The Huffington Post. You may have even seen her TED talk, “Making art is like speaking in tongues,” in which she mentions “Eternity.” This past year, she received a 2014 Direct Artist Grant from the Harpo Foundation and the 2014 Individual Artist Fellowship from the Maine Arts Commission. You can check out more of her work at aliciaeggert.com.
Mike Fleming, now working in Alfred, NY, has been active in the Philadelphia arts community since 2003 and has an extensive photography portfolio. His works have been featured in exhibitions from Canada to the Czech Republic and are scheduled for an upcoming solo exhibition in 2016. Fleming and Eggert began collaborating in 2009 and have shown their work together on multiple occasions. You can see Fleming’s work at mikeflemingphotography.com.
From the Standard Cyclopedia of Recipes: Adapted Poems by B.C. Edwards
I rarely pay close attention to year-end lists, there are so many of them, and they are so subjective, but some very interesting people have been recommending some very interesting books. I came across this book on one such list. It is one of the weirdest most haunting poetry books I’ve read in a long time, full of twisted tales and teachings, love poems and poems as balms. It is a surprisingly gorgeous work, too, one that feels very modern while harkening back to an old-timey bourbon in hand yesteryear.
Second Childhood by Fanny Howe
This book was like a breath of fresh air. Or a breeze. Or breathing. There is a timelessness at work in these poems. On the surface the work seems simple but Howe’s use of language is simply stunning and anything but simple. I was reminded of Linda Perhacs and her gentle and complex album The Soul of All Natural Things; there seems to be an ageless kindred spirit and also one of defiance. Once I found my way in to these prose poems it was hard to put this book down. Another work that felt to be a sort of literary balm. There is something deeply soulful about these poems.
Sorrow Arrow by Emily Kendel Frey
Thoughtful poems full of humor and heart. Like wearing a leather jacket over a long, romantic gypsy dress, these poems are hard and soft, and edgy. The non sequiturs and unexpected juxtapositions between lines makes this book feel alive and surreal at the same time each poem feels like it’s being whispered in your ear.
Maumau American Cantos by Tom Weatherly
I came to this book purely by accident. A friend brought it to lunch and I thought it was such an unexpected choice. Of course I’ve read Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka and Etherirdge Knight, but hadn’t heard of Weatherly. After our lunch I hunted down a copy, which turned out to be a first edition when it arrived. The language is spiritual and exciting, folksy and familiar. Really glad I got this introduction to Weatherly’s work.
Want for Lion by Paige Taggart
One of the most inspiring things that has happened to me this year was getting to know Paige Taggart and her beautiful work. Her debut collection is a surreal dreamscape, a sweet sucker punch of worlds within worlds. It has been an amazing experience to read her work and witness her artistry and watch her continue to define what it means to be a fierce female artist today.
Screws were wrenched and broken off, so that the hard plastic siding fell away.
Eaten seeds were spit out: apricot, sunflower. They walked the planet, not finding soil.
In the hospital “lounge,” a brother was waiting on his brother, with a shoe missing. Infomercials cycled.
A storm, they said. Prepare, they said.
A person falls, about to be mauled by cameras, but hands reached down to pick them up. Not many hands. The creatures are shoved off.
Later when the person is alone, the creatures come back quietly, badges drawn.
They mention the affinities that are in themselves criminal.
When the bodies are disappeared, the committee says they cannot find the bodies, the committee may not ever find the bodies.
(My analysis ends sooner than it should. There are some things I cannot see: a thick pane of rain. I start thinking, I try to use this language, only to end up walking the night with you. My flawed friends. My enemies gleam there too. Even in telling you about the shortcomings of language, I end up using words like “impoverished.” These words are not hungry, they aren’t scratching the stomach awake.)
In the days of storm, walking around was better than believing in an inner light. Moving pieces around, though almost everything is bolted down, in preparation for a storm, was better than being moved. The smaller cruelties, terribly grained, pile up. The storm is a letdown and does not blow everything apart. But it rains. The rain moves.
The people who think the world more or less works: OK, as they are with leaving it at “more or less” to preserve their threadbare romance with the world.
When less is a pit.
When executions happen at the edge of that pit. `
When the disappearing is evident.
When the evidence becomes proof of romance.
When banners for tragedy fly, and war continues.
When the acid crocodile tears of politicians fall and burn away the flesh.
& still the insistence of better is coming, investment is coming.
A pit fills with rain. The bodies create their own acidic juice, their metabolism making their own hot microorganisms. They eat the rock, creating subterranean voids, swallowing spectrum light. Raining, eating the rock, swallowing light. No returning reflection.
– OKI SOGUMI
Oki Sogumi was born in Seoul, lives in Philadelphia (recently transplanted from Oakland), and writes poetry, speculative fiction, and into little boxes on the internet. She dreams commune dreams.
I’m not a very good friend. I never have been. High school, college, even my MFA, where the slogan usually goes something like “you’ll meet those few special people whom you’ll share your writing with for years to follow,” have all come and gone and I haven’t really kept up with anyone I made any kind of a connection with.
It’s not that I’m antisocial, unable to empathize with others, or some kind of total introvert. Sure, I rarely went to any of the MFA parties, and when I did, I usually left early. I didn’t attend nearly as many of the student, faculty, or guest readings that precede most of these parties as I should have either, and I joined in on even less of the post-workshop chitchat that usually went down at whatever bar. But I wasn’t holed up in my room by my lonesome trying to complete a crown of sonnets on Charles Bronson or muttering something about the duende to myself for hours on end either. I was out and about with real people, people who were in the very MFA program I was in, we just weren’t doing a lot of the things everyone else was doing or expected to take part in.
I fell in with a smaller group of “like-minded” individuals within the already small group that was my MFA cohort, like I’m sure most everyone else in my year and in the years before and after had done as well. You find a few people that make sense to you, whose work or criticism you admire or are excited about, who comfort or challenge you in some essential way, who are just the right amount of weird or blah, who like Russian Constructivism, Bone Thugs & Harmony, the Yankees, or kittens just as much as you do, and you build some kind of relationship from there. These are supposed to be “those few special people.” And it’s true, these people (our group) were those people for me at the time. What we rallied around was mostly political but also aesthetic: social justice, cultural/ethnic studies, authenticity and what all these things meant or how they played out in our own writing and the writing of others, as well as the larger system that was the MFA program itself. You could even call what we had some kind of a faction. Not that things were really all that combative, but there was a definite ideological rift, and it showed in places like workshop, and it probably accounted for our more general absence when it came to things like an MFA picnic or Christmas party. Where other smaller groups could easily assimilate back into The Program, we were less likely to do so. You would think that a tighter, more closed social configuration like this would make for stronger, longer lasting ties, but that wasn’t really the case, at least not for me. Don’t get me wrong. These were all what I’d call good people for the most part, some of the best people I’ve been fortunate enough to know, and they’ve had a lasting impact on the way I think about writing and the world, I just haven’t shared as much as a “what’s up” with most of them in years.
If I’m honest with myself, this all most likely has something to do with my own standoffishness. I’ve always maintained some level of final remove even with those people I’ve been closest too. I’d be more than happy to talk to you about things like literature, art, current events, music, movies, baseball, etc. I’ll even talk to you about your more personal problems and share some of my own. It’s not that I’m reluctant to really, truly get to know people. I don’t shy away from those difficult or vulnerable discussions/moments that can lead to rich and genuine friendships, it’s just that I’m pretty constantly prepared for any and every friendship to ultimately end.
Maybe it’s because I’ve moved around a lot (3 high schools, a transfer in undergrad). Maybe it’s just a general trust issue or a fear of attachment. Maybe it has something to do with the kinds of things that 20-somethings have come to value: spontaneity, flexibility, movement. Whatever the case may be, I’ve come to cultivate a propensity for the kind of transience that has allowed me to float in and out of people’s lives with relative ease.
My latest move has brought me 1,750 miles to Austin, TX. The kind of transience I mention above has certainly played a part in this decision, but it has also been challenged by it. I could say that I hit the open road for Austin because it seemed like something new and interesting to do, and it was, and that did appeal to me, but ultimately, I’m here because of a girl, a girl who I told myself I was ready to start a meaningful and committed relationship with. I guess I’m prepared for this relationship to end too, but I really don’t want it to, and I would probably be a big mess in a way that I haven’t been in a very long time if it did. Sure, this is all kind of scary, but it’s something I’m willing to embrace because I know that the possible success of this relationship is worth the risk of its failure.
And so, it seems, I’ve finally put down a few roots. I’ve got a steady job. I’ve lived with my girlfriend for well over a year. All her friends are now mostly my friends by proxy. I get along with them all relatively well because they’re all thoughtful, interesting people. A lot of us in this group are writers, or at the very least, voracious readers. We can still talk about writing without sounding too defeated or disillusioned about the whole business of publishing, self-promotion, etc. There’s still an enthusiasm about what people are reading or working on, which is something I need a regular dose of. My girlfriend’s a writer too. We do a good job of pushing each other for whatever it is that we want to accomplish with our work. Things are what normal people might call healthy or stable, and I like that. Normal people have some pretty solid advice to offer sometimes. When they’re not too busy painting their living room a fresh shade of sherwood tan, watching Diet Pepsi Presents America Something America, or buying golden retrievers, they will usually share some of this advice with you, and maybe you should listen. Not only am I regularly surprised with how regularly happy I am (just like a regular guy), I’m also getting more things done with my writing than I have in a long time, without that element of chaos, edge, or indeterminacy in my life that I had once thought somehow essential to my work.
Austin itself is a great place to set up shop as a writer. There are a lot of long-standing writers’ communities here that have a lot to offer. On any given day, there’s likely to be some kind of literary event at any number of bookstores, coffee shops, or bars. UT and the Michener Center consistently put together a schedule of top-notch talent for their reading series. The number of venues and programs that offer a space for writers to connect with other writers in some way reads like what I imagine an embarrassingly wealthy person’s grocery list would read like (assuming the obscenely rich do, in fact, buy groceries). There’s Neo-Soul Lounge, Fun Party, Malvern Books, Resistencia, Austin Poetry Society, BookWoman, MACC, Writebloody, The Texas Book Festival, Book People, and much, much more.
Groups like Austin Poetry Society offer workshops and craft sessions to help you keep up on your game. If you’re in the mood for some slam, try Neo-Soul Lounge. Would you like to buy a recent release from an indie press like Black Ocean, Fence, Caketrain, Bloof Books, or Alice James without having to do so online? How about spending more money than your budget will allow you to spend on too many other amazing books you’ve found along the way while searching for said original books? Well, a place like Malvern Books with its huge selection of new fiction and poetry has you covered. Would you like to check out a local lit journal/press? Of course there’s Bat City, but there’s also Raw Paw, fields, A Strange Object, and The Austin Review, among others. A lot of these journals do more than just publish great writing. They help foster the very lit scene here in Austin that they depend on to thrive through various events and initiatives. Other Austin mainstays like Resistencia and Neo-Soul Lounge do much of the same. Through a real involvement in the community and with a strong emphasis on education, political awareness, and creative expression, groups like these keep the power of language alive and well in this city.
It’s hard not to come off like a used-car salesman talking about all this, but I get sincerely excited just thinking about the numerous literary outlets in Austin. It’s not a matter of finding somewhere to stay plugged into, it’s a matter of what you need or where you’re needed the most. With so many options when it comes to getting your literary fix, you run the risk or not knowing how to ration or where to place all your energies and investments. That’s maybe something I haven’t quite figured out for myself just yet, but that’s fine. I think I’ll be sticking around Austin long enough to figure it all out.
– JIM REDMOND
Jim Redmond is a Michigan man, who now lives in Austin, TX. He continues to curate a monthly blog series on literary communities for Drunken Boat. Some of his writing can be found or is forthcoming in PANK, ReDIVIDer, RHINO, Columbia Poetry Review, and Word Riot, among others. His chapbook, Shirts or Skins, won one of Heavy Feather Review’s chapbook prizes a while ago.
This post is the first in a series from Drunken Boat‘s 2014 Pushcart Prize nominees.
It took me all summer to write “How To Hear Music.” The first year of my MFA program was behind me, and after a year of furious writing I was exhausted. I had no new ideas, no new stories to tell. I was living in Berlin.
Every day my boyfriend and I would choose a new cafe to write in — I was diligent, and disciplined, and hopeful. I believed that if I kept writing, if I just sat down to write something, anything, every day, something would come of it. And after 3 months of daily free associating, just a few weeks before I was to return to California, something did.The earliest version of the story was a set of instructions along the lines of “how to be stereotypically black.” It was a list of the rules that I had absorbed over the years, whether or not I had chosen to follow them or not. They were racial imperatives from a time in my life when I, like the kids I went to middle school and high school with, understood Blackness as something monolithic, a clearly defined, unchangeable thing.
I knew Blackness only looked like that, and that Blackness would always sound like this. I knew what Blackness ate, and what it didn’t eat. I knew what car Blackness drove, I knew where it lived. I knew what Blackness named its kids. I was acutely, at times painfully aware of the many ways I fell short of these standards, a feeling which sometimes made me defensive, but which mostly filled me with shame. “How To Hear Music” is my most autobiographical story, and it was painful and difficult and cathartic to write.
I often use my fiction to explore alternate realities, alternate versions of myself. Alternate decisions, and alternate outcomes. I sometimes say that my characters are encouraged to act out their worst impulses with no fear of the consequences, and this story is no different. Whereas I only laughed at my would-be combatants — black girls who (I now know) looked at me and simply didn’t understand what they saw — this character fights, giving physical expression to the memory of my angst. Whereas I chose to remain unapologetically myself, the only black girl on the soccer team or at the punk rock show, this character changes, this character assimilates, this character gains something (a connection to her community that I still struggle to build), even if she loses a part of herself in the process. If this story is my own alternate history, I wonder which one of us made the better choice.
When the story was published and I posted it on Facebook, a lot of people who are not black shared their stories. Many of my friends and acquaintances recalled feeling similarly alienated — for being the only Jewish kid, or the wrong kind of Latina. For some reason this surprised me. I had been afraid to post the story — it was the first time I felt that I was exposing a very private part of myself to a whole lot of people via my fiction. It actually didn’t occur to me that other people had felt how I felt, or that a variety of people would see themselves in the character.
To borrow from Toni Morrison: I wrote this story because I wanted to read it. Before a character like Lionel in Dear White People, before the music and short shorts of Donald Glover, before the rad audacity of Willow Smith, I never saw myself in movies, or on TV, I never read about myself in books, or heard my own thoughts on identity set to music.
And so this story, of all my stories, is the most true. And this story, especially, is for all the black weirdos.
BIO: A. Nicole Kelly is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and the co-founder of Summer Commune, a diverse temporary intentional community happening somewhere in North America. She has been published by Matador Network and Yr An Adult, and her fiction has appeared in Drunken Boat, ZYZZYVA, and Carolina Quarterly.