Kirsten Kaschock - The truth is something more like fear than it is like April.Spellbinding: ostensibly a novel, Sleight reads like a critical theory treatise that’s been Pixared into plot and characters, with all the sentences personally airbrushed with the scrupulousness of Mallarmé
Kirsten Kaschock, Confessional Sci-Fi: A Primer, Subito Press, 2017.
CONFESSIONAL SCI-FI: A PRIMER is a book of in-between spaces and times. No one is quite what or where or when they seem to be. Each of the five prosepoetic pieces in the book has a narrative although it would be more difficult (though not impossible) to say each has a plot. Identity is interrogated here, but also community, and also the isolation that is unique to our current non-time—when our spheres of contact are more virtual than visceral.
In “Oh, Lorraine” a woman runs into the arms of an urban ruin to escape her marriage—maybe briefly, maybe for forever. In “A Bedroom Community Diary” a town is derailed by strangely antiquated (yet still prevalent) gender codes. In “The Fisherwoman’s Daughter” a young woman seeks a new life and finds all the little deaths. “After Museum” is a dream about loss and the fear of loss as accompanied by rollerskating and winged primates. Finally, “WindowBoxing” plumbs the rage that accompanies search and sorrow.
Kirsten Kaschock: “I hoped, in each of these small works, to find a way into the hidden places that no memoir or non-fiction work quite reaches in their slavish adherence to reality… the place where personal history intersects with phantasm and prophesy becomes probative.”
Fiction and poetry are both types of distortion: what happens to representation when representation fails. In theater, mask work is done to get beneath the (sur)face. Each of these five pieces delve into different facets of autobiography while resisting realism at every turn. They are: the Lynchian-suburban pastoral, the urban-ruin-porn of midlife crisis, the psychologically-fabular herstory, the trauma-imbued dreamscape, and a synthetic meditation on the domestic-virtual.
"Kaschock's CONFESSIONAL SCI-FI: A PRIMER bravely crosses the rivers between genres to salvage the unpredictable and essential particulars of lived experience. We haunt the Divine Lorraine Hotel beside a speaker seeking to extract herself from the prefabricated narratives of family and gender. We hover inside an explosive abecedarian sequence. Throughout it all, we witness a dance comprised of sinew and wind, a mind unfettered by familiar architectures."—Eric Baus
In her latest collection, poet and novelist Kaschock (The Dottery) evinces a fluid and playful relationship with both confessional poetry and science fiction, suggesting that neither can sufficiently establish a relationship to truth. What is confessional, after all, when “To scale these stories/ requires a system of pulleys and/ falsehoods./ Scaffolding. To clean/ things all the way up.” The book’s five long pieces are heavily engaged in worldbuilding, each piece serving as a window—“Windows are what make domesticity seem picturesque, in that windows make sculpture into painting”—into a richly developed narrative context. Whether the subject is a woman who is having an affair with a soon-to-be-demolished hotel called The Divine Lorraine or a suburban community that’s home to a host of suspicious characters and the site of a grisly murder, each piece is dense with activity and anxiety. The collection’s middle section, “The Fisherwoman’s Daughter,” functions as myth and ars poetica. Here, the importance of violence to Kaschock’s poetry becomes clear: “Myrtle’s life is like all life—dependent on the endless digestion of smaller deaths, on their incorporation into the work.” As much a noir adventure as it is a sci-fi confessional, Kaschock’s dynamic collection revels in expanding our understanding of genre, and life itself: “I wonder, Can what is not enough—be?” - Publishers Weekly
In her book 300 Arguments, Sarah Manguso asserts, “You might as well start by confessing your greatest shame. Anything else would just be exposition.” Kirsten Kaschock’s Confessional Sci-Fi, A Primer pivots on the axis of a confession. Its first section, Oh, Lorraine, is relatively brief, comprised of ten prose paragraphs, grammatically constructed in the future. It begins: “In three years, I will leave my husband, my three boys (aged 11, 8 and nearly 6) to move into the Divine Lorraine Hotel for the three months prior to its scheduled demolition.” The ramifications of this simple fact engine this book’s catastrophic anxiety.
Oh, Lorraine is set at a famed Philadelphia hotel that in the early 2000s was slated to be torn down. It places the speaker at a crossroads of salvage and ruin. Lorraine, we are told, will be a moving target of figuration. It represents a daughter, a spaceship, an affair, and a disease. “This is not to be a ghost story. It is pornography,” the speaker says. “As I push her head / into the pillow under the confocal and squeeze her breasts, I / will wonder if she was born with them.” From the second chapter:
[…] The entire process
(I blush for me) is like cutting — a bodying forth of the internal
shameful. I enter the Divine Lorraine because she is the only
divinity I will allow myself to enter. I enter the Divine Lorraine
because I have not allowed entry to myself in nearly a year. I
enter the Divine Lorraine looking for something to save. It is
not me. Already, it will be too late for that.
In 2011, Kaschock was already using the term “Confessional Sci-Fi” to describe her writing. “I take the undisclosed seeds of the real and plant them in the soil of the what-if. Then, I watch for bloom or blight,” she told Cheryl Strayed in an interview for The Rumpus. Those who know Kaschock’s work will be familiar with this sort of literary sowing. Her previous book, The Dottery (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014) was an engrossing lyrical thought experiment about the holding space for the souls of daughters as they wait to exist. Alien worlds (Sci) gain Kaschock access to explore (Fi) something intensely personal (Confessional). That this latest book is also a manual (A Primer) is as important: despite characters worthy of Westeros, it is more instructive fantasy than escapist one.
Confessional poetry is historically violent, erotic, and alien. Kaschock’s is all of that. Characteristically corporeal, the body is ever-present, from the crust in the corner of an eye to liver tissue on a far wall. Her brand of noir horror takes full shape in A Bedroom Community Diary, a sequence populated with characters who are simultaneously macabre and mundane. An abecedarian structure accentuates the vastness, the arbitrariness, and the remove of this suburban nightmare. There is a tormented librarian and a pedophilic undertaker, there are grocery store encounters with the townspeople. There is murder most foul: “It was Jenny who found Ricki behind the warehouse / near the mall. With a lead pipe.” Language provides the very basis for the perversion; for Kaschock, there is no entendre that cannot be doubled: “J is for Julienne. To die like a carrot in thin strips.”
Director David Lynch famously merged the grotesque and the banal, and it served to reveal a dark truth: that the macabre is inescapable from the mundane. Kaschock’s housewife in ABCD who has a manicured lawn and collects fetish scenes from Nazi porn is deliciously Lynchian. The sequence also brings to mind Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, a collection of short stories depicting townspeople as “grotesques” because of the idiosyncrasies that burden them. In one, for example, the peculiar, persistent movement of a popular teacher’s hands led to the accusation that he molested his students. Kaschock’s method is homage to Lynch, but it is Anderson’s objective beneath her stories: these townsfolk are a basket of deplorables, to be sure — but their darknesses are all ours, or at least ours to bear.
Fisherwoman’s Daughter begins with mythical Myrtle, whose mother neglects her but provides her basic needs. Myrtle rejects her ersatz role as mother to her younger siblings and embarks upon a journey where she encounters three rivers (one of stone, one of feathers, one of net) where its fish mock, adorn, and rot in her clutch. The confession at the center of Oh, Lorraine echoes within Myrtle: “As if what was behind her was all she would ever own. The feeling was opposite of free.” At the fable’s moral center is a traditional role tragically reframed. Myrtle becomes a mythical spider that “makes a new language out of light” but she pays a terrifying price for her journey.
The book’s fourth section is the truly mesmerizing After Museum. The Museum is “pre-garden, what went underground but was not sown, or was sown without resource. see Orpheus, see Orphanage.” The Museum, built on the site of the burned original, places the speaker on decimated ground. She is led by a docent — a “two-guide” — described as ape-like, with wings, a child asleep within the appendages. There is a woman strung out on a loom, twins playing cellos, frogs hanging in rafters, a clone “who replaces what / you have lost, and yet is not real, / does not threaten the memories of / the lost by being real and in its own right.” I won’t catalog the encounters further. The tendency is to read this museum tour as a psychological one — an outward manifestation of an inner world. I do not discount this interpretation. But letting the muscle of conventional narrative atrophy makes for the best reading. Here is an excerpt:
This is the Greatroom of Non-
Differentiation, she tells you,
the child-voice catching on a red
feather spit out of the wings, wet
and thin. Teeth hang in mid-air as
if for plucking. A rich stain of liver
tissue on the far wall accuses you of
your last orgasm. The question you
want to ask is the same one: How
do we keep from drowning in these
bodies? The two-guide touches your
arm with her damp, hairy palm, and
the answer is: membranes. And the
answer is: form. And the answer is:
some god. You don’t want to hear
that so, move along.
The columnar structure creates claustrophobic rooms punctuated by more boxes; colophons like fortune cookie fortunes create equations for what is and what is not (Pain ≠ transcendence) (Pomegranate = placebo). The wisdom is less enlightenment than resignation: “This is your missing. The grief you can’t own. This is your gap in the skyline,” the speaker says. The section is punctuated with a final empty box, when the poet has left the building and its perverted lessons behind. The whole sequence is beastly, spectral, fascinating, solemn, visceral, wondrous:
[…] You feel the
dark on your back first, a cloak of
cold. The sunset has withdrawn to
the longitude of its next withdrawal.
Such a different personality than
dawn. You wonder how they bear
There are muted, unjust lessons in this primer: pomegranates are eaten with the expectation that the speaker will “shit spring the next day,” a grasp at the elusive angel-child leads to hand nipped and bloodied. A bridge connects two worlds, as heaven and earth: at last, the on-ramp to those tourists’ more familiar lives — the mundane ones with the macabre baked in. The lesson that smarts most speaks to the machinations required to live in it: “To scale these stories,” it is said, “requires a system of pulleys and falsehoods. Scaffolding. To clean things all the way up.”
Paula Fox, novelist and children’s book writer (and Courtney Love’s grandmother, how’s that for Lynchian) said that words are nets through which all truth escapes. Kaschock makes you believe it. She writes in the double-voiced discourse of feminist poetics — at once new but rubbing against an established convention. With Confessional Sci-Fi, she continues to forge her her place within its lineage. Windowboxing: A Dance with Saints in Three Acts finishes the book. The section was published as a chapbook in 2012. After being confined in so many small spaces, this choreography of poems explores gender stereotypes with a sense of freedom that may have, by itself, been read as restriction. “By starting that sentence two women perhaps I have indicated / something,” the speaker states, as language playfully ruptures as if newly autonomous, showing the reader its many deceits.
“Here, rules fray,” says the speaker in After Museum, speaking to a changed You — the I, perhaps now doubled. “Some, it seems, as you peer into their unknotted faces, find such slippage comforting.” The role of literature, it has been said, is to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. I read Confessional Sci-Fi first in the fever dream of a summer vacation and was unmoored by it. The second time I read it I was back in real life, vaulting between garden-variety distress and family trauma. Its semantic dance, its grotesque truths, its disobedience, the heartbreaking reach of the speaker toward the child that eludes her — they comforted me. - Michelle Lewis https://medium.com/anomalyblog/the-disturbing-comfort-of-kirsten-kaschocks-confessional-sci-fi-a-primer-7c36ed4e861e
Kirsten Kaschock, A Beautiful Name for a Girl, Ahsahta Press, 2011.
Human identity testing itself: are the speakers of these poems mother, teacher, creative artist--or are they merely bones to be sorted and juggled? The ramifications of identity ("we'd know... the translation / into mother to be exaltation. Murder, also") leap up sharply in the book's central poem, "Snuff Ballet," in which one speaker, a dancer, is tested by inquisitors who may be a board from whom she seeks a grant. But perhaps these voices, which quickly become intimate and judgmental ("When was the last time you had sex?"), are merely criticism internalized, part of the "one-woman show."
Out of a body, the heart.
I wrapped it in red lettuce and sang to it.
I don’t know why it was more fall than I was.
The turning of the year
that usually anchored things
was extricating them.
Imagine my fear.
Removal of this, removal of
Winter. The other word for aging.
Yearly, fewer people make it through January
than other months. On the radio.
I sang to the muscle even as it grew
ashy. The song was continuing pain.
I gave it up like fainting choirboys.
I gave it up like cancer.
I have no control over what comes out of me.
Bereft of the heart, the body
refused to lullaby. To lie down.
I could not make the body into a doll.
I had to leave it behind in the grass
to break down. While I went off
circling the tender
dying woods with its heart in a leaf.
Kirsten Kaschock, Sleight, Coffee House Press, 2011.
read it at Google Books
Sisters Lark and Clef have spent their lives honing their bodies for sleight, an interdisciplinary art form that combines elements of dance, architecture, acrobatics, and spoken word. After being estranged for several years, the sisters are reunited by a deceptive and ambitious sleight troupe director named West who needs the sisters' opposing approaches to the form—Lark is tormented and fragile, but a prodigy; Clef is driven to excel, but lacks the spark of artistic genius.
When a disturbing mass murder makes national headlines, West seizes on the event as inspiration for his new performance, one that threatens to destroy the very artists performing it.
In language that is at once unsettling and hypnotic, Sleight explores ideas of performance, gender, and family to ask the question: what is the role of art in the face of unthinkable tragedy?
‘I quit because I was good, and when you’re good and a girl at something, you should be suspicious.’
'Of what part of yourself you didn’t know you were selling.’
Siblings, mysterious billboard messages, maimed children and a bizarre art form coalesce, up to a point, in an unusual, dreamlike tale.
Choreographer/poet/novelist Kaschock constructs her debut around a new performance art form combining sound, movement and structures, called sleighting, and invents a new set of meanings to go with it: Needs, Souls, wicking, precursors all take on fresh connotations in a teasingly oblique story written in prose sometimes lyrical, sometimes clotted, requiring the retuning of the ear: “He saw darkness as necessary, a part of the scrutiny, the spelunking of sleight’s potential.” Two sisters, Clef and Lark, have performed sleight, although emotionally troubled Lark left the troupe. West, who runs a different troupe, has met Byrne, a gifted writer who carries a rock in memory of his hated father. As a new sleight work is assembled, a horrible serial killing comes to light, the Vogelsongs’ ritual murder of some two dozen children, and this terror becomes woven into the new show. Kaschock’s inventive but odd story is matched on the page by peculiar layouts, lists, script dialogue and footnotes. Gothic and intense, this fully imagined yet partly private work of storytelling loosely connects themes of pained childhood, eventually wrapping up some of them.
Powerfully original verging on the obfuscatory, this is a novel with no middle ground: Readers will either love or hate it. - Kirkus Reviews
This muddled debut novel, though ostensibly about “sleight” (a fictional interdisciplinary art form combining dance, architecture, acrobatics, and spoken word), provides no clear definition of sleight. That Kaschock, the author of two poetry collections (Unfathoms; A Beautiful Name for a Girl), never offers a clear visual of this practice is only one of the book’s many problems. Focusing on two sleightist sisters, Clef and Lark, the novel examines their troubled relationship, which is paralleled by the strained bond between two brothers, Byrne and Marvel. These four troubled sleightists are brought together by West, a less-than-scrupulous sleight director, in order to create an unorthodox sleight based on the tragic murder of 25 children. As the intense preparations for the performance collide with the legacies of past transgressions, the sleightists begin to fall apart, even as they increasingly come to feel that sleight offers their only chance at salvation. The reader may well feel some of the presumed contortions of sleight while attempting to make sense of this strenuously pretentious and humorless novel. - Publishers Weekly
In her novel Sleight, Kirsten Kaschock has set herself a near-impossible challenge: the creation of a new, multidisciplinary art form that she can only communicate in words. Set in an almost-alternate reality where people have names like Kitchen and Marvel and “sleight” is a prestigious cultural institution with its own rich history, the novel centers on two sisters, Lark and Clef, who have spent their lives training as sleightists. Although temperamentally at odds, they’re inextricably bound together by their art. In their divergent approaches to sleight — Lark is tortured and delicate where Clef is steadfast and cold — they become twinned allegories of artistic creation.
But what is sleight? The task of answering this question — poised from the work’s very beginning — proves difficult. Sleight is a universe unto itself, with a prescribed set of practices and movements: sleightists are like dancers, only they move with structures called architectures that are themselves interpretations of drawings. A string of Dada-like spoken words called a “precursor” governs their movement. (It’s as elaborate as it sounds.) An omniscient narrator with a scholarly air unfolds the form’s history and aesthetics in footnotes:
In the syntax of sleight, an architecture is a word. A manipulation is a single definition of an architecture; an architecture can be moved through several different manipulations — anywhere from three to thirty. A link is the method by which one architecture attaches to another.
Perhaps it’s a failure of my imagination as a reader, rather than Kaschock’s as an author, but the nature of sleight never coalesces into a visualizable art. As often as she explains what it is, she never shows what it looks like. Even the climactic performance, which upends the sleight community and nearly destroys its performers in the process, loses its force by virtue of its abstraction. The closest we get to an explanation of “wicking,” the apotheosis of sleight — apparently a kind obliterating dissolution of the body into the work — is that “a performer is snuffed out.” To Lark, at six, “it was ice. An incapacity to hold warmth in the marrow, below the level of bone.”
Kaschock has built an allegory about the toll art extracts from its creators around an art that proves fundamentally unknowable. This is not to say that a new art form can’t be invented in prose (had she written a novel about, say, ballet, her book might have gotten dangerously stuck in Black Swan territory) but that Sleight loses the precision of its otherwise entrancing language when trying to convert an imaginary practice into images. Kaschock is a sensitive writer, with an uncanny empathy for her characters — particularly when dealing with the limits of the body. “Lark was bruised. It was her state, bruising, blood welling up only to be blocked by membrane. Lark would have liked to let herself: dress in leeches, sate them, have them fall from her deceased,” writes Kaschock in only one of her haunting metaphors.
Cut away from sleight itself, the novel is a moving portrait of mental illness, of sibling love and rivalry, and above all, of the destructive power of great art over its performers. It’s a shame that we can’t see what Lark and Clef create; we can only make out their scars. - Amelia Atlas https://www.barnesandnoble.com/review/sleight
I just finished the beautiful and affecting Sleight by Kirsten Kaschock, and I can honestly say I’ve never read anything like it. It was a novel written in poetry, in dense, brief little chapters — each one a rounded, shiny truffle with a spider lurking inside.
What two forms could be more different than poetry and the novel? Poetry produces gems, small rich things to turn over in your mind all day long, little hauntings to revist you as you dust the mantel or brush your teeth or let out the dog that last time before bed. And then a novel is a movie: for flopping onto your belly with a bowl of popcorn, for being swept away in, for falling in love with characters. You don’t fall in love with the characters in a poem — the poetic voice, maybe, but not the characters. And wouldn’t so much poetry be too rich for a novel?
Somehow, Kaschock makes it work. She is a poet who loves her characters, and her writing, though rich, won’t make you feel ill if you read a lot in one sitting. Somehow each poetic chapter doubles itself — you’re reading just a little more, a little more, and the language becomes not an obstruction but a guide, a guide on a subway no less, until you’re reading faster than you should be but you still can’t stop. Kaschock venerates language like a poet, but, like a novelist, she’s crazy in love with her characters. “The characters were/are like family—hard to lose in that way,” she says in an interview, citing the day that, while unloading her dishwasher, it occurred to her how the novel would end.
The title, Sleight, refers to an art form Kaschock has invented for the book — primarily dance, but incorporating elements of architecture, spoken word, acrobatics.You won’t be surprised to learn that Kaschock, in her own words, “collects advanced degrees” — she has a Ph.D in English Literature and another in dance; she’s attended Yale and Syracuse universities, among others.
Lark and Clef are two sisters who have been practicing the art of sleight since they were young. They have been estranged for six years, in part because of a minor betrayal over a lover but also because of larger familial trauma; they have now reunited to dance for a troupe director named West, who is pushing the limits of the form. As the book jacket reveals: “When a disturbing mass murder makes national headlines, West seizes on the event as inspiration for his new performance, one that threatens to destroy the very artists performing it.”
While a murder is referenced on the book’s jacket, it feels less like a driving force of the plot than it is a sort of umbrella of commonality under which the characters operate. At the moment we find out about this murder, we find out who did it and why they revealed themselves. This is no murder mystery in a traditional sense. It is a rumination — on murder as a personal act, as a bad national habit, as an inevitable, occasional flaw of humanity. The murder referenced here is used to psychoanalyze the characters, to work towards their healing or lack thereof. How they will relate to one another, how or if they will forgive one another — these are the mysteries we wait until the end to see resolved. It might not work if Kaschock’s characters were not so immensely riveting. Her pacing is also dead-on — just when we might start to feel mired on one character’s consciousness (or, as the character Clef describes her sister: “narcissistic…focused on [her] own darkness”), we move to another character, to the delectable mysteries that make them both human and otherworldly.
“His father’s face has had, for some years, the blurred edges of a twelfth-century gargoyle — its granite angles sloughing off, one by one, degrees of severity. Deserts are not to Byrne location but pestilence: a desert is slower locusts” (p. 100)
A desert is slower locusts. You can feel the poet playing there, all those s sounds making you say locust, locus, deserted slower locus. And yet there’s the concrete image of sleightist Byrne’s father, his disapproving gargoyle face, aging, or changing in Byrne’s mind. It’s beautiful. Beauty throbs through this book like a heartbeat. - Andria Williams militaryspousebookreview.com/2014/03/05/book-review-sleight-by-kirsten-kaschock/
The analogy of the 'Russian doll' has been discussed to death in the manner of speaking about 'worlds within worlds,' and in a way, this notion is so wrong: it makes the worlds seem clear and separate, contained within one another as a placeholder, to be toyed with and stored, each painted cool.
Let's drop the cute crud and pretend like we're actually talking about something that exists, and is made not of snap-shapes, but of air and doors.
Like, here: Kirsten Kaschok's 'from Sleight', which appeared in the always brain licking Action Yes in Spring 2007. I hadn't read any of Kaschok's text until coming upon this in reading and rereading the AYes archives for some fuel to make me want to spurt.
(How easy it can be to forget how much the act of writing is as much a method of intake as it is out-.)
Excerpts in fiction often suffer in that they feel strung out or lopsided: I've never had so much trouble and frustration as when I am trying to cut up a very long text into something 'submittable,' etc. In this case, with this excerpt from 'Slight' (which I am now very interested to find the body of, having chewed a digit and wanting body), the effect is forward-pushing, if also maddening for how it makes the blood boil wanting more (good!).
This text, in its most reduced state, is an exploration of one my favorite, or at least perpetually recurring, thoughts: the body as a house and house as a body, and how rooms connect to rooms, with blood, etc.
And while these ideas are things I've walked upon for so long, here in 'Sleight' the approach feels fresh, in the way it takes an even more literal, somehow almost clinical approach (the narrator goes into a room and flexes her body, thinking about the state of the architectures) and the way is mashes with Kaschock's manner of melding the heavy-headed with the offhand: an aesthetic that can often come off bratty, but not here.
Clef rearranged her leotard. She adjusted the elastic along her hipbones, tugged at her spaghetti straps, then bent over to gather up the architecture. During performance she wore no leotard beneath her web, but in rehearsals the women wore them and the men—athletic belts or biker shorts. She looked in the mirror. Her hair, though pulled back, was coming undone around her face—which was growing somewhat red. She could already see blood pooled where a few bruises would be forming: one beneath her left knee, one on either hip. A throb told her of a fourth on her shoulder. It felt good—her—moving again. Tender.
So mathematical, almost bizarrist, using the anatomy as a map, inside the worm of rooms where the body itself has gone to flex for no apparent purpose but to do so: leaving that insisted upon 'Russian doll' junk at the gate. The narrator is aware of her body, and the body around her body, without wanting their connection: though all still within a mood of kinetics, like someone is about to somewhere be stabbed or have a fuck.
These ideas are propagated and allowed to worm, rather than be needled, letting the sentences and their surrounding space do most of the work, like here, a one sentence paragraph:
Clef began to rotate her tubes and wires.
There is likely an analogy of the name 'Clef' that could be fucked up out of someone wanting music but the music is just there, and is not asked upon, and rides, and lets eat: this is a text and not a story, not a poem. Text. No labels. Words. MMM.
The last graph, in its exit from the space of the rest of the narrative, a connected disconnection, takes the architectures of the fleshy body in the building body and reverts them to the fleshy body's own ingestion of a smaller cell, the eating of an apple, which, once bitten of its best flesh, is tossed away, left in a trash pile to be resettled somewhere, bitten somewhere else, maybe, or left to rot:
Clef ate an apple as she walked toward the subway. The apple was a world. The wind that whipped a lock of wet hair into her mouth was inside the apple. She sucked salt from the hair before pulling it from her lips. Above her the blue pressed down coldly. She was taller now, and could pierce it. Clef cut a swath from the air as she moved down the street. First, someone noticed her passing. Then, someone else. Scraps of newspapers and neon-hued flyers drifted down to settle in her wake. She tossed the apple core into a wire trash can and peeled some red paint from her palm. It had the irregular shape of a continent. Some vagrant continent—brightly bloody.
The variance of space, like something throbbing, lands in lands in the best way, the sanguine, tunneled way, over the insistence shelf-sat 'doll' diagram where everybody already knows: this is a text like meditation. This is text made of fine things: High, low. Bloody food. Sentence. Sentence. Shit. Rapacity for shit same as a temple, and for flexing. Yum. - Blake Butler http://www.gillesdeleuzecommittedsuicideandsowilldrphil.com/2009/05/ssm-kirsten-kaschocks-from-slight.html
The most challenging and fascinating, and impressive, novel I’ve read lately is Sleight by Kirsten Kaschock. As a writer, you are attracted to reading that resonates with your own writing. I enjoy texts that ask the reader to make their own connections, and our understandings of the characters, the story, and “sleight” begin as disparate then coalesce, in the same way the sleight troupe’s practise comes together and arrives as a singular definitive event. In this way, the subject mirrors the novel’s structure, which is always effective, when achieved.
The multi-dimensional, abstract, almost impossible performance art-dance Kaschock created in sleight also resonated with the abstract-impossible aspects of The Sovereign Hand: those elements that are often decribed as “unfilmable”, where concrete description and detail surrender to an impression that eludes reality, and is all the more potent for it. The slake moth of Perdido Street Station and the perpetual train of Iron Council come to mind; the affect of scent in Süskind’s Perfume; In The Sovereign Hand, it’s the diablerie, in particular. All evidence that sometimes you can not just call a spade a spade, that you need richer language to unchain the reader from unthinking signifiers and permit them to draw their own ring around whatever is signified in their mind. That’s what speculative fiction, in whatever genre, does best. - Paul Gilbert
Spellbinding: ostensibly a novel, Sleight reads like a critical theory treatise that’s been Pixared into plot and characters, with all the sentences personally airbrushed with the scrupulousness of Mallarmé
- Jed Rasula
However, when it comes to the contemporary weird, Kirsten Kaschock’s Sleight is the most remarkable novel I’ve encountered in a long time. It focuses on sleight, an art form which is remarkably elusive; indeed it seems to be not so much an art form as a denial of art, an effacing of performance, a self-abnegation, perhaps even an indulgence given one wonders if it actually exists. One learns, mainly from footnotes to the main text, that it involves sleightists (the actual performers) and objects (architectures) which they in some way move with and around on stage, and link together in assemblages of people and objects, but this is performance which is form stripped of narrative and which, when done well, manifests its success through the performers no longer actually being visible on stage. The performances themselves are somehow ‘drawn’ by ‘hands’ yet at the same time sleight appears to be an art form which almost from its inception has been ossified, slavishly adhering to its original forms. Preference is given always to men although it seems that women may, on the whole, be the better sleightists and indeed it was a woman who brought sleight into being. Creativity is simultaneously necessary yet suppressed. It is, if you like, the highest form of performance art in that the sleight troupes seek no recognition as individuals, and indeed exceptionality in performance is institutionally frowned upon. Audiences do not applaud, and there is much debate as to whether they actually understand what it is they are seeing. One might suppose that sleight, as an art form, is somehow related to the Emperor’s new clothes in its very invisibility.
One might also suppose that Kaschock has written a very clever satire on the state of dance as performance; it is certainly possible to read the novel as such, certainly if one has any knowledge of the history of certain dance troupes, but I actually think there is rather more to the novel than a simple commentary on the insularity of ballet masters. Kaschock poses fascinating questions about the nature of art and creativity through the medium of this art that is not actually a performance medium at all, at least not in this world. Except that she presents it in the most plausible manner imaginable, not just holding it in place with suitably academic footnotes but bolstering its reality through interviews and critical commentaries. The novel maintains a tone of complete rationality throughout – one is vaguely reminded of the Officer’s account of his bizarre machine in Kafka’s ‘In the Penal Colony’, except that sleight seems rather more reasonable.
Sleight follows the fortunes of the Monk troupe as it collaborates with West’s Kepler troupe. West fancies himself as an iconoclast, determined to turn sleight inside out, by introducing everything that has been historically undesirable: colour, costume, lighting, music, narrative. His motives are not entirely clear: there are suggestions that it is a long and complex revenge for a perceived adolescent humiliation. West himself is no sleightist, at least not in the accepted sense, although he is a gifted director. In which case, he is a sleightist of a different stripe, manipulating people rather than structures, absenting himself when there is trouble, bereft of scruples when it comes to achieving what he wants. On this basis he has no hesitation in manipulating both Clef, a brilliant technical practitioner of sleight, and her sister, Lark, retired from sleight but troubled by her inability to fully express her creativity, into working for him. Lark is beset by Needs, physical embodiments of the feelings she cannot fully articulate. Her Needs are transformed into pigments with which she colours what she calls Souls, bowl-like knots of wood. Lark and Clef are estranged, having fallen out over Kitchen, Clef’s lover, once Lark’s as well.
West has an instinct for finding people’s weak spots. In bringing Lark and Clef together again, West is perfectly he is setting up a potentially toxic dynamic within the troupes, and deliberately exacerbates this by also bringing in Byrne, an artist, and his wayward brother, Marvel. The boys’ mother always regarded Marvel as the more talented child while Byrne is the one who carries the guilt for his father’s death. As if this weren’t enough, West insists that this group of damaged and fragile people work with a story recently in the news, of children kidnapped, abused and transformed into weird art by the Vogelsangs. Their story has come to light because they have deliberately drawn attention to themselves, seeking recognition for their work. It is not difficult to see why West is similarly drawn to their story.
It is perhaps glib to say that West simply doesn’t understand the forces he is working with but in this instance it is undoubtedly true, in the same way that he believes he can transform sleight into a commercial art form, something it inevitably seems able to resist with ease. The irony is, perhaps, that this is West’s finest performance but in ways that the audience cannot actually see, which is of course what sleight in its pure form is supposed to be about. In trying to be iconoclastic West has remained true to the roots of the form.
West dominates the latter part of the novel as he brings his flawed creation to performance, and Kaschock’s handling of his struggle is well controlled. His slide into failure is inevitable, of course, but that inevitability is well paced. However, for me the novel’s fascination resides more in the first half, trying to understand the strangeness of this art form that everyone accepts so easily, tracing its history through the footnotes, and to an altogether different revelation as to its origins. Kaschock’s skill in calling into being something which, we suppose, doesn’t exist, and the intensity with which she writes about it is truly impressive. This is one of those novels that lingers in the mind long after the book is closed. - Maureen Kincaid Speller
The setting of Sleight is recognizably modern-day America. Things are slightly off-kilter in a way that most of us have grown accustomed to. Certain postmodern touches quietly sidle into the story, one by one, until the listener is surrounded by a cast of characters who can’t seem to (or perhaps don’t see any reason to) differentiate between the abstract and the concrete elements of life. For example, one of the central characters grows “Needs” within her body, expels them in a difficult and unpleasant way, then kills them. Once they are dead, she artistically converts them into objects called “Souls,” which she sells from a kiosk on an urban street corner. This is not an abstract concept or a metaphorical way of discussing a creative process, but a physical occurrence in the world of the story. Another main character carries a stone in one hand (he switches hands once annually at the New Year) every minute of every day of his life—his way of attempting to atone for a rash and catastrophic act in his youth.The title refers to a fictitious performance art form that apparently somehow blends architecture, acrobatics, mysticism, geometry, dance, sculpture and spoken word. All of the characters in the novel are steeped in sleight as not only a profession, but a compulsion, a burden, an inspiration, an atmosphere, a planet—for most of the players here, sleight is life itself. A doctoral fellow in dance at Temple University at the time of the novel’s publication, author Kirsten Kaschock has obviously spent enough time in the performing arts to understand this phenomenon very well and to portray it clearly. The artists’ personalities and interplay are recognizable, but the author is less successful at bringing the nuts and bolts of sleight itself to life and making it real for the listener. This is not a story in which action is very important overall, but the intrinsically vague and abstract nature of the mechanics of sleight tends to make it hard to envision what’s happening in the rehearsal chambers and on the stage. Add to that the unfamiliar terminology the author deploys in support of her made-up art form, and you get a narrative thread that proves difficult to follow at times.
Sleight, the novel, turns out to be just as difficult to describe as “sleight,” the art form. At the story’s center are sisters Lark and Clef Scrye, both of whom began training and working as sleightists when very young. Lark left the life, however, and has been living in self-imposed exile from sleight, consumed by her body’s expulsion of Needs and their conversion into Souls, as mentioned above. Clef, still an active sleightist, gets caught up in the inevitable drama and intrigue when the enigmatic sleight director West conceives a grand plan to combine two sleight troupes and create a performance piece like nothing ever seen before, and Lark gets sucked back in at the same time. Mysterious hidden talents come to light, with disturbing and unexpected consequences — especially when West recruits a young outsider named Byrne, and a longstanding case involving missing children is solved.
Adam Verner narrates Sleight with clarity and precision, and adopts the novel’s prevailing tone of cool detachment as his own. When things are as trippy and hard to pin down as they tend to get in this story, it takes a straight-arrow, matter-of-fact reader to lend a sense of reality to the proceedings. Verner does quite well on this score.
Sleight is not for everyone, but for those who are comfortable with the abstract and who like a narrative that challenges at every turn, this novel offers much reward. Reminiscent of the works of Aimee Bender and Jonathan Carroll in both style and substance, the story relies on the reader to meet it halfway, and supplies a dreamy surrealism that makes its own logic and is often quite beautiful. Kaschock is not only a dancer, but also a poet, which is apparent in her facility with language, especially her willingness to be experimental with it. Her experimentation pays off, with many lovely and unusual juxtapositions that surprise and delight, and smell like truth. For instance, “‘What other mirrors are there?’ ‘Oh, glass at night, and tinfoil. And some people are. They’re walking knives — you can see yourself in them, but you’re cut up.'” - mockturtle https://mockturtle.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/audiobook-review-sleight/
Kristen Park’s review in Bombay Gin.(pdf)
I like to swim in fiction, all books really, but specifically those creative worlds developed by those creative world-makers dubbed novelists. I glide through their settings and periods and places and sneak up against their characters, our bare skin touching with the most sensual of intimacy. I want to be lost in the author’s liquid space of words and ideas. And it was with great pleasure that I stroked, crawled, and waded through Kirstein Kaschock’s debut novel Sleight and its intoxicating layers of form.
Sleight feels like several books in one: a work of poetry, of fiction, of history, of performance theory and social commentary. And it is not surprising that the text is capable of living in so many disparate spheres given Kaschock’s own biography: an art-maker and poet and academic, a product of a self-proclaimed “dance family,” a graduate of Yale and currently a doctoral fellow in dance at Temple University. She draws on this conglomeration of influences, styles and experiences to weave a richly textured story, a novel that surpasses genre definition in its framing of the interlocking narratives of its central characters.
Other critics have noted the text’s unconventional nature, and it is unconventional, not simply because of the footnotes and imagined critiques that pepper the work. Each performance of sleight—Kaschock’s fictional time-based art that marries architecture, dance and poetry into evening-length concerts—begins with the recitation of a precursor, a poetic listing of non sequiturs. The sleightists, the live performers of the form, then navigate the architectures, polyhedral constructions of either blown glass or fiberglass that are nearly invisible on stage. Troupes hire sleightists in a parallel to the traditional dance company model, which are managed by directors who shape the sleight. And it is this insistence on portraying the characters through the body, through physical experience and performance that makes Kaschock’s freshman effort as a novelist so unique.
She introduces Lark, a former sleightist, disgorging her Needs, beetle-like entities that are desiccated, their vibrant color eventually forming the palette for the Souls Lark sells to support her family. Clef, Lark’s sister and star of the sleight troupe Monk, is presented through her bruises and achy joints, through the reciprocated pain of Lark’s pregnancy (the sisters connection goes far beyond emotional attachment, literally sharing the pain of each other’s physical traumas). Byrne, the unlikely Hand (a practitioner of sleight whose job is to develop the precursor), is shown with rock in hand, the egg-shaped stone rubbed smooth from years of use and switched every New Year to the opposite appendage but never removed. Kaschock rounds out the quartet of central characters with West, the coolly detached brain behind the ingenious creations of the celebrated sleight troupe Kepler. It is West’s drive to produce a new sleight performance that binds these four characters together, their fragile and fragmented lives intersecting, and forever changes the art form to which they have all, in their own way, devoted their lives.
Within the text (and contained largely in the footnotes) lies the history of sleight: from its questionable origins on the island of Santo Domingo through possibly schizophrenic French Jesuit Pierre Revoix, to the Isadora Duncan-esque figure of Antonia Bugliesi and her formation of sleight from Revoix’s original drawings, to the codification and board certified standards of later years. It is in this period that we find West negotiating these precedents, pushing at the seams of regulation to fashion a work that moves beyond the regimented and into the profound, into the revolutionary. And through West’s struggle Kaschock illustrates the underlying challenge of any creative process, to not only create but also create anew, to shift the rules from what was to what is. We see West’s seeming failure, even after breaking nearly every convention in the sleight rulebook, until the final pivotal performance when his desire is made manifest, but with far-reaching implications for dark and stormy Lark, red-headed sister Clef, and Byrne the rock-handed Hand.
I not only recommend reading Sleight, but suggest several readings, as the copious connections, the links of character, thematic elements, and description, are so finely knotted as to be nearly imperceptible. Kaschock provides a clear pool for the reading, but like a favorite childhood swimming hole, there are surprises under each rock, each cranny a possibility for shock or trauma, and it is this submersion into the unexpected that led me to delight in the electric world of Sleight.- Beau Hancock
Sleight is disorienting at first: entering the world of the book means picking up its vocabulary, the vocabulary of an imagined form of art called sleight that’s part acrobatics, part dance, but something else entirely. One character, early in the book, says sleight is “beyond anything it may have come from. Or out of”: she goes on to say that “at several points during a sleight performance—you’ve got epiphany” (9). More concretely, sleight troupes, which all have nine women and three men, work with “architectures,” which are flexible frameworks—glass or fiberglass tubes strung together by fishing wire—shapes that encourage certain movements, shapes that link to other shapes in shifting forms. Sleight is about two sisters, both sleightists: Clef and Lark Scrye, who’ve been estranged for several years. Sleight is also about the art itself, and about a director named West who reunites the sisters to make his greatest work; by extension it’s about art in general, or maybe more about performance-based art in particular: it’s about bodies and space and discipline. It’s about more than that, too: ambition and motivation and desire, and art’s relation to its subject matter and its audience, and family, and connections between people. It’s sometimes almost-frustratingly abstract, not-entirely-articulated; it’s got touches of magic that never get explained away, or explained at all. But mostly it’s delicious and engrossing, and the kind of book I don’t want to say too much about. I like Clef and Lark, their resonances and differences. Here’s Clef, on why she performs:
I think I sleight because I always have. My mother sent my sister Lark and me, I guess for poise, and I was good. And when you are good and a girl at something, you stay with it—maybe for all the goodgirl words that come. Goodgirl words like do more, keep on, further—instead of the other goodgirl words—the if-you-are-you-will words—be nice and softer and you-don’t-like-fire-do-you? In sleight there was less of that so more of me, until there was less. (11)
And Lark, on why she stopped:
“I quit because I was good, and when you’re good and a girl at something, you should be suspicious.”
“Of what part of yourself you didn’t know you were selling.” (92) - letters and sodas
A review preview at Bombay Gin…
Author Kirsten Kaschock didn’t make things easy for herself in her novel Sleight. In it, she creates an all new art form, and then, having created it, she has to describe it to her readers — who have never seen of heard of this new art form before its appearance in the book’s pages. How does one do that? And why would one make that much work for one’s self as a writer? Kaschock has her reasons, and here she is to explain them.
Sleight is the name of my novel; it is also the art form that is central to the world the novel describes, and in some ways it is the main character. Sleight combines elements of dance, circus performance, poetry, and sacred geometry. It is one hell of a chimera to get onto the page.
Art forms don’t monologue about their identities (at least not by the rules of my novel), and art forms made of transmuting parts that don’t and probably can’t exist are difficult to picture. Sleight is impossible to fully describe because it reaches into the sublime—the peak experiences that all art strives for—those moments of absolute transcendence when you are no longer thinking about what you are hearing or seeing but only experiencing it.
This book is about that, about the people whose lives revolve around those magics—its creators and performers—and how their art is like a drug to them. But how do you give a form to something that is always just there at the edge of your peripheral vision? How do you make the ineffable visceral? Sleight needed a body. And I had to be the Frankenstein who would provide it.
I used footnotes. I used play-dialogue, some poetic language, obituaries and reviews and letters: I used the kitchen sink. I also used people: Lark and Clef Scrye are semi-estranged sisters brought back together by a pregnancy, by their love of sleight and their need of each other; Byrne and Marvel Dunne are two brothers drawn to the visual and verbal elements of the art and warring over their different understandings of their father’s death; West is the svengali-like director of one of the sleight troupes, and he orchestrates the collecting of human talent and pain that drives the novel to its inevitable end.
I have reasons for chronicling artists. My four siblings and I were all trained in ballet, then I left that world to study literature and write poetry. I entered fiction. I returned to modern dance. I married a molecular geneticist and became the mother of three young boys. I know now that I can never not make. But I also like to be engaged with the world in a way that all my disparate identities somehow weave together to make sense. There are elements of Sleight (as I imagine there are in every novel) that are autobiographical, and probably the biggest one is this: the book unabashedly pieces together ideas of family, spirituality, history, artistic responsibility, and the daily horrors brought to us through our various screens. I admit to large ambitions, and that containing them requires a science fiction sensibility I’ve had since childhood, thanks to Saturday morning Star Trek reruns.
When I was first drafting this book, I was in school in Athens, Georgia with a kindergartner, a toddler, and an infant. During the day I discussed literary theory and aesthetics, and at night I swum among the bodies of my boys—feeding, cleaning, swaying, bathing, burping, lullabying. My life affected my studies and my fiction profoundly: no theory, no novel that could not address my whole world was going to resonate with me nor tap itself into existence across my keyboard.
Sleight grapples with grappling, with making sense of things in the midst of chaos, and sometimes letting the chaos wash over you until, nearly drowning, you finally catch a glimpse—and the invisible web of connection shimmers out over the waves. What could tie the never-quite-gone images of the confederate south to the crescent smile of my infant to the alien grace of a dancer exiting a tour bus at the alley backdoor of hundred-year-old theater to the clean elegance of an Erlenmeyer flask brought home from the lab and filled with daylilies? If I could tell a story that connected those dots—that would be something.
Sleight is my chimera. Speculative fiction, familial drama, and serial killings all wrapped into the plot of one of the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies: let’s put on a show. This is its Big Idea: if looking for meaning is a profoundly human experience, then creating meaning out of shards of a broken world must also be—only even more so. - Whatever John Scalzi’s blog
The creation of an entirely new form of performance art—drawing from modern dance, spoken word, and architecture—provides a provocative debut novel by Kirsten Kaschock. Sleight attempts to address the ever-pervasive issue of how art should function in and respond to the tragedies of the modern world. With an array of characters depicted in lyrical, short language, the novel unfolds in traditional from, small plays, word sequences, and boxes filled with words that experiment with the novel form in a self-reflective manner, allowing further introspection.
Kaschock creates a new performance art named sleight, an art created by Antonia Bugliesi, a ballet dancer who found drawings from a 17th century Frenchman Jesuit and brought them to life with glass and wire structures, designed by architects and manipulated by dancers. Nearly a century later, a modern sleight troupe director, West, decides to revolutionize sleight, deciding that he must imply meaning into the performance in response to a couple’s murder of various nameless children. He recruits two sisters Lark and Clef, one a former and one a current sleightest, to implement this new sleight performance. The sisters must navigate their relationship to each other and their relationship to sleight, highlighting dilemmas of how art functions in today’s society.
While the beginning of the novel may be difficult to navigate, Kaschock provides ways for the reader to adjust to the novel’s abstractions and dense language with its short, direct sentences that attempt to tackle complex ideas. Footnotes provide background information for the sleight, including defining unfamiliar terms, explaining histories, and giving other necessary background information. The novel’s language reads much like a poem (Kaschock authored two poetry collections) in its musicality and rhythm. For example, during a sleight performance, the writer of the troupe describes it “As if they were all just masks with nothing behind, or else wreckage. …He was dumb, although the words came and hung from him like a noose. He tried to offer the audience this same terrible stillness.” This tension in art permeates these artists as they try to grasp the art they continue to perform.
Sleight questions underlying notions of meaning and meaninglessness in art through its complicated nature, but it does not become the most challenging aspect of the novel. Lark, the former sleighest who is married with a child, speaks about ridding herself of her “Needs” by crushing them into powder. In a conversation with a writer for the troupe, she attempts to explain a Need, saying “‘Desire is what I do. A Need does desire to me.’” Lark then paints wood knots with a paint derived from the powder and calls them “Souls.” A few moments in the novel imply that these souls belong to some of the artists yet are owned by others. By transforming the unseen into the real, concepts become an unsettling reality. Always disorienting yet fascinating to watch unfold, Sleight provides a deep examination of art and those who engage with its ever-shifting presence.- Alyse Bensel at New Pages.
Sleight: the underpinnings
The art form at the heart of my first novel, Sleight, does not exist. Since there is nothing new under the stage or in the sun, Sleight is stitched together from aspects of modern dance, circus performance, experimental poetry, and sacred geometry. Research on the not-yet existent can be tricky, also frightening. I was trained as a dancer and a poet. I began writing Sleight as an exploration of the artist’s compulsion to make useless things. Sleight deals in the strange passions of the obsessed, their ties to their art, and how those ties bind them to one another. In addition to the art forms I vivisected to provide the guts for Sleight, I also had to learn how to splice unrelated fragments together. I studied the art of monster-creation: collage.
Research is what we call a series of questions that congregate around any black- or rabbit-hole. The closer I got to the singularity of art-making, the faster my questions spiraled, and the stranger the properties of Sleight became. Ideas came in fits and starts and quotes. Sleight itself is an amalgamation of straightforward narrative, play dialogue, Sleight reviews, obituaries, footnotes, and prosepoems. My research was equally fragmented. Some of my sources, thoughts, and preliminary findings are numbered below — what came to me as I was pacing around my laboratory. My library. My head.
1. “To begin with, I could have slept with all of the people in the poems” (Jack Spicer). I, too, desired only this much realism — that my characters be bodied.
2. I meant the characters, the types, I drew in Sleight to be both concrete and ungraspable, like people. There is a Svengali-like director who is just a little boy with a fear of cowboys. My fiery redhead is muddled. A would-be slacker feels compelled to one-fist his father’s death. The prodigal Sleightist regularly purges herself of art, and of feeling. Their secrets do not make them, which is why their secrets are not wholly satisfying. The objects and actions in which they house their secrets — these are more telling. These things point at what is unsayable: West’s ten-gallon-nightmares, Clef’s constant braiding and over-managing of her passions, Byrne’s rock ever-a-threat-in-hand, Lark’s vomiting-up of Needs.
3. In a world where art is the reason, the reason behind the art is only an excuse for its making.
4. A novel is a cobbled-together-thing, a machine. While writing, I tried not to be concerned with the traditional purposes of the machine I was building. I tend to distrust machines. But Sleight became my Rube Goldberg — especially beautiful in the ways its parts surpassed its function, in the ways the characters began to orbit the central art form like an unmappable electron cloud. The closer I went in, the more unpredictable they became.
5. A line in Borges’ “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” reads: A book that does not contain its counter-book is considered incomplete.
6. Sleight, the art form, is all about its counter-self — what it could be but is not. Its unexplored potential. At the pinnacle of Sleight, performers flicker out of existence. This is called wicking. The characters also negatively mirror one another and their art, as they submit to it. In Sleight, dark matters.
bq. This beloved is a hole. This, beloved, is a hole.
7. In The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, Rilke writes: “Now you have gathered yourself together into yourself, see yourself ending ahead of you in your own hands… there is scarcely any room inside you… nothing very large can possibly abide in this narrowness.” This description of artistic angst — being limited by the self — is something I’ve felt. So in Sleight, I made Needs real. I gave them bodies so they would be wholly felt. And so they could wholly die.
8. Sleight is written in small sections, divided by scalpel cuts. As if the author could not bother to wait for the unnatural birth. These lines could be called hesitation cuts for a c-section or an abortion. I have a severe Need: to double my language into the body whenever possible. Then, get it out.
9. I have always been obsessed with the questions Sleight asks. In this way, it is embarrassingly autobiographical. What is art? What is it to be an artist? What about engagement with the world? Where is that? What are the ethics of borrowing pain?
10. A new art form should exist inside a new genre. While writing Sleight I wondered — how might one foster a Confessional Science-Fiction? Might I rescue two stones with one bird?
11. “[A]n allegory is but a translation of abstract notions into a picture language… the principle being more worthless even than its phantom proxy, both alike unsubstantial, and the former shapeless to boot” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge). I think Coleridge is trying hard to be negative, yet he admits that allegory gives shape to the shapeless. I suppose I could call Sleight an allegory, but I like Confessional Sci-Fi better.
12. Another Need: to catch, however briefly, bits of down out of the air and sew them into a pillow that could support a dream of the lovely-dead-bird-sacrificed before growing sodden with nightsweat. One of Sleight’s main characters is named Lark. Because of birds.
13. “[S]uch works as have had their beginning in form… show, in token of their origin, an incurable want at the very point where we expect the consummate, the essential, the final” (Friedrich Wilhelm von Schelling).
14. I am used to working from the external toward the center. Create the shape — the arabesque, the sonnet — and the heart is supposed to follow. I have at times felt that this was a grasping at the empty. Sleight revels in just such emptiness.
15A. “If it weren’t for prisons, we would know that we are all already in prison” (Maurice Blanchot).
15B. “Theatre takes place/all the time wherever one is and art simply/facilitates persuading one this is the case” (John Cage).
15C. One of these two statements should illustrate the goal of Sleight. Taken together, as they can’t reasonably be, they nearly do.
16. What happens when your ground is suddenly pierced, when you look deep and find in the darkness the beloved, and the beloved has a face? Do you then know the hole? That the hole is a grave? Or is it only the nature of the beloved that you see — as it transforms all that surrounds him? (He is dead.)
17. “You are living on the site of an atrocity” (ubiquitous billboard in Sleight). I think everyone is.
18. That sounds like horror. I tried to write something other than horror. Connection. The loving stitch: I wanted to show how Dr. Frankenstein is, at heart, a romantic.
19. “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” (Elvis Costello). Yes! To dance about architecture, to write about such dancing. Attempting the impossible was the impetus for Sleight. To waltz with zombies, to have the mind utterly, happily consumed. Em-bodied. Yum.
20. Novels should be at least as risky as early nineteenth-century childbirth: in one out of five books, the author or the book should have to die. This I believe.
21. Sleight is my beloved hole. The living earth I knowingly carved into. I do not know what might have to die to fill it. Maybe, it will be me. - Kirsten Kaschock http://necessaryfiction.com/blog/ResearchNotesKirstenKaschock
Kirsten Kaschock, Unfathoms, Slope Editions 2004.
"As I get closer with my weapons," writes Kirsten Kaschock, the rules change -- the rules regarding how we must look at the body and spirit. A poet and choreographer, Kaschock uses language and the dance thereof to mount her attack. Using cities as metaphorical backdrops, the result is a voyage into the streets and arteries of various physical and psychic terrains. "With grace and whip-smart wit, Kirsten Kaschock is a gift from the gods of young talent. Her first book won't be her last, but it's indispensable to anyone who loves poetry and wants to fathom the unfathomable"--Mary Karr
Kirsten Kaschock, The Dottery, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014.
read it at Google Books
The Dottery is a tale of dotters before they are born. In this series of prose poems you meet their would-be-mutters, the buoys they will know, their inner warden, and the mutterers who cannot have them. The Dottery itself is a sort-of pre-purgatory, a finishing school for the fetal feminine. The five sections correspond to the conceptual set-ups interrogated within. In “wound,” The Dottery is described, as are its inhabitants and their difficulties. In “Dual,” a gender binary is introduced and (hopefully) eviscerated. “Triage” establishes the issues that plague both the dotters and those who would bring them out into the world—specifically into the idea of America (I’m Erica and I can prefer a hummer to the rose parade”). In “Fear,” failed dotters (out in the world) are described in obit fashion. Finally, in “Thief” one mutterer recounts how she stole her dotter (“a snatched piece”) to become a mutter and chronicles both her desires and regrets.
“The Dottery,” perhaps best read as, ‘daughter-y,’ is a kind of finishing or boarding school for female children about to be born. This finishing school focuses on interactions between “mutters” and “dotters,” and the central question of what it means to become a gendered female. ‘Where does gender come from?’ ‘How is it constructed?’ and ‘Who decides?’ are central questions in Kirsten Kaschock’s The Dottery, winner of the 2013 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. The book emphasizes how our contemporary society marginalizes female power, femininity, and feminism. The word “woman” isn’t even uttered until Page 33; only homophones and nicknames that ‘skirt’ the label are employed beforehand. Kaschock proffers the idea that the female is somehow always for sale in contemporary culture. The personal—sexuality and lifestyle choices—become commercial in this volume, a “concentric cap and trade.” Women are also bought and sold through marriage, and the suppression of women’s needs and desires is a consistent motif in Kaschock’s scathing social commentary.
Gender is a social construct and this idea is, of course, accepted in the liberal purview. Kaschock knows it and thus envisions a scenario where the thread of gender making is tugged to the extreme, even reflexively back to birth. She wades into the murkiest of waters, asserting that our society affects children, and definitely their parents, before a baby is even born. Dotters should be treated with “sugar,” and maybe also ‘spice and everything nice.’ The Dottery is strict and life altering machine; its comparison to Catholic school, “very like a church,” doesn’t seem far-fetched. Conforming to the standards set at school will lead to physical or metaphysical death, Kaschock warns: ”Dotters have been regularly educated to their detriment. Sugar is often their fondest wish. It is why some are born, and how they would die.”
Although The Dottery is clearly grounded in contemporary feminism, Kaschock’s influences cast a wide historical net into the patriarchal past. She seems to draws on, while railing against, the language of John Ashbery, modern art, and the manifestoes of the early 20th century and before. These conceptual clusters augment the necessary narrative of the book. The frontispiece prose poem, perhaps better thought of as a forward, brings a few of these influences quickly into focus: “It is essential to note that manifestoes, their tiny toes, are generally written to defend the birth of the monster rather than messily during conception.” Later on in “: nevertheless, a manifesto,” “Dotters are not semisweet surrealists. They are hard cookies.” Of course, drawing from famous manifestoes, and then rejecting them, is a way to define who the Dotters are. The Dotters compare themselves to historical and societal models to necessarily establish a school, though the speaker warns that this can be extremely harmful.
Like Manet, or even Judith Leyster, Kaschock is interested in shocking her audience. She looks out directly from her pages and forces her readers to confront uncomfortable truths about themselves and their society. It is established that women cannot ultimately be what society wants: “I was taught to beget myself postmodernly, produce likenesses, and then found I could not.” For the daughters, this is a travesty; the finishing school has taught them that acclimating to society’s expectations should be their singular life ambition. Female sexuality is gauged by what it can produce, perhaps economically. Female children begin as edible “sweets,” then turn to those with “unfortunate insides,” and are ultimately seen as a burden. Dotters begin as pink and then raisin, “purpling in useless apartment” after childbearing age. The Dotters, married and otherwise, often turn to self-injury in order to follow cultural dictates, as shown in the Dotter obituaries in the “Fear” section: “The Achemist’s dotter went under with a sharp spoon. Along the vein.”
In regards to craft, readers quickly gather that Kaschock is fully capable of the lyric beauty we often look for in poetry, but she has bigger philosophical fish to fry. Next to a turn of phrase like, “Each new dew and it is gone from yesterday’s span across the grass. The dottery houses women before they are conceived” comes, “Dotters are not dotters from anatomy, dotters are dotters from edits, diets, tides, the cakey residue of Desitin in folds of infinite orchid.” This is a beauty that is visceral and confounding. It is in turns pornographic and might be labeled as “ugly,” yet it is still beauty. It is reminiscent of Ashbery’s “They Dream Only of America,” where “the murderer’s ash tray” is only a few lines from that great Romantic moan, “And I am lost without you.” Kaschock is a Jill of all trades: just like her “dotters,” she is pulled toward accomplishing a pretty lyric but has a tougher challenge than this.
Brilliant sound play nevertheless propels the prose sections forward: In “Dual,” the second of the five sections, Kaschock chants, “Dotter is a cutout, a flay. A pair of mimes out of papier-mâché, the last Matisse.” Kaschock’s wordplay reminds me of Dora Malech’s poems, which riff on language and sound, making a meaning we can’t quite articulate, so much deeper than the sum of its pieces. The melancholy in a line like, “I recognize control is not inside my mouth—no I know now means yes,” illustrates this suffocating hopelessness.
Finally, the book comes apart in strands, calling attention to the oddness of writing poetry itself. Like the Dotters, it becomes obvious to the author that a book of poetry has no practical or productive use beyond a certain point. No one may even read it. Kaschock’s speaker advises in a footnote: “You are probably reading this because you are a poet or a mother, my mother, or some other blood relative.” The book takes on this emptiness in the form of wounds, rotting, allergies, aging, and self-injury among others. Perhaps the crucial question The Dottery asks is, ‘Is trauma internal to the female condition or external? Can centuries of societal warfare on women make trauma innate?’
Contemporary science asserts that environment affects human life just as much as DNA; The Dottery asserts that western culture interrogates women even before they emerge from the womb. This collection, perhaps fantasy, perhaps closer to garish reality than readers would like to admit, teaches that non-judgmental love is the one (flawed) redemption. In a last Mutter/Dotter interaction, Kaschock writes: “When it is time to go I offer my hand. She wraps it in a napkin, tucks it into her pocket.” This is a long moan for love, and readers must accept its laced, metallic sweetness.- Sandra Marchetti http://www.tupeloquarterly.com/the-dottery-by-kirsten-kaschock/
Kirsten Kaschock’s The Dottery is a book-length meditation on the constructed nature of femininity. The “Dottery” – daughtery – “houses women before they are conceived,” and dotters are messy and conflicted broken dolls, schooled in the requirements of femaleness and stored in a red brick building reminiscent of a womb, just this side of birth.
To get inside this book, you have to accept Kaschock’s tweaking of language – dotters, mutters, buoys – for daughters, mothers, boys – but once you’ve gotten comfortable with that, it’s eminently readable. That’s not to say it’s always a permeable book. In fact, there are plenty of moments where you just have to trust where Kaschock is taking you. Puns, misappropriations, words enjambed with other words (“manicures cancer”), thoughts linked by sound (“A dotter mislays, misdirects, misogynies, misses America…”) are Kaschock’s tools, and she uses them with a casual deftness. The book is comprised almost entirely of untitled prose poem chunks:
It’s a wonderful wife. The new year is a sigh. The inner warden opens the floor and swimming pool. Green or blue, but not in color. They take a naked dip at midnight and call it tobacco. Inside the water, the flesh they will repeatedly try to own is reminded of its content. A dotter is a series of membranes. A congregation of seals. Rings around the water: water, only domesticated. One of the dotters chooses her wet name. Some mutter will come for her tomorrow and, muttering, rename her dry. Once renamed, she will be clothed – a tankini perhaps, a single ruffle not quite over the ass, something appropriate. It is, all of it, in the ledgers. But for one hour of one night she will float with the others autonomous. There is a depth of nostalgia here unknown outside the dottery, a missing of some frivolous center. She chooses. Later someone may lasso her, the moon. Or ride her. Or hide her, robe, in a bush. But beyond piano, petals, beyond broken banister, she has not been the always and steadfast marry. If you take the time, or can replay it altered, pull your head out of your suicide and try whispering it. Marzipan.
The decision to write in prose poems lets Kaschock expand, wander, and loop back to make her point – “Skins will shed until no skin is left, and a dotter is all skin.” Femaleness is also confused and recursive, so the method echoes the madness. The downside of this technique is that we sometimes wonder why we wandered down a particular alley.
A dotter can wait. A table. Or a brick wall. And so. What? Accuse me of something. I can hear you under this caterwaul, this dispelled gospel tract as it has been in through the mudroom, heart. I listen to the way you are, hymn of you, so quiet when I am talking of them, them not mine. Just say I shouldn’t. That it is enough. Tell me what it is I’m missing in these boxes, this attic of fucked.
“This attic of fucked” is a great, percussive line. But I felt I was doing a lot of wading in the shallows to get to it. A poet writing in this idiom has to balance against two points: 1) creating a productive sort of chaos that can hold layered images and contradictory voices; and 2) running the risk of inadvertently hiding the through-line from the reader. The through-line here is anger, at times a coldly clinical rage –
The doll is not what the doll replaces. The doll is not what the thing the doll replaces was made to replace. The doll is not the roadtrip. The doll is not the pointe shoe… The doll has two spiderlashed black blinkable eyes. The doll has been pulled apart a thousand times for horror. The head of the doll on the side of the road at the edge of the surf will not watch you back. N’accuse. The doll cannot, in this way, be the subject of mutilation. The subject of mutilation is what you are after, but you must remember it is not the doll. The doll is what every dotter has been fashioned after, save her unfortunate insides.
At times, more direct –
I’m Erica and I do not hate women because I still fuck them, don’t I? I do.
It is required we adopt all slurs now, like purse-fed Pomeranians. But what if I do not feel like a pussy, not for dinner, or if cunt has too many teeth or none…?
And sometimes, the anger is saved for a footnote, literally:
Everyone should… envision herself a mutterer. (Murtherer.) Of dotters especially. … You are probably reading this because you are a poet or a mother, my mother, or some other blood relative, or because you are trying to prove your goatee soul patch tousled hair cock looks good on a feminist. It does.
Hello! I kind of wished Kaschock had gone into a little more detail at this point. I’m not a blood relative, after all; I do want to hear what she thinks “looks good on a feminist.” As I was reading the book, I made a note to myself that “The Dottery is also about not being committed to saying something.” The through-line of The Dottery is both: anger – at the constant mutilations of self that women are asked to submit to; and also the suppression of that anger. The poem even knows this –
The failure to risk is not the failure I want today to bear.
The aggression part I am I am just now learning to reinhabit.
You can read the repeated “I am” as repetition for the sake of prosody, but I don’t – I read it as “The aggression that I am composed of”. The narrator is not ready to own her aggression, and this ambiguity is at the heart of the book.
There is a particular sort of poetic voice that’s popular now – a sort of rushing, maximalist, wall-of-sound voice. Its best function is to open up language and let in some much-needed air. But the technique can also function as more of a screen than a window, so that we feel we’re watching a deft performance of truth, rather than truth itself.
And this is where I go back and forth on The Dottery. What struck me as layered and oblique also sometimes struck me as detached. It was a lot of fun to read either way, but I wished for just a few more of those bursts of cutting honesty. The dottery, after all, is not just an intellectual exercise – it’s a stand-in for our actual, princess-obsessed, Kardashianed culture, where a woman still gets exponentially more attention for being a pin-up than for writing code, or poetry for that matter. So I wished Kaschock would take the whole endeavor a little further, as she does in the last two poems, which are as keenly edged and startling as an Angela Carter short story.
I face my dotter, the one I should never have taken. … She has a heart where her mouth should be, a heart at the crux of her left elbow, little hearts in her fingers, between her legs – a heart. She models them. … We table – share a cup of firemilk. She sips, and the beating of her face makes it a pink almost warm. I stare at the life. When it is time to go I offer my hand. She wraps it in a napkin, tucks it into her pocket. I have seen her do this many times before – with a half-eaten sparrow.
The dotter, finally confronted in person, is at once an oppressed creature and a hazard – both a victim and a sugary-sweet horror. Kaschock captures the truth of how we come to terms with our masks – imperfectly. - Jeanne Obbard therumpus.net/2015/01/the-dottery-by-kirsten-kaschock/
The Dottery by Kirsten Kaschock is the 2013 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry winning book of poems that explores the beginning of identity, gender and humanity.
The Dottery refers to a building where beings with semi-consciousness learn to become good dotters (daughters) and is the focal point or planet around which the poems orbit. The Dottery as an educational institute for all dotters allows Kaschock to discuss what it means to be a woman, a dotter, a mutter (mother) and what is lost in creating or educating spirits into simplified human forms with expectations related to gender, occupation and beauty.
The book opens with a critique of manifestoes, saying, “It is essential to note that manifestoes, their tiny toes, are generally written to defend the birth of the monster rather than messily during conception,” thus laying the grounds for the precursive location of life and the investigation of what happens in this formative institution. This much I know about the book.
Underneath the invented space, the words, the repurposed words, this book is a firm pillar in the contemporary feminist movement. However, I hesitate to limit it to feminism because, if taken to its core, it is a battle cry for all human identity (gender, religion, morality, race, etc.) and the institutions that shape us all, whatever they may be.
The rest of the book follows Ezra Pound’s ideal of art: “make it new.” The Dottery attempts to be fresh, unseen, undone, in anyway possible that, as the poems progress causes meaning to take a back seat to the author’s creative impulse and imagination and language play. Ultimately, this book, more than most, becomes dependent on its reader to put their own insights into the poems. Readers are always required, or if not required are inherently, putting their own interpretation onto poems; when poetry, and art in general, becomes more abstract and imaginative, the reader is forced to do more work than the creator. If you like that experience, then this book is certainly for you because it is playful and creative to an extreme.
The book is split into five parts titled: wound, duel, triage, fear and thief, respectively. Parts one and five mirror each other in tone and ease: they are the simplified versions of the book, both being more clear in speaker and addressee.
Part two is the strongest: it bridges the gap of “new” and clarity that the rest of the book ebbs and flows around: that is, it is fresh to the reader in both content and form without being too abstract or empty or confusing. The first poem in the section has a line that summarizes the whole book: “On the field a dotter can work the war, other than to sew or whore.” Boom. The book examines all three of those duties in detail, including how a dotter enters into each by describing her experience in The Dottery (a dotter who works a war has a different Dottery than the dotter who learns how to whore at The Dotter). Other highlights from part two are: “The failure to risk is not the failure I want today to bear. / The aggression part I am I am just now learning to reinhabit.” In too many ways, our society tells girls to be weak, acquiescent and servile, and that line is the speaker reclaiming her goal of learning how to be fierce and fiercely self as a woman, a woman of her own definition.
However, in part three, the clarity begins to break down when we physically enter The Dottery. It is confusing, as it must be, because it is the author’s manifestation of society forcing us into mannequins. For those of you who love metaphor, fantastic imagery, experimental forms and intensity of language, this is your section. A glimpse into The Dottery: “Entering the dottery, slipped: a threshold creased with lard. From your ass, the dotters lining the walls looked less like cringing. So many unached fors. Aborted ones of porcelain. Daffodillings. Tinroofed and footed ones and straw others ands of brickshit.” This what The Dottery contains. For some intense language and imagery: “When I come to a room with too few vaginas, I have a long knife for opening some up.” However, this is not a man-hating book because a few lines later: “Wandering into the wilds of too many— / elementaries, nursing homes, malls, ballet class, waitresses—I also long to.” This book rejects anything but perfection and independence. Kaschock argues for the ideal woman (or human) as completely independent, self-built, ferocious, with heroes chosen by the self naturally rather than a parent or movie. Ultimately, this hope leads to the title: The Dottery and explains why the word “woman” may not ever appear in the book (if it does, it is in passing): woman are constantly defined by the vagina: daughter, mother, rather than the spirit that enters The Dottery, women are defined by what The Dottery turns them into before turning them out into the world.
To return to Ezra, this whole book’s concept about what makes an ideal woman is the same as Ezra’s goal for art: Make it new. It should be unique, undone previously and very possibly undoable again.
Part four is a series of linked-form/theme poems. Each poem is about the dotter of a specific occupation or thing: “the Typist’s dotter” or “Shrapnel’s dotter” or “the Alchemist’s dotter.” The capitalization saying a tremendous amount. Then each poem discusses this dotter, this human, and who they are but always in relation to the parent, which is how the world sees many individuals, dotters and buoys (boys). Several are very focused and specific to the profession and the dotter existing within that reality, while others are much more abstract, like the shrapnel poem, and explore the effects of being such a dotter, that is, how their daily life is shaped by the very fact of being a dotter.
Part five returns to a more direct approach in terms of universality and a clarification of speaker and listener. Part four’s dotters have no listener for their struggle, whereas most of part five’s audience and speaker is easily ascertained. Near the end, there are a series of four poems that are from a dotter to a mutter or from a mutter to a dotter. These poems also feel personal (the only poems in the book which made me think of the author as a speaker), and are also in the form of letters, adding to the personal nature of their existence.
Returning to the earlier point of trying to be new in an ancient art form: One poem that exemplifies the “make it new” goal in an ineffective way reads in its entirety:
It’s a wonderful wife. The new year is a sigh. The inner warden
opens the floor and swimming pool. Green or blue, but not in col-
or. They take a naked dip at midnight and call it tobacco. Inside
the water, the flesh they will repeatedly try to own is reminded of
its content. A dotter is a series of membranes. A congregation of
seals. Rings around the water: water, only domesticated. One of
the dotters chooses her wet name. Some mutter will come for her
tomorrow and, muttering, rename her dry. Once renamed, she will
be clothed—a tankini perhaps, a single ruffle not quite over the ass,
something appropriate. It is, all of it, in the ledgers. But for one hour
of one night she will float with others autonomous. There is a
depth of nostalgia here unknown outside the dottery, a missing of
some frivolous center. She chooses. Later someone lasso her,
the moon. Or ride her. Or hide her, robe, in a bush. But beyond
piano, petals, beyond broken banister, she has not been the always
and steadfast marry. If you take the time, or can replay it altered,
pull your head out of your suicide and try whispering it. Marzipan.
There it is. Bring to it what you want. There are many spots that strike my soul in this poem: “One of the dotters chooses her wet name,” followed by, “Some mutter will come for her tomorrow and, muttering, rename her dry,” which is a great combination. It speaks to every person who has ever felt forced from the outside to change or adjust to society or a superior. It is a universal experience, and it is expressed in a “new” way, which I love, but, I must point out, it is not the “new-ness” I love, nor is it the “new” that imbues that line with universality, the “new-ness” simply heightens my experience of the lines and their sentiment, rather than defining it, which I feel the rest of the book (and the majority of this poem) tries to do: define itself by being “new.” Rather than giving the reader something new to think about in terms of how we define dotters and woman and buoys and men, the poem opts to give us new images, hoping that we’ll create our own genius.
On the flip side, one poem that feels completely new and creative yet still enlightening reads, again in its entirety:
The designation “dotter” illustrates a certain unspelunked speci-
ficity: one’s identity finds no twin in cross-stitching, scarification,
tattoo, or piercing in relief. Preliminarily mapper, a dotter is all
limitation and railing, as is the nature of preliminary maps. What
you want to realize is that several colors busted as they brought
her edge about. Starboard. She is a wax precipice—in that, drawn,
the dimensions drop deeply away, unbuttressing her. Leaving her
susceptible to light. Her blinding, fourth-dimensional parts are
etched, roughed, into limestone cloud. She is left, but condensed
or desiccated—at any rate—more artful. Cathedraled. Dotter is a
cutout, a flay. A pair of mimes out of papier-mache, the last Matisse.
She is de rigueur, but up in her crow—actual fathoms below actual
cave floor—and not to sail. Moby this. Moby that.
This poem is so playful, so fun, so much the author enjoying their imagination that a reader can’t help but enjoy the ride. However, I do understand the similarity in the two poems quoted in their entirety. The difference, I admit, is the reader’s tastes, what they bring to the poems. I’m partial to the word ‘spelunking’ so I find my imaginative footing better. BUT, this poem excels at balancing the creative impulse with the overall point it is trying to make: the untapped source of ‘woman’, one that we cannot know for sure and are left to create ourselves.
Our jobs as humans is to be open to whatever the source may be, to allow ourselves to imagine any origination, and to leave life open to allow for any outcomes from The Dottery. - Jacob Collins-Wilson https://heavyfeatherreview.com/2014/11/18/the-dottery-by-kirsten-kaschock/
Kirsten Kaschock on The Dottery
from The Dottery:
They keep them there from me. The burly one, at the door—she said I didn't have the papers. But I had the papers. She said I didn't look the type. I looked the type. She asked me how long I'd trained. I gave her my credits. The seven-page resume with all the triggers. I cited my affair with the mayor. I complimented her fillings. She looked at me rhetorically. She said—well, you can't come in. Then she said I could, but I couldn’t take, not one, not even on loan. This is a library, cooed the inner warden, that prides itself on suspicion of the literate. That I knew what to do with one: the very logic for my denial. They stamped me UNFITTED. Like ghost— sullen, sheeted.
* * *
When you bellylow a dotter, she does not drive herself out into the forest with torches, or seal her preserves. She stares blinkless like a dolly. The unblinking kind. Bellylows were meant, I know, to bring on the gloaming—but a dotter resists betweens, being one. Yes. She has long been a fellow since you saw your father's own and drummed up a replacement. This is night and day, not the other two. Still, you croon and she grows rigid. You corpse-cradle her. How comforting to hold something that does not wriggle or pivot. Something that fixes itself for hurdy-gurdying. As if neutered. She does this not only not-to-dream, but in feckless imitation of a beloved.
* * *
Dotters con you in mystical grift. You came from the dottery, to the dottery you will return. Egged on, spoonfed. Once oh once oh, you sing, I was a dotter. True. Like buckwheat is true, like twinkie. In Candida I renounced them. I resigned from dot, daught, doubt, debt—from all monies. I became an excommunique. A click. The sterile guns fired. The bulletin board read: She is a Gift—Only Eighteen Installments. The car feigned sleep on the overpass so as to lose the heist. I never re-entered my passwords. I never saw any need.
* * *
Entering the dottery, slipped: a threshold creased with lard. From your ass, the dotters lining the walls looked less like cringing. So many unached fors. Aborted ones of porcelain. Daffodillings. Tin-roofed and footed ones and straw others and ones of brickshit. If, if, if… I had a square ass. A grandmother quipped through the building. Engine. Dotters do not want chosen. They want ungotten, dropped into batter for later expansion—to be needful, doubled in earnest. But from ass-on-threshold, the dottery seemed not rhapsodic, rather a school with room for the willing. All the dotters could poltergeist. They were all too fourteen. You might have asked them to cohabit. Offered a lavender glove. But to be getting any from here was unwholesome—though not completely unlike twisting a skull from between your own legs. Ah. Blood brown. Fine. Fetal.
I met Kirsten Kaschock twelve years ago when we were new graduate students in creative writing in the Syracuse University MFA program—she, in poetry; I, in fiction. She was pregnant at the time; a few days later, she gave birth to her first child. When I think of Kirsten’s work, that first image of her always comes to mind because it strikes me as a metaphor for the kind of artist she is: generative, essential, fully ripe. Her writing has a tender ferocity that represents the maternal, but more. She’s a writer whose every breath and word comes from the core. What she delivers is pure guts and stop-your-heart beauty. There is about her work a vast inner hush and an eternal keening. There isn’t anyone like any single one of us, but the way there is no one like Kirsten Kaschock is a different thing. You need only read one page of her debut novel, Sleight, just out from Coffee House Press, to see what I mean.
Kirsten Kaschock is also a poet and a dancer. Her two previous books are Unfathoms and A Beautiful Name for a Girl, which was a Rumpus Poetry Book Club pick earlier this year. In addition to her MFA from Syracuse University, she has degrees from Yale, the University of Iowa, and the University of Georgia. She’s working on another degree—in dance—at Temple University in Philadelphia, where she lives.
***The Rumpus: Why did you write Sleight and how did you come to write it?
Kirsten Kaschock: I was on tour for my first book of poetry—ten days in the Northeast after being in Georgia for a year. I was away from my three-year-old and my fifteen-month-old and was feeling their absence acutely, but driving along 95, I was also able to let my mind wander over things I had been thinking about in brief spurts during the first year of my PhD. Specifically, I was wondering about the relationship of art to place and to the act of witnessing. I had been reading some events of American history I hadn’t been exposed to before (the massacre of Chinese miners in Rock Springs, Wyoming, for example) and looking at the bureaucratic documents of slavery (bills of sale, census forms, and so on). On the hour-plus drive I had from our home outside Atlanta to the University of Georgia in Athens, there were these crazy religious billboards signed—blasphemously, one might think—by God. On tour, I thought about how differently “truth” might be interpreted in different locations. The billboard that is threaded throughout my novel reads: “You Are Living on the Site of an Atrocity.” The idea for that billboard and its dismissible knowledge were the seeds of Sleight.
Rumpus: You’re known as a poet and many passages in Sleight read like poetry. What did you achieve in this book that you can’t when writing poems and what couldn’t you achieve?
Kaschock: I couldn’t leave things too open-ended. When you read a sonnet, fourteen lines with white margins all around, you are signaled to sit with the thing, to mull it over, to apply it to your life (or not), to the poet’s life (or not), to think about it as a quirky expression of a unique personality or as a universal truth. Poetry (at least the poetry I am interested in) invites the reader to read in several ways, to take time with the language, to resist arriving. But I want something different from the novels I read: I want direction. So I sought to offer a different experience than I do with my poems. That isn’t to say Sleight does not provide room for thought, but I did work very hard to give readers ground to stand on, a compass of sorts, and structures to hold onto when things go slanty (even if some of them are moveable).
Rumpus: What about the experience itself? How did it feel different to write a novel than it does to write a poem?
Kaschock: I loved writing Sleight, having so much time with the characters, the world, the art. It was for me a place to go outside my doctoral classes, outside my third pregnancy, outside of my suburban cul-de-sac partway between Atlanta and Athens. It was better than a poem because it lasted: It wasn’t just a snatched moment but a sanctuary. I remember the day—I was loading the dishwasher—I was about halfway through the book, when I suddenly knew how the novel had to end. That was a scary moment for me, because until then I had been writing it scene-by-scene as I write poems word-by-word. After that moment, though, I had a place I had to get to: an end-point. And I was terribly sad. New to long-form fiction, I hadn’t realized that I wouldn’t keep writing Sleight forever, not emotionally anyway. The characters were/are like family—hard to lose in that way.
Rumpus: I know that experience you speak of, when you’re at the point in writing a novel that it seems it will go on forever and then one day you see the end like a shore in the far distance and you have no choice but to swim to it. It’s the relentless drive of narrative, the great machine of the novel form, and it’s a part of what makes Sleight so compelling. But I was always aware of the poetry too. In Sleight, the forms gorgeously coexist. Can you talk about that please?
Kaschock: Most of the sections of Sleight began with me writing prose poems. Many of these were edited out, some were incorporated more prosaically into the sections, and a few remain. A novel lets you take the candlelight of an idea and give it flesh. The prose poems were flickery—faint lines of barely heard music. After I got them down, I just kept going. The characters grew less skeletal, and their circumstances acquired blood as well as mood. But I never did relinquish what one might call poetic mystery in this book. The more I wrote about the central art form (sleight—which does not currently, actually exist), the more it became unsayable. The more description it has, the more footnotes, the more explanation of how the characters are obsessed with it, what it means or doesn’t mean to them—the more unmoored the book gets from this world. In this way, the book is poetic. Something at its heart escapes my attempts at pinning down.
Rumpus: That’s a wonderfully apt phrase: “something at its heart escapes my attempts at pinning down.” I think it applies to all the most beautiful things in the world—art, love, the way the sun looks as it sinks into the horizon. They are beyond pinning. And yet, you pinned your main characters, Clef and Lark, to the page. The intimacy with which you portrayed them was remarkable. It felt emotional, mystical, psychological, and visceral, but most of all physical, in a literal way. It struck me that the body was the touchstone of this narrative. Do you agree? I know you’ve been a dancer for years. How did that experience inform the book?
Kaschock: Oh, I agree. The body is big in my family. Of my four siblings, three have danced professionally, and the fourth runs marathons. I’ve danced since I was seven, although never professionally. I still take ballet, and when I’m not dancing, I do yoga, give birth, write books, and collect advanced degrees. Dance informed the way I approached this novel absolutely. For one thing, the scenes in the first half of the novel are choreographed. Each of the four main characters first appears solo. Then possible duets are explored, dropped, and reconfigured. When all four finally appear in the same room—the book reaches a crisis point. Building tension with bodies is a compositional strategy I learned from dance, but it marks a truth in the world, not just on stage. John Cage once wrote: “Theatre takes place / all the time wherever one is and art simply / facilitates persuading one this is the case.” When two strong personalities need to coexist, you have conflict. When there are four—you have chaos. I grew up in a house filled with art, love, and a little madness. We all danced. Sleight, among other subjects, explores the fraught relationships of those who belong to such a thing: an art, a cult, a family.
Rumpus: List the three sentences in Sleight that mean the most to you and tell me what they mean to you.
Kaschock: You go for the throat, don’t you, Cheryl?
Rumpus: Not just the throat: the jugular.
Kaschock: I’ll do my best.
1. “You can’t imagine what it’s like . . . not to have desires but be populated by them.”
This sentence is spoken by Lark—one of two sisters the book is concentrated around—to Byrne, a new acquaintance. It is her way of expressing an overfullness that I have felt both as an artist and as a woman. We often hear of being pulled in many directions, as if external forces were, more often than not, the cause of struggle, but Lark recognizes her lack of balance as a sort of internal crowding.
2. “And when you are good and a girl at something, you stay with it—maybe for all the good girl words that come.”
Clef says this to a reporter when she is trying to explain why she and Lark stuck with their training in sleight. I think anyone who has succeeded in a sport, or in academics, or in any artistic discipline has experienced external validation and how it can become both addictive and identity-defining. When we exhibit certain talents, our pleasure in them can become wrapped up not just in the doing, but in the being-applauded-for.
3. “You don’t get to be a miracle without knowing it early on.”
This is from a description of West—the director of one of the sleight troupes who brings everyone in the book together. He is the impetus. Some people are charismatic and confident as if from birth; I’ve known a few and been related to one. I was trying with this sentence to capture the guilelessness and immodesty of that type of aura.
Rumpus: Each of these examples is connected directly to one of your main characters and yet your explanations thread back in discreet ways to your own life—your experiences of motherhood, success, acceptance, and love of charismatic people, to name a few. Just as those crazy religious billboards you saw years ago were a seed for the larger social questions you grapple with in Sleight, I wonder about the more personal seeds that informed the way you developed your characters.
Kaschock: I have taken to calling my work Confessional Sci-Fi. I really think it is apt. You, Cheryl, work in autobiographical fiction and in memoir in this gentled-brutal way I will never fully understand, although I admire and adore it. I say this because alternate worlds are the only way I know to access what some lovely man recently called my “severe muse.” So I dig deep into this world where art could really matter, could actually alter reality, and what do I find there? I find both horror and a way back to the dance I thought I had left when I began writing. Lark is a character who removed herself from the sleight she loved and ended up pursuing other art: I’ve done this. Perhaps because of her choice to leave, Lark questions her ability to be fully present in her own life: I’ve done this too. But as you know, characters become themselves through a process more alchemical than structural. I know Lark because I share some traits with her—but other things about her are darker and more twisty than I could claim even in my most gothic moments. Other characters have traits plucked from myself (and artists I’ve known) and thrust into backstories and situations that provide the catalysts for different types of reactions. I take the undisclosed seeds of the real and plant them in the soil of the what-if. Then, I watch for bloom or blight—Confessional Sci-Fi.
Rumpus: I think Confessional Sci-Fi is the perfect description of what you’ve done in Sleight. I laughed at your observation that you will never fully understand what I do in my writing because I know precisely what you mean. It’s my experience of your work too. I love it while knowing clearly it is not what I could create. That ability to truly see the original other is infinitely profound to me. When an artist works fearlessly out of his or her vision, such as you’ve done in Sleight, something vital is communicated that transcends the camps of aesthetic and style. What’s more interesting to me than aesthetics is what’s happening on a core level. I think at the heart of every writer’s work there is a question he or she is trying to answer. Mine, for example, has been: How can I live without my mother? Which I translate into the more universal: How can we go on when what is most essential is lost? What’s the question at the core of your work?
Kaschock: My question: Why do I make art? Translated more universally: What do we want from art, religion, from each other? And why the hell are we willing to accept so many substitutes?
Rumpus: And so, what have you come up with? In all of your glorious artmaking, why do you make art?
Kaschock: I make art because I have to. I would be lying if I said anything else first. But that is only the beginning. It isn’t enough for me to just make it. I need it to do something, to communicate with others, to provide them with information or language or questions that make them want to do something. More and more, along with this urgency I feel, has come a sense of responsibility: I want art to do good in this world. And since I am the mother of my art, I am trying to raise it right. In the end, Sleight is a book that questions those of passionate intensity who yet lack all conviction (forgive me as I cannibalize Yeats, poorly). It is not enough, I think, to want to make something happen. There are worlds to consider at every step. - interview by Cheryl Strayed http://therumpus.net/2011/10/87604/
Kirsten Kaschock, Windowboxing: A Dance with Saints in Three Acts, Bloof Books, 2013.
A sequence of twenty-four interlinked pieces, by Kirsten Kaschock moves with both muscle and grace through its three acts of steadfast looking—at dance, grief, abuse, the streets of Philadelphia, and especially "the elaboration of woman."
I am fascinated by the sentences in Kirsten Kaschock’s Windowboxing: A Dance with Saints in Three Acts , a collection of short poems, each of which are constructed through a series of accumulations. Her sentences are sharp, and cut deep into bone, such as “History flattens. She can see out.” from the poem “[WINDOWER],” a piece on seeing through and seeing out, and striking at the differences between the two. The collection works through ideas of perception, of seeing, and of conflict through movements on gender, gender relation and gender perception. There is a violence throughout the collection, and a tension, as she writes to open the poem “[WINDOWNER]”: “You would have my explosions be localized and armed against themselves. // You would prefer I not discuss ‘men’ or ‘women.’ The genres. // It would be better to prevent the spread of the insurgency.” The collection wraps itself around the image of the window, framing a way of both seeing directly and through. The poem “[WINDOWRIGHT]” opens: “Window, like woman, an invention. // Think caves. Invent: to welcome wind. To shun: unwelcome.” Her title suggests a performance and a stage watching, instead of a series of characters or performers, a sequence of short poem-scenes, each as thick and descriptive as an essay. Kaschock’s poems explore the violence and confusions so often included between the genders, and the way gender is perceived, as one fixed idea clashes up against another opposing fixed idea.
As one moves through the collection, the poems begin to open up into a narrative arc, progressing intention, anger and a matter-of-fact ending that can’t be avoided. Kaschock is very much a poem of sentences, built incredibly strong, and enough to cut through any material, or allow any coin to bounce off. Composed with the slight distance of journal entries or letters home, Kaschock’s Windowboxing: A Dance with Saints in Three Acts reference dance movements, death by fire and suicide, unafraid of dark territory and yet removed from it as well. It’s as though the only way to discuss any of this is absolutely straight. - Rob McLennan http://robmclennan.blogspot.hr/2014/02/kirsten-kaschock-windowboxing-dance.html
On the morning walk to drop him off at school, my son and I play twenty questions. He likes it best to think of a person and I have to guess. Is it a man? Is it a historical figure? (Only characters he knows from Horrible Histories, Doctor Who and Star Wars are allowed) Is it a king? Is it an English King? Was he a Stuart? Did he get his head chopped off? It's Charles I.
Kirsten Kaschock's combative new collection of prose poems, Windowboxing, takes aim at the presumptions of those who may play twenty questions, ask 'Is it a woman?', and feel that they have enough information when the answer is 'yes'. Through a series of experimental poems, austere as manifestos, Kaschock celebrates women who define themselves variously, and refuse to be domesticated through gender labels and stereotypes.
Windowboxing's primary concern is that such lazy thinking inevitably leads to a restrictive domesticity. The author argues that 'a box is the best shape with which to contort the soul.' Kashock's ability to reach beyond stereotypes is embedded into the design and structure of the book. If you judge a book by its cover, then Windowboxing belongs to minimalism with its white cover and black squares and simple elegant fonts. However, this impression is deflated by the strategic planting of illustrations throughout the collection which were drawn by one of the author's children. What might be a whimsical indulgance in other hands becomes a way of holding an important tension between the theoretical artistic disciplines of an experienced and highly trained writer and dancer and the lived experience of motherhood and family life.
While Windowboxing is the rigourous work of a serious author, that does not mean that the poems are lacking in fun. Kaschock is in possession of a very dry sense of humour that manifests in a love of high class wordplay. She is clearly fond of the surprises, word bombs going off, that can be found through connecting unrelated imagery, like 60s miniskirts and Volvos.
Windowboxing charts a course towards a sense of identity and concern for gender issues that doesn't allow itself to be reduced to transparencies or flat reductions of personality. Kaschock has produced a striking work that's both dry and vibrant, earthed in theory and live in the practice of living. (December 2013) - Simon Travers http://thesmallpressbookreview.blogspot.hr/2014/03/review-of-kirsten-kaschocks-windowboxing.html
I want a new wife but with all of my old things.
I am tired of the domestic packaging of woman, the imprisoned-cellophane versions. Meatdress.
I will fail to say this correctly.
In some ways, I have already failed; in some ways, I am failing continually.
And this suits me, buttonhole. Pivot and clasp.
The elaboration of woman makes windows grow in enormity, if by enormity what I mean is importance.
The adverb, said to be weak, is viewed as an addendum to, or a subtraction from, thought.
Bereft but not, emboldened by loss. Wise. Liberated from life. Sprung.
Most windows are right-angled, like their houses.
Modeled on the premise that a box is the best shape with which to contort the soul, i.e. book.
Some mini-dresses from the ’60s achieved the same lines, and the Volvo.
The illusion of transparency is a problem, as it is with women, vellum.
I like to think of make-up. Adjustment to mood.
The window is thought of as immaterial—certain things permitted fluidity—the gaze and light, but not the head or hand.
Windows are what make domesticity seem picturesque, in that windows make sculpture into painting. Like said Hegel.
History flattens. She can see out.
She could move through doors and into a car, but then store, catastrophe, park, gym, restaurant-with-bar, waiting room, hotel lobby, book, brick, suffocate, 12-step, home.
Windows can be effectively cleaned with vinegar and newsprint. You want to remember newsprint.
The hand smelling of a kind of vain poverty, of human interest.
Window—deathtrap for a next bird or birdhead.
You would have my explosions be localized and armed against themselves.
You would prefer I not discuss “men” or “women.” The genres.
It would be better to prevent the spread of the insurgency.
I should not place a woman in a house, done to death—a veranda? Deck.
The way my bombs work is that I set them beside my heart, and although I fly apart and out, flesh of me meeting flesh of the other dead I’ve made, still I am whole and focused.
My heart, once muscle, now a rapture, now remains.
To contain me, you must rewrite the previous century and go forward in horror from there. As if it were not horror to begin with. You must Whitman.
If I named her field, instead of she, I might have a philosophy, or a beard.
I might be, say, a nurse in the war. More acceptable.
I can’t do my heart today, fuss till it’s lacy, coral, a century or more of microscopic animals.
The men I am are plural and all thumbnails, larger and quicker than that, but clumsy.
Overlaid, they palimpsest into substance.
The men I am are wilders—btw, wrong prosecution, a satisfying lying.
In the pack, they slap the bitch down. It is like a whisper.
She stays down.
I shrivel when they touch the border of me—when I touch the border of me, I get unvivid and a harder called brittle, intelligent, not-young. The ocean fails. Wombs fail.
The men I am are violent or they are not.
Illicitly got confession. Et tu?
I have never bothered to go fathom-by-fathom underneath. I am more afraid of what I might one day do. Fail to do or say accurately. A bad renovation, the bones unhidden, reef a graveyard, the body drunk up, loved at arms’ length (fathom of rope, leash, a good stretch to hang by).
The car, assassination, dishwasher, low-cut: all my fault. Ahem.
This one has trees outside it.
To be accurate, they all have trees outside them somewhere.
I can see these: a white mulberry, a maple.
In mid-June the postage-stamp yard is a swamp of alcohol, the fruit shedding or shat by birds beneath the lush cover.
A dark and small yard, where nature is still about its own decay, happily.
Satyrically. Big deck.
The windows on the other side of the house look at other windows, but this is not a conversation—this is a subway.
The street rivers between, floating cars carrying other windows.
The city is also about its own decay, and the poorer kids at the neighborhood pool are turned away for not having legitimate bathing suits.
Nothing private is natural.
She has had her shirt blown up by the wind.
She has held her shirt up, exposing her nipples, covering her brown, her summer face.
Mistakenly supposing this will make her nakedness private, but her face is not really on the table.
She is six.
I never used to be able to keep things alive, cacti. Jade. I can keep them going now, but at what expense?
I can take a hormone so my unborn daughter will one day push strollers without rancor. There is a hormone for that.
A hormone I take opens my bronchi despite badly-planned landscaping: all flowers, no fruit.
Corticosteroids turn me unhappy. But a breathing unhappy.
All the breathing unhappies, forgetting that austerity is a sort of pleasure, except those who have embraced austerity because superiority is an even clearer, cleaner sort of pleasure. Vinegar.
Comfort is overrated. Bliss, a sister’s word for drug use.
The pachysandra in the yard was a gift from a dead woman. It is supposed to make me happy but I am only more afraid it will die. The older I get.
I want to own this living stuff, this desire to wrench shit out of the earth.
The truth is something more like fear than it is like April.
If your father or sister molests you, there is a support group.
If you aided them, there is a support group, and serotonin-reuptake-inhibitors to help you with that.
Coffee seems also to be protective against suicide, Alzheimer’s, sleep.
For the kind of sleep that keeps family blurry, coffee combined with alcohol is a folk remedy, for four hundred years, prior to which coffee was more localized.
Alcohol is old as family.
To stay together—a buttonhole. Pivot, clasp.
Under the sound of the family, you hear brushstrokes, a percussionist waiting, a painter crying into the palette, thinning the hue, a dancer scuffling, nothing moved.
No thing or one moved.
Up against memoirWhat voice has my voice got? Rage
gives flavor. Don’t I got some
rage? The answer is — hells yes but
it’s a long stew, quiet-in-the-crockpot
all-day-long-night-next-day stew, horrors
simmerd so reduction long they want put
back2bed and taste of syrup. You stay
up real late, my voice’ll stare you down
through all those stars we got btween us
now. Ever wonder how you got stuck
while mute-as-fuck I swam naked
as the scent of late-June-suckle out past
Reeser’s Summit trailer park — then past
the moon you bn riddln with gun&needle
like there’s a couple more where that one
was? Admit it. Night’s harder now, im-
perfect + unlit, plus you don’t know
where I’m off 2 ridin’ the dark unspokn
of my thoughts. I don’t know neither.
I may die. Bfore I say real words
about the things I hate and all the other
things I hate how other people hate. Forget
I said. Take this frackwaste voice you wish
I’d use 4 truth instead of dare. You’ll want
to salt&bury it, so it don’t rise, but where’s
your shovel? Where’s the body? You call
me scared when I don’t blare all I want and am
in trumpet porno-blast. I hate that fuckn shit.
When I strip down it’s all science all
fiction all the goddamnd time. World —
please. If you’d lend me your ears
for a spell I cd tell you what &
tell you where the body is — & how to pull
that punkass moon back out your veins.
PresentsMy brother gave me the heavendress to wear.
So it is a gift.
It isn’t enough to look at it.
Repeat Nothing is wrong. Say it again.
We have been discussing first divisions. Reconsiderations.
Alignment of spine and star. Recurrent dreams
of splintered coffins, moons
We take turns neglecting the light — anti-watchmen we.
Insomnia wants to wear my brother’s heavendress
in organdy. It is wool.
Accept her. Insomnia is not wrong. This
is what I am supposed to say.
He says Remember — there is
no supposed to.
My brother is infuriatingly there. I ask him
What if I bleed on the heavendress?
It is red.
And if I rip it?
Already these rags are more beautiful than the skins of angels.
Do you skin angels? I ask. Is that what
you are? Nothing is wrong.
He will say this as many times
as I have need.
Of course I have always known what nothing is.
“Figure it out, tiny dove.” (Oahu 2014)
we weren’t climbing a volcano we might have been one in the vicinity a trail led up the coast but the islands are all coast to a tourist a small bird half-crossed our path reversed itself &you laughed at its dithering your dry note of direction was the more humorous a garden hat made british pale eyes centuries older than you have rights to in the course of all these things I fell a little bit in love with whales in variegated strips of blue water a-breech in nameless joy as if winter were a species of meander ¬ tepid reticence days later zebra doves flocked into my hands to eat bread I held out as reason to tremble close &lightly, go
Negative OneI can write as if I am a wound.
There is another life : the one
beside. We have leaned
through its windows, held
our hands beneath its sinks.
The water is the same water,
our hands — our hands.
Oh My Dears (for and after Hannah)Halfway into the wood I come across them. Women. A circle of women naked, a circle of women grieving. They are five, and they are six. They circle the sacs they cannot use, placed between them as on coals. They do not decipher. They do not speak of the thing that has closed them in upon themselves. They do not discuss the autopsies they have undergone while living. The women’s feet twist under them, as if the pain were not, not yet, enough. One woman is two women. She is the woman who leaves the circle, she is the woman who circles back. It is a trick of grief: to be so split. The women have come together in the clearing to find comfort and to compare. Each woman has folded into thought a single recipe for sweet milk. Their ducts are streams of rocks. One woman would add simple syrup. Another, simmer a can of what has condensed over open flame with water. The women carry cut straw because that is how they drink. There are stitches, wounds opened and resewn, split and stapled, mouths singed shut. The women in the clearing halfway into the wood, the five and the six — I come across them. The light fragmenting off their bodies stills me, the circuit they have made. I am struck, for a split moment, seven. I am not so struck. I look away. The women. Their eyes, liquid and lash, give haunt. Like eyes of fawns, like eyes of undone does.
Phobiais lightning broth. What should be salt
sears electric. Fear of holes is (&this is
recent) a thing—related fears include caves
coves, trapdoor-bellies of bombers, wombs.
I’ve a fear of basements &blue tents &butnot
shell casings—a fear of photos (mostly close-
ups of Demi Moore’s pores &also of lotus seed
pods &oaken doors without knobs) &butnot
the odd, exotic spot where a yanked tooth
was. I fear most a certain type of recurring
shifting aperture it does no good to predict
or avoid. Example: the scalloped glint
of cloudslits whence I have seen terrifying
babies fall, riced into a fine sleet.