Elizabeth Mikesch - a subversive text of lingual dissonance in which vocality precedes sense-making operations. Its phonics disrupt narrative through syntactical atonalities
Elizabeth Mikesch, NICETIES: Aural Ardor, Pardon Me. Calamari Press, 2014.
“If you’re weary of mild, obedient prose, try plunging into the pages of Elizabeth Mikesch’s exuberant debut. This book is witchcraft: stories refreshingly loosely translated from the real by a mind that moves on its own.” —Noy Holland
“It will hardly do the trick to say that NICETIES is a breath of fresh air. In Elizabeth Mikesch’s compressedly melodious prose, a reader inhales purifying drafts of something entirely unexpected in these literary dog days—not some novelty intoxicant concocted as a careerist stunt but some rarer ether releasing itself at long last into the world to dazzle, yes, but also to clarify so much of what we had never dreamed clarifiable about the ecstasy of our human mess.” - Gary Lutz
“What the fiction that is Elizabeth Mikesch’s knows is more than what most other fiction knows. Mikesch makes in ways that makes speech both impossible to say and impossible not to say. Oh but to say it sayingly. Her way of saying is one in which speech comes before meaning and meaning is best left to the music—makers among us. The music, in Mikesch’s hands, is a musicality that makes the entire body into an ear. Listen, listen, and be changed.” —Peter Markus
'Niceties debuts today and pokes a hole in the coma of language. The tired factions, lyric versus experience, this tribal cliché, mellifluous pretension, or language generating language, assaulted usually converse by the plain and sneering, story time, popped out of their tepid beers now by a handier relic, just got outmoded – combined to hurt itself inside a voice both beyond and including narration, the personal event broken to the heart’s proper arrhythmia. A flaying can still be vulnerable even if it takes you with it. The sobriety of our times cannot support this book because the general crusade has been swatted operatic. Anything without khakis is giggled about in these great plots for safety so-called artists use to call themselves important. How much precedence might ones pellet-sized message keep in the face of such wrought mystic twirling up the bowel meant for silence? Don’t fret. Mikesch is here to kick you out of your crib and flout the world that hasn’t started. Think those loops Markus swerves us through tied up in a Finnish peninsular whelp, with an elbow caught between each breath, the chorus tapping out a feel good suicide. I don’t want beauty unless it’s clawing me permanent.' -- Sean Kilpatrick
From the very first sentence of Niceties, Elizabeth Mikesch’s first book, you know you’re in for something Beckettian: “Would we say that we would go a ways to the place of the one who we could never name?” Among those who talk about the music of a sentence, there are at least two kinds: those who like the music to do all the work, to the point where you’re like, “Please, kill me, I want to hear no more,” and those, like Mikesch, for whom the music is just a cover for what is more like a series of hundreds of eruptions, one after another.
Like Diane Williams and Noy Holland, here is a person who can take any sort of world and make it work. Whether it’s the complex image of a dad telling his daughter it’s time to shave her vagina, or kids picking lice out of each other’s hair, the context is like a gel—a thing in and of itself rather than described or played out for entertainment.
The subject matter floods past in currents that run deep as any corridor. “I got robbed,” one narrator mentions sidelong, before taking her roommate to task in the next sentence for leaving her panties all over the place, and then in the next to mentioning how she keeps a bunch of knives beside her bed. There is no whimsy here: Each paragraph is a slab of wicked meat. You might have only 87 pages, but each is worth at least a couple other volumes, and even if you’re not sure where you ended up it still keeps tingling, like getting a hex put on you. Or sleeping with a Ouija board. - Blake Butler
Calamari Press is also known for such titles as The Night I Dropped Shakespeare on the Cat. Talking about his own work, author John Olson compared his writing experience to “the relief of the man who falls from a high cliff only to discover he’s been dreaming”. A relief indeed. Such subconscious forays take on a sordidly urban feel in Nicities. Also published by Calamari, but written by Elizabeth Mikesch, Nicities is a stream of consciousness narrative that, like a naughty child, does whatever the hell it wants. Reading it is a little like watching someone gorge themselves on chocolate, or get laid, or whatever else takes their fancy while you watch, hole-bluthered (gob-smacked) from the other side of the page. It’s exciting, in a crack-cocaine sort of way, and many of the (fathomable) descriptions in the book’s 87 pages surprise you with their ugly beauty and dead vigour. ‘The women there are spindly, thickly liquored,” writes Mikesch, ‘There are things she has to do: get home on the train to her place where the rain fell and wet her daybed’s daisied throw, the place where the kid shits.’
Any Cop?: It sort of takes your breath away, but if you don’t like the idea of showering with the monkeys, or wallowing in urban decay then you’d better stick to Jane Austen. - Bookmunch
When I was little – oh! Here’s a story. This is a bad story about childhood. When I was little, I was swimming...and there was a little boy on the dock...and he was playing, um, with a...fishing pole…and he caught me in the eye...and so I had to go to the emergency room ‘cause I had a big, a big cut by the tear duct…and…I remember when I looked at my eye it was crusty...crispily...I was...I got caught like a fish.
Things were just kind of bopping along with him and then I showed him something that had already been published and he just tore it apart. And this is after hours or before class he would have people meet sometimes if they wanted more one on one attention and I had never done it and I was like well you know, why not, because I felt like in class I wasn’t really...I, I don’t know...I didn’t know what was going on. I was in a...I was delirious a little bit. Yea, I showed him and he read through a few sentences and he, he said something like: what have you ever done in your life of consequence? How old are you? I told him that, that I, I was suicidal and he...he kind of scoffed and he was being harsh and he said oh so, so there’s, there’s a murderer inside you and you have homicidal tendencies, well, that’s what I should be reading, things like that...and I started crying and he said: oh, don’t cry, cry about it. And I left...I went to the eighth floor which is where people had space to...it’s kind of like an office where you can go to write, it’s really quiet there. I went up there and I just started sobbing and there were people from class just. They got it. They knew something went down...I was living in New York, not really knowing anybody. So, I was like: why did I do this, why did I come here, I don’t belong here, I’m not smart, I have no talent, I’m an idiot, I’m like five years old, what am I possibly going to get out of this, how am I gonna, you know, there’s no point in doing anything...creative ever because it’s just, everyone’s bad, and, he really wants you...it’s not...I think that it gets misread, like he. It’s not that he wants you to feel bad. It’s that he wants you to rise up and be amazing. That’s what he’s looking for. He’s looking for something insane and something, something, that nobody could fake.
(Addressing random child, song-lilt, most beautiful voice): Hii! What are youu doing? - Interview by Sean Kilpatrick
My Ex Boyfriend Came to Me in a Dream and Told Me Everything I Had Must Fit into a Shoe Rack Inside of His Car: A Conversation with Elizabeth Mikesch
“Under Doors of Foreigners” (from Niceties)
What I don’t know about a house is which dream I will have sleeping inside of its strange beds, above its pallets when I am guest again.
I know that my mother made French fries for father at four a.m. in her mother’s house, and it made her mother’s house burn down. She fell asleep and the grease burned up even the family photos.
I know there are houses I have slept in where I’ve been bitten by spiders for closing my eyes. People eat spiders in their sleep every year they say. I think that’s why I am always sleepy but never can. I also think a house can have a room that is so much of one person that you know them now so much you will finally sleep after all. Sometimes somebody wants you to be the room they fall asleep in so much that you never will.
I slept in a foreigner bed once, a mother and father’s. They had two huge crosses above their headboard. I had a new tattoo. Their son laughed at my arm during dinner but covered his mouth. I didn’t give more than one word before bed. Above where he slept, he had pictures of pigtailed girls and, too, of cartoons. I didn’t understand the soap there, but I wanted to wash around where I started to sweat. I was scared about the ink, and there were so many bloody statues that I stayed awake feeling their marriage all over me.
There were gold-framed photos of their loved ones on either side protecting them. I wrapped my arm in a scarf and watched until the son woke up.
In a cellar, I lived with a man who was humungous. He was a freak when he grew tall young, he said. His knees had bone chips in them. This is why he had a hobble. I had stayed very tiny, which he liked and had listed as his number one must-have in the ad about whom he would like to move in.
The walls where we lived were stone. The first time I saw the cellar, I followed him scuffing. He prickled at the click of my shoe.
Pick up your feet.
I hate to make a person mad. I tugged them off and climbed on his bed. I stood on his mattress above bricks to see how fucked of a slant.
Our bed was Siamesed.
My size made the most room for the both of us. We shared covers, which sometimes I stole. He never got mad about that. We slept in shifts. The part where we would switch who slept, our lapse, was when we would lie down beside one another to sleep through the droughts of no dreams. I blew out the nightlight after I ate soup in bed, from cold cans. I liked to turn my back to him and feel him there. I liked him breathing in the dark closer by than when he went to his side.
He wanted to know if I was staying once I had been there for a while. Mostly, I said to him softly, That may be.
I would count tiles. Spiders chomped at our might. Choruses inside me shucked corn. Sheet stains stayed awake with us looking up.
I adored the encrusted forks—I’d have to clean up after the two of us, after we deserted our pannukakku.
They made it from the place I came from with a bay and a county song for when there was no snow. Where we lived, we would sing through the radio out an old call for the patron saint of precipitation. I found I never summoned her now. When the sky leaked through the cracks once in awhile in our home, I felt something like batter without the leavening.
Here is a secret: I do care for being bundled, which was the draw for me living underground, where it is meant to stay cold. I like kindling. I love to be spun.
In the kitchen in the dark before there is sun, it is me in the sink at the bakery where I make ends. The baker comes in after I slashed my batard. Our refrigerator hums low along to what we do like a little grandmother.
The sheets account for the way we sit still and fuss our lips over cups. When I piss, I flip the fan, so I consider the sinkspout without hearing his sneezing. Then, I try to remember my dreams when I open my eyes.
Once before sleep, he said a doctor called his heart too large as a boy. It seemed he had said I know how I need. He told me if I found him to not leave the sheets on our bed.
I could not imagine being responsible for digging open the earth.
Cardamom is the name of the spice in the bread I braid. I bake in the night for work. I bleach the spice out of my nylons on my breaks: the mildewed roux.
In life, I am the queen, yes, in charge of anything having to do with foods. I make us ham sandwiches, the lettuce limply bowed out.
I want to make myself up to the daylight somehow. The way I lived, there was our sleeping and yeasts from the breads. There were not too many nights where I felt something final. I got frightened to think this would be the way. I thought about eating only onions I had grown down below, the occasional rutabaga. I thought I am tired of candelabra.
His moustache fell into the sink one morning and, worried, I dabbed at the fixture once he left to clean homes. He asked me to bite him until the bruises left yellow highlighter where his arms felt numb.
I once saw someone take a nail to a person.
When he turned over in bed, I had private thoughts about a room.
It was, after all, an agreement, I said to him through space. I saw just his back, but his light was kept on long after dawn. I was afraid to turn it off.