Ben Woodard - Dark vitalism:a mix of weird fiction and sci-fi with speculative philosophy and biology to diagnose and explicate the metaphysical and literal sliminess of human existence

Ben Woodard, Slime Dynamics, Zero Books, 2012.

"Despite humanity s gradual ascent from clustered pools of it, slime is more often than not relegated
to a mere residue—the trail of a verminous life form, the trace of decomposition, or an entertaining
synthetic material—thereby leaving its generative and mutative associations with life neatly removed
from the human sphere of thought and existence. Arguing that slime is a viable physical and metaphysical
object necessary to produce a realist bio-philosophy void of anthrocentricity, this text explores
naturephilosophie, speculative realism, and contemporary science; hyperbolic representations of slime
found in the weird texts of HP Lovecraft and Thomas Ligotti; as well as survival horror films, video
games, and graphic novels, in order to present the dynamics of slime not only as the trace of life
but as the darkly vitalistic substance of life."

"Woodard reminds us that humans "like any other polyp of living matter, are nothing but heaps of slime slapped together and shaped by the accidents of time and the context of space. The fact that we have evolved self-consciousness should not guarantee or maintain meaning.Meaning is only ever the final gloss on being which when removed does not then dictate mass suicide nor pure apathy (Woodard. 66). 3
Woodard's excellent meditation on the dark vitality at the heart of life can be read in an afternoon. The format is a series of essays that expand in waves upon the central theme of the patient work of the negative, not the negative that negates life, but the patient negation that eliminates meaning from the very fabric of space and time revealing the pathology of existence: "... subtracting meaning, reducing ontological life to biological life is only to unbind pathology which seems like a far more useful weapon in combating a structure than meaning..."(66). He explains this saying,
"Pathology opens the oddness of any creation in time and space thereby spreading a plague of tenuousness across all of existence. ... Everything Dies. This introduces the tension between inactivity between inaction and action, that things will perish but so will I. The strange temporality is reflected in the symptom, in that particular things in time form our particular pathological trajectory but this trajectory continuously reminds us of its existence (66-67)."
Reza Negarestani in his essay Death as a Perversion: Openess and Germinal Death (here) tells us the "desire for openness has been considered the desire for life, death, horror, outside and intensity and this is why it has been cautiously appropriated whether through desire itself or despotic rigidities. However, it has been never totally blocked, for even in the case of monolithic despotism and rigidity, we do not encounter closure but strictly economical openness which is the indispensable part of any paranoiacally isolationist organization." This type of openess Negarestani terms affordance and tells us that through "affordance, openness is represented as the level of being open (to) not being opened (the plane of epidemic and contagion: plagues, contaminations, possession, etc.)." In a declarative statement he continues:
""I am open to you." means, I have the capacity to bear your investment or 'I afford you' (this is not an intentional conservative voice but what arises as the fundamental noise produced by the machinery of different levels of organization and boundary, and finally organic survival); if you exceed this capacity I will be cracked, lacerated and laid open. "
Woodard tells us that this kind of openess is a form of "being splayed open" that recognizes pathology but does not legitimate structure (67). He tells us that we must remain open to the pathological and to life itself so that the power of the Cthuloid ethics reveals the fissures and cracks of our lacerated pathologies (67). Ultimately Woodard's meditation lays bare the emptiness within and without, a darkness that is a blinding nihil that affords a "metaphysical construct opposed to emergence and that is at once a simultaneous resurrection and mutilation of vitalism (8)."
The term "emergent" was coined by the pioneer psychologist G. H. Lewes, who wrote:
"Every resultant is either a sum or a difference of the co-operant forces; their sum, when their directions are the same -- their difference, when their directions are contrary. Further, every resultant is clearly traceable in its components, because these are homogeneous and commensurable. It is otherwise with emergents, when, instead of adding measurable motion to measurable motion, or things of one kind to other individuals of their kind, there is a co-operation of things of unlike kinds. The emergent is unlike its components insofar as these are incommensurable, and it cannot be reduced to their sum or their difference." 4
Woodard tells us that vitalism is traditionally not unlike emergentism in that both suggest there is something more to life, something that drives and/or affects life that is not purely reducible to the classifiable componenets of life itself (8). Against this signification of vitalism as emergentism as that which harbors the meaning of life or vital substance that "propels life forward", he offers instead the theory that the "vital force is time and its effect on space" that propels all things forward (8). In his readings of Deleuze, Guattari, Bergson and Merleau-Ponty he comes to the realization that vitalism cannot be a thing, that it cannot be a force "because it says nothing about life itself as a force, only that it develops but not how(9)." What all the philosophers of vitalism have left out is a dark truth Woodard tells us, one that shows forth the force of time itself: "... time as something beyond thought which is the force of vitalism (life emerges over time) and the substance of vitalism is not the germ plasm trumping heredity but space as it is filled by life (9)."
He goes on to ask a central question: How do we bring vitalism "into contact with reality and raise it from its spatio-temporal philosophical obscurity?(10)"
The articulation of vitalism that he presents is what he terms a "minimalist metaphysics which operates on reality by way of following an ontological cascade mirroring the cosmological progression of forces and matters.(10)" He takes an almost Spinzoist turn (rooted in the Neo-Platonic One) telling us that this "force of forces" arises out of the original One, a "One not as a pure unification but the possibility of 'isness' itself stemming from the original simultaneous explosion of time and space as well as the resulting emanations, immanences, emergences and transcendences(10)." He argues that "vitalism is a mental shadow of the progression of the universe from the speculative moment before the Big Bang, as a highly condensed mass, to its extension into time and space and matter, to biological life, and finally to reflective thinking(10-11)." He sees this as a "degenerate take on vitalism and the Neo-Platonic One" and together they form his unique theory of dark vitalism.
This dark vitalism led Woodard to the "sickening realization" that the universe is oblivious to human existence, that this inhospitable universe is shaped by the force of time and that all things within it are accidents of the contortions of a universal geometry of space that shapes all things, including us, which are "further ravaged by accident, context, feedback, and the degradation of wear and age (11)." The universal geometry of this dark vitalism is formed by the three-fold darkness of its central unfolding: first, it is dark because it is obscured by both nature ... and by time ... since the cause of the most of the nature we know has fallen back into the deep past. Second, it is dark because it spells bad news for the human race in terms of our origin, our meaning, and our ultimate fate. And, finally, it is dark on an aesthetic and experiential level our psychological and phenomenological existence is darkened and less friendly to us, and to our perceptions, given the destructiveness of time and space (11-12).
In a series of resonating essays that open out toward each other in a triple movment and doubling remediation of nihilistic light, revealing wave after wave of intrepid disclosure, Woodard offers us a deeply personal and moving vision of our material life as slime. As he states it so eloquently, slime "is the smudge of reality, the remainder and reminder of the fact that things fall apart. The shining path of humanity is only ever the verminous-like trail of our own oozing across time and space - the trace and proof of our complete sliminess through and through. Human existence then is composed of the slime of being conjoined with the mindless and dysfunctional repetitions of pathology (67-68)."
In the end this is a dark vitalism that accepts the deep realms of forces and processes but does not try to think it under the sign of reason alone, instead it envisions a "strange combination of realism and vitalism" that is both speculative and material, and tells us that "time is the ground of all ideation, and human beings are merely thinking slime(60)". It accepts that life is an accident, a mistake, a "foul thing" - that it is the vision of a cosmic nihilism that will "fill space till the cosmos burns too low for anything to again cohere, ending only with an ocean of putrescence spilling over into the boundless void of extinction (68)." Ultimately he tells us that his text is less about slime itself than about the sliminess of life, of the inevitable biological and physical constraints on living in the world that, in one way or another, is always a being-toward-extinction(13). ...more  - Dark Chemistry

"Ben Woodard’s SLIME DYNAMICS, recently released by Zero Books, offers a continuing exploration of subjects and modes of thinking developed over the last few years within the realm of philosophy that has donned the title of “speculative realism.” Woodard concerns himself primarily, both in this book and in his academic engagements, with the ideas of Dark Vitalism, which, as the book posits is
the sickening realization of an inhospitable universe, stating that the production of life as an accidental event in time which is then contorted and bent by the banality of space, of our particular (and just as accidental) universal geometry and then further ravaged by accident, context, feedback and the degradation of wear and age.
Taking Dark Vitalism as its launching point Woodard continues to trace the idea of slime as “a viable physical and metaphysical object necessary to produce a eralist bio-philosophy void of anthrocentricity.” A turn away from anthromorphism, away from humanism perhaps, is another trade mark of developing thought, as it recenters the organicism of the world, the infinitude (outside of the phenomenological existence of human-beings–aka what came before Beings, what can come after, what this means). These continuing strands are carried throughout the short study in true continental style, vis a vis literary horror fiction, horror movies, video games and comics. This presents a fun context, at least for someone as genre obsessed as I am, to explore larger concepts.
While ultimately not utterly convincing in its case-studies, Woodard’s book does prove to be a fully engaging read and an interesting footnote on the development of speculative realism, specifically that of dark vitalism and the uncanny terror of the world carrying on without us." - Impossible Mike

Ben Woodard, On an Ungrounded Earth: Towards a New Geophilosophy, Punctum Books, 2013.

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For too long, the Earth has been used to ground thought instead of bending it; such grounding leaves the planet as nothing but a stage for phenomenology, deconstruction, or other forms of anthropocentric philosophy. In far too much continental philosophy, the Earth is a cold, dead place enlivened only by human thought—either as a thing to be exploited, or as an object of nostalgia. Geophilosophy seeks instead to question the ground of thinking itself, the relation of the inorganic to the capacities and limits of thought. This book constructs an eclectic variant of geophilosophy through engagements with digging machines, nuclear waste, cyclones and volcanoes, giant worms, secret vessels, decay, subterranean cities, hell, demon souls, black suns, and xenoarcheaology, via continental theory (Nietzsche, Schelling, Deleuze, et alia) and various cultural objects such as horror films, videogames, and weird Lovecraftian fictions, with special attention to Speculative Realism and the work of Reza Negarestani. In a time where the earth as a whole is threatened by ecological collapse, On an Ungrounded Earth generates a perversely realist account of the earth as a dynamic engine materially invading and upsetting our attempts to reduce it to merely the ground beneath our feet.

Ben Woodard's blog


Joyce Mansour - Like the eagle at daybreak, Death swallows the dew, The snake smothers the rat, The nomad under his tent listens to the time screeching, On the gravel of insomnia, Everything is there waiting for a word already stated, Elsewhere

Essential Poems and Writings (English and French Edition)

Joyce Mansour, Essential Poems and Writings (English and French Edition), Trans. by Serge Gavronsky, Black Widow Press, 2008.

Joyce Mansour (1928-1986) was born in England, raised in Cairo, and moved to Paris where she quickly became one of the major Surrealist figures around Andre Breton. Her writings garnered respect among the Surrealists of this time period and in Paris in general. Now widely recognized as an important poet in Europe, this is the first major anthology of her works (Poems, plays, and essays) to be available in the English language. Translator/editor Serge Gavronsky has been writing and masterfully translating Mansour's works for more than twenty years; he presents a succinct overview of her work in his introduction. Mansour's violent eroticism (in the 1950's before the first waves of feminist writings) and mastery over the poetic form represents a thoroughly modern poet whose poems are fully alive and essential. The extensive poetry section is bilingual.

Finally a very good one volume English language edition of Mansour's works. 349 pages of the 430 pages are bilingual (all the poems)which is always useful. Mansour previously had but small snippets of her work in English language anthologies and small English language chap books or small press printings. For those who are completionists, all of her work is available in one French Language only volume compiled by Hubert Nyssen in 1991. This massive tome (640+pages)has sadly gone out of print and is now expensive. A recent Mansour biography by Missir in 2005 (French only) is a treat as well. Gavronsky has chosen well from amongst Mansour's many books, emphasizing, I think rightly, the poetry. Everyone will have their favorites that they will feel might have been left out but such is the nature of anthologies/compilations. Gavornsky knew the Mansours, has published other books on Mansour, and has written extensively about her for the last 20 years. The poems are very well translated capturing Mansour's nuances (especially in the erotically charged poems)in a way some earlier translations did not. One is always shocked by Mansour that these poems were written in the 1950's-60's. They feel and read fresh and modern as anything written today. Gavronsky has proven once again that he is both an able poet and a compelling translator. His introduction is conversational and anecdotal (sometimes a bit rambling)and at the end of it he shows by listing most major press publications concerning French poetry/poets in English and how Mansour was really ignored from the 1950's until the 1990's. I am glad she is no longer another statistic, this book should help spread her name to more parts of the world. An "essential" addition to any Mansour or French poetry library.

Format:PaperbackSerge Gavronsky has done an admirable job presenting a varied selection of one of the near unknown (in the US), but most important of the female surrealists. Her poetry, so modern and erotically charged, was not published by any US publisher in the 1950's through 1970's, and it is good to finally see a critical anthology of her work available in a bilingual edition. Having read Gavronsky's two other smaller books of translations of Mansour's poems as well as his other writings on Mansour I would have to heavily disagree with a prior review who states with a blanket statement "poorly translated." Gavronsky is a well known poet in France and an able poet/translator. I think the compilation is a marvelous overview and more than ably, in fact, poetically adept translation, as one will find out as it is bilingual and one can translate/reason for oneself. Four hundred pages plus of Mansour is a treat no matter how one looks at it. -

Joyce Mansour is a great surprise to find and read anywhere. Her books are scarcely known and expensive to buy in the original French editions. Hers are considered like pieces from a Modern Art collection. And she's definitively hard to get in English. Mr Serge Gavronsky must be praised for trying to render this "sister of the wind" into English. But this book fails to show his devotion to the real task in front of him. Maybe someone else will make it happen in the future. Two black-and-white pictures of Joyce Mansour plus the cover make the book a thing to hold dearly, but that's it. His introduction is unreadable and incoherent, adding nothing to the poems and saying so much too little about the poet's life.
Also, in his list of books dedicated to her or not, Mr Gavronsky forgot to mention Mary Beach's 1978 beautiful translation of Mansour's "Flash Card" (in French CARRE BLANC). Why include so much from this title and not LES DAMNATIONS, for example, or HISTOIRES NOCIVES, of which there's nothing in English? Neither does he mention two interesting anthologies (The "Penguin Book of Women Poets" and the "Anthology of Contemporary French Poetry" with superb small selections of Mansour in them) that are worth reading, or Mr Albert Herzing's 1979 translation of RAPACES as BIRDS OF PREY and out of print. Bilingual edition to only just the poetry section. Much is missing from her complete original work and there are no illustrations to any of the stories.
Finally, few misprints and incorrectness are there for all to see on this edition. Joyce Mansour deserves BETTER and so her NEW reader! - Seesaw-Books
     Screams    Joyce Mansour , Screams, Trans. by Serge Gavronsky, Post Apollo Press, 1995.

Joyce Mansour's "Screams" was first published in France in 1953. In a time when feminism was in its nascent stage, and explicit sexuality was taboo, Mansour's violent eroticism, and poetic mastery were shocking. In "Screams" Mansour breaks open the female wound--and women's rage, ecstacy, and pain came forth in sharp piercing cries. Until now, American readers have not had access to this powerful erotic text. Translated by Serge Gavronsky, "Screams" is a must for anyone interested in the feminist dimension of the Surrealist movement.

Some continue to dismiss Joyce Mansour as a sort of third-rate Edith Piaf, and others revere her as the French Sylvia Plath. In truth we have not been able to properly appreciate her until now for no good translations existed of her often interesting work. Hooray for Serge Gavronsky and his willingness to climb into a Procrustean bed of nails into which few men would have willingly travelled; he is among the most accomplished translators of our day and teaches at Barnard where he is helping to organize the upcoming Zukofsky 100 centennial celebrations.
Eh bien, Mansour is a different kettle of poisson entirely than Louis Zukofsky, being much more indebted to Surrealism for one thing, and to ideas of the erotic for another. In brief, SCREAMS is a fantastic collection of poetry which will make you think at the same time as it will give you the erotic frissons previously only supplied via the rotting teeth of a rabbit. - Kevin Killian


Joyce Mansour (1928-1986), while of Egyptian origins, was born in Bowden, England.
ansour's parents planned her birth in England so that she could carry a British passport, thus easing travel between Europe and Egypt. She grew up between the two cultures, 'vivant la moitié de l'année en Egypte', where she attended school.
During her teenage years she was educated in Switzerland and later graduated from Cairo University before travelling to France. Mansour moved to France in her late twenties, publishing her first collection of poetry, Cris, in that same year, 1953.
This collection caught the attention of the Surrealists and she joined the Surrealist Group soon after, becoming particularly well known for her poetry. She died in 1986 in Paris.
She was married twice, her first husband dying while she was still  English was Mansour's first European language, she is reported as speaking French with an English accent, yet it was in French that she chose to write. This mixture of cultures and loyalties is a common feature amongst Francophone writers from countries other than France. They belong neither completely to the East, nor to the West. Mansour's identity lay in her difference, for while her identity crossed several cultures it belonged to no single one. Mansour describes herself as "une femme étrange", both strange and foreign.
It is this meeting of cultures, the ability to stand on the edge of both, that gives Mansour her most powerful images. Her writing is tight with puns and word play. To appreciate her work fully the reader must be aware not only of French, but also of English meanings and associations.
udith Preckshot titled her discussion of Mansour's narratives Identity Crises, and, starting with two lines from Mansour's work:
"If God is a kite
what the hell is George Sand?"
Preckshot sets out to explore the multiplicity that is Joyce Mansour:
"(...) behind which mask(s) will we discover Joyce Mansour, English-born Egyptian but French language poet and prose writer? As the term of compalison in George Sand implies, Mansour will not be defined other than through a writerly persona that integrates bi-national, dual-linguistic and double-gendered characteristics."
Mansour has commented that her work is largely autobiographical; however the scenarios that she writes are larger than life, mythical and fantastic. Although it would be risky to read too many parallels between her life and her writing, it is possible to discover, from the recurring tensions and images in her work, the issues and struggles Mansour faced in writing.
On first reading, Mansour appears to follow the Surrealist tradition of the brutalisation of women. Women characters in her work are raped, murdered, silenced, and driven mad. This brutality against women is a common feature of myth and literature. Yet Mansour's characters question these roles, leading the reader to also question the literary and mythical histories which have assigned them. Mansour uses the fantastic dream world of Surrealism to take the reader through to the other side of literature and into its image world. The literary world is explored through the imagery which has been used to describe it and it is revealed as sexual, violent and disturbed. Mansour journeys through literature and myth, subverting images and questioning the place of her own identity within this world. Mansour uses the tools of Surrealism to dismantle the patriarchal model of literature both outside the Surrealist movement and within.
Mansour was placed firmly in the margin both of mainstream literature and the Surrealist movement, yet she fought back in her writing. Her work is often described as erotic and violent, for Mansour's own exploration of the role of women in writing would appear to be both thrilling and ten-ifying, as in it her identity was both found and threatened. This dichotomy is manifested in an internal struggle which is powerfully portrayed in her writing. Mansour's writing is not the conclusion or advancement of a theory of literature. Her writing is the process of creating text. As a result, Mansour's relationship with literature is played out as she writes.

* Antoun, Elizabeth Tanya. Writing across the Lines - A study of selected novels by Joyce Mansour, Vénus Khoury-Ghata, Andrée Chedid and Leila Barakat, University of Canterbury, 2001

may my breasts provoke you
I want your rage
I want to see your eyes thickening
Your cheeks hollowing and bleaching
I want your spasms.
May you burst between my thighs
My desires die on the fertile soil
Of your shameless body

I’ve stolen the yellow bird
living in the Devil’s sex
It will teach me how to seduce
Men, deer, double-winged angels
It will tear away my thirst my clothes my illusions
It will sleep
But my sleep runs across rooftops
Murmuring, gesturing, violently making love
to cats

Invite me to spend the night in your mouth
Tell me about the youth of rivers
Press my tongue against your glass eye
Give me your leg as wet-nurse
Then let’s sleep, brother of my brother,
For our kisses die faster than the night.

Let me love you.
I love the taste of your thick blood
I keep it for a long time in my toothless mouth.
Its ardour burns my throat.
I love your sweat.
I love to caress your armpits
Dripping with ecstasy.
Let me love you
Let me lick your closed eyes
Let me pierce them with my sharp tongue
And fill their hollow with my triumphing saliva
Let me blind you.

Four Poems by Joyce Mansour

Pam Benjamin dives into the lives of four bike messengers who kill corporate people for money. An episodic journey reads like a television series with vivid images and strikingly graphic dialogue


Pam Benjamin, The Pigeon Chronicles or Bike Messenger Assassins, Ink., 2010.

THE PIGEON CHRONICLES OR BIKE MESSENGER ASSASSINS dives into the lives of four bike messengers who kill corporate people for money. Realistically set in the streets and bars of San Francisco, Benjamin's episodic journey reads like a television series with vivid images and strikingly graphic dialogue. Each of the 18 episodes follow an individual arc that fits into the larger plot lines while keeping the story moving at pace with the messengers, fast. Read how Retch, Bucket, Condor and Carrier entangle themselves in love, betrayal, death and well rum at 6 am.

Excerpt from Pam Benjamin’s “The Pigeon Chronicles or Bike Messenger Assassins”

November 30th, 2010 “Fuck man, I haven’t had a solid shit in three weeks.” Bucket fell out of the bar bathroom steadying him self with the chewed and beaten booth. He had an unlit joint between his lips. “Whiskey shits are the shit.” He meant “the shit” as a positive thing.
“Three weeks? High class problems you got there. I’m going on three years.” Condor spun his back field plastic men in red before throwing the little white ball wildly into the slot.
Bucket scored from his goalie, again. “That’s me. All class. I’m one classy son of a shit.”
“Yeah, ass butter, man. That’s what I’m talking about. Any shit is a satisfying one.” Condor tried to throw the white ball back in the slot and missed the table horribly sending it flying to the frowning morning tender. He began to sing to a vague Cat Steven’s tune, “Morning ass-plosion, my tummy’s warning…” He even warbled a sort of vibrato on “warning”.
“Yo, Streisand, I got your jazz hands and fake lashes in my bag if you wanna drag queen us outa here.” Retch chuckled low at his own joke. “You dicks need to eat some fucking bird seed. Get some god-damned fiber in your diet and stop your bitchin’. You gonna start the fucking game or what?”

Episode 3

Carrier was officially drunk now. He’d forgotten about the game with Bucket to hear the Muni story that he was so concerned about an hour previous. It was seven in the morning now, light streamed in through the window next of the closed swinging half door creating a bright little square on the black floor. They all carried a 16 oz. Bud Light and empty shot glasses littered the small leaning table. They did shots of well-rum as it seemed the most perverse thing to do when walking into a bar at six a.m. Carrier’d been on the sauce since seven the night previous. “Does anyone have work today?” He mumbled absently.
“What day is it?” Bucket boomed to no one in particular.
It was Tuesday. In less than two hours they would be speeding around the city on bikes attempting to avoid hangovers with bottles of water and un-brushed teeth. The Pigeon’s had a serious mission today. Orders came down from the Fat Cats on high last Friday.
“You wanna know the Muni story? I’ll fucking tell you. Fuck this game!” Bucket spun his three plastic half-backs and slapped his palms on the table in front of Carrier. “We kill people for money. Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone.” Bucket veered and tilted like a broken metronome as he spoke. He held himself upright with one hand and bobble pointed somewhere near Carrier’s face. He was getting serious. “We orchestrate death with bikes.”
Retch chimed in, “What my esteemed drunken asshole is trying to tell you is that I threw the smoothie at the baby stroller. The lady freaked and yelled at the Asian tourists who confused the streets with camera flash. Condor swooped…”
“Like a hawk I swoop down and take out my prey with piano wire!” Condor broken-winged flew in front of Carrier at the table. They looked like some huge three beaked squawking chorus of drunken pigeons all trying to out story one another.
“The Target always got a mocha-frappa-fuck-soy-latte-shit at that Fuck-bucks on Market. Every fucking day, four fifty. You know what I do with four-fifty?” Bucket spewed from his mini soap box.
“That’s two PBR’s and a shitty tip.” Carrier agreed.
The Pigeons sped on overlapping one another with quickened excitement. “So we knew where he’d be, right? And Retch knows the Muni dude who drives the day time Seven line…”
“And Condor hid behind the parked car…”
“And the tourists forced him off the sidewalk after the smoothie incident, and he was so fucking worried about spilling his god-damned latte…”
“And I was weaving like a maniac down the sidewalk so he couldn’t get back up on that brick…”“And ooops. Seven in the face.” Retch finished, “My Muni boy took the fall and didn’t say a word, and for a piddily ten percent.”
“Ten percent of what?” Carrier’s eyes bulged. These guys couldn’t be serious. This was some tossed mid-morning prank. There was a hidden camera somewhere in the room and a reality T.V. host was bound to pop out from behind the bar and call it Survivor.
“One hundred large. Muni got ten. We all got thirty.” Bucket finally lit the joint that had built a summer cottage in his mouth during the last diatribe.
“Uh, Really?” The morning tender shook his face with palms up. “You can’t smoke in here, douche-bags. Get the fuck out.”
“We got work to do anyway. We’ll just smoke this baby outside.” Bucket pointed finger guns and sauntered to the door squinting at the new morning light, “You with us?”
Carrier was suddenly sober. “Yeah. Yeah. I’m in. This ain’t cowboy’s first rodeo.”

Pam Benjamin, Voices [Kindle Edition]
    If Grant doesn't listen to the Voices, bad things happen to good people and bad people, and dogs and rodents and cafeteria trays. With the help of his mental roommate, who only speaks in musical quotes, and his Voices, Grant plans to escape "Horizon Dawn" to save his daughter from his ex-wife's new psycho boyfriend.   VOICES: Grant is a patient in Horizon Dawn, a mental institution, because he hears voices, but the voices are correct. With the help of his roommate, who only speaks in song lyrics, a sexy therapist, and of course the Voices, Grant must escape Horizon Dawn to save his daughter's life. Voices is the forthcoming first book published by Ink. Voices is an episodic journey by Pam Benjamin. She is a writer living in San Francisco. She was awarded an MA in Fiction from San Francisco State University and is working on her MFA in Poetry. She co-hosts "Common Threads with Diamond Dave" on Pirate Cat Radio where she has read her other episodic journeys: The Pigeon Chronicles or Bike Messenger Assassins, Dottie and Bree, Hijo Perdito, The Soon To Be Legend of Farmer Keef, and Polly's Escape. - ink-reviewed.blogspot.com     

Sex Worker #3

He likes stainless steel
things clean and untarnished.
His kitchen gleams with stainless fixtures:
fridge, toaster, stove, me.

I am paid to cook naked.
I leave no prints.
I chop flat leaf parsley on the stainless table:
silver chef knife, mise en place, shiny bowls.

I have little cups:
Herbs, onions, eggs, cheese.
No non-stick to mar the illusion of silver
making omelettes difficult.

He needs perfect omelettes:
tri-folded, cheese perfectly melted.
I insert a small silver thermometer.
He stops eating when the temperature dips under 120.

I clean the pans without scrubbing.
Abrasive materials swirl the stainless finish.
He threw away three pans on our first date.
I was punished on cold prep table.

He covered my face with a stainless bowl,
placed the ruined pans on my chest,
jacked off in the corner of the kitchen.
I have learned his quirks.

He’s never going to fuck me.
I’m not clean enough.
Fingers don’t leave prints in flesh.
He is scared of the mess.

This week he gave me a present:
hospital booties, plastic gloves.
“You have to put these on.
I can’t have prints today.”

“I want you to sit here.”
He pointed to a sheet of stainless,
“The edges are sharp.
Watch the blood.”

“I’m not up for this, today.”
I started for the door.
“When can you come back?”
He followed down the stairs.

He opened the door.
“You have my booties.
I need those for the next girl.”
His voice was colder than steel.

He threw me a hundred
and shut the silver door.

Sex Worker #4

He pokes at my mouth with a wooden skewer,
“You don’t have any cavities, do you?”

“Insurance pays 80% on white fillings,”
I mumble through the stick.

“They look good. Close please.”
He is not a dentist. He likes teeth.

Teeth and drills and open mouths,
I had passed the test.

We agreed on $250:
My teeth brushed with gold Listerine
I would open my mouth
lie down on the couch
and he would floss me gently
while we watched dental video of drilling.

Dr. Morrow would be so pleased
with me flossing once a week.

Watching drilling video
is surprisingly sexual,

a pretty blonde with dental dam
secured lips open surrounding teeth

squirming and moaning
with the whirring of the tool.

Her eyes flitted side to side
and hands white knuckle gripped.

“Tell me if I hurt you,”
over the drilling from the TV.

The powdery latex pushed my tongue aside;
he forced ribbons between my teeth,

“a girl with wisdom teeth intact,
and they don’t even crowd your bicuspids.”

He continued his work
while I was getting wet.
A cotton ball to swab excess spit
“You’re a juicy one, aren’t you?”

I barely shook my head “yes”.
He was still orally wedged.

I wiped my mouth and collected $250,
and ran my tongue over my plaqueless teeth.

Sex Worker # 12:

Baby man is easy
$250: bottle, burp, bed.
No dirty diapers.

Baby man likes breast milk.
won’t drink formula or warmed whole;
he’s a connoisseur.

His refrigerator is a shelf of thick, cream goop
in plastic bottle nipples ready to be warmed
by boiling water on the stove: no microwaves.

In my sweet mommy voice,
“Little Davey wavy is nutsy wutsy isn’t he?”
I wipe his baby burble bubbles of viscous yellow.
He’s a six week old with wobble head.
His arms waggle, mouth roots for more bottle.
Babyman is authentic.

I lay him down in his oversized crib
king bed fluffy baby bumpers: jungle themed.
He loves his rhino pillow.

I tip toe into the kitchen and get my $250
second drawer next to the dishwasher
and let myself out.

Interview at Fashion for Collapse


Aaron Teel - Pink flamingos with missing heads, stray huskies, overgrown toddler without a shirt, trash bag flapping, bologna sandwiches, MTV, wood panel walls, a mobile home full of angels, Texas drawl, shit-filled Underoos, dildo in a swimming pool, RV’s, a busted La-Z-Boy, a greasy ball cap, plastic vodka bottle and a lot of other THINGS

 Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

Aaron Teel, Shampoo Horns, Rose Metal Press, 2012.

A grieving widow spied sleeping through the busted out window of a dilapidated trailer, a severed nipple, an illicit raid on a roadside fireworks stand: a boy named Cherry Tree, with a penchant for tight red underwear and old towels worn as capes, encounters these and other mysteries one heat-struck summer in 1989 when his world is expanded by an abusive older brother and an elusive Mexican girl. Shampoo Horns is a meditation on boyhood, brotherhood, and the fragmented process of coming of age.


“Teel’s writing surprises throughout: ‘Tater Tot, my one and only friend, blew by me on his bike and squeezed its horrible horn, a sound like a braying donkey swallowing a kazoo.’ The collection flies by toward its foreshadowed final scene. At the end of his passage about the explosions like bottle rockets, Kerouac writes that ‘in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”’ So it is with Shampoo Horns,a fearless, fabulous flash across the stars.” —Randall Brown

"Rose Metal Press makes a wonderful chapbook. Shampoo Horns, for example. It feels like hair, if the hair was made of Pop-Tarts or red sun and waterfalls of beer. It was printed on a Vandercook letterpress, with care. It smells like dandelion broth. The entire book-making process is fascinating and you can see it here:

This book has 19 short stories, linked. This would be a good book to examine while considering the nuances/decisions/contemplations of a linked collection. You could ask the author, “What kind of things did you think about when ordering the collection?” You could get Winesburg, Ohio and stack it upright on the dirty kitchen floor and then take three paces and place Shampoo Horns on the disgusting floor (pasta sauce and dream stains, etc.) and then you could fill in the space between the two with other linked books, like stack them into bones or whatnot, and you would have yourself a self-education session. (If you aren’t going to autodidact, you are doomed.)
This book contains red plastic cups, you know the cups, so simple yet they connote so much (even their name–solo). I bet you’ve held a red, plastic cup. Cradled it. Sucked from. There are also “pink flamingos with missing heads” and “stray huskies” and a “overgrown toddler without a shirt” and a “trash bag flapping” and “bologna sandwiches” and “MTV” and “wood panel walls” and a mobile home full of angels and “Texas drawl” and “shit-filled Underoos” and a dildo in a swimming pool and “RV’s” and “a busted La-Z-Boy” and a “greasy ball cap” and a “plastic vodka bottle” and a lot of other THINGS. Agglomeration. Interesting method of delivering the world from a child/boy’s POV. Most don’t do it well. But Teel does, by creating a tornado-like effect of THINGS spinning by, the narrator watching the world blur. Puzzlement and understanding are the milieu of a boy, an aging boy. Your parents are no longer some minor gods. Pain enters life (this world can hurt). And, of course, sex—this strange, persistent force—is in the air. Possibly this is a trailer park Bildungsroman.
The trailer park is a character, but Teel doesn’t take the easy way. There’s no obvious jokes, no lampooning. This is where the character lives, a trailer park by a factory. (His dad calls the factory and its smoke, “The cloud factory.”) It’s omnipresent, the materials, the essence of such a place. It’s necessary to this narrative, but nothing is forced. (I could go into a discussion of K-Mart Realism now, but I’m not going to. You do it.)
Structurally, Teel is once again keen. A tornado is coming (and remember, this is a trailer park). Throughout the collection, the tornado is hinted at, remembered, haunted over, used for tension and for a focal point. It works as metaphor, too. We fear tornadoes for the same reason we fear debilitating illness–a lack of control. A tornado is senseless, careless–it drops in, destroys, lifts away. Certain lives just wait for the day, and they know it’s coming.
The siren, when it starts, scares me more than the weather. I think that it must be Gabriel blowing his horn, and I know that I know that I know I’ll be left behind. Without rinsing or drying off I put on my Underoos and tie a towel around my neck, then run outside. The whole street is standing in the rain, staring at the sky.
Necks go stiff from looking up. Nerves are shot. Beers are opened. Neighbors who never speak stand together in each other’s lots, drinking and praying.
And later:
Trailers are piled atop one another, upside down and inside out, crushed like tin cans, pulled apart like accordions.
Other convergence points are the narrator (Cherry Tree is his name [or Cherry, or CT]), also a nipple is cut off (!), and then–as I’ve noted–the trailer park itself focuses the events.
Teel has many strengths, but mostly I respect his economy. Scenes are crisply rendered, the fat is cut away, the images are centered, and Teel shows an excellent instinct for clarity. (See the tornado aftermath description above.) And here is an introduction to Tater Tot’s (one of Cherry’s friends) Mom:
Something was on the floor in front of the stereo, and I moved closer, fearing it was him, but it was his mother laid out amid a pile of Elvis and Beach Boys records. It was Hell-hot and the air was thick with smoke. Cigarettes were piled in ashtrays and stuffed into empty cans. Tater’s mother lay noiselessly breathing at the foot of the record player, clutching a plastic vodka bottle to her chest. I pried it from her fingers and sniffed it. It smelled of hospital corridors and clean, sharp knives.
There are 19 stories here (this is Rose Metal’s largest chapbook) and with Teel’s technique of imagery compression, we get a lot. You are visiting childhood, but also a demographic (beheaded yard flamingos, people in bathrobes all day, etc), and a unique character with lively voice and acute perception. It’s this merging that makes literature. This is what good writing can do, in whatever genre or length—deliver lives to our life, deliver weight. Flash fiction can stand alone, but I really enjoy reading linked flashes, weight leading onto weight, again, the accumulation. Teel stacks words, images, events together, and, in the end, we get to visit a singular world." - Sean Lovelace

"Aaron Teel’s new chapbook, Shampoo Horns, winner of the Sixth Annual Rose Metal Press Short Short Chapbook Contest, contains a version of a powerful essay published many years back in Brevity, “The Widow”s Trailer.” Teel changed that essay some, along with other early work based in memoir, to fit into a fictional narrative, and he published the chapbook as fiction. Teel is one helluva writer; the book is startling, vivid, sharp as a chicken’s teeth, and the prose is on fire. Thinking that Teel’s decision to move to the fictional frame was an interesting jumping off point for discussion of genre, Brevity editor Dinty W. Moore asked to interview Teel and explore his decision.

MOORE: I’m curious why you now call the essay, included in the chapbook, fiction, and what you’ve changed now that it has been re-categorized?
TEEL: Thanks Dinty, I’m really grateful to you for publishing that piece. It was the second one I’d written from this collection, after ‘Tater’s Nipple.’ The responses I got from those two pieces were sort of the impetus for the rest. I was reading a lot of Nabokov at the time, and I had this idea that I wanted to write my own kind of Nabokovian memoir inspired by the early chapters of Speak, Memory. But instead of being about a kid surrounded by servants and a comfortable aristocratic life in the Russian countryside, it’d be about a kid growing up in a trailer park, in Texas– but still with the lush sensory detail, word play, and fragmented, self-contained stories that added up to a larger narrative. After about five or six pieces were written, I kind of hit a wall with it and lost the inspiration. I put it away for about a year. When I came back to it, I had the idea that it needed a traumatic central and symbolic event that everything else could spin around. A tornado just made the most sense. I also changed the names of the characters to put a layer of distance on them, and that was really freeing. Wherever that nebulous line between fiction and creative nonfiction lies, I was pretty sure I had crossed it at that point, so the whole thing had to be called fiction. I was never interested in writing ‘essays’ or using any kind of journalistic approach. It was more about mining my own experience for inspiration. I struggled with that for a while, but I think now that I probably stayed truer to my Nabokovian ideal than I would have otherwise, unless you believe he literally lost a butterfly when he was a kid that he found forty years later, halfway around the world.
MOORE: Your decision to add the tornado as a central event is a beautiful illustration of how sticking to the nonfiction account of life can reveal one truth and how moving the story into the fictional realm can reveal a different truth, neither being better nor worse than the other. What did bringing in the tornado allow you to see about your childhood story that you might not have seen had you not made that choice?
TEEL: I agree with you completely about fiction and non-fiction revealing different but equally valid truths.
The tornado was more of an organizing device than anything else, and a convenient metaphor for adolescence, the sense of having your life dictated by forces beyond your control. It also fit nicely into the trailer park motif. I liked the idea of playing with some of the clichéd trailer park associations, but presenting them in a way I hadn’t seen before.
MOORE: And if you had stuck to the truth – the truth of your memory, at least – how do you think the book would have resolved itself differently?
TEEL: I don’t know if it allowed me to see anything I hadn’t seen about my own childhood experience as much as it provided an objectified symbol for some of the emotions I wanted to convey and allowed me to do it succinctly. I’m not sure how the book would have resolved without that frame either, which is probably why I put it away for so long before coming back to it as fiction." - Interview by Dinty W. Moore

"A collection of flash fiction stories, Aaron Teel's Shampoo Horns is the winner of the 6th annual Rose Metal Press Chapbook Contest. Its brightness left me seeing spots for days.
Balancing the tightrope of adolescence means navigating life’s cringe-worthy marvels and experiencing the paradoxical notions of pleasure and pain. In Shampoo Horns, Teel paints the emotionally charged story of Cherry, a trailer park dwelling 12-year-old boy clad in superhero gear, as his small world is shaken in every sense by a troubled half-brother, a Mexican angel, and a Texas twister.
Teel’s lightly autobiographical stories employ thematic explosions that melt together to create a psychologically poignant account of a pretty normal kid’s barefoot adventures. The stories share some of the between-childhood-and-adulthood purgatory of Stand By Me and the absurdities of Winesburg, Ohio, yet Shampoo Horns has its own distinct style. As Cherry begins to see how love, sex, and money shape lives, he stands shakily on the edge of perceiving all kinds of relationships for the first time. He is innocent enough to fall prey to his brother’s bullying yet Cherry seems to possess a subtle strength that guides him through adult scenarios relatively unscathed. In a short time, the intricate story arc employs brilliant color and sensory descriptions resulting in comical depictions of uncomfortable scenes such as peeping a naked sleeping widow and vomiting hot stolen beer.
Sometimes grotesque (one kid loses a nipple at the hand of his best friend), this one-sitting read explores elements of voyeurism, friendship, and faith by weaving the nuances of young boys in the throes of boredom and curiosity. Bodily fluids make frequent appearances but the sweet awkwardness of Cherry’s newfound puppy love with Lupe steadies the pace. The moments of depression invoked by the stories’ heavy realities (poverty, substance abuse) are relieved, if only temporarily, through Teel’s expert craftsmanship and imagery. This short work embodies the beauty of creative storytelling that bleeds honesty but sparks imaginative conclusions.

Austin Chronicle: I'm curious if any of the material is autobiographical. How much of you is written into the character of Cherry Tree?
Aaron Teel: There are definitely autobiographical elements. I was a tall, awkward, redheaded kid who lived in a trailer park in Texas and wore Superman Underoos, and I have an older half-brother from California who sometimes lived with us and wasn’t always very nice. The relationship between the two brothers is based largely on our real dynamic.
I started out trying to write a Nabokovian memoir in the vein of the childhood sections of Speak, Memory, but I discovered pretty quickly that I'm not really interested in writing about myself in a strict memoir setting. So the book as a whole is undeniably fiction, but the primary characters are based on real people, and real dynamics from my childhood, and some of the stories are essentially true.
Austin Chronicle: You utilize all five senses in your descriptions and integrate color and smell frequently. Has that always been predominant in your writing?
Aaron Teel: This goes back to the Nabakovian synesthesia thing. That was something I wanted to play with in particular for this piece. For me, childhood is the time when we’re most in tune with our sensory experience of the world. The limitations of Cherry’s experience only enhance his sense of wonder. Everything he comes in contact with has more weight because he’s so isolated.
Beyond that, I just find rich sensory detail to be a hallmark of good writing. Flash fiction particularly should be sense driven. If the goal is to capture a moment or an image, and make it real for the reader, then there’s really no other way to do it.
Austin Chronicle: To me, the nipple clipping in "Tater's Nipple" was powerful not only for the vivid, grotesque imagery, but for the emotional aspects of each character's role in the scene. What was your inspiration behind it?
Aaron Teel: Unfortunately, that’s one of the pieces based on a real event. I won't go into too much detail other than to say that it’s something that’s stuck with me over the years, for obvious reasons.
I’m glad that the emotional resonance comes through, though. That was actually the first piece I wrote from the collection. It was published individually and the response I got from it sort of encouraged me to write the rest.
Austin Chronicle: Despite his depiction as a hellion with questionable morals, Clay seemed, in the end, a lost boy in desperate need of tough love. Did you hope your readers would finish Shampoo Horns holding out for Clay's redemptive qualities?
Aaron Teel: Definitely. He’s a sixteen-year old kid, uprooted and shuffled around. He’s angry, and bored, and acting out, but he’s also possessed of a terrible charisma that Cherry is drawn to. Cherry is clearly ambiguous about him, so it stands to reason that the reader will be too.
Austin Chronicle: I found the difference in Cherry, Tater, and Clay's relationships with their fathers interesting. Were you consciously trying to create contrasting portraits of the father/son bond, or did that sort of emerge as you were writing the individual stories?
Aaron Teel: The idea was to focus on the kids, and to allow all of the adults in their lives to be sort of mysterious and unknowable, which is the way I felt as a kid. Fathers are the most unknowable of all. They’re masculinity personified. Huge, mythic beings to be loathed and worshipped in equal measure.
Austin Chronicle: The way the plot unfolded was striking, especially given the length. Did you write it in pieces and weave together later or is this a plotted story you had in mind?
Aaron Teel: The individual pieces were rearranged a hundred different ways over the course of writing and editing the chapbook. The idea was for each piece to work both individually and as part of a larger narrative. The arc, such as it is, is kind of a smoke and mirrors illusion sustained by the arrangement of the pieces. That was done very deliberately.
Austin Chronicle: Is the chapbook of flash fiction your preferred format?
Aaron Teel: I think I’m well suited to it. It lines up with the way I work and my sensibilities, but I don’t want to be tied to any particular form. I like to think genre and form distinctions are meaningless, but of course they’re not.
Austin Chronicle: I have an almost 3 year old boy who prefers the uniform of Cherry (Superman underoos and a cape) to any other clothing option. But Cherry is 12. Talk to me about what that uniform means to you, and how Cherry's relationship to the uniform evolves in the book.
Aaron Teel: Yeah, I wore the cape and Underoos too, and I was a few years younger than Cherry when I did it. I was attracted to the idea of making Cherry a little older because it’s bizarre. He’s just old enough for it to be really awkward that he’s wandering around in his underwear. It also ties in to the notion that he’s this incredibly sheltered kid on the precipice of puberty that hasn’t grown up at all. He lives happily in his little Eden until Clay and Lupe come in and complicate everything.
As Cherry starts having these new experiences, he tries to leave the cape and Underoos behind, but when he’s upset or in distress he goes back to them, drawing back into his shell, where he’s comfortable and in control.
The cape is a really loaded symbol for me. Putting it on as a kid brought instant power and confidence. I jumped off the top of a set of bleachers once, at a volleyball game, using a white locker room towel for a cape, and I remember the utter shock of hitting the floor. I really thought I could fly.
Austin Chronicle: Cherry seems to have a quiet reverence for the women in his small world. Was this an attempt to balance the boyish nature of Shampoo Horns or was it more of a natural inclusion in a boy's coming of age story?
Aaron Teel: I think all little boys are in awe of women. We never really grow out of that.
Austin Chronicle: What's next?
Aaron Teel: We’re having the official release party this Saturday at Domy Books. I’ll be reading along with the always brilliant Mary Miller. John Wesley Coleman and Diamond Age are playing as well. I’m also working on another set of linked flash pieces about a two sets of twins. A few of those have been published already. You can read them at www.aaron-teel.com, under the Stories tab." - Interview by Jessi Cape


Oleg Woolf - Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz, a vivid, surreal evocation of a liminal world. The characters follow the trajectories of elementary particles, disappearing in one dimension only to reappear in another.”

Oleg Woolf, Bessarabian Stamps: Stories , Trans. by Boris Dralyuk, Phoneme Media, 2015. Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocod...