Miquel Bauçà was perhaps the most radical stylist, iconoclast, and visionary in Catalan literature: eschewing publicity, insulting his peers, and writing unclassifiable books

The Siege in the Room: Three Novellas

Miquel Bauçà, The Siege in the Room: Three Novellas,Trans. by Martha Tennent, Dalkey Archive Press, 2012.

documentary: Miquel Bauçà, poeta invisible

This volume brings together three short novels by Catalan literature's great maverick and recluse, each depicting a brutal, abstract world where words are the only reality—shifting between the erudite, the archaic, and the vulgar. Carrer Marsala, which won prizes from the City of Barcelona and the Generalitat de Catalunya—neither of which Bauçà bothered to accept—is a relentless monologue delivered by a paranoid hypochondriac obsessed with dental hygiene, sex, and his own squalid rooms in Barcelona. In The Old Man, the narrator observes a strange building where a decrepit prisoner is ritually beaten by a policeman once a week. The Warden details the narrator's own captivity, and his relationship with the woman who keeps him prisoner. In Martha Tennent's haunting translation, reminiscent of a Mediterranean Beckett or Thomas Bernhard, Miquel Bauçà's work is a pungent reminder of the ways the world fails its prophets and pariahs.

 "Bauçà is both lucid and obtuse, holy and crazy, a symptom and an excrescence."-Julià Guillamon

"I was born on the 7th of February in the year 1940, and on the 14th of the same month, twelve years later, mother decided to make me into an orphan. I do not know if this was so as to take revenge or simply because she was moved by an instinct for imitation." -Miquel Bauçà

His collection of novellas, “The Siege in the Room: Three Novellas”, had been recently translated from Catalan to English by Martha Tennent and published by Dalkey Archive Press.
In these three haunting novellas by Catalan literature’s great maverick and recluse, Miquel Bauça, there is a pungent reminder, like a Mediterranean Beckett or Thomas Bernhard, of the ways the world fails its prophets and pariahs.
Carrer Marsala, which won prizes from the City of Barcelona and the Generalitat de Catalunya neither of which Bau bothered to accept is a relentless monologue delivered by a paranoid hypochondriac obsessed with dental hygiene, sex, and his own squalid rooms in Barcelona. In The Old Man, the narrator observes a strange building where a decrepit prisoner is ritually beaten by a policeman once a week. The Warden details the narrator s own captivity, and his relationship with the woman who keeps him prisoner. In Martha Tennent s haunting translation, reminiscent of a Mediterranean Beckett or Thomas Bernhard, Miquel Bauça’s work is a pungent reminder of the ways the world fails its prophets and pariahs.
Miquel Bauça (Felanitx, Mallorca, 1940 – Barcelona, 2005), a poet and narrative writer was renowned for his verbal and social radicalism. He received the 1961 Salvat-Papasseit Prize for his work Una bella història (A Beautiful Story), the debut book of a young talent that dazzled the critics. He received other awards for later works, for example the 1974 Vicent Andrés Estellés Prize for Notes i comentaris (Notes and Comments) and the 1985 City of Barcelona Prize for Carrer Marsala (Marsala Street). ??The latter work, his first book in prose, marked a turning point in the critics’ reception of his writing. He had now become a writer of reference for those who wished to find a kind of literature that was committed to an integral idea of the human being and, thenceforth, efforts were made to try to draw him into a system that he always rejected one way or another. Hence, although he received the prestigious Sant Joan (Saint John) Prize for his novel L’estuari (The Estuary) in 1989, he never felt that he was part of the literary milieu of his times. Miquel Bauça also published the fictional work El canvi (The Change, 1997), an innovative collection of writings structured in the form of a dictionary, and Els somnis (Dreams, 2002), amongst other books. Miquel_ Bauça-The_Siege_in_the_Room-Messmatch-Article
In the last years of his life he removed himself even more from everyday realities but this never prompted him to abandon his writing, an oeuvre which is among the most original and intense to come out of the 1970s literary generation. Miquel Bauça died on 3 January 2005, leaving behind an unclassifiable literary corpus, which has unquestionably expanded the bounds of contemporary Catalan literature.
He was a member of the Association of Catalan Language Writers (AELC).

A Writer Shrouded in Myth
by Julià Guillamon

A few years ago, Jordi Coca wrote that Miquel Bauça was like Greta Garbo. Since Carrer Marsala [Marsala Street] appeared in 1985, a myth began to be built up around Miquel Bauça, based on his strange way of life. Unsociable and furtive, Bauça did not frequent literary circles. It was said that he lived apart from everyone, like a penniless outcast, in a caravan. Some people claimed they had seen him in a street, or in a bar. The veterans told stories about his first days in   Miquel_Bauçà-Carles-Fargas-MessmatchBarcelona. Apparently he wrote in one of the porched areas of the Paral.lel, where he had set up his office. He would turn up at the house of one of his writer friends and spend the night there whether they wanted him to or not. Where was Miquel Bauça? Had he gone back to Majorca? Was he living in the Eixample district of Barcelona? Tired of all this rumor-mongering, Coca stood up at a congress of young writers, among which there were fervent admirers and myth-makers, and with the greatest respect, but with absolute firmness, affirmed that Bauça was reproducing the syndrome of the invisible, besieged actress, and that the obscurer aspects of his life were attracting more attention than his literary work, and that one had to be careful, because Bauça was a sick man.
Since then, two very clear positions have existed in regard to Bauça. There are those who think that Bauça is a modern classic and his work, a vital enigma, and those who believe that independently of the strength of his imagination and the power of his language, there is a lack of order and cohesive thought in the work of Bauça. One interpretation does not exclude the other. Bauça is both lucid and obtuse, holy and crazy, a symptom and an excrescence. Empúries has now published his Els estats de la connivència (The States of Connivance) which follows the encyclopaedic format of his most recent books, L’estuari (The Estuary) (1990), El crepuscle encén estels (The Twilight Lights Up Stars) (1992) and El canvi [The Change] (1998). The debate continues. - messmatch.com/

The first sentence of The Siege in the Room is the most arresting in the book: “Maybe the world hasn’t always been sad.” It’s the opening of Miquel Bauca’s Carrer Marsala, one of three texts translated and gathered by Martha Tennent for Dalkey Archive. It comes out of nowhere, a sentence that can stop a reader dead, like a wall built just past the starting line. Where can a writer go from there? The paragraph continues:
When we say our words are dragged down by inertia, we mean that what we learn as a pup stays with us. The same applies to other things. Girls, for example, use the phone but don’t know its precise function.
Bauca (1940-2005), a reclusive Catalan writer troubled by alcoholism and schizophrenia who believed that the writer should lead a furtive life, placed great, possibly excessive, value on enclosure. Perhaps this was genetic: he explains in a rare biographical note that a memorable part of his childhood was spent helping his father “with his most clearly defined passion: constructing dry walls in order to divide and subdivide the bit of scrubland” his old man owned. Whatever the explanation, Bauca, a self-confessed “apartment hermit,” needed walls. He hid behind them where they existed, erected them where they didn’t, and much of the action in the three novellas collected here—The Old Man and The Warden round out the collection—takes place within the hermetic confines of inescapable rooms in which his obsessive narrators spool out uninterrupted monologues on everything from the mysteries of the female sex to the value of corporal self-punishment. Given this, it’s perhaps not surprising to find that Bauca’s prose is studded with obstacles—“well-laid linguistic traps,” his translator calls them. And not only his prose, as an approach to the writer himself requires a series of detours around unflattering labels. He was called a misogynist, a homophobe, and a racist. He inveighed against Parisians and weathermen. His insensitivity is distasteful, of course, even if somewhat tempered by his obvious mental instability.

Taking this into consideration, it is tempting to read the collection as psychiatric case study and to leave it at that, a minor curiosity in a minor language. And, to some degree, that approach has its merits. Bauca’s work exhibits classic characteristics of schizophrenic art. It is littered with hallucination, paranoia, and obsessive vitriol. It incessantly goes off the rails. In short, it continually borders on disjointedness.
A more charitable or patient reading, however, reveals Bauca’s attempts at fashioning something of deeper value. A typical passage, from Carrer Marsala, demonstrates this:
The sun is more and more cold, but very Elizabethan. Now is the time to pluck up our courage. A lot of energy is required if we want to avoid danger and not punish the dog too hastily, which would leave our nerves frayed. So, are there people who live together without touching one another? Maybe, maybe not. In any event, apparently the instinct is to do something.
Even a small sample size taken out of context—it would be fair to say there is no context—this drily humorous lyrical nonsense bears evidence of a subtle (and antagonistic) literary mind. One senses that behind the facade of his logic-defying prose, between the occult, dreamlike associations, there stands an underlying structure. It is almost impossible to resist the urge to tease out connections, to patch together from Bauca’s disconnected sentences an order, however flimsy. Is he pulling one over on us? Or is his work an exercise in subverting readerly expectation? This uncertainty is compounded by the manic energy of his prose, which has the careening speed of a mad flight, as if it’s been given a slight push from the top of a hill. Offering no reassurance, Bauca tests his reader’s courage with this blind plummet. His prose verges on excess, shifting without apparent logic, skittering through brambles of non-sequiturs. And, despite the thrill of the fall, there is nothing carefree about it.
As a narrative strategy, this is risky and not entirely successful. But it is—and this is a point worth making about a writer who seemingly had to write—a strategy. Bauca is aware of the risk he’s taking, even if he often fails to reign himself in. The urge to do so, however, becomes a poignant motif throughout these works. The most urgent of his obsessions, one he returns to again and again, is a compulsive, desperate need to maintain composure; calmness, he believes, is the path to wisdom. This is most apparent in The Warden, which ostensibly chronicles the narrator’s possibly imaginary relationship with a woman who is his captor, fellow inmate, or both. A few fragments detail the urge:
People far wiser than I have been able to elude both danger and shame…
I’m not as wise as I should be…
I have to be good, draw upon her wisdom…
What is their secret? This knowledge cannot be learned; it is either hereditary or the fruit of some early instinct
In themselves, these verbal reminders humanize Bauca: one feels for his first-person stand-ins, even if they’re not entirely sympathetic. Sympathy alone, of course, does not a literary work make, nor does it do enough to offset the irrationality of Bauca’s prose. But again, the writer redeems himself with flashes of lyricism and deadpan humor.

In an interview published in Transcript, Bauca answered a question about his whittling down of Carrer Marsala in the following terms:
It was a good thing, to have despised all that material. I would probably have waffled on and on. This change is due to an inevitable, automatic increase of wisdom, thanks to my good behavior, not thanks to a wish to be all-embracing: the latter has always been the motor behind everything, it was there the first time I looked at the world.
Taken alongside an anecdote Tennent includes in her introduction, that Bauca relied on a literary acquaintance to “cut anything [he] didn’t understand” from the work, one begins to understand Bauca’s desire for method, if not its attainment. His editorial insistence reveals an understanding of technique absent from most logomaniacal production. Bauca, whose writing evolved from realist to outlandish, culminating in avant-garde alphabetical poems (none of which have been translated, it seems), was not merely a madman with a typewriter, he was a formally inventive stylist, one who understood the value of excision and the power of disjunction. Even if he was slave to his compulsions, he knew that he had to shape them. “The typewriter stops, then starts up, again and again, as if it wanted to go somewhere,” he writes.
This forceful editing—done with a pair of scissors—results in show-stealing moments of comedic genius and occasionally dazzling lyricism. Bauca brings to mind Beckett or Stephen Wright when he suggests,  “We should destroy the leaning Tower of Pisa accompanied by Diana Ross” and follows with a caveat that “The trouble is she’s often on tour and me in the hospital.” The jokes (are they?) rely upon an cannily specific use of the non sequitur, a notable characteristic of Bauca’s work. Why the leaning Tower? Why Diana Ross? The association is a private one without cause or effect in the work, arising and subsiding wavelike, leaving us questioning not the action, but the field from which it arises. Why again the following?
Unless I can immediately establish myself in a hotel in Utah, I’ll start to tremble and smash my dishes. It will begin to rain. A nervous, absurd rain. I attempt to open and close the windows. Quite pointless.
These three novellas, with their constantly shifting and tangling, are difficult to pin down. At times I felt that the prose was working on me, the reader, rather than the other way around. I was uncertain as who, exactly, was besieged: reader or writer? As a consequence, I find it difficult to make definitive statements about Bauca’s work. Are these the products of genius? Some thought so: Carrer Marsala, the most digressive and associative of the three pieces collected here, a long monologue chronicling a litany of fantastic complaints, desires, and impossible encounters, earned its author prizes from the City of Barcelona and the Generalitat de Catalunya—neither of which, his publisher boasts, he bothered to accept. Or are these the works of an incoherent, obsessive schizophrenic? Bauca forces us into that ambiguous no man’s land of uncertainty, a gray area we are all too likely to avoid in favor of something easier.
Whatever the case, our literature needs fringe figures like Bauca, invisible, besieged and battered, striving not for literary glory but something deeper—wisdom—that is always in such short supply that we should take it wherever we can find it, even if it’s hidden behind walls. - Stephen Sparks

Miquel Bauçà: the hidden genius of Catalan Writing

An interview with Miquel Bauçà , with an introduction, by Julià Guillamon.
Miquel Bauçà (Felanitx, Majorca, 1940) does not give interviews. Until now, he replied to interviewers' questions with extracts from his books. I seek him out. As there is no known address for him, I send letters and questionnaires to the PO Box number given at the end of his book 'Carrer Marsala'. A fax appears, sent from a stationer's on Bailèn Street, in Barcelona. Bauçà replies in an offended tone to the ten questions I sent to him over a fortnight ago.

What do you understand by states of connivance? Are you referring to the alienation of humans, to their love of gregariousness? Are you also referring to all the concessions the Catalans have made? To both things?

Exactly, to both things.

When you wrote Carrer Marsala you cut the original considerably, until you were left with a short narrative of seventy pages. Do you now wish to create all-embracing, encyclopaedic texts? What is the reason for this change?

It was a good thing, to have despised all that material. I would probably have waffled on and on. This change is due to an inevitable, automatic increase of wisdom, thanks to my good behaviour, not thanks to a wish to be all-embracing: the latter has always been the motor behind everything, it was there the first time I looked at the world.

I have read an interview in Destino magazine, about your first days in Barcelona. There you talk about your military service in Cabrera. Was it one of the most important experiences in your life?

Yes, it was.

The language of your books is highly elaborate. There are people who talk, when referring to it, about Ramon Llull. Do you read the Catalan classics? What role would you ascribe to the literary tradition in your work?

Ramon Llull belongs to the period in which we Catalans lived in paradise - a paradise as unlikely as the Biblical one, if we observe it from the standpoint of the general misery in which we find ourselves today - from which we were expelled, as everybody knows, because of some foreseeable manoeuvring on the part of Saint Viçenç Ferrer. I say this because your question should not have been proposed. Neither I nor anyone else can imitate Ramon Llull. That would be as extravagant as if a Venetian Jew of the period had wished to enter this paradise. That would also have resulted in a botched job.

We might say that one of the themes of 'The States of Connivance' is the disintegration of ideologies, of beliefs, of ways of life which formed a whole. Is this 'the change'?

Nothing has disintegrated so far. Everything is just as routine as when Saint Paul wrote to the Ephesians. However, we have started to change. I want to see a goal behind these modifications: the enjoyment of dreams, just as I already enjoy them. When technique forces everybody to do the same things, one will no longer wish to be a consumer of ideologies, as tools which are useful to others: neither macro or microideologies. Sexuality and its gregarious function will gradually vanish. On the other hand, people will exchange cassettes containing their best dreams, according to the criteria of each person. When I say cassettes I mean ideas, because a much more beautiful technology will have been developed.

In your books there are many references to America. What is America for you? Does it represent the ideals of progress, of technology, or is it something else entirely?

I can't believe that you could still say such a thing. You sound like a subject of the Austro-Hungarian empire in the first half of the 20th century.

You have always lived your life away from literary circles. You show your face very rarely, and it is even difficult to interview you. What is your idea of what a writer ought to be? Should the writer live a furtive life?

Most definitely. I completely mistrust charlatan writers. I even accuse some of them of being responsible for the political disasters which have taken place since 1975. Some of them still live and keep on talking in Cornellà and on the Canal+ channel of CNN. Why do they do it? I think that they are mechanically repeating patterns which come from the 17th century, that are obsolete today, but which still have some kind of life.

The idea of sin, of guilt, appears very clearly in some of your books. In The States of Connivance, the following can be read: 'I have sinned. God is punishing me.' Is this concept of sin an essential element in your work?

When I say that, I am ridiculing the Freudian fervour which has sheltered itself from the Universe, and which would have us believe that what happened to us when we were babies, children, or impuberal, as regards the 'relational' aspect - as they say - explains everything. They have gone mad, and behave, more or less, like the inquisitors of the Inquisition. As if other experiences apart from the ones mentioned could not have played an efficient role in our formation, our make-up or, simply, our intelligence.

In your book you talk of God and the soul. But also about scientific and technological concepts. How do these two systems articulate themselves within your system of thought?

They don't articulate themselves, because they are the same thing: Technique, which must needs bring us to the discovery of the brain. I am currently writing a book, also in verse, which will probably have the following title: 'The Dreams'. You have to use verse for this sort of subject.

Since Carrer Marsala, your books have contained references to war. Do you believe that underneath the appearance of normality, we are spending our whole lives at war? Does your experience of military service in Cabrera have something to do with this?

War. I have the feeling that in the interview about Cabrera, I must have said a lot of nonsense, because I see that it has lead to this kind of thinking.

My name is Miquel Bauçà

The following lines appear under the title "Author's note" to the Obra poètica (Empúries, 1987). They are reproduced with permission from the publishers.

I was born on 7th of February in the year 1940, and on the 14th of the same month, twelve years later, mother decided to make me into an orphan. I do not know if this was so as to take revenge or simply because she was moved by an instinct for imitation. Four months earlier, I had run away from home, taking advantage of the fact that father, a very God-fearing man, had agreed to deliver me over to a sect of devout peasant men, still burning with the ardour of having won the war.

All these events had as their backdrop a countryside home in the south-east zone of the largest of the [Balearic] Islands, a home built by my maternal grandfather with pieces of ashlar, which he himself extracted from a nearby quarry. This grandfather had gone off to Argentina, in a transatlantic ship full of Slavs, who drank, sang and sweated in the hold. In the latter country he got so homesick that he had to come back, carrying nothing else but a revolver, which soon got rusty, exposed as it was to the rough handling of the children.

So, the winters I spent in the company of those devout men, in the Capital; in the summer, on the other hand, I helped father with his most clearly defined passion: building dry stone walls so as to divide and subdivide a plot of brushwood, which had been purchased with the jewels of his wife.

This lasted until I was eighteen. From that time onward, I do not believe it is necessary to mention anything especially remarkable.
Miquel Bauçà 

A selection of entries from El Canvi

Bauçà - el canvi11
I love cat11111

El canvi, Barcelone, Empúries, 1998.

El Canvi is a dictionnary is which the author describes and defines chosen words. Transcript offers a selection of these below.

1 Anguish [détresse]

I feel the sting of anguish simply because of the revelation or perception of Being, not because of the perception of the nothingness of human existence ...
Anguish [détresse]: 'According to Kierkegaard, a mood, not determined by anything in particular, characteristic of a human, which reveals the essence of his being to him: the nothingness of human existence, due to its finite nature, before the infinite nature of God'.

My experience has not been quite the same. I feel the sting of anguish simply because of the revelation or perception of the Being, not because of the perception of the nothingness of human existence: - the latter is an item of knowledge as banal and obvious as knowing the name of the stations on a given metro line before the infinite nature of God. The infinite nature of God doesn't bother me one bit. It would be the worse for Him, if it did. It is a contradiction, to consider such things, because to compare the finite with the infinite, means that you are saying that human existence is not as insignificant as all that. The feeling of vast magnitudes only exists when one is a child or a pre-pubescent. Afterwards, it disappears. I do not believe in God for one elementary reason: if I believed in Him my sense of asphyxia not of finiteness would increase, which is something I cannot let happen. I feel a kind of claustrophobia I have forever engraved within me the childhood experience of going into a cave and not knowing how to get out with respect to relationships of dependence, whatever they might be and whatever form they might take. It is a pity that we do not have an indicator of the degree of anguish which afflicts us, which we reach, with the aim of putting a definite limit to it. Now we don't know how far we can go. But, of course, if we knew, maybe then we would not experience any anguish, most likely. It is impossible to make a comprehensive and well-classified list of states of détresse, typified by popular wisdom or by other forms of wisdom. Nor even of states of euphoria, even though these are far less prolific.

In a strictly medical (medic) sense, I would say that anguish is like an alarm which goes off not because of a danger or a supposed danger, but is rather a warning that we have taken a detour off the correct path. A condemned man, if he is on the correct path, walks, satisfied, along the corridor to the scaffold. The best known case of this is Jesus, who, on the way to Calvary, spoke at leisure with the crowd who had gone to see him. If he felt a moment of anguish once he was nailed up, this is due to some kind of error that he made immediately before or during the walk.

2 America

'We ought to hate the Americans because they sponsored the Dictatorship. But they had to, because London ordered them to.'
America: It generates three errors, which may be perceived without any effort: 1: the way non-Americans interpret it; 2: the vision the English have of it; 3: the idea that the Americans themselves have of it.

What really attracts us about America is not its power: it is the cleanliness, which is given off by the objects they invent, produce and use there: from a skyscraper to a cowshed. This inevitably leads one to believe that morally, too, they are clean and transparent, and, to put it better, accessible. To put it another way: the message is cleanliness. It seems that they are always ready to explain how they have done this, the procedure, which is the first thing that other tribes hide away and will never tell you about. The latter make themselves impenetrable and cannot export their products, because these will always appear suspicious. The Chinese are the supreme representatives of this. The history of the secret of the manufacture of silk is not altogether insignificant.

The important thing is simply that America exists, not for any particular reason, not because of the Americans or what they do. If America is rich and powerful, this is a secondary aspect, and inevitably inevitable. Cretins the world over, even stupid Americans, think that this is what is really important, but the value of America is nothing to do with its power or development: it is based on the fact that America is a metaphysical event of such magnitude that it is even quite observable, unlike other metaphysical events which can only be grasped by poets.

I will never go there. That would be like profaning the most sacred thing. If I had to flee once more from our enemies, I would install myself in the Sahara. I know in which place.

The other States and tribes could vanish and it would be a tiny episode, with no more importance than a cyclone.

We ought to hate the Americans because they sponsored the Dictatorship. But they had to, because London ordered them to. The explanation has nothing to do with the Soviet Union. I view such filial love with tenderness, and so I forgive them. The Dictatorship was a revenge or a sign of disdain on the part of the English that went against our enemies, not against us.

Possible a secondary aspect of my passion for America has to do with the revenge implied by the thought that it was precisely our enemies who discovered their Continent.

I know that it will be hard for me to make myself understood, but America is not movies or caterpillars or even computers.

A disadvantage of the real existence of America is that it does not permit the pleasure of recreating, discovering, obvious things as we wish. I remember with what pleasure I read û in special and de luxe editions things such as the fact that 'form and content' go together like a horse and carriage or that the material of which a thing is made determines its form... At that time such things were sweet as honey, because I did not know that in America they were public knowledge, just like so many other things which were public knowledge. Under the delirium of Franco's rule, they were like milestones that could only be reached after a sweaty effort; magnificent discoveries; secrets with a high strategic value.



Michael Allen Zell - Cabbies, Tarot, Women, New Orleans, Confidence Man, Murder, Crocodiles, Dirt

Errata by Michael Allen Zell

Michael Allen Zell, Errata. Lavender Ink, 2012


A young New Orleans cabbie named Raymond Russell is so shocked by the intensity of a crime that he cannot write about it directly. He can only let out the occasional hint to prime the engine of his mind for what he must reveal. Errata is Raymond’s 22 day attempt at correction of his seeming culpability, an ambitious neo-noir meditation on isolation and sociability, wisdom and madness, symbol and text, innocence and guilt.

I swear, the text, the actual typed text of Errata itself seems swollen with meaning not simply the humid atmospherics of New Orleans. Swelled up, bled and run together into this concoction of pulpy fictive essaying. Michael Allen Zell’s text is evocative, efficacious, effortlessly magical. These are words making love to words, wrapped up in sheets of steamy grammar all transitive, diagramed to hell and back. Come for New Orleans, stay for new oracles. -  Michael Martone

It seems that Michael Allen Zell took a page from Joyce in constructing his novel, following the idea of writing a simple story in a complex matter. Though instead of burying a narrative in puns, homonyms, invented words, syntactical buggery, and so on, Zell let’s the narrative of his novel Errata wind and turn much in the same fashion that the books protagonist, Raymond Russel (an homage to Roussel for sure), drives his taxi through the city of New Orleans: never from point A to point B, as most fare would expect, but rather in methods that involve spelling out his own name by looping through streets, taking roads that are less visited and more lonely, deviations upon deviations, until finally arriving at his point. And it is in this construction, the simple narrative interrupted by diversion, that the book holds its strength.
Errata‘s narrative is casually described as neo-noir on the back of the book, and to summarize the book rapidly this would, indeed, suffice, but to reduce the book to this cliché–clichés existing only in language, not in the narrative of life, as our narrator remarks on the last page of the book–takes away what it is that makes the short book so pleasurable. It’s filled with asides, asides on literature, mostly on Melville’s Confidence Man, Schulz’s “Street of Crocodiles,” Infante’s Three Trapped Tigers, and of course, oh yes of course, the ever present Borges. Aside from literature there is much discussion of beards, of a life being lived casually and hermit-like, to the enjoyment of simplicity; all outside of systematic structures that dominate the 20th century. Though it’s set in the mid-1980s there’s little to indicate that outside of a few passing phrases, there is no cultural nostalgia here, and similarly the location of New Orleans seems but a moot point to what’s happening: there is a girl, there is a man, there is a life lived to only a certain degree, there is a climax: Call the burial, dirt rest.
Zell’s book approaches the text as a reader more than a writer, aware of what brings the author pleasure in reading, this pleasure is in turn passed on to the reader, “Raymond, do you want to look back on your life and think at least I watched a lot of television??” There’s a three page rant about how printed dialog is a futility; there are cues that make me think of what a friend said about writing, how most readers simply confuse the idea of “character development” with authorial intent, a terrible habit picked up in reductive literature classes offered in primary education, these early moldings of the head when we learn to be taught what exactly makes “good literature.”
But the story, buried beneath everything else, is simple and solid. There is a plot that the narrator becomes involved in. There is an excessive amount of insomnia, which leads, in turn, to the writing of the notebook that we, outside of this textual diegesis, are reading, Errata; there’s a meta-text that doesn’t wink at the reader, rather actually probes & functions on the level of affect. This is, perhaps, one of the smartest contemporary novels that I’ve encountered, and because of that, I ultimately appreciate it being written. As a nod to the novel’s protagonist, I consider it the highest honor to now be using the book, which I’ve finished, to prop up my crooked desk, which formerly would shift back and forth, rocking like a boat on the gentle sea as I typed letters and words and numbers into this machine. A book as infrastructure, something solid. -
The end of the year is in sight, and with it the urge to clean up everything left undone. I’ve done a poor job of writing about my reading here, largely from lack of leisure; but I also haven’t felt compelled by that many books this past year. This one probably goes on that short list. Errata arrived in the mail as comb-bound ARC some time over the summer, chiefly notable for how amateurish it looked. I’m not sure why I received the book, as I’d never taken notice of Lavender Ink’s books (although Bill Lavender did pop up in the news shortly thereafter); but I put the book in my bag and, after a while, ended up looking at it while on a cross-town bus delayed in traffic, hoping that I could decide that it wasn’t worth bothering with, toss it, and thus accomplish something with what seemed to be a wasted day. The book, it soon became clear, was interesting; the alternating alliterations of cs and vs in a sentence on the first page was enough to stop and take notice:
I crave calming veins of vicarious titillation, the caricature of civilization kept viciously certain by every scanner burst, its randomness cutting through this vexing cloister. (p. 7)
There’s prolixity there, maybe worrying, but controlled rhythm as well, so I read to the next page, where there was a smart consideration of Nabokov, discovered that page to be the end of the first chapter already; a second chapter, almost as short, started the narrative again and revealed the name of the narrator to be Raymond Russell. There wasn’t much that I could do to stop myself at that point; and this is a short book. I don’t think that I was stuck on public transportation that day long enough to read the whole thing, though that’s not outside of the realm of possibility.
What happens in this book is easily laid out: the bookish narrator drives an unlicensed cab in New Orleans in late 1984. He becomes involved, glancingly, in the life of a woman, Hannah Spire; they are mixed up in the death of a corrupt police officer, the Pelican. The book’s twenty-two chapters are subsequent attempts at writing what happened for posterity. The story is simple (though with nice details); but it’s how the story is written (or, as the narrator announces, “how I’ll tell the story around the story”) that makes this book especially worthwhile. Zell’s literary references deserve special: the book swims in Bruno Schulz, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Herman Melville, Josef Váchal, tools that the narrator uses to think through the problem of addressing his problem. His house is slowly sinking; he props up the foundation with stolen and read books, almost an image of Neurath’s boat. Harry Mathews pops up – this book is related to The Journalist – as does Mallarmé’s Livre and Valéry’s style of dialogue. Roussel is hiding in the background, making the occasional appearance:
More recently, I’d also been told rumors from faves about the 5th District cop who literally pistol-whipped out the teeth of neighborhood men, collected them, and then, referring to his nickname Half and Half, wrote 1/2 as a teeth mosaic in the dirt of empty lots by their sidewalks to remind the residents of his brutality. A civil servant who wore his ethics the way buildings wear rain. (pp. 45–6)
Textual puzzles litter the book. One of the epigraphs, for example, comes from a “P. Reyval”; rearranging the letters reveals Valéry, the reason the quote seems familiar; but on scrutiny, what P. Reyval says is rearranged from what Valéry said. The reader is rewarded for paying attention, though there’s also easy pleasure to be had from the surface of the book. Consider this paragraph-long discussion of Melville and facial hair:
Many men have many minds, so shouldn’t many men also be permitted an assorted masquerade ability to wear several varieties of facial hair or none? The first clause of the preceding sentence references a chapter title from The Confidence Man by Herman Melville, which is appropriate because his writing wasn’t always appreciated throughout his lifetime, but his beard certainly was and is, what with the iconic photographs of the bearded Melville remaining his prevailing visual impression. He knew the power of sporting one’s own Spanish moss during an exceptionally hairy era, using over two dozen different words or phrases of beard description in the novel White Jacket, published when he was barely into his 30′s and his writing career was waning, requiring him to pursue another line of work. (pp. 33–34)
Excerption doesn’t quite show how beautifully this paragraph’s precise deployment of trivia wraps up the narrator’s discussion earlier in the chapter of his own problems with work and shaving as a correlative for that; it foreshadows a point later in the book where the narrator becomes a beard. The Confidence Man hangs over the book; we are reminded that the steamship in that book is sailing for New Orleans.
In a sense Zell’s novel is perfectly common: a literary young man attempts to explain a story with reference to his personal history, his reading, and his education. It’s told in the first person. But this is a book which is always deeply conscious that it is a book, and that the act of writing is fundamentally at odds with living:
Life is not a document. Life cannot be documented. Documents cannot be lived. The writing process is at odds with reconciling life and living sensibly. All I can do is immerse myself and write with abandon to make sense of the situation, and literally try to scrawl myself to sleep, the errata notebook a line to grasp onto for the sake of saving my neck and to be pulled back to my previous reality. (pp. 22–3)
By itself, this philosophizing might become tiresome; attached to a swiftly moving narrative, it works well. Halfway through the book, a chapter is mostly devoted to a consideration of the place of dialogue in fiction, with the narrator supporting the position that dialogue in fiction functions to the detriment of fiction itself, which becomes an argument for telling rather than showing. This sort of explaining shouldn’t work; usually when I come across this sort of thing, I react badly. Zell makes it work.
This isn’t a perfect book; we’ve seen the female characters before, though it’s entirely possible that’s intentional. But the greatest defect of this book is a strange one: it’s not long enough. It’s not that the form isn’t correct for the size; 116 pages wraps the book up perfectly. But like the stories of Kleist, one wishes for more. A book so enjoyable to read shouldn’t be so short, though it does lend itself to re-reading. I’m curious to see what Zell does next.- withhiddennoise.net/

Michael Allen Zell’s slim debut novel includes a buried body, a crooked cop, a French Quarter stripper and an unhinged cabbie. But don’t worry, “Errata” isn’t a run-of-the-mill crime story. Zell dissolves the familiar dross of New Orleans noir in the potent solvent of his imagination, an alchemical process that yields literary gold.
 Michael Allen Zell set his debut novel, 'Errata,' in New Orleans during the 1984 World's Fair.
Read “Errata” if you’re a fan of the chatty, obsessed, unreliable criminals conjured by Vladimir Nabokov and Denis Johnson; the grumbling madmen of Dostoyevsky and W.G. Sebald. The undertow that pulls you through Zell’s first-person narrative is one of psychological detection: What happened to cab driver Raymond Russell? Why can’t he come out and tell us directly?
“Errata” takes the form of 22 journal entries that deftly mimic the cabbie’s agitated state. That doesn’t always make for easy reading, but, as Zell’s narrator argues, “it’s a pity when writers don’t value words, attempting little beyond a 4/4 time plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk in print.” And “Errata” rewards persistence: Every syntactic stumble in Zell’s headlong prose serves a mimetic function, suggesting the complexities of a scattered mind straining toward understanding.
Zell’s cabbie has an interesting mind: one that easily encompasses references to symbolist poetry and evocations of a rural youth. He’s a small town boy, a New Orleans newcomer who sets up his own gypsy cab business during the 1984 World’s Fair. He loves literature. He enjoys the solitude and routines of the night shift. He has a taste for coded, gnomic discourse. And he gets himself into deep, deep trouble when he falls for one of his fares, a stripper who resembles his bookish childhood love.
New Orleans also feels like a character in Zell’s book: an active presence, instead of a backdrop. And the city is mirrored in every detail. To the stripper, for example, her first New Orleans apartment resembles the town: “You can pay pennies for a neglected room, feel like you're in the center of the universe, but at some point it’ll disappear along with everything you own, only you don’t know when. All you can do is live in the moment and hope for a little joy before the padlock clicks in place. In any case, there’s always another room. In this city nothing ever changes.”
For a reader, Zell’s New Orleans is a pretty good place to be. - Chris Waddington
from ERRATA by Michael Allen Zell

The glass implies the bottle,
likewise the text implies its author, so today I’ll address the purpose of these 3:00 A.M. writings.  Why jot down an entry a day for just over three weeks and then spend another week rewriting, in a manner of speaking?  Sure, action was necessary.  Dance or drown.  But there are other ways to break the monotony of waiting, buoys to cling to, other means to distract from private purgatory (though apparently no other ways for a sleep aid), but I’m both intending to explain how the situation came to be, as well as to decipher and amend expected misperceptions of my role in it.  Meaning, I’m not guilty.  This is desperation, not an enlightened tactic.  Don’t expect any surprising profundity or for me to unravel the mysteries of the morning.  No clinched business here.  Instead, repair damaged logic.  Readjust my presence.  Maybe help to develop eventual foresight.  In the meantime, this is a serious correction, like an errata slip tipped-in or inserted just inside the front cover of a book, although my errata go beyond the usual shifts of tense, punctuation errors, incorrect articles used, or misspellings.  Instead of typos, I’m attempting to correct evidence that points to my culpability.  Frankly, my concerns have a much larger sense and a necessity of immediacy than book-based errata, and for that reason the reversal of time has become fundamental in the early morning ritual of recording my impressions of these events.  Don’t expect a confession of confidence.  This is a specimen of afflicted truth.  The pain of advancing sour knowledge.  But no vanity of suffering.  No hyperbole of decline.  I fear though that all of this may appear opaque beyond what it actually reveals (Who wouldn’t seek out diminishing transparency after a coarse stab at revealing the tangled garden of a secret life?), that the tenuous letters are more heartily assertive than they initially seemed in declaiming a silent code of which I’m not even aware.  Very well.  Consider this a document of five characters.  Since the text seems to be a creature that launches its maker, let the letters serve as both character and key, because I firmly expect to hit a bend in the road while writing this.  My life is already at another bend, the fold of the paper cutout, which is to say the suspended middle, the in between zone, but which is not to say the roadblock of writing.  Life is not a document.  Life cannot be documented.  Documents cannot be lived.  The writing process is at odds with living sensibly.  All I can do is immerse myself and write with abandon to make sense of the situation, and literally try to write myself back to sleep again, the errata notebook a line to grasp onto for the sake of saving my neck and to be pulled back to my previous reality.  I can’t keep the notebook here in my apartment as a memento of my itch, that much is realized (I thought about using the false-bottomed box that I hide intrinsic-valuables in, but layers are slight and it only takes one person to realize what lies below the surface), but neither does it exist to burn or just throw out.  I understand full well where it needs to go, what its proper role is, but that means returning to the place, the place I shouldn’t return to, but where I need to go back and check.  If I go back to the place for a second time, my nature will likely compel a cycle of going back.  At the same time, it’s the best location for the notebook since both it and the current inhabitant imply each other.  The errata book needs to have time for stillness and rejuvenation as much as I do.  Let the book sleep, have its proper rest.  Call the burial, dirt rest.



Lina ramona Vitkauskas - As in Antonioni’s great films, the body is clothes and the clothes are part of the visual atmosphere. A dress moves through a toxic landscape, or a ‘toxic love.’ The ‘trysts’ are movies, fantasies, art. Vitkauskas is ‘surreal, primitive, impressionist, whatever’

Lina ramona Vitkauskas, A Neon Tryst, Shearsman Books, 2013.


A NEON TRYST is a collection of ekphrastic poems featuring the films L'Eclisse (director Michelangelo Antonioni); Seconds (John Frankenheimer); and Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman). Though divided in three separate sections by film, the collection stands as one, cohesive piece, as all main characters share an internal conflict—losing identity with the passage of time. One flees an unhappy marriage and throws herself into fleeting, cold relationships against a rigid and futuristic atomic backdrop—all of her apocalyptic decisions revealing the "time bomb" within. One alters his identity completely by committing pseudocide, then undergoing an intense surgical transformation, only to return to his "old" life. The last, a retired professor in his golden years, takes a journey to his alma mater to be honored for lifetime achievement, only to discover along the way that his life has been anti-climactic at best. The three pieces as a whole illustrate that human tendency is to erase before evolving—as Daumal said, "I become conscious of myself by denying my existence"—and that this is dangerous, liberating, and necessary.

“The ‘trysts’ of Lina Vitkauskas’s book are shot through with ‘neon’—that is, they are saturated with chemicals, textures, atmosphere, and media. According to this synthetic cosmology, ‘In an affair / arms laugh, / they become sheer.’ That is to say, they—arms, bodies, weapons, trysts—become both medium and adjective, both see-through and material. As in Antonioni’s great films, the body is clothes and the clothes are part of the visual atmosphere. A dress moves through a toxic landscape, or a ‘toxic love.’ The ‘trysts’ are movies, fantasies, art. Vitkauskas is ‘surreal, primitive, impressionist, whatever.’” - Johannes Göransson

If film is linear, the ultimate time-based medium, during which we are supposed to listen and watch attentively, passively, Lina Ramona Vitkauskas’ poems in A Neon Tryst talk back. These poems create simultaneity, layers, and distillations toward new narrative logics like ‘Let’s laugh until panties.’ Vitkauskas is watching for the poem in the film, writing her own subtitles—deliciously peculiar subtitles— and in their irreverence they are expansive, wise, and sometimes very funny. Her playful gestures in the face of the tightly choreographed imprint of film create incidental and embodied new texts, and this may very well be a feminist enterprise in its daring, toppling film’s male gaze with ‘I have to half you.’ So if Bergman or narrative expectation of any stripe ever presses on you with too much force, don’t worry! Take A Neon Tryst in hand, ‘Be frothy/and rascally’ and soon you may delight in talking back to the screen everywhere, perhaps adding, with a shrug: ‘I can’t stand chalets.’ ” – Jill Magi

Everything is true,” he said. “Everything anybody has ever thought.” — Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
I’m always surprised that in 2013, there’s still a strain of cinemaphobia in some parts of academia. We’ve all heard the by-now well-worn arguments. Movies make us passive. Movies are the Roman bread-circuses of our time. The image is by its very nature oppressive, etc. There’s a deeply conservative strain of argument behind some of this thinking. We see the fear of the image in Plato, for example, where all things are appearances, false images that are nothing but debased forms of the true Concept. An image is doubly evil in this worldview since it is really the shadow of a shadow.
In contrast, there has always been a counter-tradition that sees images as additions, as surplus. And the lack of ground beneath the feet of the Image is really the lack of ground below our own feet.
Derrida used to say film and photography revealed something that had always been the case anyway — the world is full of ghosts. We’re ghosts to ourselves and others are ghosts to us. The fear of Image is often linked to the fear of anti-foundationalism. In this sense, all films are ghost stories.
What is Lina Vitkauskas’ A Neon Tryst? A meeting place under a neon sign? A meeting place between poet and film, under the light of the marquee? Three movies are involved: Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, Frankenheimer’s Seconds, and Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. - James Pate

Lina ramona Vitkauskas’s ekphrastic book of poetry, A Neon Tryst, has just been released by UK publisher, Shearsman Books. It begins:
Black Patent Translations 
toL’Eclisse                                                                                                     7
Wilson, 722 
to Seconds                                                                                                     29
Into the Black Flocks 
to Wild Strawberries                                                                                       59
These parts each begin with a short summary of their respective film:
L’Eclisse (1962) stars the sleek-silver-hypnotic Monica Vitti as a lost woman re-discovering herself after leaving her husband…
Seconds (1966) stars Rock Hudson as an aging, bored, East-coast man who is encouraged to commit pseudocide by an ominous group of wealthy men called ‘The Company’…
Bergman’s classic film, Wild Strawberries (1957), tells the tale of an aged, retired professor travelling cross-country to his alma mater to receive a lifetime achievement award.
I liked being reminded of Antonioni’s L’Eclisse, in particular, geometric Monica Vitti dripping across the screen, her crystalline angles and lines, filmed in black-and-white.
Printed on the back cover of A Neon Tryst is this:
all the main characters share an internal conflict—losing identity with the passage of time.
The book’s cover art is a still from the film, of Vitti’s sleeping face, doubled and cropped. Vitkauskas manipulated the image herself. She has made it wilder: she has given it color:
neontrystThis is a Neon Tryst. The monochrome Monica Vitti has been given layers. Her sleeping eyes lit from below, impressed from above, the Vitti on the cover sends a different signal than the Vitti of the film. We are reminded whose tryst this is—Vitkauskas’s: electric, in neon.
L’Eclisse, Seconds, and The Wild Strawberries were all made during the late 50s and early- to mid-60s, in black-and-white.
I located Wild Strawberries, invoked in Vitkauskas’s third and last poem, first, and decided to watch it for the first time in probably ten years.
The film is obsessed with the futility of time, in its classic images of hand-less clocks, the perpetual intrusion of dream sequences upon the story.
No matter which of Bergman’s films I watch, there is a quality they all seem to share, which never seems to waver: anything in life of any value resides in recollections of one’s childhood. Though Bergman was only 39 when he made Wild Strawberries, he seems to predict his own fate in the character of Isak Borg, the aged professor of his film. Bergman says in an interview late in his life, “I would have been happier if I’d been anonymous.”
Vitkauskas devotes 22 poems to the film. In German, the word for poetry means to condense. So I marveled at what Vitkauskas does with, say, this sequence, Professor Isak Borg’s strange, “humiliating” dream:
wildstrawberries2Vitkauskas writes “Dozing off”:
Unlanguage our blessings.
Listen as a professor.
You know so much and know nothing.
Her striped dress
as she runs through sheets,
rotten baby in a curdled bassinet,
her curls succeeding
your twisted branch.
Here the life breathes into the black flocks.
As this section of the book is called “Into the Black Flocks,” I wonder if this might be the most important image in the film for Vitkauskas. Certainly she knows something about breathing neon into black-and-white.
Invoking these films in her language, on her page, new sequences unfurl, almost as though new characters are speaking. The people on Vitkauskas’s pages have been conjured from the world of Bergman, but in that transmutation enjoy a new kind of existence.
For instance, when Isak Borg dreams of a real scene he was made to witness many years before, of his wife’s infidelity, there is the poem, “The swamp moss, the rusted ladder”:
Resistance is a board,
Laugh a pop of ice
among tenderized digits,
each number a calculated
sweet, an emerald lisp of jealousy.
Vitkauskas has given Isak Bork a new voice: a grubbier, bolder one, more saucy and motoring. In other poems, he cracks jokes, he assaults. Vitkauskas receives a late-night hum, works like an interloper, transmuting the film world into her pristine hint of wink and back row auditorium smack. There is something in these poems that at times feels smarter than the films they invoke. And that’s a good thing.
In this scene from John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, the character of Rock Hudson, framed by the ominous “Company”, has been transformed from bored businessman retiree to hip, young emerging artist via reconstructive surgery. A beautiful young woman he discovers on the beach (who he will later discover has been hired to dupe him in his new life) is instantly smitten with him.
seconds1“Nora Marcus”
Her bare feet in ocean,
all the power.
Mind her
and chop her
with two boys,
complete with microwave oven.
Kitchen floor
the hurt.
She is so sweater,
she is so weather,
she knows I null myself
impure, that I am tentative.
Her teeth just like everyone’s.
It is very nice here.
The good things always happen with the rain.
At this moment, when the words of the film and the words of the poem are the same, Vitkauskas calibrates to the film’s original timbre, but on her own terms. In writing from the perspective of the “impure…tentative/Unturned” leading man, we feel very thick in a tryst, ether-ridden, a new moon quaking above.
Here, too:
seconds2“Convertible Dionysius”
What do you do with a drunken sailor?
Where’s the wild-wine-nipple Renaissance?
She fucks everyone’s accordions, flutes, and laurels.
Rock Hudson, I break you into coronets.
She in grapeseed residue pressed against fertile bodies,
braless bosoms, rosy-buttocked as Anne Boleyn.
She slips off her white dress
and rubs me in Santa Barbara:
a new model of a barrel life, laughing.
I don’t know any of these people.
I’m dying and that’s the world.
In taking on the transformed movie man’s voice, Vitkauskas cuts to the core of his yearning, while making him wilder, more clandestine. In the poems, I appreciate him more than I do in the film because, through Vitkauskas, I understand him differently, perhaps better.
My favorite poem in the book might be in the L’Eclisse section.
eclisse1“The dogs of the neighbourhood”
Love is difficult;
drunk as an upright poodle.

The tone is Vitkauskas’s own: she has a rye glint in her eye, too wise to come on cantankerous. Hers is a resigned world-wear, the kind that is so much fun. “Wicker Clouds” begins:
Carmel Coral is too vulnerable
for a ring, for a new car, for a husband!
Then the poem spills into actual film dialogue, in italics. Vitkauskas appears again, at the end, for a real one-line cincher:
We sex for the keyhole game.
So the poet surrounds the film with her voice, playing it like book-ends.
I like how Vitkausas zooms in on one small item from a scene, making it the title of a poem, heralding the life of objects. Like in “Dino’s mini fan,” which “clashes with trading/screams at the ugly bell” of the stock exchange, in the “octopi pit/into the lamb dance of worth.”
In Vitkaukas’s biography on Shearsman Books’ website, there is a note that the poet is “fascinated by…retinas (after nearly going blind)”. This did not surprise me. Vitkauskas’s lens is kaleidoscopic, atemporal, hypnotic—and makes me wish “ekphrasize” were a verb.
August Evans

Lina ramona Vitkauskas,  HONEY IS A SHE, Plastique Press, 2012.  

DOWNLOAD Standard edition »

Standard edition: A free download of the PDF version of this eBook.
Extended edition: This extended version of the eBook includes a selection of nine spoken word tracks (in MP3 format) from Vitkauskas' collection "Opaque Lunacy," as an audio prologue to the work in "HONEY IS A SHE." The extended edition will be available in early June, 2012.

"Vitkauskas’ poems possess the intricate peculiarity of honeycombs and Schiaparelli dresses, as she exquisitely fashions poems out of scientific particulars, cinematic references ('they place the horse head in the bed'), and metaphors’ associative logic. 'These girls are brave tailors in the blur of impossible femme,' and like her own subject, Vitkauskas is fearless as she navigates, interrogates, and ultimately, dislocates conventional gender dynamics: 'I rip the itch from gender.' The dynamism, humor, and marvel of her poems recall the surrealist Joyce Mansour, conveying a similar tenor as they negotiate desire and disease, ardor and animosity, with beehive fervor. Be stung and sung in the 'golden / drip science' of her resplendent poems."—Simone Muench

"Splendid, grotesque, violent, but always loving, Lina ramona Vitkauskas writes like a contemporary Marina Tsvetaeva through a landscape of the uncertain and surreal; the language is made from the nervousness and energy of every bee in the hive. Part “rotten aorta” and part “snapdragon wine”, the poems in HONEY IS A SHE form a buzzing network of inventive beauty.”
Sandra Simonds

Lina ramona Vitkauskas, Range of Your Amazing Nothing, Ravenna Press, 2010.

Lina ramona Vitkauskas s poetry is richly textured and layered, a palimpsest pleasure. In The Range of Your Amazing Nothing, Ashbery and Superman, Lorca and Jacqueline Bisset, Nancy (the comic strip character) and Forrest Gander all coexist and inform her most amazing verse.

  “Inside these drunk, ridiculous, and belligerently interesting poems are pre-Aeneid rocket people, Sartre
cowboys, and orgasms under trench coats. Vitkauskas uses savage
invention, the hook of good fiction, and the everyday and insane in poem after poem that go headlong
over the edge. But—all the everything aside—something is at stake and you will laugh and you will
be disturbed and you will be seized into an entirely new galaxy of
poetry.”— Fred Sasaki

“Lina ramona Vitkauskas’ poetry is richly textured and layered, a palimpsest pleasure. In THE
RANGE OF YOUR AMAZING NOTHING, Ashbery and Superman, Lorca and Jacqueline Bisset,
Nancy (the comic strip character) and Forrest Gander all coexist and inform her most amazing verse.
While the bright surface of her poetry employs humor and kitsch, the dazzling underside confronts of
intolerance and terrorism with a wise brilliance.”—Denise Duhamel

"It is strange to occupy the world of Lina ramona Vitkauskas’ poems, a world where beef takes
nebulous forms, Jacques Derrida and Batman speculatively coincide, where cumin forms into fists,
where W.H. Auden sets things on fire, while Sartre cowboys ride into a present tense that combines
the Handmaid’s Tale with mad science with the meaningful meaningless dialogue of politics and
propaganda. But while these poems are filled with wild images, they are also subtle in their devious
shifts and proclamations. The dream capsules of amazing nothings of this book are, to paraphrase
Wallace Stevens, both there and not there. These poems are fun, soothingly frantic, and optimistically
generous."—Daniel Borzutzky

Lina ramona Vitkauskas asks, and her collection stands as an intrepid answer, the question as to why haute couture, avant-garde and post avant-garde cinema, Derrida, and marine life should be at odds, offering her reader startling juxtapositions vis a vis an unmistakable voice that sounds out as often as it retracts in the act of listening.

Lina ramona Vitkauskas’ poetic persona is one of, as the title alludes, dizzying range, as are the poems themselves in The Range of Your Amazing Nothing; one recurring theme and also the title of one of the strongest poems is the “execution of lively girls.” From the poem titled same: “ . . . the men in white have a hunch/ for girls like you:/ unfamiliar understudies of existence.”
At times the speaker’s perspective is that of someone trying to deconstruct a lively girl, and the speaker is the first to laugh at their confusion. “Poised like a mathematician/ upon sleeves of papyrus,/ my god, every bit of you is vicarious,/ I have been this quilt of crushed,/ radium smiles before.” The pun on the poet’s last name and vicarious, whether intentional or not, is an entertaining way the wide-ranging speaker infuses her protean “I” with personally-felt substance. The motif of this poem—the unalienable agency of male actors (and men) as contrasted with the bit parts often given to lively women in film—makes the “brutal chrysalis of identity” of which the poet speaks that much more profound. While the rich imagery can at times overpower, the poet’s frequent use of italics and the abundant intertexual references help guide the reader to through the thicket of signification into lodestars of meaning.
From “Bird Into Building”:
She is certain to have recalled
winter’s nunnery, her tongue
from previous ecstasy releases

thoughts like little hats
all of her sick hero moments,
in an enclave of economies.
References to Vitkauskas’s Lithuanian heritage appears amid so many other cultural references as to suggest that the myth-making of this debut collection is more about identity formation on the cosmic (even Vedic or Gnostic) rather than nationalistic level, as the speaker searches for elements of language (“Crying hieroglyphs,/ arrogant from the bake/ of lifeless theatres”) still capable of communication.
“My Retinal Detachment” alludes to Vitkauskas’ multiple eye surgeries beginning in 1996 to correct a degenerative optical condition: the thin line between dread and fearlessness is palpable, and the acute tension between “being sighted” and being capable of the act of seeing (versus looking, or being seen), sensed throughout.
I’ve made the bed three times
and replaced my eye with a better voice.
Sotto voce. I’ve never been outside . . .
Even de Leon can’t locate the theatre of my fountain.
I am not afraid that this sounds.
The poet asks, and her collection stands as an intrepid answer, the question as to why haute couture, avant-garde and post avant-garde cinema, Derrida, and marine life should be at odds, offering her reader startling juxtapositions vis a vis an unmistakable voice that sounds out as often as it retracts in the act of listening. From Kidnapping Brides: “ . . . since the bias-cut/ has come back, since the/ hypothetical dossier rendered/ me the interpreter, since the/ premise shifts, since energy/ cannot be created nor employed,/ since my money is no good here,/ since I’m falling/ so gracefully.”
Plathian in her wry ecstasies, generous in her nods to poet-predecessors (among the collection’s quietly lyrical poems is a five-line homage to Szymborska) and sensitive to the implications, often dangerous, and joys, often overlooked, of postmodern discourse, Vitauskas’ debut collection is a veritable treasure-trove of sonic intensity issued from a sleuth-like intelligence, “cracking parallelograms/ on the linear beach blanket,/ bending blonde participles. This is a jar like a lottery./ Like my first Dramamine pie.” - Virginia Konchan


Lina ramona Vitkauskas, Failed Star Spawns Planet/Star, Dancing Girl Press, 2006.

The First Gardenia

"Give me a museum and I will fill it."
—Pablo Picasso

You are air and I am air
but what we really are (when we dissipate)
are unrelated planets. The rooster

risks nothing, dips to the umbrella
feeds churches and quantum penalties.

Should I have undone the doctor,
cosmologically undone myself,
undone the doctrine in this state

of granite and velvet? Maybe
the universe cleans us
of all the universals. Burning,

the gecko gardenia in silk
strains of skins makes love,
a different one each session
below the Belt.

 Shooting Dead Films with Poets

Lina ramona Vitkauskas, Shooting Dead Films with Poets, Fractal Edge Press, 2004.

In this collection of exquisite poems, the fiction editor of Milk Magazine honors celebrities of film and literature with wondrous images linked together in mysterious ways revealed only to those unswayed by their surrealism, those willing to stay with the poems as they move deeply below the surface of appearance and syntactic parsing. The power of her diction derives from the powerful deep structure linking each image to magical path of layered interpretations they invite and reward.

“Lina ramona Vitkauskas writes a class of ‘found’ poetry that I will dub ‘found memory’ as she culls the rooms of the poems of the poets to whom she dedicates and finds word objects that make matter (see “Einstein’s Shoes”!) out of historical and spatial distance. Tender, defiant and fun, these poems are making it new.”—Rachael Levitsky

Shooting Dead Films with Poets is an improbable treasure. These fourteen poems call out to Cocteau and draw from the gamut spanning Georgic bees and a Chicago found to be antipodal to the Volga. Subtitles twine immaculately. They invoke a Cyrillic voyeur penning captions for a movie that knows its own Democracy. This is a run of great poems made by great lines, a sequence of gracious acts in which Vitkauskas drops names like Galileo dropped the orange.”—Chuck Stebelton

Lina ramona Vitkauskas, The Meanest Man Contest, mother’s milk press, 2000.

My head is a vacant apostrophe.

The linen of the grass,
raincoats on Christmas
miles across my childhood
backyard fleeced on its iced
belly. The undertow of Ira—
a flipchart of mortar sealing
tablet doors, collapsing shut.

I am floating up
like a fetal parsnip—
it is almost dawn.
I am a spiny comb
in this glass menagerie.
I wonder if
Chicago will snap
to middle earth
into the molten squash of soil,
melting organs of strict,
black keys everywhere.
My cream is clarified.
The windows are caulked
with doilies.

You are more subtle than gifts,
a flecked, necessary note on my breast.



(For Simone)

Girls just like to dance
to the politics,
wear the stamina
of a rosy Spain pear,
each one a clerk and tangle
of facets and fatalism.

Girls gleaming with Pavlovian
automatic, lubricated and absent,
posies for the camera, a tonic flash
like fireflies, fever moths,
subterranean sugar.

    Then belle and belle in the snow—
    smooth as jeweled hands over a mine
    beneath Dickens, dismantling
    the music with unfocused meticulous.

Public and nocturnal,
girls just like to dance
to the plotlines of gadgetry,
from bridle to girdle,
each hoping the butter unbeaten
by life spreads on morning toast.

    Yet we have text in our eyes
    and celosia smiles. Your record
    is on and the dance floor
    your aquarium: your operatic hair
    silks new notches
    in the air behind you.



“In my dream, I am your customer.”
—Laurie Anderson, Words in Reverse

In a pagan posture,
in a Cadillac,
my body synched,
manipulated and ruptured
as a locksmith unpinned.
Soothe me,
listen for instruction,
there’s a sultan beneath my breath,
and here my arms: severed by the clock.
The gravel of hypnosis
in my pockets, a beakless swallow,
the grommet of clean pain:
“Handcuff me,” Gandhi said,
“still the strobe and create the motive.”

Spirit Laughs So Eventual

We can't do the voodoo of the everyman,
so let's begin to love myself all over again.
As goes the old Hugo novel, own your mysteries.
My skin only accepts natural spaces˜
cardamom and coves. Sleepwalkers you

procured in my tawny concentration, my dream
the left eye collapsed and met the child who tamed
wild moonrats. To rape oneself a humane
existence, the painful song. You and I only consist.
The riotous torch crowd˜derelict
arachnids on a parting gift I dreamt

possible. Father. What we clever cats culled
from roundtables and ruffians: the circumference
of electric sex. Performance of woman crane mirror.
As goes the seahorse tragedy of Gethsemane‚s fossil.
I never saw the movie which could cry. 
 The First Gardenia

       Give me a museum and I will fill it.

You are air and I am air
but what we really are (when we dissipate)
are unrelated planets. The rooster

risks nothing, dips to the umbrella
feeds churches and quantum penalties.

Should I have undone the doctor,
cosmologically undone myself,
undone the doctrine in this state

of granite and velvet? Maybe
the universe cleans us
of all the universals. Burning,

the gecko gardenia in silk
strains of skins makes love,
a different one each session

“Eight Questions for Lina Ramona Vitkauskas” by Anita Wota

Lina Ramona Vitkauskas, a Lithuanian-Chicagoan poet and fiction writer, has published three chapbooks (short books which contain poems and/or short stories) and poetry books, some of which include Shooting Dead Films with Poets (a poetry book published in 2004), THE RANGE OF YOUR AMAZING NOTHING (her newest chapbook, published in 2009), and Failed Star Spawns Planet/Star (published in 2006). Lina has was also co-editor of the webzine, Milk Magazine (http://www.milkmag.org
quick payday
), which was composed of poetry, essays, visual art, short stories, and other works from artists all over the globe. Much of Vitkauskas’s work was inspired by surrealistic writing, which sparked her interest ever since she was a young girl. However, her enticing literature isn’t only based on surrealism. It serves as an inspiration for young writers because it’s relatable to people of all ages and genders. These are many of the reasons why I felt the urge to ask Lina Ramona Vitkauskas about her life, her success, her inspirations, and how she influences her readers.

What motivated you to become a writer? What motivates you to keep writing?
  As a kid, I spent a lot of time in my room drawing and making storybooks. I read quite a bit and attempted to read some of my father’s astronomy and history books which were obviously way too complex for me at the time, but I still tried because I was fascinated and wanted to learn. I distinctly remember Asimov’s  "Cosmos" on his nightstand and how I attempted to fathom the beauty of supernovas and the infinite size of the universe.
One story that I wrote in 4th grade was about a planet named Zebron. The inhabitants of Zebron were trying to steal the Earth’s food and water supply by toying with its gravitational pull, and most importantly, the main astrophysicist in the story was named Dr. Rinard. Of course, I referred to him as the “head scientist”. It was published in a publication put out by the school’s gifted program.
I continued to write stories, but I was also interested in plays. Throughout school, I performed in many plays and began thinking I would pursue playwriting. My senior year of high school, I completed my first play, however, I angstily decided it was horrible and set it on fire in my backyard. I started to write and read poetry after that. The first poet I ever read was Anne Sexton. Obviously, there were some marital themes that she touched upon that I could not fully understand, but her poems were so fragile and powerful at once. I was greatly affected by her lonely images and the clever juxtoposition of fairytale concepts and blunt/bleak reality.
In college, I pursued writing fiction, then poetry. I was introduced to Wallace Stevens, some New York School poets (O’Hara, Ashbery), some Beats (Ginsburg, Burroughs), some Russian poets, (primarily Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Mayakovsky, Tsvetaeva), and stumbled across the early Surrealists/Surrealists (Breton’s “Earthlight”, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Apollonaire, to name a few).
After exporing the works of these writers and many others, I could not stop writing. I began expressing my thoughts by trying to write it they way they would—using some of their tactics and then inventing some of own. It was fun to experiment. I continue to read poetry and experimental writing as much as I can. Most times, my writing schedule is inconsistent. I wish I could write every day, but when I do (every few weeks or so) it really pours out of me. I feel I need to write. It truly is a part of who I am.

A lot of your writing represents very surrealistic styles. Why did you choose to focus on this type of style specifically? 

Surrealism is just the discipline or style of writing that fascinates me most. I am not into theory or sterilizing poetry by analyzing it. I like the unknown—feeling something without knowing why necessarily. Dreams affect us this way and Surrealism is largely based on dreamwork. Much like images in dreams, words come to me randomly. I’d say I first hear them in my head and then they collide. Then images spring from those word combinations. 

What other kinds of writing styles and themes appear most frequently within your poetry? What kind of significance do these styles and themes have?
There is social commentary throughout my poems (gender roles (female identity, sexuality), politics) and then there’s my Lithuanian heritage, which has made me recognize some interesting “subconscious” traits in my work. Ongoing oppression is a large component of Lithuanian history, and many of its oppressors rotated frequently—Poland, Sweden, Germany, Russia. This has led to the country itself and our people feeling fearful and uncertain to say the least. Yet, although this uneasiness existed in daily life, it is counterbalanced by a tremendous swell of nationalistic pride.
In this vein, my poems boldly / authoritatively declare vulnerability / uncertainty. Further, my poems are personal yet detached because I am Lithuanian-American: I believe straddling these two cultures allows me to be both omniscient and involved simultaneously.
My poems are a way to take both identities and languages out and put them on the examination table.
In addition, I enjoy words and language sounds. Knowing three languages (including some Spanish) makes creating language combinations fun and interesting. I never know when I write a poem where it will go.

How did you become involved with milk magazine? Why did you choose to be involved with this magazine? 
Larry Sawyer was a poet I had met in Dayton, OH in 1999. Larry was the editor of Wright State University’s literary magazine, Nexus, and, during his tenure, had compiled 2 – 3 issues of work by influential members of the Beat, Black Mountain, and NY Schools of poetry, Larry envisioned doing a magazine much like Nexus when he graduated from college, so, from his own pocket, he created the first issue of milk magazine in print (the only print issue to date). I suggested he take it online due to costs. The Internet was pretty new and free and lots of people were starting e-zines. I designed and maintained the site, Larry made editorial decisions. By the second and third issues, I was heavily involved in the editorial process.
We created milk because Larry and I both had the same vision as writers: a unique outlet for international work (poetry, visual art, fiction). We both strongly felt we were creating something special in the literary community. We were one the first comprehensive online lit mags next to Exquisite Corpse, Web del Sol, Big Bridge, JACK, and others.

I continued to design, maintain, and stay very involved editorially until 2008.

How did being a co-editor of milk magazine contribute to your success (as well as the other works that you have written)? 
I think it was a good stepping stone to meet other poets and writers in the community. Facebook and MySpace didn’t exist— no social networks did for that matter—so, when we started milk, everything was done via e-mail introductions, meeting people at readings, and just checking out other people’s magazines / sites. I think, in later years, as milk became more well-known among our peers, it helped to get my work in the door a little easier. Being an editor offers the responsibility of selecting work, yet, as a writer, you are still trying to get your work out there and published. Rejection is part of the process.

I recently read your poem, “The Most Girl Part of You”, and was very intrigued by it. What inspired you to write this poem and what message did you want to send to women and young women by writing it? 
Fiction writer Amy Hempel wrote a story of that exact title. I first read it when I was 14 or 15. It was a very poignant story—about kids who lose parents, then have sex for the first time; their relationship and the narrative was quirky, endearing, and real. I thought of this story when writing the poem because I was comparing the innocence of the interaction between these characters and how that seemed somehow lost among my generation to some degree. The poem attempts to let girls know that “a most girl part of you” is often misinterpreted as the physical. It’s a call to girls to view and represent themselves as thinking individuals not as body parts.  
What kind of impact do you hope that your writing will someday have on society? 

That’s a huge question. I really am just thankful that people still read and are interested in poetry. My hope, much like any artist, is to intrigue people, arouse their thoughts and hearts.

What kinds of new projects are you currently working on and why? 
I am currently writing two new chapbooks. One is more light-hearted than some of my other work, and one is a thematic collection surrounding “honey” (the word and the sweet, sticky stuff). I also have one manuscript under submission, which is a response to three films.  I would love to complete a long-term goal: a spoken word CD.
For more information on Lina Ramona Vitkauskas as well as her literary work, visit her website, http://www.linaramona.com
quick payday

12 or 20 questions: with Lina ramona Vitkauskas

Lina ramona Vitkauskas is the recent winner of The Poetry Center of Chicago’s 15th Annual Juried Reading, judged by poet Brenda Hillman. She was also recently nominated by Another Chicago Magazine for an Illinois Arts Council Award (in the poetry and fiction categories). She has won an honorable mention in STORYmagazine’s Carson McCullers Award contest (1999) and placed as a semi-finalist for the Cleveland State University Open Poetry Series (2002). After obtaining an MA in Creative Writing from Wright State University, she authored three poetry books and chapbooks including: THE RANGE OF YOUR AMAZING NOTHING(Ravenna Press, 2010), Failed Star Spawns Planet/Star (dancing girl press, 2006), and Shooting Dead Films with Poets (Fractal Edge Press, 2004).

Her work has appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies including: The City Visible: Chicago Poetry for the New Century (Cracked Slab Books, 2007), The Prague Literary Review, Van Gogh's Ear (Paris),The Chicago Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Aufgabe; Drunken Boat, White Fungus (New Zealand),MiPoesias, Paper Tiger (Australia), and the In Posse Review Multi-Ethnic Anthology edited by Ilya Kaminsky. Poet Denise Duhamel has noted that her poetry “employs humor and kitsch…the dazzling underside confronts intolerance and terrorism with a wise brilliance.” Her web site is www.linaramona.com.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook was published in 2004 by Fractal Edge Press (Chicago) and is titled Shooting Dead Films with Poets. The next one was published by dancing girl press (Chicago) and was titled Failed Star Spawns Planet/Star. My first full-length book of poetry is coming out in 2010 on Ravenna Press (Spokane,WA) and it's called THE RANGE OF YOUR AMAZING NOTHING. The publication of all of these works came at critical times in my life. The first came soon after I'd moved back to Chicago from Ohio, where I completed my MA in Creative Writing (in 2002).
I'd jumped into the blossoming poetry scene by making contacts in the community and doing a lot of readings. Wayne Allen Jones, a fellow poet, was starting a press and wanted my book to be one the first that he did. I was very happy, of course, and was able to say I'd published. In 2005, Kristy Bowen, publisher of dancing girl press in Chicago, approached me to publish another collection of astronomy-related poems; I was thrilled to be a part of her catalogue of all-female poets--all very talented...to be among the likes of Brandi Homan, Simone Muench, Daniela Olszewska, and Kristy Odelius was a great experience for me. The book coming out in 2010 is a great accomplishment of mine. I am extremely honored that Kathryn Rantala (of Ravenna) is publishing it. It is about 108 poems written between 2005 to 2008. The book feels different because it is lengthy and feels like a comprehensive representation of my work.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I began as a fiction writer, but I had always written poetry. I returned to poetry because I seemed to be able to feel more comfortable with it. It seemed more my niche.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing intitially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
My writing style begins when the muse visits. Months may pass and she doesn't stop by, then she comes and stays for months (always a wanted guest). I write in spurts and in a flash of inspiration try to capture it all before it slips away. I don't revise until much later, and even then, I am afraid to tamper too much with the initial products I produce. Nothing is ever truly finished, and poems become reincarnated as others at times.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Sounds, words, language. I begin with juxtaposing words that sound as if they belong together. I let the poem take shape as I write. I never know what I am writing about until it is finished, though there are distinct themes of politics, gender roles, shades of humanity, magical realism, surreal terrains, conversations I hear, botany, astronomy, and Lithuanian and Spanish vocabulary and nuances.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do readings and I do enjoy them. I like hearing audience response to my work. What other poets find in my work means a great deal to me. Often times, there are beautiful surprises in their responses.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Russian sociolinguist Bakhtin wrote of heteroglossia, the idea of language hierarchy or conflict within the mind and how it influences language decisions. This meant quite a large deal to me having spoken Lithuanian primarily as a child, and then English, and then studying Spanish. Soon, there was a distinct "language straddling" going on within me and I became rather entertained by the notion of being able to switch between and/or amalgamate words, if necessary. I believe this theory plays a large role in my loose method of writing. It at least fuels the playfulness in my work. Montaigne wrote of the meaning of "to essay" and referred to the Latin translation "to test" or "to try". Early in my master's study, I was quite drawn to this notion and still view the process through this lens.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
The role of the poet in society is changing. I ask, have we arrived as authoritative voices on culture yet? It's becoming apparent with the explosion of citizen journalism and the immediacy of Twitter, etc. that writers have a challenge of maintaining credibility in the creative and non-fiction realms.
In Europe, poets are lauded, respected, and looked upon as great commentators of generations and time. The US has a great tradition, as of late, celebrating genre writers within the fiction realm and using commercial success and film adaptation as the benchmark. There is a distinct misconception among mainstream society about poets and poetry--often times people think of the Shakespeare they learned in high school or think of Robert Frost, Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath. There is such a rich world of contemporary poets, talented documenters of our time, that has yet to be discovered. I believe poets deserve more recognition, though I think within the world of poetry itself, there is much mutual recognition and respect.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It is essential to the process to shape a published work to fit its medium, but should not alter the intent.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Pound's "show don't tell". Robert Creeley said (I'm paraphrasing) "If you don't know what you're doing--trust it." Jodorowsky said, "You cease to exist when you say 'That's what I am.' "
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I have only been able to slightly traverse between experimental short fiction and poetry. I prefer poetry.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
No routine for writing. For me, personally, routine it is detrimental and counterproductive.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I look to scientific texts, Wikipedia's random article, and foreign films.
13 - What did your favourite teacher teach you?
My drama director once told me that I am not as funny as I think I am.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Definitely science (astronomy and botany) and film.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Film screenwriter, comedy writer, travel more.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Screenwriter, comedian.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
It was something that approached me.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I'm reading Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded currently. Synechdoche, NY was highly underrated and a great film.
20 - What are you currently working on?
A poetic series of ekphrastic books in response to select foreign films, a spoken word CD with a koto player.- robmclennan.blogspot.com/