taylor jacob pate - This series of interconnected confessional-cum-fairy-tale poems whisk the reader along at a breakneck pace. pate’s language is at once hard and gem-like, exquisitely ornate, and succinctly muscular

taylor jacob pate, Becoming the Virgin, Action Books, 2016.

Simultaneously enchanting and brutal, taylor jacob pate’s debut book Becoming the Virgin is a work of desperate intensity. This series of interconnected confessional-cum-fairy-tale poems whisk the reader along at a breakneck pace. pate’s language is at once hard and gem-like, exquisitely ornate, and succinctly muscular. The text oscillates from spellbinding beauty and wonder to undercurrents of uncontrollable violence, passion, pain, and melee. It travels the fluxes between self and creature. It loses itself in dark forests of language: branches in which we all become entangled.

“These poems melt the psychic icons of whiteboyhood and pastoral po’ into wild, twitching wax.” – Joe Hall

When reading taylor jacob pate’s debut collection, becoming the virgin, I expected the speaker to be a simpering maiden, but I got a fiery androgyne. The patriarchal thirst for chaste brides feminized the concept of virginity, at least, in my own indoctrinated perspective, so the fact that pate’s speaker subverts the gender binary, claiming to have a vulva but also being taunted as a “dear boy,” is unexpected and refreshing.
pate’s speaker qualifies their flashiness with a wink, quipping, “i hope of course / i’m being feminine.” They adore dancing, rioting grrrls. Although pate’s heavy enjambment and gender-bending may recall Eileen Myles’s poetry, his approach is more lyrical and oblique than Myles’s narratives, as the speaker revels, “inside me there’s a porcelain grrrl.” pate’s speaker enacts the exhibitionism and the camp of the Gurlesque, as in the fragment “have you ever been in a crowd”:
have you ever worn a pretty
red dress
with red lace
& a baby
pink bra
just to wink twice
in the window
The speaker also mocks the badass, “Action Girl” trope when they offers to “pose with a pistol” and have “shotguns & tea” with a sailor. These flares counter the supposed diminutiveness of the lowercase “i” (although the author may have made this choice to correspond to his own stylized, lowercase moniker). The ingénue of this narrative is not the speaker being “virginized,” but their sister, who “is always missing,” who the speaker dreams of as “dead in the city.” pate reserves an entire page for the line “we all have a beautiful sister,” typifying the speaker’s desirable sister as a ubiquitous responsibility or cause for jealousy.
The speaker’s sister may have an attractive face, but like Plato’s androgynes, they wear multiple visages. The speaker dons a “bird mask” and warmly recalls when they collect a sought-after face in the portion “this is how i think of childhood”:
i found a face
folded roughly
in half
a face i have
been looking for
for years
i laid it flat
under glass
& all of the words
of my language
The speaker values the halved face as much as their personal lexicon. The fold in the face creates two new profiles, doubling the duality of the image.
Another dyad is the speaker’s vacillation between the pagan and the Christian. The collection’s first fragment echoes the medieval anecdote that the Virgin Mary’s purity could attract unicorns. The italicization of the fragment indicates that it is spoken by a voice different than that of the following poems; unlike the rest of the collection’s speaker, this one is already a virgin, who captivates and shoos away the mythical creature, protesting, “go away, unicorn.” Like the Madonna in a Pieta, the primary speaker later laments the dead “jesus hanging on every tree in the yard.” Though in lowercase like the rest of the text, the speaker often refers to a singular “god,” even commanding their audience to “say: god, god, god, god, & me.” Like liturgical cycles, they are synchronized with the days of the week, frequently asserting that moments in the narrative occur on “monday” or “thursday.”
Despite these Christian practices, the speaker prowls in mythological Arcadia. They embody the pre-Christian virgin, Diana, by constantly orienting themselves to the moon, toting their knives, and taunting, “deer heart / why are you crying,” recalling the Actaeon myth. The speaker hides within the lack of capitalization and the expanses of lacuna; the many short, enjambed lines fluidly trace their stalks through the brush. Occasional long lines with repetitions such as, “& i set fire to street sign after street sign after neighborhood after street sign,” mimic rapid arrow fire, jerk the smoothness into the poetic equivalent of shaky cam.
The piece “do you remember” epitomizes the speaker’s twofold spirituality. They conclude a bacchanal in which they make “love like the rape of roman torsos” with the recollection:
& we said christ
& you licked my ribs
& my jaw went numb
& i said i will wear this masque forever.
Christ slips into the pre-Christian revelry, and the speaker invalidates the ritual as an artificial accessory that can be removed, that is not integral to their being. It’s only a façade, however, the speaker cherishes it enough to want to hide their face behind it for eternity.
becoming the virgin may waver between Biblical and mythical realms, but it is also undeniably set in a psychosexual fairyland. Although this collection proposes to describe the acquisition of virginity, the speaker undergoes a violent deflowering in its most dynamic fragment, “i am sure.” A king coos a lullaby akin to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” so sweetly, the speaker’s “teeth ache.” The speaker winces, “he presses his thumbs / into my eyelids…he shatters / my face.” Afterward, the defiled speaker flees, along with their subservient deer heart, crying:
we are wanted
by wolves
this is no fairytale
this is a red room with red walls & red carpet
The next two pages catalog other red objects haunting the speaker. Their rape is no fairytale because it is not childish, but it also parallels Charles Perrault’s carnal version of “Little Red Riding Hood,” which nods to the idiom, “Elle a vu le loup” to hint at a girl’s loss of virginity.
pate’s speaker suggests that the “virginizing” process entails removal of physical evidence of penetration. They recall a girl who became a king by “unscarring her face / with bone from her hip.” In “who dances in the moon,” the speaker conflates heritage with sensual history, asking:
little yellow boy
what is your legacy
who has combed
& uncombed your hair
who has touched you
on the hip
who has bitten you
on the skin
pate’s speaker envisions virginity as a lack of physical or even genealogical history, desiring total tabula rasa. In “who dances straight,” they exalt a dancer who “has no hip / to touch / or untouch” because “she has no mother.” The self-purifying process desexualizes one’s entire family tree, denying one’s own conception. The speaker apologizes to their parents, “i’m sorry i say i’m an orphan.” pate reserves one page to repeat, “the son of” three times, mocking patrilineal societies.
It’s ironic that this speaker, who personifies both sexes and admits, “i’m so into my body / it’s disgusting,” is so intent on erasing proof of sex, even to some degree of castration. The self-loving speaker claims, “i lay on the dirt…until my head is cut…this is salvation.” They pound their fist and then attest:
i smash
my hand into glass
until it behaves
as a part
of the failing
This paradox illustrates that almost every facet of the speaker is cleaved— they bifurcate sexually, spiritually, and emotionally. I would love to engage this self-confident, celibate androgyne in conversation with one of Matthea Harvey’s mermaids. pate’s speaker is completely divided, whereas the mermaids don’t even have legs to split. As Harvey told The Paris Review, “they’re sex objects who can’t have sex”— wouldn’t pate’s body-loving, yet abstinent speaker want to be the same?
- Katie Hibner         

taylor jacob pate is a writer, painter, and runner born in New Orleans and raised lots of other places. He received his MFA from The New Writer’s Project at UT Austin. Along with his partner Blake Lee Pate, he founded and edits smoking glue gun. His first collection of poetry, becoming the virgin, is out from Action Books.


Rein Raud - This Estonian novel draws on the trope of American Westerns in which a mysterious hero shows up on the scene, sets things right, and then disappears. The wry, arch tone Raud adopts throughout the book perfectly reflects the sense of a world in which freedom to act adds up to both everything and nothing

The Brother
Rein Raud, The Brother, Trans. by Adam Cullen, Open letter, 2016.                                  

The Brother opens with a mysterious stranger arriving in a small town controlled by a group of men—men who recently cheated the stranger’s supposed sister out of her inheritance and mother’s estate. Resigned to giving up on her dreams and ambitions, Laila took this swindling in stride, something that Brother won’t stand for. Soon after his arrival, fortunes change dramatically, enraging this group of powerful men, motivating them to get their revenge on Brother. Meanwhile, a rat-faced paralegal makes it his mission to discover Brother’s true identity . . .
The first novel of Rein Raud’s to appear in English, The Brother is, in Raud’s own words, a spaghetti western told in poetic prose, simultaneously paying tribute to both Clint Eastwood and Alessandro Baricco. With its well-drawn characters and quick moving plot, it takes on more mythic aspects, lightly touching on philosophical ideas of identity and the ruthless way the world is divided into winners and losers.  (Read an Excerpt)

The Brother is like a piece of music played in a sunny room. And only later you realize that the descriptions, as if out of this world, the turns of the story, and its single phrases have been deeply engraved in your mind.” —Marius Burokas

The Brother may be the briefest of novellas, but it is a philosophical gem. The first novel by the Estonian author Rein Raud to be translated into English, within its short length it manages to explore in great depth big ideas about human agency and determinism.
Tipping its broad-brimmed hat at spaghetti westerns, it is essentially a revenge drama. In a small, un-named town, a group of professionals conspire to swindle a young woman out of her inheritance. Unbidden, a mysterious man arrives, claiming to be the woman’s brother.
However, it appears “Brother” is set not so much on righting the wrongs done to his sister, but on evoking karmic punishments. So, unlike a gun-toting Clint Eastwood, Raud’s Brother doesn’t shoot down his targets, rather his mere presence in the town appears to upset the status quo, laying low the various villains.
The overall sense, therefore, is that no one really has power over their own, or over other people’s lives. No one apart from Brother himself. In the opening scene he asks a taxi driver if he’s free. When the driver answers “yes”, Brother says “Then that makes two of us”.
But even Brother’s agency seems nebulous. He appears to do almost nothing, apart from a bit of gardening. And then he leaves. Yet the town and its inhabitants are changed.
The wry, arch tone Raud adopts throughout the book perfectly reflects the sense of a world in which freedom to act adds up to both everything and nothing. For example, those who seem to wield power are unnamed; they are simply known by their professions – notary, lawyer, banker – and are defeated by the end of the book. The powerless, however, do possess names and they are dealt winning hands.
The metaphor of the card game is important in The Brother. Hoping to discover more about Brother, the conspirators invite him to play with two renowned cardsharps. Inevitably, Brother wins, but without appearing to try or to care. He “lacks any kind of resolve to win” yet neither does he “decline a single opportunity that presents itself to him”.
The Brother itself feels very much like a card game, the rules of which are unknown, and in which we as readers are also the players. By the end I somehow felt that I’ve both seen and missed every one of Raud’s masterful feints. Yet still we are winners, but winners of what we’re never quite sure. Perhaps we’ve simply won an exquisite literary puzzle. - West Camel

Karma, comeuppance, what comes around goes around.  There are many terms and phrases for the universal of idea of cause and affect.  The Brother is a fast-paced, hard-hitting, short book that uses the plot structure of a western as an allegory for demonstrating the balance of good and evil in the world.   The author himself has described the book as “a spaghetti western told in poetic prose, simultaneously paying tribute to both Clint Eastwood and Alessandro Baricco.”  The plot of this book is a clever structure for the philosophical and existential ideas that the author explores.  When a mysterious man, simply known as Brother, arrives in the unnamed town it is a dark and stormy day and the weather reflects the turmoil that three shady and crooked men have caused for the townspeople.
Brother finds Laila, his long-lost sister and explains why they have never met.  Brother simply states that his sudden appearance is caused by his desire to fulfill the dying wish of their father by helping Laila out of a tough time.  How Brother became privy to this information no one knows but the men who have swindled Laila out of her home and her inheritance are very nervous at Brother’s mysterious presence.  Brother’s imposing figure, with his large boots and long, black overcoat certainly cause these three men a fair amount of consternation, but it is also evident that their own guilty consciences are driving their actions.
Laila appears, at first, to be a sad and lonely woman whose entire life has revolved around an ancient family villa where she lived with her mother.  She describes her childhood as one in which she spend trying to be invisible.  At school she realized very quickly that she was much smarter than the other students but feigned stupidity so that she would not stand out among the others.  She felt that being an honors student and winning awards would draw negative attention to her in the form of jealousy so she maintained average grades and a low profile.  Laila seems to have been the perfect victim of the notary, the banker and the lawyer.
But Laila doesn’t act the part of a downtrodden victim; she enjoys her new life working in an antique shop and losing the villa allows her to break free and escape from her past.  As Laila’s life gets better and becomes happier with a newfound brother, a new job and eventually a new place to live, the three crooks in town experience a significant decline in their own fortunes.  These three men all blame Brother for their streak of bad luck even though Brother has in no way tried to exact any vengeance for the crimes against Laila.  Brother becomes the symbol for the forces in the universe that divvy out proper fate and just punishments.
But just like in life, people are not always so easily placed in a good guy or bad guy category and there is some gray area.  Willem, the banker’s assistant, is tasked with finding out who Brother is and if, in fact, he is Laila’s biological brother.  All of the evil characters in the story are known simply by their profession, such as the notary, the banker and the lawyer.  The good people or the victims, like Laila, are given real names.  It appears that Willem, as the banker’s henchman would fit into the evil category.  But in the end he does have more of a conscience than the other villains and finds some redemption.  In westerns the bad guys wear black hats and the good guys wear white hats and I think Raud’s use of names or occupations in place of names is a subtle way of using the same type of imagery to point us to the heroes and the villains.
And the title “Brother” is neither a true name or an occupation but, to me, it seemed more of a term of endearment.  Raud doesn’t even use an article and write “The Brother” but simply calls his hero “Brother.”  My twin nephews who are eight years-old oftentimes call each other or refer to each other as “Brother”;  I have always found it so sweet because they especially use it when they are helping each other or are being protective of one another.  Similarly, Raud’s uses “Brother” as a title to set the same tone of kind helper and hero for Laila’s long-lost sibling.
This appears to be the first book of Raud’s translated into English and I was so thoroughly impressed with his language, imagery and characters.  I hope more of his works will be translated into English and published in the U.S. - The Book Binder's Daughter

This Estonian novel draws on the trope of American Westerns—Clint Eastwood or Alan Ladd would have been extremely comfortable in the title role—in which a mysterious hero shows up on the scene, sets things right, and then disappears.
The original focus is on Laila, a young woman who’s inherited some property but who lets herself be walked over by almost everyone she encounters. (The narrator comments that “she attracted injustice like bees to heather.”) Most of these characters are presented allegorically (e.g., the banker, the notary, the lawyer), and perhaps to their credit they feel both embarrassed and a little guilty about the way they treat Laila. Enter The Brother—Laila’s brother, that is, though there’s some uncertainty about his parentage. Laila had never met him and never even suspected she had a brother, but she’s happy to see him, especially when he starts to bend Laila’s fate in a more favorable direction. He becomes a gardener at the Villa, a place Laila inherited that had been taken over by Mikk and Milla, a couple who seem to have bought the house from her under shady circumstances. But Laila’s luck begins to change for the better, beginning when she finds 50 gold coins hidden in a chiffonier, allowing her to buy the antiquarian shop where she works. And even more satisfying, the luck of the other characters begins to change for the worse, so that the notary, for example, makes a mistake in trying to convey some property and the lawyer’s marriage collapses and heads for divorce. At the end, The Brother has done the tasks he set out to do, so in mythic fashion he strolls out of the scene wearing his wide-brimmed hat and knee-high boots.
A slim but satisfying novel with archetypal resonances. - Kirkus Reviews

The plot of The Brother is fairly simple: a young woman, Laila, was basically screwed out of her inheritance (and house) by the dubious dealings of a lawyer, a notary, and a banker, and now a mysterious stranger has come to town to set things right. The stranger is Laila's (half-)brother. As he explains to her:
"Inevitably, at some point, in every person's life coms the moment when he has to count up the promises he definitely intends to keep before he goes," Brother said. "For me, you've always been one of those."
       The trio who done her wrong realize that 'the Brother' poses a threat, and try a variety of ways of ridding themselves of this problem (escalating all the way to hiring a hit man). Inviting him to play cards they engage the services of a card sharp who is supposed to take all his money off him; the one they hire doesn't succeed -- but it's one who refuses the commission who provides greater insight into the mystery man: "Never before have I seen someone who so perfectly lacks any resolve to win", he realizes from observing him for a while; he understands that he might have beaten him at cards, but that the Brother was the one kind of opponent that could just as easily destroy him.
       Meanwhile, as they struggle to rid themselves of the mystery man, each of the three suddenly finds themselves in a spot of professional bother, a spiral that, as it spirals out of their control, threatens to destroy them. So too the new owner of the Villa, Laila's old house, where the Brother takes on the job of gardener (setting the grounds right, like they are supposed to be ...); not complicit in the actual fraud, the new owners get off a bit more lightly than the ones actually responsible.
       An added twist comes with the lawyer's assistant, "the rat-faced young man named Willem", taking it upon himself to figure out the identity of the mysterious stranger, adding an additional layer of tension to the story as he comes ever closer to putting together the puzzle of the Brother.
       The Brother doesn't exactly ride into town on a white horse, and he isn't simply all swagger, but the resemblance to the Sergio Leone-spaghetti Westerns (especially the ones with Clint Eastwood) that author Raud admits inspired him is striking. The story is almost all atmosphere and style (showing also Raud's other big inspiration, the writing of Mr. Gwyn (etc.)-author Alessandro Baricco), and one can almost hear the (Western movie score) background music.
       The relatively short chapters -- each at most a few pages -- are rich but stark, the essentials -- of mood and incident -- sketched but not belabored. Much is masterfully understated, but the full ramifications easily expand off the page for the reader. The book is short, and quite event-filled, but there's an agreeable languor to it all too; nothing is rushed.
       There's a woman the Brother seduces -- but he doesn't need to do anything overtly. His is a force greater than nature -- as also suggested by the (almost ridiculous) ease with which fate conspires against the conspirators, as if the Brother merely needed to will their downfall, without lifting a finger.
       The woman admits to him:
     "I came to you like a lamb to slaughter. Or no, like a moth drawn to the flame. Not unwillingly, but with a will that's completely conquered. Me, who always does only what I please, whenever I can. Why do you look like you've already heard all of this before "
       Why ? Because he has heard it often before. Because he lives with this power, this aura.
       Sure, it's not strictly realistic. On the face of it, it's almost absurd. But Raud is artist enough that he draws readers into the same kind of trance that Western-movie-goers can feel, belief suspended for ninety minutes in front of the silver screen, as the stranger rides into town, deals with the bad guys -- and the rides off into the sunset.
       The Brother is a crafty, atmospheric little story, a B-movie, but of the best sort -- completely enjoyable, and very well done. - M.A.Orthofer

Rein Raud: Official site


Agustin Aguilar - Focusing on a boy named Arturo who one day finds and befriends a pyramid that is simultaneously his shadow, a chalice of lore and history, and a living entity (perhaps a goddess), 'Leonora Come Down' invites readers to observe, absorb, and untangle an otherworldly puzzle

Agustin Aguilar,  Leonora Come Down, We Heard You Like Books, 2016.

Giants made of rock. People made of clay. The moon who walks the earth as a man and digs through garbage. Fairy tales told by a primitive lake people, nothing more.
In Wiskatchekwa, reality is made of firmer, cleaner stuff. So the town thinks.
Beneath layers of sediment in the ancient lakebed, Wiskatchekwa keeps secrets. It may be why Arturo, a boy, has brought home a sentient basalt pyramid, or why he begins to see a triangular shadow cast by his body. In his town, rumors and suspicions swirl about in the wind, and truth, he finds, is a creature that lives in a lake. A lake, along with the inhabitants along its shore, that may be returning to their land.

Where lies the line between myth, falsehood, and reality? That is one of the central questions buried amid, gorgeous, poetic prose in Agustin Aguilar’s novella Leonora Comes Down, recently published by We Heard You Like Books. This work of fiction, elegant and lush in its descriptions, its mythos, and the world it creates revolving around small town  Wiskatchekwa is a challenging yet intimate read. Focusing on a boy named Arturo who one day finds and befriends a pyramid that is simultaneously his shadow, a chalice of lore and history, and a living entity (perhaps a goddess), Leonora Come Down invites readers to observe, absorb, and untangle an otherworldly puzzle.
Aguilar’s writing style finds a comfortable footing somewhere between William Faulkner, Margaret Atwood, and Harper Lee. His xenophobic, conservative hamlet of Wiskatchekwa is as fully imagined and populated by quirky characters as Maycomb or the small, gossipy town from “A Rose for Emily.” The novella requires intense reading, which may not work for everyone, but those who choose to will find the long, river-like sentences to be short poems themselves:
Sand was a fearful thing, like bobbleheads of the high school’s mascot, Red the Warrior, but they felt secure, they could sleep over a shapeless ghost of the past–though townspeople did not go in for flowery comparisons–because it wasn’t as if Wiskatchekwa were waves of drift, they also had silt and clay, great ingredients for growth, and the restrictive feature wasn’t far below.
Such sentences are frequent in Leonora Come Down and they typify the novella’s pleasures and pains. Though short, parsing through the many details in a single sentence may be challenging.
When I asked Agustin Aguilar about his influences, he replied, “The writer most on my mind when I began this story was Leonora Carrington, who of course lends her name. She is somewhat of a spiritual presence, a companion, in all of this. I’d count her novel, The Hearing Trumpet, as a particular influence. Stylistically, the influences vary. I wanted the language, at the line level, to read sort of effortlessly (though I realize some might take more than a little effort!). To be fairly simple, in terms of the imagery, the sentiment, the action. This is the fairy and folklore influence. And yet many sentences have a run-on quality, this sense of uncertainty and unnerving forward momentum. So there is tension in the narrative voice. This is also due to the task of weaving extraordinary events into a seemingly mundane setting–it was important that I keep the story rooted in a semi-recognizable place.”
Aguilar’s story deals primarily in the ways people doubt the new, fear change, but eventually come together. The town, Wiskatchekwa, wishes to remain small, fears the South and the people of the nearby lake. It is a world couched in revisionist history and superstition. Wiskatchekwa is less a setting than a character itself–reminiscent of Harper Lee or William Faulkner’s places. Aguilar’s fictional berg is a lively, opinionated, and occasionally antagonistic place. Wiskatchekwa resists change, while making revisions to its own history. Wiskatchekwa is pan-optic in the way small towns are: nothing escapes its gaze and no issue goes on without comment. The book’s main characters, Arturo and Leonora, are scrutinized, labeled, and qualified by the town’s magical collective consciousness. Wiskatchekwa is a character ripped from time, misplaced, but also stone-set, serving as both lens and parrot for common and universal fears and superstitions. Arturo’s worldview is motivated and limited by what the town and townspeople think. The town’s perception is a primary source of conflict.
Magical realism is also prominent in Aguilar’s world. Only Arturo remains consistent, serving as an innocent but knowing proxy for the reader; he takes the world at its face. Arturo is a vessel, willing to learn, repeating the prejudices and fears of the other townsfolk as a conveyance for sharing them with us.
Leonora Comes Down is about humanity and community, about what we choose to believe and the things we choose to deny. Aguilar’s novella is an exploration of truth, pondering the impacts of gossip, misinformation, and xenophobia. Readers will explore the ways we build our egos–and the egos of our communities–on believable, repeatable fictions, and the way that we often blindly trust whatever culture is handed down to us from generations prior.
Leonora Comes Down is also a self-reflexive study of myth and storytelling. The novella often focuses on the ways that we use stories to control each other, to change reality, and even to improve this world. Much of culture comprises the ways we look at the world and the stories we tell ourselves to try and understand it.
Suffice to say, Leonora Come Down is a brilliant work of magical realism, poetic prose, pseudo-Gothic fiction, and epistemological philosophy. The journey from page one to its satisfying and poignant ending will leave the reader with much to think about. Aguilar’s work is stunning, beautiful, with its own elaborate and believable mythos. His is a story of stories and storytellers, and despite its intricate, challenging form, one of the most rewarding books you may ever read. - Nate Ragolia


Monica Mody - an allegorical screenplay that's both playful and terrifying. KALA PANI begins in a familiar, stripped down setting: a stage, actors, a Godotian tree as prop. But soon the Beckett allusions fray into the Boschian as the play embarks on a hallucinatory, postcolonial and tech-riven romp into the deprived lives of World Travelers.

Monica Mody, Kala Pani, 1913 Press, 2013.

Read excerpts from Kala Pani in 1913 a journal of forms, Boston Review, LIES/ISLEThe Volta, and on Truck.

Monica Mody's KALA PANI is an allegorical screenplay that's both playful and terrifying. KALA PANI begins in a familiar, stripped down setting: a stage, actors, a Godotian tree as prop. But soon the Beckett allusions fray into the Boschian as the play embarks on a hallucinatory, postcolonial and tech-riven romp into the deprived lives of World Travelers. These world travelers (aka, Migrants? Writers? Revolutionaries? Insurgents?) are marooned on a colony island and spin tales such as the story of two sisters, Othershape, and Sameshape. KALA PANI is packed with stories-within-stories and voices that range from officialese to rebellious neologistic song: 'the blubs squeezed themselves into a phalanx of pulped fury.' With each scene, you descend into stranger circles of hell and hope. KALA PANI encompasses plenitude; it is uncomfortable, startling, timeless, and ultimately original."
--Cathy Park Hong

 "Monica Mody is a poet of sacrifice: Writing to us from the space behind the sun. “Elemental and artificial,” the world traveller licks the map. The word traveller lies down on her back beneath the “life-sized fabric” of the sky. This is a sky that surveils recumbent forms, agitated consumers and the person who wants to be “in a relationship” with the polyvalent neutrality of “a connoisseur.” Meanwhile, the narrator “is asleep.” Black water starts to seep up through an architecture that’s ruined, like a leg that’s been soaking too long in the bath. Architecture is pink, fleshy and ridged in Mody’s spectacular work on Empire. The poet-citizen is nauseous. “Stomachs” are heaving; “bibs” are in place. And at the heart of this death-star society, “funeral pyres” are burning at the edge of a dirty lake. Mody puts this ash into the mouth of the reader. This is the black water. This is the ritual that precedes whatever it is it will take – threads of wool? – to lead a person “back to us.” This is never, exactly, the same thing as home – the “ground” that Mody complicates, again and again, in the rupturing vortex of KALA PANI, a book without “remorse.”"--Bhanu Kapil

 "I keep handy a short list of writers who teach you that dreaming of a new politics is never enough. A new politics always needs a new language. That is the lesson offered by Arundhati Roy and Tony Kushner. After reading KALA PANI, my list also includes Monica Mody."--Amitava Kumar

"Six World Travellers, bereft of visas, gather beneath a tree to tell the story of Sameshape and Othershape — lovers, sisters, coconspirators, antagonists, doubles? — while the new Administration looks on, both feeding the informants and censoring their live-feed. The resulting contortions, stutters, hallucinations, fight scenes, sex scenes, mise-en-scènes, warblings and appendages, jerk and brim with jouissance and glitter with the self-discovery of a true bricoleuse. Gender, genre, national identity, multiple languages, and the body’s “natural” borders are all debased and reworked in this queer, unstable mix, which releases energy as it forms and breaks down and forms again. Welcome to the world of KALA PANI. Drink this smoking stuff and live forever."--Joyelle McSweeney

"...a series of fractured tales crowded into a awkwardly beautiful postmodern dastan, or a long narrative poem—the likes of which you might get if you locked Dr. Strangelove, Scheherazade, and Seuss’ Onceler in a room and told them they couldn’t come out until they’d written an allegory for our times."--Michael Creighton

Monica Mody’s Kala Pani brings together theater, folklore, faux-journalism, the suspending enjambments of poetry, and the disruptions and connections of electronic media in a fascinating formal pastiche that creates an environment of “mythic static.” Titled ostensibly after a British colonial prison to which Indian political prisoners were exiled, this book stages “a remarkable feat of intervention” into our assumptions about self and other, the private and the public, narrative linearity and associational scope. Kala Pani also applies pressure on our assumptions about the “elemental & artificial.” The reader revolves antically between these as opposing modes of agency, struggling for balance as disingenuous narratives multiply.
Mody demonstrates how narrative patterning can confine and overdetermine meaning. Tellingly, the book begins with a frame that stumbles, trying to get its “vision straight.” The frame itself is located on a stage, and this is a central conceit of the book: our realities are staged and restaged. One layer further, Kala Pani presents six world travelers who strive to travel within story, but who suffer under the constraints of rational presidents, rigorous training, and official narratologists (“These stories offspun by our most popular minds that were certain, certain that you would have no better story to tell”). With great inventiveness, Mody wends narrative around and within narrative, as though the bonds and bounds of story could twist, Houdini-like, to effect their own escape.
Her featured players, narrated with brilliant inconsistency by the world travelers, are “Sameshape” and “Othershape.” Any account of the relation of these two (sisters? lovers? performers in a Bollywood production?) is likely to unfurl into blatant contradiction. Is Sameshape a baseline by which any difference in Othershape can be manifested? It’s impossible to say. In any case, Sameshape and Othershape eventually become part of the audience. A long sequence that has the two reciting names and nouns back and forth to each other devolves into a kind of burlesque nonsense: the would-be protagonists tease the audience with names that don’t attach to any identity.
As witty and lightfooted as this book is, the shapeshifting characters function in an admonitory way, for no one ever truly gets away. The official news organ posts a headline that promises to explain “Why Freedom of Expression Will Prove To Be An Ordeal for You.” As the book comes to a close, the stage seems to dissolve as the “curtain falls apart, having nothing else to live for.” Thus, one framing narrative after another collapses. Mody erects this endlessly recursive line-of-dominoes structure and then topples it.
Having navigated this wild ride of a text, however, discouragement is the last thing that the reader feels. Rather, one emerges with a feeling of glee. Every moment of this book is a testament to resourcefulness and insubordination. The detours and proliferations of Kala Pani, along with its embrace of absurdity, become a means of survival that jumps over the limitations of the rational. There’s a sense of suspension, of process—“cursor in internal disorder”—that beguiles the intrepid reader to follow chaos into constellations that make order as we know it irrelevant. - Elizabeth Robinson

Kala Pani: opening shot, the audience & we are immediately, irreversibly accessories to its crime-en-scène, the impossible play of its cruel theatre. We are offered a shot of its sugar butter cocktail, drunk to see “what the world is doing right now”:
The world is, like the conversations detailed by its six marooned world travelers, “in tatters.” These travelers, arrested in time/space by the new world government, unravel their mise en abîme of the fungible Sameshape & Othershape, a bracing litany of ducks, and a slut-shamed lentil bean in their broken dialogue, broadcast over webcam and radio, the stream of their exchange tapped and disrupted by memes of gossip rag tell-alls, the Rational President’s empty PSA’s, and a rabid Ideologue’s perestroika.
Their stories intersect, merging narratives and enjambing over prosey stanza breaks:
…That wears the crown rests easy. Therefore the tree,
having learnt its lesson well, found itself in this
strange condition while
Writhed and moaned inside the car, and
Secretly felt something wet rushing in its veins
something like a sponge something swelling as it spied
on them, Something turned loose. O N E moment. O N E
hair stuck to its scalp. The tree, aroused, touched
Mouths on each other, did not [sense the danger]
So rest and writhe these characters and stories ‘neath the Tumtum tree, [a Banyan tree, a Nimtree, a Poetry], tongues and tales wagging in double-time. Mody deftly unpacks these narratives with a traveler’s resourcefulness, using up every item in the utilitarian sponge bag of formal devices and turning well-groomed stories out its plastic edges. Her stories bleed through the dialogue tags of a shifting cast, interrupting (and simultaneously permitting) a fluid reading experience, for the convulsing, contracting text constantly demands our vigilance as it indulges our fleeting attentions, ever-broadening to accommodate its myriad/polyvocal forms. These characters and tales exist, ostensibly, as an array of amuse-bouches to stave off the hunger of prying eyes and wagging tongues—and for the reader, this raison d’être unfolds as their in[ter]ventions in language—the stunning beauty of their fantastic creations, the deftness of their phrasal turns, as in the Fourth World Traveler’s account of the lentil bean,
…A3. There was nothing in its pheromone hamper. Out of deep shame and anxiety, it decided to wear only t-shirts and pajamas for an entire month/year. It turned up wearing increasingly sexless t-shirts and pajamas. Its favourite, a poplin forest green pair with embroidered elephants and a drawstring waist. The elephant, humbled, wandered off. Tusk, tusk. The lentil bean woke up sweating in them and also spent the day in them. Thrifty-eyed, its mother scolded, but the lentil bean was growing up fast.
…KX. It was the year of benign fashion. Husks gloriously covered with tan fibre, a group of giggling food legumes cavorted on public promenades. Chickpeas looked up the splits of moong, and moong looked up the splits of fava beans.
or the stripped-down Steinian syntax of the Fifth World Traveler’s meditation on ducks:
A duck wants to know errors. A duck wants to know, er. A duck is in the know. A duck is in error. A duck is in, er. A knowing duck is a wanting duck…I pitch my duckness at you. Catch it, it is slippery. It is velvety smooth. I want to transmit my tasty duckness because it is too hard to be a duck alone.
The gestalt of Kala Pani’s characters lies in this work, of art, of a gendered racialized geo-graphic and identitied—simultaneously, flatly localized and unlocatable—performance, of translated and nontransferrable narration, a work that systematically and rhizomatically deflowers language hierarchies and codes of conduct. It’s been “more than [two] years since six clients were chosen as part of the new government’s plan to reappraise its official position on the borders of the world,” the Culture & Society Special Report informs, and their work “is far from over.” The work Kala Pani’s characters perform on language rips open its seams and strips it down/up to code; in Sameshape & Othershape’s (now Sameshape Jaan and Othershape Jaan, a Punjabi and Hindi term denoting the dearest and closest of lovers) closing act, their frantic love-declarations are encrypted in seemingly nonsensical strings of Anglo names:
                                              OTHERSHAPE JAAN
Lincoln Ida Mary Edward Robert Edward Nora Charlie
Love in Mother Edward Roger/Robert In Charlie King
{blind}                                                                                  {spot}
 The expression of obsessive desire (limerence) dissolves into the fodder of poetic canons (limerick), actions colliding in the stage directions and utterances finally transforming into, “MARY UNION TOM UNION ADAM LINCOLN FRANK EDWARD ADAM ROBERT” and an incanted, “PETER APPLE NUTS IN CHARLIE.” Semantic meaning has disappeared completely behind artifice.
Our undaunted six and the “contorted face of the revolution” flagging, they too, like the world they quintessentialize, dematerialize in a last show of artifice, sent to a funeral pyre, to be dis-armisticed and leaked out/in history’s annals. The film concludes with a beauty shot of the giving tree felled to a ground that “grew movie star sunglasses.” The final scene turns its camera on us, the audience:
Apperceptive shot. The epilogue looks around from the toaster, ready for butter…Who is this movie about? How long ago was longing seized? Did it sneeze? Am I truthful, or are you? Add up I+you? 1+2?
and Mody interrogates our mercurial affections and the anonymous collective schadenfreude of our surveillance society. Language, attention, and [in]actions are put on trial a final time, sweetly interrogating our convictions and sentencing us—“The ease with which the pipeline is buried here? Pipe it, sweet youth.” If Kala Pani be the film of langue, pipe on! - Jacqueline Kari

In the Canterbury Tales, some travelers meet by chance at an inn. They tell each other stories to pass the time, and the stories reveal their world—its hypocrisies, its ideals and bad deals, its deflations and delectations. The people in them undergo suffering, humiliation, glory and pleasure, but the major relish is in the recounting itself. In Kala Pani, Monica Mody’s strange new text, six world travelers—travelers from the First through Sixth Worlds—are becalmed in their travels by the new government, who’s withholding their visas and planning to chop down the tree they lean against. They, too, tell stories that reveal their feverish, gaudy and hamstrung worlds, painting the insides of their cages with every available secretion.
Kala Pani draws some of its black water from the same mutated gene pool as the work of Joyelle McSweeney, Lara Glenum and Feng Sun Chen: monstrous porous bodies, profit and lust, e-surveillance, and the sores kept open by attempts at control. It draws on the recent past’s most marketable stories and categories, and shares with McSweeney in particular its filmic stutter; the audience is also a character, and not a harmless one, within the queasy frame. “Contradictory structures had left the audience breathing hard. Were they expected to play? If so, what was their role, and how much sugar?”
Later, as “CERTAIN CORPSES FLOAT ASHORE”, the Fifth World Traveler intones, “You, too, are guilty. What can you remember? What do you miss the most? Here are the rules of the game,” and adds in a footnote, “Go on, play it. In fact, I insist you must.” There is no escape. Like the lentil bean character, who starts its story in a literal cage, we may dress in “increasingly sexless t-shirts and pajamas” or “plus-sized earrings, hooped neckties, rogue haircuts, flannel gadgets, caramelized chains …” and a page more’s worth of costume, but we will end up in the soup.
Kala Pani fits the loose editorial definition of a hybrid text: it combines the intense play of poetry, language as live field (“Baby raked the smell of mothermilk into a cracked balloon bag and wiped her feet on it”) with structures of screenplay, newsfeed and public relations statement (“They looked for clients who offered super graphics and stunning sound”) as well as narrative threads and characters who keep the same names throughout the book. Hybrid also refers to mingling and impurity, the creation of “new” and “mixed” organisms, a hint of praise mixed in with a hint of condescension, as if from the assumption that the speaker, of course, is not a hybrid. Is pure. Kala Pani is a degustatory, disgusticulously impure text; it makes use of forms, like stories, that it also mistrusts:
Spending the days delirious, so happy to be loved, so happy to be in this blank
bliss, so happy in this story this truth never before, biting from the inside out …

A story’s hand curled around their neck, rubbed their earlobe of silk and they
moaned and their vagina soaked and they shut the door on questions. The story
ordered a huge feast that night, all its friends came over, and the world travelers
danced and danced and felt quite stormy.

As they finished their training, a small part of them realized that the story stirred
into them was darkended, but they were too afraid to dwell on it further.

Lovers kiss in the moonlight, but lovers and moonlight are both in a junkyard of capitalism, and their raconteur claims not to have the language to reveal herself or them—“these immortal lovers,” “these important lovers,” whose importance and immortality are adulterated, mined, commodified by the other elements of their story. “I turned them into media sensations,” recounts that chronicler, who with the other World Travelers is stalled, surveilled and eventually burned on a pyre at the greedy behest of the new government, into which everything in the world of this text seems to play—including us, whoever we are, as we read, by reading, not only by reading.
In a 1986 interview, playwright Maria Irene Fornes said, “[In Waiting for Godot] Pozzo beats on Lucky and at the end Lucky doesn’t get free, but it doesn’t matter because I do!” Reading, I felt played by Kala Pani; I wanted the way out of the cage to be in the book. I wanted to see someone get free, or go home. But if there’s pleasure here it’s in the telling—the flock of ducks in seven pages of gleeful linguistic permutations is just one example—and if there’s freedom to be made here it’s in what a reader, a listener, does when the stories are over and the audience pours out blinking into the street. - Kate Schapira

Coming at you in vatic stereo, a screenplay live from Radio Delhi, Monica Mody’s “Kala Pani” is a work of words almost beyond description, full of rapturous code, ensnaring tendrils, choral voices, double-exposures, wondrous bad synching, and spectral and degrading film. Here the oral storytelling techniques and film-fed mythic motifs of urban India go viral, weird and wired, saturated with media though beset with traditional revolutionary impulses. Six World Travellers, bereft of visas, gather beneath a tree to tell the story of Sameshape and Othershape—lovers, sisters, coconspirators, antagonists, doubles?—while the new Administration looks on, both feeding the informants and censoring their live feed. The resulting contortions, stutters, hallucinations, fight scenes, sex scenes, mise-en-scènes, warblings and appendages, jerk and brim with juissance and glitter with the self-discovery of a true bricoleuse. Gender, genre, national identity, multiple languages, and the body’s “natural” borders are all debased and reworked in this queer, unstable mix, which releases energy as it forms and breaks down and forms again. Welcome to the world of “Kala Pani.” Drink this smoking stuff and live forever. —Joyelle McSweeney 

At the time, of course, I turned them into media sensations. Sameshape & Othershape were unaware of it, but they became ethnic, geographic, and social curiosities for an entire nation. I had just joined a gang of bloggers. We prowled streets and slums, technical handbooks and audience pages, artists’ studios and alternative film clubs, buses and body doubles, city squares and the Commonwealth Games Village, dance shows and the Department of Atomic Energy, environmental groups and the east side of the river, town halls and martyrs’ statues, looking

For signs of urban dystopia. We were rough and restless with cannon and sought relationships that would, historically and comparatively, challenge us. The junkyard was the perfect setting. Ext. Junkyard—Full Moon. Sameshape & Othershape notice the moon. Sameshape tracks how long Othershape stares at the moon. 





The tree, a lusty neem, tried very hard not to eavesdrop on the conversation but it had begun to ferment. Its risk period had ended and it was not going to stand upright anymore. Its leaves, laments, letters, festoons, flags, fingerprints, H1N1 viruses, needles, medicaments, and hair, almost shed. Safety latch, turned on. Though unmarried, the tree took great pride in its appearance. It was trying to safely evolve into another condition. Waiting

Period long. Kind of like a buzzard’s head. Only room for quite alone. A topknot, released in the middle of nowhere. Drunk on feathers & wind. Exhilarated! My tree was so soft it curled around the edges almost collapsing it was a trailing coughing spitting collapsing curling thing. The spittoon brimmed with tree hair & something

That ties us together. Eyes of a camera appeared everywhere. The tree did its best to be a tree fit for a socket or a natural crevice. Somewhere, a topiary for evenly colored birds. Meanwhile, the tree had grown up old listening to peoples’ tales of the young. This tree, this song, I’d first heard her sing. The tree squirmed her ear toward them.
(radio voice)
We have gathered today to celebrate trees with star billing. These trees represent five millennia of humankind’s collective aspirations, and it is but appropriate that we gift them to the museum of the new world. We will lovingly track and displace them and lovingly collect or moisten them. We will love the new world. It is due to the generosity of friends and benefactors that the new government could organize the bureaucracy, the complicity, the compromises, the ideological cooption, the cooperation, the rapacity, and the ethical rationalization necessary for this farsighted program, and to them we will confer appropriate rewards. Our desire is to keep everyone in the new world happy. 

The curators returned with summary catalogues describing 29 or 92 million bittersweet trees. Each catalogue provided not only a compact illustrated listing of the trees, but also brief comments by curators that explained how each tree was proposed to be collected or moistened. These catalogues were ceremonially handed over to the Society for Just Plunder, which launched systematic invasions in which bittersweet trees were hacked, stripped, and stifled. A few trees of monumental significance made it to the back of trucks, gagged and trussed, after the Department of Diplomacy intervened. The museum of the new government waited for the trucks, waist-deep in gelatinous expectation: its own secretions. 

Tree of numinous detail. The last tree in the war. Careworn and chrysanthemum motifs. Lush green panels. Loose-tipped design. In the grand tradition of great trees, this tree hosted a bird’s nest, a snake, and a moon. On the tree there also lived a delicate and rarefied vampire spirit, an expressive ant, and a retired hunter. They ate the elaborate fruit and lived, pretty much as other beings do.

Before long, they became aware of an unexpected kineme. The residents of the tree had not anticipated the possibility of such a kineme. A distance away, dust

Snarled at the feet of millions of squirrel-shaped blubs. Closer and closer, the blubs squeezed themselves into a phalanx of pulped fury. Gliggering eyes; there was not even negative space left.
The consensus of opinion was that the wrist would grow back again. Cynics were growing wary of this whole messy situation where over and over again they had to clean up somebody’s skin, somebody’s bones, somebody’s sleeves, somebody’s vomit, somebody’s tears, somebody’s rage, somebody’s blind spots, et cetera. They rolled away into the night, never to be heard from again. But since we cannot abandon our heroine, since we are in charge of her adventures, that moment of escape when she

Seal breaks. Sealed to a kiss, stolen seal from the medicine cabinet and taped to the inside of her razor. Cut /shield/ bitten /shield/ broken /shield/ trichotillomaniac /shield/ dermatillomaniac /scratch/ /shield/ /shield/. She grew salubrious. 

Othershape sprawled on the regular sofa, her legs spread out before her, love growing cotton in its ears. Mouth open. Really, now. Is that a ladder you are carrying? Climb in next to me. I can hear you hard. Brush-footed. Left with no dining companions, her thought bubbles settled over every

Thing regular. She wore the lentil bean on her head to sleep. When she woke up, the lentil bean was a dream suspended above her head.
(with great fondness)
Lentil bean, leave me with something that can disappear.
(doffing his hat)

Flattered you asked!
(lanky and ergonomic)

Glad to hear about it.
(walking off)
-  www.bostonreview.net/mody-mcsweeney.php

an interview at the Lantern Review Blog
Three Poems by Monica Mody

KALA PANI, published by 1913 Press, is Monica Mody's first book. Mody has published three chapbooks of poetry & cross-genre experiments, and her writing has appeared in The Harper Collins Book of English Poetry, &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, Boston Review, The Volta, iARTistas, and Paragraphiti, among other places. Mody is a contributor to Montevidayo, and she is currently completing a PhD in East-West Psychology.               

All The Messiahs - A book like if a Mexican death tabloid snatched you by the shorts and intoned the names of your ancestors in alphabetical order. This has gone beyond surgery with your so-called ability to parse a text. The words parse you


All The Messiahs, Schism Press, 2016.

Ghosts stuttering from an abyss reconstructed with profane and profound tenderness. Their husks have fallen out, their decayed flesh hangs on, all stealth and searing pain. Here, faces of gods shine or are they scrawled with the trash of EuroAmerican civilization. - Monica Mody

A book like if a Mexican death tabloid snatched you by the shorts and intoned the names of your ancestors in alphabetical order. This has gone beyond surgery with your so-called ability to parse a text. The words parse you. A baby shut between the covers and stomped with such a precise culmination of weight that it is the only thing I will pay to own.- Sean Kilpatrick

A claustro centrifuge cake collaged cunningly collated to capacity caged on the page. - Penny Goring

Obscure and visceral conflicts among the Modiglianoids. A meta-palimpsest wrought from DIY paste-up aesthetic, in which the resulting textures are as instrumental as the text in rendering partial excavations of a lost narrative. - Colin Raff


Schuler Benson - Like a Coen brothers script, his stories are a little serious, a little funny, and a little underwritten; his prose wants you to feel clever when you pick up on the other half of what it implies

Schuler Benson, The Poor Man's Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide, Alternating Current,, 2014.

Twelve stories, fraught with an unapologetic voice of firsthand experience, that pry the lock off of the addiction, fanaticism, violence, and fear of characters whose lives are mired in the darkness of isolation and the horror and the hilarity of the mundane. This is the Deep South: the dark territory of brine, pine, gravel, and red clay, where pavement still fears to tread.
And because you deserve the very best, the collection is richly illustrated throughout the pieces by talented artists Ryan Murray and Patrick Traylor. Don’t mention it. Ya’ll’re welcome.

“Schuler Benson writes like the spawn of Chuck Palahniuk and Barry Hannah. While approaching his subjects with empathy, humor, and a keen eye for detail, he creates a world of snake-charming preachers, meth heads, and spurned lovers. This collection will make you laugh, make you anxious, and keep you turning the pages. Read this damn book.” —Kody Ford

“Schuler Benson has a playwright’s ear for dialogue, a poet’s eye for scene, and a comic’s sense for when the sane is actually crazy, the crazy actually sane. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide announces Benson’s place in the tradition of Wells Tower, Barry Hannah, and Mark Twain: here comes another great documentarian of the agonized and hilarious souls who inhabit Rural America.”—Brian Ted Jones

“A Breece D’J Pancake of the plains, Benson writes with a hell of a knack for dialect. His characters are dirty, flawed, and all-too familiar. There are no heroes here. Yet in these stories, Benson manages to lift his people to another plane; someplace where they might achieve a little redemption.”—Eric Shonkwiler

“Schuler Benson’s writing is a record scratch, a fat marker graffiti-squeaking across a perfectly clean bathroom wall, a porcupine in a studded leather jacket. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is a violent, bloody heartbeat of a collection—a flashing red siren of words—a hot, stinging slap of stories.”—Leesa Cross-Smith

The Poor Man’s Guide is a portrait of people contending with death, the possibility of death, and, ultimately, the lives they’ve made for themselves. Each story opens intimately–every landscape, every character becomes familiar. Reminiscent of Flannery O’Connor at her best, this is a collection that is at once beautiful and uncomfortable, pushing the reader from one page to the next and deeper still into each of the lives encapsulated here. Benson opens a window. Benson opens a door. A killer read.”—Kat Dixon

“Schuler Benson’s debut hits the reader like a blow to the chest by a large stone. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is full of longing characters who wield knives and raise hell. Benson’s world is packed with grit, with pain, with prose that cuts to the bone.”—Keith Rebec

“Schuler Benson understands tone. Like a Coen brothers script, his stories are a little serious, a little funny, and a little underwritten; his prose wants you to feel clever when you pick up on the other half of what it implies. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide should be a delight for smart readers, especially those who cope with the South through a sardonic sense of humor.”—Kevin Snow

So I had seen this short story collection in multiple review sites and had this on a mental wish list. I was also on a short story collection binge and as soon as this was announced on TNBBC, of course, I went for it.
I’ve seen this guy’s name elsewhere, but I don’t quite remember exactly where. But the cover is very distinctive and art plays a role in this book. The rising sun, the decrepit tree, and it’s roots. I believe the bucket represents something, but I’m not sure what. The interiors consist of drawings too. The scratchy artwork fits the gritty nature of the book and some of them I actually found kind of amusing because I’m a sick soul.
The whole style of this collection is a cycle of stories that seem to take place in the same area amongst the same group of people in a Southern town that seems to be rather deep in the dumps. Dumps as in darkness and vile people. There’s violence and drugs, spiteful kids and dysfunctional people, religious fanatics and all of the things that make most of Southern gothic literature.
And I honestly haven’t read much of that genre of literature. The only thing I have read that is probably close to that genre was To Kill a Mocking Bird and a few pages of Ellen Foster. But I’m not unfamiliar with southern talk. But I don’t know, I read so many positive reviews, but my feelings for this were quite mixed.
The collection started off good and the whole elements of the collection, that feels like a novel, was already built within the first two stories. Dysfunction and violence in a small town where drugs and failed escapes seem to be the only ways out.
But  I don’t know  maybe my brain was just finally get fried during the reading of this collection. Because I can say that it is brilliant, but I felt like giving up. Not because it was bad, but because I was just not in the mood to read this, but at the same time I wanted to finish it to see what would happen and for discussion purposes. But I guess it could also be the levels of depression in this story collection, I actually thought that this was a Dystopian collection, not a Southern Goth collection. If any of you reading this have recommendation for Southern Goth other than Cormac McCarthy, who I hope to get to at some point in my life because my school library has a whole collection of his writings, go ahead, and recommend them in the comments section.
I always feel like long short stories are my least favorite, unless the story is a novella by itself. I guess I can say that I get burnout while reading short stories. Because of my favorites in this collection are the shorter ones. I think I got tired by the time I reached the 80s, which had one of the longest short stories. The writing style is actually pretty comprehensible compared to other Southern Goth lit that I have flipped through. It was written in plain old English and sometimes I do find, recently I found, that it is hard for me to get into stories written in third person. But then I keep thinking that maybe I do sort of like this story collection, because I enjoyed most of them, but mostly the short ones. 

But I guess I can say that this collection was nothing new to me, other than being really messed up, which was the point, gloom and doom. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it at all. - notesontheshore112.wordpress.com/2015/03/05/the-poor-mans-guide-to-an-affordable-painless-suicide-by-schuler-benson/

Steph Post: Since your stories seem to do the same, I’d like to dive right in. You write very graphically about some pretty disturbing situations- kids growing up in a meth lab, marital abuse, death, violence, more death and so on. With your descriptive style and attention to detail (usually the kind most people overlook) you take, what I’d call “everyday horror” to a whole new level. What spurs you to populate your stories with these unsettling scenes, settings and characters?

Schuler Benson: It's an interesting distinction to make, or try to make, between "everyday horror" and just "the everyday." I've been to some wonderful places, made connections with wonderful people, and I have a lot to be thankful for. Having said that, I've done some pretty awful shit and been in some pretty bleak places with some shady folks. Those are the places where I think I learned the most about others, and about who I am. And who I'm not. A lot of what I've read, seen in movies, or heard elsewhere and enjoyed kinda works the same way. I think some of the uglier parts of these stories are equal parts dark corner and mirror. The dark corners make for interesting scenarios to plumb, and the mirrors keep things honest.
SP: I’m a sucker for well written dialogue and you are a master of it. In writing dialect you use words such as “whatchu,” “arrite” and “lemme,” which effortlessly convey the characters’ voices. What is your process for crafting dialect words? How important is it to you that you get the dialect correct?
SB: Man, thank you so much. I love listening to people. I’ve been a mimic my whole life, and I guess that’s worked its way into how I tell stories. I try my best to get the way people talk down on paper in a way that looks and feels natural enough that it’s not impossible to read for people who aren’t accustomed to that kind of speech. Not everyone’s gonna get it though, and honestly, alienating a few people is a risk I’ll take if even one person reads it and thinks, “man, I can really hear this stuff.” It can be polarizing, but that makes it all the more rewarding when it works. Plus, in work I’ve read by established writers, when the dialect really works, it makes for such a fun read. Seeing it done well by others has been, and continues to be, a big inspiration for me.
SP: There are so many well-written stories in this collection of twelve, but without a doubt “A Hindershot of Calion” is my favorite. This is the story that really sparked for me- the dialogue is spot-on and the apathy and tenderness of the characters rings completely true without a hint of artifice. So, I have to know the story behind the story; how did “Hindershot” start out and how did it become the gem that it is?
SB: I’m so glad you liked it. And I’m a little surprised by the love that story’s gotten, because it’s definitely the oddball in the collection, and when I was writing it, I honestly never expected it to see the light of day. In the spring of 2013, I’d just had my first story accepted for publication. I was excited, couldn’t wait to tell my family. I was going to be back in my hometown in mid-May. I didn’t get down there very often, and I was hoping the story’d be published before I got there so my folks could read it, but it wasn’t slated for publication until later in the summer. Before I took that trip, I sat down at my computer with the express intention of writing something my grandparents would like, specifically my grandfather, the real Denny. Just to have something to give them, you know? I wrote that story in, like, an evening, and between then and when it eventually debuted, it changed very little. The story’s fictional, and it contains a fictionalized version of Denny, but a lot of the places are real, and some of the themes deal a lot with the relationship he and I had. I brought it to him, and my Gran read it to him and he loved it. Later that summer, on a whim, I submitted it to Alternating Current for the Go Read Your Lunch series, and when it was accepted, I was floored. It’s a cool story, but it’s also a little bit Mayberry, and I didn’t expect it’d be the kind of thing anyone would go for. Can’t tell you how happy I am now to have been wrong then.
SP: Especially nowadays, publishing a collection of short stories is no easy feat. How did you first connect with Alternating Current Press and what was it like working with them?
SB: After that first story came out on Hobart, Leah from Alternating Current and I connected on Twitter. We had a lot of similar interests, and she mentioned Go Read Your Lunch, which I checked out. I loved the idea of a blog that premiered original material in that format, and the handful of past GRYL stories I read were all just killer. For the hell of it, I think last July, I submitted “Hindershot” to AC for Go Read Your Lunch, and I genuinely never expected to hear anything back. But I did, and that story is what got me the offer to do the collection. Alternating Current has been incredible to me. Leah’s been in this business for a long time, and it shows. She and her people have truly worked tirelessly on this book, as well as everything else they undertake, including promoting other authors and now organizing book tours. I’m really new to all this. I’m grateful to have so much knowledge and elbow-grease in my corner.
SP: The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is not only filled to the brim with stark, startling prose, it’s illustrated! When it first came in the mail and I started flipping through it, I was taken by the illustrations and the design of the book. I mentioned to you before that your book is like mixtape made with love. (After finishing it, I still believe this- though it’s sort of like that mixtape you find in the back of your closet that was made by the one person in your life who ripped your heart out and stomped on it and you don’t want to listen to it, but you do anyway while you sit on the floor and sob.) How personal is this collection to you? How much of a hand did you have in directing the design of the book, the artwork and the arrangement of the stories?
SB: That’s awesome. The mixtape vibe is exactly what I wanted. In my mind, this thing’s not so much a collection of stories as it is kinda an ode to my love for the album. All the stories are personal, I guess. Like songs. I mean, some are at more of a remove than others, but spending time in those worlds with those people binds them to you. I think that’s true for any writer, and I don’t know if it’ll ever not be true for me. I’m lucky to say that I had virtually total creative freedom with the design of the book, and that’s yet another testament to how awesome working with Alternating Current is. I mentioned some things about the art to Leah at the beginning, and she was very accommodating and enthusiastic. I bounced a few of the illustration ideas off a couple friends of mine, both of whom are, coincidentally, amazing artists. The section pieces were done by Patrick Traylor, a guy I’ve known most my life. We grew up together, and he lives in the Phoenix area now. The jacket pieces and individual story art was all hand-drawn by a dude named Ryan Murray. He’s a Houston-based artist. He and I have known each other and been friends for over a decade, and it’s one of the most interesting relationships I have, because he and I have never met in person. We never even spoke on the phone until we went into the planning stages of this project late last summer. The work these guys did stands so beautifully on its own, and I am honored to have it included as part of something with my name on it. I arranged the stories and sections the way I would’ve sequenced them if they were songs on a record. I think everyone involved is happy with the final product, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Phenomenal experience. If I never write or publish another story, I’ll be happy to have this. - Steph Post

Schuler Benson’s fiction and poetry have appeared in Kudzu Review, Hobart, The Idle Class, and elsewhere. He has been nominated for a Sundress Publications Best of the Net Award, a storySouth Million Writers Award, and three Pushcart Prizes, and he placed second in The Fallen Sky Review’s 2013 Speculative Fiction Launch Contest. He completed his undergraduate studies at University of Arkansas and is currently enrolled in the MA program at Coastal Carolina University. The Poor Man’s Guide to an Affordable, Painless Suicide is his first book. You can find him on Twitter at @schulerbenson and on Facebook at /schulerbenson.

Siouxzi Mernagh - an anthology of essays, short fiction, novel extracts and film stills. The book is an invitation to get lost within varied landscapes of its pages: middle-of-nowhere Australia, the minds of Susan Sontag and W.G Sebald, and, most prominently, the proverbial forests of all of our childhoods

Siouxzi Mernagh, Little houses, big forests (desire is no light thing), Repeater Books, 2017.


Little houses, big forests (desire is no light thing) is an anthology of essays, short fiction, novel extracts and film stills – the first containment in one place of the writing and visual work of Siouxzi Mernagh. The book is an invitation to get lost within varied landscapes of its pages: middle-of-nowhere Australia, the minds of Susan Sontag and W.G Sebald, and, most prominently, the proverbial forests of all of our childhoods. There are, however, a few thematic paths to trace through these landscapes. Coming-of-age desire, our uneasy sense of self when isolated in nature and female sexuality become the mile-markers. The invitation to get lost is an invitation to come out the other side with the sense that being lost is not necessarily a state to be avoided but one in which we can occasionally luxuriate in.
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Our Little Wooden House in the Forest (previous working title: ‘In the dark, dark room’) is an ambitious cross-media experiment involving academic research methods in affiliation with the ICI; a performative installation; preparation for an experimental narrative film; and preparation for a resulting novel. Each of these works hinges on the exploration of the proverbial space of a cabin in a forest. The project, an intersection between art and scholarship, marks a significant amalgamation of Siouxzi’s key thematic and stylistic concerns since the beginning of her practice. It is at once a dynamic shift from her work created within the ICI Berlin’s core project on tension in addition to being in close alignment with the Institute’s current focus – ‘Wholes Which Are Not One’. The three characters within the project, Red, Black and White, are indeed representations of both parts and wholes of a conceptual narrative space: they exist, simultaneously as defined parts and as a collective whole within the cabin in the forest, resistant to traditional notions of binary oppositions. Their existences are at once reliant on each other for survival and the very thing that threatens each of their individual existences.
short extract:
“We go out into the forest sometimes to chop wood, taking it in equal turns.These wood-chopping trips are the only time we ever leave our little house. When it’s my turn, I talk to the snow. I talk to it as it drifts and ask if it’s drifting into sleep or out of it. My feet disturb it, rustle it; the friction between my inside world and its outside world make heat that melts it and chills me. The sound is a kind of sex. The branches of the trees are letting the promiscuous snow rest there, rest there in their bare curves. The snow sleeps there, so open, collapsed into utter trust. One body giving the other comfort at the expense of its own. I keep the rhythm of my feet in the snow in time with the rhythm of my breathing. Any slower and I freeze, any faster and I tire out too soon, and then I freeze. The two must stay in synch. These times are the only times in winter that I am without the others. I am not alone here, because of the voices of the trees in the winter wind, and the strongest birds that have stayed on and not abandoned the forest. We are still here, together, I am not alone here. And the siren-swamp is still here, her scent and her colours dulled by the brilliant smothering of snow, but she is still here. I am not alone. And on the days when I can trust the sun will stay and not trick me into wandering in darkness, I detour from collecting wood and visit her, this siren-swamp.”

novel extract: ‘Your bones ache with its aches.’
Short fiction: Leda in Glass

Siouxzi L Mernagh is currently working on a new novel, ‘In the dark, dark room’, in affiliation with the Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry, and on several pieces of short fiction.
Her novel ‘The Peep Show’ has been performed and exhibited in several solo shows in Sydney and Berlin.
Her first novel, ‘White Tales’ has several extracts published with Turia & Kant (Wien/ Berlin) as part of the volume “Tension/ Spannung” created by the Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry.
Siouxzi also works as a freelance magazine writer for several publications .

Siouxzi L Mernagh is an Australian-born writer and artist and an affiliated fellow of the ICI Berlin Institute for Cultural Inquiry. She is a former research fellow of the ICI, having undertaken a fellowship concerning the spatial, temporal and sexual tensions within psychoanalytic films and subsequently completing an experimental narrative film titled ‘The Dangers’ as a direct response to her research. Siouxzi has since produced provocative and sensual work in writing, moving-image, installation, photography and performance in Sydney, London and throughout Europe. Extracts from her first novel, White Tales, were published by Turia & Kant (Wien/ Berlin) as part of the volume “Tension/ Spannung”. Her recently completed novel manuscript ‘Our Little Wooden House in the Forest’ (alt. working title ‘In the dark, dark room’), stems from her research with the ICI and her residency at Mustarinda, Finland. She is based in Berlin.

Ramón Saizarbitoria - the most important Basque novel ever. A Tolstoyan saga, dealing with the post-ETA era in the Basque lands, the challenges of modernizing and maintaining a Basque identity, and a Proustian inquiry into life

Ramón Saizarbitoria, Martutene, Trans. by Aritz Branton, Hispabooks, 2016.

Winner of the Basque Country’s Fiction Prize, Martutene is a unique novel destined to become an essential reference of Contemporary World Literature.
Abaitua and Pilar, a gynecologist and a neurosurgeon, and Martin and Julia, a writer and a translator, are two couples worn down by years of marriage who have slid off into a kind of bored decadence. Their group of friends and family complete an insightful portrait of post-independence movement Basque life in which the arrival of Lynn, a refreshing young American sociologist, will trigger unexpected events.
Martutene is a truly outstanding work of fiction in which life and art weave and tangle. An exploration of those thoughts and feelings that expose our miseries and our deepest fears as human beings.

"A disruptive romance illuminates complexities of ethnic and political identity in Saizarbitoria’s substantial novel set in the Basque region in Spain. . . . a probing and sophisticated work that is already being celebrated as a modern classic." Booklist, starred review

A sprawling novel of post–independence movement Basque life and its discontents.
Martutene is a tony residential district outside of San Sebastian, Spain, one of the most important centers of the modern Basque world. There, live two couples who, not having much else to occupy their lives ever since Spain granted the region autonomy, more or less, have slid off into a kind of bored decadence. Martin is a novelist whose keystone book, very much like this latest by Basque laureate Saizarbitoria, is “a novel in which nothing happens.” Dithering for years on a successor book, he lives in a kind of uneasy truce with Julia, a translator who reminds him daily, mostly without saying as much, of squandered ambitions. When she does say as much, well, does she: “What is it about this fucking novel that stops you from just fucking finishing it once and for all?” she thunders. Abaitua is a gynecologist, a profession, he jokes, that has allowed him “to get to know women better.” Perhaps not, since Pilar, a neurosurgeon, has grievances of her own. Into this milieu falls Lynn, an American sociologist who inhabits their world just as a character named Lynn does the world of Max Frisch’s novel Montauk, which is quoted and alluded to throughout the long proceedings; life and art weave and tangle, and in the end Lynn is as much symbol as character. But symbol of what? Perhaps of an assertive, all-conquering global Americanism. Suffice it to say that her presence doesn’t do much to improve the Basque characters’ behavior. Some of Saizarbitoria’s deeper themes may be lost on American readers, especially that of a kind of nostalgic nationalism—Julia and Martin’s house is overdecorated in the colors of the Basque flag, and it’s telling that when Pilar tells Abaitua off, he pauses, terrified by the look that’s in her eyes, to wonder why she’s speaking Spanish.
Saizarbitoria’s study of wobbly relationships is something of a Basque rejoinder to a Bergman film, for good or ill, glacially paced but rich in perception. —Kirkus Reviews

Martutene is probably the most important Basque novel yet to be written; this is a primus inter pares book destined to become the central piece of the new canon." —Joseba Gabilondo

“Martutene could well be considered the highest summit of Basque-language novels . . . This superb novel recalls the greatness of Tolstoy and the obsessive stylistic accuracy of Flaubert . . . It is a novel that rightfully deserves being included among the greatest novels of the twenty-first century.” —Angel Basanta

“A landmark Basque novel. Nothing compares to it.” —Jon Kortazar

“Perhaps one of the best novels, if not the best, ever written in Basque language.”—Suma Cultural
“Saizarbitoria is one of the greatest Basque-language writers . . . A veteran of Basque literature that has also been the first to write a modern novel.” —Benito Garrido

“I would dare say that nobody in our literature has shown such mastery in the creation of fiction characters.”—Hasier Etxeberria

The Basque language is a notoriously weird one: nobody knows where it comes from, as it’s not related to any of the other Western European languages, and it’s generally suspected to pre-date them all, some weird vestige of a prehistoric time shrouded in mystery. Virtually no one writes in it, in part because virtually no one can read it, and very few can translate from it into other languages. So that makes it all rather singular that this monumental novel of Basque literature—many call Martutene the most important Basque novel ever—has somehow arrived in English. It is a Tolstoyan saga, dealing with the post-ETA era in the Basque lands, the challenges of modernizing and maintaining a Basque identity, and a Proustian inquiry into life. Author Saizarbitoria has been publishing since 1969, and this is his grand edifice. - Scott Esposito

A middle-aged married mother flying from Heathrow to Bilbao becomes fascinated by a bearded man boarding the same plane. When a bag he’s holding breaks, spilling books into the aisle, she gives him a good strong Harrods bag and helps gather the books up. Grateful, and despite the crowd of frustrated passengers trying to get to their seats, the man reads a few words from one that has fallen open—“This book was written in good faith”—and offers it to the woman as a gift.
For weeks and months afterward she will regret not having accepted the book, not having made contact with this “intellectual looking” man who comes to infatuate her. It’s true men are “cowardly,” she reflects, but she too has not “been brave enough.” Desperate to track him down, she contacts Iberia Airlines, telling all kinds of lies to find out the identity of the passenger with the books. In the end, she will be exploited by an airline employee who makes inquiries on her behalf in return for drinks and even sex. On the very last pages of this eight-hundred-page novel, she will find her man again at Bilbao Airport. Their meeting is not described. This is Harri’s story.
A writer, male, and his translator, female, again in middle age, are on the brink of breaking up, their long relationship worn down by the writer’s monstrous self-regard. The translator spends her days compiling an archive of all the phrases the writer has underlined in the many books he has read. Well-established and well-heeled but desperately afraid of dying, the writer writes about another writer, his terminally ill alter ego Faustino Iturbe, and Iturbe’s troubled relationship with his partner Flora Ugalde (“misery is the only thing he’s given [her]”), who resembles the writer’s actual partner right down to the very obvious “mole on her jugular fossa.”
The translator has learned to access the writer’s computer, which he supposes is defended by a password, in order to read what he is writing about her and will eventually ask her to translate. Her dealings with other people are conditioned by her awareness that, having read the famous writer’s books, they know everything about her intimate life, at least as seen from his point of view—for example, the time she betrayed him and received a poem from her younger lover praising her for being “loyal, more loyal than anyone.” It is something the writer will never let her forget, though he is hardly without sin, one of his own betrayals having led to her contracting a venereal infection.
The only thing this unhappy couple seem genuinely to share is a preference for literature over life. They live in books and for books, often comparing their relationship with that of Jean-Paul Sartre and… - Tim Parks
Literary translation has been seen by some theorists as a means of understanding intercultural relations. Within such an approach, the translation of literature in Basque to Castilian Spanish must be understood according to its particularity as the translation of a language with minority status even within its own territory into a dominant one, both of them socio-politically charged. This essay analyzes how Ramon Saizarbitoria’s novel Martutene, in its Spanish translation (2103), explores Basque inter and intracultural relations by maintaining the tension of Basque and Castilian within the text, by positing narration as a form of producing and questioning identity, and by incorporating within its diegesis a translation project that proves to be unsatisfactory. Article: PDF

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

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