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Nat Baldwin - The blades, the rust, the dirt, the mouth, the meat, the blood, the sun, the glass, the skin, the word, the lake, the graves; it's a pristine and elemental form of fiction that Nat Baldwin renders, distilling language and image to its most primal animation

The Red Barn

Nat Baldwin, The Red Barn, Calamari Archive, Ink., 2017.

The Spectacle
Alice Blue

"In THE RED BARN, Nat Baldwin decomposes narrative's safe spaces. The symbols in the nightmare landscape are nothing other than themselves. Nails. Boards. Tubs. Chains. Buckets. Teeth. A story of boys is stripped sentence by sentence. What's left is the brutal music of language laid bare."—Joanna Ruocco

"The blades, the rust, the dirt, the mouth, the meat, the blood, the sun, the glass, the skin, the word, the lake, the graves; it's a pristine and elemental form of fiction that Nat Baldwin renders, distilling language and image to its most primal animation. Like seeing slides of color pass before your face in darkness. Like remembering how to read." —Blake Butler


Jane Wong - Animal, vegetable, mineral, mothers, grandmothers, continents, bugs and blood and guts—the poems in Overpour are bodies of vibrant and vibrating matter that constellate across biography, family history, and geography

Jane Wong, Overpour, Action Books, 2016.

Jane Wong’s first collection makes a brilliant entrance. Animal, vegetable, mineral, mothers, grandmothers, continents, bugs and blood and guts—the poems in Overpour are bodies of vibrant and vibrating matter that constellate across biography, family history, and geography. They see widely and feel deeply and subtly; they tumble out with a wondrous, now-reverent, now-frenetic, ever-keen sense of the sense-memories that carry us.

“Jane Wong’s powerful first book weaves together seemingly disparate topics such as war and child’s play, language and exile, debt, animals and nature. By doing so, Wong creates a space between—for the reader to enter. At the same time, by creating this space, she makes a space for possibility… Montage-like, the poems are also a kind of philosophy by which I mean they are curious. They ask questions of the world. Not afraid of being earnest, Wong’s voice is both playful and cerebral, weaving in and out of the world—its wars and its violence, poverty and alienation—making a beautiful and smart, strange and new, word elixir.” – Cynthia Cruz

ctober has been a big month for Seattle poet Jane Wong. Her first full-length book of poems, Overpour, was just released on Indiana's Action Books. The book launch will be held Friday, October 21, at the Hugo House. She also just published an innovative and actually interesting digital dissertation project called The Poetics of Haunting in Asian American Poetry. Wong has been working on these two significant literary projects for years, and they're entering the world within weeks of each other.
Full disclosure: I went to the University of Washington with Wong for two years. We are also friends. But, so long as we're being all honest with each other, Wong and I haven't really hung out much during the last three years. That's because my job makes friendships impossible to manage, but mostly because Wong has been busy doing the slow, daily, time-consuming work of grinding it out in academia and in the literary world.
She's lived in Seattle for the last five years, in which time she's said yes to every opportunity to read her work in public and no to countless social evenings on account of work. She has published poems and chapbooks in literary journals and on small presses, given papers at academic conferences in the US and abroad, racked up national prizes/fellowships/residencies, taught writing at college and primary-school levels, and helped curate a local poetry series called Margin Shift, which promotes writers from traditionally marginalized groups.
Many hustling writers will be familiar with that kind of schedule, but Wong's degree of engagement and accomplishment are rare (some academics take longer to produce a comparable amount of work), and her monetary rewards have been relatively paltry, when they're monetary at all—lots of residencies and retreats, for instance, offer quiet places to continue working. The real reward of poetry lies in the work anyway, and she's given readers lots of fascinating stuff to pore over.
Let's start with her debut book, Overpour. (If you thought I wasn't going to reach for that pun, you vastly underestimate how horrible I am.) A poet's first collection can do a lot of things all at once. Wong's introduces readers to her many selves, pushes forward the ancient poetic conversation about the pastoral, and contributes to a related conversation about "haunting" in Asian American poetics, which is also what her digital dissertation is about, which we'll get to in a second.
If you haven't read much poetry at all, you can enjoy the pleasure of letting Wong's precise and gritty-gorgeous images pass over you one by one like the most intense screen saver you've ever seen. Take this stanza from "And the Place Was Matter:"
and the branches shook the lights out
and the fish to be sold had their heads intact
and the highway expanded into four lanes
and the garlic blossomed in June
and this should not trouble us
Humanitarians who only love poetry for its sounds and rhythms can find a lot of pleasure in the four-beat pulse of those lines, but reading closer you can tell that here and in other poems Wong is obsessed with pairing city images with rural images to show that those two realms are not separate but rather in constant conversation with one another. As Wong says, this shouldn't trouble us, but it does. We want to escape the city for the country and vice versa. And yet, that's impossible. In the country the mountains look like a skyline and in the city the skyline looks like mountains.
The speaker in these poems is simultaneously drawn to and repelled by the beauty of nature, and she's always reminding herself of the pastoral as a self-serving and potentially empty construction. "Returning to nature is a luxury we keep, like this / floral soap I can't bear to clean my filthy face with. / To leave the village, to return to the village in / a better dress," she writes in "Pastoral Power." Earlier on in the poem, she sends up a loafing Walt Whitman and a romantic William Carlos Williams in 1.5 lines: "Each blade of grass presses upon me as I rest too / long, spring and none." And later in the poem, she writes the anthem of 21st century MFA grads: "I might die paying off my loans if they don't / begin accepting dandelions."
Toward the end of the book, she's no longer awash in the urban/rural dialectic. She finds a language that allows her to harness nature's largesse and sublimity. In "Guts," she consumes a whale "one bite at a time" and uses sunny, pastoral honey to summon an army of ants to do her bidding.
To the extent that the book describes a narrative at all, it's one of a woman's rise to power as she comes to terms with her ghosts, many of whom seem to live in the landscape. Early on she "wobbles" around, phantomlike, her eyes "shining with mold." The sun, raccoons, fungi, garbage, ants, and family members in Jersey and China haunt her, sort of like specters but more like just ideas/figures that never leave your mind.
Wong's digital dissertation is a kind of extension of this "haunting" and of her poetics in general. Unlike a digitized monograph or a digital data dump of highly arcane material, or any of the other wonky genres that typify digital humanities projects, Wong's Poetics of Haunting is a simple, gorgeous, public website that you can explore at your leisure.
On the landing page, Wong defines her terms: "A poetics of haunting insists on invocation: a deliberate, powerful, and provocative move toward haunted places. How does history—particularly the history of war, colonialism, and marginalization—impact the work of Asian American poets across time and space? How does language act as a haunting space of intervention and activism?"
Wong spoke with a diverse group of contemporary Asian American writers about these questions, and she arranges their creative responses on the site. There are videos, recorded interviews, striking visual art, and stellar poems from Sally Wen Mao, Monica Sok, and Diana Khoi Nguyen.

Local poet Don Mee Choi offers a somber but stirring poem called "Do You Remember?" as well as a moving recording of a song composed in honor of Korean labor activists. UW professor of creative writing Pimone Triplett adds a poem and a recorded interview with Wong about "hungry ghosts," insatiable entities in the Buddhist tradition that helped shape a manuscript she's working on.
Wong also includes a ghostly, poetic conversation she had/still has with the late, great, and groundbreaking writer Theresa Hak Kyung Cha while researching at the Berkeley Art Museum. The dead are very much alive in Wong's work, and she has a lot to say to them. It's more than worth your time to listen. - Rich Smith

Jane Wong holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a former U.S. Fulbright Fellow and Kundiman Fellow. She is the recipient of scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley, and the Fine Arts Work Center. The recipient of The American Poetry Review’s 2016 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize, poems have appeared in journals such as Pleiades, The Volta, Third Coast, and the anthologies Best American Poetry 2015 (Scribner), Best New Poets 2012 (The University of Virginia Press) and The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (Ahsahta Press). Her chapbooks include: Dendrochronology (dancing girl press), Kudzu Does Not Stop (Organic Weapon Arts), and Impossible Map (Fact-Simile). Currently, she is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Pacific Lutheran University.

Soren Melville - It begins with Laura, a barren modern gothic, a vampire story without any vampires, a mystery of misdiagnoses and misgendering in the bleakness of polar night. It ends with Black Sands, a love story lost in time

Soren Melville, S/N/D, Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2017.


Soren Melville’s debut is a novella and a novel. It begins with Laura, a barren modern gothic, a vampire story without any vampires, a mystery of misdiagnoses and misgendering in the bleakness of polar night. It ends with Black Sands, a love story lost in time between two people who keep dying and coming back to life. Together they are S/N/D, a world of gentle surrealism and emotional wastelands haunted by undeath and the ever returning tide.

S/N/D is beautiful in its calm. Divvied up into two separate pieces the stories work together to harp upon similar themes. Longing is a prominent theme. The loss of a something pined for and never gotten hurts. People go through it all of the time no matter what the age or setting. Each story works hard to avoid any specific reference to time. Fragments of modernity come through (puffy jackets, glitter, and cars) yet these are mere adornments. Put into a vacuum the stories exist in another realm universe resembling a gentle surrealism.”—Beach Sloth

“Soren Melville is writer who is two writers writing two books that is also one book which is a cool, precise timelapse of death without dying, insanity without chaos, feasting without fuckery. Read it and touch yourself.”—Penny Goring


Orikuchi Shinobu - At once a work of innovative fiction, written in an evocative and poetic style, as well as a remarkably astute recreation of the natural, mental and spiritual world of Japan’s ancient civilization

Image result for Orikuchi Shinobu, The Book of the Dead,
Orikuchi Shinobu, The Book of the Dead, Trans. by Jeffrey Angles, University Of Minnesota Press, 2017.

excerpt (Granta)

First published in 1939 and extensively revised in 1943, The Book of the Dead, loosely inspired by the tale of Isis and Osiris from ancient Egypt, is a sweeping historical romance that tells a gothic tale of love between a noblewoman and a ghost in eighth-century Japan. Its author, Orikuchi Shinobu, was a well-received novelist, distinguished poet, and an esteemed scholar. He is often considered one of the fathers of Japanese folklore studies, and The Book of the Dead is without a doubt the most important novel of Orikuchi’s career—and it is a book like no other.
Here, for the first time, is the complete English translation of Orikuchi’s masterwork, whose vast influence is evidenced by multiple critical studies dedicated to it and by its many adaptations, which include an animated film and a popular manga. This translation features an introduction by award-winning translator Jeffrey Angles discussing the historical background of the work as well as its major themes: the ancient origins of the Japanese nation, the development of religion in a modernizing society, and the devotion necessary to create a masterpiece. Also included are three chapters from The Mandala of Light by Japanese intellectual historian Ando Reiji, who places the novel and Orikuchi’s thought in the broader intellectual context of early twentieth-century Japan.
The Book of the Dead focuses on the power of faith and religious devotion, and can be read as a parable illustrating the suffering an artist must experience to create great art. Readers will soon discover that a great deal lies hidden beneath the surface of the story; the entire text is a modernist mystery waiting to be decoded.

"At once a work of innovative fiction, written in an evocative and poetic style, as well as a remarkably astute recreation of the natural, mental and spiritual world of Japan’s ancient civilization, The Book of the Dead, long recognized as a modern classic in that country, is now widely accessible for the first time to readers everywhere, thanks to this eloquent translation by Jeffrey Angles. Orikuchi’s work will prove fascinating to any reader with an attraction to literature, anthropology, psychology, or history. There is no other work quite like it in the whole modern Japanese canon."—J. Thomas Rimer

"Orikuchi has fairly haunted modern Japanese literature, and now Jeffrey Angles, in making his The Book of the Dead available in English, helps us understand why. Set eighth-century Japan, Orikuchi's 1943 historical novel illuminated and challenged Japan's twentieth century with this tale of a past emperor who discarded human lives, a story whose publication amidst a world war makes Orikuchi one of the bravest of all modern Japanese writers. Angles' erudite Introduction and Ando Reiji's critical essays alone make this translation worth its price."—John Whittier Treat

"Jeffrey Angles has given us a smooth, supple translation of this remarkable book, and thanks to him, Orikuchi's glorious evocation of the distant past will live on in our contemporary world. The sounds of the ancient Japanese language may have disappeared, but in this translation, the text has been reborn with all the strength and grandeur of ancient societies everywhere."—Hiromi Ito

A vision is shared among multiple people, some dead.
In this vision, voices proliferate. Names proliferate. Senses bleed into senses in the sense that the lips of a dream lover might smell like their hue, in this case: vermilion. Some, while in the thrall of this vision, might make the leap to cinnabar to sulfides to mercury to poison. Others smell the indescribably beautiful.
Orikuchi Shinobu (1887-1953)—author of this vision: The Book of the Dead—was a man split across time. In his introduction to the book (called “Bring the Dead to Life”), translator Jeffrey Angles describes an author ahead of his time, an author bent toward progressive deconstructionism, sliding criticism of the Japanese imperial institution past the prewar censors by inhabiting voices, names, and knowledge from what was considered ancient past. Ancient is never distant for Orikuchi and the Dead; as Angles notes: “Orikuchi was frequently in motion, wandering throughout Japan and its empire, seeking to understand the ways that premodernity and modernity mingled in actual lived, embodied practice.” The result, this mingled vision, is dense: shell game of analogy and layered allegories. Shared historical memory is in a state of flux, a process of revealing and obscuring and revealing on loop. A reader’s share in this vision might require frequent trips to the back pages where an associative glossary, a collection of essays and commentary by Andō Reiji, and the copious and lucid footnotes by Angles confirm Orikuchi’s notions of a spectre-stuffed world constantly and  blithely projecting its present over its past.
This vision is a lot to take in. A central character, a prince who wakes up from the dead (from whose shining apparitional lips another character detects the scent of vermilion), is a kind of stand-in for the historical prince Ōtsu, something made apparent by a number of poems cited in the book, once this connection is established by the reader (in this publication, with the help of the translator), other characters with associative names or referential backstories build up historical context for just a single allegorical layer. Ultimately, an understanding of the dead prince in the story carries not only the weight of the real Ōtsu’s political intrigue, his character assassination and real-life execution, but also of countless other connections. This vision is a lot to take in, and the impression that the novel is simply allegorical and/or historical fiction is slightly misleading.
The pattern of obfuscation and analogous webs extends to an endlessly astounding figurative compulsion in The Book of the Dead, a compulsion toward sensory bleeding and complex synesthesias. Just as the lips of a dead lover might smell like a hue, one might “hear the moon sliding across the sky” at the same moment that a mountain’s trees “stir noiselessly.” While not quite psychadelic, a constant narrowing of one sense into wild focus and consequently surprising intrusion of another overwhelms the palette of the reader experiencing this vision. The maiden from the Southern Branch of the Fujiwara Clan, arguably the novel’s protagonist, falls seamlessly into a dream with a ghost with white jade fingers and seamlessly awakes only realizing her dream due to the strangeness of reality: “the orbs of the moon were trembling on the ceiling just like before, cast by the oil lamps.” The way in which the fluctuating sensory experience helps characters make meaning in reality guides the reader through both what is strange and what is banal in this vision. Trust is established as a kind of illuminated madness, like the heliotropic tug on a maiden convinced she must spend the daylight following the sun.
Voices intrude just like senses do, in fact and maybe of course: the two are often inseparable. A character’s thoughts, dreams, memories, and dialogue might be interrupted by another character’s speech written in a distinct style which then takes over the text with equally distinct thoughts, dreams, memories, and dialogue. Of course, each of these characters sits at the end of a string of associations of proper names, places, and political history. While each is drawn to the central story (for the most part: the maiden from the Southern Branch of the Fujiwara clan pursuing the vision of the dead prince), each has their own interests and detours.
I remember how I felt the first time I closed The Book of the Dead—from a certain point of view: 338 pages including introductions, sidenotes, footnotes, a novel comprised only in part of prose, lyricisms, borrowed poems, original poems, a glossary of names and places, essays, and acknowledgements either by, about, for, or somehow connected to Orikuchi Shinobu. I felt like I knew very little about Orikuchi, about his writing and life. I felt intrigued and compelled like I have in the past by writers and artists like Franz Kafka, Yoko Tawada, and Abbas Kiarostami to dive deep into an ouevre and everything surrounding and adjacent to that body of work. And however deep one delves, there’s always a feeling of having just scratched the surface of a living, growing brilliance to the visions shared by these and other artists. I want to read everyone they read, watch movies they watched, and read the writing of everyone who has read them in the meantime. This is the start of an artistic addiction and a welcomed new infection.
This is a novel that believes in its own power, the empathic and transportive tricks peculiar to the written word. This is also a novel dedicated to the implications of those powers in an embodied present. In “Language and the Making of Place,” one of many astute turns made by  geographer Yi-Fu Tuan is acknowledging the ways in which even those ignorant of the history of a location can unknowingly shape and be shaped by that inescapable history. He destablized other geographers’ “long-held belief that geography is the description of the earth, and that words which simply describe have no power to bring about change.” Characters in The Book of the Dead have instable relationships with place and history (often reflected in the complex history of the characters’ names). At one point, a narrator describes a double-edged short-sightedness: “In the lives of people who had little relation to the written word, a mere hundred years—a span of time that one might call short in the grand scheme of things—seemed just as far away as the ancient past.” And in another lengthy and fascinating detour from what I keep hesitating to call “the main story” (in part because the atmospheric accumulation of these detours feels so vivid and vital to other parts of the novel), the reader absorbs a complex architectural history concerning stone walls believed to keep out disease-spreading and misfortune-causing demons. As imperial regimes and fashions change over time, the protective stone walls are destroyed, illegally preserved, or transported. These changes leave lasting scars on the psyche of communities: “Those terrible events now felt like a dream to many people. Still, they were burned vividly into the memories of others. For them, the epidemic was all too real and showed how terrible the world could be.” For Orikuchi, historical consciousness and collective memory are just as powerful as they are fragile. This is a novel and a vision shared ever more broadly:  “There are times when multiple people experience the same vision at the same time; sometimes even during the middle of the day. Perhaps what the astonished onlookers saw that day just happened to be one of those visions.” - Jace Brittain

Orikuchi Shinobu (1887-1953) was a Japanese ethnologist, linguist, folklorist, novelist, and poet. As one of the foremost early twentieth-century experts of Japanese folklore and Shinto, he has exerted vast influence over modern intellectual discourse. Many of his novels and collections of poetry are classics of Japanese literature.

Ludic Dreaming - Dreams do not distort reality, so much as they are the reality of that distortion. Ludic Dreaming puts dreams in contact with electronic sounds, and digital devices more generally, in order to trace out the exotic topology of our post-everything society

Media of Ludic Dreaming
Ludic Dreaming: How to Listen Away from Contemporary Technoculture, by David Cecchetto, Marc Couroux, Ted Hiebert, Eldritch Priest, Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.

read it at Google Books

Ludic Dreaming uses (sometimes fictional) dreams as a method for examining sound and contemporary technoculture's esoteric exchanges, refusing both the strictures of visually dominated logic and the celebratory tone that so often characterizes the “sonic turn.” Instead, through a series of eight quasi-analytical essays on the condition of listening, the book forwards a robust engagement with sounds (human and nonhuman alike) that leverages particularity in its full, radical singularity: what is a dream, after all, if not an incipient physics that isn't held to the scientific demand for repeatability? Thus, these studies declare their challenge to the conventions of argumentation and situate themselves at a threshold between theory and fiction, one that encourages reader and writer alike to make lateral connections between otherwise wildly incongruent subjects and states of affairs.
Put differently, Ludic Dreaming is a how-to book for listening away from the seeming fatality of contemporary technologies, which is to say, away from the seeming inevitability of late capitalistic nihilism.

“Dreams have always been ally to artists, allergy to art theorists. The Enlightenment has been burdened by a sun soaked conceit of waking life that suppresses sounds and the earthly orbits of sleep. Here is a bright eared collective who take the full play of light and shadow playfully and theory-ously. Sounds are wrenched from being physical acoustics of soundscapes ported into the head and bilaterally returned to an electrochemical brain domain where they discourse with the "prerogative of sleep" rather than a pejorative of unenlightenment. What's in the water in Canada? They should export it.” –  Douglas Kahn

Ludic Dreaming is provocative and adventurous in thought and style, offering a fresh approach to the thinking of sound, and a whimsical, highly productive, excursion from the field.” –  Frances Dyson, Emeritus Professor in Cinema and Digital Media, University of California, Davis, USA
“The Occulture are the King Crimson of contemporary theoretical pataphysics; and the true inheritors of that special Canadian strain of smart, dark, technically-informed intellectual experimentation represented by McLuhan, Cronenberg, Gibson, and the Krokers. This new collaboration is a playfully serious, mind-bending tour of the current sonic mediascape, and some of the less obvious dream factories which compose it (including, and especially, ourselves). Ludic Dreaming resolders the scattered phantasmagoric fragments of what we might now consider, after reading this collection, the Disunited States of Oneirica.” –  Dominic Pettman

“Dreams do not distort reality, so much as they are the reality of that distortion. Ludic Dreaming puts dreams in contact with electronic sounds, and digital devices more generally, in order to trace out the exotic topology of our post-everything society.” –  Steven Shaviro

“This book is a piece of sound writing. Blurring the boundaries between dream, vision and physics, it stretches the reader's imagination into playful and oneiric realms of sonic materiality. A gift.” –  Deborah A. Kapchan

“If contemporary networked capitalism is built on promissory hallucinations to which we wake in fright, then Ludic Dreaming is both sonic boom and boon for an altogether different reverie. Its essays hum with the aural ludicrousness of technocultural phenomena – from black holes that emit B flat frequencies to new generation ear buds that purport to (almost) playback the voice inside our heads. But in ludically tuning in to our nightmarish technologies, Cecchetto, Couroux, Hiebert and Priest [or The Occulture] concurrently compose a delirious counter-counterpoint accompaniment. And herein lies the remarkable and highly original contribution of this book to cultural theory, media and sound studies, and speculative thought. Affording listening a speculative creativity rather than mere receptive functionality, Ludic Dreaming performs an 'elsewhere' listening; a sounding of novel spectra into existence. You will never want to wake up from Ludic Dreaming!” –  Anna Munster


Louis Levy - Combining elements of the serial film, detective story and gothic horror novel, Kzradock is a surreal foray into psychoanalytic mysticism.

Image result for Louis Levy, Kzradock the Onion Man
Louis Levy, Kzradock the Onion Man and the Spring-Fresh Methuselah: From the Notes of Dr. Renard de Montpensier, Wakefield Press, 2017. 

read it at Google Books

Originally published in Danish in 1910, Kzradock the Onion Man and the Spring-Fresh Methuselah is a fevered pulp novel that reads like nothing else of its time: an anomaly within the tradition of the Danish novel, and one that makes for a startlingly modern read to this day. Combining elements of the serial film, detective story and gothic horror novel, Kzradock is a surreal foray into psychoanalytic mysticism.
Opening in a Parisian insane asylum where Dr. Renard de Montpensier is conducting hypnotic séances with the titular Onion Man, the novel escalates quickly with the introduction of battling detectives, murders and a puma in a hallucinating movie theater before shifting to the chalk cliffs of Brighton. It is there that the narrator must confront a ghost child, a scalped detective, a skeleton, a deaf-mute dog and a manipulative tapeworm in order to properly confront his own sanity and learn the spiritual lesson of the human onion.

When Gershom Scholem read the novel in its 1912 German translation on the recommendation of Walter Benjamin, he concluded: “This is a great book, and it speaks a formidable language … This book lays out the metaphysics of doubt.”

"This immensely great book speaks with a powerful language… (...) This book unfurls the metaphysics of doubt. The terrifying law behind soul's germination -- if one trusts the soul -- is developed explicitly in this detective story. (...) The book's knowledge is legitimate and its artistic unity morally shattering, for its unity arises out of the demonic. Indeed, doubt alone can make the madness in art bearable." - Gershom Scholem

Presented as From the Notes of Dr. Renard de Montpensier -- the director of an insane asylum -- Kzradock begins promising mayhem and confusion:
     What will be related here is a dreadful and bloody mystery, one that is still not entirely understood by the author.
       Kzradock is a patient of the doctor's, though the opening scene certainly isn't one of any traditional psychiatric treatment session: it's of a séance. Whatever is buried in Kzradock's soul -- and the doctor warns that's a lot: "When I began treating him he was on the verge of collapsing under the weight of the burden that he carried in his unconscious" -- apparently can only be reached by both mystical and medical treatment.
       There is murder, of two women, Alice and Yvonne, vividly described ("the carpet is so red that you can hardly tell what is blood and what is carpet"), and with murder and police investigation, Kzradock employs traditional (early-days) detective story devices, twists and all. Yet despite involving the Paris police -- a Monsieur Carbonel -- and an American detective, Mister Wells, the real mystery is on the personal level: Kzradock is a literally soul-searching novel, and it's simplest summing-up would say it is the story of an identity crisis. There's a reason the doctor refers to Kzradock as 'the Onion Man', and there are a lot of layers to peel back here.
       Among the major plot points is one having the inmates taking over the asylum. Apparently setting it on fire, they are able to fool the fire chief into believing that the late-arriving-to-the-scene doctor and Monsieur Carbonel are impostors, escaped patients -- with Monsieur Carbonel then taking advantage when the situation is cleared up to claim that the foreign irritant, Mister Wells, is, in fact, one of the madmen. As it turns out, there apparently is no fire:
     "No fire," replied the fire chief. "But there is a revolution."
       Everywhere the doctor turns, Kzradock is his antagonist. Eventually, he sees:
     Now I understood just what the struggle with Kzradock meant ! It was the struggle between madness and reason. A struggle between his insanity, which wanted to crowd into my circles, and my reason, which felt a curious desire to enter his world.
       And it doesn't come as too much of a surprise that that is very much an internal struggle.
       Using elements of the detctive novel, as well as delving into both mysticism and the subconscious (the psychic and psychoanalytic here both very much of their time), -- with a good dose of the seemingly hallucinatory unreal -- Kzradock is a nicely twisted take on soul-searching, plunging ever-deeper into questions such as:
Is reason only disciplined insanity, an insane hallucination that has taken on form, and under whose influence we all live ? Is reason a dream created by chance, made useable by necessity ?
       The doctor goes through quite some ordeals -- all the way to the cliffs of Brighton. In conclusion, he can't be sure -- "Who knows whether I have truly escaped ..." -- but he's found some of the answers for himself. They include the lesson learned: "You have to doubt your own soul". This too is very much of its time, a worldview informed by the theories (or fads ...) of the day -- but it's nicely mixed up and in by Levy, the doctor's travails and adventures using all of this well in reaching his conclusions. And if it's all a bit overheated -- the action as well as the ideas -- it's certainly quite good fun, especially in its bizarreness.
       Kzradock is the kind of novel that finds the narrator flailing, finding that:
At the edge of the abyss between madness and reason language comes to a stop, and words can no longer explain ....
       But the atmosphere and action Levy conjures up are enough to give the reader some sense of this abyss he explores.
       Likely considerably more haunting in its own time, Kzradock still stands up reasonably well, and both the mind-games Levy plays in it and the contrasting pieces -- ranging from imitation-detective-novel bits to the near-surrealistic -- make for an appealing, bizarre little read. - M.A.Orthofer

Michel de Ghelderode - By turns mystical, macabre and whimsically humorous, and set in the unsettled atmosphere of Brussels, Ostend, Bruges and London, Spells conjures up an uncanny realm of angels, demons, masks, effigies and apparitions, a twilit, oppressed world of diseased gardens, dusty wax mannequins and sinister relics

Image result for Michel de Ghelderode, Spells
Michel de Ghelderode, Spells, Trans. by George MacLennon, Wakefield Press, 2017.

Hitherto unavailable in English, Spells, by the Belgian dramatist Michel de Ghelderode, ranks among the 20th century’s most noteworthy collections of fantastic tales. Like Ghelderode’s plays, the stories are marked by a powerful imagination and a keen sense of the grotesque, but in these the author speaks to us still more directly. Written at a time of illness and isolation, and conceived as a fresh start, Spells was Ghelderode’s last major creative work, and he claimed it as his most personal and deeply felt one: a set of written spells through which his fears, paranoia and nostalgia found concrete form.By turns mystical, macabre and whimsically humorous, and set in the unsettled atmosphere of Brussels, Ostend, Bruges and London, Spells conjures up an uncanny realm of angels, demons, masks, effigies and apparitions, a twilit, oppressed world of diseased gardens, dusty wax mannequins and sinister relics.Combining the full contents of both the 1941 and 1947 editions, this translation of Spells is the most comprehensive edition yet published.

Michel de Ghelderode, Ghelderode: 3 Plays, The Siege of Ostend, The Actor Makes His Exit and Transfiguration in the Circus. Trans. by David Willinger. Host Publications, 2006.

Michel de Ghelderode (1898-1962) was a Belgian playwright who is generally ranked with Beckett, Brecht, Ionesco, Genet and Pinter in the international avant-garde. Writing most of his plays between 1918 and 1937, he wasn't discovered in Europe until after World War II, where he was hailed as the "Belgian Shakespeare," and in America until the 1960's. Both discoveries led to great, though cult, popularity. In the early 60's not a week went by without a production of one of Ghelderode's plays, somewhere in the United States. Ghelderode's best known plays in English translation are Escural and Pantagleize. This unique volume includes three plays—The Siege of Ostend, The Actor Makes His Exit  and Transfiguration in the Circus—in their first ever English translation.
David Willinger is the outstanding English-language translator of Belgian drama, as well as the leading American authority on Belgian drama and theatre. He has prepared a volume of three of Michel de Ghelderode's major plays, which are important for our understanding of his contribution to twentieth-century dramatic literature. The translations are lively, inventive and eminently stageable, while at the same time remaining true to the spirit and texture of the original. – Daniel Gerould

Michel de Ghelderode, Ghelderode: Seven Plays, Hill & Wang, 1960.

Production Photo
1965: Chronicles of Hell (Michel de Ghelderode)

Religious faith isn't based on logic; it is fostered by belief in mysterious forces and finds its raison d'etre in miraculous occurrences. A human being who manifests miraculous power threatens the entire structure of organized religion. If such a person cannot be branded a charlatan, condemned as a witch, or perverted into a Satanist, Holy Church may be forced to do its worst... enshrine him as a saint. CHRONICLES OF HELL is about a saint who refuses to die and bares the whole grotesque nightmare of organized religion. -

Michel de Ghelderode (1898 - 1962) was an avant-garde Belgian dramatist, writing in French. He was born on Palm Sunday April 3rd, 1898, as Adh mar-Adolphe-Louis Martens in Ixelles and married in 1924 to Jeanne-Fran oise G rard. He died in Brussels, and is buried in the Laeken cemetery. A prolific writer, he wrote more than sixty plays, a hundred stories, a number of articles on art and folklore and more than 20,000 letters. He is the creator of a fantastic and disturbing, often macabre, grotesque and cruel world filled with mannequins, puppets, devils, masks, skeletons, religious paraphernalia, mysterious old women... etc. His works create an eerie and unsettling atmosphere although they rarely contain anything openly scary. Among his influences are puppet theater, commedia dell'arte and the paintings of fellow Belgian James Ensor. His works often deal with the extremes of human experience, from death and degradation to religious exaltation. His 1934 play La Balade du grand macabre served as inspiration for Gy"rgy Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre.

Article about the Grand Macabre, by György Ligeti, an opera with a libretto by Ligeti himself and the famous marionettist Michael Meschke, based on an original play by Michel de Ghelderode. Grand Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona.
Le Grand Macabre
The opera Le Grand Macabre, first performed in Stockholm in April 1978, was presented in a revised version in 1997 in a production by the Fura dels Baus, with stage direction by Àlex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco, and musical direction by Michael Boder.
The reason for an article in Puppetring about this full scale opera is none other than the wish to do justice to a production we consider pure Puppet Theatre in capital letters, and, furthermore, of the most noble kind seen in recent times.
For years now, La Fura dels Baus has regaled us with shows which are fully steeped in so called visual theatre, with a profusion of “plastic” or sculptural elements and a preponderance of images created with supreme care.
Besides the imagination of their directors (Àlex Ollé and Carles Padrissa), the Fura works with a number of close collaborators who approach the image from different perspectives and are highly regarded in their own fields. Roland Olbeeter comes to mind, the scenographer and member of the company responsible for coming up with their most original and sophisticated machinery and gadgets, (among other things he is a nautical engineer). In 2005, Roland’s Orlando Furioso! was presented in the Pocket Opera Festival in Barcelona. In this piece five acoustic, mechanical instruments played themselves, as they moved around the space like robotic puppets, interacting with the singer Claudia Schneider. Or, equally, the video-artist  Franc Aleu, an indispensable presence in most of the Fura’s productions; or the various scenographers who have worked with the company.
In the Le Grand Macabre, the “Fureros” (with a set designed by Alfons Flores) hit the bull’s eye when they came up with the idea of a gigantic puppet which occupies the whole opera theatre’s stage and which centres the action and draws it together.
A puppet, because it has articulated parts (mouth, eyes, head and legs, as well as the body’s natural orifices which open and close as required), because it can turn, and, above all, because it comes to life as a character, thanks in part to the use of video projection which gives it a face with facial movements and multiple body textures, and because at a certain moment we perceive it as its own skeleton, thanks to the translucent nature of the doll’s skin which allows the bones of the inner structure to be seen.
If a production achieves a completely organic relationship between a central element of the set and the other elements of the performance, it can be said that the “dramaturgical bullseye” has been hit; this is something that is extremely difficult to achieve. When it’s succesful, the miracle happens and the show will fly, to the full extent of its potential. This is what happened with the Fura’s version of Le Grand Macabre.
In its day, (the work was premiered as has been said in 1978), Michael Meshke, the illustrious marionette puppeteer, participated in writing the libretto of Le Grand Macabre. This is apparent in the buffonesque style, almost “ubuesque”, of the text, with language which is reminiscent of Jarry’s. Meshke directed Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi in 1965, in a production that has entered the anthologies which continued to be performed until 1990, which indicates the importance this work had on the world of the Polish puppeteer. Who is the character, really, of Nekrotzar (Death in Ligeti’s opera) if not a kind of ridiculous and capricious Ubu, laughed at by his own assistants and who, furthermore, at the end discovers he’s afraid of his ex-wife? An Ubu who kills everything he touches but who, at the same time is ridiculous and grotesque, as are all the powerful characters who appear in the work.
All the characters emerge out of the huge doll at the centre of the opera, (modelled on the naked body of Claudia Schneider, who appears in a video at the beginning and end of the production): some from the mouth, others from the eyes or from the vagina, and when the figure is turned round, the buttocks are parted and another space is created which contains the intestines and which, once these have been extracted, even becomes a kind of disco-bar where a party’s going on.
Each scene and each act is marked by the doll’s new position, its movements, and the way the spaces inside, around, or on it are used, in such a way that it can be claimed that it absolutely centres the action and the production itself.
For anyone interested in this prodigious production and some of the comments it has earned, I invite you to visit the Fura’s web page, where you can see images, texts and video, as well as reviews and comments.
Translation – Rebecca Simpson


The Proverbs of Ashendōn veer from the broken narrative of their initial occlusion, to the lucidity of theologico-literary madness as a new topography of knowledge

The Proverbs of Ashendōn. gnOme, 2017.

The litany of a parallel, venomous wisdom, The Proverbs of Ashendōn veer from the broken narrative of their initial occlusion, to the lucidity of theologico-literary madness as a new topography of knowledge. As an inverted deity, “Ashendōn comes bearing gifts.”

“Each page herein has a pair of proverbs, each pair apparently procreating further pairs—further proverbial couplings—unto and until the very last one, which understandably stands as a symbol not only of the whole endeavor (The Proverbs of Ashendōn) but also, and all the more so, of these ‘Proverbs’ as ashen ‘Postverbs’: Postmortem/Post«mot» ‘Proverbs’. The Proverbs of Ashendōn are in hindsight—looking back from their last page (Spolier Alert!)—spelled-outspilled-forth and spoiled to the point of putrefactionpetrification, and pulverized carbonation: a return to, and/or turn into ash. In the end, to quote Beckett’s Endon (morphic mirror of Beckett’s Murphy) or better yet—worse still—to quote the unnamed/unnameable Endon of Beckett’s Endgame, all that the reader will have seen in proceeding through The Proverbs will have been ashes, naught but ashes. In the end, in Ashendōn, nothing but ash: ashen grey, deathly white; the final symbol uniting the (w)hole is the ‘debased cornucopia’ (Ashendōn’s words) of a fitting funereal urn, ‘symbol of the age’. What appeared to be couplings—procreative pairings—were in fact only the ongoing onanism (‘onanistic…repetitive patterns as a kind of fuel’: an ongoing funereal fire) of one already expired, already post-pyre. … On the last page, Godot-like (Note herenow, that there is no need for Spoiler Alerts, since everything is already spoiled), the sole proverb states at last that ‘Ashendōn is coming’—ya viene Ashendōn—but at this point, in this pointed proverb (this singular one following page after page of pairings), it is evident that everything which could have come has already/onanistically come.  All is here/herewith Ashendone.” — Dan Mellamphy 

“The age of iron, our own age,…is…the : the age of misery, misfortune and decrepitude. The age of iron has no other seal than that of . Its hieroglyph is the skeleton bearing…the empty hourglass, symbol of time run out, and the scythe, reproduced in the figure seven, which is the number of transformation, of destruction, and of annihilation. The Gospel of this fatal age is the one written under the inspiration of Saint Matthew. , the Greek , comes from and , which means Science.…It is the Gospel according to : the last of all but for us the first, because it teaches us that, save for a small number of the élite, we must all perish.” — Fulcanelli

Ambroise Lefurgey - Enigmatic and dreamlike, yet not without a recurrent insistence on embodiment, his surreal poems flicker as hot coals do, often flaring between themes of eternity and facticity, body and spirit, love and lovelessness


Ambroise Lefurgey, Selected Poems. Trans. and Foreword by Liesl Ketum. gnOme, 2017.

Lefurgey was a metaphysical wayfarer, a poet-sage who lived his life on the razor’s edge. A walking coincidentia oppositorum, he threw himself full tilt into the Moebius simultaneity of worlds both sacred and profane. Enigmatic and dreamlike, yet not without a recurrent insistence on embodiment, his surreal poems flicker as hot coals do, often flaring between themes of eternity and facticity, body and spirit, love and lovelessness.

The translation of a poem by February Eglomise had been floating around the island of Montréal during my undergraduate years in that city; it was entitled ‘A Lifebuoys Merger’ and had to do with the alchemical process—indeed, it was said to have divulged the great secret of tinctures, and by dint of this many believed the poet to have been a student of Jean-Julien Champagne, a.k.a. Fulcanelli. The original from which ‘A Lifebuoys Merger’ had been translated was a document no one could find. It is fitting, then, that a student in anglophone Toronto—at the so-called ‘Divinity School’ (a.k.a.School of ‘Divining-Rods’ qua ‘Plumbing-Techniques’) of Torontos Humber College—plumbed the depths of this mystery and discovered that both the name of the poet (February Eglomise) and the name of the poem (‘A Lifebuoys Merger’) were anagrams of Ambroise LeFurgey (and of course, vice versa). Mike Tulles, Humber Colleges top-notch student of plumbing-techniques, anagrammatized his name and then published his findings under this «nom-de-plumb»—a publication that took the form of the present pseudonymous translation (plus prefatory introduction) of an unanagramatized French poet. In order to disguise his institutional affiliation, he simply added an asterisk-dagger to Humber, creating in so doing Humber† College and its ‘Divinity School’ student Liesl Ketum. Lest it be said that I here break pseudonymies, it should be added that Mike Tulles a.k.a. Liesl Ketum might in fact—in reality—be Ellie Muskt (yet another anagram), and that the latter and all of the former might be the daughter (and/or son) of a certain Maye and Errol, to whose surname another asterisk-dagger was added. The mysteries and mysterious/pseudonymous interconnections go on and on and on. In this space—in the space of these plural/plurifold pseudonymies—let me simply suggest, in fine gnOme_Books fashion, that the translator and translated can be signed (either one) as Space-X.” M


Ibn Khālawayh - A fascinating volume. Everything in these pages emerges from the 350 names attributed to the mythologised creature of the lion

Names of the Lion, David Larsen
Ibn Khālawayh, Names of the LionTrans. by David Larsen, Wave Books, 2017.

Poet and scholar David Larsen’s English translation of the late 10th century Arabic lexicographer Ibn Khālawayh’s list of names of lions. Essentially a book of translation about translation, this unique work engages medieval linguistic scholarship with precision and clarity. Larsen’s lively introduction, notes, and the 400 epithets are an engrossing work of cultural studies.

In this remarkable work of translation and discovery David Larsen makes available to us what we can now read as a powerful old/new act of poetic naming. Not composed as poetry in the familiar sense, Ibn Khalawayh’s Names of the Lion comes alive today as a further example of Emerson’s definition of the poet as “namer and language-maker.” Larsen’s careful and groundbreaking translation, presented here in its entirety, is well worth a reading and celebration as an instance of pre-modern assemblage brought into the framework of a new poetics. - Jerome Rothenberg 

A fascinating volume. Everything in these pages emerges from the 350 names attributed to the mythologised creature of the lion. Through the careful, obsessively detailed index, and alongside the retelling of Arabic grammarians’ arguments, arises a fascinating account of the lavish and important workings of nominal attribution. It’s all in a name, all in a grain of sand, all in a snowflake, all in a mane. - Caroline Bergvall

A mystifying and delightful treatise that conveys, as few other texts do, the voluminousness of the classical Arabic language and its poetic resources. Its author was a literary celebrity during a period crowded with savants, and his idiosyncratic genius is on full display in this astonishingly erudite but wonderfully readable book. Elias Muhanna

(al-Ḥusayn ibn Aḥmad ibn Khālawayh) 
al-Waththāb             “The Pouncer”
al-ʿAū                       “The Distresser”
al-Mihzaʿ                   “The Smasher” 
al-Miktal                   “The Big Food-Basket”
al-ʿAkammash       “Whose Numbers are Oppressive” 
al-Murib                  “The Belligerent”
al-Sāriiyy                “The Pastoral [Scourge]”
al-Muāmi              “The Open-Mouthed”
al-Qaʿfāniyy             “Whose Tread Stirs the Dust”
al-Hijaff                     “The Imposing Bulk”
al-ʿAssās                     “Who Looks for Trouble in the Night”
al-Mukhayyas          “Whose Den Is Well Kept”
al-Sawwār                “Who Goes Straight for the Head”
al-Musāfir                 “The Wayfarer”
al-aḥḥār                   “Whose Eyes Burn”
al-Ghayyāl                “The Well-Concealed”
al-Miakk                   “The Slammer”
al-Ahyab                    “The Most Fearsome”
Dhū Libd                   “Whose Hair is Matted”
al-Dilhām                  “The Dusky”
al-Hawātima            “Terror of the Lowland”
al-Arash                      “The Raking Blow”
al-Shaddākh             “The Skull Crusher”
al-Dilhātha               “Who Strides Unflinching Into Battle”
al-Qanawar             “The Impaler”, said also of the male member of the tortoise, & the spear
Dhu ’l-ʿUfra           “Whose Hair Gets Thicker When he’s Mad”
Dhu ’l-Khīs                 “Who Has a Hiding Place”
Layth al-ʿArīn          “Lion of the Treetop Hideaway”
Layth Khaffān          “Lion of the Lion-Infested Area”
Layth al-Ghāb          “Lion of the Thicket”
Nazij                             “Prancer”
Akhram                        “Hare-Lip”
al-Shābil                    “Whose Teeth Are Interlaced”
al-Aʿfar                      “Whose Coat Is the Color of the Surface of the Earth”
al-Midlāj                    “Who Shows up Late at Night”
al-Mawthabān            “The Seated [Monarch]”
al-Dawsar                  “The Lusty”
al-Abghath                 “Whose Coat Is Ashy”
al-Aghthā                   “Whose Coat Is Shabby”
al-Ghathawthar        “The Thug”
al-Ghuthāghith          “Who Fights Without a Weapon”
al-Ghāzī                      “The Raider”
al-Mufarfir                “The Mangler”
al-Khashshāf             “The Calamity”
al-Azhar                    “The Radiant”
al-Irrīs                         “The Chief”
al-Ajwaf                    “The Big-Bellied”
al-Jāfī                        “The Brute”
al-Jāhil                      “The Unrepentant”
al-Muʿlankis             “Whose Hair Hangs in Clusters”
al-Jayfar                   “Whose Sides Are Well Filled Out”
al-Māī                      “The Cutter,” also said of a sword
al-Ququa                “The Stocky”
al-ārī                         “The Blood-Bather,” also said of an open vein
al-abūr                     “The Perseverant”
al-aʿb                        “The Difficult”
al-Mutajir               “Furiously Jealous in Defense of What Is His”
al-Mudill                     “The Brazen”
al-Hayama                “The Destroyer”
al-Ashraʿ                   “Whose Nose Is Long and Prominent”
al-Qaū                     “The Sunderer”
al-ubāib                “The Giant Lout”
al-Qirim                  “Who Takes the Whole”
al-Ruzam                    “Who Can’t Be Budged”
al-Hajjās                     “The Show-Off”
al-Muqamil             “The Brutal Shepherd”
al-ʿAntarīs                “Valiant in Battle,” [said for] the lion and the she-camel
al-Shaykh                  “The Elder”
                                                                                                            (Syria, Arabic)
Source: al-usayn ibn Amad ibn Khālawayh, Names of the Lion, translated with notes and an introduction by David Larsen (Atticus / Finch, 2009), 33-36 (revised).
(1)  As with Gertrude Stein’s insight cited elsewhere, a poetry of names emerges, even & sometimes most powerfully in forms & genres not associated with poetry as such.  In the instance of Ibn Khalawayh (d. 980 or 981 CE), he was a Persian-born grammarian much of whose  work was devoted to curiosities & anomalies of the Arabic language.  So, according to David Larsen as scholar/translator, “Names of the Lion comes from a long serial work called Kitāb Laysa fī kalām al-ʿarab (The Book of ‘Not in the Speech of the Arabs’), which has never been printed in its entirety. The title comes from the formula opening each short chapter: ‘There is in the speech of the Arabs no…’ followed by various exceptions to the stated rule.” Apart from this larger work, Names of the Lion came to be read independently along with now inextant listings of his such as Names of the Serpent and Names of the Hours of the Night.  That we may read these today – “in the procedural spirit of recent avant-garde tradition” – as acts of poesis, is an indication of how far our own practice has come in the extension of what we identify or read as poetry. 
(2)  Writes David Larsen further: “Asiatic lion populations were endemic to Syria and Iraq until modern times, and encounters between lions and human beings are documented in all other historical periods. Perhaps this is what suggested the subject to Ibn Khālawayh, who left his birthplace in western Iran to study in Baghdad, and went on to Aleppo to serve the court of Sayf al-Dawla (r. 945-967 CE) as a tutor of Arabic grammar. Although he was no zoologist, Ibn Khālawayh’s list of lion’s names is touched by a natural historian’s zeal for order and intelligibility. The genre to which it belongs is the thesaurus, a branch of lexicographical writing that proliferated alongside a relatively small number of dictionaries in the first centuries of Arabic literary culture. In other words, Names of the Lion is not a composition in verse ... [and if it now] reads like an elegiac text, it is because we of the twenty-first century mourn the lion’s lost mastery of the earth. We are also attuned to the list as a poetic form in a way that readers and writers of other periods were not. Names of the Lion may be a masterpiece of philological literature, but Ibn Khālawayh had no conception of it as a work of poetry.”
(3)  The instances of poems as namings & namings as poetry run a wide gamut of human experiences, some of which the present editor has cited numerous times in gatherings starting with the first edition of Technicians of the Sacred: Egyptian god names, Homeric ship names, African praise names, the 99 names of Allah, the 950 Sikh god names of Guru Gobind Singh, the 72 names of YHVH (The Lord) in Kabbala (including “The Name” itself), & numerous namings of objects & beings (divine & mundane) by tags & by metaphors. 
(4)  “Victory will be above all / To see truly into the distance / To see everything / Up close / So that everything can have a new name.” (Guillaume Apollinaire) -  Jacket2