Rich Ives takes the reader through a series of meditations inspired by tools, bodies, and stranger things. It’s a catalog that you can’t order anything from. A manual with no instructions.
Rich Ives, Sharpen, tNY.Press, 2014.
It’s a catalog that you can’t order anything from. A manual with no instructions. In Sharpen, Rich Ives takes the reader through a series of meditations inspired by tools, bodies, and stranger things. A mix of the surreal and the mundane, these short fictions deal with father-daughter relationships, communication, and intellect, sometimes discarding conventional grammar in favor of a language of emotion.
We at tNY are dedicated to experimentalism, but we will not forget our past; we straddle the fence between new and traditional. In this vein, Sharpen is a pastoral work of fiction like you’ve never seen before.
Each story is illustrated by Jack Callil. Diagrams and book design by Nils Davey.
Rest easy, Sharpen is printed on paper from 100% renewable forests or 100% recycled material, with vegetable based ink, and sent to your doorstep from a solar powered distribution center.
Sharpen is a work in experimental fiction. It is a collection of very short stories and illustrations, organized into a manual for absolutely nothing. Each chapter begins with an diagram of a tool like a vise or the inner ear, followed by a written meditation on varies ideas, and ends with an illustration – a visual representation of the written meditation.
Ives writing oscillates between being very difficult to decipher and beautiful. The reader may walk away from Sharpen scratching their head wondering what on earth they read. It is hard to understand what Ives was trying to get across. Unless the reader is willing to spend a lot of time teasing apart each sentence it is hard to pick out themes. This does not mean that this collection is without beauty or value, but while the beauty may be evident the value is probably a little more elusive. The diagrams are interesting and the illustrations are brainteasers, but be prepared for confusion.
- Nicole McGillagreen
Rich Ives lives on Camano Island in Puget Sound with a Singapore Shrimp, an open-tuned Dobro and a 100-year-old Hopf fiddle. He may have first been sighted by a gossipy albino fox near a northeastern South Dakota cabbage patch of questionable lineage with his thirteen wives, each of whom inexplicably disappeared into the neighboring and not yet Monsanto-ghosted cornfield. As a result, his relatives have mostly given up on him, and yet he remains relative. Rich Ives may actually be a euphemism for a pervasive bearded pollen preferred for cocoon sealing by the Gypsy Moth when overwintering beyond its normal habitat. Rich Ives has no normal habitat, but still he seems to overwinter in a log home despite reports of a great spewing infestation of threads of words and music. The cocoon appears to have as many as three doors through which he enters and exits frequently with these gentle-winged sermons. Why must he explain himself so often when he could be comfortably making himself up?
We just published your book, Sharpen! If you had to explain what your book is to an alien who has never read a book before, how would you do it?
When you look at a painting, you “read” it. If you look longer, you get more from it. Now imagine a sculpture of the same scene. Walk around it. Climb above it on a ladder. Climb inside. Lay down. Now imagine that scene inside a tree. When the tree falls open, the painting and the sculpture will both be inside. By now you may have noticed some people talking about what has happened to them. They may not look like people. You may do this more than once with the same book, but there are many books waiting.
If an alien species could communicate without language, what would their stories be like?
Trade the more obvious candy for a caress. Move the caress inside. Now try to imagine this is not familiar. Because it’s not. Perhaps you forgot that.
Sharpen was illustrated by Jack Callil. What did you think of his illustration style and the way it responded to your writing?
I wouldn’t say that Jack “illustrated” the book. He participated in it. His responses to the work reveal an understanding of implications, ways of thinking and reacting, activated by what’s implied by the text, not just what is stated. My writing is as much about what is suggested as what is stated and Jack is very attuned to those suggestions, which helps to expand visually the experience of the writing. This is not the same thing as an illustration. It’s much more than that.
What tools do you use the most in your everyday life?
I’m wedded to my laptop. Sometimes I think of it as a sophisticated shovel. I’ve always used a notebook and parts of my writing process are very much like collage or assemblage, where important parts of the art are dug up, and the relationships “between” the elements are then discovered by sequencing and bridging, by handling innuendos and nuances as well as statements. Perhaps it is also a camera because sometimes it feels very much like a stop-action animation, something not quite the same as reality, but hyper real, where reality is being examined as it is experienced in ways we seldom do in our ordinary lives. I often have several “photographs” open as I move things around and discover relationships and implications, build them and add more bridges, though the bridges are often tentative and delicate at first.
For those citizens of theNewerYork unfamiliar with your life and work, what do you consider the salient details?
Born and raised in a surreal all-American version of Aberdeen, South Dakota. Educated at Eastern Washington University, the University of Montana, and anywhere I could find water hesitating to move on. Currently, I teach writing at Everett Community College and live about a hundred yards from the many-islanded Canadian-American waters of Puget Sound on Camano Island, where many of my longer-term neighbors have ancestors who were bootleggers during prohibition.
What were your favorite shenanigans that you got up to in college?
That would be mostly the expected experimental 70s adventures of a blues-rock band I played keyboards for, traveling to gigs in Eastern Washington, Western Montana, Northern Idaho, Eastern Oregon and Canada. I also traveled around Northern Idaho then with writers James McAuley, Anita Endrezze and Nance Van Winckel, for the Poets in the Schools Program. A young student in one of those schools wore a “human finger bone” around his neck and claimed to be the keeper of the “witch’s grave” in a nearby cemetery, which we located by the black rose someone had placed upon the tombstone.
Are you building something?
Unlike many builders, I don’t plan the house before I begin making the parts and putting them together. I live in the house’s invisible museum long before anyone else knows it’s there, as if the house were to be constructed from what was left behind after it was thought to be gone. I want readers to discover the museum’s nature slowly, thoughtfully, just as I do, filling in their own pauses where mine were.
You occasionally bend or break grammatical rules. How do you decide when to do this, and what are the risks and rewards of playing with the laws of the English language?
First there is permission. My language should have as much, if not more of it, as life does. Often questioning the rules in one leads to discoveries in the other. I do and say many things that are altered in their meanings by the contexts life puts me in, which I have only partially chosen. With writing, however, you can take it back and re-experience it another way, which I do often to find out what works best, which life is more selective about. Writing is life training that saves wear and tear on your body and lets you go places your body can’t. The rules are constantly changing because communication is really the only rule.
How has your approach to writing changed over the years?
I discovered Straw for the Fire, constructed by David Wagoner from the notebooks of Theodore Roethke, while in graduate school and began to work by assembling fragments written at different times and often in different moods, which gave me structural and assemblage possibilities that encouraged first great attention to small parts and then a focus on transitions and contrasts. This has continued to expand over the years. I had always thought I would write poetry and short works only, but more recently a novel that took more than ten years to write has grown through this process to a 3-book meditation and character study, tentatively titled A Cloud Where the Ceiling Had Been.
Father-daughter relationships play a major role in Sharpen. Is this a topic that is often on your mind?
I’m sure that not having children is part of what makes me want to know what that relationship is like, but I come from a family very much shaped by my “older” sister, born five years before I was, who lived only two hours. I didn’t understand these effects until I was old enough to be able to have a sense of what her life might have been like had she lived longer. I’ve written about this more directly in a creative nonfiction memoir, Nursery Crimes (not yet published in book form but parts are in both online and print journals).
Would you show us pictures of your work spaces?
This might be a little too intimate for many of your readers. My writing work space is my bed, which I usually inhabit naked, head supported by a barrage of large pillows, my laptop on my bent knees. I would also consider “the stage” my work space as I teach writing for a living and perform, as well, in and for small groups with many musical instruments, lately primarily dobro with vocals (mostly country and folk music) and fiddle (celtic, jazz and old-time) interrupted by forays into other instruments including cittern, lap steel guitar, octave mandolin, and tin whistle. I also sometimes use my library-converted-to-studio to do art work with encaustic paints, collage and assemblage.
What is the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?
The expression of a woman I have managed to pleasantly surprise. Each nuance is different, whether the attached body is familiar or not. I nearly said “the lives of insects,” but I suspect that is a passing but delightful phase I expect to write about quite a bit.
Have you ever experienced inexplicable, possibly supernatural phenomena?
I experience a great deal of my life and mind this way, but I suspect it’s only inexplicable to me, for which I am grateful.
What are you building?
My “self,” which I have discovered only recently is not really mine, and the missing parts (currently the floor) of a log home I have been living in with an inadequate sense of completion.
How do you know when something is finished?
I don’t. I merely reach a point where I know I have done all I can do with it, and it’s time to take on a different persona, who sometimes wants to rediscover the one I just left.
Can you ever really be finished?
Yes, I can, but I doubt it will be my decision when it happens. What is your proudest accomplishment?
It’s nearly always my most recent work, which I hope will continue to be the case. I’m also quite proud of a healthy beard, which has not left my face since it first appeared there.
If Sharpen came with a warning label, what would be on it?
Sharpen is the warning label. It comes with many defiant and grieving behaviors. Perhaps it’s too late.